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.

 

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.

Food Memory: Sparkling Apple Cider

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My family are not big partiers, and they don’t need a lot to keep them entertained. I have great memories of how we all often stayed up till midnight when growing up to watch music and fireworks and the Times Square ball drop on the television. Since my parents don’t drink, we would pour sparkling apple cider into fancy cups and cheers each other about each new year. These memories, simple and comfortable and without any need to impress anyone, created the level of love that I have for the holiday of new beginnings – there’s something undeniably hopeful about New Year’s Eve, when we are trying to be better than we were the past year, even if we hate resolutions. It’s worth a sparkly drink to mark the occasion.

Food Memory: Queso for Breakfast in Texas

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I sometimes think about the composite parts of things we think are appropriate for breakfast – starches in toast, cheese in omelettes, sugar in muffins. For some reason, cupcakes aren’t breakfast and pizza isn’t breakfast, but their parts reconstituted make some timeless breakfast foods. Such was my thought process when, at a brunch place in Texas, I was told I could have tortilla chips and spicy queso for breakfast. I dove right in – queso is one of my favorite foods, if it counts as a food and not a condiment. The crunch of chips, creaminess of the cheese, and spicy kick of the melted-in peppers makes for my favorite combination. For something this delicious, I’ll buck tradition any day, and if the Texans say I can… more’s the better!

Book Review: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

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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.

Food Memory: Mornings with an Infant

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My friend LJ graciously allowed me to stay in her home for 4 nights when I had a conference in her town; this graciousness was especially amazing because her first child was only 5 weeks old! She was a wonderful but frazzled mother; she now has two little ones and continues to impress me with her love and dedication all the time. The morning that we picked up a couple donuts together as we were out running errands, I got mine in this bag, which I photographed and then left standing on the counter, because mothers need to be reminded of what they deserve: they deserve donuts, and veggies, and hugs, and words of encouragement, and laughter and rest and love.

Food Memory: Fresh, Tiny Bell Peppers

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The combination of rain and sunshine didn’t do our bell peppers that well this year, but in early October a few late and small peppers came from the plant before frosts took it. They were bitter, like all the thick flavor of a full sized bell pepper had concentrated into these tiny versions, but they made me smile because they seemed awfully tenacious. I hope to help my garden need less resilience next year, but it makes me smile to think at how the plants were fighting to survive, not fighting me. It puts me on good terms with Mother Nature on these frigid days.

Food Memory: Sweet Potatoes and Cincinnati Chili

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Even though many people don’t think it is a delicious food at all, the best comfort food for Husband is Cincinnati chili, a meat sauce with twinges of cinnamon and chocolate that is somewhat unremarkable but is quite elevated when layered on a bun with a huge quantity of sharp cheddar cheese on top. We made it even better by frying sweet potatoes in butter, pouring on the chili, and adding the cheese garnish, and it’s now become out go-to dish for friends with a Cincinnati connection or just for ourselves, eaten in a bowl while watching a movie. For such a savory dish, it also satisfies the little sweet tooth quite well.