Monday, November 18, 2013

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

 Mark Twain
Our first homemade almond milk experience.
As I alluded to last week, a bit of a health shift has taken place around these parts. We have turned into bonafide co-op-shopping, meal-planning, veggie-eating folks. Not to be mistaken for the fakers we used to be. What started out as reluctance (and a bit of resentment by some, truth be told) has turned into devotion. An evolution has occurred. No doubt. They say it takes 21 days to make something a habit, and this rather dubious claim seems to have some ring of truth. In this case, anyway.

I talked about my trial return to CrossFit back in September. Although committed, I questioned my ability to stick with such a rigorous workout regimen long term. This non-athletic, non-competitive gal simply couldn't imagine her place in such a world. Two months later, I can honestly say it's changed my perspective on working out. Never before have I wanted to go to the gym. In the past, all I was doing was plugging away on the elliptical, and yet could still barely muster the motivation to put my sneakers on. I was bored to death by exercise. All that has gone away. I've seen a swift and substantial difference in my stamina and strength. I stand taller. My husband comments on my changing physique at least five times a day. (Flattery will get you everywhere, my friend.) And those days when I'm tired and dragging? I go anyway. CrossFit is definitely not for everyone, but it turns out to be exactly what I've been looking for. I just didn't know it.

Vegan mac and cheese
The biggest change, perhaps, has been in our eating habits. We have consistently planned our meals for a couple months now and tried tons of new recipes. A funny thing happened in our (initially) unintentional journey toward better health: we crave less junk. Although our diet rarely consisted of true junk food, our habits needed some serious tweaking. Truth be told, meal planning has streamlined and de-stressed mealtimes. We can better stick to our budget. Our rather picky kiddo is trying new things. Win, win, win. Mario will admit that things like vegan mac and cheese, homemade almond milk, and cashew-based dips were cause for significant concern and resistance. But a funny thing happened. He actually likes them. Eating lighter, plant-based meals makes him feel good. He said so himself. (Such an admission is not unlike an eclipse... a rare and beautiful thing.) Although more open to trying new things, I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised by the power good food has had over us. I can't imagine going back to our old ways. (Note: My grouchy, sensitive belly? It's calm for perhaps the first time in my life thanks to less eating out and more whole foods.)

Dairy-free hot chocolate
While I don't imagine ever going completely grain-free, less is definitely better. My hobbit hands are less puffy and my skin glows. I've had to cut back on using my Clarisonic face brush because I simply don't need it. I used to use it every day and now it makes my face feel a bit raw if I use it more than once a week. Vigorous exercise has definitely contributed to this. And the fact that my wardrobe has expanded as my waist grows smaller. The fact is, I like eating less. I like it when food is on my radar a little less often. I simply lacked the self discipline to do something about it when the world seemed a little too much to handle without nachos. Which I still eat when the mood strikes, by the way.

Before you roll your eyes at my proclamations (I would have six months ago), know that I am certainly flawed in these areas. When faced with a particularly difficult homework assignment, I find myself in front of the fridge. I stress eat. I'm prone to anxiety which makes me want to avoid all the things that make me feel better: exercise and healthy eating. I have a long way to go, but for the first time I have a routine I can stick with. I'm not sure what next year will bring. A new job, a new city on a different coast, a kiddo who is growing up much too fast. If I'm going to get through it unscathed, I need something to turn to. A habit so ingrained that my significant life changes will seem less overwhelming. Because I'll have a way to cope.

All that said, I wanted to share a few of the recently tried recipes and where I found them. My go-to cookbook right now is Against All Grain by Danielle Walker. I've also tried a few from Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook, It's All Good, which were all good, actually. A blog I turn to when I need some dairy-free recipes is The Pretty Bee. I'm really amazed by her ability to adapt and create recipes around food sensitives. (For those that don't know, my son was diagnosed with a dairy allergy about five years ago. Boy did that change our lives. He does not produce the enzymes necessary to break down milk proteins, necessitating a dairy-free diet.)

Vanilla lemon macaroons (vegan, gluten-free) from Against All Grain (cookbook). French vanilla coffee creamer. Both are good. The creamer doesn't give that satisfying white swirl the way the palm oil-laced stuff does, but the flavor and consistency are on point.

Pictured above:

Homemade almond milk (Against All Grain): I used the recipe from the cookbook, but she also has one on her website. Kiddo helped me make it and proceeded to drink two cups. We used it in a couple recipes and really liked it.

Vegan macaroni and cheese (The Pretty Bee): I've been wanting to try Daiya dairy-free cheese since it came out, but Kiddo had no interest. (Early on our fake cheese experiences were pretty gross, souring him on the idea.) I came across this recipe and had to try it. I honestly couldn't remember the last time I'd had mac and cheese. Mario doesn't like the real thing, but loved this. Kiddo did, too. It was easy to make and totally satisfying. Honest. I didn't feel like I was missing out at all. I've since made it a second time. (Note: we didn't make it gluten-free as the recipe is intended. Regular flour and pasta worked just fine.)

Dairy-free hot cocoa (Against All Grain): This stuff was rich. Holy moly. Next time I will thin it down a bit and perhaps sweeten a bit more (we used 88% cacao). But I really like the idea of real hot chocolate.

Note: I have gutted no less than three vanilla beans in the last two weeks. I'd never laid hands on one prior to this. I feel like a domestic goddess! I now know that the insides are called the "caviar"! You may, from this day forward, call me The Socked Contessa. Because Ina is my hero. Only, I live in New Hampshire and these feet don't go sockless from October to April for fear of having a toe fall right off.

More meals to come. If you're not sick of me, that is. I promise not to succumb to the Whole Foods Syndrome. Because I will, no matter how veg-loving I get, feel like this every time I step foot in one.

Oh, and despite these realizations, a life without Mexican food and cupcakes is simply not worth living. In my humble opinion. Everything in moderation.

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