Diversity (And a recipe!)
As athletes we eventually come to an understanding that doing the same workout every single day will stop helping us. As we continue to draw water from the same well, over and over, we may exacerbate old injuries, or contribute to new ones as overuse takes its toll on our weary joints and muscles. Even so, we may find a comfort, a ritual in the routine. It may calm us and may prepare us for the day ahead, or for us night owls, punctuate our day with an exclamation mark. Despite all that, even if we just love those 155lb squat cleans, we shouldn’t do them every. single. day.
So too, with food.
I, and I suspect that many of you too, are creatures of habit. We’re disciplined enough to never miss a WOD and compulsive enough to scribble with a shaky exhausted hand our times and loads and number of rounds in our workout ledgers, like 19th century accountants. It is a force for both good and evil, driving us to both new heights, and to mind-numbing monotony: “It’s 3 P.M, I get five almonds!”.
Just like our workouts, our meals should be constantly varied as well. Instead of eating the same breakfast that we can practically make in our sleep, we should mix it up and insert variety through varying quantities, contents, and mealtimes. The fact is, that many foods, even those we consider and know to be “healthy” can have deleterious effects. Just a few of these antinutrients to consider:
- Oxalates: This substance is found in high levels in many staple foods consumed on the Paleo diet, such as Spinach, Chard, Beets and rhubarb, and in lower levels in nuts and berries. Oxalates bind to calcium and and iron, preventing their absorption.
- Lectins: Although found mainly in grains and pluses (beans), many nuts also have high levels of lectins.
- Allergenic foods: These include nightshades such as tomatoes, which are tolerated but can still have ill effects in mass quantities.
The antinutrients in plant foods are defenses against being eaten, as the main method used by animals (running away!) is unavailable to them. Luckily, for every measure there is a countermeasure; our body does have pathways to deal with many antinutrients in foods. However, when we eat a monolithic diet based off on only 2-3 different foods, those pathways can get overloaded and operate much less efficiently.
The best way to keep them from happening is the same way we keep our athletic performance improving: constantly varying it! Consciously choosing different and novel foods to cook not only makes dinnertime more interesting, it also exposes us to a wider variety of nutrients and all the beneficial effects of different foods, as well as preventing us from overdoing it on the antinutrients!
The miracle of the modern supermarket has blessed us with a huge variety of verdant greens and bright colors! We should all strive to combine them in new, interesting, and beautiful ways every day. Our mealtimes are an opportunity to create works that appeal to all our senses; you can never go wrong by including as many colors and textures and flavors as possible.
Spaghetti Squash with Sauce
I based this recipe off a few different ones. The sauce and spaghetti squash prep (which is far better than the one I was using before!) are slight modifications of ones courtesy my girlfriend. I always make this along with the most excellent meatball recipe from Mark’s Daily Apple. However, the creative cook could easily make a meat sauce by adding in italian sausage and ground beef/bison during the sauté portion of the sauce recipe.
The nice thing about these recipes is that you can time things so they all complete at about the same time! Another note: I prefer a lot of garlic in my food. You can’t get too much, in my mind. Adjust accordingly…
Sauce (I make this first)
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 6-10 garlic cloves, half finely minced and half chopped fairly coarsely
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 14oz cans diced or crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
- 2 8oz cans of tomato sauce
- several stalks of fresh oregano, finely minced
- several stalks of fresh rosemary, finely minced
- Several stalks of green garlic, thinly sliced (light green and white parts only. This is optional, but amazing)
- cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
- Sea or kosher salt to taste (If you use something like Morton’s iodized, I will come to your house and thrash you!)
I learned something VERY valuable from chef Jason Donoho of Fino that has served me very well; one should always season throughout the preparation of a dish, not just at the beginning or at the end, as many of us tend to do. I chop up excess spices/garlic/aromatics and use some at the beginning, some throughout the cooking process, and some for the end. I find that it creates complex layers of flavors as the herbs express themselves differently throughout the stages of cooking. For the same reason, I ALWAYS try and use fresh herbs as opposed to dried. It’s a night and day difference.
- Heat a dutch oven or sauce pot over medium to medium-high heat with a good 2-3 second pour of olive oil. I have also used bacon grease to great effect!
- Begin a sauté with the onion and the coarsely-chopped garlic (You can even throw a few whole cloves in). Add in about 1/4 of the chopped herbs and green garlic here. The reason we want coarsely chopped garlic is that as we sauté, the garlic tends to cook very quickly and often burn (We’ve all experienced that burned garlic smell and taste). The coarsely chopped/whole cloves will cook a bit slower throughout the sauté process.
- When the onions are translucent and soft, add in the crushed tomatoes, the tomato sauce, another 1/4 of the herbs and green garlic, and about half of the minced garlic.
- Bring all that to a nice bubble, frequently stirring. Keep sprinkling in small amounts of herbs and green garlic throughout this process.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover, and, you guessed it, add more aromatics and green garlic, and throw in the rest of the minced garlic.
- Cook on the lowest possible heat for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. You should add in the remainder of the herbs and green garlic about 5-10 minutes before you remove the pot from the heat.
Meanwhile: The Spaghetti Squash!
- 1 Spaghetti Squash
- Olive Oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
This is a delicious, wonderful food item. I do believe that I like it better than real pasta at this point! The secret I have found for these puppies is that they need to be able to rid themselves of some of their moisture so that the resulting “noodles” aren’t too wet and mushy. If you have a V rack or a raised grid of some sort, break them out!
- Preheat your oven to 350′ F
- Cut the squash down the center, lengthwise
- Scoop out all the loose guts and seeds, and have a flashback to Halloween! (The seeds can be saved and roasted like pumpkin seeds)
- Rub olive oil on the exposed cuts and inner surface
- Sprinkle with sea/kosher salt and pepper, to taste
- Here’s the trick: place face-down on the raised grid or V rack for cooking. This allows the squash to drain as it cooks.
- Cook for 40 minutes, and face up for another 5.
- Rake a fork across the inside of the squash. Like magic, spaghetti noodles appear! you can add a tsp of olive oil if you like.
- For the especially lazy, the outer skin of the squash can be used as a bowl for the sauce and meatballs (hey, I’m a bachelor!). Don’t try and wash it or put it in the dishwasher afterward though!