Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Life has certainly been a whirlwind the past couple of months and I’m looking forward to it slowing down a bit in the next couple of weeks before we take our big trip to Ireland at the end of the month! Over the past two months we’ve been dealing with getting to the bottom of my health and trying to improve the health of our special needs pooch, all while I’ve struggled with a very strained voice. Our weeks have been one medical appointment after another including four trips to NYC in just five months. But there’s been some promising news at the end of it all, so let’s recap where we are at:

Don’t Speak

No, you just won’t know what I’m saying because starting tomorrow I legitimately am not allowed to use my voice for two weeks. Many of you will be amused by this as it’s not exactly a secret that conversing is one of my favorite past times! Tomorrow morning I’m heading to our local hospital for vocal cord surgery. After a camera sent down my nasal passages confirmed a polyp on my vocal cords and a second look confirmed that it wasn’t improving weeks later, it was determined that I either need to accept the cracking, scratchy voice I’ve had for three months as my own, or have the polyp removed. There’s no guarantee that my voice will go back to 100% but leaving it as it without trying to improve it just wasn’t an option, it’s been quite frustrating. I’ll be put under anesthesia and a CO2 laser will be used to zap the polyp. Then starts the no talking for two weeks, and hopefully I will have improved vocal range by the time we pop across the ocean. In the meantime the plan is to go everywhere with pen and notepad in hand, so old school!

No Pain, No Gain

Let’s cut to the chase. Bone marrow biopsies are painful, I mean ungodly painful! Occasionally I’ve had people say that it wasn’t pleasant but wasn’t as bad as they expected. I seriously need to get the names of whatever drug concoction they were prescribed for future reference because the Valium and Percocet mixture I had was not cutting it. This was my third biopsy and my first in NYC. My first biopsy was in March 2015 in Ithaca and my second was in May 2015 in Buffalo. Truth be told I’m still a tiny bit sore from this most recent procedure site and I cringe at the thought of those Lidocaine needles tapping my hip bone before the bigger guns came out. Two injections sites to extract marrow and a third site to extract a bone sample. Three pulls to get each marrow sample out and ten cranks to pull out the bone. I was so fixated on the counting because I just wanted the nurse to stop, in fact I begged her to stop! My husband was a trooper for sitting right there through all my screaming, how awful to see someone you love be put through so much pain. After it was over all I could do for ten minutes was to sit and sob. We drove four hours back home to Ithaca that night. It may or may not be legal to fully recline the passenger seat and ride face down on your belly but it was the only way I could remotely get comfy. The next two weeks trying to sleep, sit or sometimes even move were brutal. I truly hope it’s a long time before I have to go through that again. The results were back in within a few weeks but we had to wait six weeks total to be able to get back to the city and see both my specialists…

I’m Sorry, Can You Repeat That?

Those of you who had to deal with getting a diagnosis or medical test results can likely relate that at times you are sitting there with a doctor rattle off a laundry list of information, and sometimes it’s more like sitting in front of the TV as a kid with that Micro Machines guy saying 1,800 words a minute in those commercials. It’s a lot of information and a lot of new big words, that rarely the doctor stops to elaborate on unless you ask. Again, my husband is a rock star when it comes to care giving. Always prepared with either the notepad on his phone or his laptop, typing the words as they come out of the doctor’s mouth. I highly recommend having someone with you that can help advocate for you in these kinds of situations.

Without further ado, here are the results:

  • There is no sign of a Myelodysplastic syndrome (aka preleukemia) which was the concern with the evidence of a T-cell population in my blood. That’s not to say the T-cells won’t ever turn into one, but for now they are just hanging out (who invited those guys anyway?!).
  • The T-cells are causing the low white blood cell and neutrophil counts that I shouldn’t be having yet. There are medications that could help lower the T-cells and increase the white blood cells and neutrophils but there are side effects. Since I haven’t been having infections, the doctor prefers to monitor my blood every two months with no medication, so long as I stay healthy.
  • The plasma cells taking over my bone marrow are around 20-30%. Previously they were 25% in March 2015, and 10% in May 2015. Normal ranges are 1-5%, but these latest results indicate no real change in the plasma, thus the Myeloma truly is currently stable.
  • With the introduction of the new (CAR) T-Cell trial as well as several other new drugs on the market there is new hope on the horizon for Myeloma. We’ve been told that by the time I progress, that these news options could be a potential cure for me. Yes I said CURE, a word never yet used in Myeloma except for when saying there wasn’t one.
  • Why not do the trial now? Good question. One, because it’s not available to people in the smoldering state of Myeloma. In fact it’s really only available to people who have tried everything else first. But the hope is that will all change by the time I need it. And it’s possible to do this trial successfully without chemo AND without a stem cell transplant. Huzzah!
  • Kids. A personal and private topic, yes. But something we were formerly told two years would not be in my best interest to physically carry. Now we’ve been told it’s an option, yet in a very narrow time frame, as in before I’m 35 (I’m now 33.5). For those unable to contain their excitement on this topic, just hold onto those britches, we have much to discuss before we decide if it’s a path we want to take.

Life really is a roller coaster, especially at times when you are just longing for some flat, solid ground. As we embark on our official one year of marriage mark our outlook is much brighter and we are feeling blessed. So lucky to have the experience of traveling to Ireland, to see our family there. So fortunate for the support of family and friends near and far. And in love with our life together in Ithaca with two amazing fur babies and the best friends we could ever ask for.

 

Pocket full of sunshine

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IMG_7649[4]One of the most frustrating aspects to dealing with a chronic illness is not having a very clear picture of what is going on with your body. Thoughts tend to filter through your head such as:

  • What does this all even mean?
  • What will the rest of my life look like?
  • How long will I survive?

For me, personally, wondering how long I have until I start treatment, or will I have to start treatment?

With chronic illness you are sometimes lucky enough to have these pockets of time when you can worry a little less and enjoy your life a little more. I have been lucky to experience some of these pockets, where things seem relatively normal and I can tune out the invasive testing and the uncertainty of progression. So lucky. Next month marks two years since my Smoldering Myeloma diagnosis, quite hard to believe! But the most recent pocket I was enjoying slightly closed after my last trip to NYC.

You may recall one of my last posts where my specialists at Mt. Sinai were trying to determine if I have a Myelodysplastic syndrome. The good news is I do not! But in a twist of events, one of the two blood tests to check for T-cell populations came back positive, which could be what’s contributing to my low white blood cells. We won’t know what this means until my next bone marrow biopsy, though so far I do know that the presence T-cell populations can sometimes indicate signs of a T-cell lymphoma. Yikes!

Both specialists that I see in the city were okay with keeping my biopsy scheduled for mid-June due to the lack on infections that I’ve experienced. After thinking it over the past month, I called and had the procedure moved up to May 5th. Sure I cringe at the thought of feeling like a human wine bottle being uncorked when that giant needle extracts both marrow and bone from my back end. The fact of the matter is the desire to have a clearer picture was just stronger than shying away from a biopsy for as long as possible.

So here we are, another waiting game, which will extend about two weeks past the procedure. One of the specialists will be checking to see how much plasma is currently taking over my marrow, and the other will be digging deeper into this unwelcome colony of T-cells. Hopefully the latter is nothing, but I am doing everything I can to be happy, healthy and trying to keep open that pocket I had created and filling it with sunshine in the meantime.

Instant Pot Savory Vegetable Soup

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A few weeks ago J and I invested in an Instant Pot and man is it awesome! Not only is it a time saver it’s also a seven in one multi-functional cooker: pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sautes/browns, yogurt maker, steamer, and warmer in one! After spending three hours on the road today returning home from a fun weekend in PA, I was looking to make something for dinner that was quick, tasty, and did not require a trip to the store. In the winter I am always sure to keep the following staples so that at the very least I can whip up some kind of soup in a pinch:

  • Organic, reduced sodium, vegetable and/or chicken broth
  • Muir Glen organic cans of tomatoes (BPA free!)
  • Yellow onions
  • Garlic

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Anything else I find in my fridge or pantry to throw in is just an added bonus! J has been under the weather so instantly knew that fresh ginger root would play a role in this soup due to its natural immune boosting properties! For those of you that do not have an Instant Pot, this soup can also be made on the stove top.

Instant Pot Savory Vegetable Soup

Author: mmvsmm.com
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 2 Cloves Minced Garlic
  • 1 Tbs Minced Ginger
  • 2 Shallots (optional)
  • 1 Medium to Large Onion Diced
  • 2 Medium Zucchini Chopped
  • 1 1/2 Cup Broccoli Florets Chopped
  • 2 cups Curly Kale Chopped
  • 1 28 Ounce Can Muir Glen Diced Tomatoes
  • 5 Cups Free Range Low Sodium Chicken Broth (vegetable broth works too!)
  • 1 Tbs Parsley Flakes
  • 2-4 Thyme Sprigs
  • Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt to Taste

Instructions:

  1. Turn Instant Pot onto saute mode
  2. Drizzle olive oil into bottom of pot
  3. Once olive oil begins to heat, toss in onions, garlic, ginger, and shallots (if using) and cook until onions become translucent (about 5 minutes)img_0845
  4. Add in the zucchini, broccoli, and parsley flakes, stir for 2-3 minutesimg_0852
  5. Place thyme in the potimg_0854
  6. Pour tomatoes and their juices along with the broth over the veggie mixtureimg_0856
  7. Cover the Instant Pot with lid, ensuring that both the lid and its vent are in the “closed” position
  8. Set the pot to 10 minutes on the pressure cooker mode
  9. When the timer is up use the quick release method for ventilation
  10. Remove the lid
  11. Stir in the chopped kale until it begins to wiltimg_0864
  12. Fish out the thyme sprigs and remove from the potimg_0865
  13. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with sea salt or Himalayan salt to taste
  14. Enjoy!

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#Sobruary

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As you all know February is the shortest month of the year. What better month to challenge yourself to make one of those changes that you toy around with in your head but never get around to? If you were considering drinking less alcohol, then I invite you to join me in practicing Sobruary (sober February)!

Rules:

  • January 31st is the last day of alcohol consumption
  • February 1st-28th: no alcohol with exception of three cheat days for those that might struggle with going “cold turkey”, or special occasions. Limited to two drinks each of the three days that you choose.

Tips:

  • Find an accountability buddy – It’s always easier to challenge yourself when you and a friend can motivate each other. If you have a hard time finding one just ask me!
  • Make fun, drink-free plans. Having something to look forward to that does not require drinking can help with the temptation. Schedule a movie date, explore the outdoors, or go to the gym! There are so many other options!
  • For a those wanting a real detox, try to not replace the adult beverages with sugary substitutes, but rather opt for things like tea, sparkling water, decaf coffee, or juice without added sugar

What Lead Me to Practice Sobruary:

Eating clean has become something that I enjoy and makes me feel better, but while I am no longer tempted by the donuts or cake others might crave, I do not have the same strength when it comes to passing up an adult beverage at happy hour. Yes, I am admitting it, alcohol is my vice. But I mean let’s be honest, how many of us can say the same? Between playing the waiting game with diagnostic tests and a country currently divided by political sides, drinking certainly helps to subside the emotions that we’d like to tune out… at least temporarily.

During a recent discussion with my oncologist, he mentioned to me that alcohol suppresses both the immune system and the bone marrow. Essentially with my weakened immune system and bone marrow that is slowly being taken over by plasma cells, I am playing with fire when I drink alcohol. For almost a year I allowed myself (and stuck to) only one drinking day a week and it really opened my eyes to how much weight is put on drinking in our society. Roughly 38 million Americans drink more than they should, but it has become such a social aspect of our lives, it is not that easy to abstain. On days that I was not drinking I could feel that I was the odd man out, not to mention bitter that everyone else got to be normal. Yes there are some health benefits to having say a four ounce glass of wine each night but the truth is, how many of us are keeping it to just that?

Here are some key things to ponder that you might not know about your love affair with Sam Adams, Jose Cuervo, or Chateau St. Michelle (from Hello Doctor):

  • It can damage your skin.  Too much alcohol leaves skin dry and dull. It also widens the blood vessels on your face.
  • Drinking a lot is fattening. Alcohol has calories, and going over two drinks a day will see you steadily packing on weight over time.
  • Alcohol can damage your liver forever. Heavy drinking can cause cirrhosis and hepatitis – both very serious diseases.
  • A little booze may help your heart, but binge-drinking much can increase your blood pressure and damage the muscles of your heart.
  • Alcohol can cause depression
  • Alcohol has been linked to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and colon, as well as some breast cancer

Personally I have found that while drowning my sorrows in a bottle of wine might help in the short term and certainly has its fun moments, in the long run I was worse for it. Alcohol is a known downer, and boy it can bring you to a darker place than you were when you took that first sip, especially if you keep up that pace. In more recent months, having a “screw it, I’m just going to drink” attitude was awful for my state of mind. Keeping a positive vibe while dealing with serious health issues can be a feat in itself. I can honestly say it was much easier to block out the negative thoughts when there was less alcohol intake.

Alcohol can be addicting too, and that’s no joke. If you sense that you might have a problem controlling your intake it is so important to make sure you talk to someone about it that can help. So many people struggle with coming to terms with how much is too much. Case in point: how many of us actually check off the accurate box when filling out medical forms when asked how many drinks we consume in one week?

Some of you are already good at limiting your intake, other readers might not even drink at all (kudos!), or maybe you aren’t looking to change this aspect of your life right now. But if you are, know you’re not alone! We’ve got this!

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For all my fellow challengers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe: Tuscan Chicken Skillet

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Over the weekend J discovered a fantastic resource for recipes: Paleo Leap. I’m super stoked for their app to come out soon as well! While I really enjoy putting together some of my own creations in the kitchen, it’s also great to try out some of the tasty recipes we find on the web. Here is our experience with this paleo-friendly slice of Italy!

Tuscan Chicken Skillet 
Author: Paleo Leap
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. chicken breast tenderloins
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 15 oz. fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • ½ tsp. thyme
  • Cooking fat (I used coconut oil)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Melt some cooking fat in a large skillet placed over a medium-high heat.
  2. Add the chicken and brown for 3 minutes on each side.
  3. Remove chicken and set aside on a plate.IMG_0756.JPG
  4. Add some more cooking fat to the skillet if necessary.
  5. Add the sliced mushrooms in a single layer and brown for a few minutes per side. Remove from the pan and set aside.IMG_0759.JPG
  6. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 4 minutes.
  7. Add the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
  8. Stir in the diced tomatoes, oregano, thyme, and season with salt and pepper to taste.IMG_0767.JPG
  9. Transfer the chicken back to the pan.
  10. Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  11. Return the mushrooms to the pan, combine well, adjust the seasoning if needed, and serve.IMG_0773.JPG

We chose to serve this over quinoa but it would also be great over cooked spiralized zucchini! Delish!

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The Waiting Game

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Last week I turned 33 years old – an occasion that was marked by celebrations in both Ithaca and NYC. In the events leading up to and on my birthday, I was surrounded by amazing people and had wonderful times. My mood was great! Here I was another year older and still no required treatment for Myeloma. I was scheduled for my sixth month check in at Mt. Sinai two days after my birthday. When traveling such great distances to spend half of a day getting labs, waiting to be seen, and meeting with my doctor regarding unpleasant topics such as cancer, I try to always build something fun into the trip.

For this trip to NYC not only did J come along, but we planned to make it a weekend long post-birthday trip with another couple that we have been so fortunate to have in our lives. I was anxious to get the usual, “Myeloma is stable, immunity is still low but you can live a normal life this way under careful monitoring” response I usually receive, and we would be then be free to paint the town red. Except my appointment did not go quite as planned…

We spent five and a half hours at Mt. Sinai on Friday. We waited over an hour to get called back for labs, followed by another hour before meeting with the nurse practitioner, who was extremely helpful in explaining the status of my Myeloma. During this time we learned that the disease is still stable, but some of my labs had come back from earlier in the day and there was more cause for concern from my results. My neutrophils are the worst they have been to date. Currently they sit at 200 when normal counts are generally over 1,500. Throughout my time after diagnosis, this level has run relatively low, with some peaks here and there. As neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that aids the body in fighting off infections, there is always a scare that I could get sick and wind up in the hospital for something as common as the flu. The thought is that my body would be unable to go up against the illness. I have been lucky enough to have not had a major illnesses since 2013, and I believe my diet and lifestyle has helped me to achieve that.

But why are these neutrophil counts so low? It is not typical to see numbers in this range at the stage my cancer is in. So my specialist wanted to dig deeper. A doctor who specializes in Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS, a form of disease that has a possibility of becoming Acute myeloid leukemia) was called over to the room we were in. More labs were drawn for a “fishing expedition” to see if there is anything to this new MDS theory. And now begins the waiting game. It could be up to three weeks before we find out if I in fact could have an additional disease on top of the Smoldering Myeloma. The Myeloma diagnosis is not in doubt. The presence of plasma in my bone marrow and the abnormal protein in my blood solidify that. The good news is it has not yet affected my calcium levels, renal function, or my bones, and I am not anemic. These four elements can show progression of the disease.

At this point I was told that these additional lab tests were just precautionary, that the tests are meant to rule other things out while I am still relatively healthy (rather than to find out the answers at a potentially later stage). Of course the hope is that the tests will come back negative, but my thoughts keep going back to February of 2015, when I had my first abnormal results from blood tests. I was referred to a Hemotologist/Oncologist and advised to not let the Oncologist part scare me, it was just to rule out bone marrow abnormalities they said. But, it turned out to be cancer.

A negative test result would be such a blessing as I cannot fathom having two diseases at the same time. But if I do not in fact have Myelodysplastic syndrome, then what on earth is going on with my body?! That first hour after leaving my specialist’s office I shut down, not really wanting to talk to anyone. I then slept for over an hour at our hotel, totally whipped from the day. But when I woke, I was determined to make the best of an awful day and set out to enjoy our weekend. We ended up having such a fantastic time in the city with the best company we could have asked for! And I am so fortunate to be under the care of top specialists who continually work to dig further to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

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Recipe: Zucchini Noodle Veggie Lo Mein

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Need an idea for Meatless Monday? Eating less meat is one of our goals for the new year, and we plan to accomplish that by cutting out meat on Mondays. Since I cook extra for leftovers it may turn out that most Tuesdays are meatless too! I stumbled across this Zucchini Noodle Veggie Lo Mein recipe when making the Mango Noodle Bowls for our Tapas Party on NYE. Another great, low-carb and grain-free recipe from Get Inspired Everyday. At the start of 2016 I cut out gluten from my diet, but any grains in general are a form of carbohydrate and thus get converted to sugar when digested. As many researches have shown that cancer LOVES sugar, I’ve decided to go completely grain free in 2017! This will make eating out much more difficult as even gluten-free crusts, breads, or buns will have to be avoided unless I am fortunate enough to find a paleo restaurant (paleo diet is grain-free) like Hu, where we frequent when in NYC. And we just so happen to be going there this weekend to see my specialist! I have no doubt that I will have more energy and less inflammation due to this decision, which is so key for me given my almost constant sacrum pain. Fun fact: did you know that eating an anti-inflammatory diet can drastically reduce joint pain?

This recipe was so easy to accomplish with our KitchenAid spiralizer attachment. We had beautiful noodles made from both zucchini and carrots in just minutes! Check out this short video as proof!

After not being able to eat lo mein in over a year, this recipe changed all of that. And I didn’t miss a single thing about not having real noodles. As a little girl who grew up LOVING Chinese takeout out, I am a very happy camper!

Zucchini Noodles Veggie Lo Mein

Athour: Get Inspired Everyday!

Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 8 mins
Total time: 38 mins
 Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 2 Tablespoons avocado oil, or olive oil
  • 12 crimini mushrooms, 6 ounces, washed and sliced
  • 2 baby bok choy, 6 ounces, thinly sliced and thoroughly washed
  • 1 large red bell pepper, 8 ounces
  • 1 large carrot, 6 ounces, peeled and ends cut off
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons ginger, minced
  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • 4-8 zucchini, depending on their size, weighing 2 pounds, spiralized into noodles
Sauce:
  • 2 Tablespoons tapioca starch
  • 3 Tablespoons gluten free soy sauce or coconut aminos
  • 1 Teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon mirin, optional but nice for more authentic flavor
Instructions
  1. Make sure all your veggies are prepped before starting the stir fry.
  2. For the bell pepper, cut out the core and remove as many seeds as you can. Thinly slice it or spiralize it by place the core side on the blade side of the spiralizer and pushing the pronged side into the bottom end of the pepper. Then turn the handle and spiralize it. Spiralize the carrots, or if they’re too small, thinly slice them. For the green onions, thinly slice the whole bunch, both the green and the white part. Reserve the green part for the end of the stir fry and keep the white part with the garlic and ginger.
  3. Preheat a very large skillet (at least 15″) over medium high heat. While the skillet heats, make the sauce by mixing together the tapioca starch and soy sauce until the tapioca has completely dissolved, and there are no lumps. Mix in the sesame oil and mirin if you’re using it, and set the sauce aside.
  4. When the pan is hot but not smoking, add 1 Tablespoon of the oil into the pan along with the mushrooms, bok choy, bell pepper, and carrots. If you’re comfortable cooking over high heat, increase the heat from medium high to high for a more authentic seared flavor. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the veggies are starting to soften.IMG_0504.JPG
  5. Add the garlic, ginger, and the white part of the green onions and stir fry for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until it’s fragrant and the green onions have wilted. Transfer the stir fried veggies to a large serving bowl and place the bowl in the oven at a low temperature to keep warm (150ºF) while you finish cooking.
  6. Place the pan back over high heat, and add the remaining 1 Tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the zucchini noodles to the pan and stir fry just until the noodles are barely beginning to soften, 1-2 minutes. Add the sauce mixture and the reserved green part of the green onions, and immediately remove the pan from the heat.
  7. Add the noodles to the veggie mixture in your serving bowl and toss to completely combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings by adding a bit of sea salt if necessary.
  8. Serve immediately.
  9. The leftovers keep well for this dish, and I like to eat them cold for lunch the next day. The zucchini noodles will shed water, but you can just pour off the extra liquid, the taste is still great.
Notes
You may need to add sea salt to taste, especially if you use coconut aminos which is generally less salty than soy sauce.
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Veggie Lo Mein!

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For added crunch we topped this dish with sesame seeds and sweet pea sprouts!

Recipes: Tapas Party Favorites

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I LOVE tapas, small dishes shared among friends. For NYE we had some friends over to our house in Ithaca, NY and put out a spread of organic/locally sourced tapas for everyone to nibble on throughout the night. I had been wanting to try more recipes from my EatPaleo app and was pleasantly surprised that I found almost every recipe from there, and they were all amazing!!! As to keep this post from being a mile long, I will provide links to each recipe rather than placing the entire recipe for each dish within the post. J and I had a lot of fun prepping and making these new dishes together. It was all made easier with the recent purchase of our KitchenAid mixer and spiralizer attachment! (video made by boomerang on Instagram)


Bombay Turkey Meatballs
– Recipe found at www.peachypalate.com. These were just lovely. We discovered last minute that we didn’t actually have coriander and used dried parsley as a substitute. Loved the vibrant color of the pickled red cabbage which we chose to serve these tasty meatballs over.

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Bombay Turkey Meatballs with Pickled Red Cabbage

Pomegranate Lime Brussels Sprouts – Recipe found at www.pdxfoodlove.com. The colors on this dish were amazingly festive! These brussels were such a nice switch from the usual balsamic roasted options, which are great as well, but it was fun to try out a new flavor! And boy were they tasty!

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Pomegranate Lime Brussels Sprouts

Mango Veggie Noodle Bowls with Creamy Ginger Dressing – Recipe from www.getinspiredeveryday.com. Okay, these were hands down the prettiest tapas we served NYE. I was surprised at first that this is a raw dish, but that actually provided a lovely crunch to go along with an amazing combination of flavors. Our KitchenAid spiralizer made the most perfect zucchini noodles!

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Mango Veggie Noodle Bowls with Creamy Ginger Dressing

Chorizo-Stuffed Mushrooms – Recipe found at www.janssushibar.com. While I try to refrain from eating pork and red meat, I will on special occasions. These stuffed mushrooms were probably my favorite dish of the night. We picked up the chorizo from our local butcher, The Piggery, who has the best locally sourced, pasture raised meat in town.

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Chorizo-Stuffed Mushrooms

Tuna Salad Cucumber Bites – Recipe from www.healingandeating.com. J loves seafood, I do not, with the exception of the occasional shrimp dish. I’m also not a cucumber fan but he is. When I found this recipe, he was pretty excited. Thinking it would be a hit with most of our party goers we added it to the list, and it turned out to be a winner. J was a pretty happy guy too as I found him coming back for more throughout the night, with him proclaiming that they were addicting! Since these weren’t for me, I used organic mayo rather that the coconut oil mayo used in the orginial recipe.

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Tuna Cucumber Bites

Thyme Roasted Carrots – Recipe found at www.ahouseinthehills.com. We had quite a few bunches of carrots left in the house so I began searching for a way to use them for our party. At first glance you’d think this recipe was simply to roast carrots in olive oil and thyme, but it’s so much more. The recipe includes a delicious glaze made from maple syrup, coconut oil, and orange juice. Loved the outcome of these, incredible flavor!

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Thyme Roasted Carrots

Creamy Avocado, Artichoke, and Kale Dip – Recipe found at www.blissfulbasil.com. I remember back in the day when I first started cooking and bringing spinach with artichoke dip to a party was my standby. All of that yummy cream cheese and gooey melted cheese on top, served with sea salt pita chips. Well not so conducive to eating clean. Stumbling across this recipe was a great find and it was nice to switch things up from the guacamole often seen at parties. But hey guac is great too! The fresh lemon and garlic in this dip really brought out the flavors. We served this will blue corn tortilla chips (for our guests) and these amazing, paleo-friendly almond crackers made by Simple Mills, that I found at GreenStar. I also sprinkled a little paprika over the dip for some extra color.

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Creamy Avocado, Artichoke and Kale Dip

Balsamic Kale with Cranberries – Recipe found at www.healthyseasonalrecipes.com. For this recipe we used dried cranberries sweetened only with apple juice also bought from our local co-op, GreenStar. We already had all of the ingredients at home so making this was a no-brainer. Another festive and tasty dish to ring in the new year.

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Balsamic Kale with Cranberries

Baked Salmon Served on Chilled Himalayan Salt Block – We didn’t even need a recipe for this dish. We successfully experimented with cooking shrimp on our Himalayan salt block but wanted to try a chilled dish. We put our block in the freezer overnight, and it became unbelievably cold! While at GreenStar, I picked up some wild caught, already baked, Atlantic salmon.Given my aversion to fish, I had J slice up the salmon and assemble it on our chilled salt block just before our guests arrived. The subtle hint of pink Himalayan salt brought out the flavor of the salmon. Plus it just looks so pretty using it as a serving platter!

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Baked Salmon Served on a Chilled Himalayan Salt Block

Desserts:

We also served two dairy free, sugar free, vegan friendly, paleo friendly desserts, which I forgot to photograph at that point in the night, oops! But regardless of lack of documentation, these were too good to not mention.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse – Recipe found at www.theironyou.com. OMG was this good. I’ve been experimenting a lot with clean eating desserts and some of it has been hit or miss. This was by far the most delicious and easiest recipe I’ve found. It takes just three simple ingredients (four if you include vanilla, which we did). I was worried that it would have a strong coconut flavor due to using coconut milk, but it did not! It was also a breeze to make in our KitchenAid.

Crock-Pot Hot Chocolate (Vegan, Dairy-Free, Paleo) – Recipe found at www.tasty-yummies.com. Our menu was completely set when I stumbled across this recipe a friend had shared on Facebook. I just couldn’t say no! This hot cocoa is so easy to make, just mixing the ingredients in a slow cooker and letting it work it’s magic. The result? Super smooth, rich and creamy hot cocoa that is simply divine. We served this with various liquors for a fun adult treat at our party.

Throwing a tapas party involves a fair amount of prep in the kitchen. But J and I truly enough that time together and experimenting with different flavors and recipes. Many of these recipes would also make great side dishes for a meal as well. Happy eating and Happy New Year!!

Recipe: Green Tea Berry Smoothie

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Juicing is a big part of my life. Where many of you can’t begin your day without your favorite cup of joe, my go to morning beverage is a green tea berry smoothie. J and I are not big coffee drinkers, but don’t get me wrong, I love the smell and taste of fresh brewed coffee. For me the crash I experience after caffeine does its magic, feels much worse that the tiredness I battle with when first waking up. As I suffer from low energy, a weakened immune and fatigue, I’ve found that juicing is a great way to naturally boost my energy without relying on caffeine. I also swear by it to help me ward off illnesses during peak cold and flu seasons.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have a Vitamix on loan from friends for the past year, and I can say we’d be lost without it. I attempted making fresh juice everyday but it started to be a pain. With the Vitamix we’re able to make six servings of juice or smoothie at a time, which we store in mason jars in the fridge, allowing the two of us to have a healthy breakfast option for three days. The longer fresh juice is exposed to air, the more health benefits it begins to lose. But three days is a pretty safe bet in most of the resources that I’ve found. My tried and true recipe for our daily smoothie is loaded with antioxidants from berries and green tea. Green tea has also been shown to aid in combating some cancers. I also rely on fresh ginger to help give my immune system a boost. Here is a basic recipe followed by optional add-ins (that we do include each time we make this).

Green Tea Berry Smoothie

Recipe by mmvsmm.com
Makes 6 servings (reduce by 1/6 to make a single serving) based on 64oz/2L blender

Ingredients*:

Optional add-ins (with links to brands we use of our own choosing):

  • 3 tablespoons high quality flax seed oil for omega-3s
  • 3 tablespoons organic chia seeds soaked in water for extra antioxidants, fiber and omega-3s
  • 3 teaspoons matcha powder for extra antioxidants and EGCG
  • 2 teaspoons chlorella powder for vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, protein and chorlophyll

We do not sweeten any of our juices or smoothies as we find the fruit to be sweet enough. If you like things on the sweeter side try adding in raw agave, honey, or maple syrup. A couple of tablespoons should do the trick!

Instructions:

  1. Add ingredients into blender, liquids first
  2. Blend on high
  3. Pour into mason jars, seal jars with lids and refrigerate
  4. Enjoy as your morning breakfast or as a mid day snack!
*Disclaimer: please note, I am not sponsored by any of the products used on this blog. Any products used have strictly been of my own choosing/research. 

Recipe: Sweet Potato Gnocchi Topped with Ground Turkey in a Maple Dijon Sauce

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IMG_0207.JPGI’m always searching for creative ways to be able to enjoy pasta dishes and still eat relatively clean. My last post featured a zucchini noodle dish, which we loved, but I wanted to try something new. I’ve often found gnocchi (potato based pasta) offered as a gluten-free option at some restaurants, but with my diet I stray away from all potatoes, with the exception of sweet potatoes. Figuring that there must be such a thing as gnocchi made from sweet potatoes, I took to Google to find such a recipe using flour that was both grain-free and gluten-free. Thanks to Heartbeet Kitchen for providing me with this winner!

5 Ingredient Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Author: Amanda Paa, adapted from Fork and Beans 
Serves: 2-3 servings

 INGREDIENTS
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons of mashed & smooth, roasted sweet potato (157 grams)
  • ¼ cup millet flour (30 grams)
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon almond flour (38 grams)
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon tapioca starch (38 grams)
  • heaping ¼ teaspoon salt
 INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Whisk the flours/starch and salt together. Put the mashed sweet potato in a large bowl and add half of the flour mixture. Lightly need it in with your hands, then add the other half and knead just until no flour streaks remain.
  2. Pull it together into one ball – the mixture should not be too sticky. If it is, add another tablespoon of almond flour and ½ tablespoon tapioca starch.
  3. Then flatten into a disc. Cut the disc into fours. Dust a clean surface with millet flour. Roll out each piece with your hands & fingers on the surface until you create a snake-like piece about 6 inches long, and ½ inch wide. Then with a knife cut individual gnocchi, about 1 inch long. (You don’t want them to be too big or they won’t cook through). Press the tines of your fork lightly into them to make the indents.
  4. Repeat for each piece of dough. Coat the surface lightly with more of the flour mix just so it doesn’t stick when you cut it.
  5. In a medium pot of lightly boiling water, pour half of the gnocchi in. Wait until they begin to float to the top, then let cook for a minute or two. Remove with a slotted spoon and lay on a cutting board.
  6. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi. Put gnocchi in the refrigerator for 5 minutes, then add 1½ tablespoons olive oil to a skillet. Saute gnocchi for 5-6 minutes on medium heat, stirring, until they are crisp on the outside. Sprinkle with a bit of salt (this is key!).

Now it was onto deciding what to serve over top of the gnocchi. We recently had a cooking demo at work that featured a pasta dish with a maple Dijon sauce. Since I couldn’t eat it with the past I figured it was the perfect opportunity to try it out with this dish and had the notion that it would pair well with ground turkey simmered in garlic, sage, and thyme. But what veggies to throw in? Kale and asparagus seemed to be the perfect savory accompaniments to the sweetness of the maple and sweet potatoes. If you are avoiding naturally sweetened dishes, and the maple syrup is throwing you off from trying this dish, I suggest experimenting with a sage pesto sauce. I haven’t tried it yet, but this one from The Suburban Soapbox caught my eye to try out next time.

We made this meal with friends for a fun date night in! It was certainly an experience making pasta from scratch. Hint, hint: next time I think I’ll be buying canned (BPA-free) sweet potato puree to skip a few steps. Luckily we had some delicious Ithaca Hummus, rainbow carrots, and Plentils to hold us over until dinner time! Side note: Best. Hummus. Ever. (and made right in my town!).

IMG_0196.JPGHere is the recipe for the maple Dijon sauce adapted from food.com, along with my recipe for the ground turkey and veggie topping:

INGREDIENTS
Maple Dijon Sauce
  • 185ml pure maple syrup
  • 125ml Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (heaped teaspoon)
  • 1teaspoon black pepper

Ground Turkey Topping

  • 1lb organic ground turkey
  • 1 medium sized onion chopped
  • 10oz asparagus cut into pieces (fresh or frozen if not in season)
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (olive oil works too)
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste

Optional Garnish

  • Shaved raw milk organic Parmesan cheese

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring the maple syrup to the boil and boil keeping it bubbling. When the bubbles start to go from small to big and the mixture is thickened it should be ready ( about 4-5 minutes).
  2. Remove maple mixture from heat when thickened and let cool
  3. While maple mixture is cooling, heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat
  4. Add in chopped onion until and cook for 3-5 minutes until it begins to become translucent
  5. Now add in the ground turkey and cook until no longer pink, break up the pieces of meat as you cook
  6. Sprinkle in garlic, sage, thyme, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper. Cook for one minute longer
  7. Add in the kale and asparagus to the mixture and cook until the kale has begun to wilt and the asparagus is fork tender. (if using fresh asparagus you may want to add it in a few minutes ahead of the kale.IMG_0187.JPG
  8. Once the maple mixture has cooled, whisk in the Dijon mustard, seeds and pepperIMG_0200.JPG
  9. Serve turkey topping over sweet potato gnocchi and drizzle with the maple Dijon sauce.
  10. If you aren’t avoid dairy, garnish the dish with fresh shaved raw milk Parmesan. We found this tasty option at our local Wegmans.IMG_0191.JPG
  11. Enjoy!