Post 94 – Beets & Sweets

The leaves are gone. The cranberry-walnut bread is gone. Winter’s cold has sunk its claws into the leaf-strewn earth. It is fall here in Boston, but the temperatures have dropped dramatically already and I fear we have a cold, cold winter ahead of us. I love the beautiful fall colors, the cozy smells, and the seasonal flavors, (Pumpkin everywhere! Quick – get it before it’s gone!) but I hate to think that winter is coming.

Nonetheless it will come and with the passing of time so will the spring and then the summer. Life beats on and the sun rises and sets again and again. For now we must embrace all that we have and enjoy the moment.

Speaking of enjoying the moment, I have been reading about meditation lately in an effort to take a more holistic view of health. As a kid I always thought of meditation in the stereotypical way – sitting with your legs crossed and your fingers forming O’s in the air while you hummed “ommm” and reached a higher state of being. However, from what I’ve recently read, it seems meditation is not about reaching enlightenment in the way I may have originally thought. Meditation is about being present in the moment. It’s a practice that takes, well, practice, but can be used to enrich your life and daily experience. Meditation goes along with mindful eating. If you are present with your food and in the moment when you eat a meal, you are less likely to overeat and more likely to feel satisfaction from your meal. The act of meditation may not help you to reach Nirvana, but the act of being present and mindful may eventually give you more satisfaction with your life.

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If changing what we eat does not fix our food woes, perhaps changing the way we think can. (Read this interesting article for a lesson on awareness.) Taking a moment to relax and reflect before a meal can help you to ease into digestion mode. Eating slowly and in good company will help as well. These are strategies to relax and prepare yourself for a meal eaten mindfully. If our lives do not satisfy, there are many things we may want from our food instead – comfort, companionship, acceptance – but we are unlikely to get them from the food itself. Practicing meditation helps us to live in the moment and be thankful and aware of what we are living and receiving right now. I am grateful for the cold weather that helps me to appreciate the warm weather.

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With the cold weather brings the root vegetables. I love sweet potatoes in particular and beets I enjoy in moderation. Mostly I love their beautiful fall colors and their naturally sweet flavors. Check out those swirls in the beets! Since I’m always suckered into buying those root vegetable chips at the grocery store (like Terra or Trader Joe’s) I decided I’d try making my own. I sliced my veggies as thin as I could without slicing my fingers off (no mandolin slicer here), tossed them in oil and salt, and roasted away. They were delicious, but they didn’t get as crispy as I wanted them to without burning so I’ll have to play with the recipe more. Nonetheless they satisfied that sweet and salty craving and kept me from eating a whole bag of chips (not usually my weakness).

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Being mindful and practicing meditation is sometimes easier said than done. On a daily basis there are so many things going on in our lives and going through our minds that it can be tough to remember all the promises we’ve made to ourselves every moment – eat less, lose weight, be kind, be patient. Sometimes being present in the moment is the best we can do.

Thanksgiving is coming. Be grateful.

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Post 88 – Prioritizing Health

If I’m being completely honest, I haven’t been feeling as well as I could lately. I love to eat and always have, but my love for food has begun to take priority over my health. My discomfort has been mostly internal, which makes it easier to hide and easier to deny. I am the one to experience all of the symptoms and whether or not other people around me are affected depends mostly on my experience of the symptoms. Is it bad enough that I am complaining constantly and no fun to be around, or do I discreetly hide my discomfort with a weak smile? Having digestive distress is embarrassing and awkward to have to explain to people. No one likes to talk about bodily functions (and dysfunctions) and no one wants to hear about yours. Yet if it affects your daily life, your social interactions, and your meals it is tough to avoid.

Since the fall of 2012 I have struggled with what first manifested itself as acid reflux symptoms, which I initially dealt with through medication. I have since decided that this approach is not sustainable and healthy in the long term. After doing a lot of research and reflection I have realized that I must change my approach to food and eating in order to change the way I feel. Eating should be about balance as well as pleasure – nourishing your body and your spirit through the consumption of food, but also the company of others. When I am sad and alone I fill that sadness with food. When I am surrounded by those I love and I can appreciate the moment, food loses the center of attention. I can focus on being with people that are important to me while also savoring a meal. When I let my guard down, I convince myself that eating whatever I want (especially if everyone else is doing it) is okay despite the consequences that come later. Though I have tried several different remedies to alleviate my symptoms from medicine to eating gluten free to eliminating seemingly every category of good food, I still have not found the solution.

One category of foods I have been reading about for the past several months is a group of poorly digested carbohydrates known as FODMAPs. These foods are found across nearly all food groups, except animal proteins – wheat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, sweeteners, and beans and can cause digestive distress in certain people. My next step is to try eating a low FODMAP diet to see if these foods are the problem in addition to focusing on portion, context (am I really hungry or does that food just look good?), and stress.

I am sharing all of this information with you because I want to feel better and I need your support. My love for food has caused me to prioritize the pleasure I get from eating over my health (and the discomfort that comes later).

In taking the next step, I will focus on these goals:

1) following a low FODMAP diet

2) listening to my body to determine when I am hungry and when to slow down

3) finding ways to relax and be stress-free when eating (as much as possible) to allow for proper digestion

The weeks surrounding my wedding I enjoyed wonderful food, surroundings, and love from my family and friends. At the time I wanted to be able to fully enjoy those foods without restricting myself too much. Now the celebration has ended (though the happiness continues!) and I must recognize that prioritizing my health over my stubborn desire to eat whatever I want is a necessity.

As I’m beginning to learn, my problems come from not only what I am eating, but also how much and how often. One of the toughest challenges is adapting a healthy lifestyle within American cultural standards as we are a nation constantly on the go and eating junk. If you struggle with food issues, I invite you to reflect on the emotions surrounding food in your life and what you can do to change them. This is your one life to live.

Thank you for your support in this journey. I look forward to sharing my low FODMAP recipes in the near future!

Post 85 – Finding the Balance

We all want the easy answers. The quick fixes. Black and white. I know I do. Like losing weight: you want to take a pill and watch the fat melt away while everything else in your life stays completely the same. Or finding your dream job: you submit one application and expect them to offer it to you with plenty of benefits and a high salary.

In trying to unravel my latest health issues (acid reflux? bacterial overgrowth? food intolerance?) I have been looking for the easy answers from the beginning. When my symptoms first started to bother me, I took the easy route by getting a prescription from my doctor. Then I continued on as normal expecting the problem to fix itself thanks to some “magic” pill. But symptoms persisted and my dedication to this particular strategy waivered and I read more and more about why I should NOT be taking pills for the rest of … who knows how long. So I looked for ways to fix the problem another way. I modified my diet according to someone else’s recommendation and found myself feeling on and off better, but I wanted so badly to find something that I could believe in, some easy formula to follow that I continued on this path for a little while longer. Then I fell off the wagon again, looking for the next solution. And eventually I came to this elimination diet, which I am gradually drawing to a close.

The problem with this approach: LIFE! Everything overlaps so that trying to untangle the reasons why you have symptoms after every single meal becomes impossible. There are so many confounding factors like stress and eating too much and eating too late and eating the wrong foods and wearing tight pants (no seriously) that you can’t possibly eliminate all of your problems with the touch of a button. Like everything, you must find the balance.

Balance: veggie potstickers - healthy yet seemingly indulgent

Balance: veggie potstickers – healthy yet seemingly indulgent

Breathe deeply. Relax. Eat a little less. Eat a little less of the bad things (like sugar – wow!). Make time to be with people and socialize. Food issues are sometimes more than food as I have discovered for myself. When I am happy and fulfilled I don’t stuff myself unnecessarily or I don’t pine for the next time I get to eat. When I’m lonely that is when I fill the void with un-fulfilling (and hardly even filling) food.

Filled potstickers

Filled potstickers

Balance is a game we must all play to find the right combination in our own lives. How much sleep does it take, how much down time, how much exercise, how much food, how much love, how much sunshine, how much time staring at your inbox, how much time putting yourself out there. What is the proper equation?

As my dad always used to say, “Moderation in all things.” Find that balance.

Pan-fried potstickers and teriyaki chicken

Pan-fried potstickers and teriyaki chicken & tofu with broccoli

Post 83 – Spanish Tortilla

I do a lot of meal planning these days and mostly with limitations. I plan dinners for Sam and me at home (and now lunches for me to take to work), lunches for Sam, lunches and dinners for another family, and sometimes food for events I do for other people. Needless to say as much as I used to love menu planning, I’ve started to run out of ideas, in particular for creative foods that I can eat at my current stage of food experimentation.

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The other day I was asked to prepare a special lunch for the family I cook for since they were having a midday pool party with some other kids and moms. At a loss for what to make when the mom requested a shrimp salad, I was saved when she pulled out all of her magazine clippings and began ooo-ing and ahh-ing at all the recipes she wanted me to make. Great! I thought. Finally someone else is coming up with the ideas.

At first I have to admit I was a little out of my comfort zone. I had taken over the entire counter (as I don’t usually do), leaving shreds of brussel sprouts, kale, and lemon seeds strewn in my path. I told the mom later “the more unfamiliar I am with a recipe, the more I make a mess.” The kitchen displayed the evidence that I was very unfamiliar. Now it’s not like these recipes were difficult, but their relative newness threw off my organization. I hadn’t had the usual prep time to study and decide how to execute them so instead I just dove in, hoping for the best. Thankfully I work for a wonderful family and the recipes turned out well. The mom helped me clean up near the end and she seemed thrilled with the food that I had made. It’s good to get outside your comfort zone and it’s great when someone else finds the recipes (so long as you can actually make them!)

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Yesterday, however, I was confronted once again with the ever-present problem of what to make with the ground beef that I’d bought earlier that week. I went through the usual options in my head – tacos, meatballs, “spaghetti,” none of which either sounded appealing or possible for me to eat. Then somehow I came up with a more exciting option. I thinly sliced some potatoes and gently browned them in oil and I threw the ground beef and some eggs on top. Voila! A delicious, simple, and comforting meal.

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I have included the recipe below, with some options for those of you who can eat certain foods that I can’t. The great thing about this recipe (like many favorites of mine) is that it is flexible. Throw in some veggies, leave out the meat, use more eggs, whatever floats your little boat.

Spanish Tortilla

2-3 medium yukon gold potatoes

olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1/2 lb – 1 lb. ground beef or Italian sausage

1/3 cup shredded cheddar or other cheese (optional)

8-10 eggs

1 cup milk of your choice (I used almond milk with no flavor issue)

salt and pepper to taste

rosemary (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a large oven-proof skillet or cast iron skillet over medium heat with a splash of olive oil. Meanwhile wash and thinly slice your potatoes, trying to keep the thickness as even as possible. When the pan is hot, carefully lay the potato slices in the pan, overlapping slightly if necessary. If you have to do multiple layers, salt and pepper each layer before adding more. (You can also add the onion here) I also added rosemary in this step. Allow the potatoes to brown for a few minutes, without stirring them. Check them by lifting them up, flipping them over to get the top layer down to the bottom of the pan if needed. Once they are starting to brown, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and allow to steam for a few minutes. They should be able to be pierced with a knife or fork to the point of being almost edible (they will cook more in the oven).

Meanwhile in a separate pan, brown your beef or sausage, drain of any fat and set aside. Be sure to season your beef with salt, pepper and rosemary if using beef (the sausage will have plenty of flavor). When the potatoes are ready, add your beef on top. Whisk together your eggs and milk. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and beef (top the beef with cheese before adding the eggs if desired). You want your egg mixture to cover all of your filling so beat more eggs with some milk if necessary. Turn off your burner and immediately transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until firm and lightly browned. Let cool slightly, slide a spatula around the outside and invert onto a cutting board or serving plate. Cut into slices and serve.

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Post 79 – Gluten-free Meatballs

Today is the first of May and here in Boston after a bout of rain, the sun has finally shown its face again, thank goodness! Two days ago though, the chilly air and gray skies made me long for a cozy wintery kind of meal – meatballs. It didn’t help that we served pasta with marinara meat sauce at school and of course I couldn’t eat it. I decided that there certainly had to be a way to make meatballs despite my dietary restrictions.

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Luckily I stumbled upon this wonderful recipe that uses shredded veggies to keep the meatballs moist when breadcrumbs and eggs are out of the question. These make for delicious and colorful meatballs and add some extra vegetables into your meal. Other than seeing veggie confetti, you will hardly notice the difference (Sam approved!) These tasty morsels can be enjoyed with tomato sauce or for me – vegan pesto!

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As an experiment I also made a batch with cooked quinoa to see how that would affect the texture and moisture. In a side-by-side comparison I thought the meatballs without the quinoa were actually more moist (the quinoa soaked up too much of the moisture?), but when they were all mixed up it was hard to taste the difference between the two kinds.

If you want to make the quinoa version add a 1/2 cup of COOKED quinoa (from about 1/6 cup dry quinoa) to the recipe below. Next time I also might try sauteing the onions so the raw flavor wasn’t so strong. If onions bother you (as they do me) feel free to leave them out.

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Gluten-free Meatballs

adapted from healthhomehappy.com

1 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup each shredded carrot, minced onion, and shredded zucchini

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. each oregano and basil

ground black pepper as desired

olive oil (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed sheet tray with parchment paper or foil.

Shred your veggies (you can either shred or mince the onion) in a food processor or by hand. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and gently form into golf-ball sized meatballs. Lay them out on prepared sheet pan, not too close together, though they shrink as they cook. Drizzle with olive oil if desired and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the internal temperature is at least 165. Let cool slightly and serve with your favorite sauce. Enjoy!

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Post 78 – The Process of Elimination

When I started this blog, I wanted to write about all the wonderful recipes and foods in the world that I loved to cook and eat. Erin Eating Everything was supposed to mean that nothing was off-limits and that my followers would enjoy reading about a variety of delicious and often healthy recipes. Lately though I have felt restricted in what I eat and therefore in what I cook due to my digestive issues caused by my acid reflux/GERD. In reality I am probably eating much healthier now than I did before by eliminating sugar, which is a major cause of inflammation. It has been frustrating and upsetting, but I have taken my health more seriously lately and decided to do everything I can to feel the best that I can. I thank you all for continuing to follow along with me throughout this journey and I promise to still give you delicious recipes along the way!

Today is day 9 of my Elimination Diet (ED). I know what you’re thinking. I know that diet often has the connotation of crazy fad food regimes where you eat 600 calories a day and starve yourself to lose weight, but that is not the case for me. I have started the ED with the guidance of a doctor and nutritionist in an effort to get off reflux medications, improve my health (since my symptoms have not gone away despite avoiding supposed trigger foods), and feel better. As the name suggests, I have eliminated all potential (most common) allergens and will reintroduce them one at a time to test for which ones may be the culprits. It requires patience, planning, and persistence and of course it helps to have your support.

Rather than focus on the negative (what I can’t eat) I want to focus on the positive and share with you all of the delicious things I CAN eat.

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Like my coconut curry chicken with rice that I shared with you last post – full of flavor and a feast for the eyes as well!

I also enjoyed salmon that I topped with fresh ginger, cilantro, and sesame oil with roasted asparagus and sweet potatoes on the side.

 

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And for few days this week we savored oven-roasted pork chops (recipe follows)photo 3(21)

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First I brined the chops in a salt-water solution for an hour, then I pan-seared them and finished them in the oven. They were moist, flavorful, and delicious. Brining them helps to keep them moist and inject a little bit of flavor with the salt. The recipe is not entirely hands-off, but it is well worth it if you don’t want a dry pork chop. I hope you give it a try!

In other news, spring has sprung here in Boston and I am taking advantage as much as possible of the warmer weather, longer days (notice the wonderful natural lighting for my dinner!) and sunshine. I’ve been biking to work most days and playing frisbee with a spring hat league, which are both great ways to get out. I hope you are enjoying the spring weather as well.

 

Oven-Roasted Pork Chops

inspired by America’s Test Kitchen and The Kitchn

4 center-cut pork chops (I used boneless but bone-in works too)

spice rub mix of your choice

salt

sugar (optional)

olive oil

 

Prepare your brine by dissolving 3 Tablespoons of Kosher salt in 6 cups of cold water in a large bowl (optional to also add 3 Tablespoons of sugar to the brine). Add your pork chops, cover, and refrigerate for an hour.

When ready to cook, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove pork chops from the brine and discard liquid. Pat each chop dry and rub on both sides with your favorite spice rub. I used (an unmeasured mixture of) salt, black pepper, and paprika. Heat a large oven-safe skillet (cast iron works well) over medium high heat and add a light coating of olive oil. Swirl to evenly distribute in the pan. When the pan is hot, add your pork chops carefully so as not to splatter yourself with hot oil. You should hear a fairly loud sizzle when they hit the oil. If not, your pan is not hot enough. Sear for 3 minutes on the one side, until the pork chop is well browned on the underside. Flip your pork and immediately transfer the pan to the hot oven (don’t forget to turn off your burner). Cook for 6 to 10 minutes (depending on thickness of the chops) or until a thermometer reads 145 degrees in the thickest part of the meat (or longer if you are worried about under cooking your meat, though see this link for more information). Remove the chops from the pan and put on a plate, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 3-5 minutes. This step is very important if you want to keep your pork juicy!

Serve with your favorite sides. Enjoy!

 

 

Post 77 – Coconut Curry Chicken

I love going out to eat. I love the wonderful flavors and new dishes you can find when leaving your home and I love not having to clean up afterward. Nonetheless sometimes a Saturday night in with take-out can be just as nice after a long (or short) week. Get comfy, wear what you like, and just relax on the couch when you’re done (and hope someone else will clean the kitchen – 😀 ).

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This Coconut Curry Chicken tastes like it came from your favorite Thai restaurant, yet it takes so little time and effort to prepare at home. I love Thai and Indian food, but too often when I see recipes that call for curry powder, I rule it out because I don’t have it in my spice cabinet. Turns out actually I do. I stumbled upon a recipe explaining that curry is simply a term for many variations of a spice blend, one that you can easily make at home if you already have all of the spices. The coconut milk adds a wonderful richness and its own unique flavor and the spice blend takes care of the rest. Then you just toss in your protein (chicken, shrimp or tofu would all be equally delicious) and whatever veggies you want and let it simmer away until everything is cooked. This recipe also happens to be gluten free and can easily be made vegan by switching to tofu. Delicious, easy, and adaptable always make for a great recipe.

Don’t be intimidated by what seems like a long list of ingredients. If you’re really lazy you can just buy “curry powder” and add it to your liking, or follow this recipe to make your own.

Serve over rice to soak up all that yummy sauce!

Coconut Curry Chicken

adapted from Simply Recipes

1 can coconut milk, light or regular depending on preference

3/4 lb. chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

Mixed vegetables – I used the following:

1 potato, washed and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 cups chopped kale

fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced

(could also try with peppers, onions, snow peas, mushrooms)

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. coriander

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

dash of allspice

1/2 tsp. turmeric

3/4 tsp. salt

a few grinds of black pepper

1 cup (low-sodium) chicken or vegetable broth

cilantro, for garnish

 

Start by prepping all of your ingredients, though you can also easily do this in the process of the cooking. Chop your chicken, carrots, potato, ginger, and kale. The main thing is to cut the potatoes and carrots the same size so they cook at the same rate, and not too big so that they don’t take too long to cook. Measure your spices into a small bowl and mix.

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Get out your favorite skillet – I used my new cast iron one – and heat over medium. At this point you can basically throw everything in and bring it to a very slight boil, before turning it down to simmer and letting it cook for about 20 minutes or until your chicken is cooked through and your potatoes and carrots are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, adding more broth if you want to thin it out or even water if the flavors are too strong for you.

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Serve over hot rice and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!