Pickled Beets Are The New Chocolate. Well, Kind Of.

So I said to my gynecologist I said, “What’s up with these four pounds I’ve gained since May?”

“You’re 46,” she said.

“Oh. So it’s nothing I’ve done?”

“Nope. It’s just your metabolism slowing down.”

“But I had such a flat stomach four pounds ago! Now four pounds are just sitting right here!” I said, squishing my fingers into the center of my paper gown.

“You can still have it. Give up that wine and chocolate you like and bump up the exercise and you’ll be back down there in a few months. But ask yourself, do you really want to do that?”

Well, yeah, I kinda do. The chocolate part, anyway. I won’t add more exercise, and I’m not even going there with wine. Not yet, anyway.

I went on a chocolate hiatus for a year and survived so I know I can do it. Chocolate was the one food I stopped eating entirely when I first started losing weight. Not that I had to, per se. Weight Watchers put no restrictions on what foods I ate. But I had to if I was serious about food discipline. I told myself, “Learn portion control with potatoes first, then move on to the hard stuff.” So I gave up chocolate for a year. Funny thing was, when I ate it again, it was like, “Eh, yeah, so?” It was still tasty, certainly. But I’d already lost 100 pounds and nothing, not even chocolate, was going to take that away from me. I was a Jedi Knight of food discipline.

I’m still a Jedi, but I’m not Luke anymore. I’m Yoda. I’m staring down a slowing metabolism, and unless I want to look five months pregnant for the rest of my life and be beholden to Spanx every time I wear a dress, I’ll give up the chocolate once again.

It’s not the taste I’ll miss as much as the ritual and comfort. When I unwrap the foil and pop a bit in my mouth, the taste and texture and the way it gets into the grooves of my teeth before melting is like passing a flower shop and the scent follows you for a few yards and you have a vague and pleasant memory of prom or your wedding or a special garden.

So what could possibly replace chocolate in this ritual? I’m in the process of interviewing food. This week, it’s pickled beets. So far they’re holding their own in the comfort sector and may be called back for a second interview.

You might recall a few weekends ago I made pickled beets. Hard to believe growing up in the upper Midwest that I’d never eaten them until last month. Pickled pigs feet? Of course! Pickled herring? Absolutely! I grew up on both. But I’d not had pickled beets until I saw how much my friend Pam’s little boy loved them when we went out for lunch one day. I tried one and it was love at first bite.

I scoured the internet for recipes and found Alton Brown’s. I’m in love with Alton Brown. So is my husband, but not in that way. Larry’s a biochemist science geek and adores those chemical explanations Alton has for everything while he’s cooking. I just think he’s cute…and the way he’s holding that mixer? Booyah! Anyway…

I chose this recipe because Alton roasts the beets in rosemary and uses tarragon vinegar rather than cider or regular vinegar. Sounded interesting, so I made them. I wouldn’t know how they turned out for a week because they have to ferment, but Alton promised, “Patience will be rewarded.” And he was right. The beets are, in a word, awesome.

I’m not suggesting pickled beets taste like chocolate, but they give me a similar level of comfort and satisfaction. Strange, I know, but keep in mind, I was raised on saltine crackers, gjetost cheese and lutefisk. I have eclectically weird taste buds.

What I’m trying to say is: I discovered that the comfort of chocolate had become a rote act when it should be special. I won’t swap the calories of chocolate for the calories of a sugary vegetable. I won’t eat pickled beets every day, or any other comfort substitute to be determined. The deal is, I’m cutting out about 100 calories a day for the sake of my stomach. And for those times when I want a little comfort, I’m looking outside the chocolate box to find suitable alternatives, including non-food things like incense and candles. It might work. It might not. My metabolism may have the final say. But I’m going to try.

(Click here to watch Alton make his pickled beets recipe. Afterwards is a segment in which he talks about latex and then a demo of another beets recipe and an obnoxious but probably oh-so-delish beet greens recipe. Egg yolk, cheese, cereal topping…yeah, he’s evil that way.)

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