Apple Peels - early verdict

Yeah, no. These are not getting added back into my world of food - unless they're cooked into something, and in small quantities. Unfortunate, but true. My system just doesn't like them anymore - doesn't process them well. And they make a fairly painful trip through my digestive tract. Not pleasant at all.

So, I'm ending this food experiment early. Pain is a deal-breaker in this reintroduction process.

[The good news is that since I've been eating apples pretty much every day for the past 8 months, I've gotten really good at peeling them quickly, and it's actually become a rather soothing part of the process of putting together my lunch every day. So, to me, I'm not actually missing much anymore. --Perspective. It's all about perspective.]

The world of creative snacking

Healthy snacking. A common phrase in today's world. But what does it mean, really, to the average person? Not that I've surveyed thousands of people to obtain these observations or anything, but my take on what people view as "healthy snacking" is so called "bird food" or "rabbit food" or else the stuff that the grocery store tells everyone is "healthy." In the first category? Carrot/celery sticks. Water. Small salad. Piece of fruit or some grapes. Crackers and cheese. Rice cakes. Whole grain anything. In the second? Low-fat granola bars. 100-calorie cookies. Anything with "Smart" or "Lean" or "Healthy" on the label. Low-carb, sugar-free, 38%-less-fat-than-leading-brand.

You get the idea. A world of food that few have been brought up to actually enjoy and fewer still have managed to condition themselves into liking. Who wants to eat boring, tasteless carrot sticks when Dunkies has gingerbread donuts and pumpkin muffins? What's a 100-calorie, cardboard-tasting cookie compared to the bakery down the street that has those out-of-this-world chocolate cookies? Why eat a plain-old banana when Petsi Pies is miraculously open when you pass by?

Enter stomach issues, weight issues, digestion problems. Now you have to eat healthy - your doctor and your body say you no longer have a choice. Your heart sinks at the thought of carrot sticks and salads replacing those oh-so-scrumptious bakery runs, potentially for the rest of your life.

Healthy snacking isn't as bad as it's painted to be. Carrot sticks, if you buy organic carrots and chop them yourself (as opposed to the prechopped mini carrots in bags at the store), can actually taste good - carrots have a really strong, solid flavor, actually. Salads are fun to play around with. I've done a lot with them over the past 8 months.

But, even those can get old after awhile. Carrot sticks lose their appeal after 2 weeks of eating them every day. Salad mixes become rather repetitious and drab after using the same ones over and over again. And, as this happens, it feels like there's this empty pit in your soul whenever you reach for that healthy snack because the doc says no more trips to the bakery.

My answer to this dilemma (having lived it for quite some time now and getting *really* bored with the same old same old!):
Get creative.

It sounds like a simple enough directive. Instead of celery sticks, put some peanut butter on there sometimes. Or add some apple slices atop the crackers and cheese. The problem there is that those are the stock "creative ways" to spice up your healthy snacking. [Just read the back of any Ritz Cracker box or any number of healthy eating websites...] And really, those stock "creative" snack alternatives get old and boring, too. You're back where you started again: Boring-snack-ville, population: YOU. [Yeah, I've totally been there as well. In some ways it's worse than eating plain boring snacks because there's this strange sense of failure at not being able to make healthy snacking a little more enjoyable.]

Getting creative means getting creative. Test the limits of your taste buds. Put two foods together that any "normal human being" would never combine. [For the record: any "normal human being" knows bubkiss about it - and really, "they" don't exist anyway, so no worries about "them."] Open your cupboard, pull out two or three things you like, and give yourself the puzzle of figuring out how you can make them into a edible and enjoyable snack for later in the day. The point is to start having fun, to let go of the fear that you won't like everything you try (you won't, so why worry about it?), and to get yourself more actively involved with the food you eat. It's a game! Have fun! Go crazy! But most importantly, don't let the game end. Once you find something you like, use if for a couple of weeks, and then let it evolve into something else, or retire it for a month or two, or else you run the risk of getting stuck in that boring-snack-ville rut again.

I understand that starting this game can be a little daunting. It's hard to let your mind wander, food-wise. So, let me help you get started. Everyone's tastes are different, obviously, but I offer up here some of my recent favorites. Try 'em, scrunch your nose at them and go a completely different route, laugh at them... Whatever your reaction, perhaps this will help you in your quest for ever more interesting ways to snack healthily!

Corn Thins with Mashed Potatoes & Raisins
This was literally a 'today' creation. I've put warmed mashed potatoes on my corn thins in the past, but I've never added raisins on top. What a world of difference!

2 corn thins (like rice cakes, only made with corn - I got them at Whole Foods)
~1/4-1/3 cup of creamy mashed potatoes (I use lots of soy milk in mine to make them spreadable) - basically enough to get a thickness of a pinky fingernail atop the corn thin - don't skimp!
A handful or two of raisins

Warm up the mashed potatoes - 45 seconds in the microwave is plenty - and spread on the corn thins. Top with raisins. Make funny faces or crazy intricate designs if desired, let yourself be a kid about it.

Applesauce with Almonds & Honey
I used this one early on in my diet - before they took nuts completely away from me later down the road. It became quite a favorite of mine!

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
small handful of raw almonds
a couple dollops of honey (preferably fresh pure honey that comes straight from the bees (and has no preservatives!!!) - it tastes so much better!

Put applesauce in a bowl. Add almonds and stir until almonds are completely coated in applesauce. Dribble honey over top of applesauce and almonds, a little at a time. Stir and taste, and add more honey if desired until you get the right amount of sweetness.

[Did you know: Honey doesn't ever "go bad" - it will outlive you if you keep it for long enough (I'm not advising this, just emphasizing a point here...). The reason conventionally packaged honey at the regular grocery store has preservatives in it is to A) preserve a certain color that marketers have deemed "honey color" and B) to make sure the honey doesn't crystallize. Pure honey, straight from the bees, will crystallize if left to sit for awhile. But, it's not "rotten" - all you need to do is boil some water, remove the water from heat, then put the container of honey in the hot water - I usually put a towel over the top to give it a little steam bath. Repeat this until the honey is fully decrystallized.]

Dried Berries & Rice Crisp Cereal

~1/4 cup of two of your favorite dried berries - change 'em up every now and then! I prefer cherries and blueberries, but have been known to sub in cranberries every now and then...
~1/4 cup Rice Crisp cereal - you will notice I distinctly do not say "Rice Krispies" - read the label some time, they're awful for you! - my preferred choice is brown rice crisp cereal made by Erewhon.

Mix and enjoy. Finger food and so easy to put together for a quick snack!

Your turn! Go create, explore, and enjoy!


Tomatoes: the verdict

My two week Introduction to Tomatoes (FOOD 108, Nina's kitchen, Mondays and Thursdays, see syllabus for required readings...?) ends with a cheeseless pizza with fresh tomato pieces on top. [See recipe at the end for details, I don't want to spoil the surprise...]

Overall, the tomato experiment went well, I'd say. No major pain (whew!), and only mild reactions to the acidity - but that's really only if I have tomatoes on nights too close together. I've found I need about 3 days between tomato-sauce based meals. And fresh tomatoes are a no go. The more they're cooked, the better (which is generally a good rule of thumb with acidic foods, by the way - cooking them over heat tends to take away some of the acidity ). Exciting to know, however, that I don't have to completely avoid tomatoes for the rest of my life!

As for the tomato pieces atop my pizza of the evening - though I don't have all of the info back from my reaction log, I think that this won't end up getting added back into my diet (unless I've taken some serious antacid pills beforehand). Unfortunate, but hey, the digestive system has spoken pretty clearly.

Thus ends my inaugural food reintroduction. Tomorrow, we start with apple peels! [You may think this is rather anti-climactic, but I need to give my stomach a break from as big a thing as tomatoes!]

But for now, back to that pizza. Did I mention how fantastic pizza tastes? I haven't had it in almost a year. And it tasted soooo good! The very distinct tastes of the different ingredients, all melding inside my mouth with each bite. The texture is fantastic, too - the crisp of a good crust, the different textures of different ingredients, the smoothness of the pizza base. Oh mans - YUM! Here's the recipe... Enjoy!

Cheeseless Pizza with Ham & Tomatoes

1 pizza crust (I cheated and used premade crust - I found one that didn't have any lactose traces in it!)
1/3 cup ham chunks (smallish)
1/2 cup tomato chunks (smallish)
4 small baking potatoes
soy milk
olive oil

1. Boil potatoes and mash them, using the soy milk to make them really smooth and spreadable.
2. Brush the pizza dough lightly with some olive oil. You don't need to cake it on, just a light coating is enough.
3. Spread mashed potatoes on pizza dough, trying to make an even thickness across the dough. [I have no idea how thick to tell you to make it. I basically spread them on until I couldn't see the dough through the potatoes anymore.]
4. Sprinkle ham chunks and tomato chunks on top of the potato base; try to make them as evenly distributed as you can.
5. Bake at 400 degrees for about 16-20 minutes. [This is where I really estimated. I started with 10 minutes, then added a few more, then a few more. Kept checking to see if the potatoes had crisped a bit on the top. Turns out it's a little hard to tell when pizza is done when there's no melting cheese to tip you off, but I discovered "done" in this recipe's case is when you can smell the aromas of the ham and tomatoes very clearly wafting out of the closed oven. Oh, and the dough was really crispy.]

- Initial

Hmm, the reaction is a little acidy, unfortunately. Could be that I had one too many slices. (I had 3 - it was so good!) But I think what's more likely is that fresh tomatoes are not such a good idea. I'll have to revisit in a few weeks and figure that out.

- 2 hours later

- 2 days later

How to Make Fruit Puree

So, this seems like a rather easy task, right? But, if you're like me, and had never done it before, you might think to google it or check in a cookbook or something... Yeah, bad idea. Every "how-to" on fruit purees I found assumed some knowledge of making fruit puree or cooking fruit for said puree or didn't give me adequate amounts of # of fruit to use, how to cut it up, how much water to use, etc. - which is frustrating when you have never done this and need to know the whole process, not just one piece of the process! [Isn't that what a How-to is for? To show you how to do something from start to finish? Just sayin'...]

After about an hour online (that's not a joke nor an exaggeration), I hit upon this video for making a fruit puree that very nicely breaks down the whole process. I highly suggest watching it in addition to reading any "how-to" (mine or someone else's) for making your own fruit puree.

I agree with this dude in the video: I like the simplest recipes for fruit puree - the ones that keep the natural flavors of whatever fruit you're pureeing. So, I offer up my process for fruit purees, with the caveat that after you've done it once, you will find it's very easy to do and you should start playing around with combinations and textures to make your own favorites!

Fruit Puree
(thus far I've only done apples and pears, so the process below is best suited for fruits similar in texture/hardness to those fruits)

1. Get 4 medium to large sized pieces of fruit. Peel and core them.
2. Chop into pieces - about 1 to 1.5-in size. Throw these in a large pot.
3. Cover with water that just barely covers the top of the fruit. I often don't quite cover the top pieces, since the fruit floats. So, push the fruit pieces down, and if the water covers them, then you've got enough.
4. Bring water to a boil, then cook over medium heat until done (about 45-50 minutes). "Done" means the fruit is soft enough to mush up with a spoon or masher or whatever (no need to actually mash). The water will also have reduced quite a bit. You want to have some water left over, so don't reduce it all the way, but leave about a 1/4-in of water at the bottom of the pan (this is a rough estimate).
5. Let fruit cool - I generally do this with a lid on the pan so that the water doesn't evaporate!
6. Once it's around room-temperature or a little above, put fruit into food processor. The first time you do this, I suggest not putting all the water in yet - you can always add more, but you can't really take it away... If the fruit isn't liquidy enough, add some of the water until you get the desired consistency.
7. Let cool all the way before transferring to a container and refrigerating/freezing. I've found that puree lasts for about a week in the fridge, if you don't eat it all first!

Boiling apples:


Some tips for choosing fruit for purees:

They taste richer if you use a mixture of types, but if you don't want to buy different kinds, I recommend going with a strong-tasting variety of apple or pear.

For apples: I generally use two varieties of apples in my apple purees: one pungently-flavored apple good for eating, and one less pungent, but still pretty strong flavored apple that's touted as a good baking apple. My favorite combination is Jonagold+Mutzi apples (from the Farmers' Market!), but in the off-season, Fuji+Cortland or Fuji+Golden Delicious are good alternatives. Play around with combinations.

For pears: I prefer Asian pears to Bartlett or Bosc pears. I've been using a mixture of two types of Asian pears that I get from my local Farmer's Market lately, so I don't have any good ideas yet for off-season pear purees. The ones I use are just a regular Asian pear+this variety of Asian pear that tastes like it has honey in it! Mmm...

[The most important part to remember - hot boiled apples or pears are even more delicious than their plain chopped counterparts. Just make sure you blow on them to cool a bit - they burn tongues fast! ...might be speaking from personal experience here...]


Making my own bread - a delicious weekly task!

One of my favorite parts of having to make all of my own food in these past months is making bread. I got a breadmaker for my birthday about 2-some years ago, and it was quite possibly one of the most useful gifts I've ever received! I've actually been making my own bread for longer than this diet started - I figured, hey, I have this thing, I might as well use it, and it's got to be cheaper in the long run to be making my own instead of buying the store stuff. [I haven't actually done any price analysis or comparison on that, but I'll make a good bet it works out in favor of my checkbook.]

At first, of course, making bread with a bread maker is a very exact process - use exactly what they tell you to, to make sure that the right balance of wet and dry ingredients get added in the right combinations to give you a very delicious loaf of bread. But, after using it for over a year, I've started to get bored with the exact recipes. So I've been tinkering a little to see what else I can do. And it's so much fun! This will definitely mean I'll be tinkering with other loaves and finding my favorite bread recipes, instead of just what they've given me!

One of my favorite loaves in my recipe book, the one I've been tinkering with of late, is Apple Walnut Bread. It's a sweet bread, but tastes really good with some lunchmeat or leftover chicken or some tuna with peas on top. I leave out the walnuts, of course, since they don't agree with me, but it doesn't need them in my opinion. And this bread is quite possibly the most delicious bread to toast up EVER!!!

A couple of months ago, I realized my diet was really apple heavy. Since it's something I know I can eat, I was going a little overboard. So, in the interest of infusing my diet with something other than apples, I bought some Asian pears from the Farmers' Market one Friday on a whim. And when the weekend came, I realized I didn't have any applesauce to make my bread with, nor did I have apples to puree either. I did have those pears. So I thought, "what the hey?" And I cooked 'em up, pureed them, and used the pear puree as a substitute for applesauce that the recipe calls for.

Oh mans - that was the best idea EVER!
[Don't you just love it when accidental circumstances produce amazing results?]

Not only do the pears smell heavenly when boiling on my stove, the whole apartment smells amazing when that bread bakes! And it comes out with a nice firm crust and fluffy, scrumptious bread inside! Yum! Who knew that pears+cinnamon=even-taster-than-apples+cinnamon???

I offer below this bread machine recipe, as well as any modifications I've tried out thus far. I'm sure I will post again about modified bread machine recipes as I venture farther and farther into that territory! Also, I have included some of my favorite ways to use this bread - taste combinations that I particularly enjoy using this bread recipe, but obviously the sky's the limit when it comes to bread, right?

Apple Walnut Bread
(in its original form, taken from the recipe book for the Oster 2lb. EXPRESSBAKE Breadmaker)

[Note: every bread machine is different. This particular recipe is designed for a 2lb loaf of bread. If your bread machine is smaller, you'll have to reduce the amounts to make sure that you don't overflow the baking pan!]

[Equivalency note: 1/8 cup = 2 Tbsp - for those that don't have 1/8-cup measuring cups. Alternately, you can do what I did and pick up a sliding measuring cup at Crate and Barrel (for around $7.50, I think?) that has equivalencies for metric and American measurements, and includes 1/8-cup increments and fluid ounces - very useful if, like me, you make bread all the time and need to measure in 1/8-cup increments!]

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/8 cup apple juice
3 Tbsp butter or margarine (I use non-dairy versions and it doesn't mess with the chemistry at all)
1 large egg
1 tsp salt
4 cups bread flour (important! don't use all-purpose flour, your bread won't turn out right!)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp active dry yeast (not instant or fast-acting!)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1. Measure and add liquid ingredients to the bread pan (in order of listing above).
2. Measure and add dry ingredients (except yeast) to the bread pan (again, in order of listing above).
3. Use your finger to form a well/hole in the flour where you will pour the yeast. Yeast must NEVER come into contact with a liquid when you are adding ingredients. Measure the yeast and carefully pour it into the well.
4. Snap the baking pan into the breadmaker and close the lid.
5. Choose "Sweet bread" setting on your breadmaker (if you have that option - if not, my machine takes 2hrs, 50 minutes for the cycle, which includes the mixing, kneading, rising, and baking).
6. Select a medium or dark crust color, don't use the lightest crust setting for this one.
7. Press "Start/Stop" button.

My alternatives
1. Lose the walnuts. I can't eat them, so I just don't add them. The only difference this will have is to make the bread smoother, which I rather enjoy!
2. Use apple puree instead of applesauce - but make sure your apple puree has enough water to match the water content of the unsweetened applesauce you can buy at the store. I find that if I cook/puree 4 apples at a time, it ends up with about the right amount of water-to-apples ratio.
3. Use pear puree instead of applesauce. Again, I use 4 pears at a time to create this puree, so I get the right amount of water. [This is by far my favorite modification because it changes the texture of the bread slightly - you can feel a slight hint graininess of the pear in the bread, which in my humble opinion, greatly adds to the composition of this loaf of bread!]
***See here for instructions on making your own fruit purees, complete with video! (Not of me...)
4. When using pear puree, sub in pear juice for apple juice. [If you're like me, and don't want to buy actual pear juice at the store (because, um, what else am I actually gonna use it for?), you can use pear puree+more water in a basic 50/50 ratio of pear puree and water - swirl it around a little to mix the puree and the water and voila! Pear juice!]

My favorite uses
- Toast it. The smell alone as it toasts is worth it! On that toast, put some pear or apple butter/jam or another subtle-flavored jam (so you don't overpower the taste of the bread). I also slather some of my Apple-Grape-Date Compote on it - YUM!
- It's so sweet and delicious, that sometimes I just eat it plain. No need to even dress it up if all you really want is some bread!
- Tunafish or tunafish with peas on a toasted slice as an open-faced sandwich. Mmm...


A second date with tomato sauce...

So, I had another go at eating my tomato sauce 2 days after the first try. Not the best idea I've ever had, as it turns out - I got pretty refluxy. Thinking about it a little bit this evening, I've come to realize that there are a couple of factors might account for this:
1. I think I ate to quickly.
2. I think I need to eat less tomato sauce in one serving.
3. I think it was too close to the last try - I need to wait at least 3 days between times.

Thus, tomato sauce remains the Food of the Week for next week. Everything else will get pushed back while I figure out this whole tomato thing...

Baby steps. Baby steps.


The Inaugural "Reintroduction" Post: Tomatoes

...or, well, tomato sauce. It's cooked, so they're not exactly fresh off the vine or anything. And acidic foods lose some of their acidity when cooked.

So, before I get to the topic at hand, let me give you a little background about the rules for reintroducing foods into my diet. If this diet and food lifestyle shift has been anything, it's been rule-driven. Rules about when, how, what, where to eat... you know the drill if you've read any of this blog.

My doctor and I chatted about the best and safest way for me to start reintroducing food back into my diet. The rule is one food a week, trying it twice within that week - spaced out by a few days. So, if I try something on Monday, I have to wait 'til at least Thursday before trying it again. I have to try it twice during the week. And if, by the end of the week, I haven't been able to adequately discern how that food affects my system, it gets another week. At most one new food a week, and as pure/plain as I can make it (obviously with onions, I'm not just going to eat an onion, but will create something highlights the onion and only uses other ingredients that I'm sure work well in my system. The key words here are slow and isolated. Slow to reintroduce, and only introduce one thing at a time, as isolated as possible.

Once I've tried a new food off of my No-List, the next part of the process is paying attention to the reaction in my system. This is 3-fold, really. The instant initial reaction (if any), the 2-hours later reaction (after digestion has started), and the two days later reaction (after the food has pretty much moved through my whole system). These 3 reactions (or lack thereof) will help me ascertain how much of the food I can handle, in what ways, and help me figure out how to ultimately modify my diet in regards to the food in question.

There are two main reasons for such a slow, and seemingly painstaking process of reintroduction. 1) Just what I've said above - to figure out how my system will react without a lot of interference from other foods; and 2) most of these foods are things I have not eaten in over 7 months. Meaning my stomach/digestive system doesn't have even a vague recollection of how to deal with these foods. (It's actually quite surprising how quick your system can forget!) So I'm also being careful to ease myself lightly back into a more normal diet. I won't be able to handle it all at once. So, again, slow and isolated.

Phew, what a mouthful!

So, now onto the actual subject here: I just had tomato sauce for the first time since March! Excitement!!! I found a recipe online for Low-Acid Tomato Sauce (from one of my favorite online recipe sources, Dr. Gourmet). My version is modified a bit, of course (like always), to account for my stricter dietary guidelines. He calls for onion and garlic - I quite literally just used tomatoes and water. Takes kind of a long time to make this tomato sauce, but I'm hoping the end result is something that makes my system happy (or, at least, not unhappy - I'll settle for that).

Low Acid Tomato Sauce
[My modified version]

I put this sauce over whole wheat rotini, and used the meatballs I made at the end of last week (recipe here).
...I need to pause for a moment and express just how fabulous it was to look at a basic pasta meal with actual tomato sauce!!!

2 28-oz cans peeled tomatoes, chopped [either buy cans of whole peeled and chop yourself or get pre-chopped peeled]
3 cups water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)

1. Put water and tomatoes in a large stock pot with the olive oil added in, if desired. Simmer over low heat until tomatoes are soft and easily squashed (this will take a good 90 minutes).
2. Once tomatoes are done, remove pot from heat and cool the sauce completely (this will take a good 40-45 minutes).
3. Once cooled, add baking soda. This causes the sauce to fizz or bubble. Stir every five minutes until the sauce is no longer bubbling.
4. You can now either store this until ready to use it, or else reheat and use for your meal.

- Initial

Besides the butterflies in my stomach from being a little anxious about trying formerly forbidden food, my stomach was fine. It went down well, and no immediate pain. Pass

- 2 hours later
The tummy is still happy. A little reflux - but I think that's because I ate it rather late (bad Nina). Next time, will try it earlier in the evening...

- 2 days later
Tummy's still happy!


How do you define "comfort food?"

I sometimes wonder what exactly makes a dish worthy of the label "comfort food." While I realize that it's a very personal classification, I have to wonder what exactly makes a person call something "comfort food?"

I feel like it has a lot to do with family and family traditions. And what Mom fed you when you were ill. (Campbell's Chicken Noodle and cinnamon-sugar toast - yum!) Foods that bring with them pleasant memories from days gone by, or from what our brains have labeled as "simpler times."

But, that's the obvious classification tool for comfort food. What about other types? New dishes you've had since childhood days? Different tastes you've developed over the years? Just how does one decide something is one of their "comfort foods?"

I would like to put out an hypothesis - which is pretty much entirely based on my own perspective and experience.
Comfort food is food that can brighten a bad day, that is easy to make, and that carries with it a pleasant memory - be it of family, friends, just spending time alone...

Think about it - you've had a bad day and now you're hungry. You just want something fast but satisfying that will make things feel not so bad, and you have very little energy to give up to creating said 'something.' You go for what's always on the brain - that recipe for your own comfort food. And even the preparation of it makes you start to feel better, cozy, safe, comfortable (or insert your own adjective here). The smell of it brings back nice memories, brings a smile to your face as you play back the memory in your mind. And then you sit down and eat it, and the taste is beyond amazing! Perhaps another person would not agree, but to you it's the best taste in the world!

That's, I guess, how I personally classify comfort food. Some favorites that come to mind from my own childhood are my mother's mac-n-cheese (not from the box), Angel Cookies (family recipe), meatballs in BBQ sauce + grape jelly (yummy), and my grandmother's lefse (I am so Norwegian, what can I say?). --Alas, most of these are off-limits now on this new diet. And that was the stuff that was hardest to give up - all that comfort food that I'm used to eating when I feel bad or sick or whatever. I've been spending the past few months learning to create new comfort foods that remind me of my old comfort foods, but are made of things I can eat. [For the record, lefse is currently not allowed, but my food-introduction plan will be shaped such that, by Christmas, I will once again be able to eat it. It's that good!]

This is all, obviously, leading to a new type of comfort food that I've hit upon in the past month. Partly discovered through friends, partly discovered by my continuing internet search for recipes I can tweak to work into my diet. It's easy, it's simple, and makes fabulous leftovers for the rest of the week. Scrumptious.

Meatballs with Fruit Compote
Ha - see? It even has a simple name!

...they're adorable as only little meatballs can be - and they smell fabulous as they cook!

1 lb. 93% lean ground beef (thawed)
2 oz (1/4 cup) whole wheat bread crumbs [Note: so many brands of bread crumbs are made with hydrogenated oils - it's ridiculous. Panko is the only brand I've found that doesn't - I recommend them.]
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
spray cooking oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Please a large non-stick skillet in the oven.
2. Knead bread crumbs, oregano, basil, and salt into ground beef until well blended.
3. Roll beef mixture into a large ball and cut in half. Roll each half into a ball and cut in half. Continue until you have 32 meatballs (they'll be about an inch in diameter). [Note: I think this is the most fun I've ever had making meatballs - maybe because they come out so symmetrically?]
4. Spray hot skillet lightly with olive oil. (Take skillet out of oven first!) Place meatballs on skillet and return to oven.
5. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until meatballs are firm to the touch.

Fruit Compote
...of AWESOME! No, really, this stuff is out of this world.

[Note: this recipe is far from exactifiable (that's totally a word) - it's more an art of putting stuff in the pot and eyeing the balance of amounts of the different fruits. Yeah. Have fun!]

1 large apple
[I recommend a full-flavored apple that you'd eat, not a baking apple. It makes the compote's blend of flavors a lot richer.]
a couple handfuls of green grapes
["couple" meaning 2-4?]
approx. 4-5 oz of organic pitted dates
[measured based on using half of the 9 oz. container I buy at Whole Foods]
organic 100% apple juice
[spend the extra money and get the foggy stuff - the clear stuff is weak and less flavorful]

1. Core and peel the apple. Cut into large chunks (roughly 1-inch cubes - as much as you can "cube" a spherical fruit). Put apple pieces in a medium pot.
2. Add grapes until it looks like there's a good balance of color between the apple pieces and the grapes. Halve them if they're really large grapes.
3. Cut dates in half width-wise. Add to pot. Toss fruits in pan a bit to mix them all together.
4. Add enough apple juice to barely reach the top of the fruit - but don't drown the fruit in juice, some should be sticking up above the juice.
5. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn to low heat and simmer until apple juice has almost completely reduced.

Mine is always a brick red color - but doesn't turn so until about 5 minutes before it's done. Not sure why, but it's a nice indicator that I discovered while making it.

[As mentioned above - this is totally an art. It generally takes about 45 minutes for mine to cook - probably could take less time if I turned up the heat, but I like savoring the aroma in my kitchen. If you want a soupier compote, don't reduce apple juice as much. If you feel that the fruits don't saturate and soften enough, add more apple juice and cook until reduced again. And once you taste it, if one flavor over-powers, add some more fruit and juice and cook some more - or remember to not add as much of that fruit next time around. The important part is to make sure you lick the spoon you use to mix it - and lick out the pot once it cools and you've transferred the compote to a container. No really, it's important - because it tastes so good!!!]

A couple of meal notes:
1. I generally pair this meatball & sauce concoction with half of a Sweet Dumpling Squash, some steamed green beans, and a slice of my homemade bread - for lapping up the excess sauce from the plate/bowl after eating all of the meatballs. Talk about the best meal ever! The squash is filling enough to satisfy any hunger, the meatballs and compote steal the show, the green beans give me my green veggie fix, and the bread and leftover compote are sweet enough to be like dessert! Mmm.
2. Store the meatballs and compote in separate containers in the fridge. To reheat, put some meatballs and compote in a dish, cover, and microwave. I use about 1.5 minutes for 4-5 meatballs and a couple spoonfuls of compote.
3. The compote makes fabulous "jam" for sandwiches. Or yummy sauce for mashed potatoes. Or over roasted chunks of squash. Or mixed with some of my favorite grain recipe. Or just licked off your finger!

Shout out to my friends N & F, who had me over for dinner about a month ago and introduced me to this compote. I am forever grateful for this new comfort food. Thanks guys!


The Countdown is Over! (subtitle: Now What?)

You may notice that the countdown on the sidebar is at 0 - or rather, it was at 0, and has since been restarted for another purpose. The old counter reached the 0 mark at precisely 7:55 am this morning, right about the time that I was sitting in my doctor's office talking about my symptoms, improvements since last visit, any odd changes, etc. The result of this visit was my doctor giving me the go-ahead to start adding food back into my diet - slowly, one food per week, so I can assess its effects on my system and adjust my No-List as necessary (meaning, leave the food on, take it off, or put lesser restrictions on it).

So, this should be joyous and overly-exciting, right? I've been waiting for this moment since mid-March when this whole thing began... and yet...

Exactly: And yet...

Here's the thing. I've gotten so used to these restrictions that, for all I've talked about getting back to a "normal food life," my definition of "normal food life" has changed. To me, now, this restricted diet is more normal (albeit crazy restricted) than what I used to eat. [Granted, I used to eat crap, so part of the adjustment in definition is a good thing, but that's not exactly the point here...]

Really, what it comes down to is that I'm so used to not eating all of this food, that I'm afraid of what will happen now that I can start trying to eat them again. My mind equates these foods with pain. That's a powerful feeling, and a powerful source from which fear can arise.

For most of the day today, I've been thinking about what food I want to try out first. And, it wasn't much of a contest: tomatoes have been at the top of my wish list for a long time (read: ever since they were taken away from me). But, just as I geared up for the excitement of trying this out, I realized that I'm actually quite afraid of the reaction my system will have. Will I suddenly revisit the pain of so many months ago? Or will a new pain arise due to the fact that I haven't eaten tomatoes or tomato-based anything since April? Who knows? Perhaps it'll be perfectly fine, and I'll be able to eat all the tomatoes I like.

Another thing: this is all rather overwhelming. I've been given a completely green light, no instructions about what order to use when adding food back in. Think about it, this is the best scenario - I don't have to wait for a doctor to tell me what's best for me and what to do next. But, well, have you looked at my No-List? I mean, really, how do I decide? It's like being in my freshman year of college all over again and sitting with the course catalog in front of me: How do I know what I want first? What order to put them in? Does it even matter? Yeah, same feeling, except sub food in for courses.

What all of this tells me is that I need a bit more of a strategy for adding foods back into my diet. A plan that will make this a little simpler, and thus stave off some of this fear. Because there's that risk that something will make me ill again, I need to do a little reworking of my week to allow for "sick evenings" (a.k.a. evenings in which dinner with the 'new' food was not such a good idea). And I need to think about what's being added each week - perhaps trade off acidic-food one week and non-acidic-food the next. Think about how exactly to implement the trying out of the 'new' food - what form in which to cook it, how much to try, what else to cook it with...

Wow - who knew this was going to become so complicated?

The current plan (subject to change, of course) is to take this week to plan this out a little more and then start introducing foods back into my diet next Monday. And I'm updating the sidebar a bit to make this all a little more interactive. Hence the new count down. It's counting down to dinnertime (7:00 pm) on Mondays, and I'll reset it each week and update the "Food on Deck" item below the counter. The "Food of the Week" is the item I'll be working on for the week. I think this'll be a good way to look forward to things, keep my mind on what's happening now, and also a good way for me to remember what's coming up.

In the spirit of how I've come to view this "crazy restricted diet of doom" (as I once called it), I've decided to look at this as an adventure. An adventure on the road to a healthy, less-restricted world of food. It'll be an exciting, potentially bumpy, perhaps a little windy road - but the destination will be so worth it!

Ready, set, go!