Intro

Seared Steak with Caper Relish

About a month ago I received a very powerful and vulnerable email from a reader. She had just finished reading Date Night In for the second time and this time she was particularly struck by the chapter where I gush about burgers. In that chapter I talk about two periods in in my life where burgers were more than just dinner – they saved me. If you’ve seen Date Night In you know that the subject matter is very tender but this chapter was probably the hardest to share. I briefly discuss a season in my life where I had a very unhealthy relationship with food. The reader who emailed me picked up on that, related to it then saw that I was very much healed of that and can now express great freedom and joy around food. She asked me to share more about that experience and how I found freedom.

I share this, with shaking fingers and short breaths, in the hope that it will help others on their path to health. This is my own journey  – no two are the same and yet there are universal truths that I think we all can and should learn from one another. I would love to make myself available to those who want to continue the conversation off of this public space and invite you to message me through the contact page on this site.

This was my reply:

Thank you for your kind words and your incredible vulnerability.

I am absolutely happy to discuss this subject especially if whatever I have to say (which I’m not quite sure what that will be yet) may be of some help to you. That chapter very tenderly touches on something that I silently struggled with for nearly two years. To this day I still have a hard time saying I had a problem as that would mean that I was out of control. I see now that all I was doing was trying to be in control and show how very in control I was. Obviously, I was not.

Coming back from studying in Italy during college I had put on some weight. At first I was clueless to this – I just knew that I had really enjoyed the creamy gelato, Carbonara and perfectly frothed cappuccinos several times a day. It was in Italy that I fell in love with food and I enjoyed it without abandon and free of guilt. Back home I was faced with the reality that 1. I had put on weight 2. I was getting married 3. Finishing college 4. Starting a career which I didn’t really feel excited about … anyway, a lot of changes and a lot of unknown. Unknown is scary to me. Unknown makes me curl up in a ball and rock back and forth.

So I used my impending wedding as my excuse for wanting to get in shape and eat right. Well, it turns out I’m extremely competitive with myself, and everyday became a competition of how much I could exercise and how little I could eat. To the point where on my wedding day my dress drooped off my body. After awhile my body stopped functioning properly and I spiraled into a pit of depression. I hated what I was doing to my body. I flung shame onto myself like a heaping pile of dirt and I buried myself in it. Guilt and shame never solve anything in fact they perpetuate the cycle and drag us down deeper and deeper into the pit.

People tiptoed around the problem. My then new husband didn’t really know what to do – I don’t blame him, I didn’t know either, plus we were just trying to figure out how to be married– that was enough to occupy our thoughts and conversations. I wish I could say I had some sort of revelation that got me out of my overthinking and obsessiveness about eating. There wasn’t.

We moved to LA about a year after our wedding. I had decided I wanted a career in food and long story short – I had an amazing opportunity to work at Spago in Beverly Hills. It was my first restaurant job. Before that job I didn’t know the incessant shrill of the ticket machine and how to prepare a soufflé, créme bruleé, a fruit tart and a cookie plate all at the same time. I’d work a full night then grab a gallon of ice cream on the way home from work to practice my quenelles. For months I was completely stressed and fraught with anxiety.  I fully put it on myself, but I’m a perfectionist, and I was determined to not let this job defeat me. I poured all of myself into that job. Eventually I loved it and succeeded in that position but it took a long time. That stress and my devotion to the job was all I had time for. I needed to be kind to myself in other areas of my life so I could really put all of me into that position. So I allowed myself to eat. And oh did I eat – burgers, late night fried rice, all the glorious fruit that comes from that California sun, the perfect-textured ice cream from dessert station, and soft-serve cones from whatever was open when the craving hit. It was sweet grace in a really hard but rewarding time in my life. Overtime I put on weight, got healthy again and without even really realizing it I developed a healthy relationship with food.

Seared Steak with Caper Relish Seared Steak with Caper Relish

Looking back I can see some things that were happening that I’m hoping will help you. I have the sort of personality where I quickly become obsessive. So when I tell myself that I can’t have something it’s all I want and all I can think about. I became so preoccupied with what I couldn’t have I hardly thought of anything else. Then if I succumbed to the insanity and actually ate what I said I couldn’t, I was wracked with guilt. It was a horrible cycle. All of that disappeared when I told myself that I had the freedom to have whatever it is I wanted or needed. If a sudden insatiable craving for chocolate ice cream hits – I lean into that craving. The thing is though, if I’m truly listening to my body and trusting its cravings it’s vegetables, fruit, leafy greens, creamy things – real food that it craves. I listen to what my body wants and believe it when it tells me I’m done. I rarely overindulge because I don’t have to. I’m very fortunate – and I don’t take this lightly – to know that every day there will be food. And not just sustenance, like really delicious food. I’m constantly testing recipes and I (mostly) love spending time in the kitchen so there is always food around. I know that I can indulge on a daily basis if I want to.

The trust and assurance I have in my body is beautiful. My body cares for me, has served me so well and in return I try and feed it what it needs to do its job. I’m not an overly healthy eater in the way our society now views healthy eating (paleo, vegetarian, all whole grains, etc.) and yet vegetables are probably my favorite thing ever (especially when there is cream and cheese involved).  I eat white sugar and white flour and currently there’s a bag of cool ranch doritos (almost empty) and mint oreo cookies in my cupboard. Everything and I mean EVERYTHING in moderation. Honestly, to me, this is healthy eating. The sort that believes nothing is off limits, no food is evil and any food can be used to bring joy and health to my body. That looks different every day but each day, each meal, each bite is a gift.

Food is a gift. It’s what connects me to my Creator. I want to see it as such, help others see it as such and use it to bless myself and others. There is no room for guilt and shame in that. When I see it as the gift it is and enjoy it with the grace we were all given it is beautiful and life giving – just as I believe we were meant to enjoy it. Eating for me now is a constant reminder that I am loved.

Today I eat for community, for pleasure, for grace, for sustenance, for fuel – there’s always many reasons. I exercise, not for my body to look a certain way, but so that I can feel strong because I am strong. Here’s the other secret, even when I was at my thinnest I still saw so much wrong with my body. I know that being beautiful has nothing to do with actual physical attributes but it has everything to do with how I feel inside. No amount of dieting or exercising will ever make me feel healthy and beautiful if I’m not mentally and spiritually strong.

I hope and I pray that in telling my story that there is some sort of truth that you can cling to that may help you. You are absolutely on the right path. Someday you will look back on that season as I do and be able to say, I am so thankful that I am freed from that way of thinking. It will not always haunt you and you will be able to enjoy food with great abandon. Writing this email was a gift to me – a reminder that I’ve come a long way in my relationship with food but more importantly with myself. Each imperfection of my body is a reminder of my own imperfection. And that is freeing to me now not suffocating as it once felt. I’m reminded that perfection is not needed for me to be fully loved. I also look at the bumps, bruises, dimples, stretch marks, wrinkles, rolls, etc. and see them as a reminder of my strength – of a life fully lived. My body tells a story and right now I’m damn proud of that story. My body and I are most effective in this world when we trust each other and work together.
2m1a7111

Seared Steak with Caper Relish
 

Seared Steak with Caper Relish

In this moment in my life this steak is health food and I enjoyed every single bite of it.

 

Caper Relish:

2 cups (packed) assorted herbs (such as Parsley, basil, mint, cilantro, chives)

1 clove garlic, smashed

3 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced

zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1/3 cup capers, drained

1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup finely grated parmesan

 

Steak:

2 New York Strip steaks (or whichever cut you’d prefer)

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 garlic clove, smashed

 

For the relish:

In the bowl of a food processor combine the herbs, garlic and scallions. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the lemon zest and juice, fish sauce, capers, olive oil, pinch of salt and pepper, and Parmesan then pulse to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then pulse a few more times for good measure. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. It should taste quite strong and pungent to stand up next to the steak.

 

For the steak:

Season the steak with salt and pepper, generously.

In a large cast iron skillet add the olive oil and butter. Once the pan is smoking carefully add the steak and garlic clove. Leave it be, undisturbed for five minutes to build up a good crust. Flip the steak then begin basting it with the garlic-tinged butter and oil using a spoon and tilting the pan if needed.

Continue to cook until desired doneness, about 4 minutes more on the other side for medium rare (135°F).

 

30 Responses to “Seared Steaks with Caper Relish”

  1. Lisa Peterson

    Ashley,
    Thank you for sharing your story, you are a blessing. I teach middle school and high school age students, many who struggle with food/weight related issues. Your healthy relationship with food is an inspiration and so full of commonsense. God has given you an amazing forum through your blog, thank you for taking full advantage of it.
    Many blessings to you and your family, Lisa

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Thank you so much for that encouragement. I really appreciate it. And bless you for teaching! What an incredible challenge but what opportunity you have!

      Reply
  2. Robin | CaliGirl Cooking

    Ashley, thank you so much for posting this and putting yourself out there! Funny enough, I had just emailed you this morning with some blogging/product questions, and then this post hit my inbox. Let me tell you – I COMPLETELY relate and know exactly where you’re coming from. Unfortunately, my unhealthy relationship with food lasted quite a bit longer than two years, but now I am proud to say that I have truly found my balance without needing to cut out any food group completely. Like you, I have a bit of an obsessive personality, if I say I can’t have something it’s all downhill from there, if I give myself permission to have anything I want, I have more freedom to listen to my body and tune in to what it REALLY needs. Thank you again for sharing, it’s always so comforting to hear that we are not alone!

    Reply
  3. Molly F.C.

    Wow. What a powerful blog post. I am older than you, entering another stage of my life, and with that comes weight gain, (like I never had), and other issues. My baby is ten years old, and I feel young although I know that I’m not as young as I used to be. Sigh. Anyway, I love what you wrote but not that you went thru such turmoil. You were very kind to share such personal trial & subsequent triumph. While I struggle with body acceptance, it helps to remind myself that I am strong & that my body has served me well. Faith in our Lord helps with this. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will reread what you wrote, for sure, as it is a keeper. God bless.

    Reply
  4. Teri Giese

    How eloquently written!Having a very similar personality,I too can relate to much of the drive to perfection.I have the exact opposite issues with my 55 year old bod,but the same embracing of it as well.Have AKWAYS been tiny.Nickname was BONES,as a kid.Last to menstruate,last to everything!Was a fitness competitor and instructor as my primary career;(nursing school dropout)lol!.I refused to diet,or starve for those fitness contests.Def not going to fibroids or pills!Unbelievable how incredibly UNHEALTHY,the women I lost to.Was a mother of 3,and as fantastic I thought I looked;the world wanted more,(or less).Now,at 55,I still am a runt.Am a great cook and baker;always get the,”how are you so skinny,and eat such good food!”thing.Sort of reverse body shaming.So,we all should just be kind,and loving and genuine.Would never have thought that such a beautiful,successful,talented,…woman had any struggles in life.Are all human,1 in the family of God.All perfectly formed by Him.What the world calls a flaw,I call a battle scar,one proudly worn as a survivor.15 surgeries in my lifetime,blessed to be alive,a gift that I can walk and drive a car again.As I was hit with health woes and birth defects that caught up with me.Had I not taken care of this carcass, would be gone or bedriiden forever.3 years I was bedridden.Am here to tell you,was bad.Live life ,enjoy the gifts He has given us!Joy and. Peace !!!😊

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I appreciate the vulnerability and perspective. I too get that silly comment all the time, “Do you even eat the food you make?” I do, I enjoy it all the time but I don’t over do it. I listen to my body and trust its cues.

      Reply
  5. Taste of France

    I love that despite your previous troubles with food you managed to make it your métier. That says a lot about developing a good relationship with food. It isn’t like smoking–not eating isn’t an option.
    Thank you for sharing this. And best wishes for the rest of your journey.

    Reply
  6. Chelsea

    I want to preface this comment by saying that I have never, ever commented on a blog post despite following many. And I feel compelled because this resonated so deeply. Just want to say thank you, really. I identify in so many ways. I cannot wait to eat this steak. And then a cookie after. And silently celebrate not feeling guilty or compelled to run or go to the gym. Yes to healthy minds and spirits and bodies. And healthy eating- Oreos and all.

    Reply
  7. Hannah

    I’m studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria this spring and your story really resonates with me. I don’t have the healthiest relationship with food (if it isn’t blueberries or salmon, I feel terrible for eating it) and I’m a little worried about gaining weight or developing an even unhealthier relationship with food. Reading your story eases my anxiety though. I’ll have to bookmark this and come back to it when I feel guilty for eating whatever Austrian cuisine is. I’ve learned so much about delightful food and how to enjoy it from you. Thank you, thank you!

    Reply
  8. Rachelle Weber

    Thank you, Ashley. Currently struggling with my food issues again… This was so helpful and kind! xo

    Reply
  9. Peabody (SweetReciPEAs)

    I talk about this a lot on my blog. Not only being a positive body advocate but a former WW leader.
    I like you get obsessive when I diet. I start to lie to people that I ate. I work out hours upon hours. It just isn’t healthy.
    Find that balance is hard. Even friends who think they have a good relationship with food say things like ugh, I ate like a pig I better double it up at the gym tomorrow. And I simply point to their children and say “they’re listening…they’re learning”.
    My issues with food came from my mother. To this day she diets. Then gains. Diets then gains. Over and over and over. Her life sadly is either talking about the diet she is on or worried that she’s gained so much that she has to go back to dieting. I have tried to help her and it’s just something you have to reach on your own. Her generation came from the clean plate club. She passed that on to me. It took a long time to get to the point to say it’s okay that I left food on my plate. Unless it’s bacon…you should never leave bacon behind.
    It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and put on Prednisone that I realized I couldn’t let my weight define me because from time to time my weight goes up due to meds.
    I guess you could say I am an intuitive eater. My mother doesn’t get it. She is in awe when I make cinnamon rolls and take one…only to eat a few bites (because I wasn’t that hungry at the time). But then she is horrified if I eat a big meal, which I often do after playing hockey.
    Thanks for sharing your story. The more of us that tell it the more people can hopefully come to terms with their relationship with food.

    Reply
  10. sara forte

    What a beautiful and sweet response. I love how you put this all to words, knowing only a little bit of your story. Having a chapter of my life sounding similar, I can relate to that exact secret: “even at my thinnest, I did not like my body” – I still remember the very spot in my parents front yard I was sitting when I thought it. I still think of this moment when I look at the full length mirror in our bathroom before I get in the shower, squeezing my hips or hating how tired the skin on my tum looks, entertaining the thought of “IF I was more fit, IF my eyes weren’t so droopy, IF I had a longer torso, THEN I’d like this body” and I believe in my heart that is not true because I’ve seen a glimpse of the other side. Anyway, I just agree with so much of this and am proud of you for sharing it here. Thank you xo

    Reply
  11. Heather

    Ashley,
    This is wonderful. I so appreciate you putting words on these feelings that I have as well. Thank you for your recipes, reflection, vulnerability, and example. You really blessed me today with this post. I want to share it with so many people and I know there is that healthy balance out there for all of us. Keep up the great work! Heather

    Reply
  12. renee

    I thank you and could not agree more. I thank you for you message of “moderation’ in this crazy food world we live in and, for you and I, one in which we also work. I especially love when you pointed out the beautiful and so true bit of wisdom, that I have experienced myself: when you were your thinnest you were still unhappy. with your body This is the truth and it is what keeps me grounded. I wish you the best and thank you again:)

    Reply
  13. Joanne

    Thanks for this beautiful post. The words touched my heart as I have very similar feelings for the food that nourishes my body.

    Reply
  14. Gabriela

    Ashley,

    Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story- I know it just be scary to put it out into the world like that. As a women in her mid-twenties I constantly struggle with my relationship to food. Whether it’s accepting that my metobolism isn’t like it used to be when I was 16 or watching the other girls at my office count calories while they take out their lunches. There is so much pressure to look a certain way and I’ve definitely succumb to low times where I drag myself down. I love good food so much, and like you say everything in moderation (cool ranch doritos are the best by the way!!) A good meal brings me so much happiness, but I still have those days where I regret having not eaten like I “think” I should have. Working on changing that step by step. Thank you for sharing your story! Your posts and recipes are something that I look forward to every week 🙂

    Reply
  15. Emily

    Thank you for sharing your heart here with such honesty. There is so much wisdom in your words. It’s an issue that I’ve spent more time pondering as of recently, especially now that I have a daughter who is becoming more aware of her appearance. The world can send such hurtful messages. To know that we are completely loved and valued just as we are because of God’s grace is such a gift. I find myself daily needing to surrender my tendency to prove myself to the world and simply rest in His love and grace. Thank you for this beautiful reminder.

    Reply
  16. Karen Simon Peterson

    Thank you for being so open and honest about a subject that many share and is so difficult to talk about openly. I struggled with the same issues for many years and I’m happy to report that seven years ago, at the age of 63, I finally got off of my food roller coaster and developed a more healthy relationship with my body and food. I have maintained a healthy weight and we, also, practice everything in moderation.

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      I’m so happy to hear you are off the roller coaster. IF you feel comfortable sharing I would love to hear how you healed your relationship with food. It’s such a common struggle among women especially. I hope that we can bring it more to light and help one another.

      Reply
      • Karen Simon Peterson

        In respose to your question- after a lifetime of dealing with anorexia and being very underweight, when I hit middle age I gained 50+ pounds and developed diabetes. My husband and I had a discussion and decided we both needed to start eating more healthfully with more fruits and veggies and less junk. It took me two years to lose fifty pounds and in the process the diabetes also went away! In the five years since, I’ve kept the weight off and we continue to eat healthy, lots of veggies, mostly chicken or fish and desserts once a week or on special occasions. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but I haven’t regreted for a minute. I don’t feel in the least deprived because I eat what I want, but always in moderation.

        Reply
        • Ashley Rodriguez

          Karen, I can not thank you enough for your vulnerability. I so appreciate your bravery in sharing your story. I really do believe that it will be helpful to many. Thank you so much for being here.

          Reply
          • Karen Simon Peterson

            Thank you, Ashley. Eating disorders are an important issue and if I can help anyone with my story, I’m happy to do it.

  17. Kacie

    So much love for you and this post. You’re certainly not alone. I share a very similar path and story and I share that same gratitude with you. x

    Reply
  18. Morgan

    i am a long time admirer of your writing, your recipes and of your photography. you’re truly so gifted and i aspire to be able to write as well as you one day.

    your instagram post for this recipe about “healthy eating in the way our society views it” resonated with me and brought me a sense of clarity on how i view food. i’ve been struggling for the past year with this incessant need to “eat clean foods” only (which includes indulgences) but left me feeling crazy guilty if i ate gluten or doritos or something that wasn’t considered “clean”. moderation and a time and a place for every kind of food is so true. i also believe in flour, butter and sugar as much as i do green smoothies. thank you for helping me figure this out and articulating it so beautifully. you have no idea how much it means to me. THANK YOU.

    Reply

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