Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stress and Autoimmune Disease {Just Say No}

I'm a teacher, so I have a long summer vacation each year. This year, I decided to focus on relaxing and recentering myself. I mean, I had the time, so why not?

Every day I did pretty much the same thing: I worked out, I prepared a bit for my upcoming school year, I blogged some, I cooked good food, I did chores and I spent time with the hubster. And I was relaxed. Some weekends were a bit hectic when we had lots of plans, but my weeks were always fairly calm, allowing me to recharge completely.

Life was good. I was well rested as I got 9+ hours of sleep every night, my digestion was improving more and more each day, my mood was cheery and I was productive when I sat down to work. Not only was I publishing new content on my blog nearly daily, I was also whizzing through lesson plans and had even managed to mop my floors on a weekly basis.

Then my work year started up again, which meant early mornings and 4-7 hour work days with no chores, lesson/food prep or blogging getting done in those hours. I also have weekly meeting with my colleagues, as well as running around town to get all the necessary paperwork needed to work, as I am not Belgian. The hubster and I just joined our local crossfit box, which moved my morning workouts to the evening, entailing more meal prep so we have easy dinners after late sessions.

It's been two weeks, and let me tell you - I can feel the difference.

I am tired. I feel like I can't get enough sleep. I'm always in bed before 11 o'clock, no excuses, but that only gives me about 7 1/2 hours of sleep.

I am touchier. I have less patience with my students as well as with the hubster. Especially on our way to crossfit - I have a million things that need to be done at home, yet I'm leaving... {The physical activity does me a world of good, both mentally and physically, so this is something I won't give up. It's also why I go, even though I complain about having to go :P}

My digestion is all over the place. I eat things I normally have no issue with, and they bother me. I eat things I usually have issues with, and they don't bother me. My IBS has come back full force and I spend the better part of most days feeling completely miserable due to bloat, cramps, gas, pains... or a mix of all four.

This picture was taken Friday... the large black pot was used Tuesday, just to give you an idea of my priorities right now.

My appartment is a disaster. I fall behind on the dishes, my floor hasn't been swept for two weeks and there is clutter everywhere I look. The only things I manage to keep up with is food prep {because we gotta eat} and laundry {because we gotta crossfit}.

I haven't started working on this school year's project yet. Every year my school chooses a theme and every class works in a project based on that theme... my students don't even know what this year's theme is. #badteacher

All this to say... I said no to the hubster this weekend. You see, it's his village's annual festival all this weekend, and we usually stay with his parents and enjoy the festivities all weekend long. It's a great time to see old friends again and catch up with people from the village we don't get the chance to see nearly enough.

I decided not to go Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning. I decided to only go Sunday afternoon so I could treat my godson to a couple fair rides and games and quickly say hi to everyone.

The hubster was upset, and I can understand him. A year ago, I would have said yes to the whole weekend - and I would have had a great time! But I also would have fallen even further behind on the dishes. My floor would still have bits of food on it. My counters would still be strewn with food containers and papers to file. I would have lost even more sleep. I probably would have yelled at at least a couple people for absolutely no reason. My students would be forced to wait another week to find out about the year's theme. My IBS would have continued to get worse. And I would most likely have fallen sick (my throat is a bit scratchy as I type...).

A lot has changed, and I'm a lot stronger than the person I was a year ago. I know my body and my limits a lot better now, and I can affirm myself a lot easier. I have also realized that putting yourself first is primordial, not selfish.

I, like everyone else, deserve to be healthy, and stress management is a huge part of that. Having autoimmune issues magnifies that need even more. Not only are folks like us more susceptible to fatigue and stress, but we also have reactions that can be much stronger and far more painful than the average Joe. Sadly, we must also learn to accept other's judgments. Ours are diseases that, for the most part, can't be seen. People have a hard time relating to things they don't know, especially if it can't be seen.

Prepping MYO Salads {from Paleo To Go - enter to win a copy here} and Bone Broth {from The Paleo Approach Cookbook} - with lots more food prepping to come! I finally got all my dishes done and put away!

I decided I was worth it. I took my weekend. I relaxed. I slept. I corrected papers. I cleaned. I tidied up. I went grocery shopping. I prepped food... and I wrote a blog post. And tomorrow I'm going to spend a lovely afternoon with my godson, surrounded by wonderful people who don't realize just how much I needed to say "no". These people are surely going to crack jokes about how "lazy teachers are" or about how "stressful" teaching must be - but I won't care. They aren't in my shoes, so they couldn't possibly understand - and I can't blame them for that.

I hope the rest of you have a relaxing, stress-free weekend. And, if you need to say no yourself, I hope you have the courage to do so. Need some ideas for relaxing? Here are my favorite ways to chill out:

-Read a good book.

-Sip some hot herbal tea. 
-Listen to music and fold socks.


What are your favorite ways to relax?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cookbook Review {Paleo to Go}

When I was contacted to review the Paleo Parent's most recent book-baby, the ebook Paleo to Go, I jumped for joy! Not only do I adore Stacy, Matt and the boys, but I also love their recipes! Actually, the second paleo cookbook I bought over a year ago was the gorgeous Beyond Bacon - and I continue to cook from it to this day!

But let's move on to the book in question today: Paleo to Go.


I said that I adored Stacy, Matt and the boys, and the biggest reason for this is because they are REAL. They lead normal lives, enjoy spending time together, and eat good food. I feel like I can relate to them, like they could easily be my next door neighbors. Really rad next door neighbors, of course, but I'm sure they'd give me an egg and a cup of coconut flour if I knocked on their door asking for some.

Because of this relatable vibe they give off, many families turn to them asking for advice on how to make it all happen without going crazy! In response to these questions, they wrote their first eBook, 3 Phase Paleo, which guided families through the steps of converting their diet over to a paleo template.

Their second eBook is a great complement to 3 Phase Paleo, perfect for those just starting out on their paleo voyage, but is also an excellent stand-alone book for those who have already adopted a paleo lifestyle - but who struggle to make it easy on a day-to-day basis.

Paleo to Go is a guide and recipe book for exactly what the title implies: eating paleo while on the go! This book takes all the guesswork out of constructing healthy, wholesome breakfasts, snacks and lunches - for children and adults alike.



While reading through this book, I realized just how "boring" my lunches are - I have a "MYO salad" nearly every day! This is highly satisfying, and I'm far from being bored by this option, but I realized I could also think outside the salad and try a few different lunch options, starting with Paleo to Go's "Wrap It Up" and "Rosemary Carrot Mash"! Both of these recipes were delicious and satisfying, and a nice change from my standard salads.

This week, I mixed and matched recipes to create my own meals, but for those of you who would like more guidance, Stacy and Matt have also provided combination ideas using their recipes to create perfectly balanced meals designed to keep you or your children full for hours.



The recipes are nicely organized by type, so mixing and matching is made easy. They are also coded by allergy.

You read right: allergies are taken into account in this amazing guide.

The top eight allergy-causing foods are not only explained but also avoided in this book! Can't do eggs? There are recipes for that! Need to be nut free? They've got you covered! Dairy gives you hives? You guessed it - no problem! Everything is clearly labeled and substitutions, when possible, are noted. This makes allergy-ridden lives so much easier - and that much tastier!

But, all those great features aside, my favorite thing about Paleo to Go is how child-friendly it is. While every delicious recipe is perfect for adult meals, they truly are tailored to younger tastes and wants. This book could be handed to a child, after the "rules" for building a perfect meal have been explained, and they would have a blast building their own meal! There are several tips and tricks for getting younger ones involved in the food prep, including a printable "no complaints" food list to make packing school lunches a cinch!



So, to summarize, Paleo to Go is a wonderful guide for preparing delicious, real food, covering breakfast, lunch and snacks. Some of the dishes would also be wonderful at dinner time!

It's perfect for anyone looking for new packed-lunch ideas, or anyone with children - especially if they aren't yet convinced by the paleo lifestyle! The ingredient lists are simple, but the flavors are stellar - making each recipe easy to prepare and guaranteed to please!

It's also an eBook, which means you get it as soon as you pay for it - no ordering and no waiting! If, like me, you prefer to physically turn pages, Stacy and Matt formatted this eBook to print perfectly on letter sized paper! If you can't wait any longer to own a copy of Paleo to Go, click here to view more details. You can even get a special deal when you buy both the eBooks together! Click here to view more details.

If you are feeling lucky, enter my contest below for a chance to win a copy of Paleo to Go!

In any case, check out The Paleo Parent's blog where you'll find tons of family-friendly paleo recipes for all occasions!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The contest runs until September 30th!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cookbook Review {The Paleo Approach Cookbook}

I preordered The Paleo Approach Cookbook as soon as I realized how incredible it was. I have been eating paleo for about two years now, and strict paleo for almost a year - and only now am I realizing that certain food still cause my digestive distress! I embarked on a Whole30 AIP in an effort to flush out any remaining trigger foods... and while doing so, fell in love with Sarah from The Paleo Mom! {Does that sound creepy?}

She is seriously a major kitchen wizard, managing to do amazing things with the restrictions imposed by an AIP eating template. I knew I needed her book and that it would be one I would reference over and over again.

When her book finally arrived in the mail, I jumped for joy! {Really, I was home alone, but I still did a little happy dance to the music in my head, hugging the GIANT book to my chest.} I immediately Instagrammed it, placing it carefully back into the box for the occasion, then plopped onto my couch to begin reading it!





I read the whole thing, cover to cover, that very same day. Even the insanely interesting science bits at the beginning! After reading through the book, I grabbed my handy-dandy meal planner and eagerly planned out a weeks' worth of AIP meals. And you know what? Every single thing I've made has turned out delicious!

Wanna know something even more surprising? I actually follow these recipes! And very nearly word for word! Everything is so simply laid out and explained, I actually want to do what Sarah tells me to do. Even when I doubt her methods {like with the bone broth - it's much more involved and slower than my recipe} I trust in them - and I'm always pleasantly rewarded! {That bone both was the tastiest batch I have ever made!}

Even the recipes that are involved, like the Bone Broth recipe, are super simple to follow. There's no weird steps or guessing to be done. And most of the meals I've made from this book have required about 30 minutes or less hands-on time {not counting cooking time}. Not only am I able to create delicious, nutrient-dense meals for the hubster and I, but I am able to do it without spending my entire life in the kitchen!

So, to sum it up, this book is HUGE. It's also jam-packed with information about the autoimmune protocol, how to implement it, what to look out for food-wise and tons of tips and tricks for cooking in general. It also has hundreds of recipes, nicely organized into sub-categories - and there is even a photo index at the end for easy perusing! Also, since this book is 100% AIP, that means it's nearly 100% allergen free! No nuts, no seeds, no dairy, no gluten, no grains, no nightshades, no legumes... It's an allergic foodie's dream come true!


Oh, and there are a TON of photos - those nice, colorful, full-page photos that I just love to see in cookbooks! This book is a joy to cook from, and to look at as well! And if you know me, you know I read cookbooks like I do fiction - I've even been seen reading cookbooks in bed!

I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just those following an AIP template, and not even just paleo peeps. There is something for everyone in this cookbook - so pick up your copy of The Paleo Approach Cookbook today!


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No-Fail Beet Leaf Chips {or Kale Chips, or...}


When I visited my folks state-side last year, my sister raved on and on about "kale chips". I didn't know what "kale" was, but I loved chips, so I was all game.

The first time we went to a grocery store together, she grabbed a leafy bunch of greens and excitedly exclaimed, "we'll buy this so we can make chips!" 

Oh. So that was what kale was. 

I was a little skeptical about the whole thing, but I decided to keep my hesitations to myself and trust my little sissy about kale chips being the best ever.

Well, that first bunch of kale sat in the fridge and wilted, so we fed it to the pet turtles. The second bunch also sat in the fridge and wilted and therefore was also fed to the turtles. Then my stay in America drew to an end and I returned to Belgium and mostly forgot about kale chips.

Then, one day, my Pépé gave me a bunch of "chou frisé" from his garden - and you know what? It looked exactly like kale. {That's because it was kale.} I quickly went online and looked up a recipe - it was as simple as washing, oiling, salting and baking! Simple!

Right. Or not.

I burned my first batch. Ick.

I under cooked my second batch. Ick again.

After burning my third batch, I decided to give up on kale chips. Until I stumbled across the best tip ever {which for the life of me I can't find anymore}. And you know what? I made some delicious freaking kale chips! My sissy was right - they really are that good!

Do you want to know how to bake perfectly crisp kale chips every single time as well? Turn off your oven. That's right, trust me - it'll be delicious.

The beauty of this method is it can be used to turn any sturdy leaf into a "chip". Don't stop at kale or, as I have used here, beet leaves - give any of those green tops a go! Add different spices and seasonings as well if you want a bit more oomph. Just, you can only make one sheet of leaves at a time using this method - if you try to fill your oven with as many baking trays as possible, they won't dry out {trust me, I've tried}.


No Fail Beet Leaf {or Kale} Chips

Ingredients:
  • A handful of sturdy greens
  • Liquid fat of choice
  • Sea salt
  • Optional: Additional spices
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to its hottest temperature.
  2. Wash and dry greens, removing any tough stems. Cut into smaller pieces if desired.
  3. Place on a non-stick baking tray (or line a baking tray with parchment paper) and drizzle with a bit of fat.
  4. Mix everything around with your hands to coat the leaves in the fat. Spread out fairly flat in a single layer.
  5. Season with sea salt (and other spices if using).
  6. When oven has finished preheating, place the baking tray inside, close the door and turn off the oven.
  7. In about 20 minutes, your chips will be perfectly dried and ready to munch. If you completely forget about it, no problem, they will still be perfectly dried and ready to munch.
  8. Enjoy immediately (doesn't keep well).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I Can't Eat Cheese {Faux Feta Tomatoes}


I can't have any cheese. I've tried them all. {Well, except cheese made from some of the more exotic milks, such as elephant or lioness, but really, who has?} They all disagree with me and my gut something fierce.

That's why the hubster was so surprised when he bit into these tomatoes. He looked at me and said, "you can eat feta now?"

I looked at him strangely and tasted the tomato myself. I tasted like feta.

We analyzed the ingredients, trying to figure out what it was that gave it the feta taste... We decided it was the garlic and olive oil.

You see, we used to roast slices of feta in the oven. We'd top the cheese with all sorts of spices - especially garlic - and a drizzle of olive oil. So maybe these won't remind you of feta, but they certainly do it for us.

And even if you're not looking for a feta substitute, this makes a darn tasty side - and it's hubster approved! {He even went back for seconds!}


Faux Feta Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 3 tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil plus more to drizzle
  • 2 tbsp tapioca flour
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1 tsp dried garlic
  • Sea salt to taste
Method:
  1. Cut the tomatoes in half and salt the cut sides. Place cut side down in a colander or sieve and allow to "sweat" for about 15 minutes.
  2. Mix together the rest of the ingredients and spread on the cut sides of the tomatoes. 
  3. Bake cut-side up for 10 minutes in an oven preheated at maximum.
  4. Serve drizzled with olive oil.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fermentation Means Probiotics! {Fermented carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage..}

Modern fermentation is basically a controlled rotting of various veggies. You've probably eaten pickles or sauerkraut before, but of they came from a jar off a store shelf, they weren't really "pickled" or fermented - they were probably simply sitting in a vinegar and salt solution for who-knows-how-long before you came around to eat them.

You really want your fermented foods to be alive. You want the presence of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria begin to break down your food, feeding off the carbohydrates and sugars to multiply. You benefit from them in many ways.

Fermentation improves the digestibility of foods. It helps produce the vitamin K2. The little buggers that thrive in fermenting conditions help out our guts and immune systems. It's all-around good news and tasty to boot!

As for me, I'd only ever made pickles a couple times, though I regularly made fermented carrot sticks. One day though, as I was cutting up a watermelon, I thought about pickled watermelon rind.

I fell upon The Domestic Man's recipe. And I realized that his method for pickled watermelon rind was pretty darn similar to my method for pickled carrots. I looked up a few other veggies - and you know what? All similar.

So, basically, here's the method I use to make my carrots, but I've also done many other veggies as well. When I make cabbage rolls, I save the thick stems and pickle them. I cut up my Pépé's giant zucchini and make pickled zucchini sticks. I make regular old pickles. I've even done cabbage before, though you don't need to add water as cabbage releases a lot of its own {you just have to salt it very well and wait}.

So, to start, add some spices to a jar. I always use garlic, and sometimes that's all I use. I've added fresh thyme here because it's wonderful with carrots. I also love using these sorts of jars because extra gas can ease its way out of the jar, all while keeping a closed seal. No exploding jars, perfect ferment every time.


Then, chop up your carrots {or whatever veggie you're using}. I like to make sticks because I can pack them in tightly and not have any floaters - that way everything stays submerged. You can cut them anyway you like though, just don't ferment for too long or you'll end up with mold on top {I'm speaking from experience - I avoid floaters now}.


Now you need to dissolve some salt into some warm water. I use about 1 tbsp of salt for a large jar, but you can experiment with your favorite level of salt. Just pour it over, leaving a bit of space at the top of the jar for gases.


The you place the jar in a coolish, darkish place for 3-15 days. Once you open the jar, you should refrigerate it. This will slow the fermentation progress, but won't kill off the healthy bacteria.

Remember though - this is a condiment, not a meal. Eating too much at once could cause gas, bloating, etc. Use your better judgement and start out slowly, eating a little bit each day for best results.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rabbit & Plum Stew {AIP, Whole30, Paleo}

Tuesday and Thursday evenings are crossfit evenings for the hubster and I and we don't get home before 9 o'clock. Therefore, I like to cook a meal Tuesday afternoon that will still be yummy when I reheat it Tuesday and Thursday evenings. This is one such meal.



Now, I used to think I didn't like rabbit. The hubster really likes this meat though, so I made the effort of buying and preparing it one day... and I discovered I loved it! Turns out, basic, oven baked rabbit isn't for me. But put that hopper in a sauce and let it simmer? Oh yeah. That's what I like.

The first time I made this recipe, I used prunes, which are dried plums. This resulted in a sweet sauce, which the hubster preferred. This week though, I used fresh plums and the resulting sauce was savory with a delightful fruit taste, which I preferred. Feel free to use whichever sort you have on hand - or the sort that will give you the taste you are looking for.

This also happens to be a traditional Flemish dish, coming from the northern part of Belgium, though I have chose not to include the traditional wine in the sauce.

This recipe makes about enough for two people for two meals. I served it with my Roasted Rhubarb & Sweet Potatoes {roasted potatoes and onions for him} and a green salad.

Rabbit & Plum Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1 rabbit, cut into 6-8 pieces
  • Fat of choice
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of bone broth
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 8 plums or prunes, pitted
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 1 clove
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Heat fat in your cooking pot and brown the pieces of rabbit on all sides, transferring them to a plate when done.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the onion in half, then thinly slice the halves. Add to the pot once the rabbit is removed, allowing the onion to brown.
  3. Mince and add the garlic, string for about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the bone broth and the plums and bring to a boil. 
  5. Add rabbit pieces and seasonings, then cover, reduce heat and allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until cooked through.