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2015 Is Going To Be...

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I am happy to see 2014 go. It wasn't a bad year, but a challenging one, yes. I am blessed that I learned what I did over the last twelve months and now I am ready to dive into 2015 head first. I have a gut feeling that it'll be a transformational year for me, and I'm excited to start with a clean slate in many ways. I hope to achieve some of the things in the photo above. I want to connect with my friends and community on a real level, read more, disconnect from my digital life more, and for the second year in a row, drink a crap-ton of champagne. Here's to a kick ass 2015... hold on tight!

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How I Won Gluten-Free-Vegan Christmas...

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It is no secret that I'm currently obsessed with Oh She Glows. It is also no secret that I'm typically a pretty terrible baker. Last year on Christmas Eve I ruined two attempts at homemade chocolate pudding (at least the second was edible, I just called it chocolatey-fudge-mousse-in-a-cup). Since then I've ruined box brownies at least twice... Maybe it's my oven?

So this year, I decided to try something with less emphasis on actually using the oven and from a source I already trusted. Enter, Chilled Chocolate-Espresso Torte with Toasted Hazelnut Crust and Whipped Coconut Cream. So freakin' easy. So insanely delicious. And it satisfied my non-vegan and gluten-loving family as well as my vegetarian step mom. The only less than exemplary comment I received was from Nanna... she thought it was "interesting." Anyway...

I was hesitant about the coconut whipped cream, but it honestly just tasted like vanilla. My dad licked the freakin' bowl when we were finished and my sister had no clue it was mostly coconut (and she's picky, so there's really no getting past her)! So if you make this, whatever you do, don't skip the whipped cream.

Here's the recipe and some fancier pictures from another blogger featuring this Oh She Glows masterpiece. This is my new go-to dessert. Next year, I won't even dare to try something new.

 

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I Finally Went To A Naturopath: Part 1

You guys. I don't know where to start. I finally went to a naturopath after many years of considering it. The fact that insurance doesn't cover it put me off and I thought I was managing things pretty well on my own. But the past few months my RA has been feeling pretty crappy, and even though it always feels bad in the fall I always have a desire to rid myself of all of this completely, from the source, instead of just telling the symptoms to chill til they come back. 

So I went! I found this amazing woman who is literally a block away and part of UPMC, Pittsburgh's largest healthcare group, and she actually agreed to talk to me on the phone for ten minutes before I scheduled my appointment. I wanted to make sure I was seeing someone whose diet plan for me would be on par with my own. There's a bit of a fad happening right now called the Autoimmune Paleo (#AIP) diet and I'm just not into it. I know from research and my own experience that meat is an inflammatory. And the whole point of eating to cure an autoimmune disease is to get the body to stop being inflamed. So that just doesn't add up, does it?

Anyway, my first appointment exceeded my expectations. Her office was more like a lounge than a doctors office. She started by asking me to just tell her my entire medical history and took amazing notes. For the sake of me not rambling on forever with all the details, here are the highlights of what we covered in the two hours she spent with me (yes, seriously, two hours) and $175 I spent on the first session:

  • Goal: First she asked me what my goal for being there was. I told her my conventional medicine (Enbrel) is working but I know deep down it's not a good idea longterm. I know the side effects heighten your chances of lymphoma by 3x and being so young, I know that the longer I continue on the medicine, the higher those chances probably are. I told her my goal was to be well enough that I could lessen my medicine intake over time until I possibly don't need it anymore. She was supportive of this and told me she would never ask me to stop taking a medication without having me talk to my rheumatologist about it first. At this point, I knew I liked her. We agreed to not talk about when or if I'd ever be able to stop taking a conventional medicine but just kept the goal in mind to lesson the amount a bit at first.
  • Medical history: I told her all about my RA, family history, other misc. health problems like allergies, UTIs, frequency of colds, etc.
  • Supplements, vitamins and medicine: She had me bring in everything I was taking so she could evaluate it. She tossed my daily vitamin in the trash right in front of me, saying it was literally the crappiest of crap. I loved her for that!
  • Typical diet: She wrote down what I typically eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In this realm, I think I am a pretty easy patient for her since I'm already gluten and mostly-dairy free. She laughed when I said I made raw beet ravioli with cashew cream cheese for dinner the night before (I'll post on that delicacy soon!).
  • New diet recommendations: I had two options. An elimination diet challenge that would take me months of torture to take about 96 foods out of my diet and slowly add one back in at a time to see if it would cause my symptoms to flare. First of all, NO. Secondly, I told her it would be hard to notice an arthritis flare due to one food because I typically flare for a month and then don't for another. It's not a day-by-day thing. She agreed, so instead, I am going to do option two, a $225 blood test. I will do it at home by pricking a finger until I can fill five circles on a piece of card stock the size of my thumbprint with blood, let it dry and then send the kit back to a lab. The results will come back with 96 foods and graphs for each that measure how much that food causes an immune response in my body. Fabulous. Worth the money. I am waiting until January to do this to spread out the expense and also so I have all the holiday party junk food in my system. My doctor said that in order for the test it work its best I need to "eat all the foods" beforehand. Yes, she really said "eat all the foods." Gluteny-cheesey pasta cheat day, here I come. The test is called the US Biotek Antibody Assessment and you can read about it here
  • Health plan: Two days later she sent me a two page health plan that she typed up and sent to my email directly from her. It had instructions on where to buy the new supplements (I'll do another post on that soon), how to take the blood test, and a summery of the other things we talked about... like how she wants me to eat more fish. 

All in all, I cannot say enough. I ordered my first round of supplements and received them today. They were a bit pricey but I know she's going to get me back on track. I'm most excited about a strong anti-fungal with oil of oregano, garlic and caprylic acid that will rid my body of any bacteria or candida that could be lingering. Bacteria (from UTIs) and candida overgrowth can actually cause autoimmune diseases. I'm starting to think there's a chance that could be what's happening to me. Check out this article I found tonight that talks all about that and how to cure autoimmune diseases by curing the cause instead of putting a band-aid on symptoms. Its author is totally in line with what I'm planning to do with the help of my awesome new naturopath. Updates soon!

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Recipe: Maple Brussel SpRout Salad

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Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. I mean, really. This is my attempt at How Sweet Eats recipe that I've tried to make vegetarian (without the bacon) and let's just say it's so good that I haven't even cleaned up the kitchen yet I am so excited to post it!

It took me about 10 minutes to make from start to finish. Buy brussel sprouts. Slice them into messy chunks, put them in a skillet with a couple tablespoons olive oil, a little scoop of vegan butter (or regular, whatever), and about two tablespoons of maple syrup. Toss in the medium heated skillet until they are just bright green and slightly tender (4-5 minutes). Remove from heat, add a bit of blue cheese, salt and pepper. Then slice a pear, add that and more cheese and you are literally done. It's gorgeous, simple, filling and something totally different in the salad department. 

Seriously, go make this. Right now. Peace.

 

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Recipe: Smoked Salmon Salad w/ Lemon Dill Dressing

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Ok guys, I was off the blogging train for a hot second but I am back. Sorry for the radio silence. Things got a bit crazy at work (good crazy!) for a few months and this space lost all the energy I was giving it. I have, however, been trying a TON of different recipes, all gluten free and mostly vegan and now sadly (not really), I am going to have to remake all of them to document and share with you!

This recipe is (sort of) made up based on a salad I had at brunch a few weeks ago at Pittsburgh's Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon. My take on this salad is my obsession for lunch this week. It's so easy to pack each morning and since it does have salmon on it, I feel like it's pretty hearty and yet light. Sorry this one doesn't fall in the vegan / veg category.

All you need for this is:

Spinach, arugula, red onion and smoked salmon lox (I got mine from Trader Joes for $8). For the dressing, I mixed some olive oil, juice of one lemon, seedy brown mustard, salt,  and pepper together. I add a bit of dill to the salad and also to the dressing right before I mix the salad. If you're not opposed to sour cream, dob some of that into the salad (or mix that with the lemon and dill) for a richer taste. Done.

The restaurant where I had this originally also served with a hard boiled egg and croutons. Have at it if you're into that!

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Recipe: Mango Thai Lettuce Wraps (V, GF)

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These lettuce wraps are not only vegan, insanely flavorful and easy to make, but they are also incredibly filling. I found this recipe for Mango & Zucchini Lettuce Wraps by Love and Lemons on Pinterest and thought I'd give it a try. 

I followed her recipe almost exactly with a few tweaks. I used butter lettuce instead of romaine, because it's softer and makes the perfect sized cup for the veggies. I sliced up some zucchini and carrots, cut mango into long thin stripes, added some bean sprouts (love the crunch!), diced a serrano pepper, mint, green onion, and lime.

The sauce is also really easy. Mix tamari, rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil, toasted sesame oil (optional), fresh ginger, and red pepper flakes together for dipping/pouring.

On the side, I simply opened a package of Trader Joe's precooked lentils and served cold. I had never tried lentils before (seriously, I know) and these are great! A bit bland alone, but mixed with the residual sauce from the wraps and some lime... delish! I guess I have a new grain to experiment with and love now, sorry quinoa.

These made a great post-yoga dinner. I filled up on two easily and took leftovers for lunch the next two days. 

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It's My One Year Gluten Free Anniversary!

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It's My One Year Gluten Free Anniversary!

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In honor of my one year anniversary as a gluten-free-mother-fucking-goddess (Sorry, had to. I'm proud!), I'm posting a little hindsight of what I've learned in the last 365 days. So, here we go:

5 Things I've Learned After 365 Days Without Gluten:

1. It's not as hard as you think.
I was terrified. I figured I was putting myself in culinary exhile for the rest of my life (how dramatic). But honestly, I quickly learned to shop and cook differently and I barely notice the gluten is even gone. Instead, I've devoured gluten free bread, rice pasta, copious amounts of quinoa, fancy san-gluten Bisquick, flour, crackers, pretzels, bagel chips, cookies, brownies, muffins, etc. There is not one food that I find myself missing that I cannot find a gluten free replacement. So when you put it that way, what am I really giving up? The way I see it now, not much. 

2. Cheating is acceptable and a must (if you're able).
I have not gone 365 days without gluten. My goal for the upcoming year is to cheat less while remaining sane. This year I probably (and this is a big generalization) had about 8 donuts, a dozen (or more) office cookies, one bowl of regular wheat-y pasta at my favorite italian restaurant, and traces of gluten in things you would not expect like soy sauce, among other things. This seems like a lot of gluten, but if you think about it in the span of a whole year, it's nothing. My rules for cheating are these: 1. "Will you regret it after?" and 2. "Does the occasion warrant it?" If the answers are "No" and "Yes," respectively, then by all means, go for it.

3. When I cheat, I feel it...
But I don't get a stomachache. Instead, my physical reaction may not be what you'd expect. I get a foggy brain, fatigue or drowsiness, tightness between my shoulder blades and a feeling similar to a caffeine withdrawal. When I think about it, I was always experiencing these things when I used to eat gluten all the time, now it's far more apparent how much better I feel without all these symptoms hanging around on a daily basis.

4. My RA flare ups have severely lessened.
In a previous post, I explain gluten and its relation to leaky gut syndrome, and leaky gut syndrome's relation to auto immune diseases. Well, I'll say it again and 100 more times, I fully believe that gluten is a cause (not the only, but a big one) of my RA. Two months ago my doctor did RA blood tests we hadn't done in two years. My RA factor is in the negative range (!!!! - that doesn't mean it's gone, but still! ... !!!!) and my inflammatory markers are weak positive down from moderate positive (again, !!!!). Sure, this could have to do with my medication working, but holy shit, do I notice the swollenness in my hands the morning after I've had gluten? YEP. Remember that cheat criteria, "Will you regret it?" Yeah, the more I see the obvious shift in decreased swelling, the more it is not worth indulging.

5. It's been totally worth it.
A year and a week ago, I rolled my eyes when someone told me they were gluten free by choice. I literally thought it was just a made up, bandwagon fad in food. I understood that those with Celiac do not get that choice and wow, do I admire what those who have it must do to eat safely! Having Celiac requires so much more restraint, attention and caution, when even trace amounts of gluten can cause upheaval in the gut. I am so lucky that I get to choose this diet and that I get to choose to cheat if I wish. But that's a whole other story. Overall, I see the difference. I no longer feel so bloated and tired after a big meal that I just want to sleep (apologies to those who I've made rub my belly after too much pasta — not kidding, wish I was). I no longer wake up with insanely puffy knuckles and inflamed feet. My knees hurt rarely. I don't have afternoon tiredness or brain fog and I feel more productive at work. My skin is clearer and more even. So is it worth the overhaul at the beginning and the extra effort, time, money to upkeep? Yep, every bit.

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I No Longer Have Patience

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A little boost of confidence for your Tuesday-Combined-With-Monday brought to you by Meryl Streep:

I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.

—Meryl Streep

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Playlist: s m a l l t a l k

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Playlist: s m a l l t a l k

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Rainy days call for moody music, and I made this playlist about six months ago one a day just like today. There used to be this really great website called Designers.MX, where graphic designers would make playlists of music they're loving and then design cover art to accompany them. I was bummed when the site took a break for about a year, but it's on it's way back and I'm thrilled! It's a great source to find new music and be inspired by other creatives' work. So I've been thinking about making playlists and covers again, and I wanted to share an old one in the meantime. Enjoy!

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Recipe: Raw Tomato Sauce with GF Pasta

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I wanted to do a light tomato sauce with some pasta recently when I was craving a fresh but satisfying dinner. Something about light tomatoes, olive oil and some lemon just makes summer feel right. For this recipe, I consulted good old Martha Stewart for my sauce. It's raw and ready in minutes. Perfect for a quick, painless meal. 

I used four roma tomatoes. I diced two of them by hand into small cubes and ever-so-gently pulsed the other two in a blender until close to pureed by still pretty chunky.  Mix with some chopped basil, parsley and garlic. Combine with olive oil and the juice of one small lemon (Martha didn't use lemon, I went rogue). After some salt and pepper, I felt it still needed a bit of flavor so I added about a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Mix with your favorite GF pasta and you're set for dinner and leftovers for lunch!

 

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