Thursday, July 10, 2014

Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge Day 3 - A Day Without Kale

So, today is going much better.  I actually had a chance to get caught up on the kitchen last night (phew) and today is a kale-free day (huzzah!). 

With the exception of the basil and cabbage, this is a fruit salad
 Dinner last night were napa cabbage wraps with chicken/mango filling.  Surprisingly I didn't hate the mango in this, although I did cut down on the mango load by a bit.  I also diced up the mango and chicken and let it chill in a bag with some of the dressing for a bit, so I think that helped.  I used half an avocado because I had half of one chilling in the fridge from a few days ago I needed to use up.  I also had a Healthy Choice Greek frozen yogurt cup instead of my 2 clementines.  Like I said, I'm doing this for fun, and I usually want something sweet in the evening.  It's only 100 calories and since there's already a ton of greek yogurt in the diet I figured it wasn't too far off course, even if it wasn't "clean eating".

Food Stylist Note -it looked way more appetizing before the flaxseed
 I decided to stick with the recipe and didn't dick with the yogurt this morning.  I kinda wish I had though,
unlfavored fat-free greek yogurt is just a bit too dry and cheesy for my preference in the morning.  Pair that with almonds and flaxseed and the whole dish was rather dry.  I ended up mixing it all up rather than leaving it layered but the blackberries ended up being the only thing 'moistening' the dish.  I feel like it could have used some honey or jam or something to liven it up a bit.

That 9 cup bowl makes another appearance. 

The Asian chicken salad was supposed to use half the remaining head of cabbage.  Pictured here is approx. 35% of the remainder and it was already full to the brim.  Flavor is okay but the dressing to cabbage ratio is such that I'm eating most of it dry, which I'm noticing seems to be a recurring theme in this diet.

I skipped the avocado and had the carrots & hummus I skipped on Day 1 as my afternoon snack.  Since they both contained healthy fats & similar calories I considered it an equivalent exchange.  Some avocado would have been nice on the salad though.

Now with less kitten!
Fridge, end of day 2 - Things are finally starting to fit in the fridge again.  I have a lot of partial containers (leftovers of this & that) and had to chuck some of my pre-existing produce due to spoilage (looks like I need celery and I'm beginning to question if the collard greens will hold up) but now that the kale & fennel have been broken down (I went ahead and cored/hulled/de-fronded the rest of the fennel) things seem to be fitting nicely.  I'm having people over tomorrow night so I'm hoping to chuck some of the leftovers at them (from pre-eating plan).  I'm going out of town in about 10 days and don't think my strawberries or watermelon will last two weeks.

Tonight may be a challenge.  It's my monthly homebrewer's club meeting, which involves a beer tasting and usually some kind of snacky foods being passed about.  I have the willpower to forgo the food, but I really, genuinely do enjoy tasting others homebrews.  I could skip, but one of the things I hate is choosing a diet over a good time.  I have personal training today after work but before the meeting, so if I do indulge at least I'll have gotten in some good exercise beforehand.

Drizella put herself in kitten jail and couldn't get out.

If not, tonight is hot chocolate night, as well as the roasted cauliflower with lentils recipe I'm excited to try.  And the foster kittens have a vet visit tomorrow and if they pass they will be put up for adoption, so I could use some extra kitten cuddle time tonight.  Nimbus the Stormbringer is a beautiful, playful boy and Drizella the Sea-Witch is a total snugglecat, so they shouldn't have any trouble getting snapped up quickly.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge - Day 2 - The Kale Conundrum

So I survived Day 1, despite a couple of hurdles, the most notable of which was chewing my way through like 2 pounds of kale.  My jaw hurts.  For reals.

I forgot to take pictures last night, so here's your obligatory kitten shot.

Anyway, I was having a panic attack yesterday evening so I opted to sub some light ice cream for my carrots & hummus.  Calorically they balanced pretty well, even though I know it wasn't "clean eating".  I'm not doing this to detox, I'm doing it for fun.  Don't judge me.

I then realized I had an hour till I had to leave for yoga, and I kinda wanted to go see my boyfriend afterwards.  This would involve me having to pack and prep all my meals from scratch as well as changing clothes.  So I furiously prepped my dinner, late night snack, and breakfast for Day 2. My chicken was still frozen so it ended up a bit tougher than I'd like (I had to cook it at a higher temp than I wanted), my quinoa and kale both ended up a bit more raw than I'd have preferred (I was in a rush) and I misread the dosage on the almond butter that I was supposed to drizzle on my pear as tablespoons instead of teaspons, which despite the caloric impact made for a happy accident, because even Bosc pears still taste like old lady smell.

Not as attractive as the mason jar overnight oatmeal I've seen on Pinterest.
 The Overnight Oatmeal didn't have the flavor or texture I had imagined.  The greek yogurt gave it a lot of tang and an uncomfortably gooey, cheesy texture.  Maybe sub in some silken tofu next time?  Some cinnamon would have been helpful too, as this mostly tasted like mushy yogurt with the occasional blueberry of salvation.

Today's lunch = More Kale!!! (yaaay)
 Fennel tends to be one of those veggies that I buy with the best of intentions, then leave in the fridge until it rots.  I haven't cooked it for quite some time, so I really should have given myself a refresher course on fennel prep.  But I was in a rush and thought I knew what I was doing. 

I didn't have the time to get out the slicing blade on my food processor or dig out my mandolin, so I just hacked off the fronds and sliced it up.  Yep, core and all the husky outer stalks too.  The strong, licorice like spice from the fennel paired with the rather overpowering mint from my garden kinda made me feel like I was eating soap.  Paired with the grit from the kale, I probably could make soap out of this and make a fortune.  It's good as an aromatic, good as an exfoliant, but wasn't particularly appetizing.  I still had parmesan sitting in my cheese grater in the fridge so I didn't bother shaving the parm. The orange vinaigrette is getting good and garlicky after sitting overnight.

Snack time - with basil from the garden
 Snack time tonight is basically a modified caprese salad using feta instead of mozzarella. I added salt and pepper to give the tomatoes some kick.  No complaints about this one.

So, I still have half a bundle of kale to chew through at some point this week.  There's mango on the menu tonight (oh, joy).  Hopefully I'll be able to shake the jaw pain/headache tonight and have a fresh start for tomorrow. Tomorrow has raw almonds on the menu twice, so I need my jaw for crunching things. 

I am actually excited for some of the stuff on the menu tomorrow, although I think I might have to flavor up the yogurt a bit in the AM.  I'm all about sour, cheesy things like sour beers and moldy cheeses, but if it's not in a savory dish it can be a bit too much.  True story - my favorite sour beer is Beatification ( ).  I found this out when at a friend's tasting party - he asked me what I'd like to try and I said I wanted a tongue-puckering sour, something with a flavor profile that fell somewhere between really bad feet and really good cheese.  I was not disappointed.

I love lentils and have been wanting to try my hand at cauliflower "steaks" for some time now, so this, like the overnight oatmeal, are recipes I finally have a good excuse to attempt.  Is it sad that I'm super pumped for hot chocolate tomorrow night?  Like, OH FINALLY, A REAL DESSERT!  But I do have a beer bottle share tomorrow, so I might skip out on that in lieu of beer calories.

I need to get better about lunch and snack prep the night before.  My kitchen looks like it was hit by a tornado right now and I'm super OCD about keeping the kitchen clean, so knowing that I'm going home to a dirty kitchen is totally uncool.  I want to be able to leave everything sparkling the night before. 

And I need to remember to dig out my mandolin, because I completely forgot I had one before writing this post. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I'm attempting the Buzzfeed Food Clean Eating Challenge - Day 1

While I was perusing my Pinterest Healthy Recipes board looking for inspiration for some diet friendly recipes I came across the Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge that I'd pinned a while back.  I'd looked at it a couple of times before but discouraged myself from giving it a go.  "I have too many groceries I'd waste", "I have dinner plans this weekend", "I don't have time for this", and so forth.  Well, despite the fact that I'd be jumping in mid-week, and that I'd have to cut it short for an upcoming out of state conference, I decided to go for it.

So, I downloaded and printed all the PDFs and put them in a binder (a throwback to college, but sometimes I prefer printed text, especially in the kitchen).  I took a quick inventory and was off to Kroger with my grocery list. 
The Kittens were helping.

I was pretty well stocked before, so I decided to stick with the boneless, skinless chicken breasts I had in the freezer and figured plums could substitute for clementines as a snack and so on.  I had most of the dairy, beans, grains, oils/spices/whatnot, and about a third of the produce.  I still ended up spending about $150 at Kroger, but many of these items I'll have leftovers for at the end of the challenge, as well as some of them working in week 2 as well.

Needless to say, I had to remove the beer to the basement beer fridge and things still felt crammed in the upstairs refrigerator.

I still forgot the dates.

The pantry fared much better.

One big hurdle was the fact that this eating plan was designed around the 9-5, M-F schedule.  This works perfectly for me except for the fact that I am starting the diet on a Tuesday, which is day 3 of the eating plan.  I can't just jump in on day 3 because so many of the meals require leftovers from previous days, so I have to start on day 1.  Since that day's lunch required cooking (like, not prep ahead cooking) I swapped it for the day 7 lunch.  It wasn't till after prepping I realized this meant 3 kale-based meals in one day.  I have a feeling I'll poop well tomorrow.

Smoothie packs = remember to slice the bananas before freezing

I am not fond of mango.  Especially now that I've I've had to slice one. But I'm willing to be adventurous.


Finally got to use produce from my own garden (that wasn't basil)

Post-Krogering.  The beer has been moved.  There is a kitten in my kale.
It still felt a bit... gritty.
 So I woke up this morning and had my ambient ingredients at the ready and my smoothie pack in the freezer for my breakfast day 1 kale and banana smoothie.  I don't have one of those fancy super blenders so this took a substantial amount of work to get blended and still had a bit more of the kale texture than I'd prefer.

 The salad tastes great, but I don't know if my kale bundles were super sized or what but this is a 9 cup container stuffed to the gills. I think my jaw hurts from chewing too much.  I used roma tomatoes as I'm not terrifically fond of tomato and they seem to be more 'mato less mooshy tomato innards.

My snack of carrot sticks and hummus (they are pretty generous on the dosage for the hummus - 4 tablespoons instead of the standard 2) packed in my thermal bento container I got for winning a Curves Christmas challenge a few years ago. 

I meant to get my chicken out of the freezer this morning to thaw, I'll have to be creative with that later.  Tonight I make a big batch of chicken, quinoa, kale (cooked this time), and some homemade orange vinaigrette.  

I get a pear with almond butter for dessert.  Also not a favorite of mine.  I got a Bosc instead of the usual so maybe I'll fare better with this.

I also need to prep my overnight oats, kale (kale again, yaaay)/chickpea/fennel salad, and sliced tomato/feta/balsamic snack for tomorrow.

After this I should be done with kale for the week.  A friend of mine asked me if kale was high in fiber or something.  I described kale as such:

"Kale is like lettuces' beefy older cousin that smokes cigarettes and once got caught shoplifting at the Speedway station.  It's still tender on the inside but needs some tough love to break it down first."

Speaking of which, I've been working my way through this salad for like half an hour now.  It's tasty but I'm so done with raw kale at the moment I'm considering just picking out the feta.

I also accidentally splurge earlier and had a Dum Dum Pop at the doctor's office.  And I'm having a coffee, because, you know, this isn't Russia. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reason 812 Why cooking is extremely theraputic for me but also might be making me crazy.

As outdoor drinking season is in full swing I've found my calendar filling up quickly.  It seems like every weekend is chock full of events, most of them fairly casual, outdoor affairs, promising good beer and better company, and requesting a dish to share. 

Being a single woman with no children nor roommates, I love to cook but rarely go to the effort for a dinner for 1.  So, I use entertaining as my venue for getting my cook on.  I used to be able to bring simple dishes and use mostly prepared items and feel good about it.  But not anymore.

My father unknowingly told me this story not knowing it was false, but in my research I found the history of cake mix itself to be quite fascinating:

I learned to appreciate from scratch cooking while I was dating a farm boy.  They didn't live in the middle of nowhere, but just far enough away that most of his mother's cooking started with a jar of flour and a recipe known by heart.  During that time I started to stock my home pantry with staple goods and learned a few recipes I knew I could always pull off with ingredients on hand at a moment's notice.  This lasted until I went on a Jenny Craig diet and spent about a year and a half eating freezer meals or going out.  Being that far out of my element, cooking a full meal involved an in depth trip to the grocery store and frequently resulted in something being on fire.

Somewhere between my trying to embrace a somewhat homesteading/self sufficient lifestyle and a Russian themed party I threw almost a year and a half ago, I started cooking from scratch again.  Like, herbs and veg from my garden if possible, no mixes, no heat & serve, no canned or frozen goods (except for veg or basic ingredients - i.e., I'm not going to make an entire pot of cream of mushroom soup from scratch just because I need a cup for a recipe.  I'm willing to cut corners there).  And I loved it.  But again, it started with special events - themed parties and birthday dinners - where I'd take the extra pains to cook everything from scratch, which included rolling my own pasta. 

What I didn't anticipate was that this newfound joy in being able to present a dish made from the most basic ingredients was the guilt that I would be subject to every time I did cut a corner.  Little things like buying pre-shredded cheese rather than shredding my own started to creep up on me.  Then things like using jarred sauces instead of making my own.  Like it made me feel like less of a woman to rely on shortcuts and prepared foods.  Like, I can do better than this, I can do IT ALL. 

But that's just not reasonable for me.  I work full time, I have numerous hobbies, a healthy social life, plus gym, family, and household chores and obligations.  When I'm planning out my 5th consecutive weekend that involves at least half of my Saturday being spent in just food prep for a single dish or two, I start to question my need to do EVERYTHING completely from scratch.  This week I'm making a mustard sauce using prepared mustards sauteed together with beer and spices.  There's another version of the recipe that involves grinding my own mustard seed and making the mustard itself from scratch too.  After careful contemplation I realized that this was for a weeknight affair and between time limitations and the likelihood of recipe failure, I should choose the simpler sauce option.  And I feel guilty for it.  So, I've decided to delve into my psyche and explore the multiple facets of this need for perfection.

1. Pro - I used to be a fat chick. 

Like, not morbidly obese, but I was obese.  I'm still overweight now, but no where near where I used to be.  A lot of that weight came from the fact that high calorie foods are easily available, both as fast food, freezer food, and simple meals.  The more fat, salt, and sugar I eat; the more fat, salt, and sugar I crave.  When I cook I'm in the driver's seat - I can adjust the flavors so the actual FLAVOR of the food shines through, and relearn how to taste food instead of just tasting salt and sweet. 

This also cuts the desire to bounce from one type of junk food to another - if I have a fast food burger & fries or a pizza, I get so overwhelmed I usually want something extremely sweet to follow, like a milkshake or cookies.  When I'm having quinoa with veggies, I'm usually happy to follow up with a piece of fruit.  By breaking the need to go out to get food I also reduce my exposure to advertising and unintentional eating - ordering things I hadn't originally factored into my diet or being influenced to higher calorie options. 

I try to keep my fridge and pantry well stocked with healthy options.  I don't keep cookies on hand (I'm a damn cookiemonster) and if I do keep ice cream it's small amounts of something not too terrible on the calories.  If it is something fully indulgent I try to keep it in a super small quantity.  I only keep tortilla chips and pretzels on hand, and usually avoid those unless I'm entertaining.  Candy has to be individually wrapped (not just bagged) and stashed somewhere out of sight/out of mind. 

It's also good exercise.  With ingredient acquisition, setup, cooking, presentation, and cleanup; I'm on my feet for a while.  I like the idea that I'm burning off part of my meal before I even consume it. 

2. Pro - The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and other girlfriendy things. 

A couple of years ago my friends and I started to turn the threshold where we no longer lived with our parents, we had enough money to go out to eat regularly, and did.  So, a good, home cooked meal became something to be sought after and appreciated, rather than being a typical week night.  So I started cooking for my guy friends for their birthdays - it was a nice alternative to going out to dinner and usually involved leftovers.  But chicken and rice didn't cut it - I'd want to cook their favorite recipe, and I'd want to do it really, really well.  It shows the love.

This turned into a great "getting to know you" date.  Like, after we've had a couple of dates, I'd like to cook for a guy.   Shows off my culinary prowess.  Cook him something spectacular and he'll not find you easily replaceable.  There's also a level of comfort and security in having a partner that can cook.

The best is when you cook a meal together - it can help to create bonding if you two work well together in the kitchen, and can highlight issues that may need to be addressed later if you don't.  Kinda like ballroom dancing. 

3. Pro - It's culture, it's art, it's a hobby.  And it's dying.

As expressed in the Snopes article, as women became better educated and began spending more time on hobbies, jobs, and activities outside the home, they were spending less time in the kitchen.  Many family recipes were forgotten and the days of spending hours slaving away over a hot stove were replaced with one dish meals and heat & eat foods.  Much of this I do totally understand and can fully appreciate - especially with the modern household having a myriad of activities per child and often both parents working, it's a miracle if a family can even sit down to a meal together.  Macaroni & cheese is great and nothing to be scoffed at.  But there were many times growing up that I recall the the disappointment I'd feel sitting down to tuna noodle casserole again. I understand that it was a quick meal made with shelf-stable ingredients, and even Nigella Lawson (my chef-crush) points out that her children eat pasta & pesto for dinner far more often than she'd like to admit. So, quick, simple prep meals definitely have their place, but there's something in the anticipation and excitement that grows from smelling something simmering away that just can't be beat.

I wish I had Papa's potato pancake recipe.  And Grandma's Hungarian Goulash & Chop Suey recipes.  I learned to cook amazing scrambled eggs by being Papa's "counter sitter" - he'd sit me up on the counter every Saturday morning and I'd help him prepare breakfast.  Those were some of my favorite memories and they taught me skills I've used ever since.

4. Mixed - The Hunt

Finding the right recipe is as exhilarating as it is infuriating.  You can read ingredients and instructions, you can look at photos, but sometimes it can still be hard to imagine the final product.  Simply trying to decide on what to cook can end up being a rather frustrating affair.  But sometimes it can be extremely gratifying - spending hours pouring through cookbooks or perusing pinterest in order to find the perfect recipe. 

Then comes ingredient acquisition - this part I don't much care for.  It can get expensive and frustrating, especially when you're counting on the store to carry something and it isn't there.  I still have some hangups about ordering ingredients through the internet, like they won't be as fresh as things I procure locally.  Or the cut of meat I'm looking for isn't available.  We have a pretty good local grocery selection with amazing grocery stores only a half an hour or so away, but fitting in a trip to the store seems to be a major issue for me. 

Also, sometimes by the time I get back from the store and get all my groceries put away I'm too tired and hungry to cook.  And that suuucks. 

5. Con - The Perfection

As aforementioned I am a perfectionist.  But I'm not a chef.  I don't cook every day.  My knife skills are learned from The Food Network.  Sometimes I misunderstand a recipe or technique, or despite my best efforts I screw something up, like mixing in the whites instead of the yolks, or forgetting an ingredient altogether.  As most of the dishes I currently make need to travel, finer points of flavor and texture can be lost in transit.  I usually end up apologizing for why my cooking isn't better, even if I know it's just fine as it is.  Or even if I know it could possibly be better.

A few days ago I started looking for recipes for lobster bisque, as that's one of my boyfriend's favorite foods.  When reading a clone recipe for a NYC hotel lobster bisque that was proclaimed to be amazing, I found that the recipe it was meant to emulate had a stock that took 7 days to prepare through careful seasoning and reduction.  7 days.  Seriously.  I then found myself thinking "wow, if I want this to be REALLY good, that's what I need to do."  I seriously considered spending 7 days making my house smell like a dock just in order to serve one bowl of soup to my boyfriend.  That's when I realized my OCD was getting a bit out of hand.  I also realized this when he declared the salty and vaguely lobster flavored pink goop served by Joe's Crab Shack to be superior to the bisque served by Mitchell's Fish Market, which was infused with wine, had visible lobster, and I thought was rather lovely. 

Moral of the story - most people aren't chefs.  I shouldn't feel threatened by that.  But yet, somehow, I do. And I will go to great lengths to prove to everyone that I can create a perfect dish. 

6. Con - My sense of self worth.

Tied into #5, is my fear of judgement.  Again with the feeling like less of a woman for bringing in a less than perfect dish.  Or from cutting a corner.  Or because people on pinterest seem like they're perpetually cranking out hand decorated hordes of delightful foodstuffs, expertly styled, and greedily gobbled up by their guests.  I feel like I need to compete on that level, like it's something that will score me invitations to additional events or make me friends.

There's also an element of a need to be different.  Not just because I can safely assume that someone else will be bringing buffalo chicken dip so I'd like for there to be a non-dip option, or something with a very different flavor or texture profile to bring variety, but because I want to be the person that has the dish that everybody wants to try.  Like, going home with no leftovers because it was all scooped up success.  I don't want to be cheese-based dip #3 person.  I don't want to be the person that shows up with something they clearly purchased on the way there.  I want to be the Martha Freaking Stewart of the party.  I don't often feel that my company is enough, so I like to supplement that.  That need is currently manifesting through food.

7. Pro - Self Sufficiency

I kinda like the idea of making things from scratch.  I like the idea that I'm not 100% dependent on the local grocery should something happen.  I grow some things myself, but I like the idea that I can put together meals without a recipe or without some brand name box.  Flour, salt, sugar, pepper, eggs, water, milk, and oil; some kind of protein, and some kind of veg and I can create something magnificent. 

You'll see desire to avoid going to the store as a common item on this list, but if I can make something at home rather than going out to purchase it, that'll win me over 90% of the time.  Like, oh, sriracha is being taken off the market?  That's fine I'll just make my own.

8.  Pro - I live in a foodie black hole.

My hometown is pretty much down to just a handful of non-chain restaurants, and they almost all serve typical American fare.  If I want anything ethnic I either have to drive a minimum of half an hour or make it myself.  So if I want to try something different, I usually have to make it myself.

I threw a Russian themed party once that required trips to 3 different stores, weeks of menu planning, filleting & pickling my own herring, and two days of cooking to create a myriad of traditional Russian fare.  Both my Russian and American guests alike loved it and the sense of accomplishment I gained from that experience were fantastic (not just the food, but the party as a while was a wild success).  I live for those moments. 

Reason 812 - It's how I show my love.

As we've established, I put a lot of who I am into what I make.  So I want it to be perfect.  I want everybody to love it because I want everyone to love me.  I feel victorious when I perfectly bake and frost two completely different cakes from scratch and load them into their special carriers and imagine their unveiling later.  I feel appreciated when my dishes get a crowd around them and people begin asking me for my recipe. 

I'm not always good at telling people that I care about them and want them to be happy.  I think actions speak louder than words.  I show my love through gifts, time spent together, and acts of service.  Cooking encompasses all three.  So it's gotten out of hand to the point where I feel if whatever I present isn't overly ornate and time consuming I'm selling everyone short.  And it's making me snobbish too.  Like, 'oh, you made cinnamon rolls too?  I made cinnamon rolls.  Yes, I hand ground my own cinnamon with bark I imported directly from Vietnam so the oils would be fresh.  Yes, fie on you and your plebeian cinnamon.' I feel like I'm not too far from becoming "that chick" if I'm not already. 

So, I think that's a pretty well rounded look at why I love and sometimes hate cooking.  I make it way too hard on myself but I love the fact that I do hold myself to high standards. I know people will still like me if I'm not a super chef, but I feel like it definitely makes me more likeable.  It helps me curb my desire to binge eat by still spending time obsessing over food, but more with the art of it all than the consumption.  I get carried away with it.  It's a hobby, but not one that ends up taking up space in the closet.  I don't know and I've probably rambled on too much at this point.