Eating In Japan (Japan: Part 3 of 3)

I’ve been thinking about how to structure this post. A day by day accounting of each meal? I sort of already did that in my Japan itinerary post, though without pictures of the food. Just highlighting my favorite meals? But even the not-so-favorite meals are still interesting and memorable. So you’ll get a mix.

First, a few thoughts on my personal approach to eating in Japan.

  1. Eat whatever is put in front of me. Why not? I’m probably not going to be able to ask what it is or ask for something different, so just go for it. This led me to eat a few things that I had never eaten before (raw horse meat, sea urchin), things I typically detest (shrimp), and things I don’t necessarily detest but just don’t… choose to eat because I like almost everything else better (squid, octopus).

2. Don’t be too precious or indecisive. By this I mean, I wasn’t concerned about finding the most authentic Japanese meal/experience or the best sushi or ramen. From everything I’d heard about Japan, it was all going to be good. Quality and service are very important and food is respected. I didn’t want to spend time perseverating over this option or that option. Plus, I don’t speak Japanese, and I wasn’t prepared to get uncomfortable enough to put myself in situations that might have been required in order to find the most authentic experience. So did we end up at a lot of safe, guidebook-recommended, English- and tourist-friendly places? Yes. Was it delicious? Yes. Was it the most authentic experience and the best food I could have had there? Probably not, but I was 100% okay with that.

3. Must haves. These included very fresh sushi (Daiwa sushi, check); conveyor belt sushi (place in Ueno, Tokyo, check); wagyu beef (Otsuko Steak in Kyoto, check); and ramen (multiple checks).

4. Try new things. I ate a lot of things I’d never had before, including the items listed above and most of the street food in Osaka. It also included:

  • Takoyaki: fried dough balls with octopus in them
  • Okonomayaki: savory pancakes containing almost anything – noodles, eggs, meat, sauce, green onion, cabbage, etc.
  • Japanese yam… paste? I don’t know what this stuff is called. We had it the first night in Tokyo at the Shinsuke izakaya with raw tuna. It was at the breakfast buffets in the Matsumoto and Yakushima hotels. And it was in this cold soba noodle dish at the cold soba and tempura restaurant in Matsumoto. It’s white (under the egg here) and had a sticky, pasty consistency and not a ton of flavor. I enjoyed it.fullsizeoutput_ae2d

So, we ate well. We didn’t fuss about it too much. My most memorable food experiences include (in chronological order):

  • Our first meal in Japan at Shinsuke Izakaya, obviously. It was our first meal! We each got a beer and we shared a sake. I don’t remember everything we got, but it included sashimi, the Japanese yam stuff I mentioned above, some pickled things. All in small dishes.
  • Daiwa Sushi. We didn’t have a super fancy sushi dinner in Tokyo, which we debated. But this was damn good sushi, worth the wait.
  • The izakaya, Soan Zama, in Matsumoto. As I mentioned in my first Japan post, we were the only customers, and the woman working did not know any English. There must have been at least one other employee cooking, but we never saw that person. We again each had a beer and shared a sake. We asked for something local. Dan ordered cold soba noodles and something else (I don’t remember). I ordered a set chicken dish, which I believe also came with rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. The woman watched us eat the whole time, essentially. Occasionally she would busy herself with something else, but mostly just watched us. We tried to just talk to each other normally, but it was tough. Still, the woman was adorable and the service and food so wonderful.
  • Dinner and breakfast at our ryokan, Shirouma-so, in Hakuba. Both were set course meals like I’ll show below for kawa doko. Both included whole fried fish, only one of which I ate the whole thing (head and all). Dinner also included a pot thing for cooking meat. It was clay maybe, and the meat cooked in liquid in a tray over a candle. When the candle was done burning, the meat was ready. We were told, if we wanted, to crack an egg into a bowl we had and dunk the meat in the raw egg before eating it. It was delicious. The meals also had miso soup, rice, and various pickled vegetables. Dinner had tempura vegetables and shrimp also. Breakfast had yogurt and melon and a crepe with a cooked but egg in it.
  • Eating in Osaka. I’ve already talked about takoyaki and okonomayaki, both of which we ate in restaurants in between strolling along the Dotombori canal and Dotombori street at night. The next morning, we went to Kuromon market and saw and ate a ton. There was so much food. The first thing I ate was a sort of meat and egg on a stick (pictured below). Then we got this cucumber salad with octopus in it (I mostly at the cucumber, Dan ate the octopus, but I did have a bite). Dan got this enormous scallop, which was cooked for him in butter over charcoal in its own shell. We ate eel, we ate eel over egg, we ate takoyaki, we ate a peach smoothie. And I’m pretty sure there were a few more things on sticks in there.
  • Kawa doko, eating on platforms above the flowing river, in Kibune. This was a set course meal. Dan and I were starving and both ordered the option with the most things. And beer. The meal included fish, sashimi, pickled vegetables, rice, miso soup, tempura, noodles, and probably other things I am forgetting. So many of our meals were like this in that they involve so many little, beautiful dishes – for the soup, for the rice, for the pickled vegetables, etc. It’s a lovely way to eat.
  • Lunch at the Kagoshima Toppy Hydrofoil port restaurant. Like a few other places we’d eaten (breakfast in the Shinjuku train station in Kyoto, lunch at Subaru Fifth Station on Mt. Fuji before hiking), we ordered via a machine that spits out a ticket, which you then hand to the hostess. In this case, the machine had no English nor pictures. But a poster next to it had pictures and prices, so we were able to figure out which button to push by finding the only one with the specific price of what we wanted. This place is memorable to me because it felt truly diner-like. Not run down, but sort of divey feeling. I loved it. Our ramen was sort of greasy and wonderful. Some of the other patrons were clearly also on their way to Yakushima (where we were departing on the hydrofoil from Kagoshima to) and were sort of hippy hiker-seeming. It just sticks out.

Finally, just a few other food/drink experiences worth mentioning, because I have the pictures:

  • Drink vending machines are everywhere. They have a lot of sugary sodas and coffee. And pocari sweat, a Gatorade-type drink that was really refreshing when we were walking around Kyoto!
  • Our first breakfast in Japan was at a fast food French cafe breakfast place. We got pastries with ham and cheese maybe, in rice flour dough. They were actually kind of delicious. (See above where I talk about not insisting on the most authentic experience.)
  • I did a tiny bit of research to find good coffee in Tokyo and found Nozy Coffee Roastery. I think these lattes were like $7 or $8 each. They were good, though, and much needed after walking a ton (this was the day of 33,000+ steps).
  • We shopped at 7-Eleven a few times (including for fruit and salad when I was really struggling! which they had! they have everything in Japan!), and they must have been running some sort of promotion. Twice, they motioned for Dan to stick his hand in this box and pull out a piece of paper. I forget what he ‘won’ the second time, but the first time was a bag of shrimp-flavored puffed starchy things. Dan ate the bag for breakfast the morning we left Tokyo.
  • Dan got green tea ice cream before we started on the Path of Philosophy in Kyoto when his blood sugar was dipping dangerously low and he was feeling hungry.
  • The food sold by vendors at the Gion festival celebrations in Kyoto was similar to the street food in Osaka. Lots of fried things on sticks. The lines were crazy.
  • Our lunch in Hiroshima. I need to go look up that name and I’ll update this. I had a nice meal of pork, rice, miso soup. The place was really cute and cozy.
  • For breakfast or lunch (timing was weird) in the Kagoshima airport on our way from Yakushima back to Tokyo back to Baltimore, I ordered something without having really ANY IDEA what I was getting. Turns out, it was this ground beef with egg ribbons. That looks like cheddar cheese, but it’s egg. And miso and rice and pickled vegetables of course. And, of course, our on-mountain ‘dinner’ at the Mt. Fuji hut at 3,400 meters. Not the tastiest meal ever, but it was food. Japanese curry (which was a thing), a sausage? patty, sausage links, rice, and pickled vegetables.

Hooray!

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Chicken Salad Salad

Guys. I am so excited about the jar salads I made this week. They were so good.

We got home from Japan late Friday, so I had all weekend to meal plan and prepare food for the week. (Side fact: I’m doing another Whole30! My third. I started Monday, so this is only day 3. The last I did was a year ago. I’d pretty much decided to do it post-Japan even before I left for the trip. I’d been eating crap just because it’s there and not feeling great and not being mindful and just wanted to take time to be more intentional about my food choices. Actually, it’s about habits. I like to reset and reform good habits. Then eventually they wear away, and I come back to reset them. Anyway, and then, when I was in Japan, I was craving vegetables. I usually eat so many vegetables and could not find enough vegetables. I loved the food there, but I was very excited to come home and do a Whole30. We’ll see how long that enthusiasm lasts. :-). Anyway.) Instead of falling back on my default salads, I googled for some inspiration. I found this Chicken, Apple, and Pecan Salad from Damn Delicious, and it is damn delicious.

Chicken salad is still sort of a new thing for me. I had never liked mayo until I started eating frites several years ago (they were sort of a thing for a while, right?) and realized that aioli is mayo. So I started making my own. Store-bought mayo still just seemed unappetizing, but homemade was yummy. I used to make it with canola or vegetable oil, you know, before I knew better. Now that I limit those oils, I haven’t found a good way to make it anymore. I tried avocado oil once and really didn’t like it. However, I do like the Primal Kitchen mayo from Thrive Market made with avocado oil. I still don’t use it a lot, so it’s been sitting in my fridge for a while, and it was nice to find an excuse to use it.

To Whole30-ify the recipe, I did not use dried cranberries nor Greek yogurt. Instead, I used a little bit more mayonnaise and a lot more freshly squeezed lemon. Also, my experience with kale in jar salads is that it smells terrible after even a day in a jar (tastes okay, but coworkers give you funny faces), so I used spinach instead.

Ohmygod, so good. I took the picture below after my first bite while sitting at my desk at work because I was so excited.

For better or worse, it takes a while to eat. Not sure why – so many chopped up parts maybe. I was trying to eat really quickly at my desk in between two meetings yesterday. My coworkers were waiting for me to walk with them to the second meeting in another building. I finally had to give up and put some of it back in the jar to eat later. Probably better to not force eating so quickly anyway.

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Fat

The paleo/real-food sphere had a mini freakout a few weeks ago when headlines started popping up that coconut oil is bad for you (for example: here). These headlines were precipitated by (trying not to use words like ‘the result of’ or ’caused by’ given what’s coming below) an American Heart Association (AHA) presidential advisory that was published in Circulation (an AHA publication). The article reviewed the literature on effects of reducing saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat on cardiovascular disease. It had one short section on coconut oil, but coconut oil specifically was not a main point of consideration in the literature reviewed. The article ultimately concluded that reducing saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats reduces cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, strokes). Since coconut oil is high in saturated fat (and the specific studies related to coconut oil the article cited indicated that coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, which the article cites as being a cause of cardiovascular disease), the AHA advises against using coconut oil.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which the AHA recommends, include canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, olive oil, and walnut oil, among others.

Ok.

My initial reaction, like that of many others who eat the way I do (or the way I try to), was to sort of roll my eyes and wonder how they’re manipulating or selectively interpreting the evidence this time. But. Right there with my initial reaction was the thought, “But what does the article actually say? What evidence does it cite? Are there methodological flaws to that evidence, or is it pretty strong?” The truth is that I don’t really know. I assume there must be something wrong with it, because I feel pretty confident in these two things:

  1. Naturally occurring, real food is good for you. This includes naturally occurring, saturated fat, like that found in coconut oil, lard, and butter, which humans have had access to and subsisted on forever and ever, amen.
  2. Industrially-produced ‘vegetable’ and seed oils, like canola oil and soybean oil, are bad for you.

And part of me feels like I don’t care what the evidence says, for the following reasons:

  • The two points above make sense. It makes sense that what humans ate up until 50-100  years ago and what occurs naturally in nature is good for you. And it makes sense, especially considering the rise in chronic disease over the past 50 years, that the industrial production of food generally is not good for you.
  • I am becoming increasingly skeptical of the body of scientific literature that exists, at least around food and nutrition. Corporate interests and funding are so intermingled with so much research. In this case, big agriculture, like corn and soybean growers.

That said, I am a generally rationale person who wants evidence. I have a masters of public health – not a science degree, but I’m trained in epidemiology and evidence-based thinking. I insist on others having data and evidence to back up their claims.

And, I’m married to a very critical-thinking evidence-based medicine-supporting physician who cares about knowing the evidence.

I’ve never been good or comfortable at making strong arguments off the cuff, especially without really knowing what I’m talking about. So – new personal research question:

  • What does the evidence say regarding health outcomes of eating different types of fats, from different sources? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence?

So, I’m going to embark on a little personal journey to really try to understand the AHA’s article, the evidence it cites, the other evidence that’s out there that it doesn’t cite, and really try to wrap my arms around this. Some people (like the authors of AHA’s paper, presumably) conduct literature reviews as part of their full time jobs, and I’m not sure how much time and energy I’ll really be able to put into this. Because I know I’m going to want to go deep. But we’ll see. I’m going to start by reading the article closely, summarizing what it says, and determining what additional questions it raises for me that I might want to look into. Starting now.

Summary of Article:

Okay, as it turns out, I’ll need to do this in chunks. Below is a summary of the first 6 pages, with the additional questions I have (in italics). I’m not answering them now – just taking note of where I want to look into things more.

Introduction:

  • Purpose: Review and discuss the scientific evidence on the effects on CVD of dietary saturated fat and its replacement by other types of fats and carbohydrates
  • Rationale for decreasing saturated fat:
    • Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol.
      • How well-established is this?
    • LDL cholesterol causes atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries).
      • How well-established is this?
    • Populations with low saturated fat have low rates of CVD.
      • I can believe that this is well-established, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that populations with high saturated fat have high rates of CVD.
  • Current AHA guidelines:
    • Keep saturated fat to 5-6% of daily calories if you have elevated LDL and under 10% for the general population.
    • Replace saturated fats with poly and monounsaturated fats (I’ll use PUFA and MUFA from here on).
  • Summary of evidence: Randomized controlled trials and observational studies both have come to different conclusions regarding the effects of reducing saturated fat on CVD. However, RCTs and prospective observational studies in which saturated fats were replaced by PUFAs rather than carbohydrates (usually refined carbs) show reductions in the incidence of CVD whereas studies that replace saturated fat with carbohydrates do not.

Then the article discusses RCTs that looked at replacing saturated fat with PUFAs.

  • First, AHA looked at 3 meta-analyses looking at this question. It seems that within those 3 meta-analyses, 10 studies were identified. AHA chose four of those ten that it deemed to be the highest quality, having met the following criteria:
    • Compared high saturated fat with high PUFA intake
    • Did not include transf fat as a major component
    • At least 2 years of sustained intake of diets
    • Controlled dietary intake of the intervention and control groups
      • How did they do this? Is this reliable?
    • Proved adherence by objective biomarkers such as serum cholesterol or blood or tissue levels of PUFAs.
      • I’ll say right here that I am super confused about using serum cholesterol as a biomarker demonstrating adherence to a low saturated fat diet. It must be pretty well-established that replacing saturated fat with PUFA reduced serum cholesterol. Is it? Above, they said that high saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol. Is this the same thing? If saturated fats increase it then PUFAs decrease it? They use this biomarker a lot… sometimes seeming to use it as a result, sometimes as evidence that the control group actually adhered to a high PUFA diet. I’m just confused.
    • Collected and validated info on cardiovascular or coronary disease events
      •  So, a general question I have is how important are these qualities? If a study didn’t have them, is it right to not consider as high-quality evidence?
  • Study 1: Wadsworth Hospital and Veterans Administration Center in LA.
    • Date of published study: 1969
    • Double-blind.
      • Need to look up how this was done double-blind. They don’t explain.
    • N=846 men. 30% had CVD.
    • Diet:
      • The two groups were served meals in separate dining rooms at the center.
      • Control – usual diet (I assume, it doesn’t specify).
      • Experimental – Replaced saturated fat with PUFAs: corn, soybean, safflower, and cottonseed oils
      • Adherence measures\d by ‘enrichment with linoleic acid in blood, adipose tissue, and atherosclerosis specimens.’
        • I assume these are good biomarkers…. I don’t know.
    • Duration: 8 years
      • Were all the same people in it for 8 years? What was the average duration of individuals in the study?
    • Results:
      • Serum cholesterol reduced by 13%.
        • Is this a result or a biomarker that the experimental diet was adhered to?
      • Statistically significant 34% reduction in CVD, myocardial infarction (MI aka heart attack), sudden death, or stroke.
        • I believe this is measuring whether ANY of these outcomes happened. Looked at individually…:
      • 20% fewer MI or sudden death events, but not statistically significant
      • 41% fewer men with strokes (p=0.055)
        • This is on the edge of being ‘statistically significant’ if you’re going for a p-value of <5, but it’s close, so I think this is reasonable.
      • 31% reduction in CVD events, statistically significant.
        • So, this seems to be the main driver of the 34% reduction in any of these events above.
        • Also, how are ‘CVD events’ defined? What is a CVD event that is different from the other ones being measured?
  • Study 2: Oslo Diet Heart Study
    • Date of published study: 1970
    • N=412. Men that had had a myocardial infarction (heart attack)
    •  Diet
      • Control – their ‘usual high-saturated fat diet.’
        • Was this confirmed? Did they indeed have high saturated fat diets?
      • Experimental – participants and wives taught how to select and prepare foods low in saturated fat and high in PUFA vegetable oils.
        • Again, was this monitored? Was it confirmed that it was a) lower than the control group and/or b) lower than what they were eating before the study?
        • PUFA diet lowered serum cholesterol by 14%, confirming adherence
          • Here’s where I’m still confused. I think this is not a result. It’s meant to demonstrate that the low saturated fat diet was adhered to.
      • Duration: 5-year trial.
        • Again, were the same participants in it for all five years?
      • Results:
        • 29% reduction in recurrent MI and new cases of angina pectoris or sudden death (p=0.011)
          • MI reduced by 37% (statistically significant)
          • Angina pectoris reduced by 66% (statistically significant)
          • Sudden death the same in both groups
        • 25% reduction in MI or sudden death (p=0.05).
          • Are these just different ways of grouping all the potential outcomes?
        • 27% fewer cardiovascular deaths (p=0.09)
      • Study 3: British Medical Research Council
        • Date of published study: 1968
        • N=393, men that had had an MI.
        • Diet:
          • Control – ? Not specified in article.
            • Presumably their normal diet?
          • Experimental – participants told to drink soybean oil with fruit juice and also use it in cooking. Participants also counseled on reducing saturated fat.
            • Did they actually reduce saturated fat? Did they adhere to the protocol? Is a reduction of serum cholesterol evidence of this?? Clearly this is something I need to get figured out first.
          • Reduced serum cholesterol by 16%.
        • Results
          • 18% reduction in a recurrent coronary event (MI, angina, sudden death), but not statistically significant.
        • Study 4: Finnish Mental Health Study
          • Date of published study: 1972-1983 (three different publications)
          • N=1222 patients at 2 psychiatric hospitals
            • Also, two cohorts studied. One cohort had some participants that had evidence of coronary heart disease (arterial blockage starting) and some participants that did not. The other cohort only had participants that did not have evidence of coronary heart disease.
          • Diet:
            • In one hospital, high PUFA (mainly soybean oil) diet given first, followed by the sat fat diet. Each diet period lasted 6 years.
            • In other hospital, reverse.
              • But not all people were there the whole 6 or 12 years, right??
            • Serum cholesterol 14% lower in high PUFA diet groups.
            • Adherence also demonstrated by 3-fold enrichment of linoleic acid in adipose tissue.
          • Results
            • Coronary heart disease death reduced by 41%.
              • I’m confused. This is within the 95% confidence interval, but the accompanying chart has a p-value of 0.19. I’ll need to look up this result.
  • AHA Meta-Analysis of these four studies: AHA “performed a fixed-effects met-analysis of these 4 core trials.”
    • Result: Lowering saturated fat and replacing it with PUFA-rich vegetable oil lowed coronary heart disease by 29%.
      • I have to say, I do not understand their analysis at all. Especially from looking at the chart they provided. I’m not familiar with ‘inverse-variance fixed-effects meta-analysis,’ and I do not know how to interpret the chart. And do not see how the chart translates to their finding (29% reduction in CHD).

______

Initial thoughts

I have a lot of questions to answer, for which I’ll need to go look at the original studies. And do some additional background research probably.

Some of the criticisms I’ve seen to this include:

  • AHA ‘cherry-picked’ the studies. Well. AHA (presumably) identified criteria and then identified which studies met those criteria. To determine whether I think this is cherry-picking, I need to better understand the criteria and their value, and I also need to review the other studies and confirm that I agree they didn’t meet the criteria. For me to agree that AHA cherry-picked these studies, I would need some evidence or rationale that indicated that AHA chose the studies first and then chose criteria that matched those studies, rather than the reverse. We’ll see.
  • The studies are old. Well. So what? Good science is good science (and bad science is bad science). If something was done really well, why re-do it? This doesn’t necessarily mean the studies aren’t valuable – unless something else has changed since then that would invalidate these findings. I’m not sure if there is.

Generally, it seems like there are some meaningful, valid results. But I especially want to understand the implication of the durations more. These sound like long study durations… but if the same individuals weren’t in them for the full length, is that still as valid? And I’m also not convinced that the participants actually adhered to their assigned diets! Maybe I should be – maybe reduction in serum cholesterol is evidence of this. I just don’t know yet.

This might be the last you hear me talk about this, or it might not. Next steps are to continue summarizing the article and start to answer my own questions. Cheers.

How I (Loosely) Meal Plan

Sometimes I meal plan, sometimes I don’t. When I have free weekend mornings (which are important for my mental health, so I try to have them as much as possible), I like to sit down with my calendar, think about what’s in my fridge, make a food plan for the week, then go grocery shopping.

My schedule shapes my plan, of course. I have a general meal plan template for the week based on my typical schedule. For example, when I can, I like to make something with lots of leftover on Sundays (whether it’s crockpot shredded meat that I can then add to recipes throughout the week, some sort of casserole, meatballs, or soup that freezes well). I currently telework Tuesdays and Thursdays, which allows me to stay up later on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I’ll often plan to make meals those nights, unless I have other plans. (I actually often have plans on Wednesday evenings, so can’t always cook those nights. I meet up with my best friend for coffee in DC after work every other Wednesday so get home later, and about once a month or so I have book club on a not-coffee Wednesday.) I also have time Tuesday and Thursday mornings to make breakfast rather than needing one ready. I recently decided that I would like to incorporate more fish into my diet, so I aim for one of those weeknight meals to include fish.

My default when I don’t meal plan is to make sure I have staples in the house:

  • vegetables to roast (broccoli, asparagus, root vegetables, brussels sprouts)
  • leafy green like spinach, sometimes kale
  • easy protein (chicken sausages, leftover frozen shredded meat, boneless/skinless chicken thighs or breasts that I can bake in a pinch, frozen salmon fillets). I almost always have frozen chicken thighs and breasts and ground beef in the freezer because Dan gets it for me at CostCo every time he goes.
  • starchy vegetable, usually potatoes (sweet or not)
  • eggs
  • peppers and onions
  • fresh fruit and smoothie staples (frozen fruit, bananas, coconut milk or yogurt, etc.)

With these, I can make a breakfast scramble of eggs, spinach, onions, and peppers, which is my go-to breakfast most telework days and weekends. Depending on my activity level, I’ll often try to add a starchy vegetable. Occasionally when I’m feeling decadent, I’ll add a meat (sausage, bacon) and/or avocado. This morning (a weekend), I had leftover roasted butternut squash on the side of three fried eggs cooked over sautéed spinach. On non-telework days, for breakfast, I typically heat up a chicken sausage or eat pre-made hard boiled eggs, and combine it with something else – lately, pre-made smoothies that I take out of the freezer the night before. I can also make lunches of a salad of leafy greens topped with various things like peppers, roasted vegetables and/or starchy vegetable, and easy protein (which, if you’ve seen my recent Instagram posts, I do regularly). And I can make dinners of an easy protein (baked chicken, broiled salmon, chicken sausage) with a side of roasted vegetables and/or starchy vegetable. I also usually have frozen leftovers from previous weeks that I can rely on if I don’t want to or have time to cook.

That all works when I don’t have time or motivation to plan, but it can get a little repetitive, and I like to cook and try new recipes. So when I do sit down to plan, I’ll often deliberately include the meals described above into my plan, usually with specifics noted (Monday: salmon, Tuesday: chicken) and make sure that I get those items at the grocery store if I don’t have them already. Sometimes the specifics I choose are based on what I have left over from the previous week, especially produce, or what I’ve received in my Hungry Harvest box on Saturday morning. That’s also a starting place for recipes I choose. For example, I bought mint last week. Why? Stupid really – I had been looking for it a few weeks ago and couldn’t find any (see post on Basil Vinaigrette), so when I DID see it, I bought it. But I didn’t have a plan for using it, and now it’s in my fridge, going bad. Need to use it. Also, I got an eggplant in my box this morning. I wouldn’t typically seek out an eggplant, but since I have it, I’ll want to use it. So I’ll look for recipes to use those two things.

When I do plan, I’d say I only plan one to two recipes a week and rely on my defaults or leftovers the rest of the week. One of those recipes is often made on Sundays with leftovers for the week. That might provide dinner on Sunday, or the sole purpose may be to eat through the week. If it’s the latter, I might also make a recipe that’s just for Sunday dinner, often one that doesn’t lend itself to leftovers as well (either because it’s best fresh – generous salads – or just doesn’t make a lot of leftovers). And I might make a recipe one other night of the week. So I guess that’s up to three recipes a week, but usually life gets in the way, and I don’t actually do that many.

So then it’s a matter of determining which recipes I want to make. As I mentioned, sometimes that’s driven by ingredients I have on hand, so I’ll just google recipes with those ingredients. (A Google search of ‘mint eggplant recipe’ just brought up tons of roasted/grilled eggplant with mint recipes. That’s the sort of thing that probably wouldn’t be as good as leftovers.) I also follow several bloggers and podcasters, mostly paleo ones that I’ve mentioned before like Paleomg, Fed&Fit, BalancedBites, Lexi’s Clean Kitchen, and I might hear about one of their recipes that I’d like to make. This week, I came across a recipe for Moroccan Turkey Meatballs on goop and recipes 20 Spring Salads on The Everygirl, several of which I saved to make. The meatballs would be a good recipe to have some leftovers. Meatballs usually freeze well. The salads are advertised for being meal-prep-friendly, so I might consider making them in salad jars for lunch for the week.

So this is how my week looked before meal planning:

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I love this Ink+Volt planner, but I wish it started the week on Sunday, because that’s usually how I think about my week: Sundays are prep for the rest of the week. Most of my planning is actually for Sunday, so not pictured below. Tomorrow, I am running a trail half marathon (hence not being sure if I’ll go to CrossFit on Monday morning), but I expect to be home by early afternoon, which still gives me time to make food. I have plans Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights, so don’t need to think about those nights (on Wednesday, I’ll likely get food – Chop’t? – at Union Station before heading home on the train). Next Sunday I’ll be totally free, but I don’t usually plan this far ahead for next Sunday. I’ll think about that next Sunday :-). Sometimes I take Dan into account, usually I don’t. It’s hard to keep track of whether we’ll both be home in an evening, and generally anything I make can feed two people, so it’s fine either way.

Below is the result of my meal planning. Not every meal is filled in. I’ll just use my defaults there. Not pictured: Sunday (tomorrow), I’ll make gp’s meatballs and roasted eggplant and mint for dinner. (I wouldn’t normally white things out – I’d just cross them out if I changed my mind – but I used white out for your benefit :-)).

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These are the recipes I’m planning to use:

One last piece of my meal prep process: I use Evernote to collect, tag, and make notes on recipes. I clip webpages of recipes, tag them with things like ‘want to make’ plus other relevant tags, and then rely on that rather than the website when I’m making them. After making, I also take notes on the substitutions I made, how it turned out, whether I liked it, and the nutrition info if I try to calculate it.

So that’s it!

Basil Vinaigrette

I got some summer squash in my Hungry Harvest box a few weeks ago and wanted to use my inspiralizer that I got for Christmas from Dan’s parents but haven’t used much. I found this recipe for Spiralized Yellow Squash with Basil and Mint from the inspiralized website. Perfect. Except I needed basil and mint. So the next time I was at the store, I endeavored to purchase those… but could only find basil! At two stores, actually. I bought basil at the first, so I had to use it regardless. The recipe only called for a tablespoon, so I decided to make a dressing/vinaigrette out of it instead of just chopping the basil onto the squash noodles.

I mostly followed this recipe for Basil Mint Dressing from Baked Bree, though I also consulted this one from Low Carb Maven. Since I didn’t have mint, I just used all basil. I also used the delicious Dimitri olive oil (read more about it here) that one of Dan’s colleagues gave us for the holidays. So good.

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I then used it on spiralized (and slightly steamed) summer squash with some Shredded Beef & Onions (from Stupid Easy Paleo).

I also used it as dressing for some salads I made for lunch last week. The salads had celery, carrot, lacinato kale, sunflower seeds, and I added some of the same shredded beef & onions when serving.

And… I’ve still got some leftover. It’s been a minute. I don’t know if it’s still good. I’ve never really been sure on this. Do homemade vinaigrettes with organic matter in them go bad? I should go sniff it maybe.

In other food news, I feel sort of flush with perishable fruits and vegetables right now. This morning, I had to write them all down and think about how I would use them. Most are from my most recent Hungry Harvest box or the previous one. Here’s what I came up with, more or less:

  • Green onions – use in the paleo pad thai I’ve already mostly prepped for dinner.
  • Cucumber – use in lunch wraps (post coming soon) and a cucumber tomato salad.
  • Portobello mushrooms (2) – use in lunch wraps and tonight’s paleo pad thai. Not sure what else.
  • Small orange citrus – not sure what these are. Need to just eat as a snack.
  • Blood oranges – also need to eat as a snack.
  • Apples – snacks.
  • Celery – I ate a couple sticks as a snack earlier and told Dan to eat some. I think he had some with hummus.
  • Bananas – will need to cut up and freeze soon if I don’t eat them. (Then I use them in smoothies!)
  • Collard greens – used a couple for lunch wraps, need to figure out what to do with the rest.
  • Snap peas – use in tonight’s paleo pad thai.
  • Carrots – used some in the lunch wraps and I think Dan used some with hummus. Need to use more.
  • Watercress (one bunch) – I made green tahini sauce this morning (a mix between this recipe and this recipe, both from Bon Appetit – I didn’t have parsley, mint, or cilantro so just made with the other ingredients). I then used that sauce on the lunch wraps I made.

So, you know. Progress. Those are just the most immediate things. There’s also some spinach, peppers, onions, and potatoes that need to get eaten. But those require less thought/creativity. Still. Gotta get eating!

 

Macaccino

A few weeks ago, I gave up coffee for 8 days. Cold turkey. It felt like it was getting a little out of control, and I’m looking for ways to reduce the stress I’m putting my body under. So I had my last cups on a Thursday. At work on Friday, I thought I was going to murder somebody. My head hurt so bad. I was impatient and not thinking clearly. By the afternoon, my head hurt so badly that I also started to feel nauseated. So I made a cup of tea, and things were much, much better. After that, things were fine. I had another cup of tea a few days later when I had another bad headache, but I don’t think that one was caffeine-withdrawl related, and the tea didn’t help.

The following weekend, I went to New York City to visit friends. Both days I drank two cups of coffee, but I capped it there. Then I went a few more days without drinking any (and didn’t feel any effects of not doing so). Since then, I’ve had some days with coffee, some days without. This morning was the first day that I made coffee at home, and I only drank one cup. I like this. I’m getting more pleasure out of coffee. But… I also like the daily routine of coffee (one I’ve had since 10th grade). So we’ll see. Not sure where this will all end up.

But in the meantime, I’ve been making ‘macaccinos’ occasionally to fill the warm beverage/pleasant routine gap. I’m not sure where I got the idea for these. I think it was unrelated to my not drinking coffee, but I’m not sure. Dan got a bag of maca powder from his sister around the holidays, and he keeps asking me if I’ve been using it (I’m not sure why – it was his gift). But somehow, I came across a couple recipes (including this one, but I think at least one other also that I now can’t recall). (UPDATE: I’m going through some recipes I’ve saved that I want to make sometime and found this one that I saved in December 2016 – well before my husband received his maca powder gift. I’d entirely forgotten about it!)  They were all pretty much the same – some type of milk, maca powder, some sweetener, and cocoa powder. I’ve been using:

  • 1 cup or so of So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp maca powder
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 scoop Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides
  • sprinkle of cinnamon at the end sometimes

I heat up the milk in my Ninja single serve cup in the microwave (I’ve also used the stovetop), add all the other ingredients except the cinnamon, blend it all together, then pour into a mug and sprinkle with cinnamon. It’s lovely.

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Fed & Fit Turkey Sweet Potato Casserole

In some ways, things have calmed down. About two months ago, I started teleworking two days a week instead of one, and it has made a huge difference and just given me some extra breathing room in my week. But at the same time, work has started ramping up, Dan and I have both been traveling more, and life has just felt busier. So – posts are rare.

I’ve also been dealing with some minor (fingers crossed) injuries, which I find so frustrating and generally contribute to a lack of motivation. I mentioned my back pain in my last post. I continued to take it easy and slowly ramped back up. Just this past week did I feel like I was 100% pain-free, back to the weights I’d been using previously, and even trying to increase weight. It’s pretty amazing. A part of me thought I was ruined for life. But then I wasn’t. But then… yesterday I landed on my foot a little funny during a double under and it felt like my knee cracked. The pain wasn’t super intense, and I shook it out, and finished the workout, but it hurt the rest of the day and it feels really unstable. 50% of me thinks that I’m totally overreacting just because I’m so afraid of injury and that it’s probably no big deal, but 50% of me is worried it is a bigger deal. It still hurts and feels unstable, but it never really swelled. I’m taking it easy. I was supposed to do a 9-mile training trail run this weekend, but now I won’t unless I magically feel amazing tomorrow morning. Which is too bad, because it’s been really cold on all my runs but is in the 70s this weekend!! I just want to be outside walking, biking, and running. Gah. I have an appointment with my PCP on Tuesday for in case it’s still bothering me…

In other news, I finished the 28-day Fed & Fit Project, so I probably won’t be making as many of those recipes. But I definitely recommend the book and its recipes! They’re easy to follow, easy to make, and most of them freeze really well. I’m still eating leftovers of this one – the Turkey Sweet Potato Casserole – I made several weeks ago.

I’m not going to copy the recipe here, of course. Buy the book! But it has both turkey and sausage in it. I couldn’t find a bone-in turkey breast, so I just used ground turkey breast (2 lbs instead of a 4-lb bone-in). At first, I thought it made way more than one dish could handle, so I started layering the casseroles in three dishes. But once I started putting the sweet potato mash on top, I realized I didn’t have that much, so I consolidated to two dishes. The sunflower seeds on top were a nice touch, and made it so that my husband had absolutely no interest in eating this (he has a very strong aversion to seeds that is somewhat neurotic). All mine! Yum.