A Suite of Celebrations, the End of Whole 30, and a Disco Lion

Like me, you will probably find my revelations after finishing Whole 30 to be a little lackluster. I’m going to share them with you anyway. I painstakingly avoided grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, and alcohol for 30 days. Alcohol was the easy one ’cause I don’t like drinking anyway because alcohol in every form tastes bad to me. I have never acquired a taste for it and I don’t care to. I don’t like coffee or soda or anything besides water really, so the drinking part was easy. I am an unrelatable pod person. I do like food though. Going without grains and sugar proved to be the hardest part of the challenge, but not for the reasons I thought they would be. With the exception of a few meals, like the pork chop dinner I cocked up below, I loved everything I ate this month. I ate lots of bacon and nuts and avocados and crispy potatoes. I discovered how much I adore the flavors of tahini sauce with roasted sweet potatoes and at long last developed a taste for salads. And enjoying these meals meant that I didn’t crave the bread and pasta and tortillas I was avoiding. But I did miss the convenience of them. I had to put so much damn thought into everything I ate. I couldn’t just put some cheese in a tortilla or eat a bowl full of noodles tossed with butter and parmesan. I had to chop shit, and prep shit, and cook shit, all the time. As for sugar- I found it shockingly easy to say no. Again, the hardest part about going without it was the inconvenience. There is sugar in each and every thing you encounter in the eateries outside your own home, so grabbing lunch while you’re away from home is hard. Mostly, I avoided it, with the exception of our after-swim class trips to Chipotle where it was easy enough to follow the rules. I expected to feel full of energy, for my mind, free from the fog of sugar and white bread, to be agile and quick. To be able to write a damn blog post on time. I didn’t get this. I was the same person, sitting in front of more colorful plates of food. (Though I did take a not-so-secret savage joy in the holier-than-thou feeling of comparing my plate full of vegetables to Andy’s plate of meat and bread. My body is a temple. Look at all this fucking lettuce.)

I did the full 30 days, and at the end of the program, I methodically reintroduced the forbidden food groups, one category at a time, over a period of 10 days to see how these things have been secretly affecting my body. I felt fine, just the same, after each one. I don’t think I need to cut any of this stuff out of my diet. But I will cut back, and here’s why: I didn’t really miss them. I ate pork tacos with corn tortillas and tortilla chips to test out my body’s reaction to the reintroduction of non-gluten grains and felt like they didn’t add much to the experience. Now, a really good, freshly-fried, crisp and salty basket of chips with salsa at a good restaurant is something else entirely- I’d eat the hell out of that. But that taco filling would have been just as if not more delicious heaped on a soft roasted sweet potato or on a bed of crispy oven-roasted kale. Do I sound ridiculous? It’s true! In It Starts with Food, the creators of the Whole 30 write that you have a choice of eating something that makes you more healthy or something that makes you less healthy. Foods in the forbidden categories don’t offer you anything that you can’t get from another, healthier source, so when you can, skip ’em. That’s what I’m going to try to do going forward. I want to keep eating vegetables and not fall back into the pattern of planning meals that are centered around piles of simple, nutritionally-weak carbs. And I’m gonna eat a basket of crispy tortilla chips when I feel like it. Also chocolate.

Here’s what we ate this week. And last week.

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Whole 30 Day 27: Pork Chop, Mashed Potatoes, Pot-Roasted Collards. I just ruined every element of this. I overcooked the pork chop, turning something beautiful into a tiresome wedge of styrofoam. I overcooked the collards too, which were dry and chewy. And the mashed potatoes were made with ghee and coconut milk and tasted weird. I guess I don’t like coconut milk in mashed potatoes.

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Whole 30 Day 28: Salmon with Mango and Avocado Salsa, Roasted Brussels Sprouts. We’ve had two avocado seeds sprouting on our window sill for months. I should say, one has sprouted leaves and grown roots that have coiled themselves in the glass, the other has done nothing. I need to put the unsprouted one in the compost and plant the sprouted one in a pot but I haven’t done either of those things. (Shouldn’t Whole 30 have supplied me with the energy to dive in and invest the four minutes it would take to do the right thing here? Alas.) Instead, the water in the glasses slowly evaporates until the glasses need to be hastily refilled. I’m still filling the glass with the unsprouted seed, because it’s easier to do that than to face the fact that this is not going to grow and needs to be dealt with.

I noticed that the glass with the sprouted seed was completely out of water when I went to take this picture, so I refilled it and then accidentally ran into George and spilled the dirty avocado cup water on that plate of salmon on the right. I ate it anyway and it was pretty damn good. I cooked the salmon the way Lopez-Alt recommends in The Food Lab and it was crispy and salty on the outside and soft and tender in the middle.

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Whole 30 Day 29: Orange and Smoked Paprika Braised Chicken, Roasted Broccoli with Marcona Almonds, Bacon-Fat Fried Mushrooms. This broccoli is one of the recipes I made for Food52. I wanted to make a recipe for roasted broccoli with a twist, and read through my cookbooks for inspiration. I found a smoked paprika vinaigrette in a Spanish cookbook and adapted it a bit for my recipe and added a handful of marcona almonds for crunch and because they’re Spanish and it felt appropriate. Someone commented on that recipe that it looked a lot like another recipe they had found somewhere for broccoli with smoked paprika and almonds, so hadn’t I in fact stolen this? Nope. Two different people put these ingredients together in two different dishes. I get so many comments like this on my Food52 recipes. “Doesn’t your chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting look a lot like Nigella Lawson’s?” Probably! Cuz they’re both chocolate cakes with cream cheese icing. But I didn’t know her recipe and I didn’t copy it. “Doesn’t your tabbouleh with leftover charoset look like the tabbouleh from Zahav?” I haven’t seen that book and I literally tossed leftover charoset into some tabbouleh on a whim and thought it tasted good. I don’t have a reason for sharing this here except that I just got that Zahav comment this week, and that lady tried to walk the line between accusing me of plagiarizing the recipe and complimenting me (“looking forward to trying your version too!”) and I just don’t get why people would spend their time trolling the recipes a home cook uploads to a random website. I’m not gonna reply to that comment though. I’m just gonna trash that lady here and move on.

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Whole 30 Day 30(!), Breakfast: Sweet Potato, Avocado, Bacon. I loved this.

We went to Chipotle again after swimming class (it was boat safety week and the kids got to ride boats in the pool and then get dumped out of boats in the pool and learn to swim back to them). The boys are physically incapable of standing calmly beside me in line through the ordering process. They rub their bodies against the curved corrugated sheet metal wall beside us, try to jump up on the counter, and run real fast between me and the cash register. We are the most exhausting people you know. This week we made it to the register but the guy who we were supposed to pay was off doing something else and the kids just could not handle it and were hurtling themselves at one another and the walls and being generally disruptive. I tried to separate them by guiding Henry over to my right side and George to my left and Henry tripped over his feet/nothing into a freewheeling cartoon fall backwards, so it definitely looked like I shoved my kid down. We paid and sat down and I talked about how much that had sucked. A slice of life for you!

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Whole 30 Day 30, Dinner: Bulgogi Ginger Chicken, Grilled Vegetables, Thai Coconut Soup. Henry ate this chicken! He never eats chicken! And George ate the chicken!  And everybody loved the soup! This was a miracle dinner.

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Andy in a Rook Chair with Strawberries. We got to go to San Antonio without children to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary! Huzzah! It was glorious. (Huge thanks to Mary and Art for watching Henry and George!) My BFF’s mom, Candace, is a San Antonio pro and helped me plan our trip. We stayed at the St. Anthony Hotel which was posh and beautiful and reasonably priced. The room was modern and lovely and overlooked a big green park where we could see ballet dancers practicing for a free show that would take place there that night. The hotel staff knew it was our anniversary and sent up complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries and then sent up more while we were at dinner and put rose petals on the bed and, I kid you not, in the fucking toilet! So romantic.

We saw a matinee of Get Out, which was every bit as amazing as we had heard. Brilliant movie. I want to see it again. Several things went over my head and I only realized it after talking about it with Andy. Then we got to lie in bed and read! Luxury of all luxuries.

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Charcuterie from Cured: Apple Jalapeno Pork Rillettes, ‘Nduja, Duck Ham.  We ate dinner at Cured, which is one of the buzziest places to eat in San Antonio- the chef was recently nominated for a James Beard award. There are twenty or so things to choose from on the charcuterie list and it’s hard to whittle it down to three. Andy asked me if I knew what ‘nduja was, because it had no description on the menu, and I said it reminded me of a word that means chocolate/hazelnut spread but that that couldn’t be right. Turns out ‘nduja is a spicy spreadable salami (the chocolate hazelnut word I was thinking of was gianduja so I’m gonna go ahead and give myself partial credit). Anyway, we loved all of these, and the mustards and pickles and garnishes on the plates were great too.

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Wagyu Beef Filet with Sunchokes and Fiddlehead Ferns, from Cured. This was less successful, and at 42 whole US dollars, that’s kind of shitty. I asked for medium rare, and the inside of the steak was raw AF. It had like half an inch of pink under its nice brown crust and from there on it was just a pulsing hunk of uncooked beef. I ate the outside parts and left the fat raw cube on the plate. Our waiter asked me if I would like a box for it. I said no, thank you. The sunchokes and fiddlehead ferns were joyless. The fiddleheads were underseasoned and the sunchokes were just something to put in your mouth and chew. I knew the steak was undercooked when I cut that first bite and I should have sent it back but didn’t, so this one’s on me.

Other things I didn’t like. It’s loud in there. You have to sort of shout to hear the person sitting next to you but you have no trouble overhearing the stories from the rich forty-something drunk lady who thinks she’s hilarious at the table next to you. Also the raucous shouts from the drunk people on the other side of the restaurant. And all the diners are dressed kind of the same. Crisp tunic dresses with lots of dangly jewelry for the ladies and pastel checkered dress shirts with khakis for the guys. I guess the word I’m looking for is yuppie? And maybe I am one too but I don’t want to be in a room full of other yuppies, chewing on an under-cooked steak.

So! Cured. The charcuterie is good. Get that and sit outside where you can watch the world go by and not have to listen to the loud clanging of drunk yuppies.

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We left the restaurant and drove over to the King William neighborhood with all its historical markers and beautiful architecture for a long walk. It was perfect. The breeze was warm and the whole neighborhood smells like honeysuckle. The streets are lined with huge red oaks and pecan trees and ancient crepe myrtles with trunks so wide that you can’t wrap your arms around them.

That house that’s for sale is a great place to put that extra 2.7 million bucks you have stashed away. It’s really pretty.

After our walk we drove up north to a strip mall at the edge of the city to play Geeks Who Drink at a Big Lebowski-themed bar. We had fun and did pretty well too, in spite of our desperately poor showing in the pop music round. We came in third place out of seven teams, 10 points off the lead, and got style points for being the only team to know the answers to questions about Margaret Atwood and mezuzahs.

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More Free Strawberries! I ate a few for a pre-breakfast snack.

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Here’s that disco lion I promised you. It’s at Rebelle, the restaurant in the St. Anthony hotel. We ate breakfast here and the food was incredible. Every bit of it was delicious. The restaurant is completely insane though. We ate there at 10:30, surrounded by other vacationers staying at the hotel and families with young children who had just come from church and the whole time, the restaurant blared thumpin’ club jams. The decor too is so so silly. The walls and accent pillows are glittery with literal glitter. There’s a disco lion! Andy said it was like a Vegas casino trying to do a New Orleans theme. These things might not be so weird for a Saturday night dinner but are downright jarring for a Sunday breakfast. If they opened some curtains and changed the playlist, this place would be brilliant. Even as it is, I’d go back in a hot minute to eat breakfast there again- the food was so good.

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When I look at this picture I imagine a little tiny person who is standing on my upper right bicuspid and runs across my top row of teeth and then jumps over to Andy’s mouth and runs across his teeth too. It’s a lot of teeth for one picture.

I’ve been married to Andy for ten years now and with him for 17! I love his brain. Did you know he’s really smart? He’s really smart. I love the way he looks in a pair of super tight pants. I love how patient he is, and how kind, and peaceful. I am so grateful to have grown up with him and changed with him and had kids with him and to get to hang out with him every day. He’s the best one.

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Andy’s Birthday Dinner: Chicken Parmesan with Mashed Potatoes, Garlic Bread, and an Obligatory Green Thing for Him, Walnut-Crusted Chicken with Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus for Me.

No hot dogs! I offered. What Andy wanted more than anything for his birthday was to not do anything special for his birthday. This falls well outside my normal MO for birthdays, but I did my best. I made him a simple dinner that I knew he liked, bought a tub of ice cream for dessert, and a bottle of Mexican coke so he could drink it with some whiskey and that’s what he did. Oh also we watched Hell or High Water, which we loved.

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Lamp Meatballs with Tahini Sauce, Avgolemono. I’m creeping up on 3,000 words for this post so I’m gonna brief about these next few things. I have nothing to say about this except that we liked the meatballs and didn’t love the soup.

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Coconut Pork Tacos with Black Beans and Avocado, Chips and Salsa. Like I said at the top of this post. I didn’t care about the chips or that corn tortilla at all. The salsa is a Mrs. Renfro’s one I got for free for buying a bag of chips and it tasted oppressively sugary to me, though maybe that’s the Whole 30 sugar-deprivation talking. The corn tortilla didn’t add anything to my enjoyment of the pork and in fact muted its flavors. It was better out of the tortilla, eaten with a fork.

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Passover Seder. Sweet and Sour Brisket, Latkes, Charred Brussels Sprouts, Matzo Ball Soup. We had a little family Seder this year, but we still did the ritual (you can see some of the 10 drops of wine on the edge of the soup bowl, dropped in remembrance of those who suffered through the ten plagues) and we still ate on my Granny’s wedding china. Henry surprised me by singing the blessing in Hebrew the next day. He has heard it twice a year for his whole 5 years and I was shocked that it had settled so firmly in his brain.

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Coco-Almond Thumbprints with Chocolate Ganache and Morello Cherry Jam. I made a little gluten-free cookie for dessert. This is from Dorie’s Cookies, which I had requested from the library months ago and which became available the week I finished Whole 30. Looking through all the gorgeous treats left me a little breathless. I want to make all of them, which does not fit with the plan to eat treats only occasionally. It’s tucked safely away on my cookbook shelf for now.

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Kid on a Demon Horse. We went back to Sherwood Forest Faire on Saturday and this was the only picture I took. George looks a little haunted. We all had a great time, even though we utterly failed in our objective to get Andy a real-life ren faire costume which was to have been his birthday present. They didn’t have his size, nor the exact sort of thing we were looking for. So we came home and researched it and bought him a doublet and peasant shirt and some sweet-ass bracers online.

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Passover Leftovers Salad: Chopped Brisket, Latkes, and Brussels Sprouts with Horseradish Dressing. I loved that the dressing used up the leftover prepared horseradish from the Seder plate and the leftover sour cream from the latkes.

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Charred Spring Vegetables with Creamy Scallion Dressing and Hushpuppy Croutons. We celebrated Easter too, of course. We had a little egg hunt at home and then drove down to Buda to eat an Easter lunch at Grandma Mary’s and Grandpa Art’s house. I had warned the boys that the eggs and candy would be hidden around the house when they woke up, and that the first person to wake up had to wait for the other person before they collected eggs, and that they had to make sure to divide the stuff fairly. They woke up so early and Andy and I laid in bed and listened to them peacefully and equitably divide the spoils. I was so proud of them.

I brought this dish from Deep Run Roots to go with Art’s grilled chicken and sausage. The hushpuppy croutons mostly disintegrated when they hit the oil. I got a few big chunks and put those on top of the grilled asparagus and scallions and left all the tiny fried crumbs in a pan on the side. Henry appropriated that pan and devoured them. The rest was good too.

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Another Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Tahini Sauce. Also a nest of bacon. Variations on this salad have replaced quesadillas as my go-to dinner when I don’t know what else to make. Two key elements have made this salad a crave-able thing for me. One is that tahini sauce, which is rich and creamy but still light and slightly acidic. It is a dressing I haven’t gotten tired of. The other element is these salad greens. I can get them in a tub at Wheatsville and they’re sold with the roots still attached, so the greens stay crisp and fresh for a long time. I loathe the slimy bullshit lettuce that comes in the giant tub for $6 where the purple lettuce and the spinach have liquefied and adhered themselves to the the other leaves in the tub before you have a chance to crack the thing open. This lettuce is a huge step up and more cost-effective because you can eat the whole tub before it goes bad and you have to throw half of it out.

I’ll take my half-paragraph diatribe about lettuce as a cue to stop here. Happy Easter! Happy Passover! I’m going to bed.

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