Cowboy eating popcorn

Popcorn is a light and satisfying supper for Barbara Quinn and her dream cowboy. (Dreamstime/TNS)

In my eyes, he’s the perfect man. A rancher who takes exquisite care of the Angus cattle in the pastures surrounding our home. He relishes every meal I prepare and tells me he loves my cooking. And he probably eats more vegetables than I do … even at restaurants when he orders a salad and I sometimes give in to french fries.

Cowboys are an interesting breed. They are tough but don’t find the need to act that way. They like the simple life but are more complex than they appear. Ranchers are animal nutritionists, veterinarians, mechanics, accountants and horsemen all in one. They believe in hard work. Getting enough exercise is hardly ever a problem. I like that.

Oh, and ranchers get up early in the morning. (Cows to be fed. Newborn calves to be checked.) Hence, they retire fairly early in the evening. No 8 o’clock dinners for this breed.

My cowboy likes the evening meals we have come to nickname “conglomerates.” Definition: foods mixed together to make a quick, nourishing and — sometimes surprisingly — tasty meal. There’s no rhyme or reason here, just leftovers that need to be eaten mingled with vegetables and other edibles that need to make themselves useful.

Here’s an example: We had a bit of leftover steak that I sliced and stir-fried in a bit of olive oil along with the last of the celery and cherry tomatoes and a dab of mushroom and peppers from the night before. I tossed in some balsamic vinegar for flavor and served the whole menagerie over a half-bag of baby spinach. Every meal an original!

What about those days when lunch is delayed because a bull got out or a cow had problems with her calf? On these occasions, when lunch is closer to midafternoon, this conversation may ensue:

“I think it’s a popcorn night.” 

Interpretation: “I’m really not that hungry. Let’s just have something light for supper." (Cowboys call dinner “supper” because, they say, “Jesus didn’t have the last dinner.”)

Why popcorn? It’s light and extremely satisfying. Popcorn popped in oil has only 35 calories per cup, according to the Popcorn Board, popcorn.org. We pop ours in a cool popper that uses just a bit of oil.

Popcorn is also a whole grain. That means it contains all the original components of the corn seed — germ, endosperm and bran. The medical evidence is clear, says the Whole Grains Council (wholegrainscouncil.org), “that whole grains reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Few foods can offer such diverse benefits.”

Better get to bed. We’ve got to be in the barn to saddle horses at 6 a.m. 

(Barbara Quinn-Intermill is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to barbara@quinnessentialnutrition.com.)

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