Whole Foods 28-Day Challenge: It's Day 28!!!

It’s almost over!!! Just a few more hours!!! I’m in the home stretch of the Whole Foods 28-Day Challenge. I’ve gone 28 days without meat, dairy, oil, or refined sugar (except for a few bites here and there).

Here’s what I’ve learned about being a vegan:

1) It’s not so bad. There are a lot of delicious plant based foods
2) I don’t need to follow every meal with dessert. Giving up sugar wasn’t as difficult as I thought
3) It’s exhausting – There is a lot of preparation that goes into making all of your meals.
4) It’s not for me

I think I can easily become a vegetarian, but vegan is too much. I love cheese and yogurt. Come to think of it, I love fish and carnitas and eggs, too. So maybe I’ll just become someone who eats a lot of vegetables.
One of the things I really embraced about the diet was experimenting with food. I made lentils with curry and coconut milk, cookies with no sugar, and chocolate pudding with avocado and date paste. I would not have tried and liked these recipes without the challenge.

But the main thing I learned from this diet is that I can go days without sugar. I don’t need to eat a piece of salted chocolate after a long run. My low sugar, all natural sports drink is enough.

I kept joking that I’m going to eat a donut on day 29, but I think I’m going to stick to parts of the diet for a while including no sugar (or very little), and no dairy for as long as I can stand it.

It was a long 28 days, but it was worth it.

A Happy New Year in the Kitchen

My bad attitude about the holidays (tired, sick, too much to do) followed me into the New Year’s celebrations. I was tired and I didn’t want to cook anymore and I definitely did not want to have our annual party. Well, I got outvoted and my husband invited people over for New Year’s Eve.

It was a potluck, but of course I made way too much food. I made posole, gluten-free vegan chocolate cake with a chocolate/cinnamon frosting and salted caramel drizzled on top, coffee flan, homemade pinto beans, and tamales. A couple of friends came over Wednesday afternoon and helped me make the tamales in preparation for Thursday night.

Tamales, if you haven’t attempted, are very time consuming. My mom used to make them when we were kids and it was a two day affair. She does not have good memories of it. While I was shopping at Trader Joe’s I got a frantic call from her. “Don’t make tamales,” she said. “It’s too much work and you’ll be too tired to enjoy New Year’s Eve. Don’t make them!”

It wasn’t that bad. You start by making the dough, which is made of masa (ground corn flour), lard or shortening (I used vegan butter and regular butter in an attempt to be somewhat healthy), baking powder, salt, and water. After you’ve soaked the corn husks for two hours, you spread the filling in the husks. I bought carnitas, green chile, tomatillo sauce and jack cheese from Trader Joe’s. (I bought the corn husks and masa from Top Valu in Culver City, my new favorite grocery store.) One by one, we spread the masa dough in the husks, added the filling and folded them together. Then we put the wrapped tamales in a steamer. Several hours and 50 tamales later we were done.

It ended up being a great time. It was one of those rare occasions where all the kids were in good moods and got along, leaving the moms in the kitchen to cook.

After everyone left and I put my kids to bed, I made coffee flan with Starbucks Via coffee. I hope no one was lactose intolerant because it had whole milk, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk. Delightful.

On Thursday, I made the cake, beans, and my mom’s posole, which is soup with pork, chili (I used a can of chile colorado), and hominy. My mom has no real recipes, just vague directions. She said to put everything in the pot with chunks of onion and garlic and add some water or broth. I used gluten-free chicken broth and water. It turned out great. Spicy, but not too hot and the pork was really tender.

As the night wore on I broke out the Abuelita, which is Mexican chocolate. I melted it with sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, and one packet of Starbuck’s Via instant coffee. I served it with a shot of Kahlua and it was fantastic.

This was not a low calorie New Year’s Eve, but everything was gluten-free and the party was really fun. It started at 6 and the last people left after midnight. It was a lovely and happy New Year’s Eve.

Gluten-Free Mexican Wedding Cakes with Dried Cranberries

My son had multicultural week at his school and I volunteered to help out. I thought about what I had to offer: I’m Mexican, I bake, I’m a writer. OK, I decided to bake Mexican Wedding Cakes and write about their history.

I scoured the internet and found…nothing!! There’s no history to Mexican Wedding Cakes. There’s no cute story about a Mexican wedding or some dramatic link to history. I knew the cookies were basically the same as Russian Tea Cakes and a slew of other nut and butter cookies, but I thought they had to have some story behind them. Not the case. They just started appearing in cookbooks in the 1950s for no dramatic reason whatsoever.

That story would not enthrall the children, so I decided to do a straight cooking demonstration and talk to the kids about why the cookies are a big part of my family’s holiday tradition.
Every Christmas my mom would make these delicate little cookies with butter, powdered sugar, flour, pecans, and vanilla. We would roll them into little balls and drop them onto the cookie sheet. You’re supposed to wait until the cookies are cool before you roll them in powdered sugar, but we rarely did. I only liked them if they were warm and the powdered sugar was moist like frosting.

After we made the cookies, the entire extended family would come over and we’d have a late dinner. The kids would unwillingly go to midnight mass and when we came home we’d open our presents. (While at mass, All I could think about was that someone was breaking into our house and stealing the presents, like in that episode of “Eight is Enough.”) It was the best night of the year, I told the kids, because we were allowed to stay up all night, eat cookies, and play with toys.

The cookies I made for my son’s school were very different than the ones I grew up with. I made them gluten-free, vegan, and without nuts. I used dried cranberries and Earth Balance vegan butter. They came out delicate and buttery and the kids seemed to like them.

After the demo I read my new favorite Christmas book, N is for Navidad, by Susan Midlleton Elya and Merry Banks. It’s illustrated by Joe Cepeda, who also did Mice and Beans, another favorite around here.

Here’s the recipe. Happy Holidays!