Little loud birds wake me as early as 4am these days. There’s pink honeysuckle blooming out back, though not the culinary kind which is a sweet shame. The lower shelf of my fridge is stocked with about three pounds of rhubarb bound for jam, cake, and a tart shrub and, instead of a tomato pico de gallo, I chopped in strawberries for a recent dinner party. (Here’s my peach version.) It’s full on spring in these parts and thank goodness for that.
We work hard for this moment. Sometimes, it feels like spring arrives in your part of the country a month or three prior to our snowy New England hills. In fact, I envied all the rhubarb and strawberries in your Instagram feeds as early as March! But winter wasn’t too much of a bother this year and spring brings all the hopes of a brand new season, a brand new life, really, for each of us.
It’s a separate feeling from the start of a new year. A new year is a blank slate, which is wonderful and paralyzing. We could attempt anything – like, say, lose a million pounds before swimsuit season – and all those possibilities can overwhelm, causing us (or maybe just me) to give up on that awful diet mid-way through winter. But by springtime, we’re past the newness of unrealistic dreams. We’ve thrown a bunch of possibilities at the wall and are now ready to focus on the few that stuck, to get down to the real business of achieving the achievable, to stop wasting anymore of the several months left to the year.
I’m getting down to business myself. Between trying to find the perfect location for the Eat Boutique market and taking on more writing and recipe development projects, I’m pushing through. I bet this year still holds some surprises but it also has me running toward what I want to accomplish as quickly as possible.
Since I mentioned it above, I no longer diet – so I’m not the one trying to lose a million pounds before swimsuit season. Sure, I’m always trying to get healthier and lose a few more pounds but I practice a far more sustainable way of eating – meaning I don’t let it make me crazy – and I’m just living my life as wholesome as possible, except for that weekly martini, naturally. And that martini goes swell with these oysters and Spring Mignonette.
You can skip directly down to the recipe – because it is a winner, I promise. It even got a feature in the Irish Sunday Times last month, which was a thrill. Or you can read a little about how I’ve reckoned my relationship with food first, your choice. I realized I’ve peppered in my life changes here and there but I haven’t really summarized all those big health life changes in a single blog post. I’m ready to share a little more about these changes and how they’ve shifted my business and my life, really.
To begin, I’ve been on a diet since I was nine years old or maybe earlier. I chalk it up to the low-fat and fat-free phase in the 80s and always hearing that I’d be pretty “if I simply lost a few pounds.” I suppose it’d be natural to blame others but when I kept on all that weight through my teens and 20s and beyond, you and I know there was only one person to blame. After dieting for most of my adult life and gaining a bunch more weight while writing my first cookbook (which is beautiful and delicious), I stopped dieting and started facing all the reasons I was still big and unhealthy. It took several years to stare those demons straight on. And once I began to eat food for the right reasons (you know, life), the weight started to drop (about 70 pounds so far) and I started liking me, maybe even loving me, at last.
Today, I eat dairy-free all of the time – the reduced inflammation in my joints and reduced lethargy was too grand to make eating dairy again a priority – and I eat a plant-based diet most of the week. When I lost all the weight, I started an elimination diet, only putting plants in my mouth and avoiding sugar, caffeine, animal protein, dairy, gluten, and alcohol. Over time (meaning months), I added eggs, fish, and gluten back in. I also added in a weekend glass or two of wine, but steer clear of cocktails because of the added, sometimes unnatural, sugars.
For me, I feel my lightest, my most mindful, pain-free, and extremely energetic when I eat mostly plants. I do eat animal protein – eggs and fish often; beef once per week; and duck or turkey on special occasions – but I keep it in check to ensure I don’t get crazy about it. You see, I make sure I get ample protein each day (about 45-50 grams for an adult woman who doesn’t exercise daily) but I do it in various ways because greens have protein, and so do beans and certain vegetables and even plant milk.
I guess you could call me a flexitarian. I don’t label it because why… and also because I simply give my body what it wants to feel so very good. It’s about listening to my body and avoiding the foods it doesn’t prefer. I also don’t analyze every meal or my portion sizes in the way I have in the past. I see my eating as a continuous wave – sometimes I’m eating more than enough (high tide) and sometimes I’m eating less (low tide) and it’s up to me to feed my beautiful body in a balanced, nutritional way and keep that wave flowing.
During this transformational journey from fat girl to happy-to-just-be-me lady, my kitchen pantry morphed considerably. In fact, I really want to show you all the better foods that replaced all the not-so-great foods in my fridge, freezer, and pantry. (I’ll do that in another post sometime, if you want.) I also cooked every single meal at home for a long time, learning from blogs and all of the 500 cookbooks on my shelves. (I’ve got to show you my cookbooks sometime, too.) But ultimately, I did it all step by step. I didn’t lose the weight or make all these changes overnight. Instead, I was far kinder to myself, making shifts as I could. I stayed focus on eating all the good foods and getting over myself fast when I ate something that wasn’t so great – because no one’s perfect.
In addition to my health, my life has changed a lot too. I plan my meals and plan around food splurges, nights when I know I’m going to eat or drink more than usual with friends and colleagues. I shop in smaller quantities way more frequently, sort of how I did when I lived in Europe, and only fill my fridge with essentials for a few days worth of meals. When I did live in Paris, I used to eat whatever I wanted, including dessert daily, and walked everywhere – I think I lost 20 pounds when I lived there. I do try to walk more often now, parking a little further from market doors to encourage a longer stroll. And I’ve become a much more instinctual cook, whipping up a dish from whatever we’ve got, tasting as I go, and always seasoning dishes with crunchy sea salt flakes and just ground black pepper.
My work has evolved too. I continue to write and develop recipes, but all of them have a way more wholesome spin because we don’t need to put refined sugar in every single dish (or any dish really). I am writing a lot of food gift articles to appear in magazines later this year (yay) but they are more wholesome too – which works out well because that was the most asked question on my cookbook tour back in 2015 – “do you have any wholesome food gift recipes?” Why yes, I do. As well, I still host markets but I’m working to open my first permanent retail space which will feature everything delicious and small batch to put a meal together – produce, pantry, cooking supplies, and more. I’ve learned a lot about how to shop for food and how to offer it to all you good folks, and I hope to build an urban market that features only the very best stuff whether it’s carrots or chocolate – because there’s always gotta be chocolate.
Overall, I feel great. And way more important than losing a bunch of weight, I feel more like the person I’m meant to be – happier, way more engaged in the small things, ready for a walk at a moment’s notice, excited to make beautiful dishes, and eager to take on the world. Instead of hiding out at home or in baggy clothes, I go out more and wear what I want because I feel good in clothes and only want to impress myself. I’ve actually stripped my wardrobe down to a general uniform of jeans or leggings, t-shirts, button ups, jean skirts, and clogs; it’s a wardrobe that I’m comfortable in, that takes the guesswork out of fashion, and lets me focus on sharing the content of my character versus my frame or physique.
I’ve been sharing a lot of better-for-you recipes here on Eat Boutique over the last year and that won’t stop. And let’s start with this pretty Spring Mignonette, featuring two of my favorite foods: oysters and rhubarb. Combined, they are bright and satisfying. This recipe takes absolutely no time to come together, except for maybe the shucking. You chop up all the mignonette ingredients and invite friends over to shuck all the shellfish.
If you’ve tried other mignonette combinations, I’d love to hear about them here on the blog or over on Instagram. And if you’re also trying to find a way to reckon your relationship with food, talk to me, let’s do this together.
Makes: 2 cups
Total Time: 2 Hours
- 1 cup finely diced English-style (seedless) cucumber (about 5 ounces)
- 1 cup finely diced rhubarb (about 2 8-inch stalks)
- 2 cups rice wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- In a medium bowl, place all ingredients and stir to combine very well. Refrigerate 2 hours to mesh flavors or until ready to use. The longer it marinates, the better. Store in the fridge up to 3 days.
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is now focused on opening her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: Recipes That Revamped My Pantry & Made Me Love Me, At Last, will be published by Roost Books/Penguin Random House in 2019. Her first cookbook, Food Gift Love, features more than 100 food gift recipes to make, wrap, and share and is available wherever you find favorite cookbooks.