October 17, 2011

roasted vegetable salad + a restart

This is a salad I made last week with all the veggies from the vegetable drawer in order to clean out the fridge. It had eggplant, peppers, yellow squash, golden beets and swiss chard, served over brown rice. I roasted the veg at 400 for about 45 min., then sauteed the chard with a little garlic and chicken broth and tossed with the roasted veggies, adding a few drops of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to season. It was easy, healthy and really tasty.

I'm on week three of the cleanse now but really I'm starting over. Let me explain. I started this detox program/elimination diet with every intention of sticking to it for 60 days. That means 60 days of no caffeine, no alcohol, no sugar, no wheat/gluten, no dairy and no junk of any kind. It means eating mostly fruits and vegetables, brown rice and grilled fish, lots of good, clean water and that's about it. Let me tell you, it is hard.

The first week I did great but I felt like crap. I guess it's true that when you clean out your systems, stuff gets eliminated that is toxic and so the effects of that can make you feel sick. I felt tired and grumpy, hungry and like I had a mild cold. I had thoughts like "if this is what it feels like to eat clean, I want to go back to my old ways," and "Life is not worth living without coffee, alcohol, etc." These are exactly the kind of thoughts that I was warned were possible by the doctor* who says this diet is "not for irresolute wimps."

*the doctor is the creator of the program I'm following. I'm not going to recommend him or his site until this thing is over.

I guess I felt sorry for myself because as soon as I started to feel pretty good, about day 5, with more energy and no cold symptoms, I cheated. First it was an innocent little coffee with milk. Then it was a whole lunch at Back to Cuba cafe with my Spanish conversation partner. I reasoned that it was "a special occasion" as I had never been there (!) and my partner would not want to eat alone and after all, I had invited her. I had a cubano (ham and cheese, pickles and mayo sandwiched between two pieces of crusty white bread) and a cafe con leche.

(image courtesy of Meet Me in the Kitchen)

Then this past weekend, we went out of town to Louisville, KY and I confess I went a little crazy. I ate like I would eat on any trip since for me, eating and exploring a city's food scene is one of the reasons I travel and I can't imagine going anywhere and not doing that. And it was so much fun and we had a great time. We ate dinner at the excellent Proof on Main inside the 21c Hotel. The next day we had brunch at a more casual place by the same owner/chef, Garage Bar. Both were great examples of restaurants showcasing local ingredients with lots of style and excellent, creative food--just the kind of places I love.

I'm not even going to get into what I ate. Suffice it to say I broke every rule.

And now, Monday morning, I am sitting here half thinking that I should just throw in the towel and forget about this diet thing. And then I remember that I am doing this for my health. It's not because I want to lose weight (though that wouldn't be the worst thing) or because I enjoy dieting. I am doing it because I have some real concerns about my health and I want to get to the bottom of them and find some balance.

My friend Judy sent me a stern but loving email last week when I told her I'd cheated (she is my "diet buddy" and very knowledgeable about nutrition and health). She reminded me why I was doing this, and said that it takes 7.5 weeks for a person's body to get mellowed out and quit reacting to gluten. So I guess I'm back to day one.

October 4, 2011

A new season, a new challenge

Somehow I got through the end of the hottest summer I can remember here in the South and I am finally breathing a sigh of relief. I really have a hard time in the hot and humid climate and every summer I find myself longing for other places, making grandiose plans to pick up and move far, far away. But then the sweltering, pent-up days give way to the cool, dry autumn season that I love and I get outside more, lighten up about moving and my mood has lifted.

I love the fall for all the reasons that are obvious: the cooler temperatures but still mild, sunny days; the anticipation of holidays and celebrations; the balancing act between getting outdoors on beautiful days, and hanging inside on chilly nights with a warm meal and a good movie. And, of course, I love the food: dark leafy greens, colorful squash of all kinds, beets and apples and pears and pumpkins and all of the possibilities and healthy meals that they imply.

Autumn for me also symbolizes new beginnings. Perhaps even more so than the new year, I crave new projects and plans every time September rolls around and I feel somehow like a new school year (without the school) is about to begin. I always loved the start of a new school year when I was young--eagerly looking forward to new teachers, new classes, new students and I still feel that way even now that I am no longer a student or a teacher. It must be ingrained in there for life.

So I have decided that what I need to concentrate on with renewed energy this fall is my health. It feels some days like I am 90 years old, too tired to do the things I love and too young to be feeling this way. Waking up feeling sluggish and running to my next cup of coffee like the savior that it is, grabbing a muffin or a scone along with it has always been my morning routine. I live for coffee--making it, smelling it, enjoying it before I do almost anything else in the morning, especially now that having a baby has forced me to be a morning person. (I used to love sleeping "in" until about 8 or 9. Our day starts around 6:00 am over here and has for over a year now and it doesn't matter what time I went to bed the night before. June is up and ready to roll and I have no choice but to roll along with her, coffee cup in hand.

Coffee isn't a health problem in and of itself, but I think it masks some of the more worrisome ones. I have had digestive issues and back pain for as long as I can remember. Exercise and yoga help but it always feels like a delicate situation ready to erupt. I've been laid up before, unable to walk, and right now I could not afford to be immobile. My little girl needs me to be active, now more than ever. She's walking --running really--and needs all kinds of activity and action. She is a whirlwind of fun and bubbly personality and I absolutely love being with her, but wish sometimes I had more energy. She recently started a two-day a week 'moms' day out' program which is great for both of us and gives me the time to finally focus a little more on myself.

Another wake-up call to finally get clean with my health and diet is that I developed a weird rash about a month ago that won't go away, its cause undetermined. The research I've been doing leads me to believe that it, along with the other symptoms I just listed--sluggishness, digestive problems, muscle and joint pain, like other immune-related disorders, all point to one underlying cause: Candidiasis, an overgrowth of yeast in the body. I am not certain that this is the culprit but I have a hunch that it could be. So I am starting an elimination diet of sorts to try and figure it out. It's a cleanse that will have me giving up almost everything I love: bread, pastries, anything with white flour or wheat, pasta, dairy, sugar (of course) and my two close friends of late, caffeine and alcohol (I've been hitting the beer pretty hard --not so much in quantity (I usually don't have more than one), but with a frequency that is not healthy, like for a while there almost every night. I would put the baby to bed and after a long day, I felt like I had really earned that beer and I enjoyed it.

But I think things have gotten out of balance and even if I don't discover that I have a sensitivity to gluten (please, God, let that be the case) I will at least get my systems cleaned out and take a break from the most obvious toxins if only to be able to eat and drink more moderately again when it's over. Don't worry, I'm not giving up the things I love forever - I could not live that way. But I just need to get back into balance and maybe learn some new ways to enjoy healthy, nutritious food.

So I will try to blog about how this process is going for me, what I am making and how I'm dealing with a whole new way of eating. Actually, it's not that different from how we usually eat, except we will no longer resort to pizza or junk food when we're too tired to cook and I am going to have to find a whole new set of gluten-free options for almost everything. I used to make fun of the whole "gluten-free craze" thinking that mostly those people are just trying to lose weight and this is the new fad of the moment. But I realize that there really are people for whom this is a real dietary issue and I'm thankful that there are so many options out there now for gluten-free diets--everything from cupcakes to pizza dough to cereal and pasta. I may even finally break out the "Babycakes NYC" cookbook I bought a couple of years ago and try some of those complicated recipes from the best gluten-free bakery in the country.

So stick with me and somehow I will get through this new challenge and be feeling better on the other side!In the meantime, it's only day two and I've already caved and had a cup of coffee (which really only made me feel worse) but I have managed to make some really healthy and tasty dishes with all of the beautiful fall produce available in the farmer's markets right now.

fall vegetable sautee with brown rice

kale and beet salad