An Outdoor View: Comfort food

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2008

During the cold days of December, when the sun barely clears the horizon before retreating and leaving the North in darkness again, I turn for comfort to one of my most cherished vices, food.

The way I've been eating for the past 20 years, food is a vice. I've been eating more than my body needs, taking in more than I've been working off. As a result, I now weigh about 50 pounds more than I should. It's no consolation that I'm in the majority, one of the 77 percent of men aged 65-74 who are overweight.

The poundage has come slowly and easily. All my life, I've loved to eat. About 20 years ago, I took over the cooking, which gave me control over the grocery list. I never miss a meal.

To my credit, the meals I prepare are usually nutritious and fairly well balanced. That said, I tend to go a bit overboard on butter, sour cream, mayonnaise and other essentials of a happy, if brief, life.

When I was working harder than I am now, I was able to keep my weight down without thinking too much about what or how much I was eating. Now that I don't work as hard, my weight has increased each year by about a pound.

I hate exercise for the sake of exercise. Always have. Walking into a remote stream to fish, OK. All the work of heating my home with wood, OK. Shoving snow out of my driveway, OK. But driving 10 miles into Soldotna to a gym and paying money to jump up and down and sweat, forget it.

Yeah, I know it's risky behavior. I know I can't keep eating like this and expect to remain mobile until I die. I'd like to live another 20 years. I don't ever want to be bedridden, totally dependent upon other people. So, I need to either change my eating habits, get more exercise or both. It's a matter of life or death.

This time of year, I always lean toward so-called "comfort" foods. Three of my favorites, seafood gumbo, halibut chowder and meatloaf with mashed potatoes, are high in both fat and calories. Another favorite, caribou chili, contains hardly any fat and only 155 calories per serving, but the dollop of sour cream, the mound of grated cheddar and the slab of buttered cornbread no doubt compensate for that shortcoming.

So, one of my projects for this winter is to come up with some recipes that are low in calories, but still qualify as comfort food. I also want to decrease my intake of butter, sour cream and mayonnaise.

I don't know if I can cut down on mayonnaise. I love mayonnaise. In my book, mayonnaise is one of the five essential food groups. If I didn't think a bolt of lightning would fry me on the spot, I'd eat mayonnaise right out of the jar with a tablespoon.

This isn't going to be easy, but it's got to be done. If I can exercise a little will power with meals, maybe I won't have to exercise so much afterward. That, and maybe I'll never have to fish from a wheelchair.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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