Flippin’ the Kitchen

Last Wednesday, I found myself very lost. Wandering aimlessly through row after row after row in the brightly lit space, I was unable to communicate or comprehend the overwhelming confusion that clouded my brain. Searching up and down the towering stacks, I would reach out to touch something only to recoil in the unfamiliarity of it. At one point, a kind soul approached me to ask if I needed help, which I must have – quite obviously – looked as if I did. I jumped and swung around, stuttering and feeling inept in my apology. “I’m sorry, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.” I could see the startled strangeness in his eyes as he wracked his brain for what must be going on with this unsettled girl. Upon my blank-expressioned explanation and gesturing at the paper in my hand, however, his eyes softened and he said, “Let me help you.” But after the brief interaction, he abandoned me, leaving me again alone and adrift in the vast emptiness of the… whole foods market.

I had just learned I am dairy and wheat intolerant. And apparently, I had lost my ability to navigate every day activities and common social situations along with a lifetime of cheese and carbs. And milk. And ice cream. And spontaneity. And indulgence. And BEER.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had issues with my stomach. Growing up, I would find myself laid out on the couch every night at 7 p.m. like clockwork. Since then, not a day has gone by without some incidence of a stomachache in varying magnitudes. Toward the end of college, all through grad school, and the year I took off between, I started feeling progressively worse, adding symptom after symptom to the long list of problems I was seeing in my health and wellness. At least once a week, I would have such an ache in my stomach that I could barely stand up straight, and just as in my elementary years, I would find myself laid out on the couch, the bed, the stairs, any flat surface in close proximity on which I could curl up in a ball and pout. Beyond that, I was always tired. And freezing cold. I had sinus infections and facial tension and a clenched jaw more than frequently. I would unexpectedly get waves of nausea. (No, I’m NOT pregnant!) Calf, shin, ankle and foot cramps would wake me up most nights or cause me to bolt off the couch to “walk it off” during movies. And beyond a variety of persistent skin concerns, my once beautiful, complement-inspiring hair has become dry and brittle with the ends constantly split and breaking off easily between my fingers.

Recently, a few of my loved ones informed me that not everyone lives this way.

Oh.

So begins the journey to figuring out what the heck is going on with my renegade body. With fantastic benefits from my new job, this epiphany could not have come at a more opportune and grateful time. At first, thinking it was purely stress, I practiced yoga, relaxation, and meditation regularly and found a great therapist close to home. She happened to rent her space from a sort-of natural healing and integrative medicine community consisting of a birthing center, a registered dietician, a chiropractor, and more. Also among their ranks was an acupuncturist/integrative health specialist, who I decided to give a try. She was also insanely fantastic, with great suggestions on adding and subtracting food from my daily diet along with sticking needles all over the place.  (More on this later!) And while my anxiety started to subside and my jaw unclenched noticeably, I was still feeling many of my other symptoms. That’s when my mom informed me that both she and my maternal grandmother have hypothyroidism, which can be inherited genetically and the symptoms of which matched up perfectly with many of those of which I was complaining. Hours and hours of calling offices around the county finally turned fruitful with an appointment with a physician’s assistant, who drew up the paperwork for a blood test. In his office again a week later for the test interpretation, nothing abnormal turned up except for a slightly lower that ideal white blood cell count. He assured me there was nothing to worry about. Thankful for the news but frustrated in a continued lack of a solution, I decided to call the husband and wife team of Longevity Healthcare with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Newport Beach to see what they could offer. Their operation sounded like just what I needed, with his M.D. degree and her PhD in Holistic Nutrition. I waited a month to see them, but it was well-worth the wait. Upon arrival, the first 15 minutes were spent with Dr. Peter Muran, who took one look at my concerns and my blood test results and informed me I may indeed have a thyroid problem and more tests needed to be completed. The next hour and a half were spent in an appointment with Sandy, which soon became a whirlwind of information that left me light-headed and dizzy. Finally, two hours later, I emerged from their office – stacks of reading materials, extensive supplement lists, and protein powder samples in hand. 

There it was, ladies and gentlemen. Wheat and dairy were the culprits all along. But let’s not stop there. I need more protein and magnesium, am currently incapable of making my own B-vitamins, and have a candida overgrowth in my stomach. I had been looking for a zebra when the herd of horses was the problem. No wonder I felt like shit.

Fast forward one 20-minute in driver’s seat conversation – during which I fell even more in love with Bill with his outpouring of husbandly support – and you will again find me where our story began roaming the aisles of New Frontiers, our massive local whole foods marketplace. I have been there a hundred times in the past for their salad bar and smoothies, but this time was different. With a wealth of products I’ve never seen before, labels I don’t yet understand, and astronomical prices, I became easily overwhelmed at the life overhaul which I am about to implement.

Needless to say, the last week has had its ups and downs. After the $94 New Frontiers escapade, I floated over to Target to find great gluten-and dairy-free options for MUCH cheaper. One disheartened metaphoric “d’oh” later, I was happy to find that something I love – but had not purchased at a much higher price point – was not only cheaper but also on sale at Target, and I loaded up on enough Amy’s frozen entrees and EVOL burritos to get me through more than a week of work. Now I know that this is not necessarily the best way to go, what with sodium counts being under intense scrutiny lately, but I knew that what’s up ahead is more than just a “Can Eat/Can’t Eat” challenge. It is a lifestyle change. Not only do I need to relearn what is available to me and read nearly every nutrition label and ingredient list along the way, but I also need to find more time to plan for meals, prep food, and actually cook. We all know how difficult that can be with full-time jobs, gym memberships, households to upkeep, and most importantly, relationships to maintain. Beyond that, my milk guzzling, PB&J scarfing husband and I are going to have to keep many of our foods separate. I don’t want him to have to change his eating habits just for me, but now I also need to learn how to make things we both can enjoy. All of this adds together up to an overwhelming mess of intimidation, of which I am simultaneously feeling excited for the challenge and terrified of the effort involved.

The following days have been interesting, and I’m learning new coping strategies as I go.  Thursday was awesome. I ate lunch with my vegetarian friend Courtney at a local vegan restaurant, Bliss Cafe, which made for easy choices on my new diet. With the kitchen at home not adequately stocked with supplies, I gave myself a break and ordered two meals, which served as dinner that night and two more meals over the weekend. Friday, however, was a challenge. Still not feeling awesome from the two-week flu incident preceding the ordeal, I decided to follow my sleep-in pre-work schedule upon waking. Too bad I ended up late for work because I couldn’t figure out what the hell to eat for breakfast. Next up, mid-morning a plate of my favorite favorite gluten-free cookies from campus catering showed up in the front office at work, and it took me two bites to realize that the chocolate chips in their peanut-buttery goodness most likely had some form of milk product in them. My stomach soon agreed, and I threw a perfectly beautiful cookie straight into the trash. Then, as part of an initiative to bring our staff together socially, we had our first monthly lunch planned. At a Mexican restaurant. Full of cheese and flour and who knows what else. Thank goodness I brought my vegan leftovers, because I just sat there and sipped water while all my coworkers splurged on gorgeous enchiladas. By the time I got back to my leftovers, the lunch hour was over and my attention was pulled every which way, leaving no continuous period for much needed sustenance. The tipping point was that afternoon when I realized that I can’t have my dad’s waffles, my stepmom’s french toast, my mom’s quiche, or my family’s Christmas cookies anymore. (People seem to jump at the chance to point out that there are many ways to make these with all the options out on the market today, but they completely miss the point that it’s the recipes from my childhood that make these things so special to me and changing the ingredients completely nullifies that concept.) My anxiety was riding high by the time I got in the car to go home at the end of my tumultuous Friday, and then I realized that Bill and I had planned a rare Friday date night at Que Pasa… with more Mexican food. I collapsed in a sobbing pile in his arms upon arriving home. Once I quit crying, I realized I had given myself a stomachache, but this time from anxiety.

The weekend went more smoothly once I had time to really sit and think through everything. My beautiful friend Danae sent me home from our yard sale with her husband’s homemade quinoa salad (which by the way, is AMAZING… They’re the owners of Old San Luis BBQ Co. in Downtown SLO, and you MUST GO). I found Trader Joe’s Gluten Free and Vegan Lists online, which after the complicating cross-checking that someone with both allergies needs to do, made my shopping trip much more enjoyable. And lastly, this girl made me feel much less alone. Even though my big plans this weekend were a Wine-and-Cheese Party turned Just-A-Wine Party for me, followed by a dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town where I starved through the 90-minute long bread and butter and caeser salad extravaganza my friends enjoyed before something I could eat finally landed in front of my face, I’m slowly getting more and more confident in this new chapter.

The refrigerator has been divided.

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I’ve begun domination of New Frontiers, Vons, Trader Joe’s and the Target food section.

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I’m getting the hang of this “bring your smoothie in a mason jar” thing.

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New cookbooks have been added to the Amazon Wishlist. Pinterest has been raided. All is slowly becoming right in the world, and I’m already seeing a few results.

What it all comes down to is that this will be one hell of a journey, but I know I’ll come out healthier, happier, and stomach-ache free on the other side. I have found I have a lot of support, and it’s not hard to remember that there are worse problems to have. Bill and I have even set a date in the future to celebrate new behaviors becoming habits, and I’m planning to “graduate” to my new lifestyle at that time. Until then, I ask that my family and friends please ask questions and be patient with me, because I’m still learning too (and currently have very little idea of what I’m doing). So here’s to a new crop of treats and luxuries! Because as Rae Smith said…

Never Be Afraid To Fall Apart

{Beautiful artwork by Shannon of the blog The Shannonicle found via Pinterest}

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Another Newlywed First

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

And what an interesting one it has been so far. Bill and I are apart today – he is at work and I am in San Francisco for the weekend of a lifetime at the Wisdom 2.0 conference (!!!). I have been pretty sick with the weirdest flu all week, so that’s been fun. We decided to celebrate last night with a three-course meal at the local OG (Olive Garden, of course), after which I showered, packed, popped some NyQuil and proceeded to pass out. We also decided not to do presents this year. Despite all that, today is still a special day. It’s out first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife!

Two thoughts on that:

1) It’s really strange to find yourself in the “Husband” section of the Valentine’s cards, and even stranger to find that it doesn’t feel that strange.

2) I’ve decided that having Bill as my Valentine for all the Valentine’s Days to come for the rest of forever is, in fact, a great thing.

So dear world, I would like your forgiveness in the sappiness that is about to occur:

I love you Billy, and I couldn’t imagine another Valentine’s Day without you.

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Figuratively, of course.

❤️

Scavenchiladas!

Have you seen that new Taco Bell commercial featuring Kevin Love for the XXL Steak Nachos? The gist of the commercial is that the nachos are normal-sized for 7’6″ Minnesota Timberwolves player Kevin Love, making them outrageously huge and beyond enormous for the rest of us.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

Yeah, that’s kind of what trying to feed Bill is akin to. The other day I watched him eat two turkey burgers for lunch in less than ten minutes. I bought him a large box of Raisin Bran Crunch on Saturday night, and it was gone by Monday night at around the same time. There were ten servings in that box.

With that said, planning a wedding was incredibly fun, but we often hear about the need to plan for a marriage. Now, this means a lot of things, including some very serious ones. But in the name of all that is holy matrimony, one of the things I was entirely unprepared for when tying the knot was the amount of time, effort, and money it takes to feed someone who is a) male and b) 6’7″. Bill is both of these things, bless his abnormally large heart.

All of these things add up to a lot of income-generating, grocery-shopping, and food-preparing work to fill his stomach. So when the universe drops a miracle in your lap in the form of pounds and pounds of leftovers from a taco bar at a work event, you grab it. When this happened the other day, I felt embarrassed about my urgency to pack up as much as I could for about 7.2 seconds, and then I didn’t anymore. I soon learned that the catering company would just trash it when they got back to their operating headquarters. The first thing that struck me was how sad that all that food would go to waste, as the event could easily have served another 15-20 people. The second thing was that this could potentially feed Bill for multiple meals. MULTIPLE MEALS! Scrounging around the office for any type of food-transporting materials turned up absolutely nothing. Since there was no way I was going to let this opportunity slip out of my hands, I actually mustered up the audacity to ask the catering staff to wait for me while I literally sprinted across campus to the university market and returned with a box of gallon-sized Glad bags and a few extra to-go containers meant for soup but perfect for salsa, guac, and black beans. Fast forward to the end of the workday, and if you had seen me lugging the tote bag I used to pack my hoarded treasure to the car, you would have absolutely zero doubt that I had taken not an ounce less than the max I could possibly carry. No shame, and SO not sorry.

That night, a Wednesday, Bill ate three burritos when I got home. On Thursday, he and one of his basketball buddies put away another huge portion after a couple (plus or minus a few more) beers. Friday, lunch was again provided. By Saturday, however, I knew that the Big Man would soon tire of the same meal, no matter how much he loves Mexican food. I needed to get creative. Determined to use what we had in the house, I threw together what ultimately became a hit according to Halter standards, and my Scavenchiladas were born.

What I found tearing through every food-storage area in my kitchen was a mix of things I always have on-hand (canola oil, olive oil, a clove of garlic), leftovers from my small Super Bowl get-together the weekend prior (half an onion, some shredded Mexican cheese, a handful of sliced olives, cilantro, light sour cream), some freebies from a food company who came to a career fair last year and gave our office the leftovers they didn’t want to ship back (a can each of tomato paste and crushed tomatoes with pesto), and of course, the gift from taco bar heaven I had scored earlier in the week (corn and flour tortillas, leftover salsa, shredded chicken, black beans, and salvagable-but-slightly-browning guacamole).

Now, I used to be so Type A that baking was more my thing – you know, the precision, the neatness, the following of strict rules. Things easily go wrong when baking when you don’t go by the book, and I am good at going by the book. However, I have always been secretly jealous of anyone who could just go through the kitchen and make something out of nothing, or so I thought. In fact, this jealousy flourished as numerous roommates with such a gift rotated through my house during college. (Amanda, Katie, Kaitlin, and Emily, I’m talking to you.) As we tend to do when we feel entirely inadequate at something, I had relied  on self-deprecating tendencies the last few years when it came to cooking, but I’ve had just about enough of that, let me tell you. I was determined to make a Mexican food masterpiece out of my misfit ingredients. Now with that in mind, I’m going to tell you what I did, and then I want you to throw out anything that does not apply to you and add anything you damn well please.

Scavenchiladas

Serves… however many can get their hands in before Bill destroys it.

(Adapted from this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • Canola oil
  • As many corn + flour tortillas as you can find (about 12 in my case)
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of salsa
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Fully cooked shredded chicken
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 package light shredded Mexican cheese
  • A few cilantro leaves
  • Light sour cream
  • Guacamole
  • Whatever you have in your kitchen that sounds like it has any potential whatsoever to go in enchiladas

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What To Do:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Coat a large pan over medium-high heat with canola oil. Add a single layer of tortillas to the pan. Cook for a few seconds or until very slightly browned to reduce the chance of crumbling the corn tortillas upon rolling. (Flour tortillas will be more flexible.). Using a spatula, lift up the first tortilla, stack on it the second, then lift both to add another layer of new tortillas underneath. Cook for a few seconds, stack and lift again, and add another layer underneath. Repeat the process until all tortillas are heated, adding a bit more oil if needed. You can place the tortillas one by one on a paper towel to remove any excess oil (read: calories and fat), or don’t and have even yummier enchiladas.

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3. In a large saucepan, sauté the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until tender and the kitchen smells amazing, then turn off the heat. Add 1 cup of salsa.

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4. Using a spoon, drop 3 tbsp of tomato paste into 1 cup of water until dissolved, or if you get impatient like I did, stir until the everything mixes together. Add the tomato paste water to pan. Finally, add 1 cup of crushed canned tomatoes, and stir to combine.

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5. Coat the bottom of a large glass casserole pan with some olive oil. (If you don’t have enough ingredients to fill a large pan, use a smaller one!) Lay a tortilla flat on a separate plate, sprinkle it lightly (or not so lightly) with cheese, followed by shredded chicken and a small scoop of black beans.

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6. Roll up the tortilla and place it in the casserole pan. Continue until all tortillas are rolled, and your pan is filled.

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7. Pour sauce to the top of the rolled tortillas, making sure all are covered.

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8. Now the fun part: cover the whole thing with the rest of the grated cheese, plus more cheese and then maybe even a little extra cheese for good measure. I mean, who doesn’t love cheese? I love cheese.

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9. Put the casserole in the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts.

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10. Garnish with cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, or whatever your perfect little heart desires, you pretty young thing.

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11. Hand to happy big man of the house. And maybe have one or two yourself.

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Big guy smiles.

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Clean plate club! Happy scavenging, everyone.

Overnight

Last night…

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…this morning.

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When normal isn’t normal, you have to celebrate the small things – like Friday nights and Saturday mornings.

Happy weekend!