The subject has shifted to hors d'oeuvres, and Jane Brody draws herself up to do battle.
"Damaging," she says -- and then once being not enough, she adds, "Damaging, damaging, damaging."
Packed within those tiny nibbles -- the pates, the chips and dips, the cheeses, the stuffed pastries -- are some of the highest amounts of fat, calories and sodium. And for the nationally syndicated health writer, these are fighting words.
For years now, through her columns and her best-selling books, "Jane Brody's Nutrition Book" and "Jane Brody's Good Food," Ms. Brody has used her pen to slash the fat out of the American diet.
Now in her latest book, "Jane Brody's Good Food Gourmet" (W. W. Norton, hardcover, $25), she has taken on the last outpost of overindulgence: the party.
Traditionally, to pamper our guests has meant to offer them the richest, the creamiest, the most delectable. But these days this is not necessarily kindness, says Ms. Brody, who has come to Baltimore promoting her book.
"There are many, many people who like to eat without compromising their health -- and not just people who are sick, but people who want to stay healthy. And these people don't want to be stuffed with rich food at every holiday party," she says.
"I think too often what happens is that people go to parties and they say, 'Well, what can I do? I'm at this party and I can't insult the host or hostess. I've got to eat what I'm served.' And yet they don't really necessarily want to."
It's much better to give people the opportunity to eat healthfully, to eat foods that they are comfortable eating, she says. "And you can do that without compromising on flavor and attractiveness in your meals."
Standard fare at most of her parties is the vegetable platter, a large display of raw and tender-crisp vegetables arranged in a way that highlights their beautiful colors and shapes. Nibbling on such vegetables is, she explains, "a low-calorie, high-nutrient, and delicious way to curb your hunger and calm your nerves at such affairs."
She serves them with a variety of dips, many of them made from standard recipes she has adapted to be much lower in calories and fat. Instead of sour cream, she typically uses yogurt as the base for some of the dips. Others, her black bean and salmon spread, string bean pate, white bean dip, hummus, and lentil pate depend on beans and other legumes for both their flavor and consistency.
"My favorite ones by a long shot are the lentil pate and the string bean pate," she says. "I bring these to other people's parties. They're delicious and the left-overs can be eaten for lunch or breakfast. The lentil pate not only looks like chopped liver, it tastes like chopped liver. It has the texture but none of the cholesterol and very little fat."
Onions rather than meats make these recipes flavorful, she explains. "The onions are cooked slowly which makes them golden and sort of caramelized."
An especially pretty dish, she continues, is the shrimp and citrus cocktail made of shrimp boiled briefly in beer and spices alternated with sections of pink grapefruit and served with a spicy cocktail sauce. "It's very, very easy to throw together."
She uses unflavored gelatin to bind a three-layer Christmas pate made with spinach, chicken and tomato rather than the traditional heavy meats. To a guacamole recipe, he adds liberal amounts of fresh tomato, jalapeno peppers, red onion and Italian parsley as well as toasted pumpkin seeds.
She makes a spread of softened sun-dried tomatoes, a little bit of olive oil, seasonings and grated Parmesan, then she packs it into small mushroom caps.
Despite their high fat content, she still serves mixed nuts. "They're an unsaturated fat, but still you don't want to eat huge amounts of nuts at one time. So if you make them a little spicy, people eat fewer nuts."
She never uses artificial sweeteners or artificial fats in her foods, she adds. "I don't use ersatz ingredients or fake things and I never will.
"You can make really good food with real food," she says. "You can create nice things that people enjoy and that pleasure is important. Eating should not be punishment or deprivation or a series of thou-shalt-nots."
L Here are some recipes from "Jane Brody's Good Food Gourmet:"
Makes about 3 cups.
1 1/3 cups (about 7 ounces) whole almonds
1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) pecan halves
1 cup (about 4 ounces) walnut halves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
XTC 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the nuts with oil in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, combine all the spices except the salt. Add the spices to the nuts, tossing the nuts to cover them evenly with the spices.
Spread the nuts on a baking tray in a single layer. Bake the nuts for 10 minutes. If desired, sprinkle the nuts lightly with the salt.
Shrimp and citrus cocktail
2 to 3 grapefruit
12 ounces beer
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt