Day 16: Post-travel, lessons learned

The black bean hummus tartine at Le Pain Quotidien in Georgetown.

First, can we just note that it is somehow DAY 16 of the Engine 2 Diet? I'm really not entirely sure how that happened. As we geared up for the halfway point - Day 14 - I wasn't sure I was going to be able to follow through. Oh, who am I kidding? I knew I could follow through. I just didn't know if I wanted to.

What a difference a few days make. Not to mention we have now survived what has heretofore been the biggest obstacle we've faced in our 28-day Engine 2 diet: travel.

Last Wednesday, we left the considerable safety and comfort of our little quinoa cocoon and headed out into the big, bad world. Specifically, the big, bad world of the Washington DC area to spend QT with Chris' family and a little bonus time with friends we hadn't seen in a long time.

Here's what we knew: the travel portion itself would require planning. The faffing around at the airport, the flight, the drive from Baltimore to DC -- none of it would be long, per se, but I only need about ten minutes to work up the justification for a snack. Fine. Nothing that a bag of trail mix, some fresh fruit, and a handful of Larabars couldn't fix.

We also knew we were staying in a hotel without a refrigerator. Or, without a refrigerator that doesn't charge a million dollars if you temporarily remove their soda to make room for refreshments of your own. That limited  what we could have in our hotel room for breakfasts. "No problem," we said cheerily and with stellar attitudes! "Who needs a real breakfast when you have the aforementioned trail mix and Larabars?!"

Biggest concern of all: there would be the matter of eating actual meals - both out at restaurants and at the home of family members kind enough to entertain us without having wheatberries injected into their carefully planned menus. One thing we have been determined to avoid is becoming those people who expect others to accommodate their crazy-ass eating approach. We realize we're the ones who are insane.

I will tell you, although I write from the comfort of the "other side" of this experience, it was tougher than I imagined. But here's what I learned:

Safety trumps variety: if you find a winner, stick with it

With some help from a clean-eating pal, we were able to identify a couple of healthy, vegan friendly options. She recommended Le Pain Quotidien and Sweetgreen, both chains that would give us at least a few options.

On our second day there, we lunched at Le Pain Quotidien and thought we'd died and gone to heaven. More than two options on the menu!!! And the food was absolutely delicious. We had a tartine - their specialty, Belgian open-faced sandwiches - of house-made whole grain bread topped with black bean hummus, roasted red peppers and avocado. Sublime! Chris ordered an organic quinoa tabbouleh salad that also rocked our world.

Funny how your perspective changes so much and so quickly when you eat this way. If you'd told me two weeks ago I'd have gone bananas over a quinoa tabbouleh salad, I'd have punched you in the face.

The organic quinoa taboule at Le Pain Quotidien in Georgetown.

So grateful for Le Pain Quotidien were we that we dined there again for brunch on Sunday, branching out to different dishes and feeling equally delighted and sated. And Sunday evening, we met our friend Lisa for dinner at the buzzed-about Founding Farmers, which also has a vegan-friendly section of the menu. It felt possitively decadent - delicious, creative, thoughtful food elevating what you might think of as vegan. Chickpeas and artichokes in a vegan puff pastry pocket? White bean cutlets in a gorgeous broth? Check and check!

It's hard to describe how it feels eating in places that give us more than one option. I'm sure if you've been vegetarian for a while, or are vegan, then you get it. It's also a little like being in early recovery. If you go into a bar, sure, there are non-alcoholic options for you to drink, but there's also a heightened and potentially-dangerous awareness of what everyone else "gets" to have. It feels unsafe. However, if you find yourself at a party where there is no alcohol served or a restaurant without a liquor license, that whole element of anxiety is removed from the situation and you feel...normal.

Plan, plan, plan

It turns out a handful of trail mix and some Larabars are not a plan. Nor is going to Chris' sister's house to see what they're making for dinner and then debating long and hard about whether or not you can make the vegetarian Mexican lasagna work for you (what about the cheese? the white flour tortillas?) and waiting until you're too pissy and hungry before you go off in search of some ready-made stuff you can actually eat.

A better idea: plan ahead of things you can make to accompany the planned dinner without insulting your hostess. You're not going to feel as bad eating your chickpea salad and portabella mushrooms while everyone else has buttery orzo and grilled salmon. (Note that I said you won't feel "as bad.") Or hit Whole Foods or the local health store and have options in hand when you arrive. Once we got that part right, it kept my self pity at bay.

There will be cheating

Maybe not for the zealous and true, but Chris and I are neither of those things. Hunger and heat got the better of us sometimes and we wound up making compromises that weren't strictly E2-approved. There may have been a mango sugar-free slushie we tried, rationalizing that it's really no different than the Diet Coke we've been drinking. It may also have been disgusting.

Some wheat pretzels were ingested in a fit of pique. Notice I didn't say WHOLE wheat pretzels. GASP! Just regular ones.

And then there was the falafel. And by "the falafel," I mean "the falafels." Even though we eventually struck a balance with making sure there was enough food for us at dinner, we didn't have any contingency plan for being starving at 10 o'clock once we were back at our hotel. Searching the nearest open restaurants, we settled on a falafel place.


Our rational: it's probably vegan, definitely vegetarian. The questionable parts: hummus made with oil, fried falafel patties, all wrapped in a white flour pita. We hemmed. We hawed. We ate. You should have seen us, folded into chairs in our hotel room, devouring falafel as though it were chocolate cake, feeling reckless and decadent, rationalizing our behavior.

Damn, it was tasty, too.

Let it go

Part of me - a very old, well-practiced part - is trying to beat me up over the "cheating." But the rest of me has a good belly-laugh at the idea that eating some hummus and falafel counts as cheating at all. I mean, how far must I have come, how well must I have generally stuck with this eating plan, for that to even be a thing?

And I didn't decide to do this to be stringent and punish myself over little things. No, in fact, I'm thinking back over this trip and counting how often we did the right things. Not to mention the number of times when doing the right thing was actually entirely pleasurable and delicious. They say your palate changes once you start to eat this way. Maybe that's so. But my brain's definitely changing along with it.