Ode to Fat

Topsham, Devon January, 2002 Oh dear. I've been in something of a personal crisis since the holidays (and I bet I'm not the only one). Up until Christmas Day, everything was fine and in check, weight-wise. Not that I am obsessive, mind, but I do like to keep a watchful eye on these things. OK, OK, I may have been up a couple of pounds, maybe even a couple of kilos ("think metric, think metric" says the GFW), but this was not out of the norm for this time of year, and certainly not any cause for undue worry. A pound or two, after all, can always be accounted for by, well, by any number of seasonal variations or simply by sheer creative explanation. Imagine my utter surprise and horror, then, when, on returning to the scales after New Year's, I discovered that I had gained, wait for it, over 10 pounds, in fact, well over -- and it doesn't even sound better when you say it in kilos: five, yep, five count 'em five bags of sugar.
I've never been on a diet in my life before, but this was serious to say the least -- and to my way of thinking inexplicable. For I've on the whole been fortunate in never having to worry about my weight: I love to eat, I eat in, well, some might say prodigious quantity, but I also exercise, the same folks might say, in equally excessive quantity. I am fortunate, too, in having, or so I've always thought, a fast rate of metabolism. And we eat healthily, oh so healthily, far more healthily than most people we know, not because of health or diet, but simply because that's the way we like to eat. Five portions of fruit or veg a day? Ten is more the norm.
But ten pounds/five kilos of blubber. This was serious. What to do? Drastic action, I'm afraid, was called for.
Wine, I've been told, can be rather disproportionately high in calorific value. Fine, no problem: much as I adore wine, indeed at times live for wine, I'd just have to cut it out until things got back under control. No problem. Simple as that. Hey, I'm strong and the will of man is a powerful thing. (Beer, by contrast, so my friends at the Bridge Inn after Monday night tennis told me -- over a third pint of Branoc -- is nature's own low-cal beverage; this fact was confirmed by my Dangerous Sports Club chums in the same venue, after consuming similar quantity of said bevvie on Thurs evening). So on Tuesday and Wednesday, I gave up wine (no point, I had already decided, in being a martyr about this and forgoing vinous pleasures at the weekend). After a week of such deprivation (that's right, on Tue and Wed no wine -- I'm serious, no cheating, not a single drop), I weighed myself again. Would you believe it, I'd gone up another kilo! Clearly for my shape and metabolism, wine consumption helps to keep my weight in check. Perhaps, I wondered, perhaps I hadn't been drinking enough? I mentally vowed to try this theory out next week by upping consumption considerably.
What else could I do? As I said, we already eat a very healthy diet, the archetypal Mediterranean diet, in fact. Olio d'oliva extra-vergine? We virtually glug the stuff (our favourite at the moment is the exquisite, fragrant and delicate U Trappitu olive oil from Sicily available through Esperya.com). But it's healthy, non è vero, and I have no more intention of cutting out (or down) on olive oil than I would (after my misguided experience) in cutting out (or down) on wine. To forgo one of life simplest pleasures -- a slice of thick country bread, toasted over an open fire, rubbed with a fat clove of garlic, then drizzled with aforementioned green-gold oil, rubbed in with the fingers (the fingers then licked), seasoned with a sprinkling of sel gris de Guerande, a grind of black pepper: to forgo this pleasure would be too cruel and unusual punishment. No, give me the odd excess avoirdupois any day and damn the consequences.
What else? We enjoy simple foods above all. Like grilled meats. We are fortunate to have a wonderful butcher, Gerald David & Son, who supplies us with own-killed meats, expertly and sufficiently hung, brought down from North Devon to our town daily: the best beef you've ever tasted, Exmoor lamb, freerange pork and poultry. Healthy, happy meat. It would be a crime not to enjoy such local foods, available literally on our doorstep, would it not ('shop locally' we all exhort)? Not that we eat a lot of meat, mind, but now and then it is nice to tuck in to something really good. Last night, for example, I just fancied a bit of steak. To my way of thinking, there's little that can beat a good sirloin (fillet is too softly textured, rump often lacks that delicious marbling which lubricates and flavours a good steak so perfectly: but sirloin, when it's good, there's nothing better). So I simply massaged those sirloin steaks in a little good olive oil (hah, there it is again, that exquisite oil, can't get away from it), crushed some mixed peppercorns coarsely with mortar and pestle to season, quickly pan-fried the steaks for no more than a minute or two a side in a very hot castiron skillet, took them out to rest, and deglazed with a large tumbler or two of good Sangiovese (Le Volte, in fact -- I'm a great believer in cooking with good wine). I then drizzled this simple, syrupy sauce over the peppery, rare steaks and we enjoyed them with a green salad dressed with vinaigrette. What, I ask, could be simpler than that? Simple, healthy and delicious: best of all the thick ridge of fat around the edge of the meat that has always been my favourite part. I maintain that you can always tell good meat -- really good meat, well-hung meat, flavourful meat -- when the fat is as tasty as the lean. The same applies to pork chops, sizzled ideally over a charcoal fire, the dripping on the hot coals causing flames to leap up, charring that delicious, thick ridge of fat into almost crunchy, greasy, delicious crackling. Who needs lean when the fat is so good!
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not an avowed carnivore and in fact, we eat poultry far more than red meat. Duck has long been my all time favourite food. Yes, yes, I know, duck can be a rather fatty bird, but I always take precautions to ensure that the excessive fat drains off while cooking. Pricking systematically through the skin to the layer of subcutaneous fat (but not so deep as to pierce the meat below) achieves this. Then, while roasting, I place the duck on a rack to allow the fat to drain. The result is healthy perfection: crispy and delicious duck skin and lean, moist, fat-free meat. Of course, it would be a crime to waste the duck fat. Indeed, there's little that can beat a skillet full of crisp-on-the-outside, steamingly-soft-on-the-inside potatoes, seasoned with fresh rosemary and coarse sea salt, fried in that tasty, boiling duck fat. And while we're on the subject of duck, you can keep your magrets and your Gressingham breast fillets, lean as they may be, sliced rare and fanned out on a plate all artsy-fartsy. For such duck breasts quite simply are all too often exceedingly disappointing due to their utter lack of flavour. The reason? I think, quite simply, it is because they lack fat.
But I digress: returning to the vexed question of weight, I hope you'll agree that I've taken all reasonable precautions and steps to assist myself in its reduction. My diet, as I trust I've demonstrated, is already exceedingly healthy and short of eating cottage cheese and Ryvita every day for lunch, or trying those strange liquid slimmers' drinks, there really does seem little more that can be done.
Therefore, quite frankly, I've decided simply to stop worrying about it altogether. Life, I hope we all agree, is far too short to get stressed out over the odd kilo or two (or three or four or five), isn't it? Stress, as we all know, is in itself a killer. Far better than worrying about weight is to simplify, to get rid of the unwanted clutter that complicates and over-complicates our daily lives: the unbearable heaviness of living.
So let me get to the point: Does anybody out there want a pair of scales?

Copyright © Marc Millon 2002

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Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 2002