I went on a vacation for a week, so I mostly ate out and other people’s cooking, but I did get to help make ice cream and a dinner.  After the vacation I was sick for a week, and didn’t do much cooking.  I’m better now and back on my game.

I made the best chili ever.  Just a pound of ground beef, cooked in a big pot, then drained most of the fat into my fat jar, and put the meat aside.  I sauted onions and fresh garlic in the beef residue, then added six arbol chilis and four dandicuts (60,000 SU peppers from Pakistan, hot and delicious!, from Penzy’s Spices), a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, a can of rinsed black beans and a can of rinsed kidney beans (organic from Trader Joe’s).  I added the meat back in and let it all simmer at 150 F for a few hours.  This was about 6 bowls for $5 (the beef was way on sale).  I served it hot topped with Cabot’s habanero cheddar cheese and some tortilla chips.  I should have entered this in the chili contest.

My wife cooked last night: habanero cheese on scrambled eggs with a side of asparagus.  Simple, but good.

I got a package of chicken thighs, took off the skin, browned them in my skillet (I should have patted them dry with paper towels first, but I forgot, and they didn’t brown as well as I wanted), then put them in my slow cooker.  I deglazed the skillet with some chardonnay and a little tomato juice, and added that to the slow cooker with a big can of crushed tomatoes.  That’s running right now, and in a bit I’ll add sauted onions and carrots.

I’m also baking whole wheat bread today, and I’m still making lots of yogurt out of organic nonfat milk.  I’m about to whip up another batch of garlic and yogurt mashed potatoes, too.   We are eating more beans than we used to, but we could still do more.  We also are inconsistent with salads, but carrots and onions make it into a lot of meals.  Broccoli is the most green that we eat regularly, and spinach, but we’re not close to the recommended quantity of veggies.

I think I’m pretty much recovered from the holidays (and my birthday). 2011 is well on its way, and I’m finding my groove. I’m also finding myself making some compromises. “Maybe it’s OK to eat Orowheat buns. They’re HFCS-free, high fiber, and low calorie. And darn if they aren’t the right shape for burgers.” “Come to think of it, salmon burgers from CostCo are pretty healthy, on the whole.” “That recipe looks like it would hit the spot, even if it does call for a roll of croissants.” And so on. Still going whole-grain where I can, still going for unprocessed, homemade, and organic foods where it makes sense. Still going CAFO-free on meat, organic on milk, and cage-free+organic on eggs. But I’m approaching it all with a little bit more of a sense of balance.

And you know what? I’m happier.

So may it go with the “no sugar until the end of February” thing, too. I’ve had ketchup in restaurants (regular Heinz has HFCS), and I even had a hot buttered rum with a little bit of whipped cream, on Saturday. (The scandal!) I can’t make myself feel too guilty for that. I think “I’ll mostly avoid processed sugar” would have been a better rule. In fact, I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but the fruit salad I’m eating (with plain Greek yogurt! yum!) has a few canned fruits “in light syrup” in it, so it’s totally not allowed. But it’s fruit–at least, mostly fruit. I drained off the syrup and put in as many “canned in juice,” “canned in water” (bleh!), and frozen fruits as I could. If I were to follow the rule to the letter, I would not be eating fruit and yogurt right now. And what could I possibly be eating, instead, that would be healthier?

Anyway, as far as the Challenge goes, I find that if I don’t have some easy things around, I fail. I am trying to eat homemade every day, not spend every day cooking. So I spent Sunday cooking up a storm. I now have a bunch of black bean burgers (do follow the commenters’ suggestions about draining everything REALLY WELL; also, I use oats instead of bread crumbs, to good effect) joining those salmon burgers in the freezer, plus those sandwich buns on hand to eat them with. There’s also a batch of pineapple carrot muffins (I can post the recipe if anyone wants it—they’re super easy!) in the freezer for quick breakfasts/snacks. I cooked up a package of chicken for some chicken tetrazzini (I used whole wheat spaghetti, regular parmesan, nonfat evaporated milk, fewer mushrooms, and some peas, but otherwise followed the recipe as is–it’s quite good) and put the extra in the freezer, to grab and throw into sesame noodles (add a couple of handfuls of chicken and broccoli, and split that recipe in half for a tasty one-pot entree for two) or maybe chicken noodle soup, in the future.

I also made the brunch bake I linked to in the first paragraph, roll of low-fat croissants and all–I used 5 largish strips of bacon, instead of the sausage, and I think I need to add an egg or two to make up for the smaller mass of meat-product; as it was, the crust made up about half of the bulk. But it was good! We enjoyed it on Sunday, and I’ll eat the remaining four servings over the next few days, for breakfasts. It can’t be an every week thing, but it is definitely going in the rotation!

You’d be amazed at how much calmer I feel with all of this stuff in my freezer, to be pulled out and warmed up with minimal difficulty (or waiting!) on low-energy evenings. I have more than a week’s worth of meals planned and ready, and that feels good. I mean, yes, it’s fine and healthy to do this Challenge, for its own sake. But I’m glad to be gaining some strategies and figuring out what compromises I need to make with myself so I can continue these good habits past October, too.

I’ve done a pretty good job over the last two weeks.  Here are some of the meals I made:

  • Baked salmon (wild caught Pacific) with capers and rice.
  • Pineapple chicken stir-fry (same as my great pork recipe, just with chicken)
  • Slow-cooked chicken with rice (I make a lot of rice, brown with homemade chicken stock)
  • Panfried catfish ($2.59/lb for the fish was an irresistible price)
  • Chili with ground bison and ancho pepper (this was a practice batch for an upcoming church contest, lasted five days)
  • Chicken and pineapple pizza
  • Squash curry with spinach, mushrooms, and onion, on rice

Half of those lasted a few days.  We did get Chinese food one night, and were taken out to dinner one night by relatives, but we generally hold well to 6/7.  We still make lunches from homemade bread, have oatmeal for breakfast each day, and a perpetual pot of yogurt for snacks and desserts.

I’ve been looking at more food books from the library, and nutritionists really seem to push beans heavily.  I don’t mind them, and I usually put them in my soups and chili, but the gas can be a problem.  Is it true that the body adapts to a high-bean diet and stops farting so much?  I’m going to make a big pot of lentil soup this week with a hambone my mom gave me.

 

It feels like week two, since I was pretty good last week, leaving a few meals over from before the challenge began. I’ve realized, already, that freezer space is going to be a limiting factor: I have one pizza’s worth of dough, four servings of bread pudding (Joy of Cooking + a wheat bread recipe that comes out UGLY in the bread machine), a serving of chili (Dale took that to lunch today :)), and a serving of steel cut oats, plus my normal set of frozen meats, vegetables, etc. And all the heels of all the bread we’ve bought, which will either become more bread pudding over the winter or be fed to ducks in the spring. Probably a bit of both. (Plus two bottles of vodka. I’m thinking of relegating the raspberry vodka to the cabinet for the winter–it’s chilly down there, anyway. :))

The chicken noodle soup came out really well, as did my first attempt at mchicha (I used frozen spinach, thawed and drained, and I ran the tomato & onion through the blender after cooking it and before adding the spinach). We also have apple crisp sitting in our fridge, which is nice. It makes a pretty exciting breakfast!

The first pizza (from the dough recipe linked above) wasn’t bad, but I used undoctored spaghetti sauce on it, which may have been a mistake–a little thin, not quite the right flavor. Also, I think I want to throw some herbs into the crust, next time, and remember to use some olive oil on the “exposed” part of the crust, around the sauce and toppings. I also kind of want a pizza stone, because that’s supposed to make one’s pizzas a million times better.

I’ve learned that sushi is going to have to count as restaurant food, because they give you miso soup if you sit at a table or something they call “monkey brains,” which involves deep frying mushroom and various other ingredients, if you sit at the sushi bar. Neither follows the rule of “I can identify all the ingredients,” so … yeah, sushi is, as are other restaurant meals, “the cheat meal.” So I’ve already had mine for my first week. And I already have one planned for my second week (a friend’s birthday, and it’s Indian food, which is my favorite), so I guess it’s good that I allowed for one “cheat” meal a week, huh?

So, it goes. I will have to take a week off, over the 17th through 22nd, while I go do a librarian leadership training thing in Idaho (it’s going to be really good, I think!). Food is included, and there will be neither time nor facilities for me to prepare my own, so I’m not going to sweat it. Maybe I’ll make up for it by taking the challenge until October 7 of next year, instead of stopping on September 31.

Dale has bravely agreed to eat the box of macaroni & cheese and the two ham steaks in our freezer, while I’m gone. (Hopefully he’ll eat more than just that!)

In the recipe hopper: lasagna with tofu “ricotta,” Snobby Joes (recommended by a friend), an attempt at whole wheat tortillas (if that goes well, tacos! and maybe black bean salsa chicken in the crockpot), possibly black bean sauce (without bacon, unless I find a local supplier–the friend who gave me the recipe made it without, and it was great), and likely more black bean burgers (with oats instead of bread crumbs). If I can fit in a pumpkin pie, I probably will.

On the tortilla note: I was really sad to find that there don’t seem to be any brands I can buy without crazy processed stuff in them. I dearly love tortillas, so I hope that the recipe I linked, or the other one I have saved in del.icio.us, pans out OK.