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Weekly Photo Challenge – Nostalgic

nanis recipe books

The Weekly Photo Challenge theme over at The Daily Post is “Nostalgic” – these books, and their story below, are my take.

One of the few perks of being a child of divorce is the acquisition of additional grandparents. I was extremely lucky in this regard; my step-grandparents lovingly embraced me as one of their own from the very beginning. Following the death of my step-grandfather, my step-grandmother (whom we all called Nani – her spelling) moved to our sleepy coastal California town from her home in Rhode Island. I was thirteen. My brother and I would spend long afternoons at her house watching Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, playing chopsticks on the piano, learning to needlepoint (that was just me) and snatching up warm cookies right out of the oven, or snooping around the kitchen when we could smell her chili bubbling on the stove. Nani’s meals – served on sick days taken off from school, Saturday evenings when our parents were out being adults (every once in a while) and most every holiday – tasted like home. She clipped recipes of interest every month from her Bon Appetit and Gourmet subscriptions and sorted them into the collection of small, well-worn three-ring binders above. Once she tried them, she would rate her success with gold star stickers (one for ‘good’; two stars for ‘great’), and include notes of what to do or not to do, the next time around. Interspersed with those clipped magazine pages are her own recipes – tried and true family classics like her mother’s Danish Twist pastries that we all looked forward to on Christmas Morning, or the melty, gooey marshmallow rolls from her mother-in-law that Thanksgiving was never without. When Nani passed away in 2002, I had already transplanted myself to Boston for graduate school. One of the few things I asked be set aside for me were her ‘cookbooks’. Despite the 11 years it has taken me to return to California, my step-father continued to hold onto these precious collections for when I was ready and, once I settled into my home here, happily passed them along. His only request? Twists on Christmas.

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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!