Category Archives: The Cleanse

A Mini-Cleanse: Three-Day Detox

So remember the other week when I was patting myself on the back for resisting the urges of drowning my anxiety in comfort food?  Turns out that resistance was short-lived.  Stress, Easter candy, and some hormones (who always seem to stop by when it’s not a good time) made for the perfect storm.

While I wasn’t eating fast food or going through containers of ice cream in a night, there definitely were more “treats” than I typically have, and in general, I was just eating too much.  I could feel it taking a toll on my mood and my energy, not to mention my midsection.  After I had a dream where I was freaking out on my sister’s wedding day because I had forgotten to buy Spanx to go under my dress, I knew something needed to change.   Fortunately, as I was considering doing a shorter version of The Cleanse, my sister mentioned a three-day detox in the May issue of Whole Living.

This was exactly what I was looking for.  Just three days of veggie- and fruit-heavy meals to get myself back on track.  And after (almost) three weeks of avoiding grains, dairy, and meat in January, three days seems like no big deal.  What I also love about this detox is that the menu is the same every day, and the recipes each yield three servings, so there is a lot of prep on the first day, but then not too much for the rest of the time.

So far I only have one complaint but I can’t really blame the writers at Whole Living since I am guessing they were not anticipating that their readers would be dealing with 90-degree days in mid-April.  That being said, cooking a giant pot of soup in hot weather is rough.  Especially when the hot weather is unexpected and the air conditioning units are still packed away in the basement.  It’s a good thing this soup was really yummy and worth the sweat (literally).  I followed the recipe pretty closely, except that I doubled it (Nick is doing this detox too!).  Since I was a little short on carrots (I had about 10 or 11 instead of 14), I also added a zucchini to increase the veggie volume a bit.

I love the idea of letting a serving’s worth of spinach wilt in the hot soup just before serving, instead of mixing it all in with the whole batch of soup.  It prevents the spinach from shriveling up beyond recognition.  And the lemon and dill add bright, fresh flavors that feel perfect for spring, even on an unseasonably hot spring day!

Carrot-Spinach Soup with Dill (adapted from Whole Living, May 2012; makes six servings)

The Base (yields six 3-cup servings)

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 large onions, diced

10-11 carrots, diced (this yielded aout 5 or 6 cups)

1/2 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp coarse salt

1 pound of green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large zucchini, diced

In a pot over medium heat, cook onion in oil until tender, about 6 minutes.  Stir in carrots, turmeric, and salt.

Add 20 cups water, bring to a boil, then simmer, 30 minutes.

Add beans and zucchini, cook until just tender, about 4 minutes (Whole Living said this should take two minutes, but even at four minutes the beans were pretty crunchy.  Since I knew this soup would be reheated, I left them a little crunchy.)

For Each Serving

1 packed cup baby spinach

3 tbsp freshly chopped dill

2 tbsp lemon juice

To serve, fill  bowl (you’ll need a big one!) with spinach and dill.  Ladle 3 cups of hot soup over greens, cover with a plate, and let steep for 5 minutes.  Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.



Filed under Cooking, The Cleanse

The Cleanse: It’s Over!

So Week Three of The Cleanse was going pretty well.  I even survived a catered lunch on Friday at a conference, despite the fact that their idea of a vegetarian option was a sandwich containing mushrooms smothered with cheese.  The only gluten-free, dairy-free, minimally processed choice was Maryland crab soup which, other than the sodium content, probably fell within my restrictions.  It’s a good thing I brought some snacks with me.

By Saturday I was getting a little lazy.  I had planned on making Rice Noodles with Broccoli-Almond Pesto for lunch, but I just could not bring myself to pull out the food processor again.  So I made a version with “deconstructed pesto”; I just tossed all the pesto ingredients, in their whole form, in with the noodles.  Was it the most amazing lunch I’ve ever prepared?  No.  But it worked.

Still, I sensed my willpower weakening.  It wasn’t so much that I was eager to eat tons of bread, cheese, and chocolate with a big glass of wine on the side as it was that I was just so tired of cooking.  And tired of washing dishes.

Emily and I had already agreed to cut The Cleanse one or two meals short.  She was going to a party on Sunday afternoon to watch the Ravens game, and didn’t want to have to worry about what she ate.  And I was ready to let Nick back into the kitchen for a change, especially if he was in the mood to make pizza.

But even knowing there were only 24 hours left, I texted Em on Saturday afternoon.

“How about we just end things now?  We could still have a healthy breakfast tomorrow morning…”

“Why do you want to stop now?”

“I don’t want to cook dinner tonight.”

“Okay.  Want a brownie?”

This is how awesome my sister is- on Friday night she baked brownies for her fiance and his friends.  She even cut them up.  It would have been so easy to just cut off a tiny, tiny bite, but she didn’t.  She rocks.  But the leftover brownies were taunting her on Saturday.  So, within 15 minutes of us agreeing that we would settle on a 19.5-day cleanse rather than a 21-day cleanse, she was delivering brownies to my door.

I waited to have my brownie until after dinner that night.  But I did have the little Dove dark chocolate that has been sitting in a bowl for the last few weeks- one of the last remnants of the Christmas goodies.  It was … okay.  But not amazing.  There were no fireworks, no rainbows, no orgasmic revelation of, “Oh my god, Chocolate, I have missed you so much!!!”  And yes, part of me did expect that to happen.  But it didn’t.  Which was good.  It reminded me that it’s okay to enjoy some indulgence, but to save it for the things I really love.

So, where did I go for my first post-Cleanse meal last night?  Panera.  I wanted to ease back into things, and I knew there would be some tasty, balanced options that would keep me from being tempted to go all out.  Plus, in case my digestive system did freak out from dairy or gluten, I didn’t want to associate something I really love with getting sick.  So I had some soup and salad, with a little cheese and whole-grain bread.  And a glass of wine when I got home.  My stomach seems to have accepted everything just fine.

Tonight Nick will be making pizza.  And I will be having wine.  But overall, I’m still feeling motivated to continue incorporating the principles of the cleanse into my regular eating.  At the beginning of the month, I had written down five goals, or things I hoped to get out of the cleanse.  Overall, I think I accomplished them:

1. To kick-start some weight loss. Yup… probably lost around five to six pounds, bringing me back to where I was before the end of the semester and the holidays.  Since I’ve gotten used to eating smaller meals, and I’m starting to have more energy again, I’m hoping with continued careful eating and more exercise I can continue down this track and lose 8 to 10 more pounds. Doing so will put me back to around where I was when I felt my best.

2. To get back on track with eating balanced meals.  Between eating more convenience foods during finals and all the baked goods around the holidays, vegetables and fruits definitely had taken a back seat.  This cleanse helped put them back as the focal part of my meals.  And even though I don’t have a meal plan for this coming week, my grocery bags today were full of kale, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, apples, and sweet potatoes. 

3. To encourage myself to try new healthy foods.  I’ve finally accepted red peppers.  And I learned to like almond milk.  I’m running out of new green vegetables to try, but I’m more open to using them in different ways.  Except smoothies.

4. To get into a habit of planning ahead and having ingredients for healthy meals and snacks on hand.  Some of the lunch recipes were my favorites.  I’ll be making the chickpea and brown rice burgers regularly.  And I have a bag of nuts and dried fruit in my car for hunger emergencies.

5. To bring my focus back on emphasizing eating for nutrition first, and eating for pleasure as a secondary thing.  Shortly into the cleanse, I realized, so what if I get a lot of pleasure out of food?  It’s one of the things I’m most passionate about, and I’ve decided that’s okay.  And it’s okay if sometimes the food that I’m passionate about has lots of butter, or even sugar.  That is, as long as “sometimes” means once a week or so, rather than once a day.


Filed under The Cleanse

Last Night’s Dinner: Pumpkin and Shrimp Curry

I am pretty sure that if your husband sneaks into the kitchen right before bed because he “just wanted to look at the leftovers” it means you cooked a pretty awesome dinner.

There are only a few days left of The Cleanse and while I’m still going strong, I’m also getting a little bored with using recipes from only one source.  So yesterday when I was ripping out pages from last year’s Bon Appetit magazines, and I came across an exciting recipe that seemed to fit within The Cleanse guidelines, I jumped on it.  While none of the Whole Living Detox recipes use shellfish, it is also not explicitly listed as something to avoid, so I figured shrimp would be okay.  And since the canned pumpkin and coconut milk were both unsweetened, that seemed acceptable as well.

Using pumpkin in something other than desserts has been on my culinary to-do list for a long time.  I still have plans to make kaddo borawni at some point, but a curry using canned pumpkin puree seemed like a good weeknight dinner.

Once again I am grateful for the reviews on Epicurious, from which I anticipated that the recipe might need a little bit of tweeking, mainly in upping the amount of curry powder.  And I liked the other suggestions I read for using garam masala as well.  Some people suggested cutting back on the amount of vegetable broth, but I thought the original quantity was fine.  This might have been because I made a couple additional changes, though.  I used more butternut squash since I had some to use up, and I also added some cauliflower that was eagerly waiting to leave my fridge.  So the extra “stuff” in the curry might have made it less soupy.  Also, I hate buying tomatoes in the winter so I used canned diced tomatoes instead.

Oh, one more thing.  I cooked the whole thing in a big skillet rather than a large saucepan.  Does this make a difference?  I don’t know.  I had two motives for doing so, and neither of them were concerned with improving the recipe.  First, my large saucepan was already occupied by brown rice.  Second, I really wanted to be finished cooking before 30 Rock started, and I thought maybe the larger surface area would allow me to cut back on some of the cooking times.  Again, I don’t know if this actually is true.  But letting everything simmer for 15 instead of 20 minutes did not appear to have any detrimental effects.  Because Nick thought this was one of the best things I’ve ever cooked.

Pumpkin and Shrimp Curry (adapted from Bon Appetit via Epicurious)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 tbsp minced ginger

1 tbsp minced garlic

10 oz of diced tomatoes, drained (about two-thirds of a 14.5 oz can)

1 15-oz can of pumpkin puree

2 cups vegetable broth

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 1/2 tsp curry powder*

1 tsp garam masala*

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper*

1 cup chopped cauliflower florets

1 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash, diced

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice

Cooked short-grain brown rice

Chopped cilantro

Fried shallots

*For all the spices, these are estimates, as I don’t usually measure spices.  I’m sorry… I should start doing that if I’m going to share recipes with you guys….  My estimates are on the low end, so start with that and then up the amounts to your taste.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and ginger and sprinkle with salt; saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in tomatoes and pumpkin puree; cook, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes.  (They said to cook until pumpkin was golden-brown, but mine was kinda that color to begin with.  So I figured after about 8 to 10 minutes I could move on to the next step.)  Add vegetable broth, coconut milk, curry powder, garam masala, cayenne pepper, and cauliflower.  Simmer about 15-20 minutes.  (I think all the flavors are well-blended after 15 minutes; if you want your cauliflower a little more cooked, let it simmer a bit longer).  Add squash, shrimp, and lime juice.  Simmer until shrimp are cooked and squash is warm.  Season with salt to taste.

Spoon curry into bowls and place a scoop of brown rice in the center.  Garnish with cilantro and shallots.


Filed under Cooking, Last Night's Dinner, The Cleanse

Last Night’s Dinner: Parchment-Baked Shiitake Mushrooms and Brown Rice

The fancy term for this is “En Papillote.”  I can’t believe I made it to thirty-years-old without ever cooking a meal wrapped up in parchment paper.  It’s the ultimate one-pot dinner.  All the flavors of whatever you stick in there just meld together.

I’ve liked mushrooms for a long time, but until about a year ago, my mushroom repertoire was limited to three uses: sauteing in butter, mixing into pasta sauce, or marinating portobello caps for sandwiches.   I’m always excited to find a new way to use them, and to try different mushroom varieties (except for the ones that cause hallucinations… there’s enough weird stuff going on in my head as it is).  I don’t think I’ve actually cooked with shiitakes before.  They’re great- earthy and meaty, but not overpowering.  Served with brown rice and baby spinach, and seasoned with just olive oil, thyme, and lemon, shiitakes make a satisfying meal.

The recipe I used just assumed everyone knows how to wrap up rice and mushrooms in a tidy little packet and did not offer any guidance on how to do so, so I improvised.  After placing everything in the middle of the parchment paper, I folded the left and right ends over, and then the top and bottom ends, tucking the bottom edge into the top.  Then I carefully flipped it over on another piece of parchment, seam-side down.  I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me.  I could try to draw a diagram but instead I decided to help you get one step ahead: I did some Googling, and discovered there are far fancier ways to seal parchment paper, like this.  Good to know for next time.  At least I didn’t go with my first instinct to use Scotch tape.

Shiitake Mushrooms and Brown Rice En Papillote (serves 4, from Whole Living)

2 cups cooked brown rice

4 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms

8 sprigs fresh thyme

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup fresh greens (baby spinach worked well)

Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 425.  Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper, about 12 x 16 inches each.  Divide brown rice among parchment sheets.  Top each with mushrooms and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.  Fold up and seal parchment, either by using the link I suggested above or by calling upon those origami skills you never get to use.

Bake on a rimmed baking sheet until packet is puffed and mushrooms are cooked through, around 20-25 minutes.  Serve with greens seasoned with lemon juice.  (I used the lemon on the mushrooms, too.)  I suppose you could serve everything right on the parchment paper.  Apparently that’s the thing to do if you’re trying to impress people:  actually serve them their meal in wrapped up in paper and give them the honor of unwrapping their very own food present.  While I love unique presentations, I have some sort of sensory aversion to metal forks scratching against parchment*, so I transferred everything to a plate.

*I blame this on a certain cat who wakes me up at 4 am by scratching whatever papery surface he can find.


Filed under Cooking, Last Night's Dinner, The Cleanse

Today’s Lunch: Chickpea and Brown Rice Burgers

I’m not usually a big fan of burgers that aren’t made of beef because, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like it when vegetarian foods try to masquerade as meat products.  Do you remember the scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding where Julia Roberts breaks the news to Cameron Diaz? “Creme brulee could never be Jell-O.  You could never be Jell-O.”  Same deal.  Tofu, I hate to break it to you, but you’re never gonna be a burger. Same goes for you, mushrooms.  And you, legumes.

The other part of the dilemma is that the only synonym I can think of is “patty” and I hate the word “patty.”  Why?  I don’t know, but it causes the same cringing as when I hear “hubby.”  Maybe I don’t like words that end in “y”… except I like the word bunny.  And puppy.  Having such a strong negative reaction towards seemingly neutral words is a strange thing.

So, given that it is the lesser of two evils, I see no better option than referring to this recipe as a burger.  But please, do not assume, even for a second, that I am trying to kid myself into believing I’m eating a hamburger.  Nor am I trying to present this to you as an acceptable substitute for a burger.  There is no such thing.  I only use the word burger because it is what most closely resembles what this is.*  (Other than the “p” word, which will no longer be discussed.)

Anyway, the first day of Week Three: introducing gluten-free oats and brown rice back into my diet.  Today’s lunch was a chickpea and brown rice burger.  It took some time to prepare since it calls for cooked rice.  But it makes four, so you can get almost a week’s worth of lunches knocked out  in one sitting.  I also just realized I forgot to mix an egg in with the burgers, as the recipe calls for.  Hm.  Well, I thought it was great without it so if you somehow happen to make the same mistake, don’t freak out.  Or I suppose if you want to make it vegan, it’s good to know you can just leave out the egg.  If you make it and include the egg, tell me how it is.

One more thing.  The original recipe calls for roasted red pepper.  I almost left this off because I’m still not crazy about red peppers, but decided to go for it since part of this cleanse is trying new foods.  In a twist of fate, the roasted red peppers in our fridge looked rather old, so I used some sun-dried tomatoes instead.  Yeah, I know… sun-dried tomatoes are so 1996.  But just like the Spice Girls, in small quantities, sun-dried tomatoes can add a little zest to your meal.

Chickpea & Brown Rice Burger (serves 4, adapted from Whole Living)

2 cups cooked and drained chickpeas

1 cup cooked brown rice

1 minced shallot

1 minced garlic clove

2 tbsp chopped parsley

1 egg, whisked (evidently the egg is optional)

2 tbsp olive oil


Red onion slices

Sun-dried tomatoes (or roasted red peppers)

Green-leaf lettuce leaves

Mash together chickpeas and brown rice until they form a thick paste.  Stir in shallot, garlic, and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the egg (if you’re using it).

Form into four 1/2-inch-thick burgers.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add burgers and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.

Top burgers with mustard, red onion, and sun-dried tomatoes and wrap in lettuce leaves.

*I had a great metaphor for this: “Like how you might refer to a giant panda as a “bear” if you didn’t know the word panda.  It resembles a bear, but it really isn’t one.”  But then I remembered genetic studies have confirmed that pandas actually are bears.  I sat here for a good 10 minutes trying to come up with another metaphor, but I’m stumped.


Filed under Cooking, The Cleanse

The Cleanse: Week Two Highlights

I am officially (almost) through two-thirds of the cleanse!  At this point, I’m feeling good.  I’m looking forward to enjoying some chocolate in another week, but I think my sugar cravings have subsided enough that I’m not worried about immediately going on a cookie binge.  I’m enjoying that over half of my grocery list is produce… I want to keep that going beyond the cleanse.  And I’m pretty sure my jeans are starting to fit a little better, which is always nice.

I wasn’t quite as excited about a lot of the Week Two recipes, but there are a couple I’d like to share:

Kale Salad with Pomegranate and Walnuts (serves 4; adapted from Whole Living)

And to think… six months ago, I hated kale.  Or I thought I did.  Now I’m eating it raw?  Crazy.  I love using lime juice in this- a nice change from using lemon or vinegar in salad dressings.  I’m not a huge fan of fresh ginger- actually, that’s not true.  I don’t have anything against fresh ginger, I just hate grating fresh ginger.  So I sprinkled a little bit of ground ginger in the dressing instead.

Whisk together two tablespoons olive oil and one tablespoon lime juice with a dash of ground ginger (if you are a fresh ginger snob, use 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger instead).  Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, tear one bunch of kale into pieces.  Pour dressing over kale and toss to coat evenly.

Add 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (what you would get from 1/2 fruit), two tablespoons chopped red onion, and 1/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts.

Roasted Winter Vegetables with Cannellini Beans (serves 4, adapted from Whole Living)

Things I like about this recipe: the balsamic vinegar is different from how I usually season roasted veggies, and I never would have thought about throwing cannellini beans in for some protein.  Things I don’t like about this recipe: it only calls for 8 Brussels sprouts for 4 servings.  Only two sprouts per person?  I upped it.  Also, I’m terrible at estimating how long various vegetables will take to cook.   If you’re just roasting one vegetable, it’s no big deal to just poke them periodically until they’re tender.  But Brussels sprouts, unless they are huge, are going to turn to mush before all the root vegetables get tender, unless you chop them super-tiny.  So it would be awesome if the recipe was more specific about what size  to chop everything.  I obsessively cooked this three times this week trying to perfect it, and I’ve yet to get everything to the level of doneness I would want.  I thought about adding the sprouts and leeks later on, but I didn’t know how far in to add them, and I didn’t want to have to remove all the chopped up root vegetables while those were still cooking.  If anyone has any suggestions, I welcome them.

Sorry for the rant.  Why I am sharing this if I had difficulties with it?  Well, I still thought it tasted really good, even if some things were more or less cooked than I’d like.  And I’d like to think that maybe this is just my weird thing, like how I seem to be unable to cook dried beans.  Maybe it will work better for you, or you know something I don’t.  It’s worth a try.

1 large leek, sliced

5 garlic cloves, peeled (or use a couple shallots… I think they taste better and add even more color to the plate)

1/2 small rutabaga, peeled and chopped (this seems to take the longest to cook, so I recommend chopping it smaller than everything else)

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped

8 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (I suggest using at least 12)

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus 1 teaspoon for drizzling

1 1/2 cups cooked and drained cannellini beans

Heat oven to 425. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss leek, garlic (or shallots), rutabaga, parnsips, carrots, sweet potato, and Brussels sprouts with olive oil and one tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast, tossing once, until golden brown and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.  (If you have my luck, you might want to pull the Brussels sprouts out after 15 or 20 minutes.)

Remove from oven and stir in cannellini beans. Roast until beans are crisped, about 5 minutes. Toss with one teaspoon balsamic vinegar and drizzle with olive oil.

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I miss cheese.

I know I’ve been a bit quiet this week in terms of blog activity.  It’s probably because I feel quiet.  I don’t think I typically consume enough caffeine or sugar to attribute the quietness to a shortage of caffeine or sugar, so I’m wondering if it’s just that I have a little less energy since I’m not getting as many carbohydrates right now.  It will be interesting to see how things go when I can eat grains again next week.  But I don’t feel like I’m lacking energy- I’m not dragging and I don’t feel sad.  Actually, I feel pretty happy.  As my friend suggested to me yesterday, perhaps I’ve just reached some level of zen.

So… how’s Week Two going?  Pretty well.  My disturbing, nondiscriminating attraction to any and all food commercials on television has subsided.  And that’s a good thing, because I’d be pretty sad if I was still thinking the first post-Cleanse dinner I wanted was a $15 four-course meal at Red Lobster.  But I am starting to miss pasta.  Not necessarily super-indulgent fettuccine alfredo, just pasta in general.  Like my weeknight staple of whole wheat penne with lots of veggies and a little goat cheese crumbled on top.  Oh yeah… cheese.  Man, I miss cheese.

I’m also starting to miss having the option of enjoying a glass of red wine on a Friday night at home.  Last night all I wanted was either a glass of wine or some fancy hot chocolate.  I had to convince myself that a smoothie was an acceptable alternative. But then I got distracted by the series finale of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and the creepy dudes on 20/20 who donate their sperm for free through the internet. So, I didn’t make my “sorry, you still can’t have wine or hot chocolate” consolation prize until this afternoon.

I know I said last week’s mango-coconut water smoothie was my favorite, but that’s because I hadn’t tried this Carrot-Mango-Herb smoothie yet.  This is my new favorite.

Carrot-Mango-Herb Smoothie (serves 2; from Whole Living)

Combine 2 cups frozen mango chunks, 1 cup carrot juice, 1 cup fresh orange juice, and 1/4 cup fresh herbs (I recommend basil) in a blender.  Blend until smooth.

Whew, these smoothie recipes are so complicated!

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