Makeovers, Before and Afters, and Happy Endings

August 19, 2010 at 10:39 pm Leave a comment

   I once heard a personality theorist claim that our childhood fairy tale preferences reveal a lot about our grown up selves. According to family lore, I used to love Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. I would cry myself red-eyed every time I heard it, then ask for it again, night after night. 

It’s a tragic tale, really; the story of a misplaced cygnet who suffers much heartache, repeatedly fleeing abusive treatment because of his motley appearance. I can barely stand to read a summary of it today, but apparently the glorious outcome, as the now-grown duckling transforms into a beautiful swan soaring majestically overhead, was sufficient reward to me at age three. 

An internet search on this fable brings up huge piles of psycho-babble about identity seeking and self-esteem – interesting deductions, since the story revolves around genetic coding and outward appearance. I think I liked it as a child because of the uplifting, redemptive ending and because the “after” was such a dramatic contrast to the “before.” Maybe even because I fantasized that fate might someday transport me to my own idealized state, like the swan, who was predestined to become what he became.  

Over the years I’ve continued to feel a strong pull to magazine articles featuring makeovers, and even to those hokey one-page testimonial ads by “real people” who talk about how they turned their lives around with the right diet or miracle supplement or change in philosophy. I like to think I have matured. Maybe not.  

My adult analysis? Perhaps these themes hold appeal because we all have been blessed with a desire to achieve our personal best, until environmental influences or sheer inertia rob us of that impulse. The idea of correcting course and reinventing ourselves can be an alluring prospect. 

Practicality further argues that many formulas benefit from being re-worked, like a political campaign that introduces sincere humility (it has been done) and baked beans without nine grams of sugar per serving (have you read that label lately?). So, as the crowd gasps in wonderment at yet another back-flip from general philosophizing into the arena of food preparation, today, a few random comfort food dishes inspired by the makeover theme (non foodies can skip to the concluding paragraph): Pork and Beans for the New Age, my version of an ethnic pasta dish, Noodles with Onions and Cottage Cheese Lite, a nutritionally enhanced Golden Mashed Potatoes, and for a little something on the sweet side, an “after” version of Morning Glory Muffins that I call Anytime Muffins. Those could be a happy ending all by themselves.

Omit the pork, and the beans can be served as a side dish: 

2 C thinly sliced sweet onion                     1 TB butter

1 Tb olive oil                                             ¼ C maple syrup

¼ C balsamic vinegar                                ¼ tsp dried rubbed sage

2 TB tomato paste                                    1 tsp salt

black pepper to taste                                2 cups each cooked navy, butter, and garbanzo beans

2 C leftover pork (roast or thick-cut chops), trimmed and cut into 3/4” cubes 

Saute onion in butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for fifteen minutes, stirring often. Stir in syrup, vinegar, sage, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Fold in beans (and pork, if using) until well-coated, cover pan, and heat through for fifteen minutes on medium low. 

My old Linwood Avenue pals Teresa and Karen taught me how to make noodles with caramelized onions and cottage cheese. Our pre-calorie-conscious teenage approach called for about four tablespoons of butter, egg noodles, whole milk cottage cheese, and no veggies, but I like this version just as well: 

1 TB butter                                            1 TB olive oil

1 sweet onion, sliced                              4 C cooked whole wheat noodles

1 C fat-free cottage cheese                     1-1/2 C steamed broccoli flowerets

salt and pepper to taste 

Saute the onion in the butter and olive oil over low-to-medium-low heat for up to 25 minutes – low and slow, stirring occasionally, to get a good, glistening caramelized end product. Next, simply stir in the noodles, cottage cheese, broccoli, and seasonings, then warm through, stirring often, and serve. A sprinkling of paprika couldn’t hurt. 

For the potatoes, made golden by the addition of mashed carrots: 

1-1/2# peeled, cubed potatoes                 1 # peeled, sliced carrots

¼ C evaporated skim milk                        ¼ C chicken broth

1 TB butter                                               ¾ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper                                            ¼ tsp ground allspice

¼ C chopped fresh chives 

Boil potatoes for ten minutes in water enough to cover them. Add the carrots and boil an additional ten minutes. Drain and mash the vegetables, stirring in the milk, broth, butter, salt, pepper, and allspice. Sprinkle with chives before serving.

 And finally, for the muffins: 

½ C flour                                                 ¼ C finely chopped walnuts or almonds

½ C whole-wheat flour                             2 C finely chopped carrots

½ C sugar                                                ½ C finely chopped apple

2 tsp baking soda                                     2 eggs

1 tsp coriander                                         ¼ C canola oil

¼ tsp salt                                                 2 tsp almond extract

1-2/3 rolled oats                                      3 tsp rolled oats, crumbled

¼ C golden raisins                                   3 tsp toasted wheat germ

1/2 C dark raisins

Whisk together the flours, sugar, soda, coriander, and salt. Stir in the oats. Mix in the raisins, walnuts, carrots, and apple. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, oils, and almond extract, then stir liquid into dry mixture just until evenly blended. Spoon into a lightly greased twelve-muffin tin. Mix the crumbled oats and wheat germ together and sprinkle over unbaked muffin tops.  

Bake at 350° for 35 minutes, rotating pan half-way through. Cool on wire racks for minutes, then loosen with a table knife and set muffins on rack to finish cooling.  

There. I think I am now sufficiently fortified to give up my fantasies of fairy-godmothers – or Ladies Home Journal editors – waving magic wands and granting me more luxuriant hair, a cute little button nose, and twenty-seven-year-old thighs. And pooh on the notion of faceless destiny. I’m putting on my big-girl pants, doing all I can to keep my body healthy, and trying to stay out of my own way as my Maker nudges me toward the goal of becoming a better me. It’s that inertia thing that trips me up.


Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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