Monday, February 23, 2015

Whole30: Week 2

So the good news is, I survived Week 1. Some moments I felt like I was barely hanging on. And I'll be honest...there were some cheats early on in Week 2. They came in the form of a handful of pretzels, a bagel with butter, a croissant, and sauteed broccoli with half a serving of white rice from the Chinese restaurant. And I stepped on the scale once. Do I think these things ruined the Whole30 experience for me? Not at all. They might have saved it. I was feeling like shit. Headaches, tired, frustrated with food. It's not behavior worthy of applause, but eating a bite of "bad" food here and there took the edge off and helped me refocus. Also, when something you've gotten your guts used to not having comes back in the picture in full force, you'll probably pay for it. Lesson learned, and a reminder to read about reintroducing foods when I get to the last week of Whole30.

planning
I don't deal well with headaches. Migraines are an occasional issue for me, and I don't like feeling like shit. I understand that this is part of the body's adjustment to the absence of crap food, but suffering through the blah-ness and headaches for so long doesn't seem super healthy to me. If I eat a little bit of a "no" food and make it through the week feeling healthy overall, I'm okay with that. I guess what I'm saying is it's a means to an end. If I had to classify the amount of Whole30 foods I'm eating vs those that are not, it's 95% or more Whole30 compliant. Some of it is purely by innocent mistake. The coconut almond milk I bought has carageenan in it, and the organic vegetable Better Than Bouillon paste I use has a tiny bit of cane sugar and soy sauce in it. Those are such minute infractions and amounts of the "bad" substances compared to something like binge eating junk food.

So how did I plan for this week with all those things considered? Before the end of Week 1, I began planning dinner and lunches for Week 2. So the intention of going full Whole30 is there. I'll go along with the menu and take it one day at a time.  

shopping
I did some late week restocking of produce during Week 1, so I had quite a bit left over in the fridge. I made one trip to the co-op and another trip to the regular grocery store and got myself settled for the week. A shopping list is your best friend in order to get in and out of the store with everything you need and also not let yourself wander too far into the danger zone.

prepping
Somehow, I feel that I was worse as prepping my meals during Week 2. Maybe because the newness wore off or I was a little less organized?

eating
One of my new favorite side dishes is roasted cauliflower. I felt like I was eating potatoes too often during the first week, and I used to think of potatoes as not a particularly healthy food, so it didn't make sense to me to be eating them so much during a month of exceptionally healthy eating. I like to mix the cauliflower up in a little olive oil, sea salt and garlic, then spread it out on a pan and roast it in the oven for 15 minutes or so at 450 degrees. This week I've also made some new dishes and reworked some normal favorites to work for Whole30. A new dish that was crazy, amazing good were chicken fajitas. An old favorite I reworked is pulled pork (so that the seasonings/roasting juices were okay by Whole30 standards).

progress
I feel like it was at some point toward the end of Week 2 that something finally sunk in: there are so many more flavors than just sweet or salty. Under normal circumstances, I'm fine with both when not overdone, but I think foods tend to be prepared with an overdose of one of these two flavors. There are so many herbs and spices and seasonings to use to create all kinds of savory flavors, which is what you tend to get a lot of with Whole30. That, or no extra flavor at all  - just the pure food flavors of foods like raw veggies and fruit, or simple whole food recipes like guacamole. Just think about all the different ways you can season and prepare chicken, for example. Whole30 is a great exercise in expanding your palette, trying new flavors and learning to appreciate the true flavors of everyday foods that might ordinarily be masked by unnecessary additives.

moving forward
While cheats aren't great, they're surprisingly helping me learn a lot about my eating habits. Things I never really paid attention to before. What was my go-to cheat? Not candy. Not ice cream. Carbs. Definitely something to watch out for when my Whole30 comes to an end. It was also clear to me that if I had something "junky" (one day I brought a handful of multigrain tortilla chips with lunch when I was in a rush...ugh, poor planning/prepping), I'll want to eat it before my healthy food. The easiest solution here is to not have the bad food, which is something to think about in a couple weeks.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Whole30: Week 1

As part of my new year newness, I decided to challenge myself to the Whole30. I didn't buy the book, because honestly, the program creators kind of sound like dicks. So I've read their website, reviewed the downloads, read wrap-ups and advice and interpreted guidelines from others who have completed the challenge, and sat down to plan my meal and make my shopping list.

Something that comes up in every review is addressing the question "is it hard?" and the same answer, along the lines of It's not really hard, it just takes a lot of planning.

So, here's my experience in the first week - no canned answers.

planning
It took me awhile to get myself mentally focused enough to commit to this. I want to eat what I want to eat. Mostly, I don't eat terrible food. But if I want those cheese fries, don't you dare get in my way. I also have the kind of personality that likes to freak out when restrictions are placed. All that said, I decided I'd commit to the first week. See how it goes, and if it was going well, plan for another. I'm battling two mindsets here, because while I don't like to be restricted, I also don't like to give up on a challenge.

So you make the decision to do Whole30. Then what? I printed out a few of the downloads available on the Whole30 website: Program Rules, Shopping List, Meal Planning Template and Guide to Grocery Shopping. I sat down with these and began planning out a week's worth of meals. Planning a week of dinners is nothing new to me, but I don't usually plan out breakfast and lunch. And with restrictions on grain, dairy and sugar intake, you have to get a little more creative. Soy is also a no-no, and that shit shows up in everything. Watch out.

Planning these 21 meals and creating the shopping list afterward took me about 2 hours. Compared to my "normal" eating life, most of the extra thought went into varying my typical side dishes for dinners and coming up with ideas for complete lunches, as well as having a list of acceptable snack foods. I found it helpful to keep a food journal and write down all of my meals and snacks for each day, which serves as a good reference for future planning.

Also, if you don't already compost, you might want to start. You'll have so many fruit and vegetable scraps that it'd be a shame for them to go to waste.

shopping
For as massive of a grocery list as you'll have, shopping will surprisingly not take as long as you might expect. You've probably heard about shopping the perimeter of the store for healthier foods, and that's pretty much what you end up doing for Whole30 meal ingredients. Fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs just about cover it. You might venture into the danger zone for a few items like cooking oils, nuts and spices. Put your blinders on and walk fast. The big kicker to shopping is that your total at the check-out line might be more - maybe a lot more - than you're used to spending. I think it partially depends on what kind of food you normally eat. If you're really sticking to the nitty gritty details of Whole30 and getting all the free range meats, definitely expect a higher bill. And with all the produce you'll be buying, if much of it is not in season, you'll be paying extra. That was probably the biggest increase in my spending. I'm usually fine with apples and bananas and maybe even some berries if they're on sale during the winter, but knowing how much I'd have to load up my meals with fruits and veggies, I wanted more variety and in February, that variety has a price.

prepping
You will be helping yourself out immensely if you take the time to do small tasks like washing and cutting produce in advance. When you're hungry, you want to eat. Most of your Whole30 foods will be in the fridge, so there's no opening the snack cabinet to grab a salty, crunchy something when you want a quick bite. When you come home from work tired and grumpy, you'll be happy to remember that you've already advanced yourself a couple of steps in the process of making dinner. This step has certainly helped me stay on track. I try to have fruit and vegetables for the next day ready the night before. That means breakfast and lunch all or nearly made and in the fridge ready to go the next morning. There's no running to the deli to grab a sandwich for lunch if you didn't have enough time to make lunch that morning. Keeping yourself successful isn't going to cost you big chunks of time. Plan for maybe 30 minutes of prep work at night, and that should have you ready to go, maybe even including time for prepping the coffee pot (and hallelujah you can drink coffee! I've been taking mine with coconut almond milk, no complaints). If you weren't much of an at-home chef before Whole30, put your apron on because it's going to get messy. I love to cook (obviously), so I love that I'm cooking every single night. There's a satisfaction that comes with planning and preparing a meal, which brings me to...

eating
So, apparently these Whole30 dictators advise to only eat 3 meals a day, except if you work out. After exercise you're allowed a "bonus" meal to help your body recover. Well, This is a rule that I am breaking. The whole (haha) point in doing this is to be successful, right? That said, I eat when I need to. Maybe they've crafted some reason as to why eating just three times a day is best, but I'm not worried about it. If you know what foods you should and shouldn't eat, and understand the proper portioning of those foods, eat them whenever you need to. I've never been super hungry early in the morning, so that combined with time restrictions have me eating a smaller breakfast. I also don't have a lengthy lunch break, so a gigantic lunch isn't really an option either. Instead, I eat 3 meals a day and 2-3 snacks a day. Overall I've been eating a much larger quantity of raw foods than usual, thanks to all the fruits and veggies. Since raw foods aren't loaded down with grease and fat, I think our stomachs don't feel as full from them, so you eat more of them to accomplish fullness. My non-expert opinion says that's okay. Half a pint of strawberries for a morning snack? Bring it on.

progress
Measuring progress in the first week is...different. You weigh yourself and take body measurements when you begin the Whole30, and are encouraged not to do either of those until you've completed your 30 days. If you read up on Whole30, especially other people's accounts of their experience, you might be eager to see your loss of pounds and inches. Don't get fixated on that so soon. The first week is probably a lot of adjustment on your body (more or less depending on how you regularly eat). You can measure this by thinking about a few things. Consider digestions, energy level, how well you're planning and eating meals, how your body feels overall with the dietary change, the way you're sleeping, etc. Are you tasting flavors differently than you did with your previous eating habits? You're making big changes, and Whole30 rules are strict. The overall change in eating habits and feeding yourself healthier food is the big picture. So that package of organic bacon you bought has a little bit of sugar? Don't beat yourself up over it. I think the progress bar is full on the first week just by making it to the end.

moving forward
Planning for Week 2 (you haven't gotten the best of me yet, cheese fries), I'm starting with looking at what foods I have left over from my first week of grocery shopping. Best to use those up early in Week 2 so nothing goes to waste. Being familiar with the good foods and the no-nos, I'm comfortable with spending a little time looking up new recipes and maybe trying a few. I also had some recipe ideas I didn't use during the first week, so those are in my arsenal as well. Finally, I can fill in remaining meals with some of my first week favorites, which I know thanks to my food journal. I experienced headaches during the first week, and I'm not sure what to attribute them to. Maybe it's a sign of my body detoxing. It could have been that I wasn't getting portions right or wasn't eating frequently enough. And maybe it was just weather - we did have several rainy days. Whatever the cause, it's something I want to pay attention to in the coming week. I'm hoping that during week two, I'll be less focused on the foods I'm not eating. Let me provide some clarity for the "is it hard?" question. Is eating good and healthy food hard? No, it is not. Is letting go of all the unhealthy but stupidly satisfying foods you used to eat hard? Ohmygodyes. Every day I thought of foods I wanted to eat, whether it was an egg bagel smeared with butter, the red velvet whoopie pies I wanted to make, my favorite Valentine candies I walked by at Target...every day there was some forbidden food on my mind or that I saw or that I smelled and I absolutely wanted to devour it. But I knew I had a goal, and I wanted to stick to it. I hope those thoughts start to go away in the remaining weeks. I will say, if the headaches do not subside, I'm going to have to make some adjustments.
          

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

main meal: stuffed peppers

It's a new year, and while I am not all about resolutions, I am focused on newness. I've been looking through the schedule of classes at my gym and decided to try a new class. I'd considered signing up for personal training but thought maybe some of the more intense classes might be just as good. You need activity as the first step to seeing any progress, after all. So I went to the HIIT class - somewhat nervous of how it would go - and it was good! I knew I would most likely be starving afterward, so I wanted a dinner that was going to fill me up, both with satisfaction and nourishment. I've never made stuffed peppers before. In fact, I've never even eaten stuffed peppers before. I had everything I needed to make them, so I gave it a shot. They were great! I'm really glad I tried a new meal, and I think it's a new favorite (see what I did there?).

STUFFED PEPPERS

what you need:

up to 6 bell peppers (the more colorful, the better)
1/2 cup quinoa
2-4 boneless skinless chicken breast strips
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup water or broth (vegetable or chicken)
2-3 large carrots
2-3 stalks of celery
1/2 cup corn (canned or frozen)
cheese

what you do:
-prepare quinoa (two parts liquid, one part quinoa) by adding liquid and quinoa to a small pot, bring to boil, cover and lower to simmer until water or broth is completely absorbed
-cut chicken into small pieces and cook through in olive oil in large pan
-prepare vegetables by washing and chopping carrots and celery
-slice around tops of bell peppers, twist and pull out (hopefully with seeds); slice out spongy flesh inside pepper and rinse out any remaining seeds
-after quinoa and chicken have cooked, mix in a large bowl with carrots, celery and corn; add cheese if desired
-fill the peppers with the mixture and mound just above top of pepper; stand upright in a baking dish and sprinkle with cheese
-bake uncovered at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes

Stuffed peppers are a great and easy meal with so many options for the "gut" mixtures - quinoa and veggies, rice and veggies, taco stuffing, chili - so many! While the stuffing makes enough for 6 peppers, I made 3 and froze the rest. It freezes and thaws great! Just take it out of the freezer the night before or early in the morning before making your peppers. I only topped my peppers with cheese, so I don't know how well the stuffing will freeze and thaw with cheese added.

stuffed bell pepper with tostones


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

home is where the heart is

This past weekend I took a couple of days off work and made a long weekend trip to Raleigh for the opening weekend of the North Carolina State Fair. Raleigh isn't the part of North Carolina where I did most of my growing up, but I did spend a good chunk of years there from halfway through high school until a little while after graduating college, and I love that city. Anywhere in North Carolina is home to me, and I'm always so happy to be back.


I stuffed myself silly with fries, a grilled chicken sandwich, Dr. Pepper and a vanilla milkshake from one of my favorite local spots. This place is a stone's throw from my old high school and just a couple miles from where I used to live - if even that far! No trip to Raleigh is complete without a meal from Char-Grill.


You also can't visit without a trip to the NC Farmers' Market. It's right down the road from Lake Wheeler, where I used to work (still my favorite job ever!). The colors of all the fresh produce are amazing. The freshness is in the air. Because it's NC and the temperatures are still great this time of year, you can get practically any fruit or veggie. The biggest bounty right now though are the pumpkins of course. And not just your regular old orange pumpkin awaiting its knobby toothed fate as a jack-o-lantern. This pretty pink and green pumpkin is a Jarrahdale and I'm in love with it.


Aside from all of the usual fair attractions like the rides, food and animals, the tractor pull is the loudest, most awesome thing to do. The idea is simple: trucks and tractors pull massive weights as far as they can and the one that goes the farthest is the winner. But it is so much more than that!


The fair is also a great opportunity to see some big name bands in a relatively small venue for super cheap. Last year, the Florida Georgia Line tickets sold out before I got them. but Parmalee was a pretty good show this year. And only $10!


You just cannot get good or real sweet tea in the north, so I have to get my fill anytime I'm below the Mason-Dixon Line. Bojangles and Smithfield's in one day? Oh, Lord. Biscuits, BBQ and sweet tea make me so happy!


Back in Philly after the long weekend, and this pup was so happy for my return. She might be a Philly dog these days, but she's a Carolina girl, too. I picked my faithful sidekick up at Lake Wheeler Park, which is of course how she got her name (Wheeler). One of these days she'll get to go romp around lakeside again :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

hunters and gatherers

The summer season is winding down and so is this season of gardening. This week's temperatures are below what we're used to seeing this time of year, so we're already dipping into the 50s overnight with daily highs just above 70.

I'd rate the summer garden as semi-successful. Certainly more successful than last year, but crops that have done really well in years past didn't produce much this year. Maybe it's time to test the soil and see if it's too depleted of certain nutrients. The big winners this year were the green beans and tomatoes, and the zucchini did okay. Bell peppers were much more successful this year than any other year, and the pumpkins and gourds have been as well. Oh and the hops have gone crazy. There are at least four full 1-gallon bags. Just like last year, the cucumbers had another bad year, when two years ago we couldn't even give away all the extra.

A new challenge this year was a team of groundhogs making an appearance any time the cruciferous veggies or potatoes had leaves. I trapped and relocated two groundhogs, and later spotted the biggest (and still at large - har har) groundhog. Broccoli had never been successful before, but this year looked like it might actually grow. The groundhogs ate the leaves off the broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage. I tried a number of repellents - dog hair, peppermint Dr. Bronner's, fox urine. The leaves grew back once, but then were all eaten again and the plants were eaten down to little green nubs. It was time to wave the white flag and forget about enjoying any of those homegrown veggies.

Before the weather gets too cold and stays that way, I think one more shot at some fall crops might be worth it. Maybe some lettuce and spinach at least. Maybe the groundhog will go into hibernation early, and if not, I have a live trap ready and waiting.

Speaking of trapping, I completed a hunter/trapper safety course a couple weekends ago and am now able to get a hunting license. And I have a deposit on a new bolt action rifle that I'll be getting in the next week or so. I never really imagined myself a hunter, but we all know how I feel about sustainability. As it is, I purchase the vast majority of any meat or fish that I eat from the co-op, which does a pretty good job of selecting farmers who raise their livestock in a respectable manner. I want to be able to do more though, to provide for myself. I worry that we have lost a lot of skills older generations knew so well, and I'd rather not trot off ignorantly into the future. One of the instructors of the course mentioned some numbers that were pretty amazing. He mentioned the cost of having a deer butchered along with the pork he paid for to blend with the venison was around $80. What it yielded though, was the really amazing part - over $400 worth of meat. So whether or not I'll have a place to hunt or go hunting is still up in the air, but I like knowing it's a possibility. And in the meantime, there are places where I can go practice with my gun and gain the skills I need to be a good hunter when the time comes.      

Friday, May 30, 2014

don't mind the mouse...*

*if you're a tad bit squeamish or a super softy, this post might not be for you...see ya next time.

By this point in our lives, we have likely had to come to terms with death - animal or human - and we certainly know what it means to live.

I understand that if I one day have my dream of a little farm to call my own, I'll be experiencing life and death more frequently and on a greater scale, even if my only farm animals are chickens. This morning a mouse tested my grit for such situations. Turns out I don't have much grit.

Snap. The sound that makes you cringe when you have mouse traps set in your house. Around 1 a.m., I decided to leave the trap. I'd much rather pick up and dispose of a stiff mouse than a fresh kill.

Hours later, the coffee was brewing, the alarm was ringing and the mouse trap was in need of checking. Ugh. There it was - tail sticking out from under the stove...as was most of the trap. Confused, I took a breath, grabbed a plastic grocery bag and gently pulled the trap out from under the stove.

Noooooo no no no no no. The intruder wasn't dead! The trap had only caught his leg. Instantly I felt sad for the little guy...felt terrible that he may have suffered all night long trying to get out of that trap.

What do I do? I can't drop a suffering, squirming mouse in the trash! Chop his head off? That's what you would do with a chicken, right? Run him over with the car? Take him out back and whack him with a shovel? I sat on the kitchen floor and stared at him. My dog Marty kept running back and forth between the bedroom and the kitchen to check in. I couldn't do those things...not today. So I put him in a bag. And then another and another and another. And then...then I put him in the freezer. And there is where my once-enemy, now object of my sympathy will spend his day until I get home from work and can take him out to the trash, no longer squirming.

So please, don't mind the mouse in the freezer. He won't be staying for dinner.    

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

onward and upward

The first lesson in chasing your dreams is to never give up. Sometimes circumstances change, and with that, the path and your means of traveling it from point A to point B may also need to change. Onward and upward, friends!

Remaining in a city with dreams of farming proves challenging. Once you've filled your garden plot for the season, there's only so much weeding and watering that can be done until the plants start growing and you have to thin them, train them up trellises or can start harvesting your small crop. It's discouraging to wake up with the desire to be productive and get a little dirt under your nails when it appears there's little to no work to be done. That's when I look up. You can lay back and gaze up at the cloud-puffed sky, but I'm looking up to the roof.

When the ground is full and you have 20 more tomatoes and some herbs that need a home, and more seeds still sprouting in trays, it's time to think outside the box. Well, in the box, but outside the fence lines. I am fortunate enough to not only have a nice sized garden plot but also have access to a small portion of my building's roof that gets just the right mix of sun and shade. With the desire to dig in the ground is still very much present, it was time for another trip to the store. Soil, manure, perlite, peat moss and marigolds were on the list.

A couple beers and an afternoon later, a container roof garden was ready to grow.

Tomatoes, marigolds, herbs and other flowers potted for the roof garden.
Bamboo stalks were added in the pots to help keep those rowdy tomatoes in line.