Fitness and food, my new frontier
A week after my wife, Julianne, died, I received an invitation to have lunch from her editor at Illinois Times, Fletcher Farrar. It was at this meeting that he brought up the possibility of my daughter, Ashley, and I taking over Julie’s weekly food column. The request was not unexpected, and after a brief deliberation I agreed to accept the challenge on a trial basis. What came next, however, caught me a little off guard.
Over the past four years, the pace of my life had slowed down considerably. My wife had been struggling with arthritic knees (a common affliction for cooks) and her knees finally wore out. Though she had gone through five surgeries, she was unable to climb stairs or walk unassisted. I was struggling as well. I was 50 pounds overweight and had an arthritic hip that had been limiting my activity. I ultimately had to have a total hip replacement right before Christmas.
After we discussed taking over my wife’s IT food column, Farrar invited me to join his CrossFit workout group. “I work out every morning at 7 a.m. with a group of folks our age. You ought to join us.” I hadn’t exercised in 30 years and working out every morning at 7 had no appeal to me whatsoever. I lamely responded: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m still going through physical therapy for my hip surgery. Maybe later.”
Shortly after my meeting with Fletcher Farrar I was invited to dinner by David Radwine. My friendship with David dates back to the days when he was chef at Crow’s Mill School. David later ran the Sangamo Club and is now chef for the governor. Midway through the meal David said, “I work out every morning at 7 a.m. with a group of older folks our age. Fletcher Farrar is in my group. You ought to join us.” I thought to myself: “Am I being conspired against?” I explained that I’m busy with physical therapy for my hip, but perhaps later I might come to a workout. I had dodged the bullet for now.
Two months later, I was invited to a Slow Food Springfield meeting and I ran into Chef Radwine. “How’s the physical therapy going?” Forgetting our previous conversation, I told him I had finished physical therapy a month ago. “Great! Now you can come to my workout!”
I went. Surrounded by healthy and fit-looking 60- and 70-year-olds, I struggled feebly to do a sit-up. Observing my pathetic state of fitness, Coach Mike Suhadolnik took me aside: “You need a one-on-one program to address your limitations and bring you up to speed and significantly improve your health. It is three months long and will allow you to get rid of your watermelon, probably lose 35 pounds, become flexible and strong. And then you can become part of the class.” In addition he requested: “Please, no sugar or sugar substitutes, no dairy, no grains and no alcohol.”
For nearly three months I have attempted to write interesting and inspiring articles about food while existing on a diet of mostly grilled fish and vegetables. While those around me are enjoying prosecco with their pasta, I am sipping club soda with my spaghetti squash. Consequently, I become very excited when I come across a recipe that is interesting, tasty, nutritious and within the parameters of my diet.
I’m excited about Shakshuka, a traditional Middle Eastern dish of eggs cooked in fragrant tomato sauce. Traditionally served in a cast-iron skillet, Shakshuka can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Serve it with homemade Green Chili Zhoug hot sauce for a real treat.
Shakshuka is easy to make and lends itself to improvisation. Thinly slice and sauté an onion, a red pepper and garlic. Add spices and canned or fresh tomatoes. When the resulting sauce thickens, crack eggs on top and place under a broiler. An extremely tasty, nutritious one-pot meal results.
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
• 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
• 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
• 1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
• 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes with juices, coarsely chopped
• 1 teaspoon salt, more as needed
• ¼ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
• 6 large eggs
• Chopped cilantro, for serving
• Green Chili Zhoug hot sauce, for serving
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook gently until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes; stir in cumin, paprika and cayenne, and cook 1 minute. Pour in tomatoes and season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about 10 minutes.
Gently crack eggs into skillet over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set; 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with hot sauce.
Green Chili Zhoug
Yields 1 cup or 12 servings
• 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
• 1/2 bunch parsley, picked and chopped
• 6 small serrano chile peppers
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 clove garlic
• 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 tablespoons water
• 1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
• 1 pinch orange zest
Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it is a fine puree.
Peter Glatz and David Radwine recently prepared Shakshuka in Glatz’s bus for their CrossFit Instinct Longevity class in Washington Park.