Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Elvis French Toast: Welcome Back, Carbs!

I didn't want to show my hand about today's delectable, indulgent post-Paleo breakfast, because I wasn't sure I could pull it off or would feel up to going through that many steps this morning. But I did, so I invite you to feast your eyes on my Elvis French Toast:

Elvis French Toast

If you're familiar with "The Elvis" sandwich, you can already see what I'm getting at - French toast (brioche in this case) with peanut butter, banana, and bacon. The peanut butter is sweetened with maple syrup, and the bacon is actually pancetta, and this breakfast? It's amazing. It's everything I dreamed it could be. It is the perfect way to break the carbfast. It...

Okay, I'll be honest, it feels like a brick sitting in my stomach right now, but I don't care. I'm the happiest carb-eatin' girl in the whole wide world.

Elvis French Toast Sandwich
Serves 1
  • 2 tbsp pancetta bits
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 slices brioche
  • Butter as needed
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 banana, sliced
Begin by rendering the pancetta over medium heat in a non-stick pan. When done, remove cooked pancetta, leaving fat in pan. Mix honey, milk, and egg, until incorporated, then soak both sides of each slice of brioche in the mixture until completely absorbed. Turn heat down to low, and cook the first slice about three minutes on each side. For the second slice, add butter to the pan if needed, and return about half the pancetta bits to the pan, then add the bread. You may need to press down on the bread and/or increase the heat a bit to cook this side, but otherwise, cook the same as the first piece. While the second piece is cooking, mix the peanut butter and maple syrup together, microwaving if necessary to get to a spreadable consistency. Spread over cooked french toast, then sprinkle with remaining pancetta bits, then arrange the bananas on top of the peanut butter. Top with second french toast, pancetta side up. Devour.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day 30 - a recap

I was hoping I'd have more to say this month, but how often does anyone want to read a post that says "I hate this, 14 days 'til carbs" or "I just ate the exact same meal for the 12th time"? I'm gonna guess once will suffice for each.

So here we are. I've just finished my last mandate-Paleo meal (for the record, it was red curry again, which was delicious but... red curry again. I think I had six or seven red curry meals). I am clawing at midnight. My first week or two was rough, and then I settled into a groove where I felt comfortable enough with what I was eating, and the light at the end of the tunnel wasn't shining on me yet. It is now shining. I wish to go into the light. I am seriously considering staying up 'til midnight just to eat something that is verboten right now. I don't have to get up early - why not?

The only thing I've been more excited about this month than eating carbs tomorrow is getting my top choice internship. I've been salivating over the possibilities for breakfast. I have something delectable in mind. I cannot wait.

Let's recap. I'll start with the good.

  • I appear to have lost about five pounds, without trying. Actually, I lost about five pounds the first week or so, and have pretty much remained at that weight. I've mentioned I wanted to lose a little, so this is good! It's hard to say whether this was an inherent aspect of the food I was eating, or due more to the inaccessibility of snacking. Not that I didn't snack, but it took more time, thought, and preparation. Granola bars make me fat? Maybe.
  • My heartburn decreased significantly. Actually, the first week or two, I had basically none (except after cheat meals), but it's been coming back more frequently in the latter part. [If you happen to be curious about other digestive effects: no improvement, no problems.]
  • I'm actually inclined to see my diet over the last month as pretty healthy (but there's more about this later). I ate a lot of seafood, and my fruits & veg consumption jumped a lot. I hope I'll keep that up!
  • As I've mentioned in previous posts, this has been a great source of learning, and of different ways of viewing and thinking about food.

There's also the not so good.

  • Did I mention how I hated it? It doesn't matter if I lost weight, because I hated this diet. The best I ever managed to feel about it was neutral. There are probably other ways of doing Paleo that I would enjoy more (my friends do a Paleo-like diet where they eat beans. I miss beans), but I'm not interested in much more research.
  • My energy levels never recovered. Like I said before, I feel fine just hanging around, but any attempt at intense activity and I feel unbearably weighed down. Even today, as I hustled up one - one - flight of stairs, I felt winded and tired in a way that I never used to. I did manage a good run this weekend, so I suspect it may only have been a matter of time, but again, not a transition I wish to see through.
  • Oh god, the cost. Even choosing very economical meats like canned and frozen fish and bone-in chicken thighs, and being fortunate to have many of my produce choices on sale, I spent a lot of money on food. I spent around $300 on just me this month - somehow Keith managed to pretty much not eat at home this month, so the grocery costs really were almost all me. It's a lot more than I normally would spend.
  • I still feel like I spend every waking moment thinking about, preparing, or eating food, and then cleaning up. It's really annoying.
  • But here's my favorite not-so-good. I wish I'd planned ahead and had a blood panel done last month, but I didn't, so instead I'm using my not-super-fuzzy memory of my lipid levels from about three years ago. I feel my lifestyle has been stable enough in that time, however, to make them a valid point of comparison (the doctor who ordered my tests agreed). I did at least plan ahead enough to have a new lipid panel done this week. At this point, I was honestly rooting for Paleo. I would love to have hard data make me eat my skeptical words. Didn't happen. First the neutral: my (good) HDL was basically unchanged at 44mg/dL. A little low, but still in the okay range. I think my HDL may have been slightly higher a few years ago, but we're still talking 40s. And then the bad: my (bad) LDL increased from ~45mg/dL to 61mg/dL. I think my LDL may actually have been lower, but I'm trying not to overstate my case. This is not good! Obviously, 61mg/dL is still a great level, and I wouldn't give it a second glance on its own, but that's over a 30% increase. That's concerning. That's enough right there to make me say, nope, not gonna happen, experiment over.

So that's my recap. I'm a little disappointed to be vindicated. I'm actively trying to avoid being a dietitian who clings to yesterday's research and shuns tomorrow's. I was honestly hoping this might be good for me. And that's not to say it's bad; my friends who do the beany-Paleo have had marked improvements in their lab values. What I do know is that it's not for me. I hated the limitations, I hated the time and cost it required, I hated the totally arbitrary social limitations, and it obviously did not agree with my body. I wouldn't immediately tell a patient who was interested in Paleo not to do it, but I certainly have a new sense of caution I'd use to discuss it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Still Going

It occurs to me that making a post saying, "I think I might quit in six days" and then not updating for nearly two weeks is no doubt giving my numerous readers a great deal of anxiety-inducing consternation. In answer, here's this morning's breakfast:

Paleo Breakfast

This morning, and every morning since April 2 (I was unprepared on the first), and for nine more breakfasts. Usually the sweet potatoes are cubed and oven roasted, but Keith made me a huge pile of cumin mashed potatoes the other night, and they're just as great for breakfast. The veggies vary, but not much - zucchini, asparagus, and bell peppers have been beautifully cheap for weeks. Not shown is the smoothie. The current version is bananas, mangoes, blueberries, unsweetened almond milk, and chia seed whizzed up, then portioned out in the morning with a little added coconut milk beverage (not the canned stuff) to thin it out and add some caloric punch.

I like this breakfast. It's satisfying, it's healthy - packed full of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. That said, I miss my oatmeal desperately, and I will most definitely be having a great big bowl of it on May 1.

I know my last post sounded a little... desperate. And I felt that way at the time. I was overwhelmed and unhappy. Not surprisingly, though, as I powered through, everything got a little bit easier, a little more second nature. It's still not how I want to spend my life - the amount of time I spend each day prepping, cooking, eating, and doing dishes is ridiculous. But right now I'm feeling much more "it is what it is." If I had to continue this for the long term, I could. I'm glad I don't.

I've had some great food in the last few weeks though. Last Sunday, the weather was just about ideal for grilling out - minus the 30mph winds - so Keith tossed together a fantastic dinner. Chicken quarters deboned and filled with cooked mushrooms and onions, and a heap of veggies skewered and grilled as well.

Grilled Chicken & Veggies

Fading light meant I didn't get a great photo, but you get the gist. It's been really nice to have Keith be able to share a few of these challenging meals with me.

Last night I made a Thai red curry with chicken thighs and stir fried veggies. As I sat down to eat, I thought, "Is there anything sadder than a glorious curry that you can't eat rice with?" And yet, as I took bite after bite, I realized I didn't miss the rice at all. Each flavorful spoonful was complete all on its own. So often the carb on a plate serves little more purpose than absorbing excess sauce or toning down aggressive seasoning. Isn't that kind of a waste?

The lessons continue. Though I never intended to take this experiment longer than a month, and that hasn't changed, each day I'm a little more pleased that I undertook this challenge in the first place, and that I ultimately chose to see it through.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Harder Than I Thought... and an Announcement!

I suspect I'm going to end up cutting this Paleo experiment short. Not in an "I'm done, forget this, give me a cookie RIGHT NOW!" kind of way. Just perhaps halving it to two weeks, so I finish next Sunday evening. There are obviously plenty of reasons.

First, I feel pretty awful. Well, right now, as I sit on the couch, I feel fine. But when I start exerting, whether it's just walking my dog, or scaling more than one flight of stairs at a time, I feel dragged down immediately. I noticed it right away on my couple of elliptical workouts last week. And then, goodness, this weekend I tried to go for a run. I guess, technically, I succeeded, but whereas a week prior I had run 5.5 miles at a 9:14 pace and felt like I was flying, Saturday I ran 2.7 miles at a 9:20 pace and felt like I was dying. Granted, for part of that run, I had a 25mph headwind - but that means I had a 25mph tailwind for part of it too, and that honestly didn't feel much better. This isn't a real reason for quitting, because I expected this. Most people go through a "Paleo flu" period of a week or a month or so. I had a fairly high-carb diet before, so mine may be worse than average. So I can't really use this. But, you know, just noting. It sucks.

Second, I feel like I've already learned a lot. Through diet analyses, I've seen just how healthy this diet really can be. I've learned some tricks for using low-carb ingredients. I've learned that I should probably treat beans as a carb, and that pita chips and hummus is really just a carb-bomb snack. I've learned that apparently, inexplicably, after years of being a hater, I can now eat a banana straight. Even if I quit, I've already had great success in that I've gained knowledge from the experience.

But here's the kicker:

I hate it.

I hate it so, so much. I have spent pretty much every free waking minute thinking about what I'm going to eat next, or what I'm going to eat May 1. I spend too much time cooking. I spend too much time eating, because I'm hungry all the time. And it's interfering with my life. Like I said, my workouts have been stalled. I found myself crumbling the crust off a quiche and picking fruit out a parfait this weekend. I felt ridiculous. Keith and I have an important celebratory dinner we need to have soon, and waiting 'til May to do it makes it feel an awful lot less celebratory. Oh, hey!

I will now interrupt this blog post to inform you that, as of last night, I was matched to the OSF Saint Francis Dietetic Internship, not only a fantastic program in my hometown, but my first choice!

Steak and green beans with a juicy pear for dessert is not the celebratory dinner I have in mind.

And, anyway, I only made this commitment to myself. I'm only failing myself if I choose to alter it.

But the last argument, the "interfering with my life" bit, that really gets to me. It really rubs me the wrong way. Because you know what else interferes with your life? Food allergies. Going gluten-free for Celiac. Carb counting for diabetes. My clients will have to make these changes in their lives, and it will interfere and make things difficult, and they will not be saying, "Let's see if I can do this for a month!" or, "Yuck, I'm gonna stop this after two weeks." They're stuck with it for the rest of their lives.

I guess, when I think back, part of my reason for embarking on this experiment really was so I would have the experience of having new, challenging, and completely different limitations placed on my diet, so I could have a better grasp of what that challenge really entails. And I do - I have a much better grasp than I did a week ago. But I think halving the challenge cheapens it a little bit.

We'll see. I did stock up on enough Paleo foodstuffs to last way beyond next Sunday. At this point, though, I'm giving myself permission to reevaluate everything after two weeks and see if I want to continue, or possibly modify the challenge. Of course, I'll let you know!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Success! ...and some of that other stuff

First I'll talk a bit about the successes. After a rough first day, when I didn't eat nearly enough for breakfast, didn't bring nearly enough with me for lunch, and was starving (as we've discussed) and grumpy when I got home, I planned a bit better for the second day. I roasted up enough sweet potatoes to last through tomorrow, prepped veggies for the next morning's sauté, and whizzed up three days' worth of a banana-strawberry-almond milk-chia smoothie. I added some chicken sausage to the veggies to boost the staying power of breakfast. At the hospital, the meal special was all items that - in their basic form at least - would comply with my diet: honey mustard chicken, mixed veggies, mashed sweet potatoes. I'm sure there were several ingredients added to some or all of the above that I'd rather not know about, but I'm going to demand flexibility from myself when I'm eating away from home.

When I got home last night, I made myself a most lovely dinner. Would you like to see?

Spaghetti Squash, Tilapia, Tomato Sauce

I mean really, isn't that just lovely? So lovely, in fact, that I had the same thing for dinner tonight, and managed to get that photo in with some lovely (!) evening light. This is definitely a dish I'd like to keep in my mental recipe book long after I go diving back into a giant pool of bread and butter on May 1st.

Spaghetti Squash and Tilapia in Tomato-Caper Sauce
Serves 2

  • 1 spaghetti squash, 1 1/2 - 2 pounds
  • 2 tsp coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 one small onion, sliced
  • 1 14oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • Salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste (I used Penzey's Tuscan Sunset - it's awesome)
  • 2 4-oz tilapia filets
  • 1 tbsp good olive oil
Stab the squash (and not yourself) with a knife a few times, place on a plate, and microwave at full power for ten minutes. Leave in the microwave until you need it later.

Sauté the garlic and onions in the coconut oil until softened, then add the tomatoes (with juice), capers, and seasoning. Let cook until reduced to just thicker than you'd like the final sauce to be. Reduce heat to very low (barely a simmer), and nestle filets in the sauce. Cover and cook 10 minutes, then flip and cook ten minutes more.

After squash has rested for at least five minutes, cut in half, remove seeds, and scrape out the flesh of the squash with a spoon or fork. Portion into bowls, and when fish is done, place on top. Increase heat on sauce again, and reduce further. You'll want it thicker than you'd expect - because the squash is so moist, a normal sauce will end up watery on the plate. At the very end of cooking, mix in the olive oil. Spoon sauce over squash and fish.

I'm honestly a bit flabbergasted by how delicious this was, though I think I have to attribute at least some of it to using farmers market tomatoes we canned last summer. Like I said, definitely a keeper. So there you have it, success! Thanks for stopping by!

Oh, yeah. The other stuff. Okay, so obviously my first day was a little rough. Yesterday, I decided to donate blood. For the first time. I do not have a 100% positive track record of post-blood-draw consciousness. It had been a few hours since I'd eaten, and I pretty much felt like I was going to die when they were done. Finally, after about 20 minutes of lying on the blood donation... furniture, I was able to stand up and made my way over to the desperately needed food. Sandwiches. Cookies. Candy bars. Not a thing I was "allowed" to eat. I'd received a voucher for the cafeteria for donating, but I knew there was no way I was making it out of that room upright without food. I sighed and ripped into a packet of fruit snacks. Packed full of carbs (mostly sugar) and not even that good.

I'm in the process of forgiving myself for said transgression. While it'd be awesome for me to make it through this challenge without slipping up, I think the threat of fainting is a sufficient excuse for "seriously, just eat anything." This matches up with my experience of most people eating Paleo. It's great most of the time, but sometimes you honestly just need something, and that pretty much trumps all. Go ahead and let it.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Ever wondered what the results of a shopping trip might be when you're wandering through the store, starving and a little lightheaded, at the end of your first day attempting a Paleo(ish) diet? Wonder no more:

Shopping Trip

Yes. For the month of April, I have decided to embark on a Paleo journey. I'll be adhering pretty closely to the basic tenets, except that I'll probably still be eating peanut butter. Basically, my diet will be comprised of meat, seafood, veggies, fruits, nuts & seeds, and oils from fatty foods. I will not be eating grains, legumes, dairy, or added sugar. I will have a few cheat meals: I'll be eating dinner with a friend I haven't seen in months this weekend, and Keith's class is running a Southwest American restaurant on Thursday evenings through the whole month. I won't be an absolute stickler. I'm sure I'll eat some soy sauce here and there.

Why? Plenty of reasons. Curiosity, skepticism. I'm curious to see if I feel different, better - if I maybe feel better in a way I did not know I previously felt bad. As I've mentioned before, though I'm not absolutely opposed to the Paleo diet, I tend to view it with a sidelong glance. I figure a great way to help form an educated opinion is to try it out myself, much like I read the entire Twilight series (yes, all four), so I could be confident in my opinion that the books are terrible (oh, and they are).

I have a lot of anxiety about this. I actually laid in bed for hours last night unable to sleep, on the verge of having a panic attack about what I was going to eat for the next month. I'm not the least bit excited about eating meat every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I'm dreading trying to source all that meat from responsible producers - I already know the fish and chicken I bought today don't come from Sustainable Central. Buying all that meat at all is expensive, let alone trying to get free range grass fed yada yada meat. Just in this one day, I've become more aware than ever of just how cheap the energy from oatmeal is. For all of these reasons, I have no expectations that I will be continuing with Paleo past the experimental month, though I will hopefully learn lessons I can incorporate into my eating habits.

First Day of Paleo
I used NutritionData to figure out just what I ate today. I knew from friends' experiences and from reading a variety of blogs that it's easy to severely undereat when first trying Paleo. Breakfast was a 3-egg veggie scramble with chia and an apple, and some pumpkin seeds. "Lunch" was another apple and some almonds. After the shopping trip, I came home and made tuna salad with apple, carrot, and red pepper in a red wine vinaigrette, and ate some of it on lettuce. I'm actually pretty happy with how the nutrition is coming out so far. The cholesterol looks outrageously high, but my lipids have always been picture perfect, so I'm not particularly concerned about that. I wish I could do a full blood screening before and after the month, to see if there are any changes, but I know my insurance wouldn't cover that, and I'm not sure where else I might go. I was really surprised to look through the more detailed information on NutritionData's
analysis of my day and find nothing of real concern.

It was also interesting to note the immediate sense of comfort in the level of control I had over my choices. I was in a department office today that inexplicably was covered in Sixlets - I swear, they were everywhere - and it was amazing how easy it was to say, "Well, I can't have that." Likewise, the starving grocery trip was a gauntlet of half-price Easter candy, and while I did briefly consider buying some to eat in May, I ultimately came home without any.

So that's my first day trying a new and super faddy diet. Hopefully I'll learn some interesting lessons along the way, and have some delicious recipes and photos to share.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Comfort in a Bowl: Cheesy Rice

The weather is nasty today. Well, as I write this, it's actually wound down quite a bit: the sun is peeking in and out of the clouds, the rain has stopped, the temperature is a whopping 40ºF. On the balance, though, still a nasty day. I left the house this morning (first day back from - ahem - Spring break) to find my car glazed in a (not too thick) layer of ice, and the sky's been blowing bone-chilling drizzle at me about 15mph ever since. When I got home, I knew what I had to do. Mission: Comfort Food.

Cheesy Rice

A nice bowl of cheesy rice really is comfort in a bowl. On top of that, it's simple and incredibly customizable. I can't even bring myself to write this as a recipe. I cooked up my rice, making sure it was a little on the damp side when done, then mixed in a few tablespoons of evaporated milk, and a half cup of finely grated pecorino romano. Since I knew this was going to be my dinner, I also added about 3/4 cup of frozen broccoli, just warmed through and chopped up. This works wonderfully with any grain, any cheese, any vegetable.

The evaporated milk is a deliberate choice, though. Many (most? all?) canned evaporated milks contains an ingredient called dipotassium phosphate, which is used to prevent coagulation in processing/storage/etc. It also makes for really awesome, creamy, smooth cheese sauces. If you've ever made a cheese sauce melting grated cheese into a bechamel, you've probably experienced that those sauces never have quite the mouthfeel of commercial sauces. Evaporated milk is a perfect substitute, and keeps this sauce smooth and creamy, without any melted cheese stickiness. Obviously if you don't have any, you can make this with regular milk instead - it'll be almost as good.

Keep warm, all. Indulge in a little comfort food.