my second trimester and three new liver recipe I don’t hate!

I haven’t been writing much again, partly due to a shift in my priorities and mindset. Pregnancy is weird in a lot of ways, and I think a big part of that weirdness for me has been the unexpected change in mindset in a lot of things in life. Things that bothered me before I barely care about now, and random new things feel really important to me all the time.

I was just listening to a podcast (called “Happier with Gretchen Rubin”) which suggested looking back to when you were ten years old, and thinking about what things you enjoyed doing then. Those things tend to be hints to what you might still enjoy now, or possibly make you very happy. The first thing that pops into my mind about when I was ten years old was that I would spend hours upon hours writing stories, poems, letters to friends… and of course my infamous endangered species or horse club newsletters. So before I cared much about the right way to write (is there, even?), or whether anyone would really care about what I was writing, I just wrote things just for the fun of it. So I’m going to try doing that again right now, and if anyone’s actually reading it or caring about it- then even better! Winking smile 

I suppose another reason why I haven’t rushed online to write my 2nd trimester update blog post has been because it feels like I don’t have much to report in terms of actual happenings. To a pregnant lady, that’s a good thing. To a random reader, maybe that’s boring. Of course pregnancy has continued to feel like a wild ride for me, and I can’t believe that another couple of months have passed and I’ve continued to grow a tiny little human just by eating, drinking, and generally taking good care of myself- and I think that in and of itself is pretty extraordinary. But I don’t have any dramatic stories, neither good or bad. So if you’re up for the mediocre, boringly normal yet real updates, read on!

They say in the second trimester your energy is supposed to just spike back up and you feel like a Whole New Person. I certainly did notice an improvement on my energy over all, but I felt more like my old self rather than a whole new person. I’ve had pretty good energy for the most part, and have been able to walk at least 5 miles a day most days, which I’m very happy with despite it being quite different from my usual running and weight lifting pre pregnancy. (No, I don’t actually expect to be able to do that now, nor do I want to- it’s just an interesting mental shift that needed to happen.) I started prenatal yoga and go a couple of times per week and absolutely love it. Yoga feels like the best thing I can being doing for my body and baby overall.

My food cravings and aversions are basically gone, and for the most part I just want to eat healthy foods (and the occasional ice cream or chocolate…), and more of them than normal. I enjoy waking up hungry and making big breakfasts. It’s also been fun feeling like cooking for myself again more often, where sometimes in the first trimester I just didn’t want to be around food as much because I had less of an appetite. I’ve tried to focus even more on getting in lots of nourishing super foods for growing baby Dela, and all the kicks and punches are good reminders and motivation to why I’m doing this. I keep reading about how what I eat now is actually shaping baby’s food palate and preferences for his or her future- ah! It can be overwhelming to think of that all the time, so knowing that it’s extremely important, I just try to do my best and know that it’s great.

Liver is an incredible super food, and is super rich in the B vitamins and iron, both of which are always important but especially now. I’ve had a lot of attempts before now to find a liver recipe that I can handle (liver pills, beef liver pate, beef patties with liver “hidden” in them, and more) and have never really been successful at it until now. I have actually found three new liver recipes that are definitely my favorites thus far. The first one I made for Brian and didn’t expect to even try a bite of it, let alone tolerate it at all. Brian grew up eating plain old liver so doesn’t mind it at all- so I have made him plain fried liver before, and that’s worked for him. This time I made him Rosemary and Garlic Beef Liver- pan fried liver with a tremendous amount of fresh garlic and rosemary, and actually cooked the liver to perfection rather than over cooking it and making it turn out rubbery. He loved it, and I was able to take a few bites here and there before ultimately getting overwhelmed by the taste of liver. It’s still a little more brave of a liver recipe, but I do recommend it for those who don’t despise the taste of liver!

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(Liver, mmmmmm…….)

The second recipe I discovered which I have enjoyed more than that one was a Chicken Liver Pate with Mushrooms and Bacon. I’ve never had chicken liver before, and I found it to be much less potent of a taste and much easier to handle overall. The mushrooms and bacon helped tone down the liver taste as well. I made 1 lb of chicken liver worth of pate, and froze small amounts in mason jars. My goal is to have one little mason jar every other week. I have it as a dip with fresh apple slices and veggies and it’s not too bad! To me, it’s far worth it for the multitude of benefits. Lastly, the third liver recipe I found has also been a staple recently, and that is Amy’s Secret Liver Burgers. Maybe it’s been a favorite also because I made it with my wonderful friend Katie (who is also expecting and is due 10 days before me!) –as cooking with friends makes cooking unpleasant things much more enjoyable- but either way it’s great! I think it’s so palatable because there are so many delicious ingredients in the burgers that actually do tone down the taste of liver quite a bit. Bison, ground beef, bacon, and lots of onions and garlic. We made a double batch and I’ve kept them frozen and dethaw one for breakfast a couple of times per week.

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(Katie and I!)

The only and main bummer of my second trimester that I should mention was that I had what my practitioners all agreed to be a shifted rib in my upper right side. I had a pretty terrible twelve days, then all of a sudden it was like nothing was ever wrong. It all started when I woke up an hour after going to bed, laying on my right side, and was unable to breathe in very far and was in the worse pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I tried to wake Brian up for help but since I couldn’t move and could barely talk, I started to panic and just started crying. Poor Brian was confused and scared too, especially when I would scream at him for touching me at all or even moving in bed. This went on for awhile before we paged my midwife at 3am, who helped calm up both down just from talking to her, and prescribed me muscle relaxant to a 24 hour pharmacy, thinking it was back pain related and luckily nothing more serious despite the high pain. The muscle relaxant helped a little, but I remained in terrible pain for a few days until I could get in to see my acupuncturist. I was basically on bed rest- or couch rest, since I had to sleep propped completely upright, for a few days. The acupuncture helped incredibly, but I still saw a chiropractor a few days later which helped even more. Eventually the pain subsided and it felt like whatever it was that was out of place (supposedly a shifted rib) miraculously went back to where it was supposed to be! I don’t have any back pain anymore (*knocking on wood*) and certainly hope it stays this way.

Baby’s kicking and moving around all the time, and my belly’s growing rapidly. Last week, I felt baby Dela have the hiccups a few times and it was the sweetest thing ever. Our last couple check ups with the midwife have been wonderfully boring- I’m right on track and baby is growing well. Besides logistical things and some standard questions, there’s not much we need to talk about during the visits. Brian and I both enjoy the midwife visits very much. We’re very comfortable with each of the midwives who will be at my birth, as well as enjoy hearing baby Dela’s heart beat and the consistently positive updates. I always leave the midwife’s clinic feeling even more empowered and prepared for the rest of the pregnancy, the birth, and parenthood.

I just had the glucose tolerance test done, which screens for gestational diabetes, but luckily I was given some leeway to take the test slightly altered. Since my midwife knows my diet and lifestyle and that I’m therefor at a low risk for gestational diabetes, she allowed me to do the test without drinking the terrible, sugary soda-like solution. As an alternative, I was able to do the test by eating my normal meal including some carbs and sugars. So I got my fasting blood sugar blood drawn, then ate a normal meal (had some breakfast sausage, avocado, a ripe banana and a few plantain slices) then they took my blood sugar levels an hour after eating. My results were great, and I certainly don’t have gestational diabetes, which I am very grateful for. They also checked my iron levels, and were happy to report and a little pleasantly surprised that I’m very much not anemic, which is actually quite unusual for the second trimester. I attributed that to my liver consumption. Winking smile  Getting those positive test results were great motivators to keep doing what I’m doing, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come with my health.

My parents helped us paint the baby’s room, and we were gifted a beautiful painting called the Giving Tree from my parents which I can’t wait to see in baby Spud’s room. We have chosen the few practical, big items like the crib, stroller, and car seat. We have taken a couple short parenting types of classes through Swedish hospital and start our main childbirth class series in a couple of weeks. These things make the anticipation of baby Dela’s arrival feel so much more real…which is probably a good thing, since he or she will be here in no time!

baby room

Thanks for listening, and for those of you in my daily life, thank you so much for all the support and love!

My first trimester, and healthy fats.

It’s been a few months since I’ve made the time to write a blog entry. I’ve been…distracted, we shall say. All I’ve been wanting to learn and read about has been pregnancy and baby related, but I figured that if I started writing a bunch of blog entries on those topics, people would get suspicious! And for good reason. I’m excited to share the news now (and be able to write blog entries about it) that yes, I’m pregnant! Smile 

(Read my adorable niece’s adorable onesie below…)

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My husband and I are overjoyed. I’ve had a pretty wonderful start to my pregnancy. I have felt really quite good, felt supported, and not too crazy. Winking smile During the first trimester (which I’m just transitioning out of), I had very minimal nausea or sickness of any kind. I was more tired than normal, but never as dramatic as I had been warned about. I had a few food aversions that only lasted a day or so, but never any crazy pickles and ice cream cravings. My thyroid function actually slightly improved- it must realize that it’s very much needed during this important time.

The biggest challenge for me has probably been the emotional aspects that come along with pregnancy. The excitement, joy, anticipation, and fears around the big upcoming change in my life, the physical changes in my body, and some pretty raging hormones has all contributed towards me feeling pretty overwhelmed and wonky at times. It’s also led to some pretty impressive, crazy vivid dreams. But that, along with the unimpressive list of physical manifestations, has all calmed down a lot by now. My most recent quirk has been asking Brian to remind me that I am in fact still pregnant, since I feel so normal most of the time.

My care providers have been wonderful enough to remind me that everything has progressed as we would like to see, and that just because I haven’t had more pronounced pregnancy symptoms doesn’t mean that something is wrong. I’ve learned to be selective with what I read online, in books, and sometimes even what advice I listen to from well meaning people. Which brings me to the topic of today’s post. It’s easy to hop online or pick up your average pregnancy book and get some strict lists of yes’s and no’s during pregnancy. Foods, medications, herbs, exercises, and even habits are all up for scrutinizing, apparently. While most of it I understand and do want to know more about, it can get a bit overly complicated and stressful trying to remember how to do everything by the book. I’ve taken a lot of conventional advice with a grain of salt, sometimes doing some research on my own if I’m really curious, coming to my own conclusions. But at the end of the day, I try to remember that I will most likely have a safe, normal pregnancy, birth, and child, and that the added stress of worrying about doing everything exactly “right” isn’t good for me in any way.

So while I do think that dietary fats are some of the most important things to focus on during pregnancy (Dr. Price found the healthiest men and women ate a diet ten times higher in fat-soluble vitamins than the less healthy standard Westerner!), I don’t want to make this post into a laundry list of “Eat this, not that”. With the added consideration of food allergies and sensitivities in mind, I want to make eating healthy fats an easy and fun thing to do. So I’ll give some types of fats to focus on both for pre-conception and pregnancy (or really, for anybody), and briefly explain why they’re beneficial. Then you choose what you feel like eating and when.

Healthy Fats for pre-conception and pregnancy:

  • Fermented Cod Liver Oil: For the recommended amounts of Vit A & D. About half of all women are deficient in either Vit A or D. These vitamins need each other to absorb properly, so this is an ideal way to get both together.
  • Eggs from pastured chickens. They are considered to be “nature’s multivitamin”. Eggs can help protect against heart disease by decreasing the amount of harmful LDL’s. Furthermore, eggs “contain 100% of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as all the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin found in an egg. They also contain more than 90% of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.”- Paleo Leap. Also, the saturated fat myth has been debunked so you don’t have to worry about that!
  • Organ meats from organic, pastured animals. (About 3-4 oz of liver 1-2x week is enough.) Organ meats are among the most nutrient dense foods, with high amounts of iron, zinc, choline, vitamin B12, other B vitamins and trace minerals.
  • Oily fish. Cold water, fatty fish is the best source of Omega 3’s, which are critical for the forming brain. From Chris Kresser: “A large number of studies indicate that lower intake of long-chain omega-3 fats (found in fish) during pregnancy is associated with growth retardation, delayed or suboptimal depth perception, lower scores in tests which measure neurodevelopment, deficits in fine motor skills, speed of information processing in infants, and irreversible deficits in the release of key neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.”
  • Butter from grass fed cows for more fat soluble vitamins.
  • Whole milk, preferably raw and from pasture fed cows. If you chose to have raw dairy products, they provide beneficial sources of good bacteria, which is critical for your baby’s first exposure to your bacteria.
  • Organic beef and lamb with the fat included, for a good source of choline which helps protect against neural tube defects and helps with brain development.
  • Coconut oil for lauric acid, which is helpful for cholesterol as well as immune boosting.

fishlardmarrow

Some examples of easy, homemade fats are
1. Salad topped with salmon, fish roe and avocado
2. Homemade lard for a healthy cooking fat
3. Roasted marrow bones

Please share in the comments section your experience with any of these foods (during pregnancy or not)!

Life lessons I learned from Maui

I’m halfway through my flight home to chilly and rainy Seattle, after a beautiful twelve days on Maui. My hair has a crusty layer on it from almost two weeks of salt water instead of bath water. My ears have sand coming out of them. My skin is peeling in the inside of my arm where I always forget to apply sunscreen. I have a sunglasses tan line. And I’ve squished three sugar ants on the flight so far, that must have gotten in with my carry on luggage. Ahhh, the true signs of a Northwesterner vacationing in paradise. You would think that after all these years of vacationing in Hawaii I would get it together a bit more, and not make it so obvious where I’m from. But no. I’m a Seattlelite true and true. As much as I love Hawaii, I’m happy to call Seattle my home. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that while sunbathing these past few days, I’ve really been missing rainy runs on my favorite trail, wearing long pants and a cozy sweater, decorating my house with pumpkins, getting out my rain boots to pick up my CSA share, enjoying a hot mug of bone broth or coffee in the morning… I could go on. But the truth of the matter is, that list would be very different if it were twelve days ago and I was flying the opposite direction.

Maui revitalizes and rejuvenates me. It helps me to fully relax in a way that everyday life at home is difficult to foster. It helps me to clearly see what it is I love the most about my life, and what changes I would like to implement upon my return. I come home feeling ready for those little and big things that makes my life what it is…some of which I have the power to change and some of which I don’t. It teaches me life lessons each and every time I’m there. This year, I learned…

1. That having a sleep/wake schedule that is in synch with nature feels awesome.

At home tip: Sure it’s easy to do when you sleep with the doors open and the sun’s bright light beaming in at dawn. At home, I may reconsider my white light curtains and let what light we have in Seattle’s fall into my room.

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2. That tattoos are no longer unusual or surprising… or any body adornment, for that matter. (Don’t’ worry mom and dad, this doesn’t mean I’m addicted.)

At home tip: I can appreciate everyone’s method of adornment for its uniqueness and importance to the owner, whether or not it’s my style.

3. Good food really does just come down to quality ingredients and simple recipes.

At home tip: Instead of beating myself up over deciding on a complicated recipe, go back to the basics and pick three different foods that taste amazing when they’re the best quality, and enjoy them for what they are.

tuna saladprawn saladcod

(pictured: tuna salad, salad with prawns and avocado, and coconut crusted cod with mango salsa.)

4. Exercise shouldn’t always be strenuous or about pushing yourself to the next level. Sometimes what’s best for yourself is just moving your body however feels good and natural, such as a relaxed hike, walking (on the beach sure is nice), yoga, or some stretching.

At home tip: Limit my more ambitious plans and races to a couple times a year when I’m really craving them, and spend the rest of my time learning how to give my body what it’s telling me it needs. Try new types of exercise, such as that yoga that I’ve been talking about for years.

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5. Taking the time to enjoy sunset and sunrise are daily reminders of gratitude.

At home tip: Hawaiian sunsets just don’t happen in the fall in Seattle, but that doesn’t mean none are worth spending time with. Try to make the effort and time to get somewhere where you can watch them when they happen. After all, their infrequent nature makes them that much more special.

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6. You’ve heard it before, but it really is true. Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that bring the greatest pleasure.

At home tip: Don’t be afraid to make yourself late by stopping to smell the flowers, trying to take a picture of a fluttering butterfly…or having a chat with a curious cow.

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7. It’s amazing how the sound of waves can sooth an anxious mind.

At home tip: Luckily we are surrounded by water in the great Northwest, and it has a lot of the same relaxing effects, even if you’re sporting a raincoat, hat, and boots. Also, I own and highly recommend a sound machine so that I can listen to waves year round. Trust me, they’re pretty convincing.

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8. What would you reaction be if someone randomly broke out in extreme yoga moves in public? Maybe reconsider switching that reaction to a smile and going about your day.

(No, sadly I don’t have a picture for this one. That seemed to go against my “go about your day” recommendation.)

At home tip: Be Melissa Seda and just do it.

9. Spending time with family and good friends will make your heart very happy.

At home tip: Prioritize it.

IMG_4275hike with momfriendsem and claire

10. A smile from a stranger can go a long ways.

At home tip: Go ahead, be that annoyingly cheerful person that says hi to everyone on the street.

Why I’m announcing my step back from being awesome

Want to know an instant way to get tons of social support and attention? Setting out to do something big, impressive, and awesome and then publicly announcing it. There are endless amounts of Facebook status updates announcing the decision to start training for a marathon, to be a part of some challenge, or to take on a new project at work or at home. And this is great, because doing great things deserves great recognition and support. But you know what else deserves the same support? Deciding that what’s best for you physically is to take a break from training for that marathon. Being honest with yourself when you realize that being a part of another challenge is distracting you from your real purpose or goals. Realizing that taking on another project at work will take away from time spent with your family, and that that’s not worth it to you.

Part of the reason that we don’t get support during these times is that we don’t think it’s commendable to announce these decisions. Why should we get praise for deciding not to do that thing that is so impressive and awesome? Well, I think that it’s often very difficult to do what’s truly right for oneself, especially when that’s taking a step back and being honest with what actions are and are not helpful to your life. I think that it can actually be relatively easy to decide to do something big and impressive, since you get all the support behind you to help you accomplish that. But it can be hard to be honest with yourself about whether or not that big, impressive thing really is doing you good, and if it isn’t, to stop doing it. That big, impressive thing is exciting and feels invigorating. Realizing you’re better off not to do it at a certain moment? That feels hard, disappointing, and discouraging. I think that taking a step back is impressive. I think it’s admirable. And I think it’s praise worthy.

Around the beginning of August, I decided that I was feeling good enough to start seriously training for a running event again. It had been a long time since I’ve trained for or raced anything, and I miss it. I love the dedication, focus and commitment that goes along with deciding upon a goal and following the path to train for it. I decided that a 20 mile trail run was my goal, and found one in the area at the end of October. I found a training plan and consulted with a good friend who’s a crazy ultrarunner and made a few tweaks to make it just right. I told a few friends what I was doing, with the condition that I would train for and do the race as long as I felt good. I knew that burning myself out over completing a race would be a bad idea for my health, but that it’s easy for me to get caught up in the excitement of fitness and goal setting. I started running more often and more miles, and I felt really good. I was able to get out on real trails at least three times a week, which was not only good for my training, but also for myself mentally and emotionally. The trails are my favorite place.

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About a month went by, and although the miles were racking up, I still felt great. My nutrition was perfectly in check, and I even created my own energy bites for running and electrolyte sports drink. My runs started feeling easier, I started to feel faster, and I even started enjoying waking up early. Then, around the middle of September, I started noticing that it was harder to get out the door for my runs. I felt much more tired in the mornings, and constantly felt like I needed to go to bed earlier. I kept thinking I was about to get sick, but this feeling never changed. My nose was always dripping, and my legs always felt a little weak. My shins and calves started to feel tight, then they started to hurt during each run. I was not loosing weight like I should have been, in fact I gained a little around my waist, despite logging in more miles. My eyes had dark circles around them. During my runs, I would have to stop to walk more often than normal, and any incline felt like a major struggle. Basically, I felt run down. Although I had lots of signs and symptoms, it took me a couple of weeks to pay attention and really acknowledge it. I didn’t want to slow down or worse, stop my training.

Last week, I ran with my good friend (the runner who helped me create my plan) and I found myself telling her that I would have to take it easy, that I felt like I was getting sick, and that I would have to walk the hills. All of that showed to be true during the run. The following day, I was supposed to run another five miles, so I set out to do so at Discovery Park, but less than a mile in I had to stop to walk. I wasn’t even out of breath. I was just so tired. I finished the run, but it took a lot of mental toughness and it sure was slow. This last weekend, despite planning on taking a day off of running, my husband and I found a new trail that we decided to test out. It was the grumpiest I’ve ever been on a beautiful running trail. Everything just felt so hard.

Mark Sisson knows a lot about how exercise fits into a healthy lifestyle. So I didn’t need to look very far to find information from him about 8 Signs you are Overtraining. I read it and (almost literally) weeped. Almost all of them rang true for me, and this means that if I’m going to be honest with what’s best for myself, I need to take a step back from my training. The eight signs laid out by Sisson are:

1. You repeatedly fail to complete your normal workout.

2. You’re losing leanness despite increased exercise.

3. You’re lifting/sprinting/hitting hard every single day.

4. You’re primarily an anaerobic/power/explosive/strength athlete, and you feel restless, excitable, and unable to sleep in your down time.

5. You’re primarily an endurance athlete, and you feel overly fatigued, sluggish, and useless.

6. Your joints, bones, or limbs hurt.

7. You’re suddenly falling ill a lot more often.

8. You feel like crap the hours and days after a big workout.

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Chris Kresser also discusses how too much exercise (especially chronic cardio) can push the body’s stress response too far. The body releases cortisol when it’s under stress, so being in a state of overtraining can lead to consistently high cortisol levels, which causes a myriad of problems, such as sleep issues, digestive, weight gain, depression, and even memory problems. Since I already know that I have an autoimmune condition and tend towards adrenal fatigue, this is certainly all true for me. In fact, high stress (in this case it was physical stress) can cause hypothyroidism to worsen a lot as well, and I certainly have noticed my symptoms around that increase over the past few weeks.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, it was only yesterday that I was able to admit to myself that I could be overdoing it. I texted my husband after what was supposed to be a 7 mile trail run that turned into a snail’s pace of a 4 miler, and told him what I thought was happening. I told him that I was disappointed but that it’s probably best if I take a step back with my training. He responded by telling me how great it is that I’m listening to my body and making changes. I didn’t feel like it was great at the time, but now that I’ve had some time to think on it, I realize how hard it was for me to allow myself to see the truth and decide to do something about it.

So today I’m not running. I’m stretching, foam rolling, and drinking lots of tea. I booked a massage appointment with the voucher I’ve been holding onto for just the right occasion. I’m eating more carbs. I’m (trying to) sleep more. I’m trying to reduce cortisol levels through acupuncture, my silly at home yoga moves, and meditating. I happen to be going to Maui in a little over a week from now. I was planning on doing a 15 miler one of the first mornings I’m there, but we’ll see if I’m feeling up for that or not. Either way, I will definitely be enjoying early mornings moving on the beach in some way or another. I’ll keep getting outside and on the trails, but probably stick to walking for awhile.

And I’m telling myself that this isn’t forever, because nothing really is. I’m hoping to feel better and be able to slowly and carefully get back into training. But for now, I’m publically announcing that I’m taking a step back from doing something awesome. How awesome is that? Winking smile

How does Methylation Affect you?

There has been a lot of talk recently about methylation, often by means of talking about MTHFR testing. I heard about it for a long time before I actually understood it or decided to do the testing myself. There are so many possible contributions to disease that it can be overwhelming. Sometimes learning more about one thing can bring you down an extremely overwhelming rabbit hole that doesn’t help anything. I’ve learned a lot about how nutrition and lifestyle contributes to health in the past couple of years, and have made many changes. Some changes happened quickly and abruptly (avoiding gluten) and others have taken longer (stress reduction practices). The methylation discussion is one that I felt ready to tackle at the beginning of this past summer, when I was complaining to my practitioner that something was missing. That I was doing so many things right yet felt that something could be greatly improved. She recommended that I get tested for an MTHFR defects. I did, and my results turned out to be a key component to addressing my autoimmune condition and symptoms.

Before getting into my actual results and what I’ve changed because of them, I want to briefly explain about methylation. Without having a basic understanding, it’s hard to know why you should care about it! Fortunately, one of my favorite health and wellness expert’s, Chris Kresser, just had his latest podcast “Methylation- What It Is and Why Should You Care?” all about methylation. It’s a complicated subject, and he does a wonderful job of simplifying it to the point of making it much more understandable. I could try to do the same, but I admit that I don’t have nearly the same ability to condense the intricate material as he does. So instead, I decided to listen to his podcast through many times, and try to summarize it with respect to the information coming from him. So here it is:  

Methylation is a vital metabolic process that happens in every cell and every organ in our body. It takes place more than a billion times a second in the body. Quite simply, life would not exist without it. Not only is it vital, but it is extremely complicated (see pic below). Luckily, I have no intention on explaining the intricacies behind the actual process today!

Methylation-cycle

Methylation works on the most fundamental processes in the body, and it affects every tissue in the body. Although everything is affected by it, certain systems are affected a lot more than others, such as the brain. Methylation defects can manifest as all sorts of cognitive and behavioral issues, such as autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, depression, anxiety, etc. It also affects detoxification a lot, since methylation is needed to produce glutathione, a major antioxidant in the detoxification process. This can lead to higher susceptibility to heavy metal toxicity, since you can’t properly detox the metals you may come in contact with. Since we’re all bombarded with toxins in our modern world, our ability to detoxify is crucial for our overall health. Methylation also influences histamine breakdown in the gut, contributing to food intolerances.

Methylation is known for being a major player in activating and silencing gene expressions, otherwise known as epigenetics. This is known as DNA Methylation, and it is one way that cells affect your genes. We have always known that our DNA does affect a lot of our physical selves, but we’re now understanding better how all our many environmental challenges affect us as well. The bad news about this is that there are many environmental factors that we sometimes cannot have control over that contribute to our lifelong health, such as having an undesirable c-section, having a poor diet before we were educated, etc. The good news is that the opposite it also true- many of the things that we know how to do correctly for our health (stress reduction, fostering good gut health, avoiding allergens, etc) will positively affect our gene expression in the future. It seems that we are learning more and more about new ways that we can influence us in this positive way everyday.

So when methylation goes wrong, we want to know why does it, and what’s the cause of your defective methylation process? There are two categories of things that affect how the body methylates: genetics and environmental factors. Gut health, diet, exposure to toxins, stress, etc are all environmental factors. MTHFR is one of the major enzymes involved in the methylation cycle. We inherit these genes from each parents, so if you have two copies of a mutated gene, you’re considered to be homozygous. If you’re heterozygous, you have a single, normal copy of the gene, as well as a mutated copy. With genetic conditions, homozygous conditions are more serious, since it means that you are not producing whatever enzymes for the specific gene that you have mutated. If you’re homozygous, you’re have about a 60% decrease of activity of that gene, which means that you only have 40% of your normal enzyme activity. Certain mutated genes are more dangerous than others.

Gene-Mutation

If you learn that you have methylated defects, you are much more likely to have reduced activity in the gene, creating methylation issues. This manifests as low levels of folate, B12, SAM, beneficial glutathione, and other metabolites in the methylation cycle, among other potential manifestations. This in turn leads to increased susceptibility to toxins, infections, histamine intolerance, depression, anxiety, fertility problems, miscarriage, and many other issues that I mentioned above. Luckily, having the gene defect is more of a predisposing factor to these issues rather than an outright prescription for disease, since all the many environmental factors play into whether or not you have an issue or not. It’s important to understand that some people are much more affected by gene mutations than others, even when they have the same gene mutations. This is where the environmental factors come into play. They have an important interplay with our genetic code. If someone has a homozygous mutation for a certain gene, it doesn’t mean they are doomed for the enzyme activity of that gene. If this person takes good care of themselves by not exposing themselves to toxins, taking good care of their gut, managing their stress, creating good sleep habits, etc, they are very likely to be able to have a much better methylation capacity than someone who does not take care of themselves in these ways.

To find out about your own methylated genotypes, you can get genetic testing done for about $99 through 23andme.com . I was able to get a test done through Spectracell Laboratories for much less through my Naturopathic doctor. If you get the test done yourself (as opposed to working with a practitioner or doctor), you can get the interpretation data of your results done through geneticgenie.org or mthfrsupport.com. It is very valuable to know the results because of how intricately it affects your health. For example, if it turns out that you’re homozygous for MTHFR, you will tend to be low in folate, B12, glutathione, etc and need to be aware of this in order to get the sufficient forms and amounts. It is important to have a protocol to support your body if you have methylation, and there are many ways in doing this. It is important to work with a practitioner or doctor on this, as it can be dangerous to be too aggressive with taking certain methylated supplements. Another reason t work with someone on this is that when you begin to methylate properly, your body will start detoxing, which can create a lot of confusing “die off” symptoms, that you’ll want to keep in touch with someone about.. Rich Van Konyenburg is known for his methods in treating methylation defects and is a good place to start.

The takeaway here is to get the extra layer of testing done to see what (if any) defects you have, so that you can work with your practitioner to properly support your body with this in mind, since those defects can be contributing to such a wide variety of issues. In my case, I ended up finding out that I’m homozygous for C677T Mutation, but negative for the A1298C mutation. This means that both of my parents have the C677T mutation. This mutation is associated with an increase in homocysteine levels, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or thrombosis, and potential methotrexate intolerance. This is wonderful to be aware of, since I can now do everything I know how to do in order to support myself from having these risk factors be high. The treatment for this is a dietary and supplemental approach- I pay close attention to make sure I’m getting enough folate and B vitamins in my diet, as well as supplement with the appropriate form (which I discovered through my functional med doctor). Since I started supplementing with these things, I have noticed a difference in my autoimmune symptoms. Having the right amount of folate and B12 are also especially critical for fertility and energy metabolism- both important things to me! So I’m incredibly thankful that this information is becoming more widely known and studied. We have a long ways to go in the subject, but there’s a lot we can learn from what’s available now.

Have you had your methylation tested and if so, what did you find out?

Real Food Energy Chews #1- Pecan

Back in my marathon running days, I relied heavily on whatever energy gels and drinks were sold at your average running store. Why not? Most hardcore runners do. They figure that gels, bars, and sports drinks designed specifically for running must be just what they need. As I’ve learned more about nutrition in the past couple of years, I’ve made the realization that while many of those bars might have a great macronutrient ratio and be easy to eat while on the run, they’re usually made from a carefully chosen combination of food additives, amino acids, flavors, and sugars. Very rarely do the ingredients come from real food.

I started following a training plan a couple weeks ago in hopes to run a 20 mile trail run at the end of October. While I try not to eat too much while running (it’s awfully hard to digest properly), my stomach was telling me that I needed something, even early on in my runs. I specifically needed something easy to carry with me on longer trail runs as well as pre breakfast morning runs. For a couple runs, I munched on plain dates. They were tasty and easy, but too sweet and really hard to carry without getting sticky sap-like goo all over my fingers. Although dates do have good nutrition in them, I don’t want to rely on plain sugar during runs. So then I found Power Snacks by Navitas and fell in love. They’re gluten and dairy free, have no refined sugar, and are filled with antioxidant rich ingredients. After deciding it could be worth the steep cost of 10 bucks a bag, I had a few on runs here and there. I loved their taste and convenience, but found that my stomach was not very happy with them. Looking at the ingredients in closer detail, I realized that the chia seeds and sesame seeds could be the culprit for me personally.

Frustrated with my options, I decided it couldn’t be that hard to make my own. It certainly should be a heck of a lot cheaper than $10 a bag, too. So I set out for some simple ingredients that I seem to digest well and my trusty food processor. I whipped up a batch of pecan/sunflower seed/coconut/date bars, which turned out wonderfully. Price breakdown is below:

Raw pecan pieces from Trader Joe’s: $3.99 for 8 oz
Sunflower seeds from Trader Joe’s: $1.99 for 16 oz
Medjool Dates from Trader Joe’s: $4.50 for 16 oz
Let’s Do Organic Shredded Coconut: $3.99 for 8 oz
*Total: $14.50

*The full amounts of these ingredients were not used, and it still filled an 8×8 pan with thick bars. Made about 30 1 inch by 1 inch square bars.

Feeling quite proud of my simple success, I decided that I’ll continue to create all different types and flavors of energy chews and share them here with you. For now, here’s my

Real Food Energy Chew #1- Pecan

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Ingredients:

25 Medjool dates
1 cup of pecans
1 cup of sunflower seeds
1.5 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
6 Tablespoons coconut oil

The dates are an excellent real food source of energy, which also provides fiber for a slower release of the sugar into your bloodstream. The pecans add healthy monounsaturated fats and B vitamins (needed for energy metabolism). Sunflower seeds are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids which compliment the pecans fat profile nicely. They are also high in protein. Shredded coconut is high in the saturated fat lauric acid, as well as B vitamins which support energy, and much needed minerals, specifically potassium, which are critical to replace during exercise.

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Instructions:

1. Combine pecans, sunflower seeds, and coconut in the food processor and blend until relatively fine.
2. Add in the dates and oil and blend until it turns into a dough.
3. Line your pan with parchment paper and evenly distribute the dough on top.
4. Let set in the fridge for a couple hours.
5. Go for a run and enjoy! Smile

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Em’s 2014 Banana Bread of the Year

When I was about eight years old, I was given my first cookbook. It was called something like the “Cooking ABC’s”, with a bright red cover. I remember it as being covered by white flour, crusted over from sugar, and orange at the ends from spilled egg yolks. Out of curiosity, I searched for it online, but couldn’t find what I remember it to be. Maybe this is for the best. The image of that book holds a very special place in my heart. It was because of that cookbook that I got excited about cooking and baking, and this capability in turn made me realize that I did indeed have influence and choices over what I ate. My preferences matter, and I can choose to eat and make whatever I want- (within reason, of course, as we always had to choose one vegetable to have with our dinner. Although steamed peas made Phil gag, I thought that was where it’s at!) I also realized that I can go astray from the recipes from the book and even create my own own “concoctions”, as my little brother (the Sous-Chef) and I dubbed them. This realization made for entertained house guests and polite and patient parents.

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(This picture has nothing to do with banana bread, but is an accurate display of Chef Emily & Sous-Chef Phil in their free time, when they weren’t busy in the kitchen.)

I quickly learned that my favorite foods were sweet and bread based, of course. The vegetables sliced up and carefully placed in ways such that they look like smiley faces are cute and all, but a warm, fresh out of the oven slice of sweet banana bread? Can’t top that. So my obsession with banana bread began. You can have it as an after school snack, dessert after dinner… heck, sometimes mom would even let me heat up a slice at breakfast! You can add chocolate chips, smear peanut butter on top… you get the idea.

My banana bread bakin’ days did taper off at some point around middle school, when I got too cool to put on my mom’s apron and spend evenings in the kitchen. But my love of banana bread held on strong. At some point during college when I got sick of take out pizza, salmon burgers from Costco, and grilled panini’s, I remembered my banana bread days and asked my mom for the recipe. At this point I knew very well that a recipe consisting of white flour, white sugar, eggs, and a few mashed bananas isn’t the healthiest of all. (Hey now, let’s not be concerned with the previously listed food choices.) I had taken up running along trails near campus, and felt a sudden desire to become more fit and healthy. So I was determined to make this recipe healthier. So what did I do? I played around with the recipe off and on for months, adding in raisins, all different nuts and seeds, rolled oats, and substituting with whole wheat flour, flax seeds, and egg replacers. And once I perfected it, I coined it “Emily’s Nutritious and Delicious Banana Bread.” Oh dear is right.

Well, nutritional choices sure have changed yet again, but I’m happy to say that my love for banana bread is still holding strong. You may be wondering how this is possible, given that I now eat gluten free, grain free, egg free, and most nuts free. What the heck does that leave a bread with? Is it even bread at that point? I’ve gone through my fair share of bad paleo bread recipes. Usually, I don’t’ try to replicate something too bread-like, for fear of sham. But when something grabs a hold of you that tight- as tight as my banana bread did, yes- you can’t let that go. For the sake of warm and fuzzy childhood memories, you must make it work. Of course, I’m not willing to sabotage myself and start eating everything that I’ve so carefully cut out of my diet over the past couple of years. That would call for moaning and groaning and a big belly ache, and nobody wants that. So I make substitutions, and I tinker, and I taste. And eventually, I find something that makes my heart very happy as soon as I take my first bite.

This recipe is inspired off of Tessa the Domestic Diva and her recipe for Paleo Banana Bread. I didn’t have all of the ingredients, so I made some changes (seems to be a running theme here) and made a version of it that makes me very happy. I’ll give it a name, but give Tessa the credit.

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Em’s 2014 Banana Bread of the Year

(See? I’m claiming nothing but the year, since something is bound to change.)

Ingredients:

4 large, ripe bananas
1/3 cup coconut oil
3 tablespoons coconut butter
2 tablespoons psyliium husks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons coconut flour

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Instructions:

  1. Combine all ingredients except the coconut flour.
  2. Add the coconut flour.
  3. Form muffin tin sized balls with the batter.
  4. Place in a greased muffin tin.
  5. Bake for 20 25 minutes at 350 deg. until set.
  6. Let them cool (or eat one, then let the rest cool), then enjoy!

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(As you can tell, I highly recommend a good dollop of nut or seed butter on top!)

Difficulty: Non-existent. No really. How hard is it to blend a few things together, pretend it’s play dough and drop it in muffin tins?

Tastiness: Would I have shared this if it wasn’t just delectable?

Diet Savvy: I made it “autoimmune paleo” friendly (minus the sunflower seed butter, which I tolerate) for a reason- so I can eat it, and lots of it!

Enjoy!

mindset and positive change

How often is it that we make healthy goals or resolutions and then get disoriented and lost along the way when following through on them? New Years Resolutions are notorious for this, but it’s more common than that once a year expectation. Knowing what changes would be good for us to make can be easy. Drink less alcohol. Go to bed earlier. Be more active. But having the ability to affectively make those changes? Not always so easy. So what makes it easier for some people to successfully make changes, and how can I learn how?

I love the life I have made for myself, but since I don’t work for anyone, I know that I need to create my own structure in order to feel productive and happy at the end of the day. If I let myself float through a day, filling it with important yet unstructured activities, I often feel frustrated by how I spent my time. I need to visualize my goals and know that I’m working towards them everyday. So when I do take the time to structure out my days, I often think in terms of the seasons. When this past summer was rolling around, I asked myself, ‘what do I visualize my summer to look like? What will I accomplish? What positive habits will I pursue? How will they contribute to my bigger goals and feelings of purpose?’ These were hard questions to answer, but once I was able to get some answers down, they did help me narrow down my focus and feel good about working towards those goals every day. The first few steps towards making the changes were easy. It’s exciting in the beginning, and easy to use willpower and that sense of new beginnings to follow through in the beginning. But after a few days or a few weeks, my willpower waned and somehow, accidentally, I decided that some of those goals weren’t important enough to keep focusing on.

Now that fall is around the corner, I find myself ready for a little change in the pace of life again. I’m thinking about some things I would like to accomplish this fall, and some goals are popping up in my mind again. Yet I don’t want to start on another well intended path for positive change then get distracted and whatever else happens mentally, and let them fall through the cracks. So I’m determined to answer my question as to what are the mechanisms for successfully making positive changes.

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In order to learn how to be successful at this, let’s take a look at those who are doing just that- those who are successfully accomplishing their set goals. First of all, we know that people who are happy accomplish a lot more than those who are unhappy. This makes sense, right? The opposite is obvious. If someone is depressed, they’re usually not accomplishing much. It can be a vicious cycle- they’re depressed, therefor not accomplishing much, and they’re surely not happy about their lack of productivity. And those who are happy in life seem to be able to accomplish what is important to them, and make it look easy at that. The order of this is important, however. Accomplishment doesn’t cause deep happiness, at least not in the way I’m talking about true happiness. We may get a short lived feeling of happiness after we accomplish something we set our minds to, but will it really make you happy? What has been shown to make us truly and deeply happy in life are the deep and intimate connections we make with other people as well as kindness.

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If happiness is really an indicator for positive change and productivity, how do you just become happier? One surefire way to be happier, and therefor capable of more productivity, is by practicing gratitude. So many studies have shown that practicing gratitude really does greatly improve your happiness. My favorite study and video illustrating this is An Experiment in Gratitude. Every time I watch that it makes me cry and laugh at the same time! It inspires me very much to practice gratitude on a daily basis, whether it’s simply reminding myself what I’m grateful for first thing in the morning, listing out things I am grateful for before bed, or really telling people what they mean to me. I especially like UJ Ramdas’s idea of a “Gratitude Object”- something small you can keep in your pocket and every time you touch it, you think of something you’re grateful for.

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Also in my quest to learn more about goal setting and positive change, I keep hearing about the power of habits over and over again. “At the end of the day, it’s the habit that really matters. The habit that sticks, that is easy to use.” – UJ Ramdas. I think this is an important part of my puzzle, since when willpower runs up, you rely on habits. So forming positive habits are key to success. UJ talks about creating positive habits through structuring his day. For example, he starts his days with either meditation, a walk, stretching, a workout, or some way of focusing on gratitude. At night, he will go through the day in his mind and evaluate how he spent his time as well as reviewing his goals and who he wants to be. He enjoys sleeping and resting in this space in line of where he wants be be. After time, this newly created structure becomes habit. And habits become just how you live your life, without question or pressure.

Last June, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, The Health Bridge, and was fascinated by the topic of a 100 day gong, and how it helps you create lasting, positive habits. A gong is a Chinese concept that describes a 100 day period of time in which you follow set goals and tasks for yourself for the purpose of improving your own personal growth. Traditionally, these tasks tend to be physical, mental and spiritual. Pedram Shojai from The Health Bridge recommends to his listeners that these tasks are specifically related to diet, exercise, sleep, and mindset, as he believes that when these things are in balance, you are in your full vitality. During this period of time, you commit to restructuring your life around making these tasks and changes happen every single day. If you mess up one day, you start back on day one. It is believed that while it may only take 21 days to create a new habit, it takes 90 days to lay old habits to rest. I think that in order to create a new, positive habit you must lay old habits to rest in conjunction. So after 100 days of successfully following your tasks, those goals will feel seamless and easy, and you will feel more clear about your intention and attention in your daily life. The purpose is to take some time to refocus on your goals, priorities, and intentions, and to get out of the trance of day to day living. The point of focusing on yourself and your own goals for awhile is the same reasoning behind why you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. In order to truly be there for other people, you must be good and true to yourself first.

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So of course I’m in. I made a list of 7 different tasks and goals that I plan to follow over the next 100 days. They are things in which I can do anywhere, since I will be traveling a good amount in the next few months to come. I started yesterday (August 19th) and let me tell you- I felt great! I’m excited about following those tasks and enjoyed the feeling of change. However, I realize I am completely in what Jason Selk considers to be Phase 1 of habit formation. I’m in the honeymoon phase, where I’m super motivated about these changes. Sooner or later, my inspiration will fade somewhat, and reality will set in. This is what I’ve felt happen before, and where I hope to plow through this time around. Selk suggests that in order to get through this phase successfully, that you recognize that you’re in this phase, think about how you’ll feel if you do or do not follow through, and try to see yourself further in the future after making the changes or not making them. I’m a much bigger fan of positive motivation rather than negative, and think that it’s much more likely to help me succeed if I focus on the possible positive results, rather than the opposite. So instead of spending a lot of time thinking about how terrible I’ll feel if I don’t follow through, I’ll think about how great it will feel once I do. Focus on the success, rather than the possible failure. In phase 3, Selk talks about how you are getting in the groove, and complications that can change this are getting discouraged, disrupted, or seduced by success too early. Being aware of these interruptions will help to make sure that they don’t happen.

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I’m still curious about methods to ensure making changes successfully. In the “Ask the RD” Podcast titled “How to make Smart Resolutions”, Nutritionists Kelsey Marksteiner and Laura Shoenfeld talk about how making very measureable and specific goals and actually checking them off a list each day can be helpful. They joke about using gold star stickers, but really do recommend using any clear way of recognizing each day’s accomplishments. This way, you’re focusing on the current day rather than the long term project, which can seem daunting. For exercise related goals, they discuss how being realistic is critical, and how finding support through friends and community to help hold you accountable and motivated is helpful. For sleep related goals, they discuss how making specific goals are again helpful. Making a bedtime, having a light or media curfew, using amber tinted glasses in the evening for melatonin production, and slowing down on caffeine and chocolate consumption are all recommended paths. They also discuss how to set and follow stress relieving goals, which fits into the mindset portion of the gong nicely. Committing to a stress relieving practice such as yoga, meditation, and visualization practices are helpful, as well as rethinking your time management skills.

Chris Kresser has lots of helpful information on how to be productive, which I think fits in nicely with how to follow your goals and make positive change. In his discussion on productivity, he recommends movement and physical activity as the key for helping your productivity, as it improves cognitive performance. He also recommends that you clear your mind, as it’s difficult to be productive when distracted, stressed out, and unfocused. Practicing some type of mindfulness or meditation can really help with this. In fact, it will also help with managing your stress, which is Chris’s recommended resolution to follow, since in turn it will likely positively affect your health in many other ways. 

So what do you think? Do the tools I’ve discussed seem like they could be helpful in your quest for positive change? Are you willing to take the plunge and try them out with me? Smile And lastly, if you have ANY helpful tips for me and others, please share!

Recipe Review: Cherry Pie bars

Summer might be the most fun time of the year, but it also might be the most hectic! Add in a full bathroom remodel, a heat wave, and trips every weekend, and there’s no time or desire to cook. This is usually about the time that I start looking forward to the cooler evenings and crisp mornings, and all the colorful bounty that is brought along with that weather change. And while I will admit that I’m hiding from today’s 90 degree heat in my friend’s basement as I write this, I have to admit that I’m feeling conflicted none the less. I love fall. I love everything about it- the warm colors, all the squashes, soups, and stews, cool runs through leafy trails, breaking out cozy sweaters and tall boots, appreciating hot coffee. But how can you want to finish off a season that delivers you fresh, juicy tomatoes by the bucketful each week? A season that gives your house the warmth of sun shine first thing in the morning? A season that makes the minimal suggestion of owning a BBQ and forgetting about your kitchen?

In the past week I’ve really only managed to either grill all the vegetables in my CSA box or make cold, refreshing salads out of them. I also made 3 Herb Breakfast Patties and bratwurst. And that’s it. That’s all the cooking I’ve managed to do. My husband has been patient about eating simple meals of meat and vegetables, and since I’ve been wandering from friend’s house to friend’s house (thank you friends!) to stay out of the way of the workers, I have been toting around a cooler filled with US Wellness’s liverwurst, Trader Joe’s plantain chips, coconut butter, Krave jerky, Wild Planet canned tuna, avocados, and sauerkraut. What more could you want? Smile (Oh right, chocolate. I make sure to have plenty Coconut Almond bars, with the substitutions of pecans and sunflower seeds…delicious treat!)

Speaking of delicious treats, that brings me to my point! I *did* manage to have time for one very special recipe this week. When a new “Autoimmune Paleo” treat is born to the internet, us Autoimmune Paleo followers go kind of crazy. I think that it’s easy to get caught up in focusing on what foods need to be removed from the diet rather than what delicious foods should be included and added in. This can make it easy to feel like you’re always saying no to things, and your diet seems to always revolve around the same meat and vegetables. Luckily I have gotten pretty darn good at substituting ingredients so I can enjoy new recipes, as well as creating delicious different versions of the healthiest AIP foods, so that I don’t have any reason to feel bored or left out. Yet I still get excited when a new and exciting AIP recipe pops up, because it takes some of the work away from me. I also just love seeing what other people in the community are creating, and I love supporting them by trying their recipes and recommending the best!

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So without further ado, let me introduce to you… Cherry Pie Bars, by Grazed and Enthused

Ingredients (Pie Crust):

  • 1 ½ c Japanese (white) sweet potato, peeled and chopped into ½ inch cubes. (I used regular sweet potatoes, as Trader Joe’s didn’t have white sweet potato. I think the white sweet potato would have made for a harder crust, which would have been nice.)
  • 2 T coconut oil, melted
  • 2 T coconut flour
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon

Ingredients (Cherry Pie Filling)

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Instructions (Pie Crust):

  1. Place sweet potatoes in steamer basket set over a pot of boiling water. Cover and let steam for 13-15 minutes until easily pierced with a fork. Transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  2. Pour coconut oil into the mixing bowl and use a potato masher to mash the potatoes as smoothly as possible. Stir in coconut flour, cinnamon and sea salt and mix well using your hands while kneading the dough.
  3. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and form a compact ball with each. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, create a small 4 x 5 inch rectangle with each portion. Smooth down with hands to ensure two rectangles of even thickness and equal size. Set aside.

Instructions (Cherry Pie Filling):

  1. Place dates in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Remove dates from bowl, reserving the liquid.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat cherries and lemon juice over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, breaking open the cherries with a wooden spoon as they simmer.
  3. Add dates and 2 tsp reserved liquid to the pan, breaking open the dates as they cook down. Continue cooking and stirring until you get a thick paste (about 2 more minutes). Remove from heat and stir in arrowroot and cinnamon.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon cherry filling over one of the rectangles until evenly covered. Lift up remaining rectangle with a large spatula, and carefully lay it on top of cherry filling, using your fingers to smooth and seal the dough. Brush with 1 tsp melted coconut oil.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest in fridge for at least 1 hour prior to slicing. Slice with a sharp knife into 4 bars.

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Difficulty: Moderate. Getting the filling of dates and cherries blended together by hand while on the stove took some patience. And as you can tell from the above pictures, my crust to filling ratio was a little off. I didn’t end up using all of the filling I made because there was too much of it to have held onto to the crust. I didn’t have quite enough crust to cover the filling, yet didn’t want to throw out a ton of the filling, so I put the crust around the edges to hold in the filling as much as possible.

Tastiness: Very tasty indeed! I used cherries that were frozen from our cherry tree this spring. It tastes very sweet to me, even though there’s no sugar added (hooray!), so I will enjoy it in moderation.

Diet Savvy: This is completely Autoimmune Paleo Protocol compliant, so I was able to make it with no substitutions.

Other Comments: I love how versatile these bars are. They can easily be served as a dessert in place of pie, but if you don’t mind the occasional treat in the morning, it would also be delicious as a breakfast pastry with a hot cup of coffee. Good warm or cold, anytime of the day.

Enjoy!

Not your usual Salad recipe Lineup

We all have our go-to salad recipes. The salad we make in a pinch when we’re craving a healthy, easy meal. (For me, this often is when I’ve come home from a vacation where I may not have made as healthy of decisions!) My go-to is a spring mix base (or whatever greens I get from the farm), with either smoked salmon, canned sardines, or shrimp, kalamata olives, roasted beets, avocado, and any other vegetables I have on hand. I make a simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic, fresh garlic, sea salt and pepper, and throw in some minced fresh herbs if I have any. It’s so good. So refreshing, nourishing, and seems to fit with every season.

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But then, every once in awhile, I get inspired to make a brand new salad and I’m reminded of the power of simple, yet high quality ingredients making for fantastic meals. This is what I love about salads in particular. They require very little work and tinkering with ingredients. Really, they rely on and require only good quality ingredients. You can’t cheat with a salad- you need to use the best quality produce and protein available for the best experience! I’m all about the simplicity of recipes and relying on quality meat and produce. There’s nothing better than impressing someone with the taste of a meal by explaining where the produce came from for why it’s so good. As much as I appreciate convenience foods such as already roasted and peeled beets or pre chopped vegetables from Trader Joe’s in a pinch, the fresh flavors of the produce I get from my CSA box or from the farmer’s market really upgrade my salads.

One of my other favorites is the Radish and Jicama Tabbouli by Mickey Trescott. Other than requiring a lot of chopping, it’s really easy. I also love that it keeps well for a long time, since it uses sturdy vegetables that don’t wilt easily. I often make a big bowl of it and have it throughout the week. Coleslaws are also fun to have in the summer, especially with a BBQ. A couple personal favorites of mine are the Sautéed Red Cabbage with onions and apple (I often add bacon for good measure) by Diane Sanfilippo, as well as the Spicy Slaw from the 21 Day Sugar Detox cookbook (also Diane Sanfilippo).

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I cannot stress enough how critical quality ingredients are when making a salad. If you don’t feel like following a recipe, simply going to the farmers market and picking out whatever vegetables are the most beautiful, vibrant, and in season, is a great way to go. The first picture below is an easy salad we threw together at our cabin this summer, only made from what a friend brought over from the farmer’s market. Isn’t it beautiful? The second photo is a salad from Roam Burgers in San Francisco called ‘Farmer’s Market Salad”.

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A recent revelation I had was how easy, delicious, and affordable it is to make my favorite sushi rolls into a salad bowl. Enter: Kisaku’s Greenlake Sushi Roll SALAD! My favorite sushi roll is salmon, avocado, asparagus, fish roe, and marinated seaweed. For this salad, I used white rice as a base, and added all those ingredients, plus some jicama for good measure. I got my fish roe from the Ballard Farmer’s market- Ikura from Loki. I remember when I used to pick out those little pink balls from my sushi rolls- now I order Nigiri rolls of only them! I used coconut aminos as the dressing, instead of Tamari, as I try to avoid soy the best I can.

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The most recent salad I made was created simply because I had 8 pints of tomatoes and 5 cucumbers to use up from the farm. I found a simple recipe with basil, lemon juice, olive oil, and sea salt, and added purple grapes for fun. It turned out to be so refreshing that I’ve enjoyed it in the sun for a few days in a row now.

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Here are some new recipes that I look forward to trying throughout the rest of the summer.

Blood Orange, Beet, and Fennel Salad- I get so much fennel in my CSA box that I never know what to do with- now I do!

Strawberry Cobb Salad- I would have to omit the eggs and dairy, but the bacon vinaigrette sounds incredible. Yes, you heard me right. Bacon vinaigrette!

Grilled kale with garlic, chiles, and bacon- We often have kale overflowing in our square foot garden, and I never know what to do with it. I don’t enjoy kale raw, so grilling it sounds both tasty and interesting! And you can’t go wrong with the addition of bacon.

Belly Dance Beet Salad- I didn’t call my blog Beets & Bacon for nothing- I love beets! (And bacon!) This salad looks like the most intriguing way ever to make a beet salad!

Citrusy Carrot and Radish Salad- I enjoyed listening to the blogger from The Clothes Make the Girl on the Balanced Bites podcast awhile ago, and have been perusing her recipes since then. I agree with her that while radishes are really pretty, they taste like dirt. I would really like to find a way to eat them without thinking about soil. My husband loves radishes as plain as they come, and would disagree with that statement (or maybe he just likes the taste of dirt?), plus he loves tart, citrusy flavors, so he would love this recipe all the more. I can’t wait to try it!

Herb “Rice” Salad- A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from my husband during the middle of the day. “I need you to pick up a head of cauliflower today,” was all it said. As soon as he got home from work, he immediately started rambling about how delicious his co-workers “cauliflower rice” was. I’ve made cauliflower rice before, but apparently it wasn’t as good as hers! This recipe might help me out a bit.

Brussels Sprout Salad with Bacon- I would substitute the cheese for coconut milk. Looks delicious!

Thai Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing- I took a trip to Thailand after graduating from college, and thought I was in heaven during each and every meal. Thailand is certainly the perfect example of a country that relies on fresh vegetables to make their flavors pop.

Asian Cucumber Salad- I got my mother a spiralizer for mother’s day and I’ve been meaning to borrow it. This is the perfect excuse to do that. Wow does the dressing sound incredible! I would maybe even try adding some salmon to the meal! 

Asian Noodle Salad- Sticking with the Asian theme for one more, this looks delicious as well. I love cabbage based salads and would love trying out kelp noodles!

Sweet and Crunchy Chicken Slaw- I remember loving a chicken salad that my mom made when I was little. I can’t remember the ingredients exactly, but I do recall the crunch of raw ramen noodles, some egg, and probably lots of other things I don’t eat now. This looks like a delicious, refreshing alternative that will bring back the same wonderful childhood memories!

Honey Mustard Crunchy Chicken Plantain Salad- I love plantains and I love salads. Enough salad.

Crunchy Kale Salad- Looks very simple and very tasty!

Please share your favorite salad recipes!