Towards a better tinyhouse

Inventing to freedom?

My current simple living approach to a healthy diet (tiny diet?)

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For the past uh, 3 months and a bit the only cooking equipment I have used are cutlery, a small knife, a rice cooker and a kitchen scale, and some plastic containers. That’s it, no volumetric measuring equipment at all, or any pots and pans, or microwave. I can be sure because I don’t have any other equipment. Clearly this has implications for living in a tinyhouse.

Of course in a tinyhouse context I should specify that I had a fridge and sink and drinkable tapwater. I have not been eating out except socially, maybe two or three times a week i.e. no eating out for convenience or because I didn’t feel like cooking at all really.

Why? And how has it been working? Well, when I moved I left all the other kitchen equipment behind at the house I lived at. And I knew that a lot of people in china, india and other countries use a rice cooker as their only cooking tool.

It’s partly about cost/performance ratio. There is no one dimensional spectrum of tasty, expensive healthy food on the left, and cheap junk on the right. Complex cooking can be tastier, but not all complex cooking is. And taking exponentially more work and time is especially a problem if you are going to cook all or almost all of your food that way, which you sort of have to to these days if you are going to eat healthy, and which none of the numerous gastronome types that I have ever encountered even come close to. They also tend strongly to use much more expensive ingredients that you could hardly go wrong with, instead of making tasty stuff with economical ingredients.

Secondly, I had been thinking about cooking, appetite and their interaction with nutrition…. I’ll spare you the interesting parts, but basically humans are cookedavores. We have evolved to eat cooked food. Using the kitchen can be a bother in rooming situations, so I have tried for some periods to e.g. eat sandwiches or other food that needed no or very little preparation.

But for me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was common, it really doesn’t work over the long run. My appetite just sort of dissappears. If you have ever had to live on those Ensure like meal-shakes you have some idea of what a messed up appetite is like (liquid food is recognized differently by our food processing system than solid food). You can be hungry but not want or be able to eat. The whole appetite-digestion system is based a lot on reflexes and evolved instincts etc. that are often out of touch with modern realities, and taste – or rathery palatability, which includes texture etc.- can be affected by so many things that have nothing whatsoever to do with nutrition. Even though I know the nutrition is the same, I feel much better eating (recently) cooked hot food (if you think about it most ready to eat food is still cooked).

Consider letting a healthy meal go cold – some foods are inedible cold, but tasty when re heated (not cooked since no time is required). And yet the nutrition or microbiological safety has not changed in the slightest.

Anyway, my rice cooker is enough, I am finding. I have wanted a microwave to reheat stuff a couple times, but that’s about it, and maybe it is better this way because the food tastes better when eaten soon after initial cooking anyway. If I do want to reheat stuff I add just a bit of water to the pan, let it boil and then add the stuff, usually the water tastes pretty good too so it doesn’t detract from the taste.

I can do some basic frying and sauteing because it is one of the $17 ones on which you can hold the button down, but the basic technique has been add grains spices and other stuff, and add other stuff at the right time thereafter so it is all done nicely at once (or forget entirely and cook the other stuff separately which takes more time but tends to be tastier). Fruits and veggies are stored in the fridge as they were bought, then 1-2 kg washed and put in a big plastic container, then at cooking time just take the celery or whatever and chop it over the rice cooker so there’s no cutting board. It could be better but it’s not bad really, given the relatively small amount of time I spend cooking, the tastiness and healthiness of the food. The length of time to cook rice is a problem, and I have tried minute rice but it takes almost as long and doesn’t taste as good.

There are no recipes because I have not found any good ones worth keeping – it is tastier this way anyway, as doing this every day I have learned by homing in on the better ways and learned to make some actually fairly tasty stuff. By keeping the cooking technique the same I’ve also learned more about the fine points of the effect of various ingredients.

Basically my wish list is to have the capacity to change the timing of the start and stop of the cooking process (ideally with refrigeration during the pre-cook period), to have the cooker not burn the bottom of the rice and/or have a better non-stick coating that stuff did not stick to as well (oil doesn’t help much), a timer, which my cell phone works for but not well, and multiple cookers or a multiple independent chambers, and a veggie washer or higher water pressure spray might be nice.

In terms of nutrition, it has not been ideal, mostly because I have been lazy rather than inherent limitations of the approach. Fortunately I already knew a fair bit about nutrition, both from a nutrients appoach, recommendations from authorities, and generalized i.e. the nutritional changes from cooking, glycemic index etc. and have done meal planning with software like fitday etc. but once you learn the details you realize that detailed planning is not really needed. The recommendation from independent experts like Marion Nestle, and to a lesser degree mypyramid.gov will indeed lead you to a good diet (like top 5 percentile, IMO above that the certainty of the benefits tend to be shaky and much more long term, rather than helping you be healthy today). As long as I am following those suggestions reasonably closely, I eat whatever makes me feel healthiest.

The thing is, for most of human history, this is probably about what has been done – you had a clay pot and a fire to roast large objects over, but that’s it (I think, then again people were clever back then too. The thing is there would also be heavier selective pressures to prefer lower time and effort cooking techniques).

I remember reading about Otzi the Iceman and his last meal of roots, herbs, grains, and rabbit stew, with a copper axe and clay(?) pot to prepare it with, and thinking – hm, that sounds tasty. It is all they had the technology for at the time, so presumably basic cooking was all anyone had ever eaten. Well, actually there must have been a variety of diets for different people at different points, especially if you were more the agricultural type but you get the idea – flambeed duck with orange sauce or whatever was not on the menu for anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy gastronomic delights too, but as a day to day cooking approach I question the wisdom and desirability of complex cooking. Secondly I have found this can produce mouth watering food if done right. I keep trying to duplicate a positively delicious ginger soup I made once. You’re just depending on knowledge instead of equipment and expensive ingredients.

I could get more cooking equipment, but I get a lot more bang I think out of more variety of starting ingredients even if they are cooked in a basic way. I accept tastyness as part of the criteria of a good diet, and it is therefore not something I try to ignore or distain as optional, as some people trying to eat healthy (unsuccessfuly I think) try to. It’s about finding, in the problem-space of all possible diet approaches, the ones that lead to the best combinations of the multitude of costs and benefits involved. It’s a multidimensional space, and I think this is a better approach in several ways than others I have encountered.

List of the typical stuff has been, and the various brands and varieties available:

broccoli
onions
asparagus
green beans
carrots
cauliflower
squash
parsley
spinach
cellery
Always from fresh, sometimes cooked sometimes not, frozen veggies just taste terrible in comparison in this context, and I don’t bother with canned.

Peanuts, “honey roasted” or just roasted
walnuts
pecans
almonds
cashews

chicken, the best for environmental reasons, no beef for environmental reasons, I might eat ham or other pork but I don’t like it as much and it is more work to prepare due to food safety issues

Dried and fresh skim milk, a liter or so each day usually. The thing about dairy is that is all has it’s origin in milk so there is not that much point in eating variety unless you feel like it. I have a bunch of frozen cheese that I just have not felt like eating. IIRC some cheeses have nutrients produced by the fungi and bacteria, but not much. The benefits of bacteria in yogurt are nil under normal conditions.

orange juice
lemons and lemon juice
pineapple juice
apples
bananas
grapefruit
raisins
dried cranberries don’t like the fresh much
dried blueberries

fish oil capsules
non hydrogenated low saturated fat margarine normal salt content, used to eat the low salt stuff until Becel changed their recipe and it tastes aweful now (I don’t bother with butter, the chicken has the near requisite 30 grams of saturated fat)
olive oil

oats
brown rice (never white, it is fine of course to eat half white grains, but I was raised on whole grains and it taste better and seems to make me feel better, although I am aware that the manganese content is actually a bit too high)
barley (only mixed with rice, seems to have a metallic flavor I don’t like)
bulgur wheat (funny stuff)
I’d like to try stuff like rye but it’s not available in the stores

Cooking sauces like curry sauce

ginger, garlic, garam marsala, mustard, cloves cinammon, black pepper, chilli powder etc.

I spend about $300 a month I think on food alone, judging from my bank account statements, which could be less and I’m always of course looking for ways to reduce, but there it is. I drink brita filtered water and the juice and milk, some coffee and beer (which has significant nutrient content), and some other alcoholic beverages no pop.

But the specific ingredients are not what matters of course, since it will be different for everyone. It all comes from a farmboy and an independent grocer nearby, no other stores although would be nice if there wre more close by. I know the variety is more limited than it should be, I keep meaning to try new stuff like legumes, but most of it takes more time to prepare or is not stocked by the stores. Starting with the easy to prepare but real-food ingredients is still a lot better than processed food at least.

The quantities are governed largely by the food pyramic recommendations and some basic nutritional reckoning and feeling of hunger, e.g. 300 grams of chicken per day is about right for protein and saturated fat, given the other food involved.

I don’t have a bathroom scale so I have no idea if I am gaining weight or not, but probably not. Conversely hunger is not much of a problem, as the cooking part is the focus in this post, but I can grab some of the stuff that doesn’t need cooking if I am in a rush or whatever. Only the grains and meat really need to be cooked and oats are fast. I only actually cook 2 or 3 times a day, but recommendations trend to 3 meals fo 720 cal and 2 snacks of 250 for me.

The biggest problem so far is that the non stick coating has mostly come off the pan even though I was careful with it.

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Written by gregor

March 15, 2011 at 05:07

Posted in Uncategorized

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