Whole30 in the books

Husband and I have completed Whole30! He’s been more committed than I have to the process of reintegration, whereby you add a single item back to your diet (legumes, sugar, dairy, etc.) every 3 days to see how those things make you feel. I went a little overboard and tried a lot of things in only two days and ended up feeling TERRIBLE. I’ve gone back on mostly veggies and fruits and meats, and I cannot tell you how much better it makes me feel.

I think I got lulled into the month long change and figured that my iron-stomach would return instantly after the break from gluten and cheese, but I was incorrect. It turns out, my body thrives on whole foods, and my mood and energy level is so dependent now on eating well! I am realizing that I cannot go back to the doubt and disappointment in myself that came with eating whatever looked tastiest. It’s a hard decision, but I think I’m going to become basically all-Whole30 for the meals in my life that I have control over, be they at work or at home.

With restaurants, parties, and social events, it’s worth a little languor to participate, to not be fussy, and to sample the wonderful foods that others make and share with me. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t aim myself toward the healthiest options, because I’m realizing that the full-life feeling I’ve been having lately, where there seem to never be enough hours in the day, is only sustainable if I’m also aiming to feel 100% whenever I can. I don’t have time for a mid-afternoon slump, and no amount of coffee can create the clear head that a good, veggie and protein rich lunch can.

I’m still not convinced that everyone needs Whole30 (lots of people seem to have the moderate-consumption-of-unhealthy-food thing down!) but I have been convinced that it is working for me. The one deliberate add in I’m excited about is alternate proteins, including beans, quinoa, and tofu, because I am a little sick of meat at so many meals! It’s a little more sustainable and I never seem to overeat on quinoa, so it’s an adaptation that works quite well for me. 🙂

56. Dara’s Creamy Avocado Sauce

On Saturday, I found a food processor that works, and for only 3 dollars at a yard sale. It’s an old-school GE model with only an on-off switch and a pulse switch, and I’m obsessed. It will be perfect for future sauces, pureed soups, and pretty much all the hard-to-chop things that have been haunting me lately.

But I was making this sauce on Friday. So it will go down in history as a good, but chunky sauce in my kitchen, the last of the era, I hope.

Dara over at Cookin Canuck dreamed up a sauce that works so well with salmon that I am tempted to use it on, well, pretty much everything. With a greek yogurt base and a little bit of heat in the spicing, this sauce worked up pretty smoothly even though I didn’t really get all the avocado chunks out. It was a great counterpoint to the strong fish flavor, calming it down on the tongue. I’m convinced that the combination, not just the salmon, got me my second place ranking in the meatball cook-off.

I grew up really picky and always wanted all my food extremely plain in the past, so it was funny to find that in adulthood I wanted to try every sauce I could get my hands on: I’m a hollandaise, honey mustard, barbeque, and bechamel kind of girl now. I generally though, reserve my sauce time for out of the house, where trained chefs can keep them from falling apart. Other than the occasional cheese sauce, I just leave that to the professionals, because the results are pretty amazingly catastrophic when they are bad. This sauce, though, crucially requires no cooking. I’m now going to rely on yogurt sauces when I need something that won’t fail or fall or burn.

And just as a tiny extra tidbit this week, here’s a carrot we pulled up this week that looks like a little person. 🙂

IMG_4210

45. G’s Sourdough Bread

I know, I’ve made seventy gajillion kinds of bread lately. Call it a brief infatuation with the ol’ stand mixer… and a long-standing love affair with bread.

Recently, a student where I work gave me some sourdough starter that he and his mother have had since they lived in California years ago. He told me how to use it, how to keep it happy or let it go dormant in the fridge, and I was incredibly excited to try it out. I had a recipe from a blogger (thanks, Roast Smoke and Malt!) and a container of back-up store-bought yeast just in case, and I had a looooooong summer day to let it all rise and get perfectly puffy.

For the most part, I’d say it worked! I put a little bit of butter on top that I expected would melt in and become indistinguishable but instead it made for that weird discoloration, so maybe don’t do that, but the bread itself was wonderful – I ended up using back up yeast and adding enough flour to get me back to the same consistency after I added the activated yeast-in-water, but I still gave it an insane few hours of rising, probably close to 6 all told, and the final product had that sour tang to it that makes sourdough distinctive. I want to give it a chance to rise overnight next time, but for a first attempt, this certainly isn’t bad.

Dough hooks are your friend with this bread, as with so many – I would love to hear if people have a great success with handmade, not mixer-made, doughs, but I feel like having the mixer is my game changer.

Sourdough is such a cool food because it’s a bit like also having a pet (a pet you kill in the oven… perhaps not the best analogy after all) because you have to keep the starter alive, feed it, put it in the fridge to go dormant, etc. I like that I met G, who I hadn’t run into at work until that day, and got to share his life story by taking some of this starter. I hope to someday figure out a preferred recipe and grow the starter enough to give it to others myself!

IMG_4089

The second loaf, which rose beautifully.

Food Memory: A Cozy Host

foodmemory39.jpg

One time, Husband and I stayed at an AirBnB, an accommodation where people rent out a spare room for a night or two. It was inexpensive, and these people were so kind while still being so busy: we spent a whole evening together watching extreme sports videos while the hostess worked on a painting and chatted with us, and her husband showed us all the improvements they were in the process of making to their old farmhouse. This breakfast (I swear they gave us more than bacon, but they were quite generous with the bacon!) made me feel like I was staying with friends, not just with people who wanted a little extra cash. 

38. L’s Lazy Day Lasagna

So, lasagna and I have a complex relationship. On the one hand, I am transported by ricotta, sauce, and noodles – the whole thing screams comfort and is an ideal dish for hiding layers of good veggies. However, I seem to manage to mess it up: watery sauce, too crunchy noodles, pans that don’t neatly fit all of my noodle layers.

L, one of Husband’s friends from Americorps, sent me a promising recipe for lasagna for a “lazy day”, and in my perusal of pinterest I discovered an irresistible variation: the lasagna roll-up. With the roll-up, I got the same tasty fillings but hopefully I could manage the baking stage better? The challenge appealed to me. (I have no pictures of it, sadly, but next time I make it, I’ll update the page!)

As always, I made some tweaks to L’s recipe, but the big one was trying “whole wheat” lasagna noodles giving to me by a friend last week. These noodles came out chewier than average noodles, but I appreciated that when I was spooning filling onto the noodle, rolling them up, and filling a casserole dish with them. I even put pepperonis on top!

I would do the roll-up again, and I enjoy the simplicity of L’s recipe, but I’d encourage you to tweak this the second, third, or fourth time you make it – I made it again with a spinach/alfredo/chicken filling and it was lovely! So it goes when revamping and making recipes your own.

IMG_3904

An example of past lasagna messes… delicious but definitely messy.

L’s Lazy Day Lasagne

 

6 ounces lasagne noodles

¼ tsp dried oregano, crushed

one 15.5 ounces can spaghetti sauce

one cup cottage cheese

one 6 ounce package sliced mozzarella cheese
cook noodles in boiling salted water following package directions; drain. Add oregano to spaghetti sauce. In greased 10x6x1.5 inche baking dish, make layers in order half each noodles, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese slices, and spaghetti sauce. Repeat. Bake in oven at 375` about 30 minutes. Let stand 10 min before serving, serves 4.

Food Memory: Authentic Cuisine!

foodmemory40.jpg

My friend S insisted on making traditional Chinese food for me, my friend E, and Husband a few years ago, and it was so good – authentic, simple flavors and textures, with hints of vinegar and salt but mostly the taste of the tomato, the egg, the short ribs. It was at a time when I was eating way too much processed food and needed nourishment more than average, but even more so I needed to eat with others, with people I cared about. I thought that S and I had become close in vain, because she moved back to China when each of us finished our graduate school program. However, a year later, she returned from China to take a PhD degree, and I get to see her every month or two – a surprising positive in a world when sometimes you have to think that this might be the last meal you share with a close friend. 

35. Z’s Sugar Cookies

IMG_3978

Cookie dough!

Z and I worked together when I used to work for a summer camp – it was my last year working there and his first, and spending time with him and the other new counselors made me feel young and amused and happy that such jobs existed. There were very difficult things about working at camp that bonded all the workers together, and there were wonderful moments, like when Z’s friend P set up a telescope after the children went to bed and we all took turns looking at the moon.

When I started this blog, I asked for recipes from many friends, and Z surprised me by responding even though we haven’t seen each other in years. He’s making a name for himself as a musician, and it was so nice to hear about his childhood story (quoted here below) about making cookies and growing up.

I’m always looking for excuses to eat cookies, and I took these over to my friends J and E, where we ate them while passing around their little baby. I hope the story warms you the way eating cookies and cooing over a child warmed me up.

Mom’s Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ¾ cups flour

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add baking powder and flour, one cup at a time, mixing after each addition. The dough will be stiff, blend last flour in by hand. Do not chill dough. Divide dough into 2 balls. On a floured surface, roll each ball in a circle approx. 12” in diameter and ⅛” thick. Dip cutters in flour before each use. Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheet on top rack of oven for 6-7 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned. (Mom recommends parchment paper on pans)

Icing (not mom’s recipe) made with 4 tsps. milk and 1 cup of powdered sugar.

“Here’s my mom’s sugar cookie recipe. My first memory of this recipe was when I was three or four. I was in the kitchen one day when my mom was about to start making a batch, and I begged her to let me help. I think this experience set my predilection for baking which I retain to this day. I learned how finicky eggs were to crack, how impossible it was to keep flour off of the counter and your clothes, and the difference between measuring cups and measuring spoons. I distinctly recall being unable to wrap my head around the concept of two and two-thirds cups (I was four, after all…). Regardless, I found a great joy in the mess that ensued when one endeavors to bake. I became acquainted with mom’s collection of old cookie cutters passed down from her grandparents. We rolled out the dough on the counter with my mom’s old rolling pin, which bore faint signatures of departed family members, and made great art with our array of cookie cutters: hearts, alligators, wolves, angels, dinosaurs, flags, trees.

“This recipe lives with me still, bearing a heartfull familiarity. I enjoying making them for friends who need a bit of warmth in their lives. After all, as Emma Thompson says in Stranger Than Fiction, “Sometimes, when we loves ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies.” Though this recipe isn’t necessarily Bavarian, the same sentiment applies. Curiously, I’ve found little to no success when I use any sugar cookie recipe other than my mom’s. You stick to what you know, I suppose. Or perhaps certain recipes are meant for certain people. Either way, this recipe is one of my most cherished, and I do hope you enjoy it”(Z’s words).

Do you have a favorite recipe that started you towards knowing how to cook? Feel free to share in the comments, and I’ll give it a shot.

Food Memory: Candied Bacon and Being Bad at Trivia

foodmemory30.jpg

The memory of how truly awful me and my friends are at music trivia is nicely overshadowed by the memory that we tried, that same evening, the most decadent food known to man: pecan-candied bacon. The bacon was every combination of bad-for-you that I can think of, and given that I recently read that the most craveable combination is fat+sweet, it makes sense that just looking at this picture makes me hungry. Like food purchased at state fairs, such treats must be a once a year (or once in a lifetime?) kind of experience, or they lose their luster and make us feel terrible, but I’m still a bit in awe of whoever came up with this snack and served it up to us while we listened, mistified, to clips of songs we could not identify at all.

Food Memory: Food Truck Flavors

foodmemory21

Most people don’t love sitting on the curb to eat their meal out of a paper-board box, but when it’s part of a food truck rally, it becomes a much more exotic notion. While travelling, Husband and I visited a food truck rally that allowed us to see a huge variety of trucks, and what I liked best was that they tended to specialize: instead of trying to serve 50 different meals, they had 3 meals with a couple customizable parts. What food trucks lose in gas efficiency (brick and mortar don’t have to pay gas to move around!) they gain in inventory efficiency – they can pretty regularly stock up and sell down all their supplies. It also makes me feel like I’m getting their most delicious fare, because I don’t wonder if the other 49 menu items are better. Having a big squad of food trucks allows a group to buy multiple items and sample a wide variety of dishes, creating a down-home version of the high-fallutin’ “tasting menus” of fancy dining. If you want variety, these rallies are where its at!

Food Memory: Many Cupcakes for E’s Wedding

foodmemory14

One of my college roommates, E, got married 2.5 years ago, and this picture of bags of marching cupcakes down the hall in her home reminds me of how much food plays an integral part in social rituals. While flowers and lights, dresses and invites, all play a huge role in the way a wedding happens, the dinner or snacks, drinks and dessert that are served are almost always planned down to a tiny margin for error. E chose cupcakes for portability (they didn’t need to be cut!) and, in this case, because they tasted amazing. It was fun to be a part of the backstage for her wedding; at the time, I was probably far more blissfully ignorant of how hard she’d been working than I should have been, but I got my comeuppance 1.5 years later, when I found myself biting into my own cake samples and choosing what would be served at my wedding.