Whole30: Three Weeks Down, One to Go

Monday, April 29, 2013

It's Day 22 of Whole30, which means we have finished three full weeks of clean eating! We are both feeling great and have vowed to continue this lifestyle as much as possible after the month is over, although we are going to switch to a less strict paleo diet. (Meaning we can have honey, pure maple syrup, and bacon, even though it's cured in sugar. And we can SWYPO all we want. Can't wait to start paleo baking!)

We're still varying our menu as much as possible, trying new dishes, and cooking with foods we never would have purchased in the past. I love that, with the exception of a few cans of coconut milk and tomato sauce/paste, we purchase all of our food from the outer edges of the grocery stores and never really venture into those inner aisles. Our refrigerator almost always looks like this:

So much green! I'm just glad we have such a big fridge to hold it all. We go through almost everything you see in a single week. (With the exception of mayo on back shelf, which hasn't been touched since Whole30 began, and the Naked green machine juice, which was also purchased prior to Whole30.)
Our freezer only contains meat (and a bag of frozen pineapple):

And, for whatever reason, grocery shopping is more of a pleasure than a chore. I used to hate and dread grocery shopping, and even though I still find it takes way more time than I'd like (especially now that shopping for the week involves going to at least three and sometimes five different places), I actually enjoy walking through the produce, getting my meat straight from the butcher's counter, and browsing in the health food stores, learning about all these natural products that I never knew existed but am now excited to try. I'm actually excited about food, which to be honest, had only ever happened in high-end restaurants or mom-and-pop places I discovered when traveling. I'm happy that now I can be excited about what I'm making in my own kitchen.

In the past few days, we've been trying out more paleo versions of favorite dishes, with mostly fantastic results.

Wednesday, Day 17
Breakfast: Banana and Cream "Oatmeal", apple chicken sausage
Lunch: leftover steak, sweet potato, and broccoli
Dinner: "taco salad"

Wednesday was a day of definite highs and lows, food-wise. We tried this banana and cream "oatmeal," which didn't taste much like oatmeal to me, but was really tasty and quick and easy to make. Plus it gave me a way to use the coconut butter that I picked up the week before. We will definitely keep this breakfast dish in the rotation even after Whole30 is over.

The leftover steak was just as delicious for lunch as it was for dinner the night before, but by dinner Wednesday I was feeling burned out on cooking again and wanted something simple. We decided to make a version of taco salad since that is our go-to quick and easy meal. Before Whole30, we probably had our taco salad once a week or at least every other week. It consists of Tostitos Fire-Roasted Chipotle tortilla chips, ground beef w/ taco seasoning, corn, black beans, prepackaged cheese-Mexican blend, sour cream, and Newman's Own Pineapple Salsa. It is delicious. It takes fifteen minutes to make. But it is also completely contraband now. We figured we could make a paleo-friendly version of taco salad just as easily, but although it didn't take long to make, it wasn't nearly as edible.

It doesn't look bad in this picture, but I would consider this dish to be the only true fail of our Whole30 thus far. We made our own taco seasoning for the beef (the prepackaged stuff was off limits because food companies think there should be sugar and corn in everything), and we added in a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and some sauteed onions. Then we put our mixture on a bed of organic lettuce and topped it with store-bought salsa and guacamole (both all-natural, organic, and Whole30 compliant).

It was...boring. And the texture of the lettuce just did not work well with the beef mixture. We both ended up picking the lettuce out and we didn't use it with our leftovers the next day.

Thursday, Day 18
Breakfast: Banana and Cream "Oatmeal", scrambled eggs
Lunch: leftover "taco salad"
Dinner: barbecue pork, Indian-spiced sweet potatoes, French-style green beans w/ roasted pecans, paleo coleslaw

Thursday was much better food-wise, but I spent most of the day in the kitchen and sliced my finger pretty deep when the knife slipped when I was cutting sweet potatoes. It still hurts and I have to keep it wrapped so I don't bump it into anything.

I suppose the meal that night was worth almost losing my fingertip, though. We had T.J.'s parents over for dinner, so it was our first time forcing our diet on others entertaining on Whole30. I figured we couldn't go wrong with barbecue pork, and that morning I prepared Everyday Paleo's "Beyond Easy Pulled Pork" in the crock pot. My first Whole30 crock pot meal! The pork was fantastic. It's so good it can be eaten with or without sauce, and it fed us for days. Also, we used the Kitchenaid mixer to shred the pork for the first time, and it was so simple I wondered why we hadn't been doing that every time we make barbecue!

I also made homemade barbecue sauce from the recipe in It Starts with Food (really good); coleslaw, which involved making homemade mayo again; the Indian-spiced sweet potatoes from a couple of weeks ago (which continue to be one of my favorite recipes ever); and T.J. made green beans with roasted pecans after he got home from work.

Basically, I spent the entire day in the kitchen.

My pictures keep flipping, and I do not know why!!! This is a pic of the leftovers I had for lunch the next day because I forgot to take a picture the night before when the in-laws were over. I wish I were eating this right now!
Friday, Day 19
Breakfast: scrambled eggs, carrots, fruit
Lunch: leftover barbecue pork, Indian-spiced sweet potatoes, green beans
Dinner: baba ganoush w/ cucumber slices, baby carrots, and black olives, raw almonds, leftover barbecue pork

Friday we decided to make breakfast simple and just scramble some eggs and eat whatever fresh fruit we had in the fridge (blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries, I think), lunch was delicious leftovers, and for dinner we had our first "to-go" dinner.

We finally found a dining room set on Craigslist after two months of searching, but we had to drive to Nashville to get it--a two-hour drive. We went after T.J. got off from work, and knowing we wouldn't get back until late and wouldn't be able to pick up dinner anywhere on the way, I made a "to-go" meal of baba ganoush and various dippers.

The perfect road trip food.
I've been craving hummus for a while now (I love how my cravings are so much healthier than they used to be), but since we can't have chickpeas on Whole30, baba ganoush was the perfect answer and definitely satisfied my craving. However, this was basically a veggie meal, so when we got home we had some leftover pulled pork too. Had to get that protein in!

Saturday, Day 20
Breakfast: Coconut Milk and Curry Frittata
Lunch: leftover barbecue pork, sweet potato fries
Dinner: hamburger pattie w/ sauteed onions, sweet potato chips, tomato slices with fresh garlic and olive oil, cucumber spears, pecan pie Larabar

Saturday started with a frittata that never got quite dry enough, even after doubling the time under the broiler. The flavor was good, but no matter how long it cooked, (or how much the top burned), the bottom stayed soupy.

For lunch we had leftover barbecue again and made some sweet potato fries to go with it.

It was T.J.'s three-year-old nephew's birthday, so we had dinner at the in-laws, and T.J.'s mom was so sweet to accommodate us. (And it was such a relief not to have to cook for the first time in THREE. WEEKS.) They were having hamburgers, so she made us plain hamburger patties and even got us organic beef! She made homemade chips and made us sweet potato ones, and she had fresh veggies on the side with only olive oil and garlic, which she knew we could eat. Of course, we couldn't eat any of the delicious-looking Mickey cake T.J.'s sister made (I kept staring at his chocolate ears), so in preparation we picked up a couple of Larabars to have for dessert while everyone else had cake. It actually wasn't too torturous.

I did make two mistakes at dinner, though! When we picked up the Larabars, we also bought a bag of pre-made Kale chips in case there weren't enough sides for us to eat at the house. (There were.) I thought I'd checked the ingredients list carefully, but after we'd each eaten a couple, I discovered that one of the ingredients was "organic chickpea miso"! We can't have chickpeas on Whole30, so we stopped eating them right away. Then at dinner, I was snacking from the chip bowl and didn't realize that the bowl of plain chips (made from white potatoes) was the one in front of me until after I'd already eaten three chips! So two small, accidental cheats marring my basically perfect record. I'm not going to beat myself up about it too much, though.

Sunday, Day 21
Breakfast: leftover frittata, raw baby carrots
Lunch: leftover barbecue pork, sweet potato fries
Dinner: Smoky Pot Roast, crock pot carrots and onions, roasted brussel sprouts

Oh, my gosh, this blog is never-ending! Kudos if you're still reading. We've reached the final day, though, I promise. Breakfast leftovers, lunch leftovers, and then for our grand finale, a delicious pot roast!

Sunday morning I prepared the roast using Everyday Paleo's "Smoky Pot Roast" recipe, only I added carrots to the bottom of the crock pot. I just can't fathom roast without carrots! The roast cooked all day while we picked out paint colors, ran errands, and grocery shopped, and when we got home we made some roasted brussel sprouts to go with it.

Confession: Brussel sprouts are one of the two veggies I hate the most. (The other is cauliflower.) I have always found them repugnant. But these sprouts were delicious! I though they tasted a lot like broccoli. So now, thanks to Whole30, I enjoy the two veggies I used to loathe!

Speaking of which, it's lunch time, so I'm going to go heat up my leftover roast and sprouts.

Tonight: Moroccan beef! Stay tuned!


Whole30 Day 16: Back on Board

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Last night the nausea was gone and I was able to enjoy (and help make) some delicious lettuce wraps. Originally, we had intended to make chicken fajitas without the tortillas...which basically just leaves chicken, onions and bell peppers, and guacamole. Then T.J. said, "Why don't we wrap them in lettuce?" and I immediately started fantasizing about the lettuce wrap appetizer from Cheesecake Factory. So, after finding this list of recipes and picking up some missing ingredients, we quickly shifted from making chicken fajitas to Cheesecake Factory-style lettuce wraps.

If you're unfamiliar with the Cheesecake Factory lettuce wraps, here's a picture of them I found online. I'll give you a moment just to take in all the yummy goodness.

Picture from biggestmenu.com.
This lettuce platter includes Thai chicken satays, Thai bean sprouts, Thai coconut noodles, Thai marinated cucumbers, julienne carrots, lettuce (obviously), and three dipping sauces: tamarind cashew, peanut sauce, and sweet chili sauce. Obviously, we couldn't make the noodles, and there were so many contraband ingredients that we couldn't make all the dips, BUT we did make ONE dip, and we made everything else.

This meal was So. Good.

Our delicious wrap ingredients. Not arranged as prettily as at Cheesecake Factory, but perhaps more practically.
We broke out the mandolin slicer and grated some julienne carrots and washed some big, leafy organic lettuce for the wrap base. 

For the chicken, we followed the recipe in the above link pretty faithfully, although we just grilled the chicken on the stove instead of on skewers, and we substituted coconut aminos for the soy sauce. 

For the bean sprouts (which ARE allowed on Whole30; we checked), we followed the recipe but again traded the soy sauce for coconut aminos, and we didn't have sesame seeds, so we left those off. They were just as delicious without them. 

For the Thai marinated cucumbers, I had to get a little more creative since the recipe calls for rice vinegar (not allowed) and sugar (definitely not allowed). I used white vinegar instead and a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar and sesame oil. I also added a dash of red pepper flakes. 

Then the tough part came. What sauce to make? At first I was going to try to adapt the tamarind cashew sauce, but almost every ingredient had to be substituted. Instead, I decided to make the peanut sauce and substitute almond butter for peanut butter. I also substituted coconut aminos for soy sauce and sesame oil for chili oil. The sauce turned out a little more solid than saucy, but it was so good and and really complemented the rest of the ingredients. 

Tada! Delicious final product.
We also had some fresh mango for dessert.

Dinner was delicious, but after eating it last night and again for lunch today, I was starting to feel like I was subsisting on rabbit food. Probably because I didn't have much to eat yesterday, I've spent a lot of today hungry. Eventually I caved and ate half a lemon Larabar for a late afternoon snack. (T.J. ate the other half because he too was starving.) I also decided dinner needed to be a bit more substantial, so I went out and bought steaks!

Amazingly, it took until day 16 for us to make steaks. We love steaks, but we got rid of our grill when we moved south, and we've kind of been waiting until we got a new one before we made steaks, I think. We needed "real" food tonight, though, so decided to give stove-top grilling a shot. So glad we did! This was one of the quickest and easiest dinners we've made. We used the mocha steak rub recipe from It Starts with Food, and it was really amazing. Much better than we imagined. We were also amazed at how different these basic organic sirloins tasted from the regular ones we used to buy. Although we've been impressed by the quality of the organic, grass-fed meats we've been trying on Whole30, this was the first time we could taste a profound difference between the quality of organic meat and the regular supermarket variety we used to buy. 

The steaks were big enough that we cut them in two so we will have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. We paired the steak with baked sweet potatoes and roasted broccoli, both easy fixes. So for once dinner was done a little after seven, the kitchen was clean almost immediately, and we can spend the night relaxing and watching TV! 

Oh, wait. I can do that. T.J. had to go into work to help with the "Midnight Breakfast" they are hosting for students. (It's finals week.) Guess it's time for me to catch up on Bates Motel, then!

Until tomorrow...


The Last Few Days

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Day 15 of Whole30, which means I've made it to the half-way point, and also means that I haven't blogged in five days. Yikes! The last few days have been some of our hardest, which is probably why I haven't been running to share our experience with the outside world. The main issue, I think, is that I'm getting a little burned out on cooking (and cleaning) all the time. Sometimes you just want something quick, simple, and convenient, you know? And generally I spend between one and two hours on every Whole30 dinner I make. (Usually closer to two. Plus cleanup.) Breakfast usually takes another 15 minutes to an hour, depending on what we have, and thankfully lunch is just leftovers, so those just have to be rewarmed. But when you consider that prior to Whole30 I'd never cooked more than two or three times in a week, and that most of those meals required thirty minutes or less of prep time, you can see where preparing meals everyday for two weeks straight might get old after awhile. Especially when the first week I had T.J. there to cook with me, which made it a lot more fun, and last week he had four different night events at the university, so I ended up cooking and eating alone most of the week.

Then this weekend, we just had so many projects going on around the house, and once again we found ourselves not starting dinner (Sunday night) until nearly 8 p.m. It would have been a great night to grab a some take-out, but instead we had to start preparing a meal from scratch. We actually ended up having breakfast for dinner (scrambled eggs, turkey kielbasa w/ sauteed onions, banana "pancakes") just because it was the fastest thing we could whip up and we were starving and tired. Nothing we ate was made of non-compliant ingredients, but I know the Whole30 community takes strong issue with creating things like "pancakes," even if they aren't made from wheat flour. I understand the reasons for avoiding pancakes, even of the fake variety, but in this case I also didn't care because it meant one less meal I had to spend two hours making. And that I could then sit down and watch Game of Thrones at 8:45 instead of 10:00.

Today I woke up feeling ill, too, so I've actually not followed Whole30 at all today. I haven't eaten anything contraband, but I haven't been eating what I need to either. For breakfast I had a handful of carrots, and for lunch I had a pina colada smoothie (just frozen pineapple and unsweetened coconut milk). T.J. kept offering to make me something else or run out and get me something, but nothing he mentioned even sounded remotely appealing. As generally happens when I'm feeling nauseated, the only things I could even think of eating were raw, cold fruits and veggies, and unfortunately most of them don't even seem appealing today. T.J. is going to make lettuce wraps tonight, so I'm hoping I can eat those. I started two new medications yesterday, which I think is why I'm feeling poorly, so I just have to hope my body adjusts to them.

Despite our struggles the last couple of days, we definitely are going to see Whole30 through, and we are even going to try to eat this way during the week after our month is over. On the weekends, though, we are going to enjoy ourselves--in moderation. We love to eat out, to try different restaurants and kinds of foods, so I think that's part of what's taking it's toll on us. (Or at least on me.) After Whole30, we will be able to eat out on weekends, but we will make better choices and be more conscious of what we're putting in our bodies. But we'll also be able to enjoy having someone else do the cooking and cleaning AND we won't have to eat dinner after eight p.m. ever again! (Unless we're in Spain. Then maybe.)

So here's how we've been eating the last few days:

Day 11, Thursday, 4/18
Breakfast: leftover banana nut porridge, scrambled eggs, raw baby carrots
Lunch: leftover shepherd's pie
Dinner: apple mustard pork chops, roasted asparagus, half a baked sweet potato, and fruit (strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries)

Not posting a recipe for this one because it was my least favorite thing I've made these whole two weeks. I had to substitute several of the ingredients that were non-Whole30, which was probably part of the problem. Mostly I just found it to be a little bland and boring.

Day 12, Friday, 4/19
Breakfast: pumpkin pudding, chicken sausage, carrots
Lunch: leftovers from dinner night before
Dinner: deconstructed burger w/ sauteed onions and mushrooms, sweet potato fries, kale chips

This is our version of a pumpkin pudding recipe T.J. found. We ended up adding a whole lot more cinnamon and nutmeg than called for because we didn't have any pumpkin pie spice. It was quite good, but I can't speak for how it's supposed to turn out, because the recipe said to wait until the top browned, and ours never did. 
Day 13, Saturday, 4/20
Breakfast: sweet potato egg cups
Lunch: spinach salad w/ grilled chicken, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, red onion
Dinner: mahi-mahi w/ gingered carrots, roasted broccoli

T.J. adapted this recipe to make these sweet potato egg cups. They were very yummy, especially the second day.  If you look at the recipe, though, you'll see he made them quite differently, mainly because I only like scrambled eggs.
I've never been a fan of fish, but I figured we should at least make the attempt since we have to eat so much protein and it isn't healthy to eat red meat every meal. We found this recipe for the mahi-mahi and gingered carrots, and the carrots were delicious. The mahi-mahi was a little more flavorless, but that could be because a) we aren't fish fans, and b) we didn't have coconut aminos at the time so had to leave that out of our recipe (and substitute in a little balsamic vinegar). We finally found it yesterday at the Vitamin Shoppe, of all places.
Day 14, Sunday, 4/21
Breakfast: leftover egg cupcakes and pumpkin soup
Lunch: spinach salad w/ grilled chicken, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, red onion
Dinner: scrambled eggs, turkey kielbasa w/ sauteed onions, banana "pancakes"

Kids, unless you want to be ostrasized by the entire Whole30 community, don't try this at home! (Not during Whole30 at least.) Wish we had the time to prepare something else, but sometimes life gets in the way. 
Day 15, Monday, 4/22
Breakfast: sweet potato hash w/ ground turkey (T.J.), carrots (Lacy)
Lunch: leftovers (T.J.), pina colada smoothie (Lacy)
Dinner: lettuce wraps TBD

Delicious pineapple and coconut milk smoothie. About the only thing I could stomach earlier today.
I'm feeling somewhat better now, so I'm looking forward to eating "real food" tonight. In the next blog, I'll let you all know how the lettuce wraps turn out. Until then, happy eating!


Whole30 Day 10=Comfort Food

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Today's Whole30 menu was all about the comfort food. As I've mentioned (often) before, breakfast has been my biggest challenge on Whole30, and I've been missing sweet foods in particular--pastries, muffins, even oatmeal. I found this recipe for banana nut porridge last weekend and was just waiting for the right day to try it, and today was that day! It requires a little advance planning, as you have to soak the nuts the night before, but it's easy to whip together when you're running low on time. And it was so yummy. Definitely satisfied any potential cravings I might have for banana nut muffins, banana bread, oatmeal, etc.

As seen here, I paired the porridge with a side of scrambled eggs, but even so it was still sort of a fringe Whole30 meal. Technically, this is a bit more nuts (healthy fats) than I should have with any single meal (although not too much more--it's a cup and a half split into four servings), and it just tastes too good (and mimics oatmeal too well) not to be SWYPO. But I've been SO good these past ten days, I figured it wouldn't hurt to make something similar to something I might eat when I'm not dieting, yet still follows the rules and is made of all natural, paleo friendly ingredients. This is a dish that I would eat anytime, regardless of Whole30, so I don't regret trying it, SWYPO or not.

For lunch I had leftover curry chicken and spiced sweet potatoes (which I could eat like candy), plus I ate a handful of raw carrots, which are my go to veggie plate filler.

Dinner was a new adventure in comfort-food cooking. One of my favorite comfort foods (and my favorite pub food) is shepherd's pie. I've actually never attempted to make it before (because the old me rarely attempted anything more complicated than spaghetti), but I can't go out and get it, and I found myself with a craving for it last week, so I decided to investigate Whole30-friendly shepherd's pie recipes. I found this one, and with a few small modifications, our pies turned out beautifully:

The foundation for our four individual shepherd's pies.
All done! With the mashed cauliflower topping.
Sooo yummy.
This was our second attempt at mashed cauliflower, and this time the mash was much tastier. We steamed the cauliflower instead of roasting it, which I was skeptical of (I rarely like steamed veggies and love them roasted). We also blended it in the Kitchenaid Mixer instead of the food chopper, and it had a much better, potato-like consistency. With a little salt and pepper, some olive oil, and a pinch of nutmeg, the mashed cauliflower was just right. We will definitely make it this way again in the future. We also decided to make four individual "pies," more like what you'd get at a pub, which makes leftovers even easier.

As far as the beef mix goes, we had to make a couple of small changes and substitutions. We haven't been able to find any bacon that is Whole30 compliant (it is always processed in some type of sugar), so we had to substitute in some chicken sausage. Not nearly the same thing, but we figured it would give the meat a little more flavor. I also added in a couple tablespoons of minced garlic (because I put garlic in everything) and some thyme. I'm glad I did because I think the recipe might have been a little bland without it, especially without the bacon there to give it that flavor. With the garlic and thyme, though, the shepherd's pie was flavorful and satisfying.

Of course I missed having a pint of Strongbow alongside this shepherd's pie, and obviously it's more fun to have this dish in a pub with friends than at home on the couch, but I was really proud of how this turned out, and at least I now know that anytime I want I can enjoy one of my  favorite comfort foods from the comfort of my own home.


Happy News, and a Whole30 Chicken Curry Recipe

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yesterday I received some of the best news I've received in a while. For weeks (months?) now I've been applying for jobs, and other than an interview last week for an online teaching gig, I haven't heard anything. YESTERDAY, though, I found out I won a summer fellowship from my university so that I can work guilt-free on my dissertation all summer. Essentially, I'm being paid to make dissertation writing my full-time job this summer, which frees me from having to continue the disastrous job search right away. I couldn't be happier.

The annual English Department award ceremony is on Friday, and they will be announcing the winners of the fellowship then and presenting them with...something (a certificate, I assume). At first I thought about driving down for the ceremony and staying the night with my friend Jamie, but then I started trying to figure out how I could pull off two days away and stay true to my Whole30 diet and decided it wasn't worth the stress. That's the biggest problem with this diet: you can't really go out to eat. I'm sure if I lived in L.A. or New York I could find plenty of restaurants that cater to the paleo lifestyle. For that matter, if I were in New York or D.C., I could just eat at Chop't every meal and be perfectly happy. But here, not so much. Even if I were to order a grilled chicken salad, I'd have to worry that they cooked the chicken in vegetable/canola/peanut oil. There probably aren't too many (or any) restaurants cooking strictly in coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil.

I just wonder how people on a strict paleo diet travel. Since travel is such an important part of my life, I can't imagine giving it up for any diet, no matter how healthful. I've decided that I'm going to try to keep eating a paleo diet at home after Whole30 is over, but I'm not going to restrict myself when I want to go out or when I travel. I definitely think this a healthier way of living, and I've really enjoyed the foods I've made these past nine days, but I'm not going to give up all the foods I love forever. I'm just going to eat them with far more moderation than ever before, seeing it as a treat to eat cheesecake/coffee cake/strawberry shortcake/etc. and not as a right.

Until May 8, when I can welcome those things back into my life, I'm going to be satisfied with meals like these:

Tuesday, Day 9
Breakfast: leftover Sweet 'n Savory Quiche and a side of raw baby carrots
Lunch: leftover tarragon chicken and grilled onions, zucchini, and squash from last night's dinner, and a plum
Dinner: smoky kale chips, chicken curry, and Indian-spiced sweet potatoes

This is the chicken curry I made tonight, from my own recipe! Really, it's a combination of several recipes I found as I tried to compensate for my lack of some fairly standard curry ingredients, such as garam masala, and to replace some ingredients that weren't Whole30 friendly, like sugar and yogurt. I also didn't bother to make rice to go with this curry because I just didn't have the stomach for cauliflower rice tonight.

Here's my recipe:

Whole30 Chicken Curry

1 lb. chicken breasts or tenderloins
1/2 a yellow onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp. curry
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. salt (preferably kosher)
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
additional salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut chicken breasts in halves and trim them.
2. In a large skillet, heat coconut oil 2-3 minutes. While oil is heating, salt and pepper each side of the chicken to taste.
3. When oil is hot, reduce heat to medium-high and place chicken in the pan. Flip them after 2.5 minutes and cook the other side 2.5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet and place on a clean plate.
4. Add garlic, onions, and ginger to the skillet. Cook until onions are soft, nearly translucent. Reduce heat to medium.
5. Add coconut milk, spices, chopped cilantro, and lemon juice to the mixture. Allow to cook together for about a minute. 
6. Add chicken back in, cover with the sauce, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Allow chicken to simmer 3-5 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.

I paired the curry with these delicious Indian-spiced sweet potatoes:

Seriously. SO good.

We were supposed to have leftover grilled veggies as our second side, but due to an accident in which the leftover veggies were left out all night, I decided to whip up my first batch of kale chips instead:

Instead of making the regular kale chips with just sea salt and olive oil, I decided to make these smoky kale chips because I thought the smoked paprika would complement the Indian dishes. I ended up eating them almost as an appetizer instead because I had to prepare them first so I could roast the potatoes at a much higher temperature. I really can't wait until we get our double oven so I can say good-bye to that issue!

For my first time making kale chips, I was pleasantly surprised at how they turned out. They were just as good and just as addictive as people say, although after having the smoky variety, I'm not sure if I'll be able to switch to just salt.

Doing Whole30 right is time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes even a little stressful, but with meals like this one, it's so worth it.


Resisting Temptation: A Whole30 Weekend

Monday, April 15, 2013

T.J. and I have officially reached the quarter mark of the Whole30 challenge, and we are going strong! This weekend presented its biggest challenge because temptation was everywhere. Last week I mostly confined myself to home, so I was never tempted by the signs and smells of restaurants. Out of sight, out of mind. Most weeks I'd take at least a day or two and go work at Panera or a coffee shop, but since I can't have my usual chai latte (or anything else on the menu), I've had to work at home. I'd forgotten how the sight alone of certain restaurants can stir cravings, but when we were out this weekend, just seeing Chick-fil-A had me craving, of all things, a strawberry milkshake. (And I can't even remember the last time I had one.)

Saturday presented our biggest test yet when we attended the Battle of the Buffalo, the annual cancer foundation fundraiser hosted by one of the fraternities at T.J.'s university. It's a chicken wing festival/competition to see which of seventeen competing restaurants makes the best wing. That's right. Seventeen wing restaurants. Twenty-four thousand wings. And T.J. received free tickets to the event, so we could have eaten our fill of wings (and cotton candy and snow cones) for free if we hadn't been on Whole30. When T.J. told me about the event Friday night, I was already imagining myself caving as soon as I smelled that delicious barbecue. I was already rationalizing that I deserved a cheat day, that I could just add an extra day onto the end of the challenge, as if it works that way.

It was a beautiful day, and T.J. and I had a relaxing early morning breakfast and then drove over to the farmer's market. It was the first weekend it was open, and there were lots of plants for sale, but no fruits and veggies ready yet since we've had such a long winter. We also drove around to some yard sales since both our subdivision and the one across the road were having community-wide sales. We came up empty-handed there too, as we are looking for just a few specific furniture items, but we still really enjoyed just being outside on such a gorgeous day. That afternoon we headed to Big Spring Park, which is where BotB was held, and it was such a perfect day to be at the park--warm, sunny, but with a pleasant breeze. Too cool for bugs, but warm enough to be out in just a long-sleeved tee.

Although entering the event meant walking past tables full of people chowing down on wings (and smelling them), once we were inside and had done a loop around the booths, we went down to the children's play area to find some of T.J.'s friends from work. Fortunately, this area was away from that amazing barbecue smell, so we were able to relax and chat and enjoy our evening without feeling constantly tempted to cash in our tickets for a pile of wings. We left the event that evening proud that we'd stayed wing free, and we agreed that if we could survive that temptation, we could survive anything during this challenge! (And T.J. is going to be challenged a lot in the coming weeks. He attended a banquet at work last night where he could only eat olives and salad without dressing, and he has two more this week.)

We spent the rest of the weekend shopping for groceries (five different stores: Sam's, Costco, Earth Fare, Publix, and Kroger), hanging pictures in the house, looking at paint samples for the downstairs, and picking out new comforter sets for the twin bed guest room. T.J. also got a new lawnmower, which he was super excited about.

Tiny old lawnmower, meet your new big brother.
And while most people were eating out, chowing down on wings, or glutting themselves on sweets this weekend (which we would normally have done), here's how we were dining:

Day 5, Friday 
Dinner: Italian Crock Pot Chili w/ fresh avocado

Day 6, Saturday
Breakfast: leftover Sweet Potato Hash w/ a side of raw baby carrots
Lunch: leftover chili w/ avocado
Dinner: Paleo Meatloaf, mashed cauliflower, roasted asparagus

T.J. followed the directions for the meatloaf pretty precisely, but he added diced sweet peppers, and I really think they took the recipe up a notch. It might have been the best meatloaf I've ever had. The asparagus was also very good, but the mashed cauliflower...well, we're going to have to work on the recipe a bit. Ours was a little too garlicky (and that's saying something coming from me), and there was still a bit too much of the cauliflower taste in it that I hate. I'm making it again later this week, though, so hopefully we can learn from our mistakes.
Day 7, Sunday
Breakfast: Sweet 'n Savory Quiche and raw baby carrots w/ almond butter
Lunch: leftover meatloaf, mashed cauliflower, and asparagus
Dinner:  leftover meatloaf on a bed of steamed broccoli slaw w/ spaghetti sauce

Breakfast quiche. It was better than expected (because up until yesterday I refused to eat cooked spinach--it's a texture thing) but a little dry and needed a little more flavor. Maybe add mushrooms and a few more eggs next time?
Fresh, all natural almond butter from Earth Fare
Originally, I was going to make zucchini noodles for my "spaghetti." I was also going to  make my own meatballs. But T.J. was at his banquet and I wanted an easy dinner, so I used leftover meatloaf in place of meatballs and used broccoli slaw in place of zucchini, and the result was fabulous. (And made in under ten minutes.) (Idea and "recipe" for the broccoli slaw is from Pinterest.)
When we went to Kroger we looked high and low for a natural marinara sauce with no sugar, preservatives, etc., and we were so happy (and surprised) to find this one. DelGrosso is a company local to the area where we lived in PA (and I'd never heard of it before moving there). They own an amusement park about an hour from our old house, too, and we went to their Italian Food Festival last year. We'd never seen their sauces in the South before, and it was one of those things T.J. lamented that we wouldn't be able to find when we moved back to Alabama, but here it is!
Delicious final product! At first I just put the sauce on that way to take this photo, thinking I would add more afterward, but that ended up being the perfect amount. The sauce, meatloaf, and slaw went together so beautifully I felt like I was really eating spaghetti and didn't miss noodles at all.
Today's menu is the same breakfast as yesterday, same lunch as dinner last night, and a favorite from last week (tarragon chicken, grilled veggies, and fruit) for dinner. I have an exciting menu of new, different foods planned for the rest of week, though, so Week 2 should be interesting.


(Happily) Surviving Whole30

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's Day 5 of my and T.J.'s month-long commitment to clean eating, and so far the Whole30 challenge...hasn't been much of a challenge. I know I might regret that statement in a week or two, but the first 4.5 days have gone better than I ever imagined possible. So far, this is how we're feeling:

Me: no headaches, no blood sugar problems, no digestive issues, no acid reflux (other than a little at breakfast this morning after accidentally eating apple slices that had some preservatives in them), and sleeping all night every night for the first time in recent memory.

T.J.: no digestive issues, no acid reflux, only one nighttime headache (probably from dehydration as he'd just spent the past hour push mowing our lawn in the Alabama heat), but sleeping has gotten worse instead of better. :( (He's always been a terrible sleeper, but he's sleeping so poorly this week that he wakes up exhausted, comes home exhausted, and falls asleep on the couch by 8:00 p.m. I really hope his sleep improves in week 2.

I'm really surprised that we haven't had bad headaches this week, especially from sugar withdrawal, but it probably helps that neither of us have a caffeine addiction to combat. I used to drink hot tea occasionally and a glass or two of iced sweet tea every day, but neither of us are coffee drinkers and we rarely drink soda, so my body hasn't missed caffeine so far.

I'm even more surprised at how well I've survived without sugar, though. My sugar addiction is well-chronicled (just check out my "Recipes" board on Pinterest, which is 95% sugary desserts), but so far the only time I've really craved sugar is at breakfast, which is still a bit of a struggle for me. I'm trying to adopt the Whole30 mindset that breakfast is just "Meal 1," no different from the other two, and I know that the whole idea of having separate "breakfast" foods is a Western concept and that in most areas of the world it's perfectly normal to eat the same thing for breakfast as for dinner...but it's still hard for me to stomach veggies for breakfast every day. And twice this week I had to eat omelets, which, you aren't going to believe, but I had never tried before, and now I know why. Because I'm not a fan of veggies with my eggs. Or anything with eggs really. Except bacon. (Which, alas, I am not allowed on Whole30.)

Today was my most successful breakfast, though, so maybe I'm on to something. Last night I made sweet potato hash for us to eat today and tomorrow for breakfast, and it was by FAR the best breakfast food I've eaten this week:

It was really simple to make, as well, thanks to a little prep work earlier. I had half a chopped onion left over from dinner the night before, and T.J. cubed two large sweet potatoes for me on Tuesday night when we were making sweet potato fries. To make the hash (which I adapted from the recipe in It Starts with Food), I put a pound of ground beef in one skillet and put the cubed sweet potatoes in another with a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil (a.k.a. My New Best Friend). I seasoned the beef with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. When the sweet potatoes started to soften, I added the chopped onion and cooked until the onions were translucent and the potatoes were completely soft. I seasoned them with about 1/4 teaspoons of cinnamon and paprika, added a dash of nutmeg, then added in the drained meat. I mixed all the ingredients together and then let them simmer for a few minutes, then let it cool a bit before separating into four containers. Voila! Easy breakfast for the next two days. 

It was actually really good too, much better than the "Breakfast Mix" (apple, ground turkey) I made earlier in the week. We had a couple of those pre-cut apple/caramel combos in the refrigerator (because I'm six and so lazy I usually don't even cut my own apples), so instead of just eating straight from the Tupperware this morning, I decided to plate my hash and add the apples on the side, lest I be tempted by the caramel. It might just be because I've been sugar deprived this week, but I would swear those green apple slices were the sweetest things I've ever eaten. However, not five minutes after finishing them, I started coughing, which usually means I have acid reflux, which I'd sort of forgotten existed since I've been free of it for five days. I dug the apple package out of the trash, and lo, there were three ingredients added to the apples. Preservatives, I'm sure of it. So there's your proof, kids. Preservatives hate your body. Or vice versa. Whatever. AVOID them when possible, in other words.

Other than breakfast struggles, though, the rest of our meals this week have been some of the best I've ever prepared at home--super tasty and flavorful and filling. Next week I'm going to be more ambitious, which means a higher risk of failure, but for now let's enjoy a few pics of the meals we've tried this week, all of them delicious and nutritious and definitely on my "to cook again" list:

Dinner Day 2 (and Lunch Day 3): deconstructed hamburger with caramelized onions, roasted broccoli w/ garlic, and baked sweet potato fries with smoked paprika and cinnamon. The ones that were a little burned were the best, and they actually reheated well in the microwave.
Day 3 Dinner (and Day 4 Lunch): Moroccan chicken, microwaved sweet potato w/ ghee and cinnamon, and roasted cauliflower and broccoli w/ garlic. I've never liked cauliflower, but I LOVED them roasted.
Day 4 Dinner (Day 5 Lunch): Spinach salad w/ Cajun-seasoned chicken, cucumber, red onions, grated carrot, and grape tomatoes.  T.J. also added black olives to his. Dressing is just EVOO and balsamic vinegar (so glad I got used to using oil and vinegar for dressing when in London). By Thursday night I was ready to make something simple (and that didn't leave a pile of dirty pots and pans), and this salad nailed it. It was a bit difficult to find a blackening seasoning that would be Whole30 approved (it's amazing how many things have artificial ingredients and/or SUGAR--even our chicken broth had sugar!), but T.J. found one and it was really yummy. And SPICY. I don't usually eat creamy salad dressings, but I was kind of missing ranch with this one. There are paleo ranch recipes out there (and T.J. even  made one on Monday), but they generally require a raw egg...and the thought sort of turned our stomachs. Making ranch is time-consuming, anyway, so oil and vinegar FTW! (Bonus: helps meet healthy fats quota)
It doesn't look like these meals would be time-consuming, but for someone who used to only make veggies from a bag, and who tried to avoid chicken altogether to keep her hands from getting slimy, prep time has taken quite a bit of time as I wash and cut all of the veggies and trim and cut the chicken. Hopefully that time will be reduced in the coming weeks as I become more adept at peeling, skinning, chopping, etc.

Up tonight: meatloaf with mashed roasted cauliflower and green beans. I can't wait!


Whole Body, Whole Mind, Whole30

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It's no secret that T.J. and I have had a lot of health problems over the last year or so, many of which our (multiple) doctors have been unable to help. We both have digestive issues--his worse than mine--and I have problems with elevated blood sugar but am not diabetic. I have suffered from fatigue for a while now, but all of my tests have been negative (except I do have a severe B12 deficiency for which I receive shots). We also both have gained a bit of weight in the past year, despite no real changes to our diet. For a (very) brief time, we tried the gluten-free thing, but after T.J. had an endoscopy that ruled he was not allergic to gluten, we saw no reason to deprive ourselves of bread, pastries, and the millions of other things in which gluten is used as a preservative (such as salad dressing, salsa, beer, and even some cheeses). It's reached the point, though, where we can't keep living the way we have and we know that no matter what the tests say, something has to be wrong with us if things are getting worse instead of better.

In an effort to change the way we eat and hopefully the way we feel, on Monday we started the Whole30 challenge. Normally I avoid fad diets, and I've read enough about the paleo trend to know that there are a lot of skeptics and people who think the idea that we should eat as cave people did is ridiculous (and when put that way, I would have to agree). But I'm willing to give this program a try simply because it allows us to rid our diet of most everything that could be causing us problems and to gradually add those things back in in order to understand which foods our bodies can't tolerate.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Whole30, it's a relatively simple food program that asks you to cut dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, and alcohol from your diet for thirty days, and instead eat "Good Food" three meals a day, with no snacking in between (unless you are working out). Basically, each of the three meals should consist of a palm-sized piece of protein (organic, grass-fed meat, seafood, or eggs), a plate full of vegetables, and some healthy fats, such as a closed handful of certain nuts or seeds, a heaping handful of olives, or a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, coconut oil, coconut butter, almond butter, ghee, etc. You can also have 1-2 servings of fruit each day. This sounds pretty simple, but I spent most of Sunday just reading the second half of the Whole30 book, It Starts with Food (T.J. read the first half, which is the science behind the program), and planning our menu for the week. For someone who considers making jar spaghetti "cooking," it was a little intimidating at first planning enough different kinds of meats and vegetables for twenty-one meals, especially knowing that everything would be made from scratch. It was also difficult to plan meals without any sugar, dairy, grains, or legumes. Those things made up probably 60-70% of my diet before.

For example, on a typical weekday, I generally have a Nutri-Grain bar and a glass of milk or orange juice for breakfast, a sandwich or Nathan's hot dog for lunch with chips or potato salad, and maybe steak tips (marinated in brown sugar and Dale's sauce), broccoli with cheese, and a baked sweet potato (loaded with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon) for dinner. Guess what? I can't eat any of those meals on Whole30, although I could have a steak without sugar-based marinades and a sweet potato without butter and brown sugar. So you can see why a food program like this one is challenging for someone like me, for whom the only cravings I ever get are for sugar and occasionally dairy. And I'm used to indulging those cravings, not silencing them with glasses of ice water. (As I have to do now.)

So Whole30 is going to be a real challenge for me. And it's expensive. Eating three balanced meals a day instead of one really strains the budget. And eating whole, fresh foods is far more expensive than eating processed ones. We spent $212 at Earth Fare and Kroger buying all of our food for the week with nothing extra. We had an entire cart full of vegetables and organic meats and never even went near the middle of the store other than to look for ghee (clarified butter) and a couple of other small items I'd never even heard of before Sunday.

On Sunday night, after putting away all of our groceries and throwing away anything that might tempt us to cheat, we began prepping for the week ahead. I made a "breakfast mix" (ground turkey, apple, cinnamon and nutmeg) for breakfast the next morning, and T.J. boiled eggs so we could have fresh spinach salads for lunch. Monday night we made dinner together: tarragon chicken with mushrooms and green onions in a coconut milk sauce; grilled zucchini, yellow squash, and onions cooked in a ghee, salt, pepper, and garlic marinade; and fresh strawberries and blackberries. On Tuesday T.J. made us breakfast before work (omelets with mushrooms, yellow and red sweet peppers, and onions), we had leftover chicken and veggies for lunch (with a banana and handful of cashews on the side), and for dinner we made deconstructed hamburgers with caramelized onions, baked sweet potato fries, and roasted broccoli.

My new best friend
Tarragon chicken yumminess.
Forgive this terrible iPhone photo. The grilled veggies were my favorite part, though, (and were even better the next day), so I had to share.
Although learning to eat "real" food for breakfast is a huge challenge for me, so far Whole30 hasn't been too hard. About ten times a day I have to remind myself that no, I cannot have that box of Nerds I tucked away in my office drawer, and yesterday I noticed my hair conditioner looked and smelled a little too much like whipped cream, but I'm learning to ignore my cravings and avoid reminders of what I'm missing. I'm focusing on the things that after two days I already love cooking with, especially ghee and coconut oil, and the fact that I get to use fresh garlic (which I love) in almost every meal. I'm playing with spices and really cooking for the first time...maybe ever. So even if I don't feel better after finishing Whole30, even if I go right back to eating tons of sugar, grains, and dairy, maybe I will at least have learned to be a better, braver cook and will see cooking as more of a pleasure than a chore.


Of Two Minds

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

It's been a busy few weeks around here--and a busy few months before that--so I'm finally getting the chance to sit down and focus on my dissertation for the first time in months. First there was my 30th birthday weekend, when my husband had all sorts of lovely surprises planned, the best of which was a surprise visit from my best friend from grad school, Miranda, and her husband and son. T.J. had wanted to have lunch at Newk's, and when we got there Miranda and Co. were waiting for us. I was super surprised (so surprised that my first reaction was "What are you guys doing here???") because they live four hours away (and of course lived much further away when we lived in PA), and we don't get to see them very often.  We had a nice weekend with them, and I'm so happy they were our first house guests!

Then the next week I drove down to my parents' for a couple days. I hadn't seen them since December and my brother was visiting from Orlando, so I squeezed the visit into my schedule because he doesn't make it home often. It was good to see all of my family (parents, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, siblings), and to get to spend a little time with my cousins, even if it was just hanging out around the house and driving down to Destin for dinner.

Then this past week I attended the national American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) conference in Cleveland, where I had a great time rooming with my friend Cassie and meeting lots of people in the field. Cassie and I went to the member reception on Thursday, which was held in the beautiful glass atrium of the Cleveland Museum of Art, had breakfast with a prospective AU PhD student Friday morning, and then Friday night went out for dinner and drinks at an Irish pub with a big group of grad students (and I got to have my first draft Strongbow since London!). In between glasses of wine, mugs of chai latte, and pints of Strongbow, we managed to make it to a few panels, mostly on travel or pedagogy, and Cassie presented on performances of drunkenness on the eighteenth-century stage and I presented on teaching women's writing about India in a poster session. I'd never done a poster session before, but I worked hard on the poster and it was really well-received, with lots of people taking pictures of it and some emailing me afterward for copies of it. It was a great opportunity to network and to strengthen previous connections I'd made with other eighteenth-century scholars who work with India (we're a small bunch).

I have to admit that the conference didn't leave me feeling as inspired as some others (mainly creative writing ones) do, though. In the Chronicle, in our departments, and now even at conferences, we are constantly being reminded that academia is in crisis, that there are fewer and fewer tenure-track lines available and more and more adjuncts filling those roles, most making less than $20,000 a year. I went to pedagogy panels where well-known scholars who've been in the field dozens of years talked about the burdens of teaching additional course loads, of teaching mostly composition and core literature courses, as departments shrink and even tenure-track or tenured faculty must bear the load of increased University enrollments.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the role of the university has changed in our culture, and humanities departments have not adapted to the new consumerist mindset. Students are worried about the future the way that we all are, and they are going to be less inclined to go into majors where the job path is less defined. Civil engineering majors know exactly what kind of jobs they can apply for after earning their degrees, as do management majors, marketing majors, accounting majors, etc. English and history majors...it's a bit more vague. I don't think it's necessarily that people don't enroll in these disciplines because they will make less money than their business and engineering counterparts; I think they are worried whether or not they will be able to make any money at all, or at least a livable wage. And most departments just expect people to enroll in English, history, etc. for the love of the discipline. They aren't actively recruiting high school students the way that engineering and science programs often do, and they aren't selling and supporting the professional aspects of their discipline the way these other disciplines are. Where are the required internships, the job talks (other than about grad school and academia), the networking outside one's own discipline? Why not create more hybrid majors that unite the critical thinking skills and empathy developed in an English major with a more "practical" discipline--English/business, English/political science, English/health sciences, etc.? I know most departments have never had to think about these things and many over-burdened (and especially tenured) professors don't want to go up that road, but it might be the only path to survival. I honestly don't believe that the reason our departments are shrinking is because fewer people want to read books and talk about them; it's because more people are saying, I can do that on my own or with friends or as a minor. But how am I going to make money? And until we can answer that question for them, English will always be in crisis.

I've been thinking about all of this a lot more lately as I've been searching for a job here in Huntsville/Madison and wondering more and more often if I made the right decision to go so far down this rabbit hole. A part of me will always wonder if I should have just pursued writing instead, gotten my MFA and then gotten a job in the private sector doing something boring and mindless but that would support my writing and give me plenty of brain space leftover at the end of the day to create. It was telling when after the first panel I attended at ASECS, my most useful note was about something I could use in my novel, not in teaching or scholarship. Although later panels reminded me of why I love research and my field, that reminder was always tempered by the knowledge that it's nearly impossible to get a job just researching and teaching my areas of speciality, and that even if I did, I would be expected to focus solely on my field and not deviate into creative writing.

The dissertation has to be my priority now. I have to finish and earn my PhD. No question about that. But what comes after that is more obscure to me than ever.


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