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!).







Weekly Travel Theme – Peaceful

santa barbara train(From Amtrak Coast Starlight, looking out at the Pacific Ocean, north of Santa Barbara, CA)

I am most at peace around flowing water. I do have to wonder if this evolved from being brought up in a beachside community or, possibly, being raised by an avid surfer. Either way, I can sit alongside a river or overlooking a beach, and watch the water for hours on end. When things are particularly tense in the rest of my life, watching (meditating along with?) this continuous, repetitive, unaltered ebb and flow allows me to truly exhale and let the stress go.

grand canal(The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy)

If I had my way, I would never again live more than 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean – inhaling the salt air deeply and listening to the waves pound endlessly against the shore is rejuvenating  Something about that power, the wind in my hair, and the wild, untamed beauty of the Pacific always sets things right.

SONY DSC(Private beach front, Coco Palm, Maldives)

Yet, after several years living alongside rivers, I have also come to appreciate the quiet solitude that can be found watching life flow by. The river always provides a cool breeze to soothe one’s brow on a hot day and a stopping place alongside to take in the view (or a jog) downstream or to set up an impromptu picnic at dusk.

honfleur at dusk(Harbor-side dinner at dusk, Honfleur, France)

When Ailsa posed her Weekly Travel Theme of “Peaceful”, bodies of water on (around/in) which I have traveled – in all moods – and found peace came to mind. Here are some of my favorites.

french riviera(Overlooking the Côte d’Azur while driving from Nice to Monaco)

windmill spotting 2(Windmill spotting while on a small canal outside of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Sunset at Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica)

tiber(Dusk settles over the Tiber River, Rome, Italy)

omaha beach(Contemplating freedom while looking across the English Channel – on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France)


seine(Notre Dame Cathedral and Ile de la Cité as seen from a Seine river cruise, Paris, France)


big sur(Bixby bridge, driving southbound on California Highway 1 through Big Sur)

Weekly Photo Challenge – Fleeting

Although it has been more than six months since I returned from Paris to San Diego, on lazy Sunday afternoons my mind turns to long, winding, warm Parisian evenings with friends – enjoying aperitifs on terraces and picnics in parks. For much of my time there, my camera was my constant companion – to ensure that I would capturing everything that I could miss from the other side of the world. In an odd twist of fate, so much of my time was spent behind that lens that, often, I don’t have actual memories – only a series of mental snapshots that recall particular occasions. Bastille Day 2011 was one of those. I vividly recall laughing with friends while sprawled on the Champs de Mars, dancing the can-can at sunset and the “superheroes” that joined us. The fireworks, however? Luckily I have the photos, which captured each fleeting, vibrant burst of color as the explosion lit up the Eiffel Tower and the night sky in front of me.


This week’s photo challenge, “Fleeting” was prompted by The Daily Post

What have you knit for me lately?

walker + hat(Walker. In a Hurricane Hat. Clearly made to be a toddler knitwear model)

I have only a few memories of spending time with my mom’s parents growing up. The most vibrant and lasting of those was their visit to welcome my newborn brother, Eric, when I was 8. My grandmother always carried her knitting with her, and the needles were pulled out and clacking away anytime she found a place to sit still for more than 10 minutes. For a fidgety little girl on her best behavior, watching the swooping, twisting, knotting mass of needles and yarn was mesmerizing. It was on this visit that I declared that I was old enough to learn what grandma was doing and she agreed. With extensive patience, some pink yarn and a pair of bright yellow plastic needles, Grandma Dorie gradually taught me to knit, leaving me with a gift I value to this day (there is photographic evidence of this afternoon that I need to dig out at my mom’s house and share here someday soon – it is completely worth it for my haircut alone).

needle books(Aren’t these snazzy? My aunt just passed on these great interchangeable circular needle sets, circa 1970s)

My memories of my grandmother are entirely twisted up with memories of her knitting – mostly the one-of-a-kind sweaters I received for holidays and birthdays. I was so proud of them. No one else had a sweater featuring little sheeps running across the front, with the matching rumps (complete with pom-pom tails!) across the back. I was not the only family member who’d been brought into the knitting fold – my aunt Jane was also always a prolific sewer/knitter. Her gifts (if it was possible) thrilled me even more – matching outfits for me and my Cabbage Patch Kid?! I was the coolest kid in school!

small needles(Small needle sizes – the cables are a little creaky, but everything is completely functional!)

My interest in knitting at age 8 lasted for about three days; the same amount of time as my excitement about skateboarding or passion for the electric keyboard. But I would return to my needles every few years, making my own one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts (I still cringe at the year of many, many knitted potpourri sachets) and considering all the fashionable garments I could be making for myself while perusing knitting books at the local library (so many shoulder pads).

large needles(Larger needle sizes – the colorful metal tips are so cheerful!)

It wasn’t until graduate school, when I desperately needed a creative outlet to give my brain a rest from non-stop science that I returned to the craft in earnest. I branched out from just the knit stitch (purling is fun!), worked my way through a few basic projects, joined a Boston area Stich-n-Bitch group and learned how gratifying it can be to make something lasting with one’s own hands. Not to mention the very far fetched but mighty fulfilling idea that I could make my own clothes, if I absolutely had to. Let’s not discuss the practical implications of woolen undergarments – I like this delusion too much.

madelinetosh(Madelinetosh, in Forestry – mmmmmm)

In this way, knitting has become one of my main outlets – alongside cooking and blogging – to get myself out of my head, my head out of science, and reconnect with the creator inside of me. However, I had been in bit of a rut. Many, many baby blankets and graduation scarves later, I had forgotten how much fun it is to try something completely knew, maybe a bit outside of my comfort zone, as well as the pride that comes from generating a beautiful accessory (for me even!) from just a ball of yarn. Enter Mere, my blogging buddy and virtual knitting club companion (read about our previous knitting goals/projects here and here).

the cowl begins(It’s beginning to look like a Honey Cowl)

Working with someone new, who has a similar skill set and is also interested in branching out has been so much fun. The socks from March were a huge challenge and we were both excited to tackle the Honey Cowl in April – it seems straightforward and easier to finish within a month. Note: The socks remain unfinished (I am admittedly ashamed). I’m still 2/3 done with my third sock – I decided to rip the first one out because it was too big and do it right, but let me tell you, motivation to finish the third sock of a pair is hard to come by.

finished cowl(The finished product, properly waffle-like and practically glowing)

April came and went and both of us were suspiciously silent about our cowl progress on our blogs, and on Instagram, where we had been so excitedly vocal about starting our projects. As the month came and went we chatted behind the scenes about piles of work, distractions from our knitting goals and maybe making May a ‘catch-up’ month – with a small, if any, project of it’s own.

cowl long(In natural light the greens are even more impressive – worn long…)

So, I wanted to catch you all up (especially you, Destination : Macaron, with your overflowing craftiness) with my recent progress, several projects of which are finally wrapping up. Plus, plans for the summer. Because I clearly haven’t learned anything about overbooking yet – and there are baby birthdays coming up!

cowl double wrap(…and short. I profusely apologize for my strap issues here.)

April’s project, the Honey Cowl, was an absolute delight. I used the pattern as an excuse to splurge on two skeins of Madelinetosh DK in a deep, vibrant, subtly variegated shade of green, called Forestry. Not only was the color amazing, but the wool itself was soft, springy and knit up like a dream. I worked on the cowl solely on my shuttle rides to and from work; it was a great pattern for on-the-go knitting while listening toRadioLab podcasts. This cowl is a new favorite; I have already worn it several times (San Diego gets cold at night!) and received multiple compliments. Between the ease of knitting, the loveliness of the yarn itself and the functionality and beauty of the finished project, I can tell I’ll be making and wrapping up a lot of Honey Cowls for Christmas this year.

hats(May’s project – the Hurricane Hat, sized down for toddler heads. There may be a few more where these came from, just sayin’)

For May, Mere and I decided we would slow down, catch up on our cowls (and socks, ahem) and, make a hat – a simple weekend project that would at least push our monthly knitting club forward. With two new babies in the family, I decided to make two or, more precisely, two happened while racing through season 4 of Battlestar Galactica on Memorial Day (maybe a bit behind the times but so happy to be finally catching up!). The hat pattern is a modified Hurricane Hat, using size 6 needles to slim it down for precious toddler heads. Here Walker is modeling one of my prototypes. He is about the age that my niece and nephew will be around Christmas, so I’m glad my arbitrary length and decreases seem to fit! There is something incredibly gratifying about already working towards stockpiling gifts.

walker hat detail(More Walker, more hat detail)

So with the exception of my third sock problem (this weekend maybe? Finally?), my knitting is all caught up! Which means I can turn my sights towards summer. Mere and I, although ambitious, are not blind, and rather than choose monthly projects during this busy season have chosen instead a ‘summer vacation’ project. Toys. For babies (We are both blessed with beautiful nieces and nephews). I cannot show you which ones, because they will be gifts for two almost-1 year olds at the end of August, and I’m pretty sure my brothers and sisters-in-law read my blog (although anyone who has gotten this far in this post deserves a medal). I promise to reward all of your patience with adorable toddler + toy photos then. Here are a few to tide you over. In the meantime, happy crafting!

wesley(Recent nephew shot – this kid clearly needs a handknit toy, right?!)

If you are here and have a bit of extra time on your hands, take a look at these beautiful yarns and share your must have shades – it is so hard to choose!

anna(And my niece, also reaching out for a toy!)

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








Taco Tuesday – Carnitas Snack Shack

carnitasCarnitas Snack Shack has been on my “must try ASAP” from the moment I stepped off of that transatlantic flight six months ago. A new darling on the restaurant scene, the Snack Shack serves locally sourced, pork-centric tacos, sandwiches and small plates from a window-front stand at University Ave and Oregon St. in North Park. They also stock plenty of local craft beer, so if you are not in a rush after ordering, settle into the picnic tables set up around back, admire the garden beds, soak up some sun and stay awhile.snack shack earlyI snuck out of work a bit earlier than usual a few weeks ago to meet friends here to finally taste what the buzz was all about. I arrived a bit early – they had pups to pick up at home, as the Snack Shack patio is extremely dog friendly. There was no line when I got there – around 5:30 or so – and I was able to order a Green Flash Trippel to tipple while I waited in one of the few tables still getting direct sunlight in the garden and sunshineOnce the rest of the crew arrived, we worked out a plan to try as many things on the menu as possible. I ordered the carnitas tacos (of course!), M ordered the specialty of the house, the Triple Threat sandwich and H rounded out the main courses with steak flautas. Additionally we agreed to split the pork belly appetizer and an order of fries. I am getting the idea that my friends delight in having this blog as an excuse to order almost everything on the menu (we did skip a vibrantly colored and delicious looking beet and goat cheese terrine).back gardenWe were lucky in our timing – within about 10 minutes of putting in our order, the line outside of the solitary window to pork-goodness started forming and snaking rapidly up the street. While we waited we helped ourselves to water – both in glasses and in a graciously provided doggie bowl. Thankfully, our food was also first out of the kitchen and it was not more than 15-20 minutes before we had a steaming, smoky feast set before our eyes (and watering mouths), while the newcomers watched with hungry anticipation.salsasThere was no order to the service – our pork belly and fries came delivered with everything else, and we immediately started to divide things into threes such that we could all get a taste. H had also noted that the Snack Shack purchases locally crafted salsas, which were available upon request (and were delivered quickly). We started to pass the plates around and the universal indication of tastiness – silence – settled around our table.carnitas2First, the tacos (it is Tuesday). There is a reason that the entire restaurant is names for this dish alone. The carnitas themselves were incredibly tender, smoky and moist, but retained that spicy crust from a high heat sear along the outside edges that provides a satisfying crunch before each bite melts in your mouth. The tacos were piled high with meat and garnished simply with fresh avocado, a heaping scoop of homemade pico de gallo, lime and a side of corn slaw. Together, the flavors created what is now my favorite carnitas in San Diego – it really is that crispy roasted outer edge that gets me every time.  The serving was more than enough to fill my belly, but with four more dishes on the table, I had to keep tasting. Yup, life is hard.flautasAlthough we tried to love them as much as the tacos, we all agreed that (despite being talked up by the man behind the ordering window) the beef flautas were our least favorite of the bunch. The steak was cooked medium-rare and had great flavor, but compared to the slow roasted pork in the other dishes that melted in our mouth, the somewhat chewy hunk of meat took an immediate back seat. The fries were also not necessary – not in the scope of our meal, certainly – but also in general. They were great fries – thin, a well-balanced combination of crunch and steaming soft potato –but given what the Snack Shack does so well (pork), there is no reason to order anything else.triple threatSpeaking of which, let’s get back to the pig. Our collective tie for first place was split down the middle (one vote for each and me, undecided) between the Triple Threat and the pork belly appetizer. The Triple Threat sandwich is a study in absolute excess, featuring pulled pork topped by schnitzel topped by bacon, with a schmear of house aioli and a pickle/pepper relish, all sandwiched between a buttery bun. I think, before tasting it, we all expected it to be too much – too rich, too fatty, too much everything. It was definitely rich and over the top, but not grossly so. In fact, the meats harmonized much better than I expected and the crunch and vinegar heat from the relish went a long way through cutting through the heft. It was, simply, super – not at all a gimmick, but a seriously good sandwich that I would not hesitate to order again (and encourage others to do the same).pork bellyThe pork belly was a completely different type of decadent. Seemingly somewhat out of place on a menu of finger foods, this slab of pork belly had clearly been braised for hours and was served coated in a thick sweet-spicy glaze and tart apple lemon slaw. The tender meltiness of this dish put even the carnitas to shame and the sauce, possibly a bit too cloying at first, grew on us until we were dipping the salad greens in it as well, so none would go to waste. We all devoured the belly immediately after its initial tasting – there was an instinctive competitiveness, even among friends, because we all knew without saying that if you didn’t get your fork in for another bite now, you would be left behind (and belly-less). Both M and H went in for the last bite at the same time and there was some very careful negotiation to decide who would actually taste victory.puppiesCompletely stuffed and leaning back in our chairs, we took some time to digest, catch the last of the sunlight and comfort the dogs who looked up at us with such longing that it was clear they knew exactly what was going on table-side. After groaning our approval and commenting on our bulging bellies, M and I were shocked when the server returned, cleared our plates (and remaining fries) and plopped down a foil-wrapped surprise in the familiar shape of an ice cream sandwich. H had ordered it behind our backs and he unwrapped it with the excitement of a little kid experiencing the ice cream truck for the first creamSandwiched in between two chocolate wafer cookies was vanilla ice cream studded with toffee and bacon chips. The server assured us that it was made by  a visiting guest pastry chef and that it was not to be missed. I am, oddly, without a sweet tooth or a fanatical love of chocolate, so I do not think I would go as far as claiming this cookie confection to be an essential component of a Snack Shack meal; but it was a pleasant, cool, salty-sweet treat that rounded off the meal nicely.snack shack lateWe departed shortly thereafter, letting the dogs say goodbye to the neighboring tables and skirting the line that had continued to replenish throughout our meal, now stretching halfway up the block. Restaurants that serve food as fresh and tasty as the Snack Shack make it incredibly difficult to branch out and try something new  – I am already looking forward to the opportunity to drag The Bat & Co. here for a late afternoon Sunday supper. In the local scene, what I am saying is nothing new and I am only adding my voice to the chorus of Snack Shack lovers, but it is always worth sharing a place worth your time, taste buds and hard-earned dollar.

Carnitas Snack Shack

2632 University Ave. 

San Diego, CA 92104

619.294.PORK (7675)