Sole, Saffron Rice & Baby Bok Choy

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Along the same lines as yesterday’s marinated chicken, I bought some fresh sole and marinated it in coconut oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh basil from the garden…sole

Then, pan-fried it and served it alongside white rice flavored with turmeric, saffron, and chicken broth, and some quick-sauteed bok choy.  Normally I’d season the bok choy with soy sauce, but no soy for me on the Feel Good Cleanse, so instead I used my trusty coconut aminos.

sole

(Pictured here with salmon instead of sole — made this same meal a second time with a different kind of fish!)


Chicken Thighs, Brown Rice, Mushroom Gravy & Broccolini

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When Jesse tells me a dinner I cook on my cleanse is as good as any regular dinner, I know I’m doing something right.  Here’s proof that you can cut these 10 inflammatory food groups out of your diet and still eat like a queen:

dinner

1) Brown rice: I always have a pot of this in the fridge or out on the stovetop even when I’m not cleansing, so this was a no-brainer.  I use brown rice as everything from salad filler to a substitute for the bread in a breakfast bird’s nest, so there’s at least 1-2 servings of this already cooked and on hand at all times.

2) Chicken: I shop at Costco once a month and splurge on 1 type of meat to keep in the freezer.  They usually come in packs of 3, so after the first few months we’ve always had a rotation of yummy, organic, easy proteins on hand.  This month we have big 3-lb. packs of boneless skinless chicken thighs, which I defrosted the day before and marinated in a tupperware overnight with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper, some dried spices, and basil from the garden.  Heated our cast iron skillet on high to sear them, and then once the chicken had released some of its juices, turned it down and threw in half a bunch of…

3) Broccolini: I splurged this week and went to New Seasons, which seems to be the only place in town that carries broccolini.  With all the juices and seasonings from the chicken, I didn’t need to do a single thing to the broccolini.  Just set it in the skillet for the last 5 minutes of chicken cooking, put a lid on top so it would steam and cook everything fully, and stirred it around a bit halfway through so all the sides would get nice and caramelized.

4) Gravy: This was actually totally Jesse’s idea.  We had a handful of mushrooms in the fridge on the verge of going bad, and I asked what he thought we should do with them.  Gravy!  So I sliced them up, sauteed them in olive oil and salt, and then sprinkled them with a few spoonfuls of white bean flour.  Once it thickened and started to get gummy, I added a small amount of coconut milk, to give it creaminess, but I didn’t want it to taste too coconutty, so I thinned it out with water and let it re-thicken to the right consistency.  Even with some fresh basil it was still missing something, and I didn’t want to keep adding salt (which is a hard crutch to shake when my usual vices of soy sauce, hot sauce, or chili flakes are all off-limits) so instead I added a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and it was perfect.  I’ve been eating this gravy on everything all week!

mushroom gravy


The Feel-Good Cleanse

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countdown calendar

I like to call this my “annual cleanse,” but truth be told, this is the first time I’ve embarked on it in a couple of years.  The first time I tried it, it was upon recommendation from my naturopath, whom I’d been seeing for a number of low-grade-but-totally-impairing ailments like eczema, apocalyptic menstrual cramps, and most notably, exhaustion.  I was so, so, so tired, all the time.  For someone who was finally getting enough sleep (after years of workaholic 5-hour nights) and drinking as much coffee as I was, it just didn’t make sense.

Most likely, my naturopath offered, all of these things were connected, and had to do with something in my diet.  The “cleanse” she recommended to me wasn’t so much of a cleanse in the traditional sense (no 10-day juicing regimen or toddies of hot lemon water and cayenne!), but more of an elimination diet.  In the world of naturopathy, all of my ailments pointed to different forms of inflammation, and there are certain foods that trigger this — ten of them, in fact.  The theory behind elimination diets is that if you cut out all the possible culprits for a few weeks, give your gut bacteria a chance to settle down and stabilize, then you can start adding these foods back in, with each new introduction being a “challenge” to see how your body reacts.  Once you’ve abstained from these foods for long enough (about 4 weeks), re-introducing the perpetrator will cause a much stronger reaction than before, so it’s super simple to nail down which food(s) you might have a sensitivity to.

When she showed me the list of foods to completely abstain from, for a full 4 weeks, I said no, immediately.  We are talking about a full month without:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Red Meat
  • Sugar
  • Nightshades
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

But for some reason, the psychological challenge tugged at a little part of my brain even more than the possibility of feeling better in my own body, and I woke up the next morning, decided it was Day 1, and promptly made a tear-away calendar.  I love tear-away calendars.

And after 4 weeks?  The astonishing thing was that even after rigidly abstaining from everything on this list, and reintroducing each element one-by-one, just like I was supposed to, I concluded…nothing.  All of my symptoms had gone away — rashes on my hands, crazy period cramps, uncomfortable digestion, and most amazingly, the lethargy.  Granted, the first 5 or so days without coffee, for someone who has woken up to coffee every day of her life since age 15, were absolute hell.  But after that it got easier, and I was astonished at how much more energy I had all day long, compared to a week earlier when I’d been drinking coffee and eating all the things on this list.

I was confused by the outcome of the cleanse, but this was my naturopath’s explanation: Lucky for me, I didn’t seem to have a glaring allergy or sensitivity to any of the foods on this list.  After the cleanse was over, I went right back to eating all the cheesy, bready, tomato-ey goodness I always had, but they were no longer triggering all this body malaise.  Sometimes, your body just needs a reset.  It’s possible that I do have a very low-level sensitivity to one or more of these foods, and it had just built up to a point that it was dragging my body down.  But 4 weeks is a long, long time as far as diet goes, and it just may have been long enough to flush out all the years of residue or whatever was going on in there, and with a clean start, my body was able to handle it all again…for awhile, at least!

Which is why I like to call this a “cleanse,” not a “diet” or a “challenge” or a “fast.”  I’m not doing it to lose weight (though, that is often an unintended consequence, as it is anytime you are forced to make deliberate decisions about every bite you’re putting in your mouth), I’m not doing it to reach enlightenment, or to flush my body of everything but fruit juice; I’m doing it to give my body a break, to hit that reset button once a year and give it some time to recover.  And I’m certainly not fasting.  I eat 3 full meals a day on this cleanse, and snacks aplenty, and it’s damn delicious food!

Yes, this list of no-no’s looks brutally restrictive, but in fact, for any homebody creative cook, it’s really not that hard.  I made it the full 4 weeks eating 3 full meals a day, and barely repeating a single meal once.  It’s hard to train your brain away from the easiest foods to prep, cook, and bring to work (like sandwiches, quesadillas, tacos, scrambles…even healthy options like yogurt smoothies, or a fresh heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad).  But once you learn some go-to substitutes, and once you figure out that it’s not necessarily tortilla chips you’re craving but really just some CRUNCH, it’s totally doable.

The hardest part for me is that this really all has to take place at home.  I live in Portland, where food allergies are mainstream and catered to with pride, so I actually do have a handful of options of places to eat out if I’m really going stir-crazy and want to “get a drink” (i.e. kale-celery-wheatgrass-citrus juice) with a friend.  But for the most part, this cleanse means cooking or at least prepping every meal in your own kitchen, so that you know every ingredient in the sauce you’re making, or so that you can be sure that rice isn’t cooked in butter, or that there isn’t soy lecithin in that gluten-free cracker, or soy in that dairy-free ice cream.  Ugh, there is soy in EVERYTHING).

So yeah, it gets boring to stay at home, especially for someone like me whose social life often revolves around eating and drinking at our favorite establishments around town.  BUT, that doesn’t mean the food has to be boring, and I will tell you that keeping the food interesting is probably the only way you’ll get through a full 4 weeks of this.

Oh yeah, and of COURSE you can do it on less than $6 a day!


Tom Kah Soup

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Amazingly, my number one favorite soup, Tom Kah Soup, is totally feasible on my cleanse.  In fact, aside from omitting the red pepper flakes that give it a nice spicy kick, I didn’t even have to adapt this one at all, to make it work on the cleanse.

Admittedly, it is pretty basic, and as simple as throwing all these things into a pot together, boiling, and simmering.


That is, a base of homemade chicken broth (that’s what’s in the salsa container) and water, Tom Kah soup paste from FuBonn (an ingredients check reveals no cleanse-crashing culprits!), fresh mushrooms (normally I don’t buy pre-sliced mushrooms, but I was already at TJ’s and there they were, just as cheap as all the others) half a bag of Trader Joe’s seafood blend, bamboo shoots, fresh basil, and green onions.

I first let the broth cook down with the mushrooms, soup paste, bamboo shoots, and seafood.  Then I added some coconut milk, and some wide rice noodles at the end, so that this soup would be filling enough to have as a meal, which is fortunate because it’s still been 50 degrees and pouring rain all week long.  Portland’s soup season is a long one.



Vegan Breakfast Smoothie

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This is what I eat just about every morning for breakfast while I’m doing this cleanse.   It’s filling, proteinalicious, provides a ton of fruit which I end up craving more during these two weeks than at any other point in the year, takes like three minutes to make, and can be easily transported in a jar and tossed in my bike basket if I’m running late, which is almost always, to be enjoyed once I get to work.

I buy my frozen fruit at Trader Joe’s because it’s cheap cheap cheap, and I consume a vast quantity of it when I’m cleansing.  Normally bananas don’t get to be on my grocery list — not because I don’t love them (and honestly I think it’s genius that something this starchy gets to be called a fruit. Loopholes FTW!), but because they don’t make the Washington/Oregon/California locality cut.  But in the spirit of not being insanely restrictive, I let them back in during the cleanse.

Into the blender goes:
  • 1 banana
  • a handful of frozen mixed berries
  • a small handful of frozen mango
  • a handful of whole raw almonds
  • enough almond milk to get the blender to puree everything smoothly, but not so much that you’d be able to drink this through a straw


Tuna Casserole with Cashew-Dill Cream Sauce

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It’s been a low-key kind of week, as tends to be the case with a cleanse.  Not only are the options limited for going out when eating or drinking is involved, but anything that strays too far from home entails bringing the next X number of meals with me, camping-style.

So there have been a lot of evenings on my couch, starting new crochet projects and finishing old ones, being totally caught up on dishes, email, and phone calls for the first time in months.  And not feeling too guilty about laying low since we still have barely broken 60 degrees, and still, for the life of it, Portland cannot stop raining. 

I’ve come to realize recently that cream sauce seems to be a foundational element of my cooking repertoire.  It is inevitably my answer to any casserole, pasta medley, or steamed vegetable lacking gusto, and presents quite the challenge when dairy is out of the picture.

Enter cashews.  I’ve been to enough vegan-friendly restaurants to know that cashews can play understudy to a thick, creamy bechamel sauce that begins with a buttery roux…or at least could pull it off in a third grade version of the play and fumble their way through.

So I researched some cashew cream sauce recipes online, and came up with this star of a meal, inspired by this recipe.


First, I soaked 1 cup of cashews for about an hour, in enough water to fill one of my big soup bowls.  Once they had finished soaking I drained the water, but saved it for later.  Then I put it in my food processor, along with a clove of garlic, a few healthy squirts of lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a few heaping spoonfuls of nutritional yeast, and enough of the reserved water to allow this to churn into a nice, wet paste.


I couldn’t really tell how I felt about the taste with it at room temperature like this, so I transferred it all to a saucepan, and started to heat it slowly.  As it got warmer and started to feel more like a sauce, I added some fresh chopped dill, and more salt.  It also tasted a little like over-garlicked hummus at this point, so to redistribute the flavors, I added more of the reserved water, and then some brown rice flour, to thicken it up (I know, brown rice is my knight in shining armor, right?).

After 20 minutes or so of playing with the consistency, it was perfect.  Creamy, flavorful, and even a little bit cheesy, if I do say so myself, from all the nutritional yeast.  If I were actually vegan, I would probably purchase stock in this ingredient.


Next, I made the pasta — brown rice pasta, of course.
I also sauteed up some mushrooms (in olive oil), caramelized some onions, and added these all to the pasta in the casserole dish, along with a can of tuna.  I incorporated the perfect cream sauce, and baked, covered, at 350 degrees for half an hour.


It don’t look pretty, but it was damn good.

Red Lentil Spread, Chickpea Salad, Marinated Beets

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Today was all about the cooking.  The main thing to keep in mind about this cleanse is that, while it’s not so hard to meet all the restrictions (no gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nightshades, alcohol, coffee, red meat, or sugar) when you’re by yourself, at home, on your day off, it pretty much restricts you from eating or drinking anything outside of the house…ever.
Which means that during the workweek, you really need to think ahead and have a whole spectrum of food ready-made to bring with you, because the only times when I find this cleanse to be tough is when I find myself at work, on a slow day, feeling snacky.  Or having to stay later than I planned, and starving.  
So my plan was to take advantage of the fact that I’m starting this cleanse on my “weekend” (Monday/Tuesday) and equip myself for the week.
First off, lentil spread.  This serves the purpose of humus in my mind — something to spread on rice cakes for an afternoon snack — proteiny, flavorful, and salty.  But since chickpeas are the protagonist in my salad this week, and because I hate cleaning out my blender more than I have to (smoothie onslaught, remember?), I went with red lentils, because they self-puree!


I took my smallest little pot and poured in a cup of red lentils, and about twice as much water, added some salt, and brought it to a boil, then lowered it to a healthy simmer.  To this I added a few threads of saffron, some fresh ground cumin, a clove of chopped garlic, and some grated ginger, and let simmer together for about 45 minutes, adding a little more water if too much evaporated.  

Once all the lentils had “popped” and it had a smooth consistency, I let it cool to room temperature, added a few squirts of lime juice, and refrigerated.

Meanwhile, I had wrapped up three little beets in tinfoil, and roasted them at 400 degrees for an hour.  I opened up this little nest, let the steam escape, and once they had cooled, slid the skin off with my fingers.
I chopped each one in half, sliced them thinly, and marinated them in olive oil and red wine vinegar, in a 3:1 ratio, sprinkling some lavender rosemary sea salt on top to finish them off.

And finally, a hearty salad for the week.  Any meal that begins with a cup of soaked-salted-and-cooked chickpeas is already off to a good start.


One of my favorite refreshing summer salads is crunchy cucumber-dill, so this is just a variation on that: I added to the bowl a healthy dose of olive oil and red wine vinegar, more than seems necessary for this amount of beans.

But once you add the rest of the ingredients — chopped carrots, red onion, cucumber wedges, parsley, cracked pepper (totally on the cleanse!  Only chiles, cayenne, and paprika are considered nightshades), and fresh dill — it turns out to be the perfect amount, gently coating each piece.  This salad is best eaten with a spoon.


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Arborio Rice Pudding

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One of the toughest parts of this cleanse for me (other than the obvious — coffee…I had two separate dreams last night about coffee, deciding whether I wanted iced or hot based on recent variable temperatures) is breakfast.

Usually breakfast for me consists of either yogurt and granola, oatmeal, or eggs and homemade toast.  Given that those are all immediately stricken from my list of options, the last time I went through this I opted for smoothies, almost every day.  

Smoothies are awesome, but I also live in a basement, and even when it could potentially get up to 65 degrees outside during the day (seriously people, let’s keep our fingers crossed), it’s hard to jump out of bed and eat something icy first thing in the morning day after day.  

The other day while I was brainstorming my meal plan for this cleanse, a bowl of mango sticky rice popped into my head.  While I definitely plan on making this at some point during these two weeks, since the creamy component comes entirely from coconut milk, I followed this train of thought to its little brother, rice pudding.


A quick Google search for vegan variations on this dessert quickly turned it into a healthy breakfast alternative, and totally easy.  

I started with arborio rice, since I know from my risotto experience that it can quickly turn starchy and creamy, just what I wanted.  I cooked up half a cup of it, using half a cup of water and half a cup of coconut milk, and while this was all simmering together, added:
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp agave syrup
  • handful of raisins
This made enough for two portions, so I set aside half for the next morning, and the first half, I topped with sliced banana and a handful of crushed walnuts.  Finally, smoothie, you have met your match.