Monday, January 15, 2007

Guess what mustard greens taste like....

First, a few odds and ends, perhaps enough to make ends meet:

I recently decided to "Zone" up my targets, so I'm shooting for 40% protein, 30% fat, and 30% carbohydrate. This has made getting adequate protein a bit more challenging. Also, I've decided to increase my daily calorie target again, because even despite my two very unCR days last week, my scale informs me that I've lost six pounds--in just two weeks. That's two pounds too fast, and while I at one time thought, "I want to lose as fast as I can," I'm also enjoying the chance to eat some extra food and still lose weight.

[As a cheery aside: it doesn't take much weight loss for you to start feeling it in your clothes, and I'm happy--oh SO happy--to report that my favorite pair of jeans, which were fitting exactly properly two weeks ago, are now somewhat loose--comfortably so. God that feels GOOD.]

Back to my targets: reviewing my CRON data reveals the truth, that I've been eating more than my 1500/day calorie target anyhow, sometimes up to1900 calories. So I'm going to raise my target to 1700, and see where that takes me in the next week. Recall, I began with a 1300/day target, raised it to 1500/day, and now 1700/day.

The downside of raising my target is that I will have to find new ways to consume more protein. This is a bit of a tedious process, but thankfully it's fun and rewarding too.

Now, on to the titular subject matter: Mustard Greens

The only way I've ever eaten mustard greens in the past is stewed to oblivion the way collards and turnip greens and kale are often cooked, with a nice ham hock, plenty of salt, a dash of vinegar, a little sugar, some red pepper, served with hot sauce. I used to make good old fashioned, old-school collards that could take their place in any soul food restaurant without anyone noticing the white boy made them.

That was then, when said collards would naturally be accompanied by sweet potatoes (and I mean SWEET with sugar), corn bread, macaroni and cheese, and perhaps chicken wings, or ham, or a smothered pork chop. Don't forget the cobbler for dessert (even though the sweet potatoes had just as much sugar...).

Obviously I don't do that anymore, but I've always loved greens, and given their powerful nutrient punch for low calories, finding new and exciting ways to eat them seems like a high priority for effective CR practice.

Given the fact that "cooked-to-death" was the only way I'd experienced them previously, imagine my surprise yesterday when I got home with a pile of fresh, curly, beautiful mustard greens, and tried a little piece raw.

Mustard greens taste like mustard.

And I love with a capital L-O-V-E the flavor and ephemeral vapory heat of mustard (and horseradish and especially wasabe, too!)

But here's the funny and almost tragic part (if I'd gone through with it): I was on a shopping trip looking for recipe ingredients for my inaugural batch of Megamuffins, which includes curly endive. Well, Whole Foods was out of endive, but had a mountain of mustard greens that looked sort of similar--same color you know. I thought, "well, maybe mustard greens will work," and I bought a bunch.

Fortunately I discovered endive in stock at another store and bought it too. Why? Because mustard greens taste like mustard, and that just might not be the best accompaniment to strawberries and cherries, the fruit I was using in my batch of Megamuffins.

I'd had NO idea mustard greens were so mustardy. I'd never had them when they still had a flavor of their own. What a revelation!

Which brings me to my next point: the different styles of eating I engage in each day.

I prepared some lightly steamed mustard greens, dressed with a quick "vinaigrette" of balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, brewer's yeast, pepper, garlic, and flax oil. The flavor was deliciously sharp and pungent--at first.

But after three or four bites, with a HUGE bowl still to go, it quickly became overwhelming. Too much pungency, too vinegary, too sharp. Just too flavorful, so flavorful I was practically crying out for a thin and tasteless broth to ease things up.

But I'd already mixed all those nutritious ingredients into the dressing, and I needed to eat ALL of it to get my budgeted nutrients for the day! So, I gritted my teeth, and chomped my way through a rather aggressive meal that, when I'd finished it, well, let's just say I was more than ready to be done with it. I turned to a big soothing mug of green tea to cleanse my poor overwrought palate.

This type of eating, this "ignore what's going on in your mouth and just bite, chew, swallow, bite, chew swallow," I'd charitably call "utilitarian," or "refueling" eating. I was not really enjoying the food (though I certainly wasn't hating it), and I was definitely eager to be finished. But I was also self-satisfied with the knowledge that every bite was packed with nutrition and while maybe my tongue wasn't exactly amused, my guts were all about it. (I can feel them in there now--my guts--descending on those greens like a pack of hungry wolves on a young buck.)

Well, mercifully, I got the "utilitarian" meal out of the way early. All the rest of the food I have planned for today seems indulgent by comparison, what I'd call "luxurious" eating:

  • salmon
  • sweet potatoes
  • kippered herring
  • yogurt
  • blueberries
  • chocolate (72% cacao)
  • a brand new Megamuffin (!)
  • ....and more!
Isn't it wonderful when you begin to notice your tastes changing such that a baked sweet potato (mashed with a teaspoon of flax oil, cinnamon, vanilla, chopped nuts, and maybe a dash of Splenda if you are really in the mood for SWEET) seems like a rich dessert? When blueberries seem like little nibbles of ambrosia? When just 10 grams of some of the finest chocolate you can get virtually explodes in the mouth with flavor?

Sensible eating, as CR is, turns taste buds into sensory super-athletes. Without the oppressive unctuousness of all that unnecessary fat (not to be confused with necessary fat) and salt and sugar--which overwhelm everything else in the food--taste buds are free to tune themselves to detect essences that hover on the edges, tastes that suggest the presence of important nutrients our bodies crave, subtleties we missed before that give food its fullest expression of flavor.

And good flavor is what keeps us eating, so to me, this process seems key to survival. I'm inducing my body to deploy some dusty and disused tools from my toolchest of evolutionary survival. There's something primal and honest about this, something that makes me feel in touch with the way things work, the way things are supposed to work, a connection to nature that had been lost, paved over with refined carbs and saturated fat and bizarre chemicals, like a garden turned into a parking lot where nothing can grow with any real enthusiasm. My body feels like it's been depaved, the soured earth beneath tilled and restocked with nutrients and moisture and springing to life once again.

CR makes it easy to love food again, instead of always thinking of it as a source of guilt and denial. It's a benefit I wasn't expecting so soon in my experience, but I'm so grateful it's here!


Schatze said...

Hello - I just wanted to leave a quick comment. Your writing is great! Today's entry was really enjoyable and interesting to read.

Anonymous said...

Hello, just wanted to say that i love the blog, and congrats on your progress so far!

Anonymous said...

While I am on board with the CRON worldview...

Mustard greens?

Never! :-)

Mike J

Emi at Project Swatch said...

I'm really enjoying reading your blog - you express so eloquently much of what I feel.

Also, I think moving your calorie target up is wise - some of the women eating 1300-1400 are literally half your weight, so it really makes sense that you'd eat significantly more, even to lose rather than maintain.

April said...

Chris --

I told you weeks ago to up your calorie target. My partner weighs 115 at six feet tall and eats 1913. So I'm really glad you're upping your target! :)

Heck, I eat like 1400, and I weigh 103!

Mustard greens rock. But yes, they would be disgusting in the megamuffin. Unless it was the savory muffin.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your article.

Jackson Love said...

Hi gay Chicago bicyclist who blogs. I was drinking my inaugural veggie smoothie post-recovery drink but with the added leafy greens of mustard greens. As I began drinking it I was immediately aware of a horseradishy-wasabi taste and thought back to what I had chopped for th drink and what might have been on the cutting board that accounted for the taste. Normally my veggie drinks as a raw foodist include lots of ginger and yeast and cranberies and pineapple but never anything 'hot.' I decided to cruise the 'Net to see if MG's indeed wee aromatic. Sure enough. I guess I don't prefer that taste on my liquid meals so I am going to defer on the MG's for now, but I will not forsake them because of their high nutritional value. Nice to chat with you. Good luck with your lifestyle of foodie and biker in Chi. All my love and regards, Jack from Wisconsin.