When I first got a hankering to blog about something, I was fairly certain that the focus of my writing would be food. I am a person who loves to eat, after all, and I’ve loved to cook for people since well before I could actually cook anything worth eating. (Ask my family about the pancakes. Just ask.) I discovered food blogs in 2008 and proceeded to lose countless hours on Tastespotting, salivating over the potential presented to me through my computer screen. You can make this dish, the blogs told me, and we’ll be here to help you along the way. And so, with the absent blessing of strangers on the internet, I dove head first into the world of serious cooking. The main part of cooking is, of course, about the food, but I have to admit that I was also in awe of the amazing women and men writing these blogs and the sheer brilliance with which they always seemed to know what I wanted to eat and how to convince me to eat it with beautiful, descriptive prose. It embarrasses me to admit it, but when I started my blog it was these people I set out to imitate, my vain and secret hope to somehow, through words and food, become just like them.
As I’m sure you will have noticed by now, it’s been quite a while since I shared a recipe. At some point I realized that I have less to say about food than I thought when I first started blogging. I came to foodie-ism relatively late in life, and while I’ve always been of the opinion that my Mother is an excellent cook, the truth is that there isn’t a single dish of hers that I’ve ever made for myself or had a hankering for since I left home over a decade ago. I don’t have a lot of childhood memories about food, and I’ve realized that I don’t have very many ways to say “this is good, you should make this” in my back pocket. Add to this a full time job that renders elaborate recipe testing in the precious few hours of the evening a non-starter, which makes it very clear why I came to rely on old favorite recipes already shared in my earliest blog posts–and the occasional delivery pizza or neighborhood taco–instead of trying new things more regularly.
As life began to get in the way of my culinary ambitions, I also started to feel really crappy all the time. I was having trouble sleeping through the night and I would leave work every day with a pounding headache, regardless of whether I was stressed out or totally relaxed. Then, I started to get painful cramps in my lower limbs on a several times daily basis. As I realized that I couldn’t remember the last day I didn’t have a headache and I began to despair about living the rest of my life in fear of being awoken from too little sleep by an unwelcome charleyhorse in the sole of my foot, my sister (who just relaunched her blog!!!) very helpfully reminded me of The Whole 30.
For the uninitiated, the Whole 30 is a sort of nutritional reset wherein you eat nothing but whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meats and fats for 30 days. Now, I have long taken an adversarial position on fad diets, which I think, with few exceptions, are totally stupid. I take umbrage at the suggestion that I am not good enough as I am and that a new fad diet will fix whatever is wrong with me, which invariably ends up meaning whatever is wrong with my physical appearance according to the beauty standards of others. But what appealed to me about the Whole 30 was the simplicity of the thing: you are only meant to follow it for 30 days, and it doesn’t promote ideas that I think are totally crazy, such as limiting fruit intake because fruit is supposedly not good for you. And the thing that attracted me to the Whole 30 most of all was the similarities to my regular diet, which was already mostly devoid of processed food and junk. And so I set out to change my diet, however minimally, for 30 days to see if there was anything I ate on a regular basis that might be causing my headaches, sleeplessness and muscle cramps. For 30 days, there was no bread, no cheese, no chocolate, no legumes, no alcohol. I thought it would be hard, but I was willing to make the sacrifice if it meant that a non-medical intervention might the key to solving all my problems.
Needless to say, the transformation of my general well being since starting the Whole 30 has been nothing short of remarkable. Within less than a week, my daily headaches were gone and I began sleeping through the night without interruption. The muscle cramps took a bit longer to dissipate, but they did go away eventually. I began to feel far more alert throughout the day than I did before the Whole 30, and focusing on even very boring tasks became much, much easier than before. Beyond my physical complaints, I began to feel very good. My default setting shifted from grumpy to happy, and it’s been a lot easier for me to be content with myself as a person and to dial back the self-criticism that informed many of my thoughts and actions. Before the Whole 30, I didn’t even realize that it was possible to feel this good, and it’s a bit (but only a bit) of a sore point to learn that I’ve spent 32 years of my life not realizing that simple changes to my diet could have such a profound effect on my happiness and well being.
My 30 day experiment has been officially over for a couple weeks now and I’ve gradually added back some of the foods I eliminated to see how my body would react to their reintroduction. The results have been very revealing. I didn’t miss chocolate nearly as much as I assumed I would, and my first taste of the dark stuff was underwhelming. Blessedly, I was able to reintroduce my beloved sourdough, which I did miss quite a lot, back into the rotation without any problem. But I’ve also learned that both peanut butter and milk, my two favorite things to eat with sourdough, give me an instant headache from the moment I swallow. Alcohol seems to be the cause of my insomnia, which leaves me feeling mixed; on one hand, it’s obviously very useful to know why my sleeplessness occurred with such regularity, but on the other, wine and beer and scotch are so good, and I don’t think I want to cut them out completely… maybe just on work nights. I’m not quite done reintroducing things back into my diet–I still haven’t eaten any soy, beans or corn since the end of my 30 day experiment–but the more I try to go back to the way it used to be, the more I realize that I feel healthier and happier without the things that prompted me to try an elimination diet in the first place.
Today, I’m going to share a recipe with you, because it’s worth sharing. It comes from–you guessed it–a favorite food bIog. I ate this dish far more than anything else during my 30 day food experiment, and I’ve made it a couple times since I started reintroducing other foods back into my diet. As far as I’m concerned, this dish is perfect. The spicy sauce is rich and savory, with the olives providing just the right amount of saltiness to balance the sweetness of the tomatoes, onions and carrots. The cod is tender and meaty with an unexpected buttery flavour and texture. Best of all, this dish takes almost no time or effort to make. After a small amount of chopping, everything is cooked together in one pot and 40 or so minutes later, you’re ready to eat. For such little effort, the results are impressive and delicious, and this is a meal that makes it easy to forget about all the things I used to enjoy that now make me feel lousy. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.
Stewed Cod in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Slightly adapted from The Wednesday Chef
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
2-4 dried red chilies, crushed
8-12 Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
about 1 pound cod fillets (I used MCS certified frozen cod)
4 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium sized pot or skillet with high walls. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 5-8 minutes.
2. Add the canned tomatoes, chilies and olives, bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be on the thick side at the end of 3 minutes.
3. Add the cod to the pan, covering the fillets with the sauce. Cover the pan and cook for 8 minutes, or until the fish is tender.
4. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve garnished with the chopped parsley.