Sunday, January 20, 2013

No, really, what DO you eat?

Yes, I promise there's a recipe in this post.

As I've mentioned, while I do cut back (or try to) on eating too much in general, I don't deprive myself of a nice treat once in a while. But my whole cooking experience has now changed. I am making less food at each meal, since even leftovers are portioned out in sensible sizes, and if I made the Retro Ska Librarian amount, I'd either be eating this meal for several weeks or my freezer would be full with way too many baggies of stuff. And I like my variety.

I am cutting down on things like pasta in favor of veggies or a whole grain item. But I am in no way trying to make that item become a facsimile of pasta. Because that will lead to frustration. You expect pasta or heavy cream, you're not going to be happy when you taste konnyaku/shiritaki or shredded cabbage with dashi and mirin.

One of the things that I am dead set against is faux food. I do not believe that substituting a food to "pretend" to be another one will be any help in learning a new way of eating. Using soy products in a meal is fine. Shaping and flavoring them to act like meat is ridiculous and never successful.

I think a better way to look at it is not to "substitute" one thing for another, but rather, just "choose to eat something else." 

So when I put ragu over marinated shredded cabbage instead of pasta or rice, I find it filling and tasty-crunchy. Does it taste like pasta? Of course not and it shouldn't. But I do now crave something like that crunchiness more often. 

I think it does take some conditioning to start craving new things. But that's not a bad thing. I see it as a another form of training, really.

Take beverages. 26 years ago, I switched to diet soda, because even then, I knew I was probably not being healthy. And soon enough, I found non-diet soda to be too sweet. Moving to Japan, I couldn't find a diet cola that WASN'T really sweet (That old chestnut that the Japanese don't like sweets is a load of sugary BS), so I switched to just unsweetened coffee, tea and water. Now I find even diet sodas to taste funny, so when I moved back to the US, I have continued to avoid them. I find them almost salty, oddly enough.

And this comes back to finding a substitute for sweetness. Loading up on chemicals just to badly emulate sugar is not for me. But even if I stay away from the "substitute" sugars, studies do show that non-caloric consumption is on the rise. Not that the study showed people were thinner from using them. And there is the discussion that consumption of these overly sweet foods can increase your desire for sweet foods. Although one study suggests that "the phenomenon may be attributable, more generally, to oral exposure to a palatable stimulus in the absence of an energy load." In other words, your brain thinks it getting something badly yummy, but with no calories actually coming in, it gets more confused and makes you crave more. And then there's just the concern what the hell all this artificial crap does to your body otherwise.

But I am not the food or diet police. I'm just saying that I have realized that trying to substitute food as a diet is like trying to substitute something else for exercise: it don't really work without doing the real deal.

So, what DO I eat? Here's a little something that's healthy(er), and makes a nice change of pace from the usual meal part at dinner or breakfast. It's even gluten-free, if that stuff is really important to you (but that's an entire other topic). I'm talking about socca (or farinata), the chickpea flour crepe.

Usually this is made with a 1:1 cup ratio of chickpea flour and water, which according to, has about 350 calories (before adding oil). Often for breakfast, I half the recipe.

The beauty (or work) of this is you mix the batter and let it sit for anywhere between 30 minutes and 12 hours. I often mix a batch up before I leave for work so I can eat it with dinner, or mix it before I go to bed, so I can make it after the gym and before work.

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
2 tbs oil (I use olive or peanut)
salt and pepper to taste
optional herbs & spices (some combinations include turmeric, cumin, oregano, rosemary, cayenne....whatever grabs you)
Other optional add-ins (I've used onions, dried fruit, cheese)
  • In a bowl, mix flour, salt, pepper, optional herbs & spices, water and 1 tbs oil. whisk until smooth and well blended.
  • Cover and let stand (30 min to 12 hours).
  • Heat oven to Broil. Place oven proof pan or cast iron skillet in broiler until hot.
  • Remove pan and place remaining tbs of oil in it and swirl around.
  • Pour batter into pan (with any optional add-ins) and place under broiler for 3-5 minutes until top is brown in spots.
  • Remove from pan and eat while warm.
Fresh out of the broiler. I added some slices of onion for crunch and taste.
Serving it with two spoonfuls of non-fat Skyr and some prunes. (It is breakfast after all!)

Filling, tasty and a nice break from whole grain toast or oatmeal. Not a sub, but something better!

I guess what I'm saying is I don't find ways to deny myself food, but rather find ways to enjoy it differently. Drop the "special" diets and find a way to just eat what's there. In a smarter way.


Gardner, Christopher, Judith Wylie-Rosett, Samuel S. Gidding, Lyn M. Steffen, Rachel K. Johnson, Diane Reader, and Alice H. Lichtenstein. “Nonnutritive Sweeteners: Current Use and Health Perspectives A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.” Diabetes Care 35, no. 8 (August 1, 2012): 1798–1808. doi:10.2337/dc12-9002.
Mattes, Richard D., and Barry M. Popkin. “Nonnutritive Sweetener Consumption in Humans: Effects on Appetite and Food Intake and Their Putative Mechanisms.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89, no. 1 (January 1, 2009): 1–14. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26792.
Schiffman, Susan S. “Rationale for Further Medical and Health Research on High-Potency Sweeteners.” Chemical Senses 37, no. 8 (October 1, 2012): 671–679. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjs053.
Sylvetsky, Allison C., Jean A. Welsh, Rebecca J. Brown, and Miriam B. Vos. “Low-calorie Sweetener Consumption Is Increasing in the United States.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96, no. 3 (September 1, 2012): 640–646. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.034751.


  1. i agree on avoiding the "fake" substitutes stuff... although i *do* love some mock duck (actually dried tofu) ... not sure if it even tastes like a real duck (which i've never tried). i have a great recipe for a spaghetti squash casserole, kind spicy italian flavours, tons of veggies, a touch of feta cheese at the end to give it a bit of creaminess. some people sub spaghetti squash for pasta, but why bother, it stands on it's own as an awesome ingredient.

  2. Exactly, Catherine. I love spaghetti squash with a variety of sauces or toppings, but it will be pasta, and that's fine.