Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sukuma Wiki

Kenya is known much more for big game animals than for its food, and yet, as soon as we got home, I turned to the internet for help with some Kenyan recipes. Like any of the myriad places where I have spent time, the food of those places feels like reconnecting with their spirits. I never did end up making a big Kenyan feast, and that idea was put on the back burner.


This is a plate of typical Kenyan food, pretty much the definition of “peasant” food. Boiled potatoes, sauteed cabbage, rice, some kind of meat (usually beef or goat) stew, and sukuma wiki (suh-KOO-muh WEE-kee), or kale. I learned that sukuma wiki means “stretch the week” in Swahili, and since it is grown year-round in East Africa, it is easily available and often added to meals to stretch them throughout the week. Eating all that kale is probably the reason why most Kenyans are so healthy! Well, that, walking a lot, and not smoking or drinking alcohol.

In browsing for paleo-friendly recipes, I found this version of sukuma wiki which uses ground beef (so much easier to find than goat) and collard greens. Without being so finely chopped, the texture was much thicker, and the warm spices gave the dish more of an Indian flavor. Apparently, one must go to Mombasa to get the well-seasoned food in Kenya. It’s a simple dish that comes together quickly, but it’s also soul food – warm and hearty. I know we’ll be revisiting this dish frequently in the winter.


Sukuma Wiki
source: The Domestic Man


1 tbsp cooking fat of your choice
1/2 white onion, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp each sea salt, cumin, coriander
1/2 tsp each black pepper, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground fennel seeds, turmeric
1 lb organic, grass-fed ground beef
1 bunch collard greens (about 8 leaves), stems removed, sliced into 1″ strips
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp lemon juice


Warm the fat in a skillet on medium heat for a minute, then add the onion. Sauté the onion until softened, about four minutes. Add the chopped garlic and jalapeño and sauté until fragrant, about one minute.

Add the ground beef and seasonings, and cook until mostly done, about six minutes, stirring frequently so the ground beef doesn’t clump.

Add the collard greens and tomatoes, and sauté until the collard greens are wilted, about four minutes. Stir everything around carefully as it cooks – be sure to do this step gently so you don’t mush up the tomatoes.

Add the lemon juice and season to taste by adding salt and pepper as needed, and serve immediately.

Monday, July 15, 2013

June…Busted Out All Over

June is always a strangely busy month, but this one managed to take the cake. I might have overbooked myself a tad, though it was worth it. Here’s a little bit of what I was up to:

It started off with a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. My grandmother died in March, but with family spread literally coast-to-coast, it made sense to do the memorial service when everyone could make it. My parents and I drove up to C’ville, spending a night in Bristol, TN, so that I could officiate the memorial service. We also got some good running in.

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It was good to see my extended family and my grandfather. My grandmother’s niece put together these amazing posters of pictures from her life and career in occupational therapy, including the article and picture from when she met President Kennedy. My grandmother in the ‘50s:

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Because I had to be back at church on Sunday, I flew out of Charlottesville to D.C., where my flight got delayed. When we finally boarded, somehow someone got on the wrong plane so we had to all get off the plane because of the security breech, get rescreened, and re-board the plane. It was a nightmare.

Next up was our 5th anniversary vacation to Excellence Riviera Cancun. Sun! Sand! Beach! Except that it rained nearly constantly for the first few days thanks to the remnants of a tropical storm. We still managed to have a good time and check out for a week.

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Joe’s aunt and uncle are doing their second long RV trip around the country and were due in Nashville the next week. They requested that I bless their RV while they were in Nashville, so they invited us over for dinner, and I put together a short service. That was certainly my first RV blessing! I also opted to travel with them down to Lynchburg, home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. We had a large family-style lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House before touring the distillery. Hanging with Jack:


We also went to the Grand Ole Opry with them, which is always a good time. That night we saw Patty Loveless, Joe Diffie, and Vince Gill, in addition to some other acts. The next morning I drove down to Bell Buckle for the RC Cola Moonpie Festival 10-miler. Miraculously, we had relatively cool weather, and I ended up having a great race for my first 10-miler. Of course, I had to refuel with the festival’s namesake treats:

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Joe’s second cousin hosted a Father’s Day brunch for Joe’s uncle and my dad, so I went straight there from church for a fabulous spread of food, including a breakfast casserole that Joe made all by himself! And then I headed back down I-24 to Monteagle for a week as the priest-in-residence at Camp Gailor-Maxon.


Camp ministry is seriously the best, and I love the Camp II kids because they’re old enough to have some spiritual discussions but still young enough to have fun and be goofy. Hikes, beautiful scenery, swimming, judging cannonball contests, and dancing. All in all, a great week. I love my camp “congregation” so much. They always give me so much hope for the church.


Straight from closing Eucharist to my parents’ house for a fellowship graduation party for Joe. His mom and her boyfriend drove down from Wisconsin bringing lots of beer (New Glarus!), brats, and cheese. The next morning, my mom and I ran the inaugural Franklin Half Marathon in scenic Leiper’s Fork. It was amazingly hot, humid, and hilly. I took care to hydrate at every aid station, but there were points when it was so hot I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. Beautiful Tennessee scenery though.


And we finished! My mom avenged her not-so-great race the week before and beat me by a few minutes. Something happened with the results, and I had to stand in a long line in the sun to get it fixed. Not happy.


The rest of the day called for pool time and beer before getting cleaned up for Joe’s graduation dinner.


After getting a few days to recoup and do laundry, we were headed north to Bloomington, IN for my best friend Abby’s wedding. I got there just in time for some of the bachelorette festivities (which were really pretty tame). The next morning, those of us so inclined met to jog a very slow 3 miles around the IU campus while we chatted and sweated out the previous night’s toxins.


This was my first wedding to officiate, and it was very special and meaningful. I was essentially part of the wedding party in terms of photographs and everything, but I also had to lead the rehearsal, etc. The rehearsal dinner was at Upland Brewing Company, known for their great beer, but the food was maybe even better. The next morning, after running 11 miles with my mom on some great trails and paths, the female members of the wedding party went and got our hair and make-up done and got all ready for pictures.


Unfortunately, it rained for most of the afternoon, but I think we got some great pictures in the auditorium. It was a great wedding, and I received a lot of compliments on the ceremony. I managed not to cry during the ceremony, though there were a few moments when I thought I might lose it.


Their DJ was amazing – no boring wedding standards – and we danced until he shut it down. Then we moved the party to a bar downtown, though at that point Joe and I were so tired that we stayed just long enough for John, the groom, to sit in Joe’s lap.


Congratulations John and Abby!

And now I don’t want to go anywhere for a long, long time.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Whole30: Tips & Tricks

First, a caveat, everyone is different. What worked for me might not work for you. Live and learn.

For me, one of the hardest things about Whole30 was the social aspect – eating meals with other people. As a minister, there were church potlucks and the doughnut holes during fellowship hour. I know that I did not do a 100% compliant 30 days. I had an all-day clergy meeting where they provided food for us, and that day it happened to be Caesar salad and lasagna. So I ate the Caesar salad without the croutons and with extra olives. I guess the Whole30 crew would have told me to bring my own food, but I really didn’t feel that was an option. Anyway, the little bit of dairy (and sugar, likely)in the Caesar salad didn’t kill me, and I felt that I made the best out of a bad situation.

Offer to cook
My church’s vestry (church council) meets once a month, and we usually have dinner before the meeting. Rarely is this a healthy meal. So for our May meeting, I offered to bring soup and salad. I prepped the soup (Smoky Mexican Tortilla-less Soup) in the slow-cooker that morning and let it cook at the church while I worked all day. I whipped up a big green salad and an easy balsamic vinaigrette. Everyone raved about the meal, completely unaware that they were “deprived” of grains, sugar, dairy, etc. The same holds true for when friends want to get together. Unless you have a lot of vegetarian friends, few people are going to turn down an invitation to grill steaks at your house. Potlucks are great for this because at least you know you can eat your own dish!

Prepare, prepare, prepare
A lot of people talk about having a “prep” day (usually Sunday) for making portable egg muffins for breakfasts on the go and chopping up veggies for salads. All of that is important, certainly, but I did a lot of preparation even before starting Whole30. Make a Pinterest board of Whole30-compliant recipes that you’re excited about making and eating. Brainstorm go-to meals for when you’re in a time-crunch or just feeling lazy. If you have these in your pocket, you’ll be less likely to order that pizza. Also, educate yourself. Read the Whole30 forums or It Starts with Food. Start stocking up on coconut oil. Start reading labels. Preparation is so, so key.

Find your inspiration
I now follow a lot of paleo food Instagram accounts. People post really good-looking pictures of their meals, so I can get ideas. Like I mentioned in the previous post, there’s nothing worse than seeing picture after picture of all of the things you can’t have. Much better to indulge in the foods you can eat and feel all the healthier for it.

Treat yo’ self
Part of Whole30 is about breaking some of the emotional ties with food. Stressful day? You deserve a cookie. Wednesday? How about a glass of wine for making it halfway through the week? Those coping mechanisms disappear for the most part while doing a Whole30. In some ways, I switched out healthier options and still rewarded myself with food. Friday? Have a kombucha! Finished a long run? Treat yourself to an iced coffee! Find a special tea you like. And non-food treats work too – a massage or pedicure if that’s your thing, buying a new book, etc. We ended up going to the ballet and two different musicals during our Whole30 since eating out for entertainment wasn’t really an option.

Joe & I decided, as part of our Whole30, that we would not worry about cost. Asparagus slightly out of season and a little more expensive? If we wanted it, we would get it. Organic/local meats and protein are pricier, so we prioritized quality proteins over organic fruits and veggies.

Sugar is in everything aka Read Your Labels
One of the first things I did to prepare for Whole30 was to get rid of most of the products in our refrigerator that contained added sugar. Mustard, Sriracha, yogurt, ketchup…it became pretty shocking. Then there was the day I was going to pick up some chicken broth because I didn’t feel like thawing the frozen stock I already had. Except that every broth on the supermarket shelf contained sugar or other suspect ingredients. Sugar in chicken broth. For real. We eventually gave up on trying to find bacon without added sugar and ate pancetta or prosciutto instead. Anything that came in a package had to be scrutinized with the utmost care. Once you start doing this, you will get angry. It’s okay.

Eat Your Fat
Fat doesn’t make you fat. Dollop that coconut oil on your sweet potato. Top your eggs with some avocado. Drizzle those veggies with olive oil. Fat is the key to satiety on Whole30. Fat is your friend. Lite coconut milk is anathema.

Go-to Foods
There will be days when you didn’t get to the grocery shopping, but you still need to eat. The freezer will be there for you. Frozen vegetables (read your labels), Applegate hot dogs, Trader Joe’s plain turkey burgers. You can make a meal out of these things. Following a tip from NomNomPaleo, I keep a bowl in the fridge with defrosting meats, so there is always something ready to be used.

Odds & Ends
You can eat pretty well at most of those make-your-own-burrito places. Just get a salad, protein, veggies, & guacamole and steer clear of the sour cream, beans, and rice.
If you’re grilling something for dinner, go ahead and throw on some extra meat for salads and other meals.
I don’t know if we could’ve made it through Whole30 without LaCroix sparkling water, dried figs, or macadamia nuts.
Eucharist is not Whole30-compliant, but it is Jesus. Jesus trumps Whole30.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Whole 30: Part 1

I have a tendency to make proclamations (mostly internal) that I end up eating later on. “I would never want to be the only clergyperson at a small rural church,” I said to myself during seminary. False. “I could never go 30 days without wine, cheese, or bread or be ‘paleo’.” Well…after several months of trying and failing to get back to a happy weight and alternating between feeling grumpy and deprived while counting calories and heavy and bloated when I overindulged, I decided to give Whole 30 a try. My goals were not primarily about weight-loss, so I didn’t even take a starting weight or starting measurements. I mainly wanted to a) get back into the habit of cooking real food at home, b) break some unhealthy habits around alcohol, and c) re-evaluate my relationships with certain kinds of foods.


For those of you unfamiliar with Whole 30, it’s essentially “strict paleo” – no sugar or artificial sweeteners (including alcohol, honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.), no dairy, no grains or pseudo-grains like quinoa, and no legumes. But it’s more than eat-this-not-that. I was glad that I read the book It Starts with Food, even though the whole plan is available for free on the Whole 9 website, because it outlined the scientific reasons behind abstaining from certain food groups rather than going by the paleo reasoning that I’d heard, which is, essentially, “if cavemen didn’t eat it, I won’t eat it.”


Joe agreed to do it with me, even knowing it would be a lot harder for him than for me. He has long had a sugar/artificial sweetener crutch, in part to get through long and tiring days in the hospital. We had to work through what he could eat at the hospital cafeteria and what he could drink (sparkling water, unsweet iced tea, water with lemon). About two days into Whole30, he had a work dinner at a very nice restaurant, and everyone was very concerned about why he was abstaining from wine and not ordering dessert, but he persevered.


The first week (2 weeks for Joe) was really hard. We both had headaches and low energy as our bodies adjusted to not getting all of those simple carbohydrates they had been running on. My runs were terrible with my heart rate through the roof while I barely eked out two miles. But then, it got better. On Day 8, I ran an extra mile than I’d scheduled because I felt so good. My moodiness went away, my skin cleared up, and I realized that I wasn’t hungry but weight and puffiness seemed to be falling off of me.


Our restaurant spending dropped to practically nothing, though our Costco spending increased quite a bit thanks to bags of avocados and bell peppers, organic chicken breasts, and prosciutto. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many vegetables as I did in that first week of Whole30. Several pounds of mushrooms, giant clamshells of lettuce, and cherry tomatoes went down the hatch. Occasionally I would get a craving for take-out or a sandwich, but the hardest time for me was Friday night. All my friends would be Instagramming pictures of their craft beer at the end of the week, and I was stuck with kombucha or sparkling water. Major bummer.


As with many others who have done a Whole30, I dreamed of non-compliant food – mostly beer but a strange dream about breaking Whole30 with a Clif bar. Joe had a dream about eating a giant cheesy omelette with a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. Our relationships with food are crazy psychological.

At the end of the 30 days, I had achieved all of my goals, plus some. We were regularly cooking at home, even before going out to see a show or play. My skin cleared up and looked radiant, my clothes fit better, and my level of inflammation was so low that I didn’t have a flare-up of my fibrocystic breast disease the entire month. When everyone else was complaining about seasonal allergies, I didn’t get a single sniffle.

Before Whole30:


After Whole30:


In my next post, I’ll include some tips that I learned from my Whole30 experience.