About Jen

Editor. Home chef. Crafter. Knitter. Reader. Mama to Feral Charlie. All-around nerd. Fan of kittens, purses, potato chips, Coca-Cola, shiny shoes, yarn, fingernail polish, sour cream, spelling contests, poached eggs, clean bathrooms, fresh herbs, giant steaks, lip gloss, Zac Efron, mac 'n' cheese, salami, and semicolons.

Eleven Easy Gluten-Free Go-Tos

My little sister, Ellen, has been on a path toward becoming gluten- and dairy-free, which has significantly improved her health issues. When she cooks for herself and strictly monitors for cross-contamination, the golden age of GF living reveals all its rewards. One smidgen of gluten though . . . and she’s a goner. When we were together at Christmas, I told her I’d work on a cheat sheet for quick grocery store purchases and safe items at the restaurants she has access to. Many of these are based on what’s close to my office as well–crappy fast-food where I am able to find gluten-friendly fare. I don’t condone a great deal of eating out, especially at fast-food restaurants, because home-cooking is really the only way to monitor quality of ingredients, but reality is that I will be too rushed to make my lunch two days out of the week. It’s good to be aware of my g-free options, even if they aren’t super healthy. (Links below are to the allergen pages for each restaurant/manufacturer so you can scope out the menu items that will work best for you.)

  1. Costco Rotisserie Chicken. $4.99 for a whole cooked chicken. Boom. Most of the time, you can’t even buy a raw chicken for that amount, never mind the hassle and expense of cooking it. A lonely girl like me can get a good four to five meals out of this lovely seasoned bird, and I freeze the carcasses to make my own GF chicken stock down the road. Check the label next time you’re in the store. It says gluten-free in red letters across the bottom. Holla!
  2. Wendy’s. Gluten-friendly items include the baked potato, chili, hamburger patties, and side salads (watch it with the dressings and no breaded chicken!). Sadly, Wendy’s fries are not listed as GF because they are cooked in the same oil as breaded items.
  3. Chick-fil-A. This is no help for my sister, but I want to marry Chick-fil-A sauce, so I’m putting it on the list: chargrilled chicken salad (amen), waffle fries (the choir crescendos!), Chick-fil-A sauce (a downright religious experience). Add a half-sweet half-unsweet tea, and I could die a happy woman.
  4. Qdoba or Chipotle. I don’t love Mexican. Therefore I don’t love these places. But a rice/bean/meat/veggie bowl works in a pinch, and these places make it easy to eat g-free.
  5. Gluten-Free Waffles (Van’s are my favorite). When I first cut out gluten, I ate these for dinner three nights a week. A little butter, almond butter, and a handful of raspberries, along with a couple poached eggs, made for a perfectly satisfying meal. I watch for BOGO sales and keep a couple boxes in my freezer at all times.
  6. Brown rice cakes. GF bread is spendy, and I really don’t like it unless it’s toasted. Brown rice cakes are a great vehicle for albacore with pesto and veggies, turkey and goat cheese, or whatever you might normally put in a sandwich.
  7. Kind Bars. I eat one of these nearly every morning. I only love two or three flavors (the rest are too sweet for me), and I buy those by the box through Amazon Subscribe-and-Save.
  8. Sonic. I don’t love Sonic, but in a pinch, it’s good to know you can get something that won’t derail your lifestyle. Hamburger patties, tots, and fries should be safe.
  9. Arby’s. Arby’s has a fairly comprehensive allergen sheet with some good options, including roast beef and roast turkey, side salad, and roast turkey chophouse salad. Steer clear of the fries!
  10. Quinoa. By the truckload. Almost daily. I have grown to love quinoa more than any kind of rice. I make a double batch with chicken stock on Sundays and use it throughout the week–as a heated side, cold on salads as a shot of filling protein, mooshed together and lightly fried alongside a veggie scramble, etc. Buy at Costco if possible–way cheaper!
  11. Canned soups and stock. Let’s be honest. I am not going to cook soup from scratch every week. Some nights I am going to drag my sorry rear home at 7:00 and reach for a can of soup. Thank the Lord in heaven there are options. (Are you paying attention to this one, Ellen?) Progresso has an assortment of g-free soups. Skip the creamy soups if you’re dairy-free as well. Add a piece of GF toast with tomato slices and crumbled goat cheese on top, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, and this isn’t a half-bad meal. (Also worth noting is Campbell’s allergen document. If you don’t have access to a Whole Foods, which believe it or not, many people don’t, it’s good to know that your standard grocery store carries GF chicken stock, a staple in my kitchen.

Next time around, which will likely be in three months since that’s the frequency of posting I seem capable of, I’ll get together a list of my favorite gluten- and dairy-free bottled salad dressings–another of the challenges for someone new to this lifestyle change. (I promise I won’t wait that long, sis!)

Slow Cooker White Bean, Turkey, and Pumpkin Chili

Saturday night, I returned to Nashville from a week-long visit to see family and friends in Oregon. It was a wonderful time filled with laughter, tears, good food, good coffee (Tennessee should take notes!), friends, family, tattoos, kitties, snow-capped mountains, hugs, and all the things my heart needed. There was also . . . um . . . gluten. I was doing great–until my uncle made a batch of Parkerhouse rolls. I ate a warm roll fresh from the oven that night, slathered in butter and requiring a great deal of finger licking and savoring, and then I promptly stayed awake all night long. It was worth it though. It also signaled the beginning of what I referred to as Thanksgiving: the Glutening. All bets were off. I ate gravy, pumpkin pie, and more. I felt, uh, not awesome. And I knew that the gluten festival needed to come to an end once I got back to Nashville. I wanted to make something hearty and comforting and different and also wanted to use my new slow cooker. I finally landed on this seemingly strange combo of pumpkin, turkey, and beans.

This recipe was my jumping-off point, but I made quite a few changes, primarily to the seasoning and spices, which were way too light-handed for my taste (and any recipe that doesn’t include a mention of salt as part of the actual cooking process is inherently flawed as far as I’m concerned). Without the additional spices and salt and pepper, it would have been very bland. I’m also not shooting for any skinny-fy-ing and prefer to cook only with coconut oil or butter and full-fat, unmodified cheese, etc., so I made tweaks there as well. The base recipe was an AWESOME place to start though.

Wouldn’t it be neat if I had taken pictures? Yeah, that. I forgot. But you can look at the pics from the inspiration link above if you’re can’t imagine what pumpkin chili would look like.

A few notes:

  • I used a 3.5-quart slow cooker, and it was very full. Like I was a little nervous about a Mt. Vesuvius situation around 5:30pm.
  • Total prep time to brown meat, dice and sauté onion, etc., was only 15 minutes. You could easily do this in the morning before heading to work (a requirement if there is any hope for me on a work morning). You could also do prep the night before, refrigerate the meat and onions, and add everything to the slow cooker in the morning. You’d probably want to increase your cook time a little in that case.
  • I cooked on high because I didn’t get my rear in gear earlier in the day. I’m assuming lower and slower would only add to the flavor.
  • Tropical Traditions expeller-pressed coconut oil is THE BEST coconut oil I’ve come across. I initially bought it from my naturopath and haven’t found anything that comes close in quality or price. It has a neutral flavor that doesn’t interfere with savory dishes (it doesn’t taste or smell like coconut at all!). I buy it by the gallon.
  • I prefer to brown the meat and sauté the onion in a stainless pan so I can get some good browned bits for deglazing. You just can’t replicate that in a nonstick pan.
  • (Could I micromanage your cooking process any further? Holy bossy boots.)

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 T coconut oil (or more!)
  • 2 lb ground turkey (I used ground turkey with dark meat–it’s cheaper, more flavorful, and will help put some meat on my bones. You’re welcome to use 99% lean white meat only if you prefer OR leftover Thanksgiving turkey.)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 t cumin
  • 2-3 t chili powder, to taste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1/4 t cayenne (more or less, depending on whether you’d like it spicy)
  • 2 15-oz cans white northern, navy, or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 4.5-oz can chopped green chiles
  • 2 c chicken stock (homemade is best! low-sodium if you’re purchasing off the shelf)
  • cheddar cheese, shredded, for topping (optional)
  • sour cream for topping (optional)
  • cilantro and/or scallions, chopped, for topping (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add first tablespoon of coconut oil (feel free to add more than 1 tablespoon. I probably used 4 tablespoons total because I want to get as much coconut oil in my meals as possible). Add ground turkey and salt and pepper, and cook until done, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon. Add to slow cooker.
  2. Add second tablespoon of coconut oil to pan, then onions. Sauté  3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cumin, and sauté another minute. Pour a small amount of chicken stock in pan to deglaze the pan, and pour contents into slow cooker.
  3. Add beans, pumpkin puree, green chiles, stock, chili powder, oregano, and bay leaves. Stir to combine ingredients. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
  4. Remove bay leaves and adjust seasoning to taste before serving.
  5. Top with optional cheese, sour cream (or Greek yogurt), and cilantro/scallions.

You could serve this with all sorts of sides–GF tortilla chips or corn tortillas, rice, quinoa, a baked potato. I ate a big bowl of it all on its own last night, with a little sour cream and cilantro, and it was fantastic. I froze half of the leftovers and put half in the fridge. For one little ol’ me, this recipe will translate into six or seven meals.

Enjoy!

Peanut-, Almond-, and Every-Kind-of-Nut-Butter Recall (and a Little Something About Eggs)

I’m pretty sure everyone has heard about the Trader Joe’s peanut butter recall, which has expanded to include waaaaayyyy more than just a couple of TJ’s peanut butters. It appears that nut butters from Sunland, Inc., which manufactures for multiple brands, are the source of the recall. It’s up over one hundred products now. Almond butter has been a staple in my home the last year, so I’m definitely concerned about what products are in my home. You can keep up to speed on additional recalls and added products (cookies, etc.) HERE.

Also, as part of my minimal contribution to this blog, I wanted to share an interesting article I read last week about whether organic eggs are a scam. It has made me think about how loosely the buzzword organic is thrown around without a clear definition attached to it. I want to be more mindful of where my food comes from, for health reasons and because I think animals who provide sustenance for me should be treated humanely. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article.

This infographic at the end of the article condenses down some of the info:

Has the peanut butter recall affected you? What are your thoughts on humane and cruelty-free farming and ranching? 

Recipe Rip-Off: California Pizza Kitchen Quinoa and Arugula Salad

No, I wasn’t raptured. No, I wasn’t abducted by aliens or zombies. Yes, I did briefly fall off the planet AND the gluten-free, anti-inflammatory diet wagon. {Boy did I pay for it too. Any thoughts I had that perhaps I didn’t have any food allergies or intolerances were proved wrong this week–via hives and swelling and miserableness!} I happen to have been thrown into a bit of a life crisis, and it has been a teensy bit consuming. It has left me mostly disinterested in food, so when something sounds good and will keep me healthy, I’m all over it. I will attempt to make occasional contributions to our little ol’ blog, but I sense it will be sporadic. But for tonight? You get something!

I had a lovely lunch with a girlfriend last Saturday at California Pizza Kitchen. They have had GF pizza that I wanted to try, and she had mentioned a seasonal quinoa and arugula salad she thought I might like. And boy, did I like it. I didn’t like paying $14.50 for it though. And here’s my pride confidence making an appearance: I thought I could make it better at home. So here’s my rip-off version.

Quinoa and Arugula Salad with Salmon

Salad Ingredients:

  • quinoa
  • arugula
  • asparagus
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • pine nuts
  • feta or goat cheese
  • salmon
  • red onion (optional)

Dressing Ingredients:

  • olive oil (or grapeseed oil, if you prefer something with less flavor)
  • vinegar of choice (champagne vinegar, white balsamic vinegar; I have some lovely blood orange vinegar from a friend, so I added a dash alongside the champagne vinegar)
  • salt and pepper
  • a tiny bit of honey or agave

Instructions:

Don’t get your hopes up for any specific measurements or amounts here. Sorry! I played fast and loose, but it all worked out fine.

Cook quinoa according to package instructions and cool. I like to cook mine in chicken stock if I have it. Chop asparagus into one-inch pieces and drop into salted boiling water for a couple minutes, until crisp-tender. Immediately remove and shock in an ice bath. Toast pine nuts for a couple minutes (don’t burn them, says experience!), and remove from stove. Chop sun-dried tomatoes. I am not friends with raw onion, but if you are, finely dice or thinly slice a few tablespoons of red onion, and add to the mix. Prepare salmon according to your preferred method. I rubbed mine with coconut oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and baked it (a couple minutes under the broiler at the end makes for some lovely crisp edges).

Whisk together your vinaigrette. I pretty much always eyeball this. Your ratios should be one part vinegar/acid to three parts oil, so 2 T vinegar and 6 T oil. Add a drizzle of honey or agave, maybe a little dijon, and salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combine arugula, cooled quinoa, asparagus, and chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and onion (if using). Pour dressing over the top and toss. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and feta or goat cheese. Add salmon . . . and boom. Dinner is served.

How to Eat My Way Out of House and Home

I want to make a plan to eat my freezer and pantry EMPTY. It’s bugging me that we have all this food, and I want to see how little I can spend on groceries over the next two months. Kind of an experiment. Both are pretty well stocked. The pantry is very organized. Mostly. I mean, I know where everything is. A stranger might think I’m an idiot. The freezer, uh . . . not so much. I look at it and KNOW I’m an idiot.

Have you done this before? How did you find the time to plan and organize? My life has changed so much since I started working out of the house again. I have such limited time. My weekdays are a wash. Alarm goes off between 5:30 and 6:00. I read in bed and cuddle the cat until about 6:30. Get ready, pack brekkie and lunch (on an ideal day), out the door, and off to work. I usually get home around 6:30–7:00—except on the couple nights I have commitments, which lands me at home closer to 8:30–9:00. And now that I joined the Y and will become a fitness maven, who knows when I’ll come home. (That’s a joke, btw.) Dinner is often unexciting. Like a veggie scramble and fruit, a salad, or GF frozen waffles with almond butter and fruit. I ain’t got time for no planning during the week.

Weekends haven’t been much better. I find that they often revolve around laundry, catching up on housework, grocery shopping and errands, and WORK. That’s an entire freaking day right there, and if it’s a day like today, I may have thrown in cleaning my bathroom, but I still haven’t even showered, paid bills, or changed my bedding. As MacKenzie mentioned, this is busy time in publishing-land, and my weekends show it. I just can’t seem to muster the creativity to come up with a plan. At the moment, I can’t even remember what my favorite foods are so I could even begin drafting a meal plan. What did I used to cook? I have no idea. Also, I can’t even keep my fridge organized at this moment, so there’s that. The only step I’ve taken so far is to start systematically using all my lovely frozen chicken stock, which I made back when I used to have time for this domestic Martha Stewart nonsense. It’s so worlds-beyond better than the carton stock from the grocery store and has made my quinoa and sprouted brown rice sing. But that’s as far as I gotten. Not good enough.

Have you ever done this before—a month of pantry/freezer eating (with a little shopping for produce)? Do you have any suggestions for a girl with very limited time? Is it possible that I could figure this out in less than two hours on a Sunday afternoon? That’s really all the time I have to devote to it at this point. I’d love some ideas!

Worst Blogger Evar. With a Side of Asparagus Salad.

Hello, strangers! A combination of crazy-hectic work schedule, deadlines, personal overcommitment, losing my darn cat (and then finding him!), tiredness, and lack of inspiration has added up to me not cooking much or blogging here the last couple weeks (or even staying up to date on what my fellow GFGs have posted). Sorry! No more sleepless nights of wondering where I’ve been.

I did manage to pull together a meal for Easter Sunday. I googled “Easter menu items” and cobbled together a last-minute mishmash of make-ahead dishes and what sounded easiest and tastiest at the moment and would allow for the longest Easter afternoon nap possible. The meal wasn’t a slam dunk. Oh well. At least I made an effort. And EVERYTHING would have been gluten-free if I hadn’t screwed up the pie (I don’t have time to tell that story). The menu consisted of:

  • ham: Meh. I put a glaze on it. It was still kinda gross. I’m not a huge ham fan anyway.
  • potato salad: based on this recipe but with some significant tweaks. YUM. Anything with potatoes makes me very happy. Note to self: raw onions have given you heartburn for all of the 30+ years you can remember. Why did you put them in this lovely potato salad–and then suffer for the next 48 hours?
  • shrimp shooters: marinated in olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, cilantro, and some other stuff. Dang good.
  • banana custard pie: which I managed to ruin by trying to make trying to make gluten-free . . . and then subsequently made not gluten-free because I ran out of ingredients.

  • asparagus, walnut, and feta salad: based on this recipe. I kindly overcooked the asparagus. If I hadn’t? This would have been my favorite component of the meal.

So I’m going to share a recipe with you that I ruined but that I still loved and that I hope you’ll make and not ruin. Makes perfect sense.

Asparagus, Walnut, and Feta Salad

based on this recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2-2 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
  • 1/4 small purple onion, thinly sliced wedges
  • 4-6 ounces crumbled feta (goat cheese feta if you can find it) or goat cheese

Instructions

  1. Bake walnuts in a shallow pan at 350°, stirring occasionally, 5 to 10 minutes or until toasted; set aside.
  2. Combine oil and next 5 ingredients; cover and chill.
  3. Bend asparagus until it snaps. Cut the remainder up to the same height to remove woody stems (if you’re being frugal, save those stems for soup). Submerge asparagus in salted boiling water for 3-4 minutes, until crisp-tender and still bright green. {No longer! I’m serious! You turn away to watch three minutes of a car chase on Fast Five and you will have ruined your dang asparagus.} Immediately plunge asparagus into ice bath to stop the cooking process; drain and pat dry.
  4. Re-whisk vinaigrette if needed and pour over cooled asparagus. Sprinkle walnuts, onion, and cheese over the top. Allow to sit at room temp for 30 minutes before serving.

So the asparagus portion of the salad was kinda crappy because of the overcooking, but this dish will definitely be on repeat for me. I loved the vinaigrette and the combo of flavors. I wisely sliced the onion in thin slices rather than dicing so I could easily remove the heartburn-causing monsters from my dish (I wasn’t so smart with the potato salad). Asparagus is looking lovely in the market right now. I hope you’ll give this recipe a whirl!

What did you make for Easter dinner? Any flops? Standouts? Please tell me I’m not the only one who made something that didn’t turn out AT ALL.

Cute As a Button Cookies

Image

These adorable Gluten-Free Coconut-Lime Shortbread Cookies are over at the Bob’s Red Mill blog today, recipe courtesy of the creative and talented Christen at Life:Styled. I love that they’re so colorful and that they include a healthy dose of coconut flour to up the protein and fiber. I see a batch of these in my near future. As a native Oregonian, I’m a huge fan of anything Bob’s Red Mill, and their alternative flour options and baking mixes have been a godsend as I’ve transitioned to being gluten-free. Check out Bob’s and Life:Styled. You won’t be disappointed!

A Day in the Life, Phase 1

Good gravy. Three of our four GFG team members have been clobbered by the out-of-control pollen in middle Tennessee this last couple weeks. I feel bad that we’ve all be suffering, but I take some comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one. Some solidarity goes a long way. I think we’re all looking forward to a new week and to feeling normal and healthy again. In an effort to make that happen, Molly has gone to Phase 1 for the time being, and I think it might be smart for me as well. So let’s talk about how to survive Phase 1 (click here for a refresher on the rules for Phase 1).

Phase 1 kicked my butt at first. Then I whined and had dreams about bread and potatoes. And then it kicked my butt again and more and harder. I was starving all the time during those first two to three weeks. My body (more likely my brain) didn’t know how to feel full without grains and dairy. My body was going through quite a detox and what I now realize was a healing crisis. I already felt so crummy because of the allergy and autoimmune issues. Add detoxing, and it felt like climbing a small mountain every day just to do the shopping and prep work. I believe that the addictive properties of certain foods also contribute to a feeling of withdrawal. I was definitely experiencing some French fry and coffee DTs on any given day during those first weeks.

In order to survive, I decided to stick to a small number of repeated meals. I didn’t want to get bored, but I also didn’t feel well enough to get creative and grandiose with my meal plans. Sticking closely to the restricted diet was the most important thing to me. I needed the allergic reaction to stop, for the inflammation to go down, for my thyroid to start working, and I desperately wanted to feel better. It was difficult though! All my go-to foods of the past were off limits—potatoes, rice, pasta, beans, cheese, yogurt, coffee, Coke, ahem, Chick-fil-A. Food prep does take longer with this lifestyle; be prepared for that. One of the easiest ways for me to stay on target was to repeat my breakfasts and lunches. It’s not the end of the world to eat the same breakfast and lunch every other day! If and when I do Phase 1 again, I’ll have new ammo in my arsenal. I already know which foods to rely on, and I will add juicing and smoothies now that I have both a juicer and a Vitamix. Just adding juicing and smoothies would greatly shorten the withdrawal time, I believe. I also have some recipes with coconut and almond flour now (as well as using almond flour to bread chicken). Many more options!

Below is a very basic breakdown of the foods/meals I relied on for the first eight weeks. Anything in italics will eventually have a recipe posted. Please be patient. I don’t have recipes for some of these things and will need to retrace my steps and update this post occasionally with recipes. Most of these are no-brainers (everyone knows how to make a good veggie scramble, right?), but if you have questions, just let me know in the comments. I’m happy to share cooking tips, recipes, etc. 🙂

Always have food with you. That is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember during Phase 1 (and always, really). Very little pre-made food in grocery stores or restaurants is acceptable, so you need to be prepared at all times.

On hand for snacking:

  • raw almonds and other approved nuts and seeds
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • fruit and vegetables
  • almond butter
  • Kind Bars (but only in case of emergency, as these have cane sugar, dried fruit, and puffed rice)

Breakfast:

  • green tea with a little stevia or agave (I switched to half-caf coffee after a few weeks and now prefer that with a bit of unsweetened almond or soy milk and no sweetener)
  • sliced apple with almond butter
  • banana and berries topped with slivered almonds
  • hard-boiled egg and tomato cucumber salad
  • veggie scramble
  • turkey wrap (veggies, goat cheese, and homemade vinaigrette wrapped in slices of Boar’s Head turkey)
  • fresh-pressed juice or smoothie (add approved protein powder as desired)

Lunch:

  • salad with loads of veggies; chicken, steak, or tuna; goat cheese; and homemade vinaigrette
  • homemade soups (no grains, potatoes, or pasta)—the options here are too many to count!

Dinner:

  • veggie scramble with goat cheese and salsa (sometimes with turkey sausage too)
  • steak or chicken and veggies
  • stir-fry with cauliflower “rice” (no soy sauce, no rice)
  • paleo pancakes with butter, almond butter, and fruit
  • oven-roasted veggies with over-easy eggs and crumbled goat cheese on top
  • salad

Bedtime:

  • herbal tea with stevia or a little agave (don’t go bonkers with the agave though)
  • fruit and nuts or eggs

I know this probably doesn’t look very exciting, but keep in mind that every lunch/dinner dish includes veggies, and the options there are pretty much limitless. Do lots of peppers in your veggie scramble one night; the next, roast broccoli and asparagus with poached eggs on top. Do a chopped salad one day with olives, artichokes, tomatoes, and turkey; the next, do spinach, raspberries, goat cheese, and almonds. Flavor options are endless, really. There’s no reason to be bored by this plan. Remember, you are cooking everything in coconut oil or butter only and using olive oil only for making vinaigrettes.

Recipes to come . . . Happy eating!

* All pics are from Phase 1 meals. They look pretty tasty, huh?

Phase 1: Detoxing for Dummies

I didn’t know what to expect when I first started seeing Dr. WooWoo. After that initial allergic reaction, I’d been on a prednisone and Benadryl bender and generally felt jumpy, sick, and miserable. Any kind of solution that didn’t involve a drug was exactly what I was looking for. Someone who had seen Dr. WooWoo a couple years prior had shared some of the diet changes, so I knew some restrictions were coming my way. This was all a little bit scary to a girl who had been on a junk-food-a-palooza for the five months prior.

Let me tell you: those first weeks were hard. Some nights after work, I would wander around Whole Foods, sniffing loaves of bread, whispering sweet nothings to the boxes of pasta, cradling wedges of brie, looking longingly at everything in the deli cases and food bars, all of which I couldn’t eat. The doctor wasn’t kidding about how saturated all our foods are with these three key food groups I had to cut out for the first eight weeks. I learned pretty quickly that the absolute only way to hold to this eating regimen was to cook for myself–and to set aside adequate time for all the prep, which was a little daunting at first.

You’re probably thinking, Hey, Jen. It’s so rad that you’re telling me about this terrible eating plan that is so hard and made you miserable. Sign me up!

I’m really selling it, huh? No cheeseburger-colored glasses here! I just want to put it out from the get-go that that this isn’t a piece of cake. (See? Already I’m preparing you. There is NO CAKE in Phase 1.)

But there is a huge and compelling reason to give this lifestyle change a try: you will feel awesome after a couple weeks. This gluten-free thing for me is about more than finding cheats or replacements for all my former favorite foods. I’m trying to change everything about the way I care for my body, and I can tell you that it has made a huge difference in my well-being. Some days are harder than others and I’ve had to re-learn and re-think many things, but the payoff has been undeniable. Take what you will from this, and feel free to ask me questions! I do love blabbing about this stuff . . .

Some notes:

  • The goal of Phase 1 is multifaceted: a gentle detox from all the garbage that has built up in your system (refined, processed foods; empty white products; SUGAR; bad fats), an overall reduction of inflammation in the body, alkalizing your system, and kind of a reset button on your cravings (especially sugar).
  • This isn’t a “diet.” You are not depriving yourself. It’s not some kind of fad or quick-weight-loss gimmick. It’s not low-carb, sugar-free, cabbage soup, or any other get-healthy/thin-quick plan. There is no counting of points, no carbs vs. protein, no “fruit is bad.” It’s a new way of life based on whole foods, the way they’re found in nature.
  • Some of the elements might seem counterintuitive to you. I understand that. Americans have been programmed to consume low-fat, high-grain, high-dairy. I challenge you to research anything on this list that doesn’t fit your current mentality. I think you’ll be surprised, like I was, about how truly backward many of our mind-sets are.
  • Try to shop organic if you can. Refer the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen so you can make some distinctions. Be prepared to shell out a little more dough at the grocery store. I don’t know what to tell you: real food is more expensive. But I think you’ll find relatively quickly that you are spending less eating out and that you are in a pattern that is doable. There are ways to make lower-cost items go further (eggs for example), and once you get to Phase 2, costs should go down further. Prepare to shop more often as well since you’ll be consuming so many perishable items. Here’s a good reminder: if it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, skip it!
  • Remind yourself that this isn’t forever. Phase 1 is only eight weeks. You can do it! And remember that you are giving your most valuable resource–your body–a chance to heal by truly feeding it, maybe for the first time, with real and life-giving foods. If anything, look at this as a vacation for your body–a chance to revel in easily digestible and healing foods.
  • Try new things! The Internet is a wealth of ideas and information. Look for recipes. Try new produce. Open your mind. It’s kinda fun, people.
  • Complete legalism will only make a person stumble. Give yourself a couple cheat meals every week. It makes a huge difference to allow yourself this in the early stages. Down the road? Those cheats will likely become less intriguing.
  • I’m only going to share a rough outline of what the naturopath and many sources online laid out for me. If you want more specific or thorough details, I suggest you find a Dr. WooWoo of your very own or take charge of your health and start doing some research. I’ll answer as many questions as I can, but I’m not an expert by any means. I will lay out what NOT to eat, a few key things to add, and a basic list of foods you can have on Phase 1.

Here are the three big things you will AVOID during Phase 1:

  • DAIRY (anything from cow’s milk)
  • GRAIN (all grains; that means NO bread, pasta, no rice, and pretty much all packaged foods)
  • SUGAR (anything refined–this does not refer to fruit)

Here’s a big “no duh”: NO artificial anything. This stuff is poison. No fake coffee creamers, no diet soda, no artificial sweeteners, no “low-fat,” no “fiber added.” For now, you also won’t be having “gluten-free” products–no mixes or pre-made stuff. You will naturally be eating gluten-free by cutting out all the grains. Don’t add any empty GF stuff in Phase 1. And no fast-food, chips, candy, soda, or any of that other junk.

Here is what you will be eating:

  • GOOD FATSstart cooking with coconut oil! I’m serious. Your body needs fat. It’s just doesn’t need garbage fat. America has this all backwards. Coconut oil is incredibly healthy (see Lisa’s torrid love letter to coconut oil), full of medium chain fatty acids and healing properties. The only fats you should use for cooking are quality coconut oil and butter. Use olive oil only for dressings (lower smoke point = carcinogens. You feel me?).
  • MEAT: (NO pork or roast beef; if you buy deli meat, buy quality preservative-free and nitrite-free ).
  • EGGS: you might be eating a lot of these.
  • GOAT’S MILK PRODUCTS: chevre saved my life. I’m not kidding.
  • NUT/SEED MILKS: almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk.
  • NUTS/SEEDS: (NO macadamia nuts, peanuts (butter), pecans, pine nuts, pistachios).
  • VEGETABLES: (NO potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, jicama, waterchestnuts).
  • BEANS/LEGUMES: (NONE on Phase 1!).
  • FRUIT: a few restrictions here based on glycemic level; otherwise the sky’s the limit! (NO dried fruit, canned fruit, apricot, cantaloupe, dates, figs, grapes, guava, kiwi, mango, oranges, papaya, peach, pear, pineapple, plum, quince).
  • CONDIMENTS/DRESSINGS: (NO pre-made); make your own vinaigrette (I’ll share recipes later!).
  • SWEETENERS: agave, honey, and stevia for now, and even these should be limited.
  • BEVERAGES: water, green or herbal tea, fresh-pressed juices.

I know it probably looks like I’ve just given you a long list of NO. Believe me, the list of YES is so much longer! Just go the produce department and wander. Do you honestly consume everything that is there for the taking? I think you’ll be surprised by how much delicious whole food you’ve been missing out on.

In the coming weeks, I’ll share some of my meal plans from those first eight weeks. (This isn’t as fun as cookies and Yumm sauce, but I think it’s important! You’ll get to these things in time.) Believe it or not, I’ve been out of Phase 1 for over two months, and I still haven’t added back dairy, sugar, or most grains (I do enjoy occasional brown rice and quinoa). I feel so much better and am so satisfied that I haven’t felt the need or urge to add these things back in. I’m truly shocked that this lifestyle change has stuck . . . but it has. I feel so much better that the bread/brie/pasta makeout-fest I dreamed of all those months ago mostly leaves me cold. Amazing, no?

Now I’m off to enjoy a veggie scramble with goat cheese and a quiet evening of cuddles with my fat cat. See you here again soon!

A Setback and Some Perspective

Over the weekend, I took care of a sick husband. I disinfected. Made soup. Juiced. Took lots of supplements. Washed my hands religiously. This was no man cold; it was actual illness. I may have overshared about phlegm and coughing and sent “I don’t want to get sick” texts to a couple friends. When he could barely stand or hold his eyes open on Sunday, I took him to urgent care. (Spoiler alert: several hundred dollars later, we walked out with no remedy.) After watching a young woman stagger past us clutching a barf bucket and seeing the look of terror on the check-in lady’s face as Andy wheezed and coughed while trying to decipher the text on the intake form (“Am I a mildly frowny face of pain or a stern frowny face?”), I asked the nurse how she stays well. My hopes of a medical career were thwarted years ago by my extreme disinterest in getting sick. Like, it’s probably a bit of a condition how much I avoid sick people.

“Hand washing,” she said. “I don’t get sick, and I wash my hands like crazy.”

“Don’t you worry, Nurse Nancy. I’ve got that COVERED.” In neatly lined-up, OCD spades. Andy was barely conscious for most of the doctor visit, but I have no doubt he saw the look of victory on my face when she affirmed my hand washing rules. I do love being right. After my mom’s cancer battle and bone marrow transplant, I never let go of the thorough hand washing and hygiene practices we ratcheted up during that time. I figured I was one-upping the nurse with my super healthy lifestyle these days. I’ve got this. After we got home, I continued to disinfect, juice, smoothie, and herb myself and Andy and hope for the best. And then . . . I started to feel the beginnings of an ache in my joints, a scratchy throat, my sinuses filling.

At that point my complaining reached new levels. I’m not sure how people stay friends with me on the Internet, let alone in real life. My personal life is a little, well, solitary, so Facebook sadly gets to hear about my every move (sorry, people! hide me from your feed!). My immediate situation apparently dictates all I’m capable of acknowledging in the world at large: I’m sick. Hear me. I am incapable of talking about anything else. Oh, the drama that is mine.

Thing is? I really hate it when people talk about that kind of stuff on Facebook. I get irritated with updates about which kid is vomiting, who had a long night, and so forth. And then I go and do the same thing!? Also . . . it often seems like the people who talk the most about being sick are the ones doing all the healthified stuff. I don’t want to be that person.

By Tuesday, I was ready to pack it in. This whole “lifestyle change” obviously hadn’t delivered on its promises. A little over two weeks ago, I replaced my allergy prescriptions for one day with an herbal supplement and was almost instantly overtaken by an allergy attack. (I hadn’t done the gallbladder flush Dr. WooWoo had prescribed, which still sounds weird and gross to me, but still.) Then this darn flu. I shouldn’t be sick. I have forsaken dairy, gluten, and sugar (mostly) for the last few months. I have supplemented appropriately for what my body needs. I have started sleeping for the first time in 15 years. I have felt stronger. The minute I took a turn for the worse, I was ready to have a Coke and a box of donuts and say a big, fat “Screw you!” to all this effort. Tons of people neglect their health and don’t get sick. If I went back to my eating habits of yore—coffee, Coke, bread, chips, fries, sweets, eating out, and more—I probably still would have gotten sick. But at least I would be happy! Mouth full of HFCS and MSG! Gut full of garbage! Clutching a half-eaten cookie and passed out in front of the TV, where I belong!

I’m all tangled up. I can’t understand why dear friends and family—who take good care of their bodies, far better care than I ever have—are battling serious illness. How does that work? You know what? It doesn’t. Amid my confusion and self-centeredness, I’m trying to remind myself of a few things:

I didn’t get as sick as I might have in the past.

Perhaps this is due in part to my body being able to fight the germies with a little more stamina? Normally, after one day of a cold, I’m already at the doctor’s office with a sinus infection, bronchitis, what-have-you. That hasn’t happened. Lord willing, tomorrow will be much better. My body seems to be miraculously fighting this on its own.

have felt much better the last few months.

Some days I’m truly shocked that I wake up a) having slept and b) without being miserable. I get through my afternoons without a ginormous Coke or iced tea. My afternoons are productive. I know other people have noticed the change as well. My energy is different, my mood and emotional well-being are consistent, and my brain is sharper (most days). As of Tuesday, I had completely forgotten that reality.

I am catching up with a pretty hefty nutritional deficit.

Although I had made one healthy lifestyle choice a year ago, I hadn’t even tried to clean up my eating. When I started working out of the home again last May, I basically stopped cooking altogether and spiraled even further into processed garbage. Those first six months at my job are the unhealthiest I have ever eaten. I don’t know why. Transition? Laziness? Stress? Add an autoimmune disorder, and I was a hot mess.

Getting sick isn’t a nutritional failure.

Part of me is embarrassed that I’ve preached this healthy lifestyle nonsense for the last few months and then been knocked down hard twice in the last two weeks. Who am I to be spouting off about gluten-free this and no-sugar that if I’m still going to be a “delicate little flower,” a family nickname that has always upset me? I don’t want to be annoying and false and wrong, you know? (See “obnoxious ‘healthy’ and yet sick people,” above.) (See also “girl with uncontrollable need to be right.”) I’m also embarrassed that the flu or an allergy attack even register on my radar. This isn’t cancer. I obviously have some personal work to do in this area.

Healthy choices don’t equal immunity.

The healthiest person on the planet could drop dead tomorrow. The unhealthiest could live to be 100. There is no magic formula.

And I guess that’s where I’m still tripped up.

Why am I doing this? Why do I feel the need to evangelize? Is it all in my head? Where is the balance? (I’m going to ask myself that again in a week, when I presume I’ll be feeling fully myself again.) And why am I convinced that this has changed my life and could be a positive change for you? The biggest part is my personal experience. Part of it is based on a lot of reading and puzzling over statistics and figures (although we all know that food science seems to change rapidly and often, so I’m not going to hold to anything too tightly). Part of it is trust in the naturopathic doctor who hasn’t led me astray so far and has gotten me off one prescription med completely and gotten my thyroid working again. Part of it is my gut (ha). This lifestyle makes sense to me. I feel like I’m feeding my spirit instead of my flesh—and that feels really good (even if cake pops aren’t part of the deal).

I read an article on NPR Monday night, and one line immediately made me laugh: “People who consumed about one serving of red meat (beef, pork or lamb) per day had a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, compared with those who were eating very little meat.” My mortality could be reduced by 13% if I cut out meat? Immortal! But without steak or bacon? What would be the point, I ask you?

I guess this lifestyle change and the blog come down to one thing for me: stewardship. I want to care for the body I’ve been given and to feel energized and interested in experiencing the world around me. I want to have energy for creativity, relationships, and adventure. And in a brief amount of time, I’ve already seen the fruits of changing my stewardship (with a little bacon-y risk thrown in every week). How could I not evangelize? I’m not saying that being gluten-free or dairy-free or cutting out refined sugars is right for you, but I would love for you to know that there are options, that there is another way to eat and live than what Americans are accustomed to, a balanced approach that can be healing to your body and spirit—and that it’s not that hard and doesn’t involve deprivation or dieting. An amazing array of life-giving foods is here for the taking.

And I can’t wait to tell you more about it . . . as soon as I stop sneezing.