I have a handful of random little maladies that flare up throughout the course of the year — nothing that on its own feels like anything that serious, but right around April is when they all start to converge at once, and start to make me feel a little debilitated. These maladies cover the range of all my systems, from skin to circulation to energy to digestion, and I’d venture to guess that they’re all somewhat connected, and most likely linked to something I’m eating that maybe I shouldn’t be.
So far I’ve been lucky, and by doing these elimination diets and then “challenging” my body as I add the forbidden foods back in, I haven’t found any glaring red flags that would urge me to, say, swear off gluten for the rest of my life. For the past few years I’ve been able to use this cleanse as a reset button of sorts, like a spring detox to clear all the lurking toxins out of my body that I probably do have at least some mild sensitivities to, and that pretty much keeps me going for the rest of the year, able to eat and drink whatever I want.
So here we go, here’s what I’m not putting in my body for these 3 weeks:
- nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc.)
- red meat
Sounds like just about everything, doesn’t it? Well, if you’re accustomed to eating out a lot or relying on processed foods, then yes, it’s pretty limiting. But in fact, cooking at home with simple, fresh ingredients, there are still a bajillion things I can eat.
And since I tend to lay pretty low these few weeks that I do my cleanse, not going out to eat or drink, cooking all my meals at home, I like to really get into it. Clearly, I love the challenge of food constraints. This just raises the bar a little higher. What fantastic meals can I make within these limitations?
Well believe you me, I have some ideas up my sleeve. In fact, here’s my meal plan brainstorm from last year, and now that I’m going on year three, I have even more ideas to throw in the mix.
So on Monday I went to New Seasons and Trader Joe’s and stocked up — lots of fruit and veggies, nuts, dried fruit, gluten-free grains and flours, herbs, chicken and fish, juice, and my favorite: brown rice pasta.
Here’s the thing, though. The one thing I crave and go kind of crazy without (aside from, of course, the coffee. Let’s not even talk about that right now. I’m relying on loads of green tea so I can still get up in the morning and run my businesses, but truly, it is no substitute) is crunchy, salty, bready snacks. Rice cakes just don’t cut it for me, and while I have wild aspirations to make rice-and-teff flour enjeras to hold lunch roll-ups, and while I do love me a good dragon bowl full of quinoa and seaweed and roasted veggies, I just really miss the crunchy snacks.
Sure, there are rice snacks in the gluten-free aisle, but almost all of them have either corn or soy in their ingredients (if only because they are all tamari-flavored), and the rare few that don’t are crazy expensive. And while, yes, I do bump up my grocery budget a little during my cleanse month since I won’t be going out to eat or drink at all, I just can’t swallow paying $4 for three little rows of round rice snaps.
And I figured, if they exist…there’s got to be a way to make them right?
Sure enough, some online trolling brought up a couple ideas, and most important for me is, these can be simple. Simple as in:
1) Fully cook 1/3 cup brown rice (yielding about a cup when fully cooked)
2) Mix in a bowl with 1.5 cups brown rice flour
3) Add 1 tsp salt, some olive oil, a handful of flax seeds, and water until a pasty dough has formed
4) Roll into little balls and press onto an oiled baking sheet, and bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until they’ve browned
Verdict: I’m stoked. I need to work on the texture a little bit, maybe rolling them out with a pin next time, so they’re a little thinner (these definitely could be used as teething rings, which perhaps is why I found the inspiring recipe on a mommy blog), but this pretty much made my week. This yielded about 20 huge crackers, and I’ve been eating them with everything — dipped in hummus for an afternoon snack, covered in mashed avocado and sea salt for a savory breakfast, as the bookends to a faux PB&J sandwich, and as a crunchy accompaniment to my uber-salad for dinner last night.
Oh, and I think I may have discovered the solution to the other massive roadblock I encounter every year on this cleanse: no soy sauce. Asian cuisine is definitely the route to go for these few weeks, since so much of the dishes naturally omit the foods I’m avoiding, but there’s just no way to get around soy sauce, providing that certain kind of tangy saltiness that nothing else can!
I’ve been using it when I brown chicken for salads, along with olive oil, some oregano, and nutritional yeast. My friend Kate, who tried a dab straight up on her finger, recommended against me doing the same if I feel like it’s doing the trick. I believe her exact words were, “Keep the dream alive.”
Like I said, I do give myself a bit of leeway this month, since I have to stock up on some ingredients to make this cleanse work that are more expensive than I usually spring for — lots of nuts and dried fruit, exotic flours, fresh fish and chicken. I usually set aside some cash for going out during the month — $20 each week for food, and $15 for drinks, so I’m giving myself an extra $70 in cash to spend on groceries this month if I need to.
I also give myself some wiggle room on the local produce rule. Breakfast smoothies necessitate bananas, and I usually need a little more avocado than usual just to stay sane, even if they are coming from Ecuador.
New Seasons 4/2
Coconut aminos: $5.49
Thompson raisins: $1.32
brown rice flour: $2.74
amaranth: $2.03 — for hot cereal in the mornings, cooked with dried fruit, nuts, maple syrup, and almond milk
dried peaches: $4.10
mixed nuts: $8.31
gluten-free bulk granola: $4.29 — for when I’m really craving the cereal
mission figs: $2.14
dried hummus mix: $1.68 — add water and olive oil. The perfect emergency snack to keep at work!
fuji apples: $2.51
crimini mushrooms: $5.79
mixed greens: $3.60
yellow onions: $1.48
fresh dill: $2.99
5 lb. bag carrots: $4.99
fresh ginger: $0.56
gold beet: $3.20
ground chicken: $3.23
REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $135.83
Trader Joe’s 4/2
orange peach mango juice: $2.99
fresh basil: $2.79
almond milk: $1.99
brown rice fusilli: $5.97
coconut milk: $1.98
frozen berry medley: $3.29
soprasetta salami: $3.99
cashews: $6.99 — cashew cream sauce coming up!
fresh limes: $1.17
frozen pearl onions: $1.69
frozen salmon fillets: $7.54
toasted sesame oil: $2.29
canned tuna: $3.38
chicken breast tenderloins: $6.99
REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $82.78
How did the rest of my Project: Food Budget-ers do?