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A New Year's Resolution:
Guiltless Gratification

By Nigella Lawson

I have never been a member of the Lite Eating Brigade. Eating is necessary; it is also pleasurable. Further, I believe the obsessive tendency to demonize certain foods is downright unhealthy. It is food-fearmongering.

As far as I'm concerned, Diet Another Day.

And yet, and yet. I am not impervious to seasonal pressures. Those who say they enter the new year without thought of diminishment programs or belt-tightening resolutions are not being entirely honest. Besides, after the more than usual gluttonous indulgences of the holiday season, I actually look forward to a period of restraint.

But if it's lean, mean spa cuisine you're after, you've come to the wrong shop. My notion of restraint carries within it no trace of self-denial. Perhaps I should make it quite clear from the start that even when I'm trying to reduce my food intake, I don't fool myself or others that my concerns are, in the purest sense, dietary.

I know that it makes some people feel better if they tell themselves that their food obsessions are health concerns, but I have no intention of passing off neurotic self-absorption as smug, if specious, nutritional awareness.

The key point here is vanity, underpinned by a primitive seasonally induced tendency to believe in and hope for renewal and transformation. It might not last long, but I go into the new year, as we all do, full of sprightly intentions.

Nor do I claim to be above the vagaries of fashion, and in hopeful weight-reduction mode, I am assisted by the current vogue for low-carbohydrate eating. By my lights, any diet that lets you eat cheese, red meat and bacon is a good thing.

Low fat tends to mean low flavor, and eating food that tastes at best bland and at worst bad seems a waste. Besides, people who follow low-fat diets always look somewhat dried up to me. I mean that both literally (just think of the customary desiccated complexion of low-fat types) and metaphorically: those who deny themselves the pleasures of food deny themselves the pleasures of life.

There is also, personally speaking, a purely practical advantage to this low-carb approach. As someone who can eat an entire bread basket before even ordering the appetizer at dinner, I've found that giving up carbohydrates is the simplest way to curb intake, and, although I hate even writing these words, lose weight.

Anyway, I find I can stay on a diet longer if the first recipe on it is for hamburger Holstein: a juicy, tender, chopped steak patty, topped with a fried egg, its bright, golden yolk crisscrossed with anchovies. It may sound excessive, even notwithstanding dietary concerns, but actually the balance of textures and flavors is perfect: the oiliness of the egg is matched by the sharp saltiness of the anchovies, and both point up the tender savoriness of the rare-cooked meat. You don't even miss the bun.

Of course, all dietary restrictions involve loss. The drawback to low-carb eating may not be in the realm of flavor, but huge textural deprivations. Boy, how I miss crunch, foods that snap or crack or have even a bite of crispness.

So on those evenings when I want to slouch around snacking and watching television, I grate Parmesan, mound spoonfuls of it on a baking sheet and give them a quick blast in a hot oven to make lacy-rimmed crisp, Parmesan disks.

All this is gratifying enough, but sometimes one wants not just food that tastes good but food that bolsters that new-year-is-upon-us my-body-is-a-temple mood. I'm talking Virtuous Flavor: a hot, sour cleansing broth, spiked with ginger and lemon grass, studded with salmon, bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, or baked snapper with black olives, pine nuts and seasonal Seville orange juice.

When you eat like this you're giving yourself more than just fuel, you're stoking that wonderful sense of hopeful confidence that comes from a meal that tastes good and makes you feel better.

Recipe: Hamburger Holstein
Recipe: Parmesan Disks
Recipe: Salmon With Ginger and Lemon Grass Broth
Recipe: Snapper With Seville Orange Juice, Pine Nuts and Olives


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