Home Stretch

In this elimination diet blogging spurt, I seem to be neglecting the ‘run’ in favor of the ‘yum’.  Thinking about this issue while running (like one does) and considering that we are situated at the end of the first four weeks of the session, with two remaining, I conjured up a cute little metaphor.  In high school, my cross country coach taught us to divide the race up into thirds (we ran a 5K, which is 3.1 miles) for mental strategy.  In the first mile, you’re fresh, excited, energized – your legs and brain feel good and it flies by.  The second mile is the hardest, mentally.  You feel that first mile in your legs but still have the majority of the race left; the competition has spread out, and you know that if you don’t keep up the pace you could lose your position; you start having to tap into your determination stores.  And then there’s the final mile: the finish is tangible, you know what part you can play to position your team favorably, and adrenaline and competition usually do the job to propel you through.

So, here we are, two thirds through, with one ‘mile’ left.  The first two weeks were new and exciting, the second two weeks required some willpower and motivational self-talk, but now the finish line is in sight; the day that we start changing things up is two weeks away.  I can almost taste the fried egg.

In the two weeks remaining I know there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy eating.  I still enjoy every meal, actually!  We’ve tried some new recipes and played around with the ingredients we can eat, and I think we’ve really gotten the hang of eating a varied and fun diet with limited ingredient options.  On a few occasions we have made Ashley (from Edible Perspective)’s vegan pan breads, which are great when you are having a meal where you could really use a tortilla.  It’s kind of like a crepe-pancake hybrid.  The most recent versions we made used chickpea flour and buckwheat flour, but according to Ashley you can make them out of pretty much any flour.  A great recipe to have around, even when not on a restricted diet.

IMG_2980[Chickpea/buckwheat pan bread with spinach, black beans, and avocado]

Actually, Edible Perspective has been a great resource – her recipes are gluten free, many are vegan (or easily veganized), and a few only have to be tweaked a little to be elimination diet-friendly.  I used to make her buckwheat breakfast bakes years ago, and dug up the recipe again: replace the banana with canned pumpkin and it’s good to go!  (Though I’ve also been adding a teaspoon of  both honey and coconut oil.)  We’ve been making a double or triple batch as muffins and keeping them around for breakfasts and snacks.

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[Blueberry buckwheat bake with almond butter, raspberries, and homemade almond milk, disappearing into the sunlight :)]

Oh, and as far as real life running goes: so far this semester, I’ve been fitting in about three runs/week, which is two runs/week more than this time last year.  Thumbs up to that.  Once the single-digit wind chill backs off a little I’m hoping for at least four days a week, but that may coincide with the time when writing my thesis chains me to my desk, so I’m just going to shoot for maintenance this semester.  I’m also really trying for at least one yoga session per week, and so far that has been working out great.

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Miss This

We are starting week four, half way through the total elimination phase (sounds so sci-fi), and it’s as good a time as any to start talking about foods I miss.  Mer and I made our list of the order in which we will add back foods, and I can’t remember much of it off the top of my head, but I know it starts like this:

1. Eggs (we have chickens that make them for us!)

2. Cocoa

3. Wine

4. Lemon/lime

It turns out wine and chocolate in fact actually are the loves of our lives.

This diet has been an interesting study in what tastes I really like to have in my life; perhaps the answer to “if you had to live on a desert island and could only bring three foods…”  In the first couple weeks I was missing more general taste sensations, like the brightening effect of citrus in a dish, and umami when I was hungry.  Now I’m honing in on specific foods, and they are turning out to be unoriginal and unsurprising.

Peanut butter is a big one.  How is it that the other nut butters have nothing on peanut?  (This is coming from someone who is a universal nut butter lover.)  It’s got that special something, and I’ll never wonder again if I only like it because I don’t branch out enough and give the other nuts a chance.  Almond butter is great, but my loyalty hasn’t strayed.

IMG_2890[Rice cake with almond butter and stewed blueberries and raspberries.  No, it’s not pb, but okay it’s still delicious/]

Additionally, the past few weeks have confirmed that chocolate is obviously not just a phase I’m going through, but a power in my life that cannot be matched by any other sweet thing.  I haven’t really been experiencing sweet cravings because we can eat plenty of things that are (super) sweet (dates, honey, raisins).  It’s 100% the chocolate itself that I’m missing: dark, bitter, smooth, and sweet, all in one meltable package.  There is no substitute.  One day we will be reunited and it will be glorious.

Speaking of dark: Every time Guy makes his little stovetop espresso and the smell fills the air, I remind myself that one day that smell can again be mine.  I’m feeling really good off caffeine (except for the intermittent cup of green tea), but I miss the intensity of coffee.

Rounding out the list of flavors I’m anticipating is lemon, which I did not expect.  But from here on out I will never doubt the power of lemon to give a dish that extra dimension; highlighting the savory flavors as it subtly contrasts them.  We can have rice wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar, which can be used for tang-factor, but you have to be very careful with them.  If you accidentally add too much lemon, your dish is now lemon flavored; if you accidentally add too much apple cider vinegar, your dish may now be inedible.

It makes me wonder.  What if I’d never tasted these foods??  What would my tastebuds be craving without chocolate and peanut butter to reminisce upon?  What is out there that I’ve never tasted that I could potentially miss in the future if I did taste it and then stopped eating it for a while, like the weirdo self-taste-denier I apparently am?  There are so many things.

But somehow I don’t think they’ll ever match up to chocolate and peanut butter.

There are things I thought I would miss but don’t really, like yogurt, cheese, bread, and black tea.  Not that I won’t eat those things again one day and enjoy them.  I just don’t think about them wistfully everyday.  If anything, this restricted eating has taught me where my true loyalties lie.

In the meantime, I’m still enjoying what I can eat. (And what would I do if the tables were turned and I was without these foods? That’s a whole other question.)

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[Colorful breakfast: chard, millet, leftover roasted chickpeas and carrots, avocado cubes, and pumpkin seeds.]

 IMG_2963[Smoked salmon and avocado on a thin rice cake.]

 
IMG_2969[I really wanted some popcorn, but no corn allowed, so I sautéed puffed rice in a pan with some ghee and salt and it was delicious.  {Hippie-fied with some sprouted lentils, which are actually awesome cooked like this}] 

And thank goodness I don’t live on a desert island, so no one can make me choose.

 

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Caring About Sharing

It seems that sudden changes bring on a whole lot of noticing.  Maybe it’s the data-nerd I was brought up to be by my father, or just that I notice food-related things, but changing how I operate food-wise has made me think a lot about how I would be operating if nothing had changed.

This past week contained my birthday, and so there was more socializing.  It is a well-established social phenomenon that human gatherings center around food more often than not.  On this elimination diet there is nothing that prevents me from eating when I gather with friends and family.  However, I am often not eating the same dishes as everyone else, and it feels different.

There is something about having the same foods that you have chosen to nourish your own body be the same foods that are nourishing those you love.  If we want to get symbolic: it is as if the building blocks that I am consuming to become a part of me are the same building blocks that are becoming a part of you, and so by sharing the same food we are building a (hopefully) delicious bridge between us.  We are becoming closer together not only in this experience we share, but in the very material we are made of.  If this is too hippie (or creepy?) of a concept for you, let’s just back up and imagine the difference between a lunch table where each individual brings their own brown bag filled with food that only he or she will experience, and a lunch with dishes of food being passed around and shared, where nourishment comes from a common source.  The intimacy of sharing not just the space you are eating in, but also the food you are eating, cannot be denied.

I am grateful for this time I have apart from the communal eating experience, to appreciate the role it plays in the non-elimination life I normally lead.  It has also added another dimension to the culinary challenge — can I make things that my friends and family, who can generally enjoy any taste they please, would be happy to share with me?  Not pity share, but share because it’s just as good as the cheese they could be eating.

For my family birthday celebration, I made a roasted cauliflower dish with a pumpkin sauce my housemate, Meredith, made up during our first week as a ‘cheesy’-sauce-substitute for (quinoa) noodles.  It is velvety and savory, and while no one would mistake it for cheese, it fills the creamy comfort shoes quite well.  I roasted cauliflower, then topped it with the sauce (made of sautéed onions, thyme, salt, pepper, pumpkin puree, and olive oil), chopped parsley for brightness, and toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch.

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And then, the ultimate challenge – a birthday cake with no chocolate (or gluten or eggs or refined sugar…).

I decided to base it on a sticky toffee pudding, since it already features dates, which are allowed in the elimination diet.  I found a recipe that was already gluten, dairy and egg-free, and altered it so that the only sweeteners were the dates and some honey (instead of maple syrup), substituted almond milk for the coconut milk, and un-dairy-freed it a little by using ghee instead of ‘buttery spread’ (ghee is okay on the ED because the milk solids have been removed).  Mer used her gluten-free baking expertise to replace the tapioca flour/potato starch combo with a tapioca flour/arrowroot powder combo, and lo and behold it was good.

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Super good.

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It may not be quite in line with the ‘honey (in moderation)’ specifications we should be aiming for, but if there’s any time to not really break the rules but kind of nudge at them a little, it’s your birthday.  At the end of the day, I had a cake I could share.  AND I didn’t even notice I wasn’t eating chocolate =)

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Week One: Done

Week 1 of our elimination diet is complete!  The novelty of this new challenge has worn off a little, but no “I’m going crazy without ____” cravings to report (yet).

Eating at home has been easy enough since we have been keeping on top of having food easily-accessible.  Eating elsewhere takes a little extra thinking ahead.  I’ve had two out-of-house eating experiences so far.  The first was great because I arrived prepared.  Friday I got together with friends, and beforehand we decided on make-your-own taco salads (since we have a few different food preferences/situations represented, but everyone enjoys their own version of the dish).  It sounded like a great idea – I love the colors, textures, and flavors of this Tex-Mex staple, and it’s totally customizable.  I just knew I wouldn’t be able to eat the tomatoes or cheese.  Or corn chips.  Or sour cream.  Or peppers…. Or guacamole, if it contained lime juice…. Or lettuce…

Turns out Tex-Mex is not elimination diet friendly.

However, I packed myself some provisions, and ended up with baby spinach topped with black beans, crushed rice cake (salty and crispy like chips), charred red onions (so good!), smashed avocado, and homemade hummus (with no lemon juice or tahini and extra garlic) as a dressing.  It exceeded my expectations!

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 The second event was the Superbowl and I arrived after work, hungry but empty-handed.  There was a full spread, but it is just so amazing how much food contains gluten/dairy/sugar/citrus/tomatoes/peppers (okay, maybe it’s not amazing, that’s a pretty broad list..)  Luckily, Mer had made crispy chickpeas, so I combined those in a bowl with cilantro and green onion and had a little crispyherbysavory salad.  I probably ate a whole can’s worth of chickpeas… But it was delicious and filled me up.

There’s always next year for cheese dip.

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And cute little guacamole football fields with cherry tomato teams.

At home, I’ve been eating things like millet with almond butter, cinnamon, and honey stirred in, topped with blueberries, raspberries, and walnuts.

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And sautéed red rice and spinach topped with avocado, sprouted lentils and hummus.

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And I have definitely been branching out and trying new things .  Tonight with dinner I made this gluten-free savory quick bread, with a few substitutions (half chick pea flour/half brown rice flour instead of oat flour, “chia eggs” instead of eggs, canned pumpkin instead of applesauce, and onion instead of garlic – because I was too lazy to roast garlic, not because of the elimination diet).   Not exactly a crusty artisan loaf, but satisfying in a corn bread kind of way.  Definitely something to experiment with!

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New Year, New Food

Hi there!  Happy 2015.

I’ve decided to get back into this blog for the new year.  Part of the impetus the ‘new year, new eating pattern’ I’m starting up today.  My housemate has many an allergy, and though she did the elimination diet years ago and found that soy is a big problem for her, she has been experiencing symptoms when she is sure she didn’t consume soy.  So she is embarking upon another elimination diet, and I have decided to journey alongside her.

What is an elimination diet, you ask?  You eliminate all of the common allergens and foods that are distressing to the GI tract for a period of time, then add foods back in, one-at-a-time, observing your symptoms as you go.  We will be in the elimination period for 6 weeks, because our naturopatic doctor friend said there is the potential to heal your gut during that amount of time.  This would be amazing for Meredith (my housemate), since she gets wicked heartburn.  We will be avoiding the usual suspects, such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol, dairy, soy, chocolate, and gluten-containing foods; however, there are also some lesser-known irritants, such as nightshade vegetables (including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant), citrus, eggs, and some nuts (peanuts, cashews, pistachios), as well as some surprises (at least to me), such as bananas (which are often treated with ripening chemicals that are allergenic), strawberries, and mushrooms.  This is the website that details the full regimen, in case you are interested.

I don’t think I have any allergies (though, who knows??), but I am interested in the experience.  I am interested in seeing how I feel when I remove foods that can be irritating to the system, and also the differences they may make when adding them back in.  I am lucky enough to enjoy most foods, and there are a lot of things that we don’t have to eliminate that I love to eat.  I expect it to be a relatively painless process, with social eating being the biggest challenge.  I recognize that a lot of things we are eliminating are perfectly healthy foods – supplying important nutrients – and I believe there is a place for (a moderate amount of) the least nutritive foods in every balanced diet, however I am looking forward to this brief detour off the beaten path of my day-to-day eating routine.  I am interested in gathering enough information about the intersection of what I eat and how I feel as possible!

Enough yakking though, let’s move on to the food.

For breakfast this morning I had quinoa with garlicy sautéed spinach and sunflower seeds.  I have made a transition over the past few months to tending towards savory breakfasts, since we now get eggs from our own backyard chickens!  No eggs allowed for the next month and a half, but I’ll be fine with bowls like this one:

 

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It was snowing gently today, so I went for a short run before lunch (it was a little icy in my eyes, but beautiful).  I’m hoping to fit some consistent running into my schedule this semester, as well as regular yoga.

The picture I took of lunch was not so good.  It looked similar to breakfast, though, so we’ll just imagine it.  I had quinoa again, this time with split peas, spinach, avocado, and some leftover vegan caesar dressing (which is AMAZING but actually doesn’t fit into this diet – it was the single ‘transitional’ item I ate today, because it needs to be used up).

My afternoon snack included more quinoa (grain of the day!).  I made a quick almond milk in the VitaMix, then added cooked quinoa for a few seconds so it creamed up a little, but still had texture.  I heated that mixture on the stove with some blueberries and cinnamon, then topped it with walnuts.  It worked out great!

 

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I didn’t take a picture of dinner, but I made a sweet potato and cauliflower stew with warm spices (cumin, garam masala, ginger, garlic, turmeric), served with quinoa (surprise!) cooked with onion and split peas.

Dessert was half a rice cake with homemade cinnamon-vanilla sunflower seed/walnut butter and raisins.  I have been wondering how my sweet tooth will do, but this I actually ate because I was still hungry — dinner was sweet enough that I wasn’t craving anything afterwards.  We’ll see how 6 chocolate-free weeks go!

 

 

 

 

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nutbut

I don’t know if I have ever fully opened up to you all about my love for nut butter. Let me share my heart with you a little today.

I have a friend wo has been known to challenge people to a game called “I love peanut butter more than you love peanut butter”, which usually ends in him telling his opponent that if there was a puppy in the road and a jar of peanut butter next to it, and a car was hurtling towards the pair at top speed, he would save the jar of peanut butter before the puppy (he has even been know to push the hypothetical puppy into the path of the hypothetical car on his way to the hypothetical peanut butter jar in order to win the game).

I’m not going to challenge you all to any hypothetical duals. I do, however, happen to have a bit of hard evidence.

(not pictured: my jar of tahini)

When you get to 6 (uh..7) jars, you start wondering if you have a problem. Actually, at this point in time I’m down to 4; I polished off the scrapings of both the chocolate almond butter and the crunchy pb in the form of overnight oats (one of the best breakfasts there is).

But.. I also have a stash squirreled away…

I’ll leave the diagnosis up to you, while I focus on the nut butter.

It’s the component of most of the breakfasts I eat that I believe really makes the meal stick with me. The healthy fats and protein are a satisfying combo, and then on top of that you get the vitamin E, iron, calcium, and antioxidants that occur in nuts and seeds in various quantities. I think the fact that the nuts are ground until their oils release means that the nutrients are brought out from their cells, ready for absorption. And your tongue can tell! Isn’t a spoonful of peanut butter more satisfying than a handful of peanuts? (or is that just me?)

Oatmeal with figs, peanut butter, and maple syrup.

And the enrichment of your life via nut butters isn’t limited to breakfast. Last night I made a saute of sweet potatoes, turnips, red pepper, and onion in a easy sauce made from a mixture of tahini, peanut butter, honey, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Just mix approximately equal amounts of those ingredients together, adjust until you like how it tastes, and thin it with water to add to your saute towards the end of cooking. You can also do salad dressings from similar mixtures.

Nut butter is an easy ingredient to play around with, and the results will seldom be unsatisfactory. Worth keeping a jar or two (or six…) in your pantry for some easily-accesible energy and flavor.

I’m always open to new ideas for things to do with nut butters, so if you have any to share, please feel free!

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A Load-a Oats: Cookie Recipes!

(Hooray, I recovered the post!  Today’s Tidbit #Two: Sometimes Perseverance Pays Off)

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for*… Here’s the missing cookie recipe from the last post.  Or, I guess, recipes, since I made the one recipe into two different cookies.

*I fully recognizes that none of you may have been waiting for this moment at all… but I hope you’re glad it’s here anyway : )

Like I said before, I started with a recipe from Oh She Glows (which was already a combination of two different recipes), and then did some experimental modification to create two different types of cookie with one dough base.

I’ll give you the base, and then the mix-ins for the two variations.  Or feel free the variate to your taste. They will satisfy any oaty and/or nutty need that resides within your being.  Plus most of the mixing takes place in a food processor, which minimizes the need for both extra hours in the day and high endurance arm strength.

Nuts and Oats Cookie Base

Ingredients:

1 cup toasted almonds*

3/4 cup oats, ground in a food processor until flour-like

1 cup old fashioned oats, not ground

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 tsp any type of milk (cow’s, soy, almond, etc)

1/4 cup (4 tbsp) unsalted butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

(*If your almonds aren’t already toasted, toast for 10-12 minutes in a 350 F oven until they smell lovely.)

Directions:

1- Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a baking sheet.

2- Put the almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground (before it starts to exude oils and turn to almond butter)

3- Add oat “flour”, all purpose flour, old fashioned oats, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar and process for about 30 seconds until all mixed up (it may seem redundant to have the floury oats and the old fashioned, but the floury ones help hold the cookies together, and the unground oats add some oat nub textures).

3- Melt the butter in a mixing bowl (or melt the butter on the stove top and then put it in the mixing bowl).  Stir in the maple syrup, milk of choice, and vanilla.  Pour these wet ingredients into the food processor and process until thoroughly combined.

4- At this point, if you are making a chocolate version of these cookies, you also need to process the cocoa powder and extra 2 tbsp milk (see below for specifications).  If you do this, expect this:

Transformation!

5- Remove dough to the mixing bowl and stir in your mix-ins.

6- Remove about 2 tbsp of dough, roll into a ball, and then flatten into a cookie shape.  Place on cookie sheet and repeat, spacing cookies about an inch apart.

7- Bake for 10 minutes, no longer!

8- Remove from oven and let sit on sheet for 2 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack until cool.

Possible Mix-In Ingredients:

for Double Dark Chocolate Oat Cookies..

2/3 cup cocoa powder

2 tbsp milk of choice

1/2 cup chocolate chips

(the cocoa powder and milk are processed in with the dough in the food processor and the chocolate chips are stirred in after)

for Extra Oaty Cherry Walnut…

1/2 cup dried cherries

1 cup old fashioned oats

1/4 cup walnut pieces

(stir all of these ingredients into the dough after removing from the food processor)

That was probably the last thing I baked just for fun… over a month ago!

School is always a difficult balance for me because if I decide to try and “relax” I often end up preoccupied about the work I should be doing.  But if I let my need to work take over, I seldom do certain things I enjoy, such as baking.  I am not as extreme as some — I always make time for running, eating, and sleeping — but there are many things in life I find pleasing and I do not want to exclude all of those things from my life.

Friday I stayed in College Park to do some grading in the hopes that Sunday could be a little more relaxing, but today is Sunday and I still feel the weight of the Things To Do that lie ahead… However, I did make a conscious decision to bake this cake, since it was something my mother expressed interest in and I am currently obsessed with fresh figs.

Figs, resting in a bed of butter and brown sugar, scattered over with rosemary, waiting to become a lemony Fresh Fig, Walnut,  and Rosemary Upside Down Cake.  I can’t vouch for the taste yet, but the smell is definitely tantalizing.  According to Food Blogga, who posted the original, it’s a cake of balance and contrast, which are the qualities that make desserts like these interesting.  I was convinced, and maybe you will be too : )

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