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Chou-Fleur Au Vin (Cauliflower Au Vin) is a delicious comfort dish worth savoring.

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By the time we’re toddlers, we are trained to adhere to a multitude of social norms. We eat when we’re hungry and we eat to celebrate. We break bread leisurely with friends or wolf down a meal when we’re in a hurry. We eat on the run, in the car, between meetings and even when we’re sad or hurt. All too often we don’t eat because of what’s going on in our tummies. We eat because of what’s happening in our heads.

Whatever our circumstances, life is bound to present us with our fair share of disappointments from time to time, even if it’s small stuff. Regardless of the event, food can often pose as our caretaker … something that steps in to fix whatever might be wrong, even if the problem is not hunger.

Emotional triggers that affect our eating patterns are endless and the physical factors of hunger or addictive foods that hit our reward centers sure don’t help things. What about when we find ourselves grabbing for a snack the moment we’ve come off a tough conversation with our boss, mom, dad or spouse? We may eat for comfort when we’re feeling discomfort somewhere in our lives. Compounding the problem is villainous Big Food looming in the wings, presenting us with things that taste like childhood. (Seriously, they spend a small fortune on identifying our triggers…)

Recognizing those triggers ourselves and the fact that we eat for consolation or as a result of a stressful situation is a great first step. I have observed food in my hand countless times directly aimed for my mouth after a stressful conversation or encounter.

Emphasis on eating 

It’s easy to overeat. We are handed portions that could feed a family on plates large enough to use as a horse’s trough and yet, it’s been normalized. Even I complain if I’m handed a portion that would be just enough for a meal. “Where’s the rest?” I wonder.

I was 12 when I remember specifically dining at the Old E.G. Zac’s in Townshend and reaching for another slice of their square-cut pizza. My mom eyed me suspiciously, as I grabbed what was perhaps my fourth piece. I knew the treatment I was about to receive as I reached my hand to the serving platter and grabbed the perfect piece by the crust, dragging it toward me. It would be mine!!

“Are you hungry in your mouth or in your stomach?” my mother asked me pointedly. Defeated, I withdrew my hand momentarily to think. I felt pretty well fed. But that pizza was delicious. Surely one more nibble couldn’t hurt. I was a growing girl (although I was mostly growing sideways, as my mother dutifully pointed out).

I had my answer. It was the truth. “My mouth,” I replied. I hadn’t thought about where I should be hungry in order to keep eating. My mom explained that I wasn’t really hungry, that hunger should be in one’s stomach. As it registered with me, I sadly realized that the piece I had eyed resolutely was not to be mine at all. Alas.

To this day, I ask myself where my hunger lies and I’ve started to help my daughter identify where hers is as well. We eat for boredom or because someone else is eating. We eat as a response to our emotions, as a response to advertisements or the hardest one of all: just because it’s there.

Hara hachi bu? 

I remember when J. Lo once said in an interview that she never ate until she was full. I read her quote again because I had always been schooled that you ate until you were full and then you stopped, but her practice was to eat just enough, not too much. Sometimes we go past that point, but do we ever stop before we get there? We eat to fill up. We eat to be full, like we fill up our gas tank. We’re there, we’ve made the effort, might as well “fill her up.”

In Japan, it turns out there’s a common way of eating until you’re only mostly full. It’s called “hara hachi bu” and it originated in Okinawa, where they enjoy a long life expectancy and one of the lowest rates of illness from heart disease, stroke and cancer. ‘Hara hachi bu’ is a Confucian-inspired adage and means “eat until you’re 80 percent full.”

Hara hachi bu symbolizes a significant difference in the way in which Americans view hunger, as opposed to the Japanese interpretation. We say “I’m full,” and push ourselves away from the table, while the Japanese proclaim “I am no longer hungry.”

I had to be careful when I first learned to speak some French. I was in seventh grade when I proudly announced to my French host family after a meal, “Je suis plein.” I was met by many looks of disapproval and some of shock when I proclaimed in French that I was not just full from the meal, but pregnant (certainly not what I meant to say).

In French, they don’t say “I am full.” They say “I am finished” or “J’ai finis.” The equivalent for being full is being with child. Clearly they, too, practice a French form of “hara hachi bu.” Though we eat significantly more calories than those who reside in Okinawa, it’s not as much about calorie counting as it is about learning how to gage hunger (stomach hunger) and learning to reevaluate our definition for being “full.”

What to do? Small(er) Table Settings

Take a look at your grandmother’s flatware before you go shopping for your next table setting, and if you are the gramma, compare your drawer to the new stuff. The size of forks and plates has grown exponentially and they’re just getting bigger. Try using a smaller plate and fork if you’re wanting to cut back. I’ve seen people favor chopsticks to limit their bite sizes. You can still eat until you’re (80 percent) full; it just might take longer and you may need a few fewer bites.

Take it slowwwwly

It takes 20 minutes for the brain-gut connection to send the messages establishing the fact that we are full and satisfied. Taking fewer than 20 minutes to eat simply means that we’re fitting in more food than we might need to. The more we eat over the years, the more we need to. Our stomach stretches when we repeatedly overeat and we need to eat more and more to get the same level of fullness we once had with smaller portions.

Cancel the ‘Clean Plate Club’

The pandemic canceled many things, but canceling the “clean plate club” would have been an overall win. With portions as they are, we shouldn’t expect to finish our meal at restaurants and may want to aim for smaller portions at home as well. There’s more if we want it, but by the time it’s on our plate, for many of us, it’s too late. Consider it eaten.

Ditch the distractions for a better meal experience as well and try this delicious comfort dish. It’s easier than it looks!

(This information is not meant as nutritional advice or guidance about how to approach food calorically. Limiting calories or food groups can be dangerous. Change your diet only with advice from your physician, based on your specific health needs.)

Chou-Fleur Au Vin (Cauliflower Au Vin)

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower, rinsed and cut into steaks

1 tablespoon garlic powder

Salt & pepper, to taste

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Avocado oil (for sautéing)

1 tablespoon butter

3/4 pound large mushrooms (white or cremini), washed and sliced

4 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied into a bundle

2 bay leaves

3 carrots, cut into sticks

6 to 7 small shallots, peeled

4 cloves garlic, pressed

1½ tablespoons white flour

1 cup red cooking wine (I use Merlot)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups vegetable stock

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, for garnish

Method

Season cauliflower steaks with garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Heat avocado oil over medium heat in a large pot.

Sear cauliflower, flipping after about five minutes.

Remove from pot and set aside on a plate.

Add butter to the same pot and melt.

Sauté mushrooms with salt and pepper, cooking until tender.

Add carrots, shallots and bundled thyme. Sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes, until fragrant.

Add pressed garlic and more oil if necessary.

Stir in flour until thoroughly mixed.

Add wine and cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed.

Add tomato paste, stirring until mixture is evenly coated.

Add vegetable stock and soy sauce.

Bring to boil and reduce to simmer for about five minutes uncovered or until the mixture thickens.

Place cauliflower in mixture, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until veggies are tender.

Serve over quinoa or rice.

Katharine A. Jameson, a certified nutrition counselor who grew up in Williamsville and Townshend, writes about food and health for Vermont News & Media. For more tricks, tips and hacks, find her on Instagram:

@foodforthoughtwithkat