16 January 2017


Letters from the Land of the Protons #2

A consequence of the time I spend in the world of electrons - motionless, more or less, except for my fingers and my eyes - is that protons tend to congregate around my waist.  I try to fight this with exercise, but it's clear that I've got to cut down on the supply of these protons, too.

I work from a home office, and it's 100 steps (including 34 stairs, if you count down as well as up) from my desk to my refrigerator.  Apparently, walking consumes 0.045 calories per step, so my 100 steps uses up four and a half calories.  If I want to stay ahead of the game, I've got to have something in the fridge that puts fewer than four and a half calories back on, but is still big enough to feel like a satisfactory snack: tasty enough not to feel like penance, and interesting enough not to induce ennui if eaten frequently.

That's a pretty tall order.

One potato chip is about 10 calories, and, as everyone knows, no one can eat just one.  One chicken nugget is 45 calories; I'd have to walk back and forth between the desk and the fridge 10 times to work it off.  The sad truth is, proteins and carbs just aren't up to the proton-prevention job.

But most vegetables taste like water with a pinch of chlorophyll.  Be honest: who's going to take 100 steps to eat a leaf?

There are some near misses amongst the veggies.  A cherry tomato (actually a fruit in disguise rather than a vegetable) tastes great and has "only" three calories, but a satisfactory dose of cherry tomatoes - let's say five - is 15 calories, because of all the sugary fruity goodness.  Close, but no cigar.

There are also some real clinkers in the vegetable kindgom; one leaf of cabbage costs you 4 calories!  Cabbage is disgusting AND fattening!  And we shall not even speak of the abomination which is kale.

A long search drives one into the depressing water-and-chlorophyll end of the vegetable section.  Even here it's slim pickings.  Leaf lettuce is fine calorically but boring.  Celery is good (apparently it has "negative" calories, because digesting the fiber uses up more energy than it yields in carbohydrate nutrition), but celery doesn't hold up to repeated use - I get bored with it too quickly.  Cucumbers, weirdly, are pretty high in carbs.

So what's a man to do?

The answer, it turns out, is "ferment".  The combination of herbs and spices (including garlic!), salt, and, and some magical yeastie beasties works a divine transformation upon a 9-calorie cucumber spear, and that dull, watery, plumpening cucumber spear duckling becomes a dazzling, slimming 3-calorie kosher dill pickle spear swan (because, you know, yeastie beasties eat sugar and excrete pure, healthy, awesome flavor).

A kosher dill pickle spear is a prize worthy of a journey of 100 steps.  It's literally as cool as a cucumber in its barrel-shaped jar in the fridge.  It's crunchy on the skin side and buttery-soft on the seed side.  It's full of a deep melange of spicy flavors; it's tart and it's sweet, and it's umami too.  And a kosher dill spear never wears out its welcome.  I can eat them every day, and each one is as good as the last.

Best of all, at 3 calories, a kosher dill spear gives me a little room for error.  If I fall into a reverie and eat two, it's OK.  A few extra steps and I'm good.


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