the D word.

Things are changing around here. In my last post I wrote about eating enjoyable (read: really fattening tasty yummy stuff) in moderation, as I’m a firm believer in that (moderation, that is). In the past two weeks, the boy and I have embarked on what I’d like to call a “lifestyle change”. I use the term “lifestyle change” as opposed to “diet” – the word “diet” is so negative, don’t you think? In modern times we’ve put such a depressing twist on the word. I remember as a kid watching Dexatrim ads on TV which brainwashed women (including my mom, who as far back as I can remember has always been on a diet) into thinking they could take pills and lose a ton of weight quickly! Almost instantly! And the energy they had! A positive side effect to this is that they’d also have an impeccably clean house.

The word “diet” means a “Habitual course as of living or, esp., feeding; hence, food and drink regularly provided or consumed; fare” (my 1941 version of Webster’s Collegiate never steered me wrong. And yes, I still consult books and sometimes prefer to do that over searching the internet. I find books so much more romantic; so be it). The Latin diaeta came to be associated with the Latin word for day, dies. Which then ran off with ‘day’s journey’, ‘day’s work’, ‘day appointed for a meeting’, hence the modern use of the word diet not only referring to food but to daily conference. Anyhoo.

So for a short while (or maybe a long while) we’ll be engaged into eating lighter meals, as in: lighter in calories and fat. This has, as you can imagine, been a little weird getting used to. I’ve had to rediscover how to sauté onions without a good pat of butter and a nice drizzle of olive oil. I’ve actually been forcing myself to measure out by teaspoonfuls how much oil I’m using, if any. EGAD. I KNOW. THE SKY IS FALLING.

I’ve started to adjust my habits; it will take some time. It’s like learning how to cook again, in a way. It’s also bizarre to be reading every label of every jar and container I put in the grocery cart at the store. You’d be amazed at how much crap we willingly ingest on a daily basis. it's pretty gross.

Part of this lifestyle change has also meant that exercise is a huge part of it. We’re working out 6 days a week, for at least one hour. Part of this is because we are now embarking on what I like to call The Big Eatin’ Months, celebrating food holidays like Thanksgiving and all the office parties and cocktail parties that lead up to Christmas. The other part of this is because I hit 40 this year and I’ve noticed changes in my body – not reacting as it should, not able to drop a pound as easily as I used to, hangovers harder to get rid of – major discrepancies from when I was younger. And also, I recently saw a picture of me from behind, and WOW was that ever disappointing. But I’m not going to bore you all with that melodramatic crap; after all I am here to talk about food. When you think of that old word “diet”, the kind my mother would go on ( is still on, has been on as far back as I remember), you immediately think of deprivation. Here’s the deal: if I want French fries, by God I’m going to have them. I just won’t have any more of them for the rest of the week (or month). If I want French fries cooked in duck fat with a side of crispy bacon dripping with maple flavor, I sure as shit am going to eat them. But I’ll not eat them again for a while. I will feed the craving, and then I don’t need or crave it again for a while.

In order to make lighter food taste appealing, you have to season it properly and use a lot of herbs (this is not a new idea, I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but it makes total sense). The other day while stretching after one of the most strenuous workouts I’ve ever endured, I got to thinking about tomato basil soup. Actually, the guy on the DVD I was following was talking about tomato basil soup, and the idea stuck in my head. And now that we’ve solidly moved forward into my favorite season of all time, soup is welcoming. This particular soup is also a great way to use up the last of the summer basil, mine which is wilting and yellowing outside, not knowing what to make of this weather. I could also make pesto and freeze it for one dark, dismal winter day when I’m needing a bright burst of sunshine; and as much as that sounds appealing, I do not want to tempt myself with gobs of olive oil and parmesan cheese at this moment. I can see myself caving and tilting my head far back, mouth open wide, and dropping handfuls of freshly grated parm into my mug. Not a good idea.

This recipe is adapted from one in the first Barefoot Contessa book. As much as I do love basil, I thought the original amount called for was pretty hefty (four cups worth), but you can always add more if you feel the need to.

This will make 3 to 4 quarts, and I’m thinking it might freeze beautifully.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup, adapted from The Barefoot Contessa

3 pounds Roma or plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise (they don’t have to be super ripe, as the roasting will help bring out their flavor)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 for tomatoes, 1 for onions)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
2 medium onions, chopped
4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust to your spice likeness)
1 28-oz can of plum tomatoes
2 ½ cups (packed) basil leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or vegetable stock

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a large rimmed sheet pan, toss together the tomato halves, the two tablespoons of olive oil, the salt and the pepper. Line the tomatoes cut side up and roast for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and move to the side while you get your stock pot on.

2. In a large stockpot on medium heat, heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the onions, the garlic, and the red pepper flakes for 10 minutes. You may find that you need more olive oil, but I found this amount to be plenty. Once onions start to brown and caramelize, add the canned tomatoes, the basil, thyme, chicken or vedge stock, the roasted tomatoes and whatever juices that accumulated on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently and breaking up the whole canned tomatoes, then bring to a simmer for 40 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat.

3. Blend with a stick blender, regular blender, food processor, or food mill. If you are using a regular blender or food processor, remember to blend very small quantities at a time, lest hot liquid come shooting out, burn the crap out of you and leave you with a nice aromatic mess to clean up. Not that I have any experience in that.

4. Taste for seasonings (salt and pepper); chances are you will need a copious amount of salt, but salt a little at a time, tasting as you go until you are satisfied. If you’re making this to eat at a later date, wait until the soup has cooled to room temperature before salting. Why do I do this? I’m not sure. I probably saw it on TV someplace.


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