Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Clean out the kitchen" veggie pasta

One of the most difficult things about being on such a strict elimination diet is that if I don't plan out my meals or I'm too busy/tired to cook, I don't have the option to go out and grab something. Usually I try to plan out a basic meal plan and do some cooking for the week on Sundays, but this week I slacked.

This past weekend was so much fun, but exhausting. We hosted a mini fundraiser at our house for my friend Zara who is going to be competing in Iron Canada with Team in Training. We did a "Redneck" themed BBQ, with lots of cheap beer, hot dogs, and deep fried Twinkies to go around. It was so hard to avoid those things, but I stayed strong. It was so much easier for me to eat right because I had a buddy! Zara is in full on race training mode and is eating a very clean Paleo diet right now. We ate our own "taco salad" while everyone was eating "tacos in a bag" and we had our own organic grass fed all beef uncured hot dogs while the others were eating mac n cheese chili dogs.

By Monday night after work, I was exhausted. I hadn't planned out my meals for the week, but I had done my grocery shopping and had a fridge full of yummy fresh veggies waiting to be eaten. I wanted so bad to get take out, but that's not an option right now. I could have snacked on a Lara Bar or some nuts, but that didn't sound appetizing.

I'm a cooking show junkie (man do I miss cable), and one thing that I've learned from Rachel Ray is that the quickest homemade meals out there are burgers or pastas. Since I had so many veggies on hand, I decided to make a veggie pasta. I have many of her cookbooks and love to gather ideas for my own takes on her quick meals. One of my favorite things she does in many of her pasta dishes is to melt a tin of anchovies in with the garlic and onions when starting the base of some of her sauces. I based this "recipe" off all the veggies I had in my house and what I can currently eat at the moment. The best part about this is that it made a ton of food, so I can eat it throughout the week and not have to worry about cooking for a few days! You could totally adjust this recipe to use up whatever veggies you currently have at home. Spinach, kale, frozen peas, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers...all of these are fabulous additions to pasta.

"Clean out the kitchen" veggie pasta

1 package brown rice pasta
2tbl coconut oil or olive oil
1 small tin of anchovies in olive oil
1 onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 1" pieces
2 carrots, diced
2 zucchini, diced
1 can artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped

Prepare 1 package of brown rice pasta (I like Trader Joe's brand) according to package directions. Drain and rinse, reserving 1c of cooking water.

In a large deep skillet, melt oil over medium high heat. Add anchovies and allow to melt. Add onions and cook about 5 minutes until soft and starting to brown. Add garlic and stir, cooking about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to burn! Add asparagus, zucchini, and carrots and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Stir often so veggies don't stick or burn. Toss veggies with pasta, using a little bit of the pasta water if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
(While I was eating this, I decided that it would have been fabulous with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, basil, and some grilled shrimp on top...)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What's for dinner?

(An allergy friendly sushi swap)

I remember my sisters and brother and myself always asking mom that question as a child. "Food" or "I don't know" were the typical responses she always gave to us kids. As I got older and learned my way around the kitchen, that answer often changed to "Why don't you figure it out?"

I had always loved to help in the kitchen, but my dad died when I was 12, that's one of the responsibilities I seemed to help my mom with the most in the years that followed. As as adult, I read cookbooks for fun and before we cancelled our cable, my DVR was filled with cooking shows. Last weekend I was staying where there was Direct TV and spent HOURS watching the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Food porn. It's my weakness. Watching a TV chef make a gooey mac n cheese or a Egg Benedict with crab still my beating heart.

Now that I'm on such a limited diet, my entire cooking world has been turned upside down. It has been such a challenge to learn to cook within my limitations. I'm used to flavorful foods full of spices and layers and TASTE. Salt, pepper, and garlic just aren't my idea of a flavorful meal. I miss my cumin, cilantro, coriander, and chilies. I miss food that makes me sweat when I'm eating it. Food that makes me swoon when I breathe it in out of the skillet. Although I'm adhering to my elimination diet 100% of the time with no deviations, not a day goes by where I don't spend some time lusting over pictures and recipes of Mac n Cheese, Kalua Pig Nachos, Vietnamese Shaking Beef, or an antipasti platter with a nice glass of wine.

One of my favorite foods to eat is sushi. But sushi is pretty much off limits to me now. Sushi rice has vinegar, many of my favorite rolls are spicy, contain shellfish, or have sauces that contain soy or wheat. Thankfully, I have a wonderful local sushi restaurant and Chef Tyson will help me out and make "safe" sushi with plain rice, no shellfish, and no sauces.

Since I can't afford to go there all the time, I have started making my version of sushi at home. It may not be as beautiful as your favorite sushi bar, but it tastes amazing, and will help with your sushi craving. I have found that Costco sells some Wild Smoked Salmon that doesn't have any of my allergens. My friend Lauren and I made these and man did it hit the spot! Thanks for taking this yummy picture!

Allergy-Friendly Sushi Rolls

Nori Sheets, cut in half
Cooked sushi rice, cooled to room temperature
Sliced sashimi grade fish, or smoked salmon
Cucumber, seeded and sliced into matchsticks about 4"
Avocado, thinly sliced
Carrot, cut into matchsticks about 4"
Green onions, sliced into 4" pieces
Coconut aminos

Take a nori sheet and put about 1/4 cup of rice on the left third of the sheet. Spread the rice so it's even. In the middle of the rice, place a piece of fish, a couple pieces of the vegetables and then sprinkle with green onions. Then roll it up like a taquito. Repeat until you have made desired amount of rolls. Usually 2-4 rolls are enough for the average person. Dip in coconut aminos.

The beauty of this is that you can customize it to your taste. Don't like fish or Avocados? Leave them out! Want to add sprouts or lettuce? Do it! Don't have my food allergies? Use soy sauce, spicy mayo, wasabi, add some seasoned rice vinegar to your rice. Use crab or shrimp tempura or tempura veggies. It's like a sandwich, your imagination is the limit.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sick and tired of being sick and tired, part 2

I nervously went to my first appointment and met the doctor. She was very nice and we talked, and she listened. Never before had a doctor listened to me. She would ask me questions and she would listen, type out notes, stop me and ask for clarification, and just let me talk. It was amazing to finally have a medical professional not shoo me out of the office after 5 minutes and tell me to stop stressing out and hand me a stack of prescriptions. After what seemed like a very long interview, she said that she was pretty sure what was wrong with me, but it would take a blood test to confirm and would that be something I would want to do since I would have to pay for it out of pocket. YES!!! She said that it was very possible that I had multiple food allergies and wanted to do a an IgG blood test that would test for delayed allergic reactions. She also said that my long history of heavy antibiotic use throughout my entire childhood and adult life has left me devoid of the beneficial bacteria that are supposed to live in your stomach. Finally, she noticed that some of my hormone levels from previous blood tests were very low. She said that she first wanted to start working on getting probiotics back into my body. Then I would need to do an elimination diet based on the results of my allergy test, to allow my body to heal and the inflammation go down. Finally, one the other stuff was under control, we would work on getting my hormone levels back in balance. She warned me that it was going to be a tough road ahead, but if I was committed, I would start feeling better in a few weeks.

I got my blood work done and started taking a very strong pro-biotic. I had to wait three weeks for the results of my blood test and when I got it back, I was SHOCKED. I was allergic to EVERYTHING. I was tested for 154 foods and tested positive to a third of them. The next step was the hardest of all. I needed to completely eliminate all of these foods from my diet for the next few months. I could not have any of them, even in small amounts. I needed to give my body a rest, let the inflammation in my digestive track go down, and allow my body to heal. I also needed to start taking a digestive enzyme to help my body digest my food properly, and also take a supplement called L-Glutamine to help heal my digestive tract.

So I went home, shocked overwhelmed and an emotional mess to attempt to tackle the new challenge placed in front of me. I was excited because I finally had an answer. A wreck, because I was allergic to almost everything I eat on a daily basis. I needed to eliminate the following foods from my diet:

Bay leaf
Egg whites
Mozzarella cheese
Coriander seeds
Parmesan cheese
Cottage cheese
Swiss cheese
Cows milk
American cheese
Mahi Mahi
Kidney beans
Goats milk

Not only could I not eat those foods individually, many of these foods are the basis of other foods, so I also had to eliminate the foods that contain these things as well. Bay leaves are used in stocks, soups, and tomato sauces. Yeast is the start of most breads and alcohols. Wheat and soy are in almost every packaged product. And all the one gives up their secret seasoning blend, it's just listed as "spices" on the ingredient lists, so to err on the side of caution, I had to eliminate my beloved seasonings. I cleaned out my pantry and found there were only a few things left that I could still eat. I had to learn all over again how to cook.

It was a challenge. Over the next few days, I had a tough time adjusting and I had many breakdowns. Thankfully, I had a wonderful friends who supported me during my temper tantrums. One of my friends lovingly reminded me that this is what I had asked for: I wanted answers and I got them. I finally came to realize, while talking to one of my friends, that I was upset over FOOD? Really? I have friends that are dying from Batten Disease (, there are people dying from cancer, kids in Africa have no food or shoes, and I'm upset about not being able to eat a cookie for the next few months. I needed to get over myself and stop acting like a spoiled brat and suck it up. I needed to focus on what I could eat. I started looking for recipes online and just ate as simply as possible.

At my next appointment, two weeks into the elimination diet, I had good news for the doctor. Many of my symptoms had lessened, and some of them had disappeared completely. I was still having some problems, but they were mild compared to what I had been experiencing. The doctor then said to look at what I had been eating and find out if there was a common food(s) that was causing my symptoms to get worse. Over the next couple days, I was able to identify and eliminate a few more foods:

Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc)

After a couple days of making those eliminations, I woke up one morning with the weirdest feeling, almost like something was wrong. I thought in my half asleep state, what is different? Then it hit me, no heartburn and no stomach pain. I haven't experienced a heartburn free day in probably 6 years.

Now I'm almost 7 weeks in to my elimination diet and doing much better. I haven't thrown up in almost 7 weeks, and it used to be almost every day. I rarely have heartburn anymore, and it's almost never bad enough to take medication. The pain and swelling in my muscles and joints are going down. I'm still very tired but I know that this cure isn't overnight. It took me my entire lifetime to get to the point where I was, and it will take me a while to get back to feeling like I should. I feel like I'm becoming a new person. I'm so excited and so grateful for the path I'm on.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sick and Tired of being sick and tired, Part 1

I started this blog with every intention of posting as often as possible. The past few months have been an just want to catch you up on what's been going on...

For the past several years, I haven't felt well. I have days that are better than others, but I can't say that I've had a day where I felt good, let alone felt great. I've gone to multiple doctors and specialists who have not been able to find anything wrong with me. My symptoms were so varied and so unrelated, that there was no definitive answer saying what I had, let alone knowing what to look for. I was tired, bloated, joints and muscles aches, bad headaches, severe heartburn, nausea and vomiting, inability to concentrate, and the list goes on and on. After many months of tests and appointments, I was finally told I had fibromyalgia, and I was anxious, stressed, and depressed. I was given pills to help, and was sent on my way. Over the next few months, I thought I was getting better, but that could be that the pills I was given made me sleep all the time. I also gained weight rapidly as soon as I went on these pills. I eventually stopped taking the pills and suffered horrible withdrawals. I was still sick. Then a new doctor ran a bunch of tests (which were all negative), and said that all my problems were probably just caused because of my weight. I was so frustrated with this answer becuase I was having the problems before I gained all the weight, and had only gained all the weight recently on the last medication that was supposed to cure me. She said that still, the only cure was to lose weight.

So for the next few years I started really watching what I ate. I did weight watchers and it was a fabulous program. I learned about portion sizes, drinking lots of water, getting healthy fats in my diet every day, eating my fruits and veggies. I did everything I was supposed to. Breakfasts of egg white omelets with fat free cheese and chopped up veggies and high fiber toast. High fiber bread with fat free condiments, lean lunch-meat, lots of crisp veggies with fat free ranch, and baked chips on the side. Snacks of a piece of fruit, a 100 calorie pack, sugar free yogurt, or string cheese. Dinner of a lean protein, veggies, a small portion of brown rice. I counted every point that went in my mouth. I found Hungry Girl and cooked her yummy weight watchers friendly recipes. I would lose 5 lbs and then plateau. I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill and nothing. Worked out with a trainer. Still no weight loss. I would get frustrated after a few weeks and give up. Then I would start over again. And the cycle kept repeating.

In 2010, my cousin suggested that I try a gluten free diet. She had tried it, and she felt better and noticed that whenever she ate bread, she went back to feeling bad. I gave it a try, and I started to feel a little better. My stomach stopped hurting all the time, my heartburn wasn't as severe, and I could actually keep food down. I went back to my doctor and asked to be tested for celiacs. I got the blood test done and it was a low positive, but my C-reactive (general inflammation in the body) protein test was off the charts. I got a referral to a GI, who confirmed that I had a minor wheat intolerance. I had many tests done, including an upper GI, and they all came back normal. Once again was told, "Avoid wheat if it makes you feel better, but it's only a mild intolerance, so you're fine." FINE? Um, no, not fine. I still have all these problems.

Over the next few months, I kept wheat out of my diet about 95% of the time. I could definitely tell a difference in my health when I cheated and ate a cupcake or a piece of french bread. But even on the days and weeks I didn't cheat, I still was feeling bad.

A few years ago, my friend's mom had talked to me and said she thought I had candida and that I should go get checked out by a natural doctor. At the time, I didn't have the extra money since natural doctors aren't covered by my medical insurance. Now I was ready. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time. Not being able to lose weight. Feeling like my life was slipping away and I was going to be sick for the rest of it and never be able to enjoy all the wonderful experiences out there. So Dave and I agreed that I should try out this natural doctor and see what they said and if they could help. It was going to be an investment because my medical insurance doesn't cover this at all.