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A Light Cleaning: Vanilla Bean Breakfast Quinoa

March 16, 2012

I have never been particularly good at cleansing, but I do enjoy a light cleaning. You know. Just enough of a tidy-up so the people I’m having over for dinner don’t find out that I was raised by a pack of hoarder wolves with a penchant for Cheetos. Usually this involves copious amounts of Windexing Things, followed by Throwing Things in the Garage.

Unfortunately, these particular strategies cannot, as far as I know, be applied to cleansing the human body. In a vain attempt to imitate one of my glowingly healthy yoga teachers, I tried a full-on two-week cleanse diet last year. I drank green smoothies every day, which did nothing to improve my hand-eye coordination. I started out abstaining from meat (Already don’t eat it! Yessss!), refined sugar (I like agave syrup better, anyway. Advantage, Me!), gluten (Wait, what?), dairy (Please tell me you’re kidding), and caffeine (I’m sorry. Have we met?).

This lasted for three days. On the fourth day, I curled up in a fetal position under my desk at work.


Day 1: Okey-dokey.
Day 2: Darn good. I am so IN CONTROL.
Day 3: Smugly satisfied.
Day 4: Who are you, and can you get me an IV of coffee and/or parmesan cheese?

I’d heard that while cleansing you sometimes feel worse before you feel better, but there was no way I was going to take a sick day as a direct result of a health kick. Luckily, my friend and coworker T. (a.k.a. Master of Grilled Cheese) walked me downstairs to Starbucks and helped me order an Americano. Our barista told me that I “looked confused” and asked me if I was O.K.

I was O.K., after a long sip of sweet caffeinated elixir. I managed to make it through the rest of the week abstaining from everything requiring abstinence except for coffee. I did not really feel healthier, but I stopped hallucinating, and had only a few dreams in which I was being chased by a baguette.

Speaking of anthropomorphized bread: If you are feeling blue, you should read this essay by Henry Alford. In it, he details his attempt to follow a diet that required him to repeatedly imagine the foods he wanted to eat, and then not eat them. It’s called the Imagination Diet. The idea is that you trick your body into thinking that you have already eaten the cake, cookie, pizza, jar of mayonnaise, etc. that you have just imagined. Mr. Alford ends up seeing a family of bagels get off a train at Grand Central Station. It is wonderful. May it turn your blues to beignets.

But back to my light cleaning. So I made it through the work week by adding caffeine back in, but the true test of my cleansing mettle was still to come, at the Seattle Sounders soccer game that weekend. Jules and I sat in our regular seats, abstaining from stadium food. (He was cleansing, too). I sulked. At the half, we went up to meet T. and her friend, who were sitting in the All-Inclusive Food Section.

Yes, I said All-Inclusive Food Section. This means that with your ticket, you get all-you-can-eat snacks, including unlimited popcorn, unlimited soft pretzels, and unlimited nachos. Jules left to use the restroom. It was time for decisive action.

I approached T. “Princess!” she whispered, peeking over my shoulder to make sure Jules was out of earshot. “Quick! Have some nachos!”

The chips. They sang to me:

Now that I think about it, these nachos probably were not prohibited on the cleanse, as I doubt that the cheese sauce contained real cheese. But at the time, I felt like I had tasted forbidden cheddar nectar. Once, when I was a kid, we bought our sweet little Cockapoo a giant bone for his birthday. It undomesticated him. He snarled the lone snarl of his life, snatched the bone from my hand, buried it, and sat guarding it for two days. In that moment, with orange goo dribbling from the corner of my mouth, I at last knew how he felt.

Three months into the new year, and status post my gorgefest in Japan, I’ve restarted a bit of a cleanse. I’m trying to be nearly vegan during the work week, and will let you know how that goes. I also have tried a few recipes from Bon Appetit’s Food Lover’s Cleanse. I’ve lunched several times on whole wheat toast topped with mashed avocado, red pepper flakes, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. And I’ve breakfasted several times on vanilla-scented quinoa that, to my amazement, reminds me of one of my favorite desserts. I hope I’m not hallucinating …

Vanilla Bean Breakfast Quinoa
Adapted, slightly, from Epicurious
Makes 4 servings. I make a big batch at the beginning of the week and refrigerate the leftover quinoa (without the toppings, so they don’t get mushy).

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
half of a vanilla bean, split
1/4 teaspoon salt

Toppings, for your consideration:
*Sliced banana; toasted, chopped pecans; maple syrup; 1 pitted, chopped Medjool date; and a pinch of flaky sea salt, such as Maldon. This flavors in this version taste shockingly similar to the hot date cake with banana ice cream at Poppy.
*Almond milk, honey, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and orange zest. If you are making this version, you might add a few slices of orange peel to the quinoa while cooking.


Wash quinoa in several charges of water in a bowl, rubbing the grains and letting them settle before pouring off water, until water is clear. Even if the bag says the quinoa is pre-washed, doing this will make the end product fluffier, with less of a grassy quinoa taste. It’s a bit tedious, though, so don’t worry about this step if you are pressed for time.

If you washed the quinoa, drain it in a large fine-mesh sieve.

Combine the quinoa, water, salt, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil, covered. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork and keep covered to keep warm. Remove cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean. Divide among bowls and top away.

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