I just turned 60! As this milestone birthday approached, I thought carefully about how I wanted to celebrate. Since I prefer more intimate groups (I am not fond of being the center of attention at a huge party), I decided to plan many small gatherings.
The first celebration was a weekend in Hartford, Conn., with my partner and four close friends. The son of two of these friends is Jonathan Hudak, the Chef de Cuisine at Grants Restaurant in West Hartford; I wanted to mark the beginning of my seventh decade by partaking in all the sensual delights of his famous tasting menu.
Jonathan creates dishes that are carefully selected combinations of flavors and textures, and can take two to three days of preparation. The time, attention, focus and creativity that go into his creations make each dish a delectable, captivating adventure. He also choreographs the entire menu so that each dish complements and makes an introduction to the next. We made plans far in advance to make sure he had time to collect the variety of ingredients necessary for this gourmet extravaganza.
I also checked in with myself to make sure this was what I really wanted. “Am I, Cindy Joseph, a healthy-eating advocate, OK with indulging in a decadent, frivolous, butter- and cream-laden dream meal?” From past experience, I knew these were the perfect conditions to push my guilt and/or fear to the surface. I’m sure you’re familiar with the head chatter that gets in the way of enjoyment: “This could not be good for me! Oh, I should never eat that! This is going to set off all my cravings! This could be the beginning of the end! Blah, blah, blah!”
I also knew that punishing myself by not truly enjoying my meal was the less healthy path. Over the years, I have learned that health is so much more than diet: It’s a whole way of life, an entire approach toward self-image and living. (If you’ve read any of my past blog entries, you know I am a huge proponent of living life according to what pleasures me.)
The element of healthy eating that is most often overlooked is our attitude toward what we are eating. I say savor and enjoy every bite. Use all of your senses to experience everything you are eating. Take the time to appreciate all that went into the preparation of the meal. Feel the gratitude for the opportunity, that way your body will be at ease and full of joy as you take in the meal with pleasure.
My birthday meal was exactly that. The six of us were in ecstasy as we tasted each bite. We shared oo’s and ahh’s, and talked about the complexity of each dish and the myriad flavors we were experiencing. We drank in the aromas and delighted in all the different textures. We photographed each course, reveling in the beauty of each plating. All of our senses were open and ready for the entire adventure.
Here’s a short selection of the menu we enjoyed (please keep in mind that this was a special occasion!):
roasted pear custard / 25-year aged balsamic/ cinnamon brioche crunch
Benton’s Bacon Wrapped Saddle of Rabbit
butternut squash and brown butter purée/ Brussels sprout leaves/ rabbit jus
All-Day Braised Berkshire Pork Belly
savoy cabbage/ roasted maitake mushroom/ bacon-onion jus
Herb-Roasted Mishima Ranch Eye of Wagyu Beef
yukon gold potato purée/ glazed baby carrots/ sauce bordelaise
meyer lemon cheesecake/ steamed lemon pudding/ lemon curd ice cream
Whether you are eating a smorgasbord of gourmet foods or just an apple, look at it, taste it, feel it, smell it, think about it and appreciate every bite. That is what I call the pleasure of healthy eating.