Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


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On Friday, we will take out from the kitchen hutch the brass menorah we bought in a hardware store in New York and lugged back to Calgary. We will put it in our front window and light the first Hanukah candle.

This Saturday, Himself will take out the ancient meat grinder, assemble chicken livers, chopped onions and the shmaltz he makes from chicken fat he saves all year. He will make a bowl of the world’s best chopped liver and yes, I will have some.

On the Sunday during the eight days of the Festival of Lights, we host a dinner party for my non-Jewish family. The menu is not, shall we say, in any way “traditional.” We don’t make latkes, but do honour Ted’s cultural heritage and the celebration with at least one dish made with oil.

(According to The Jewish Book of Why — which is in fact, two books written by Alfred J. Kolatch, published in 1981 — Hanukah celebrates the victory of Judah the Maccabea and his four brothers over the Syrian Greeks in 165 BCE. The eight-day festival marks the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem which had been converted into a pagan shrine. The jugs of oil, prepared for lighting the temple menorah, had been desecrated writes Kolatch.

“After much searching, only one small undefiled jug still bearing the unbroken seal of the High Priest could be found. The cruse contained only enough oil to burn in the menorah for one day. Nevertheless, the High Priest kindled the menorah and a miracle happened: the menorah flame continued to burn for eight days. To commemorate the event, it was decided that thenceforth the holiday would be observed annually by kindling lights for eight days and Hanukah became known as the Feast (or Festival) of Lights.”)

Not having been raised Jewish, many of the customs and rituals are strange to me. Rather than answer all of my curious questions himself, Ted bought me The Jewish Book of Why early in our relationship. The books don’t attempt to recite rules and regulations, rather they answer all the “why” questions that come to mind. I still refer to the two books regularly.

We will serve Ted’s chopped liver as an appetizer, followed by chicken soup with matzo balls; gefilte fish, with chrain (homemade horseradish and beet sauce); brisket with Sicilian potato croquettes (the requisite dish fried in oil) and glazed carrot coins For desert, there’ll be a Firecracker Apple Cake, made from a Bon Apettit recipe.

“What’s gefilte fish?” asked a niece one year, biting into one of the round cakes of ground whitefish.

Ted thought for a moment, and replied: “Fish balls.”

Her response? “I didn’t know fish had balls.”

Not a single one of these dishes could be classified as “diet” food. To that, I reply “good.” As someone who only once made “vegetarian” chopped liver, which was low in calories and distinctly low in taste, mouth feel and attractiveness, as it came out gray-coloured, it would be nothing short of insulting to try to make this dinner diet-friendly. So what will I do? Eat about half of what I would have eaten before I started on this campaign. I won’t feel deprived and I won’t feel hungry.

When we go to my sister’s for Christmas, I’ll adopt the same strategies for the traditional turkey dinner. I’m bringing the sweet potato casserole which I make more thigh friendly by using a recipe from the More of What’s Cooking, published for the Cooper Clinic in Arkansas, a multi-disciplinary medical institute.

How to get through the Christmas party season requires the same kind of strategy, one that recognizes the fact that eating dinner before going out not only makes it easier to ignore the finger foods and nuts and other temptations, but reduces the effect of booze on anyone’s system.

Getting through the season’s (gr)eatings without giving up in despair and gaining weight isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible, either. (Unfortunately, I belong to that special group of people who love Christmas cake with its almond paste topping).

Let me share the best advice of all, from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, which is as concerned with obesity as a factor contributing to heart disease as it is with educating all of us. My own history of heart disease has led me to have the utmost respect and admiration for this foundation and to serve on one of its advisory boards.

The foundation publishes all sorts of nutrition and sound health advice on its Website (

Cara Rosenbloom , a registered dietitian, sets out five helpful tips for getting through the season. She writes: “it’s common to gain a pound or two during this time of year. While this seems like a small amount of weight it’s usually not lost over the following year, despite your best New Year’s resolution.”

Rosenbloom’s five points: pace yourself, think about what you’re eating, control your portions, offer to bring a dish (see my comments about the sweet potato casserole) and, finally, just say no.

Rosenbloom writes: “It’s okay to indulge in a festive meal. What hinders heart health is not one meal, but celebrating the holidays all month long and continuously enjoying rich foods and desserts. If you know your calendar is filled with parties be sure to make healthier choices most often and save the treats for the most special occasions.

“Whether you are at a buffet brunch or a potluck dinner or a family sit-down, be aware of the amount of food you eat. It sounds simple, but between flowing alcohol and interesting conversation it’s easy to mindlessly munch . . .”

“Stay aware. Enjoy your entrée on a salad plate instead of a dinner plate so you’ll have less room. . . Then, watch where you sit or stand while engaged in conversation. If it’s beside a platter of food, chances are you’ll continuously eat. “

Portion control is my personal preferred method, that way you don’t have to miss out on your favourite holiday treats. Instead, try a small spoonful of everything, so you don’t feel deprived. “Having a small taste of your favourites is often enough to satisfy a craving. Depriving yourself rarely words – and often leads to overindulging later on. Having just a small portion is a sensible way to still enjoy the best seasonal sweets and riches without overindulging.”

When you offer to bring a dish you’re in charge. (My theory is that if you make it, you control it.) Rosenbloom writes: “Every holiday table should have some healthier options.” Even better, offer to mash the potatoes and use chicken broth instead of butter and cream. Remember not to brag about any of this and remember nobody – nobody at all — needs to know you are doing anything different from anyone else. Why does this matter? Because if you talk, you will be held to public account. That kind of pressure doesn’t do anyone any good.

As for saying no, be judicious about it. “You shouldn’t be obligated to eat everything that’s offered to you. Don’t feel guilty about it . . . and don’t allow yourself to be bullied into making unhealthy choices. Ultimately, what you put in your mouth is your choice.”

“Finally,” writes Rosenbloom, “a great tip for controlling seasonal weight gain is to continue to be physically active throughout the holidays.”

While Rosenbloom occasionally gets a tad pedantic, as so many of her colleagues in the nutrition business do, all of her advice is well-meaning and made with the best of intentions.

But the best advice of all? You are responsible for your own decisions. You are in control.

NEXT: How to make your favourites less caloric.


Written by Catherine Ford

December 9, 2009 at 11:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Two thumbs up – for you and HSFA!

    Jennifer Diakiw

    December 10, 2009 at 12:25 pm

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