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}

Weekending: San Fran Getaway

Sometimes even our most important relationships can fall to the wayside when life gets going, and daily tasks take priority over daily people. Bill and I have admittedly been having a bit of a less-than-ideal patch, what with our schedules and responsibilities and still learning and adjusting to life as a married couple. Our relationship needed a little (or a lot of) TLC, and that’s exactly what we gave it last weekend with a quick, QUICK trip to San Francisco.

In our house, there’s is absolutely no doubt that our loyalties reside with each other… and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Before I met Bill, I had tried and failed to get attached to an NBA team in the way I have devoted my allegiances with the San Francisco 49ers and the San Francisco Giants. Alas, the Kings (closest to home) had never won my heart and the Warriors had made a seriously weak attempt at inserting themselves into my periphery on a consistent basis. This meant that Bill, who has devoted his life to sports in every aspect of life from career to hobby to preferred leisure activity, seized the opportunity to gather me up and place me right smack dab in the middle of Timberwolves fandom (with a small amount of help from the adorable Spanish-transport Ricky Rubio… those eyelashes!).

So being incredibly on top of everything Minnesota and sports-related, Bill took the sweet and passionate initiative to plan a trip to San Francisco to catch the Wolves playing the Golden State Warriors. He bought the tickets, booked the hotel, communicated with two of my great friends who live in the bay, AND planned way ahead to take both a Friday and Saturday off. The latter is actually a huge deal in our house, especially after the 4-Months-Without-A-Day-Off-Together Episode of late 2013. So I blocked out my calendar for January 24th and secretly looked forward to it for about a month. Here’s how it all went down!

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Bay Area traffic is no fun, unless you use the opportunity for impromptu wife-imposed dance parties to the tune of Ke$ha’s latest album. I swear to you, I am 100% unashamed at how much I love her train-wrecked songs.

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We met up with amazing friends Ashleigh and Joey, who moved to Daly City last August, at Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen near our hotel and the Powell Street MUNI Station for pre-game snacks and libations.

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Jasper’s offered an cool and modern atmosphere, deliciously elevated pub fare such as mini sliders and pretzels served with gouda fondue, and a great list of beers on draught. Not normally one to partake in tasting flights due to bad experiences with small portions and high prices, I am officially a convert after taking a risk and discovering my new favorite beer. Run to your nearest fancy beer source (my words… I haven’t looked at BevMo! yet) and try out the AVBC Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. Worth. Every. Penny.

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Ashleigh and Ashleigh… Yes, I do have a great friend with the same name, although our heights and dance abilities to the tune of hip hop, urban street jazz, fem, grooving, and house are significantly in opposition. (She’s the dancer, in case you had any doubt. Check out her new Bay Area-based dance company here: Street Adrenaline Dance Company.)

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Next up, Timberwolves domination. Well, sort of. They squeaked by in the last ten seconds or so to pull off a final score of 121-120, finally lifting morale slightly during a horrific run of heart-breaking losses. I was much more vocal (obnoxious, maybe?) than all five of the other Minnesota fans in the entire arena and even Bill, which meant some unwelcomed taunting and cheap digs in my directions from the die-hard Warriors fans of Oakland. I did manage to make it out alive.

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Do you know what’s really fun? Seeing someone you love so much in a situation they love so much. I might even say he was in his element. Adorable.

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Saturday morning brought an early wake-up call in order to take advantage of the free breakfast found tucked away on the 5th floor of our tiny hotel. We snatched up the essentials from the breakfast closet  – no seating area and no room for all ten of the people who came in after us and decided no-they-could-not-wait-for-us-to-finish-and-leave before scrambling for instant oatmeal, generic pastries, and the worst coffee-water I’ve ever had in my life. We plodded back to our dungeon of a room (see terrible quality picture above with absolutely zero natural light) to realize that it was so small that the only reasonable place to sit was exactly where we had just slept. Breakfast in a full-size bed it was!

Disclaimer: I do not mean to throw our hotel completely under the bus, just… slightly. Yes, the room was small and the coffee was terrible, BUT it was a amazingly located practically on top of Union Square and close to the Powell Street BART Station. Plus is wasn’t as outrageously priced as everything else in the area, so if you aren’t planning to spend too much time in your hotel room, checking out Hotel Fusion could be worth it. (But the website is definitely a misrepresentation… It’s more adequate than, say, awesome in reality.)

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So since coffee is such a integral part of treating myself when on vacation, shitty hotel coffee just would not do. Yelp-ing nearby coffee shops lead to the exciting discovery of Blue Bottle Coffee Co., which with 1264 reviews yielding a solid four-star rating, I was not going to let myself miss out on. Since Bill does not enjoy coffee in the least and was feeling more or less, um, under the weather – which may or may not have had anything to do with the shenanigans from the night before – I ventured out on my own in search of not-your-average caffeine fix. However, following my maps app left me stumped. I wandered and wandered Mint Street in search of some visual indication that I was in the right place, but nothing jumped out. Disappointed, I turned back toward the way I came for the third time, and the first thing to catch my eye was the street address. And around the corner from the street address was a small group of people huddled in a doorway. And above the doorway, I saw the only marking indicating that roasted bliss was waiting for me was the small (the picture make it look huge) sign serving as their advertising. Small, unmarked, back-alley coffee shop? That had mean only one thing: local secret hidden gem.

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While waiting in line, I hurriedly gathered as much info as possible to make an educated order. What I found? Exotic (and expensive) coffees from around the world and a new technique I had never seen for brewing the perfect cup. I almost ordered an $8 cup of regular coffee just to experience the siphoning myself. However, I went with my favorite in order to compare, and when I asked what flavors they had for their nonfat lattes, the barista replied, “We don’t have flavors for our coffee,” and looked at me with a sly smile as if to say I was in for a treat.

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Well, hello beautiful. Care to walk me home?

With short pit stops at the seven-story Macy’s and the most beautiful Crate&Barrel on the planet, I made it back to the hotel to find Bill chipper and ready to head out on our next adventure. When the grizzly bear is hungry, it’s time to feed him lunch.

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But on the way to lunch, we drove past the Civic Center, which was quite obviously being used for rally purposes. Curious for a new experience, we spontaneously pulled over to listen in on the happenings of a major gathering of people who did not quite share the same opinions or values as I do.  A big city demonstration was new to a small town girl like me, and I was slightly uncomfortable but glad we stopped. I highly recommend being a silent observer in this type of situation, as you get the other perspective sans confrontation.

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After subjecting my friend Laura to a gushing rave about my new obsession of cornmeal crust pizza earlier in the week, she recommended we visit Little Star Pizza. We ended up both on Divisadero and in cornmeal-crust heaven, if one should exist.

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The vibe inside was conducive to giddy anticipation and happiness, generally.

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We ordered the deep dish, half Little Star, half Classic. This masterpiece is what ended up in front of us.

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The crust was divine. The composition, intriguing, with toppings first, then cheese, and lastly the sauce on top. This little piece is about to meet its maker.

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The verdict? Good to the very last bite. Which I ate. Clean plate club. I told Bill that this is becoming one of our “spots”, even though we live four hours away.

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Plans to meet one of my bridesmaids, Shelby, and her boyfriend Joe at Crissy Field lead to Bill’s first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Welcome to the pride and joy of Northern California, Minnesota Boy!

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A walk along the ocean brought us amazing views of the bridge…

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Up close…

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And in the distance. It was so beyond great to catch up with Shelby and Joe, and meet their new bundle of personality Charlie, that we chose to extend our afternoon together as much as we could.

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With a pitcher of sangria of course! Hanging with Shelby is always a reminder to love the simple life, with some of my best memories consisting of impromptu afternoon drinks with absolutely no agenda and no worries allowed. Our final date at Hayes & Kebab was no different, and I left content with life as it is… and slightly tipsy.

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As we packed ourselves up in the car to leave, this sweet little thing seemed to be bidding us adieu. I couldn’t help but sneak a photo, having been utterly obsessed with The Little Mermaid growing up. Max here just tugged at my heartstrings.

The four-hour dive went quickly. Both of us had to work the next day (Sunday), he with his normal anchoring schedule and myself with a speech at a career symposium. And even though we both wished the weekend wouldn’t end, would last just a little longer… I couldn’t help but feel closer to him than ever before. It’s amazing what spending time focusing on each other can do, and now I’m floating through the week with these new memories on my mind. This trip was no longer bittersweet, as they often have been in the past. It was just sweet.

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Billy, what do you say we do this again soon?

Halterween: A Tradition is Born

Here’s a piece of irony for you.

One of the things I’ve been so looking forward to in marriage – and I mean really excited about – is the establishment of new traditions. Why is that ironic? Well, I suppose it’s because the very definition of tradition (according to Dictionary.com) is “a continuing practice” or “a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting”. So basically I’ve been excited about doing the same thing over and over again for an undetermined amount of time. Coming from a generation obsessed with a constant stream of shiny new things and keeping up with the (fill in the blank here: times, trends, outrageous/materialistic/overly dramatized reality TV family that I’m secretly infatuated with… don’t hate me for my guilty pleasures), you would think traditions would be the last thing that would get me going. But maybe that is one of the reasons why I AM so fired up about new ideas becoming Halter family mainstays. Traditions offer a warm, home-y sense of security in an age where constant bombardment with pressure and expectations is commonplace. If you think about it, traditions are great conversation starters and so fun to talk about because they are always so… weird. Quirky. Ridiculous. In fact, they are often the only excuse we have to legitimize being weird, quirky, and ridiculous. I mean, seriously, how else would I get away with some of the things I wrote about in a previous post, like eating cookies for breakfast on a certain magical holiday? Traditionally, calories don’t count on Christmas morning. And you can’t argue with that – it’s FAMILY TRADITION.

It seems to me that in order for something to become tradition, it has to have happened twice. After the first time, we can intend for something to become tradition, but that’s all talk until it actually does. That is why Halloween was so highly anticipated for me this year. Last Halloween, my roommate and I co-hosted a dinner party that consisted of a small guest list, butternut squash lasagna, costumes, and lots of candy. We were over the downtown scene with the 21+ crazies shedding themselves of any and all sensibilities or societal rules (plus, getting a ride home on this particular night is a big, fat pain…), and we decided to bring the party to us. It went well, and a bar was set. Since that night, however, I have referred to it in my brain as the “First Annual”, but I’ve been unable to put my money where my mouth is until this year’s fete.

SO I’m proud to introduce to you snapshots from “The 2nd Annual Supper Bloody Supper at the Halterween Mansion”!

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First up, we took down every ounce of normality in terms of decor and created an ambiance and vibe that was sure to please. (Those apple slices you see in that picture? Caramel apply vodka jello shots. Deadly.)

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My gorgeous co-host to the left (Cher from Clueless) and some lifesaving help to the right (Mean Girls!).

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On the menu, slow-cooker vegetarian chili with optional pulled pork on the side, corn bread, and a sweet potato bar complete with all the fixin’s you could ever dream of.

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An endless spread of booze and sugar guarantee a good time.

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Next ingredient: amazing friends bringing the cheer.

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Mixing and mingling…

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The hubby as Minnesota Vikings embarrassment Josh Freeman and the pup as the penguin to my polar bear.

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New friends were made when Jim Harbaugh joined the festivities.

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And NFL coach royalty Harbaugh and Ditka put Freeman in his place.

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Again with Caramel Apples… Deliciously dangerous.

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An unplanned Arctic (and okay, OKAY, Antarctic) takeover.

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And finally, the family to make it a family tradition.

The bar has been set high, my lovelies. I’m already jazzed for the 3rd Annual Supper Bloody Supper at the Halterween Mansion, and all the “Annuals” come, in all their weird, quirky, ridiculous glory.

All You Ever Need

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Great friends, good wine, fine china, and inner peace.