Having said that, cleansing has helped me so much that living without wine at dinner a couple times a week - and for a couple months a year - is a very small sacrifice, and one I'm more than happy to make if it keeps me out of A.A.
But I have learned some tips over the years that help make cleanse dinners as enjoyable as ones where you can drink.
Almost anyway. ;)
First of all, you have to make an extra effort to make cleanse dinners special. You really want to avoid a cafeteria-type meal where there's a piece of dry chicken in the middle of your plate, the fluorescent lights glaring overhead and only the occasional scrape of cutlery to be heard.
Don't be afraid to turn the lights down. Light a candle. Put on some music. If you have kids, maybe you want to feed them first and then settle in later in the evening with something more special. You might not be able to do this every night, but treat yourself whenever you can.
One caveat: I wouldn't recommend trying your favorite wine meals when you first start cleansing. For instance, it took a while for me to get used to having pasta dinners without wine. I love pasta. And I love wine.
I love them even more together.
When I first started cleansing, I really missed a nice juicy red with pasta dinners. So I found myself avoiding pasta and focusing on things like chicken and fish at first. These lighter dinners are still a big part of cleanses - and even cleanse nights during the rest of the year. And we've learned to prepare them in a way that's delicious and enjoyable.
But since I love pasta so much, it was unreasonable to expect that I could live without it for a month at a time. So we started venturing back into pasta terrain.
But instead of having our favorite meat sauce with spaghetti (it's actually my mother-in-law's recipe: she cooks it up and freezes batches for us, angel that she is!) we found new recipes for pasta nights without wine - ones that usually involved chicken or shrimp. Once we were accustomed to these meals without wine, we started bringing the meat sauce back in. Pasta nights are now (almost) as much fun without wine as they are with it - even the meat sauce.
There is however one meal that I've avoided like the plague on cleanse nights. Steak.
We don't eat a lot of steak but once or twice a month, the hubs (who's the chef in the family) and I have steak with a nice merlot or big juicy cabernet sauvignon. (We usually go for filet mignon or beef tenderloin because even though it's more pricey, it has less fat.)
Anyway, we tried our steak nights without wine a couple times and ... gulp ... it was awful! The steak was so, well ... meaty!! Beefy! Fleshy! I could almost hear Bossy's poor calves mooing sadly from the other side of the fence with every bite. Blech! So steak nights just became a no-no during a cleanse.
But recently, the hubs and I have discovered a time-saving, super-delicious trick that actually found us eating steak last night ... the 21st night of my cleanse.
The secret is Jamie Oliver's pre-packaged spice mixes.
There are five different mixes in all - everything from Blackened Herb to Fiery Jerk. The seasoning pouches contain dozens of spices, all in the perfect mix. There's a best-before date on the packs so it's guaranteed fresh and each flavor is clearly marked as recommended for chicken, beef or fish, so it takes the guesswork out.
Wow! They are fantastic! Seriously! So easy and so incredibly delicious! We got into them months ago, before the cleanse started, but they're so great that I actually found myself craving steak yesterday - even on a cleanse!
This time around, though, I chose a different cut of meat. I was in the grocery store yesterday morning staring at the red hunks of beef tenderloin and filet mignon behind the butcher counter. I remembered how "meaty" those lean cuts tasted on cleanses before, so I decided to try something new.
Jamie - whose cooking shows we watch, too - often recommends slightly more marbled cuts of meat when he's cooking, so I turned the cart around and headed to the pre-packaged meat section. I picked out a sirloin tip (7 oz or 200 grams is more than enough for us. btw, I see some cooking sites recommend marinating this cut of meat because it's not as tender as sirloin itself: just a note, we didn't bother and it was fine. I imagine any cut of meat would be just as yummy with these spice mixes, too.)
The meat had quite a thick layer of fat along one side so the hubs sliced that off (as Jamie suggests), but there was still nice marbling throughout the cut itself. As per instructions, the hubs sprinkled a cutting board with a layer of mix. He rubbed olive oil on the meat to moisten and then rolled it around in the spices to coat nicely. Last night we used the Spicy Cowboy mix - it has a delicious southern kick without the sweetness of a barbecue flavor.
Halfway through cooking, the hubs threw in some sliced red onion and thinly sliced green peppers, just so they got soft and wilted. We had fork-mashed potatoes with a bit of butter and asparagus alongside. It was delicious! (btw garlic-flavored olive oil with a little salt and pepper really elevates asparagus - a veggie with so many healthy benefits, we try to eat it often.)
After dinner was over, I couldn't believe it. I actually enjoyed steak - without vino?! It was an absolute first.
Now Jamie's spice mixes are in the spice section of my grocery store. But if they're not available where you live, I'll try and get the list of spices together for you and put them on the blog on a slow day. Because there really are lots of spices in every recipe. If you're super excited to give it a shot, drop me an email and I'll try to get to it more quickly.
In the meantime, if you're ready to have beef during a cleanse, think of more marbled cuts. Rub olive oil on the meat to allow the spices to adhere better and a tablespoon or two for frying. Olive oil is so good for your heart and adds a nice juiciness. (btw you don't have to eat all that beef fat in the pan! Let it drain off.)
And don't forget to light a candle and put some music on! It doesn't have to be typical dinner mood music either. Last night the hubs and I listened to Green Day. It rocked! (Saw them at Hamilton's Copp's Coliseum a few years ago! Actually have a home vid of that. Should embarrass myself and put it up ... nothing like a 40-something chick in an army fatigue jacket and red Cons.)
Just use your imagination when you're cooking on a cleanse. Make the meal special any way you can and your whole cleanse will be easier and more enjoyable.
Day 22? Are you kidding me?! This time next week - Monday - the cleanse will be over! Only 6 days left to go!! :)