Clean Eating Challenge, Day 18: Updates, confessions and recipes

The Clean Eating Challenge I participated in last month ended on March 30. In my final post of the challenge, I made the audacious declaration that, uh, I might just keep up with my clean eating ways.

As a reminder, that means no white sugar or flour and no processed foods. Caffeine and alcohol were welcomed back with open arms as full participants in my life. (Yes, there are downsides to overconsumption of each. But in moderation, they are “natural” foods, really. And folks, I don’t get many opportunities to use this phrase that I’m a full decade too old for, but: YOLO.)

Today is April 10, and with a few minor but noteworthy exceptions, I am still refined and processed foods free!

It reminds me a little bit of when I became a vegetarian. I gave up meat just to see if I could do it, and, 15 years later, I’m kind of like “Oh yeah, I guess I still don’t eat meat.” (I did add seafood back in 10 years ago.) This just has not been as excruciatingly difficult as I expected it to be. It’s actually been kind of (dare I say it?) fun.

Now, I’ll take a moment here to pause and confess my sins: I had (locally made) ice cream at a festival last Saturday. (The same festival at which I discovered for the first time in my life that I could hula hoop.) That night, I went to a birthday dinner for a friend. I ordered pretty healthy food (sweet potato bisque, potato leek tart with salad, cheese plate), but did indulge in the bread basket and a bite of dessert. Yesterday, there was the chocolate croissant.

I do not think I would have made it this far without those exceptions.


I’m doing it, I’m really doing it!

But what’s different from previous diets or detoxes is that I didn’t eat that ice cream cone and then declare Saturday the end of eating clean. I just got back to it on Sunday. Which makes this feel more like a lifestyle than a gimmick.

Yes, I’ve lost a few pounds, and that’s nice. No, I don’t have boundless energy or total euphoria at all times. (Oh, and did I mention that last week my face broke out like crazy?) But I do feel good. And I think part of it is the physical effect of eating better, and part of it is the psychological boost that comes with making good decisions for yourself.

I think tiger blood has several sources. And though my clean eating rules aren’t as extreme as the Whole30, and I’ve had a few treats, I do feel like I’ve gotten into that groove. (And hopefully my treats will keep me from falling into the next phase on that timeline, boredom.)

I’ve tried so many new recipes in the last couples weeks, which has really been fun. Most have been winners, though there have definitely been a few losers.

Let me get that one out of the way first.

The Loser

Coconut Buckwheat Pancakes (gluten- and dairy-free)

Let me start by saying that I do not mean to disparage this particular pancake recipe. They were very hearty but pretty dry, though not bad once I doused them with maple syrup. The problem was that Noah hated them. To his credit, Noah will eat pretty much anything, as long as it’s not too spicy. These pancakes were the exception. Not only did he not eat them when I served them on Sunday, the next morning, he stood at the top of the stairs and yelled down to the kitchen, where I was preparing breakfast, “It better not be those pancakes again!”

It was the pancakes again. We had so many leftovers from the Sunday, and I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out. I hid them under sliced bananas and syrup, but Noah still refused. When I was honest with myself, I didn’t want them, either. So into the trash they went.

Folks, I need your advice: what GF flours work best for pancakes and other baked goods? I bought buckwheat and brown rice flour because they were the cheapest, but most recipes I find call for coconut or almond flour, which are hard to find and expensive. And they usually require more than one variety in one recipe. Any tips? I’m not going exclusively gluten-free, but I’d like to explore the options.

The Winners

Mexican Tostadas

A tostada is basically a flat crunchy taco. I made them one night when my fridge was looking pretty bare, and I kind of panicked about what we were going to eat. But they turned out to be a hit.


(Photo courtesy of Simply Recipes.)

Rather than include the full recipe for these, I’m going to link to the separate parts on my Pinterest Clean Eating Challenge page.

First, I made my own tostada shells (I used the baked method) and refried beans (deceptively simple, really yummy). I sort of improvised, but this recipe is probably the closest to how I made the beans (I used canned beans with their liquid).

This is a great meal for kids (and husbands who hate tomatoes), because everyone can pick their own toppings. After spreading a layer of beans over the tostada shell, I loaded mine with shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado and sour cream.

The best thing about the tostadas was that they made great leftovers. I made extra shells and beans, so I had a tostada for lunch at least two days last week. Broken up, the shells also stood in nicely for tortilla chips with leftover chili.

Roasted Vegetable Loaded Potatoes

I first tried this recipe, from the September 2012 issue of Southern Living, during my failed detox. The whole family liked it, but I sort of forgot about it. I tried it again last week, and was reminded how good it was. I’ll admit, it sounds a little weird. But it’s a nice combination of sweet, savory and crunchy, and it works since we all like cauliflower and brussels sprouts. It takes a while, though most of it’s cooking time.



3 cups chopped fresh cauliflower

2 cups sliced fresh brussels sprouts

1/2 medium red onion, sliced

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

2 Tbsp. lite bottled vinaigrette (I made my own dressing with oil and white wine vinegar)

Basic Baked Potatoes


1) First, bake the potatoes: preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle 3 large baking potatoes with 2 tsp. vegetable oil (I used grapeseed) and rub with 2 tsp. kosher salt. Place on a 15-x10-inch jelly roll pan. Pierce potatoes several times with a fork. Bake 1 hour or until tender; cut in half.

2) Toss together first 6 ingredients on a lightly greased 15×10 jelly roll pan. Bake cauliflower mixture, with potatoes, 25 minutes or until cauliflower is brown, stirring once. (I was never clear if the potatoes were supposed to be on two different pans or the same one; I’ve done it both ways, putting the cauliflower mixture in about halfway through the potatoes’ cooking time.)

3) Toss cauliflower mixture with raisins, walnuts and vinaigrette. Spoon over potatoes.

Double Fudge Cookies (Paleo)

Okay. You know My biggest fear about the clean eating challenge was giving up sugar, and there is no one who loves a cookie the way I do. When I found this recipe, I was given a bit of hope, though I was still skeptical. But guys, these are delicious.



1 C Almond Butter

1 Organic Egg

1/2 C Cocoa Powder, unsweetened

1/2 C Honey, Raw preferably (Local- even better!)

2 TSP Vanilla Extract

1/2 TSP Baking Soda

1/2 TSP Fine Sea Salt


Mix well. Put on cookie sheet in rounded teaspoonfuls.

Bake at 350 for 8 minutes (it’s ok if they don’t seem done!) Let set for 5 minutes.

They’re easy, and they’re almost as good as the Nutella cookies I’ve made before. That said, this cookie is not without its problems:

1)  Good Lord, almond butter is expensive!


2) I eat, like, five of these every day. And though not an explicitly stated goal, I do want to eat a bit more mindfully then I did in my fistfuls-of-Oreos heyday. (The cost of the almond butter gives me a little more restraint.)

3) On the first day, they’re perfectly cookie-like. But on subsequent days, they start to soften back into the ingredients from which they came. I put them in the fridge, which firmed them up a little, but I still had to peel them off each other.

There was one other thing, which, if I were applying the rules of “winner” and “loser” fairly, should put this cookie in the latter category, but doesn’t: Noah wouldn’t eat these cookies.

I made them the day after the whole pancake debacle, and it just so happened that their dark brown roundness sort of resembled the buckwheat pancakes. Noah even said that the cookie tasted like the pancake, though Pat and I can tell you definitively that is not true.

But in this case, I don’t mind if Noah doesn’t like them. If there’s one personal philosophy that hasn’t been changed by clean eating, it’s this one: the more cookies left for me, the better.