Sure Things

by Maria Theresa Maggi on March 30, 2014

quinoa in jar

I love it when someone answers me in a way that sends me back to the literal application of what I’ve just said, even if it was couched in an expression or figure of speech no one usually takes literally. It’s especially rich when it’s someone who’s known me over a long span of time. That would be the woman who was on my support team in therapeutic horseback riding over a decade ago. She gave me a car ride to the sessions as well, and when they ended, volunteered to come help me clean my house. That was back when Mike was in high school and I’m blessed to say it’s been my great good fortune that she has been showing up ever since. She knew me before I adopted this way of eating, and has been witness to all the positive changes I now enjoy. She’s watched and learned along with me, and she makes sure I have my standing order of yams from the grocery store, which she picks up for me before coming over.

A few years ago I was eating lunch on the Wednesday she was here. My plate was filled with a big fat slice of Happy Herbivore’s “Hippy Loaf” which is basically black beans, quinoa and vegetables) and some steamed broccoli or kale.  There might have been part of a potato too. While enjoying this lunch I exclaimed, “I could live on this!!” As she  walked past behind me with the dust mop or a rug to shake, she said, “Well, then you should!”

And she was right. Because what I was referring to is how wonderful, literally wonderful, I feel every time I eat quinoa, black beans, and kale. Everything goes great. I have no trouble digesting these foods, I feel full and satisfied, and  get plenty of energy and stamina from them. Basically I feel like a million black beans in glass jar


I may be talking about subtle shades here, but I really think it’s important for me to have learned to tune in to what foods I can truly be my “sure things”–the whole foods I can eat without any worries.

When I was preparing my work for the art show at the co-op, I had about a month of daily framing to work on in order to be ready to hang the show. That meant I had to pace myself and my hands to get it all done, besides everything else I needed to do to get through a winter day, like shoveling snow or building fires, and to feel well consistently. I also had to negotiate any fatigue from nervousness or anticipation about going so public and getting everything ready and the high stimulation of the opening. So I decided I would eat only “sure things” and not foray into baked goods, however healthy, or processed grains and flowers like pasta or pancakes, however tempting–and just eat all the whole foods in various combinations that support the best pain free state I can achieve.

It’s funny how deeply engrained my belief  runs that a treat is something baked and whirred or powdered or processed. If I hadn’t adopted Romeo, I might not have ever known I needed to  give myself permission to find out otherwise. He is my “service dog” on both the usual and rather unusual levels. Fixing plain brown rice and sweet potatoes on a regular basis for his specific dietary needs made me start realizing how good they taste as is, how sweet, how satisfying. And they, too, are on my list of “sure things”–they are even good together, and don’t need much more than some quick shakes of spices. For lunch or dinner, garlic and poultry seasoning, or curry or tumeric–for dessert, ginger, cinnamon, cloves.


I felt a little guilty eating something that wasn’t a recipe. I don’t know why exactly.  I guess it was part of a matrix  of cultural misbeliefs I have to unravel, like the one from years of trying to follow weight loss advice that teaches whole starches are “fattening.” In the first two years I ate this way I relearned from Dr. McDougall what I had first learned from my own doctor at age 10 about successfully losing and keeping off weight: that it would be the whole starch that would keep me full and satisfied.

I was so taken up, though, with trying out recipes that would also entice those omnivores who came to eat with me, that I focused a lot on healthier plant based treats like pasta dishes, muffins, cookies and pancakes, and though I ate whole starches, still thought of them of as something you put the more interesting stuff on. They were still the unsung “filler,” the background that got its only mention in a recipe as an afterthought: “serve over brown rice or quinoa, if you like.”

It wasn’t until I started cooking brown rice and sweet potatoes regularly so I could feed them to Romeo that I noticed how much I like them–god forbid–plain. That I was sneaking a tasty slice for myself out of what I had cut off the baked sweet potato to mash up in his supper bowl. That they gave me energy and satiety without a sugar high or low or any painful irritable bowel rumblings.

The vegan and plant-based world  mints its culinary currency on remakes of favorite “standard American diet” recipes. Even the strictest and most low fat among us touts a veggie lasagna recipe. And let’s face it, making traditional favorites in new and healthier ways is fun–it’s literally  having your cake and getting to eat it too. Long before I made up my sweet potato spice cake recipe, the first Esselstyn recipe I ever tried was the oatmeal cookies from Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease that Soul Veggie was given permission to offer on his blog.  A treat in the hand is worth two bunches of kale in the fridge.

Or it used to be. Now, as you know, I’ve found a way to admit my kale is beloved to me, even plain and raw. Like Gena says at Choosing Raw, I could eat my weight in it (although I’m betting that’s another figure of speech it would be dauntingly comical to dare myself to make literal).  Sure, I also like to dress it up in my decadent but fat free carob dressing and eat it as part of my breakfast every morning, also inspired by Gena’s culinary ingenuity. I even wake up looking forward to it. Those dark greens satisfy and nourish me throughout the day in a way a chocolate cookie never will.

However, it took me decades to embrace this truth. In my early 20s, I remember a towering display of brownie mix at the grocery store my roommate and I shopped in. We talked about how much we wanted to make those brownies. But when we finally did, they didn’t go down nearly as well as the treat of thinking about how good they would taste. Instead I ate too many, didn’t feel well, and then worried I would gain weight from overindulging. For a long time I pondered how the anticipation of something that should be a treat could somehow be better than the effect of the treat itself. But of course I kept trying to make experience match expectation.

Traditional treats have always carried that double whammy for me. They are something I’ve craved, even obsessed about, and then the first bite promises heaven. But the actually eating doesn’t really satisfy the craving, it only creates more craving. And I never feel well after, either emotionally or physically. It took me a long time to admit what a high price I pay, but the summer my fibromyalgia made it too painful to even bite into a relatively healthy vegan muffin, I had to face that anything with granulated sugar of any kind is likely to set that off. And that I’m better off redefining treats as food that creates an entirely different experience and effect than that disjunction between what tastes good and what’s good for me.

I still like having a ring-side seat to remakes of traditional treats on vegan and plant-based blogs. A fun one I recently enjoyed is–get this–homemade vegan cheerios. Maybe some day when I feel like I have some “baked grain” credit to splurge on, I’ll try an oil free version of those.

But maybe not. I know I won’t feel all that well if I eat that much baked flour. And I’ll remember that I can eat a big bowl of gluten free oats and cooked quinoa with fruit and flax and feel full and happy and energized, with no sugar let down or fibro soreness flair later. When I feel deprived of treats most people can eat  but that will most likely put my body in its own danger zone, I try to stall myself from actually eating such things by enjoying reading about them on my favorite vegan blogs, and then daydreaming about making my own versions. And I remember the tower of brownie mix boxes.  And perhaps living alone is a powerful deterrent. I know I’ll likely be the one eating most of whatever I make, so I save the times I use flour or a little sugar for the times others will be here to enjoy the bounty with me, and I can get away with a serving or two.

But I’m not super good at that. So slowly, slowly, I’ve retrained myself to turn back to my sure things, and the infinite combinations they can be eaten in. The list is surprisingly long and contains but is not limited to: kale, black beans, quinoa, brown rice, millet, adzuki beans, broccoli, chickpeas, white cannellini beans, gluten free oats, sweet potatoes (all kinds),  yukon gold potatoes, cabbage, carrots, whole corn, peas, spinach, romaine, apples, blueberries, kiwi fruit, pineapple, raspberries, green onions, leeks, parsnips, bok choi, black rice, sweet peppers, red onion, cauliflower, apricots. . .In the higher fat category, golden flax, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, avocado, sesame and pumpkin seeds place as sure things in small amounts.

cooked winter squash 2

escarole 2

Sure things may change, but most of mine listed here have remained constant over the last six years, amid the ups and downs of others, like oranges and beets, buckwheat and lentils, soy and cashews, that have proven to be more unpredictable for me than I would have liked. . But I’m looking forward to trying both Choosing Raw’s and Carry On Vegan’s methods for soaking and sprouting. If just soakinghelps me to digest lentils, I bet it will help with the buckwheat too, which has recently decided to turn persnickety on me.  But once I couldn’t eat garlic, or lemon or lime, or ginger. . .and now I can again, so I never know what else might become more than less “sure.”

salad with spiralized zucchini, carrots and red cabbage

Your sure things may not be the same as mine. Do you know what they are? Find them out and eat them often.

If you like, play with them in a kind of mind-over-matter game: think of your food as words. If you were playing a word game and had to make as many words out of the phrase Plant Based Whole Food Sure Things, how many words could you make? No pre-ground or processed letters, just rearrangement in fun and whole combinations: “spin,”  “lean” “plate,” “guess,” “great,” “good,” “taste”–and that’s just a start. Though I may be tempted by those cheerios, I like feeling as good as I can, through easy times, and especially in rough ones. I used to turn to traditional treats in times of stress. Perhaps ironically, I’m helped mightily  toward restraint by knowing if I want to keep walking and talking and chewing without pain and serious debility, I’d better stay on track, literally. Over the years my experience has proven that times of stress are the times it’s most important for me to be eating a lion’s share of my whole food sure things. They never let me down like sugary treats do. They help me stay the course.

Rearranging the “letters” is a challenge that never gets boring, if you ask me, and worth all the discipline it takes. Which isn’t that much. I just have to have sure things on hand, a good stir fry pan or steamer, some spices, 15 minutes and a little imagination. And once in a while a sense of adventure that has me doing crazy but surprisingly tasty things like putting shredded broccoli stalks in a baked bar. Being literal has never tasted or felt better.

Maria (moonwatcher)




Leave a Comment

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Annie March 30, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Hi Maria,

I’ve been reading and admiring your blog for a while now. I love your writing and your perspective. It inspires me to tinker with and enjoy my own plant-based journey in new ways. Thank you for sharing!



2 moonwatcher March 30, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Hi Annie, thank you so much!! What a lovely thing to read. Made my afternoon. 🙂


3 angela March 30, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Lovely post Maria,so much information,so much wisdom,so much self-healing. Glad to hear that the fibro pain has receded.

You really do deserve to reap the benefits of this path you have chosen. Thank you for sharing and keep getting stronger each day : )

Love Angela X


4 moonwatcher March 30, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Thanks, Angela, I really enjoyed your comment! 🙂


5 Deb March 30, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I always enjoy what you write. I also see some of these things as treats. I feel these days that I am assembling food more than anything else. A little bit of cooked rice, some steamed beans, a bit of roast yam and a bit of peanut sauce makes a great lunch.

Tonight for dinner I ate 3 big bowls of a green salad with my own currants in it and tons of additions. To top it off I had a rather large plate of oven fries. Now I am so full. That doesn’t really look like a traditional meal, but it works for me.

Thanks for your thoughts.


6 moonwatcher March 31, 2014 at 8:16 am

Hi Deb, thank you so much! I really enjoyed what you wrote here about your own eating practices, and that you “assemble” food more than anything else–love that way of putting it. One of my favorite suppers is a big plate of my pizza-seasoned potatoes and a salad. Kindred spirits!!


7 Silvia March 31, 2014 at 12:56 am

Soaking buckwheat helps a lot in my case!

This post really got me thinking! I have to really watch the reactions of my body to food and find out what always works for me! I started to accept the grumblings of my intestines as given and won’t do so any longer.

Again thanks, Maria, from Silvia in Germany


8 moonwatcher March 31, 2014 at 8:14 am

Hi Silvia, and thank you for your comment. I’m so glad to help you toward thinking along these fine lines. It’s a practice (not a perfection, though) that’s just developed organically over time with me, and is still developing–another level of learning to listen to our bodies. You are so welcome!


9 Veronica March 31, 2014 at 2:05 pm

I remember growing up and my sister and I would always look forward to “dessert” – my mom would make us a huge fruit plate. Just a variety of fresh fruits, sliced and presented all pretty on a plate. My friends would gasp when at a restaurant, I’d prefer the fresh fruit dessert over the chocolate decadence…
Your post on rethinking of what’s a treat is something we all need to do! Treats should be good to us, not something we’ll hate past-us for. I do need to come up with my own list of “sure things” that I should always have on hand for a quick meal or snack. There are times when I just crave plain whatever (be it rice, potatoes, vegetables). Sneaking bites before using them in a recipe. A simple meal is often the best!
I’m glad to hear that you’re able to integrate some things that you couldn’t have before; it’s comforting to know that things are ever changing. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for lentils and buckwheat!


10 robin April 1, 2014 at 10:22 am

Hello Maria, I just found your blog today! I’m looking forward to reading your past entries. Such truth you share here in this post! I have been working on identifying my sure-things for over 2 years now. (diligently) I have Celiac and Fibromyalgia. Your comments about pacing yourself and rationing your energy really hit home for me. Some weeks I barely make it to work and prepare food… the rest of the house and my life just have to wait till I have energy. Thank you for your heartfelt truths.



11 moonwatcher April 1, 2014 at 10:42 am

Welcome, Robin! What a joy to receive your comment!! Thank you for your kind words about my words–glad they resonate with you. Do take gentle care of yourself, as you describe here, always. So happy you will follow along. Here’s to sure things. Namaste back 🙂


12 Lee April 1, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Hi Maria, wonderful post! I’ve been allowing sugar and salt and even a little more fat to sneak into my diet lately, and not only do I feel worse and have more breast pain, but, ironically, I find myself craving more sweet/salty/fatty foods. So this quote from your post really hit home for me:

“…the actually eating doesn’t really satisfy the craving, it only creates more craving.”

In fact, I think I’m going to print it out, paste it to my pantry, and then move back towards my own sure things (which, actually, overlap with yours): plain baked sweet potatoes, kale salads, vegetable soups, green juices, and more vegetables period.

Thanks for the gentle reminder to return to nourishing foods!


13 moonwatcher April 1, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Thank you, Lee. I’m glad you found this post helpful and encouraging. It’s always a work-in-progress, isn’t it? And very helpful to look the relationship to craving straight in the eye, so to speak, whenever possible. I know from reading your blog you were doing great with the things you mention here as your sure things–may they continue to carry you through!


14 Dena April 15, 2014 at 10:36 am

Hi, thanks for sharing. I too deal with severe FM. What value do you place on eating for your blood type by Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo with Catherine Whitney? Have you used the lists to help pick your sure things? If so did it help? My only sure food is greens swiss chard being my super food. I crave sugar and chocolate dark but it makes me very ill, I am kicking it out of my diet. Thank you so much for sharing its go nowing things can get better with simple food choices. I’ve started eating all plant based diet, no added oil except nuts.


15 moonwatcher April 15, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Welcome, Dena! Thanks for your comment. Personally, I am not convinced by the science behind eating for your blood type, so I have not used those lists to pick my sure things. My list has come from years of paying attention to what happens when I eat particular foods. If you know one, greens, with swiss chard being your super food, then you have a good start. In my non-medical opinion, there is no doubt that kicking the sugar and chocolate habit will help your pain levels immensely.At least I can say that has helped mine. All best to you in finding the sure things that work best for you!!


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