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Don’t let weighty issues stand in food’s way

February 2012

If you want to be fit in the kitchen, forget about food.

When it comes to food and fitness, I have an ideal world in which each bite helps to magically transform my body into a citadel of strength and energy. In this realm, I know the nutritional value of every dish and have memorized the latest pictogram from the Canada Food Guide.

Each morsel I consume brings me closer to the grail of the perfect body mass index, or BMI, although I really might be happier with a BMW.

Then there is my daily life, where food and fitness battle as I try to sort “right” from “wrong” at the kitchen table.

Is chocolate good for me, or bad? Should I eat bread because it is high in fiber or will it cause gluten allergies? Are eggs good for cholesterol this week or is it only the yolks that I should worry about and then maybe not? And the most vexing question: Can I buy blueberries in January if they come from Chile?

In fact, it won’t be long before supermarkets have WiFi and shopping carts are equipped with iPads so that every decision we make can be justified to a 13-year-old: “Hey Dad, are you sure that the cereal you are buying is high-fiber, low-fat,
free-trade, hand-picked and packaged in a sweat-free labour zone in a country without nuclear weapons?”

My mantra used to be: “I’m hungry. That looks good. I’ll eat it.” Now I require an armload of data before I think of shopping. Sure, I can argue that we should only stock our refrigerators with foods high in vitamins and fiber, low in calories and locally grown; but I know that tomorrow I’ll fry my egg in some savoury olive oil to which I’ve added a pinch of dried chili pepper and I’ll soak it up with leftover baguette.

Citius, Altius, Fortius

No, if you want to be fit in the kitchen, forget about food. That’s what I figure. Instead, I am adopting the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius—Swifter, Higher, Stronger. After all, if it is good for Olympians, why not me?

We’ll start with fortius. Push away the electric stuff. Focus on the manual. Why use a breadmaker when I can knead? Sure a breadmaker is quicker, but I burn more calories in 10 minutes of kneading, which is about how much time it takes for me to haul out the mixer or breadmaker, add ingredients and clean up later.

Kneading is also a mini-cardio workout. I knead until I break into a bit of a sweat. For more serious strength-builders, I keep a couple of mortars and pestles. A small one is great for making salad dressing: mash a clove of garlic with a bit of salt and freshly ground black pepper, add olive oil and continue mashing.

Then add vinegar—wine or apple cider vinegars work best. The ratio of oil to vinegar is about 3:1, then some Dijon-style mustard to blend it all together. Moving up a level, I use a heavier and larger stone mortar and pestle for grinding spices and making pesto.

Now let’s focus on citius. Speed comes into play, here. While the bread is rising, I work on the rest of the meal and plan for something that is labour-intensive, such as a stir-fry, curry or stew.

I want to have lots of ingredients ready. I chop these by hand and add them to a pot quickly.

The order is simple: onions and garlic (and spices) first to brown or at least soften, then denser foods (carrots, peppers, etc.), then less dense, such as celery or fennel. If it is a soup, stew or curry I add liquid and finally herbs.

If I use potatoes (diced by hand), I add them in the last half hour. Since chopping by hand requires a sharp knife, I have to make sure that it is honed—another quick workout, great for dexterity in the wrist.

Finally, altius. The higher the kitchen tools, the more I have to reach. Admittedly, a 5’10 husband and a 5’2 wife may differ over this. Stuff I tend to use, such as the mortars and pestles, goes onto the top shelf.

Then, it’s knee bends to get the turkey roaster out or find the frying pan.

Having everything on the kitchen counter is overrated and who has enough counter space anyway? If you think I am exaggerating, have you noticed how those cooks move on Iron Chef or Chopped?

For the Flavourguy, fitness begins in the kitchen but it may have nothing to do with food.



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