Essen, Essen!

Do you eat to live or live to eat? My parents and I would unanimously agree that we lived to eat. Our vacation itineraries weren’t driven by scenic hikes, monument visits or exotic excursions; but rather where we’d eat, what we’d eat, and most importantly when we’d eat. The Yiddish word for eat is “Essen,” and our family refrain was “Essen, Essen!”

That’s not to say we were gluttonous, as we kept ourselves well versed in the makeup of a healthy meal. My mom meticulously made sure all the food groups were represented in her menus. In fact, my mom shared before she passed that if she had it to do again, she’d have been a dietitian.

Here are a few of her meal planning lessons:

  • Two, Two, Four, Four. Her meal planning mantra could be boiled down to a simple equation: TWO servings of meat, TWO servings of dairy, FOUR servings of vegetables, FOUR servings of fruits. I can still hear her taking inventory: “You got your chicken, you got your cheese, you got your veggies, and you got your fruit; that’s all you need.” Just a note: as you read this, be sure to roll the “R” in fruit. She was fancy like that.
  • Breakfast is a must. Every morning she’d have a bowl of some type of fiber-packed cereal and a banana. She took this ritual from her father who for decades would eat Shredded Wheat with hot milk, rolled oats and prunes. On his 80th birthday, the cereal company sent him a lifetime supply of Shredded Wheat.
  • Living a balanced diet takes creative logic. When I was in high school, the two of us went out for deep dish pizza. Her favorite topping combination was mushroom and cheese. We shared the pizza pie and then quickly felt like our buckle needed to be let out. However, she insisted that we make a stop at Dairy Queen. Why? She would say with great authority that a scoop of ice cream helps cut the grease. That is all fine and good, but ordering a Blizzard was probably more than enough ice cream to do the trick!

Living a lifestyle focused on food creates tension between the Two, Two, Four, Four mantras, and the Essen, Essen refrain. It begs the question, what category represents donuts, cake, chocolate, and candy? In the spirit of keeping to her equation, I give you this recipe which ensures that you, “get your protein, get your dairy, and get your veggies.” For dessert be sure to add some fruit (be sure you roll that “R”) and mix in a few cups of ice cream…to cut the grease of course. Enjoy!

Good for You Chili

Makes 12 ½ cups – six servings

228 calories

4 cups water

1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes

2 cans (16 oz. each) pinto or red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (16 oz.) solid packed pumpkin

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

2/3 cup uncooked bulgur wheat

1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies

2 ½ tbs. chili powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. salt

For garnish – reduced-fat sour cream or plain low-fat yogurt, shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese, sliced scallions

Put all ingredients except for garnish in a 4- to 5-quart pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes until bulgur is tender. Serve chili garnished in bowls at the table.

When I got married, my mom made copies of my favorite recipes, which I keep in a simple three-ring, white binder. She transcribed recipes that were passed down from her mom for holidays – Jewish and secular, as well as recipes from synagogue cookbooks and popular ladies’ magazines. My mom passed away a year ago of pancreatic cancer, and to honor her memory I’m going to share a few of these recipes with you along with my favorite memories learning or enjoying those recipes.