Wednesday, November 02, 2011

*november challenge, day 1.

So I got one of those wild hairs I sometimes get, one of those notions that I need to inject my life with some capital-C challenge, something that will make me more mindful, more healthy, more energized, more wise. In a word, less sleepy.
And I do recognize that personal challenges can often be the domain of the bored, an exercise in navel-gazing and a setup for that pendulum swing between smug self-congratulation and pathetic, narcissistic self-loathing.

I don't count myself in that camp, naturally. BECAUSE I AM SPECIAL.

I have been absent from this space for a couple of months now, a casualty of work and socializing and this guy getting himself borned.


(I feel certain that LSis will appreciate that her giving LIFE to a human BEING was so taxing for me.) But there was another casualty of all that busy business, and it might have culminated in the complete hoovering of an entire box of Cheez-Its in less than 48 hours. And I recognize that I use Cheez-Its for all manner of exaggerational purposes, but I must shamefully confess—in this case no detail has been changed to protect the snacky.

So I made myself an intriguing offer: What if I committed to eating only whole foods for one month? 

I could tell you that I had lots of righteous thoughts about how I would detoxify my body, how I'd been feeling bloated and tired and I was looking for a way out. But I've pretty much resigned myself to those states. My epitaph will read, "Here lies K. She was both bloated and tired." And to be honest, even "resigned" sounds more negative than my real feelings about it; I was perfectly contented. I could eat all the Cheetos I wanted, and after LSis introduced me to this newfangled notion of clothing that looks like jeans but is actually stretchy pants, I was essentially set for life. 

So yes, I'm going to be perfectly upfront on this point: I am doing this mostly for the challenge. A factor of my Meh, Why Not? philosophy for life. And if the side effect happens to be all of this "more energy" I keep hearing people talk about, well then my apologies to the stockholders at Pepperidge Farm. 

When DAY ONE dawned, bright and early, my first realization was that I was, in absolutely predictable fashion, utterly unprepared. The completely uncensored contents of my kitchen included coffee, Splenda French vanilla packets, an elderly box of Triscuits, nine (I am not kidding) kinds of cheese, and a salad spinner that should have been donated to science. But! Coffee. Breakfast of champions. It took me longer than necessary to discover with despair that when one has embarked on a whole foods challenge, one cannot have artificial sweeteners. At which point I nearly quit on the spot. It had not necessarily occurred to me that I'd have to give up all of my beloved aspartame for an entire month. But after I'd cried all of my bittersweet Diet Mt. Dew tears, I just drank my coffee black. And it was fine. I was somewhat petulant (about the rules ... I'd set ... for myself ... ), but the coffee was fine. 

Last night I went to the grocery store, determined to make DAY TWO a happier affair. It wasn't easy—plenty of products call themselves "whole grain," but relatively few (almost none, in fact) are truly "100% whole grain." And sometimes those labels aren't at all what you'd expect: A fancy, almost-$5 jar of peanut butter covered in health claims (and labeled "What peanut butter should be") had seven ingredients; the old-fashioned Publix organic had two: organic peanuts and salt. A 100% whole-grain tortilla or loaf of bread is almost impossible to find, but there are a few nice pasta options. And I loaded up with colorful fruit (red grapes, Granny Smith apples), vegetables (organic spinach, baby carrots, tomato, mushrooms, and—of course—golden potatoes), organic meats, and cheese. I even found a no-salt-added cottage cheese that was ... well, bland. But I love cottage cheese, and it can be something of a salt bomb, so I wasn't really in a position to look a 60-mg-of-sodium-per-serving gift horse in the blood pressure. I have some holes to fill (I have no fresh herbs in the house), and I spent something like a fortune on my first outing, but here goes nothing! 

I consider myself to be in a better-than-average position to embark on this sort of experiment; my mom fed us whole grains for most of our childhood, so I don't balk at the intensity, and somewhat foreignness, of those flavors. It wasn't until I was left to my own devices that I fell so in love with the processed and prettily packaged. And so, after yesterday's rather inauspicious start, here's how dinner went:



Penne Alfredo with Chicken, Mushrooms, and Spinach

1 boneless, skinless chicken cutlet 
1 teaspoon olive oil 
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced 
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper 
5 button mushrooms, sliced 
1½ teaspoons organic butter 
1½ teaspoons 100% whole wheat flour 
¼ cup heavy cream 
½ cup packed baby spinach leaves 
1 serving 100% whole-grain penne, cooked according to package directions and drained 

1. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Heat oil in a small skillet or saucepan over medium heat; add chicken, and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove from pan, and set aside. 

2. Add garlic, crushed red pepper, and mushrooms to oil in pan; sauté 30 seconds or until garlic is golden brown and fragrant. With a wooden spoon, move mushrooms, garlic, and perimeter of pan, and add butter to center. When butter has melted, whisk in flour; cook 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, and whisk in heavy cream. (Add sauce is too thick, stir in water until it comes to your desired consistency.) 

3. Stir in pasta and spinach until pasta is heated through and spinach is just wilted. (Do not overcook.) Sprinkle with additional dried crushed red pepper, if desired. Makes 1 serving.


What's Next? says:
at: 7:42 PM said...

I know how hard it is to do this for one, so feel free to feed me at any time. Yummmm

Unknown says:
at: 3:05 PM said...

This sounds yummy! I can't wait to try it.



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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.