If You Give a Girl a Cookie…

… she just might also eat cake, pie, and possibly pizza.

darn good chocolate chip toffee chip cookies

really good chocolate chip-toffee chip cookies

As I mentioned in my Whole 30 wrap-up post last month, I anticipated making and eating some baked non-paleo goodies when extended family visited me at the end of the month. I did pretty well continuing to eat paleo for actual meals – I put together a taco bar one night, a pasta bar one night, burgers one night – all highly customizable meals, easy to make vegan, paleo, or whatever you’d like. But I also made some favorite desserts, and, just as I’d planned, I did indulge.

Perhaps too much. With each indulgence, I slid a little more off the paleo path, until by the end of the family visit, I was eating my first piece of pizza since the beginning of the year. And for the last couple of days, I have continued to indulge in a variety of grain-based, sugar-laden foods. And even though some of it has been delicious, I can also tell a HUGE difference in my mood, my energy, and how my body feels. The weirdest part is my eyes – they always feel tired.

Tomorrow I’ll be back on my track, but for tonight I want to share my recipe for Darn Good Chocolate Chip-Toffee-Chip Cookies. I mean, it is Fat Tuesday after all.

I learned so much from this article a couple of months ago – the author explored how a variety of ingredients and techniques affect a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. It was very enlightening to think about what I was looking for in a chocolate chip cookie and how to get it. During the four days my family was visiting, I made three different batches of cookies (for a total of 12 dozen cookies), so I had plenty of opportunity to tweak my recipe. Without further ado, here is our favorite. Fair warning: it is neither paleo nor vegan, it is just delicious – and a bit addictive.

Really Good Chocolate Chip-Toffee Chip Cookies

makes 48 cookies

  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda*
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder*
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chip cookies
  • 1 cup toffee bits
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In  a large bowl, combine butter, both sugars, and vanilla. Mix with electric hand mixer, on medium, about 2 minutes, until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Gradually beat in the flour mixture.
  5. Stir in the chocolate chips and toffee chips.
  6. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto parchment-lined baking sheets.
  7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes on pans before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

*I actually accidentally doubled both the baking powder and baking soda when I made the third batch of these. I was afraid I had ruined them, but they turned out to be our favorite batch – of course, they were also the only batch I added toffee chips to, and those were a big hit. I’m not sure how much of a difference the doubling of these two leavening agents made. All three batches of cookies were delicious, so either way – 1/2 t of both baking soda and baking powder, or 1 t of both baking soda and baking powder – seemed to work. The main thing is that I used both powder and soda, in equal proportions.

Okay, y’all, Fat Tuesday is almost over and I won’t be making these again for a long while. But perhaps you will make them, and if you do, I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

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My Whole30 :: favorite resources

I finished my Whole30 earlier this month but still have lots to say about what made it doable and even enjoyable for me. I’ve heard from lots of folks who are interested in possibly giving this a go, and who have asked for more information. If you are only here for the knitting, my apologies! I promise I am not turning this into a food blog (though from the beginning, I’ve always shared my foodie adventures here). There will be knitting content coming soon! Maybe even a finished project!

I blogged about my Whole30 experience here (note about the title of that post – I know that “real food” means lots of things to lots of people. What I mean when I say “real food” is “unprocessed” – food as close to its natural state as possible.) Whole30 is a concept started by the people at Whole9 – it’s a short-term nutritional reset “designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.” The basics are: no sugar (or any other added sweetener – natural or artificial), no dairy, no grains, no legumes. You basically cut out the stuff that can lead to inflammation, imbalances, and cravings. So what do you eat? Plants and animals! That means egetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, and meat.

so much yum!

so much yum!

The entire program is outlined and explained in the Hartwig’s book It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways. I bought this book last spring, and loved it – it is so sane and balanced and straightforward. But it took me several months to actually take the leap and try the Whole30 – I honestly didn’t think I could really do it (especially letting go of sugar). I’m still surprised at how manageable I found this to be. I still refer to the book regularly and would highly recommend buying it if you are even considering exploring or experimenting with this way of eating. But the Hartwigs are cool – you don’t have to buy their book to get the basic information and support to give this a go. You can check out all the steps, and even get forum support, on their Whole30 site.

Their approach laid the foundation for my nutritional reset, but there were actually a few other resources I found absolutely invaluable. Actually, I would say there are three women who became my mentors, in a way: Melissa, Michelle, and Steph. It’s funny, a lot of the first writings that introduced and popularized paleo were written by men. But these three women (in addition to the Hartwigs) are the ones that made it work for me.

Melissa Joulwan – Her book, Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat offers a really great, efficient approach to meal preparation. I am not going to lie – if you do Whole30, you will spend a lot of time in the kitchen. If you aren’t eating processed, prepackaged food, there is just no way around that! But Melissa shows you how to make it work with what she calls “weekly cookups,” so that you have the building blocks of great meals in your fridge during the week. I haven’t mastered her approach, but even what parts of it I’ve been able to do have helped so much in terms of being prepared for good eating, even during busy weeks. My work schedule always involves night meetings and weekend responsibilities; even so, I found preparing my meals to be totally doable, thanks in large part to Melissa.

It’s her approach to cooking that’s especially helpful in this book, but the recipes are fantastic, too. Some of my favorite recipes from this book include Chocolate Chili (YUM – I like to add shredded, sautéed sweet potato to the top), Waldorf Tuna Salad, Olive Oil Mayo (I had a paleo mayo fail before finding her recipe and its easy, step-by-step instruction for getting the emulsion right), Caramelized Coconut Chips, and Sunshine Sauce (not a Whole30 recipe unless you can find sunflower butter without added sugar).

Also check out Melissa’s blog, The Clothes Make the Girl, for great recipes and tips. Last month, she offered some weekly meal plans for Whole30, based on her Weekly Cookup concept.

Late in my Whole30, I decided to purchase Melissa’s newest book, Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, and I took advantage of Amazon’s new (to me) feature – I bought the book in paperback and Amazon offered me the option of spending an additional $2.99 to get the Kindle version as well. Score! I love having actual books to hold in my hand, especially when I’m first getting the feel of a book and its recipes, and especially if it has great photos (as this book does). But I prefer using my iPad when I’m actually in the kitchen. I have a tiny little kitchen, and a cookbook that has to be propped open can take up precious space, whereas my iPad fits perfectly on a little shelf up out of the way. One thing I love about this book is the delicious array of sauce recipes. Love me some sauces and dips!

Michelle Tam. Oh, NomNomPaleo, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I found Michelle’s site last spring and have been obsessed with her recipes ever since. She’s hilarious and her approach to cooking is just so fun. I love the whole aesthetic of her site, too. I purchased her app last spring and it is AMAZING. I can hardly express how much I love this app for cooking. Better than a cookbook, in a way, because of how easy it is to find exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. The app operates seamlessly – no extra steps involved in finding what you’re looking for or flipping back to what you were just looking at. It includes pictures of every conceivable cooking step. It has a whole section for all the recipes that are Whole30-approved (a lot of them). It’s got a Paleo 101 section that I still refer to often, and it even includes suggestions for 30 days of meals.

Even though I have the app, I asked for and received Michelle’s new book for Christmas. Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans is fantastic. It’s so much fun to look at and read – even my kids enjoy looking through it. The cartoon figures of Michelle’s kids (saying funny things) are very appealing to them. One of my sons also just loves saying, “Nom Nom Paleo!” at random times. The book has many recipes that are not in the app or on Michelle’s website. I’ve made a lot from this book but also feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. (Now that I’m off Whole30, I specifically can’t wait to make Mexican Pot de Creme!) Michelle is also really active on Instagram, and it’s fun to interact with her there (and I have a total fangirl reaction whenever she “likes” one of my food pics!).

Michelle has too many great recipes for me to name, but probably the one that has become my biggest go-to recipe (I make it at least 3-4x a week) is for frittatas made with whatever meat and veggies are in the fridge. Here’s the one I made yestereday morning:

Brussels sprouts, sweet potato noodels, roasted chicken frittata (with hot sauce)

Brussels sprouts, sweet potato noodles, roasted chicken frittata (with hot sauce)

Stephanie Gaudreau – I stumbled onto her site, Stupid Easy Paleo, last fall, when I was looking for a great pot roast recipe. Her recipe for Crock-Pot Mocha-Rubbed Pot Roast certainly fit the bill and immediately became my go-to pot roast. LOVE it so much. From there, I discovered many other wonderful recipes on her site, as well as lots of great information and encouragement. Steph is also really responsive to any comments left on her blog, which is super. She just released a book earlier this year, The Paleo Athlete: A Beginner’s Guide to Real Food for Performance. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I am loving it so far – very practical and helpful, with great recipes. Her recipe for Sweet Potato-Applesauce Mash has finally converted the one holdout in my house (one of my sons) to loving sweet potatoes. YEAH.

I have lots more to say, as usual, but I’ll stop for now, except to add a couple more notes. I know some people who are vegetarian are interested in exploring this. The Hartwigs do address this in their book – it is doable, contrary to popular belief. Also, if you are someone who would like to explore paleo but want to include cheese (which I believe is considered “primal”), I would recommend checking out Mark’s Daily Apple.

I need to add that none of these people know me. No one asked me to write this post and spread the linky love around. I’m just wanting to give a little shout-out to the folks who helped me the most, and to share these resources with others who might benefit from what these people have to offer.

So, what about you? If you have tried Whole30 or have been eating Paleo, what and who are some of your favorite resources?

My Paleo Road Trip :: 1650 miles, fueled by real food

My kids had midwinter break last week (how is this a thing? why do kids need a weeklong break just six weeks after winter break? and then in six more weeks, they’ll get spring break!). Anyway, I decided to take the boys down to Georgia to see my parents. It’s 825 miles door-to-door, and since my husband was not taking this trip with us, all those miles were on me. On the way down, I drove a little more than halfway and we stayed at a hotel on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee – I have never felt I could manage the entire huge drive by myself in one day without someone to trade off driving duties with. But on the return trip, I surprised myself by driving the whole thing all in one go. Would it be too much to credit my new paleo ways for this accomplishment? I don’t know. I do know that I am feeling pretty happy with how I managed, food-wise, on the road. And since I did a lot of blog-reading to figure out how to make this work, I thought I would record what I did, in case it helps anyone else.

soft-sided cooler

soft-sided cooler

I bought this cooler – Arctic Zone 30 Can IceCOLD Cooler (mine’s an older version) a few years ago, when I was following Eat to Live, with big ideas of eating well on the road. I LOVE this cooler, but my grand ideas of eating only good, homemade food on road trips – well I never quite managed it. I decided this time, I would try again. I bought a little set of Glad plastic containers, which seemed simpler than packing all my regular storage containers.

20140224-213000.jpgHere are the things I packed for the trip down:

in the cooler:

  • raw veggies specifically, sliced bell peppers and Persian cucumbers (LOVE!)
  • dip – my current favorite is Sunshine Sauce (a sunflower butter-based alternative to peanut sauce), recipe from Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat(I adore this book and I love this sauce SO MUCH – it took me a long time to finally make this sauce, because I thought from past experience that I didn’t care for sunflower butter, but I was oh-so-wrong; I’m obsessed with this sauce)
  • Waldorf Tuna Salad – recipe also from Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat (I super-love this book, y’all!)
  • green leaf lettuce – for wrapping the tuna salad (and anything else) in
  • jar of garlic-stuffed olives 

in the car:

  • a box of clementines
  • a bag of gala apples
  • one slice of chocolate chip banana bread – recipe from Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great (around 9:00pm on my first travel day I ate this single slice of banana bread and for the rest of the trip I seriously regretted leaving the rest at home for my husband!)
  • stainless steel bottle of cold water
  • a wee bit of very dark chocolate (!) (not truly Paleo, because it did have a little sugar in it, but I’m not on Whole30 now, so I can live with that)
  • assorted pantry items for cooking in Georgia

The first travel day was six hours (430ish miles). I snacked on the veggies and sunshine sauce and ate tuna salad on lettuce for dinner. I didn’t feel snackish after we arrived at our hotel a little after 10:00; what I ate in the car was sufficient. The next morning, at the hotel continental breakfast, I ate a couple of boiled eggs and a couple of sausage links (in general, I try not to eat conventionally-raised pork, but I do make occasional exceptions). In the car, I had a couple of clementines. Lunch on the road was more tuna salad. I snacked on veggies and dip.

My time in Georgia wasn’t pure paleo. I cooked for myself for breakfast and lunch each day (I even found grass-fed ground beef at the Publix down there!), and the boys and I went out for dinner with my parents each night. I checked menus online each time before going out and decided ahead of time what was the best paleo option. It went really well. I did make my dad a very non-paleo birthday cake – a recipe my mom used to make for my own birthdays – and I enjoyed every bite of my slice(s!).

For the trip back, I wanted to make more Sunshine Sauce, but was so sad to discover I hadn’t brought my coconut aminos with me and I was completely out of time to go hunting some down in my parents’ town. So I looked around online and found this recipe. I omitted the fish sauce and hot chili oil (I didn’t have either), and I subbed ground ginger and garlic powder for fresh ginger and garlic. I also didn’t bring almond butter with me, so I used the sunflower butter I had on hand. I threw in a bit of cayenne. So my recipe looked like this:

Paleo “Peanut” Sauce

  • 1/2 C sunflower butter
  • 1/2 C canned coconut milk
  • 1/2 C unsweetened applesauce
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 t ground ginger
  • a sprinkle of garlic powder
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper

Blend everything in the food processor and eat up.

I was really pleased with how this turned out. I think I still prefer the Well Fed version, but this was pretty darn yummy with my bell peppers and cukes.

I also whipped up some five-spice cashews (recipe from the Nom Nom Paleo iPad app) and some Waldorf Chicken Salad (using the tuna salad recipe from Well Fed as my starting point).

So on the trip back, my cooler and car looked essentially the same as on the way down, with a couple of substitutions and the happy addition of cashews. I had wanted to make a frittata for breakfast before hitting the road, but I was out of time. So when I stopped to pick breakfast up for the boys at McD’s (no judgment, please), I grabbed a sausage biscuit for myself, ditched the biscuit, and wrapped the patty in  a crisp leaf of green leaf lettuce. It was tasty and held me for a good long while.

Late morning, I stopped for my first Starbuck’s in seven weeks. WHAT. I KNOW, RIGHT? My standard Sbux drink is a triple tall latte (no sweetener, no flavor, just the classic goodness of espresso and milk), and since I was doing no dairy on Whole30, that was out for the duration. If I’m going to be drinking something other than a latte, I prefer my own home-brewed coffee to anything I would buy at Starbuck’s, so I just didn’t darken the door of my local Sbux during Whole30. And even since being done with Whole30, I haven’t been inclined to mess up my nice even-keeled energy each day with an espresso drink. I’m sure my baristas wonder what happened to me. At any rate, for the long trip home, I decided to treat myself to a triple tall latte, and it was sublime.

For lunch, we stopped at the Kentucky Welcome Center (roughly the halfway point) and ate at one of the picnic tables outside (I had chicken salad on lettuce) before taking a nice walk around the grounds. By dinnertime, I was ready for something different, so I scouted out a Chipotle and got myself a salad with carnitas, veggies, two salsas, and guacamole. Perfect.

I drove 825 miles that day (12.5 hours of drive time, and a little less than an hour and a half for stops). Typically, when my family takes road trips, I don’t drive more than a few hours before switching places with my husband, because I tend to get drowsy very quickly. It was a real surprise to me on this trip that I never dealt with that feeling. Sure, I got tired of being in the car, but I never felt like I was having a hard time staying awake (if I had, I would’ve stopped and stayed in a hotel rather than trying to do the whole trip in one day). Maybe I’m wrong, but I attribute this to the sustained energy and focus I’ve found from eating the way I’ve been eating. Without those grain-based carbs (flour, sugar), I just don’t have the spikes and lows in energy I have often had in the past. To undertake a 14-hour solo road trip in one day and to arrive home feeling not much worse for the wear – well, it’s just one more piece of evidence that this is working for me.

When I started my Whole30, I quit soda cold turkey, too, so I did this trip without the benefit of Coke or Diet Coke (or my favorite, Diet Sunkist) – I found the cold water, crunchy veggies, and savory cashews to be sufficient for the times I just needed to have a little something to eat or drink, not so much out of hunger as out of boredom. I should add that this trip was also aided by listening to some great Judy Blume audiobooks – Blubber (the reader, Halley Feiffer, is amazing) and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (The Fudge Seres)(read by the author). I read both of these books when I was the age my sons are now; it was really cool to listen to them with my kids and to discuss them afterwards. The Blubber CDs also have a great conversation at the end between Judy Blume and a middle school teacher – good questions to discuss with kids. (The trip was also accompanied by the entire Wicked soundtrack multiple times.)

So that was my paleo road trip. I was very happy with the preparations and provisions I made for myself for this little adventure. In the future, I might add an additional dip, some baby carrots, a few boiled eggs, and some homemade Larabars. Yum – I’m already looking forward to my next trip!

30 Days of Real Food :: My Whole30 Experiment

Last spring, I read It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways
*. I’m always mildly suspicious of anything that promises to change my life, but I was interested in the Whole30 because of what some of my friends had to say about it. I balk at the word “paleo” – the term is so faddish, and so hyped, and so loaded. But what the Hartwigs have to say is so sensible, and not at all hyped. Their approach is just really sane. What’s more, they focus not just on food stuff, but several factors that contribute to a healthy life (check out the 9 factors they emphasize on their Whole 9 website). You can read about the Whole30 for free on their website, without having to buy the book, if you’d like. I wanted the book because it presents all the rationale behind their recommendations. It is an easy and compelling read.

When I first read the book, though, I wasn’t in a position to try to give Whole30 a go. We had just moved out of our house due to flooding, and life was chaos. It stayed that way for the spring, the summer, and the early part of the fall – and then suddenly it was the holidays. In the meantime, I began to read some Paleo blogs and experiment with some recipes (in a future post, I will talk about some of my favorites). I found other voices of reason in the Paleo community there – people who are not so much looking back at how our mythical ancestors ate as they are looking at what seems most healthful now.

Over the holidays, I decided I would try to give the Whole30 a go after the new year. Actually, I shouldn’t say I thought I would “try” – the Whole30 folks are very clear that you just have to decide you’re going to do it, and then do it. (Yoda would be proud – do or do not, y’all, there is no “try”!)

The Whole30 focuses on a diet based on real, whole (i.e., unprocessed) food: meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. There is: no sugar (including artificial) (the only sugar you eat is what occurs naturally in fruit); no grains; no legumes (including peanuts); no dairy; and no alcohol. Also, no paleo-fying of baked goods or junk food.

I really, really thought this would be hard. And it really, really was not.

I thought it would be hard because I love sugar. No, I’m serious. I LOVE sugar.

just a spoonful of sugar

just a spoonful of sugar

I can’t count how many times over the last seven years I have given up sugar, or tried to. And in most cases, it has been a battle – I’ve never been able to do it without dealing with crankiness, cravings, and cavings. So I was entirely unprepared to find this so easy!

I should back up and say a bit about my efforts in the past at clean eating. Over the years, I’ve been everything from vegetarian, to vegan, to veganish, to something close to fruitarian (very briefly! following Doug Graham’s 80/10/10 – it’s basically lowfat raw vegan and I hated it), to total carnivore, etc. When my kids were toddlers (they are 9 now), I read Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition
and I really liked it, it made sense to me. His focus is on eating a high amount of veggies (1 lb. raw greens, 1 lb. cooked veggies), plus fruit, beans, and nuts (he does allow one serving of either oats, brown rice, or sweet potato a day). He calls this a nutritarian approach (focused on the nutrient density of food). I have tried this, with varying degrees of consistency, for years. In some ways it was very good, especially in focusing on whole, real foods. But I found it very difficult to sustain – in addition to no sugar (other than fruit), he advocates for limited oil (1 tablespoon a day) and no salt. My family just couldn’t make this leap (I barely could myself), and I found myself constantly having to cook multiple dinner options. I was also hungry a lot and dealt with serious cravings for sugar, grains, and salt. Even on my best ETL days, I would find myself diving into a bag of veggie chips by 4:00pm. (Please no haters. If you do ETL and it works for you, great! I know lots of people who have done it and never looked back, and they enjoy good health and good weight maintenance. I have finally come to terms with the fact that it’s not for me.)

In retrospect, I believe that in my previous efforts to eliminate sugar, I wasn’t getting enough protein and fat to feel satisfied. I was probably also eating too much fruit in proportion to the amount of veggies and protein I was taking in. With the Whole30, I am frankly stunned at how easy I found it to go without sugar and grains (the other stuff – dairy, legumes, alcohol – are not things I usually find particularly hard to give up, in comparison), and I think it has to do with feeling so completely satisfied with the food I’m eating. My meals leave me feeling full and sated, and I feel sustained from one meal to the next. Plus, they are super yummy.

look at all the pretty colors

look at all the pretty colors

A lot of people have asked me about what positive impacts I’ve noticed from eating this way. Here are a few:

1. Mood. In general, I’m usually a pretty happy person, but I also find that, typically, my mood fluctuates a lot in a day – I become impatient or irritable or anxious easily, and sometimes I react out of that. But during this Whole30, I noticed that my mood has become remarkably stable. I don’t have many peaks and valleys during the day – just a nice steady feeling of calm, happiness, and openness. I feel grounded, centered – and great! At first I thought maybe I was imagining all of this, but my husband confirms my sense of things – he has definitely noticed a positive difference on this count. I won’t attribute all of that to diet – I’d like to think my spiritual and relational practices also support a sense of calm and goodwill – but I do feel that what I’m eating has made a significant difference. I’m guessing it’s because I’ve gotten unhooked from the highs and lows that go along with eating sugar.

2. Energy. The same with my energy. A remarkable consistency. I’m not feeling any mid-afternoon drop in energy, the way I often do. In fact, I’ve completed quit having an afternoon cup of coffee – that was not a daily habit, but one that was frequent enough (maybe 3-4 times a week), that I noticed when I quit. And I didn’t set out to quit, I just realized I didn’t want it and I didn’t need it. My energy and mood are so even, I don’t want to mess that up with afternoon coffee. I feel as good and energetic at 2:00pm and 9:00pm as I do at 9:00am.

3. Organization. I have done a lot of cooking over the last thirty days – a lot more than I typically do – and it’s been easier than it ever has. Somehow this approach to food just makes sense to me in a way that is making all the planning, preparing, and cooking, just click. Ordinarily, my enthusiasm for time in the kitchen waxes and wanes. But with this approach to cooking and eating, I am finding just the right balance between structure and flexibility. I have found it really easy to have the building blocks for great meals in my fridge, and, while I do make a meal plan each week (and shop accordingly), I also improvise regularly, based on what I’m in the mood for and what I have in the fridge. I hope to write more about this soon.

4. Detachment. The best word I have for this is “unhooked.” As I’ve already noted, I feel unhooked from sugar and (equally surprisingly) grains. It’s not that I don’t find myself occasionally wanting something sweet, but when that happens, it happens without any serious emotional attachment. I can think, “Hmm, I would really enjoy a spoonful of Cookie Butter right now,” and that can be that. I can just acknowledge that without being hooked by it, and doing some sort of internal battle over whether to get into the jar of Cookie Butter. On this count, I should note that I did not do the recommended thing of getting rid of  all temptation. I still have Christmas candy (my own, in addition to my kids) in my pantry. I still have jars of Cookie Butter my husband put in my Christmas stocking. I never felt tempted to get into any of it. I even baked things for church events – brownies, a trifle – and didn’t find myself mindlessly dipping into the raw batter. I think this is related both to the fact that I am just supremely satisfied (physically and emotionally) by the good, real food I am eating, and to the fact that my mood is calm enough to take an internal step back and be mindful about things. Pretty cool, huh?

I should note that, while some people talk about experiencing the “Carb Flu” during the first days of starting Whole30, I actually never experienced that. And it wasn’t because I hadn’t been eating tons of carbs right before starting. I mean, it had been the holidays, and frankly, if a food had sugar or grain in it, it was in my mouth faster than you could say, “Merry Christmas.” I probably ate a little more fruit those first few days, which may have helped ease the transition for me, who knows.

5. Body. Yes, I also lost weight and fat. As of this morning, I have lost 8 pounds 4 ounces in the last 30 days. That’s how much I weighed when I was born, so I told my husband that I had lost a “baby me.” HAR. I’m hilarious, I know. I also lost one percentage point of fat, which is small potatoes, but I’ll take it (it might be hard to tell, because I carry a lot of my excess weight and fat around my midsection, which is fairly easy to camouflage, but I have plenty of fat to shed) (though perhaps I need it like a layer of protection during this arctic winter!). The Whole30 folks emphasize that weight is not the only (or even main) determiner of health, and I agree. But I’ll be honest that I would like to be a little closer to what I consider my ideal weight. Thanks to the Whole30, I’ve made a good start.

So. For now, that’s my Whole30 report. I actually have a lot more to say (about resources I’ve found helpful, about some favorite meals, about what I did when I had to eat out), and I’ll be posting about this more soon, but I think this is quite sufficient for now. As I’m sure is clear, I am very, VERY happy with how these 30 days have gone.

Which begs the question, now what? People have asked how I am going to eat now, will I keep going, etc. The Whole30 people walk you through a ten-day plan for trying some of the foods you’ve eliminated (not sugar, but legumes, gluten-free grains, grains with gluten), and I may give that a go. Long term, I’m thinking I want to eat Paleo-ish, with some exceptions for special meals or occasional treats. My wedding anniversary is next week, and I will definitely be having a nice meal out that will include some grains and sugar. We have extended family visiting later this month, and I’m already planning some of the goodies I will be baking. But I’m imagining that, long-term, I will be Paleo maybe 85% of the time? Maybe more? We’ll see. I just feel too good and am enjoying my food too much to get hooked back in to lots of sugar and grains. And after years of starting the day with a green smoothie (unsweetened almond milk, pomegranate juice, flaxseed, raw almonds, banana, raw baby spinach, frozen blueberries), I have to say that I am really loving eating a hot egg- or meat-based breakfast that holds me till lunch and doesn’t spike my blood sugar. This morning, I’ve started the day with turkey sausage, carrot soup, and a clementine.

A couple of weeks ago, someone said something very condescending and dismissive about Paleo, concluding by telling me that she subscribed to Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I can tell you unreservedly that this is exactly what the Whole30 has had me doing. Even with all the meat and eggs, more than half of my diet come from plants (I’d guess 8-9 servings a day of fruit+veggies, with – ideally but not always – twice as much veggies as fruit). I’m eating far more fruit and veggies than I ever did in my years as a vegetarian, and I’m eating at least as much as I did for the years I tried to follow ETL. I feel healthy, happy, and good.

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Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 12

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Bake bread – one loaf to give to the neighbors and one loaf to keep.

A few weeks ago, representatives from King Arthur Flour went to our elementary school and taught the fourth and fifth graders to bake bread as part of their Life Skills Bread Baking Program. They sent the kids home with recipes and ingredients, and gave them an assignment to bake bread to donate to a school bake sale. My kids really enjoyed the assignment, and it was great to work on it with them. I thought it would be fun to do it again, for Advent, to keep their interest up, and also as a fun thing to give to the neighbors. We used the easy Life Skills Bread recipe from the King Arthur website.

I never baked bread until my twenties, and once I learned how, I did it often. But it’s probably been four years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread from scratch. It felt really good to do it again, especially with my kids. I know bread is kind of out-of-fashion these days, but baking it just feels so elemental – I love the physicality and rhythm of it.

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And of course eating a fresh, warm slice with butter and a cup of hot tea is perfection.

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 9

We’ve reached the point in the season where I am barely holding all the details of the day together, but I do want to remember these Advent Activities (not to mention keeping my December NaBloPoMo streak going), so here we go. This was Day 9:
Bake cookies for students (keep a few to eat).

My church baked cookies to give to students in our neighborhood, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something new(ish). I was so intrigued by this article a friend posted on Facebook recently, and I decided try one of the variations that sounded best to me. So the boys and I got to work, using the 1/2 baking soda, 1/2 baking powder option.

mixer in motion, captured by Little Buddha

mixer in motion, captured by Little Buddha

Monday night was just filled with various frustrations and aggravations, with multiple meltdowns and dramas happening throughout the evening, so that by the time we were ready to bake cookies, I really wasn’t sure we could manage it. But the thing about baking cookies is, eventually, everything gets better.

group selfie by Little Buddha

group selfie by Little Buddha

I mean really, how long can you stay frazzled when you’re dealing with the simple magic of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs? Not long. Because the next thing you know, there is this:

chocolate chip, butterscotch chip cookies

chocolate chip-butterscotch chip cookies

This activity is part of this year’s Advent Activity Calendar. You can find more Advent activities by searching the category “Advent Activity Calendar,” or by referring to the page “Advent Activity Calendar,” where I have tried to catalogue all the activities from 2009 until now.

baked :: Vegan Cranberry-Orange Bread

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If you’re looking for a way to use up cranberries left over from Thanksgiving, I can’t recommend this quick bread highly enough. I made a loaf for company on Thanksgiving morning and it was gone in a flash. I still had enough cranberries in the fridge to make another loaf this morning.

This is my adaptation of a recipe from Veganomicon, which was most likely adapted from an old Fannie Farmer recipe. I used to make muffins quite similar to this, and this recipe could easily be made as muffins (with a much shorter baking time at a higher temp – 18-20 minutes at 400; I always dusted mine with powdered sugar once they were cool). I replaced the soy milk from the Veganomicon recipe with more orange juice, primarily because we had a guest with a nut allergy who also stays away from soy products (often made on equipment also used for nuts). I don’t eat soy either, except occasionally in tempeh form. Ordinarily I substitute almond milk for soy in all recipes, but this time I didn’t because of the nut allergy. I liked the extra orange-y flavor of using more oj instead, so I am going to make it this way from now on.

Vegan Cranberry-Orange Bread
3/4 C orange juice
1/4 C canola oil
1 C sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 C all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground allspice
1 T grated orange zest
1 1/2 C fresh cranberries

Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly grease a 9×5″ loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the orange juice, canola oil, sugar, and vanilla.

Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and allspice. Mix until smooth – batter will be quite thick.

Fold in orange zest and cranberries, and pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Let bread cool in loaf pan for about 15 minutes. Release onto cooling rack, turn right side up, let cool a bit more, then slice and eat.

(The original recipe calls for 1/2 C chopped walnuts, which I omitted because of the nut allergy. My kids also don’t care for nuts, but on today’s batch I added a few to one half of the loaf after I had poured the batter in.)

This is such an easy and delicious recipe – the only hard part is waiting for it to bake and cool!

More things I want to remember :: Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. I hope it has been full of goodness, gratitude, and all things yummy.

Last year on Thanksgiving, I made a little list of things I wanted to remember about the day. I am so glad for that list, y’all! I have referred to it so many times in preparing for today’s meal (especially to find my turkey recipe). So without further ado, here are some of the things I want to remember for next year (and beyond).

roast turkey

roast turkey

1 – TURKEY. I am so so happy to have started using this recipe last year. It’s Ina Garten’s perfect roast turkey, and I would definitely say that it is perfect. After years of experimenting with wet brining and dry brining, I’ve decided that simple is actually superior. This is so moist and flavorful that I find myself thinking I might want turkey at other times of year (which I say as someone who has never been a big fan of turkey).

2. Another same thing as last year – Gravy I went with what I came up with last year. LOVE it.

– pour drippings from turkey into saucepan

– add 3 cups turkey stock, bring to boil

– dissolve 4 tablespoons cornstarch into 1 cup turkey stock, whisk into boiling stock

– add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper

– simmer 8-10 minutes, or until thick

3. Sides – all my usual, some of which are vegan, for the vegan in our bunch:

  • my MIL’s unbelievably good cornbread dressing
  • Bourbon Cranberry Sauce – been making this for years and it’s such a winner (vegan)
  • canned cranberry sauce, for the kiddos, and also in memory of my grandmother, who always insisted on canned (vegan)
  • sweet potato souffle – a family recipe, which I love SO MUCH – it’s not really a soufflé, it’s more of a casserole – it has pecans in it and marshmallows on top
  • Pillsbury crescent rolls (vegan)
  • vegan green bean casserole – I ask my stepson to bring this
  • Trader Joe’s frozen sweet potatoes nuked in the microwave (vegan)
  • Trader Joe’s Turkey-less roast (vegan) – note for next year: ask my stepson to bring this, already cooked – one less thing to worry about in that final crush of getting everything to the table
  • new this year: I made roasted Brussels sprouts. Because I’m obsessed. (And now I have lots of outer leaves to make chips with!)

4. Dessert – I like to break out my trifle bowl whenever possible, and this year I went with a new trifle.

Nine layers of YUM

Nine layers of YUM

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle. I had originally marked a recipe for this from Epicurious, but in the end I went with the Brown Eyed Baker’s version. It was a win, win, win, y’all. I was super-happy with how this turned out, and I will definitely be making it again. You should all make it, too. It is almost entirely from scratch (except one little box of pudding mix) and it is really not hard to make. I would highly recommend this recipe.

My other dessert (I usually have at least three for Thanksgiving – did four last year – but in a rare stroke of sanity, I narrowed it down to two this year) was vegan – a dark chocolate cake with a dark chocolate mocha ganache (vegan).

There are some other things I want to remember, y’all, but I’ll have to write them down later, because I am totally pooped. I hope you have had a great day, wherever you are, and whatever you’ve eaten!

my current snack obsession :: Brussels sprout chips

Mmmmmm....

Mmmmmm….

Between Smitten’-knittin’ and getting the house ready for company, I don’t have a lot of time right now, but I did want to pop over for a minute (and not break my NaBloPoMo streak – I’m in the homestretch!) and show you my current snack obsession.

Zucchini has been my favorite vegetable since I was a kid, but lately Brussels sprouts are giving it a serious run for its money. I love roasted Brussels sprouts, especially.  I prepare them like this:

  1. preheat the oven to 400
  2. peel off the outer leaves of the sprouts, chop off the stems, and cut each one in half
  3. spread in a single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil
  4. drizzle sprouts with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  5. roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring or turning sprouts with spatula once or twice during roasting (or not, sometimes I skip this)

Oh mercy, just writing this makes me want to roast some. As I’ve mentioned before, when I pull these out of the oven, I can hardly keep myself from just standing there at the stovetop, eating the sprouts off the tray.

But I found something I like even better. NomNomPaleo’s Brussels sprouts chips. Oh, people. OH, PEOPLE. These are so good. If you like Brussels sprouts (or even if you don’t), and you haven’t tried this yet, I would highly recommend it. I’m now trying to keep Brussels sprouts in my fridge at all times so I can make these chips.

cooked :: my new favorite hot breakfast (paleo n’oatmeal)

Just a brief break on a busy day to show you my new favorite cold weather breakfast (and right now it’s 25 degrees with a wind chill of 11 and occasional snow, so yeah, it looks like cold weather is for real here now). As I’ve mentioned before, for the last several years I have started most days with a green smoothie (1/2 C unsweetened almond milk, 1/2 C pomegranate juice, a few raw almonds, 1 banana, a couple of handfuls of raw baby spinach, 1 C frozen blueberries – so yummy!). But sometimes it’s just so cold I really want a hot breakfast, especially after I’ve gone for a run. Since I’ve been enjoying trying out some Paleo recipes lately, I thought I’d give a hot Paleo breakfast a try. For the last several days, I’ve been enjoying this N’Oatmeal Recipe (Oatmeal Minus the Oats) from Taylor Made It Paleo.

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Mine isn’t as pretty as hers but it is 100% yummy. I top mine with a cup of blueberries and a handful of raw nuts, whichever kind I’m in the mood for. SO YUM.

Do any of you have some hot paleo breakfasts that you enjoy?