Category Archives: CSA

Moderation (Whole30, reintroduction phase)

IMG_0355(Taco salad – complete with cheese and greek yogurt in place of sour cream)

At the completion of the Whole30, I believed the hardest days were behind me. I was wrong. Despite an intellectual awareness that these dietary changes (and the newfound feelings of health that came with them) were the first steps in a lifestyle overhaul, the cheese-loving glutton in me was waiting on the sidelines to shrug off the entire experiment. My inner critic had been silenced in those 30 days by a clear set of unbendable rules. Starting on Day 31, when moderation and self-experimentation came into play, I faced an entirely different set of demons – those of guilt and indulgence – which were much more threatening to my dedication to health than the sugar demon I had put behind me on Day 5.

IMG_0353(Mushroom, scallion, tomato and cheddar scramble – so rich with cheese!)

Re-introduction as a concept seems simple enough. The Whole30 continues for 12 more days, with only a few additions and substitutions made in the now regular meal plan to test for reactivity to the previously banned food groups. In reality, it has been a blur. There was The Bat’s birthday dinner on Day 32, and several meals with family and friends who had been patiently waiting patiently in the wings until we could indulge together. Ideally, I did not expect this to pose any more of a challenge that the previous 30 days – I had figured that out without much complication, right? Turns out I am my biggest enemy (not that surprising, I know).

IMG_0360(Ugly, but delicious. Braised shredded beef with tomatoes and red wine)

I have a very ‘all or nothing’ personality. It works out great when I need to put my nose to the grindstone to push through a list of tasks (particularly experiments); or when I need to follow a very strict set of rules. I dive in, I have my reasons and I get it done. The flip side to that is that when that driven focus is turned off, I am really off; when I ‘let things go’, they are all over the place. So, when we went to Korean BBQ for The Bat’s birthday celebration and I planned ahead to eat only the meat (which I expected to have sugar and soy – my two first introduction groups), it took about 15 minutes for me to drop all pretense. Instead I joined a party where nothing was off limits. Come the next morning however, I paid for the booze, the bites of cheesecake and the relishes and garnishes I consumed with vacuum-like intensity the evening before.

IMG_0362(BBQ chicken, artichokes – dipped in hummus! – orzo salad)

After such a glorious belly-flop off of the ‘eat clean’ wagon, I did some intense navel gazing. What I returned to again and again was guilt. I realized that I have a horrible habit – once that first misstep is taken, I assume all is lost and, now that I’ve screwed up, I might as well try one of everything. The idea of taking just one bite, or stopping after indulging just a bit seems completely foreign. The frustration of letting myself down from a previously set goal sets in, and now the eating has the dual function of feeding my ‘all-or-nothing’ compulsion and cushioning the guilt.

IMG_0368(Pork sausage, tomato, scallion scramble with Kartoffelpuffer – German potato pancake – and applesauce)

The Whole30 had all but destroyed this destructive emotional eating cycle – no weigh-ins to beat myself up about, no one-to-many-glasses-of-wine nights out with friends or late night nacho binges. I followed the rules to the letter, I lost 11 lbs. (yay!) and, by the end, it no longer felt like work. I was completely unprepared for the resurgence of those bad habits once I allowed ‘bad foods’ back into my life. I fought back – even returning to safety of the Whole30 rules for several days – to remind myself how satisfying it is to eat clean AND be in charge of my emotions (in hindsight, the reintroduction of soy and sugar maybe was not the best place to start for impulse control).

IMG_0374(How to test gluten without chemicals? The infamous No Knead Bread)

After a few days to regain some semblance of control, I returned to a proper re-introduction cycle. Here’s how it went:

Sugar/Sweetners – Sugar is horrible. This I knew before, but living without it for 30 days underscored the point. Once reintroduced, it caused headaches and bellyaches, general malaise and mood swings. No one needs that. I plan to go forward limiting this as much as possible, using honey if needed.

Soy – No obvious adverse effects upon reintro, and I am delighted to dip my sashimi and have The Bat’s secret stir-fry sauce again. That being said, I have a new appreciation to the extent to which many prepared foods are supplemented with soy products, something I would like to limit from here on out. So, I’m excited to eat tofu, but not in my tuna – and I will shop accordingly.

Alcohol – After a dedicated reintroduction, I was thrilled to learn that a glass of wine is still a viable option. It appears that sake and the occasional liquor are also ok (with the limits of no sweetened mixers, of course). Beer remains an outstanding question – although a few sips taken from The Bat’s pint last weekend suggest that this may be a sore spot. In honor of this week’s holiday our lab is visiting the Green Flash tasting room for happy hour tomorrow – no time like the present to find out, right?

Dairy and Gluten – These two are getting lumped together because my response to them was basically the same – ick. I have not found my missing link – it is a low-level malaise that sets in when I eat cheese or crackers. Both give me a sense of fullness, but in a bubbly, not-so-good-way. So, not horribly bad (which is a relief), but not how I want to feel constantly. Something I will knowingly indulge in occasionally, when I feel willing to take on the consequences.

Legumes (other than soy), non-gluten grains – Next on my list, although not horribly missed so I will take them as they come.

IMG_0379(Filet in red wine reduction, fresh bread with butter, artichoke with – wait for it – more butter)

With the exception of beer as a possible ‘silver bullet’, the self-experimentation about which I had been so interested was rather boring. My most interesting observation came post-dairy/post-gluten, when I realized that the sudden low-level ‘ick’ I was feeling was how I had been used to feeling day in, day out before the Whole30. Understanding that I now know how to feel really good on a daily basis provided me with a palpable sense of relief. After several weeks going without and realizing the true impact on my belly, the concept of treating bread and cheese as treats to be savored, rather than their own daily food groups, is much easier to swallow.

IMG_0383(Avocado egg salad atop No Knead Bread)

Although I haven’t quite identified my IBS trigger, I am pretty much convinced that the compounding of each ‘low-level icks’ could have been enough –  especially with the additional excess of chemicals in prepared foods I was not previously aware of that I am now avoiding by learning how to make my own staples (a topic for its own post sometime soon). Looking forward, I feel cautiously excited; rather than feeling deprived of tasty foods, I am (mostly) giving up things that are keeping me from being/feeling the best I can on a daily basis. In the end, it is fighting my inner emotional relationship with food, my compulsive ‘all-or-nothing’-ness that will be the real challenge. The Whole30 allowed me to hide behind my beloved rules for a bit, building up knowledge, motivation and pride that I will use to (eventually) silence the inner critic once and for all. For this, I would be really intersted to hear from you – how you recover from slipping up and motivate to get back on the wagon (whatever it may be – diet, exercise, work), and how you might suggest achieving balance as I move forward into the uncharted territory where I make my own rules?

IMG_0364(Omelet with salsa, avocado and andouille sausage)

Despite the challenges and chaos that comes from confronting my own weaknesses, I remain thrilled with the entire Whole30 process. To learn that after several decades dealing with a range of ‘belly issues’ that I could feel great on a daily basis and go weeks without even thinking about my health is a revelation on its own. Not to mention the pride and motivation that comes from achieving this in a way that is sustainable and tastes good. These are all goals that I would gladly give up bread (gasp!) and cheese (shudder!) – even beer (sigh!) – to achieve.

IMG_0385(Warm days call for CSA veggies with pesto olive oil mayo dip)

As always, feel free to contact me on Instagram @researchingsandiego!

 

 

 

 

 

Awareness (Whole30, week 4)

salmon and fouscous(Weekend meal: pan-sauteed sockeye salmon, homemade pesto (no cheese!) and cauliflower fous-cous)

I am so close. Almost there. Day 29. And yet, looking ahead, I am not feeling an incredible urge to change much of anything in the ‘new normal’ I have established in the past month. This happens to be a convenient attitude with which to approach the next phase of the Whole 30, a 10-12 ‘reintroduction’ period. During these follow-up week(s), single food types (dairy, legumes, grains) are introduced – in the context of an otherwise Whole30-approved diet – one after the other, in order to identify ‘problem’ foods that may have been hindering me from being the best I can be. In the beginning, the idea of this self-experimentation was one of the biggest selling points of the program; now, towards the end, I’m a bit more cautious.

eggs in baskets again (Eggs in red bell pepper ‘nests’, avocado and blueberries)

You know who is counting down impatiently? Batman*. He has been incredibly supportive, endlessly patient and up for all sorts of food experiments (he did not strictly follow the Whole30 with me, but did eat a lot of my food – in the interest of solidarity – I’m sure – and laziness/avoidance of cooking two meals each time ‘round). But, we both miss our ‘Stir-Friday’ tradition (no noodles, soy), and there is no way I would let his birthday pass this week without raising a (real) drink in his honor (no booze). Plus, that delicious steak he likes to make on Sunday afternoons? Even better with a red wine reduction/shallot sauce.

garlicky beef stew and squash(Weekday picnic – garlic beef stew, zucchinis tossed with pesto)

However, as in any disciplined venture coming to a close, I have engaged in some pretty intense navel-gazing about the process. Mostly to consider where I go from here and what are the lessons I want to take from the past four weeks. With the obvious caveat that I cannot speak to my personal issues with specific foods (I’m sure that post will be coming in a week or two), here are a few general things I’ve learned, which I aim to focus on in the coming weeks/months ahead:

pesto egg scramble (Tomato, turkey, pesto scramble, avocado, raspberries)

I can trust my mind (and my stomach) again. One of the key points made in It Starts With Food, was that, during the Whole30, participants eat what feels like a huge amount of food. Wholesome, real food is often not as caloric as its junky counterparts, so to ensure that our daily needs are met, we pile the vegetables high and do throw an extra half avocado on the side. Initially I was stuffing myself silly and was shocked to realize I could not tell when I was full (model case of leptin resistance). I slowed down, turned off the computer during meals and focused on making food worth eating at the dining table. Within a week, I was putting my fork down halfway through dinner, satiated and delighted to have finally found the connection between my brain and stomach. After almost a month, I trust that connection implicitly. I have to take care to go slow and pay attention, but when I do, I know how much is just right for me.

 kale and sausage(TraderJoe’s Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage, lemony garlic sauteed kale)

Anything can be a comfort food. I had no idea what to expect in regards to cravings when this began. I am a lover of all things cheese, bread and noodle-y – so I assumed my dreams would be filled with wheels of brie and I might have to be physically held back if someone around me was to serve up a plate of fettucini Alfredo. I could not have been more wrong. I had days when my (chubby) emotional eating devil would pop onto my shoulder and whisper sweet nothings of tuna melts and pizza into my ear – how comforting and delicious they would taste – justifying such a breach in protocol by exclaiming how hard the day had been. With my mind clear (point #1), it was almost embarrassing to note how many times I had previously fallen for this argument. Not this time. Instead, I’d make a savory, thick bowl of chili, or persuade The Bat to make me one of his out-of-this-world onion-jalapeno burgers, sweet potato fries on the side. I learned that my comfort food is anything that is delicious – irrespective of its carb/cheese content. And, if I ever want anything to taste more decadent, I just should dip it into some homemade olive oil mayo.

 salmon salad(Leftover salmon/fous-cous salad)

My willpower is strong. It is not undermining myself to say that I have never been known to be a woman with unwavering willpower. It’s dizzying how fast I can talk myself out of a morning jog, or into a day spent on the couch in my pajamas. But when it comes to food, I have found myself stronger in ways I never knew I could be. Mostly in the lunch room. And at Monday morning lab meetings. And Friday afternoon Journal Club/Happy Hours. The first week it was hard, passing the pastries and turning down a cold beer. Now I don’t even glance. Except when the pistachios come around.

sole (Dinner out at Fish Public – Petrale sole, almonds, green beans – partial cheating because of browned butter? Probably. And I am ok with that.)

I do not miss rice or legumes – or (shock!) bread. To be honest, the upcoming reintroduction phase scares me a bit. I would like to create a framework based on the past 30 days that would allow me to eat clean and maintain the confidence, pride and change in pants-size I have gained (or lost, as the case may be). Beyond that, I want to live in a way that allows me to not be dominated by my ‘belly issues’ – only recently a dream that has been made reality in the past few weeks. I am nervous about cutting out favorite foods (dairy, gluten), but have been pleasantly surprised at those things I have not missed – rice, beans, lentils or peanuts.  If I have not thought about those foods during the challenge, I see no need in rushing to introduce them now. Honestly, after discovering the wonder of cauliflower rice/fous-cous, I may gladly never eat rice again.

eggs and pesto zucchini (Over-easy eggs atop pesto-tossed roast squash, nectarine)

I must be kind to myself. At this point in my life I know my shortcomings. One of the worst (and most common, I suspect) is that I am simultaneously my harshest critic and an unrelenting perfectionist. That leads to a very ‘all or nothing’ personality in which I can rigidly control/plan/work in bursts, but the moment I allow for one pause, one donut – all is lost and I spiral downward into a mental vortex of guilt, elbows deep in the pastry box. It will take some time to devise a plan for moving forward from here – what I will eat with abandon, what I will save for special occasions and what are the foods that I will enjoy and suffer the consequence(s). Even after implementing that framework, I will stumble into excess every once in a while. In those moments, I need to acknowledge, pick up and get right back in it – not wallow in guilt and pasta. These are/will be difficult changes, but based on how good I feel now, the right ones for me. I need to remember that this was never about dieting per se, but to better my health permanently. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and all that. I just need to be kind to myself along the way.

pork and green chile stew(Pork and green chile stew, cauliflower rice)

I will do another Whole30. That goes without saying. Either to get me back on the wagon (see above) or just to re-focus on my long-term goals of health, energy, and mind-body connection. I am already intrigued if/how it will be different the second time around. It has been a great experience – one that I would recommend to anyone.

lunch salad(Lunch salad – lettuce, green onions, baby bell peppers, avocado, turkey, pine nuts, blueberries, balsamic vinegar)

One more day and then onto the next chapter!

fruit snack(Fruity interlude – when I forgot my picnic lunch during our Farm Tour last weekend, I shared some garden-fresh watermelon and tomatoes instead). 

*Calling my boyfriend “Batman” will never cease to crack me up. And we all know how annoying it is when people laugh at their own jokes.

sausage and eggs in a nest(Last egg of the week, alongside Artichoke and Garlic sausage and cantaloupe)

I have been/will continue to post my ‘clean eating’ on my Instagram (@researchingsandiego), which I am also looking forward to using for non-food photography purposes. Having that community has also been a huge perk and motivation in these past few weeks. Thanks to all of you for the kind words of support!

Inspiration (Whole30, week 3)

steak salad(Steak salad – lettuce, bell peppers, avocado, red cabbage, green onions)

As someone who has always leaned more towards the vegetarian side of the spectrum when cooking for myself, I’ve spent a bit of my third week of the Whole30 struggling for inspiration to push through the rest of the challenge. I am rarely a fan of giant hunks of meat (The Bat’s fantastic steak and burger skills excepted), preferring stews and braises – many off limits because of the addition of wine, or starchy thickeners. And, while I love the variety and abundance of produce available during summer in San Diego, sometimes I need a bit of a nudge to break out of my salad rut of lettuce, bell peppers, scallions and avocado.

omelet maker greens omelet(Variations on my greens omelet – lemony kale, avocado/guacamole, green onions)

So, feeling rather bored with the combinations I could come up by mixing meats + vegetables + fruits, I spent this past week combing the #whole30 Instagram feed, bloggers who have conquered this particular 30-day challenge, cookbooks inspired by the Whole30 eating plan and scores of recipe sites to come up with dishes that inspire me to keep going. So far, so good! Today is Day 23 – only 7 days to go until the reintroduction phase begins. I continue to feel great and am slowly fitting into Paris clothes I had abandoned months ago. Win-win.

chicken coconut curry(Chicken coconut curry with green beans and red bell peppers)

Even as a seasoned (ha!) food blogger/fan-girl, it took some digging to find meal ideas that were truly inspiring. This “inspiration” mainly took two forms: (i) the “Yum – I want that in my belly right away”, and, the more exciting, (ii) “That looks almost perfect – what could I do/play with/alter to make it even better?” I thought it would be good to use this week 3 post to highlight a few of my key motivators. If any of you out there are considering taking on the Whole30 challenge (and, as of right now, I highly recommend it), maybe these blogs, books and recipes will help get you through the tough spots as well.

sashimi(Sashimi platter at RK Sushi, it was amazing to really taste the fish without the rice, soy or even wasabi – except for my favorite, the seared white tuna on the bottom left, which were out of bounds because of the ponzu glaze – The Bat happily snatched them up.)

The first and most obvious inspiration is the book, It Starts with Food. In this, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig lay out the Whole30 plan as their solution for the emotional, dependent, dysregulated eater of today. Not necessarily a source of recipes, the solid, scientifically backed justification for each of the “rules” of the 30-day challenge was so well thought out and presented that it was easy to turn away from the copious and ever-present sugar/booze/cheese/bread temptations I have run into on almost a daily basis. They made me believe in the health benefits of their plan and challenged me to see if I could follow long enough (30 days) to reap the benefits. After reading the entire book, I felt compelled to do so – I am not one who walks away from challenges easily (or at all).

chocolate chili (Chocolate Chili, topped with guacamole and green onions)

The second book I picked up that is proving to be essential to my  success is Well Fed, a cookbook written by Melissa Joulwan, the voice behind “The Clothes Make the Girl” blog. Both the book and the blog have provided many recipes that I have already posted here: Rogan Josh, Moroccan Meatballs, Czech Meatballs, Chicken Coconut Curry (above), Olive Oil Mayo, Chocolate Chili (above), just to name a few. Not only do I continue to be inspired by her recipes, but her personal story is fascinating as well – so much so that I have gone back and started to read the blog from the very beginning just for the fun of it.

roasted tomato frittata (Oven roasted tomato, ground beef and kale frittata – so many leftovers!)

There were so many blogs whose ‘I finished the Whole30, this is what I learned’ recaps I read with great curiosity when I was struggling through those first few days – to convince myself that the benefits from the book were within reach for anyone and that the journey would be worth it. It is fascinating at the beginning to read about perspectives from the end – how cravings would disappear, and how eggs still sounded better when yogurt was again an option. As my finish line creeps closer, this all makes more and more sense to me – my cravings have all but dissipated, and I do not feel like I am missing much. I want to give a particular mention (again) to Luisa at The Wednesday Chef, who first piqued my curiosity and then stimulated my taste buds with her decadent Whole30 meals (few of which I have imitated).

shrimp fajita salad (Shrimp fajita salad – lettuce, red cabbage, sauteed onions and green bell peppers, salsa, guacamole, sauteed shrimp and a lemony vinaigrette)

For my last week, I have continued to dig deep into the Whole30-esque archives. I am very lucky that I love eggs – they usually form the foundation for at least one, if not two of my daily meals. I am as surprised as the next person that I am not sick of them yet – per se – but I could use a bit more inspiration of how to bust out of the scramble/omelet/frittata mode (I am looking forward to bell pepper eggs-in-a-nest tomorrow morning). Any ideas would be most welcome.

sausage and zucchini with pesto(Garlic & Herb Chicken Sausage, summer squash sauteed with pesto and baby bell peppers)

I am also looking forward to this pork and green chile stew over the weekend. Next week? Maybe this Chipotle Baked chicken (minus the cheese) and most definitely hopefully these stuffed peppers (my inspiration is overflowing). My biggest victory lately has been to finally find a sausage without sugar – the Garlic & Herb (or Spicy Italian) chicken sausages at Trader Joe’s. This has become a quest, as almost every option has sugar as a key component of the spice mixture – not to mention lots of cheese filler. For dinner tonight, I was delighted to have a hunk of meat for dinner. Not to mention those squash tossed with this pesto – I could eat it right off the spoon!

sweet potato hash turkey onion tomato scramble(Scrambles – sweet potato on top; turkey, tomato and green onion below)

It has been such an eye-opener to realize how many tasty plates can be made with  high quality meats, herbs, vegetables and fruit. I hope that some of what is here can be inspiring for you as well!

czech meatballs (Czech meatballs atop lemony garlic kale, avocado on the side – perfect when dipped in homemade olive oil mayo)

As always, I have taken to posting all of my (unique) meals on Instagram – find me at researchingsandiego. Please find and lend me your best egg recipes for the next 7 days (or more!).

 

 

 

 

 

Positive Reinforcement (Whole30, week 2)

IMG_0234(Tomato, scallion scramble)

So, as it turns out, completely removing pre-packaged and processed foods out of my life took up a bit more time than I had originally anticipated. I had thought that the Whole30 challenge was not that different from how I had been eating (minus the lack of dairy… and wine), but it turns out I spent a lot of time blogging while rice was on the stove – only to be topped by some veg and an egg. Not quite the same. Between the time spent finding new recipes, shopping, cooking, getting super excited about projects in the lab and adjusting to a new schedule (The Bat has rotating 24h shifts – the 8pm-5am shift just began), another week has flown by. Let’s just say finding balance within this system is a work in progress.

steak salad(Mediterranean salad with grilled steak at Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant)

Let’s get to the good news. I’m officially halfway through my Whole30 (if you are lost, read here to find out what I am babbling about)! I have not knowingly cheated. I say knowingly because these past 7 days included more than their share of eating out obligations – work lunches, friend visits (so good to see Camille!) – and I did my best, but restaurant kitchens are sneaky spaces.

IMG_0249(Joe’s special frittata, green salad, peach)

All in all, I am feeling great. Not just good. Great. It is rather amazing. My ‘belly issues’ are so much better; I have had little to no pain from day 5 onward. I cannot remember a time in the last six months when this was not lurking concern in the back of my mind and now that concern is fading. I also assume that the lack of anxiety about my belly is probably also helping, which makes this a win-win situation – even better.

IMG_0238(Tom Yum soup, green salad with lemony red-wine vinaigrette)

After writing last week’s post and opening up about what I’ve been struggling with, I felt much more confident explaining my plan to friends, colleagues and family, all of whom have been incredibly supportive. This has been a great help at family birthday parties (last weekend) and group dinners. Knowing that everyone is aware of my commitment to the Whole30 means that I think twice about ordering the house salad – hold the cheese, garlic bread and dressing.  There have been moments when habit and social protocol have made me miss the security of a glass of wine in my hand, but it turns out club soda with lime is refreshing, I like being the designated driver and I can enjoy everyone company as much (if not more) when not indulging alongside.

IMG_0242 (Greens omelet – garlicky sauteed kale, avocado; olive oil mayo, sambal olek)

Not everything is glowingly positive; although the negatives are definitely superficial compared to the benefits I am starting to reap. There is an element of boredom that is setting – not with eggs (a frequent complaint), but with beverages. Water, herbal tea, black coffee (and this, for me, only before noon). I have tried to curb my craving for bubbles with mineral water – and it is working for now. But I am missing variety here – juices (while not forbidden they are not encouraged, mainly for their lack of satiating nutrition), sodas (definitely a guilty pleasure) and, of course, a glass of white wine to kick off the weekend.

IMG_0236(The Bat’s burgers, spicy sweet potato fries, salad, homemade olive oil mayo)

Other than that, I have few complaints. The rest of the negatives are merely psychological associations in my own head. Why is macaroni and cheese the only food I associate with ‘comfort’ after a long day – why not lemon garlicky sautéed kale? Or a creamy avocado topped with salsa? I have also had several nights in which I awoke, riddled with guilt because, in a dream, I forgot about the Whole30 – ate a sandwich – and really let myself down. I guess that goes to show how serious I am taking this challenge? And, perhaps why it is good there is a time limit, lest I punish myself too intensely if when I fall off the wagon.

turkey scramble (Turkey spinach scramble, sambal olek)

So, the current perspective is overwhelmingly positive. And, I have saved my most exciting highlights of the last week for last:

IMG_0247 (Roasted sweet potato, beet, sausage hash topped with egg)

First, I happened to be visiting the doctor last week (around day 8) – for something totally unrelated. Despite strict Whole30 rules to not weigh or measure oneself throughout the process, my OCD brain was curious to know whether the looseness I thought I felt when pulling on my jeans was real or imaginary. Turns out that, as of that point, I had already lost 4 pounds. Great news, right? Honestly, I am pretty sure all of that was derived from losing the persistent belly bloat with which I had been walking around for months. My clothes continue to feel loose and I have not dared weigh myself since, but I am optimistic.

csa(This week’s CSA: Oranges, kale, lettuce, fennel, grapefruit, round zucchini-like squash, broccoli, plumbs, red onion, rosemary, parsley, a huge bunch of basil, carrots, peaches, blueberries, cucumber and red cabbage)

Second, I finally had a chance to incorporate our CSA into the mix. I had started the plan after skipping a delivery while visiting Washington, D.C. This allowed me to really cater those first few meals to what sounded best – probably a smart move at a time when I was mixing everything up. But in this second week, it was fun to add the extra challenge of creative cooking within the Whole30 framework. I spent all day Sunday prepping sautéed greens, spicy ground beef, roasted veggies and dicing herbs to be used in my meals throughout the week. So far, things are coming together more quickly and I’m hoping to spend that extra time updating this space instead of in the kitchen, over a hot stove.

IMG_0244(Rib-eye. Avocado broccoli slaw, ‘spicy’ mayo)

Lastly, despite The Bat’s puzzlement over my insistence on following through with this plan initially – he sees how happy and proud I am as I chug along. Rather than fix meals in parallel over the weekend, he jumped on my bandwagon  and used his kitchen time to make Whole30-approved meals for us both. A giant onion-jalapeno stuffed burger, sweet potato fries and salad made for a great end-of-the-week Friday feast. And a succulent, medium-rare ribeye steak was certainly a great Sunday night kick-off for the week. Now that he’s coming home from work in the early mornings, he’s even getting into making me my favorite greens omelet (sautéed kale, avocado and sambal olek). Although he’s not playing along with the Whole30 for each meal, his patience and excitement in my progress make me feel like I can do anything.

IMG_0251 (Spinach and shallot scramble, avocado w/salsa, plum)

So, here’s to 15 more days.  As always, check-out my daily meal round-ups on Instagram (@researchingsandiego) where I am having so much fun exploring the #whole30 and #wellfed communities!

Opening Up (Whole30, week 1)

rogan josh(Rogan Josh atop roasted cauliflower)

First, I want to apologize for disappearing off the grid for more than a few days – between grant deadlines, manuscript revisions, transcontinental weekend getaways (amidst tornado season) and everyday distractions, time just slipped through my fingers. On top of that I have been ill. Not flu-sick or a common cold, but a more insidious discomfort that has been growing steadily over the course of several months and has finally gotten to a point that I can no longer ignore.

eggplant with spicy meat(Fried egg with spicy meat sauce, mango and blueberries)

Funny enough, when things get a bit tough here on the ground, I tend to shy away from talking about them on the blog. I very much like a safe distance between my blog life and reality. Plus, opening up about uncomfortable things – especially here – can be downright terrifying. Despite my inhibitions, I find myself searching out other bloggers opening up about details of their life – looking for someone with whom I can relate – and the relief is palpable when I read that my experiences are not unique, that others have tread this path before me and I can follow in their stead. Seems about time to pay it forward in the same way, right?

salad nicoise(Salad niçoise – the tuna has since been banned, see soy complaint below)

A few months ago I was diagnosed with irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), which for me manifests as a low-grade persistent nausea, bloating and, at its worse, abdominal spasms. Back in March my doctor suggested that I up my consumption of fruits and veggies (ha! I thought – my CSA would cure all!) and implement a more regular exercise routine.  Maybe those changes (and a fiber supplement) would most likely do me all sorts of good.

scramble(Veggie scramble)

I started eating giant salads regularly. I severely cut back my alcohol consumption. I enrolled in a ‘Boot Camp’ class on campus (think this, but for 45 minutes straight – it is still kicking my butt 7 weeks in). But things have not changed. In fact, the nausea has gotten worse, as has the cramping. Not to mention the many pounds I have somehow acquired since my return from Paris (some of it easily explained – Taco Tuesday AHEM – some of it definitely due to ‘belly issues’, as we call them in my house). And then, after spending the vast majority of our flight back from DC curled into a ball of nauseous pain (changing ambient pressure during air travel is NOT my belly’s friend), I decided I needed to do something more.

simple (Keeping it simple – hard boiled eggs, avocado and mango)

Now do not get me wrong. I know that, in the spectrum of what I could be dealing with, I am toward the low end. I have close friends with various advanced intestinal disorders; they have to occasionally contemplate life without feet of their colon to alleviate the pain. In fact, I am sure they are reading this and smiling condescendingly right now. But I firmly believe that there is no point to not take our health into our own hands and try to better it in any way possible. I refuse to be one of those people who wince and bear it saying, “Oh, it is OK, I just get horrible, debilitating cramps regularly, they’ll pass” (because most of the times, thankfully, they do). I think that is dumb and, frankly, I’m way too much of a wimp to deal with it stoically.

czech meatballs (Czech meatballs on a bed of cider vinegar braised cabbage)

So I started poking around the Interwebs, a dubious place to start for sure. And, through a quick introduction by The Wednesday Chef (one of my all-time favorite blogs), I found the Whole30. The Whole30 is a ‘eat real food’-type regimen that focuses on consuming those foods proposed to restore psychological, hormonal, gut and immune balance to one’s system. I read, “It Starts With Food”, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s bestseller that introduces the program, and drank up testimonial after testimonial claiming weight loss and the disappearance of all sorts of symptoms after following their 30 day plan.

Before anyone interrupts with that knowing smirk, I am aware of how biased testimonials are – anyone will say anything for 15 minutes of fame (or their words forever etched in a book), but the more I read of their scientific justification, the more I was convinced it was worth a try. I am always game for a challenge.

egg and cabbage(Softly fried egg with this braised cabbage – so good)

And it is quite the challenge. For 30 days, eat real food – high quality proteins, vegetables and fruit. Do not eat: added sugars, alcohol, dairy, soy, legumes or grains. Eat your meals with intent, and eat as much as it takes to fill up, no more. Importantly (for my incredibly compulsive nature) – no counting calories, weighing, measuring or otherwise assessing progress besides how I feel for the entirety of the next 30 days.

craving fresh (Plenty of fresh salads with gooey avocado and tangy balsamic)

So, how I am I feeling? Good. I have not had any of the headaches or lethargy that some participants feel. I am not entirely sick of eggs and meat yet. Shockingly. This is good, because I’m only finishing up Day 7 this evening. 23 days to go.  My belly has calmed down, although whether that is due to lessening stress/travel or the diet is unclear. I swear my pants fit a bit looser, but I am known to have an overactive imagination.

egg and chard, spicy pork(Rainbow chard and spicy pork fry, topped with an egg)

We will see. It certainly cannot hurt. What I have interspersed my story with today are my meals from the first week. I am learning to cook all sorts of new dishes (meat!!!) and I do find myself craving those giant, fresh salads. I also find myself dreaming about cheese and bread, but we’ll ignore that for now. With each day, I feel like I am becoming more aware of when I am ‘full’ – and I have found myself stopping halfway through meals, saving the rest for the next day without any hesitation, something that I would have never done previously when shoveling dinner into my mouth unawares. I am also much more aware of what is actually in the food I consider ‘whole’ – why does my canned tuna contain soy? And why does my deli ham include red algae by-products (and wouldn’t you expect it would be the other way around)?

moroccan meatballs(Moroccan meatballs, seriously this cookbook has been essential so far)

My favorite part about the entire plan (somewhat tellingly) is the ‘self-experimentation’ at the end, when I get to add back the individual food groups, assessing how they make me feel in order to identify the possible culprits exacerbating my IBS. So, while Tuesday tacos are forbidden to me (tortillas! beans! cheese!), I am taking you all on a Whole30 ride, as I am actually quite proud of how I have adapted thus far.  And, while I have all sorts of hypotheses about what the culprits will be, right now I am focused on making it through the next 23 days and it will take all the help I can get. One egg at a time.

I am keeping track of my meals on Instagram – find me and help me keep going! @researchingsandiego

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything AND the kitchen sink

I know I have said this before (and this will be the last time) but, between the illness, multiple conferences and moving, I feel like the last month of my life has flown by with very little to show for it. Particularly anything blog worthy. This is particularly true when it comes to my kitchen activities as of late – it is challenging to prepare meals with any sort of theme or intention while unpacking boxes just enough to pack for another trip. Yet, although I feel like most of my recent cooking has been slapped together and haphazard, there have been a few stand-out hits to which I would like to return. In between all the salads and take-out, of course.

So, let’s put this unexpected hiatus firmly behind us with a giant CSA round up (three shares worth) and a review of the recipes that stopped us in our tracks and motivated us to slow down and enjoy a few moments together.

CSA, week 5 CSA week 5

(clockwise from top left: fennel, oranges, white onions, cabbage, red potatoes, blood oranges, lemons, spring mix, cauliflower, carrots, chard, cilantro)

potato soup

This hearty potato soup (substituting italian chicken sausage for the ham) is my (and The Bat’s) new favorite way to use fennel – a common CSA item with which we usually struggle to find uses.

lemon bars

Between the CSA share and my grandparent’s overabundant citrus trees, I was swimming in lemons (still am, actually). These lemon bars, a recipe recommendation from Camille, saved the day. I made them repeatedly and foisted them on friends, co-workers and family. No one complained. I am not much of a baker, but these are now at the top of my list for whenever I need a delicious and easy go-to dessert (the crust is genius, I’m looking forward to trying some type of banana/coconut cream pie version one of these days).

valentine's dinner

carrot cake

My Valentine’s dinner (it *has* been a long time since I posted, sheesh!) for The Bat also was designed around using our CSA share: roasted wild salmon with lemon and thyme, smashed sweet potatoes and a spring mix salad with roasted cauliflower. I rarely cook meat in ‘steak’ form – especially seafood, which scares me with the potential for dryness. I’d highly recommend this recipe for anyone with similar fears – it was easy to follow and produced a perfectly cooked filet that was still moist and creamy. We finished our special meal with a slice of the. best. carrot. cake. ever. I promise. It goes to my lack of baking skills that carrot cake is my fancy dessert of choice, but once you try Barbra’s recipe, I dare you to find anything tastier. Really. Try it. Now.

lemony shrimp

I continued my venture into the fishy unknown with this shrimp sauté.   Recommended by a good friend, it was a great way to use up more lemons (subbed in for the lime) and the cilantro. Getting pre-shelled/veined shrimp at Trader Joe’s made this meal super quick to prepare and, as such, it has been added to the regular rotation. Here I used quinoa to soak up the delicious sauce, but it would be equally as good (or better) with whole wheat pasta or brown rice and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

CSA, week 6

CSA week 6

(clockwise from top left: bok choy, blood oranges, lemons, tangerines, lettuce, green kale, chard, carrots, radishes (!) romanesco, cauliflower and strawberries (!))

shortcake

The appearance of strawberries and radishes in the CSA is my most robust indicator that spring is finally on its way. Unfortunately it was also about the time that all of the life-craziness converged. We really enjoyed our first strawberry shortcake of the season (eating the rest straight out of the carton) before kitchen creativity was put on hold. At this point, all I remember were lots of salads. And roasted crucifers. And citrus juice. Lots and lots of juice (and maybe some mimosas).

CSA, week 7

CSA wk 7

(clockwise from top left: cabbages, clementines, Meyer lemons, blood oranges, artichokes, chard, strawberries, carrots, beets, purple kale, radishes and romanesco)

And, now we are up to speed. I am currently working my way through this week’s share, picked up at the last minute upon my return from Atlanta. It is so nice to be in my new kitchen, unpacked, with lots of good lighting and counter space. I have plans to share more of what I have been working on next week, but in the meantime, I will leave you with a few of my favorites so far:

artichoke

Really there is nothing better than fresh steamed artichokes. They are one of my favorites, so much so that I even wrote this handy, dandy primer on preparing and eating the globes at my old blog, Researching Paris.

strawberries and champagne

I am having so much fun meeting new people and fostering new friendships now that I am feeling settled in the city. Nothing does that better than a strawberry champagne cocktail, right? Especially one only slightly smaller than the size of one’s head? These berries and their accompanying champagne were the perfect housewarming gift for some already-dear friends last weekend (if I do say so myself).

st patty's dayLastly, this post would not be complete without the traditional St. Patrick’s day dinner of corned beef, cabbage and red potatoes. I was thrilled to see the cabbage arrive in such a timely fashion and cooking up this holiday meal was a great excuse to have our first visitors over to break in the apartment. If that evening was any indicator, we have much fun and food to look forward to in our new home together.

Weekly Harvest – Slaws (not just for BBQs anymore)

slaw!

Slaws are usually associated with summertime picnics and backyard barbeques, which is strange as most of the standard slaw components (cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, parsley) are hardy veggies that are standard offerings in winter CSA shares. For me, slaws are salads of winter and, with all of the stews and braises happening, a welcome serving of vegetables to break up the meat and potato parade.

cabbage

As with any salad, the quality of the finished product hinges entirely on the freshness and flavor of each individual component. That being said, the combinations of vegetables and herbs that can be used are vast, with each permutation resulting in a unique and colorful accompaniment to any meal. Like the quiche before, this flexibility makes slaw a perfect “template” to experiment and play with in the kitchen, only limited by your tastes and what is in the crisper.

cast of characters

To start, I usually use a cabbage for the base. In today’s variation, I used, a green cabbage from this week’s share. Chopped fine, it will make up the majority of the slaw greenery. Red (purple) cabbage is a perfectly fine alternative, and the combination of the green and red is both flavorful and visually stunning. One also doesn’t have to stop with cabbage – most any cruciferous veggie will do – raw Brussels sprouts sliced thin or finely chopped broccoli also work well for a slaw base. To note: using a food processor as a chopping assist will definitely help your slaws come together in a snap; personally, although I have a Cuisinart, I enjoy the rhythm of the slicing and dicing process too much to automate just yet.

xmas slaw

(A slaw from Christmas dinners past: Brussels sprouts, celery root, watermelon radish)

The topping choices come next. Most standard (and used in this variation) are carrots, onions (of the green, red or shallot variety) and celery. Like the base, the possibilities here are only limited by your imagination – I have used finely sliced radishes, raw beets (delicious, but beware – the entire slaw and your hands will end up a shocking shade of magenta) and celery root, to name a few. Anything crispy and cool will work here, and this includes some fruit as well – fresh tart apples spring to mind.

dressing

Last, but certainly not least, is the dressing. This is where many slaw fantics draw their lines in the ground. I land solidly on the side of a tangy vinegar-based sauce to coat my veggies, rather than the sweet, cloying dressings often found on store bought slaws and mixed vegetable salads.  My go-to slaw dressing was actually not originally intended for this purpose, but is known by many as the traditional dressing for the traditional French side dish celeri remoulade, in itself a slaw of sorts. My friend Camille has perfected the recipe, which you can find with a bit more information about the original dish here. I find that the combination of mayonnaise, Dijon, capers, shallot (here a bit of white onion because The Bat doesn’t yet keep shallots in stock) and a splash of cider vinegar creates a creamy, pucker-y, salty sauce whose flavors stand up well to the cast of strong flavors in any standard slaw mix.

dressed

If possible, I finish the slaw off with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and then its ready to eat! Slaws are great for picnics and barbeques, as we know, but that vinegary crunch is also a perfect complement to most any meat and potato dinner. I am also a fan of mixing in a chopped, poached chicken breast creating an easy, healthy, one-dish brown bag lunch. For me, the seemingly endless combinations make slaws a great ‘clean out the crisper before the next CSA share’ type of dish, and they keep well for days in the refrigerator – often getting even tastier after one or two days once the flavors have really had a chance to meld.

tossed

I am not the only one with a penchant for slaws. One of my all-time favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, also has a pretty extensive slaw obsession. Her archives (I promise you, that blue cheese one is delicious) and ideas for slaw variations are truly impressive. I have seen several other CSA shares floating around the interwebs with  big, fat heads of cabbage… Join the slaw challenge and let me know how it goes (and what combinations of veggies you used – I am always looking for inspiration) in the comments!