STEVE INSKEEP, host:
As you know the days are getting shorter, and darker and colder. It's the time of year when winter begins to creep in and also the time of year when we look for things to make us feel a little more warm and comfortable. One of the best ways to do that is through a little dose of self indulgence. The food writer in MORNING EDITION regular, Nigella Lawson, has some thoughts about self indulgence. She joins us from London to talk about them. Hi, Nigella.
NIGELLA LAWSON: Hello. I'm very, very pro self-indulgence.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LAWSON: I think I'll be upfront now.
INSKEEP: I had a feeling you might be, although, we should emphasize that in the United States self indulgence - I mean, kind of got that puritan heritage over here - it's considered bad.
LAWSON: It is considered bad, and in a way, you could say that only heightens the pleasure. So, your negativity is not entirely negative, we should say. I mean, I think that we feel self indulgence is bad for two reasons. I think one, that people are kind of diet obsessed; and the other, of course, as you say, it's a puritanical feeling that somehow, if you enjoy yourself, there must be some moral slackness.
INSKEEP: Hmm. Well let's just dive into some moral slackness here, if we might, because once again, our colleague, Courtney Dorning, has baked one of your recipes, here. And just at first glance, it looks like a cross between a pancake and toasted cheese sandwich. I believe its called doughnut French toast. What is it?
LAWSON: Okay that's fine, it's the right sort of color.
INSKEEP: Oh my god, it's amazing.
LAWSON: It's really�
INSKEEP: Excuse me, this is just amazing, it's like a doughnut but it's a French toast. Go on, go on please.
LAWSON: No, well I think - the reason I think (unintelligible) a doughnut, is because the eggy-ness(ph) and the vanilla come through and then you put sugar on top, like a doughnut. And there's something - I don't know whether this is true - but someone said to me, that vanillin, which is the thing that make vanilla smell like it does, is present in breast milk. So we have some very primitive desire to be comforted by the taste of vanilla. I don't whether it's true or not, but I'm just telling you. So, you could say it's a kind of Freudian self indulgence.
INSKEEP: I had a mouthful of it when you're saying that - it's really more than I needed to know. But thank you anyway, I appreciate it. It does taste like it's got like - almost like a doughnut glaze on it. Its really is quite a treat. It's really great.
LAWSON: Well, sugar, you know, sugar is enormously comforting. And I say that as someone who finds all food comforting, including savory foods.
INSKEEP: So, how do you find a balance - or do you even try - between enjoying something a little rich, from time to time, and actually, you know, going overboard and being unhealthy.
LAWSON: Well, I think the balance is much easier to maintain if you don't deny yourself all the time. I think people who forbid themselves to eat anything that's been fried or that has butter are the ones that suddenly manage to eat tubs and tubs of ice cream. Whereas, I think the body is self-regulating. There are times when you want something fried and then you will feel like a very light soup or a plate of steamed vegetables. I mean, I actually feel I eat very healthily. My only problem is that I eat enough for five healthy individuals.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Oh, come on.
LAWSON: That - it's a portion control issue. But I do think it is okay to eat foods that the dieticians say don't eat. I also think that one should make a real distinction between self-indulgent foods that are real foods, and processed foods which have all sorts of things and which aren't good for you. So, as long as you're cooking proper food for yourself, I don't think you need to feel so bad about it.
INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting. It sounds a little like Michael Pollan, who has been in this program many times, talking about�
INSKEEP: �you know, something that feels natural, something the grandmother would recognize as a food - rather than a food product or something.
LAWSON: Now, he is quite right there.
INSKEEP: Now, you've also got� If you don't mind, I'm going to eat the other piece of this doughnut French toast.
LAWSON: Carry on. (Unintelligible).
INSKEEP: And as I do that� Yes, (unintelligible), it does have a crunch to it. It's really crispy, it's great. I wonder if you could describe another recipe you've got here. I don't know if this would go with the doughnut French toast, but if you would describe Cheddar Cheese Risotto, please.
LAWSON: I would be delighted to. I don't think it does go with it. But I think it has a lot in common, even though, of course, the ingredients are very, very different; which is, I suppose, self-indulgent foods reminiscent of the taste we loved in childhood. So, just like the eggs and the milk and the sugar in the doughnut French toast, the cheese risotto - the cheese melts and becomes sort of gooey. So I suppose it's like a slightly grown-up grilled cheese sandwich. But there's something about carbohydrate, which you can beat carbohydrate for comfort. And even though I, at first felt - I felt bad about the Italians and why I'm putting cheddar in a risotto - but an Italian friend of mine says that whenever she goes back to Italy, they ask her to bring cheddar back; because of course, for them, they make a choice between cheese that has a flavor, or cheese that goes gooey. Now cheddar has a strong flavor and also goes gooey. So it's kind of perfect.
INSKEEP: Hmm. But not something that would be on a traditional Italian plate.
LAWSON: Oh, not at all. But I think that my notion of self indulgence, perhaps, isn't entirely the same as everyone else's. And what I love about this dish, is you can sneak a few minutes in the kitchen and just stir - and sometimes I find that the best way to switch off. So, I'm really in my own little world, stirring something, and then I'm eating it. I do think also, anything that can be eaten out of a bowl with a spoon is a fantastic self indulgence. No cutting, no chewing.
INSKEEP: Hmm. There you go.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Excuse me, I was just chewing some more of the doughnut French toast there. Is there anything to avoid when you are putting together some self indulgent food like this?
LAWSON: Well, I'm afraid there probably are things you should avoid, but I don't know that I know how to. I suppose you don't want to have them everyday. You don't want to be a pile up. And also, I think sometimes people confuse comfort eating with misery, so there is no point in indulging yourself if you are going to persecute yourself at the same time. That is what you have to avoid.
INSKEEP: What do you mean, when you say persecute, you mean�
LAWSON: If you don't enjoy it because you think I shouldn't be eating this, then don't. If you can wallow in the pleasure of every single mouthful, then you're doing something good. And I think, then, somehow it's healthier. It's not healthier - it doesn't make any difference, nutritionally, but I think the mind is important as well as the body.
INSKEEP: Nigella Lawson, thanks very much.
INSKEEP: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: Nigella Lawson is the author of several cook books, including, most recently, �Nigella Christmas.� And if you like to indulge yourself at home, both of these recipes are on our Web site npr.org.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
As winter nears, we look for ways to be warm and comfortable. One of the best ways to do that, says food writer Nigella Lawson, is to indulge in rich, tasty foods that some might call guilty pleasures. For instance: Why not make French toast that tastes like a doughnut?
Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson's new book for the holidays is Nigella Christmas.
Rosie Greenway / Getty Images
As winter creeps in, we look for ways to be warm and comfortable. One of the best ways to do that, says food writer Nigella Lawson, is to indulge in rich, tasty foods, even ones that some might call guilty pleasures. For instance: Why not take a doughnut, and make French toast with it?
Lawson is the author of several cookbooks, including most recently Nigella Christmas.
And as she tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, "I'm very, very pro self-indulgence."
For anyone who thinks that kind of indulgence is a bad thing, Lawson agrees — up to a point.
"It is considered bad," she says, "and in a way, you could say that only heightens the pleasure. So, your negativity is not entirely negative."
There are two common causes for that feeling, according to Lawson: First is the fact that rich food may be the opposite of what many diets prescribe; and second, the puritanical urge to view sensual pleasure as a sign of what she terms "moral slackness."
Anyone willing to fly in the face of those concerns might try Lawson's recipe for doughnut French toast. It's rich, golden and crispy — and sprinkled with sugar.
"The egginess and the vanilla come through, and then you put sugar on top, like a doughnut," Lawson says.
If that sounds a bit rich, Lawson says people denying themselves — anything fried, or anything containing butter, for instance — is one of the biggest food problems. Indulging in those things once in a while, she says, makes it easier to balance them with lighter fare, like soups and steamed vegetables.
"I actually feel that I eat very healthily," she says. "My only problem is that I eat enough for five healthy people."
Anyone interested in a more savory treat might try Lawson's cheddar cheese risotto. It's a bit like "a slightly grown-up grilled cheese sandwich."
"There's something about carbohydrate," she says. "You cannot beat carbohydrate for comfort."
Still, Lawson admits to feeling some guilt about making an Italian risotto with the very English cheddar cheese.
Then an Italian friend in Britain told her that every time she goes to her home country, her Italian friends ask her to bring them some cheddar.
Citing Italy's reverence for cheese that has either an interesting texture or a strong flavor, Lawson says, "Cheddar has a strong flavor and also goes gooey, so it's kind of perfect."
The risotto has another of Lawson's preferred qualities of comfort foods: "Anything that can be eaten out of a bowl, with a spoon, is a fantastic self-indulgence. No cutting, no chewing."
Lawson has one caveat about comfort foods.
"There is no point in indulging yourself," she says, "if you are going to persecute yourself at the same time."
It makes no sense to eat foods that will only bring feelings of guilt, not satisfaction, she says. It's much healthier to enjoy food absolutely.
"It doesn't make any difference nutritionally," she says, "but I think the mind is important, as well as the body."