We have some friends who we really like, and we thought they liked us. We were having dim sum with them on a recent Sunday when they told us about this new miracle ‘cleanse’ that they had both just completed. They urged us to try it. I didn’t think that we looked that dissolute but who knows. The “cleanse is called the BuzzFeed Food’s Clean Eating Challenge. It lasts a couple of years – no, really, only two weeks, it just seems longer. It has a several page grocery list (collard greens? Really?) detailed recipes for three meals a day and two snacks a day for fourteen days. There is a lot, really a lot, of cooking, for almost every meal. You can’t work and do this, you have to be there over the stove cooking all these damn vegetables. And we chose to enhance the experience by embarking on the cleanse on the hottest two weeks of the summer, thereby assuring that we would be hunched over the stove with the nearby oven on full time in one hundred degree weather. Fun.
From a scientific standpoint, the program is gluten free, it is largely dairy free, it is certainly carbohydrate free with no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, no corn, no crackers, no sembei. Did I mention no potatoes or potato chips or Doritos or corn chips, in short none of the things that make life worth living. No coffee. Not even decaf. This has a tendency to bring out the homicidal in “cleanse” participants—there should be a warning label. No alcohol, which reinforces the aforementioned. You can drink green tea and water. No juices, no Gatorade, no coke, no Pepsi, no gin and tonics, well you get the picture. Wait, no beef, no pork, no corn dogs, no barbecue. No butter, no oils except small amounts of olive oil titrated over the numerous salads. No doughnuts. Do I seem bitter? It’s the old story, I should have read the documents.
Cleansers who complete this without cheating, are supposed to feel much better and lose weight and have improved posture and silkier skin texture and thus prove that gluten is evil. And that you don’t really “need” a drink every day to be a charming and engaging companion. Oh yeah?
So without much real thought we decided to try it.
Day 1 is ok except for having to make asparagus shavings of 18 individual pieces of asparagus, using a hand peeler. There should be a Cuisinart blade for that. And Pellegrino is not a great substitute for wine. Sunday was the first meal with kale and quinoa “together again.” It was tolerable (please add salt). We shall see.
Day 2 – We lived through the dinner of cabbage rollups filled with chicken, mango, tomato, and avocado and even reinforced each other by fibbing that it was “good.” However, tea is not a replacement for coffee and Pellegrino only makes one mean. And slightly gaseous.
Day 3—a mixed bag—decent “oriental” cabbage salad for lunch, but “no one is fooled by these cauliflower steaks” with lentils for dinner. And as much water as you wanted. Great.
Day 4 – a big omelet with scallions and feta cheese for breakfast—more than we usually eat. Roasted fennel and spinach for dinner. Less. Late night snack—two medjoul dates, each stuffed with one almond. Wow. No Pinot Noir. Some discussion of going out to eat. No, no, no. Must be strong.
Day 5 – ate simmered mixture of tomatoes, onions, garlic, beans with no seasoning and was directed to call it “chili.” It was not. Went great with water, though.
Day 6 – Friends had us over for drinks this evening, served a lightly chilled bottle of excellent sparkiling water. Must remember to inquire as to vintage. They ate cheese and crackers and grilled chicken. We nibbled our cuticles.
Day 7 – Aha, meat! Well, turkey meat balls made with oats. A bit like a bland meat loaf in blobs (no frying, only baking). Served with a nice but routine custom-made tomato sauce, and Swiss chard. Swiss chard was the hit of the evening. Perhaps that is telling. Am beginning to understand what monks go through, but not the why. Perhaps flagellation by day nine.
Day 8 – Perhaps a new low—dinner was roasted cauliflower chunks mixed with roasted chickpeas (why?) and roasted eggplant, with Greek yogurt sauce. Spiced up with chopped parsley. The parsley was great. Two more dates stuffed with one almond each as late night snack. I hate eggplant and dates. This could drive a person to drink if it weren’t off the menu. Also maybe it wasn’t a good idea to go see “A Thousand Foot Journey” before dinner. Glorious food movie, shots of chicken Korma simmering in butter, cutting to boeuf bourguignon. No popcorn, no, no, no.
Day 9 – Omelet made with sliced apples for breakfast. We did our best, and it was cooked perfectly, but it was still strange. Too many apples and not enough egg, kind of like apples with scum. The apples were ok when picked out of the pan. Where is kale when you need it?
Day 10 – Cauliflower hash with fried egg is not high on the Academie de Cuisine list, but at least for the first time a very valuable ingredient is mentioned—HOT SAUCE! And for dinner shrimp, offset by kale. Be careful what you wish for.
Day 11 – Arrgh! Kale and banana smoothie for breakfast. Need we say more?
Day 12 – Attack of the Bok Choy People. The recipe calls for 4 oz. of white fish and six heads of baby bok choy per person, all wrapped in parchment. But “baby” bok choy is not the same as baby carrots or baby artichokes, each one is the size of a hand grenade and about as tasty. You’d need several square yards of parchment paper to wrap these babies up. We cut back to two not six, and it didn’t get cooked and was not tasty. Maybe there is a secret plan here. I did eat a couple of pieces of the parchment paper which wasn’t bad.
Day 13 – we have been on this cleanse so long it seems we will never see real food again. The shrimp with cremini mushrooms, both of the shrimp, were pretty good. They were wrapped in romaine leaves, also had some garlic and a few “raw, unsalted” peanuts. We cheated and used roasted peanuts. Big treat. Probably ruined everything.
Day 14 – We see the searchlights of the rescue planes at night, they’re coming closer! “We’re here, we’re here!” we scream, jumping up and down and waving light colored items of clothing. At lunch we have Portobello mushrooms with some tomato and feta. It’s either actually edible, or we have lost all sense of what real food is.
Our cleanse ends tonight at midnight so we have made elaborate plans. Tomorrow when he opens at 0530 we are going to Tom’s, our local doughnut shop, for pre-breakfast doughnuts, then to a restaurant called Kai’s for huevos rancheros and pancakes with bacon, several orders of bacon, for breakfast, then to La Especial Norte for the guacamole, chips and loaded chicken soup as an early brunch, and then for lunch of course to the Kingsland wing of Seaside, the great local market, for the tri tip sandwiches with potato salad, then about 2:30 to the fried fish place in Carlsbad for fish and chips and champagne as a late brunch. Our subsequent plans are to observe Restaurant Week in San Diego (21 through 26 September) by going out to lunch and dinner at a different restaurant every one of the six days of the celebration. I do wonder why they call it a week when it’s only six days, but perhaps that is small minded. Oh, and did I mention burning a bunch of kale on our doorstep as the sun rises? An important symbol of rebirth.
— Robert Hemphill is an author and former senior executive with a global power company. His most recent book is Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons, a humorous look at international business. Learn more at www.rfhemphill.com.