My phone rang last week, as I was walking up and down the clothing racks at Ross. There was laundry to do, three bathrooms to be shined and wiped, and handful of freelance assignments to finalize, and I was running my finger up and down the corals and turquoises and deep purples of a thousand shirts I couldn’t afford, walking slowly through racks of jeans without hurry, smiling over shoes with heels so high I’d never be able to keep balance on them.
When I saw the caller was my dear Amy, one of those friends with whom I have a deep and abiding history, I immediately rang her back, lifted the phone to my ear, waited for that familiar, “Hello, the Merrills.” It’s how she always answers the phone. Just like clockwork. Just like the smooth, comforting rhythm of waves upon the sand.
“Amy!” I exclaimed. And she nearly immediately replied, “I’ve been watching your blog and you haven’t updated in a long time. I always worry when that happens.”
I admitted most immediately that I hadn’t been blogging because I needed a little break. Becoming a single mom, the only income-earner, the primary caretaker of four children and my own self has been exhausting. It’s up early and to sleep late, the constant worry of can I pay the bills and provide for all the needs of my little people and keep clean socks in the sock drawer?
Also, I admitted the other great secret…
I’ve been in food crisis.
Actually, I haven’t been in much actual crisis in my own day-to-day life. For the first time in maybe ever, I’m finding a truly healthy way to approach food. I’m reading up on research and cutting back my cravings. I’m dropping weight and feeling healthier and stronger than ever before.
But I’m no longer eating vegan. And I’m not even always eating plant-based. I’ve started making a shift to a more Paleo-friendly diet, rich in high-quality, responsibly farmed fish and beef, while cutting out (almost entirely) grains and legumes. And I can’t believe how quickly my body has responded to the menu shift.
For one thing, my food cravings have all but vanished. I realize now, as I dive into the reality of food and how it affects our bodies on a cellular level, that much of my blogging career has actually been a journal of my food abuse.
Blogging, unfortunately, is becoming that for too many of us. Desserts are overly decadent (you’re going to stuff a cookie with a donut hole and cook it in a brownie? Why are we okay with this sort of grotesque overindulgence?), food is no longer food, and we are taking too many things into our diet on sheer heresay.
There were so many people (and documentaries and articles and books) who said vegan-based eating was the ultimate diet for my body and the planet. But a vegan diet in and of itself is void of important nutrients, and therefore not naturally sustainable without supplements of some sort. I think it’s a GREAT way to jumpstart healthy eating, but my nutrition counselor, Thor says I’ll likely be recovering from some of the nutritional depletion veganism wracked on my bones and molecules for at least a year.
I’ve been afraid to tell you that. So many of you started following Cheeky Kitchen after I started cooking up vegan eats. I don’t want to disapooint you. I don’t want to start a food war. So I’ve been hiding amongst the racks of clothing at Ross, trying to keep myself from admitting the truth.
I still haven’t figured it all out.
But after talking to Amy, I realized that Cheeky Kitchen was never a place where you came because I had it figured all out. It’s always been a reflection of my personal passion, evolution towards, and understanding of food. And it’s always been a celebration of those things, as well. After all, food is part of how I experience life. It brings such a beautiful dimension to what can otherwise become day-to-day drudgery. I mean, have you ever tried to keep the sock drawer full without knowing that you’ll be sitting down to a giant bowl of homemade Pho at the end of the day?
That’s what I’m saying. Food rocks. And though you may have come for the vegan eats, or the baked goods, or the faces on the food which once graced the pages of this blog, I hope you’ll stay and learn along with me.
Our American food system is broken. We’re killing ourselves with our overindulgence. Every time we sneak a bite, say “just this once” and dive into a gallon of ice cream, or otherwise obsess over erratic cravings, we tell ourselves that it’s normal, acceptable, and even somehow enjoyable to be out of control.
Oh, the many millions of times I’ve done just that here. I prided myself on being able to let go and let live and suck down a batch of brownies just because it made me somehow seem like a whimsical, spontaneous soul.
I still believe in let go and let live. But, I’m starting to transition the way I do those things to a way that includes naturally smaller amounts of healthy, whole, rich, satisfying foods, days full of unbeatable energy, and a closet full of skinny jeans.
I’ve had so many friends ask me about some of the changes I’ve been making, that Thor and I decided to host “Thorsdays” together for the month of October. Every week, we sit down and create a menu based on the deep-down, nitty-gritty science of what does a body good, then my peeps come over and eat. It’s like, the funnest way to enjoy a Thursday. And, yeah, I totally said funnest.
So, for week one, Thor wanted to focus on Omega-3’s fatty acids, Omega-6 fatty acids, and medium-chain fatty acids. Basically, you need all of them (your brain actually needs fatty acids to create brain cells) but the typical American diet is extremely high in Omega-6’s, which can potentially lead to inflammation and other negative health effects. So you need to balance those 3’s and 6’s but consuming grass-fed beef and properly raised fish, among other foods.
Keeping this all in mind, I insisted we make the world’s most incredible salmon, and Iamnotkidding. This recipe in patently unbelievable, not to mention extremely high in all the good fatty acids, and extremely nonexistent in everything else lame (like prep time, massive-long list of ingredients, processed junk, and other such nonsense.)
Also on the menu, Baby Kale Salad with Raspberries & Spicy Mapled Walnuts all coated in a Coconut-Citrus Dressing.
For dessert, I nabbed some Comte cheese from Costco, which is a milk, hard, raw-milk cheese and we served it up with sweet purple grapes and giant sips of organic red wine.
So there you have it. My totally unvegan, tepid tiptoe into new nutritional waters. There’s so much to learn. I’ve got so much to share.
Now that I’ve broken the food-crisis silence, now that I’ve gone and spilled the beans on where I hide out when I’m AWOL from blogging, I think it’s time to get real, show you what’s working for me in my kitchen, and keep on keepin’ Cheeky.
Salmon & Spicy Raspberry-Kale Salad
For the Salmon:
1 pound high-quality, responsibly farmed salmon (try Whole Foods North Atlantic salmon)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
6 fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped
sea salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
For the Salad:
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
juice and grated rind of 1 orange, 1 lemon, and 1 lime
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper to taste
10 cups baby kale
1 pint raspberries
For the Salmon:
Preheat oven to broil. Drizzle melted coconut oil over salmon. Sprinkle with chopped garlic. Salt and pepper generously. Place on top rack in oven and cook JUST until the fish flakes all the way through, about 7-9 minutes. Remove and all to rest for a few minutes before serving.
For the Salad:
Place walnuts, maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and cayenne into a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the maple syrup boils and reduces. Transfer to a piece of parchment and cool.
In a blender or food processor, combine the coconut oil, orange, lemon, lime, apple cider vinegar, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt together then blend until pureed. Drizzle over kale. Toss with raspberries and walnuts. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with salmon and enjoy!
Food for thought. Lierre Keith was a vegan for nearly 20 years before becoming a nutritional activist. Check out her fascinating story here.