The Whole30 Pt. III: The Bread is Nigh!

It’s the LAST DAY OF THE Whole30 EXPERIMENT! YES, ALREADY! I’ve come a long way from trying to huff cake and hoping to taste tiger blood (whether it’s on the plan or not)! At the end of it all, this was an experiment, and while I could yell about how excited I am about eating peanut butter for an entire post, but there’s information here and ready… So let’s get to the juicy stuff.

Some of the good things I’ve experienced on the plan:

• I stopped counting calories. Some years back, I was a fastidious (obsessive) calorie counter. That’s not the case anymore, but I still usually take mental tallies over the course of any day—like a weird hobby. This all but stopped the deeper I got into the Whole30. Even richer foods such as coconut oil, nut butters, dried fruits, or sausage, no longer have me reaching for a calculator.

• I started reading MORE labels. Label checking during my vegan experiment was small-time compared to the ingredient-scanning terminator I’ve turned into now. I can spot sugar almost in an instant. Soybean oil? Forget it! Corn? Back to the shelf with you! As a result, I’ve eaten less food with ingredient lists, and more dishes with ingredients

• My tastebuds have changed.  I won’t be able to confirm this until I eat something with refined sugar in it (something I’ll be putting off as much and as long as I can), but I think I’m currently experiencing natural sugars as the peak of sweetness. Yesterday I had few dried medjool dates, and I stood in my kitchen, chewing and marvelling over the the fact that I was sure they tasted EXACTLY caramels. Insane, I know.

My boss also says my skin has been looking amazing, but I still have some blemishes on my jaw, a recent problem area of mine… So either she’s biased and pro-program, or the rest of my skin looks good?

Some other observations about the body & mind:

Body stuff: Program protocol says you’re not supposed to weigh yourself at all, which I understand, and actually agree with (despite hating a lot of the Whole30’s website with a passion). I think the less people stare at the scale, the better.
HOW. EV. VER. This was an experiment and so weigh-ins became part of the data. I’ve been losing at a steady, healthy pace of about 1lb a week, so not all that different from my regular routine.

I didn’t use a tape measure, but it’s totally possible I smoked an inch or two off, between the leafy greens and ramping up my running mileage. My clothes do seem to be fitting better, but I’m not certain if that’s a by-product of the work or the diet changes?

Mind stuff: The Whole30 didn’t give me an endless wellspring of energy, but that could also be because I usually don’t get enough hours of sleep during the week anyway (and the one day that I drank egg coffee). To be fair to the program, I’m in the middle of tapering off of anti-depressants, so any lows could be linked to that.

It DID get me to examine lots of the food systems that exist in my immediate surroundings. The fact that sugar is everywhere, in everything, or that buying sustainable free-range, antibiotic-free meat is privilege. It opened conversations with friends about food—friends who I didn’t now would be interested in the topic in the first place.

Lastly, it showed me that temptation is basically nothing, and I’m capable of maintaining whatever food decisions I choose to abide in the future. That’s a great feeling, powerful feeling. While I wouldn’t say the Whole30 changed my life, that’s a bit too assertive and sweeping. I would say that it changed my mind—for the better.

Plus, now that first bite of off-plan pizza is going to be A-MAZ-ING. I can’t WAIT to start cooking with more variety again!

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.

#AVeryVeganApril

Okay that title isn’t accurate, but #AVeryVeganFortnight didn’t sound as good. (Also, have a picture of a Highland cow, vegan creature and unofficial mascot of this post… because I like Highland cows.)

The challenge: eat vegan for two weeks, from April 1-14. No using recipes I’ve tried before to make it happen. (I could eat peanut noodles with tempeh forever, soooo…)

Why: For fun! I like cooking, and I eat a lot of cheese, so this is a good way to change things up and try new dishes and ingredients.

How’s it goin’, eh?: I eat vegetarian about six days a week, so this maybe isn’t as hard for me as it might be for someone who eats more animal products. THAT BEING SAID,  friends came from out of town and wanted to meet for the best smoked meat in Montreal so, at least ONE lunch was a delicious bust.

My kitchen has changed up too! I’ve tried new recipes, ventured into tapioca starch, and made vegan queso. (I also screwed up Veganaise by using almond milk instead of soy.)

The biggest change I’ve noticed is that I’m taking care to read a lot more labels. I look at ingredients to scan for animal products, and in the process, I’m noticing all the additives and preservatives that are even in the healthy foods that I eat (especially things like breads or tortillas). Here’s to nosh with less additives?

What are you eating, dude?:

Uhm, basically whatever I want, without the cheese? It has been a lot of curious comfort food and some indulgent bites, but I’m always trying to add more vegetables to everything, and I’ve got a veggie burger recipe coming that BLEW. MY. MIND. So stay tuned for that!

Avo Nice Day Guacamole

Homemade guacamole speaks for itself and literally needs no introduction. I’ll just say if you’re a fan and you’re not making it from scratch, you haven’t truly LIVED!

I like my tomato and onion rough-chopped for more texture. If you like yours smoother, just chop up the ingredients more finely before incorporating them.

Guacamole toast is like avocado toast with a soul. There, I said it. 

Avo Nice Day Guacamole

2 small, ripe avocados
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 lime, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 heaping tbsp. flax seed meal (optional)

1.  In a small bowl, mash up the avocado flesh with a fork, reserving at least one of the pits, and setting aside.

2. Stir in crushed garlic, as well as tomato and onion, mixing thoroughly.

3. Add lime juice and stir to combine. Taste, then add salt and pepper to your personal preference. If you’re adding flax seed meal, stir it in.

4. Enjoy immediately with nacho chips, toast, or however you usually eat your lame grocery store guacamole… just better. If you want to save yours for later, put it in an airtight container and add one of the pits to keep it from browning quickly.

On Finding Fat in Fit Spaces

Being fat is hard. It’s especially hard to be fat in traditionally “fit” spaces—health clubs, yoga studios, sporting goods stores, hell, even restaurants serving up healthier fare. In general, the world hasn’t realized that you can be fit and be fat simultaneously, so the very presence of someone with an so-called imperfect BMI in any of these locales automatically shoves fat people into the category of “other.” According to traditional standards, we don’t belong there.

I recently wrote about a gym employee who asked me if I had ever exercised before, and while I generally try to assume people mean no harm, the experience left me feeling like a sausage shovelled into a skintight leotard, centre stage on opening night. That is to say, the question othered me so hard that I wasn’t 100% comfortable being there. Translation: you are different. This is not your space. You don’t belong here… yet.

As though if I go to that gym enough, one day I’ll sashay through the door as in society-issued size 6, and the employee will know he made a mistake thinking I was a “them” instead of an “us.”

Such bullshit, wow.

We shouldn’t have to change to feel comfortable anywhere. These spaces should encourage, rather than alienate, the plus-sizers of the world. At best, encourage and welcome, at worst, shut up and mind your own business, right? This is such a common thing that whenever I have a positive interaction in any of these places, it’s kind of mind-blowing.

This week, I was looking at pictures of my first 5K run ever, and realized I’ve been in t[he same running shoes since 2011. My running periods have come and gone, but these shoes were my first 5K and 10K shoes. These shoes ran me around Scotland. The 20-year-old who first wore them is physically and mentally a very different person now, and besides the cartilage in my knees also probably appreciating a little break, it all translated into NEW SHOES REQUIRED. There was one hiccup—I didn’t want to go to the Running Room near my place because I was intimidated by the idea of putting myself into a space I felt I wouldn’t be welcomed.

I like to run, but I don’t call myself a runner. I am not a certified member of the the Cult of Running(tm), the gazelle-human hybrids who are constantly seen with hydration belts, compression socks, and the calves of Greek gods.

But of all the things to not order online, the shoes that will possibly run you through another 6 years of your life (lol) might be on the top of the list, so I sucked it up and went to the store, preparing to defend myself. What I got instead was a warm welcome, and it was amazing.

The woman there was so keen and kind, telling me about local running groups and classes. She talked about being part of our community. Our. She didn’t assume I was a beginner. She ordered me in my shoes from another store, and when I went in on Saturday to pick them up, the two employees working there automatically asked if I had come in to sign up for the race up the mountain on Monday. L. O.L. A RUN UP A MOUNTAIN.

It was amazing. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing or the way I was being treated. You don’t realize how hard you’ve been othered in one situation until you get to be treated like one of the “us’s” in another. I have the class lists and the brochures next to me right now. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about the prospect of fit space—that’s the way it should be.

Better Yet Butternut Squash Chili

Confession: I’m bad at meal planning. Unless I have a craving or a recipe I want to try, on a typical week I will go to my local grocer, get lost, and end up buying whatever’s on sale.

For the past few weeks, butternut squash has been on sale non-stop. SO, in addition to a dope burrito recipe this month, you can have this tasty vegetarian chili recipe, because spring hasn’t come to Montreal yet, and there’s something warming and comforting about a big, spicy bowl to keep you company as you sob about why spring is taking so damn long.

Don’t be afraid of the cocoa, beeteedubs. It adds DEPTH OF FLAVOUR.

Butternut Squash Veggie Chili
Serves 4-5 

1 tbsp. oil (I used coconut, but do what you want)
1 cooking onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (4 cups or so)
2 c. red kidney beans, cooked
2 c. black turtle beans, cooked
1 can diced tomatoes
4 c. vegetable stock (or water)

1. Set a large pot over medium heat. Add oil, garlic, and onions, stir to coat, until fragrant and the garlic is lightly toasted.

2. Add the spices (cocoa included!) and stir to coat and toast. When they’re smelling great but not burning, add in the butternut squash and stir. Salt and pepper at will!

3. Add beans, tomatoes, and stock or water. Bring to a simmer until chili thickens slightly and squash is fork tender.

4. Serve with sour cream, or hot sauce, or cheddar cheese, or avocado, or nacho chips, or SMARTIES for all I know. I ain’t the boss of you.

Cut Me Some Flax Banana Muffins

Once, two years into my English degree, I almost dropped out of university to become a professional baker. The lightning bolt hit—carb-pe diem! I did end up graduating, and now, just bake in my spare time for fun. Still, it’s a tough hobby to keep up when you’re trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, even one with room for the occasional treat.

The ongoing mission is to find healthy bakes that actually taste good. Not dry bakes, not “pretty good for being healthier” bakes—food that is fun to make and produces tasty results that are good for you.

These muffins checked off the boxes—they’re dense, moist, chewy, and delicious!  Plus, they have 4g of fibre a piece, and at only 260 calories, you can add a tablespoon of peanut butter, a coffee, and a piece of fresh fruit for a whole breakfast. Yaaaaaaaaas.

Cut Me Some Flax Banana Muffins
(Adapted from Anecdotes and Apple Cores)
Makes 12 (approx, 260 calories each)

1 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c. ground flaxseed meal
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 c. almond milk
1/2 c. greek yogurt (I had none so I used sour cream)
1/2 c. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners or grease well.

2.  In a large bowl whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and flax meal. Set aside.

3. In a smaller bowl, stir together mashed bananas, milk, yogurt, maple syrup and vanilla. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until just combined—it’s okay if there are little streaks of flour! Better a little bit of that than tough muffins!

4. Divide into prepared muffin pan, and place in preheated oven, lowering temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans at the half way point, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Allow to cool in pan for five minutes before removing to wire rack.