Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change

CHAPTER 12: MEN, MARRIAGE AND THE WHOLE DAMN COOKBOOK

with 3 comments

Never let a man join you on a diet. It will lead to anger, divorce and, if there was a guaranteed way to get away with it, justifiable homicide.

Every woman in the world knows exactly what I am talking about A man decides to go on a diet and he gives up dessert. That’s it. That’s the extent of his commitment. What happens? He loses 10 pounds in two weeks and is insufferably pleased with himself. Worse, he doesn’t understand why you have given up bread, butter, cheese, doughnuts cake, pie, cookies, ice cream, anything chocolate and everything fried and after the same two weeks, you’ve lost maybe a pound. It wouldn’t be as bad if they weren’t so smug about it.

Luckily, I am not married to that kind of a problem. Ted’s weight varies by one or two pounds one way or the other and he eats whatever he chooses. I’m undecided whether this is actually better than being marred to a man who obsesses about his weight and constantly goes on one diet or another. Who am I kidding? One of us in the house on constant alert is enough. The dreaded “doctor’s scale” from Ted’s old office now lives in our upstairs bathroom. It’s the third thing I do every morning. (The second is taking a handful of pills, but that’s another story.)

Regardless of advice from diet experts, ranging from every Weight Watchers leader to every diet counselor I’ve ever met, I get on that scale each and every morning. It has nothing to do with whether my day will be good or bad, whether my mood will be upbeat or down, it’s what I do. Why? If it’s a habit, I won’t wake up one morning and be 60 pounds heavier. No of course it doesn’t work that way, but as someone who has actually gained and lost the size of a decent soccer team in her lifetime, I know myself better than anyone else. And fear is a great motivator. About three years ago I lost 50 pounds and this time it’s not going to sneak up on me when I’m not paying any attention.

People who have never had a weight problem don’t understand this: they don’t get it. They don’t know that’s what happens — let your guard down and bang, the fat monster’s back. So, every morning I get on the scale.

Ted eats whatever is put in front of him except for parsnips and beets. When his doctor told him his cholesterol was high, did he give up his daily afternoon snack of half a wheel of gouda or half a pound of aged cheddar? Did he give up eating double-yoked eggs fried in butter with three strips of bacon? Did he eschew wurst and scrambled eggs for Sunday breakfast? Did he cut down on the amount of butter he layers on his toasted poppy seed bagel ? Of course not. He took the prescribed pills for six months, went back to the doctor who pronounced his cholesterol just fine, threw out the remainder of the prescription, and went about his merry way.

That I have not shot him as he was eating a hot buttered bagel in front of me while I had to be content with a single piece of whole-grain toast with a slice of low-fat cheese is testament to how much I love him. I just wish he’d understand that being blessed with his kind of metabolism is something rare.

So sometimes it’s better to avoid temptation than take a chance. This past weekend in Canmore, rather than go to my favourite restaurant for lunch, we picked another. The reason was simple: Sage Bistro’s lamb burger and sweet potato fries are to die for, regardless that my husband insists they’re yam fries. Whatever. And if I had the burger and fries, I would have to have an ice-cold Grumpy Bear — or two — made by the Canmore-based Grizzly Paw micro brewery. So we picked a new restaurant neither one of us had been to: O Bistro on Main Street, only to discover that what came out of this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant (it was the original site of Crazyweed) was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

Here’s the difference between great restaurants, small or otherwise, and those who just think they’re serving food: The side salad I ordered with chicken (dressing on the side) was so beautifully arranged it seemed a shame to eat it. And because it was so attractive, I did not feel deprived. This is the bonus of great restaurants – a willingness to serve good food that looks great, to the customer’s specifications.

I remember about 25 years ago being in La Chaumiere, still one of Calgary finest restaurants, with a visiting colleague who was a vegetarian, not exactly a common practice at that time, especially in beef country. The staff didn’t turn a hair with his request for a meal containing no meat. They presented him with a cornucopia of perfectly cooked vegetables, arranged as painstakingly as an artist’s still life.

The point to all this is that if you are going to spend your money in restaurants why waste it on meals that are an insult? Why would anyone go to a shopping mall food court for fast food unless she was desperate? That’s not real food. It’s what a former colleague called a “squat and gobble.”

In her 1985 book, Across the Table: An Indulgent Look At Food In Canada , the aptly named Cynthia Wine wrote: “A visitor to Canada from one of those countries that’s smug about its cuisine told me once that the dish he met most often in roadside diners was brown meat on white bread with gravy. We have the world’s most succulent beef and even the Russians envy our wheat. How did we manage to turn them into the hot beef sandwich?”

There is probably an answer to Wine’s rhetorical question, but fancy food and fine dining has come late to Western Canada. The most exotic dish one could find when I was growing up in the 1950s was sweet and sour chicken balls. The thought still makes me gag. Not that I didn’t love them, because I did. They were part of my childhood, but eventually I grew up to learn what real Chinese food should taste like. And growing up with a mother who truly did not like to cook, but was forced to feed a family regularly does not leave one with much passed-down knowledge about how food really should taste.

If there was a cuisine worse than English cooking, it had to be English food cooked by an Irish woman. But every child has some fond memories of her mother’s cooking — mine was her green apple pie and her bread and butter pudding. The horrors included the time she made split peas with pork hocks. Yum! Green meat!

What saved Mother from much criticism was the happy fact she married a man whose own mother was a worse cook than her. Grandmother had many fine qualities, but cooking wasn’t one of them. She once served corn flakes and milk for dinner.

But the champion of family horror stories was the time Grandfather had invited the minister of Central United Church and his wife for dinner and Grandmother decided to cook a turkey. Unfortunately, she neglected to thaw it out first, so when the plump and browned bird was placed in front of Grandfather for carving, the knife couldn’t quite slice through the still frozen interior. He looked down the table at his wife and said, coolly: “Kate, I believe this is not quite cooked.”

Grandmother didn’t turn a hair. She put it back in the oven and as far as family lore goes, they all sat around the living room for the next three hours. I would presume — because none of them actually imbibed, having been stern Methodists before most of the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists and the Methodists amalgamated to make up the United Church in 1925 — that they passed their time drinking tea, singing hymns or playing bridge while waiting to be fed. I didn’t dare ask if she remembered to take out the bag of gizzards, liver and heart.

NEXT: The last sin in the world.

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Written by Catherine Ford

October 19, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Oh Catherine, I feel your pain. Hang in there. Love the blog, by the way.

    Shelley

    October 20, 2009 at 5:30 pm

  2. Count me as one of the high metabolism boys. Always ate everything I wanted, as much as I wanted, and stayed stick thin. Then we discovered the reason: celiac sprue. Basically I wasn’t able to absorb anything because gluten had rendered my digestive tract useless.

    So I went on the diet (oh yes, a diet!). I am the skinny guy from the fat family, and weight issues were the dominant theme of every conversation for years. I cannot tell you how much I feel cheated by that. This is why I have no problem with people being overweight as long as they don’t whine at me about it.

    My diet is simple. I am unable to eat wheat, rye, barley or oats. I have a separate corn allergy. But I eat as much as I want of everything else. “All the fats, all the sugars” is my motto.

    So I went up from 140 lbs to 165 and stuck there. My good cholesterol is double what it usually would be, and my bad cholesterol is half. My blood pressure is terrific and my standing heart rate is about 56 bpm.

    So what does this mean? It means I am going to live to be old and cranky, wondering if a warm croissant would be worth the pain (it isn’t – at least, not yet).

    Timothy Anderson

    October 20, 2009 at 10:16 pm

  3. Your sister directed me to this site at lunch today. I used to live in Calgary and enjoyed reading your column in the Herald as my own kids were growing up. I love your line about the soccer time and new that yet again you were writing to me. Thank you for a great chuckle.

    Margo Perry

    November 26, 2009 at 3:44 pm


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