Simple Mexican Shakshuka

Day 15. I’m officially half way through the Whole30 challenge. I’m going strong, and while I’m not missing too many foods, I am missing certain meals… specifically brunch. So rather than mourning the pancakes or waffles I’m not eating right now, I kicked up my breakfast game at home this weekend.

This dish is quick, simple, and it looks fancy if you carry it to the table while it’s all hot and bubbly, like delicious tomato lava. The hardest part of this shakshuka might be all of the chopping prep you have to do, but a few minutes of work will render a fragrant, saucy dish that is comforting and tasty with familiar flavours.

It’s also easy to freestyle and remix. Seriously, this is not a recipe so much as a guideline. Try subbing  crushed tomatoes for diced, substitute half for salsa, top with cheese (let me nosh vicariously), or add more veggies of your choice (corn? black beans? delicious!) into the starting sautee and really make if your own.

Simple Mexican Shakshuka
(Adapted from FoodFaithFitness)
Serves 2-4
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1 tbsp. coconut oil or olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 whole Vidalia onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
4-6 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 to 1 tbsp. taco seasoning (I like this homemade one from Budget Bytes), to taste
3-4 c. crushed tomatoes
1-4 large eggs
Salt and Pepper
Chili flakes
For garnish: green onions, avocados, cilantro, lime, hot sauce, cheese. whatever you want!

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On the stove top, melt coconut oil in a medium ovenproof frying pan. Add garlic and onions, stirring over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Add in bell peppers, stirring until slightly softened, then add the fresh chopped tomatoes.

2. Sprinkle the vegetables with taco seasoning and stir to distribute. Add the crushed tomatoes, stirring, and bring to a gentle simmer. Taste the seasonings and add more salt, pepper, or spices to your taste.

3. Turn off the heat. Making wells in the sauce, crack 1-4 eggs into the tomato mixture making wells to hold them* (see note). 

4. Slide the pan into the oven and bake until mixture is bubbly and eggs are baked, about 10-15 minutes. (You can also cook the eggs stove top by covering the pan with a lid, with a shorter cooking time.)

5. When eggs are baked, remove from oven, spoon into dishes and garnish with your toppings of choice. Enjoy the shakshuka alone, or served with tasty sides like refried beans, rice, or tortillas.

*Note:
 if cooking for one, decide on the number of eggs you want and crack those in. After baking, carefully remove the cooked eggs with half of the tomato mixture into your bowl. Reserve the second half of the mixture for round two! Ta da, delicious leftovers. Just add fresh eggs and bake away—the reheated kind ain’t no fun.

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The Whole30 Pt. 1: The Torte Whifferer

brooke-lark-203842.jpgThe cake at my company’s 10th anniversary looked like any other—a slab, smothered in a quilt of fondant, with crisp vanilla layers of sponge, piped full of orange and blue frosting. It was unremarkable, but that didn’t matter.

I wanted to take a huge whiff of that cake.

Like the world’s foremost pastry perv, I was jonesing. I wanted to sit too close to a foodie friend and have them tell me what it tasted like, what the texture was, if the icing was too sweet, or gritty, or oily. I wanted them to describe if the coloured frosting between the layers had been flavoured with anything innovative.

I know this sounds like I should be banned from the local cupcake shops, with a restraining order filed against me by the Pillsbury Doughboy… But I was six days into the Whole30, and getting creepy and culinary on a slice of corporate cake was my first genuine test.

I totally passed, and it wasn’t even crazy or anything. This is still my choice, after all. This meal plan is just one giant first world problem.

Image result for Lisa simpson cake

A little context for the mania: food is a hobby of mine, and baking is my jam. I listen to podcasts about it, read about it, and write about it (hello)! I almost left university in the middle of my degree to train as a baker.  For me, and many others, eating, sometimes, is not just eating. It’s experiencing the food, like noticing the brush strokes on a master painting, or the word choice in your favourite book.

Sure, that cake was technically nothing special. I wasn’t missing out on French pastries or the last frozen tin of my Babcia’s homemade cookies—it was just CAKE, and CAKE without a soul! Even so, it had me hangering like a junkie for a little relief.

I think this is a perfect demonstration of why cutting things you love out of your life long-term just won’t work, and why elimination plans like the Whole30 are interesting. You can’t have something, you want it more. Sure, eventually you might stop missing cake after years of suffocating the desire to eat it… but isn’t it better to moderate and be happy than to be severe and miserable?

Part of living healthy is just enjoying the life you’re leading.

The Whole30 has messed with my hobby, people, and it turned into a near-crime against cake.  Betty Crocker has me on a watchlist.

Now I’m 11 days in and looking to innovate, and re-prioritizing.

Things that have become significant in the first ten days of my Whole30 experiment:
• Eggs
• Franks Red Hot Sauce
• Fantasies about the first food I will eat when the time comes (right now it’s pancakes)
My teammate, my friends, and my family (seriously I do not recommend doing this without someone else, or at least with people around who understand the “what” in your “WTF”)

The next 19 days are not going to be an exercise in self control so much as exploring new recipes and PATIENCE…

One thing’s for sure: there will be little-to-no huffing of cake (probably).

Creamy Vegan Garlic Pasta Sauce

This week’s motto: wash your blender. 

Sometimes, you take your first crack at homemade almond milk, and after two days of soaking the almonds, and then blending and straining them to perfection,  you detect a slight garlicky undertone at first sip. You realize the last thing you made in that blender was delicious potato hummus and maybe missed a spot in the scrubbing afterwards. So smoothie dreams take a back seat to sauce dreams… I don’t hate it.

Still, wash your blender.

It’s probably narrow-minded to resign this simple, warming, garlic sauce to pasta—especially since re: the rules of this month’s Whole30 challenge, I’m not technically eating pasta at all. You could put it on LOTS of stuff. I served it up with roasted spaghetti squash and broccoli, and homemade, ethically raised, hormone-free pork meatballs… My lunches this week are THE BOMB.

Yes I understand the ridiculousness of vegan pasta sauce with meatballs. IT’S MY LIFE OKAY? The Whole30 made me do it.

Creamy Vegan Garlic Pasta Sauce
(Adapted from The Minimalist Baker)
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups sauce
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1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
2-3 tbsp arrowroot flour (use something else, but this makes it Whole30 compliant)
1 1/4 cup unsweetened, plain almond milk

1. Add olive oil, onions, and garlic in a medium saucepan, and sautee over medium-low heat until soft and fragrant.

2. Whisk in 2 tbsp. arrowroot flour. It will get clumpy, but don’t worry, just keep whisking!

3. Over low heat, slowly stream in the almond milk, whisking until the flour is no longer clumpy. Turn up the heat to medium, whisking the sauce until it begins to thicken to your desired consistency.

Note: If it doesn’t feel thick enough, whisk in the last tablespoon of arrowroot. If sauce becomes too *thick*, add in a splash of almond milk, veggie stock, or water to loosen the texture.

4. Arrowroot has a tendency to turn things into a bit of a gelatinous mass (yum!) so when you’re happy with the thickness, remove the sauce from heat, scrape into a blender, and let it run until the sauce has reached a velvety smoothness. Add salt and pepper to taste and blend again.

5. Serve over spaghetti squash or your noodle of choice, with roasted vegetables and maybe a little vegan parm on top if you want to get fancy! Recipe easily doubles for company or for when you want extra.

P.S. Don’t forget to wash your blender after this, yes, AGAIN.

“Wait, What?” Potato Hummus

Yes, you read me correctly—potato hummus! Hummus of potatoes!

Easy to make, easy to eat, and kinda fun to say—it has something of a rhythm to it don’t you think?

I vented in my last post that the Whole30’s stringent “No Sex With Your Pants On” rule feels like an unnecessary layer of misery that I won’t be strictly abiding because it restricts kitchen play. Upon deeper reading, I think this rule mostly applies to baked goods. So on one hand, this is either totally above board and Whole30 compliant…

Or I’m a culinary rebel, doing things my own way! I ain’t here to judge, I’m here to eat.

This creamy, savoury, legume-free hummus functions everywhere its chickpea cousin hangs out—served with raw vegetables, used as a spread, it’s multi-purpose, velvety, AND delicious.

“Wait, What?” Potato Hummus
(Adapted from A Calculated Whisk)
Makes approximately 2 cups hummus

potatohummus

1 lb. potatoes (something like a Yukon Gold)
Sea salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon tahini
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp smoked paprika, plus more for serving
1/4 c. plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the potatoes into small pieces and put them in the bottom of a pot, covering with water. No need to peel them! Salt the water as though you’re cooking pasta. Cover, bring to a boil, and cook until spuds are fork tender.

2. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add them to blender or food processor. If you’re using a blender, like I did, mashing the potatoes before hand might help the motor run a little easier. Blend them up and taste the puree—add salt to your desire!

3. Add garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and paprika, blending again until smooth. If texture is too thick and your blender is struggling, add a few tablespoons of cooking liquid or water to help.

4. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil until desired texture is achieved. scoop out and top with extra paprika, olive oil, and whatever else you want!

Whole-y Grail or Wholly Crap?

This month, I’m taking on the Whole30 Challenge with my friend and fellow blogger, McMaymie (check her out, she’s dope)!

This is out of my wheelhouse.  I generally think plans or diets that eliminate healthy staples like legumes or whole grains are less likely to be effective in the long term. However, in addition to the above, the Whole30 also slashes the usual suspects when it comes to better health: alcohol, added sugar, soy, and dairy.

My boss, who is in the middle of the program with her husband, calls it the “zero happiness” diet.

So, why would anyone in hell do this?

#1. I’M COMPETITIVE. Everyone calls it extreme. At first I thought that was funny and ridiculous, and then I wanted to experience it for myself.

#2.  I’M CURIOUS.  It’s an experiment to see how I fare, physically and mentally, in a kitchen full of restrictions. During my two-week vegan experiment in April, I noticed I eat a lot of breads with a lot of additives. I’m curious how my body feels without them. Many of the things the plan eliminates (lactose, gluten, soy) are irritants that cause inflammation to the system.

#3. PEOPLE ARE LOVING IT. So… I wanna know why. Can it really give me more energy? Balance my digestion? Find me a unicorn?

#3. I KIND OF HATE IT. At the very least I hate the voice they use on their website, and that resentment is fueling me to attempt to succeed for the full. 30. days.  Here’s an example of their slightly passive aggressive, humble-braggery: if you slip up, they say you should start the entire thing over again.

“If you want to do the Whole30, then do it, and either start after the special occasion or figure out how to enjoy your life without mojitos and cheese. We recommend the latter, because we haven’t had a mojito or cheese in ages, and we’re still happy and fun.”

Really? Because you sound smug and condescending. This isn’t making me like you any more. And sure, you don’t CARE that I like you, but if I’m following someone into the trenches and I don’t get to bring my cheese pizza as a shield, you had better find a BETTER way to lead me. So… let’s try this again. If there’s a slip SHOULD I start over again?

Answer #5: Do whatever you want, because you’re a grown-up.”

…Okay, you’re trying to shame me, and it’s not working. As an adult, any choice I make is an adult decision.

I’ve read lots of articles FOR and AGAINST this eating plan, and in the first week, it’s too early to judge which side I’ll fall on. Some of the rules of this regimen make sense to me. Some of them make me roll my eyes.

An episode of Food 52’s podcast Burnt Toast titled “Fat Is Not Bad, Stupid Is Bad” pinpointed something that usually irks me about these fad diets. The guest on the episode said a key part of eating nutritiously is “think for yourself.” With meal plans like this, many follow the rules to the letter. Sure, that’s the point, to go all in, to put in your faith and effort…. But I really think a healthy lifestyle cannot be one-size-fits-all, and the rules should be modified.

Here are some of the rules I’ll be bending/challenging/scoffing loudly at:

1. “No Sex With Pants On.” I think this rule, for certain people, is more damaging than it is useful. It’s when you make something that would be “off limits,” using ingredients that are technically approved by the plan—think coconut flour pancakes or zucchini pasta.  The Whole30 is fond of ‘nos.’ I think playing within ingredient constraints turns those negatives into positives.

“I can’t have this food,” turns into “I CAN cook with all of these other ones!” if you just loosen your grip a little. I’m not going to make meat bagels,  or even pancakes, but I refuse to strictly adhere to anything which doesn’t allow room for culinary play. It just ain’t gonna happen.  If you’re frustrated and bored with your food, you’ll be frustrated, and the plan won’t stick.

2. “No snacking.” L-O-L. It’s almost like this plan was made generically for a bunch of people without any flexibility as to their current state or their histories! (They do make exceptions for pre- or post-workout snacks.) I spent a long time as a binge eater. I’m still in recovery from that, and I remember the days when the feeling of hunger was an exciting novelty to be embraced and nurtured. When I am hungry, I am going to eat a rule-abiding snack. If my body is talking, I will be listening.

3. “No weighing yourself.” I get this one. I really do. As someone who has occasional scale struggle, I understand. And I could, when I break it down, go without a scale for a full month. But I don’t have to, and I don’t want to. Apparently it’s because if you’re in the middle of the plan and you don’t get results you want, you’ll feel discouraged. I have zero expectations of results. I want some gosh darn data during an experiment. Will I be cutting down on the frequency of my weigh ins? Absolutely.

So that’s it, my brief summary of my reasons for foraying into the cult-like eating experience that is sure to be the Whole30…

More to come unless I die very soon from the lack of cheddar in my system.

 

Stop Using My Weight to Compliment My Weight Loss

Truth: not everyone who starts exercising wants to lose weight or change how they look.

Between the mental and physical benefits (healthy brain, heart, lungs, joints!), the social aspect of workout buddies or groups, and the variety of activities available (zumba, trampoline cardio, rock climbing, parkour, pole dancing lessons?!), there are tons of other reasons to get active that have nothing to do with appearances.

Crazier truth: sometimes compliments about weight loss can be hurtful.

Hear me out—I’m NOT saying to never give compliments to your friend who just started running, or your brother who has become a hot yoga junkie. When they’re done right, compliments are GOLD. They feel like a mighty simultaneous fist bump from the people you love AND the universe. The thing is, when they’re done WRONG, they’re half way to insults.

It’s true, many people ARE trying to get to their idea of their best physical self. Many people who lose weight start out with this motive: if you’ve read any articles about body transformations you’re probably familiar with trope of  “hitting rock bottom.” I’ve found that a really common rock bottom is someone seeing photos of themselves at a special event like a party or a wedding, and realizing they want to make a change—

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I’m saying even if the person you want to praise might really enjoy a pointed compliment about how slim they are looking, you owe them better than that. Think about what you’ve said about their value if all of your praise is purely based on how they look. What does it say about who they were before in your eyes?

A really good compliment will acknowledge their progress while empowering their further efforts. Otherwise, that’s when stuff turns into mixed signals, feels backhanded and starts to sting:
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We are not numbers on scales, or pants measurements, the calories we eat in a day, or the amount we can deadlift. Reducing someone’s lifestyle change, or whatever-the-hell-they’re-calling-it to numbers or pure physicality? Not okay. These misplaced priorities are why we have self-hating fitsperation posts and fat shamers and eating disorders

So you have a friend, or a family member, or a significant other who has been working their literal ass off, and you want to show that you’ve recognized their effort. What do you do?

Maybe this person thinks that the best kind of praise is focused on the physical, but you can open their mind up to their own awesomeness with one simple move: praise the work of the artisan, not the art.

We live in the era of the process. We are encouraged to know the farmers who raise our crops, we watch documentaries about how things get made, we will generally pay more for craftsmanship. We want to meet Oz behind the curtain. There’s a lot of power in showing that you acknowledge their process.

In my personal experience, comments on my size are actually kind of awkward or alienating. (Though if you are going to go for physical praise consider a positive “your butt looks great!” versus the critical ring of “oooh you’re so skinny!”) Of course, this  is not one-size-fits-all advice. No matter what, some people will be pleased, and some people might find it embarrassing and highly personal. You just. Don’t. Know.

There are always other words to show someone that you’ve noticed they are growing: tell someone that you’ve noticed the hard work they’ve been doing, and that you’re proud of them. If they’ve inspired you, TELL THEM THAT! If you have noticed they seem to be more positive, acknowledge this change in temperature.

They will appreciate the acknowledgment, and hopefully begin to see themselves as the glorious “MORE” that we all deserve.

Chickpea Pepper Burgers feat. Red Cabbage Slaw

Since I’ve taken on the #AVeryVeganApril challenge, my meals have been mostly bowls of noodles (whole wheat rotini, brown rice vermicelli) with vegetables and sauce. After awhile, I started to mouth-crave something different—burgers.

They had to happen. Homemade, spicy, flavourful, sink-your-teeth-in chickpea burgers. I wasn’t going to share this recipe, but I took one bite and knew it had to be DONE.

…Okay, fine, I took like three bites to reassure myself it was as good as I thought it was. Also, these are kind of small (burgs not burgers!), so if you’re looking to feed a whole bunch of people, double the recipe.

Chickpea Pepper “Burgs” feat. Red Cabbage Slaw
Makes approximately 6 cute burgers or 3 dope double burgers

For the slaw:
2 cups red cabbage, shredded
1 cup carrot, shredded
1-2 broccoli stems, shredded
1/4-1/3 cup hulled, raw sunflower seeds
3 tbsp oil (olive, grapeseed, etc)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin

1. If you don’t have a mandolin or a fancy food processor, this is your biggest step.  Finely chop cabbage, carrot, and broccoli stems in a bowl. Add the sunflower seeds on top.

2. In a small separate bowl combine oil, vinegar, garlic powder, salt, and cumin. Whisk together and pour over the shredded veggies, tossing to coat. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or another splash of vinegar if the flavour is missing “zing.” Set aside to marinate. The secret ingredient is TIME.

For the burgers:
2 cups chickpeas, boiled
1/2 red pepper, seeds removed
2 garlic cloves
1 shallot, (or 2 tbsp yellow onion), chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 flax egg (1 tbsp flaxseed meal + 2½ tbsp water, stirred)
2 tbsp whole wheat flour (or bread crumbs? I didn’t have breadcrumbs. SO.)
Juice from 1 lime

For serving: whole wheat buns, avocado slices, veganaise, aioli, whatever-you-want…

1. Make your flax egg by combining water and flaxseed meal in a small dish. Set aside to “activate” for about 5 minutes.

2. In the bowl of a food processor*, combine chickpeas, pepper, garlic, and onion. Pulse until the mixture is finely diced but not smooth. Add in spices, salt, flour, and the flax egg and pulse to combine again. The mixture should keep shape fairly well but may seem a bit dry.

3. Empty bowl of food processor into another bowl and fold the lime juice in until it’s absorbed. Measure a third of a cup of the mixture for each burger, and then use your hands to form patties and leave them on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. You should get about 6 or 7 patties.

4. Heat up a small amount of oil in a frying pan, and cook the patties over medium heat, until each side is golden brown, about 3 minutes. (They are fairly sturdy, but flip with care!)

5. To assemble, spread slices of avo on the bottom bun, plunk a patty on top. I’ve been eating these as double burgers—second patty, a few healthy spoonfuls of slaw, and then the bun. Slather mayo or queso or whatever you want (I used vegan Mexican cheese from Minimalist Baker ) on the top bun**, cap that burger!

6. NOSH!

*I made this by using my tiny handy chopper and literally grinding the elements one batch at a time. If you’re feeling determined, use a potato masher for the chickpeas and chop everything else as fine as you can!

**I realized looking at my pictures that I put this beauty together upside down. Learn from my mistakes, peeps. Also top bun sounds like the gay remake of “Top Gun” ohwaitTopGunisalreadygay.