I haven’t been writing much lately. I haven’t had much time. Most of my non-working hours over the past twenty days have been spent in the kitchen. Yes, the kitchen. If you’ve read even a few Thursday Night Bites posts, you know this isn’t a cooking blog. It’s not only because dining out and food culture is such a large part of my and B’s lives here in Seattle. It’s mostly because I just really, really don’t enjoy cooking… and I’m not very good at it. It’s something I do because we can’t eat out all the time. I suppose we could, but that would be a terrible idea.
Twenty days ago, I started the Whole30. For those familiar with the culture of Cross Fit and the Paleo diet, the Whole30 is likely nothing new. For everyone else out there, the Whole30 is a 30 day, extremely strict, no-cheat food plan. No grains, dairy, soy, alcohol, added sugar or sweetener of any kind, white potatoes, or legumes. Anything derived from these items (most oils) are also off the table. The most frequent question people ask is “What do you eat?” I eat grass fed, hormone free meat, sustainably, wild-caught seafood, eggs, vegetables, and modest amounts of fresh fruit, raw or dry roasted nuts, and nut butters (by the way, peanuts are a legume, not a nut, so peanut butter is out)… Oh, and coconut. You’d be amazed at what amazingly wonderful things come from a coconut.
The second question I get is “Why would you do this?” It all started with a friend’s Facebook post about the Paleo diet. That led to another friend’s post about the Whole30 which led me to Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s site, the Whole9. This quote caught my attention in the first 15 seconds I was on the site.
“Are your energy levels inconsistent or non-existent? Do you have aches and pains that can’t be explained by over-use or injury? Are you having a hard time losing weight no matter how hard you try? Do you have some sort of condition (like skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies or fertility issues) that medication hasn’t helped? These symptoms may be directly related to the foods you eat – even the ‘healthy’ stuff.”
Add insomnia (which is another symptom mentioned later by the Hartwigs) and I answered with a resounding “Yes!” to almost all the items on the list. After reading through the rather long list of guidelines, I decided it was something I could do, not in spite of it’s stringent guidelines but because of them. There are no cheat days, not even a cheat bite, or licking the spoon. It’s all or nothing. You eat a corn chip or even a single piece of candy and you’ve blown it. You’re back to day one. This is oddly comforting. In the past, particularly with my efforts in cutting gluten from my diet (my one known sensitivity), it’s been all too easy to cave to just one bite. It never ends with one bite, though, does it? I get sick often. I’m tired of getting sick, so I enlisted B’s support (though he isn’t participating) and after a final indulgent weekend, I began my Whole30 journey.
The first week was rough, but I expected as much. The headaches, irritability, exhaustion, the inability to concentrate… they warn you about all of it. It’s all true. They also warn you about how much more time you’ll spend in the kitchen. I was sort of prepared for that, but it was more than I expected. I also knew that our habit of eating out several times a week was going to have to be significantly curbed. What I didn’t expect was that the worst craving of all would be for social interaction.
We haven’t given up on our Thursday night dinners or dining out in general, but we have significantly cut back and altered it. Our first dinner out was a Thursday Night Dinner with our friends, KL and GD at The Coterie Room. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle. I knew we’d have great company and also scoped out the menu before we went, so I was ready.
By far, the hardest two items to avoid when dining out are sugar and various non-compliant oils. Everything else on the list of bad foods is pretty obvious. Sugars and oils, though, are often undetectable and found in the strangest places. Before arriving, I’d decided to have the steak tartare as a starter and the olive oil poached black cod with celery root salad for my entrée. My first bite of tartare was delicious. It was the most flavorful food I’d put in my mouth in days. After a couple bites, though, it became obvious why tartare comes with toast. The texture demands it.
I accepted that I might be taking a chance with what was on the salad, but since I’d looked at the menu online, I didn’t look too closely once we arrived. Big mistake. The celery root salad was now celery root puree. When my fish arrived, it was perched smack in the middle of a dangerous (although delicious) looking, creamy puree. My heart sank. I asked the server what was in it. She said milk and butter. I tried, patiently, to get as much of the puree off the fish as possible. I stared forlornly at B’s frites. I tried to eat only those pieces of fish that hadn’t touched the dairy. I was miserable and starving. To top it off, I had to sit quietly with a cup of chamomile tea while everyone else enjoyed their decadent desserts. By the time we got home, I wanted to cry.
Our next dinner out was sushi at Umi Sake House. Sushi sounded significantly less threatening and it was. The only real issue was that soy isn’t allowed so edamame (one of my favorites), soy sauce, and tamari sauce were all out, as was the rice… sashimi is would be with coconut aminos I brought from home in lieu of Tamari sauce. I also managed to find a green salad without the dressing (though it was sorely missed). I can’t say it was a particularly wonderful meal (my fault, not the restaurant), but at least I didn’t leave feeling depressed and hungry.
Attempt #3 was Daniel’s Broiler. Technically it was happy hour, but happy hour doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you’re drinking Perrier. Kobe steak bites are one of my favorite bar menu items at Daniel’s. Now that I’m thoroughly reading menu descriptions, though, the words “teriyaki sauce” jumped off the page. Not allowed. I also had my eye on the crab legs, but their accompanying Dijon mustard sauce was dicey at best. Although I hate being “that person” in the restaurant quizzing the server about ingredients, for now, I am definitely that person. In this case, it paid off. They substituted salt and pepper for the teriyaki sauce and clarified butter for the mustard sauce. Butter is allowed as long as it’s been clarified first. I could have used some vegetables in the mix, but overall, I left without feeling deprived.
The most recent dinner out was to Fumaça Brazilian Steakhouse. I’ll share more about them in a full post another time. They’re brand new to the neighborhood. We had a great visit. We’ll definitely be back. Brazilian steakhouses are among the easier places to eat Paleo, but everything is harder on the Whole30. The salad bar looked fantastic, but most everything had some sort of oil on it, so I’ll have to really try it another time. I did enjoy the olives. As for the meat, I definitely wasn’t left out. I steered clear of anything that might have sauce on it and had to pass up the cheese steak, but it was the best dining out experience I’ve had yet. The pineapple roasted with cinnamon was amazing.
I still have ten days to go. In some ways it feels like forever, but I also don’t see any reason not to continue eating this way at home. It’s a lot more work and I still hate to cook, but it’s manageable, and it gets a little easier as I learn some tricks. I also like that we aren’t eating out quite so much. Twice a week feels about right. For now, the dining out experience, while I’m learning to navigate my way through it, is not what it should be. The meals are too quick when there isn’t a glass of wine and dessert to linger over. It becomes more about eating than a dining experience. Worrying about the food also makes aspects of the meal stressful rather than relaxing. I can see continuing to avoid the obvious culprits while out, but I’ll allow myself a couple of cheat dinners a week instead of a cheat day. My mental health requires it.
A few days in, I worried whether I could see it through. I’m not worried about that anymore. I know I can make it. If nothing else, at the end of it all, I’ll know I can do something that seems impossibly difficult if I’m truly determined. I just hope that first glass of wine isn’t a major letdown.