With Food and Life, Perspective Matters

What unites New York, a tuna salad, the recession, and portions? How you perceive them depends on how you look at them.



I have my New York routine—movie, movie, restaurant, shop, movie, movie, restaurant, take in a play, and repeat. I would have to say my favorite movie this trip was Cairo Time with Patricia Clarkson, a lovely film. I was able to take in this film with my movie-loving, cookbook editor friend Harriet Bell while her husband, Charlie Allen, shared his talent on the blues guitar with cancer patients at a New York hospital and my guys were sharing a father-son moment at the Yankees game.

Harriet and I found a wine bar afterward and caught up until we were all able to rendezvous with the guys at my all-time favorite, Café Luxemburg. I would think some credit would have to go to the originator of this café, as it is timeless after 25 years. It was a Keith McNally creation. My favorite play this trip was Promises, Promises; it was so good that it bothered me that the tickets were half-price. By far the best meal this trip was at Pulino's at Bowery and East Houston, where Nate Appleman has perfect control of the kitchen and ovens.

It hit me that in our country, a land of plenty, we need to stop raising prices and cut portions and continue to do that until we as a country are conditioned to eat less.

I love a chef who knows exactly what he wants his product to be. Appleman knew early on that he wanted a thin, crisp crust for his pizza, knowing New York has definite ideas about pizza. I love a restaurant with confidence, and you have plenty between the seasoned Keith McNally and talented Nate Appleman. Confidence comes from a clear vision. I found everything about each dish we shared perfection (there were eight of us and I guess we had at least 12 dishes). The smoked fish, meatballs, mussels, fennel salad, the ultra-thin-crust pizzas, and chocolate-hazelnut cake—all perfection, and at very reasonable prices. The portions were just right, and something that I noticed that was a plus—the portions fit the prices. Not only do I like having an affordable meal of that quality; I am thankful for not having an overabundance of food on each plate. As much as I love food, I will continue to eat because it tastes good even if I am not hungry. It is nice to have someone protect me from myself.

I recently read an insightful article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, "Are We in a Recession or Not?". He answered it as well as anyone: "In economics as in all other things, it all depends on how you look at things." It is the age-old question, "Is the glass half full or half empty?". When I travel to New York the flights are full, the streets seem busy, and many restaurants are full, but just as many businesses seem to be half full and some of the best plays on Broadway are offering half-price tickets. That is never a good sign, but I am always hopeful that the glass is half full and businesses will begin to prosper. The advantage of living in a small town that does not see the highs is we often don't see the lows. With life in Natchez, it always seems that the glass is at least half full.

I know where my extra pounds come from. They come from having a great life where food is often the center of my work and relaxation, and when it is good, I tend to eat more than I should, and I usually have that extra glass of wine I should do without. I constantly struggle with those extra pounds, but I have no one to blame but myself. Please do not mistake what I say as being cavalier or insensitive about our obese nation or anyone who has been less fortunate in their lives. Where I am going with this is a life observation, not a judgment call. I am thankful everyday for the life I have been given (and I have worked hard for). I feel I can speak openly about obesity, as I am a resident of the state that usually wins the title for most obese state. (Although during this past trip to New York, my husband I both noticed that people did not look much different than the heavy people here.) Overall, America is fat—but with that said, maybe there is a solution. I have been thinking of this a lot lately and something clicked when I was in New York last week, not just with the perfect portions at Pulino's.

Last Monday I had a productive morning of shopping, productive enough that I forfeited my favorite (and a little expensive) lunch place, Fiorello's. I typically order their tuna salad. It is well worth the price: perfectly dressed mixed greens tossed with olive oil-packed tuna, radishes, and capers, and topped with perfectly seared rare tuna, egg, green beans, and anchovies. Maybe it was what I spent earlier or the fact that we are about to have three in college, or just the love a New York hot dog, but I went for a Gray's Papaya hot dog, price tag $1.50. At first glance you may think that the tuna salad would be a healthier choice—and if the portion were one quarter the size, it probably would have been. When I was handed my hot dog that has not gone up in price in years, it seemed smaller than last time. How smart are they? Don't raise prices, cut portions. It was smaller, but that is not a bad thing. I ate it and wished I had another, but did not give in and by the time I had walked a couple of blocks towards the apartment, I wasn't hungry anymore and was perfectly satisfied with one small hot dog.

As Mr. Taibbi pointed out, it depends on how you look at things. It hit me that in our country, a land of plenty, we need to stop raising prices and cut portions and continue to do that until we as a country are conditioned to eat less. If all the restaurants, not just fast food restaurants, just start with one less egg in the omelet, an ounce less of cheese, start taking out a few fries at a time, cut those portions down, down, with time we won't remember those oversized portions and we will get back to a healthier, thinner America. Then we can start looking at our plates they way we need to look at our lives—half full, not half empty.

My recipe this week is a recipe for sharing:

Share an appetizer; share an entrée. Share something that you have a lot of with someone who has less. Share your time and talent on a volunteer basis, the way Charlie does with his guitar.