Me vs. Cleanse: 2015

Two weeks of 'cleansing' has come to a triumphant conclusion. It hardly felt like a cleanse. I was never hungry and I never had any insurmountable cravings. I truly was sated. In fact, the portions were often so plentiful I couldn't finish some meals – even skipped some scheduled afternoon snacks and desserts. Which, I believe, makes up for the bit of cheating on the wine consumption. I didn't drink tons, but maintained a glass or two each evening. I cut myself some slack on that, especially considering I swapped morning coffee for tea. And I love, need, my morning coffee. These days, with the baby and not much sleep, I feel that I need coffee to make coffee. But no, it has been tea. With almond milk and occasionally agave nectar. Meh.

Anyway, it's over. Some of the eating restrictions during the cleanse we will attempt to maintain. The big shocker: Butter. I never would have thought we could last two weeks cooking every meal in our home without butter. But, as it turns out, its absence went virtually without notice. The cleanse recipes layered so much depth and flavor, pulled from both fresh and dried herbs and spices and elegant oils like walnut and grape seed, that really kept the palate interested and happy - thinking. And using ingredients like barley, quinoa and whole grain rice kept me from pining for, craving or needing pastas, potatoes and breads. No, really.

But my morning coffee with full-fat cow milk is already back, boyeee.

I will say that this two-week food lover's cleanse is not for every one. It's title is apt. To really, really execute this cleanse, one's love of food must be infinite. Also beneficial is employment in the food field (writer, photographer, recipe developer et al). In fact, one may find it difficult to pull this off above fifty percent if one has an actual nine to fiver that is not in the food arena. And here's why: these past two weeks required an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen. A few hours a day. Even though it was extremely well conceived - using elements from the previous night's dinners for the next day's lunches, certain components prepared in batches or the night before to simplify the process of some breakfasts and parts of other meals (like the barley and dressings and compotes) it was still a bear. Oh, and try popping off to the market to grab a bit of orange flower water, why don't you? Hell, I had to try four different ones here until I landed the Bhutanese red rice. At times it was kind of like a scavenger hunt.

Another note of mention: it is not cheap. This was easily a $600 initiative (for two people, mind you). I will add that many ingredients were optional or could be substituted for others. For example, you could reasonably use walnuts in lieu of pistachios or extra butter lettuce or watercress in lieu of arugula. And admittedly, that orange flower water was on the optional list. But really, that's nickel and diming. Many of the big dollar items are pantry ones – specialty oils, dried spices and herbs and things like chia seeds and pine nuts. These are also presumably things that will last long after the cleanse. And we did not eat a single meal out for two solid weeks. So maybe it balances out. It depends on how you live your life in food, I suppose. But it's good to know what your bottom line is likely to be.

But for me, a lot of good came out of this cleanse. For too long now I have been absent in the kitchen. This new(ish) life, with this new(ish) baby chews me up and spits me out at the end of each day. By the time I get her to sleep, I'll eat whatever is easiest, first available or what Fred feeds me. My meals are sporadic and, as a result, randomly portioned – usually far too big. This cleanse has taught both Fred and me to plan better with meals, batch cook, eat smarter and seriously rein in the portions. Four ounces of protein is a gracious plenty. But it has been fun: we looked forward to each of our meals. The chopping, sizzling, and stirring, the news or music on the radio (oddly, we found ourselves in a Cat Stevens mood often while cooking these dinners), a candle lit on the table, and actually eating the meal at the table. I guess you could say we have returned to food. We even used a good deal of the surplus produce - the carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash - to start Emerson on solid foods. Everyone wins.

And here's one more thing: I lost ten (10) pounds(!). How you like them apples? 
(Apples with almond butter = often the 'afternoon snack' of the cleanse).

As I stated, we will try to carry on some of what we learned during the course of the cleanse. But the reality is, life is happening, too. We won't always have as much time and energy to put into each and every meal. Plus, it will be nice to have a social life again, share meals, coffee and drinks with friends and family, and Good Lord, eat a meal out again! But I really appreciated that Fred and I stuck this out and I can probably place a safe bet that we will do it again next year. Each year deserves a fresh start, right?

After we completed the cleanse, Fred and I sat down – over chia pudding and fresh fruit, mind you – to settle on our favorite and least favorite foods of the cleanse. Here's where we landed:

Elliott Bests:
Snack: Egg with Furikake (pictured)

Fred Bests:
Snack: Egg with Furikaki (pictured)
Best Entree: Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Porcini Broth (pictured) OR Red Rice Congee with Chicken, Kimchi, and Mushrooms OR Roast Chicken with Butternut-Tahini Purée
Side: Aromatic Red Rice OR Gochujang-and-Sesame-Roasted Winter Squash
Dessert: Spicy Orange Hazelnut Chocolate Bark (pictured)

Worst (we both agreed on this): 
Beet and Escarole Salad with Avocado and Walnuts (a big weak sister of a dinner)

To see the entirety of our meals during the cleanse and how all of the recipes turned out in real life, take a tour on both my and Fred's Instagram feeds.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Porcini Broth

4 servings

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms (about ¾ cup)
1 1¼ pound pork tenderloin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, finely chopped
4 ounces wild or cultivated mushrooms (a combination of black trumpet, maitake, chanterelle, beech, oyster, and/or shiitake), trimmed, halved if large
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 cup homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven to 425°. Place porcinis in a heatproof bowl and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Set aside until porcinis are tender, about 20 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid and mushrooms. Finely chop mushrooms.

Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of pork registers 140°, 15-20 minutes. Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing ½” thick (about 15 slices).

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add shallot, mushrooms, and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and cook 1 minute. Add porcini broth, chopped porcinis, and chicken stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes.

Divide pork among shallow bowls and ladle broth and vegetables over top.

*ALL recipes from the 2015 Bon Appétit Food Lover's Cleanse can be found here.

Printable recipe.

One year ago: Tom Kha Gai
Two years ago: Bagels
Five years ago: Chicken Pot Pie
Seven years ago: Oyster Stew

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