A Single Piece of Ham

My boss is one of the people who initially inspired me to try Whole30. She takes it seriously in a way that I sometimes find intimidating; basically, she thinks that as participants in Whole30, we owe it to ourselves to stick with the program. She’s never going to shame someone for not sticking with Whole30; it’s more like she wants people to treat themselves to the real experience. She gave me my first RX bar, a clean-food energy bar that many Whole30-ers and Paleo folks swear by.

One thing that I realized, though, is that there are certain foods that Whole30 participants should be able to have, but current popular methods of production simply don’t make. A good example would be sausage or ham; both of these foods don’t need to have added sugar in order to be delectable, but pretty much all commercially available kinds do. So the other day, my boss walked into my office and gave me a single piece of ham in a plastic baggie. It looked pretty ordinary, and I looked at her with amusement, ready to hear a hilarious story.

It wasn’t hilarious though – she told me how she’d found uncured, no sugar added ham at a local market from a nearby farm. She was so excited to find ham that was still in a reasonable price range that supported local farmers, that she wanted to share that excitement with me. Instead of being amused, I was really excited.

I think that the presence of so many “celebration” foods at our fingertips may have had an unfortunate side effect; as Americans, we have a hard time seeing almost any food as rare or special. When you choose to make a lifestyle choice, like eating less added sugars or trying to buy more locally produced products, you create a kind of scarcity. This scarcity does lead to more expense most of the time, and often a little confusion or frustration at social gatherings where folks don’t share your passion, but it also leads to moments like this: someone found the hard-to-find item you were looking for, and shared it with you. I’ve seen this look when I made gluten-free cornbread instead of regular cornbread for a dinner with a friend who cannot have gluten without feeling wretched; it’s an opportunity to be there for someone. I still appreciate people who are flexible on their food intake, because it does make hostessing less stressful, but the opportunity to give someone exactly what will nourish them? That’s a pretty special gift.

Quinoa Salad – a Post-Whole30 luxury!

IMG_4521Today, I am making quinoa salad for the first time in a long time; it qualifies, in my mind, as a very healthy food, but it was forbidden based on the no-legumes-or-grains part of the Whole30 experience. My favorite part of it is the fact that, as a person who doesn’t crave meat with every meal, it’s a way to keep getting protein and keep myself full for many hours while still eating something “lighter” than a serving of meat.

Here’s my approach, which stays new to me because I vary up the different ingredients:

  • Start the quinoa: I make about a cup of quinoa at a time unless I’m entertaining other people, because it’s fast and easy to make.
  • Pick the veggies: My favorites, in no particular order are: chopped cucumber, diced tomatoes, cooked spinach, chopped bell peppers, or cooked cubes of squash or zucchini. Husband likes it with broccoli, but that kinda ruins it for me… I cannot help it! Broccoli isn’t my veggie, it seems.
  • Pick the spicing: with tomatoes, I always add basil; with most veggies, I always give a dusting of garlic, pepper, and salt. Lately, I’ve been really entranced by chipotle seasoning, so that gets thrown on anything when I’m feeling like I need a good kick from the salad.
  • Add the garnishes: To add crunch, a few toasted pecans or walnuts are wonderful. I like crumbled goat cheese or feta (don’t overdo it with the salt if you add these though; they seem to add saltiness on their own) to make the salad a little creamy, and if you have enough veggies relative to the quinoa, you can dress it with your favorite ranch or balsamic vinaigrette, though that can be weird if there’s mostly quinoa and not so much on the veggies.

Regardless, this salad is delicious warm when you first make it, and then can either be eaten hot or cold later as a lunch at work. I’m hoping to create one that I enjoy for breakfasts now that I’m trying to not make all my breakfasts pastry-centric (it’s a problem!). It’s not Whole30, but it definitely makes me feel ready to face the day.

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. 🙂

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!

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

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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.

Back to Reality… and Committing to Whole30 in 2017!

Over the break, Husband and I talked about some big picture changes – things like giving up cheese, dairy in general, sugar, and grains for a month! The very idea of that change grew when I saw how our fridge is, and listened to myself acquiesce to a take-out pizza just so easily yesterday. Sure, we had an 8.5 hour drive, sure, it was cold and we were tired and we just wanted to watch a goofy movie and veg out, but it sure does remind me: Whole30 for a month would be such a huge commitment.

The idea of trying Whole30 strikes me the way that our garden struck me this spring: I don’t (and didn’t) know what I was getting into, I don’t (and didn’t) quite prepare perfectly, and I won’t (and didn’t) get everything out of it that I could. Still, I could never regret starting to garden, despite our crazy tangled tomatoes and the non-starter onions and those insanely bitter tiny bell peppers there at the end of the season. Sure, I can see how parts of Whole30 are going to give me literal and metaphorical headaches, and I’m going to hate some of the foods on the “compliant” list because I eat them so often, and I’m going to roll my eyes a little when I aim for the higher-quality, organic, or grass-fed version of something I normally get at the cheapest, bargain-basement rate. Husband and I are especially vexed about breakfast: our investment normally involves one push of the toaster button. We’re going to have to prep ahead or we’re going to fall into our old bad habits whenever 6 AM rolls around.

Still, I am reading this cool book that gives me some solace, despite the impending cheeseless January. The book is called Daring Greatly, and it’s all about how being vulnerable and taking risks lead to the most valuable experiences of most people’s lives, even if they also open us up to some of the greatest hurt. Not doing the Whole30 is certainly a more guarded way to go – incremental change in our eating habits, after all, would be ideal and not dramatic at all. Still, I’ve lived enough years of my adult life thinking I was making incremental change to healthy eating only to still find myself watching movies with take-out pizza whenever I’m tired… I’ve changed less than I think. Why not dare greatly about food and see if I can develop some totally new habits? The worst thing that could happen would be a few furious days and a return to my old ways in February, and the best is a wonderful vision: not craving quite so many unhealthy foods! I think I’m ready to give it a shot… after the holidays, anyway. 😛