Reboot.

Dear friends,

beets

My “gut reboot” is complete and, as promised, I’m here to tell you about it.

(Because what’s the point of self-improvement if there’s no one to tell, right?)

When my friend Patti told me about the plan (and the book), I was skeptical. A 21-day cleanse sounded about as much fun as a 21-day root canal. Perhaps she caught me at a weak moment. I had just fallen off the treadmill a day earlier. (This was a literal treadmill accident, not a fall “off the wagon” so to speak.)  I was feeling particularly old and vulnerable. And bad.

The thing about feeling bad is — like the frog in the proverbial pot of hot water — you don’t know how bad you feel until you don’t feel bad anymore. Headaches, sleepiness, lethargy, persistent GI distress . . . I chalked it all up to age and stress.

I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal. Until it wasn’t.

I started to feel better by day 3 of the cleanse. By day 10, I was really grooving. Now I’m all but a few days away from a month and I have no intention of stopping.

I’ve only had one headache the whole time. I’ve had ZERO stomach/GI issues. My energy is improving daily. Mr. Mom said my skin looks clearer, younger. (I’ll take it!) My “brain fog” has finally cleared. With the exception of two late nights worrying about my kids’ trouble du jour, my sleep has been uninterrupted and restful. My running and weight training are improving. (In fairness, fitness breeds fitness so I’m not trying to suggest eating better has made me fitter; but I’m certain feeling better and having more energy has improved my exercise.) I’ve lost 10 pounds. All in all, it’s been a 21-day boon.

If there’s a downside, it’s that eating is no longer easy. It takes planning and preparation to eat healthy. You guys know I’m a pretty decent cook and baker and I’m having to learn new ways and new ingredients. I’m in unfamiliar territory but gaining my footing daily.

My transition to a plant-based diet has been a slow evolution since I officially became a vegetarian a year ago. Still, forgoing meat is relatively easy, especially if — like me — you rely on packaged and convenience foods. The beauty of this cleanse is that it helped me break my reliance on convenience foods. First, I came to realize that “cheese tots” or “chips and dip” really aren’t a lunch option I should consider a viable option as a vegetarian. Second, it broke me of my reliance on cheese and crackers or PBJs as totally acceptable dinners (or breakfasts, or snacks). Third, it helped me understand that life goes on (and goes on well) without refined carbs and dairy.

I am reluctant to call myself a vegan now, though I’m still not eating dairy. The premise of “Clean Gut” is that you eat a very restricted diet for 21 days (no dairy, no gluten, no caffeine, no alcohol, with other restrictions on many fruits and starchy foods like potatoes, rice and corn). At the end of the cleanse, you reintroduce common “trigger” foods and test your reaction. I have successfully reintroduced gluten, but I’m only eating limited amounts of oatmeal and whole grain bread. I may try whole grain pasta later but, so far, I haven’t missed pasta one bit. I reintroduced potatoes last night (with a vegan mashed potatoes recipe I found online) and found that even the cleaned up version sat really heavy on my stomach. While I experienced no major GI distress as a result, I realized I no longer enjoy eating foods that prompt an “ugh” after dinner. I still need to “reintroduce and test” dairy and corn, but I’m in no hurry. I feel so good I’m staying the course.

Speaking of ugh, the best habit this cleanse helped me form is to quit eating when I’m 80% full. I have to admit, when I first read this advice in the book, the concept was lost in translation. I’m a clean-your-plate girl. Always have been. I know what full feels like but I have no idea what 8/10ths full means. Almost full? Not quite full? Still hungry? Hungry I know!

Despite being fuzzy on the concept, I gave it my best. For someone as lost as me, someone who knows what the hour after the Thanksgiving meal or Pizza Night feels like but has no idea what it means to stop eating before you are satiated, the best I can describe it is this: Stop when you still want more. Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

Stop before you are ready to stop eating.

This advice is not just about stopping. Although that’s hard enough to do. It’s also about how much to put on your plate to begin with. Recalibrating what constitutes a meal. As a young girl, a meal meant two helpings of everything. As an adult, it has meant excessively large portions (and still sometimes helping myself to seconds).

If you’ve ever done any reading on this topic, you likely already know it takes your brain 20 minutes to catch up with your stomach. Meaning — if you eat until your stomach feels full, 20 minutes later you will feel over-full. Over-full became my full. Which is why “less than full” has been so perplexing to me.

But I’m learning. And in the mean time, I’m having fun exploring new websites and cookbooks and recipes. I’ve had a couple of fantastic vegan successes (like the lasagna I featured here) and I’ve had at least one spectacular fail (a vegan “meatloaf” we shall never speak of again). Kudos to my boys for taking it all in stride.

With gratitude {for the chance, daily, to remake my life in healthier, happier terms},

Joan, who purchased the poster pictured above because it reminded her of Mr. Mom — who’s been an exceptionally good sport about eating more vegetables for the last year — and because he really does make her heart flutter

PS: I invite you to check out the websites of the books pictured below to learn more about a plant-based diet

books

Click here for Clean Gut

Click here for the Kind Diet

Click here for Oh She Glows

Home remedy.

Dear friends,

I took a few days off over Spring Break with ambitious plans, most of which didn’t come to fruition.

I spent my first day cleaning house and my second day re-organizing my dish pantry. Over the course of several months, the pantry had become a junk closet — one you  could no longer walk into because the floor was covered with piles of objects I was too lazy to put away. But by day’s end, it was clean, tidy and organized.

pantry

Despite my early productivity, additional plans to clean out my quilting cabinet, wash windows, take care of some nagging paperwork, and finish a quilt-in-progress never materialized.

Instead I watched television, took more naps than I can count, and abandoned my dreams of vacation productivity in favor of a very slow pace — so much so that by Friday evening, I was feeling pretty let down.

Whenever I’m feeling lethargic, there’s nothing like a day in the kitchen to re-charge my batteries. Cooking has long been my fail-safe home remedy to cure what ails me. Cooking and baking are both my motivation and my therapy.

I started early with a tried-and-true cake recipe. By the time Mr. Mom woke up and joined me for coffee, he wondered if someone had lent me a hand in the kitchen.

rear

Note to self: Black yoga pants aren’t the best baking attire. No wonder pastry chefs wear white.

After the cake, I set my mind to three new recipes culled from a cookbook by Food and Wine and one from a food blog. By 5:00 pm dinner was on the table, and oh what a table it was!

tabletop2

There was Maple Glazed Chicken with Mustard Jus; Brown Rice and Barley Tabbouleh with Apricot and Mint; Roast Zucchini with Ricotta; Romaine and Avocado Salad with Garlic-Anchovy Dressing; and Vanilla Layer Cake with Raspberry-Cointreau Filling and Chocolate Buttercream Icing.

When food is this good, it’s a treat.

When it’s beautiful too . . .

cake

It’s almost too good to be true.

And it totally makes up for a few undone projects.

With gratitude {for a happy Saturday to end my vacation and the best Spring Break meal in a million years},

Joan, who urges you to try every single one of these recipes because aren’t you hungry now? And PS: Is there anything that perks up a table more than a cheery vintage tablecloth?

A kitchen-counter supper.

Dear friends,

Despite my well-known evangelism regarding family suppers, especially those served on “properly set” tables, I thought you ought to know our household regularly shares informal meals around the kitchen island.

To wit, here’s a spread from earlier this week:

counter

There’s marinated, grilled chicken legs; deviled egg pasta salad; sauteed medley of mushrooms, spinach and yellow bell peppers; chocolate-banana cake; and a new dish of my own imagination I’m calling cauliflower panzanella.

Our kitchen island seats four — a bit of kismet since we are a family of the same number — so on nights where we don’t bother to set the table, we plop down around the island, sans linens and flowers, and dig in.

You know I’m unusually devoted to the rituals surrounding family meals. For me, the act of setting the table reflects the value I place on thoughtfully preparing and arranging our sustenance, which is also our best opportunity to connect and share with each other. Still, there’s usually no more than a couple of occasions each week where we gather around a dressed table, no matter how simple, so I also try to be thoughtful about our casual meals.

For me, that includes things like keeping the island clear (just because we’re eating in the kitchen doesn’t mean we have to do so amidst the prep mess); turning off the television (which I tend to watch while cooking) in order to nurture conversation; and maintaining a commitment to culinary variety.

Mr. Mom tends to believe 1 protein + 1 starch = a meal. Me? I like to see no fewer than three dishes, preferably four or five, on our menu. Some might see this as a conflict. I view it as a perfect example of the yin-yang alchemy of our marriage. When he cooks, he gets his way. When I cook, I get mine. As a result, we all get a little variety of both approaches and preparations.

In the end, there are no rules for family meals. But I like to think there are a few standards worth upholding. (Rules are imposed from an outside authority, whereas standards are embraced by choice. I think life could be made a whole lot better by fewer rules and more standards.) My standards include:

  1. Cooking a meal at home, no matter your definition of cooking. Don’t spend an ounce of energy on the argument between “from scratch” cooking and the “meals in a box” variety. Do what you enjoy and have time for, otherwise the whole point is lost in aggravation — and family meals are supposed to ease irritation.
  2. Sitting around a table or a counter together. Don’t be tempted to sit in the living room/den/television viewing area as it kills the opportunity for conversation and decompression. And by all means, don’t watch the news!
  3. Expressing interest in and gratitude for the food on your table and the person who prepared it. It’s just good manners and you might learn something along the way, as well as cultivate a greater understanding of nutrition.

Everything else — dishes and linens and flowers and special menus — is just gravy. And as much as I love me a good gravy, we all know it’s a condiment not an entree.

With gratitude {for the grace of family meals and all they bring},

Joan, who shouted hallelujah when she discovered panzanella because bread salad? Heck yes!

PS: For the curious among you, my cauliflower panzanella was nothing more than cauliflower florets toasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a hearty helping of minced garlic, then roasted in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes, then tossed with day-old Italian bread cubes, sauteed in plenty of butter in a cast-iron skillet until brown and slightly crunchy. You can eat it warm, room temperature, or cold. I’ll eat buttery bread cubes and roasted cauliflower nearly any ol’ way you can serve it, including with my fingers out of a bowl while watching late-night television (not that I did that or anything).

So long sweet summer.

Dear friends,

This is how I spent my last weekend of summer —

Cooking (grilled salmon, pasta, assorted salads, barbequed chicken, baked french toast, biscuits and gravy, green chili enchiladas and more) . . .

baking (apple pie, apple-pineapple crostini) . . .

decorating (tablescapes, new arrangements for the mantle and buffet, flower arranging) . . .

and mothering (big hello and goodbye hugs,  staying up late for long talks, relaxing on the sofa with every person and critter in our household piled on with me, watching movies, passing out money and, of course, all that cooking).

It was three days of bliss I won’t soon forget. I even worked in a couple of naps, some leisurely reading, and lots of the US Open. It was the perfect end to summer, a much-needed respite before the busy fall, a luxury for a homebody who’s called away all too often.

With gratitude {for 72 hours of full-nesting},

Joan, who feels a new sense of energy and says bring on the fall

Following instructions.

Dear friends,

Look what I found:

Source: Etsy

For my dear friend who pointed out I have minions in the kitchen, I would suggest to her I’m just following the sign’s instructions.

Take, for example, our Sunday Supper. It was a Valentine’s Day extravaganza, and you can read about it here.  It took Mr. Mom’s help to do all the prep work (read: there was a mandolin and a drill involved), and the kids did all the clean up.

I just made it look easy.

Which is really why it’s so much fun to follow instructions, wouldn’t you say?

With everlasting gratitude {for those minions again},

Joan, who has an adequate collection of vintage aprons but is thinking she needs one of these, say in pink toile