Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ingredients & Michael Pollan

I've been really busy and frustrated by not being able to find time to make ingredients. We've been eating more in restaurants than I'd like to. But I'm doing extra cooking now because my mom needs super low-sodium meals and she can't cook for herself. So, I need to revisit this idea and time-shift more of my meal prep to times other than immediately before dinner. My new slow cooker really helps with that.

I made steel cut oatmeal in the slow cooker. Best oatmeal I've ever eaten. And that takes care of breakfast for a while. I know that's not an ingredient, but it gives me ideas for other things I can do.

An online friend made dulce de leche in her slow cooker. You put the can of condensed milk in water and cook it in the cooker on low. I wonder if you can put the finished dulce de leche in freezer containers and freeze it. I'll have to try it sometime when I'm looking for ingredients for dessert, not meals.

I think the first ingredient I want to use my slow-cooker for is beans. Cooked beans freeze really well in plastic bags. Plastic bags take up less space in the freezer than containers, so I prefer to use them whenever I can. Then I can use them instead of canned beans. Dried beans taste so much better and they're so simple that they're worth making and keeping around to use in recipes.

I have a reason for wanting to do dried beans first. Silicon Valley Reads 2010 is reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. We went to a free Q & A session with Michael Pollan, hosted by Mike Cassidy, a local newspaper columnist, which was the kickoff event in the 2010 Silicon Valley Reads. There's a video of that conversation on the web site.

The front cover of the book has a seven word phrase that sums up Michael's theme. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." He has a new book, Food Rules, which consists of 64 rules that explain how to follow that seven-word theme. I read both books and he makes a lot of sense.

It occurred to me that if you adopt one rule a week, you could be following them all in a bit over a year. It would be an interesting experiment. I probably could do it in a year, since I already do some of them. It makes sense to start with rule number 64-Break the rules once in a while, so I don't go crazy trying to be perfect. Or maybe keep Rule 64 in mind as I add the other ones to my life.

He divides up the book into three parts. Part I is What should I eat? That seems to be the big question of our time. People avidly read nutrition studies looking for what constitutes a healthy diet. But the nutrition studies have one huge flaw-they pull out one nutrient at a time to study because it's easier to study one thing. But we don't eat that way. We eat foods in combination with other foods. And the nutrients get all mixed up in our system, so one may enhance another or cancel it out. That's one reason why it's so hard to figure out what to eat.

It seems like there's the "Nutrient of the Month". A study comes out and suddenly there's fiber being advertised in everything. Or probiotics. Or something else. Then another study comes out and that recedes into the background in favor of the next nutrient. It does get confusing.

Part 2 is Mostly plants. That seems self-explanatory, until you start to think about it. He came up with 21 rules on that subject. One question is which plants? Another is how much of your diet should be plants and how much everything else? This--mostly plants-is why I want to keep more precooked beans around. I see more vegetarian meals in my future. I've been eating less meat lately because of the expense, but I can see that we'll be cutting back a bit more and beans are a really good and easy base for fast vegetarian meals, especially if they're already cooked.

Part 3 is Not too much. There's a sticky one. How much is "not too much"? People really don't want to hear "eat less", but that's his message. And he talks about how to do that.

Anyway, I think it's less likely to hurt my health to follow Michael Pollan's rules than to continue to participate as a guinea pig in the food experiments perpetrated on Western society by the huge food processing companies. I don't eat much processed food anymore, so it's mainly a matter of refining my choices and figuring out how to make them work in the trenches of a busy life.

I think I want to alternate between each section of the book. It will keep a better balance. So, this week I'd start with Rule One. Next week will be Rule 22. The following week would be Rule 44. Then back to Rule 2. And so on. I'll try to post at least once a week on how it's going.

Rule One is Eat food. This rule is about choosing real food, not food created by food processing companies. My task for the week will be to get rid of any fake food that happens to be in my pantry and fridge. I suspect there won't be much, but I won't have time to do this until tomorrow or Saturday.