Category Archives: Food

Sugar Detox: Recap

30-Day Sugar DetoxWell, I was going to do weekly posts on how the sugar detox was going for me, and I haven’t. Here’s my confession: Out of this six-phase program, I stopped reading halfway through phase four. And phase five was the actual whole-hog detox phase. So I didn’t even do the full detox, and I don’t know what it’s like. Oops.

But I don’t feel guilty.

One could say that I didn’t get the full value that I was paying for out of the program. I can’t really argue with that, it’s true. But here’s the thing: I got what I was looking for out of the program. And I still think it was worthwhile. I did make some serious changes to the way I eat this month. Here are my takeaways from this program.

I am an abstainer for specific foods. I would like to be a moderator… a person who can have just a little bite or two of a sweet treat and be satisfied, and then not have any more. But I cannot be a moderator with specific trigger foods – I have to abstain totally or I will eat unreasonable quantities in a single sitting. I already knew that ice cream, fruit pie and cookies were in the no-fly zone. But since trying to avoid sugary foods, I’ve learned that this problem extends to any food that I consider a tasty snack.

To avoid unnecessary sugar, I need to plan out my food much better, and snacks especially. Snacks are my weakness when it comes to sweets! And half the time, it’s not even due to a craving, it’s just poor planning. If I’m at work, it’s 10 am, I’m hungry and I don’t have any snacks? Guess I’m having a cookie or a muffin from the coffee shop. Having healthy food on hand is key.

There are some really great sugar-free snack options. My favourite go-to snacks now are bananas, pistachio nuts, apple slices dipped in natural almond butter, veggies with hummus, and sliced strawberries mixed with plain yogurt (never thought I’d see the day that I’d enjoy plain yogurt over a sweetened type, but see the next point…)

Your tastebuds & cravings change when they’re less accustomed to a flavour.  Now that I’ve become less used to sugar in everything that I eat, I don’t need as much of it to enjoy a food. And I have been genuinely enjoying plain yogurt with fruit instead of the sweetened vanilla kind, which now tastes cloyingly sweet to me. And today? I found myself craving OLIVES. This is WEIRD. But I’ll take it!

And the big reason I wasn’t really on board with the full detox… I become exceedingly sensitive to sugar if I’m not accustomed to it even in small quantities in my diet. In a bad way. I ate the least sugar for the first week on the detox. I was very proud of myself and my choices. But then when I did have a bit of sugar, BOOM. Debilitating headache, fatigue and dizziness. I am not okay with this.

I want to keep eating some sugar to keep my tolerance reasonable, but not indulge every day. I definitely have successfully kicked the cravings. But I don’t believe in avoiding fruit or natural sugars, and I think they’re necessary to keep my body accustomed to processing sugar without sidelining me with negative side effects. That way I can still indulge in actual treats like birthday cake or gelato on a date in the summer, without eating real sweets every day.

A Little Fun: Dark Dining

It was my sister’s 27th birthday this week, and with the way that plans panned out, she ended up with an entire week of celebrations. My family always celebrate birthdays with a family dinner that everyone attends, but my father was off scuba diving in Hawaii this week. So we went as a family a week early to a restaurant in Vancouver called Dark Table.

Dark Table

My family outside the restaurant, from left: Dad, Mum, Andrew, me, Kelsey

This was no ordinary restaurant – this was a concept called dark or blind dining. Have you heard of this before? It was a fascinating and unique experience. You’ll notice the graphics on the wall behind us have Braille lettering. You eat in pitch blackness and it simulates blindness for the course of your meal. You read the menu and order your meal before even entering the restaurant, because once you’re inside there is no reading taking place. You can’t see ANYTHING.

Our “guide-server” Rose was blind (as are all the servers), and she told us that working in this environment was the first time since losing her sight that she felt in control of her surroundings. When we entered the restaurant, we were taken into a vestibule. The door to the outside and the door from the vestibule into the restaurant were never opened at the same time, thus keeping out all light in the dining area. Once the door to the outside shut, we were instructed to form a “conga line” by placing our left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front of us. The first person in line placed their hand on Rose’s shoulder, and then Rose led us into the darkness and to our table.

I’ve never been anywhere so dark in my life. I had my eyes open the whole time and all I could see was utter blackness. No electronic devices were allowed inside, so there was not even any illumination from cell phone screens. My dad even had a watch face that glowed in the darkness and he had to take it off! The purpose of all this, of course, is to eliminate vision and learn to use your other senses in a safe environment. Of course, it’s something truly special to do this for an experience as sensory as eating.

When our drinks arrived, we were instructed to place our glass in the right corner just above our plate at our place setting. Afterwards it was always easy to find our glasses by touch alone. When the bread basket arrived, we could smell it coming from two long table lengths away, and it was divine. And then came our first real challenge: we had to butter our bread without seeing what we were doing. It was… messy. But we managed!

When our appetizers and entrees arrived, we were ready for a really interesting experience. My brother (later) tweeted a pic of his meal:

ISN’T HE HILARIOUS? Ha. The appetizer was a spinach salad with goat cheese, strawberries and other goodies. It was interesting to take bites of salad and try to identify what components you were tasting and feeling in your mouth. I figured out strawberries by texture before I identified the flavour! The entrees were all simple dishes, designed to make it possible to identify the flavours without seeing your food. The chefs did a great job of anticipating diner’s needs; for example, they had de-tailed my garlic prawns so I didn’t need to fiddle with them in the dark. They had sliced the chicken orders into smaller pieces so that diners wouldn’t be spearing an entire chicken breast into their mouths with their fork!

Despite these measures, it was pretty funny… we all had some success and learned to use our cutlery passably without seeing what we were doing, but all of us ended up hunching over close to our plates and scooping the food into our mouths to minimize dropping food in our laps! Most of us also found that we accidentally knocked some bits of our food onto our place mats, and my sister even used her fingers to pick food up off the plate after awhile. (Why not? Nobody could see her terrible manners!)

The experience was eye-opening (pardon the pun!) We had the most delicious meal of our lives… not necessarily because it was the most delicious that had ever been cooked (although the food was very tasty!) but because we’d never paid so much attention to the smell and taste. We had fun playing a Would You Rather game of choosing between losing one of two senses. It gave me new respect for what those who don’t have the benefit of vision go through every day of their lives. We felt utterly at the mercy of Rose, and it’s lucky she was so lovely and trustworthy! I also was a little shocked to discover how heavily I rely on watching people’s lips move to understand what they’re saying when they’re speaking to me. (I am not deaf! I definitely don’t have the best hearing in the world, but I didn’t realize I did so much lip-reading to filter out distracting background noise)

If you have a dark dining restaurant in your area, I strongly encourage everyone to try this experience. It’s a very unique, memorable and fun way to enjoy a meal.

Sugar Detox: Week 1

Sugar DetoxAlthough it struck fear into my heart, I recently decided to enroll in Nicole‘s 30-Day Sugar Detox program, and boy am I glad I did. It launched at the beginning of June, so I’ve been working my way through the materials for just over a week now, and it’s been rather eye-opening.

I am a bit of a sugar fiend. I have a terrible sweet tooth – heck, my catch phrase is that I like a little coffee with my sugar and cream! I have gotten into the habit over recent years of having a “treat” every day, sometimes more than once a day: a muffin here, a piece of chocolate there, a danish for breakfast on a day that I’m running late. It’s not really a treat anymore if you’re eating it all the time, is it?

Most of the time if I indulge in a sugary treat, I feel like I can’t help myself. And with certain particular items, I feel like I can’t stop at one, either. (TIM TAMS, I’M LOOKIN’ AT YOU). I was aware that when Nicole kicked the sugar habit, she went whole hog and basically eats 100% sugar-free now, but this wasn’t really my goal… I just wanted to avoid obvious sources of sugar for the month and kick the cravings. I wasn’t concerned about added sugar in non-obvious places.

The first phase of the program was focused on our connection with food – really delving into why we eat the way we do, where patterns of sugar-eating formed, and creating alternative coping mechanisms for those instances. One of my most interesting takeaways was remembering a family dinner tradition from my childhood: my mum served dessert of some sort almost every day (even though most of the time it was just fruit or yogurt, it was still a sweet flavour), but my parents told us we had to “qualify” for dessert by finishing some arbitrary amount of our main entree before we could move on to dessert. I had never made the link before, but there it was glaring me in the face. I had learned to equate sweets as a reward. And I do that to this day. Make a big sale? Cake! Finished an intensive study course? Ice cream! Had a super productive weekend? Pie!

I also realized how often I eat crap just because I’m bored, and especially if I’m bored and lonely or stressed. So, the coping mechanisms I came up with when I start craving sweets were the following:

  1. Take a walk
  2. Call a friend, and if I’m upset or stressed, vent
  3. Do something on my to-do list… preferably not something at the computer or at my desk.
  4. Play a fun song and dance it out

I’m now in the second phase, which is the education phase of the program, and this got really interesting for me. You’ll remember that I had no intention of cutting out added sugars in non-obvious places, but I also didn’t think that they were in so many non-obvious places! Nicole gave us a list of all the different names used in ingredient lists for various types of sugar additives. I don’t even think the list was comprehensive, but boy howdy, it was a long list. And after comparing every pantry item in my kitchen against that list, there were some nasty surprises. Rice vinegar! Canned olives! Chicken stock! Black beans! Mayonnaise! My beloved lemongrass had no less than FOUR DIFFERENT TYPES of sugar additives. And I nearly cried to see sugar as the second ingredient in sriracha. (Thankfully, I was also happy to learn that dill pickles, marmite, and my particular brand of salsa, crackers and dijon mustard were safe.)

So, I’m still not giving up my beloved sriracha, but it got me thinking that maybe there are some easy switches I can make that will reduce my sugar consumption without even noticing. First things first, it’s probably time to start soaking and cooking my own beans and chicken/vegetable stock instead of relying so heavily on pre-packaged varieties. I will probably commit to the switch from processed to natural peanut butter. And in some cases, a simple brand change is all it will take… did you guys know that most commercially made mayonnaise has added sugar, but Trader Joe’s brand doesn’t? (Sidebar: I am obsessed with Trader Joe’s and want to start crossing the border every few weeks for a grocery stocking trip, so I’m TOTALLY FINE with another excuse to hit them up). I will be reading ingredient lists on food packaging much more carefully in the future.

The best part? I haven’t even avoided obvious sugar 100% since June 1, but I have definitely reduced it dramatically and I’m pretty sure I’ve kicked the daily cravings. Also? I’ve been breaking through a weight loss plateau without increasing my activity level!

Stay tuned for more about this as the month goes on.

Singleton Menu Planning: Creating a Weekly Plan

Part 1 about my basic approach to menu planning.
Part 2 about maintaining a well-stocked pantry & kitchen.

Source: Kyla Roma

Menu planning in process. Source: Kyla Roma

Now that you have stocked your kitchen and are down with the idea of leftovers, it’s time to get into what actual meals you’ll eat in a given week. Cooking for just one, I have a few tactics to eat well, keep my grocery bill down, minimize food waste and keep some variety in my diet. My tried, tested and true tips:

  • Pick one or two weekday breakfasts and have one of those two meals all week. Change up your breakfast plan each week so it doesn’t get boring.
  • Do the same thing for snacks.
  • Plan to eat out for lunch one day a week.
  • Plan two dinners cooked from scratch each week that will each feed me at least 3-4 meals, and portion them out for individual leftover meals after cooking.
  • Plan at least two dinners each week that are either a quick thrown-together meal from pantry staples, or dinner plans out.
  • Select meals that have some cross-over ingredients in the same week.

Now onto how I arrive at which meals get planned for each week.

Step 1: Do a quick fridge/pantry check to see what perishable goods I have on hand that need using up. This week, I had some cauliflower and kale that needed eating quickly, so I am making kale/spinach/banana/peanut butter/almond milk smoothies with toast for breakfast, and one of my weeknight meals is cauliflower curry.

Step 2: Consider what I’m craving along with any current dietary needs. Right now? I’m doing my best to eat fairly clean, so I need lots of fruits and veggies, but I’ve been craving comfort. That’s a tall order to combine comfort with clean eating, but roasting veggies does it for me every time… they just seem so much heartier and tastier to me when cooked that way! So I’ve also made polenta with sausage and roasted peppers & asparagus.

Step 3: Consult my recipe folder and my Pinterest recipe boards for inspiration. I use Pinterest with abandon to save any recipes from food blogs that I want to try. When I happen upon a winner, I print it out and keep it in my recipe folder, and also sometimes make notes on the Pinterest pin if there’s anything I want to remember for next time I make it. I delete any recipe pins that turn out to be duds, so my Pinterest boards are exclusively a source of stuff I like or stuff I really want to try. No bad recipes stay there.

Step 4: Can you use the same ingredients in two meals, so you won’t be left with fresh produce going to waste? A few ideas: I make kale chips or use kale in a soup or stew the same week that I make kale smoothies for breakfast. If I had sausage with polenta for dinner for a couple of nights, I might have a sausage with breakfast for a couple of days that week also. (Not on the same days!) Using half a pepper in your spaghetti sauce? Chop up the other half and fry it up with eggs for breakfast. Or as an alternative to using up leftover produce in another meal, I just buy/make hummus or some other dip and use the leftover fresh veggies with dip as a snack.

Step 5: Now that you’ve got your main meals sorted out, plan your snacks. I have a steady rotation of snacks I use, but I choose them based on what my meals are those days. I’m not going to have a granola bar for a mid-morning snack the same day I had toast for breakfast; I’m more likely to pick fruit or yogurt for nutritional variety.

Bonus, a couple of sample weekly menus for you!

Sample Week 1

Dinner 1: Minestrone soup (using The Foodess’ recipe as a great base)
Dinner 2: Sauteed swiss chard & spinach (cooked with garlic & lemon juice) with grilled chicken (This would probably feed me only 1 night, no leftovers)
Dinner 3: Creamy Chicken Stew (via Framed Cooks).
Breakfast all week: Homemade breakfast sandwiches – Fried egg, cheddar cheese, bacon, sliced tomato & spinach on a toasted English muffin.
Snacks: Apple & cheese, or a banana.

I love this sample menu because there’s great variety in the type of meal I’m eating, but also a lot of cross-ingredient usage across meals. Swiss chard is used in the minestrone as well as sauteed chard. Chicken is used for grilling in Dinner 2 as well as in the chicken stew, so I’d only have to buy one package of chicken for the week. A lot of the veggies in the minestrone can also be used in the chicken stew. The spinach from dinner 2 is also on the breakfast sandwiches, as is the bacon from the chicken stew. This would be pretty cheap to buy ingredients for a full week of cooking!

Sample Week 2

Dinner 1: Spaghetti meat sauce served over spaghetti squash. Secret family recipe, no link! But this is a veggie-loaded sauce with a ground beef base.
Dinner 2: Seared salmon with veggies over coconut noodles (via Bev Cooks).
Breakfast all week: Veggie scramble with eggs, asparagus, mushrooms & peppers, served with salsa
Snacks: Yogurt with berries
Treat: Soft & Chewy Oatmeal Scotchie Cookies (via Averie Cooks)

Same concept here – some overlap between ingredients, and variety in the menu at the same time. Asparagus & mushrooms are used in Dinner 2 as well as breakfast; peppers from the spaghetti are used in breakfast. Spaghetti sauce is great because it freezes well and can be served over spaghetti squash or real noodles. And I threw in a treat this week because the rest of the meals are pretty darn healthy!

Singleton Menu Planning: A Well Stocked Pantry

Here’s part 1 about my basic approach to menu planning for one.

One of the most important things to cooking and eating healthy, thoughtful meals is keeping  my kitchen well-stocked at all times with all the basics that I need. That way, when I decide on a menu plan for the week, it’s only the out-of-the-ordinary fresh stuff or maybe a random pantry item that I need to buy. This makes shopping quicker and cheaper! As I go throughout the week, I keep a grocery list clipped to the fridge where I write down any pantry items that I’m running low on or need replacing, and then when I’m menu planning I add any fresh stuff to the list that I’ll need to pick up as well. Here’s how I stock my kitchen; adapt as you see fit for the stuff you actually use and cook most often.

I keep the ones I use the most right next to the stove for easy access: cooking oil/spray, salt & pepper.

Oils: Olive, canola, sesame and coconut
Vinegars: Balsamic, red wine, champagne, rice, apple cider
Kosher salt grinder
Pepper grinder
Dijon mustard
Soy sauce
Curry paste

By keeping this small collection of items on hand at all times, I nearly always find I’m able to whip up a quick batch of cookies or a simple bread or cake without even going shopping.

All purpose flour
Rolled oats
Sugar/sweeteners: White, brown, icing sugars; agave syrup
Extracts: Vanilla, almond
Baking soda
Baking powder
Coconut flakes
Various chocolate chips or squares: white, milk, semi-sweet, bittersweet, dark

Other Dry Goods:
I try to stock up and buy all this stuff when it’s on sale. I’ve also found with tea in particular, it’s nice to have created a “guest collection.” I keep a basket of various types of herbal, black, rooibos & green tea that I pull out and offer when I have company so people can choose  whatever they like. People always seem to think this is such a nice touch, and it is so easy!

Cereal – a couple of different varieties
Dry pasta – I always have a long and small kind on hand. Right now it’s fusilli & spaghetti.
Rices: Arborio, jasmine white, long grain brown
Green lentils
Popcorn kernels
A couple of types of crackers
Breadcrumbs – panko or other, for crusted fish or meat dishes
Granola (either homemade or Terra Breads variety)
Dry herbs & spices: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, basil, oregano, rosemary, cayenne, red chili flakes, curry powder, bay leaves, ginger, paprika, mustard powder, cumin.
Coffee beans – OBVIOUSLY!

Toast Condiments:
Honeys: liquid, unpasteurized “solid”
Peanut butter – I keep the shitty Kraft sweetened stuff in the cupboard for my toast, SORRY NOT SORRY. I also keep natural PB in the fridge for smoothies and making sauces
Marmite – this is how you can tell I have British blood!

Canned/Liquid Goods:
I keep very few canned/boxed goods on hand most of the time. I used to always keep canned fruits during their off-season, like mandarins, peaches and apricots, but I’ve started using frozen instead – they taste fresher. Here’s the short list of what I try to buy on sale and keep in the cupboard all the time:

Water chestnuts – love them in stir fries and spinach dip for crunch!
Good quality olives
Diced tomatoes
Beans: chickpeas, black beans
Chicken stock
Almond milk

I love having a couple of lemons or limes on hand for adding to impromptu salad dressings or sauces. I eat a lot of veggies but the list below are just the ones I keep on hand all the time, regardless of what I’m cooking that week. I make a veggie egg scramble for breakfast very often with zucchini, peppers and mushrooms so I keep those around all the time for that reason, and there’s enough veggies/fruit/cheese in the house all the time that if I have greens, I can always whip up a salad without going shopping. Greens and bananas are also great for smoothies, so I try to have them around all the time.

Basil plant
Lemon & lime – and if I don’t need the rind for whatever I’m making, sometimes I’ll zest the peel and put it in a ziploc in the freezer.
Veggies: zucchini, coloured peppers, onion, cucumber, tomatoes, mushrooms, salad greens
Assorted seasonal fruit
Head of garlic
Vanilla yogurt
Cheese: cheddar, goat & parmesan

Multigrain bread
Fruit for smoothies – always mixed berries, occasionally peaches or mango.
A couple of quick meals – frozen pizza or lasagne, leftovers
Oven fries (uncooked)

That’s it! With these items constantly available in my kitchen, I can always whip up a quick salad, smoothie, “stuff on bread” meal, or pasta dish without needing to go shopping, and it minimizes the extra ingredients I need to buy for a recipe. You should use this as a basic guide, but adapt as necessary to the things you tend to eat most. How can you use this to simplify your shopping? How would your pantry staples differ from mine?

Singleton Menu Planning: The Basics

Source: LexnGer

Most of you do not know this, but I have secret power. And that secret power is… menu planning. Weird, right? But seriously, I like to cook, I like to keep my monthly food budget reasonable, and I like to plan, so that combination makes me a pretty kick-ass menu planner. I know a lot of people struggle with cooking if they live alone or don’t have a partner, but cooking for one can be just as rewarding as cooking for a family of five… and the same effort can go a lot further. There is no reason that you shouldn’t put effort and care into your meals just because nobody is sharing them with you… you still gotta eat, single or not! So I wanted to give you guys a peek at how I approach menu planning when I am the only one that will be eating.

There are a couple of things you should know about my approach:

  • I am a huge fan of one-pot meals. I almost never cook red meat at home, with the exception of ground beef for sauces or tacos.
  • I cook in bulk, and I think leftovers are probably the key to world peace. If you’re not into leftovers, my strategy probably won’t work for you. EMBRACE THE LEFTOVERS.
  • I don’t like eating the same meal for lunch and dinner three days in a row, so I often cook a second planned meal before I’ve finished all the leftovers of the first one, just for variety.
  • I freeze leftovers if I get sick of eating them or if I’m not going through them fast enough.
  • Let’s be real: sometimes there’s just more pumpkin soup/spaghetti sauce/chicken chili than I realistically feel like eating. This is when I deploy a win-win friendship tactic: invite someone over for dinner to help with that overabundance of whatever you’re cooking. They win because they’ll be thrilled at the invite and get free delicious dinner. You win because you get through that pot of food faster and make sure that you spend some time interacting with other humans. Also they will probably bring wine 🙂

My goal each week is two-fold: First, to always have a fully stocked pantry and fridge with staples so that I can always whip together something simple if I need to deviate from my menu plan for any reason. And two, to have ingredients and recipes on hand for two or three planned meals that I will cook throughout the week as needed and use the leftovers for lunches and/or dinners on busier evenings when I don’t have time to cook.

Even if I say nothing more, this approach should save you from a lifetime of Kraft Dinner or cereal at 10pm! But never fear, I won’t abandon you now. Stay tuned for the next lesson, Pantry Stocking 101.