day four: grapefruit & fennel salad plus a few observations

It’s day #4 of this elimination bootcamp, and the caffeine migraines have finally gone away. After yet another mug of tea last night (I lost count after 6 mugs, so I can’t tell you how much tea was had), I decided I had to turn to pills to fix the issue. Which, you know, was not ideal, but the throbbing felt like a semi was doing donuts behind my eyeballs. Desperate times and all that.

I also noticed yesterday — after scrubbing my face down for bed — that my skin had broken out spectacularly. Excuse me, what? I thought this was supposed to be some feel-good, look-like-a-goddess elimination cleanse! I’ve been foregoing tomatoes and eggs for shitty skin?

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I was peeved for a good minute before I realized that breaking out is uncommon with diet cleanses. Something to do with the release of toxins, or so they say. Honestly I just needed to be able to rationalize what was happening to my face so I’m going with it. I went to bed around midnight — I was also exhausted beyond reason all evening — and fell asleep almost instantly, which was a nice change from the insomnia that I assumed was my normal sleep schedule all through uni.

Nine hours later (nine hours!) I woke up feeling shockingly refreshed. Another new development. Usually I feel as though someone has removed my skull and smashed it with a mallet. I hopped out of bed (literally, I threw back the covers and bodily flung myself from the mattress) to brush my teeth and scrutinize the state of my skin. No new breakouts — and, in fact, they’re fading fast — but I did notice that my eyes were brighter, dark circles less prominent, and my skin was glowing. Like, well and truly glowing.

Now, I wouldn’t call myself an empiricist per se, but I am hesitant of buying into the smarmy, diet-praising bull that accompanies detoxes and cleanses until I see some hard, unPhotoshopped proof with my own eyes. But it looks like someone has stuck a candle in my skull and the light is emanating from the pores. Plus, that weird little stomach pooch — what I fondly like to call the ‘tire track from hell’ — is all but gone. Granted, much of that probably has to do with the fact that I’m carrying almost zero water weight thanks to the unnatural amounts of teas and smoothies I’ve been drinking and consequent time devoted to bathroom breaks, but nevertheless. Miracle upon miracles!

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On a more serious note, it has been four days and my stomach has not brought me to my knees once. Now for me — and, I’m sure, for anyone whose stomach problems come as frequently as breathing — the realization was enough to make me consider making this a lifelong commitment. I did seriously contemplate that option for a moment, until I realized I really desperately want to take a spoon to that chili in the freezer at some point, but it will make me more cognizant of food triggers when I start reintroducing produce, dairy, and meat into my diet. If anything, this cleanse is making me much more self-aware, which I am pleased about.

Now, some confessions. I gave GP’s book a revisit this morning, to investigate what I might make for dinner tonight, and I realized that technically she bans soy when on the cleanse. Which is kind of unfortunate, because she already bans meat, and I definitely ate 90% of a block of tofu last night in that miso soup. But she does allow for miso soup — and miso paste is made from soy — so I think the tofu is acceptable. Plus, many of her cleanse-appropriate recipes are made from fish and chicken, so I’m not 100% sure what her game is. Mostly, though, I think she realizes that a full-on vegan and gluten free cleanse that also bans soy, tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplants is incredibly difficult to sustain and leaves almost nothing for one to eat save for beans, olive oil, and spinach leaves. Which, you know, isn’t really my jam.

Long story short: I may have given up my tomatoes and my bell peppers, but I was not about to toss a perfectly excellent block of tofu. There are only so many beans I can eat for protein before I start having stomach problems of a different sort, thank-you-very-much.

Luckily, though, supper seems to fit all her criteria, so I can at least focus my energies on a few episodes of Arrested Development (season 4!!!) with a guilt-free conscience, still-glowing skin, and a heart full of nostalgia.

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Story time: Back in my high school, seniors were required to take a seminar or participate in a mentorship with a professional. The latter was strikingly more legit than the former, so of course I signed up for a seminar. At the time, I was about to start my second year of Italian and was returning to school from a few summer weeks in the south of Italy. The trip was spent hiking for miles through Sicilian countrysides, climbing atop old temple ruins (not sure if legal, but definitely fun), wading waist-deep in turquoise beaches, and eating, still, the best meals of my life.

The trip itself was chaperoned by two teachers — my Italian instructor and the Latin and Ancient Greek instructor — who were quite possibly the most entertaining adults to spend time with as a teenager. It also so happened that the Latin/Greek instructor was teaching a seminar the following fall, on Italian cooking no less. (He was also the teacher who paid me $20 to bake him a cake for a private party he held at his house, so I was already a fan.)

The choice was a no-brainer.

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The year was spent going over the history and transformation of cuisine in Italy, from the classical period up to the industrial revolution, and taking a day out of each week to drive out to my teacher’s house in the city to cook; shaping gnocchi and fettucini from scratch, gutting squid on a newspaper-lined wood table on the porch, picking peppers from the tiny garden; coming back to school for dismissal smelling of garlic and tomato sauce, sometimes clutching paper plates and napkins, carrying remnants of the feast eaten just before.

We were each responsible for selecting a region of the country to research and to compile a cookbook, showcasing the region’s gastronomic history and highlights. We then devoted one week to each region, spending our cooking day in the kitchen recreating dishes and throwing out broken Italian (to this day, the only phrase I can say with total confidence is possiamo avere d’acqua in piu). I chose Sicily, a homage to the region that introduced me to my passion for food and weeks of unforgettable memories. When my turn came, I went with the traditional blood orange and fennel salad, a heaping bowl of pasta al tonno, and almond cookies to finish it off. Fruit, fish, and sweets, a truly satisfying meal.

So when I saw fennel laying in heaps at the Farmer’s Market yesterday, all the memories came rushing back in spades. I also figured, you know, I just finished up four years of uni. Four years of memories, of traveling to Spain, of learning more about the world and about myself. Italy was before even that. I’m not the same person I was when I visited — I probably wouldn’t even be able to recognize her — but there are so many experiences I remember vividly. Sometimes it feels like time has passed so quickly. But other times it feels like just yesterday I was taking my first bite of gelato.

Life is weird like that, I suppose. Weird and wonderful, a collection of variations on a theme.

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Grapefruit & Fennel Salad
Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly (recipe follows)
  • 1 grapefruit, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • salt and cracked pepper, to taste

Method:

To slice the fennel, place horizontally on a cutting board and chop off the stalks. Stalks can be reserved for soup stock and the fronds can be used as garnish for the salad. Wash the fennel bulb thoroughly and remove and discard the outer layer if it’s too thick. Set the bulb on its flat bottom and slice it in half. Set the fennel halves cut side down, and cut into slices perpendicular to the fibers.

Arrange sliced fennel, grapefruit, and red onion on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and cracked pepper and serve immediately.

Notes:

  • Salad pairs particularly well with grilled fish or a light pasta.
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