Last summer, the American cable network A&E broadcast a program called Top 10 Dream Jobs. Restaurant critic came in at number five, just nudging out rock star, race car driver and Internet entrepreneur. According to the show, the only better occupations are pro athlete, fashion photographer, travel journalist and movie star. So footballer David Beckham has a better job than me. But, then, after a match he has to go home to Posh Spice.
Not a day goes by that someone doesn't mention how they envy my vocation. And it is a great gig. Not only do I have the luxury of exploring subjects I love and sharing my findings with you fabulous readers, but I get paid, to boot. Still, there's a lot more to it than swanning about the latest bote with a champagne cocktail and clever remark at hand. No, really!
It's not just writing about the food that pays for my supper - I have to eat the stuff I write about, too. Sometimes the idea of ingesting a duck's force-fed fatty liver makes my force-fed fatty liver quiver. Garbage in, garbage out, as the computer geeks say.
After seven years at the feedbag, I've recently had to develop a maintenance diet to counter the body damage caused by the extreme cuisines I encounter daily. Part macrobiotic and as vegan as I get, this regime calls for a whole lotta whole grains paired with fresh veggies and tofu.
Penance for excess, perhaps? Partially. But this new way I eat at least once a day has also sharpened my palate. Bonus: I've lost about 10 pounds in a year without even trying. I've even converted the Troubled Balkan, my strapping meat-eating assistant, to the brown rice side.
That's not to say I've turned into a food fundamentalist. I still prefer the pleasures of the flesh, especially if they're charbroiled and medium-rare. Yet not only is my new discipline nutritious, inexpensive and environmentally conscious, but it's damned tasty, too. It might not be the glamorous grub the public imagines an epicure sups, but it allows this one to fearlessly nosh when duty calls.
Can David Beckham say the same? Here are a few recipes for keeping my body in balance.
Wheat berry brown rice
Wheat berries are uncracked kernels of wheat. Because they have not been processed in any way, they retain their maximum nutrients. They also have a pleasant, nutty taste and a nice chewy texture. Find them next to short-grain brown rice (short-grain has more digestion-friendly power than medium or long) at health food or bulk stores. I prefer Lundberg's organic short-grain brown rice. Though slightly pricier, it has a lovely sweet flavour. Thoroughly rinse a cup each of wheat berries and brown rice several times. Bring 2 cups of water or veggie stock to a boil, stir in the berries and rice and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 50 minutes, stirring once or twice during the last 10 to make sure it doesn't stick to the pot. If there's still a bit of cooking liquid left, simmer a few minutes more uncovered.
This delicious combo is very versatile and easily adapts to most menus. Use it warm like pasta with a Mediterranean-style sauce or top it with an Asian stir-fry. Or turn it into an everyday spuds-like side for meat and two veg.
Though I've never been the breakfast type, I've come to love a nuked bowl of leftover grains lightly drizzled with tamari as my morning kick-start. Cold, it makes a super platform for salad once tossed with crunchy slivered celery and red onion, a handful of raisins and a splash of citrus vinaigrette. Keep extra cooked grains in an airtight container in the fridge for four or five days, though it won't last that long once you're hooked.
why buy packaged supermarket tofu when you can get it freshly made in Kensington Market at half the cost? Fong On Foods (46 Kensington, at St. Andrew, 416-598-7828) sells 12 blocks of bean curd for $1.95. Bring back the large tin can they're sold in and they'll give you a nickel. For years, I ate deep-fried tofu nearly every day, convinced that I was lowering my cholesterol. Instead, the tofu acted as a sponge for all that oil. I might as well have mainlined the stuff straight into my hardening arteries. Here's a low-fat version that's nearly as addictive.
Place fresh tofu cubes on a rectangular cutting board close together but not touching. Place a jar lid under one end of the board so that the water from the tofu can drain off. Put a cookie sheet or baking dish on top of the tofu cubes and weight it with a few cans from the cupboard (I find the empty tofu can half-full of water does the trick) so the water runs off but the cubes aren't crushed.
Let the tofu drain for 30 minutes, then put it on a lightly greased cookie sheet or baking dish. (I use a few drops of sesame oil, because it has bite and a little goes a long way.) Put the sheet on the bottom shelf of a preheated 375°F oven and bake for 30 minutes. Carefully flip the tofu with a spatula and bake for another 30 minutes until golden-topped and you've got instant protein. Again, store in an airtight container in the fridge for several days.
I slice the cubes into half-inch strips and add them at the last minute to noodle soups or Thai-inspired curries and over wheat berry brown rice, garnished with coriander leaf and squirts of hoisin and Srirachi hot sauce.