Ear­li­er this week Stacey Bal­lis wrote about Rosh Hashanah cook­ing and fast­ing on Yom Kip­pur for the Vis­it­ing Scribe. Her newest book, Good Enough to Eat, is now available.

I’ve long been fas­ci­nat­ed with the rela­tion­ship women have with their own bod­ies and appetites. While the sub­ject of weight and body image and strug­gling with sex­u­al­i­ty and attrac­tive­ness is uni­ver­sal to all women, when I speak to groups of Jew­ish women, these issues seem height­ened some­how. And it is a top­ic that comes up fre­quent­ly when I meet with peo­ple to dis­cuss my books.

As a nov­el­ist, who hap­pens to be a plus-sized Jew­ish woman, I am often asked to speak with gath­er­ings of Jew­ish women about my work, which often fea­tures Jew­ish plus-sized women. In fact, all of my pre­vi­ous books have had hero­ines who are Jew­ish, and they have ranged in size from 14 – 24. It is impor­tant to me, in a world where the hero­ines of books are sig­nif­i­cant­ly petite gen­tile girls, to show women like me, women like my friends and fam­i­ly, in my books. My work is not par­tic­u­lar­ly Jew­ish, although there are hol­i­days that appear when appro­pri­ate, and some ref­er­ences to Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions. Non-Jews who read my work aren’t alien­at­ed, the books aren’t mired in Jew­ish-ness. But for Jew­ish women, the lit­tle ref­er­ences seem to be a touch­stone that is often miss­ing from their casu­al read­ing experiences.

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true when I write about the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship Jew­ish women have with food. As a peo­ple, we strug­gle with our weight more per­va­sive­ly, it seems, than many oth­er groups. We are the Eat some­thing! Oy, you’re get­ting fat!” eth­nic­i­ty. Fam­i­ly mem­bers will be vocal about their con­cern for a woman, espe­cial­ly a sin­gle woman, who is heavy and encour­age them to lose weight. Then, the emo­tion­al trau­ma of a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion com­plet­ed, they will sug­gest a meal to make every­one feel better.

Our tra­di­tion­al foods say it all…no oth­er cul­ture takes a heavy dish of sweet pota­toes, car­rots, prunes and apri­cots, swim­ming in a dessert-like brown-sug­ar syrup and thinks You know what would sea­son this per­fect­ly? No, not herbs… No, not green veg­eta­bles… I know! SHORT RIBS!”. And that is just a side dish. Tra­di­tion­al­ly served with brisket. For­get the South Beach diet, this is the Mia­mi Beach diet, and it will kill you….slowly and deli­cious­ly. We take pride in the abun­dance of our tables, but not the resul­tant abun­dance of our tushies. We love to be known as great cooks and host­esses, but often fight with the demons of feel­ing embar­rassed about our love of food, and ashamed of our bod­ies, what­ev­er shape they may be in.

My new book, Good Enough to Eat fea­tures a hero­ine who has faced down her weight prob­lem head-on. In the nov­el, Melanie Hoff­man, a chef who was for­mer­ly near­ly 290 pounds, has worked dili­gent­ly with a holis­tic nutri­tion­ist, and through healthy eat­ing and exer­cise, is now a toned 145 pounds, and has opened a healthy gourmet take-out café. And then her hus­band leaves her. For a woman twice her size. For Melanie, her con­sis­tent strug­gle is not only with who she was, but who she has become. She has to learn to live and love in her new body, and in her new real­i­ty. Her rela­tion­ship with food needs con­stant man­age­ment, her bat­tle with her own demons man­i­fests itself in myr­i­ad ways, and sur­pris­ing­ly, her jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery requires that she embrace the com­plex­i­ty of what food means to her. The book cel­e­brates that dichoto­my by includ­ing over 40 pages of recipes, often with dual ver­sions of the same food — one a deca­dent ver­sion, one made healthier.

I want for my read­ers what I want for myself, a good long healthy life. My own strug­gles to get to a healthy weight are con­stant, I’ve lost 40 pounds in the past year, but that is only about a third of the way there, and every pound comes back at least once or twice before it real­ly gets ban­ished. But I also want my read­ers to love them­selves, no mat­ter what their size. To know that they are beau­ti­ful, desir­able, spec­tac­u­lar crea­tures who can live a full and won­der­ful life regard­less of what num­ber is on the scale. I want us as a group to agree that while we should eat as healthy as pos­si­ble, and exer­cise reg­u­lar­ly, that good food is a gift and a cel­e­bra­tion and we should stop beat­ing our­selves up for indulging in dessert.

My great­est rev­e­la­tion, and the one les­son I hope peo­ple take from Good Enough to Eat and Melanie’s jour­ney, is that there is no such thing as a for­bid­den food, just ratio­nal por­tion con­trol. There is noth­ing in the whole world we can­not incor­po­rate into a healthy diet, as long as we are smart about mod­er­a­tion. The high­er the fat, calo­ries, and sug­ar con­tent of any food, the small­er the por­tion should be. Eat the whole sal­ad, all of the veg­gies, and half the meat and pota­toes. Have two bites of dessert, not two help­ings. And most impor­tant­ly, know that every meal is a new oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the smarter deci­sions, regard­less of what may have hap­pened the meal before.

I love that I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to put char­ac­ters out into the world that acknowl­edge the diver­si­ty of women, and show the com­plex­i­ty of our expe­ri­ences. I hope that my read­ers con­tin­ue to embrace these women and every­thing we get to watch them learn and every­thing they have to teach us.

In hon­or of Good Enough to Eat, I thought I would give you two of the recipes from the book…one sin­ful and one saint­ly. Cook and enjoy!

Pho­to by Steve Snodgrass

Guilt-Free Choco­late Cup­cakes with Vanil­la Cream-Cheese Frost­ing

1 cup gran­u­lat­ed sug­ar
1/2 cup egg sub­sti­tute
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tea­spoon vanil­la extract
1 1/2 cups all-pur­pose flour
1/2 cup unsweet­ened cocoa pow­der
1 tea­spoon bak­ing soda
1 tea­spoon instant espres­so gran­ules
1/2 tea­spoon bak­ing pow­der
1/4 tea­spoon salt
1 cup fat-free buttermilk

1 cup pow­dered sug­ar
1/2 tea­spoon vanil­la extract
Dash of salt
1 (8‑ounce) block 1/3‑­less-fat cream cheese, softened

Pre­heat oven to 350°.

To pre­pare cup­cakes, place the first 4 ingre­di­ents in a large bowl; beat with a mix­er at medi­um speed until well blend­ed (about 2 minutes).

Com­bine flour and next 5 ingre­di­ents and sift. Stir flour mix­ture into sug­ar mix­ture alter­nate­ly with but­ter­milk, begin­ning and end­ing with flour mix­ture; mix after each addi­tion just until blended.

Place 16 paper muf­fin cup lin­ers in muf­fin cups; spoon about 2 1/2 table­spoons bat­ter into each cup. Bake at 350° for 18 min­utes or until a wood­en pick insert­ed in cen­ter of a cup­cake comes out with moist crumbs attached (do not over­bake). Remove cup­cakes from pans; cool on a wire rack.

To pre­pare frost­ing, com­bine pow­dered sug­ar and remain­ing ingre­di­ents in a medi­um bowl. Beat with a mix­er at medi­um speed until com­bined. Increase speed to medi­um-high, and beat until smooth. Spread about 1 table­spoon frost­ing on top of each cupcake.

Deca­dent Dark Choco­late Cup­cakes with Vanil­la Buttercream

8 T. unsalt­ed but­ter, cubed
2 oz. high qual­i­ty bit­ter­sweet choco­late, (Val­rhona, or Calle­baut) chopped
½ C Dutch-processed cocoa pow­der
¾ C all-pur­pose flour
½ t. bak­ing soda
¾ t. bak­ing pow­der
2 large eggs
¾ C sug­ar
1 t. vanil­la extract
½ t. salt
½ c sour cream

10 T. unsalt­ed but­ter, soft­ened
½ vanil­la bean, halved length­wise
1 ¼ C con­fec­tion­ers sug­ar, sift­ed
Pinch salt
½ t. vanil­la extract
1 T. heavy cream
2 T sour cream

Adjust oven rack to low­er-mid­dle posi­tion; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line stan­dard-sized muf­fin pan with bak­ing-cup liners.

Com­bine but­ter, choco­late, and cocoa in medi­um heat­proof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan con­tain­ing bare­ly sim­mer­ing water; heat mix­ture until but­ter and choco­late are melt­ed and whisk until smooth and com­bined. Set aside to cool until just warm to the touch.

Whisk flour, bak­ing soda, and bak­ing pow­der in small bowl to combine.

Whisk eggs in sec­ond medi­um bowl to com­bine; add sug­ar, vanil­la, and salt and whisk until ful­ly incor­po­rat­ed. Add cooled choco­late mix­ture and whisk until com­bined. Sift about one-third of flour mix­ture over choco­late mix­ture and whisk until com­bined; whisk in sour cream until com­bined, then sift remain­ing flour mix­ture over and whisk until bat­ter is homoge­nous and thick.

Divide bat­ter even­ly among muf­fin pan cups. Bake until skew­er insert­ed into cen­ter of cup­cakes comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.

Cool cup­cakes in muf­fin pan on wire rack until cool enough to han­dle, about 15 min­utes. Care­ful­ly lift each cup­cake from muf­fin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room tem­per­a­ture before icing, about 30 minutes.

In stand­ing mix­er fit­ted with whisk attach­ment, beat but­ter at medi­um-high speed until smooth, about 20 sec­onds. Using par­ing knife, scrape seeds from vanil­la bean into but­ter and beat mix­ture at medi­um-high speed to com­bine, about 15 sec­onds. Add con­fec­tion­ers’ sug­ar and salt; beat at medi­um-low speed until most of the sug­ar is moist­ened, about 45 sec­onds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medi­um speed until mix­ture is ful­ly com­bined, about 15 sec­onds; scrape bowl, add vanil­la, sour cream and heavy cream, and beat at medi­um speed until incor­po­rat­ed, about 10 sec­onds, then increase speed to medi­um-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 min­utes, scrap­ing down bowl once or twice. (To frost: Mound about 2 table­spoons icing on cen­ter of each cup­cake. Using small icing spat­u­la or but­ter knife, spread icing to edge of cup­cake, leav­ing slight mound in center.)