I’ve got a confession. I’m not a heedless gourmand. Yes, I like cooking and eating good food, but I watch what I eat. I watch my fats. I watch my carbs. I watch my calories. And these days, I really watch my vitamins and minerals. That’s because for the past six months, I’ve been dabbling in something called CRON. This stands for calorie restriction, optimal nutrition (CR for short). CR has gotten a lot of mainstream coverage lately, most of it unflattering or at best dubious. The (yet unproven) science behind it is that you can live longer—like to 120--by consuming fewer calories. Reporters are shocked, shocked that someone can survive on, say, 1,500 calories a day. Yet CRON, with its focus on small portions of very healthy food, nicely reflects foodie darling Michael Pollan's dictum to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And that’s what I try to do.
Admittedly, at this point I don’t care too much about living well into my dotage. I’m too young for that. I’m more concerned about nutrients than low calorie levels. CR is the first food philosophy I’ve come across that really forces you to look at your nutrition. CRONies aim for 100% of recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals. You track what you eat using nutritional software like the free Cron-o-Meter. To a lot of people, this may sound obsessive or unappetizing. To me, it’s been a fascinating experiment. CRONies tout all sorts of health benefits that come with the diet, although all I’ve noticed so far is fewer colds and maybe slightly thicker hair. That’s good enough for now. All of this may turn out to be a placebo, but it’s a placebo that makes me feel healthier and more energetic, so what’s the harm. Longtime CR blogger Mary Robinson says it best: “If you have a reasonable amount of self-discipline, an interest in taking charge of your own health, and are willing to be a little bit of a scientist (you will be your own science experiment), CR can really work for you."
Occasionally I’ll revamp a favorite recipe to make it a bit more CR -friendly. Hachepouri, Georgian cheesebread, is a good example. Hachepouri, as I make it, is homemade dough with a cheese filling. A few weeks ago I made the dough but stuffed it with sautéed spinach, chicken and feta instead of just the cheese. Think of it as a variation on spanokapita. CR folk frown on carbs and starches, but the spinach and chicken up the nutrients and protein. As for calories, this is where you practice moderation and portion control. To make it all less painful, cut the hachepouri into small slices and serve it at a party. I guarantee that it will go fast.
The dough recipe is from Nigella Lawson's Feast, by way of The Traveler's Lunchbox. I usually cut the recipe in half, using 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 egg, 1 cup yogurt, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking powder, and about 3 cups of flour. The dough itself comes together in about 10 minutes.
For the filling, I diced a large onion and sautéed it in some olive oil until it was soft and translucent. I added a couple of cloves of minced garlic, and 5 cups of spinach—I used leafy frozen spinach, but of course you can use fresh spinach, cleaned and chopped—and sautéed for a couple of more minutes, until the spinach was limp. Then I took the spinach off the heat and added some cooked, chopped up chicken and maybe 1/2 cup of feta. If you have no nutritional qualms, you can certainly use more cheese. I let the filling cool before stuffing the dough rounds and baking them at 425 for 35-30 minutes. The hachepouri can be frozen and reheated in the oven. Note that I ate it with more sautéed, garlicky spinach on the side.