A New Look on Things

New Year's purges. To each their own. Many of you have asked what I am cooking and eating. What I am about to divulge is simply what works for me. It should be noted that we are healthy eaters but I have food sensitivities as well as allergies.  They are an absolute nuisance but it is what it is. This year's process is quite transparent. My objective is to sort out my stomach and shed some unwanted pounds in the process. 

I find the tradition of taking down the tree and packing everything away somewhat melancholic but by the same token it is also a fortuitous space. This time of year is always exciting. A whole new year and and clean slate for the one ahead. A ripe time and platform for fresh opportunities, new beginnings and next chapters. 

Here it goes. I am kicking off my mornings with a mug of hot water and lemon. It is hydrating, aids in digestion and helps balance out the pH levels in your body. The positive benefits go on. We were at brunch in Chicago some time ago and a group of young Japanese ladies were sitting behind us. While mulling over menus and gabbing, in lieu of coffee they all enjoyed mugs of hot water. There is clearly no myth to the madness.

The next pair of weeks I am not eating flour, sugar, glutens, dairy, nightshade vegetables, corn or anything processed. I am replacing my morning coffee with green tea. Four days in I am doing fine. I had a dull headache the first day but nothing earth shattering. It should be noted that I normally drink three cups or so of coffee in the morning.

I am trying not to drink alcohol Sunday to Thursday (Sunday football excluded)…Go Panthers! Weekends are built for wiggle room. I know authorities say that wine has all these healing qualities, which is great! However for me, they are empty calories. Beans aside, I am also steering clear of the carbs. Again, this is what works for me. It might seem daunting but after a day or so, your body will give thanks. Four days in, I am on a mission.

For breakfast I put down a freshly made juice. It should be noted that I do not plan to do a full juice cleanse. I think I could do it but I really don't want to. Sometime last year we added a Breville Juicer to our artillery. If you are a fan of old fashioned juicing, this tool is great. I will however throw in a caveat - clean up is a pain in the tuchus. Perhaps I am missing something. 

Invest in a Vitamix. I plan to soon. When juicing at home, I like to use a bunch of kale or spinach, 2 carrots, 2 ribs of celery, 1/4 cucumber, 1 small gala apple and a 2 inch knob of ginger. Sometimes I add beets but I find that they do not yield a lot of juice. Other times, I supplant the apple with a pear. If I have any lingering parsley in the fridge, I add that too. Before drinking, I squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into the juice and mix with a spoon. 

Do not be thwarted by the green color. It's good for you! The wonderful thing about juicers is that you can throw in anything from the fridge that is beginning to look "tired". A great tool for recycling!  Smoothies are also wonderful. Partner-in-crime starts his day with one. Almond milk, 1 banana or a quarter of an avocado, 1 cup of mixed frozen fruit (berries, mango or pineapple), chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseed oil and mix. Sometimes if he wants added sweetness, he adds a medjool date or two. Unfortunately most smoothie variations do not agree with me as most fruits worthy of making a smoothie are not my friends, so I stick with the juices for now.

If you do not have a juicer, fear not! Charlotte has joined the 21st century and everyone and their brother is making pressed juices these days. There are a bevy of spots in Charlotte to find them including Luna's Living Kitchen, Berrybrook Farm, Earth Fare and Whole Foods. This morning I had one made for me at Earth Fare and picked up some Suja ones to try this week. 

Whole Foods in Charlotte sells the BluePrint Juices. Yesterday morning I had the kale, apple and lemon variation. 100 calories. You cannot beat that with a stick. Touch wood, I am finding that these juices are tiding me over until lunch time but if I need some protein, I find that a boiled egg, some smoked salmon with capers or a handful of raw nuts is the way to go. Eggs are packed with protein and often times, the way to go.

As previously communicated, every Sunday I like to get my duck's in a row. Grocers and cooking. Nowadays, I make my own chicken stock. Click here for my Penicillin AKA Chicken StockThis recipe yields golden stock and an entire chicken. I can stretch both for a few days. Does the stock routine ever get old? No. The broth is a foundation. Add black beans, avocado, cumin, paprika and cilantro for a tortilla inspired soup. Throw in bean noodles, star anise, chopped greens and ginger for an Asian spin. Egg noodles, carrot coins and chicken and are a familiar kick back to your youth. 

Use the broth to steam vegetables or prepare your grains. I did so today with my lentils. Skim the fat off the top of the broth and you have schmalz, which is a wonderful substitute for olive oil in sautéing vegetables and the likes. Endless options.  Soups, contingent upon how they are prepared, are wonderful. Low in calories and they warm you from the inside. All you need is some olive oil, an onion, garlic, vegetables of choice and stock or water as well as a blender and you are in business. I will be making some soon so stay tuned.

I also like to keep lentils on hand. My favorites nowadays are the French variant but the green, red and black ones are also fantastic.  Preparation of the French ones is easy. Simply chop up 2 cloves of garlic and the white / light green part of one leek. Sauté in 2 TBS olive oil for about four minutes on medium high heat until the leeks soften and turn bright in color. Continue to stir for another four minutes or so. Now you want to add 1 cup of green lentils (I buy mine from the dried grains / legumes / nut section of Earth Fare or packaged from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's) and stir for approximately 3 minutes. Add 2.5 cups of chicken stock, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer with a lid on for 45 minutes. These are so full of flavor and just magical. They pair with everything from greens to eggs to vegetables. Last night I nibbled on them out of the container with a teaspoon. The sky is the limit! 

Lest we not forget beans, ye old magical fruit. Buy them dry and prepare them the old fashioned way.  Dry is always better than canned and they are so easy with which to work. This involves soaking over night, changing out the water and getting to business. If you must do canned (and believe me, we do plenty), please remember to rinse and drain before using and always try to seek out a low sodium version. We love beans of all sorts - black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, cannellini and mung. I recently found pasta made exclusively with beans and water. They are on the menu for our Meatless Monday dinner tomorrow night. Stay tuned.

On Sundays, I buy a bunch of leafy greens including Kale, Mustard Greens, Swiss Chard and Collards. Sometimes I throw in a Napa cabbage for braising in the Dutch Oven. I like to have Spinach and Romaine on hand for making salads. Romaine can be roasted on the grill or sauteed in a pan. Just add some chopped celery, spices, salt, olive oil and go from there. Figure out what you like and experiment. 

The other variations are wonderful thrown into the broth or on their own. Steamed or sauteed, it's all good. Collards make for a lovely salad. Their heartiness also makes them great wraps. I use them in lieu of tortillas and bread. Kale is my favorite for the most glorious salads. Simply massage the leaves with olive oil and fresh lemon juice and get to building your meal. 

I am besotted with Cento tuna. I know everyone has been informed to limit their fish intake due to Mercury. Got it. If you want to eat tuna however, this is the business  In Charlotte you can find it at Earth Fare as well as Amazon. It is expensive (4.99 a can) but I promise once you eat this, you will never return to another brand. It is packed in olive oil that you can recycle. Drizzle it over your salad with a squeeze of lemon juice. Salad dressing complete! It is also very convenient for work week lunches. Let it serve as the piece de resistance and build around it. 

Our meat selection is easy. Try to buy local and always organic. Always. Chicken breasts, ground turkey, ground chicken, lean pork cuts, bison and a wide assortment of fish.  Lean cuts of beef, in due time, are also A-ok. I wish we had a better butcher here! As for vegetables, we always keep cucumber, carrots, celery and leeks on hand. I also buy heads of cauliflower and broccoli. Squash is a must and if I am feeling it, green beans, brussel sprouts and asparagus though I prefer to cook asparagus on the grill, which mandates slightly warmer weather than today's high of 19 degrees F.  We keep herbs galore on hand - thyme, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley and cilantro. In the summer, we grow our own. We are not quite clever enough yet to grow during the off seasons.

Sundays are also for roasting. Squash. Vegetables. We all know that a certain person in the house loves beets. I usually buy 4 lbs or so. Farmer's market is the way to go in terms of cost but when in a crunch, Earth Fare sells them sans stems. Note, you can use the stems should you want to. As for the beets themselves, clean under warm water, cut off knobby ends, wrap in foil, pop in the oven and roast for an hour, let them cool, peel, cut and put in the fridge. They pair marvelously with salads, meat, eggs or best yet, on their own! Chop them, grate them, get creative. 

I also regularly boil certain vegetables if I don't have 45 to an hour for roasting. Do not boil brussel sprouts. Broccoli is my favorite. Contrary to popular belief about vegetable colors becoming dull when boiling, if you boil for 10 minutes and then pluck them from the salty water, they are gorgeous. No need to immediately submerge in a bowl of ice water. At least not in my kitchen. Drizzle with olive oil, white wine vinegar, some Parmesan cheese (if you can eat it) and toasted walnuts or almonds for a lovely side dish or with an egg or piece of chicken, meal of its own.

My kitchen counter usually includes a variety of onions, garlic, knobs of ginger and avocados. We don't go crazy with avocados but they make for nice garnishes on some dishes or soups in place of cheese. Sadly I am off cheese these days.  In due time I will reintroduce. Most of the time my system can process sheep's and goat's milk types but in moderation. There is that wonderful word again, moderation. Shallots are also a must. Quintessential for chopping, throwing in a bowl with a bit of red wine vinegar and after 15 minutes use the shallots as you will, add some olive oil to the vinegar and you have salad dressing. 

Lunch is a concoction of anything and everything above. Broth with vegetables, shredded chicken and fresh herbs. A big bed of leaves with tuna fish or a breast of chicken, a scoop of my leek lentils and chopped cucumber. Whip up some salsa verde with anchovies, oils and parsley. It pairs beautifully with chicken turkey, fish, you name it. Teach yourself how to make mayonnaise. Contrary to belief, it is not dairy. Merely eggs, lemon juice mustard and a dose of patience. Mix it with some chicken or smear on a turkey burger with pickles. Email me for an amazing, authentic hummus recipe that calls for cashew butter. 

Turkey meatballs. Chicken burgers. Bison chili. Meatloaf without bread crumbs - use mushrooms instead. Pork chops. Roast a chicken. Grill a cut of meat. Make a fabulous salad. Roast and spice winter vegetables and cover them with a poached egg or two. Steam or sauté half a pound of shrimp and make lettuce wraps. Try different oils. Coconut, sesame, grapeseed  Many of you can digest grains and eat them you should. Barley, amaranth, brown rice, quinoa, black rice, millet, farro.  Seek them out and find your creativity. Get cooking. Experiment.

Dinner is a different story. I like to give it thought and prepare a proper meal. As always, something to which to look forward and yield leftovers for someone's lunch the following day. This week I will regularly share what we are cooking in the kitchen! 

Happy nourishing and more importantly, happy eating!

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