My Sunday soup ritual.

Dear friends,

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I’ve gotten into a routine lately where I make a big pot of vegetable soup on Sundays. I had fallen into a bad habit of eating lunch out (which is both expensive and fattening), so about a month ago, I pulled out my favorite soup recipe from blogger Phoo-D and solved my problem.

Every week, I make my soup a little differently depending on what’s in my fridge. This week I had a beautiful red pepper, some broccoli that needed to be used, three not-quite-limp carrots, and a purple onion. I normally use celery but I was all out. I always have canned corn and green beans in my pantry, so I typically throw those in. Occasionally, I’ll use cabbage or potatoes, but this week I used a can of navy beans. (I was out of black beans, which is another favorite.) Sometimes I add a handful of barley, but this week I threw in some wild rice. My favorite is when I’ve got a couple of over-ripe tomatoes and/or zucchini setting around but, alas, I had none of those this week.

In addition to the soup, I always cook a whole grain — typically brown rice, but last week I made whole-wheat couscous. Then for the next five days, I pack a lunch that consists of 1/2 cup of grains topped with two cups of vegetable soup. It averages about 275 calories and is chock full of healthy nutrients and fiber. Best of all, it’s very filling and keeps me going without a thought of snacking until dinnertime.

In addition to varying the vegetables each week, I also vary the spices. I have a simple Italian version (fresh rosemary because I have a huge bush right outside my door, plus dried marjoram, oregano, parsley, basil, and occasionally some herbs de Provence). I have a Mexican version (cumin, chili powder, and cayenne). And I have an Indian version (turmeric and garam masala). While Phoo-D’s recipe doesn’t call for it, I usually also add about a half-cup of whatever wine I have on hand, as well as a cube or two of bouillon.

I find that when I eat my standard breakfast (a hard-boiled egg and piece of fruit) along with this lunch and a reasonable dinner, I feel so much better. I’m prone to heartburn and bloating if I eat too much dairy and processed wheat, so limiting those items to dinner (and then only in modest portions) helps me feel so much better and manage my weight.

By the way, if you’re at all tempted to skip the apple cider vinegar in this recipe, don’t. Because the recipe relies on water instead of broth and uses very little oil, the vinegar gives this soup a depth of flavor that it needs. Of course, I just mentioned that I often throw in a bouillon cube or two, but it doesn’t really need it. I do it because I find that if the soup has a hint of beef or chicken flavor, my kids are more likely to eat it.

This recipe makes a hearty amount of soup — enough for everyone in my family to eat it for lunch on Sunday and then for me to pack lunches with it all week. And it keeps well in the refrigerator for a full seven days. I’ve even frozen this soup after a week when I had leftovers I couldn’t bear to throw out.

Bon apetit!

With gratitude {for lunch alternatives that make life a little healthier and a lot more flavorful, as well as a mother-in-law who recently gave me a 7-quart cast iron Dutch Oven — perfect for big batches of Sunday soup — after hearing me lament the constraints of my 4-quart pot, which she also purchased},

Joan, who wishes to send love and hugs to her friend Phoo-D on the birth of her second daughter, Sarah Jane

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The cleanse.

Dear friends,

I mentioned in this post last week that I was going to use my vacation to get myself back on track, nutritionally speaking.

I showed you the photographic evidence that my pantry is stocked with junk.  And, dismayed by its effect on my figure, I wrote an ode to the ripening pear I have become. So starting a week ago yesterday, I vowed to turn over a new leaf — and I embarked on a “spring cleaning” of my diet.

Here’s what I’ve consumed for the last eight days:

  • fresh vegetables of many kinds
  • fresh fruit
  • brown rice and oatmeal
  • beans
  • and no more than 4 ounces of lean protein (including egg whites) a day

By the way, I’m not anti-meat. But by limiting myself to 4 ounces a day, I was enforcing a wider zone on my plate for vegetables and whole grains. It’s so tempting and so easy to fill up on meat (even lean meat) and I didn’t want to go the Atkins route.

I reduced my dairy intake dramatically by cutting out cheese and butter last week (I’ve been eating way too much for way too long).  I did put a teaspoon of cream in my morning cup of coffee and a tablespoon or two of milk in my oatmeal, but I’ve been a dairy hog for a long time so this has been a significant change.

Of course the biggest change has been 8 straight days of eating nothing out of a package, which — without intentionally trying — means I also eliminated all processed sugar. Plus, I banned the table salt because I wanted to remind myself what fresh food actually tastes like.

And what do I think?

Holy schmoley!

First off, I had a wicked headache for almost five straight days. I’m talking headaches that verged on migraines (without the vision disturbances) and that would not be tempered by over-the-counter pain killers. I went to bed with a headache, I woke up with a headache, I painted and cleaned with a headache. Finally, about mid-day on Thursday, it broke. I’m no physiologist, but I’m pretty sure my system was reacting violently to the  sudden and total elimination of processed sugar (and perhaps refined grains) from my diet.

Second, I lost 5 1/2 pounds, which is not the chief reason I did it, but boy — what a benefit!

Third, I immediately extinguished all heartburn, which had become a new and growing problem.

Finally, I just flat out feel better. I can’t explain it except to say my mind is clear (once I got past the crushing headache) and my digestive system has calmed and receded to the background (where it belongs) rather than being an omnipresent, roiling reminder of my excess.

I feel so good, I’m going to keep it up — though I’m not sure what that means. I’m sticking to the daily 4-ounce limit on protein because it encourages other good eating habits. And I’m going to stick to my low-dairy guns for at least a while longer. I need to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around cheese — or at least convince myself its proper place is as a condiment, not a food group. And I want to stay away from sugar and packaged foods as long as humanly possible. In my life, “humanly possible” has never been longer than about six months. So we’ll see.

The big unknown for me is bread and pasta. I know there are all sorts of healthier, whole-grain varieties out there. Heck, I have a grain mill and several buckets of whole grains in my basement and I can bake a loaf of whole wheat bread like nobody’s business. But bread and pasta are a slippery slope in my life. I have trouble controlling portions with these two foods, and I haven’t learned to consume them without drenching them in all sorts of unhealthy fats. So, I’m taking it slow in this area to see if I can moderate my gluttonous tendencies.

I mentioned to a friend that I was doing this and she said “Ouch. Sounds painful. I have absolutely no self-control. Good luck.”

If you’ve known me very long, you know I have self-control as secure as a bank vault. As long as it’s for a specified period of time. I have often said I have a self-control switch and I’m either on or off. I have struggled with moderation my entire life and I’d love to break my feast-or-famine mentality. (Ask my friends — I have yet to ease into anything in life.)

I started with a “cleanse,” which is clearly a famine strategy. Let’s see if I can turn my cleanse into cleaner living all around rather than a one-off laundering.

What say ye, dear readers? Any words of advice for this recovering foodaholic?

With gratitude {for so many wonderful culinary choices in life and a growing ability to select healthier ones},

Joan, who watched the “sugar is toxic” story on 60 Minutes Sunday night as a member of the Amen corner because if the five-day headache isn’t proof she doesn’t know what is