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Friday, April 22, 2016

TIA take two - This is Asia


“Oh wow,” or “Interesting,” were probably the most common responses I got when I told people we were going to Indonesia. You know, in that way that people say when they think how much they would never want to do that.  It was usually followed by, “Why Indonesia?” Usually I responded by telling people that Jason just wants to go wherever he can get the biggest culture shock. This is true, but not the whole story. Ever since I’ve known him, Jason has been fascinated by the Indonesia. When he mentioned Southeast Asia, I initially had looked into countries like Thailand and Vietnam, but those were a little too on the beaten path for him.  I didn’t know much about Indonesia, but the more I learned about Indonesia, the more it seems like it’s got everything rolled into one country, or rather, over 1300 islands.  It’s got beaches, mountains, volcanoes, temples, coffee, diving, orangutans and komodo dragons.  I told Jason I just wanted to go somewhere “colorful,” and this definitely qualifies.  It had everything I wanted to do, so worked for me.  Honestly I’m a bit intimidated, but if I learned anything from driving a rental car across South Africa and leaving it behind during a flood, it is that going out of your comfort zone can really be rewarding, plus I kind of felt like if I don’t do it now, I never will. 

So here we are our foray to Indonesia, or more specifically, in Tokyo on a layover.  Before booking tickets, we had to figure out where exactly we wanted to go.  The problem is, there is so much to do that we felt like would either have to cut something out, be on a plane every other day or make it a three-week trip. I guess we failed, because we kind of chose all the options. We are cutting out a few things (such as climbing Mt. Bromo & Ijen), taking a lot of flights, and are still going to be gone for three weeks (yes, our bosses are amazing).  We’ve been saving our leave and our pennies for a while, but are still trying to do this on a budget.  The good news is that Asia is an amazingly cheap place to travel, so it’s kind of do-able.  (Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you are probably laughing, because somehow a year’s worth of travel got condensed into the month of April for me. I couldn’t really help the dates though as it was mostly travel with friends. Like I said, my boss is amazing.)

The first step was applying for credit cards that would make our flights free. Jason and I both applied for the Chase Ink, which is a business card.  We will be using it for our rental house expenses, but you could apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred as well if you don’t have a legitimate business. The bonuses weren’t quite enough to get us to Asia (80,000 miles) but I regularly use another Chase card, so in addition to some strategic purchases we made it. 

Because we were waiting for points to post, work and optimizing scuba diving weather, it ended up that we only had about 6 weeks between booking the tickets and leaving.  It was a really busy month, so combined with the short time frame means I’m not as prepared as I’d like. For real – we only booked the last hotel three days before we left.

So we’ll be gone for three weeks and we’ll be going to hike the jungles of Sumatra, see the temples of Java, dive through the waters of Komodo, and sit by the beach in Bali. We’ve got a few nights in Singapore and Tokyo on the way back and I DIDN’T EVEN BRING THE GUIDEBOOKS for those cities.

We were watching a movie the other night and the guy just bought a plane ticket to another country.  All he had was a suitcase, no plan, no return date.

“I would love to do that, just show up without a plan and go,” Jason said. 

“I feel like that’s what we are doing,” I told him. Because in my mind, having so few plans is almost the same as having no plan. But I’m trying to embrace it. I think with all the information out there on the websites, I can often suffer from fear of missing out (also known as “FOMO”). I prefer to research every possible option to make sure we are seeing all the top sites, eating at the recommended restaurants, and staying at the perfect location. And while I do think that some kind of plan is good to have, it can personally be a hindrance and keep me from enjoying where we actually are, if I spend the whole time worried about where we could be instead. 
I kind of feel like I’ve made a good start of embracing things as they come by paring my luggage down to a quantity that could fit in a carry on.  Mind you, I put it I a big suitcase, even though it could have all fit in a carry on.  I would have made a good boy scout as I prefer to be prepared – I still asked Jason if I should bring duct tape, but this is progress for the girl who once packed 30 shirts for a week.  In fact, before the tickets were even booked, I told Jason that this trip I was going to say “yes.” As in yes, to an invitation to join new friends for dinner. Yes, to spontaneous adventure. Yes, you can pray for us – I’m not good at spontaneous yet!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Napa in Three Days

My name is Sarah. I am not an alcoholic. I felt like I needed to state that since I'm about to tell you that we spent a week centered around beer and wine. It actually is a trip we took last year, but I just never finished writing it up.  However, we were at another winery in Maryland this weekend, in the drizzling rain, standing in a cellar full of oak barrels and wine that smelled of roses, and it made me nostalgic for Napa, what I think was the best smelling trip I've ever taken.  Naturally, then I asked Jason if we could retire to Napa, and he said, of course not, we can't afford it. So while my plan of retiring to wine country may be on hold, I'm just going to take a moment to relive the time that we were there.  It all started two years before the trip when I was chatting with my friend Rose about our upcoming 30th birthdays, and we decided we should take a trip to celebrate. I can't totally remember how we landed on Napa, but it probably had to do with fact that we were drinking wine when we decided. Do you know what we did for Jason's 30th? Nothing. I think he was out of town for work. Worst wife ever.


So after ten years of flying Delta every once in a while, we had enough points to cash in for tickets. Not enough points for a direct flight or a flight at an ideal time, but still the right price. 

Here on the East Coast there is a growing wine region in Virginia, where tastings are $10, weekends are crowded, and there are maybe a few dozen wineries in a half hour radius.  But on the coast that actually uses the words "gnarley, stoked, and tight," wine, not just the vocab, was totally different. It was quite overwhelming to narrow our top choices down when there are over 400 wineries in Napa. Tastings often require appointments weeks in advance and fees averaged $30, with some more like $70 if it included a tour of beautiful grounds and snacks.  And just like most things in California compared to the East Coast, wine out in Napa was in a totally different league than cheap bottles we get from Trader Joe's (God love 'em!). To be fair, we've loved the wines, views, and options in Virginia, but Napa was definitely more of an experience - cave tours, food pairings, and carefully curated art collections just to name a few of the attractions.

Unfortunately for me, I didn't have a chance to narrow down top picks until the flight out, much less two weeks. Also unfortunately for me, money *is* an object, so we only visited wineries that were lower priced (many of which I found a coupon for!) and took same-day reservation or walk-ins. Thankfully because we were there in early April, mid-week, it was easy to get into tasting rooms and restaurants. It really was a great time to go because it was warm without being hot. I also heard winter is a good time to go to avoid crowds. Summer and fall are the busiest seasons in wine country. 

When considering where to stay, I learned about the various towns within the Napa area. I wanted an area that we could walk to dinner, and even though we went with Downtown Napa, Yountville and St. Helena would have qualified as well. I think Calistoga would have too, but we never stopped in. 

Napa (the town) was the biggest and cheapest of the towns in the greater Napa region. They had the most hotel and dining options, but it was also the furthest (really only 20 minutes or so) from most of the vineyards. We stayed here at the Blackbird Inn, though the Westin Versa and Andaz hotels were highly recommended.

Yountville was beautiful. The sidewalks bordered pristine gardens, charming homes, and world class restaurants - all with the price tags to match.  We did stay here the first night at the Maison Flourie, and I'm glad we did. Our bodies hadn't adjusted to West Coast time so we went for a jog at 6 am, just as the previous night's rain was tapering off.  I never knew a scent could be so strong as to permeate the entire block without being a bad smell.  The two main streets were full of blooming roses, which, mixed with the fresh rain and warm baking bread, created the most wonderful smell. I've been sitting here for ten minutes trying to think of a way to describe the smell and can't think of any way to describe it that wouldn't be redundant, but it made me want to live there, it was that good. We were also surprised at how clean it was, and because it's me and Jason, this led to a discussion about the correlation to income. (The economist in me wonders why trashy streets appear more as average income decreases. Does it have more to do with the resources available or with characteristics of the residents? Does owning vs renting matter? And then the part of me that loved Captain Planet as a kid wonders why anyone would leave their trash outside at all. Also, "heart" was definitely the least exciting super power of the show, Captain Planet. What does that even mean?)

Maison Flourie Dining Room - because traveling West is the only time I will naturally get up early enough to catch such beautiful light.

I think if we go back I'd like to stay in St. Helena. The downtown was a little bigger and had more casual dining option (read: cheaper) than Yountville.



I also wish we could have experienced the hot springs of Calistoga, where I heard there's more of a Western vibe, but oh well.

We stayed at a local B&B chain, while we were out there.  It was actually our first time doing the B&B. I always thought staying there involved a curfew and an awkward family style breakfast with strangers trying to make small talk. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the homey feeling, lots of personal space, and delicious food (breakfast *and* happy hour!). Turns out, we were the ones making awkward conversation. I'm still not really sure if you are supposed to say good morning to the other guests, so I would usually alternate between feeling so rude for ignoring someone's entrance and feeling like a busybody when my attempts at conversation resulted in guests furtively looking into their laps and quickly resuming their original conversations. Of course, this might have just been me. Other guests responded way better to things Jason and our friend Jesse had to say. The conclusion is, I'm usually doing the opposite of whatever is socially appropriate.

So now that I've explained my impressions of the area and how we got there, I'll get onto the important thing: where we ate and drank.

Have you ever heard of the French Laundry? Ok, maybe I actually hadn't either. But it's been named the best restaurant in the world amongst all sorts of other awards.  We also didn't go there. It was vacation, but we couldn't spend the week's budget in one spot. :) Lucky for us, Thomas Keller also has two other places in Yountville, where we stayed the first night: Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery. We ate at both. While it wasn't the $225 per plate of the French Landry, Bouchon was certainly still a treat for us. I was impressed by the impeccable service and it was definitely a place you'd want to book reservations a couple weeks out. Since Jason has been making more pasta, we were curious to try it from a reputable source. We shared the gnocchi, even though it was an appetizer, and the pasta bolognese. The gnocchi was amazing - really the best either of us ever had. I think it was ricotta gnocchi with a light butter sauce and root vegetables. The pasta bolognese on the other had, while it wasn't bad,  I honestly thought my bolognese and Jason's pasta were better. They had favors from the bakery on the way out the door, which was a nice touch. I am also very proud of the self-restraint I showed to only grab one.
Day 1:

Our experience during dinner that first night was good enough to go to the neighboring Bouchon Bakery to pick up lunch sandwiches and pastries before heading out. (Also it helped that our B&B was in walking distance.) At the bakery I had what they named a "TKO" for Thomas Keller Oreo. Oh man. They are really very different from an Oreo - not as sweet and much more chocolately. But they are so good I've tried to make my own twice in the two months we got back. Jason, aka "the dough man," could have stayed there all day to watch the bread makers behind the window.


The wineries, while not exactly walking distance, were mostly close together. Armed with carbs and my spreadsheet, we ventured off for some wine!

Hall was first on the list. A giant rabbit sculpture signaled the beginning of the driveway, and fragrant flower beds led the way to a modern glass and concrete building on one side and a sculpture garden on the other.  My aunt had recommended it, but I hadn't realized there were two tasting rooms until later. It turned out fine, since the one we went to in St. Helena didn't need reservations, and the one in Rutherford required reservations.. I mean re$ervation$. Honestly, everything we tasted was amazing. We spent well over an hour savoring the tastings as we strolled through the art and took in the mountains from the patio. Can you tell it was my favorite? (Wine, art, and flowers!) While the wines weren't cheap, they also were right in line with the prices elsewhere in Napa.

Our next spot, Round Pond Estate was recommended by a few books. We heard they had a patio for picnics, but unfortunately it was only if you bought their food. The view out the food side was much more scenic than what we could see out the tasting room windows. So we ate our sandwiches that we packed from Buchon Bakery in the parking lot, which made me feel even more like an imposter in wine country, pretending to be a wine aficionado. 

Let me tell you what I did like about this place: the winemaker. They had just opened a couple bottles of their rose for the season - so new they weren't even available for tasting - and the winemaker was pacing around in his boots and marmot jacket providing samples to the staff. 
"Do you want to try some?" Young and bearded is not how I pictured winemakers to look.
"Sure!" I hesitated, "We're not members." 
"Great! I'd love to hear your thoughts." He was so enthusiastic, I was relieved to be able to pick out one of the unique additions to the wine, which actually was my favorite there - and also only available to members. 

So... this spot was good, but not really a "must-see."

Another recommendation from my Aunt and Uncle was up next: Orin Swift Cellars.  Have you ever heard of "The Prisoner"? It's originally was this guy's wine. Just a tasting room in downtown St. Helena, I think I liked the designs of the brand better than the wine itself. The labels themselves are works of art, Chinese book pages served as the floor covering and one wall was made from a ship hull. I didn't love all of the wines, but there were some true gems to be had in a wide range of prices. (Actually, I think some bottles were the cheapest I saw the whole trip.)

This picture also serves as the label for their "Palillon" wine. "I've seen other people try to take the same picture," our buddy, Jonathan, said, "but their hands aren't worn - in a beautiful way - from year of work and winemaking."

Unpretentious, no reservations required, and also the cheapest tasting fees of the trip ($10) - I loved it. Our pourer, Jonathan, a former chef, was easy to chat with and gave us my favorite eating recommendation of the trip.

Our good fortune and our monetary fortune (aka the day's travel money) ran out though at the next spot. A few guidebooks recommended Clos du Val. While the patio was somewhat nice, a rainstorm drove us into the generic tasting room. We didn't like any of the wines, the pourer was somewhat crass, and to add insult to injury, it was our most expensive stop of the day. We kicked ourselves for not leaving at the first signs of terrible, and called it a day.

Clos du Val.. at least it was pretty


Our base for the next few nights was the Blackbird Inn in downtown Napa. A sister B&B to where we stayed in Yountville, the grounds weren't quite as pretty, but it still proved to be a great spot. On the edge of the main strip, it was a 10 minute walk to both the main dining streets, and an amazing taco joint where real residents eat. Plus, if you pay for it using bedandbreakfast.com gift cards from Costco, these B&Bs really were the best value for something in a moderately priced accommodations in walking distance to eats.


Our friends Rose and Jesse arrived just before dinner at Norman Rose Tavern, recommend by our chef friend at Orin Swift. He said they often have Pliny the Elder on tap, which for the uninformed is a beer by Russian River Brewing and (one of) the best IPA(s) in the country. Part of me cringes that I care to note it.  Why did we care? It would have been like letting my dad down if we didn't get it. Really, after living with my dad, I could totally win Jeopardy if the categories were: American craft beer, 70's Rock, and "Physics is phun!" 

Remember I said our luck ran out? Pliny the Elder was in fact not on tap and the remaining beer options were average. The food was good, though the appetizers and desserts shined brighter than the entrees.

Jet lag made us pretty tired most nights, and our since idea of "nightlife" is going out for ice cream and being home by 10, that was about all the excitement we could handle for the day.

Day 2:
I'll start with the food. We ate at the Oakville Grocery for lunch. It was more of a cafe that sold tons of amazing specialty grocery items plus wines. I do have to say, my Reuben sandwich and Jason's chicken salad sandwiches were more flavorful than Thomas Keller's sandwiches from the day before. I wouldn't call it my favorite meal, but if I could transplant one eating spot to my neighborhood, this would have been it. 

My favorite meal of the trip was that night's dinner spot, at a Spanish tapas joint, la Taberna. Some of the best ordering advice I've heard is to order something that scares you or is unfamiliar, as those tend to be the dishes that best showcase a chef's talent. La Taberna is exactly the kind of place to follow that advice! Octopus doesn't scare me, but my mid-western boy rarely goes for it. He was glad he did here. A lively atmosphere and wonderful local beers on tap made us glad we snagged seats while we could.

Wineries that day included Cakebread Cellars, Miner family and Paraduxx, all of which had buy one get one free tastings in the app. (Read the fine print though, we couldn't use the coupon at Paraduxx since it was after 12 noon.)

Cakebread was nice so I'm really not sure why I didn't like it more. We were big fans of Alejandro, our pourer, who gave the four of us a private tasting in the courtyard while teaching us the history of the winery and Napa itself. The wines were all good, and the atmosphere was nice, but it was kind of a production, and I hate when the pourer is waiting on me to finish my taste. Makes me feel too rushed. I guess I answered my own question about why it wasn't a favorite.

Miner Family Vineyard was Rose's favorite of the trip. We went before it got crowded, took a seat on the patio overlooking the valley during the tasting, and just sent the guys in for the next wine. I remember their Syrah being outstanding, but only because we bought a bottle.



Paraduxx was a beautiful setting. The views weren't spectacular, but it was more of a cozy setting with couches set up under the trees. I loved that they poured all the tastings at once so you could go at your own pace. I've heard similar reviews about their sister winery, Duckhorn.

We went mostly to places that were red wine focused. There were a few places whose specialty was sparking wine that I kind of wish we went to, but ran out of time. Mumm and Domaine Carneros were all recommended.
Day 3:

Maybe the one place we went to for their whites instead of reds was Grgich Hills. I can't even count the number of guidebooks or people who referenced the movie "Bottle Shock." (Seriously, is that main association everyone has about Napa? I finally saw the movie maybe 5 years after it came out.) Anyway, the movie focused on the Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena that won the judgement of Paris. So now that winery is a bit of a tourist destination. I'm still a sucker for historical experiences, but instead of fighting the crowds there, I thought the better strategy was to go to follow the winemaker of the winning Chardonnay, Mike Grgich, to his winery, Grgich Hills. And let me say, yes, the Chardonnay was wonderful, and we were only slightly disenchanted to learn you can buy it all over the country. (Sidenote: the Cabernet at Stag's Leap also beat out the French wines during that event, the "Judgement of Paris." I would have liked to go there too, but ran out of time.)

Because we had gone to Hall the first day without Rose and Jesse- and honestly because we loved it so much but hadn't bought anything the first day- we went back to Hall. Yup, still loved it.

We hit Gott's Roadside in St. Helena for lunch that day. There was definitely a fun drive through diner vibe and the food was fresh and tasty. I was kind of tired of heavier food so enjoyed my salad, but I think the fried and grilled foods is where they really shined. I was tempted by the craft brews on tap, but was attempting this thing called "moderation." I ordered a salad for crying out loud. I regret it.



We spent the next couple hours bopping around downtown St. Helena mostly checking into antique stores or furniture boutiques for "inspiration." I was hoping to score some fun vintagey find like designers do on blogs/ Instagram/ tv/ what have you. I didn't but I also don't look effortlessly photogenic like those home designers do, so no biggie.

Our last winery was Merryvale based on the fact that no appointments were required and it was super close to downtown St. Helena.  I didn't think it was possible, but I think I'd kind of hit my limit for tastings. (Not that I drank too much, but more that it just wasn't as enjoyable as it should have been. Like seeing too many cathedrals while traveling; I think I heard it called "cathedral fatigue" once.) It was pretty, but nothing really stood out about it as memorable.

And somehow I wasn't as amazed as I should have been.

Maybe because we didn't want to end on a mediocre note, we drove the 15ish minutes to Auberge du Soleil, a posh hotel/spa/restaurant with famed views of the valley. Munching on happy hour snacks as the sun sunk was the perfect way to wind down the day.

Our friend Jesse takes some great pictures, so they went off to "chase the light" with plans to meet for a later dinner. We ended up taking a different route home and drove through the neighborhood where non-tourists live I noticed an ugly looking taco lean-to on the side of the road. And if there's anything I know about tacos, the worse the shop looks, the better (seriously, gas stations, unmarked trucks, and run down convenience stores have my favorite tacos). Jason loves me, so we turned the car around, knowing if we didn't I wouldn't mourn this missed opportunity forever (some or all of the logic in that sentence may be faulty). Guys, I love tacos.  Tanya's Taqueria did not disappoint.  They were everything a good taco should be: corn shell, fresh salsa, full of flavor.  I was a little sad to discover them on the last day since they were so close to our hotel.



Real dinner, not my pre-dinner tacos, that night was at Azzurro Pizzeria. Maybe like our experience at Merryvale, I had hit restaurant fatigue, because I while it wasn't bad, it wasn't something I'd go back to. Pro was that they served Pliny the Elder on tap. Con was that they charged extra for extra sauce someone requested.




So that concluded the Napa part of our trip. Then it was off to meet my parents in San Fransisco. This is where the beer portion of the week came in, but I'll have to save that for another post.  Suffice it to say, Pliny the Elder was involved.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Whole30 Part 2: Recipes


This is just a really long list of most of the things we ate while on Whole 30. You’ll notice I usually take recipes as suggestions, and just use what I have or what I think will taste better, so feel free to do the same. Some of the recipes weren’t exactly Whole 30 compliant, so I modified them by omitting sugar, using coconut milk instead of real milk, or clarified butter instead of normal butter. I find pictures are most helpful when deciding what I want to make, so I’ve tried to pin most of the recipes here, including ones I didn’t make but looked good. Some recipes are so simple, I've forgotten the source, so tried to write out directions. Most of them are linked though, and those websites are probably great resources too!  Hope this helps, if you are on Whole 30 and good luck!


Special ingredients:
Coconut aminos (whole foods or Wegman’s)

Dinners:
Taco Salad: Brown ground beef in a pan. Add whatever spices you want (I did cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and smoked chipotle powder) once mostly brown add diced onions (1/2-1 cup). Once onions are translucent, add diced red pepper. Cook for a 3-5 minutes depending how done you like your peppers. Serve over lettuce, spinach and sliced avocado.

Pork Loin with Cilantro Date Relish

Paleo Orange Chicken – I just used the coconut aminos.

Lemon Chicken – This sounds boring, but was delicious and easy (best if you remember to let it marinade ahead of time though).

Brisket – This was best for the weekend with guests. I didn’t actually use the linked recipe, but I wasn’t that happy with mine, so I’m hoping this is better.

Asian Meatballs – a lot of chopping so it these took a while

Seared scallops – use ghee instead of butter

Grilled tuna steaks with mango salsa – used this blackened seasoning then 2 minutes on each side, the salsa recipe is for salmon but was so amazing with this tuna

Grilled mahi mahi – I think we did six minutes on each side and then with leftover mango salsa from the tuna.

Roasted chicken – whole chicken with a little olive oil drizzled on, salt and pepper then roast at 400 degrees for 1.5 hours. This was easy, so we did it a lot.

Chicken tikka masala (crock pot) – I used already cooked chicken (from the roasted chicken the night before) and just simmered on the stove for about 20-30 minutes instead of doing the crock pot. I didn’t make cauliflower rice with this, but wish I had.

Carnitas – one of our favorites. This turned out better putting all the ingredients in the crock pot and setting on low for 8 hours (or high for 4) instead of slow cooking in the oven.

Roasted leg of lamb – was on super sale at the grocery store. I added some rosemary springs and a bunch of root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, sweet potato, parsnips, whatever you have works) when there were about 45 minutes left.

Shephard’s pie – for the mashed potato topping, I used a mix of clarified butter and coconut cream (instead of milk and butter) and no Parmesan cheese. I also don’t do the egg yolk for the topping because I can’t tell a difference, so why go through the extra step? To be Whole 30 compliant I didn’t use Worcester sauce (used coconut aminos instead) and didn’t use the red wine. I like it really with a lot of gravy, so used more like 1.5 cups of chicken stock. I usually make it with ground beef instead of lamb. I also like too add peas and shredded cabbage to the meat mixture. Ok, I guess that’s a lot of modifications, but I started realizing I could use a lot of my normal recipes with a few tweaks.

Chicken Mole – I think we had too much time on our hands, and decided to make this really complicated dish during the snow storm. We definitely didn’t have all the ingredients and so subbed chipotle peppers for ancho chilies (only used ½ the chilis called for), some non-peanut nuts for hazelnuts, dates for raisins, coco powder for chocolate. We also didn’t use tortilla chunks or sugar. Even with all those changes, this was really delicious, though definitely use pre-ground spices, otherwise you’ll end up with big chunks of cinnamon stick in it.

Jerk Chicken and shrimp with cauliflower rice – the recipe was really just for shrimp, but I doubled it and added some chicken (just baked the chicken breast). PS- cauliflower rice wasn’t that hard to do, but they sell it at Trader Joe’s which would have been a helpful shortcut to know.

Steak - we got the cut that was on sale. The butcher gave me a tip on how to make it more tender: coat it in salt for an hour then rinse before cooking. I didn’t use any rub, but I did use the Pioneer woman’s timing on how to cook it, and used clarified butter.


Salmon - I did use my hand blender to make the mayo and used dried herbs



Vegetables
For most dinners I did two vegetables (except the Shepard’s pie and the jerk chicken). Sometimes (when it was easy like roast chicken), I did some soups or veggies that used the following recipes:


Carrot Coconut Ginger soup

Roasted Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup- just without all the non-whole 30 toppings

Squash soup – roast acorn or butternut squash, scrape out of skin, cook onion, garlic, then add peeled apple and squash, about 1 tbsp curry, blend.

Crispy Kale – I just did the kale part in this recipe without the coconut (though you could find coconut without sugar added for Whole30). I used the rice vinegar version she suggested.

Za’atar Roasted Carrots – if you have inflammation issues, you should stay away from too much tahini, but these were good even though I used a mix of cumin, cinnamon, and paprika since I didn’t have za’atar and never have parsley.

Otherwise, we roast vegetables a lot, which was so easy to just coat in oil and sprinkle with salt, then roast at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, did a bunch of salads.

Grilled zucchini – cut in long strips (maybe 1 cm thick) or whatever shape works, drizzle with olive oils and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt, then cook on grill for 20 minutes or until ends get charred

Mashed potatoes – I found by using clarified butter and coconut milk instead or regular butter and milk, these turned out just fine and I couldn’t tell a difference.


Dressing/Sauces
For salad dressings, it’s easy to do olive oil and either balsamic vinegar, a squeeze of lime or lemon. Otherwise I liked the following dressings:

Our go-to dressing: orange or lemon juice from 1 fruit (usually ¼ cup), ¼ cup olive oil, minced garlic, a squirt of Dijon

Southwest Dressing – I just omitted the yogurt (or used the mayo below if I had it), and threw in come cilantro if I had it

BBQ Sauce – I think I might start using this after whole 30. I like that it wasn’t so sweet and had a good amount of tang to it

Mayo – I used it for a few things including salad dressing, or mixed with horseradish for a yummy sweet potato dip

Dijon – I didn’t make it, but I thought it was worth noting that the Giant and Safeway organic brands were whole 30 compliant, but the ones at more “heath food” stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s weren’t. Crazy how added sugar seems to show up in everything!

Clarified butter/ghee – you can google a recipe, but basically just put butter on low/medium heat until the top part is clear and the milky liquid falls to the bottom (5-10 minutes). Save the clear oils on top to use and discard the “milk solids” at the bottom of the pan. Cook a bit longer until the butter browns to have ghee for a more nutty flavor.



Breakfast

Usually on weekdays this was a mix of hard boiled eggs, nuts, avocado, carrots, fruit, or miscellaneous leftovers. I just didn’t want to devote more time to it than that. Weekends, however, were another story. I got tired of egg dishes all the time, so we’d usually do some kind of hash. Dice up a cup worth of potatoes and mix in whatever kind of meat and veggies you got and top with a fried egg. The possibilities are endless, but I used steps similar to this recipe, Asparagus Pancetta Hash, with other ingredients. Most sausage has added sugar, but I found kielbasa, chorizo, and bratwurst ones that didn’t at Whole Foods, Wegman’s and H-Mart. I never could find bacon without sugar added. Some of our favorite hash combos were:

-sweet potato, leek, apple, chorizo, hash

-regular potato, red pepper, sausage, onion, hash


Snacks & Desserts So the book really discourages you from keeping up your same bad habits, just with compliant foods, but I think the only way we could make it sometimes was by finding something that filled the worst of our cravings.

Snacks: olives, pickles, prosciutto, dried fruit, nuts

Chocolate coconut cream – whip a can of coconut cream on high with a tablespoon of cocoa powder, refrigerate for as long as you have the patience for, then top with fruit like bananas or blueberries. We found this to be almost like an ice cream stand in, although it has to be the coconut cream, not milk. (I usually found at Trader Joe’s though they seem to have some supply issues lately.)

Dried or fresh fruit – a couple dried dates or figs was enough sugar to get me through a few afternoons at work.

We did try poached pears one night too.



So that is about it... I think we're going to keep trying to incorporate more of the "whole30" meals even though we are off the diet, so let me know if there's something you've found that you love!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Whole30 Part 1

After my last post about the books I read, this should be no surprise. After hearing for years about friends’ success with this diet, learning more about nutrition, and reading It Starts With Food, we decided to give the Whole 30 diet a try. If you’ve read any other post on this blog, you know how much I love food. So I hope you’ll rejoice with me that today marks the 30th day of our Whole 30 diet! I know we’re not quite over, but at least the end is in sight. No more quickly scrolling past pretty desserts on Instagram. No more quick walks past food trucks. No more avoiding the pantry. No more planning what treats I want to eat a month out! If I learned anything during this diet, it’s that I love talking about my “misery” despite the fact I can easily find this trait annoying in other people! But really, I found it really helpful to have friends who could share their experience, so I wanted to share our experience for the first 30 days.

The basic premise if Whole30 is this: you take 30 days to get all the potentially negative things out of your system so you can evaluate how you feel when you are eating “clean” food; it then gives you a baseline to tell how different foods affect you. This mean no sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains, gluten or legumes. Sugar and alcohol get cut out because they can throw off hormone balance plus are never actually “good” for anyone. All of the other foods have properties that cause adverse reactions in some people. The detox part can take up to two weeks, but then the second two weeks you are supposed to experience your body functioning optimally. After the 30 days you reintroduce the foods you want every couple days so you can evaluate their impact in a way that pinpoints exactly what food is causing your symptom. If you are at all interested, you really really should read up on the website and the book written by the inventors of the diet, Dallas and Melissa Harwig. 

I’m glad we did it in January because everyone usually hunkers down a bit after the holidays. It would have been a lot harder during a month with a lot of social functions not to take part in the food, and the one party we planned to go to (before I remembered about the diet) got postponed due to snow. So we literally were in the house for a week straight. This probably says more about our lack of friends than the time of year, but at least we weren’t traveling in January, and since it’s a good time for new resolutions, we had a few friends doing Whole 30 with us, which helped. We definitely wouldn’t have wanted to schedule it over a month we were traveling (mostly because food is such a big part of the experience for us, not because it’s impossible to eat good on the road). 

I do feel a little ridiculous talking about a diet. For most people, dieting is associated with losing weight, and that wasn’t our goal. True, Jason has gained over 15 pounds since we got married, but that’s because he ate bachelor meals like “chips” for dinner and looked like he was auditioning as a castaway. Actually, Jason needed those 15 pounds and had to be really mindful to eat enough so he didn’t lost weight. Really, we did it to understand the relationship our body has with food – how does each food make us feel. 

Why we did it:

1. It’s not about losing weight – it’s about being healthy. While you may lose weight if you haven’t been eating great before, the point is to figure out what makes your body function best.

2. By eliminating snacking and sugars, you are learning about (and hopefully breaking) your emotional connections to food.

3. Cure symptoms – neither of us deal with anything major, but the book makes it sound like Whole30 is a magic bullet that will solve all your ailments. We deal with minor things like muscle pain, allergies, occasional stomach pains, etc. that I was hoping would go away. I have perpetually dry lips, and went to an acupuncturist who said that it was because I make my stomach work too hard (I think it was a nice way to tell me I eat too much). That’s a whole other story but I do think many of the systems in the body are connected, so thought it was worth a try.

4. Increased energy – this was one big result I had heard people like about this diet. They could pinpoint what foods zapped their energy and then know to avoid them.

5. The book convinced me – the first few chapters were about how for a typical person, even one who eats healthy sounding food, too many carbs and sugars create insulin resistance, which, builds leptin resistance, meaning your brain sends you body messages you are hungry when you are not, which leads to overeating, and, at the end of this spiral of doom, diabetes. Or something like that… I had to skip some of it because reading about when thing go wrong in the body makes me physically uncomfortable.

I really a lot of things about Whole30. Here are the main ones:

1. It’s scientific – the book had all sorts of background on why they authors came up with this. I loved that they addressed a lot of the misconceptions about food and nutrition in their book. Plus, the best part is, it’s like a controlled experiment with your body. It’s no longer wondering which of the 50 ingredients you ate that cause your stomach pain, because you are reintroducing each group one at a time so you know exactly what the culprit is.

2. You cannot cheat – because you are trying to cleanse your body of any potential irritants, it’s not like a diet where you can easily justify breaking the rules (ie: “I’ll just go over on calories today and make up for it tomorrow”). Nope, on Whole30, if you cheat, you ruin all the work you’ve done and if you are on day 2 or 20 you have to start over or the experiment doesn’t work.

3. You aren’t ever hungry – true, you basically an only eat meats and veggies and some fruit, but you can have as much of it as you want, and most of what we made was really good.

4. The authors don’t intend for you to eat that way forever. Diets that have you cut out certain foods forever don’t seem realistic at all.


Things I didn’t like:

1. Cost – while you technically can eat out with this diet, we found that it wasn’t relay worth it to us since a) we didn’t want to have to ask about every ingredient on the menu, and 2) we felt like we’d rather spend the money to eat out when we could experience all of what the restaurant had to offer. So by cutting out restaurants and alcohol, I was excited to save money in our budget.

What I did not factor in was the cost of eating so much meat. We’re not vegetarians, but meat is usually not the main course for us. We often have no-meat meals or meals with meat more as a side. I usually only plan half of our meals with meat. Without beans, rice, pasta, bread, it takes a lot more meat and veggies to get full. Plus, I usually buy cheap meats: chicken, ground beef and maybe some pork loin. But I get tired of the same foods pretty quickly, and because I thought we were going to be saving so much money by not eating out, bought more pricey meats: some seafood, brisket once, steak once, and even lamb (which actually was on sale for the same price as beef).

2. Time – I spent probably 2-3 hours the first week coming up with menus. You could really easily just pick one book or website that already has a 30 day meal plan and stick with it. I didn’t do that because I overcomplicated things. By the second week, I was back to the normal amount of time I spend meal-planning. I rotated back in our favorite Whole 30 meals, got the hang of making some of our normal meals whole 30 compliant, and the most helpful thing is that once I started pinning a few whole 30 recipes on Pinterest, other great recipes started showing up in my feed.

In terms of time for meal prep, it depends what you are used to. For some people the meals will take a lot more time to prep and cook because let’s be honest, cooking vegetables in a tasty way often takes time. (Sidenote: I once read that vegetables are one of the most frequent dishes ordered at restaurants for that very reason.) We don’t eat many pre-processed foods anyways, so I don’t think it took that much more time. It maybe took a little more time than normal since I tried to do two vegetables with every meal, but it wasn’t a significant amount. 

What actually took the most extra time besides meal planning was adding in meals for breakfast. I basically never cook breakfasts on weekdays (poor Jason - he used to eat breakfast until he married me), so the first few weeks of this diet I tried to make hash, frittatas, etc. ahead of time, but by the second two weeks we simplified our breakfasts to some nuts, hardboiled eggs, and a carrot.

3. Breakfast - That kind of brings me to the third thing I never really liked or got used to on this diet: eating breakfast before 10am. I am not a morning person, so forcing food in when I’m not hungry, much less awake, never is enjoyable. I did break their rule and usually had coffee first, as I always do, so that could be why my body was never that hungry on waking.

So… how did our 30 days go?

I still got tired and craved snacks around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. The third week a blizzard hit, and we teleworked all week, so it was hard to tell if I felt better because of the diet or just because I was at home. During week 4, I got headaches every afternoon, so I think it means I am allergic to work outside of the house.

Cravings never really went away, but I feel like I did learn how much I eat out of habit or emotion. I got a flat tire. Spent two hours waiting at Costco. All I wanted when I got home was some kind of chocolatey treat. I wasn’t hungry for it but I realized how much I eat because I think I “deserve a treat” or just out of boredom. I’m hoping I can cut some of that out in the future.

The first two weeks I was so tired much earlier in the evening than I used to be, but then when I went to bed, I had a hard time falling asleep. I think I was more tired because without sugary food to snack on, or trying to stay awake to finish a glass of wine, my body was able to get its message across. However, my insomnia, I think, was because I started drinking kombucha in the evenings as a beer replacement, forgetting that black tea has caffeine. Once I limited the kombucha to day-time, I was fine.

I guess the good news and bad news is that I don’t feel any different. No aches went away, I haven’t notice an increase in energy, and everything seemed pretty much the same. I’m hoping this is because how we were eating before wasn’t all that bad, and I can just go back to cream in my coffee, and cookies before bed. I guess we’ll see since the next two weeks is the reintroduction period, when we’ll add one food group back in at a time – the final step in our experiment!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Year in Book Review

There's a setting in your Google profile to enter your age and gender. Of course I don't give that info out (I let the government leak my data through OPM hacks instead), but if you don't enter it, Google guesses based on your searches. It guessed I am a 60 year old woman. That is an accurate reflection of my mental age at least since my ideal New Year's Celebration is to share what books I read this year, and then hopefully go to bed early. Posting about which books I read has become a bit of a tradition for me, but after struggling to remember what I even read last year, I'm streamlining this year's post to one sentence about each book. (Given the few other posts I've had this year, this makes my life actually sound way more boring than the 60 year olds I know.)

Of course, there are a few things I don't count because I read with somewhat regularly every year: The Bible, Morning and Evening by Spurgeon, and the blog Housetweaking. (She posts practical house stuff and just enough of her personal life that it's fun to follow along. I can't take blogs that post a million perfect house pictures. I just get depressed and overwhelmed because I can't keep up - with the house or with reading so much.)

So I didn't finish all these books, but the books I didn’t finish, I at least got 50 pages in, so I definitely gave it the old “college try.” (Although, I probably only did 20% of the assigned reading in college, so that phrase means nothing.) I used to feel guilty about not finishing a book, as if I was breaking a rule, or hurting the author's feelings.  But, ironically enough, the book Essentialism that I didn't finish reading, helped me realize that I'm only hurting myself if I read things I don't enjoy.

I started a new role at work towards the beginning of the year that kind of put my brain on overdrive, which is part of the reason I was drawn to so many books on organization and thinking.  I kind of wish I'd read them sooner.  I kind of also wish I could remember more of what I read (part of my reason for doing these summaries).

And so, I give you the books of 2015:


The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo – Yes, it changed my life, or more accurately, my closet.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown (didn’t finish because too vague) – I liked the theory of only focusing on the essential goals at the moment, but I just didn’t think I could skip family obligations with the excuse that, “It’s not essential.” (I do think it would be more helpful if my job looked different.)

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel Levitin – Probably my favorite book of the year and the reason I have become so dependent on my lists (I skipped the chapter on probability and statistics since I had multiple semesters of the topic - and still have the books to prove it – you should skip that chapter because it’s boring).



Think Like a Freak, by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner – The third book in the Freakonomics series, it was the most entertaining book I read this year, but that’s really not saying much considering my list reads like a class syllabus.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller (didn’t finish because too frenetic) – My mind jumps between topics like a pinball, but this classic book was just so scattered that I gave up, despite some witty and insightful quotes.

We are Not Ourselves: A Novel, by Matthew Thomas – While beautifully written, the melancholy ending was so drawn out, which is probably most like real life, which is probably why I don’t read fiction.




Human Croquet, by Kate Atkinson (didn’t finish because… just… so… slow) – My second attempt at fiction was even less successful, despite great things I’d heard about the author.

Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting, by Pamela Druckerman – I know I don’t even have kids, but I got into the French vs. American culture, especially after trying to feed my picky nephew. (It’s all the "lessons" out of Bringing Up Bebe, which I now want to read.)

The Art of Thinking Clearly, by Rolf Dobelli – This is the perfect summary of The Organized Mind and Black Swan, plus, the only one on the list I bought all year after borrowing it from the library.



Home: Recipes to Cook with Family and Friends, by Brian Voltaggio – I spent just as much time looking at this and trying recipes (good but complicated) as I spent actually reading most of the other books, so I think that counts for something.

Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us about the Good Life, by Shimon Edelman (didn’t finish because too scientific) – More like an anatomy and physiology lecture than like the sequel to a Will Smith movie.

Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probability and Statistics on Everything You Do, by Kaiser Fung – Clearly the author is very smart, but as much as I love numbers, he took a painfully large number of pages to make sure his points were redundantly clear. (The entire last chapter was a summary of the entire book, when a bulleted list would have done nicely).



Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck – This book made me love Steinbeck almost as much as it made me want to just pick up and move, or at least go on a road trip.

The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extrovert Achieve Extraordinary Results Together, by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, PHD (didn’t finish because even government classes I’ve taken on employee-relations have been more beneficial) – The author put me off from the beginning by making it sound as if she had personally invented the idea that there are benefits to working with someone with the opposite personality, but her watered-down examples and vague principles only confirmed I’d rather waste my time in other ways.  (It was so bad I'm not even going to waste time linking a picture.)

It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways, by Dallas Hartwig & Melissa Hartwig – I’m begrudgingly starting to think maybe my diet isn’t as good for me as I think it is, and am convinced to try the Whole30 diet in January.. starting tomorrow, of course.

Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (currently reading) – Not at all related to the Natalie Portman movie, this book about the how highly improbably events shape our behavior is the most entertaining of the neuro-psychology-related books I read this year, although it’s not exactly a page-turner, considering I have renewed it four times from the library and am still not done.

So there you have it. I'm not sure that I can recommend the entire list, unless you also want to live like a 60 year old woman.  Depending on your perspective, I am desperately in need of other book recommendations, so please feel free to share. I'll definitely need something to get my mind off all the food not allowed on this Whole30 diet!
 
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