Thursday, May 16, 2013

Christ is Risen, Lent is Over, and I Give You Pão de Queijo

Christ is risen, indeed He is risen!

Lent is over and it is now Paschaltide in the Orthodox Church. It is a time of celebration, a commemoration of the wild joy of the discovery of the risen Lord and what it meant for the early Church.

The husband and I completed our conversion into the Eastern Orthodox Church at Pascha, ending our time as inquirers and catechumens and fully joining the Church as members. Finding a community in this town has been more important to me than I realized. I struggled with hating Virginia when I first moved here. Finding a place where I feel comfortable and a Church that challenges me has been water to a thirsty and embittered soul. Paschaltide has brought me into a sense of community and peace about my circumstances.

Paschaltide has also been the return of meat, the beginning of my weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) pickups, and a lot of digging in the dirt to plant a little herb garden. It is spring time, and Christ has trampled down death by death!

I have returned to my old, intentional meal planning and cooking habits. I am loving the weekly delivery of vegetables, berries and eggs that I get from Lynchburg Grows CSA. Through them, I also have access to pastured hens, and the husband and I are getting an 1/8th of a grass-fed beef shortly from Mountain Run Farm. I have found a source for local, low pasteurized non-homogenous milk and I feel in control of my kitchen again.

I'm not sure why I've never shared this recipe before. I feel a little selfish for not posting it earlier, but this is a period of celebration and I can't keep this secret back any longer! My Pascha present to all of you is:

Pão de Queijo
Brazilian Cheese Bread

Bom dia!
 I am not Brazilian, but I was taught how to make these by a friend from Brasilia. She'd been in the States for a few weeks and was feeling a little homesick for something that wasn't traditional Standard American Diet.

Who can blame her?

We ended up getting her mother on Skype and she translated the recipe for us. 

That's how my obsession with these little monsters began.

Pão de Queijo are gluten free because they're made with tapioca flour. I've always used Bob's Red Mill, which I've found at my local Kroger without any trouble. It's about $3-$4 a pound, and you'll use about half a pound for this recipe. The texture is chewy, not airy, but I've found them to be very versatile.

I'll leave my disclaimer up front: These are gluten free, but not dairy free. I've often wanted to experiment to see what they'd be like without cheese, but they're so incredibly good as-is that I can't bring myself to take out the parmesan.
Pão de Queijo

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup milk
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups tapioca flour

3/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs

 Melt butter in a medium saucepan and add the water, milk, salt and minced garlic. I like to whisk everything together so I feel like nothing is scorching, but you're basically going to leave it alone until it boils.

As soon as your ingredients come to a boil, remove from the heat and dump in your 2 cups of tapioca flour. Stir until everything is well blended. It takes a little arm power.


 Now let it be. Your flour needs to rest for about fifteen minutes. Go ahead and preheat the oven at this point to 375 F.

Once you and the dough have rested, add the eggs and the parmesan.The result is going to be a lumpy, yellowish glob. If your dough seems super wet and sticky (you can't pick it up and make it into a shap without losing half the dough all over your hands) then add more tapioca flour and mix it in well. Your dough is going to be sticky, it's going to end up all over you, but you need it to be manageable.

Don't be afraid to experiment at this point. After you taste these, you're going to be making them again. Even if they're a little too sticky, they're going to cook. If you're afraid you're adding too much flour, just go ahead and make them into balls and cook them. The worst case scenario is they take longer to bake and the texture isn't as bread like.

I promise I'm appetizing.

You can either form the pão into little perfect balls at this point, or drop them on the sheet fairly unformed. I used the drop method. They look like a little herd of dinosaurs to me.


I usually bake for 20-25 minutes. You'll want the tips to be browned. The texture of the bread is very chewy and moist, so you can overcook and the world won't end. These little guys are incredibly savory and are best right out of the oven with butter on them.

I actually formed my pão into buns this week and used them on hamburgers. It was delicious, although the crust of the bread is tougher. They are wonderful compliments to soup or as appetizers before dinner. They never last long in our house, and I'm sure they won't last long in yours, either!

A blessed Paschaltide to you all!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Surviving Lent (with bonus Quercetin review!)

I miss Whole30. I'm pretty sure that the husband would not agree, but I miss it and I'm seriously considering doing it again in May.

"But, Joanna! Why put it off? Why not start right now?"

Because I'm still knee deep in Lent, the season of vegetables and breads. The husband is actually really enjoying this time of year. Meat is not a necessary thing for him, but Pastonia and Breadland are the kingdoms in which he dwells most happily. He has no quarrels with vegetables so long as they are accompanied by gluten.

I love vegetables, but I get tired of them really quickly. Shortly put, I miss my meat. We are a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but our parish is Western Rite so my fasting guide is actually pretty loose. I am still allowed oil, eggs and cheese. The prohibition is just against meat for the forty days preceding Pascha, or the Easter celebration. The Eastern Church still follows the old calendar, which means that Easter hasn't happened for us yet and I'm still subsisting on a whole lot of Caprese salads.

While I've been working hard on disciplining my body, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that, however many vegetables I may force down my throat, if I am still consuming gluten by way of breads and  beers, I cannot lose weight. There is also the unfortunate fact that alcohol is converted to very high levels of glucose very quickly. I have gotten better about going to the gym, but in the last month of Lent I have managed to gain back four of my twelve pounds that I shed.

Coming off of Whole30 and going straight into Lent was probably not the best idea for me and it's definitely not something I will be doing again next year. I'm not going to be giving up my Lenten guidelines, but I am definitely going to need to patrol myself a little harder. The bread has got to go, regardless of whether I find my vegetables boring or not.

So, since I'm not really feeling that great about how I've been eating lately, I'm not going to offer any kind of recipe. I haven't been following my own recipes and I'm not hypocritical enough to post one of the ones that I have "waiting in the wings" when I haven't even been using them.

What I *can* offer is a review of a new supplement I've begun taking specifically for my allergies this spring. Virginia is a hotbed for pollen allergies and in years past I've been miserable every time the flowers come out. Since my job now requires so much interaction with people via my voice, I really didn't want to deal with my allergies by popping medication that made me drowsy after I'd already started suffering from the symptoms.

I have been taking quercetin for the past week and a half. The flowers are out in the full force and all the bushes and trees are blooming like they're serious about it. There are bees everywhere and last week was in the 70's-90's. It's spring time here, and I can hear my coworkers at my job sniffling and sneezing. They're slowly dropping one by one, and normally I'm one of the first ones since I'm so hypersensitive.

So far? So good. I have been a little sneezy this morning. I spent yesterday up on the Blue Ridge burying my face in flowers and trees, so I was probably asking for it. But my current condition of "a sneeze every couple of hours or so" has nothing on what I was experiencing last year. I started doubling up on it as of today since I sense that the allergens are going to get serious soon and I've read that it takes at least a week to really get into your system. I've added the quercetin to my yearly tradition of consuming raw honey every day for a few weeks before spring hits (you know... for health! It has nothing to do with tasty tasty sugars) to try to build up an immunity. The honey hasn't been terribly successful in years past, but I'm hoping that I started early enough this year to let it sink in.

So far? I'm cautiously optimistic about the quercetin. I'll keep updates with how it works for the rest of the spring, but for those of you who know your own allergies are coming, it may not be a bad thing to look into for yourselves!

So here's to a less-allergic spring and a renewed commitment to my own health in conjunction with my Lenten observation!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Whole30 Results

It's been 30 days... and I feel GREAT.

So those of you who follow this blog may have noticed that my Whole30 posts abruptly stopped right around the time that I got a new job.

I assure you. This is not a coincidence. It's just logic.
I finally have gotten a "grown up" job and that entails 40 hour work weeks. Keeping up with new training, long hours, and a Whole30 daily blog was a bit too much. So I took stock and decided to discontinue posting until I was actually done with Whole30. And the majority of my new job's training.

I promise I was going to tell you guys. Really.

Anyways, here's the outline of how my Whole30 went down (and I do mean down):

12 pounds (5.44 kgs)
1 pants size
Stress levels
Morning Soreness (joint creaks)
Inflammation in hands
Face bloat

Now here's what's up:

Muscle tone
Energy levels
Overall mood
Ability to taste things (did you know that vegetables are actually sweet...?)
Health of skin and hair

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll leave this confession here as I did on Facebook: I did not work out while I was on Whole30 this month. I really wish that I had. The weight I lost was from dietary adjustments alone. I mentioned that I started a new job, and while I can use the university's gym again as a staff member, I can only use it in the early morning. During the entire month, I managed to get myself up in time to work out only once. I can't wait for my training to end and my evenings to open up. I plan on getting a membership to a gym that I can use after I get off work in the evening. Mornings just haven't worked for me.

I saved my meal plans from my first three weeks. My fourth week was really winging it. I felt like I had gotten the routine down enough that I didn't have to actually plan out a meal and a shopping list. I did meal planning on the weekends, went shopping on Sunday, and did as much prep for the week to come on Sunday evenings.

But first, here are the pictures.

Left: 180 lbs January 29      Right: 168 lbs February 23

Left: 180 lbs                             Right: 168 lbs

The "Mug Shot" - I promise I'm nicer than I look
Left: 180 lbs                      Right: 168 lbs

Left: 180 lbs                              Right: 168 lbs

Left: You should know by now                          Right: Heck yes.

The Full Disclosure:

This is not by any means where I plan on stopping. I still have another thirty pounds (approximately) that I'd like to lose. I won't be staying on Whole30 to do so, but I will definitely be staying Paleo. The food I was eating was very appealing to me. It was somewhat less appealing to the husband, who tends to be more of a gourmand. His cravings sadly never went away, and food did become an arguing point between us. 

I don't say this to air our dirty laundry, but as a tale of caution: Not everyone likes this. He doesn't do eggs well, and breakfasts became boring for him. He missed the dairy to pretty extreme degrees. He also missed the convenience of bread. As a full time student, it was a definite struggle for him to find satisfying lunches that didn't need to be reheated.

Our Plan of Attack:

Now that we're coming off of Whole30, we've agreed to add dairy back in, and he's going to start making bread at home. His first results have been pretty spectacular. He's never had a reaction to gluten, and I feel much safer and happier knowing exactly what's in the bread he's eating. 

He was awesome and stuck it out with me to the end. Although I think he's much happier now with his morning milk and occasional sandwich. And honestly? I'm not going to let perfect be the enemy of good.

Workouts will become more routine for me in the weeks to come, and I need to buy a new tape measure so I can keep track of inches that I'm losing instead of just pounds. Dinner is going to stay pretty much the same. Breakfast will probably stay the same for me, too. I found nitrate-free bacon that will be added in. The husband is going to sandwiches for his lunches and I will probably be eating leftovers from the previous night's dinner, or soup that I can warm up at the office. Some days will be splurges and I'll buy a fresh salad from the cafe near my office. 

Finally, for Those Who Have Asked:

The Meal Plans

Each week is missing a few breakfasts because my husband and I fast on those days for religious purposes. Intermittent fasting is apparently a common thing in Paleo circles anyway, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone. Do your research. If you're not up for it, just make some eggs or eat some leftovers. I would always have a cup of coffee on my fasting mornings, and would not each lunch until noon. 

Our normal diet also includes several "meatless" days which were incorporated into our Whole30 as well, with little to no difficulty. 

Every week I spent around $150 for the two of us. I always had food left over (I usually actually ended up skipping one night at the end of the week just so we could get through our leftovers.)

Week One:
The Cravings Week

No breakfast
Salmon fillets, brussels sprouts and carrots

Beef with Roasted Cabbage

Oxtail Stew leftovers
Spaghetti Squash Salad

Salmon with Finnish Beet Salad

Oxtail Stew leftovers

No breakfast

Oxtail Stew leftovers
Portobello Patties

Week Two:
This Isn't So Bad

No Breakfast
Steak Poivre and Sweet Potato Fries

Deviled Eggs (use Paleo Mayo)
Holubtsi (sub chopped hazelnuts for rice)
Deviled Chicken Thighs with Broccoli

Waldorf Salad
Stuffed Peppers

Salmon with Broccoli and Carrots

Basque Hot Pepper Omelet
Chicken Thighs with Assorted Veggies

No Breakfast
Greek Veggies
Spaghetti Squash 

Leftover Free For All!
Spiced Ground Beef

Week Three:
This Is The Longest Month. Ever.

No Breakfast
Deviled Drumsticks with Minted Cucumber Chips
Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower

Scotch Eggs with Lettuce
Leftover Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Flank Steak with Sweet Potatoes

Cabbage and Sausage
Leftover Pork Tenderloin

Spaghetti Squash Salad
Tuna Nicoise Salad

Steak and Eggs with Peppers
Holubtsi (sub chopped hazelnuts for rice)
Chicken Thighs with Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

No Breakfast
Cream of Avocado Soup with Crab

Sweet Potato Skillet
Tomato Scallops with Shrimp and Avocado
Burgers with Carrot Chips

Week Four:
I'm Pretty Much a Pro.
I'm Not Doing This Plan Thing Any More.

I will be trying my best to go through and add links where I can for the recipes. If you find a recipe you would really like, feel free to drop me a line and I'll find you the recipe. Some of them are my own recipes that haven't made it onto the blog yet. Some of them are recipes from the husband's many books that I have lying around the kitchen. If you see something you want to make that I haven't provided a link for, just ask! It will be my pleasure to help any of you on your own way!

In the mean time, keep your chin up and I'll be making another post by the end of the month at the latest!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Thursday, 31 January: Whole30 Day5

Today was not as bad as yesterday where the cravings are concerned. Also, the husband's upset tummy seems to have gotten better. I have a few spots on my hands that have the familiar old blisters, but they are very tiny and I didn't notice them until I was staring at my fingers in traffic. I'm leaving them alone and we'll see if they erupt. Skin still feels pretty tight, but not painful. Face is holding steady with a couple of smaller blemished making their appearance around my nostrils today?

My body is weird.

I'm not going to say that the cravings are gone. I made the mistake tonight of watching a documentary on the history of sugar in the UK. It was fascinating, but unfortunately it included a lot of shots of delicious candies and specialty chocolates. If you know the husband and me, you know that good quality chocolate is a weakness. I can't remember the last time I had a visceral reaction to food. It was startling. I was sitting there watching, and suddenly, images of chocolate turtle candies flashed across the screen followed by milk chocolate ads and fudge brownies. My mouth instantly began to water. I was salivating and couldn't take my eyes off the screen.

I'm going to take it as a good sign, that I used to be desensitize to it and wouldn't even notice a shot of chocolate on the TV, but that now my body reacts to it. I may still be addicted to it, but at least I'm aware of it now.

The Menu

The Breakfast
Thursdays are busy days around here- as you can tell, no garnish.
The husband took his coffee black, I tried mine with coconut milk.
Eh. It's better black.

The Dinner
Talk about dinner on the go! The husband had late classes, so dinner
came to him.

That last meal of the day is called Paleo Orange Chicken and it's from Health Bent Blog. I read the warnings that people posted about how they wished they had made a double batch, so I went ahead and made a double batch and put it all over steamed broccoli. Orange chicken and I then went to go see the husband at school.

Let's get a closer look at that...

Let's just say that I didn't have any leftovers to put away this evening. 

You should go read that recipe and marvel at how ridiculously easy it is. Took me less than half an hour from very start to putting it into a to go container.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wednesday, 30 January: Whole30 Day 4

So, I've heard that the cravings are supposed to start today. Well, they did. Also, the husbands body has started it's battle with the food changes. He's caught a sinus thing and his tummy's a bit upset, too. We were both a little cranky this morning. He's not feeling well because he's sick and I'm a little emotionally sensitive because it's soon to be that time of the month. We both grouched at each other in the morning, ate food, grouched at each other in the afternoon, ate food, and grouched at each other again in the evening.

I'm craving dairy and sugars today. He's craving gluten and cheesy things. Late last night he came into the kitchen, skillet roasted a handful of almonds in coconut oil and we devoured the whole bunch of it with some raisins (which are technically a no-no, but I have no regrets). We felt much better and hashed out why we were both so surly. Today was harder on him than it was on me because he's in classes and he isn't feeling well.

Lesson learned: I need to have some more snacks on hand for when those cravings strike. Nuts and olives and kale chips are going to be my go to, and hopefully I can get some carrot chips made this week.

The food today was awesome, though. My hands are still in great shape, my nails are starting to grow again, and my face is slowly clearing up. I have about three noticeable "stress spots" left. I'm only cleaning my face with baking soda and water during this month, so we'll see if that helps. Knee pain was vaguely present this morning, but disappeared by the end of the day. Nothing to report on the weight front since I'm not stepping on the scale for a while still.

So let's get to what you really want: pics or it didn't happen!

The Menu

The Breakfast
Paleo deviled eggs made with Paleo Mayo.
I made six halves for myself and ate four before I got
the plate to the table.
Cucumber with lime and salt for some greenage.

The Dinner
Moar salmons!
The Finnish beet salad, normally a winner with us, was a flop.
Still searching for a sour cream substitute.
The salad with cranberries was delish, though.

And the Awesome...

Yes, coffee is a given in this house, and yes I like it black. But, Joanna, you say. That looks suspiciously like cream in your espresso!

...It is. Coconut milk cream. 

Refrigerate an unopened can of full fat coconut milk overnight. Open it up, scoop out the solid white part on top. Use a mixer to whip it up. Put some honey in that thing if you're not on Whole30. Eat by the spoonful. Save some for the coffee.

Also, the paleo deviled eggs are to die for. The husband and I were both totally satisfied with them.

So go, now. Go make healthy mayonnnaise and use it in a plain ole deviled egg recipe. Finish it off with spoonfulls of coconut cream. All your questions about the universe will be answered.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday, 29 January: Whole30 Day 3

So, last night was awful. I did not sleep well at all. I tossed and turned and wriggled. I was too hot, trapped between a husband and a kitten who are both very affectionate heat seeking missiles. I felt like I was waking up every half an hour, and in my hazy sleep fog I felt a sense of dread. I knew that morning was coming and my alarm was going to go off and I was going to struggle out of bed. I needed to make breakfast for the husband before I drove him to university, and I knew that I had to work my last shift at the restaurant on Tuesday night. I have had these restless nights before, and the next morning is awful.

My alarm went off at 7AM, and I reached up and hit the snooze. I have gotten into the habit the last few weeks of setting my alarm for fifteen to thirty minutes early so I have time to wake up. I know. Thirty minutes to come out of my morning grog and get my feet on the floor. It's been bad. But, there was my alarm going off in my ear. Snooze hit and my eyes suddenly opened of their own accord. I was sleepy, but the morning grog was suspiciously absent.

I lay still for my fifteen minutes of extra time, allowing my senses to come up to the same level of consciousness that my brain was feeling. I cuddled my kitten and snuggled up closer to the husband and was just quiet. My brain felt peaceful and very alert. After fifteen minutes of this, I easily rolled over and got out of bed. There was no knee pain when my feet hit the floor. Nothing creaked or complained or was stiff.

There was no rush to get out the door this morning because I got up on time. I took my time making breakfast and let the husband sleep in. The coffee finished just as he was done with his shower. We sat down together for breakfast and left the house on time.

Can every morning be like this, forever? Please?

I'm not claiming a miracle, but I feel freaking awesome today. I am bright eyed and bushy tailed, in spite of the horrible night of sleep. I've been up for hours and the knee pain hasn't returned. I feel peppy and spirited. I have errands to run before I get ready for my evening shift tonight and I don't feel discouraged by that knowledge.

I've heard that day 2 on Whole30 is when this invincible feeling usually hits. You feel super alert and unconquerable. It couldn't have come at a better time. I think I'll do a workout today before I get ready for work.

The Menu

The Breakfast

Scotch Freaking Eggs. That's all. It's a boiled egg with sausage wrapped around it.
I bet you're regretting skipping breakfast.
I'm regretting every breakfast I ever skipped. 

The Dinner

Oxtail Stew
Dinner happened in a mason jar tonight because I had to work
my last ever shift as a waitress :)

The Scotch eggs were amazing. Two of them were actually a little much for me and the husband. Neither of us could finish them, and his ended up going along as part of his lunch for the day.

The oxtail stew prompted some strange reactions among my coworkers. One of them asked me, "Are you eating apple butter out of the jar?"

Oh, it was so much better than apple butter. Oxtail stew is fantastic. I had to "Whole30 it up" for this one. Normally you boil the oxtails in wine and stock. I dropped the wine entirely, although I probably unwittingly transgressed because I dumped in some red wine vinegar for flavor, which I am sure converted to sugar quickly in my system. It was pretty minimal and added a great flavor, though. I used more turnips and carrots than usual in lieu of potatoes, and added in some leftover roasted cabbage. The result was pretty phenom. It's definitely one of my favorites, and very filling. I could not finish that jar up there and I stowed the rest in the fridge for later.

As a side note, my energy never decreased on Tuesday. I actually volunteered to close at the restaurant because the hostess had been there all day. I finished a little after midnight and was still bouncy as could be. The husband is fighting some sinus congestion and is a little less sparky, but he drolly appreciates how much better I'm feeling. 

On to day four!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday, 28 January: Whole30 Day 2

Today has been so-so for me. My knee pain is still present, and I am not feeling any change in energy. My mood has lifted a little. Depression has been lurking for the past several months, and this past month it's been particularly hard to dodge. Today I am feeling a little more hopeful and a little more confident. But that might be because I have the day off and don't have to worry about going to work later.

The knee pain is still making me a little sulky. I don't want to go out of the house, even to go to the laundromat down the street. I sent the husband out to do that, which gave him time to catch up on reading. Four out of six classes this semester are literature classes. Reading is how we spend our evenings, which quite frankly has been nice. It feels more productive than just browsing page after page on Reddit.

Since I didn't want to leave the house, I spent most of the day doing food prep and cooking. The kitchen felt clean and welcoming today, and I was pretty happy to just stay in that room for the majority of the day. I also got to Skype with my parents back home, which bolstered my mood.

Now, down to the good stuff!

The Menu

I love my chalkboard wall <3

The Breakfast

Breakfast Blooms with paprika, chicken sausage with cilantro, and coffee
(A boiled egg for the husband, who has trouble with eggs)

The Dinner

Grass-fed flank steak, roasted cabbage and chili-lime sweet potato fries.

The marinade I used on the roasted cabbage is certainly worth mentioning. I used equal parts organic butter, Bragg's amino acids, and dijon mustard, along with a little teaspoon of horseradish. The effect was wonderful, and I used a similar quick marinade on the flank steak. Even the sweet potato fries got dipped in the leftover sauce. I can tell it's going to be a staple this month.

Sunday, 27 January: Whole30 Day 1

This is a little late for a "first day" post, since it's actually the morning of the third day. It's been a little tough to decide when to do my posts, since dinner usually happens late at night and I don't find myself over eager to edit photos or write late at night.

The solution is that I'll be posting the previous day's meals the next morning. Although it's Tuesday morning, I'll be posting the meals from Monday, and the title will reflect that. This is mostly a way to catalog my first Whole30 so that I remember what I ate, and also to keep myself accountable.Whenever there's a really fantastic recipe or marinade or trick that is out of the ordinary of usual cooking, I'll make sure to include it, along with pictures of what I'm eating.

Now, here's the confessional side of my beginning of Whole30. I am 25 years old, 5'5" tall, and since this past year I cannot stop gaining weight. I made the mistake of going on a hormonal birth control last April. I thought that I'd be able to deal with the possible weight gain, and I foolishly did not listen to counsel that was given me by family members about their own experiences. Some girls do wonderfully on birth control. I was not one of them. I put on about fifteen pounds in the month before my wedding, which was troubling enough. No girl wants to gain weight before her wedding. In the months since the wedding, I have gained another 15 pounds, putting my weight at 180 pounds. I am on the very line between "overweight" and "obese" on the BMI and I am done with this.

I am fortunate to have recently gotten a new job that enables me to have steady income and steady hours. For the first time since highschool, I have the time and money to invest in my health. More fortunately, I have a loving husband who is willing to do this with me. We spent the last week together purging our kitchen of anything that did not fit on the Whole30 diet, which is basically a no-holds-barred version of Paleo.

I have been loosely following a Primal diet for the past several months, and while it made me feel a little better, it wasn't helping with the weight loss. I was still drinking and eating things that I shouldn't have, and the weight kept coming. This week marks the beginning of 30 days of:

No dairy
No wheat
No legumes
No processed foods
No sugars (at all)
No starches
No alcohol
No tobacco

Anything that has been shown to have inflammatory properties has been cut out of our diet. Some people that I have told about this have voiced alarm. That sounds hard. My response has been the response that is posted on the Whole30 site:

It is not hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. 
Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.

So, let's do this shit.

The only meal I have to show for Sunday is my dinner. My husband and I do not eat before service on Sunday morning, and lunch was a pretty informal affair since we were running between grocery shopping for the week and catechumen class for church. Dinner was shared with friends, and was fantastic.

My husband did the honors for this meal. Wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, compliments of my parents care package last month, was cooked with a bit of lemon and fresh rosemary. It was served on top of blanched brussels sprouts, broccoli, collard greens and carrots which were drizzled with butter. It took him half an hour to make, including deboning the salmon fillets, and was incredibly filling.

Fingers crossed, and I'll see you on the other side- one step toward cleaner and leaner.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brawny Broccoli Soup

I will never stop singing the praises of broccoli. When I was a little girl it was one of the vegetables we always kept in our family garden. Alaskan weather can be a little unforgiving at times, but broccoli always thrived and I had the luxury of fresh green broccoli florets every summer without knowing how lucky I was.

Can you tell that I miss having a veggie garden? I rent an apartment with several other tenants and I'm fairly certain if I did plant anything, it would be trampled, mowed down, dug up, urinated on, fed cheap beer, and anything else that seemed convenient to them. Trash cans are safe in my front yard. Anything else doesn't seem to do very well. 

Broccoli seems to do well in transport, though. I love cabbage family vegetables because they seem so eager to please. They'll take abuse, cold weather, long periods of alone time, and still come out tasting fantastic. Broccoli in particular has high levels of vitamin C and fiber. It has anti-carcinogenic compounds, but boiling will take those out of it. Steaming or stir frying won't hurt any of the nutrients, just in case you don't like your broccoli raw. Lutein and carotenoids abound in this little green marvel, as well as chemicals that boost cell repair and have been found to block cancer growth.

Unfortunately, some people don't like the color green on their plate at all. This recipe has become a staple for me, as I find it incredibly filling, very satisfying... and absurdedly cheap.

It's because this recipe has three ingredients- four if you want to be fancy, five if you want to be extravagant.  

Goat's cheese and cream if you like, fancypants.

The magic of this dish is in the texture. I can't take the credit for this. I learned this recipe from a Gordon Ramsay video. He does a fantastic job of explaining it and it's been a staple for us since the day I watched the video.

I hope it becomes a staple for you, too! The result is silky and simple and satisfying. 

Broccoli Soup

1 head of broccoli
Water (enough to cover the broccoli in the pan)
salt to taste (don't be afraid to be generous)
goat cheese (optional)
cream (optional)
walnuts (optional)

Cut the florets from the crown. The thick stalks won't be much use to you in this recipe. 

Ready to be a soup!
Chop the pieces small enough so they will cook quickly. I mentioned above that boiling will take nutrients from the broccoli. The trick to this soup is to not cook the broccoli for very long. If you cook the broccoli only a few minutes, you'll lose less than 10% of the anti carcinogens. So, while you're cutting your broccoli, get your pot of water to a strong boil. 

When your water is in a high boil, go ahead and dump in the broccoli. Salt the water and watch the clock.You do not want to lose those vitamins. Ramsay's video explains well how to tell when the florets are cooked- draw a knife through the broccoli and it should go through with only a little resistance. 

Once your knife slices through the broccoli, remove from the heat immediately. You need to drain the broccoli, but do not discard the water that you boiled it in. This is your broccoli stock, and it will make your soup taste better than adding a vegetable stock.

Placing a bowl under the strainer will do the job nicely.

While your broccoli is still hot, it is time to blend it! If you wait until it cools off, your texture will be off. 

In we go!
Now you put your broccoli broth to use! Add in your broccoli water until it's about halfway up the level of broccoli. 

In the above picture, I actually added too much water. The amount of stock will determine your texture. You can always add more stock if the result is too thick for you. But you can't take it away once you've blended it.

You'll have to blend for a couple minutes on fairly high speed to get a creamy texture. Taste and add more salt if needed. If it tastes bland, add some salt. It will enhance the flavor.

As a friend said, "the color of a shamrock shake"

Don't let your soup get cold! If you like at this point, put some goat cheese in the bottom of the bowl. 

The broccoli soup will melt the goat cheese and add some creaminess to the soup. If you'd rather, just drizzle some heavy cream or some full fat coconut milk over the top. You can add walnuts to the bottom, like in the Ramsay video for added fat. 

Simple soups like this are great for cold winter days, especially during a season when most of us are feeling a little pinched from the costs of the holidays. Enjoy! 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Zucchini Bites and Perfect Almond Flour

Today's weather pretty much matches my mood. It's gray, it's raining, nothing feels very lively or quick. If the sky could experience gluten hangovers, this is probably what it would look like.

Not that I ate gluten yesterday or anything, but my body is very much recovering from all the delicious debauchery that I participated in over the past month's holiday season. It's going to take a little while for me to start feeling clean and sunny again. I've noticed that going back to my old eating habits made my weight increase and my mood plummet. I'm not sure how much of that is mental (as in when I see something I don't like in the mirror, it puts me in a bad mood) and how much is a physical reaction to the processed food ingredients. But I have felt pretty emotionally unstable for the past few weeks and I don't think that it's disconnected from what I've been putting in my body.

So, let's get on with the clean theme.

Last post, I mentioned that a lot of success with keeping the dirty stuff out of your system is to make sure you have snacks that you like on hand, readily accessible. Some of you (some of me) may not be ready to embrace the kale chips and you may be missing your baked goods.

I have great, sun-shiny news.

I kind of wanted to name this recipe "Zu-clean-i Bites", but my husband has told me before that I'm only allowed one terrible pun per day, and I've sadly used that up today.

This recipe is actually a two-fer, as it requires the use of almond flour. I had a very difficult time with almond flour when I came back to Virginia. I go to school in a fairly small, Southern town. There are health food stores here, but almond flour gets very expensive, very quickly. I am a college student, and a newly wed as well. Ten dollars for a pound of almond flour just doesn't really work for me!

I quickly took a page out of my sister's book and learned to make my own almond flour. She has a wonderful nut mill made by L'Equip that is (sadly) no longer produced. I bought an inexpensive model (around $30 on Amazon) made by Krups that has served me very well, so far. You can get a coffee grinder at WalMart for less than $10, but I highly discourage it. Your results will be frustrating and chunky. It's much better to spring for a nicer coffee grinder/nut mill combo. Forgo your Starbucks for a week and try some of my Clean Coffee Concoctions. You should be able to save more than $20.

Do-It Yourself Almond Flour

Since I don't actually do a lot of baking with almond flour (it's high in calories and heavy on the wallet, so I use it as a treat!) I have not had any need to buy my almonds in bulk. I buy about one bag a month from my grocery store and find that it usually produces plenty of flour for my needs. For those of you who do a lot more baking, you may want to look into buying almonds in bulk, either through a store like Costco or Sam's Club, or even online.

The finer you can get your grind, the less grainy your almond flour will be. If you're serious about texture, blanch your almonds by immersing them in boiling water, then running cold water over them after about a minute. The skins will pop right off after this treatment, leaving you with a beautiful white nut. Once the almonds dry, they're perfectly ready to be turned into a very smooth almond flour.

I choose not to blanch my almonds because a lot of the fiber is in the skins. I acknowledge that almond flour texture is just going to be different and it's never bothered me to have that grainy feel. I'd rather have that extra fiber to get me through the day!

Once you have dry almonds, blanched or not, pour a handful into the nut mill. My nut mill is pretty small, so I don't put a ton in.

Put the lid on the mill or grinder and pulse it until the majority of the nuts are ground up. You're not going to get everything ground up. Don't sweat it. Grab a mesh strainer and a bowl and dump the results of your first grind into the strainer. 

Now, burn some of those calories! Shake the strainer back and forth. The fine "flour" particles are going to go right through and your large pieces will stay in the strainer. 

Like magic. Awesome, tasty magic.
Sometimes I will hit the rim of the strainer against my palm, over the bowl, to speed up the separation process. Once you've only got your big pieces left, return them to mill or grinder with another small handful of new almonds and repeat the process. Eventually, what you will be left with is no more large chunks, and a bowl of very fresh almond flour.

Playing with this basic process will yield different results. I know some people who buy packaged almond flour (Bob's Red Mill, for instance) and then go through this same process once they get it home just to get a finer particle. The finer your grind, the more like regular flour your texture will be. I'm obviously not overly concerned about my grind size as I've intentionally left my almond skins intact. I need all the nutrients I can for my rainy days.

Now that you have your almond flour, let's use it for something awesome:

Zu-clean-i - I mean, Zucchini Bites

1 cup zucchini (grated)
1/2 cup almond flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups cheese (I prefer feta and cheddar)
3 shallots (diced)
salt and pepper
coconut oil (for pan)

Preheat oven to 400F.

Grate a zucchini (I like the texture of a bigger grate) until you have about a cup, maybe a little more. Wrap the result in paper towel or cheesecloth and squeeze the excess moisture out of it. Your result is going to be watery if you skip this step. 

So don't skip it.
The beauty of this recipe, once again, is the simplicity. If you don't like feta, you can use a combination of cheeses. I usually toss in a bit of sharp cheddar. The feta works particularly well because it's a bit moister. Originally I used to do this recipe with parmesan, but the result was a little too dry for my tastebuds. The feta will add a bit of softness to the bites, while a harder cheese like cheddar will help hold it together and make it not so salty. I usually do more cheddar than feta, since it's a bit cheaper for me.

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Grease a mini muffin tin with coconut oil. If you don't have  a mini muffin tin, you can use a regular size muffin tin, but I can't promise your resulting zucchini bites will be adorable. You'll also have to adjust cook time to a wee bit longer. 

We promise you adorable muffins. No lie.
Fill the muffin tin. The zucchini bites will only rise about another 25%, so if you fill up the spots a little over half, you shouldn't experience bite-blowout. Cook for around 25 minutes. I tend to err on the side of overly-done since there's a bit of egg in these and my husband cannot tolerate egg-y things that aren't well done.

Two bites got sacrificed to the photographer's hunger.

This was one of the earliest recipes I ever tried when my sister first introduced me to Maximized Living, and it's still a staple for me. I make a large batch so I can store them in the fridge and just grab a couple when I'm on the run. They're great additions for breakfast, wonderful appetizers, and fantastic sides for a bowl of soup. Most of all, it means that I have a convenient, clean option to go to instead of my hubby's stash of white bread on top of the fridge.

I think I feel the rain letting up already. 

Happy baking!