clare-bauer

For Mom with Love

My mom, Clare Bauer Berding, had crystalline blue eyes, perfect bone structure, and a light-up-the-room smile. Yet she never considered herself to be pretty, let alone beautiful.

She was her parents’ third child and second daughter. They named her sister Betty—not Elizabeth, but Betty plain and simple. Mom got the downright fanciful moniker of Claremae. She told me she thought she’d been named for an opera singer; I believe that her favorite aunt, the glamorous pretty youngest sister, was also named Clara. But the kids—in this case, my mom and her siblings—couldn’t pronounce it, so they called her Lolla.

Anyway, my mom was born Claremae Clouse.

Dad always called Mom Clare, but my uncle Dave, her brother, called her Claremae up until the last time I saw them together, when he and Mom were in their 70s. I’m not sure if she switched formally at some date, but she was always Clare to everyone else. The name suited her. I never knew another Clare growing up. It means “bright,” “clear,” and even “shining” whether you spell it the French or German way, and even with Mom’s hybrid spelling, the definition was perfect.

Still, I don’t think she felt bright and shining growing up. We are fortunate in that Mom wrote about her childhood, if only briefly, in her book Some Through the Waters, which she later published with the title she preferred, Designed to Fail. But the details are sketchy. Mom did not like to speak, particularly on the record, ill of her parents. After Grandma died—another book, When I Grow Too Old to Dream, documents that—Mom would talk, tentatively and ultimately with more conviction, of her father’s alcoholism and cruelty. She managed, as a third child and a girl, to avoid the physical abuse, if not the verbal.

Though maybe she didn’t. One or two times, she mentioned a horrible encounter with a WWI veteran, who I gathered was a friend of her father’s, who insisted on kissing her. She regarded French kissing with complete disgust, and over the years, I realized that the childhood incident was at least one, if not the reason. I always sensed her father’s lurking presence; at the very least he didn’t protect her, but I came to wonder if he’d somehow encouraged it.

And then there was her mother, Meta. Mom always insisted that she was beautiful; I find her handsome and strong, but Mom was the beauty in the family, something she could never see. Meta, I think, did not believe in Mom, even though Mom always defended and believed in her.

I have never seen a photograph of my mother as a child, but I imagine she must have been especially pretty, with her white curly hair, bright  eyes, and sunny disposition. In the 2 pictures I’ve seen of her as a teenager prior to her marriage to Dad at 17, she is looking away from the camera, as if blinded by the sun, with the true expertise of the introvert who has learned to hide even in plain sight.

As a kid and teenager, Mom escaped her grim environment in her love of books, stories, and music. She then escaped it physically by marrying my dad less than three weeks after her 17th birthday, despite Grandma point blank telling him that he’d be better off with Betty. Grandma had met her match. Dad fell hard for Mom. She was, I think, too young to know how to reciprocate or even process my dad’s love, but she accepted it. They were a team.

There was a sense I always got from my parents that it had been them vs. the world for quite a while. My grandmother did not like her eldest son with my grandfather, aching always for the son she’d had first with a previous husband, one that my grandfather had made a promise to accept after the marriage. He reneged, almost immediately. I’m sad for them both—the mother who longed for a missing son, and the son who longed for his present but missing mother—though in later years my dad told me that he remembered tender times with his mom, of her reading to him and his brother Charlie. Nonetheless, his mom told Dad one day that he needed to take Mom and their two daughters, my sisters Julie and Becky, away. Bob, her first son, was coming back.

They packed up and headed to California, and made a new life, with Lisa next, then me, and finally Jon, adopted after 4 valiant attempts to create a male heir. Mom and Dad both documented their journey well once they became public speakers: in Sunday school classes, at churches, at men’s and women’s groups. Those gigs came as a result of the fact that, when I was 4 and Jon barely a year old, they came to accept Christ as their personal savior, as fundamentalist church doctrine states it. Mom and Dad were both superb speakers, charismatic, funny, with tremendous timing and presence. I don’t know where they got it, though I expect they fed off of each other. They were two highly intelligent people who hadn’t been able to go to college, and they found in the Bible an outlet for study that delighted and inspired them both. I learned a tremendous amount from watching them. The content, much of it, I simply can’t agree with, and particularly since my dad died, I have been saddened that I’ve been unable to talk about my beliefs in religion or politics with my mom without a blow-up. But the tremendous style, the wit, the compassion that they expressed when they spoke: I’ll never stop being grateful for those lessons, those genes.

While my memories of my parents’ public personae dominated for years, over the decades, I’ve remembered much more—particularly about Mom. Because until adulthood, I barely knew my dad and vice versa. I recall dressing up in her crinolines—she had them for when she and Dad would ballroom dance—and pretending to be Cinderella. Mom had to play all the other parts: stepmother and sisters, fairy godmother, and even the prince, roles she played with that half attentive but sufficient engagement that busy mothers master.

And I remember once hiding a pack of playing cards under the couch; I don’t know why. My imagination tended to be pretty rampant, so I probably had some reason that made perfect sense to me, maybe to feed a lost invisible tiger or something. Mom came out with a switch in her hand, eyes blazing, to punish the culprit. My own eyes must have been saucers behind her as they met Lisa’s. Fortunately, Lisa covered for me, saying she and Beck must have done it when they were playing. Mom put down the switch without further ado and it was never mentioned again.

I’m often haunted, though, by a family movie taken on my dad’s Super 8 camera. I am probably 3, and am marching around the family barbecue, with a toy gun in my hand. Mom is deep in thought, her hair swept into a smooth French twist, her beautiful chiseled profile downcast, her eyes hooded. She holds the match to my pistol. She looks both sad and sedated, occasionally glancing over at her family with a bottomless weariness. Out of frame, I get her attention by apparently aiming at her. She shakes herself, smiles, and shoots me back.

I know now that at this time Mom was severely depressed. A friend, one with small kids even younger than some of her own, had committed suicide, something she wrote about. What frightened her was not the act. It was the fact that she understood it as a viable option.

3 daughters in adolescence at the same time with two younger kids couldn’t have been easy for anyone. But I do think we kept Mom around. And in me, the dreamy one who escaped into books, stories, and music, the deep disappointment to my father’s wish for, at last, a son, she saw herself. Mom, I believe, decided she would give me what she never had: someone who believed in me no matter what, my champion who would not see the unlikely odds of my success, but who instead believed in my greatness.

For that, I am forever grateful. I cannot change that my older three sisters didn’t have that experience. I can only express thanks for what I myself received.

Shortly after that Super 8 movie, Mom became a Christian. Her life changed. I escaped the temper that she admitted had driven her for years; she said “the Lord took it away from her.” That ended up not being true—if only it were that easy—but through her daily prayers and study, I know she gained perspective and some self-acceptance. There’s no question that I benefited from the kinder, gentler Clare.

And the six-year gap between me and my nearest sister, Lisa, also gave me a rare gift in having Mom in large part to myself through my own adolescence. Julie, Beck, and Lisa each got married at 19, escaping our move to idaho, my dad’s return fantasy fulfilled. I never realized that, much as I hated the move, Mom hated it more. She stayed positive, never telling me how badly she had wanted to remain in California, and we stuck together.

So I did not have the typical teenage angst and battles with Mom; like she and Dad so many years before, it was us against the world. When I didn’t get asked to the prom, Mom took me for a weekend to Salt Lake City so that I didn’t even have to be in the neighborhood. We rode bikes together. I played piano for her. We shopped, gossiped, dreamed, and I told her pretty much everything, even when I would cut class to go skiing.

In college, away from home, the road got dramatically rockier. Yet the storm clouds always passed; we’d end up close as ever. When I met Karl, she was happy for me. When he got sick and we had to move, she came to visit us countless times. She was there when he died so that I didn’t have to go through it alone. When I called her a little over a year later—asking if I could come live with her and Dad because I was pregnant and things weren’t working out with the baby’s father—she welcomed me home.

When I envision Mom, she is always smiling her beautiful smile. We talked at least twice a week over the last years, and I only cut back from once a day because she was so busy. I was delighted, especially once she moved to Oregon, to have her not answer; I’d find out the next day that she’d been off with friends. I can’t count the number of times over the last few years that she would tell me, almost a little breathless with disbelief, how much she loved the community of Sisters—how embraced she felt, how loved, how deep the connections were in such a short time. It’s always surprising to me that Mom was herself surprised by how warmly people responded to her. She projected friendliness, openness, even if she didn’t always feel it. My friends nearly always hugged her on meeting her; they always remarked on her youth, her beauty, and just how darn much fun she was.

And in her relationship with her second husband Drew, my mom learned how to communicate better than she ever had before. Dad would not push back with Mom. Drew would. They both had a lot to learn. They gutted it out. Game, I think, was the middle name Mom never got. She loved to learn, more than anyone I ever met, and I am so grateful that she passed that on to me. She loved stories, she loved people, and she loved to laugh.

My regrets with Mom are small. I planned to visit her now, in July; I hoped maybe we could talk in person about some of the things we disagree about, though honestly, it probably wouldn’t have happened. When I heard she’d had the stroke, I kicked myself for writing “don’t open til Mother’s Day” on the card I sent. Fortunately, Mom, impulsive to the last, ignored it; when I arrived in Oregon, there was the card, open on the table. I wish I’d called her on Sunday night, instead of waiting a day; within 12 hours, the massive stroke that took her away had happened, and Mom never talked again.

Mostly, I just really, really miss her. In talking with my sisters, brother, and husband, I’ve realized that for every 10 conversations you had with Mom, 8 would be fairly rote, with her not paying that much attention. But one would be fun, and you’d laugh. And one would be absolutely wonderful: connected, listening. The best of Mom. And that was pretty great.

If Mom could’ve written her own death, she would’ve picked the one she got. No dying slowly to painful scourges. No greater and greater lapses into Alzheimer-fog, which had taken her own mother and frightened her, even though she showed no signs of it even at 86. We’d all miss that last conversation with her, that last hug. But Mom not losing her abilities: that’s huge. The word “blessing” is horribly overused. But Mom’s death truly was one, for her, and for the people who loved her and didn’t have to see her decline. We just have to realize she’s not there. Of course it’s hard, but it’s a bargain I accept.

M  y second to last conversation with her was one of the one in 10. She expressed tremendous joy as she looked out at the ocean, where Drew was flying a kite. My last conversation, while Steve and I waited to board the plane to Germany, was one of the fun ones. We spent a 32-hour day to get back to her. She was still alive when we got there, curled on her side, sleeping peacefully. I held her feet—she loved a foot rub—and then knelt beside her and held her hand. She was warm. I kissed her and whispered, “Mom, you finally get to say of course.” It was one of her favorite C.S. Lewis quotations, that our first words when we get to heaven will be “of course.” I told her to sleep well, and that I’d see her in the morning.

Within five hours, she was gone. People said she waited for me. I don’t doubt that, but I remain eternally grateful that she knew I would come.

Oh, Mom. I miss you so much. But I will see you in the morning. Which in your case, is now perpetual.

I love you.

mom-me-wedding

I don’t usually write about my mom. But she loved this site, and served as an excellent recipe tester. So if you’d like, please subscribe to the mailing list to see more. Thank you kindly.


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green-beans

WTF, CSA? Green Beans

Here’s the thing with fresh green beans: You can’t buy just a handful.

green-beans-bagged

These are roughly 2 pound bags that I recently saw at Whole Foods. Whole Foods’ idea is that you will buy this entire bag, no questions asked. And of course, you can just remove what you want—even just a handful—with impunity.

But optimally, your idea should be to avoid bagged green beans altogether, because frankly, you have no idea what could be in there.  You can also see how lumpy those beans are, which means: tough. You’ll be much happier with your purchase if you seek out this type of display. Hey, wait a sec! Those aren’t cucumbers! LOL, Larry.

green-beans-in-the-store

You can see that many of the stems are still intact, a sign of freshness. Turn a bag inside out over your hand and grab what you need. (Do wash these when you get home, because people have been running their hands through those things All Day.)

Point being, when green beans rain, they pour. Your CSA box may be fair to bursting with beans one day. What’s a cook to do?

Well, first off, snap off those stems. This, I find, is the most satisfying green bean experience. The stems snap off with a nice snappy pop; maybe even the teeniest bit of water pops out when they’re super fresh.

green-beans-snapped

You can also cut them, which is speedy. You just line ’em up, chop one set of tips, then line them back up the other way and repeat. This works if your green beans are maybe a little less fresh; again, not optimal, but still edible. Bonus: Beans make a great first cutting project for a beginning cook. You can practice your monkey claw, and complete the job in 2 quick cuts per pile of beans.

Just as with all vegetables, you have a few options—though limited somewhat by the ways of the bean. Prior to any veggie recommendations, it’s important to note that acid turns your beautiful bright green beans a downright fug olive color. Add acid, should you need it, to any preparation of green beans—particularly raw, steamed, or blanched—at the very last minute, and the dish will look fine for the next half hour or so. But leftovers are likely to look a bit sad. More on that below.

Green Beans: Raw

ONLY if you have just picked them out of the garden, and if they are the super skinny haricot vert variety (the ones so thin they look like needles). Even so, they don’t call ’em beans for nothin’. While green beans are actually a flower, they’re a little starchy. A quick dunk in a pot of boiling salted water or a light steaming preserves their bright jade color as it brings out the fresh green flavor, and makes them a little easier to digest as well.

If you do opt for raw, just rinse them well and snap off the ends. If you have to cut off the ends because they’re not snapping cleanly, they’re not fresh enough, in my book, to go on the plate without a little further cooking.

Green Beans: Steamed or Blanched

These methods are interchangeable and provide serious versatility. To steam, put your steamer basket filled with green beans in a pot with an inch or so boiling water. Cover the pot, steam 1-2 minutes, then refresh with cold water.

green-beans-steamed

To blanch, simply dump the beans in a big amount of boiling salted water. More water works great because you want to cook the beans quickly, 1-2 minutes; in a big pot, the water comes back to the boil almost immediately. Pour into a colander and refresh with cold water so the beans don’t continue to cook.

You can pre-cook all your beans either of these ways, and then have them on hand for salads and other dishes throughout the week.

Beans love fresh herbs. Dill and mint get called up the most often, but pretty much any, in any combination work. This bean salad link provides step by step instructions and an actual, adaptable recipe if you like precise amounts.

Feel free add some butter or a tasty oil to your barely cooked green beans, because Fat = Yum. Fresh steamed or blanched beans with butter, salt and pepper are completely awesome.

Green Beans: The Steam Sauté

Green beans love some fat. Stir-fry or saute them raw, then add some liquid for a brief steaming. Alternatively, steam or blanch the beans before steaming. If raw, you may want to consider the so-called French cut, i.e., slicing them lengthwise.

green-beans-julienned

It’s a pain in the ass, quite frankly, but it does serve its purpose; it was invented to help out some of the bigger and consequently tougher beans that often get to market.

As for optimal pairings: Native to the Americas, green beans at this point in time are part of nearly every world cuisine, and consequently go with all sorts of things, like….cherries!

green-beans-cherries

In case you think that’s weird, there’s also corn and some feta cheese added to the mix. I swear, it worked beautifully.

green-beans-greekish-salad

They’re wonderful in a big Asian-inspired stir-fry. I adapted this Mee Goreng recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi barely at all (other than to not be tremendously slavish about amounts, and swapping the sprouts for radishes and the iceberg for radish greens, because I had them on hand).

green-beans-mee-goreng

And, with apologies to non-meat-eating friends and readers, I must report that green beans and bacon are quite wonderful, as this take on a classic southern recipe can attest. (The recipe does provide links to vegan “bacon” alternatives, so fear not.)

Do know that, since acid of some kind is usually added to a saute—lemon juice, vinegar, or tomato—leftovers will turn that dismal color. Additionally, while there are many, many recipes I’ve come across that advocate adding green beans to a long-simmering braise of other vegetables and protein, my personal preference is to keep them and crispy and green as possible. If you dig eating olive drab, go for it, and report back.

Green Beans: Roasted

Green beans can be roasted or grilled, though frankly this prep feels a little gimmicky to me. As always, you do you. The basic vegetable roasting techniques apply. Just toss in oil with salt and herbs. Then roast for a brief period, say 5-8 minutes before giving a good stir, followed by an additional 5-8 minutes.

Green Beans: A Few Cool Options

Having steamed and/or blanched green beans on hand benefits your kitchen throughout the week. You can add them to salads, either green or grain based. You can toss them in a soup for color at the last second, stir them into pasta or rice dishes, and dip them in hummus. Chopped up and mixed with a cooked grain—quinoa, barley, a plump short-grain rice—you can then form them into patties and make cute little cakes; I’m currently experimenting with an old Bert Greene recipe to this effect and will post when I’m happy with it.

Best of all, you can either dip into them through the week—they’ll keep nicely in your produce drawer as long as they don’t get wet, for several days—or steam off the whole bunch the day you get them and just throw in a little bean confetti as the inspiration strikes. Chomp away, mes amis.

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LCF Update 4-3-18: Fasting, Fat Bombs, Tiki!!

This LCF Update 4-3-18 marks a return to something I’ve planned to do from the conception of Le Chou Fou: point to cool stuff I’ve found around the old interwebs and off of it through the week. Welcome back!

Before I get going, I wanted to point to my inspiration for the whole idea, Gena over at The Full Helping. Gena writes honestly and movingly about her life and her relationship, for better or worse, with food. You’ll find her own excellent recipes at her blog, and in her weekly update, other great vegan meals around the web. She also links to thought-provoking articles on food supply, sustainability, the psychology of eating, and many other subjects of interest. So follow that link, sign up, and enjoy a truly outstanding weekly update that is more serious than moi.

So what did I eat last week? I kicked off with a wonderful dinner at Miss Kim in nearby Ann Arbor. I wrote about Ji-hye (pronounced gee-hey) Kim and her awesome Korean restaurant in this Edible Wow piece, and she invited me to a special meal she put together as part of Zingerman’s special dinner series. Steve and Henry tagged along. I had minimal meat; I know that the Zing’s food is all responsibly sourced from top producers, and part of being a food writer is getting outside your comfort zone a little bit. So yeah, I ate a pork noodle made from pork skin, and it was SO MUCH better than it sounds. I mean, I won’t be chasing pigs with a fork….

Max in Where the Wild things are

but let’s just say I spent my pork quotient for the month in a Unique Fashion. I also left off the “skin” when my son asked me what we were eating. “Pork!” I yelled, like some man in drag I saw in some British comedy once. Pythons, I believe, were involved.

Hopefully, this super labor-intensive graphic (I seriously worked for like an hour on this thing) conveys the yumminess.

Miss Kim Ann Arbor as seen in LCF update 4-3-18

On the way to Miss Kim, we stopped at the Ann Arbor Food Coop, and I can never figure out why we don’t shop there more often than Whole Paycheck. Oh, well, there’s parking. Parking in downtown Ann Arbor requires both gumption and awesome parallel parking skills. My possession of the former in significant quantities does not compensate for my complete lack of the latter. And I do try, repeatedly, to get better at it. Alas, it continues to elude me. My daughter’s really good at it.

Anyway, the Coop featured these crazy Easter-egg hued radishes, as much fun to eat as to cut into and put on….avocado toast!! Finest invention ever. Avocado toast makes me proud to have been born in California. (So do some other things, which I’ll leave you to guess.) Fun fact: In Argentina, avocado is called “palta,” not “aguacate” as in Central America and the Caribbean. Other fun fact: Don’t say you’re from “America” when you’re in Latin America. Latin Americans are American too, and they sort of roll their eyes without really rolling them. To prevent this cultural disaster, say you’re from Estados Unidos or Norte America. Meanwhile, grab you a pretty radish, cut it open, and let the palta fiesta begin!

radish from store to avocado toast, LCF update 4-3-18

The LCF Update 4-3-18: What I Cooked

I didn’t cook much last week, but I did post one new recipe, for Deviled Eggs. I will confess that I looked at my Instagram feed and thought, whoa, too green. (This, incidentally, amounted to a curmudgeonly friend’s assessment of Ireland once: “Too green!” Snort. What a nut.) Anyway, I figured fuschia and turmeric would brighten up the joint. Fortunately Steve has exercised supreme discipline in stain-proofing the counter, because beets and turmeric in the hands of Nan Le Chou amount to frightening Agents of Kitchen Destruction and Possible Grounds for a Severe Talking-To Though Not a Divorce. Thanks to my husband, our counters are still a lovely gray. Unlike these psychedelic snacks.

deviled eggs in the LCF update 4-3-18

Also, I provided the skinny on my latest cleanse. It has an enema paragraph. Ha. I’m gonna watch that link tracker shoot sky-high!

raw juice cleanse in the LCF update 4-3-18

I made fat bombs using this recipe from Clean Eating. These lemon chia and raspberry cheesecake versions taste delish. The most difficult part is digging the coconut butter out of the jar. Compared to peeling eggs, that part’s a breeze. Be sure, by the way, to use coconut butter, not coconut oil. Steve likes to eat coconut oil, straight out of the jar. He also doesn’t think oil pulling, one of the grossest cleansing things anyone ever came up with, is gross (and this from a woman who had a colonic). Such a fascinating mystery, this husband of mine. fat bombs from LCF Update 4-3-18

I also made up this avocado-based green goddess dressing from Cooking LIght and roasted some asparagus and dunked it in that. It tasted great, but don’t make more dressing than you’ll use in a sitting, because it turns that icky dud avocado color even though there’s acid in the dressing. Steve eats avocado that’s turned the dud color. We are talking paragon.

asparagus in green goddess dressing from LCF Update 4-3-18

The LCF Update 4-3-18: Some Articles

As a kid, our big family date night consisted of going to Waikiki Village in Los Gatos. One of my first exotic food experiences, and man, did I love that place. As a tiki bar, it tended toward Subdued and Tasteful. This is not as oxymoronic as it sounds, because I was a kid, and at that age you think that a Barbie Hotel is the Epitome of Sophisticated Elegance. I dreamed of going to Trader Vic’s in San Francisco, which one of my older sisters told me represented all the greatness of Waikiki Village with a massive Vitamin B injection. (We didn’t talk about steroids back then. And you know, California. Granola, etc.) So how could I resist an article stating, “If California’s Don the Beachcomber Closes, a Fascinating Chapter in Tiki History Ends.” I mean, the very fact that Tiki History is a thing—not only that, a thing with chapters.

Don the Beachcomber in LCF Update 4-3-18

Photo from the link above.

If you prefer to sober up, this article “Ketchup Sandwiches and Other Things Stupid Poor People Eat” by Anastasia Basil should do the trick. I wish essays like this got as much love as all the damn Roseanne think pieces. Blah blah blah provocative blah blah blah she’s awesome blah blah blah she sucks blah blah blah money. Now Anastasia Basil, on the other hand, deserves your attention. Follow her on twitter.

My latest Edible pieces are out, first one on Master Chef Sean Loving:

master chef Sean Loving in a profile by Nan Bauer

Photo by Jacob Lewkow

…and this one on Tasty Bakery, which bakes gluten- and sugar-free treats here in Ann Arbor, MI. They work hard to make yummy sweets that taste way too good to be healthy, and if you go to their website, you can have them delivered. I really want to do this, but I fear that will move up the next cleanse date. And, well, by now, you should know what that means.

The LCF Update 4-3-18: Entertainment

Finally, I read a fine debut novel, The Misfortune of Marion Palm, about a mousy woman who embezzles the hell out of the private school where she works, and that her daughters attend.

misfortune of marion palm in lcf update 4-3-18

And one day, she just says, I’m outta here. Her husband is kind of a dud avocado himself, so you really don’t blame her. Emily Culliton uses a dry, lean style of prose to tell this twisty, slide-y story. The satire is so sharp, you don’t even feel the cut. Then you look down and go, whoa. Draw blood, Emily.

My Raw Food Experiment

So the paleo thing didn’t work out so well—at least not the one that I tried. So before detailing my raw food experiment, I report that, in response, Katie over at Athletic Muscle sent me this link. She’s collected 121 recipes that I’m mostly mostly interested to try. (I’ll skip the ones with mammal meat.) Once you’re over at Katie’s site, check out the rest of her offerings, which are plentiful.

Before commencing, allow me to confirm that I don’t have affiliate programs with anyone. No one’s paying me to write about a particular company (I wish). This all happened. So, onward.

I’ve noted before that I cleanse about once a season. Up til now, as you’ll see at this link, I’ve chosen the Conscious Cleanse;  I still recommend it as a good way to get your feet wet in the detox process.

But this time, I decided I’d go for the Ultimate 7-Day Cleanse by Tess Masters and Karen Kipp—really about 12-14 days by the time you factor in prep and post days. I found it through Daily Om, a favorite destination, with absolutely tons of classes that are ridiculously affordable.

I bought the Ultimate Cleanse, gave it a once-over, and thought, well, that looks virtuous. Count me out! Ok, not quite that dismissive. But we were headed out of the country, and it just seemed like a production I didn’t quite feel I could pull off. Tessa and Karen completely spell out the UC for you: what you’ll eat for every meal of the day, as well as suggested bodywork. So where other programs say, do this and don’t eat that but basically make your own choices, UC says, you will eat this today in the morning, and then this, and then this. In situations that could easily induce whining, I like clear direction.

BTW, I offer no recipes in this post; they’re all available in the Ultimate Cleanse if you’re interested.

Here’s how it went.

my raw diet experiment, a fresh cleansing juice

My Raw Food Experiment: The Run-up

The cleanse instructions begin with a big old long list of stuff you’re supposed to cut a minimum of 3 days before you embark on Day 1. It’s basically everything fun. I mean, veggies are definitely my thing, and I like fruit. But…yowza. That said, I was used to this from Conscious Cleanse. I knew I would feel really great after a day or two of whining and being sad that I could no longer scarf down a half a bag of jelly beans when no one’s looking. Yes, beans. Not Jelly Bellies, but super crappy jelly beans where you eat one and you can pretty much feel the dye entering your bloodstream and making you radioactive. I like those. Buh-bye.

I cut sugar about 5 days ahead, then wine, coffee, gluten—always the hard one—soy, eggs, dairy—actually, that may be harder—a day or so later. I will confess, I got a breakfast burrito at Whole Foods the day before I began. It didn’t even sound good. But I dunno, I was feeling like a big baby who wanted a breakfast burrito. I did not like it. I took it as a sign that I was ready to go.

My Raw Food Experiment: The Raw Food Part

I’ve done raw food days before, and I always feel kind of weird about them. It’s just so much damn….chewing. Chomp, chomp, chomp. Are we there yet? No? Chomp, chomp, chomp. I feel like a camel or a horse or something with big flat teeth. Maybe a hippo.

The very first smoothie that I had, following the provided recipe, was ridiculous. It deserved its creamsicle designation. (With one exception, I didn’t photograph the smoothies. I mean, a green smoothie looks like a green smoothie.) Here’s a red one. See? Pretty, but….not a lot of variety.

my raw diet experiment, a fresh cleansing smoothie

But this chia pudding, breakfast on another day, kind of converted me to chia. The trick is to blend it with a big mass of strawberries.

my raw diet experiment, a fresh cleansing chia pudding

For lunch, which I couldn’t eat nearly as much as the recipe  provided. It tasted good, though I won’t be putting it in regular rotation. But look at all those healthy ingredients. I mean, you feel lighter just seeing the picture, right?

my raw diet experiment, a fresh cleansing salad Now dinner definitely, goes into the rotation. Even a fake taco is still a taco, and the raw nuts, seeds, and veggies worked great as a meat substitute. And seriously, how can you not love eating half an avocado?

my raw diet experiment, a fresh cleansing raw meal

The very fine part of all this, beyond the fact that the food tasted good and was completely planned out in advance, was that I didn’t feel hungry. Better yet, I experienced zero cravings. That’s in large part because I did the pre-cleanse getting-ready period. Honestly, if you can’t commit to that, don’t bother, because I’m going to bet you’ll be on the miserable side.

And now we come to…..

My Raw Food Experiment: The Colonic

(In case you’re nervous, there are no pictures for this section. You’re welcome.)

Look. A colonic enema counts as one of those things where you’re completely freaked out by it and yet weirdly intrigued at the same time. I’ve had 2 in my life. The first went pretty well, the second didn’t, and that’s why there haven’t been any more.

On the UC, you can choose to just add juice to the raw food diet or you can do what’s called the Deep Dive, which is only juice for a number of days. Right up to the night before I began the cleanse, I waffled. But then I thought, why not?

Well, in order for the fast to proceed swimmingly—oh dear, the puns may fly fast and…UGH. I’m suddenly terrified of metaphor—Tess and Karen recommend a colonic. I mean, the home enema option also exists, but….well, that’s not a part of my usual routine. So I figured I’d let a pro literally clean out my shit.

A colonic is about the weirdest feeling in the world. I can now verify that any mild titillation I felt at the mention of a butt plug has officially ended. Water flows up your ass for probably 40 minutes, and the therapists presses on your belly. When things start moving, it’s not excruciating, but it’s pretty uncomfortable. Also, it’s just so strange to feel like you desperately have to run to the bathroom and then have to tell yourself that you actually don’t because this thing in your butt kind of IS your bathroom for the next 40 minutes.

And then we came to the end, followed by even more expulsion on a good old regular toilet. This is the poop description part, so either skip to the next paragraph if that grosses you out, or read and learn. I experienced zero diarrhea, which was a thing the last time I had a colonic. That, I know, was due to excellent preparation, including the run-up time eliminating un-cleanse-worthy food and the raw food days. Just this immense amount of waste ended up in the toilet; no straining, just long, smooth cylinders filling up the bowl. I mean, I looked at it and thought, Damn. All that in li’l old me?

My Raw Food Experiment: The Juice Fast

Well, glory hallelujah, I survived the colonic. Afterward, I naturally felt lighter and tremendously clear-headed. And creative! That was a surprise. It probably shouldn’t have been. After all, I basically completely decluttered my gut.

Juice for 3 days was a treat. It helped that I didn’t have to work, and indeed it’s recommended that you block off time so you can rest, due to the hard work of the body as it cleans its own house. The juice was plenty, and knowing I didn’t have to concentrate on anything but healing felt pretty damn luxurious.

my raw diet experiment, a fresh cleansing juice

Oh, and there were juice popsicles and they were seriously genius.

My Raw Food Experiment: Finishing Up and Afterward

Here’s the truly great thing about the Ultimate Cleanse: Tessa and Karen tell you EXACTLY how to gracefully exit. The two days following the all-juice portion introduced food back in very gently and gradually.

my raw diet experiment, a fresh cleansing raw meal

And I found that when it came to eating, I’d had a dramatic reset as far as simply being able to listen to my body. 7 days completed, I’m on my own. Previous cleanse efforts have left me food-righteous for about a week or two. This one has allowed me to truly understand what hunger feels like vs. when my body and mind are tricking me into wanting to eat even though food isn’t the right answer at the time.

5 days out, the pipes are not still figuring out how they’re going to work. But  I don’t feel constipated, just transitioning into the new normal. And by introducing the things I cut slowly, I can feel exactly what’s going on with my body. Cravings are no longer a thing, which amazes me. The primary craving I have is to feel good, which consequently makes fuel choices a lot, lot easier.

my raw diet experiment, a fresh cleansing raw meal

Overall, I feel amazing: high energy, creative, productive, positive. I got rid of a lot more than the literal shit.

Here, once again, is the link to purchase the (extremely reasonably priced) Ultimate Cleanse. Try it if you dare to feel awesome. And also, to get a colonic.

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salad argentina style, heaped on a pizza

Salad Argentina Style

I fall in and out of love with salad. When I make the effort to create a really good one, I wonder why I ever eat anything else. But when I’m lazy and do the same old same old, and I wonder why I bother.

When I travel, I expect hit and miss. Over the last few years, I’ve had great success with simple salads in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland. In Italy, surprisingly, I had some plates of green as depressing as anything I’ve seen in the US. In the Caribbean and Colombia, I resign myself to getting my fresh raw produce via smoothies. The tropics are not conducive to glorious greens; often, the only lettuce I see is a  hydroponic variety devoid of flavor and texture.

So when we decided to hit Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks this winter, I thought, well, I’m not going to expect much. Most people, including many Argentines that we met along the way, equate Argentina with beef. In fact, if you say “carne,” Spanish for meat, in Argentina, beef is assumed. I figured for a vegetable, I’d probably be offered pork.

I have never been so delighted to be proven wrong. Salad Argentina-style, at least in BA, is a glorious, creative wonder. Certainly, it helps that we were there in the height of summer. The climates of Argentina and Uruguay remind me of those in the California where I grew up: sunny, dry-ish, and fertile. Geographically, the soil is rich and good, not needing a bunch of weird treatments. Farmers get respect.

Most importantly, food tastes like it’s supposed to, and salads taste green. My first one arrived not as a salad, but as a pizza from La Pharmacie, a restaurant near our 10-day home. A crisp crust spread with a dense tomato sauce and thin slices of melted mozzarella featured a lush layer of peppery, tender-crisp raw arugula on top. Meaty, fruity olives perched on top. The great thing about this meal: I didn’t think I was ordering a salad, but I got one anyway, and I also began to completely rethink the concept of pizza. Why shouldn’t it just be a crispy base for a ton of fresh vegetables?

Salad Argentina style-a pizza topped with fresh arugula from La Pharmacie in Buenos Aires

I intentionally order a salad from Cabernet restaurant in Palermo. This beauty featured tender crisp mixed greens surrounded by paper-thin, perfectly ripe pears, sprinkled on top with hazelnuts and blue cheese. (Sorry about the light here, but perils of restaurants, etc.)

Salad Argentina style-a pear-hazelnut-blue-cheese-arugula combo

Back at Pharmacie, this Caprese was simple and stunning, with sweet roasted peppers in crimson and saffron, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and plenty of basil. (And, needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, non-optimal light.)

Salad Argentina style-the wonderful simple caprese from la Pharmacie in Buenos aires

Salad Argentina-style: A few guidelines

Here’s what the salads had in common:

  1. A base of flavorful, thoughtfully chosen greens. Optimally, get the best you can find, wash them yourself (rinsing a lot, bc the good stuff is dirty), spin them dry, and pile them on the plate—or the pizza.
  2. Something sweet. Roasted peppers and roasted cherry tomatoes were favorites, but fruit, particularly pears, were frequent add-ins as well.
  3. A little cheese. If you’re vegan, you’ll skip this. But having access to really excellent cheese is one of the reasons I never can quite commit to being a vegan. There simply isn’t a substitute for the creamy yum of farm-fresh cheese.
  4. Something savory. Olives of all kinds, or artichoke hearts, or bamboo hearts (easier to get down here). Or nuts. Usually not all of those things, which allows the flavors to shine.

It’s not so different from the directions in the salad post I’ve already done. The main thing is, Salad Argentina helped me snap my winter-dulled palate back into life. As I get back in cooking mode here, these faves from other cooks can brighten up your late winter kitchen. Because admit it: You gotta be a little tired of soup at this point.

Tieghan at Half Baked Harvest is always rock solid—I actually just typed “rock salad,” which I sort of like. This recipe for broccoli and avocado salad is excellent.

I haven’t tested this vegan salad made from spiralized sweet potatoes (from Laura at The First Mess), but the combo of chipotle with miso seems like a spectacular transition one for early spring—which, they tell me, is coming.

Yotam Ottolenghi creates such glorious, flavorful salads. If you love vegetables, get his book Plenty. This salad introduces what for me was a revolutionary idea: mix herbs with impunity. Don’t worry so much about the grams, just look at the proportions: about 2 parts cilantro (aka coriander) and parsley to 1 part basil and dill, 3 parts arugula (rocket), and 4 parts some type of young lettuce; just be sure you get something with flavor. Play with the nuts and seeds. Know that when Brits say mange tout (it means “eat all”), they mean “snow peas,” because sometimes they forget that they hate the French (which is sort of adorable). Use the recipe as a jumping off point, and discover joy and wonder on a plate.

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new-fashioned cobb salad, lunchfor my paleo experiment

My Paleo Experiment

So here’s why I undertook this paleo experiment:

I will not lie. I love carbs. As a kid, I thought meat was weird: the texture, the smell, the way it looks. But alas, a woman who lives by carbs alone becomes, at least in my case, a low energy woman. Additionally, being a woman of un certain age, as the French so delicately put it—or “cinquenta-misterio” as a Cuban friend says—I don’t love the layer of blub that collects below the ribs.

Regular readers (thank you, by the way) know or have probably guessed that I am not a huge meat fan and that I AM a huge Clean Eating magazine fan. In addition to a lot of very fine recipes, every issue features a one-week menu plan. Ooooh, I’m such a sucker for a menu plan. To this day, I have never followed one all the way through because they usually have a) too much chicken, or b) too many leftovers. Foodwise, I love novelty.

But in the January/February issue, they provided a paleo plan, and I thought, ok. My paleo experiment can begin.

Now one thing you should know is that I decided to tackle this one prior to a road trip. We went to the west side of the state to see S’s family, and we typically bring all of our food, because the part of Michigan that we’re going to isn’t exactly Clean Eating Paradise. So everything was put together the day before and orchestrated to be portable. Since the road trip was Wednesday-Thursday, that’s where I started.

Here’s what I ate, along with a very honest evaluation, and a wholly personal end verdict.

My Paleo Experiment: The Morning

Breakfast: Chia Pear Puddingchia pear pudding, breakfast for my paleo experiment

Can you tell by the way I tried to tart that photo up—flowers, a pretty bowl, photoshop—that chia pudding is just damn ugly? It’s a weird color, a slimy texture, and not much in the flavor department even with a very ripe pear added. The chia seeds are supposed to make this filling, and I guess they do, but you know what? There is way too much good food out there to subject yourself to stuff you don’t like. And I know some people totally dig the chia. They like the way it sort of slips down your throat like an oyster. So, my chia-loving friends, more for you!! I’m not making this one again.

Mid-morning snack: 2 Garlicky Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms with 1 Tbsp. Kimchi

garlic-kimchi-crab stuffed mushrooms, snack for my paleo experiment

I hate fermented food. Steve loves sauerkraut and kombucha and is altogether quite virtuous in the food department, but I think both those things are gross. Kimchi’s a little better, because the spiciness masks the ickiness. As is often the case, it’s a texture thing with me, so I chop the hell out of the kimchi. In this case, I mixed it in with the crab, which was from a can and not an insanely expensive batch of lump crabmeat, which of course I’d prefer, but I’m not insane, which I believe is a requirement if one is going to pay for lump crabmeat at something like 30 bucks a pound. This was surprisingly yummy and filling, so huzzah to a new high protein low carb snack, except I have to have the damn crabmeat. I dunno. I think a lobster tail would be cheaper.

My Paleo Experiment: The Afternoon

Lunch: New Fashioned Cobb Salad

new-fashioned cobb salad, lunch for my paleo experiment

Ok, this salad ROCKED. It’s easy for me to get out of salad mode because frankly to make a good one takes some effort, but this was completely worthwhile. The only thing I changed was to not add the water to the dressing, because as I’ve said before, adding water to salad in any way is dumb.

Afternoon snack: Chocolate Energy Bites and a green apple

chocolate energy bites, snacks for my paleo experiment

I was so satisfied from the salad and mushrooms earlier that I decided to save these for dessert, bc I do like a little sweetness after dinner. Also, obviously, I couldn’t find a green apple. When I did have them, they were also excellent. The recipe for these is at the bottom of this one for Golden Milk Cheesecakes, and those things are ridiculous and you need to make some as soon as you have the ingredients.

My Paleo Experiment: The Evening

So along about dinner time, I’m thinking, hey, I can really get with this whole paleo thing, because so far, everything but that chia pudding has been fine. And then we get to….

Dinner: Roasted Vegetables with Chicken Sausage

roasted vegetables with chicken sausage, for my paleo experiment

And this was terrible. I’m sorry, so sorry to report it. It’s partly my fault. I didn’t skin the sausage, and that’s just stupid. In trying to hew as closely to the original as possible (in the name of SCIENCE), I actually followed a recipe instead of listening to my instincts. I acted, according to the philosophy espoused by moi on the website, completely against my principles. For heck’s sake, I know how to roast vegetables. I also knew that the parsnips I was finding were absolutely horrible, but I tried to cook them anyway.

I ended up with a barely edible mess. Steve and I sort of soldiered through a little bit of it, then put it aside (I did find a way to use it by chopping it fine, which always works, and turning it into a quiche filling) and ate our little chocolate bites later. Though honestly, we weren’t that hungry, so it worked out ok.

My Paleo Experiment: Day 2

Next day: For breakfast, there is no way I’m going to bake an egg in an avocado. Also, I realized how much I hate breakfast that isn’t a smoothie. We all get into these little ruts, but honestly, we stay in some of them because they work for us. So I guess in that case, they’re not ruts so much as they’re nicely-worn paths. But I did have egg and avocado for breakfast. On the road, I had one of those cheesecakes, a reward that  I needed, because I was starting to feel that weird aggressive edginess that I feel whenever I eat too much protein. Carbs make you nicer!!

For lunch, the listed meal was a bag of broccoli slaw stir fried with pork, which I don’t eat (except for that occasional bacon temptation which I can completely live without). I had to use up the extra crabmeat, so I put that in and the result was about as good as it sounds, which is not good at all.

And then we were home, and I said, hell with it.

My Paleo Experiment: The Upshot

So my paleo thing didn’t really work. I imagine you can do vegan paleo but….you know, I just think food’s too fun to get quite that rule-bound.

But still, I have an event coming up and would like to be in a little better fighting shape. So my experiments will continue, and I’ll be reporting back to you. And if you should try this or another plan and get interesting results, please report back to me.

And in response to this post, Katie over at Athletic Muscle sent me this link. She’s collected 121 recipes that I’m mostly mostly interested to try. (I’ll skip the ones with mammal meat.) Once you’re over at Katie’s site, check out the rest of her offerings, which are plentiful.