A few months ago I noticed that by the end of each day, as I’d walk home from work, I was completely and utterly exhausted. My brain was foggy, I was always tired and annoyed and, above all, I was almost always hungry. I also noticed that every time I’d go out for a run in the evening, I’d always get an annoying stitch underneath my ribs. Sometimes I’d have to stop running completely and walk the rest of the way home.
I’d managed to ignore these feelings for months and then one day I couldn’t do it anymore.
At that point, I knew I needed to take a look at my diet and exercise routine and figure out what wasn’t working because, clearly, something was amiss. And what I realized was, despite the fact that I led a seemingly healthy, nutritious existence, I wasn’t completely giving my body the nutrition and fuel it needed to perform the tasks I’d ask it to do every day. I found myself eating far too little protein, not giving myself necessary energy before an intense workout (hence those aforementioned running cramps), and not listening to my body when it was telling me that I was hungry or that I was full or that I needed some fat or some protein or some fresh fruits or vegetables. I was kind of just coasting through each day planning meals here or there and then sort of faking it, too.
Some days I’d go totally overboard. I decided that Fridays would be the day I’d let myself open my beloved candy drawer at work. Instead of being a moderate, normal human being, I’d down tootsie rolls and M&Ms like they were going to fly away.
I decided, after all this, that I needed to take stock. That it was imperative I consciously eat more fruit, vegetables and protein. I knew that on splurge days (which, for me, are generally on the weekend) I needed to eat with more intention instead of just eating whatever I felt like eating because I’d deprived myself too much during the week. (Gotta fit into those skinny jeans, you know.)
So, I’ve been re-vamping my diet a bit. I’m writing things down, looking at the big picture of my day, thinking a little bit more about what I eat. I’m consciously stocking healthy, life giving snacks in the apartment and in my purse when I leave for the day so that I can avoid hunger pangs and to keep my metabolism going all day.
I’ve also started adding more weights and muscle exercises to my work out routine. I feel stronger, more energized, and healthier since making this change.
I won’t go into every detail of my diet changes because they’re not all that drastic and because I’m still trying to navigate this path as best as I can. Also, this blog is about the food, not about the diet, right? I’m not perfect at this, nor do I ever think I will be, but I’m learning more and more that listening to my body and making appropriate and thoughtful food and exercise choices are essential to making this work. Eating more whole foods, more protein and more organic items, when possible, is something I’m striving for, and I’m feeling better about it every day. It’s very expensive to do this, though, and lately my grocery bill never ceases to amaze me. Why does organic produce have to be so expensive?
In case you are interested, my recent discovery of almond butter, LARA bars, kale chips and the brilliance of eggs or egg whites on an Ezekiel tortilla have me quite excited. I can only wonder what new, interesting foods I’ll incorporate into my routine next. I thought I’d share all this with you because it felt like something I needed
Of course, no food will be completely off limits. I love baking and I don’t particularly like making substitutions since I don’t bake often. I love beer and wine and will just keep them in moderation, as I have always done. I go weak at the knees for chocolate and French fries and falafel and bagels and, well, it wouldn’t be life if I didn’t have these things on occasion.
Speaking of falafel…
It’s one of my favorite foods and another reason why I think chickpeas are the absolute most versatile, brilliant food. I thought about making falafel for a while but was kind of scared off by the whole frying thing. I pictured a huge pot of hot oil and me in my TINY kitchen and knew that whole thing couldn’t possibly end well. Instead, I decided to do the “responsible” thing and bake the falafel in the oven. And it was very good.
The particular falafel recipe I used, which I found on one of my favorite sites, In Praise of Leftovers, uses a wonderfully aromatic blend of spices that neither overpower the chickpea flavor nor leave it so bland that you want to douse your falafel in sauce because it doesn’t taste like anything. The falafel is hearty and rich, full of bright cumin and a fresh burst of cilantro parsley, a winning combination. Baking the falafel instead of frying it only had one huge difference for me, which was that the baked falafel was a bit more dense than fried would be. If you’re interested in frying your falafel, you can check out the site where I found the recipe for Sarah’s instructions.
I decided that instead of making a falafel sandwich, I’d feature the falafel on top of an arugula salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, and a lemon yogurt tahini dressing. If you’re into salads that are hearty and textured, this is definitely a recipe to try.
Thanks for sticking with me through this post! I know it was a long one. Now, go make some falafel!
Baked Falafel Salad
Yield: 4 servings
For the salad, any combination of lettuce, fresh vegetables, olives and pita chips would work well. Like I mentioned, I used arugula, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, and had pita chips on the side.
For the falafel:
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped finely
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped finely
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (less if you don’t like heat)
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon baking powder
4-6 tablespoons flour (all purpose or whole wheat), divided
For the dressing:
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup 0% Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon hot sauce
juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons water, divided
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover them with 2 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight, or for an entire day (soak them in before you go to work and then make them for dinner that night) and then drain them.
2. In your food processor, blend the uncooked chickpeas and onions until broken down a bit. Add the cilantro, parsley, salt, red pepper flakes, garlic and cumin. Blend these well but not to the point where they are pureed. Add the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of flour and puree again. If the mixture is too wet, add another tablespoon or two of flour. You’ll know the dough is right when you can shape it in your hands and it doesn’t stick. Put the whole mixture in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour, if not longer.
3. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Once the mixture has been refrigerated for at least an hour, make the dough into small balls about 2 inches in diameter and place them on a baking sheet.
4. Bake the falafel for 15-20 minutes, turning over once in the middle of the baking process, until they are golden brown.
5. While the falafel is baking, make the salad dressing. Whisk together the tahini, greek yogurt, salt, hot sauce, lemon juice and olive oil. If your dressing needs to be thinned out, add water in 1 tablespoon increments until it reaches the desired consistency. Check for seasoning once it’s done.
6. Once the falafel is out of the oven and the dressing is prepared, pile your various salad ingredients, pita chips, falafel balls and dressing onto your plate and serve.
Falafel recipe adapted from In Praise of Leftovers
Dressing recipe is my own experiment.