Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Clean Food Challenge Week 1

Last Wednesday, I embarked upon a month-long challenge. I talked about clean food a few months ago, but I didn't do anything about it. I don't handle stress well, and studying for my RNC test threw me back into college habits and my fruit and vegetable habit went down the drain. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to keep exercising because I know it's good for your mental health as well. However, after polishing off a box of Girl Scout cookies and going to bed with a headache and stomachache Tuesday night, I knew something had to change.

I poured over my cookbooks and my favorite blogs and put together a few rough meal plans. The premise of this week was vegan* (with the exception of eggs) and gluten-free. I ate a lot of fruits and veggies, nuts, beans, olive and coconut oils, WHOLE grains (no flour), tea, and coconut, rice, and almond milk.

I had oatmeal with fruit and 'milk' for breakfast almost every morning, which is pretty standard for me. I also spent a day making a batch of soup, a homemade salad dressing, gluten-free pasta with tomato sauce from a jar, and a polenta pizza. The leftovers of which each lasted about 4 meals. I know I only work 3-4 days a week, but I still prefer to just make a mess of the kitchen one day and have meals for the next 4-5 days.

I started the challenge one day into a lovely head cold (which I knew would come after my test, since I hadn't been taking care of myself very well) but 2 days in, I felt much better.  I ate when I was hungry, which meant lots of snacks: medjool dates, apples, oranges (I'm loving them these days), carrots or celery with nut butter, and a few fancier treats. I ate when I was hungry, and tried to stop when I was full. (Which in itself was harder than it sounds.)

I made it through 5 days with ease, but day 6 I couldn't turn down pasta with meatballs and Grandma S's homemade bread! So worth it. 

Recipe highlights:

Banana Chocomole
(makes 1-2 servings)
based off of Gena and Ashley's recipes

1/2 avocado (side note: leave the skin on and the pit in the other half, sprinkle it with lemon juice and wrap it well to refrigerate and it won't brown as quickly)
1/2 banana
3 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 Tbs. brown rice syrup (agave would work as well)
1 Tbs. almond butter (not necessary, but I was scraping the sides of a jar I wanted to finish)
1/4 cup milk (I used SO Delicious coconut milk from a carton, but any milk would work)

Dump all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and mix until it reaches pudding consistency. You may have to scrape the sides down once or twice. This would be great with fresh strawberries on top but sadly, 'tis not the season.

The pudding's texture is spot-on and I couldn't really taste the avocado. I will say that this is DARK chocolate pudding and very rich because of the cocoa powder. Such a fun treat, though, that I wouldn't have normally branched out to try!

Easy Brown Rice Pudding
(makes 3-4 servings--> great leftovers!)
again, based off of one of Ashley's recipes from the edible perspective

1 cup short grain brown rice
1 cup water
1.5 cups coconut milk (I used SO Delicious brand from a carton again)
1 Tbs. coconut oil (if you don't like coconut, any milk and any oil will work)
2 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. maple syrup
almonds, coconut flakes, or dried fruit to garnish as desired

If desired, soak rice in water for 1 hour, rise, and drain. I did this because it's supposed to improve digestibility, but it's not necessary. Either way, the following directions are the same: dump all ingredients except garnishes into a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a low boil, stir once, and cover. Reduce heat to low or low-medium and simmer for 50 minutes. Turn off burner and remove from heat. Let sit 5 minutes and then stir to fluff. Serve or refrigerate, adding garnishes right before eating.

I loved this recipe because it gave me a sweet, warm, comforting dessert/snack without the sugar-high headache I'm prone to get when I start eating sweets and can't stop.

The Unexpected:

Dry Brushing

I tried dry brushing on a whim, and I absolutely love it! (Click here to see what I'm talking about). I'm not super-intense with it-- I spend less than 5 minutes brushing up my legs, up my arms, and around my back and torso before jumping in the shower.

I'm not sure it really does everything it claims to do (really, toning muscles and reducing cellulite?!) but it definitely makes my skin softer and makes me feel less dried out. It does make sense that brushing toward your heart would improve circulation a little bit, even if it's just a temporary effect. Either way, I'm hooked.

Coconut Oil

I put off buying it for a while, and I don't see myself cooking with it a whole lot, but I scooped a tiny bit into a bowl and put it on the bathroom sink while I showered and used it a moisturizer afterward. It doesn't smell coconutty and it's really smooth. A little goes a long way, and you have to walk around in an old housecoat to let it sink it, but it's been nice to use a few times a week with all the dry air around here.


I don't know if it's coincidental timing or something more, but my asthma has been practically non-existent (knock on wood) during my workouts this week!

Week 1 Verdict:

For some reason, it's been easier for me to "just say no" this week than to practice moderation other weeks. This is a shame, because I certainly believe in the principle of 'all things in moderation'; it's just been hard to put into practice this winter. My stomach-aches were noticeably better after the first 4 days, but my breathing has been the biggest change. I don't know what it is, but I'm loving the fact that my legs get tired before my lungs when I'm running now!

*A note on the vegan diet: I believe a diet full of local, real food is more sustainable than a vegan diet.  I don't think meat and dairy are intrinsically evil (especially not when you can trace them to a local, humane source), but my GI doctor suggested an elimination diet to try to find a trigger for my IBS and the diaphragmatic pain I still get from time to time. (I'd rather try this than spend a day getting a colonoscopy and upper GI, which was the other option.) This is not an attempt to lose weight; simply to feel better.


  1. Wow, those pudding recipes look incredible! I can't wait to try them! I've been on a low-fat vegan diet for two years now, and I've never felt better. All of my IBS symptoms went away. I allow myself a few treats like coconut oil, and So Delicious coconut milk and ice cream, and it really seems to be working. Good luck!

  2. Since when does a vegan diet have to mean you're not eating local, real food? A side note: do you think your meat is eating local food?

    Also, multiple reports have come out saying veganism is MORE sustainable than locavorism. If you want to eat animals, eat them. It's disingenuous to imply that vegans don't eat real food (we statistically eat more veg/fruit/whole than ya'll do, for sure) and that you're only eating animals because it's sustainable. You like to eat animals and chose to continue doing so. I can respect someone just saying that, flat out, more than I do the folks who are so keen justifying it with loads of greenwashing.

    In related news, no animal products are humane. Humane slaughter is an impossibility. Where do the chicks raised in your "humane" farm come from? A traditional hatchery, 99% of the time. They are debeaked and crowded still. Free range eggs mean nothing, cage free only means they aren't in a cage - they might still have no room to move and no room to stretch their wings.

    Here's one study on local vs vegan. There are more.


  3. Thanks for your comments, Melissa. Let me just begin my response by saying that this is a tiny little blog recording bits of my life and I certainly did not set out to offend anyone or pretend I know all the answers.

    I did eat many unintentionally vegan meals this past summer from the local bounty that filled our fridge from my CSA box and veganism does not imply "unseasonal" for everyone. But considering the 12 inches of snow on the ground here, I know the greens in my salad today came from far, far away. (Also, there's no need for "we" and "y'all" language. Ominvorism does not have to imply that I personally replace fruits and vegetables with meat.)

    I do think my "real" food comment came after a disastrous attempt at baking with Earth Balance. Besides that one attempt, I have indeed been eating all "real" food this week. I did not mean for that to come out wrong or to say that all vegans/vegetarians need to supplement with fake meat and dairy products. I know that the healthiest, most well-rounded vegans/vegetarians in fact do not 'supplement' their diets with processed foods at all.

    Benjamin Franklin says, "the great advantage of being a 'reasonable creature' is that you can find a reason for whatever you want to do." There are lots of studies out there on sustainable veganism, and lots of studies on local omnivorous diets. But I feel that in my corner of the world, where green things only grow outside 8 months out of the year, and only one farmer's market is open during the winter (and even that is limited to 3 hours on a Friday), a local, vegan lifestyle would require a large pantry with preserved local goods, or a large freezer with frozen bounty from a summer garden. I do not have a large pantry or a large freezer, and even the few frozen peppers I had been using up from this summer had to be thrown away when my fridge/freezer died a few weeks ago. During this time of the year, vegan or not, it's a real struggle to eat locally.

    I do know that supermarket labeling is extremely misleading, which is why I buy my eggs from a farmer whose farm I've SEEN firsthand. I've seen her call the chickens "ladies" and fill their grain trough and water pail; they also wander around the large yard, free to eat grass and bugs.

    Of course there is no 'humane' slaughter, but there is a humane life, and I am confident that my egg, milk, and meat sources offer those since I've seen them firsthand (and yes, the meat I buy grazes on obviously local grass and hay and local corn in the winter). The comments section is far too brief to begin a debate regarding Singer (of "the argument for marginal cases" fame and Bentham (of the "happy life and merciful death" line), but please know that my statements do come from an informed place as I struggle to find the right balance for me.

    In the end, we will each do what is best for us and the fact of the matter is, anyone who is concerned with how their purchasing power affects the world at large is already taking a step in the right direction.

  4. Thanks for sharing your vegan recipes here. I am an animal-loving vegan and enjoy finding other people's recipes and ideas.

  5. Thanks Natalie! I'm loving your blog, too. And I'm jealous that you live in North Texas. I miss it. I can't promise that my recipes will always be vegan, but I do only publish recipes that taste good ;-)

  6. tried the Banana Chocomole. Awesome!

  7. Looks really tasty and healthy ^_^. one of these days i will make one of it. thanks a lot for the great read.