How Whole Foods Won Me Over

5 Aug

I think everybody loves the idea of Whole Foods- fresh, organic groceries with a slight “damn the man” hippie undertone.  Just today I overheard two women in front of the eggs arguing about cage free vs free range and wasn’t the least bit phased.  At this point almost everybody and their mom (literally, I watched this with my mom) has seen Food, Inc. or has at least some clue as to where the majority of grocery store food comes from.  And even though it frustrates me when people assume the word “organic” is synonymous with “healthy”, I’d never discourage a person from being more conscious about what’s really in their food.  So yeah, sure, ok- go ahead and buy “organic” pastries….::rolls eyes:: 

But I made the purposeful decision during Whole 30 to only shop at Whole Foods for a few reasons.  First of all, I justified the extra expense from my non-existent restaurant bills and bar tabs.  And guess what?  I managed to save an obscene amount of money in July, even with my weekly (and sometimes more) trips to Whole Foods.  Secondly, their meat selection is amazing.  They’re one of the only places I can get ground bison, and they have a wide variety of grass-fed beef.  It made my shopping trips significantly easier.  Lastly, they carry products like coconut aminos that I just can’t find at Kroger.  Instead of making two stops at different grocery stores every Sunday, I just decided to suck it up and buy it all at Whole Foods.  And ya know what?  I learned a few cool things in the process:

They give stuff away for free

Ok confession- I put this one first because I learned this about a year ago while I was living in Philadelphia.  Each Whole Foods employee is given a certain amount of money they can “give away” in free products everyday.  If you’re ever unsure about a product, just go ahead and ask an employee what they think about it.  If you catch them early enough in their shift, they might let you take it home and try it out for free.  Cool huh?

They label everything

What’s in this chicken salad?  Does this baked salmon contain soy?  Is there sugar in this uncured bacon?  The answer to all these questions (and more) is readily available on literally every product Whole Foods sells.  This was a huge advantage during Whole 30- it helped me actually figure out what I could and couldn’t eat.  And as much as I love Central Market, it makes me sad that they can’t do this the same way Whole Foods does.

They’ll steam your fish for you

Sporadically, they have plain grilled salmon available in their prepared foods section.  The only ingredients were “salt, pepper, and salmon” so I got pretty excited.  When I went back the next week and the ingredients contained canola oil, I found myself complaining to the check-out employee when they asked the obligatory “did you find everything you needed today?” question.  That’s where I learned this valuable tip: whenever you buy fresh seafood from the counter, they’ll take it back and steam it for you with whatever seasonings you’d like.  They actually have a pretty nice selection of seasonings to pick from (Jamaican jerk, tequila lime, lemon pepper, etc…) and if you do it at the beginning of your shopping trip, they’ll have it finished for you by the time you leave.

The butchers will do the work for you

Last Valentines Day my dad bought my mom a meat pounder because apparently there’s nothing else left to buy your significant other after 40 years.  Luckily for my mom, it was the Lamborghini of meat pounders.  And while I’ve long since admired this fine culinary tool, I remain meat-pounder-less.  That’s where the Whole Foods butchers come in.  They’ll pound your meat, marinate your meat, season your meat, slice your meat, trim your meat- you tell them what you want and they’ll do all the prep work (insert bad dirty joke about meat).  This is great news for me because the meat pounder is hardly the only tool I’m missing from my kitchen.

This video

Day 30: The Last Supper

31 Jul

One thing I’ve learned over the course of Whole 30 is that I’m a lazy blogger and an even worse photographer.  Even though my favorite blogs are never short on high quality artsy photographs, I’ve managed to “steal” all my blog photos from the internet so far. So for that, faithful readers, I’m sorry.

Now that I’ve gotten my shameful apology out of the way, I can bask in my Whole 30 glory.  I feel proud, empowered, successful, and most importantly, healthy!  Chris and I have one last final meal on the plan (steak and mashed sweet potatoes- very caveman) and even though I’ll happily return to my coffee+cream daily morning combo, I think there are a few changes I’d like to stick with.

One thing that I’ve been really proud of over the past month is my meal planning.  Even though Chris says it could have been better (ok, true), I consistently planned ahead and shopped early every weekend.  I admittedly regret not being more creative with my menus, but my meals got the job done.  Sure there were a few misses here and there (don’t even ask Chris about the breakfast-for-dinner chicken bratwurst scramble), but overall we both liked the majority of the meals I made.  I’m still 100% open to new recipes though, so if anybody’s got any, send them my way!

As far as food, I discovered a new love for applesauce.  All natural on its own it makes a great snack, but also is the key secret ingredient in mashed sweet potatoes.  Who knew?  Additionally, I realized coconut water is pretty damn good (stop what you’re doing now and go to Kroger for Vita Coco’s peach/mango flavor- trust me) and I now need this in my life.  And finally, this recipe from SkinnyTaste can be made Whole 30 friendly and is worth every penny you’ll pay for the pound of shrimp.  It was hands down one of my favorite meals this past month.

So is this the point in the blog where I give Chris all the credit he’s due?  There’s absolutely no way I could have done this without his help and support.  Last week when I got tied up too late at a last minute happy hour in Pasadena, he had dinner in the oven waiting for me.  When we spent all day at the outlet mall in the ‘burbs, he planned ahead and bought us paleo snacks to keep us full.  He even lets me know when the Lara bars are on the 10 for $10 special at Kroger.  And best of all- he raves about my cooking, which makes all the hard work worth it.  I could say even more, but we don’t want this going to his head or anything.

And what’s next?  Tomorrow we’re celebrating not only the end of Whole 30 but also the kickoff to Houston Restaurant Weeks with a classy dinner at Hugo’s and I can finally resume my normal life!

Day 17: Yes, I’m Still Alive

18 Jul

Believe it or not, I’ve been doing other things besides cooking and hoarding Lara bars for the past week (I just found 3 hidden in my purse, which scared me just a little).  In CrossFit related news, we watched the Bayou City team compete in the games on TV(ish) this past weekend.  There were drinks, Costco meatballs, queso, and tons of my own healthy snacks that nobody really wanted in on.  I probably finished half of a jar of almond butter on my own that day, but still stayed strong!

Me with my fellow female CrossFitters

And I couldn’t be happier with the winners of this year’s games.  I think Annie and Rich do a great job representing CrossFit and well, Froning just happens to be incredibly handsome.  That never hurts, does it?

Look, I know you just got married, but if that doesn’t work out for you…

In even more CrossFit related news, I finally climbed that damn rope.  I apologize for not having photographic evidence to support this claim, but I had witnesses who would be happy to back me up.  Also, nobody ever warned me that the scariest part is the descent.  Seriously- it’s higher than it looks from the ground.

AND another shout out to Chris, who got his first one-handed handstand, which he’s been working on for a few months now.  Could these tiny successes have anything to do with our new Whole 30 eating habits?  Or is it just a coincidence?

I think not, actually.  Even though I’m hardly the fastest or strongest in my class, I’ve been feeling really good during my workouts lately.  I can tell a huge difference from the dietary changes and I think my performance in the WODs has improved.  The carb flu has become obsolete by this point, and the sugar/carb cravings have (almost) subsided.

Also, we’re more than halfway finished at this point.  Things seem to be going great, just gotta hang in there for a couple more weeks!

Navigating/Avoiding the Restaurant Menu

10 Jul

If you know me at all, or are even just a casual Facebook friend, then you’ve probably stumbled across some of my Yelp reviews.  With over 100 restaurant reviews (mostly in Houston) and an Elite status to prove legitimacy, I’ve managed to turn dining out into a bit of a side hobby.  And now, when I’m out with a group of friends, the first thing they anxiously ask as soon as we all throw down our napkins and sit back to rub our full tummies, is “so…how many stars are you gonna give it?”.  I suppose I’ve earned somewhat of a reputation.

Pre-Whole 30 indulgence

But now I’ve gotten myself into the Whole 30 commitment, and one of my favorite social activities has become more trouble than it’s worth.  Sure, there are a few joints around town that offer grass-fed meats.  And in emergency situations, you can make Whole 30 work at almost any dining establishment.  But the real questions now is- do I even want to make it work?

As I stared disappointedly at the sad remnants of a Chipotle carnitas bowl (it’s the only meat they serve that isn’t cooked in soybean oil), I got to thinking.  Really, honestly, when was the last time I haven’t been able to finish a burrito bowl there?  9 times out of 10 I get through a double-steak with pico, salsa, lettuce, and guac bowl without any problem.  I leave feeling satisfied, stuffed, and usually pretty proud of my menu choice.  But now I can barely get through half of this carnitas version and it’s just…sad.  Let’s just add this to the list of other sub-par disappointing meals at Ziggy’s, Ruggles, and as of today, Twin Peaks (don’t ask).  And I’ve come to an epiphany:

Restaurant food tastes good because it’s BAD

Now let’s back up for a second.  This might seem obvious to a lot of people, and that’s because it is.  I’ve always known that restaurant food is unhealthy, but I never knew how drastically different it could taste when prepared in a stripped-down, natural way.  When they prepare your meat dry, it’s no longer mouth-watering.  It’s dull and reminds me of my boring George Foreman-prepared college meals.  All I need is a side of brown rice soaked in soy sauce and a DVR’d episode of the Real World: Australia and I’m right back in my first apartment.

The difference in taste is astonishing.  Even my steak prepared dry at Taste of Texas was just ok.  It was cooked to perfection, juicy and tender, but it lacked that richness you normally expect from a quality steak.  And every time I finish a meal at a restaurant now, I end up thinking the same thing: I wish I were just eating my own food instead.

Success, right?!  I’ve learned to appreciate a home-cooked, paleo friendly meal and value it over anything I’d be forced into ordering at a restaurant.  Don’t get me wrong though, I’d still have a tough time passing on sushi or pizza, but now I realize that those foods only need to be ordered in moderation.  It’ll be difficult to find that balance once I’m finished with the Whole 30, and maybe I won’t order everything dry, but it’s definitely made me think twice about the choices I’ve made in the past.

And speaking of life after Whole 30…well, let’s just save that for a different post.

Day 7: Lessons Learned

8 Jul

The carb flu has subsided and I’m feeling (slightly) better.  I’m actually really proud of myself for surviving a holiday AND a visit from out-of-town guests.  Chris and I also went to the beach yesterday and had a great time- even after passing on the alcohol and hot dogs!

My energy was at an all-time low last week, so I’m hoping things start to improve this week.  My workouts seriously suffered (specifically Friday, which was a nausea-inducing Fran type WOD) and I probably should have taken a couple more days of rest.  I’m remaining optimistic though, and looking forward to increased energy levels.

You might be wondering, at this point, what kinds of food I’ve been eating all week.  Besides Lara bars, here are a few things I’ve discovered a new love for:

Cucumber infused water: Made with fresh cucumbers purchased at the farmer’s market on Richmond, this stuff couldn’t be any easier.  It’s crisp, refreshing, and perfect for these hot summer days.  It’s official- I’m addicted.

Almond butter + anything: No, I didn’t pay $18 for mine.  I bought the kind on the left, which was a fraction of that cost.  Almond butter is great to pair with apples or carrots for a quick, satisfying snack.  I used to have almond butter and a banana every morning with breakfast, but ended up getting sick of bananas.  Now that I’ve tried it again with different snacks, I have a newfound appreciation for it.

Coconut Aminos: Soy sauce substitute?  Eh, I was a tad skeptical.  But I had an asian-food craving and was feeling adventurous, so I gave it a shot.  Turns out, it does a pretty good job.  Pair it with some thai curry paste and you’ve got yourself a pretty authentic tasting stir fry (well, minus the rice and noodles).

My crock pot: Ok, this doesn’t really count as a food, BUT it’s played an essential role in my Whole 30 meal planning.  Making extra “emergency” portions of chicken or roast beef couldn’t be any easier with this bad boy.  Last week I threw in 3 chicken breasts with fresh rosemary, lemon slices, garlic cloves, and chicken broth.  After sitting on low for just a few hours, the chicken literally fell apart at the touch of the fork.  It tasted great, shredded easily, and made a great topping for salads.  And here’s a hint my mom taught me- to keep food from sticking, spray it with olive oil before you cook anything.  The lining will wipe clean, no problem!

That’s all I have for now.  It’s only been a week, so I’m sure I’ll eventually discover even more delicious paleo-friendly foods, and I’m always open to suggestions.  Cheers to one week being successfully completed!

Carb Flu

5 Jul

If anybody is considering attempting the Whole 30, I’d highly recommend they start out by reading some (if not all) of the success guide.  Not only does it have some great recipes and ideas, it also has a pretty cool section that explains what to expect during each stage of the plan.  I remember initially reading about the “carb flu” warning for the first 7 days and thinking “shyeah right, like that’s a real thing!”.  But I’ve now learned that not only does the carb flu exist, it’s also the most god-awful feeling one could possibly endure.

What is the carb flu, you might ask?  Well imagine if PMS, road rage, depression, and fatigue all got together and decided to wreak havoc on your current mental and physical state.  Throw in a second Monday just for fun, and you’ve got yourself a serious case of the carb flu.

“Lay off me, I’m starving!”

I really have no reason to be enraged though.  Tuesday I PR’d on my unbroken double unders (26!  It’s a CrossFit miracle, I tell ya), and yesterday was spent completely work-free with some of my favorite people.  Aside from witnessing Kim and Adam’s first Sprinkles cupcake experience, the day went great.  For dinner we stopped by Taste of Texas for some steaks, where they just so happen to serve grass-fed meat.  We ended the day watching fireworks atop a friend’s apartment and called it an early night.

So how did I get from happy holiday bliss to the point of nearly strangling a CVS cashier just because she offered me travel sized toiletries on special?  It’s the sugar withdrawal symptoms, according to the success guide.  The guide also says these will all improve after day 7, so I’m trying to remain optimistic.  I’ve also been trying to let my creative juices flow with more interesting meals that I won’t get sick of.  I’d say that my first attempt at homemade olive oil based mayonnaise was a success!  And for the first time since I started Whole 30, I actually feel like I have enough food prepared to last me through the week.  I might even end up freezing a few things, if you can believe it.

With day 4 coming to a close, I can’t say I’m feeling great.  After a decent dinner at Ruggles Green, I’ve decided that eating at restaurants is way more trouble than it’s worth.  I’m interested to see how the weekend goes (movies? anybody?) and ready to relax, catch up on sleep, and be completely boring.  TGI(almost)F!

The Paleo Houstonian

4 Jul

One of the main reasons Chris and I chose the month of July for our Whole 30 was because both of our calendars were completely free.  That’s right- not one single wedding, birthday, bachelor/bachelorette party, shower, party, pub crawl…well, you get the idea.  Life tends to get busy, and a busy social life is anything but conducive to the Whole 30 challenge (see previous post).

I briefly considered that July 4th might prove problematic, but then I remembered that first of all, neither one of us really had any solid plans for it, and secondly, it falls on a Wednesday this year.  Talk about an anti-climactic holiday!

So Sunday afternoon I get a call from one of my closest and dearest friends, Kim.  I was so excited to hear from her, but I could tell immediately that she was stressed.  She explained that she and her hubby, Adam, were feeling stressed from the pressures of work and needed to get away for the holiday.  She asked if they could come visit and I said “YES OF COURSE!”.  But after the initial excitement came the worry.  What about my Whole 30?!  A million questions crossed my mind: will I be able to stick with it?  Will we be able to eat any meals together?  Will it get awkward and weird?  Will they be supportive?  Will I be able to handle all of this?

Ok, breathe.  First of all, Kim and Adam aren’t big drinkers, which is great.  They said they’d be interested in seeing some museums, artwork, and hopefully catch a fireworks show.  Perfect!  But what about the food?   So I decided to do a little research.  Houston has some great restaurants (if you haven’t read my Yelps, better get on that too) and even though some of them are beyond decadent (I mean really, a restaurant dedicated to only serving mac ‘n cheese?!), some of them seem to really be on board with the whole farm-to-table concept.  Here’s what I’ve found from not just searching Yelp, but my past dining experiences around H-town.

Ziggy’s Bar and Grill

This place is one of my favorites for healthy options, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly suggest making it over to their midtown location (River Oaks location closed, folks, sorry).  They offer local, grass-fed lamb, buffalo, and beef burgers- perfect for any Whole 30 participant (but as my coach Shelby suggested, make sure to order it dry (and bunless, but I think that goes without saying)).  If you’re going for breakfast and aren’t putting yourself through 30 days of hell, I’d highly suggest the sweet potato hash browns and turkey sausage.  Everything here is delish!

Down House

Lil pricy at this joint, but totally worth it.  Also, we had our gym’s Christmas party here, so you know they’re good people.  They offer a grass-fed burger on the menu, and since they also double as a bar/coffee shop, I might see if they have any interesting teas to go along with it.  But oh.my.god if you’re reading this and you’re not doing Whole 30 and have fully-functional taste buds, then stop whatever it is you’re doing and go order a side of their bacon.  Just go, right now.  Trust me, it’s possibly life-changing.  I’m not sure what they do to it and how they make it so thick and juicy and sweet and salty, all at the same time, but they should just keep doing it.  At $4 for 2 slices, you might think I’m insane, but I really would pay double.

Ruggles Green

Ah, back to the scene of the crime.  This is where Chris and I had our first date and bonded over a mutual interest in healthy, fresh food.  I’m biased because it will always have a special place in my heart, but this place is seriously popular for a reason.  They advertise fresh, local, hormone-free ingredients and almost everything there can be made gluten free.  It’s cute and casual, not too expensive, and the food is fantastic.  Everybody loves Ruggles Green, and justifiably so.  It’s one of my Houston faves.

Barnaby’s

This was another place Chris took me in the early stages of our courtship.  I had heard they served some healthy, local foods and was curious to try it out.  Although I’ll admit I wasn’t immediately wowed by their meals, I loved the entire experience.  The inside is adorable and spacious, and I think I’m ready to give this place another try.  They’ve got a grass-fed burger on their menu, so if/when I go back, I know exactly what I’m trying.  Side note- I absolutely love Baby Barnaby’s, their breakfast counterpart.  It’s at a different location, but I had an amazing breakfast hash there that I still haven’t forgotten about.

 

So Kim and Adam arrive late tonight, and I couldn’t be more excited to see them.  I’ve already fixed my own dinner, successfully completed my 2nd day of the Whole 30, and am currently looking forward to facing whatever new challenges pop up this week. Sounds like I’ve got a plan!

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