Tag Archives: clean eating

My Paleo Fail-eo and Other Diet Misadventures

Bookshelf filled with different diet cookbooks

My cookbook shelf suffers from multiple personality disorder.

Here’s a picture of the cookbook shelf in my kitchen. You may notice that it suffers from multiple personality disorder. At any given time, I could be on the South Beach Diet, paleo, Whole30, vegan, vegetarian, whatever Gwyneth Paltrow is, then make gumbo with Emeril. I am nothing if not adaptable.

With the diets, I think it’s the lure of the fresh start. Clean out the fridge, buy shiny new healthy things and have someone else give you all the rules so you don’t have to make decisions. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, fresh starts wear off after a few days and then you’re stuck with withdrawals from whichever of your favorite things you’re not allowed to have and you start questioning your life decisions.

My husband and I started doing the South Beach Diet years ago. This involves two weeks of a strict low-carb plan followed by a more moderate period where you can have whole grains. My husband would drop 900 pounds the first week, partly because he is a better person than I am and never cheats, and partly because he is a man and life is not fair. Meanwhile, I’d struggle through the entire two weeks of Phase 1 and lose 4 pounds.

I still have all the South Beach cookbooks because the dinner recipes are tasty and simple and can easily be adapted to other clean eating plans. I don’t do the diet anymore because Phase 1 includes some high-sodium items and dairy, both of which I find it best to avoid. Okay, I find it best to avoid dairy but mostly don’t do that.

Let’s just get the vegetarian thing out of the way. I just can’t. I even failed at Meatless Mondays, though there are two recipes that we did really enjoy when we were trying that: portobello mushroom pizzas (also great for low-carbing) and these Spiralized Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas from when I got the Inspiralizer.

The Whole30 is a miraculous, life-changing eating plan in which you lose a million pounds, cure all your health problems and get glowing skin and shiny hair, and all you have to do is give up basically everything you like for an entire month. Just kidding. You can have coffee. Black. The food is actually really good; there are plenty of cookbooks (I like “The Whole30 Fast and Easy”) and recipes online, and if you’re already eating clean you’ll find it’s not a drastic change; you just have to avoid sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes and dairy. I know. It is kind of a lot. But by eliminating foods that cause inflammation and other issues, you can learn which things really affect you so you can avoid them. I’ve done a Whole30 and a Whole … um, like 19. Sometimes I’ll do a Whole week. That’s not approved by the Whole30 people, but the world is a little safer for us all if I can have some chardonnay.

Paleo is basically Whole30 but with more wiggle room. (“Paleo for Beginners” is a great book to start with if you’re interested.) For example, one day I got an email from a Paleo website with links to recipes. I clicked on one and among the ingredients were Greek yogurt and feta cheese and I was all “whaaa?” and went straight over to Google to see what magical hocus pocus would make these items not dairy. I landed on a discussion board where I learned there is a thing called “primal” where some  dairy is allowed. And then a whole bunch of people are just not following the rules.

I may be one of those people, or maybe I’m more of a cherry picker of diets. All of the cookbooks have good, healthy recipes in them, so as long as you’re cooking with clean, whole-food ingredients as much as possible, it’s all good. As for gumbo with Emeril, well that’s just fun.

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Cooking Up a Major Mess of Collard Greens

Over the weekend I took advantage of a sunny and unscheduled Saturday afternoon and did what I should do every week, which is go to a nearby farmers market to stock up on fresh vegetables. I went without a list, hoping I would find something there to inspire meals for the next few days. This is the ideal, cheffy way to do it, but recent weeks have been so busy that I’ve been making grocery lists based on a few favorite quick-and-easy meals, grabbing the ingredients from the grocery store and bypassing the farmers market altogether.

Strolling through the familiar, busy aisles in the farmers market section of the Daytona Flea & Farmers Market, I was reminded why it’s worth going a bit out of my way to shop there for produce. While vendors at this market do ship in some foreign items, in case you just have to have asparagus in November, there is also a nice variety of ever-changing local, seasonal produce. Though I’ll often check the Florida Department of Agriculture’s “What’s in Season Now” shopping list before I go, there are usually some surprises. This week, it was a handwritten sign touting locally grown collard greens.

The collard greens were piled high, still on their stalks, tied together in bundles the size of shrubs. I pointed out to the vendor that I live with a Northerner and a 6-year-old, so it was likely that only one out of three family members would eat collards, but she was apparently not going to take pity on me and break up a bunch. They cook way down, she pointed out. I knew that, but cooking down three truckloads of greens into one truckload is still a truckload of greens. I have storage issues.

But I really wanted those collard greens. I’d just read in a story by Elizabeth Brown, M.S., R.D., in the November issue of Oxygen magazine that they are the top leafy green when it comes to lowering cholesterol, a particular concern in our family. They’re also known cancer fighters and are rich in the B vitamin folate, which supports heart health. It has also been a while since I’d challenged my husband to try a new vegetable. It would be a challenge for me, too, since I’d never tried to cook collards before. The vendor put them in a large plastic bag (they were too big to fit in my reusable bag) and I was on my way to cookin’ up a mess of greens.

cooked collard greens with bacon on a red plate with apples in the background

Collard greens are a nutritional powerhouse. Find them at farmers markets to enjoy now, and freeze some for later.

Oxygen had offered a recipe for Collard Greens with Root Veggies and Salmon, a “clean eating” way to include some of the greens in a healthy diet by steaming them in parchment with the fish and vegetables. But their recipe called for only 6 leaves and I had at least 10 times that. Besides, having grown up eating greens in Arkansas, my natural instincts were telling me there should be pork involved, and my preference was bacon.

A quick search online led me to a recipe for Collard Greens with Bacon at SimplyRecipes.com. Scanning the ingredient list, I knew I had a winner: bacon, onion, garlic, apple cider vinegar and, for my husband, a little hot sauce. Another plus was that the recipe called for simmering the greens in a skillet with the other ingredients just until wilted rather than stewing them for hours. We’re used to eating a lot of steamed and sauteed vegetables and appreciate a little more crunch. In the case of collards, this turned out to be more of a nice chewiness.

If you’d like a vegetarian option, this recipe for Collards Braised in Red Wine, adapted from chef Michael Lomonako, appeared in the Mark Bittman‘s Diner’s Journal in the New York Times. Using a similar technique, it contains olive oil rather than bacon fat, and red wine instead of apple cider vinegar. I plan to try this one next.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d be dealing with, so I decided to tackle the collards as soon as I got home rather than wait until dinnertime. This turned out to be a good plan. After removing the leaves from the stems and washing them, I had enough leaves piled on my kitchen counter to fill a large trash bag. This was an interesting situation. I decided to go ahead and cook the recipe, which would probably cook down a third of the greens. I didn’t, however, have enough ingredients on hand to cook three batches.

I noticed when I sliced the greens into strips for the recipe they took up much less space, so I decided to slice them all into strips. Could I freeze them? Yes, it turns out, you can freeze fresh collards after blanching them first. Here’s how:

The recipe for Collard Greens with Bacon turned out to be delicious. One bite and I was suddenly transported back to my mother’s kitchen, watching her stir a big pot of greens on the stove. To go with them, I decided to make whole-wheat-panko-crusted catfish and sweet potato fries. Now, I am a Southern girl, so I know the catfish should have been coated in seasoned cornmeal and fried, and there should have been cornbread or at least  hush puppies with those greens, but I’m a health-conscious Southern girl and am married to a guy who really loves sweet potato fries. Life is full of compromises. However, though we may have compromised on tradition, we didn’t miss a thing when it came to taste.

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