One Week In (reflections on Whole 30 and stuff)


I don’t believe in detoxing from sugar. While I think that it’s possible to consume too much of it with deleterious effects on your body, I think that “detoxing” suggests dependency and addiction. There’s also a mystical component to it that classifies food in the same category as a toxin, and I just don’t subscribe to that line of thinking.

I also don’t believe in “cleanses.” We have livers and kidneys and small intestines for a reason. Their primary function is to cleanse our system of the things it doesn’t need. To quote my doctor, “anything that makes you poop is a cleanse.” And, again, the valence of the word “cleanse” within the context of eating suggests that if you’re not eating these things, you’re eating dirty, impure, or unpleasant things. I don’t subscribe to this school of thought, either.

I do believe in balance and mindfulness.

Eating (mostly) Whole 30 for the past week has made me more mindful of what I’m putting in my mouth. I lost about 5 pounds this week (I was up a little on Monday morning due to weekend indulgences). I ate lots of lean protein, a crapton of veggies and fruit, and more cashews than I thought would be possible. I took in very little sugar and dairy (basically enough to make my coffee palatable), swapped out diet sodas for hot tea and sparkling water, and ate wheat (a tortilla) once. As of this writing, it’s been a week since I had a Coke Zero or a Fresca (both of which I would consume once daily) and I haven’t missed them at all.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how much bread I ate before adopting a Whole 30-forward diet: grazing on Goldfish, pretzels, cheez-its, ritz crackers (usually upon arriving home with the kids in the evening and shoveling something in while getting dinner ready), pasta nights with soft French bread and butter on the side. Cereal or toast for breakfast. Snack bars in the afternoons. Ice cream bars at night. My processed carbohydrate consumption was out. of. control.

Other pros of Whole 30: the leftovers get used, mostly by me. I repurposed last week’s turkey taco meat into taco salad, and made breakfast out of the chicken verde. It feels good to be wasting less food.

Cons: It’s so much meat, and it’s so much cooking. Now, I do a lot of cooking during the week, but holy cow, is this a lot of cooking and prep. How would someone with an inflexible schedule (say, an 8-5 job, kids with extracurriculars, etc.) manage this? But mostly? It’s too much meat. I know that the preferred meats in this plan are grass-fed, organic lean meats, and I reckon I could go source that at the farmers market, but the price goes up exponentially. And I can’t, in good conscience, eat (and feed my family) feedlot meat 5-6 nights a week. It’s bad for our bodies, it’s bad for the environment, and it’s cruel to the animals. (We drove past a feedlot outside El Paso back in December and OMG, not only did it go on for MILES — there were stacks on stacks of cows crammed in these pens, and the ones that were sitting were doing so in muddy sludge — it REEKED. I was gagging at the fetid ammonia smell, something I don’t want to associate with a steak or a burger.)

So, in short, I’ve decided that strict adherence to Whole30 isn’t for me (but I kinda knew that going in). But I can feel that my body likes this healthier regimen of heaps and heaps of fruit and veg, fewer processed carbs (no more than one serving per day), NO DIET SODAS (it’s been 10 DAYS!!!!), and drastically fewer sweets (one serving per week, and not a slice of cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, but like, a cookie). This is a way of eating that feels right for me, from a food-consumption standpoint, a quality of life standpoint, and an ethical consumption standpoint.

So, without any further super-privileged navel-gazing about my food choices (just last night I told the BK, who was kvetching about dinner, to think about the kids at his school who wouldn’t have a yummy dinner, so it’s rather ironic that I spend so much time fussing over and analyzing what I eat), here’s our menu plan for the week.

IMG_5397

Sunday: Baked chicken with spinach and artichokes (This was not very good, I thought. The chicken, while tender and juicy, wanted more seasoning, and the three tablespoons of fat made for greasy, greasy vegetables. Not an ideal combination.)

Monday: Steak, broccoli, roasted potatoes (This didn’t happen, as the husband was sick and working late and I didn’t want the meat, so I had a salad, while the kids had mac and cheese.)

Tuesday: Arugula with roasted salmon and potatoes  Just gonna keep the salmon in the freezer and have the steak tonight instead.

Wednesday: Veggie frittata with spinach and peppers (blessed, blessed meatless dinner!)

Thursday: TBD (it’s the night of our school spelling bee, and I’m the coordinator/emcee/pronouncer/judge)

Friday: Tacos (with shells for the family, taco salad for me)

Saturday: Historically our dining-out night. So, we’ll see!

Lunches will consist of salads topped with lean protein, mostly. I’ve got a cache of boiled eggs prepped for the week.

Breakfast will alternate between egg-centric whatevers, Rip’s Big Bowl with unsweetened almond milk, and chicken sausage with fruit on the side.

Meal plan: Week of 8/24/14 (First week of school!)


 

Chicken yakisoba

Chicken yakisoba

It’s the first week of school! The BK starts fourth grade and the LK starts kinder, so big big BIG changes are afoot! The LK has a new collection of sassy dresses with animal prints, the BK has … a bunch of new Magic the Gathering cards, so we’re ready to rock! 

These nuggets started school today.

These nuggets started school today.

I figure, new school year = new energy to blog my meal plans, especially since we’re embarking on a new extracurricular regimen (fall baseball! ukelele lessons! gymnastics! painting! etc.!). As ever, I’m looking for a good balance of nutrition (so, veggie-forward), at least one vegetarian meal a week, Weight Watchers friendly for me, and yet still appeals to the kids. As such, here we go: 

Sunday: mac + cheese + chicken nuggets + grapes for the kids (per their request), passed apps dinner at Jacoby’s for the parents (by the way, we really liked Jacoby’s and will definitely be back for dinner, if not brunch and lunch. Think Contigo with southern comfort foods like pimento cheese, coconut cake with marshmallowy 7-minute frosting, and your East Texas grandma’s hobnail glass collection)

Monday: chicken yakisoba

Tuesday: shrimp + black bean tostadas

Wednesday: baked spinach and cheese ravioli + salad

Thursday: beef + broccoli, rice

Friday: dinner at our last Express game of the season

Saturday: pizza, maybe? 

What’s on your meal plan for the week?

Smitten Saturdays: Grapefruit Olive Oil Pound Cake


I have always loved grapefruit, although I’ve never cooked with it. For me, grapefruit is relegated to breakfast, halved and sectioned and sprinkled with a scant half-teaspoon of sugar. This is a practice cultivated in me by my paternal grandmother, Margaret, who would serve me grapefruit in this way during my visits to her home in Florida. In many ways, most of my memories of Meme are mediated through food: grapefruit, her delicious Christmastime almond tarts, egg salad with real mayo (which I did not care for as a child, but have since seen the error of my ways). Running through these food memories also unlocks scenes of hours of swimming in the pool in her subdivision, marveling at the magnificent (and kind of terrifying) thunderstorms that would rattle her carport, and developing my own sardonic sense of humor at her knee.

grapefruit

Even though I mostly visited Meme (and ate grapefruit for breakfast) in the summer, as I’ve grown into adulthood and seasonal eating, I associate grapefruit with wintertime. A Ruby Red goes nicely halved and served with a warm bowl of oatmeal, or cut into supremes and tossed with spinach, balsamic vinaigrette, pomegranate seeds, and pecans for a nutritious salad. But when we realized we were going to be homebound for the holidays, our travel plans to Arizona kiboshed by flu, we formulated a Plan B: the BK and I would spend Christmas Eve down the road at my folks’ place, while the ill LK would stay at home with my husband. I decided to make this pound cake to take with me to Christmas Eve dinner at my dad’s house as a gesture to Meme and how important spending time together — parents, grandparents, and children — is during the holiday season.

This cake (p. 241) was incredibly easy to make and is, to my mind, the most gorgeous of any of the Smitten Kitchen recipes I’ve made, ever.

grapefruit olive oil cake

You’ll notice that I let some pulp sneak into the glaze; I thought it added a kind of visceral authenticity to the cake, but such a choice might not be for everyone. I liked how the juice from the Ruby Red grapefruit gave the glaze a pinkish tinge, and the syrup gave the crumb a nice sweet-tart kick (I suppose if you wanted to go crazy, you could add a little rum to the syrup and turn this into a grapefruit olive oil rum cake). The cake itself isn’t terribly sweet, but the glaze should help satisfy even the most aggressive sweet tooth.

Next time: Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout (p. 137) with a bonus that will surely have my children howling for my head on a platter, Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos with queso fresco (p. 143).

Processing (Chocolate Cobbler in the Crock Pot)


I’ve been quiet. I haven’t really had much to say, really. I put up my most recent entry two months ago and since then, I have survived another incredibly busy SXSW, started a temp proofreading/copyediting job, applied for jobs and fellowships, traveled to Boston for a conference, finished out the semester (probably my last at this Large Southern University), written a ton of freelance stuff, started a bunch of really cool projects, and done a bit of walking the black dog, if you will.

The completed PhD candidate with no academic job prospects is a curious creature, especially when that dearth of prospects is a bit self-created (say, you’ve got a husband with a really good non-portable job and retirement and kids in school and aging parents nearby and deep community ties; in that situation, you’re not really in the position to go chasing far-flung one-year postdocs or visiting jobs or other contingent employment with shit pay). Some people are supportive, some people think they’re being supportive but are actually twisting the knife with their words, and some won’t make eye contact when they pass you in the halls or at parties.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of processing. I hit a rather low point a week or so ago; the last day of classes, actually. It had been a pretty melancholy week. My husband’s elderly grandmother had passed away and he was about to leave for four days to go pay his respects. MCA died, a loss that truly felt like a bit of goodness had just left the world. And, it was the last day of classes. That was it, done, goodbye, no more teaching (maybe). I went to a party at the house of one of my committee members and I just … broke. The combination of wine and pity and avoidance just did me in.

And then my husband left for the weekend and the kids and I had a (mostly) perfectly lovely time together and something shifted. I was happy and content. I realized that have everything I ever wanted: a loving husband, two adorable (and maddening) children, a nice house, a pretty solid writing career, and I’ve achieved the one major goal I’ve ever set for myself, which was to get the PhD. I have a lot of friends and a supportive family.

I have a bright future. I just have to choose to see it that way.

I hope I’m not coming across as complaining or having a pity party. That is not the intent. I’m just trying to communicate my mental and emotional process over the past couple of months.

Sometimes the process isn’t pretty.

But things start to come together.

And then you have dessert.

I first saw this chocolate cobbler recipe on Tasty Kitchen (sorry, no link; it’s my policy not to send any traffic to Ree Drummond) a couple of years ago and thought, “Oh, that could do nicely.” And then I forgot about it. Then I found this crockpot-friendly adaptation while idly perusing Pinterest, and since I am home sick(ish) with a sick(ish) kiddo and it’s been raining, I decided to give it a whack.

Once upon a time, the Alamo Drafthouse had a molten chocolate cake that I ordered pretty much every time I went to see a movie there (pause for reflection on the closet full of pants that don’t fit…). They’ve since done away with it and have something called “brownie cookies” in its stead. They’re close, but no cigar. This chocolate cobbler comes close. Dangerously close. 

I won’t replicate the recipe here because I followed it as written. I will note, however, that the cook time as written might be a bit long, based on your slow cooker. My Crock Pot runs hot and the cobbler was sizzling after 2.5 hours. Served warm, it is a spongy cake interspersed with a chocolate sauce evocative of warm pudding. Top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a perfectly satisfying dessert, the result of a long and sometimes-ugly process.

Figs in Syrup


My apologies for the unannounced hiatus. This semester is kicking my hiney. My mantra these days is COME ON, DECEMBER. (Meanwhile, I also am in a constant headspin, all, “Where the hell did September go? Oh crap, LK’s birthday is in two weeks and we haven’t planned a party at all! Eep!”)

Of course, I’ve found a little bit of time to cook and think and queue up future blog posts, so stay with me! I’ve got lots to say.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainable food practices in the world and in my home. Part of it was inspired by seeing the documentary Dive! about a month ago (it’s about food waste and everyone should see it). I wondered while watching the movie whether the freegans in the movie practiced old-school methods of food preservation, like canning, drying, and so on. Obviously, previous generations knew that preserving food was a great way to reduce waste and cut down on food costs.

Around the same time, I went to visit my grandparents in East Texas and took them a jar of confituras salted caramel pear butter. Over breakfast on Labor Day, we sat at their table eating toast with pear butter and reminiscing about the pear trees at their old house and all the pear and apple butter they used to make (and we used to eat!). I also have fond memories of preserved figs in sweet syrup that I just loved as a kid. I would extract a whole fig out of the jar and smear it on a slice of buttered toast. It was sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the back of my palate tingles as I recall the experience.

Not too much later, figs went on sale for $3.99/lb at Whole Foods, which is the best price I’ve seen for figs all season. So I bought about three pounds or so and got to work, using this recipe.

I was very nervous about my first canning effort. I worried that if I didn’t submerge the jars completely in the boiling water, I’d end up poisoning people. None of my pots were deep enough, so I borrowed one from a friend. After processing, the lids started popping, a sound I came to receive with glee and a sense of accomplishment.

I’ve given out a few of the jars to friends (I made something like 10 or 12, I think), but have yet to try the figs myself. I am a little nervous about whether they are safe to eat, but I think I’m also worried that they won’t taste as good as I remember.

I definitely plan to put up more fruit this fall. I really want to do some spiced apples and/or pears. In the spring, I want to try my hand at fresh-picked berries, if the drought allows.

Do you can? If so, what are some of your favorite things to put up?

Meal plan: 8/28-9/3



Some beef empanadas I made about a week and a half ago. I made a TON and they are delicious and there are some in the freezer. They may appear on the menu if I find myself in a pinch.

Wow, two weeks since my last post! Awesome blogging there. I promise that I have a post about table clearing in restaurants coming up, and I currently have a batch of scones in the oven that I plan to write about this week.

(It’s been a busy couple of weeks, what with school starting and Matt’s parents in town and freelance deadlines. Oh, and my newfound obsession with Breaking Bad.)

That said, let’s talk about dinner this week. I went to the Casserole Queens’ cookbook release party at BookPeople on Thursday night and in addition to picking up their book, I also finally got The Family Dinner by Laurie David (who I didn’t put together until I got to the “Dinner after Divorce” section was married to Larry David). I’ve been anxious to buy the book for awhile and since I had a coupon + permission from myself to splurge a bit, I went ahead and pulled the trigger. I’m glad I did! There are a LOT of really awesome recipes in there that I’m anxious to try! (I’m also eager to try the Corndog Casserole from the Queens, but that may have to wait for a night that Matt’s not home for dinner). This week sees two recipes from The Family Dinner.

Sunday: leftovers/sandwiches (We ate out A LOT this weekend, plus I made chili mac on Saturday froma recipe that yielded WAY more than the four servings it promised.)
Monday: rigatoni with pesto, salad, multigrain rolls
Tuesday: Crunchy Chicken Schnitzel, broccoli, smashed potatoes
Wednesday: leftovers, likely
Thursday: shrimp tacos (this one is inspired by The Family Dinner)
Friday: Pizza night
Saturday: Dinner in the pines!

What are you eating this week?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Grasshopper Bars (and a Slow Food Quiz Bowl wrapup)


I don’t think I’ve ever had a grasshopper bar before, nor have I had the drink. I think I might have had a bite or a slice of grasshopper pie at one point in the distant past, but not in any recent memory I can access in my mind grapes. That’s probably because all things grasshopper are so very dated by this point that it’s just not a thing anymore. Besides, I like to get my chocolate-mint combo in Thin Mint form anymore.

That said, I really like these bars. They are quite tasty (and when they were freshly made last night, they even tasted a bit boozy, although that aspect of their flavor profile has mellowed a bit since then) and pretty darn easy to make. Of course, I’ve made some variant of the Baked brownie about a million times now, so that step is pretty much second nature by now. I was pretty nervous about the buttercream, certain that I would jack it up one way or another, but it turned out beautifully. Seriously, I have nothing but good things to say about these bars. I would totally make them again, and probably will, since I have 90% of a bottle of Creme de Menthe left over. (Which reminds me: I was a bit paralyzed by indecision at the liquor store when faced with the option of the white or green creme de menthe. I went for green, obviously, for verisimilitude.)

I took a few of the bars with me to the quiz bowl today to share with my teammates:

I think it took Kathryn, like, three hours to eat this thing.

The quiz bowl was pretty fun. It was great to hang out with my food bloggy friends, hang out and crack wise with my new friend Christian and his wife Julie, and meet and talk with local restaurateurs while eating yummy food. While our team did not fare so well (things I’m proud of: my pulling the answer for “raclette” out of thin air at the very last second, knowing what “farmstead cheese” means; Jodi and Kathryn pouncing on the ingredient list for the Moscow Mule; Megan knowing that “sushi” is called that because of the rice that’s used. Things I’m not proud of: costing our team 5 points for answering that authentic mozzarella is made from cow’s milk, not buffalo, EVEN THOUGH MY STUPID BRAIN KNEW IT WAS BUFFALO), it was nice to know that we were part of a much bigger project, which was helping raise money for Slow Food Austin and a local charity. The team that beat us, Barley Swine, went on to take the whole prize; they will donate the $1200 prize pool to Urban Roots, a worthy organization indeed.

After the event, the husband and I went home to relieve my folks of babysitting duties, and we cooked dinner. I made a huge salad, a big bowl of fruit, and Matt grilled some chicken, steak, and ribs. We turned off all of the various screens and just enjoyed each other’s company and conversation (topping off the meal, of course, with grasshopper bars!). Everything about today — from making the bars from scratch to sharing them with my friends, to enjoying the fruits of this community’s commitment to local foodways, to preparing and enjoying a leisurely meal with my family — was the very epitome of Slow Food. Everything is connected, no?

Shoofly, don’t bother me


One of the obsessions that has emerged from my dissertation research is women’s personal recipe collections. Now, there are already books written about women’s cookbooks as material artifacts, so I don’t think I’ll ever write one myself.

That said, I think they’re a fantastic way to piece together a profile of a woman. And sometimes I wonder what sort of footprint I’ll leave behind, in terms of how I represent myself through my cooking preferences. What will the archaeologists and anthropologists of my life find? What will my collection of internet bookmarks (mostly for muffins/cupcakes/brownies/cookies, if we’re being honest) say about me, or the recipes printed off the Internet and stashed away with my ever-growing collection of Everyday Food and Eating Well magazine back issues? That I have a sweet tooth that often works at cross purposes to my good intentions? That I am a very disorganized curator of my life in the kitchen? That I maybe, perhaps a little bit, have a bit of a hoarding problem when it comes to cookbooks and other recipe collections? Sure I’ve got a few annotations here and there, but not consistently. And the fact that half of my family has a very limited palate and bursts into tears at the mere scent of something new (I’m not kidding) means that I don’t really wander too far beyond the borders of the familiar, because that causes a lot of DRAMA and wasted food.

All of this circumspection was triggered by a blog I learned about on the ASFS listserve a couple of months ago: The Shoofly Project. The blogger there, Katie, is writing a book on Mennonite foodways and in the process is delving into her grandmother’s recipe box. (I love that she discovered seven different recipes for lemon pie! And that of the 90 or so recipes, 70 of them were for desserts! Keturah, c’est moi.) I love everything about this blog. I encourage everyone to go check it out.

Which brings me to a conundrum. You see, I bought this first edition (second printing) Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook off ebay a few years back and haven’t really known what to do with it. It is stuffed full of recipes clipped from newspapers, typed up from what appears to have been a local cooking show in Chicago in the early 1960s, and pulled off of baking pans.

The owner’s name, Eileen Marales, is written in a straightforward cursive (remember cursive?) hand inside the front cover. “Eileen Marales.” with a period at the end. The uppercase E is a bit ornate, but the rest of the script is tight and efficient. I imagine that Eileen was maybe a secretary or a schoolteacher. Some sort of profession requiring tidy organization, as reflected in the way she tucked her clipped recipes into the appropriate sections of the cookbook.

I don’t really know what to do with this cookbook. It is not in wonderful condition, so I can’t really sell it (nor do I want to). I don’t know if I should donate it to a library or try to find the Marales family in Chicago and send it to them. Or maybe I’ll just keep it and make a project of cataloging and analyzing what I find amid these yellowed pages. What would you do with this old treasure?

Meal plan: 8/8-14


Meal plan is back! Now that I’m back to my luxurious part-time schedule, I have time to curate a (somewhat) thoughtful meal plan and the corresponding shopping list. As it turns out, BK is done with summer day camp and is now set to enjoy two weeks of Camp Mommy. The first order of business is a two-hour kids’ cooking class at Central Market; I’ll do the week’s shopping while he cooks.

Monday: black bean tacos with fresh corn, avocado, Monterrey jack, some beautiful peppers from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, and topped with some Shanita’s Salsitas Hal’s Hot Love. (The black bean tacos have really become my go-to Meatless Monday dish, but they’re sooooo easy and delicious. And healthy!)
Tuesday: grilled ribeye (or maybe baby back ribs, depending on how cheap I’m feeling when I get to the meat counter), potatoes, asparagus, cauliflower (totally not seasonal, oops!)
Wednesday: leftover turkey bolognese excavated from the freezer, whole wheat fettuccine, salad
Thursday: tomato, mozzarella, and basil paninis
Friday: tortilla-crusted tilapia (purchased at Costco and not my favorite, but it’s been malingering in the freezer and I refuse to toss it), perhaps in taco form.
Saturday: probably dining out
Sunday: My folks are coming to babysit the kids while Matt and I go to the quiz bowl. I’ve promised to feed them dinner in exchange, so we’ll have chicken breasts from the grill and a big, huge, healthy taco salad with corn, black beans, tortilla chips, avocado, tomatoes, probably some peppers, and dressed with Shanita’s Salsitas Ki’s K.O.

I’ve decided to cut out or largely avoid white flour-based things, so breads and tortillas will be whole-wheat/multigrain (or corn, in the case of the tortillas). My cousin John cooked a fantastic dinner for us a couple of weeks ago that included grilled chicken, sauteed beet greens, steamed beets, cream peas, grilled corn on the cob, and the (delicious) crunchy noodle salad that I contributed. Since then, I have endeavored to make dinners featuring lots of fresh, healthy veges and a minimum of trashy carbs. Some nights I’m more successful than others. 😉

Not the Pits Granola Bars


I’m always looking for new and exciting things to put in the Big Kid’s lunch box. Having a full-time summer job this year has meant that BK goes to day camp, one that doesn’t serve lunches. So, summer break has not translated into a break from packing his lunch. I will admit to having fallen a bit into the pb&j-Pirate’s Booty-sliced strawberries rut a few times over the past 6 weeks or so.

So, naturally, when Whole Foods announced its kid-friendly cherry recipe contest, I immediately started thinking inside the lunchbox.

This recipe, as written, is not very sweet, but it is also very versatile. You could add in a half-cup of brown sugar, maybe some dark chocolate chips if your family has a sweet tooth (and we all know that dark chocolate goes beautifully with these luscious cherries!). You could use honey as an alternative sweetener, or agave nectar for a lighter taste that’s still suitable for vegans (the golden syrup used here adds a deep, almost nutty flavor, so other sweeteners will change the flavor profile a bit). I see this being a great portable snack for athletic kids to turn to after a rigorous soccer or track practice, or a wholesome power-up before a test or a dance recital.

Not the Pits Granola Bars

makes about 12 bars

1/2 cup fresh cherries
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 fresh apricot
3 cups rolled oats (NOT quick oats)
1 cup whole almonds
2/3 cup golden syrup
2 T olive oil
1 t cinnamon
1 t sea salt
1.5 t vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Pit and halve cherries, and place on a cookie sheet with blueberries and pitted, sliced apricot. Dry in the oven until shrivelly but not burnt. Remove and cool.
2. Bump oven up to 350. Spray or oil an 8×12 baking pan (I used Pam) and line with parchment paper.
3. Place oats and almonds in pan and toast for 15 minutes, stirring once.
4. While toasting, whisk together in a large bowl the golden syrup, olive oil, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla.
5. After you remove the oats/almonds from oven, bump temperature down to 300. Mix the oats and almonds in with the wet ingredients and stir to coat. Add in the dried fruit and mix thoroughly.
6. Press mixture into pan. Bake for 25 minutes.
7. When completely cool, lift the mixture out of the pan using the parchment paper and transfer onto a large cutting board. Slice into bars. Eat and enjoy!