Paleo, Party of Four

Anyone with special dietary needs, whether it is food allergies or other other reasons, knows that being invited to dinner can be a stressful situation. So, when I come across a great restaurant that makes the menu choices clear and easy, I must share. If you live in or are visiting New York City, I heartily recommend Ellary’s Greens located in the West Village.

Ellarys Greens

They cleverly divide their menu into three sections: Proteins, Vegetables and Roots & Grains and each menu item is labeled as vegetarian, vegan dairy free or gluten free. A note – if you have celiac, be sure to make them aware as I am not entirely sure about cross contamination.

I had the crispy chicken breast and my friends and I shared the roasted cauliflower and the pan roasted sweet potato. Everything was delicious. Not only was it wonderful to be able to order with ease, it was so nice to be able to share food with my friends who have completely different dietary needs. I was too full for dessert, but my friend had the avocado chocolate mousse. It sounded disgusting, but my curiosity led me to try it – it was shockingly delicious. So good in fact, I am going to give it a try tonight, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Do you have any paleo-friendly restaurant recommendations in your area?

Getting ready for Thanksgiving…

My first day back at work today – it was simply exhausting.  The last thing I wanted to do today was to cook.  But, I have a very crowded refrigerator right now with lots of veggies that need to be cooked and some left over rotisserie chicken. I decided to make Brussels sprouts with dried bing cherries and just heat up the rotisserie chicken.  It was simple, quick and delicious.

chicken with shredded sproutsThe meal ended up reminding me of Thanksgiving and made me look forward to my favorite holiday.  The sprouts were ridiculously good – sweet & salty.  I am calling it Brussels sprout stuffing – paleo style. The texture and flavors reminded me of the stuffing my mom makes at Thanksgiving that I can no longer enjoy because of my celiac diagnosis.

So here is the short list of ingredients:

Brussels sprouts (buy shredded or shred them in a food processor or use mandolin – just be very careful!)
olive oil
salt & pepper
dried cherries (I bought them at Trader Joe’s)

Just sautee the sprouts with some olive oil, season with salt and pepper, I also use Crazy Jane’s Mix Up Salt.  Once sprouts start to become tender and brighten, add the dried cherries (or cranberries could be used).  That is it!

I know I am not the first person to make this dish, but as someone who never cooked until about two months ago, I was really proud of being able to look at the fridge and throw something together that tasted good and was paleo friendly.

Oh yeah – I have transitioned from the Whole 30 to a paleo diet.  So far, so good.

Where have I been, you ask?

So, commitment has never really been something I have done very well, but my silence has been for good reason. where-have-you-beenTen days ago I woke up feeling some discomfort in my lower left side. I didn’t think too much of it.  As day turned to night, discomfort turned to pain – I was pretty sure I had a bladder infection. My experience working in a hospital helped me to decide to wait until morning and go to urgent care, rather than head to the ER on a Friday night in New York City.

I woke up feeling the same – no better, no worse – but it was 5 am.  Urgent care didn’t open until 9am. I am no better at waiting than I am at commitment, so I left the house and headed downtown.  The only thing open at 7:30 am was Whole Foods – not a terrible way to distract me AND I found some all pork no additives bacon (it cost a fortune but Whole 30 approved).  Things were looking up, right?

Wrong.  I get seen right away at urgent care (a shout out to City MD for always being quick and efficient). As I had suspected, the doctor said I probably had some type of infection.  While I waited for a second test, I started sweating.  Then I felt a pain that no one should ever feel and is like an army inside my body armed with bayonets – stabbing and shooting. Next, nausea- then I almost passed out. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. The doctor called 911 and sent me to the nearest ER.

The ER was empty and I started feeling better, just really tired. Things are looking up now, right? Wrong. Though I got into a room right away, I didn’t get seen for over an hour.  During that hour, the pain came back.  I did everything I could think of to cope – guided imagery, reiki, Lamaze breathing, while it helped – I would say that the pain was a 15 out of 10. The next round of pain came an hour later – finally, they gave me an IV. I never thought I would be so happy to be poked with needles, but with the IV came morphine and some relief.  After lots of blood draws, ultrasounds and a CT scan it was concludeinternet-hi-fived that it was kidney stones and a kidney infection.  They say that passing kidney stones is worse than child birth, and though I don’t have kids, I believe it.  Worst. Pain. Ever.

It took a week to recover, lots of soup, and guess what – I remained Whole 30 compliant and finished out the 30 days. I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone, but it was just proof to me that I can commit to something and to take it easy on myself.

People have asked if the Whole 30 caused the kidney stones.  I am not a doctor – I don’t know for sure – but my theory is it was a perfect storm. I probably had some calcification (‘gravel’) in my kidneys prior to the Whole 30, I ate a lot of spinach, sweet potatoes and red meat during the whole 30 – which are high in calcium oxylate – and can lead to stones. Three days before this all happened I had an MRI with oral and IV contrast – which is filtered through the kidneys and when I went to the doctor I was extremely dehydrated.  So, my theory is the Whole 30 didn’t cause the stones, but it probably contributed to this event.

What can you take away from my awful experience?  Make sure you vary your diet during the Whole 30. Be aware of the foods you are eating, watch your salt intake and drink more water than you think you can possibly handle.

Next post? What happens after the Whole 30 is over…

Going Greek and other things…

So this weekend was beautiful in New York.  We had 80+ degree weather, warm sun shining all day.  So, I did something I haven’t done in 3 years.  I got my ass up early, cooked an amazing breakfast – scrambled eggs with rosemary and egg kaleprosciutto and wilted kale and then – wait for it – took my dog for a RUN! To be honest – I probably only ran for about a total of a 1/2 mile, but we went along for about 2 1/2 miles- hills and all.

Why is this a big deal?  Because 1) I haven’t really exercised with intent to push myself and definitely have not tried to run in 3 years (not even for a bus) 2) I have probably gained 75+ lbs in that time and was at the peak of being unhealthy when I started the Whole30 and 3) it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be – don’t get me wrong I was sweating like it was my job, but my body told me when to run and when to walk. Oh, and what’s also impressive is that my 12 year old dog survived too – a little limping toward the end but he refused to let me pick him up and carry him home.

What does all this physical activity have to do with “going Greek”? Well, after a long shower and a quick nap, I headed out for authentic Greek food, in Astoria, Queens. The neighborhood is known for its Greek population and delicious food, and it didn’t disappoint. I stepped out of my box a little bit, we ordered grilled octopus and grilled sea grilled octopusbass – with the head still on. While visually I could have done without seeing the head of a dead fish on my plate, the food was unbelievably, incredibly delicious. Everything is cooked clean – olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. The flavors were insane – it almost made me want to cry a little.

What I also noted in between savoring each bite, was that I really didn’t need to eat a lot. While my friends were chowing down on pita bread, hummus dip I was enjoying my greek salad full of tomatoes, cucumber and meaty olives.

Life is good.

Down, but not out…

I have been M.I.A. for a while.  First, I got sick with a nasty cold and had to save my energy for co-hosting a baby shower, and attending a very special wedding – the combination knocked me out, leaving me with little desire to do anything but sleep in my downtime.

I feel like being sick was my first real test, and I think I passed with flying colors. Though my job is to help kids cope with being hospitalized and/or being ill, I myself am terrible when I am sick. I whine, feel sorry for myself and want to crawl in a hole.  Oh – and all I want is to eat comfort foods. But I survived my first test with my Whole30 intact. This is a huge win for me!  Not only did I eat according to the plan, I prepared and cooked my food for the week and made my favorite new dish. It’s a variation of something I saw online, it is super easy, I am calling it Sweet Potato Super Bowl. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients: sweet pot kale dish

3 – 4 Sweet Potatoes
Grass fed Ground Beef (I use Trader Joe’s frozen)
White Onion
Kale
Coconut Oil
Cumin
Garlic Salt
Sea Salt
Pepper

Recipe:

Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Preheat oven to 400F.  Cut sweet potatoes into small cubes.  Spread them on baking sheet.  Melt about a tbsp of coconut oil and pour over sweet potatoes. Salt and pepper to your liking.  While roasting sweet potatoes, brown the ground beef in a pan with coconut oil and chopped onion.  Sprinkle cumin, garlic salt and pepper on beef to taste (I don’t measure). When beef is brown, drain excess fat and add kale to the beef.  Let kale wilt with ground beef or if your pan isn’t big enough set beef aside and saute the kale.  When sweet potatoes are soft, remove from oven (about 20ish minutes).  Combine sweet potatoes, kale and beef in a bowl and mix it up so ingredients are mixed evenly.

Hope you like it!

If you see the old me, don’t tell her I’m here.

I think I have hit the euphoric stage of the Whole30. I was preparing breakfast this morning and noticed even my banana happy bananahad a bruise in the shape of a happy face. I am getting in the groove of this thing. I have been able to easily fall asleep the past two nights and getting much better quality sleep – actually sleeping through the night – which is HUGE. I am still tired throughout the day, but not like before. Fingers crossed that it is not a fluke and that some variation of this lasts a lifetime.

I started this blog because I have tried to “get healthy” more times than I can count on my fingers and toes.  I have struggled with my physical health and weight since I was a very young child. I have lost a 100 lbs, gained a hundred pounds.  I have tried every weightloss plan on the market, I successfully cut out sugar for two years – felt great, only to “relapse” on a piece of peach pie.  What I have never done, is to take steps to consciously improve my physical health, to pay attention to what my body needs versus what my mind wants my body to achieve.  I am hoping that these words I write on this blog remind me how I felt before I started down this path.  Lethargy, misery, out of control don’t really begin to describe what was happening a mere seven days since I started  and they aren’t my baseline right now.  It is up to me to continue to remind myself of what those feelings are like and how easy it is for me to fall into old, bad habits and for those habits to consume me.

So, to help kick those bad habits I am trying to create new ones. I am embracing the idea that I need to learn to cook.  I am experimenting with some of the recipes I found on the blogs that the blogging community have helped me find.  Last night? Cashew covered chicken and sweet potatoes roasted in coconut oil. Was quite delicious and easy.  And tomorrow, I am planning to cook enough for the week of lunches and dinners. Who am I?

Gratitude and laughter

9/11 is a day to take stock.  I remember the day clearer than any other and as a New Yorker for the past 12 years, it is typically a day of stillness, which contrasts the other 364 days.  But today, it was different and I am not quite sure why.  It could be time has passed, it could be that I live and work in a borough other than Manhattan,I just don’t know.  But today was different and it started in a very sweet way.

On my way to work, an elderly Caribbean woman carrying a cane walked up to me at the crosswalk while I was waiting for the light.  She took my arm and said in a rich Caribbean accent, “come on girl, let’s go. They can’t take all of us!” As she pointed her cane toward the sky and laughed a big raucous laugh. So, I went.  She led me across the street without fear and with such grace and humor – laughing the whole way.  It made my day.

Day 2 (technically day 6) was a good one, all told.  I am getting the hang of listening to what my body needs.  I tried something new for breakfast – chia seed “pudding”.  Light coconut milk, chia seeds, a small amount of cashew butter, cinnamon and a banana. It hit the spot.  One of the things I miss most is yogurt, this “pudding” reminded me a lot of the creaminess of yogurt and the chia seeds and almond butter pack a punch that kept me full till lunch.

Every day I feel more and more clear headed.  No headache at all today and definitely more energy.  Feeling gratitude for this day that I got to enjoy and be present for when so many have lost so much.

Tonight, let there be ice cream…

20120224-eating-ice-creamHave you ever committed to a big change in your lifestyle and said to yourself, “This time will be different than the last time I tried to make this very same change.”? That is where I am tonight. It has taken me more than a year of  denial and procrastination to get here, but I am ready – and I start tomorrow. So, tonight I celebrate my last bite of ice cream before I give it up for good, for life. AHHHHHHH!!!

Over the past 6 years, it is difficult to remember a time that I felt good. By good I mean, light, full of energy, enthusiastic about the day ahead or at least present in the moment. Instead, I have been tired – like dog tired. I yawn like it’s my job, I plod through the work day and can happily fall asleep before the evening news is over. My sleep patterns are erratic, my body is swollen and my attention span is about the same as a flea.

About a year ago, I was given a clue as to why I couldn’t remember much more than my name and address. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and had to make a lifestyle change and become gluten-free  I thought – this shouldn’t be so hard, just don’t eat any wheat, barley or rye? No problem. Well, being gluten free is not easy, gluten is in EVERYTHING and it is everywhere. It only takes a tiny amount to make me feel terrible – a few crumbs of someone else’s bread makes me feel like I drank a fifth of Jack Daniels all by myself. It is debilitating, migraine-inducing and my body swells up like a balloon.

So, over the past year I have been very careful that what I eat does not have gluten. In 2014, there are so many gluten free products on the market. I definitely feel some improvement, so, what’s the problem? The first problem is cross-contamination.  The second problem is that I love sweets, I love cake, I love cookies and I love, love, love ice cream.  I sought out and tried virtually every pre-packaged gluten free product I could find.  I didn’t want to feel “deprived”, so I hit the cookies and ice cream pretty hard; so hard in fact that my pants are pretty tight these days.

Ice cream makes me feel horrible, but I love it.  Cookies make me feel horrible, but I adore them.  Cake is like crack to me – one slice makes me want to stick my face in the entire pan.  Gluten is in everything and for me sugar is a serious problem. It has an opioid effect on me. And now, according to my allergist, I am allergic to dairy and shellfish. So the time has come to abstain, but like anyone addicted to a substance, I will give up sugar tomorrow – but tonight? Tonight, I eat ice cream one.last.time.

I hope this blog helps me to explore what it is like to make a major life change. Tomorrow, I embark on the Whole30. A 30 day clean eating plan that is gluten free, dairy free, soy free, alcohol free, bean free, sulfite free. So, I will eighty six it all and start a journey to health.

From The Whole30 program’s website, here is what finally convinced me:

It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth – the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime. – See more at: http://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/#sthash.LEIp9rT7.dpuf

Everyday I work with kids who are fighting cancer, who are coping with the most difficult struggle of their life, watching their parents cope with things that no parent should ever have to go through.  This is not hard will be my mantra.  It will be challenging, it will be a struggle at times but it will never be cancer.  It is time to take care of myself because my body needs it.  Sugar, gluten, dairy are poison to my body and my body deserves better.  The mantra is what is different about this time, it is what I pray will make this change a forever change.

So, follow along on this journey to health and see if I can learn a thing or two.