Pistachio Crusted Salmon

We were craving crunch – something that I think is pretty common on Whole30. I think for long stretches of time about the combination of soft and crispy that bread does so well and so few other foods can imitate. Even crispy cooked cheese compares… but we cannot have that either!

So when we got some salmon fillets on sale (check your grocery store – we were surprised by how reasonable they were frozen!), I looked up recipes that used nuts as a “crust” on salmon. I already knew I liked salmon pretty much just with lemon, salt, and pepper, so I had a feeling this would be a decadent and wonderful dish. I drew on this recipe, but I think that almost any herbs, oils, and nuts would make a savory and crunchy crust.

Husband and I felt like we were in a fancy restaurant, and I realized that the portions that we have been eating – one or two veggies in substantial quantity, a small amount of really good meat, and maybe a sparkling water to drink – are so much like restaurant meals. Sure, we don’t fill up on bread and butter, and there’s no dessert, but the food we eat this month is high quality.

I’ve been really thinking about how to incorporate what we’ve learned into our daily life after this month, and I’ve realized that I love having these rules to keep me in check. I know I can change them whenever I want, but I think I want to still have intense rules. Maybe I’ll reincorporate honey, or beans, or something, but I want to save the most craved foods for really special occasions. How do you keep your appetites for unhealthy foods in check enough to really savor the best things? I’m certainly still learning.

Day 18 and the importance of meals

My best days so far on Whole30 have been the days when I have very specific plans for every meal. This is hard, because I’m out of the house 11-12 hours a day, and so anything that isn’t planned and made easy by the end of the weekend is destined to be sloppy and slapdash.

Having a plan for how to get protein in me at breakfast alongside some veggies and maybe a fruit, a well-packed and filling lunch, and a plan to make dinner savory and hot, all are necessary to make a day without snacks and slip-ups. More frequently, though, it looks like this: I don’t feel like anything for breakfast, so I drink a bit of fruit juice, and I eat snacks at work, and lunch is enough but not enough to make me fortified to dinner, and then I snack while cooking dinner. Not great! Not technically outside the foods of Whole30, but well outside the spirit of the program.

So for these last 12 days, I’m working extra hard: three meals works for my schedule, I just have to commit to it and get nice and hungry for each one before eating everything, seated, with friends or Husband. I need to make enough in a given meal – for instance, tonight when I’m doing a second batch of meatballs – to really feel like I can eat off of that batch for a day or two. A side benefit of this diet is that I’m learning how to embrace leftovers in a way that I’ve always been grudging to do so – I’ll eat practically anything for a first meal, but I have to really love it to be good at eating the leftovers. I’m quite pleased at how this is stretching me, but Whole30 doesn’t work as a halfway choice, I’m realizing, so I’m committing again to the meal schedule!

Tomato and Egg Veggie Bake

I don’t actually like or crave eggs very often, which means that that it is hard sometimes to find variety on Whole30 – veggies are various, but inexpensive meat is pretty much restricted, and so eggs are a great way to get some more variety in your life.

My favorite way to eat an egg is in the middle of a piece of buttery crispy toast, so I needed a new way to enjoy eggs. I found the recipe for a Paleo Supreme Pizza Frittata , which claimed that mixing pizza sauce with eggs and baking them made a creamier texture on  the eggs – something like ricotta! As an unabashed lasagna lover, that was enough to get me to try it.

I mixed chopped onions, finely chopped broccoli, and frozen spinach with just a tiny bit of olive oil and set it to saute while I mixed eggs, spices, and some homemade tomato sauces together and and greased the pan with clarified butter. I heated the oven to 350, and after mixing all the ingredients together and putting them in, they got about 30 minutes at 350 and another 5 at 400 so that I could get a little crustiness on it.

The result was not ricotta in the mouth, but it was delicious, and not has heavy as eggs by themselves – I really enjoyed it! It was even tastier with a small spoonful of salsa on top to jazz it up – weird at first to combine italian and mexican palates, but still tasty to me!

Whole30 Meatballs with sweet potato shavings.

It’s hard to find foods that really satisfy all the many sensations we’ve come to expect – something crispy, something sweet, something savory, something hearty and flavorful. We’d gotten through the first 3 days of Whole30 and the newness was falling away, but my first meal that truly filled me up was making meatballs and marinara.

I took a pound of ground chuck, 80-20 lean ratio, and mixed in lots of Italian spices, along with garlic powder and onion powder for both flavor and texture. I use some crush almonds for binder, but not many – less than a 1/4 cup. The magic happened when Husband and I looked at the meatballs and wondered if they would just taste like slightly flavored hamburger. “What about sweet potato?” He asked.

We pulled out the grater and grated almost half of a sweet potato into the mix. Sweet potatoes are less watery than regular potatoes, so they didn’t make the mix soupy at all, but rather added the slight sweetness that many meatball sauces carry, and something to crisp up in the pan. We rolled them into 1 or 1 and a half inch balls and fried them in a cast iron skillet until browned.

In the meantime, I’d been simmering diced organic tomatoes on the stove. I added lots of garlic to this one too – should have cut up cloves and cooked in olive oil first, but I was in a rush. I added diced onions and grated carrot, both because I don’t like carrots much and because marinara often has the slight sweetness of a carrot. The sauce simmered through the whole meatball-making process, and with spices (lots of dried basil because, sadly, it is winter and fresh basil is not to be found in my garden), it came together wonderfully.

I broke through every meatballs crispy shell to get a part of it to drown in the tomato sauce – it felt like a lot of the flavors I love best about pasta but without pasta there to transport them! It made me realize, for the first time during Whole30, that I could be completely satisfied on a diet without cheese or grain. I don’t intend to do it forever, but it felt very empowering.


Food Challenges with Husband, and a Clear Mind

There are other good reasons to do Whole30 besides trying to find new food habits. It’s been really great for the marriage too! Yeah, I had visions of us both being crabby and hungry and blaming each other as we ate our dry lettuce together, but I was 100% wrong about that.

Husband and I do occasionally get into little sad dreamfests about crunchy pretzels and chips and queso and pasta with brie… but mostly we come up with delicious meals, cook together, and prep piles and piles of vegetables together (so much chopping!). We’re kind of relieved and delirious every time we eat something we like, because every meal starts with the expectation of “this might taste like nothing and not fill me up.” Where pizza never satisfies as much as the idea of pizza promises, neither are healthy meals as dissatisfying as I dread – they’re usually wonderful!

Just having a joint challenge has made chats more lively in a time of year when we cannot have our favorite bike rides, gardening, outdoor concerts, or just comfortable walks – I want to make it a yearly thing, mostly to make January less grey. I like the idea of only doing this for 30 days, not because it stops being healthy on day 31, but because this way it stays fresh and new for the whole month.

The last thing I’ve seen happen (and it could be a total coincidence, but still!) is that I’ve felt like I can do anything at work lately. I don’t get foggy after lunch, and I don’t feel defeatedly sleepy or sluggish at all. I drink a lot of coffee still, but I feel like all this good, nutrient-rich food with reasonable portions (I don’t seem to overeat unless something is cheesy or bready!). It’s been wonderful with the new semester starting tomorrow, and I’m so grateful even when I want other foods in the back of my mind.

Tune in next time for delicious Whole30 foods we’ve discovered!

Coming Out from Under a Rock

Hello again – Happy 2017! It’s been a week and a half, and after months of daily posts, it has felt… well, it’s felt new. This was my first time cooling it on blogging since I started last year. It felt good, but I realized: I’m not done. This has been too fun, too meaningful, to stop now.

On the first day of 2017, Husband and I embarked on the food journey called Whole30: 30 days of only fresh veggies, fresh fruit, meats, and nuts. We tried to eliminate all sugar, all grains, all alcohol and dairy and most food additives and legumes… pretty much all the things that I instantly reach for when food is on my mind.

For a while now, I felt like my decisions were all about “health vs. happiness,” because so many of my favorite foods were not healthy at all, just utterly out of proportion and bad for me. Many other people I know can eat all of these foods in moderation and reach for a salad afterwards… I realized I needed a change.

I instantly felt freer once Whole30 started – there wasn’t a decision to be made between health and happiness, but instead the assurance of health, with a little creative license to try to make those healthy meals give happiness. I’ve eaten so many sweet orange slices and so much watery celery, so many rich cashews and flavorful chicken – I’ve learned how to eat things without drowning them in those spicy and sweet, buttery and cheesy sauces that I’d been using to disguise my food.

This doesn’t mean I don’t miss bubbly mozzerella on top of flat pizza crust, or a bagel with honey walnut cream cheese – I love even the idea of eating forbidden foods right now. But I also actually like some of the foods I’m eating this month. This month, I don’t choose between bad and good, but the best of the good food, the things that give me variety and comfort but still health.