Sunday, February 22, 2015

Grain-free Italian Almond Cookies

Well, after completing a Whole 30 during the month of January, I completely fell off the wagon during February. Not a little slip. A full blown fall in the mud and roll around in it. I'm struggling to get up, but not really. I think I may wallow here a little longer.

First my hubby and I had to celebrate Valentines Day with burgers and beer at Bistro Blanc. If you have yet to taste their local, grassfed beef burgers, you might want to rush right over there. Not to mention the rosemary parmesan fries. Everything is made in house, including the breads and even the pickles! Chef Janny Kim is a stand out.

From there, I was invited to join my friends Michelle, Patti, and Alice for a day of ravioli making. Yes, a full day-- 9am to 6pm including lunch-- and I came home with 4 kinds of fresh ravioli plus fettuccine! So I've had some form of homemade pasta every day since! Last night I made the ultimate in comfort food: fresh fettuccine with tomato vodka sauce and meatballs. And that's not all I made.

Yesterday was my lowest point so far.

Before cooking my comfort food dinner, I baked Italian almond macaroons. I was trying to replicate a delicious cookie Michelle shared with us during our pasta making party. My recipe does not quite match the chewy softness of hers, but these are still yummy.


Ingredients:

3 large egg whites
1 and 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons almond extract
16 oz. (1 lb.) almond meal (Trader Joe's carries this.)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

In a large bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy. Beat in salt, sugar, and almond extract. Stir in almond meal. You will have a very thick, dense dough. Chill for 2 hours in fridge. Preheat oven to 300F. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into round balls or crescent shapes. Dip each cookie into sliced almonds. Bake on parchment or silpat sheets for 20-30 minutes. After 20 minutes, cookies will still be soft and chewy in center. After 30 minutes, cookies will be harder and similar to biscotti. Great for dunking in a cup of cappuccino!


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Goddesses Never Age

This is the title of Dr. Christiane Northrup's latest book. And the theme is a good one: you are only as old as you act.

My mother sets a good example of aging well. She will be 86 this year, but she doesn't let that fact slow her down. She still plays tennis with a group of women almost half her age. When her Westie died last year, she went straight to a rescue and adopted another dog in need. She has made plans to travel to England to visit her family this year. Although she has been single since my father died at the age of 39, she has always managed to do the things she loves, including many years of ballroom dance lessons and competitions. She has never been afraid of moving to a new country, a new state, a new church, a new job, or a new attitude.

Dr. Northrup suggests you forget about your calendar age altogether. Because there are many ways to stay young throughout your life.

1) Laugh. A lot. A sense of humor will carry you through some of the most difficult times of your life. And it will make the happy times even giddier. Without laughter, you are sure to age more quickly. And sadly.

2) Find pleasure. When Dr. Northrup tell us this, she is talking about sex, yes, but not only sex. Of course sex is one type of physical pleasure that can help us stay young. And she highly recommends that we continue to explore sexual pleasure and passion for our entire lives. But beyond the sexual, there are many types of physical, mental, and spiritual pleasure we can pursue. Sitting in front of a roaring fire. Petting your dog or cat or rabbit or ferret. Letting someone braid your hair. Taking a scented bubble bath. Reading a fascinating story or a beautiful poem. Walking in the woods. Listening to inspiring music. Dancing like no one is watching. The list goes on and on.

3) Surround yourself with positive people. If you've spent much time with seniors, you've probably met the ones who only discuss their diseases and their medications. This becomes their reality. If your friends and family bring you down, it's time to find a new crowd. Seek out people who laugh at your jokes, who are always up for an adventure, who make you forget your age. At our local community center, a large group of older men play basketball every Friday morning in the gym. They're yelling and running and sweating and enjoying the heck out of it! Apparently no one told them they're too old to play.

4) Try something new. For Valentines Day, I asked my husband to buy me a recorder and a book of music. I've started practicing every day. I thought the recorder might be easy enough for me, but it has already become somewhat challenging! But this is good. No matter how old you are, you can still learn new tricks. Think back to all the things that interested you as a child. Or a young adult. There is still plenty of time to develop your skills. I recently read about a yoga teacher who is over 100 years old. She began taking ballroom dance classes at 87. Now she's been dancing for over ten years and still loves it.

5) Look to the future instead of the past. As we grow older, reminiscing can become a habit. The past might look rosy and perfect while the future can appear scary or just unknown. But people who age well are always looking forward to what the future holds. They imagine the best is yet to come. And there is no reason to think otherwise!

6) Quit complaining. You always have a choice. You can put your attention on all the things that are going wrong or you can focus on all the good in your life. This is true no matter your age. Happiness is a choice. Remember the gifts and blessings in your life. Remember to be grateful.

I hope you're enjoying a happy Valentine's weekend. Stay warm in front of your cozy fireplace!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finishing Up the Whole 30

The month of January is drawing to a close. For me, it has been a month of trials. (I've told you about my dog's emergency surgery, but if you missed that post, it is titled Stressed Out.) Once the holidays were over, I committed to 30 days of clean eating: no sugar or sweeteners of any kind, no flour or products made from flour, no alcohol, no fried foods, no junk food. No treats. I even cut out peanut butter! My meals have consisted of meats, poultry, fish, lots of veggies, healthy fats, nuts, and a little fruit.

My husband asked me if I'm going to indulge in a huge carb-fest now that my month of purity is coming to an end. To be honest, I don't have any plans. I'm not really craving anything. This is one of the perks of eating clean for a month: all those cravings disappear.

And that's not the only perk! After just one month, I see many changes in my body and mind. I've lost weight for sure. (I didn't weigh myself at the beginning and I won't weigh myself at the end, so I can't give you specific numbers.) My belly is flatter. My skin is clearer. My gums feel much healthier. I'm sleeping way better-- longer stretches and more deeply. My moods have been mostly stable, except for the couple of days when stress got the better of me. I feel proud of myself for sticking with my program, even when the going got tough.

Although I'll probably have some wine during the month of February, I won't fall off the wagon face first into the muck and mire. I still plan to avoid sugar almost all of the time. A Valentines Day treat might pass my lips, but during the rest of the month I'll remain sugar-free. Because I'm now in the habit of eating clean, it won't be so difficult to simply continue down this path.

I found the month of January to be an easy time to experiment with healthy eating. There are no major holidays that demand baking cookies or sipping champagne. But with a little extra willpower, you could get through this program any time of the year. Is it worth the sacrifice? Absolutely. You will gain so much more than you will give up. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dr. Oz and Touched by an Angel

Today, Wednesday January 28, the Chicken Soup for the Soul volume titled Touched by an Angel will be featured on the Dr. Oz Show. "My Grandfather's Gift" is the name of the story I have in this book. Dr. Oz will be talking about the power of angels to assist in healing.

If you had asked me a week ago, I probably would have told you this sounded pretty far-fetched. But in the past week, I have witnessed firsthand the power of prayer to help heal my sweet akita. A week ago, she bloated suddenly and had to have immediate surgery. The following 48 hours were truly touch and go, with her heart doing funky things and the doctors pumping her full of every medication known to mankind. When she finally came home, she was refusing to drink water, turning her head away from all food, and walking around in a daze. When she managed to get up.

We nursed her round the clock, forcing the food into her mouth as we were warned she would not survive without it. Soon she began drinking on her own. And then licking the spoon when I fed her. And then searching out her food bowl. Every day, the dog I know and love returns to me a little more. Thanks to her own innate strength. But also thanks, I believe, to the power of prayer.

I am so grateful God doesn't hold a grudge. Because I am truly a foul weather friend. When things are going swimmingly in my life, I rarely spend a moment talking to God. But as soon as that crisis hits, boy am I a big believer! Fervent, you might even say.

So thank you to all the friends, and even strangers, who prayed for my sweet baby to heal and recover from her surgery. Thanks to you, she is better and better every day.

And if you get a chance today, check out Dr. Oz!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stressed Out

How do you cope with the kind of stress that punches you in the gut?

Our female akita bloated (a condition where gas fills the stomach and cuts off blood supply, which will kill a dog without immediate treatment) and I had to rush her to the emergency vet. For me, this is about as stressful as a situation can get. Okay, if it were my child or my husband, I'd be in worse shape. But this dog is truly the love of my life. She and I fell in love with each other at first sight and we have bonded in a way that is beyond words. The thought of losing her terrifies me. On top of that, you throw in medical procedures and multiple doctors, enormous bills, and complications from the surgery, and you have stress hormones zinging around at top speed.

What do you do to counteract the heavy toll stress takes on your body and brain?

If you are a typical human, you probably choose to numb those sensations with alcohol. Prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs are another popular solution. And these may work in the short term. But for the long haul, you're either going to become addicted or need to find another way to cope.

When facing extreme stress, I believe the best coping method is extreme self-care.

1) Remember to be kind. It is terribly easy to lash out when you're under extreme stress. (Believe it or not, I discovered this fact first hand!) I wanted to scream at the doctors treating my dog. I wanted to blame somebody, including and mostly myself, for the awful situation. I did a lot of yelling and cursing (thankfully not in public, for once!) before I began to calm down. Today I was finally able to express my gratitude to our primary vet for everything she's doing to help bring our dog through this. We cried together. I felt a hell of a lot better afterwards, although we're not out of the woods yet.

2) Fight or flee. You know those stress hormones are designed to save your life by pumping you up so you can either run fast or kick ass. In most of our stressful modern-day situations, we are more likely to sit still and chew our fingernails down to the cuticles while our stomachs churn with excess acid. If at all possible, I suggest some kind of physical activity. Running is a great one, if your joints can stand it, but walking, swimming, dancing, skating, or anything aerobic will work. You will flush those stress hormones out of the body, at least temporarily, and you will feel better because you did something besides sitting and worrying.

3) Breathe. Deep breaths. This one almost sounds like a cliche, except for the fact that it works. The more stressful your situation, the more times each day you need to stop, drop what you're doing, and just breathe. Try it.

4) Let go. Sorry to have to tell you this, and believe me, I don't like it one tiny bit, but we are not in control. You don't know how much I wish this were not the case. I love control. I yearn for it. But all that grasping accomplishes nothing because in the end, I control nothing. Nothing except the way I react to the situation. I'm working on this one. Still struggling.

5) Nourish the physical body. In the midst of a crisis it's very easy to forget to eat, to stop sleeping, to neglect your basic daily needs. If you do this, pretty soon you will be sick on top of worried and stressed out. Even if you can only eat a small amount, choose nourishing whole foods. Drink plenty of water along with calming teas like chamomile. Bone broth is another great choice, full of minerals and protein but easy on the belly.

6) Forgive yourself. And others. Stress brings out the worst in all of us. Well, me especially, it seems. If you forget to employ any of the above recommendations, at least do this one. Forgive yourself for being imperfect in an imperfect world where things are out of your control and sometimes go very wrong. We are all doing our best with the knowledge we have in the moment.

If you're reading this blog, whether or not you know me personally, I'd be very grateful for your prayers for my sweet dog, Ginny.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dry January

I was laughing with my husband yesterday about how awesome my liver must be. As you may know, I've given up alcohol, along with all added sugars and sweeteners, and all junkfood, for the month of January. I was imagining how the autopsy might go, with the doctors exclaiming about the beauty of my pristine liver. Something to strive for.

I recently read about a study in Britain where a group of people gave up alcohol for a month. (Dry January is pretty big over there.) Apparently just 30 days of abstinence makes quite a difference to the health of the liver. I think this is very heartening, especially if you are a heavy drinker. Your liver can recover if you can just manage to take a break.

Should you NEVER take a sip of any alcoholic beverage? No, I wouldn't go that far. If you know me, you know that I enjoy a glass of wine (especially red) and a locally brewed craft beer now and then. But I do believe balance is key. We all know alcohol is a poison. If your poor liver has to process a daily dosage of poison, the damage simply accumulates with no time to heal.

I might not say I'm "enjoying" my month of purity, but I do feel I'm doing something worthwhile to heal my body. And as I just mentioned, balance is key. I love chocolate, peanut butter, french fries, and red wine. I enjoy a juicy burger (with a bun!) on occasion. And if I indulge in these treats once in a while, I don't suffer many consequences. However, if I ate burgers with buns, fries, and chocolate chip cookies on a daily basis, I'd balloon up in no time flat.

How do you find your balance? How do you find your sweet spot? How much is too much? I can only answer this question for myself as each person is unique. And each of us is also constantly changing and evolving. What I could get away with as an active twenty-something is VERY different than what my body tells me now.

I believe that a month-long vacation from your addictions, whether they be alcohol, sugar, fried foods, fast food, or something else, is an excellent place to start. Or you can give up all these things at once! Yes, you will lose weight, but the benefits are way greater than just weight loss. You will heal your liver, lower your blood sugar, stabilize your moods, sleep better, and discover you are NOT a slave to your cravings. You might even remember how much you love salad! (Honestly, this happened to me!)


Thursday, January 15, 2015

On the List

In case you are looking for healthy, organic and/or grass fed finds at your local Costco and Trader Joe's, I thought I'd share some examples of foods we regularly buy. If you're on Whole 30, or another Paleo diet, or just trying to eat more healthy stuff, you might want to sample some of these:

1) Grass fed burgers and ground beef from Trader Joe's. These frozen products are very high quality and scrumptious! The prices are lower than I've seen anywhere else. Grass fed meats are better than conventional for many reasons: higher in omega-3 fatty acids AND lower in omega-6's (which cause inflammation in the body) plus cows who eat grass are happier and healthier. Better for you, for the animals, and for the earth. Win-win-win!

2) Grass fed cheddar cheese. You can find this product at Trader Joe's (in smaller packages) and at Costco (Kerrygold Irish cheddar in 3 pound blocks). Milk from grass fed cows is healthier due to more Vitamin K2, which is very difficult to find in a typical American diet.

3) Grass fed butter (Kerrygold) is found at both Trader Joe's and Costco. A beautiful deep golden color tells you this butter has more nutrients than the anemic stuff we find on the grocery shelves. Higher in K2 and omega-3's. If you're on Whole 30, you can make your own ghee by melting the butter in your slow cooker and skimming off the milk solids.

4) Wholly Guacamole. Costco now carries this delicious dip in single serving containers. At first we thought this was a pain, and just meant a lot more packaging. But now I'm sold. The serving size is 2 ounces per container which I find to be the perfect amount for a meal. No more brown guac getting thrown in the compost! I've added guacamole to my daily breakfast. The healthy fats keep me full until lunch. Highly recommended.

5) Diced butternut squash. Both Costco and Trader Joe's carry this extremely convenient product. I don't know about you, but I would never peel and dice a raw squash myself. Too much work. But I'll throw the diced squash into a soup or stew (check out my recipe for Cinnamon Short Ribs as an example!) and voila! Instant healthy meal.

6) Plantain chips. Trader Joe's carries these roasted, not deep fried, healthy chips. Should you eat a bazillion of them daily? Maybe not, but a small handful might tide you over and get you through a persistent french fry or potato chip craving. I like them with a handful of pistachios and a cup of green tea.

7) Kale Chips. Again, Trader Joe's. Not cheap, but completely healthy and junk-free. These chips are coated with carrot powder, cashews, and nutritional yeast, which may not sound quite as delicious as it tastes!

8) Tahini sauce. Also at Trader Joe's. Absolutely yummy and nothing in it that you should avoid. Even on Whole 30!

This list is very far from complete, so please add your own favorites in the comment section. Or if you prefer a different place to shop, tell us why and what they have that keeps bringing you in.