The kitchen walls are closing in

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July/August 2012

Figuring out what to eat these days is getting darn complicated.

As the song goes, it’s summertime and the living is easy. Except at our house at dinner time, when everyone comes to the table with a different notion of what constitutes a healthy, tasty meal. There was a time I could select from a wide range of everyday entrée recipes, add a few veggies, a salad, a pot of rice or some presentation of potatoes, and everyone was happy. Or at least happy enough to eat what was offered, even if it wasn’t the expressed favourite. That distinction, for the kids, went to Friday night’s chicken nuggets and homemade oven fries. For their dad, a health professional with a lifelong passion for practising what he teaches, it was any fresh seafood surrounded by heaps of vegetables.

At one time, long long ago, I had favourite foods too, but years of deferring to the whims and taste buds and nutrition charts of others has made me forget what they are. I’ve been too busy these last few years ensuring that the seafood aficionado got his fish, the athlete leaning towards vegetarianism took in enough iron, and the bodybuilder consumed enough protein so as not to constantly resort to expensive protein shakes that a physician friend bluntly calls garbage.

These days the list of supposedly good foods changes faster than a stock exchange ticker. As I write, coffee is back in vogue, this time touted as an elixir for longevity in what seems to have been a well-researched study. That works for me and I heartily brew myself another cup. But next week it could be sidelined again, pushed off the table by new-found virtues in red wine or nuts or olive oil. No, wait, olive oil is out these days—too low in polyunsaturated fat, apparently, and therefore detrimental to heart health. Nuts, on the other hand, seem to be back in the good books, especially walnuts—at least until they’re pushed off the pedestal by bad news or some other nut.

We went through a tofu stage, in the days when tofu was trumpeted as a perfect food. Chicken and rice morphed into tofu and rice, and so on. The texture pretty much ensured that no one would become a huge fan but that was offset by convenience and the fact that bean curd doesn’t have to be slaughtered. Then renewed concerns about plant-based estrogens and breast cancer risk trickled back into the news and scraped our plates clean of tofu.

Potatoes are good, but roasting them is bad. Toasting bread is also bad. Apparently the “thermal action” releases a chemical compound called acrylamide, which was first discovered in starchy foods in 2002. Because it’s a known carcinogen with a name that brings melting plastic to mind, I now try to keep roasting and toasting to a minimum. I could reduce the charring—and hence the acrylamide levels—by adding more oil, but that would contribute to heart disease instead.

We like stir-fried veggies but they also require a bit of oil, though some of us think water works just as well. That leads me to wonder—in silence—why we still call it frying at our house when boiling is what’s really going on.

Everyone enjoys my homemade quiche, but all those eggs—are they really good for you? Currently the research says yes, but some family members are not convinced so I only make it once in a while. The crust is an issue too. Should I use butter or soft margarine? (Shortening and store-bought crusts were ruled out long ago.) 

Recently I was de-boning a roasted chicken with the intent of making a lovely pot pie. The would-be vegetarian grimaced at the sight of it. The protein lover wondered if there’d be enough meat in the pie to make it worth eating. The fish guy, knowing there’d be no fish in the dish, hoped it would be loaded with lots of vegetables—but no salt and fat.

And so the kitchen walls keep closing in. My favourite dinners are now homemade pizza night and burger night. (Thank goodness we’re not gluten-free—yet.) Everyone can eat what they want—meat, fish, vegetarian, fixings or not. Everyone comes to the table happy.

The constriction of it all makes me fume some days. Still, a breakthrough does happen once in a while. Like just now, when my guy’s handed me a very green drink he’s fashioned out of fruit and fresh Swiss chard from the garden.

It’s perfect in every way. I close my eyes and ride the flavour wave. I’ve just discovered my new favourite food.

Everyone gets this for dinner tonight.

Having re-read this column, Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic vows to give serious consideration to becoming a vegetarian altogether.