Essential Prep for Whole30 Life

I’ve now survived my 3rd weekend of Whole30, which means I feel like I know what I need to make a successful week. It does require work, but I’ve been really satisfied with my habits.

1st, I chop snack veggies – my favorites are bell peppers, celery, and cucumbers, all of which are watery and crunchy and not intense in flavor, but which can sit on my desk and be my absent-minded eating. They are also easy to add to a meal later in the week if I don’t feel like cooking a veggie.

2nd, I crockpot some chicken breasts with a little olive oil and some light seasonings. This usually goes overnight for me, but if you have the awareness to do it in the morning for the evening, that’s even better. They pull apart like a dream, and with 7 or 8 minutes in a frying pan you can make one meal worth of crispy chicken to be added to a salad or a soup or anything! We’ve been eating off about 10 breasts I cooked last week, and it’s so satisfying and quick.

3rd, and I don’t do this every time, but chopping some sweet potatoes and grating regular potatoes for hash browns can be really nice. Starchy veggies make a nice counterpoint to the two salads a day that we tend to eat.

Last, arrange for breakfast. Egg bakes are great, but keeping fruit and sweet potatoes around for when you don’t feel like eggs is not a bad idea. I know they recommend 3 even meals, but I just cannot desire food at 6 in the morning when I’m getting ready, so keeping small alternatives to a full meal has been essential for me.

This is much less than most Whole30 folks meal prep, but January is a pretty quiet month for us, so we really have time to make two trips to the grocery store each week, and the grocery store is between the gym and home for us, so in the end, we go and buy what we need if we need it. I’d also recommend frozen veggies and fruits if you can’t hit the grocery store often, because I’ve been having to hustle to use all the veggies we buy before they are old!

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!

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.

Being the Backstage Cook

IMG_5033.jpg

I think too many of us envision cooking as the cooking-show version: a row of delicate ramekins full of pre-measured, pre-seasoned, pre-cut foods ready to be poured artfully into a mixer or a pan. A quick statement of what you needed to do (chop, dice, mince, filet) is all you need.

These days, there are even faster cooking shows, where you don’t even see the cook but instead see a fast-forward version of the person cooking and adding everything, one thing per second. The final product shows up after less than 60 seconds, perfect and picturesque.

I think one of the things that keeps us from cooking more is that we only think of these as the way that cooking looks; real cooking is mostly chopping. I know that I am more likely to cave on the Whole30 month if I don’t pre-cut and pre-wash a lot of my veggies, but I don’t kid myself: I’ve signed up for a month of Sunday afternoons where I’ll be preparing food, making it so that my weekday schedule can fit healthy choices in. It’s a bit of an experiment too – Whole30 is so restrictive that eating in restaurants is difficult, so we’re aiming to not eat any restaurant food the whole month. Instead, some of the money that normally goes toward restaurant eating (because we love it) will be channelled into better, purer ingredients. Not because I’m always going to go organic or go grass-fed or go free-range – I’m just interested to see if I see a difference.

The other day, I prepped potatoes and sweet potatoes to have for meals later on that day and week. It was nice, because I didn’t really notice it. Like food channel cooks, I was able to pull out the things I needed, heat oil in a pan, and make my meal without taking the time to cut up veggies. I’m usually hungry by the time I walk in from work, so it’s a nice thing that I’m able to prep ahead and do a little cooking-show magic, but it’s not without the background cook, the person who makes all those lovely cuts – that person is me, just me on the weekend.

Book Review: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

IMG_5025.jpg

Do you ever read something, and have it remind you of a good meal? I stumbled upon Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, and it has me thinking of macaroni and cheese. Sure, there are two foods in the title, but macaroni is thick and creamy, worth lingering over. Her work is by turns sad and sweet, by turns rich and stark.

Niequist is a religious writer, but she makes it a part of her life, not the goal of the book. She seems more interested in showing how food and life have come together for her than in forwarding a particular experience of spirituality, which I find really refreshing and lovely. It also opens me up to all the lovely parts of her religious experience: she’s gotten to marry friends of hers, and share food while discussing the Bible, and pray over those she loves. I don’t know much about her specific beliefs, but I do love that I learn about the foods and the travels and the friends that matter so much to her.

She has some serious thoughts about hospitality, which seem relevant as I’m embarking on my badly-defined quest to know how hospitality fits into modern life. She sees her home as a place that hosts others: even when she and her husband disagree on how warm to keep the place, even when things are awkward or unplanned or not what anyone expected. There’s something so authentic about the way she discusses both her own need to make a lot of experiences good for her guests and her own longing to release some of her unnecessary worries.

I’d recommend it as a winter time read; it has made me feel comforted and warm while I sit in a cold house and nurse a frigid cup of old coffee. It makes me think about how it’s worth it to make a new pot of hot water, to enjoy each bite of a piece of toast, and to write about the way people have made my life so rich and lovely. It’s a good way to feel about a book.

Cranberry Almond Granola – Homemade Christmas Gift!

IMG_5055.jpg

I get hits on this blog because of the title, like anyone, but one thing seems to be a little deceptive – people come here looking for those soup mixes and cookie mixes that look cute in mason jars and are nice presents for people. The recipe for the cookies or the soup comes with the jar, so I guess “recipe in a bottle” is a reasonable thing to search if you want to make those as gifts!

This year, though, I did give one gift in a jar: granola. In college, I learned to love granola for the thick crunch of it, the fact that it masked some great fiber and fruit under a cereal-like exterior, and it livened up my vanilla yogurt. I figured out that the difference between oats and granola was just a few mix-ins and some careful baking, so I tried it. My homemade granola, straight from the grubby dorm kitchen, was delightful and made our institutional walls feel a little warmer when I was sharing it with friends.

Using pinterest, I found this recipe, which seemed like a great start. I used all whole unsalted almonds and dried cranberries instead of blueberries, but I used coconut oil for the fat and maple syrup for the sweetness, and mine came out delectable. I’m using it in my mother and father’s Christmas gifts, and I still have some at home for when we return from our travels. It’s a food I associate with being far from home and trying to make it on my own, but it’s pretty nice to share it with the people who got me to the place where I could feel independent and strong. Christmas with family when you are all adults is a nice time to acknowledge the many roles that you’ve had in each other’s lives, and to celebrate those places.

A and J = Gardening Goals!

IMG_5017.JPG

This is part of a row of fall greens planted by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law – don’t they look luscious? Husband and I got leaves of salad greens, but never big, lush heads of lettuce that we could use. A and J have developed 8 or 9 100 foot rows of veggies behind their house, and they work awfully hard to keep the veggies and fruits coming all spring, summer, and fall – between the three seasons, they provide veggies for their own vegetarian lifestyle, local veggie restaurants, and a tiny farmer’s market they host in their hometown! I don’t want my life to be quite as garden-ful as theirs, but they sure do remind me how much more is possible! Will be spending some of the drive home today daydreaming about how to expand and improve for next spring. 🙂

A Pecan Variation on Muffins

img_4996

While making Blueberry Cream Cheese Muffins, I separated out part of the batter and mixed in a cup of roasted pecans. These mini-muffins were the result – they were more pecan than muffin, but hey… I really like pecans! Taking the mini muffins to Thanksgiving was a great choice – we’ve had one or two of them as snacks and breakfasts for the past 5 days, and I’m quite happy. I feel like this Thanksgiving was one where we all helped together; we all got to have our moment of sharing and our moment of receiving. Sweet family members helped us celebrate our first anniversary together and for that, I’m extra thankful this year. 🙂