NOW IS the time that all good intentions are set aside--postponed if you will--in the name of the party. It seems the holiday season was made for eating. During Christmas, love is spelled c-o-o-k-i-e and good cheer gets poured out as eggnog.
Following one common recipe for eggnog, you can make a drink that has 305 calories (made from half-and-half) or 435 calories (made from heavy cream). Add a sugar cookie, and add another 65 calories to the "snack." Truth is, not only do people eat more during the holidays, but the foods are more calorie-dense -- standing rib roast, yorkshire pudding, candied sweet potatoes, plum pudding with hard sauce.
The calories don't just add up, they sneak up -- 600 calories in a New York strip steak, 80 calories per tablespoon in bleu cheese dressing -- and steak and salad is considered a diet meal.
That's the part that amazes her patients, says Mary Lou Maras, chief of the outpatient nutrition clinic at Walter Reed Hospital. Her patients learn by looking at a life-sized model of a steak and hearing the bitter truth about its calorie content.
"It's not bread and potatoes that are bad," says Maras, "it's what you put on them." She even encourages her patients to plan a sandwich for lunch rather than salad. Two pieces of bread, a small piece of meat or cheese and some lettuce, sprouts or tomato will contribute lots less to the diet than a heavy hand at the salad bar that produces something topped with bacon, cheese, croutons and mounds of thousand island dressing.
Maras discovered that many clinic participants have no qualms about downing a 32-ounce can of unsweetened grapefruit juice, which contains 380 calories. "They think it's free," laments Maras. "These things just slither down."
She discourages them from consuming anything in liquid form. While many could polish off 16 ounces of orange juice with no problem, four oranges would be quite a different matter; yet they are comparable in calories. Four oranges would not only offer more fiber, they are more filling. The more satiated the dieter feels, the less food he will probably eat in the long run.
"They're amazed that they can eat as much food as they want when they cut down on fat," Maras continues. She points out that a pat of margarine contains the same amount of calories as an apple, but takes up far less room on the plate.
The problem with the holidays is that hosts tend to push fattening foods such as fruitcakes. In addition, the hosts probably don't think they can afford the calories any more than the guests. The best compromise? Prepare pretty holiday meals or goodies that aren't crammed full of calories.
Offer seltzer or sparkling waters with wine, stretching wine apertifs into long drinks. Serve them in stemmed glasses with pretty garnishes to pamper the psyche more than the stomach.
Start the meal with a broth-based soup. One that's pure'ed with a little milk is reminiscent of cream soups but much lower in calories. Add vegetables to clear broth for a soup with almost no calories. The best part of this scheme is that after soup, people feel full on less food.
Flavor mashed potatoes with seasoned salt and herbs, cutting down the amount of butter and whole milk that's added to them. Cook rice and other grains in bouillon.
Splurge on exotic foods (strawberries out of season, raspberries, veal scallopini, boned chicken breasts) rather than buying an expensive piece of good beef (super-tender cuts of meat are usually marbled with a great deal of fat).
Fatty sauces, gravies and dressings contribute many calories to a meal. Substitute sauces made from wine or broth and thickened with cornstarch. Yogurt makes a rich-tasting gravy or salad dressing. Keep servings small and end the meal with a piece of fresh fruit, lightly sweetened and flambe'ed with a little rum.
Well, you have to live, don't you?
MINTED CHICKEN BREASTS (4 servings) 4 chicken breast halves, skinned 1/2 cup lemon juice 1/2 cup chicken stock 1 large onion, chopped 2 teaspoons dried mint Salt and pepper to taste 3 to 4 cups alfalfa sprouts
Place chicken in a nonstick skillet over low heat. Add lemon juice, stock, onion, mint, salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes. Add sprouts and simmer 5 minutes more, or until sprouts are hot and slightly wilted. From "The Revolutionary 7-Unit Low Fat Diet"
MADEIRA CARROTS (4 servings) 4 cups carrot sticks 1 tablespoon butter 2 tablespoons madeira or dry sherry
Place carrots and butter in a heavy saucepan and heat over very low flame about 15 or 20 minutes, until the carrots are barely tender. Remove carrots from pan, add madeira and turn heat to high. When madeira begins to boil off, return carrots to saucepan and toss quickly to coat with madeira.
FLAMING PINEAPPLE (6 servings) 1 pineapple 2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup dark rum 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
Trim pineapple of bristle top and bottom. Slice the pineapple in 6 wedges. Cut out much of the hard core. Slice to separate the fruit from the shell, but leave it on the shell to serve. Then make vertical slices perpendicular to the shell to form bite-size pieces (but still contained in the shell "boat"). Place in a baking dish that holds them snugly and that can be taken to the table. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of rum over each wedge. Let pineapple marinate 15 minutes. Place baking dish in 375-degree oven and bake 10 minutes. Remove dish from oven, turn on broiler, sprinkle sugar over wedges, broil 1 or 2 minutes to caramelize the sugar. Warm the remaining rum in butter warmer (a small pan with a long handle). Pour rum over pineapple and ignite with match (do this final step at table, if desired). When flame has died, serve one wedge to each person.