January is a very depressing time to be a chowhound. Gone are those festive holiday feasts, and with them that holly-jolly mentality that turns us all into mad cookiemongers. New Year’s Day hits, and suddenly everyone’s doing jumping jacks, and eating mung beans, and trying obsessively to forget they single-handedly consumed an entire cheese log at the boss’s Christmas party. I believe the technical term for this phenomenon is “foodie-baiting”: You have one eggnog too many and fall off the health food wagon, we get all excited and try to befriend you with goulash and strudel — and then on Jan. 2 you run screaming after the wagon, and we’re left alone and confused with all this stupid strudel.
To make matters worse, the Great Mung Bean Panic always strikes during food’s most benevolent, user-friendly season of the year. Out: strange things involving shellfish and/or succotash and/or sun-dried tomatoes, and getting the runs after too many peaches, and noxious obnoxious Popsicles that will leave your face and hands sticky for 12 days. In: non-judgmental nosh like mac ’n’ cheese, and things with cute names like brickle and banoffee and heirloomy dishes like Grandma’s Semi-Famous Bundt Cake or Auntie Bathsheba’s Four-Time-Blue-Ribbon-Winning Bison Meatloaf. They don’t call it comfort food for nothing — not only will it lull you into a warm, happy coma, but it will often sit loyally in your fridge for weeks without raising a stink. That kind of unconditional love is hard to come by these days. How can we just turn our backs on it?
Obviously the culprit here is the dangerous business of making New Year’s resolutions. In theory, self-improvement is a good idea; and in practice, many resolutions are clearly worth having, like repainting the garage, or handing out free kittens to sad-looking people. Most of the time I’d say go for it, and good luck to you. But when Olestra chips enter the picture, I feel like I have to take a stand.
Let me clarify: I wouldn’t dream of crashing anyone’s crash diet. (Too-tight pants are just as frightening to me as they are to you.) But chicken soup is made for your soul, not just for your stomach — and during this freezing season above all others, food has your enjoyment in mind. So without further ado, I’d like to propose a few alternate resolutions, in the spirit of promoting the under-loved January buffet spread. No one’s forcing you to give up your protein powder, but just in case you feel your life force shriveling up like a Craisin:
1) Head to the cookbooks section of the Yale bookstore, and indulge in a little food porn. The winter displays offer a particularly titillating selection of seasonal eye candy: creamy soups, oozy fondues and gooey pies will make the room feel hotter than usual. And fortunately for us both, food porn is quite legal, and perfectly acceptable to look at in public/distribute to minors/e-mail to your aged grandmother.
2) Skip the dining hall and go out to dinner with friends. Try to pick unselfish friends who don’t mind sharing their food with you (i.e., real friends). That way you can eat most of their lasagna without actually ordering it yourself. The lasagna doesn’t care, and it’s much easier to repress the guilt.
3) Throw out all your Mallomars. Then promptly restock with newer, fresher Mallomars. Not only are these sweets the cutest things ever cooked up by Nabisco, but ladies and gentlemen, they only sell them in the winter. If you won’t eat them for Auld Lang Syne, eat them for my syne. Or better yet, for the syne of your sanity.
4) And while we’re on the subject of marshmallows, put one in the microwave and watch what happens. Kind of like your brain during shopping period. Oops … now I guess you have to eat it.
At the end of the day, you’ll probably still be running after the health food wagon — and to be honest, I probably will be too. The goal is just to try and keep a little perspective on what eating well really means. Post-Holiday Stress Disorder might be inevitable, and even a little welcome after all that Bundt cake, but it shouldn’t keep us from remembering and appreciating good tastes. I have faith that mung beans and Mallomars can live in harmony — and finding that balance might be the best New Year’s resolution any of us could make.
Although handing out free kittens is a close second.