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.


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.

The Cleanse

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Last year, I took on the challenge of my first cleanse.  I’ve never been much of a cleanser (and certainly not a faster!), especially since I think I eat pretty well, as it is.  The idea seemed superfluous, until I met with my naturopath to try to figure out the cause of all these nagging little ailments I had, which I’d learned to live with over the years: pretty ridiculous fatigue, even if I’d had a good night’s sleep, and especially considering the volume of coffee I consume; apocalyptic periods; severe congestion while I was sleeping; random skin rashes; and periodic digestive problems.  Even when I was eating light and healthy foods, I would feel bloated after every meal, for the rest of the day, like my body just wasn’t processing anything I was eating.

Once I started listing all these things off, it became embarrassingly apparent that maybe something more systemic was going on.  We ran a bunch of blood tests, and surprisingly, they came back red-flag-free — stellar, even.  I think she actually told me it was one of the most impressive blood workups she’d ever seen.  

So, she concluded, there’s a good chance that rather than a deficiency, there’s something you’re eating that’s “not serving you well.”  She suggested I try an elimination diet — that is, cutting out a whole host of foods from my menu for a full 3 weeks, and then spending the next 2 weeks doing “food challenges,” or adding each one of these foods back in, one-by-one, to see which one might be the culprit.

The ten foods that I was supposed to edit out for this cleanse are the ones with the highest risk of being inflammatory:

  • gluten
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • soy
  • corn
  • nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, etc.)
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • red meat
  • sugar

Yeah, for real.  When she said caffeine I just about died.  All of this seemed possible, actually, except for the coffee.  So I told her that I’d think about it, although already I had decided it was a no-go.  The idea of even 3 weeks without coffee seemed too bleak to consider.

But sitting at home later that night, considering that there was no way all these weird body issues I was facing could be normal, and now having realized that they might all be connected, there was no way to blot that recent information out, and I knew I’d have to try this at some point.

But how do you find five weeks of your life when there isn’t a major food-and-or-alcohol event going on?  In my world, it’s hard to even find a week where I wouldn’t be missing out on something.  I sat down with my calendar and realized that with all the weddings, festivals, craft shows, friends visiting, and camping trips I had scheduled between May and September, that the only way I’d be able to effectively try this cleanse was if I started the next day.

So that’s what I did.  I woke up the next morning and for the first time in over ten years, didn’t drink a cup of coffee (I still allowed myself green tea because, hey, I’ve got 3 businesses to run here), and drove bleary-eyed to New Seasons to stock up on amaranth and rice cakes.

And yeah, not drinking coffee sucked just about as bad as I expected it to…for about four days.  And then it actually got easier, and I found myself waking up in the mornings with a tiny shred of natural optimism, previously only induce-able by a strong homemade latte.  

The food restrictions were actually no problem at all.  Once I got used to the fact that I wouldn’t be going out for a meal for the next month, and just focused on all the things I could cook at home, it became a fun game, to see what awesome meals I could come up with, given such a ludicrous set of restrictions.

The end result?  I got the best of both worlds.  By the end of the initial 3 weeks of elimination, every single one of my “symptoms” had disappeared — which was fantastic news, but also dreadful, because that must mean that one of those ten foods is my kryptonite.  But amazingly, as I started the challenge phase of the diet and added each food back in one-by-one, nothing changes.  No symptoms came back while I had glorious reunions with all my old friends — homemade honey whole wheat bread, crumbled bleu cheese in salads, iced coffee while I worked at a coffeeshop on a Tuesday afternoon…they all reintegrated quietly and cooperatively, and I got to shrug and say quizzically, “I guess I just needed a cleanse?”

So with gratitude towards the fact that I will still be able to eat deviled eggs at housewarming parties, and smoked gouda macaroni and cheese on damp Portland nights, but with respect towards the fact that something was out of whack as a result of eating those foods my whole life, I am implementing The Cleanse as an annual May ritual.

This time it’s only two weeks, since I don’t need to do the challenge part, and two weeks seems long enough to sweep out all the lingering inflammatory agents from the past year.  This time, however, I have more of a game plan.  

April Groceries

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4/1/2011 :: Fred Meyer
emergency lunch stuff: $15.00 — i.e. tuna, canned soup, mayo, crackers…stuff to keep at work just in case I’m not at home in the morning to make lunch for that day!
olive bar: $3.52 — because I can’t resist.
V8 juice
: $3.87 — the fruity kind, not the tomato, for mixing with iced tea at work now that it’s getting nice out!
Diet Coke: $6.39 — Yes, my secret vice.  With lime.
pasta: $2.76
red potatoes: $1.52
red onion: $0.37
ground turkey: $5.97
shredded cheese: $2.50
TOTAL: $41.90
4/8/2011 :: Fred Meyer
half & half: $1.99
sharp cheddar cheese: $3.49
head of romaine lettuce: $1.50
: $2.99
Kettle chips
: $2.00 — score! 
turkey breast: $3.99
TOTAL: $17.95

4/11/2011 :: New Seasons
romaine lettuce: $1.50
parsley: $1.29
avocado: $0.99
basil: $2.99
broccoli: $3.74
penne: $2.60
parsnip: $1.76
green cabbage: $2.52
pink lady apple: $0.84
roasting chicken: $13.45
carrots: $2.42
serrano pepper: $0.10
beets: $2.36
red onion: $0.91
meyer lemon: $0.78
TOTAL: $38.25
4/18/2011 :: Trader Joe’s
coffee: $6.99
diced tomatoes
: $5.97
: $2.98
trail mix
: $4.49
almond milk
: $3.38
dried cranberries
: $1.99
lemon pepper pappardelle pasta
: $1.99 — this makes amazing pasta salads!
trek mix
: $3.69
instant oatmeal
: $3.49
red pepper spread
: $2.29
brown rice fusilli
: $5.97
orecchiette pasta
: $0.99
TOTAL: $44.22

4/25 :: New Seasons
spinach: $2.59
salad mix: $2.52
sparkling wine: $8.99
crimini mushrooms
: $3.91
: $2.99
eggs: $1.99
half and half
: $1.69
: $0.77
green onions
: $0.99
TOTAL: $26.44
REMAINING FOR MONTH: ($18.76) — Darn, went a little bit over this month…