Wall of yarn

In an effort to reduce my many trips to the craft store, I decided to start ordering yarn wholesale (thank you, Karen Brady, for the advice!). It arrived this week and I got it all arranged in my cube shelves.

I’ve already used a bunch of it, and it’s so cool to be able to just go downstairs to my “store” and pick up whatever colors I need.

In other news, this is the last week of the cleanse. I’ll be relieved when it’s over, but I know I can’t go crazy and eat whatever I’ve been craving just because I can. We were thinking about some things we’d like to keep doing like buying almond butter instead of peanut butter and trying to eat blueberries more often. I also plan to cook some of the new things I tried, like lamb and artichokes, on a regular basis.

This week I made a really yummy white bean and kale soup.

I tried to make some biscuits again using a gluten-free baking mix, but they were just as bad as the last ones, maybe worse. Oh well. I probably didn’t need them anyway.

Last night I made trout. I don’t think I’ve ever made it before. I just baked it with some lemon slices, capers, fresh thyme sprigs, olive oil, salt and pepper.

It was really good. I think you could make just about any fish with those ingredients and it would turn out well.

I also tried Joy’s spiced almond steamer, which is a nice alternative to tea at night. I bought some cauliflower to make as a side dish this week. It’s another thing I pretty much never make, so I’m excited to see how it turns out. Well, as excited as someone can be about cauliflower!

Snacking on…

This week I’ve been eating the yummiest snack in the afternoons. It’s just a brown rice cake smeared with a little almond butter and drizzled with agave nectar. The agave is a little runny, so it’s actually better if you mix it into the almond butter first.

I guess I don’t have a photo of the broccoli soup we’ve been eating, but we liked that a lot, too. I have no illusions about it being the same texture as a regular cream soup (even if our blender is the problem), but it tasted great.

This week it seems like we’ve settled into a routine and we’re not thinking as much about the foods we’re missing. It’s supposed to be rainy and gloomy the next few days, so we probably won’t want to do anything but curl up with a bowl of soup and a cup of tea anyway.

Halfway through the cleanse

So, two weeks in and the good news is, I haven’t quit yet! I’ve lost not quite 5 pounds, in fact. But I’ve definitely entered the boredom stage, so I’ve been trying to squeeze in some new recipes.

I tried steaming fresh artichokes for the first time. I had saved an article from Real Simple about how to do that, and it was really helpful. Once they were cooked, I took out the hearts and used them to make an artichoke pesto.

It was really tasty, and I probably should have just spread it on some rice crackers and eaten it like that. But I decided to spread it on chicken breasts instead. It made a lovely sauce, but it tasted very meh. Kind of a disappointment.

Next I’m going to try Joy’s vegan broccoli soup. I still love my butternut squash and curried lentil soups, but I need something new.

I can’t help but think it looks a little like baby food.

Our saving grace has been rice noodle soups from a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. I’m sure they don’t pass the clean test 100 percent, but they are so soothing and flavorful.

I’ve also been enjoying faux Sprite — just organic lime juice squeezed into sparkling water.

In other news I’ve been working on some new products for 2012. I’m going to make these tiny crochet bowls with cotton/hemp yarn. They’re so cute, and perfect for storing random earrings and things.

And then I ordered some wool roving so I can experiment more with making my own giant yarn.

I am super excited and kind of nervous about this. I hope it works!

Week 2 of the cleanse

I finally broke out the juicer. Now that we’re supposed to be having 2 liquid meals a day I’m having juice for breakfast. Mike has been having blueberry-almond smoothies because they stick with him a little better while he’s at work.

My “green” juices have been coming out mostly orange. I think it’s because my kale is kind of dry so it doesn’t produce much juice. Or maybe it’s because we got the HUGE bag of carrots at the store this week. Carrots are so cheap!

We also got a huge container of blueberries. Otherwise we end up buying multiple small containers or running out by like Thursday.

The other night I made salmon, just like I would normally make it. All you need is salt, pepper, and olive oil. I think I am getting better at perfecting the cooking time, so it’s so moist it doesn’t need any sauce.

Then last night I made this chicken stir-fry.

I marinated the chicken pieces in wheat-free tamari, sesame oil, agave nectar, garlic, and black pepper. Then I sauteed up some veggies before adding in the chicken/marinade to finish cooking. I can definitely see this being a go-to meal (with brown rice) even after the cleanse. And I kind of needed it because I’ve been getting bored already of eating the same things.

I haven’t been too hungry, but I have been craving all sorts of bad things like cupcakes and cheeseburgers. I think it takes a while to get over that when you’ve told yourself you can’t have something.

I also made some terrible gluten-free biscuits.

I wanted something carb-y that was not brown rice or quinoa. They were pretty soft in the middle but way too crumbly and sort of chalky tasting. If you know of any good gluten-free baking mixes I would love to hear about them.

I made a split pea soup and I’m thinking about making this curried lentil soup. I still have a huge piece of butternut squash so I may make a soup with that, too. I need more soup ideas!

Days 3 and 4

Yesterday was day 3 of the cleanse. Neither one of us ever got a caffeine headache, which was awesome. I felt fantastic yesterday and pretty energetic today as well. I’ve pretty much eaten the same things both days.

Breakfast: blueberry-almond smoothie
Lunch: guacamole with rice crackers, one clementine
Snacks: hummus and carrots, pineapple
Dinner: Herbed chicken with brown rice and roasted zucchini. I just made this recipe without any parmesan cheese, and subbed some gluten-free tamari for most of the Worcestershire sauce)
Also: sparkling water with raspberries, pomegranate white tea

Still enjoying the colorful foods (apart from the beige chicken and rice)

By next week I’ll probably have had enough smoothies to be ready for juice breakfasts instead. We’re going to have a major veggie shopping trip to the grocery store this weekend.

New Year, fresh start

OK, confession. I weighed myself the other day and I had gained 9 pounds. Yowsa!

I had already planned on doing a cleanse in January, and I knew the last month had been pretty gluttonous, but that was the motivation I needed to kick start everything.

Step one: trash temptations.

And guess what… Mike is doing it with me!

We’ve actually really enjoyed the first couple of days. The food is just so fresh and colorful. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a salad more than the first one I ate yesterday.

In case you didn’t follow me last year, the cleanse consists of one week of an elimination diet where you stop eating processed foods, refined sugar, and a slew of foods that people often have allergies to (peanuts, dairy, wheat, shellfish…) Then you follow that with three weeks of eating off that list, but with two liquid meals a day. For me that was usually one juice and one soup, and I plan to do that again. You can also take probiotics and fiber to help your digestive system heal.

Here’s what I’ve had the first two days:

Breakfast: Blueberry-almond smoothie (1 cup almond milk, 2 tablespoons almond butter, two handfuls of blueberries, one pitted date)
Lunch: Salad of butter lettuce, carrots, pecans, and an avocado with homemade dressing
Snack: Hummus and carrots
Dinner: Moroccan-spiced lamb chops, quinoa with pine nuts and pineapple, sauteed zucchini and shallots
Also, two cups of black tea (trying to wean myself off coffee)

Breakfast: Quinoa oatmeal (leftover quinoa warmed up with almond milk, cinnamon, walnuts, raspberries, and a drizzle of agave nectar)
Lunch: Same salad as Day 1
Snacks: One fruit/nut ball and hummus on homemade crackers
Dinner: Butternut squash bisque (roasted squash, apple, and carrot chunks blended up with onions, celery, apple cider vinegar, water, salt, and turmeric)
Also, one cup green tea and a glass of sparkling water with crushed raspberries

We’ve definitely felt hungry at times and are expecting a withdrawal period to set in. But overall I think we’re doing well. I’d never cooked lamb before, but it was super easy and delicious. I’m trying to be diverse in my meal planning because I know we’ll get sick of eating the same things pretty quickly.

I was thinking about some of the things that helped me lose weight last year. Some deep thoughts, some tips and tricks. If I have a health resolution for this year it’s to remember all of these things and keep using them every day.

• Be honest with yourself about how much you weigh and the bad habits that got you there.
• Then forgive yourself for all of it and work on freeing yourself of guilt from splurges. It never helps.
• Believe that change is possible. You are the one in charge of everything you put in your mouth.
• Eat real food. I’ve gotten to a point where I’d rather have real butter and real cream if I’m gonna have it, just in small amounts. No more diet Coke.
• Avoid sugar and processed foods as much as possible. These are the things that pull you into an addictive cycle that makes you hungry for more junk. If you shouldn’t eat it, don’t keep it in your house either. I always send treats to work with Mike so they don’t hang around too long.
• Get smaller plates and bowls that fit realistic servings. Use measuring cups if you’re not sure what a serving looks like.
• Keep an emotional journal rather than a food journal. It always helped me more to write down how I felt at the end of the day.
• View weight loss like a man. And by that I mean stop beating yourself up for past failures and focus on the practical solutions that will help you get on track.
• At restaurants, order what you want to eat, but eat half an entree. Then you get to have it twice! Also, split desserts so you get your splurge without being overly full.
• Make time to meal plan, shop, and cook. If eating healthy is important to you, you have to do those things.
• Try to eat more earlier in the day when you need the energy (for me being hungry in the afternoon and then eating big dinners has always been a problem). Instead of dessert, have a cup of tea at night. It’s the perfect way to wind down.

I certainly haven’t been perfect with my eating habits, but the past few months have been so eye-opening and so refreshing compared to years of struggling. I still eat well, and I eat plenty of rich foods, but I have changed a lot of my day-to-day habits. The fact that I want to do a cleanse, that I’m excited to do it — that in itself says it all.

Starting over with food

I think I got a little cosmic intervention on my eating habits this week. The last few weeks I have been either traveling or preoccupied with craft fair stuff, and it’s put me off my usual meal planning, cooking, and exercise routines. We were eating out a lot. Then I got really sick.

I thought I had food poisoning because it was just the kind of violent sickness people describe. Disgusting. Then I got achy and feverish and couldn’t sleep. Everything hurt. Yesterday I thought I was going to just pop out of bed and be better, but I was really weak and had a caffeine headache from no coffee for 3 days.

Finally, I am better today. And of course now Mike is sick. I think it must be a virus or something I gave to him rather than food poisoning. Which is a huge relief because I am so tired of trying to figure out what it was that I ate. Now I am blaming all the kids at Harry Potter on Saturday night!

So my first meal back was applesauce. I’m slowly progressing past soup and saltines to real food. It actually feels kind of good to be starting over. Although I never, ever want to have that kind of forced cleansing again. Ever. I’m thinking about what I can make that will be good to my body. I feel hungry for the first time since Sunday.

Any suggestions for easy-on-the-stomach meals?

My new food philosophy

I have some pretty big news to share. Mike and I have decided to ease our dietary restrictions a little and become more ‘flexitarian.’ I have been meat-free for six years and he has for 10+ years, so it is a big change for us. We were already eating fish and seafood occasionally, so we were not technically vegetarian. But not eating beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and of course, bacon, for that long did set us apart from most Americans. I’m glad I experienced that lifestyle. I think it had a huge impact on us physically and on the environment in general. But here’s why we decided to change.

A few months ago when I got into the cleanse, I started to realize that even though I thought of myself as someone who didn’t consume many processed foods, I was eating a lot of fake meat products and meat substitutes. Those were some of the first things to go off my grocery list and out of my cabinets when I cleaned house. What became more important than anything, above fat ratios and counting calories and everything else, was to eat real, whole foods. Foods that exist in nature. Foods with as few ingredients as possible. At that point I started thinking about adding some meat back into my diet. I can’t really explain it. It just felt right, like it was the missing piece.

I talked it over with Mike. He supported me fully. But after so long I was just used to eating and shopping vegetarian. I didn’t even remember how to cook meat. To be honest I was kind of afraid of it. So I didn’t really change anything.

But after some more conversations it seemed like Mike was coming to the same decision from a different angle. We’re here in the bay area where there are all these amazing foodie revolutions going on, and much of it we don’t participate in. One of our big reasons for not buying meat was that it used to be so hard to find local, sustainable, environmentally friendly options. But now you have local people raising organic grass-fed cows, curing their own bacon, using every part of the animal, really trying to go back to an artisan way of preparing meat. I can get on board with that. I even want to support it. So we talked about it some more and decided that what we wanted was to have a mostly vegetarian diet that occasionally included some meat that we could feel good about buying and eating.

All I can really say is that it’s a personal decision, and it’s our decision for now. I’m actually really excited to explore a whole new world of recipes I haven’t tried yet.

My first attempt at cooking meat was to roast a whole chicken. I used Ina Garten’s recipe, which was just spot-on. I saved the bones and made chicken stock. Then I made an enchilada casserole with the leftovers. I like seeing how a $10 chicken can go so far.

I am still getting used to the taste of meat. One of the reasons I stuck with vegetarianism so long is that there’s a lot of meat I just don’t like. I hate too-fatty pieces. I’m paranoid about e. coli on my countertops. So I probably won’t be going on the caveman diet anytime soon. But sometimes I just have to tell myself to relax a little bit. And if I don’t like something, I won’t eat it. I suspect 2/3 of my meals will still be vegetarian.

Anyway, back to my food philosophy. The main point was that, above all, my goal is to eat whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. I am trying to make more things from scratch — beans, salad dressings, trail mix and snack bars, etc. We’re buying more artisan breads that don’t have preservatives. I’m using my freezer a lot more than I used to. I really need to get into canning!

I really miss our huge garden. Sigh.

The second thing that has become really important is to cut out sugar as much as possible. That doesn’t mean eating no sugar or sugar substitutes. It just means I try to have only one dessert per week, and minimal sugar in anything else. I used to buy cookies and ice cream pretty regularly and bake a lot. The cleanse helped me realize that the sugar was keeping me in a cycle of being hungry and tired. I always felt ravenous in the afternoons with really strong cravings for sugary things and other carbs. I mean really strong. I had been adding probably 500 calories a day to my diet with them on way too many days. I know a lot of people, even nutritionists, say to have a treat every day to keep yourself satisfied. But for me, the only thing that ever kept me from wanting dessert was to stop having dessert. I can’t even tell you what a difference it’s made.

(One aside. I did bring back my butter dish. I realized that it wasn’t random pats of butter that were my problem. It was the whole sticks I had been using for baking. Plus, I am super picky about butter on bread being soft.)

Another change: I’m trying to eat more for breakfast and less for dinner. It really does seem to help my energy level, and to keep me from crashing mid-day. I’ve always eaten pretty bitty breakfasts, so it’s hard to get used to. Actually, let’s be real. It’s harder to eat less for dinner. What has helped me is using measuring cups to portion out dinner, especially for rice and other carbs. I usually find that once I’ve put something on my plate, that’s all I will eat. I don’t eat skimpy dinners by any means. But they are reasonable. And I don’t have dessert!

I love you, cake. But I just can’t have you in the house anymore.

I also try not to eat anything after about 8 p.m. That used to be pretty hard for me but it’s not anymore. I usually have a cup of green tea at night and that’s it.

So I have the three meals a day and then I always have a mid-afternoon snack. At first I was having something small like a piece of fruit or a fruit/nut ball. But now that I’m exercising I would say it’s more like 200 to 300 calories. It’s just logical. There are like 3 hours between breakfast and lunch and almost 7 between lunch and dinner. You’re going to be hungry. Just eat something.

The crazy thing is that even though I eat a lot more now than when I was on the cleanse, I am still losing weight. I have lost 15 pounds since I started the cleanse (8 during the actual month). Before that I had lost about 12 pounds from what I would call my average highest weight the past few years. I didn’t weigh myself that often so it’s kind of an estimate. But that’s 27 pounds! I had to put another notch in my new belt, and I only have one pair of jeans that fit. I can finally wear the jacket that I bought like 3 years ago thinking (like you should never, ever do) that if I just lost a few more pounds it would fit.

I had felt for so long that I couldn’t lose weight in a way that felt natural to me. I had been trying for about 10 years. The last time I felt good in my body, like my body matched up with how I felt inside, was my sophomore year in college. Since then I’ve been on an Oprah-style weight roller coaster that I’ve been desperate to get off of. I’ve been every size from a 4 to a 14. I felt like I was addicted to certain foods and could not stop eating at times. As you can see if you read this blog, I love to cook and love to eat. There’s no way I would be successful on a highly restrictive diet. So the whole foods philosophy has been a godsend for me. It’s changed everything. I feel like I can eat this way for the rest of my life, no problem.

I will say, though, that I needed to do something dramatic in the beginning to facilitate the change. It could have been any cleanse, but the one I chose was especially helpful. It just made me think a lot about my habits, and what I always thought I needed that I could live without. It was the breakthrough I really needed.

If you’ve never had a love affair with kale, you should start one.

It feels really important to me to share what I’ve been going through because I know there are so many people that feel kind of stuck in their diets. It’s not easy to give up all the processed foods that you’ve grown attached to over your lifetime, but you have to make new food attachments, positive ones. After a while it’s no big deal. The other thing is that you have to be willing to spend more money on less food, and more time in the kitchen. You have to get organized and make some time to meal plan, write a grocery list, and cook for the week. It’s kind of a putting-yourself-first thing. It’s your body, and you should want to take care of it. Since I am obsessed with organization, I’ve gotten to a point where I enjoy all of that. And by doing things like boiling your own beans, or growing your own veggies and herbs, you can shave off some of your food expenses. Make a bunch of things at once and freeze them if you know you’ll be short on time during the workweek. If you’re feeling really stressed about having time to cook, remember that a European-style bread/cheese/jam picnic can be just as good as something you spent two hours cooking.

Am I getting preachy? I don’t know. I just feel really passionate about this stuff since it’s made such an impact on me.

OK, I think this novel has gone on long enough. If you want to know anything else about what I’m eating nowadays, just ask. I’m a pretty open book.

By the way, my exercise grid is still working like a charm.

Chocolate-cranberry energy mix

I’ve never really liked trail mix as a snack, mostly I think because I don’t like raisins and I’m kind of picky about nuts. But the amazing array of trail mixes at the Berkeley Bowl inspired me to make my own mix, and here it is.

(Also, you don’t have to eat this while on a trail of any sort.)

Chocolate-cranberry energy mix

1 cup mixed nuts (so you get a few of things like hazelnuts and Brazil nuts)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup cashews

Place in a plastic zipper bag and shake until everything is evenly mixed.

I’ve been having some in one of my mini latte bowls in the afternoons, and it always tides me over until dinner.

Loving: more new foods

Have you ever tried kombucha?

It’s a fermented tea, which means it’s sort of like tea combined with soda or alcohol — a little fizzy, with a definite tang. The label even has to have a warning about the alcohol content. It took me a little to get used to the taste, but I did like it. It’s very low calorie, and has probiotics, so it should be good for digestion.

At the store Mike wanted to buy some carrot chips for snacks.

At first I was like, um, do we really need that many carrot chips? But then I started eating them, and they are awesome!

This week I’ve been making mini pizzas with these honey-wheat thin buns.

The combination of leftover shrimps, provolone, and pine nuts was really good.

We ate our little pizzas with spinach-strawberry salad.

It’s just the best combination. I used to think I didn’t like spinach as salad, but I’m coming around.

And my final discovery this week: roasted edamame.

I added a little cayenne pepper to mine, and they came out so good. I’ve been hearing edamame is a good alternative to tofu (which is pretty processed) in recipes, and this preparation has me sold.