Why Clean Eating is a Five-Rung Step Ladder

Hi, I’m Samantha, and I didn’t learn how to eat until I was 24 years old. It took about seven years and five big steps to figure it out.

College is what prompted this whole shift. The freshman 15 (or 20) snuck up on my sometime between the calzones and boneless wings at 2am. When my last pair of pants wouldn’t button, I began trying to lose weight.  There was no rhyme or reason to how I went about this. I was not exercising regularly or eating that great. But, I stopped going in the dining hall and started cooking my own food. That was step one.

me before clean eating
Before, 2005

Step two was experimenting with vegetarianism. I didn’t know much about meat industry, and I was not yet aware of the devastating effects of food production on the environment. I just felt wrong about what I ate, and I needed to do something drastic to figure out why. Abstinence, as it tends to do, gave me time and space to think.

I did not eat meat for year and a half and it was awesome! I felt great and experimented with a ton new foods. But I still had questions. What is my policy on dairy? How much imitation meat do I want to ingest? When does this end?

Then, I started to miss meat, have dreams I was eating it and wake up feeling guilty. I began to resent having only 1-2 options on a restaurant menu, and stress over parties and other social events. I felt separated from my family. Slowly, being a vegetarian became less important than everything else in my life because I had no idea why I was doing it anymore. When you begin to feel like something is a sacrifice, it becomes uncomfortable. And when you start to feel guilty about those feelings, it’s downright unbearable.

So, even though I was ready for it, I ate my re-introductory bite of meat in hiding, with no one watching. I felt weak and ashamed, and thought I would be judged from then on no matter what I did. Turns out no one cared but me. It got easier, but I kept going back and forth. I told myself, I’ll eat meat for just one more week, or just one day a month, and created rule after rule after rule. All of which I broke, because you will break every rule you make for yourself about eating. I guess step 3 was accepting that I was not a vegetarian anymore. Only when your diet becomes a lifestyle that you believe in will you honor it.

Slowly, I began to shift my attention away from what I could NOT eat, and instead focus on what I was actually putting INTO my body. Enter step 4: I got interested in where my food came from and how it was produced. Guess what? Abstaining from foods is waaaaay simpler than eating with purpose and intention.  Every trip to the grocery store became a cost-benefit analysis between local, organic and conventional options. I wanted to eat in a way that was healthy for me, my community and the planet. Without calculation, this became the foundation of my own philosophy on eating.

Finally, step 5 (aka the clincher): I became a truly fit person for the first time in my life. I started working out with an amazing group of women and learned about clean eating. What a concept! (Hey, what is clean eating?) By eating mostly whole, real, unprocessed foods, and getting regular intense exercise, I have gained confidence and feel leaner and healthier than ever.

Last May, I decided to start training for a 1/2 marathon even though I couldn’t run a mile. When I crossed the finish line in December, I knew I was never looking back. Now I know that I can do anything I want, and hold myself accountable to that. I’ve eliminated “impossible” from my vocabulary. It all stems from my core, how I nourish and take care of myself.  Isn’t it funny how when you believe in something, instead of doing what you think you should, it becomes the easiest thing in the world?

me after
After, 2012

Even though my standards for what and how I eat are so much higher now than they have ever been, this is the simplest way I know how to live. It’s challenging, but I’ve learned tricks at every turn and it’s been unimaginably rewarding.

Here’s the secret: I don’t let myself get sick of what I eat. I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen coming up with new and different ways to cook the foods I love, and figuring out how to make them fit into the daily grind. And I’m more than happy to share! So, stay tuned for some squeaky clean recipes and other tips, mixed with the classics and served on a bed of thoughtful pondering.

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Smile, You’re Tomato Canning

Every August that I can remember has ended with a long, hot day of tomato canning. It’s summer’s most fantastic ritual. All of my extended family members gather in someone’s backyard to sort, cut, boil, crush, jar and seal boxes and boxes of warm, fresh tomatoes (local, but not homegrown I confess.) The smell is more wonderful that you can possible imagine. It’s like all the fantastic things you are going to cook this year, mixed with love and basil. Since last Friday was canning day, I’m kick-starting this blog with an entire week devoted to its namesake, the tomato. Today, we start at the beginning.

How to Can Tomatoes
What you will need:

  1. plum tomatoes
  2. fresh basil
  3. sharp knife
  4. large pot
  5. glass jars with lids and rings made for canning
  6. slotted spoon
  7. tomato grinder (manual or electric)
  8. tongs
  9. large bucket/container
  10. funnel
  11. strainer

Before you start, make sure that all of your jars, lid rings and other tools are clean and sterile to avoid trapping bacteria in your jars that will spoil. Running the jars and lids through the dishwasher is an easy way to clean a bunch at once.

Tomato Selection
Plum tomatoes are ideal for tomato sauce because they are pulpy and contain less water than other varieties. There are many types of plum tomatoes, but we usually buy Romas because they are grown locally. San Marzano is another prized plum tomato for canning. Processing tomatoes are commonly sold in 25 lb bulk cases, which each yield about 6-7 quarts of sauce each. So, decide how many quart jars you want to fill before purchasing your tomatoes.

selecting ripe plum tomatoes for tomato sauce canning
Aunt Andrea and Aunt Marie find a fine batch of tomatoes!

Sort
Since one rotten tomato can spoil the batch, you need to inspect each one individually. If you are not going to actually can on the day you pick up your tomatoes, take them out of the box and lay them to air out. This way, you can find and remove any rotting ones before they spoil the ones around them. Sometimes the tomatoes can use an extra day or two more to fully ripen, so you can leave them out until they seem ready.

sorting plum tomatoes for tomato sauce canning

Wash
When you’re ready start, go through all the tomatoes again and toss any rotten ones. Look for bruises and blemishes, and cut out any bad spots. Smell any questionable ones to see if they are sour. Then, fill a large container with water and place all the remaining tomatoes inside to rinse.

washing and sorting plum tomatoes before canning

Boil
Next, take your large pot and fill it with four to five inches of water. It does not need to be filled to the top. Bring the water to a boil, fill the pot with tomatoes, and cover. Steam each batch until they look cooked and are soft. Some will start to split when they are done.

boiling the plum tomatoes before canning

Crush
Using a slotted spoon, scoop the cooked tomatoes and transfer them to your strainer to drain. Prick each one to get out excess water. Place a large bucket or container underneath the grinder to catch all the juice. Then, run the tomatoes through your grinder to separate the pulp and juice from skin and seeds. When you’re done, run the skin and seeds through one more time. This helps to thicken up the finished product. If you have a compost area, you can toss the remaining waste right in.

running sauce tomatoes through an electric grinder before canning

Jar
To prep your jars, spread them out on a large flat surface. I like to put 3-4 fresh basil leaves in each one for flavor. Using a funnel, fill each jar with your crushed tomatoes to within about 1/4 inch of the top. Make sure to wipe any excess off the rim of the jar to ensure a proper seal. Put a seal lid on each jar and loosely screw a ring on. Don’t make it too tight, just tight enough to keep the contents of the jar from spilling.

filling glass jars with crushed tomatoes for canning

Seal
Put enough water in a pot to just cover the lids of your jars, and bring it to a boil. Place jars in the water and boil for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the jars with tongs or a jar gripper and lay them out to cool. You should hear a series of “plinks” as they beging to cool and the tops depress, forming the seal. Check all of your jars as they cool to make sure the tops have depressed. Any that don’t seal properly should be refrigerated and used within a day or two.

boiling tomato sauce cans to seal them during canning process

Finally, thought it’s torture to wait, put all the jars aside for about 2 weeks and check the lids daily to make sure they are ok. If none burst after a couple of weeks, your seals should be safe and adequate and you can feel free to enjoy!

freshly canned plum tomatoes

Coming up during tomato week…
We’ll pop open a few jars, make a basic pasta sauce and try out one of my all time favorite splurges!