I’ve always had a strained relationship with self-imposed dietary restrictions. I’m not the girl who’s likely to order the salad without a side, or the guest who’ll forgo the birthday cake. That said, I do think how and what each of us eats is a deeply personal choice. (It should go without saying that having that choice is a veritable luxury, considering how many people don’t have a choice when it comes to how and what they eat. But that’s another topic all together.) Ultimately, I don’t think there is a right way, or a wrong way of eating. Culture, upbringing, ethics, genetics, economics and personal preferences will in large part dictate our predilections for certain foods. The things I choose might not be the same as you, but as far as I’m concerned, that is A-ok.
Except, it seems, if you happen to be my boyfriend. And it’s pie season.
Roughly a month ago, the man in my life announced that he was adopting a diet – one based on a set of principles derived from this book. It’s essentially a high-protein, slow-carb regimen, where gluten is eliminated and sugars are kept to a bare minimum, replaced in large part by vegetables, meat, eggs, lentils and beans. Any grains (bread, flour, pasta, rice, corn, quinoa, farro, oats), fruit, alcohol, dairy, juice, sugars, and vegetables with a high glycemic index (potatoes, squash, beets, turnips) are not invited to the kitchen table. There’s certainly a lot more to it, but that’s the gist.
For someone who spends a lot of her free time reading, researching and talking about food, this announcement aroused the kind of visceral reaction you might expect.
Despite the fact that this wasn’t something he was imposing on me, it still put me in a bit of a tailspin. What will we eat? How will we eat? Will our meals be separate? What if I want to put a drizzle of honey in the salad dressing? And so on and so forth. Something that had always represented sustenance, creativity, sharing and fun was suddenly reduced to its most basic parts – fuel and abstention, caloric intake and glycemic rates, “good” foods and “bad” foods. Given that I’ve never dreamed of using “food” and “metabolic absorption rate” in the same sentence, it was clear there was an immediate philosophical disconnect between me and this diet, something that manifested itself in quiet resistance from the sidelines as he measured his beans and popped his potassium pills. While I tried to see things in perspective and mitigate my apprehensions, it quickly came to my attention that I was, in fact, a card-carrying member of the Diet Debbie Downer Society, a shitty place to be when you want to be supportive of your partner who, for his part, is just trying to do something positive.
That was four weeks ago. From where I stand now, I can tell you this: it’s been an eye-opening process, one that, you’ll be happy to know, has been devoid of any of the catastrophic repercussions I’d initially imagined. It’s made me reflect on dietary choices and values, and the interconnectedness of the two. It’s forced me to confront and take stock of my own prejudices and approaches to food, and – perhaps not surprisingly – it’s also solidified some of my core beliefs. While I’m still working out some of the kinks – balancing my own beliefs and being supportive of his – I’ve begun to see things in a different light. I’m proud of his efforts and for taking on a challenge he believes in. We might not always be on the same page when it comes to this diet, but we’ve reached a rhythm.
To maintain our respective sanities, part of that rhythm includes something called CHEAT DAY, the one day a week when the diet is put on pause and he gets to eat whatever the hell he wants - the bread, the cheese, the sugar, the beer…any and all of it. He, very wisely, designated Saturday as “cheat day”, which means, amongst other things, Saturday can be chocolate cake day. Dense, boosy, debaucherous, chocolate cake day.
Amen to that.
Chocolate Bourbon Cake (makes one 9×5-inch loaf + smaller one) – adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess
Note: the recipe here uses dark chocolate instead of cocoa powder, creating a cake that is moist and dense at the centre, gently petering out to a lighter crumb on the outside. It might not be the prettiest confection on the block, but it’s a good back-pocket recipe to have in your repertoire. It’s rich, but not heavy; sweet, but not overly so. The coffee and booze hum along nicely in the background – barely perceptible, but still there, taking things from PG to PG-13. The cake is great on its own (and a perfect companion to tea or coffee), but would also be nice with a glaze or frosting, should you feel so inclined.
1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt (such as Maldon or Fleur de sel)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted using a bain marie
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup freshly brewed coffee
Note: The key to that lovely, fudgey interior is baking time – take care not to overbake.
1) Preheat the oven at 375°F. Line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper (no need to cut it to make it fit – the excess paper can spill over the sides). Do the same thing with a smaller loaf pan (or butter a muffin tin).
2) Cream the butter and sugar with electric hand-held mixer (a wooden spoon works too).
3) Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Add the eggs and vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until combined.
Next, fold in the melted and slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. Add the bourbon and mix to combine.
4) Next, gently add the flour mixture alternately spoon by spoon with the coffee until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter.
5) Pour into the lined loaf pan, being sure to leave about an inch from the rim, so that the batter doesn’t overflow as it bakes. Pour the excess into the smaller prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes. (at this point, the smaller pan can be removed). Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit moist inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won’t come out completely clean. Allow to cool completely before turning it out onto a cooling rack. (The texture gets even better if the cake has had a day to rest.)