Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 5

I have been asking Aaron for the rest of his journal entries, but I fear this may be the last. I know how the story ends or how the story continues, I should say. Alas I will give him some time and hope that you can continue to enjoy his account (is this enjoyable? I think so)

DAY 5:

I hit a speed bump today. I’m not sure what happened. I was doing so well. I think I got too comfortable in the routine and let my guard down. It had been a great day prior to “the incident” and I think I managed to pull it together in the end.

The morning was business as usual. “Hello, cran-water.” “Top of the morning, psyllium husk.” And then a long hike outside, followed by a briskly paced five mile run. As I mentioned yesterday, the routine was beginning to feel more natural and effortless, and today even more so. When I first acknowledged the ease, in early afternoon, I was pleased.

It is a good thing to get used to and I figured the longer I practice this lifestyle, the more ingrained it will become and the easier it will be to maintain. I still believe this is true, but being hyper vigilant for the time being forces my mind to stay in an almost aggressive cleansing mode. Every minute and every situation has been a potential opportunity for failure. I really didn’t want to fail, but as I became more relaxed, apparently my resolve did as well.

I must of blacked out or I at least blinked. When I suddenly snapped back into reality, there was a frosty green bottle of O'douls non-alcoholic beer in my hand. As far as nutrition is concerned, I suppose I could have done much worse, but one chink in the psychological armor can be catastrophic. I admitted my guilt to Persephone via text message (I was too shamed to call) and she gave me some encouraging words and I'm convinced that I will live to fight another day.

For dinner tonight I had some old friends over: quinoa and broccoli raab. Both with garlic, onions and my (not so) new favorite seasoning, the chili pepper. I served them with a some fresh salmon that I smoke-roasted over hickory and coals, then squeezed some lemon and completely inundated all of it with a cornucopia of baby herbs from the garden. I sat outside on the deck to eat for the first time this year and it undoubtedly made everything taste better. The smokey flavor really enhances the richness and meatiness of the fish and keeps those pesky bacon cravings at bay. Even the smell of the smoke while cooking is a sensory experience that can compensate for feelings of a lack of meat. Tomorrow my ambitious task will be to create a hamburger...or something vaguely similar. Watch out, Ronald McDonald.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 4 (quinoa cakes)

DAY 4:
Smooth morning. Today is the first day the routine is feeling a little more natural. Not easy, by any stretch, but it’s been a few days and it feels more like habit than it has. For the first few days I had to keep checking my cleanse schedule for reference, “ it lemon water first or psyllium first?” but today flowed fairly effortlessly.

I also found a new activity to entertain me and keep my mind off the bacon and whiskey. Well, actually that's not true. My activity was to think about all the foods and flavors I love, but instead of drooling over them and scorning my saltless brown rice, I decided to try and recreate them. As I mentioned before, I've been enjoying the cleanse food more than I thought I would, but I still having quite a few near-pornographic thoughts about pizza and cheeseburgers. So, I decided that I would try my best to fulfill those cravings rather than try to fight an ultimately loosing battle against them.

One of the aspects of my profession that I enjoy the most, and also one of the strongest driving factors for me personally and professionally, is my desire to innovate. Pushing the limits of ingredients and preparation with the intent of creating something new and provocative. The list of cleanse friendly ingredients is not infinite, but is certainly diverse and full of foods that are versatile, delicious, and a pleasure to cook. So why can’t I have something rich and creamy tasting? Or smokey and savory? No reason. So here's what I did: instead of writing down all the specific foods that I was missing or craving, I distilled what exactly it was about those foods that made me want them so much and made a list. My list was this:

I had a few other ones on there that I desperately wanted to be “general adjectives” but alas, they were a little too specific like “bacon cheeseburger-ish” or “mayonnaise-y” and so I decided to leave them out of the journal. Some of these, at least at first glance, are going to be extremely difficult to duplicate if not completely impossible. Like “chocolate” for instance or salt, these can be mimicked slightly but there are no satisfying substitutes for coarse sea salt. The others, however, seemed possible and I spent a good portion of my day enjoying the challenge of trying to create them, as well as anxiously anticipating eating them.

I started with crunchy /crispy. The first thought that came to mind was something that happened on the evening before the cleanse began. While I was investigating the contents of my cleansing food bag, the way a newly committed prison inmate might investigate is cell, I came across millet. Other than in passing reference I was completely unfamiliar with this grain and didn't really know what to do with it. So I picked up a pinch and tossed it in my mouth. It was crunchy. Very crunchy. Almost too crunchy, but still it was an intriguing texture. “Almost like… when something is dipped in cornmeal batter and deep fried,” I thought to myself. I then noted that the quinoa has a very confident texture that I was fond of as well. When cooked, it still really, really wants to be crunchy but just can't quite pull it together. So I decided to exploit millet's crunchiness, and quinoa's desire to be so, and make quinoa/millet cakes.

A quinoa cake is far from a culinary revolution but at the time the mental process that brought me to the quinoa/millet cake was. I cooked both grains together, and while they were still warm, I added garlic, nutritional yeast, flax, and hemp protein powder. After pureeing some of the mixture to bind it all together, I formed it into cakes and cooked them on a cast iron griddle. The outsides were golden and crispy and the insides were warm, light and soft.

I thought a spicy aoili would be great on top, but obviously not cleanse-friendly, so I pureed a mixture of green chilis, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and water together, then added sesame seeds to thicken and emulsify it, until it was reminiscent of mayonnaise. I went a little overboard with the chilis and made it lethally hot but ate it anyway on principal. I served it with some braised calamari with more chilis, garlic, onion, fresh tomatoes and parsley. It was pretty looking and did a great job satiating my appetite while cooling the burning cravings for sinfully unhealthy things. I didn't address every single category on my “wish list” but I hit a few of them, and it was enough. Tomorrow I plan on smoke roasting some fish and one of my all time favorite vegetables will make a reappearance: broccoli raab. Stay tuned.

I was fortunate enough to have invited Aaron over for dinner this night, having no idea that he had betrothed himself to such a project. While I busied myself making steamed fish with carrots and onions (nothing like a trained chef to put you to shame in the kitchen), he called to say that he thought he probably had enough food if I didn't feel like cooking. I had no idea what we were in store for. It was delicious and all the adjectives on his list that he was aiming for.

This has been such a fun collaboration for me. I have learned alot more about the science and chemistry of food and I think that Aaron is learning about food as well in other ways. It is also nice to share another voice here, a deeper, slightly more foul-mouthed, voice. I hope you are enjoying the insight and the recipe/cooking ideas. I am excited to whip up some quinoa cakes in the future!

Here they are, really nice.

Braised Calamari.

The dish, plated so lovely. I took the picture before he brought out the parsley and then I took a bite before I took out the camera again. The parsley added some nice color and flavor.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 3

So you guys aren't exactly getting this in real time, though I don't think it has any negative impact on the story. Today is Day 9. Chop and I stopped at Day 7, which was our original goal and plan- due to moving and nursing and all the physical demands of those combined. Although I am no longer officially cleansing, I have yet to change my diet too drastically. I found an egg and cheese sandwich to be much less satisfying, and returned to my hot grain cereal this morning. I know how Aaron's doing as well, but I won't ruin the story ;)

Aaron's Day 3

DAY 3:

I woke up feeling kind of shitty this morning. Like I had a hangover, and my first reaction was wow, I guess my brain noticed I was drinking from a wine glass all night and said “it must be hangover time”, though I suppose that may be possible it seems a little unlikely. As it turns out I wasn't the only one feeling sub-par this morning, a few other group members had the same groggy, grumpy feeling and mild headache which seem to be the first real signs of detoxification (ironically, they are very real signs of intoxication as well). We had a couple days of blissful energy, and the warm fuzzy feeling of self-accomplishment, but I think I may have been patting myself on the back a little prematurely. This is going to get harder. Interestingly enough though, this realization of the struggle to come, has not dampened my spirits or resolve, but in a way reinforced them. I now have tangible, physical evidence of changes happening in my body. To have these clear physical obstacles to overcome, as well as the mental ones my quest seems more purposeful and “real”. It would still be nice to have a cigarette now though.

Speaking of conflict, over the past few days it's really come into light how I deal with conflict and challenge, apparently not in healthy ways. Usually it's by shoveling something into my mouth. Cigarettes and alcohol are the go-to but crunchy, fatty, salty, savory foods are quite intoxicating as well and can easily diffuse negativity and sedate me temporarily. The first few days of the cleanse have been spent kind of in a vacuum, without much responsibility or obligation. I was free to gracefully drink cran-water all day, picture what I might look like in a turtle neck, google “phyto nutrients” and listen to NPR. But today I integrate the cleanse schedule with the real world, inspiring me to include a short “conflict/challenge of the day” section in my journal.

Today's challenge: The restaurant. Today is new menu day at the restaurant and I will be in the belly of the beast from noon until midnight. That's 12 hours of temptation. This kind of temptation is not passive like a commercial for pizza on TV or spotting an empty pack of cigarettes lying around. This is hardcore. Like giving a compulsive gambler five hundred dollars and throwing him in a casino. All of my weaknesses will be within arms reach and everyone around will be reaching for them or reaching out their hands to offer me some. I can’t help but see strong parallels between my thoughts and behavior and those of serious addicts. Sure we all know liquor and cigarettes are bad, but who knew butter had such a grip on me.

A few hours later..

The time is now 11:15 pm. Wow that was fucking hard. I don't think my will power and self discipline has been tested like that in a while. But I made it. I wouldn't say I feel any fact maybe even worse. I'd like to lead a healthy lifestyle even after the cleanse is finished, but if this is what it’s like, I'm fucked. One thing I do feel, which is a powerful feeling, is righteous. There were many times when I layed down to go to sleep and felt sad, disappointed. or even disgusted with myself or my decisions. Not tonight.


Aaron's Day 2:

Slept better than usual and got up on time. If one day of veggies and cran water can do that, think of the possibilities for the next 9. Cran-psyllium-lemon water routine, check. Smoothie, check.

Tonight the cleanse group is doing a potluck (I think). I’m looking forward to this for 2 reasons: first, it will be a good social opportunity to hang out with some cool-like minded people,and we will NOT be inviting Bud Lite, Joe Camel or any of their friends. I’m assuming this is kind of what the AA members feel like when they go get coffee after meanings. I doubt I could do this cleanse if I was flying solo. Last night was a little lonely and to say I was slightly fidgety would be an understatement. Secondly, this is an opportunity to make some bad-ass food and showcase my skills so everyone can go, “hmmmmm” and shower me with praise and hire me to cook cleanse-friendly food for their wedding or barmitzvah or next bridge-club get together.

Tonight I will be putting my culinary wit and skills to the test by trying to create the perception of salty food without using salt or salted products. The foods available to me for this cleanse are practically infinite and represent some of the finest items one can put in their mouth: fresh garlic, onions, kale, arugula, organic carrots...i could go on for a while. I have always loved these vegetables and they need no additions or frills to taste delicious...except salt. Salt punctuates flavor and makes mouths water. It turns simple two-dimensional flavors into something ethereal and is often the one thing that separates casual or untrained cooks from world-class chefs. Keen and consistent use of salt has been drilled into my head from day one. Salt drops from my fingers while cooking as naturally as walking and breathing. So,today might be a pain in the ass.

Instead of salt I am going to utilize a few “flavor-inhancing” ingredients and techniques. Here they are:

Acid: along with salt, maybe the second most important additive to create balanced, complex and satisfying flavors. This can be in the form of vinegar, citrus, wine and most fruits (although they are also quite sweet and therefore, balance out the sourness). In this case my acid of choice will be organic lemon juice.

Umami: one of the 5 currently recognized tastes, “umami”, a japanese word most accurately translated as “delicious” or “savory”. Umami foods have a very high glutamate content, which is an amino acid that when deposited on the tongue sends a signal to the brain that says “we're eating something meaty and delicious! We're gonna be full and satisfied!”. Its probably most famous for its artificial form, Monosodium glutamate or “MSG”. These glutamates are naturally occurring in many foods other than meat, like aged cheese, fermented products (like miso or soy sauce), nutritional yeast and especially in a seaweed called kombu or kelp. The latter two will be on the menu tonight.

Fats: Fats of all sorts coat the mouth, giving food a rich, savory, weighty feel. Fats send a message to the brain which is, in some ways, remeniscent to the umami amino acids . Fats come in the form of butter, cream, olive oil, meat, fish, poultry and avocado. Tonight's star is the avocado along with some fresh fish that will benefit us with its omega-3 fatty acids, as well as its fresh aroma and umami-laden taste.

Picante: Asian and south American cooks have used chilis and spice to enhance flavor for centuries and many even consider picante a sixth taste. One just as important as the five we recognize (salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami). Tonight I will utilize some fresh jalapenos. They have wonderful “green” flavor profile and if the seeds and gills are carefully removed from the insides, what once was inedible spicy, is now a mild, flavorful taste-enhancer.

In conclusion, my addition to tonight's potluck is brown rice sushi with avocado and scallion, with a dipping sauce made with flax seed oil, jalapeno and nutritional yeast.

Aaron's sushi. Such a cleanse treat!

Dipping sauce for the sushi roll, added a nice kick, and I think he accomplished that illusion of salt.

Delicious arame salad. Sugar is out on the cleanse, so the dressing was made with Apple Cider Vinegar and stevia.

Carrot and beet salad-so sweet and yummy.

Cleanser being social, feels good.