Imagine a duel between a big fluffy California green salad and a plump, savory grilled Argentine chorizo. That pretty much sums up the food battle here in our intercultural marriage.
Food often looms large as an issue in intercultural marriages. My inner Californian does govern my diet—and thus my yearning for fresh, low-fat, low-sugar foods, whole-grain breads, "real" breakfasts, and low-calorie lunches, bumped up hard against my Argentine husband's eating habits. I balked at the "gaucho diet" of asado, chorizo, fried milanesas with fries, sugary cookies and dulce de leche as too fatty, too sweet, and with a low nutrition-to-calorie ratio.
My fourth-grade health teacher and Dr. Atkins would roll over in their graves if they could have surveyed his typical daily fare when I arrived. My darling Roberto was happy with coffee and a roll for breakfast, a heavy long lunch of meat, bread, and potatoes (followed by a siesta), a late-afternoon snack of crackers with cheese, and perhaps a supper of pasta with sauce.
Greens, veggies, and fruit made occasional cameo appearances during the week, but not daily, and certainly not at every meal. Meat and carbs were the stars of the show!
Sure, he would eat fruit for dessert—and half the time it was from a jar of conserves, laden with sugar. Visitors would often bring pretty little cookies and sugar-laden tarts and cakes with zero nutritional value whatsoever to accompany the rounds of mate. I feared for my waistline and possible diabetes, but most of all for Roberto's high cholesterol level.
Ten years ago when his cholesterol hovered at 280, he began the prescribed daily drug regimen, which over the years managed to reduce it to 230. And there it remained steady until I started messing around with the meals here. It began to drop more after the first two years, and he reduced the pills to every other day. This week he saw his physician—who was stunned to see it had dropped to 175. "Excellent--you're a kid again!" he marveled. Roberto raced home to me with the good news, as proud as a kid with "100" on his math test.
How did he reduce his cholesterol another 55 points in less than half the time with half the medication?
We agree it is his new low-fat, nutrition-dense diet. Roberto, bless his soul, has adopted a more California-style eating pattern. And really, there were no battles so long as I fixed the meals, as he had no clue how to fix these foreign dishes. Gradually and gracefully he adopted my own culinary habits, so although we may follow something of the Argentine dining schedule, the food that graces our table differs radically from our neighbors' menus.
We start the typical day with oatmeal (dotted with diced dried fruits and nuts) or homemade granola with yogurt and blueberries from our farm. (On Sundays, make that blueberry pancakes or yummy omelets). Lunches may be giant salads with some slices of ham or roast chicken or perhaps a spicy vegetable soup with a bit of beef, tofu, or wontons. My favorite is pumpkin-tomato soup. When served, we alternate the typical baguette with homemade breads (oatmeal, banana, corn, whole wheat), and consume considerably less refined white flour. Dinner includes some meat or tofu protein, a "starch," and a salad and/or other vegetable. It could be Chinese stir fry, Indian curry, or pepper-rubbed filets of beef.
Smoothies and Chocolate Chip Cookies Rule
I usually skip desserts—so he still has that piece of fruit. The cookies to accompany coffee or mate are my very popular, nutrition-dense homemade chocolate chip cookies (with whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, wheat germ, and nuts). He's become adept at whipping up tasty smoothies with yogurt and our farm-grown berries. I've learned to shake up a pan of popcorn on the stove (as microwave popcorn is hard to find and very expensive).
Okay, we still do the typical Sunday barbecue here, but instead of fatty meats, Roberto often does chicken or filet mignon. He does fabulous skewers of marinated chicken and beef! Any day now he's going to do grilled vegetables, I'm sure of it! And I've decided that those chorizos are mighty good after all. So once a week, we have chorizo. (I split mine open and use an espresso spoon to take out at least half the fat before cooking, surely treason, and may explain why I still have not received my Document of National Identity.)
The really cool thing is that in addition to Roberto's lower cholesterol, we both have lost more than a few kilos as well. The food wars are but a faint memory, and we truly enjoy the chance to whip up something tasty and healthy together—and then dine like royalty in our lovely garden or dining room. For me, sharing these good meals with the person I love is one of the best things about each day!