Snow Day, and the best grain-free, vegan chocolate chip cookies… in the universe.

Greetings from the snow bunker, friends!  I’ve been working nonstop, so this is a nice little break to the madness.  In the heat of this frigid winter day, what more could you want than a warm chocolate cookie?  The answer: to not feel bad about eating it.  This grain free cookie is free of processed sugar and happens to also be vegan, which shocked me.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • pinch of salt
  • half to three quarters of a tea spoon of baking soda
  • teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 2-3 tablespoons agave, honey, or maple syrup
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon water or almond/ coconut milk
  • Enjoy Life dairy free soy free chocolate chips

Blend all ingredients, then add the chocolate chips.   Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.  Cookies will not look done, but check the bottoms – if they are brown, they are good to take out.  Let cool and settle for at least 5 minutes.  Cookies will stay nice and soft if you don’t want to eat them right away.  This recipe only makes about 9 cookies; so double the recipe if you’re sharing with friends!  Enjoy with a nice glass of unsweetened almond milk – DELICIOUS!

Hint:  use the same recipe with cinnamon and raisins for a nice oatmeal type cookie.

xo,

C

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Took this photo last week after making them on another cold and snowy evening.  The cookies do not need to be large to be delicious.

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Old Memories, New Traditions

While I’ve remained positive this past year about the fact that I truly feel that my life has changed for the better, Christmastime brings up a lot of emotion around food that I am experiencing for the first time.  Coming from an Italian family, Christmas means a lot of gourmet cheeses, meats, cookies, breads, cakes (hello, who doesn’t just LOVE a pannetone for Christmas morning?!)  You get my point.

Later today, my family is getting together for a tradition that has been passed down through at least four generations:  making pizza.  No, I don’t mean the pizza that you attempted to throw together and it only tasted OK.  I mean the deep-rooted Italian recipe that was passed on to my grandfather that he passed on to us.  The kind of skill that you need to even make this pizza is only genetic (ok I’m exaggerating, but not really).  

Since my grandfather passed away a few years ago, I’ve hosted a pizza-making party at least once a year.  Both my siblings have given me the biggest compliment: that I make the best pizza in the family.  With the type of bond I had with my Grandpa, you can imagine my emotional connection to the recipe, to pizza-making, and to him.  

But this year is different.  This year, I won’t be enjoying eating the pizza with my family.  I won’t be tasting my childhood and the memories that came with it, like when my Grandpa would have me make “mini pizza” when I was 8 years old.  This realization caused me, a grown woman, to break down crying in our local Target parking lot yesterday.  I felt like my connection to Grandpa would be severed, my pizza-making skills wasted.  During this breakdown, my husband, who has continuously picked me off the floor on numerous occasions this past year, reminded me that I would make a NEW version of our family recipe.  This version wouldn’t have gluten and the oh so fresh mozzarella, but instead would be a new tradition that would keep me close to Grandpa.  Who says that my pizza can’t be delicious?  Grandpa taught me everything I know about cooking, about being Italian, about how to make something taste delicious.  It’s going to be a challenge, but Rich reminded me that if Grampy were here, he would work very, very hard to make my pizza the most delicious thing on earth.  And that it was my turn to carry the torch.

So I leave you, my fellow food allergenino or allegenista, with this thought:  if you had a bad day today, because it’s Christmas and you miss your old food and traditions, you are not alone.  You’re also not sick, either.  We can do this.  Today, I will need my Grandpa with me, and I know he would be proud of me and what I am about to attempt.  

On that note, Merry Christmas to all – I hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year.

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Grampy in his element.  I was likely right next to him here, learning everything I would need to know.

pizza

Here are the typical ingredients and finished product.  This year, my pizza will look much different.  Thankful to have Rich and my family by my side to help make me feel better.

 

An Unlikely Anniversary

This week marks exactly one year since my food intolerances made themselves known.  Although I had dealt with chronic health issues like pancreatitis and stomach pains, the overwhelming discoloration in my skin, the ridiculously abnormal swelling and the fatigue shattered my ability to live a normal life.  I remember the uncertainty, the anxiety, the countless doctors that rejected my hypothesis of food issues.  I remember feeling hopeless, I remember not being able to think clearly through the brain fog.  At the time, I had no idea my life was about to change forever and the struggle that was still coming.  

Fast forward one year: I feel good, I feel happy, I feel clear.  I feel confident about my weight, and the pain has subsided in my joints.  Today I reflect on the challenges that I have faced and will continue to face for the rest of my life.  Those who have made life changes concerning food have heard this one before: “I would just DIE if I couldn’t have cheese!”  

No… you wouldn’t.  You’d be awesome.  And healthy.  And most importantly, you would not be alone.

Lending Others a Helping Hand

The knowledge I have gained in one year is probably equivalent to one’s entire course study in nutrition.  I know what happens when you put toxic food into your body.  I know more about GMOs than I care to admit.  I’ve taught myself how to make fantastic recipes that are not only safe to eat, but they are also delicious (and we are still experimenting!).

As many of you know, I started this blog in March to give my family members an update on what was going on in my daily progress.  My writing and thoughts led me to a diagnosis and for that I am forever grateful.  Now that the word about the blog is out, the outpouring of support from others has been incredible; but no one could have prepared me for what was coming next: that OTHERS would look to me as a source of information.  (I am not a doctor; I am just a friend who has suffered unforgivable trauma at the hands of food).

The other day at the gym (YES, I AM ABLE TO EXERCISE AGAIN!), I met two women who told me they had children with severed ADHD.  We got to talking about nutrition and the role it played in their lives.  “We’ve tried EVERYTHING to be healthy.  I mean, I only buy whole wheat stuff and organic milk.”

I calmly suggested that perhaps, getting the healthiest version of gluten and the healthiest version of dairy just was not enough.  I am not an expert on the subject, but the massive amount of literature I have read on the correlation between children, behavioral and emotional issues and the food they are eating is so astounding.  I pointed these women in the direction of different blogs I came across written by parents who completely took their kids off dairy and grains and the progress they had made.

I also explained the most important component of this lifestyle: that you cannot do it alone.  Expecting your child to be the only person who doesn’t eat gluten or dairy in the house is just plain silly.  Prepare to get on board the healthy train as a FAMILY, and take the journey together.  DISCLAIMER: Getting on board will likely result in make you a happier, healthier person.  Other side effects include living longer and having more concentration.  🙂 

I wasn’t sure how my information would come across; I am younger, and I don’t have kids.  But instead of brushing me off, these women asked more information.  They asked about what I had been through.  Who the doctor was who finally validated my point.  What I ate in a typical day.  Where I shopped for groceries.  How my husband was with the “whole ordeal.” 

At the end of the day, I made two new friends, which was really cool.  I also perhaps got to help another person with what used to be a garbage dump of a situation.  

Here’s to the next year, the next journey. 2014, I’m coming for you.

 

GRAIN FREE STUFFED MUSHROOMS: A Christmas Miracle

  • one pack of mushrooms, stems cut off and scooped out
  • fresh spinach
  • roasted red pepper
  • spices: salt, pepper, garlic, whatever you’d like!  (Can do fresh garlic, yum).

Chop the mushroom stems.  Mix together with chopped spinach, red pepper, garlic spices with a touch of olive oil in a pan for a few minutes.  Put mixture into the scooped out mushrooms and drizzle some olive oil. (Go crazy: add some white cooking wine, gluten free, for some fun flavor).  Bake the mushrooms for 15-25 minutes (until brown) at 350 degrees.  A wonderful appetizer!

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you, Gluten.

This Thanksgiving, I reflect on the many things I have to be thankful for.  A roof over my head.  My job.  My family.  My incredible selfless husband and our stunning wedding this year.  But I am also thankful for the least suspecting thing:  gluten.  No, I haven’t taken crazy pills and I am not certifiably insane.  

Almost a year ago, which you can see from the beginning of this blog, I became sicker and sicker with no diagnosis and countless doctors.  I had blood taken, CT scans to rule out cancer, was put on malaria meds for “lyme disease” (don’t even get me started on that), and after a lot of internet research between myself and Rich, along with trial and error, it turned out to be a ridiculous intolerance/ allergy to gluten (and dairy, and soy).

I have not eaten these foods since March, and I could not be happier.  I feel more alive and awake than ever before. My body and mind are at optimum health and I can EXERCISE AGAIN.  (Being that I could barely walk last year, this is huge. HUGE.).

So, without further ado, thank YOU, Gluten, for being the sneaky wheat protein that you are.  Thank you for forcing me and my husband to create a home that is healthy and also prepares us for a healthy and happy family.  Thank you for making me aware of things I put into my body.  And thank you for helping me teach others about you, and how to avoid you.

To celebrate this Thanksgiving, I am going to share my latest invention:  

The PERFECT Pumpkin Bread (Gluten, Dairy, Grain, Soy, Corn Free)

  • 1/2 cup almond butter (pref raw, unsalted)
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1/3 cup raw honey
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup organic pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1-2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

Mix wet ingredients; add the almond flour and any remaining dry ingredients.  Pour mixture into a greased (with coconut oil) bread pan.  Cook at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.  Keep checking – may take more time depending on the type of pan.

This is by far the best pumpkin bread I have made!  

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  I will continue to be thankful for you and every ounce of support.

 

New Changes, New Life.

It’s November now, 11 months since my journey and commitment to health began.  Lots of changes have happened since my last post, all of which I am excited to share.  First, Rich and I tied the knot on September 21, 2013!  It was absolutely a dream come true from start to finish and I felt beyond lucky to have most of the people I love in one room.  There were many speeches, and each one mentioned how the partnership that Rich and I have created helped me to overcome the worst health challenges I have ever faced.  Hearing those words felt like a moment of pure triumph, and I am looking forward to continuing the journey together.

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(Above photo courtesy of Ashley Therese Photography – I recorded a cover of Gavin DeGraw’s “Overrated” at RedGate Studios in Mt. Vernon, New York, and played it at the reception.  This was Rich’s reaction).

 

Married life has so far been an awesome experience; it’s so wonderful to just enjoy each other and not be wedding planning every single moment.  We are very much enjoying living our lives in the moment and taking advantage of things that come our way.  Which brings me to my next topic: I am announcing that I will be taking the blog to a new level.  So what does this mean? :

  • New Name!  The blog now has a new name:  The Food Haven.  After much thought, I wanted to incorporate all healthy recipes, including delicious raw treats and grain free, dairy free, gluten free, and soy free recipes.
  • More Recipes!  As our kitchen has been busy with many new recipes, my blog should also be filling you with new knowledge.  After all, the holidays are coming up, and you need an awesome way to make pumpkin bread that is ridiculous delicious and free of foods that make you feel horrible.
  • Paleo AND raw! Yes, this may sound like an oxy moron, but I vary between different recipes.  I eat what makes my body feel focused, strong, and resilient.  So the variety on the blog just got a whole lot better!

 

What’s a blog post without a recipe?  Here you go:

Carolyn’s Favorite Food: The Grain Free, Dairy Free, Soy Free Waffle.  Ingredients:

  • Waffle iron
  • 1/2 cup almond flour 
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-3 tablespoons raw honey
  • 1/3 cup coconut or almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of himalayan salt
  • tablespoon cinnamon

Combine wet ingredients first, and then add the almond flour.  Wisk well.  Pour into waffle iron, bake, and enjoy!

Until next time, have a healthy and happy day.

Jumping Into 28

Note to self:  planning a wedding while trying to maintain a blog and working full time = physically impossible.  To my readers who have been concerned that I’ve been gone for three months, I truly apologize!  Yes, I am OK.  Yes, I am still living and eating well.  I have been feeling compelled to write this post not only because people have reached out with concern, but also because I’m feeling really, really good.  Here we go:

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out, 27.

Every year, the night before my birthday is a night where I reflect on the best thing about being that age and what I’m looking forward to in the new year.  This year was very, very different.  When it came time to reflect on the best thing, I literally could not think of anything that was super great.  Feelings of never wanting to look back came up like never before.  27 was a very, very rough year for me.  I was sick for nearly most of it and I just had such a bad taste in my mouth.  Those of you who have chronic issues of any kind can totally relate, I’m sure.

But… that’s not really ME.  I’m not bitter, I don’t see the glass half empty, and despite it being difficult, I made myself say something positive about being 27: it was getting BETTER and being HEALTHY again, and learning all that I have learned about my food intolerances.  

28 is already so awesome I cannot even begin to describe it.  My stepmom tells me every year about the significance of the number that I am turning, and 28 is a new cycle for me.  THANK THE GOOD LORD! Also pretty fitting, considering that in just 7 weeks, I will have the most life-changing day ever: I will finally marry the love of my life.

You’ve Saved Me More Times Than You Know

Just a word of advice to those going through a rough time: open your eyes and look around.  Thank the person next to you who doesn’t need to go through it with you, but just is because they love you.  

Rich has saved my life in more ways than he will ever know.  This year, my birthday marked 10 years to the day since he and I really became FRIENDS.  That has so much significance, especially because the night after my 18th birthday was the first time of many, many times that he saved my life.  Let’s just say he showed up.  When no one else did.  This seems to be a constant trend in our relationship – his dependability is unreal and he really should be recognized for that.  

This year was no different – Rich made our relationship stronger than I ever thought possible by making the decision to change his entire lifestyle to fit mine.  His commitment to eating healthy foods so that I would not be alone is pretty unbelievable.  He never even cheats, because I physically can’t.  On top of doing it for me, taking care of himself is the best gift I could possibly get everyday.  I am so thrilled to have a partner I can walk through life with who really cares enough about himself to only put wholesome foods onto his plate and into his life.  Thank you for being you, each and every day.

Overall Health Status

We’re talking 93-95%, people.  I’m feeling really, really great.  I went to purely paleo eating for a while there, but I’m taking a step back toward my vegan and raw roots.  I think there’s a lot to be said about how beneficial the paleo lifestyle can be, but there’s also something to say about listening to what your body needs.  I haven’t eaten any meat in almost 2 weeks and it feels wonderful.  I’m sure I’ll get back to that point, but my protein is coming now through seeds, nuts, and protein-rich vegetables.   If I decide I can reintroduce meat, I’m sure I’ll do that.  Without apologies.

What Would a Blog Post Be Like Without a New Recipe?

One of the best things about getting ready to get married?  A bridal shower.  Shocked with how beautiful the entire day was, there was also the “goodies” that I went home with.  

The Vitamix Blender: 10 best kitchen appliances in one / incredible piece of machinery

For someone who raw “cooks” as much as I do, it’s SHOCKING to me that I lasted so long without a really good food processor/ vitamix blender.  This week, I used the vitamix to make a semi-raw vegan zucchini/ kale summer soup.  Here’s the recipe:

SEMI RAW / VEGAN SUMMER ZUCCHINI/ KALE SOUP

You can make this recipe 100% raw, or you can cook parts, or cook all and blend.  Do whatever you feel!

  • four green zucchini
  • bunch of green kale
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • black pepper
  • himalayan salt
  • olive/ coconut oil
  • vegetable stock – organic

In your soup pot, pour some olive oil, and when hot, cook the onion and garlic, diced for a few minutes.  Add 1/4 cup vegetable stock and simmer for a few minutes.  Add chopped up zucchini and kale and cover pot to soften the veggies (or just leave out and blend later).  Add some salt and pepper to taste.  After a few minutes, spoon the veggies and broth into the vitamix.  Gradually turn to 10 on “variable” setting and then high (note: for those who don’t have one, just throw it in a blender).  Add some stock to your puree’ if you think the soup is too thick for you.  ENJOY!

Until next time, which I hope is not three months from now: HAPPY RAW/ VEGAN/ PALEO/ JUICING!

Feeling 90% and ready to rejoin society.

5/10/13

Today marks two months and ten days since I decided to make the conscious decision to change my life.  As I reflect back on this time, I cannot believe where I was, and where I am today.  From my heaviest, I am down 23 pounds and for the first time in twenty seven years feel good about the person I have become.  Although it is an ongoing process, I have much less fatigue and brain fog than when I started this journey.  I feel in control of my life, my body, my job, and my health.  And I truly feel better every single day.  It’s been a couple weeks since finishing my course of pylera and the improvement I have seen in my health has been both steady and rapid.  Yes, I still get tired after a very long day of work and take time to nap upon getting home.  But I’ve come to recognize that this is something I must do – give in. 

Out to Dinner and other fun disasters.

Anyone with a restricted diet knows that going out to dinner can be tricky, especially if you run into a situation where the restaurant is not sensitive to your needs or messes up your order.  No, you can’t wipe the cream sauce off the steak and re-serve it to me.  Yes, I will still blow up like a balloon.  Last night, my fiance’s family and I went to a wonderful birthday dinner for my future brother-in-law.  It killed me when I smelled my favorite food come out for an appetizer: eggplant parmagiana, stuffed mushrooms, and garlic shrimp.  While part of me wanted to jump out the window, the other part remembered trying on a bathing suit the night before and loved how I felt for literally the first time in my life.  (Yes, eating like a champ has the added side effect of looking awesome).  For dinner, I ordered steak which came with a cream sauce, and I asked for it without the cream sauce.  When they brought a big creamy steak out, my heart sunk.  However, long stressful story short – it turned out that my plain steak was still in the kitchen and there had been a mix up.  (Note: yes, I know, eating red meat is directly against the raw lifestyle, and for that I apologize.  I don’t do it often, and when I do I make sure to get “grass fed.” Also, a lot of my raw people can have nama shoyu, corn, edamame, and other soy products to keep things interesting.  I cannot).

Lesson here: you will feel high maintenance ordering everything special.  Get over it. You are special.  Moving on…

I can’t wait to see my friends.

It’s been over five months since I slipped into the shadows of sickness, exhaustion, and inflammation, and I miss my friends terribly.  My girls in the city, the ones who try to make “fetch” happen, and everyone in between.  I’ve been unavailable after work and on the weekends, as all I was doing was going to the doctor and sleeping.  I genuinely miss my friends and really feel that it’s now time to ease back into seeing them.  As it’s been beautiful weather here, I’m sure there will be plenty of evenings in the near future sitting outside with them and finding out what’s been going on in their lives.  I want to take this opportunity to say to each and every one of them that I am thankful for their friendship, especially those who have given me great support with what I am doing.

Eating awesome and rawsome also helps me to let things roll off my back and accept change.

I am not one who embraces change readily.  Change is uncomfortable.  But most times, it results in something even better than what you started with.  In the middle of wedding planning and this huge health issue, I received notice three days ago that I would have to move out of my apartment next month.  It wasn’t something I was planning on, as it would have been too much to figure out while I’m a few months away from getting married.  However, life is never what you planned.  I of all people should know that.  After a couple days of some stressful searching, I purposely recognized and reflected on what was happening and became excited that Rich and I would start our marriage somewhere new.  Prior to my huge diet change, I probably would not have been so refreshed about the prospect of picking up and moving.  I also was so diligent about looking for a place that I may have already stumbled upon the perfect place.  More on that, however, when it becomes final. 

I’ll be heading to the doctor for my monthly checkup next week, and for that I am grateful.  I always write down a million questions for her, and she is very patient with me.  I took another test for my Vitamin D levels since I’ve seen her last, as low Vitamin D is a strong indication of the beginnings of autoimmune disease.  I’m about a third of the way through the book she wrote (see post below), and am really learning the science behind the bad path my body was heading down before I changed my life.  Not to freak anyone out, but those of you who guessed that my symptoms were starting to resemble the first stages of MS were not far off.  Gluten could have killed me. 

This time, rather than a million questions, I will ask the doctor just one: how do I go from being 90% to 100%? Because I’m ready.