October 22, 2009

Black Dress Theory

Let’s face it, food tastes good with salt. French fries, pasta water, even chocolate – salt is everywhere and is the universally adored flavor enhancer. We are so accustomed to eating meals laden with the shimmering crystals that, to cook or eat a dish without them seems like an impossible feat, or at least impossibly boring. When people find out that I cannot have salt, they often react with horror and remark that, if they had to do such a thing, they “would commit hara-kiri.”

But this morning, I thought of an analogy that might illuminate the ultimately positive reality of eating low sodium. Although it takes some getting used to, not relying on salt has helped me discover other ways to heighten the delicious factor in my food. Eating low sodium does not mean eating without flavor. Sweet butter (when browned) can add nutty, earthy and delicious notes to your food. Vinegars, which are mostly sodium free and can help lower your blood pressure, come in many varieties – apple cider, rice wine, balsamic to name a few – and lend a tang and a zip to meats, greens, and even ice cream when reduced to a sauce. And don’t forget about spices – no one said you can’t have spices, you just have to look for the brands that are salt free. Cayenne, cumin, curry, star anise, coriander, fennel seed, mustard, white pepper, wasabi – holy mole, there is no shortage of options here. And then there’s wine reductions and beer baths, honey and molasses, citrus and fresh herbs. Choices abound, your meals will never fall flat.

So here is a small tale to help highlight the silver lining of low sodium living. And bare with me, this gets girly:

Limiting your sodium intake is like someone telling you that you cannot wear black anymore. Ok, at first, that seems like it would be difficult. People love wearing black. It’s slimming, it’s bad-ass, it’s professional, it’s easy. We all have the little black dress or the killer, I’m-going-to nail-this-meeting black suit. So at first, having to clear the closet of all your go-to black items feels like a bad, practical joke. And having to re-fill it with other things (what could those even be?) and re-style your wardrobe (what will I wear!) seems like an expensive and ultimately time-consuming venture.

Then, a moment of brilliance. You realize, a nice navy dress doesn’t look half bad and is just as snappy for business meetings. And actually, that metallic gold number you’ve had your eye on forever, but didn’t think you had the guts to pull off, is actually way more bad-ass than that cliché (and face it, fading) black dress.

The point is, in having to limit your choices, you begin to discover new worlds, new combinations, new possibilities that you would have never otherwise explored. And when that black tie event rolls around and you can’t put on the standard black outfit, you’ll just have to settle for the fuschia pink pantsuit.  And honestly, standing out never is a bad thing.

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