Category Archives: Soul Food

The Plan: Finding the Path to Clean Eating

Once I decided to adopt a Clean Eating lifestyle I realized I needed a Plan. ASAP.

I broke my Plan into three parts.

Part One

I read a number of books and browsed websites (including Mercola.com, DrWeil.com, Pritikin.com and EatWasaFeelGood.com (the Best Life page has good snacks/recipes)). Then I sat down Saturday morning and outlined a meals for the week as well as guidelines for eating. In a nutshell: I want to wildly increase my intake of vegetables, drastically decrease my consumption of animal products (a maximum of one serving per day), and eliminate sugar, refined flour, caffeine, and alcohol.

Let me add a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, a nutritionist, or a dietitian. I am simply a 33-year-old woman trying to eat clean foods after discovering that the third ingredient in my “healthy” cereal was sugar and my 100% whole wheat bread contained high fructose corn syrup. Also, I fully intend to tweak my eating habits as I explore what works for my body.

So – back to the Plan. Some changes would be easy. For example, I already found nearby farms to frequent. Eating locally grown grass-fed chicken would hopefully be smooth sailing. Some changes would be hard. I’ve spent the last few weeks weaning myself off of the very large cup of coffee I drink each morning and replacing it with caffeine-free herbal tea. I miss the aroma of those Kona beans! Some changes I’m still on the fence about, like dairy products. I’ve heard all sorts of arguments and ideas (both pro and con) when it comes to milk, cheese, and eggs. This is going to require more investigation. I’m heading to a farm in Virginia next week to learn more about raw milk.

Part Two

The second part of my plan involved making a list of my ailments. I want to track my physical problems over the course of a year and observe improvements. I’ll spare you the entire litany of conditions, but here are a few:

Eyesight: will drinking fresh homemade vegetable juice and eating clean foods restore my eyesight to the point where my prescription is weakened or obsolete?

Skin Problems: in addition to acne (yes, I’m still breaking out at age 33), my skin doctor is constantly chopping off “suspicious” looking moles. She says they’re benign but she also calls them a not-so-pretty word that I can’t pronounce. I’d love to start getting a clean bill of health during my annual dermatology appointments.

Colds: I’ve heard of people who haven’t had a cold in 30 years. Sign me up. No more colds!

Endometriosis/Infertility: This will be the most personal challege. Endometriosis has not only caused severe physical pain, but has resulted in surgery where the doctor had to remove a cyst the size of a cantaloupe as well as most of my ovary. Plus it has caused problems with fertility. I’m thinking…will Clean Eating restore my hormone balances and clear the way for a healthy pregnancy? We’ll see.

Part Three

The final part of my plan seemed crucial: restaurants. I Googled all the restaurants within 30 miles of my home that serve local, organic fare. Then I taped the list to our refrigerator. If I’m ever too exhausted to cook or if I completely demolish a recipe as I experiment in the kitchen, my husband and I can escape to these spots – one of which is a restaurant that serves vegetarian Indian cuisine. Score!

Hearty Vegetable Lentil Soup

We’ve been making this lentil soup* all winter. We finally have it down:

I pour 5 cups of organic, low sodium chicken broth into the big pot.
Ron chops 2 celery stalks, 1 large carrot, and minces 2 cloves of garlic.
I chop 1 medium onion, 1 red pepper, and 1 green pepper. Then measure out 1 cup of dry lentils.

We toss this first batch of ingredients into the pot and stir. Turn on the burner and, after it begins to boil, reduce it to a simmer for 40 minutes.

While it’s cooking, Ron and I are back to the cutting boards.

He’s got 3 red potatoes.
I have 1 zucchini.
He measures out the curry powder and basil (half a teaspoon each).
I measure out a half a cup of organic tomato sauce and drain a can of diced tomatoes.

Our second batch of ingredients goes in the pot for an extra 15 minutes at the end.

We keep sourdough bread in the freezer, and Ron thaws it out and toasts it up so we can dip it in the soup.

So tasty.

It’s the only part of winter I’m gonna miss.

~~~

*recipe from a Pritikin book I found on my parents’ bookshelf

Natural Sugars

So, I’m off to see a naturopath. I’m still trying to figure out the fertility thing, and I’d like to learn more about this healing method of treatment. Diet is the first thing a naturopath evaluates (I think) – so it should be interesting to hear what she thinks of my eating habits. My no coffee, no alcohol, and increased intake of fruits and vegetables seems to be going okay (sure, there’s hiccups along the way, but not too many). But the no sugar plan? That’s tough. I’m off it, then back on it. Off. On. Off. On. OffOnOffOnOffOnOffOn. Lately, in order to satisfy my cravings, I’ve been snacking on a little sweet treat in the late afternoons (mostly chocolate). Sugar depresses the immune system drastically. And after reading up on the potential harm sugar can do to my body (feed cancer cells, contribute to autoimmune diseases, weaken eyesight, and so on) I actually felt fear rising inside me. But while fear can be a strong motivator, what really moves me into action is knowing how healthy and healed and clean I’ll be and feel when I eliminate sugar from my diet. I already know the next step. Instead of satisfying my craving with candy, I should switch to treats that have been sweetened with natural sugars, like maple syrup and raw honey. Okay . . . back to the kitchen to experiment with more recipes.

Egg Rough-Muffin

When one of my writing colleagues asked me if I had any tips for driving across the country (my husband and I made the trek 18 months ago), I told her to Google all the Whole Foods across the nation and make a point to stop at a few for decent food. Also, I suggested she keep a cooler of healthy, cleansing snacks in the car.

My husband and I didn’t do either of those things, and I was blown away by our limited meal options during our trip. Fast food, fast food, or fast food anyone?

I admit I do have a taste for a sausage mc-muffin with egg from time to time, and the car ride gave me ample opportunity to indulge. But I knew it wasn’t good for my health. The other day I had a craving, and I decided to make a wholesome, at-home version of my favorite fast food breakfast.

I toasted an organic wheat English muffin (search the health food stores for brands that don’t include sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or “enriched” flour). Then I poached an egg (break and egg into a measuring cup and slide it into simmering water to cook for 7 minutes). I placed the egg on the toasted muffin, piled on a thick slice of tomato (instead of a sausage patty), and topped it off with a tad bit of grated cheese. Finally, I broiled the “sandwich” for a few more minutes. It was quick, easy, and so good that I decided to serve it for dinner the next night. Yum.

Now I’ve just gotta figure out how to make a healthy version of a big mac. Š

Brown Rice Risotto

The other night I made brown rice risotto.

Well, kinda.

I ripped the recipe out of O magazine awhile ago and have been hanging onto it. The chef/writer, Colin Cowie, promised he was sharing a “labor-free” variation of the dish that usually requires a lot of stirring. Labor-free – now that’s my kind of meal.

Here’s what I did: I cooked 1 cup of brown rice in an organic free-range chicken broth. Meanwhile, I cooked mushrooms in a skillet for a few minutes (the recipe calls for an assortment of cremini, white jumbo, and shiitake, but we only had one type) and then I set the mushrooms aside. When the rice was ready, I mixed in the mushrooms. Then I mixed in 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese. I served it with a crisp greens salad. It was delicious. You can use other vegetables (asparagus) or ingredients (seafood) in place of mushrooms.

It’s one of those meals that will go into the “let’s make this again” category in my recipe box. Š

Soul Food

It’s been raining ever since I arrived in Los Angeles. Pouring, actually. The weather reminds me of the 1997-1998 El Nino. It’s all good though. I’m here at a university working on a book project and the rain is keeping me indoors where I’m squirreled away in the library.

The last time I was out here to “work” I got a wee bit distracted and spent my days catching up with friends, visiting my old haunts, eating at my favorite places, etc. This time I’m being good.

“I picture you in a dark, dusty room all alone as you sort through archives,” my husband said to me on the phone the other day. Well, sort-of. I take the documents out of the dark, dusty room to a bigger, lighter conference room. And that’s pretty much where I’ve been the whole time – the exact same spot I was ten years ago as a grad student, typing notes on my laptop (do you ever have the feeling that you’re making no progress in life whatsoever? Anyhoo…)

Last Friday the weather channel called for rain Saturday and Sunday, so I planned to push through the weekend and continue working. But when I woke up Saturday morning, I felt sunlight on my face. I jumped up and ran to the window . . . sure enough it was a bright, shiny morning. The Pacific Ocean sparkled. I had to enjoy the sun while it lasted.

I was starving, so I gobbled down a veggie sandwich (tomato, California avocado, cucumber and sprouts on toasted whole wheat). Then I dashed to the bike path, buckled my rollerblades and – Zoom! – I was off. I bladed all the way to the end of the path, turned around and bladed back, and then turned around once again. I was like the Energizer Bunny . . . I kept going and going and going (‘cept for the part where I rounded a curve way too fast and hit an unexpected pile of sand).

It was the best. The veggie sandwich was certainly a tasty beginning to the day. But I tell ya, its sunshine that feeds my soul.

Broccoli

Broccoli. Used to like it as a kid. Then one day I ate it and threw-up later that night. Haven’t touched it since. We’re talking 19 years of no broccoli. That’ too bad considering it’s one of the best vegetables out there – packed with nutrients, fiber, and cancer-fighting antioxidants.

As I continue to adjust my eating habits, I am always looking for new ways to add vegetables into my diet. Broccoli is one vegetable my husband loves, so I usually steam a little bit for him and make something different for myself – spinach, green beans, whatever. But the other night I was boiling some Barilla whole grain pasta. I drained the noodles and poured some organic pasta sauce over the top.

As I was scooping out the broccoli for my husband’s plate, I decided to mix some of the florets in with the pasta and red sauce. Yum. I love broccoli again. But only this way. I’m the same way with asparagus. Can’t really stand the stuff plain (unless of course it’s picked fresh from my own garden), but I will eat it in an omelet. Go figure. Š

Better Choices

Baked pita chips, hummus, organic raisins, lemon pepper tuna…United Airlines to the rescue!

Seriously, I am sitting here on a plane munching away, so grateful that the airline serves a snack box called the “Right Bite.”

When I woke up this morning, I had a plan. I was going to swing by a center to drop off a car load of items, run by the UPS store to ship a package, drop the dog off at the kennel, pack for my trip, then pick up my husband from work. But somehow I got behind. Way behind.

Not only did I forget to bring apples and trail mix for the plane ride, I forgot to eat breakfast. And lunch. When I flopped down in my seat, I was sweating and breathless (we nearly missed the flight) and very hungry. I flipped through the food options and knew I would be able to get my body back in synch with the Right Bite instead of having to resort to “snacks” full of empty calories and sugar.

I’m glad big companies are becoming more sensitive to offering healthier food choices. I keep reading the debates about replacing sodas and candy in school vending machines with healthier alternatives. The other day I was doing some freelance editorial work for a large newspaper. The building included a cafeteria – mostly pizzas and burgers and fries, but I found a vegetarian station. And I noticed an announcement that they would be having a “sustainable foods” day, offering locally grown meats and produce.

I’m not sure if these actions are coming from consumer demand or a greater awareness on the company’s part (or both), but I’m thankful for the trend.Š

Retraining Taste Buds

The carrots I hold in my hand are fresh from a local garden. They’re dirty and have wild bushy green tops. I wash and peel the carrots then pick up the knife. I have a long way to go until I can maneuver this utensil like those chefs on the Food Network, but I’m getting better. Faster.

I cut the carrots, chop the onion, dice the celery, slice the mushrooms and throw everything into a skillet with water. While the veggies are steam sautéing I boil tri-colored pasta in a medium pot and steam spinach in a small one. I add tomatoes and tomato sauce to the skillet. When the pasta and spinach are ready I add those too, along with garlic and oregano.

My husband, Ron, wanders in the kitchen.

“What’s for dinner?” he asks.

“Italian Skillet Casserole,” I say.

He leans over my shoulder and investigates the simmering dish on the stovetop.

“Almost all veggies,” I point out.

Cooking healthier foods has been challenging in certain ways, but one thing I completely forgot about when I started this new path is that my husband can’t stand vegetables. He’ll eat certain items (broccoli or beans or salad) because he knows they’re good for him, but he would prefer them as a side dish, not the main dish.

But it just so happens that his company is having a Vegetable Challenge this summer.

So perfect timing.

I scoop out the meal into two bowls, light some candles, and sit down.

It’s delicious, and I look at Ron to see what he thinks. He’s pushing a piece of onion, a hunk of tomato, and a mushroom slice to the side. “I can eat them when they’re small, but these big pieces…” he shakes his head.

“You need to retrain your taste buds,” I suggest softly.

He’s a good sport so he takes a huge spoonful, onion chunks and all, and gives it a go. He likes it. This truly is one of the tastier dishes I’ve made, and when I’m done I push my bowl aside and lean back in the chair.

“Hey, what’s that?” Ron says, peering into my bowl.

“Nothing,” I say.

“Uh-huh,” Ron nods, smirking.

Okay, okay. So I really do consider myself a vegetable lover, but I’ve always struggled with cooked carrots. There is small pile of them left. I guess we both have some retraining to work through.

Secret Ingredient

Does anyone know the secret ingredient that goes into making the perfect Smoothie? I can’t figure it out. My blender and I have been bonding lately as I try out different recipes. In addition to ice and some frozen strawberries and blueberries, I try:

Smoothies with frozen banana.

Smoothies with frozen banana and whey protein powder.

Smoothies without either.

Smoothies with honey. Smoothies with Stevia. Smoothies with an egg. Smoothies with soy milk.

No matter what I do, they simply don’t taste as good as the kind I buy. It’s not that they taste bad, but after a few sips I kinda forget about them. When I find the abandoned half-empty glass later on, I feel like I’ve wasted food. One does not forget about a really good Smoothie.

At first I thought maybe it was because when I buy Smoothies they’re probably full of sugar and ice cream or something. But no, I thoroughly enjoyed the Smoothies I drank every afternoon at a yoga retreat in Mexico last February – everything that kitchen prepared was of the healthy, no-sugar variety. I fondly recall sitting under a shade tree at the beach in the afternoons (after a morning of working out) and looking forward to seeing the resort’s chef saunter over with his latest concoction. Wait a sec…the secret ingredient I’m missing? I think it might be the beach. That is, after all, the only place I really ever drink Smoothies. There’s something about the white sand and the turquoise waters and reading a good book that makes a Smoothie taste so perfectly good.

I live far, far away from the beach.

Well, shoot.Š