March 29, 2014

Whole 30 Me? Why?!

For those of you who have never heard of it, the Whole 30 is an elimination diet that lasts 30 days, with a staged re-introdction period afterwards. People usually try elimination diets when they suspect some food group is giving them problems, but don't know which it is.

Folks who know me know how much I enjoy eating, especially eating a wide variety of produce, meats, grains, dairy products, and fruits. They've also heard me carry on a bit over how much better I feel when I stay as gluten-free as possible (no wheat, barley or rye, including what gets snuck into packaged foods and condiments). But when they heard recently that I planned to try this experiment in eating with no added sugars, no dairy, no grains, and no legumes, responses ranged from 'call me when you're done' to 'you're going to starve.'

To be honest, the prospect of dropping that many ingredients from my normal repetoire really scared me. But I had been wondering a couple things over the last year or two:

  1. How could I control or eliminate my rosacea (burny, bumpy splotchy face) without drugs?
  2. If cutting way back on gluten helped so much, what other keys to my health might be hiding in my everyday food choices?

So I looked at how attached I was to certain food habits - milk in my tea, gluten-free toast for a bedtime snack, peanut butter on my afternoon apple, a breakfast Clif bar at the office, and of course rice, potatoes, and corn with practically everything. I took a few steps that couldn't possibly hurt, without actually committing to them. Skipped the little bit of alcohol I was drinking (half a beer is a lot for me), tried my tea sans milk, etc. But going whole hog still seemed very daunting. What would I eat, and could my reduced ingredient list possibly keep me happy?

While waiting for It Starts with Food to become available to me (thank you, Seattle Public Library!) I researched recipes. Lots and lots of dishes sounded yummy. Especially if you put them over rice - oops.  Finding and testing a grain-free bread recipe helped boost my confidence greatly, because it turned out better, easier and cheaper than any gluten-free bread we've bought or made at home, so far. So, OK, I could make enough meals with enough variety to keep from getting hungry, cranky and inclined to quit before finding the answers I wanted out of this investment of 30 days of my food-loving life.

The book, written by the couple who created the Whole 30 and run the Whole9 website, explains their research and opinions about why some foods are worth eating, some not, and some just likely to be problematic for many people. Not looking to be 100% convinced, I was more impressed than I expected. It's well explained and documented, and all the propositions are plausible. It was more than enough to keep me from my fall-back plan of taking some suggestions and leaving the rest to the believers. Nope. For 30 days, I would try my best to go the whole nine yards.

So that's the why.  I'll be writing more soon on the how, and whatever ups and downs this ride may entail. Will try to include photos with those posts. Stay tuned!

March 29, 2013

Aw, Shucks - the Fight for Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

If you've been lucky enough to visit the Point Reyes National Seashore, chances are you also made a stop in at the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm for some ultra-fresh bi-valves.
Whether you like oysters or not (I don't, but all my friends and relations seem to), it's fun to see Drakes Bay and the fascinating operation run by fourth generation of local family farmers.

Sadly, that opportunity may not last much longer.
For the last few years, there has been a huge cloud hanging over the community of Drakes supporters - renewal of the lease to operate an aquaculture business within national parks land. Recently, the National Parks Service denied the lease renewal; and now the matter is going to court.

 If you can make it to Petaluma on April Fool's Day (no foolin'!), enjoy some oysters for me at the fundraiser party there. If not, there's a donation button on their site, so you can throw in a few clams to help the cause.

March 26, 2013

The Art of Cooking for One

What do you fix for meals, when it's just you?
I'm partial to toast with peanut butter and bananas, myself.
But then, I'm a frequent snacker - so that's not a meal. Pair it with guacamole, chips, homemade soda, and some ice cream from the B & J's carton, and you've got a meal.

Would I serve a guest a meal like that? Nope. And many days, when it's just me in the kitchen, I'd rather serve me an elegant plate with a real entree and side dishes, too.
Saturday night, for instance, I whipped up broiled asparagus, Yukon gold potatoes, and salmon deglazed with fresh orange juice and agave syrup.
While it would have been great to have someone to chat with while snapping asparagus stems, cutting the spuds, etc., the Wailin Jennies on the stereo made for really pleasant company. And flipping through the new edition of Cooking Light kept my restless mind entertained while still paying attention to my plate and enjoying every bite. Not exact substitutes for the great pleasure of good conversation while creating and devouring a meal; but it was a lovely evening.

The key to cooking well for yourself? Be as thoughtful as you would for a treasured guest. If you would dress the table, use good china, put on music, plate the food elegantly, then do. To show your appreciation, you can always volunteer to do the dishes.

March 17, 2013

Gluten-free at Jack's Prime

Several years ago, I gave a nice review to Jack's Prime Burgers and Shakes, in San Mateo, California.
I was wild about their burgers from humanely raised cows and turkeys (plus a really good veggie option), as well as their stellar chocolate shakes.
Burgers and a shake at Jack's Prime
Once I gave up eating wheat, I missed the burgers but enjoyed their excellent entree salads.

Recently I took some red meat and wheat-eating friends to experience Jack's, and was delighted to discover that they have added a gluten free bun option for the burgers. There is no upcharge for the alternative bun; and it's quite good. Better than Udi's, for instance.

So, now I'm pleased to declare Jack's my personal favorite burger joint.

March 8, 2013

Leftover Sashimi Tacos

Revenge may be a dish best served cold; but day-old sashimi is a dish best served well-cooked.

In this case, three lovely slabs of raw fish from a local Japanese restaurant with an overly generous bento box lunch became the key ingredient in fish tacos. Sauteed onions, fresh corn tortillas, some spices - and no food poisoning! Delicious.

March 6, 2013

Microwaved Oats? Not Steel Cut

Instant oatmeal - the kind you add water to and microwave - meets expectations. Not high expectations; but that's the point. It's a last-resort convenience food, something to keep on hand for near-emergencies.

But steel cut oats are a slow-cook indulgence. I convenience-ize them by making a large pot on the weekend and reheating portions throughout the next week. That way the lovely slightly chewy texture and full flavor stay intact.

Recently I found a container of quick-cook steel cut oats, which seemed like a middle ground between the instant mush and the weekend cooking oatmeal option. The packaging gave two options: stovetop boiling for 5 to 7 minutes, or microwaving. The stovetop method yields a bowl of oats almost as nice as the traditional slow-cook variety, in about a third of the time. But the microwave method is another story.

Beware microwave directions that require stops and starts with stirring in between, and large vessels to prevent boiling over. I have tried this method several times now, in the name of emprical science, and only avoiding the big puddle of spouted oat mess once so far.

That's enough empiricism for me. By the time you follow the directions properly to avoid the mess, you might as well have pulled out a saucepan and boiled the oats. And if you don't have a stovetop available? Stick with a pouch of the actual instant variety.

January 1, 2013

Seltzer Rocks in a Bubbly New Year

Last night, a champagne toast was perfect.

SodaStream Alternative Consumer Go Green But today it's back to business. So I'm keeping my first resolution - to reduce my plastic waste - by using a seltzer maker to concoct my own 'mixed drinks.'

In 2012, diet cola was a vice I wanted to shake - and I knew how. I just didn't do it. So starting today, I'm clearing out the last of the Diet Pepsi in the house and filling up the SodaStream reusable bottles to get them chilling.

When I need a sparkly drink to go with lunch, I'll fizz the tap water and mix in some 100% grape juice. It reminds me of childhood, that homemade grape soda, of how I remember the sweet elixir in the glass bottles tasted.

Could I make my own diet cola with this gizmo? Yes. But - fortunately - I just don't care for the diet cola syrup the company offers with its seltzer makers. A couple bottles from the little sampler pack of flavors - root beer, cola, lemon-lime, etc, convinced me that I'm just not much of syrup user.

If I want the seltzer flavored but not syrupy, however, the little bottle of lemon-lime essence does a really nice job. In fact, that may just supply the answer to how I'll substitute the diet cola I've drinking at the office. That change could just be worth buying a second seltzer maker to keep there.  A scary idea, being left with no excuses  . . .

Here's to going well-prepared into a healthier new year!