Friday, August 29, 2008

BEST OF: Feeding guests on the Atkins Diet

Soon, the Tanners will have guests for a week, all of whom are on the Atkins Diet. Since we dine closer to the vegetarian side of the dietary street, so to speak, this is going to be interesting.

As I understand it, Atkins' menus include protein, salad stuff and other skinny veggies, salad dressings, bacon and butter. Period.

I know that Atkins, the Zone and similar diets have different phases, wherein bits of carbohydrates are reintroduced — half an apple here, a spoonful of sweet potato there. And there are many new low-carb, sugar-substitute, phony-foods out there.

I’m not sure yet where my company is on the dietary ladder. So I’ll plan for the worst-case menu scenario.

My mind boggles, then starts winging its way around the calendar. Imagine a Labor Day barbecue on the Atkins diet. No garlic bread. No potato salad. No corn or shortcake. Sob.

I’d have to watch football on TV, because there wouldn’t be anything else left to do.

My mind and my doctor lecture me. We have friends who’ve lost significant weight on the diet. As a culture and individuals, we’re way too fat. If you can find a way to lose weight that doesn’t kill you in the process, do it.

But with no gall bladder, some kidney problems and a family history of osteoporosis, I’ve always talked myself out of going on Atkins, despite having fond memories of my life’s 15-minute “thin times” dancing in my head.

While there is some anecdotal and study evidence that the diet helps, rather than hinders, keeping cholesterol levels down, I’m not 100 percent convinced.

And while studies show your life is longer when you’re thinner, nobody’s been able to accurately quantify “longer.” How much more life will I gain if I lose? Would the deprivation be worth it now, while I feel good, to be a size six for a few more months toward the end of my life, when I may not?

Yes, I’m rationalizing, folks, and, awk! Time marches on. The guests are coming, the guests are coming. My hostess genes began wringing their little hands. This is not how my grandmother and mother raised me to feed company. No frills. No carbs. No fun.

Then my harried shopper peeked at ephemeral silver linings lurking in the fog bank.

Usually, I plan for weeks for company, then husband Richard and I shop like human hummingbirds. Clutching our computerized shopping lists, we scurry hither, thither and yon. Buying a week’s worth of meal ingredients can lead us a merry chase countywide to find the best, most exotic or unusual.

Hey, we’re former caterers. It’s a hard habit to break.

Buying for Atkins guests would be a snap. Eggs and meat for breakfast, plus protein for the other meals, nuts to munch, selected veggies, dressing. Easy. Yes, Atkinsers can have butter, but absent lobster or crab legs I can’t afford, what can they put it on?

Being a closet Pollyanna, however, I began taking the concept further, looking around our own kitchen.

Forget supposed health benefits. If we could adopt an Atkins-like diet, just look at the money we’d save.

Better still, look at the extra space we’d have.

The cereal cupboard would be empty, as would areas now stuffed with crackers, cookies, pastas, baking ingredients, mixing bowls and tools. Eight shelves worth of cookbooks would become obsolete, creating more room for knick-knacks we certainly don’t need. Even cans of fruit, Jello boxes, jam jars and slightly sweet sauces would vanish.

The bread drawer could hold whisks and spatulas, except I wouldn’t need them any more, either.

Somehow, using fancy, heart-shaped cookie cutters on hamburger patties doesn’t cut it.
What would I do with the ice-cream drawer in the freezer? Fill it with the extra ice we always need. Candy jars on the counter? Full of potpourri and unidentified found keys.

The breadmaker, blender, ice-cream maker and other specialty equipment would disappear into storage, joining other cobweb-draped, dusty relics. We’d relegate Richard’s 20-quart Hobart mixer to planter status.

There wouldn’t even be much need for a kitchen. Do it all with a coffeepot, hotplate and salad bowl. Almost everything else can be cooked on an outside barbeque.

I could live that way for a couple of weeks, even a couple of months, to make medical points with a primary care physician who tends to cluck a lot and make noises about set-points and cholesterol levels.

But never again to make homemade whole-wheat bread, a fresh-strawberry smoothie, blueberry pancakes, brownies or even freshly steamed brown rice just because they sound good?

What happens when we have visitors who eat normal meals?

What about Richard’s legendary chocolate truffles? Or grandchildren, who want to help make cookies, popcorn balls and Grandma’s traditional coffeecake?

No, this would never work at Tanner Manor.

So our company will arrive, and we’ll feed them Atkins while sneaking our bananas and whole-wheat English muffins on the side. Then we’ll go back to our rounded lives, menus and bodies, contemplating the dietary restrictions we’ll have to work around for our next batch of visitors.

This column appeared on Nov. 14, 2003 in The Cambrian.

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