Monday, June 14, 2010

The 3 Ps, Portion, And Delicious Cake

Recipe: Brandy Buttermilk Apricot Cherry Upside-Down Cake

I read somewhere a few months ago that one of the reasons maintaining weight loss is so difficult is that a person spends so much time thinking about food while they're losing the weight, that when they've finally lost it, they are completely food obsessed.  As you can imagine, it's very difficult for someone who is obsessed with food not to eat...and eat...and the point of obesity!  And I can tell you, it is so true.  I was food obsessed before I lost 70 pounds, so you can imagine my struggle to balance my constant desire to shovel food in my mouth with my desire to stay healthy.  No really, when I say obsessed, I mean obsessed!  A good or bad meal can instantly affect my emotional state.  My social activities generally involve food in some way.  Want to hang out?  Sure, let's grab lunch!  You want to see that new movie with me?  Awesome, let's hit up the matinĂ©e and get dinner afterwards!  Hey Julie, how was your vacation?  Great!  The food was good!*  So yeah, I think it's safe to say I genuinely love food.  I am not one of those people couldn't care less what foods they ate, so eating healthy is just as easy as eating unhealthy. Oh ho ho ho, no.

I've developed a few methods for keeping my eating in check because a healthy lifestyle is about so much more than just switching to healthier food choices.  Despite what the masses tell you, there are no "good foods" and "evil foods".  Fat (and then Carbohydrates) is not the Devil's nutrient. Everything is a balance, and the loss of that sense of balance is why we're all fat!  And I could go on, but you don't have all day.

One of these methods, it's really more of a healthy lifestyle philosophy, I call the 3 Ps.  And those Ps would be portion, proportion, and practicality.  [I thought about prudence instead of practicality, but who wants to be prudent?]  Yeah, I's is beyond cheesy.  But I can't help it they all begin with P!  Just bear with me people, mkay?  In the interest of keeping this post at short story length, I'm going to break this explanation up into a series.  Today I'll talk just about portion.

One of the keys to eating right is eating the right amount and eating the right amount of the right things.  [And if you only had to read that sentence once to understand it...10 points for you!] That's where portion comes in.  It refers, of course, to portion size.  As gluttonous, greedy Americans, we have been bred to always want more.  It's economical.  And we're nothing if not economical, am I right?  I'm sure you've read the news stories about how much more a single serving of coffee is today versus 50 years ago, or how much bigger portion sizes are at restaurants.  The first thing you need to do is get your portions back under control.

I find this difficult because when I'm eating something I like, I want to keep eating it until I can't possibly eat any more.  Well that's just too damn bad.  Now I (on my good days) eat the amount of food I need, rather than the amount of food I want.  I judge my need based on both hunger and calories.  I took some time to research the amount of calories I needed to eat in a day based on my sex, height, weight, and activity level, divided it up between whatever meals and snacks I wanted to eat in a day, and tried to hit those goals.

I just scared you away, didn't I?  Counting calories scares a lot of people away.  Including me.  Fear not!  In all that work I figured out that if I also ate the right proportions of types of food and stayed practical and realistic, I was hitting my calorie target all on my own.  No counting calories needed!  Thank goodness!  Basically, the idea is eat until you're no longer hungry, and try to eat sensibly.

So as I was saying, one important step to overcoming over-eating was getting a handle on my portions.  I'm sure you've heard this before, but it is so true.  Using smaller vessels to hold your food helps you eat less.  Now, I'm not saying switch your soup bowl out for a shot glass.  Be reasonable!  But switch out your ridiculously large dinner plate for a salad plate, perhaps.  Not only does it keep you from piling too much food on your plate, but you'll feel like you're eating a lot of food because the plate is full.  No joke!  If you scoop a correct serving of rice onto a giant plate, your eyes are going to tell you you're not eating very much, and your eyes send data to your brain way faster than your stomach!  I know when Husband and I finally replace our hand-me-down dinnerware collection (We kind of desperately need to.  As much as I love it, it's totally chipped!), it's going to be hard to find something isn't ridiculously over-sized.  Gluttonous, greedy Americans, remember?  If you're worried about taking too little food, just remember you can always go back for seconds if you really need to.  I don't recommend having seconds as a general rule, but if you do just be sure to wait 15-20 minutes between helpings to give your stomach a chance to tell your brain you're full.

The same goes for containers you pack your lunch in.  If you have some huge 4 cup capacity container to hold your super healthy brown rice and vegetable stir fry, when you go to fill it up, you're going to keep filling and filling until it's full, or at least way fuller than it should be.  And while one of the perks of healthier eating is getting to eat more food for the same amount of calories as unhealthy foods, there is a limit.  Be reasonable!  Here's why.  When you eat a lot of food, your stomach expands.  When you eat less food, it shrinks.  When your super stretched out stomach is empty, you eat until that big stretched tummy feels full.  If your stomach isn't so stretched, you feel full sooner, and as a result eat less to get that same satisfied feeling.  So it's not just about what you eat, but how much.  Being able to control your portions is essential.

Baby steps!  When faced with a sweet tooth and an uncut cake, I'll take a bigger piece than I should just as sure as the next gal.  That's why I take steps to prevent Piggy Julie from rearing her ugly snout.  You may recall I posted a few of those steps? Just being aware of your portions ensures you're headed in the right direction!

*It's completely true that I judge a place I've been based on how good the food was.  What's worse, my desire to visit a particular location is generally right on par with how good their food reputation is.  Case in point, I couldn't wait to visit France and Greece, and oh my word is the food there ever the best!  Germany?  Not such a huge desire.  That's not normal, right?

If you couldn't tell from the pictures of cake sprinkling this post, I may have just been bestowing my wisdom about eating right as a way to off-set that fact that I'm posting another delicious Summer fruit dessert.  Not to mention, that makes you one of the most unobservant people ever.  Way to go.  Did you also fail to observe that the Summer stone fruit is finally here?   I for one did not!  I love stone fruit!  Apricots, peaches, and plums, oh my!  What's more, I love baking with stone fruit!

You know what I really love about this cake?  It was one of those unexpected kitchen successes. I had some apricots and wanted to do an upside-down cake, so I hunted around my Google Reader until I found one that tickled my fancy.  As luck would have it, I had cherries on hand too!  I thought I'd get something ordinary but delicious, but this cake was delicious!  I actually exclaimed "Oh my!" when I took the first bite.  The cake was light and fluffy (and boozy!), and the fruit topping was sweet and bright (and boozy!).  The apricots were a little bit tart, the cherries had that deep, sweet cherry flavor.  Everything was beautifully balanced and delicious. And the brandy!  Oh the brandy.  It was a beautiful compliment to both the cake and fruit.  It's richness and complexity are definitely part of what made this cake so memorable.  When can I make it again?

Brandy Buttermilk Apricot Cherry Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Eating Out Loud

Makes a 12" cake

For the topping:
1/4 cup butter (1/2 a stick)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 TB brandy

For the cake:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup brandy
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
7 apricots, sliced into medium-thin slices
1/2 cup cherries, pitted and sliced in half

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In an oven-proof skillet (preferably cast iron), about 10-12", melt the butter, brown sugar, and brandy.  Over medium heat, cook the mixture until it begins to bubble.  Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside to cool.
  3. In a bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the buttermilk.
  4. Slowly add the flour, and then add the baking powder, salt, vanilla, brandy, and lemon zest.  Mix just until a smooth batter is reached.
  5. Arrange the slices of apricots and cherries in the skillet, on top of the sugar mixture.  I wanted the top of the cake completely covered in fruit, so I really jam packed it in there.  If you want more of the cake to show through, use less.
  6. Pour the batter over the fruit, and use a spatula to smooth it evenly over the cake, making sure to spread it all the way to the edge of the skillet. Move the skillet to the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Make it your own!  This recipe can be done in a ton of variations.  You can use any stone fruit in place of the apricots and cherries.  You can use any liquor you think will compliment the flavors well.  You know what would be really delicious?  Bananas and bourbon, of course!  I'll have to try that sometime soon.  

For the more vestal readers, first, I have no idea what you're doing reading a blog all about pairing booze and food (not that I don't appreciate the readership), and second, I'm confident this cake is still a knock-out without the brandy.  


  1. I plan to try this in a sugar free version. It sounds wonderful!

  2. Great post! And I love the new layout :)

    And, it's perfectly normal (I think) to want to visit someplace because of their food! This is why I want to visit Italy more than any other place on earth!!!

  3. I agree, the layout looks awesome. Love the grapes. Now I want some.

    And Germany has AWESOME bread. You should go. Eat bread.

  4. Wow, this looks yummy!!! Your blog looks amazing.