Being hungry is a funny thing. By funny, of course, I mean crazy. Is there a more apt way to describe the raging forest fire that controls your every move? There really is no better way to qualify it. Hunger is funny. Your last-minute decision to have Arby’s for lunch, the attitude you gave your mother this morning, those salads you’re force-feeding yourself – hunger did all of that. I don’t know about you, but food can make me bark like a dog and cluck like a chicken any old time she wants.
Nearly every day, hunger reminds me that I am not yet a grown up. I regularly have to talk myself out of walking down the candy aisle at the grocery store. Those negotiations sometimes fail and when they do I can be found looking like a third grader who has just returned home from trick-or-treating. The evil 8-year-old in control of my brain often has other plans.
My most recent run-in with my inner child involved an incident with Girl Scout Cookies. In addition to having little self-control, I’m a bleeding heart. I want everyone to win, so when a friend called to tell me her daughter was selling Girl Scout Cookies … I bought a whole case.
A case, like I’m Oprah. As if the way to save the world is by purchasing 24 boxes of Samoas. I am a 38-year-old, grown-ass man. Why do I need 24 boxes of cookies? Why couldn’t I just be a normal person and offer to buy three boxes? Three is a nice sane number. No, I couldn’t do that. I needed 24 boxes. That’s 360 cookies, in case you’re wondering. I bought 360 cookies at one time with no intention of sharing with anyone.
Maybe you’re one of those positive people, and you’re picturing me carefully packing away my loot in a freezer. Twenty-four boxes, that’s a lot – surely he has a plan to ration those cookies for a whole year. Well, thank you for believing in me, but you’d be incorrect. What? I’m supposed to eat a cookie a day for a year except on Yom Kippur? That’s ridiculous. Who has that kind of willpower? Not to mention: cookies can’t go in a freezer; they don’t wear coats. That’s cruel and unusual punishment.
At first I was mostly responsible. I had a cookie or two after dinner. I’d have a cookie as a random snack. Then my crazy inner 8-year-old lost his tiny little mind and declared war on that case of cookies. I couldn’t control myself. Here a box, there a box, everywhere a box. I had a box for breakfast. I ate a couple boxes of Samoas while watching TV. Three boxes for dinner. I was off the rails. I had cookies as a midmorning snack, cookies in the car, cookies in the bathtub. I was a hot cookie-addicted mess.
I’m not sure how hunger works for most people, but mine definitely has a split personality. The 8-year-old is absolutely in control more often than he should be. When he isn’t sitting in the driver’s seat ordering fried chicken and eating bags of Smarties, it’s the princess of kale, Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s in charge. The two sides duke it out on a regular basis, which I think means I have a bi-polar eating disorder.
Gwyneth had been sitting quietly in a corner waiting for the Cookie Monster to do some serious damage. It wasn’t until she noticed that my pants were fitting a little tighter that she sounded the alarm. Gwynnie went into full-blown “captain of the Titanic mode.” She was raising her eyebrow and wagging the stinky finger of judgment in the face of all of my cookie-filled thoughts. Once I finished the case of cookies, and yes, I ate an entire case of Samoas without any help thank you very much, Gwyneth began enforcing very strict rules. She apparently has no respect for goal-oriented eating.
Of course, agreeing to cut back on cookies wasn’t enough. I had to go completely wackadoodle. Our first order of business was to completely rid my life of sugar. The princess of kale is evil. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but they don’t make cookies without sugar. At least not any cookies that you would actually want to eat. This was going to be very hard. I had been subsisting almost exclusively on Samoas and Diet Coke and now I was in Girl Scout Cookie rehab.
Paltrow dragged me kicking and screaming to Whole Foods and forced me to stare at their lush produce. After gawking at piles of dead plants for what felt like an eternity, GP challenged me to prepare a vegetable that I had never cooked before as a way to get my health back on track. I reviewed the options and decided to give beets a try. I choose them because they seemed harmless and when you’ve been deprived of sugar they look like giant balls of chocolate. Challenge accepted.
I whipped out my phone and turned to the queen of the kitchen, Ina Garten. Ina taught me how to roast a Thanksgiving turkey; beets would be a piece of cake, or cookie, depending on where your politics lie. I gathered the beets, fresh thyme, raspberry vinegar and a large orange per the recipe’s instructions and rushed home.
I got right down to work the moment I walked in the door. I peeled and sliced the beets and cut them into quarters. Those little suckers should have come with a trigger warning; they bled all over my kitchen. Beet juice was everywhere. My house looked like the set of slasher film. I tossed the horror scene onto a baking sheet and into the oven for 40 minutes. I spent most of that time scrubbing my hands like a surgeon and performing Lady MacBeth’s sleepwalking scene. “Out, damned spot! Out I say!”
The beets were delicious! I felt like a magician turning those purple mud balls into something worthy of eating. I had eaten beets several times before and loved them but this was different. I guess food that doesn’t come from a can really does taste better. I missed my cookie diet, but I was proud of myself for expanding my menu.
The morning after roasting the beets I got up to go to the bathroom as usual. Apparently taste isn’t the only difference between canned and fresh produce. I had the most gorgeous fuchsia urine the world has ever seen. At first, I was certain that I was on death’s door and immediately blamed the Girl Scouts and their disgusting Samoas. It took me a few minutes to calm my panic attack and realize that the beets had given me this little present. Then later, on my way to work, I get this text message from my husband: “I have purple pee and poop, disturbing yet beautiful …”
So consider yourself warned: Beets, much like hunger, are a funny and sometimes unpredictable thing. The real lesson here is moderation. Life should be 40 percent cookie and 60 percent beets, or is it the other way around? I never can remember.
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
Juice of 1 large orange
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Remove the tops and the roots of the beets and peel each one with a vegetable peeler. Cut the beets in 1 1/2-inch chunks. (Small beets can be halved, medium ones cut in quarters, and large beets cut in eighths.)
Place the cut beets on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, thyme leaves, salt, and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning once or twice with a spatula, until the beets are tender. Remove from the oven and immediately toss with the vinegar and orange juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve warm.