I recently heard the results of a study comparing the success rates of three popular diets. They were about equally successful, and researchers advised going with the one that seemed easiest to stick with. The report was followed by a doctor’s personal commentary saying that losing weight comes down to the simple formula of taking in fewer calories than you burn. You could go on an ice cream or pasta diet, the bottom line being that you need to tip the scale in favor of calories burned.
Diets are such a tricky topic. I am tiptoeing carefully here, never having been on an actual diet, but I have great respect for those who try to make any kind of life changes. Every time I decide to cut something back, I begin to crave that very food! Increasing exercise is easier for me; then the food intake balances itself. The more oxygen in my blood stream, the better choices I seem to be able to make.
I know that some people gain weight far more easily than others, and as I age, I have to be more mindful of how much I eat. I have to factor in that I was in the orchard all day and ate 10 apples. Aside from the theoretical ratio of calories in to calories burnt, no simple way to lose weight exists. I imagine that for some, losing weight could be so difficult that a few extra pounds would be healthier emotionally.
Health certainly factors in to most people’s dieting motivations. As a gardener, I gravitate toward lots of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, garlic, fish, lean meats and delicious pastas; in other words, The Mediterranean Diet, I am told. These choices are good for the heart and tend to be low in calories while being satisfying, filling and flavorful. Since most of the Mediterranean region diet comes from simple fare produced for generations with home grown or local ingredients, the diet fits well with a gardening lifestyle.
I’ve been eating like this for most of my life: fresh food, simply prepared, so full of flavor that people expound on how great it tastes, so good that upscale restaurants around the country seek local produce – and we have it right in our back yards.
The latest thinking is that a glass of wine is a good thing too. Everything in moderation; I guess the doctor is right.
Beet and Orange Salad
(Beets are a common source of vitamins in pills.)
1/2 c. shelled walnuts
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. orange juice
zest of 1/2 orange
1/4 c. olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 lb. mixed greens, endive, arugula, spinach, mache or mustards
Bake or steam beets and remove skins. Pare the oranges, removing all the pith. Slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Make a vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar, orange juice, zest, olive oil, salt and pepper. Slice the cooled beets and toss them gently with the vinaigrette. Arrange them on a bed of greens with the oranges. Serves 4 to 5.
Spiced Pilau with Saffron
2 c. water, boiling
1 tsp. salt
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, very finely chopped
3 Tbsp. pine nuts
13/4 c. long grain rice
1/2 c. golden or brown raisins
2 t. ground cardamom
finely chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley to garnish
Toast the saffron threads in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring for two minutes or until they give off their aroma. Place them on a plate. Pour the boiling water into a bowl and add the saffron and salt. Let the mixture infuse for 30 minutes. Sauté the onion in the oil until transparent. Lower the heat and add pine nuts. Cook for about two minutes, or until the nuts brown.
Stir in the rice, coating the grains with oil. Add the raisins, cardamom and cloves. Pour in the saffron water and bring the rice to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for five minutes without uncovering. Remove the lid and fluff the rice. Stir in the cilantro or parsley and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
Fava Beans with Feta and Lemon
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
2 oz. feta cheese, drained and diced
lemon wedges to serve
Steam the fava beans for two to three minutes or until tender. Cool, then shell the outer skin. Young favas may not need to have the skins removed. Place the beans in a salad bowl. Stir together the oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, pour the mixture over the warm beans, then stir. Season as necessary. Add dill and feta and serve, or chill then add the feta and serve.
Sautéed Kale on Pasta
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 to 2 Tbsp. red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 lb. pasta
Heat a large sauté pan and add the olive oil and garlic, then, almost immediately, add enough kale to cover the bottom of the pan. Once this has wilted, add more until all of the kale is added. Add salt, stir, then cover and cook until the kale is tender. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Serve plain or toss with pasta. Serve with grated parmesan or asiago cheese. Serves 4 to 5.
Stewed Tomatoes Niçoise on Pasta
4 to 6 large cloves garlic
3 to 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
about 20 Niçoise or Kalamata olives, pitted
parsley to mince and garnish
In a deep sauté pan or skillet, sauté the garlic in olive oil for one minute. Add the tomatoes and cook together for about 10 minutes. Add the olives. Garnish with parsley. Serve over pasta or with crostini (see below).
Toast slices of hearty artisan style bread. Rub with raw garlic while still hot so that the garlic “melts” into the toast, imparting its full flavor. Use as croutons in salad, with soups or to sop up juicy stews. I melt mozzarella on it and add tomato, olives, etc., as a healthy pizza or open sandwich. Add it right into a fresh tomato salad with fresh mozzarella and basil, and it’s heavenly.