One day we realized that we had been eating more than we ever had and neither of us had gained an ounce. In fact, we were thinner than we’d ever been and had been for over two years-which was about the time we’d started cooking on Sundays. We both struggled with weight and we both possessed the two wardrobes of the chronic dieter. We struggled before we had children so we’re not talking about post-pregnancy weight. In fact, it was so post-pregnancy that the kids were eating solid food and potty trained. “Oh honey, don’t you want that last chicken nugget?” “No?” and in to your mouth it goes. The crust of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the last couple french fries, the hot fudge, puddled in the bottom of the ice cream sundae bowl. You know the drill. Back and forth on the scale, it seemed we were always playing with that 10-20 pounds.
When we started cooking, we didn’t give one tiny little thought to low fat, non fat, low cholesterol, low calorie cooking. We wanted the good stuff. Short ribs, braised in a red wine sauce and served with mashed potatoes with butter. Macaroni and cheese but with big girl cheeses – fontina, parmigiano reggiano-made with heavy cream and topped with fresh asparagus and panchetta. A lemon mousse cake made with a pint of heavy cream, a half pound of butter and eight eggs. Homemade bread with Parma butter. Not the stuff that diets are made of. So why were we thinner? We weren’t exercising more. We certainly weren’t eating less. What was different? Ingredients. We were shopping at Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. We found a butcher, a place to buy fresh eggs and the produce auction.
We were cooking things that should have made us gain weight but we started losing weight. Our bodies decided on their own, what a good weight would be, and there we stabilized. We were thin, something we’d only been periodically in our lives, and we now had only one wardrobe.
We don’t buy organic unless we can afford it. We don’t buy anything in a box, a can or in the frozen food aisle unless everything on the label can be found in a kitchen. If you don’t want to bake cookies, Trader Joe’s has a lot of cookies that fit that criteria. But if you buy a box of Oreos, for example, you might see a pound or two at the end of the week. A Granny Smith apple from a good grocery store that was still green and unblemished after almost a year made us realize that even the best of grocery stores can be suspect so we try to buy seasonal fruits and vegetables and none that have been waxed.
We use lots and lots of butter: to thicken sauces in place of flour, to bake, on breads, on vegetables. Once in awhile we treat ourselves to a butter from France or Italy, but that’s a splurge. We buy our butter at Trader Joe’s. The only ingredient is cream and it’s far cheaper than other well known brands of butter. Being dessert lovers, we buy a lot of sugar, organic sugar, again at Trader Joe’s. It’s at least $2.00 a pound cheaper than anywhere else. Dried fruit, nuts, flour, organice catsup, cream cheese, marscapone, heavy cream, all cheaper at Trader Joe’s and all good. So maybe, we should call this the Trader Joe’s diet – the Surprise, Surprise, You’re Thin: Trader Joe’s Diet. But then we’d be leaving out the butcher and the egg lady.
It’s all in the ingredients. Although we bought only fresh when the kids were little, we were buying in the age when convenience and shelf appeal trumped freshness and nutrition and frankly, flavor. We hope that no harm was done and we’re happy to see that on their own, they buy better and smarter than we did.
So that’s the Empty Nest diet. It’s no diet at all. After the first time you make a cake from scratch, a salad dressing, a sauce, a stock when you would usually use a mix, a box or a bottle, you’ll be surprised at how quick and easy it becomes.
And that seems to be all it takes.