Medicine For People!

August 2011

Food Fantasy

When I was younger, it seemed to me wonderful to be financially able to eat out at a restaurant each night.

Typical of my youthful fantasies, this one did not turn out as planned.  While a restaurant dinner with pleasant company really suits me, eating out every night gets old.  Most nights it's easier to cook.  No travel to the restaurant, no waiting for your meal, no waiting for the check – best of all, food exactly to my  taste!

Youthful Learning Phase

I remember helping my mother cook when I was in first grade.  At first we had communication problems.  She would ask for "flower" and expect me to translate that to "flour" on the bag.  "Do you mean 'floor', Mom?"  Anyway, by the time I left home I was good at helping but a so-so shopper, planner, and finish cook.

In college, in order to save a few dollars, my roommate and I took it into our heads to cook in our dorm room.  That meant our food had to come out of cans (don't need to be refrigerated, and fit nicely into a dresser-drawer) and cooked on a hot-plate balanced on the radiator.  We washed the dishes in the common bathroom down the hallway.   The stews that looked so good on the can label turned out to be laborious to consume, so we returned to the dining halls with the ordinary mortals.

Competent Cooking – Easy and Delicious Food

Over time my skills have improved, and I've developed my own style of cooking.  My cuisine is easy to make, tasty and nutritious.  To share my cooking methods with you, Gary Smith and Kitti DeLong helped me put together a video demonstration

Basic Stir-fry

This video goes through ingredient selection and shows you have to prepare a basic stir-fry that starts with what my mother calls "the trinity."  (I think she stole this from the TV cook Emeril).  The trinity consists of chopped celery, onion, and bell pepper, the foundation of all my stir-fries.  I start with these ingredients and always add sliced mushrooms right away, too.

About ten minutes later, when the onions are getting transparent, I add seasonal vegetables, sometimes precooked in the microwave.  These could be:

  • Brussels sprouts (I nuke them first so they are pretty well cooked)
  • Corn on the cob (I cut the kernels off the cob right into the pan)
  • Spinach bottom (this is the white and red nubbin of stem and root at the bottom of a bunch of spinach.  Lotta great nutrients in there, I cut them off, wash them, and nuke them.)
  • Turnips or beets (Chop them up early on, they'll take longer in the microwave)

Another five minutes and we're near the end.  At the last minute, I always add chopped fresh spinach leaves.  Optionally, I'll add one of these:

  • boneless fish.
  • turkey sausage
  • shelled raw shrimp
  • Sliced hard-boiled egg with sliced green olives.
  • Feta cheese and sliced black olives.

The fish, sausage, and shrimp I buy at Key City Fish.  I cut up the fish and sausage into single meal portions and freeze.

Voila!  That's your basic stir-fry.

Here it is in all its glory with boiled egg and green olive.  You can see a bit of my Mom's "trinity" underneath it, heavy on the spinach this time.

My Food Album

Over the years, I've been collecting photos of dinners I make.  Here are some of my favorites:

Salad, salmon dinner

Quick and Easy Dinner -- Spinach salad with black olives, tomato, hard-cooked egg, and dressing.  A small bowl of dates.  A chunk of smoked salmon.  Butternut squash with chopped Hempler's bacon.  I cut the squash in half, clean out the seeds, put the bacon in the cavity and nuke the whole thing for about ten minutes in the microwave.

Breakfast of Champions – The little bowl on the upper left contains boiled whole wheat berries.   I cook these in the pressure cooker, freeze individual portions, and reheat to eat.  The berries are nutty and contain much more nutrition than wheat flour products.  Next to the wheat berries I have a small portion of smoked salmon.  The large bowl of fruit contains chopped apple, grapefruit and pineapple.

 

Beans with Sausage-- This is everyday food here, nothing fancy.  I cook mass quantities of beans (I rotate between pinto beans, lentils, red beans, cannellini, and black eyed peas.)  A gallon jar of each adds to my frequently refreshed supply of emergency food.  See our emergency preparedness newsletter).  Lentils go into the pressure cooker with curry sauce.  The red beans shown here I cooked with onion, tomato paste, a salt substitute and some table salt.   I freeze individual portions, thaw and heat with sausage.

Besides beans, I usually have individual portions of quinoa in the freezer.  The quinoa is not pictured here, but watch this video to learn how to cook it.  When I cook a bunch of rice, I usually mix long grain brown rice with some wild rice, and then add a can of cream of coconut to richen it up.  Chopped coconut adds to any curry dish.  Other choice additions include pickled okra, capers, roasted bell peppers, and diced green chilies.   

Bachelor's Delight -- A good salad, a banana, boiled egg topped with mixed olive condiment, and English muffin about to receive the same treatment.

Some of My Favorite Things

Spices

Studies show that our western diet, rich in sodium and low in potassium, raises our blood pressure.  The best source of potassium chloride is the salt substitute in the salt section of the market. I mix that half-and-half with monosodium glutamate, in bulk, to use on my food.   Tastes good, and better for you.   Yes, I am aware of the brouhaha about toxicity of MSG.  In medical school, my professors were all over "Chinese restaurant syndrome."  It had even come out in their favorite journal, the New England Journal of Medicine.  Time has changed our view.  Read more .

When I'm not adding any meat to the stir-fry, the "Better than Bouillon" sauce from the Co-op really picks up the dish.

I keep curry, fines herbs, asafetida (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asafoetida), and few other spices on hand and throw them in when I'm feeling inspired and lucky.

Snacks

Studies show that most people can eat two eggs a day without raising their cholesterol, and my current favorite office snack is a boiled egg.  Plain, it takes little time and keeps me going.

I buy whatever fruit appeals to me and keep it on hand.  Frugality will get me to eat it before it goes bad.  (Notice the ripe banana pictured above.)  I like tangerines and cherries in season and grapes when the price is good.  All this is in addition to my usual breakfast fruit.

Other snacks include cashews and other tree nuts, salted roasted sunflower seeds, rationed chocolate, fig newtons, fresh local cherry tomatoes and Kefir.

Coffee

While coffee reduces magnesium levels, it also reduces the risk of diabetes, and seems to help glaucoma, liver disease and other conditions.  If you enjoy it, my medical blessing on you!

The Art of Eating

As a doctor, I've come to appreciate the vital relationship between our emotions and our health.  That means eating food we enjoy carries a benefit you can't get from grimly consuming something "good for you", but that you don't like.  I respect those who choose vegetarian or vegan diets, but that's not for me.  Personally, I enjoy a good steak or a pulled pork sandwich – but only occasionally.  Likewise ice cream once in a while is terrific; eaten every day, it clogs the arteries and puts on the pounds.  The meals pictured above were easy and quick to prepare, tasted wonderful, and I ate them knowing they were good for me even if they contained a bit of bacon or sausage. 

I wish you happy cooking and bon appétit!

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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.