Setting Goals and Enjoying The Journey

Last year was a really important year for me. More than a year ago, I joined a newly forming accountability group. Overtime, it became more of a mastermind group, made up of five amazing women ready to achieve new things. I joined the group, honestly, because it was free, and because I had big goals for 2018 and had read a lot of things that talked about the importance of accountability. I thought joining a group like this could get me that accountability.

What an incredible year it was! I didn’t end 2018 rich, by any means, but I gained some absolutely incredible experience and perspective that is truly transforming my life this year. I’ve got incredible health habits and the knowledge of how to keep refining and building on them with each week and month. I have an incredible work routine and schedule that is time-tested and truly works for me. I have big picture goals that I’m working for and a document to track the wins, big and small, along the way. And thanks to my monthly book reading, which lead to daily self-help and learning through podcasts, I’m reinforcing positivity and feeling inspired and like my goals are truly feasible.

A big piece of all of this, as you may already know, is gratitude. I need to be thankful for everything I have and for the lifestyle that will lead me to my bigger dreams. Luckily, this comes pretty naturally to me. But it’s a discipline and it truly makes a difference. If you don’t clear the space and prepare yourself for success, you won’t know how to handle it when you get it!

I think the number one theme of my life right now, day to day, is to take the next step. I don’t know the path to success. I don’t know what step #7 is going to be. But if I can articulate where I’m going, hopefully I can articulate the very next step. And that’s honestly all I need to know right now.

I was thrilled to hit almost all of my goals for January (or surpass them). I’m so excited to see what’s next in my life. I only wish I had more hours in a day – but I’m truly making the most of what I do have.

What’s the one thing you’ll do today to further your goals?


Getting Glutened

Lots of jellybeans from Celiac Disease Foundation | Practicing Persistence

I spend so much time warning gluten-sensitive and allergic people about all of the secret places that gluten can hide, and I know I’m not super-sensitive to it myself; but nothing protected me from gluten-ing myself last night. Yes, I got gluten-ed, and I’ve got tons of pain to show for it.

How, you might ask, did this happen?

As I’ve mentioned, I’m most assuredly gluten-free nowadays, but I do indulge in gluten-free treats on occasion. Some of these have been candy. Once in a blue moon, I’ll enjoy a snack size Three Musketeers bar or a Snickers. Delicious. And in my experience, I’ve found that most sugar-heavy candies (the ones without dairy/nuts/extras) are also gluten-free.

So I must have assumed that this particular treat was gluten-free when I bought it. It’s full of rainbow colored sugar and was fun to eat. I won’t mention it here, because the moral of the story is important: always read the packaging.

I actually ate it because I had a cough and I’ve been banned from cough drops by my dentist, so I thought eating a sour candy might help me produce more saliva and make my throat hurt less.

Of course the irony was that an hour later, I glanced at the packaging and started cursing myself. Within about three hours, I was in pain. So much pain. Waves of it, off and on, for hours.

Today, the pain has lessened a lot, so I’m hoping the worst has past. In the past, my gluten meter went off clearly within 25-30 minutes, so maybe this was less gluten than last time? And perhaps that means the effects won’t last a full week like last time?

I’m sharing this to show that we all make mistakes. We can never, ever assume, even if we’ve eaten a food before. Recipes change, people make mistakes. Always, always, always read the package.

Here’s hoping you have a pain-free week!

Slow and Steady

They say that slow and steady wins the race, right? Well my slow and steady race to health has been paved by some frustrations and some mental fatigue, but I’m still in it to win it!

This past summer, I worked on the Outer Banks, living on the beach with my husband as recreation directors of a campground. It was a fantastic job and the community of people we worked with and lived beside couldn’t be beat. We were also privy to some delicious potlucks and amazing seafood, as well as a weekly hot dog lunch and ice cream. After successfully introducing almonds and all spices, I wanted to be able to eat socially again. So I decided as long as I kept it gluten-free, I could try to be flexible once or twice a week. At first I didn’t stop re-introductions; I just kept a great journal and knew to be mindful. The reality is that if I eat something once in a week, I rarely react to it, as long as there’s no gluten involved.

But by the end of the summer, I had an incident that has frustrated me in my food adventures, and I still haven’t quite recovered. At the end of a week of potato reintroductions (which I thought were going well), I walked on the beach, barefoot, for the first time in a long time. I pulled a muscle in my feet in a way that made any walking painful. And instead of taking a few days to get over like it usually would, it took weeks. My daily beach walks (in sneakers) were replaced by slow strolls on the pavement, if that. And while my first realization was that I must be sensitive to potato, when it took many months and my muscles STILL hadn’t fully recovered (my feet did, but I’ve still got unexplained tension in my shoulders and such that I’d previously lost with my diet changes), I started wondering if it was the cheating or if it was something else.

So I stopped worrying about it for a while. I’m eating gluten-free, and I’m limiting potatoes and corn and anything else I haven’t re-introduced formally yet. And I’m trying to work up the mental and physical energy for more reintroductions.

When we hit the road again, leaving Florida, I may decide to try another reintroduction. I know I need to do more. I’d like to limit my cheats more this year. But food freedom is tough to navigate, especially when I still feel pretty great overall. I’ve gotten new meds for suspected Sjogren’s from my rheumatologist, but I haven’t started them yet. I’m told they’ll make me sweat. We shall see.

In better news, I’ve been doing well with maintaining my cardio and my weights haven’t been to shabby. I’ve also been doing an excellent job of eating organ meat at least a few times a week. (Publix is a wonderful source, and organ meat is so cheap!) So I have lots to be proud of. I’m hoping to integrate more meditation this year as well, and I’ve set some ambitious work goals I hope to achieve.

Did you set any resolutions this year? It isn’t too late! I’d love to hear what you’re doing to improve your health.

Pondering Next Steps in Health

When in early 2016 I began a daily exercise practice, I wasn’t sure how long I could stick with it and I certainly didn’t anticipate I would be writing a health blog six months later. Nevertheless, I’ve now known for more than a year that I wanted to find a way – or ways – to help people to be their healthiest selves. 

At first I considered becoming a personal trainer or getting certification to teach a style or brand of exercise that I loved. I still would love to do that someday, but after a lot of research I decided that wasn’t currently the best use of my money and time. Given my work following the auto-immune protocol, I started this blog to document my health journey as well as the progress I made even earlier through exercise and a mindful approach to my health. I’ve considered becoming a health coach someday as well. But currently, I’m at a bit of a crossroads. 

In my life, I love to do a variety of things. I’m self-employed with a variety of work. I love the arts, food, the environment and improving the lives of the people I care about. I love to write and edit and to help people get organized. And I would love to make more money doing these things. 

So how do you monetize a health blog where your focus is on making common sense choices, developing habits and on learning to know your body? Besides gaining a following and having advertisements, it seems like my best path would be to create a “system” with resources for people to follow or a book to read. And I’m not there yet, and I’m not currently sure if/when I’d be the best person to do that. 

So one of the choices I’ve been considering for many months is to become affiliated with a health company and market their products. M2M companies aren’t my favorite thing, but it would give me a clear path to income IF they had products I could stand behind. I’ve been courted by at least four companies in the last year, and I’m leaning toward one of them, because I can see a clear path where I can test some of their products on my diet and because although they offer a “shake”, their overall approach to fitness can be made to align (perfectly, I think) with mine. 

But I wonder how I will be judged if I make this leap. I know people have enjoyed reading about my health journey, and I will continue to share it. I would just have additional offerings for those who are interested. And maybe I could find a way to “coach” people who don’t need the products too, if they cared to listen? 

I’d love your thoughts. This had been on my mind for months and I’m trying to decide if I’m ready to make the leap! 

(Pictured below are some recent meals in my life!)

Cheating and Erin McKenna’s Bakery 

One of the things I continue to struggle with in my journey to health is the feeling of being torn between strictly following the AIP (auto-immune protocol), which overall has me feeling MUCH healthier than I used to, and the desire to be “normal” and indulge in a treat or a meal out. When you have food allergies and restrictions, any time you don’t prepare the meal yourself there is a risk of cross-contamination or mistakes…and if you add in ingredients that aren’t on your diet technically – AKA a “cheat” in my world – the risk to your health continues to increase further. Of course the flip side of the coin is that every time you stress out about having to obsessively plan and pack your meals, or have to turn down a tasty homemade treat or meal, your stress level, at least if you’re me, goes up. That affects your health negatively. It’s hard to feel satisfied with eating at home 100% of the time, especially when food is such a social thing in our culture. 

So I’ve been navigating this a lot lately. And my response varies day to day, frankly. Although I was initially 100% strictly following my diet, I enjoy allowing myself a little leniency now and then. I can afford to do this in a smart way, and your mileage will vary. The key is to keep a food journal, limit cheats so that you can track exactly what effect they have on your body, and exhibit self-control. I also recommend you try to keep cheats out of the house whenever possible. I have yet to purchase gluten-free bread for the house, for example, but I’ve had a cookie or pancake outside the house with no reaction. That way I’m not cheating daily and can keep there overall integrity of my diet. 

My husband and I are extremely lucky to be new Florida residents (and full-time travelers) which allows us to have inexpensive Disney World passes. These passes do have blackout dates, so occasionally we get our Disney fix at Disney Springs, a shopping and recreation center with free parking near the parks. 

Yesterday we stumbled on a bakery that opened recently, and I seriously thought I must be dreaming. Erin McKenna’s Bakery is from NYC but now had a beautiful, small Orlando location. The sign outside said their food is dairy free, egg free, soy free, gluten free and certified kosher! It’s vegan too. Plus, the only “nut” they use is coconut!!! For me, that means this is the most “on plan” bakery I can imagine. 

Although some of these treats probably have seeds (a low level reintro for me that I haven’t completed yet), and they have more sugar than I need of course, otherwise I’m unlikely to be cheating at all. So of course I had to stop in with my husband. 

Their menu is almost entirely sweet treats. They do carry soft serve ice cream (I didn’t ask what it’s made of) and they have a few flavors of bagels. But the reason to go here is for the goodies, as far as I can tell. Their offerings included tea cakes, cupcakes, cupcake tops, frosting shots, at least six kinds of donuts, cookie cake, brownie treats and bites, and much more. 

I limited myself (and my husband, who agreed to help) to three treats. Amazingly they accepted our annual pass for a discount, so I paid less than $9 with tax. I went with a cookies and cream donut, a vanilla sprinkles donut (can you tell I’ve been obsessively craving donuts?) and a blondie cupcake with raspberry icing and jam and cookie crumbles. Everything was seriously amazing. The donuts are cakey but very moist throughout, and the frosting on the cupcake top was almost fudge-like. The donuts also weren’t super-sweet which I really appreciated. Also, Mark Bittman at the New York Times has declared these the best donuts anywhere!

My husband, who basically eats anything, agreed he’d happily go back here for a treat, especially a cupcake or cupcake top. This is my new favorite donut place and I can’t wait to try their other flavors!

I can’t recommend them more highly. Find them in NYC, Los Angeles or the next time you’re in Orlando. Or if you’re in the U.S., order a treat online! 

How do you navigate cheats in your meal plans? I’ll be exploring this more in upcoming posts. For me, gluten is a never again, but everything is a conversation right now. 

Thanks for reading!

Baking Fail? 

Sometimes, you crave a treat and can’t move past it. For me, I can usually ignore cravings and they go away – in fact, they’re rare nowadays – but persistent ones sometimes demand a response. In this case, I’ve been staying for two weeks with a family whose son makes apple pies every few days. In fact, I woke up to a fresh one in the oven two mornings ago. So while I’m not a big pie person, I love baked apples, and I started to obsess over a similar treat since I had a bag of almost untouched apples to use up. 

After much debate, I settled on these apple pie bars with a shortbread crust. I love shortbread and our crust isn’t really my thing. I subbed arrowroot for tapioca and skipped coconut manna and used a touch of cane sugar instead of a 1/4 cup coconut sugar as I had none of the latter on hand. 

My first sign something was amiss was the crust didn’t brown. I think I cooked it almost 3 times as long as it called for. So I accepted this was going to be a little unique. Frustrating as I made no crust substitutions!

Step two, the apples, was straightforward. I figured it’s hard to mess that up. 

Step three was a bit of an experiment. It seemed okay going in, but in practice, it didn’t brown. So after waiting longer I accepted defeat and put the bars in the fridge to harden. 

So how are they? They’re fun. I like them okay cold and hot. Would be nice with coconut whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. And they’re a nice treat as is too, a little crumbly but good.

Honestly, they’re not my favorite. I’m not sure if I will make them again. But they meet my craving very well. 

For the record, they’re AIP – auto-immune protocol – so good for those needing egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, vegan, etc.  

What do you consider a baking “fail”? If it’s edible, are you still happy?

Committing to Your Health

It’s been too long since my last post. December was extremely busy for me, between preparing for my theater company’s performance, preparing to eat without a car and mainly in a hotel room during my performance week and traveling. January was quick on its heels of course, and I’ve been hard at work on my resolution to get back into regular meal planning. 

I really was in a groove this summer – mainly out of necessity. I generally had to eat both lunch and dinner on the go, so I carried a cooler and got creative, even planning the themes of my meals to match what I’d be facing as I attended a company dinner at the theater company I was employed at. Turning down sugar and delicious free food was much easier when I had amazing meals on hand for myself. 

Somehow, in the last couple of months, I had gotten into a rut. I knew what foods were easy to travel with and I seemed to just stick with them. But one of the perils of eating a limited diet is that if you eat it too much, you can actually become intolerant to the food. So partly out of fear and partly out of boredom, I have vowed to change things up this year. 

I’m happy to say I’m doing much better with variety. I’ve been trying new starches – plantains are AMAZING and really cheap in the southern United States, and my husband is a pro at cooking them. I’ve also dabbled with white sweet potato (it was fun as a baked potato, if a little too sweet, so I will be trying baked goods next). I’ve had cabbage, acorn squash and spaghetti squash within the last month, and I made my favorite, Nomato sauce, to enjoy with spaghetti squash and ground beef. Oh, and how could I forget – I made liver. Beef liver. And I ate it! I’ve also made sure to eat a variety of greens instead of just my go-to, spinach. Ross even fried up some okra for us! Of all of my culinary adventures, my favorite has been making “pizza”! I used a plantain pizza crust, zucchini cheese (another first for me), Nomato sauce and topped it with bacon and black olives. Although it wasn’t quite like pizza, it was incredibly satisfying and surprisingly filling too. We all get into ruts with our health. Whether your exercise routine needs a shake up (mine is going great, with daily walks and weight training) or your meal plans need a few new recipes, making a commitment to yourself and your health is a fantastic way to improve your health and your outlook on life. 

Best of luck to you on your own journeys. And let me know if you have a resolution for this year! 

Dairy-Free Ice Cream on the AIP

Following the auto-immune protocol is challenging, but particularly when you love ice cream as much as I do! I have been enjoying commercially-made coconut milk ice cream in moderation, but I know it has a few ingredients, like guar gum, that I really should be avoiding. The only way to get ice cream without it is to make it myself or visit one of the very few ice cream makers who avoid it. 

So I recently experimented. I’ve been craving caramel and I had extra cacao chips leftover from the cookies, so those things shaped what I made. I ended up bouncing between a couple of recipes for the ice cream, and I mixed it by hand instead of using an ice cream maker to see if this was doable on the road in an RV!

Here’s one of the recipes I used from A Squirrel in the Kitchen. It’s basically coconut milk, vanilla (not strictly AIP but I have been able to tolerate it, and there are other options too) and maple syrup. I added the cacao chips. I combined that recipe with this one from The Tasty Alternative, which made me think I could avoid heating the ingredients and simply blend, add chips and freeze. I then followed her recipe for “caramel” sauce exactly, using honey and skipping the optional cashew butter since I haven’t reintroduced that. Once the mixture went into the freezer, I stirred it by hand, taking care to scrape the sides, every 20-25 minutes until it was at a suitable ice cream consistency a few hours later. I used a small Tupperware for storing it, so you can really make anything work. I highly recommend trying this. It’s really tasty, pretty easy and skips all of the nasty stuff added to most commercial ice cream. The caramel sauce is amazing (my husband was pretty jealous) and could easily be used for other recipes too. Moderation is key – be sure to use a small bowl so you can really enjoy it! Once I exhaust my supply of store-bought coconut milk ice cream I hope to switch to homemade generally in the future. And if you aren’t strictly AIP and love ice cream, check out my ice cream blog for clues on the best sources of delicious ice cream! 

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week. I’m proud to say I’ve been doing a great job with weight training every other day. I hope you’re persisting in making the time to exercise too!

My First AIP Thanksgiving Adventure

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who have recently celebrated (or who are celebrating late). I’m thankful for my health, my friends and family, and for my body and mind that allow me to creatively find work as a self-employed creative person. 

Since this year’s Thanksgiving would be my first following the auto-immune protocol, it was very important to me to keep it as traditional as possible. I wanted the normalcy of turkey/chicken, stuffing and cranberry sauce. I wanted pie. And I wanted lots of leftovers to enjoy after the fact. 

In addition to needing to design an AIP Thanksgiving menu, I thought I would need to prepare it all in our RV. But as it turned out, a friend offered us his driveway and the use of his kitchen to prepare my menu and share it with a few friends. This proved to be the best of both worlds. 

My friend prepared a few dishes. He modified his usual turkey recipe a bit for me – he used olive oil instead of butter and watched the spices. He cooked it on his big green egg charcoal grill and it was probably the best turkey I’ve ever had! He did use a little bit of sugar and a little bit of wine, but since it was such a small amount I knew I would be okay with moderation. 

He also prepared brussel sprouts in a fun way (with lime juice) and gravy, which I told him he could prepare however he wanted since I don’t like gravy! And he put the sweet potatoes I’d washed and put in aluminum foil on the coals after the turkey was ready – they were perfect, caramelizing and delicious, no additions needed. 

I had bought a couple of cans of organic cranberry sauce. I know I could have made my own, probably without any added sugars that weren’t natural, but since my traditional Thanksgiving always had the stuff from a can, we went with that. And it was awesome of course. (And easy.) Again, moderation is key here with the sugar content. 

My biggest challenge was executing the stuffing, or dressing as some people call it. There are a million stuffing recipes out there, but the one I crave is the Stouffer’s bread crumb stuffing right out of the box. Box stuffing is all I have ever had and it’s amazing so that’s basically what I wanted. 

But “gluten-free” commercial box stuffings have tons of additives and brown rice flour, which I haven’t reintroduced yet. And if I was going to eat this for many days afterward I didn’t want to get sick. 

So I shopped around for recipes. Most AIP stuffings don’t bother making bread for crumbs. They use a meat or a mushroom base – way easier – or maybe plantains to get something of the right texture. But I wanted my bread. 

In the end, I ended up buying a cookbook, called the Allergy-Free Holiday Table, just to have a recipe that looked like “my” stuffing. Even then I had to leave out the meat and modify the broth, but it seemed to be the way to go. First you make Buttermilk Biscuits. Then you crumble them and combine them with spices, celery, onion and more to make the stuffing. I tripled both recipes to make sure there would be plenty of leftovers. (AIP recipes don’t tend to feed a crowd.) 

Sadly, my Buttermilk biscuits didn’t rise properly. Maybe they needed more apple cider vinegar?  

But I crumbled as best I could and hoped for the best. It was chewy rather than crumbly, but it totally did the job and has supplied me with leftovers for days! I used tapioca flour and arrowroot flour. 

I knew another guest was bringing dessert, so I made only two – apple crisp and key lime pie. But I made an extra key lime for me!

Apple crisp is one of the first desserts I ever made from scratch. Because I can’t have oats, the topping is basically a taste of coconut heaven – coconut flakes, coconut oil and coconut butter with coconut sugar where you’d expect brown sugar. I also had to skip the nutmeg. It’s very tasty and not too unhealthy either! My critics said it was very good – they suggested using the coconut whipped topping I made for the pie on this too, and they enjoyed the Granny Smith apples which make sure the recipe has tang rather than too much sweetness. 

My final goal was to recreate, as best I could, the key lime pie my grandmother used to make. She insisted it had to be key lime juice from Florida and there was no way lime juice could substitute. However, she would use graham cracker crust, pre-bought, and I think she even used Cool Whip on top. So I wasn’t sure how well I could do following AIP. (For what it’s worth, I have found it almost isn’t worth ordering this at a restaurant. It’s almost never as good as my grandmother’s because the key lime filling isn’t quite right.) 

I debated between a few recipes, but eventually I settled on this one from Forest and Fauna. It had three steps. First, you make a crust, using mostly coconut flakes and honey. It’s insanely good even if it’s hard to get it to shape into the perfect crust – no one minded though.  

Secondly, the filling. It calls for about three avocados per pie. Weird as this may seem, ripe avocado has almost no flavor and a perfect texture to be a vehicle for key lime juice. The filling is perfect, insanely tasty and the perfect consistency after you freeze it. Have I mentioned egg-free, dairy-free, grain-free means almost anyone can eat this deliciousness? 

I did the final step right before serving dessert. I used a recipe from my new cookbook for the whipped cream since Forest and Fauna’s website wasn’t working right. (The recipes were almost identical.) I went with maple syrup as the sweetener to pair with the cream from coconut milk. My husband got his arm workout in and we were rewarded with delicious whipped cream that the guests raved about. 

Everyone went nuts about this pie. Even those who don’t normally like key limes and those who weren’t planning to eat dessert. It’s that good. And I managed to fit the second one in my freezer for later! 

Suffice to say, I’m super-happy with how it turned out. The stuffing was just okay (though with an awesome kick) but if I’m enjoying the leftovers on day 3 I must have done all right! And everything else I’m just thrilled with. 

I’m so thankful there are great AIP recipes out there to be found. Thanks for reading – and do what my grandmother would and make a key lime pie this Christmas! It’s my favorite. 

Comfort in Cookies (and Fast Food, Too!)

As you probably noticed in my last post, I got kind of depressed when my egg yolk reintroduction wasn’t successful. One of the major reasons I was depressed is that eggs are so standard in baking. This meant that I’d always have to be careful with baked goods and at the minimum observe extra moderation with them.

So what do you do when you’re feeling blue? Whether it’s election blues or egg yolk blues? You bake, of course!

Early in my AIP adventures, I was missing chocolate. One of the easiest chocolate substitutions is cacao, although it doesn’t agree with everyone. In my enthusiasm at learning it’s on the protocol, I bought cacao powder and chips. Unfortunately I later learned there are a few ingredients that make the chips non-compliant, so I should have made my own, but since I had them on hand, I decided to indulge a little in this case. As I worked on healing and mourning the loss of eggs, I got to work tracking down ingredients for this recipe.

Flame to Fork is where I found this recipe for AIP, Chewy “Chocolate” Chip Cookies. I substituted arrowroot powder for tapioca powder, since it’s what I had on hand, and I think it made them a little extra dense and more akin to a chocolate peanut butter cookie if that sounds good to you.

First you mix a bunch of stuff. I found it a tad crumbly so increasing the liquids slightly might have helped. And I tripled the recipe since we’re staying with friends and I wanted lots of cookies!

Next you roll them into balls. This took way more time than regular cookie dough. But they will do the job, particularly if you follow the instructions and let them set a bit before you remove or eat them.

These took a while to cook. It can be hard to tell they’re done because they don’t burn as obviously as traditional cookies. So err on the side of less time if you’re unsure. After all, there aren’t any eggs, so you can even eat this as cookie dough without fear!

I’m crazy about these cookies. So is my husband. If I had controlled myself and not eaten 6-8 in a day, I think I would have been fine with the store-bought chips, but next time my digestion will thank me when I make them myself. And if my husband has his way, I will be making them a lot!

If you have trouble finding the ingredients, check Amazon. Depending on the area I’m in, I’ve found most of these ingredients at Walmart or local grocery stores and just about everything at a local food cooperative.

One final note: a quick fast-food story. We just spent a couple of days in Minneapolis and of course visited the Mall of America while we were there. I was prepared with meat and fruit bars, but I was hoping for some fast food I could eat without paying for a sit down meal. A quick search hadn’t turned up anything, but finally I thought to ask Piada Italian Street Food what oil they use on their grill. When they showed me the bottle of olive oil I got so excited!

I had a fantastic salmon salad – they let me substitute things I could eat (olives, cucumbers, artichokes) for things I couldn’t and talked me through every ingredient. Amazing service, amazing meal and I can’t recommend them more highly for a healthy and delicious fast casual experience! Look for them in a city near you in Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota or Kentucky.

Thanks for reading, and stay strong! We are so much more than the food we eat but it sure does influence how we feel.