PMS makes me glad to be a foodie. Yes, it brings me headaches, cramps, a variety of aches and pains, mood swings and cravings. But it also has its consolation prize: a heightened sense of taste and smell. My palate is at its best when I’m premenstrual. The taste of chocolate during one particular week of the month is, for me, far more intense, complex and satisfying than at any other time. It’s a sharpening of the senses that, I suspect, eludes those who don’t get a big burst of progesterone once a month. And it’s pretty damn cool. I mean, “superpower” is a strong word, but…
This is also common in pregnant women. It’s a sweet little evolutionary adaptation. When our bodies are working hardest and either feeding the next generation or at their most fertile, we need protection from spoiled food and poisons. It was an adaptation that helped to ensure survival in an environment that didn’t include refrigerators. So now we hormone-enhanced women have a culinary advantage. (And yes, I can tell when the bread’s going moldy at least a day before my husband can.)
Different women, of course, have different reactions to their menstrual cycles; most of us eventually have cravings of some sort, but one that’s craved particularly often is chocolate. It’s a common sexist stereotype: the angry, hormone-crazed premenstrual woman slavering over a bowl of chocolate ice cream. In American society, at least, we’re told that we’re useless at this time of the month: we’re irrational, flighty, irritable and utterly unfit for human contact. We’re told to hide our symptoms and stoically endure pain that would send most men home early from work, and if in masking our intense cramps we snap and yell at a catcaller on the street, we’re ‘crazy bitches’ who are untameable, except perhaps with chocolate, or maybe expensive prescription drugs.
I think we’re going about this all wrong. Instead of pathologizing what is a perfectly normal human event, let’s look at the facts. It’s not so much that we’re moody and irrational; it’s that our emotions and our senses are both heightened already, and then made even sharper by the presence of physical pain. We feel things more intensely, positive or negative. We laugh harder, we are more deeply moved by, say, the series finale of Six Feet Under (I’m still crying inside!), we feel rage more keenly. We are more perceptive (another evolutionary advantage handed down to those who are more physically vulnerable). And things taste better. Especially chocolate. You are now in a position to enjoy chocolate in a state the world’s top male chefs only wish they could achieve.
I say we celebrate our strength, our competence, and our ass-kickin’ taste buds at this time every month. Here’s my prescription for getting through the day before your period; I recommend combining this outrageous, bad-for-you, utterly over-the-top meal with your painkillers of choice, a comfy pair of sweatpants and some Margaret Cho DVDs. Also, a warm cat purring on top of your stomach is a nice touch.
Gluten-Free Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Pretzels
If you think it’s overkill to start this meal with a sweet, salty chocolate snack, you’re obviously not a premenstrual woman. I’ve always been a fan of chocolate-covered pretzels; I started making my own when I realized that was the only way I was going to get them gluten-free was to do it myself. It’s quite simple:
1 cup chopped chocolate
½ cup creamy peanut butter
1 bag gluten-free pretzels (Ener-G is the best kind)
Melt the chocolate in a pan until liquid. Dip the pretzels in it (it’s easier if you hold them with tongs or chopsticks) and lie flat on a sheet of waxed paper. Now melt the peanut butter and drizzle as much as you like over the pretzels. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Allow to cool (you can put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for a little while). Dig in.
Steak with Dark Red-Wine Chocolate Sauce (courtesy of Joe)
2 steaks (I like porterhouse, but the cut’s up to you.)
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 cups red wine (Remember, don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t serve.)
2 tbsp unsweetened (baker’s) chocolate
¼ cup heavy cream
Sliced shiitake mushrooms (optional)
Salt and pepper
Saute a shallot in 1 tbsp butter. When soft, add the mushrooms and sauté for about a minute. Add two cups of red wine. Reduce to about a cup. Add two tablespoons of unsweetened chocolate, the heavy cream and a tablespoon of butter. Bring to a boil, remove and add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over steak and serve with potatoes.
I recommend pairing this with a nitro can of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout.
Now, I’m not a big fan of baking mixes or pre-prepared food generally– if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that when I cook, I do it from scratch even if it doesn’t make much sense to do so. But I’ve found a brownie mix, an amazing, rich, moist brownie mix that can be customized any way you like, and I just don’t want to make brownies any other way any more.
Oh, and the mix is gluten-free. It’s the Gluten-Free Pantry’s Chocolate Truffle Brownie mix. They carry it at most Whole Foods stores, and you can order it at their website. Buy it and follow the simple instructions (add water and eggs, stir) to make brownies. Only, when you do it, add about a tablespoon of good-quality ground cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Trust me on this.
Bake your brownies and let them cool (but not completely). Then add a scoop of premium chocolate ice cream (I like Godiva), some chopped super-dark Belgian chocolate (available in blocks at Whole Foods), some toasted almonds, and Joe’s chocolate sauce.
Tweak as desired. Go crazy. Treat yourself well, and give yourself a break today.
Note to men: Congratulations on making it all the way to the end of the post! If you’re jealous of our turbo-charged superpalates, just try to console yourself with the fact that you still make more money than we do, you can probably walk down the street without getting threatened or harassed every day, your weight probably isn’t a topic of public scrutiny, and you don’t have to wear pantyhose unless you want to. If you’d like to do a good deed and remind a woman in your life that you’ve got her back, try surprising her with one or more of the above dishes.