Recipe: Zucchini Noodles with Spinach Vodka Sauce

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My husband LOVES pasta. I, on the other hand, can live without it, which is OK as it isn’t conducive to eating clean. But, we’ve found a way to have the best of both worlds! Spiraling zucchini into “noodles” can still taste like great Italian food without all of the guilt. Now the challenge for tonight was all in the sauce. Hubby’s favorite Italian sauce is vodka sauce and because I avoid eating heavy cream, I discovered how easy it is to use cashew cream instead. We opted to top this dish with roasted cauliflower, red peppers, and crimini mushrooms, yum! If you can’t skip the protein, grilled chicken would be delicious with this as well.

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Zoodles!

This is my first recipe of my own creation, hope you enjoy!

 

Zucchini Noodles with Spinach Vodka Sauce
Approx. 6 servings
Prep./Cook Time: 30-45 mins

2.5 lbs zucchini, spiralized
3 tbs. olive oil
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 large sweet onion
1 cup good quality vodka (I used Tito’s)
2/3 cup raw unsalted cashews
2/3 cup filtered water
1 28 ounce can tomato sauce (I use Muir Glen for all of my canned tomatoes)
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 tbs dried oregano
3 cups fresh spinach
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Optional toppings: grilled chicken (for a non-vegetarian dish) or roasted veggies if you want to keep it vegetarian/vegan friendly. I tossed some chopped cauliflower, crimini mushrooms, and red pepper in olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, dried thyme, oregano, and parsley for 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Viola! And may I say the mushrooms were out of this world!

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To make the cashew cream:
If you have a high power blender -soak 2/3 cup of cashews in 2/3 cup of water while you make the rest of the recipe. We’re lucky enough to have a Vitamix on loan that did the trick. If you have a lower power blender, you’ll want to soak the cashews overnight. Blend the cashews and water on high for two minutes and set aside.

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Cashew pieces soaking in water

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Like magic, now we have cashew cream!!

1. Dice the onion
2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat
3. Add onion and garlic, cook for five minutes – until soft
4. Sprinkle red pepper flakes and 1/2 tbs. dried oregano onto the mixture and stir to combine
5. Pour vodka into mixture and cook down until reduced by about half
6. Open can of diced tomatoes and can of tomato sauce. Pour into saucepan
7. Heat to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes
8. While sauce is cooking spiral zucchini into “noodles”
9. Heat olive oil in large skillet or wok, add zucchini spirals and cook for 4-6 minutes or until they reach your desired consistency. Do not overcook
10. Remove “noodles” from heat
11. Remove sauce from heat for 5 minutes and then add in cashew cream
12. Return sauce to burner on medium-low heat and add in spinach along with remaining one tbs. of dried oregano
13. Stir sauce until spinach begins to wilt, do not bring the sauce to a boil
14. Remove sauce from heat

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Now you’re ready to plate the meal! Serve the sauce over your zucchini noodles. Add fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste. If you’re like my husband, who likes to pack on the heat, be sure to include additional red pepper flakes on the table. Now if only it were easier resist the temptation to use that leftover Tito’s for a nice dinner time Moscow Mule…

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Recipe: Berry Apple Tart

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We made this naturally sugar-free and gluten-free dessert for both our PA and NY Thanksgivings, and even my eight year old niece enjoyed it! With its beautiful red color it would make a yummy and festive Christmas dessert as well! I learned how simple and rewarding it is to make jam from scratch without sugar, which I totally plan to duplicate again for other purposes! Here’s a few snaps of our experience along with the recipe, courtesy of perchancetocook.com


Paleo Berry Apple Tart

Cook time: 45 mins

Total time: 45 mins

Author: Perchancetocook

Serves: 6+

Ingredients:

16 ounces of strawberries (one of the larger crates)

2 Tbs honey

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp lemon juice

½ cup ground flax seeds

1½ cup almond flour

1 tsp cinnamon

¼-1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tbs coconut oil (melted)

¼ cup of maple syrup

¼ cup water

1 small apple sliced ( I used almost an entire apple)

1- 1½ cup of raspberries

Instructions:

To make the jam: Chop all of the strawberries and put them in a medium pan. Add the 2 tbs honey, 1 tsp vanilla, and 2 tsp lemon juice to the strawberries and mix with a wooden spoon.

Heat the stove top to medium heat and cook the strawberries for 20 minutes, stirring every now and again to make sure the strawberries don’t stick to the bottom or side of the pan. Set the pan aside once the 20 minutes is up.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the ½ cup ground flax seeds, 1½ cup almond flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, and ¼-1/2 tsp nutmeg with a fork until everything is mixed well. Set the bowl aside.

In a small bowl, mix the melted coconut butter, maple syrup, and water with a fork until the mixture thickens a bit. Then, pour the liquid contents of the small bowl into the medium bowl of dry ingredients( almond flour/ flax seed mixture).

Mix until the whole mixture appears to be “wet”, it will be clumpy.

Grease a tart pan OR cover a tart pan in wax paper.

Pour the almond flour mixture into the tart pan and pat it down with a metal spoon until it is evenly distributed. Make sure to get the dough up into the creases of the tart pan, it may be easier to use your fingers for this part.

Pour the strawberry jam into the crust covered tart pan and spread evenly with the bottom of a metal spoon.

Cover the jam with the sliced apples and raspberries.

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Enjoy 🙂

Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup -Fall Favorite!

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Ingredients (makes 4 servings so I doubled this so we’d have leftovers):
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil instead
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, copped
  • 1 medium butternut squash – peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1 (32 fluid ounce) container chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1 clove fresh minced garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions:
Melt the coconut oil in a large pot, and cook the onion, carrot, squash, ginger, garlic and curry powder for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Pour in enough of the chicken stock to cover vegetables. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 40 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender.

Transfer the soup to a blender, and blend until smooth. Return to pot, and mix in any remaining stock to attain desired consistency. Or better yet, if you have an immersion blender you can skip the blender and extra dishes by blending the soup up right in the pot! Season with salt and pepper.

I Saw the Sign…

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Well it was actually more like I Heard the Sign (love me some throwback Ace of Base). The hours leading up to receiving my lab results today had me a bit anxious. For those of you that are in the same boat as me – monitoring blood cancer, you know that we follow a different calendar year. There are no “months”, as time is measured in chunks of days or weeks between labs, always wondering what things will look like after the next “chunk” passes.

Today was one of those work days where so many things went wrong leading up to leaving for my oncology appointment. So much so that I had myself convinced this was a bad omen. Keeping a positive attitude is key, and even when the rest of your life is being dictated over and over again by these results, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking: man, maybe my time is up and this is it (it being needing treatment). As I fumbled with the radio in my car, I was not content with finding a song option that helped to combat my current mood. I resorted to the only song that even seemed tolerable, and I’ve now forgotten what it was. The next song came on and I laughed to myself, instantly knowing that things were going to be just fine.

Yes, they are fine. My levels are stable. I will post the actual numbers when they hit my patient portal for those of you that know how to read those things. But everything has pretty much stayed the same since April 2015 when I was diagnosed. Free light chains, immunoglobulins, etc. are pretty identical to diagnosis. Still very low WBC of 2.8 and neutrophils of 600. Textbook speaking, my body has a hard time fighting off infections, but if you know me, you also know I haven’t been sick beyond a cold since diagnosis.

So what was the sign? Some of you know that I have a special needs dog at home who suffered a ruptured disc in October 2013 and needed back surgery. He learned to walk again but has some funny traits as a result of nerve damage. Some dogs shake from time to time like they just got out of a pool of water. My guy does that too, but the back end of his body doesn’t know it’s time to stop shaking. It continues to vibrate like a lawnmower that can’t decide if it wants to start. He’s become known among my friends for his “vibrations”. He cannot itch his own back so it seems to be his way of getting his itches out. My husband has always said our dog’s theme song is “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift because of this trait. About a year ago we thought he was going to have to have another surgery, this time for a suspected hernia. I prayed the night before his appointment and pleaded with my mom to watch over him (for my new readers, my mom passed away from breast cancer in early 2013). At the vet appointment, I discovered that there was no hernia like I had been told nearly a year earlier; it was just a muscle that stuck out oddly due to atrophy in surrounding muscles. My pup and I hopped into my car, I started it up and on came “Shake it Off”! I knew my mom was letting me know she had pulled some strings for for him, just like I knew she was watching over me when the same song came on just minutes before arriving to my oncology office.

 

Turning Defeat into Determination

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I woke up this morning trying to recount the night before as I was overcome by this feeling that I had been jabbed in the ribs… Was I mugged? Did I try wrestling some kind of wild animal? Perhaps I was hit by a bus? As my sleepiness wore off I realized that I had been defeated, yes defeated by YOGA!

Okay so it’s been awhile since I worked out. Those of you that followed earlier posts know that this is a constant struggle. At one point I strove to do yoga or Pilates once or twice a week during my lunch break at the gym on campus. I’ve lost track but it’s been at least six months since my palms touched that mat in downward facing dog (quite possibly my least favorite yoga position, btw). I’ve been dealing with extreme fatigue and while the past few months I kept telling myself I needed to boost up the physical activity, I fell into my usual stance of making excuses. As I’ve mentioned before, I loath exercise. I really, really do, and quite possibly more than most people, but I really feel so much better afterwards. And it usually has a positive impact on my blood cell counts. You’d think that’s be reason enough to be motivated, sadly not.

When I realized why I hurt EVERYWHERE today my first reaction was screw this, who wants to feel like this? I mean even laughing was painful! Thankfully reality set in and the pain I was feeling accompanied the realization that I was feeling so bad today because I’m not doing this enough. The class was brutal. First of all I do like yoga, though admittedly after about 30 minutes in I’m constantly checking the clock to see if it’s over yet. Hot yoga on the other hand is just not my thing, and low and behold the community yoga class I signed up for was also a hot yoga class in disguise. My eyes darted to the door, urging me to make my escape. But it was paid for, I was there with friends and decided to stick it out. My thought process during that one hour was as follows:
-OMG this is awful
-I thought yoga was supposed to be calming. Why does this instructor keep yelling “inhale” and “exhale” like an army drill Sargent?
-If we do one more downward facing dog I swear my wrists are going to break off
-Okay this is getting a little bit better but I’m hella sweaty
-Oooooh Savasana, why couldn’t the whole class be like this?
-Oh hey, I feel pretty damn good (and completed the whole one hour class)


As my friends and I left the studio feeling pretty zen, we recounted the class and had similar sentiments but had all decided to make a weekly habit of returning. That was before we all woke up the next day, but no pain no gain right? And sometimes pain might just give you the determination you need to realize, “hey, this is good for me!”.

P.S. If you are like me and struggle to motivate yourself to exercise I have two tips:
1. Find a gym buddy – it’s always better to hold each other accountable
2. Find something you actually ENJOY doing. I learned long ago I’ll never be a runner, but biking works well for me. Keep trying new things!

My Supplement Storage Savior

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When I was diagnosed I started taking a range of supplements/vitamins as many people do on a daily basis. At first I carried around about five or six pill bottles in my purse. What a pain! So then I purchased a daily dose plastic pill holder from the drug store than could contain a weeks worth of supplements. Problem solved right? Well I had apparently bought an easy release option made for people suffering from arthritis and came to find almost all the pills had been released into the bottom of my purse. I scoured the interwebs in search of something better and came across Pillfolds by Sara Gorman. Ah-mazing!

Here was this compact, fabric, and fashionable way to discreetly contain a weeks worth of pills in my purse. Note: the inside is a bit yellowed on mine from the large amount of turmeric I take.

Pillfolds not only have storage for each day of the week, they also separate by day and night. Sun for daytime, moon for night. Hmm did I take my pills tonight? I just unsnap the pouch and if the pills are still sitting on the “night” side that day then I have my answer.


Pillfolds come in many patterns and colors. There’s even a few masculine options as well. They run about $40, which initially caused me some hesitation on purchasing but they’re handmade and after having mine over a year I’d be lost without it! Worth every penny! They’re offering 15% off when you subscribe to emails and now have an extended version which holds even more pills.

Hope some of you will find this product review useful in your daily lives as well!

Recipe: Turkey Zucchini Burgers with Lemon Yogurt Sauce

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Tip: we topped ours off with an organic heirloom tomato!

We made these yummy burgers in a cast iron skillet at a recent BBQ with friends and they were a hit! Discovered the recipe from my Eat Paleo app who scored this tasty find on theironyou.com (bonus: now I have another awesome, healthy resource!).

Turkey Zucchini Burgers with Lemon Yogurt Sauce
Print this recipe!
Adapted from Jerusalem: A CookBook

Ingredients
Makes about 10 medium size burgers (enough for 4 to 5 people)

Burgers

1 lb / 453 gr organic ground turkey
1 large zucchini, grated
2 scallions, thinly chopped
1 free-range organic egg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin (optional)

Lemon Yogurt Sauce

1 container (7 oz / 198 gr) plain Greek yogurt
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Chopped scallions for garnish

Directions

In a small bowl combine all sauce ingredients, stir well and set aside.
In a large bowl combine all burger ingredients and with dampened hands shape into burgers (you can also make meatballs if you feel like.)
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and cook burgers, in batches, until golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes per side (it really depends on the size of your burgers.)
Serve warm with lemon yogurt sauce on the side.

Nutrition facts

One burger (undressed) yields about 117 calories, 7 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbs and 13 grams of protein.

My Diet

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For over a year I’ve followed a mostly organic diet consisting of no processed sugar or gluten. It took a lot of research to figure out what works best for me and I’m still learning. Since changing my diet I am at my healthiest weight to date (lost 10-15 lbs) and have more energy when I stick to the diet. Cancer has been shown to feed off of processed sugar and doesn’t bode well with high inflammatory foods. Two of my primary resources have been The Cancer Killers by Dr. Charles Majors (who also had a Multiple Myeloma diagnosis) and The Anti-Cancer Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber (lived 20 years with an aggressive brain tumor). Here’s a quick break down:

Go for it! Limit No-No
Organic Poultry Organic Beef/Pork Meat with hormones/antibiotics
Organic berries/granny smith apples Other organic fruits Fruits with pesticides
Food containing no added sugar Raw Honey, Agave or Maple Syrup Processed Sugar, Cane Sugar, Brown Rice Syrup
Organic Sweet Potatoes N/A Potatoes
Quinoa Brown Rice White Rice
Unsweetened Coconut or Almond Milk Organic Raw Milk Non-Organic Pasteurized Milk
Unsweetened Nut Cheeses (vegan) Organic Raw Milk Cheeses Non-Organic Pasteurized Cheeses
Coconut, Olive, Flax, or Avocado Oil N/A Vegetable and Canola Oils
Almond or Coconut Flour GF Bread/Crust Brown Rice GF Bread/Crust Non-GF Breads/Crusts
Zoodles (make veggies into noodles) GF Pastas Non-GF Pasta
Most Organic Veggies Organic Peppers Corn, or Non-Organic Veggies

I’m considering shifting to full out Paleo as it’s the closest diet that encompasses my own. But I’d have to give up cheese, beans, and grains completely… Eek!

Recipe: Carrot and Cardamom Soup

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We made this one last night from our Nom-Nom Paelo App, a great resource for sugar-free, gluten-free, and all around healthy recipes. I believe the app had a $5.99 price tag but well worth it. You can create shopping lists and the step-by-step cooking instructions include both photos as well as remind you of the measurements for each ingredient, love love! I thought we had cardamom in our spice rack but turns out we didn’t, so I substituted a T of curry powder. J & I couldn’t believe how delicious this was. Perfect for fall!

Carrot + Cardamom Soup

Recipe from the Nom Nom Paleo™ app

Makes : 6 servings

Hands-On Time : 15 min

Total Time : 45 min

Nothing signals springtime like a bowl of sunshine-orange soup!

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon coconut oil or fat of choice
2 large leeks, cleaned and trimmed
5 large carrots
Kosher salt
¼ cup diced apple
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
4 cups chicken stock or Pressure Cooker Bone Broth
½ cup full-fat coconut milk
freshly ground black pepper

Cooking Equipment:

Peeler
Chef’s knife
Cutting Board
Measuring cups and spoons
Microplane
Saucepan
Blender

Preparation Steps:

Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan over medium heat and grab your leeks. [1 T coconut oil or fat of choice 2 large leeks]
Cut the leeks (white and light green ends only) in half lengthwise, and then slice crosswise.
Add the leeks to the hot saucepan, along with a generous pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. [salt]
While the leeks are sweating in the pan, peel your carrots and and chop them into coins. [5 large carrots]
Toss in the carrot, apple, ginger, and cardamom, and stir until fragrant. [¼ cup diced apple 1 tsp minced fresh ginger ½ tsp ground cardamom]
Pour in the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. [4 cups chicken stock or Pressure Cooker Bone Broth]
Turn down the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the carrots are easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Mix in the coconut milk. [½ cup full-fat coconut milk]
Transfer the soup in batches to a blender and process until smooth.
Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Slurp it up! [salt pepper]

Find more recipes at http://nomnompaleo.com
©Nom Nom Paleo LLC

Sometimes You’re Just Blah

What does it mean to just be or feel blah? As a noun it could mean a “general feeling of discomfort, dissatisfaction, or depression” or as an adjective it could mean “low in spirit, health; down”.  Sometimes I think “blah” is the calm after the storm, as in after a wave of emotions ensues, “blah” is what you feel after the tide settles. Neither happy nor sad; emotionless. Blah is how I can best describe my mood after my check in at Roswell yesterday. Things remain stable yet there were some unexpected conversations and events, both good and bad. 

THE GOOD


We started the day with a stop at our favorite juice bar in Buffalo for breakfast, and after digesting the amazing food we made our way to the CO+OP market to get one of their yummy flourless, sugarless brownies to have as a treat after my blood work. There was virtually no wait for the blood work or the bone density scan. When I met with my BMT specialist he reiterated that that there was still a chance that I might not ever have to do treatment and that I could start meeting with him yearly rather than every six months. The bone density scan also showed no traces of Osteopenia in my left femur that was present a year ago. All along I thought I was just trying to prevent it from turning into Osteoporosis not knowing the Osteopenia could be reversed. I’m crediting my calcium rich clean diet for helping out with that in addition to the D3 supplements that I take daily.

THE UNEXPECTED (A.K.A. -THE BAD)

I had about 10 vials of blood drawn at the lab and for whatever reason that needle hurt much worse than the last few draws I’ve had. During our time at the BMT clinic the nurse didn’t mention CBC results, and it was then we discovered that the CBC hadn’t been ordered (even though I specifically requested it through the patient portal) and I would have to be poked again. I spent the whole week abstaining from alcohol, eating well and exercising and couldn’t wait to hear if my neutrophils (immunity) had come up. Now I would likely not find out the results till the next day. If the CBC would have been done with the rest of the initial vials, I would have received the results at my BMT appointment. THEN there were the vaccines. I ended up agreeing to a 3 in 1 vaccine that apparently would be three separate shots if I did them in Ithaca. Since my body wiped out all of my childhood vaccines I’m supposed to get them all again though no one can say if my body will wipe them out again. And you all know from previous posts how much of a baby I am when it comes to needles.

I was only prepared for one needle poke yesterday and it turned into three. At the end of it all I was laying on the bed with three bandages between my two arms and tears in my eyes. But to be honest I don’t know what tears were from what. During the appointment the topic of our wedding had come up and my doctor asked about kids (warning, slightly personal info is about to be released). A year ago we were a young couple, not yet engaged, I had just been diagnosed and we were thrown into a meeting with a fertility specialist because I would be unable to have kids after treatment. It was a lot to take in on top of a diagnosis, with no plans just yet for marriage and no discussion between us regarding children. Luckily I never had to make that big decision as I didn’t have to start treatment but I wasn’t expecting what I’d be told just a year later. We both have been undecided about kids and knew we’d be blessed with a full life even if it was just us two, but in my head it was always our choice alone either way. In that moment it all changed when my doctor told me it’s not recommended that I ever become pregnant as there is no telling how my body would handle it, and it could cause me great harm. Yes, I am beyond fortunate to be in either the MGUS or Smoldering state of Myeloma. I am not active enough to treat. But my white cells and neutrophils are not indicative of the majority of people with MGUS or Smoldering Myeloma, they run much much lower. I am a rarity and no one knows why my body acts the way that it does.

Case in point I am now on antibiotics for what appears to be a simple bug bite.  My left elbow is swollen, red, painful, and warmer than the rest of my body. The doctor said I have an infection and I told him this is the second time this has happened in a matter of months and has otherwise never happened. For me there is great risk if I contract a serious illness with how my body would be able or not be able to fight it off. Adding a growing life inside of me poses great risk to my life and it is something I pondered might be the case before having my doctor confirm it. But still the fact that it wasn’t really my choice any longer brought on the water works and just made me angrier with this disease taking yet a tighter hold over my life.  We briefly discussed his suggestions of surrogacy or adoption but honestly this roller coaster of a disease is about all I can wrap my brain around at the moment. The wedding and my health are the two biggest focuses, anything else is a discussion for another day, or year rather.

ANGELS HERE ON EARTH

We sat in the examination room in two basic chairs waiting for the nurse to come back with my vaccine while I tried to let everything the doctor just told me sink in. In comes this lady who looked Preakness ready in her fancy black and white clothes and giant wide brimmed sun hat. She had with her a cart of various things and then offered us a piece or two of candy with a big, friendly smile. I politely declined and stated my usual “thanks but I don’t eat sugar” statement, after which she pulled out the “secret” stash of sugar free candy. She then asked what kind of cancer I had, to which I gave her the quick one minute version and she proclaimed that she had something just for me. Out came this bag of silver tokens and she told me in order for it to work I had to close my eyes and reach into the bag and pull out one trinket. She stressed the importance of closing your eyes and sensing which was the right one to pick. So here is what I made out with and yeah there were more tears lol:

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STILL FINDING STRENGTH

As I mentioned, I was still waiting on CBC to come back. I finally heard back this morning and while things came up a tiny bit (neutrophils are up from 300 to 590, but 1,500 and above is normal) I still feel defeat and frustration over everything, especially when I’ve worked so hard. Yes I am still blah, I am not myself and it might take a day or two more to shake it. But I have new found strength even if it’s not my own. I’ll get mine back, I always do.