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Avocado-Lime Tart and Updates

Hello there! Long time no talk. When I last posted, there was still snow on the ground. It’s 81 degrees in Michigan today. So, you get the point.

Since my last post, a lot has happened. Gennaro and I finally found a house and moved out of my parents’ house. We searched, we found, we went into contract. And then about a month later, the house was ours. That’s the good news.

Then, there’s the other part of the story. The part I debated about posting for fear of, I don’t know…calling too much attention to myself? Being whiny? Making too big of a deal out of something that might seem like nothing to a lot of people?

Those thoughts all ran through my head. But then there was another side of me. The side that thought maybe someone could benefit from my story. So, here it is:

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you may remember me posting a few times about chronic muscle spasms and stiff necks. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for the last few years, and something I had carelessly attributed to stress from law school, as it was certainly a new and unwelcome phenomenon for me. Not that I didn’t deal with it in every way I thought I could — yoga, heat therapy, massages, acupuncture, muscle rubs, countless chiropractic visits and even the occasional muscle relaxer were just a few of my go-to remedies. These have been a staple in my life for the last three years.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may also know that early last year, I left New York to move back to Michigan for work. Between then and our recent move into a new home, Gennaro and I were living with my parents. While being in your late twenties and moving back in with your parents is certainly not always an ideal situation, in my case, it had its benefits. For one thing, my mom noticed that I seemed fatigued and “out of it” a lot, and insisted that I see a doctor about it. She also insisted that my neck pain and muscle spasms were somehow related. Of course, my natural inclination as a child was to ignore her and insist I was fine. But that only lasted for so long before the idea of finally getting to the bottom of whatever was going on with me became too enticing. So I began seeing a wonderful doctor in Michigan who specializes in chronic disease.

Initial testing revealed less-than-surprising results: chronic candidiasis (I had known this was an issue for me), Epstein Barr, HV6, etc. If you’ve suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia in your lifetime, you’ve probably tested positive for some of these as well. But then my doctor asked me if I had tested positive for Lyme before, because there was a Western Blot strain that came back positive.

In fact, I had. Same Western Blot, about two years ago in New York. My primary care doctor there had ordered it because of complaints of fatigue back then, too. But when they told me I had an “equivocal” (i.e. “maybe positive”) test, I was told it was really nothing to worry about for the time being and that I should just wait to see how I feel. I was told, instead, that I might just be “depressed.” No follow-up testing was ordered. Naturally, I was suspicious and concerned. So I followed-up with an infectious disease specialist, who basically told me, in as nice of a way as you can say this, that I was wasting his time and he had really sick patients to deal with (alright, he didn’t sue those exact words, but his were surprisingly close). He appeased me, though, by ordering a follow-up test, which came back negative (I now know that this was a much less sensitive test and can often yield negative results even when someone is infected with Lyme). Plus, even though I had been in areas where Ticks were present, I did not develop the typical “bullseye rash” (which I now know is not always present), so I had nothing to worry about. OK, I thought. And I went on with my life without giving it a second thought.

Until it happened again. This time, I thought, it can’t be just a coincidence, right? So my doctor recommended that in addition to testing for other tick-borne diseases, that I send out my lab work to California to a facility for an IGENEX test and (hopefully) definitive results. That test came back clearly positive.

Now would be a good time to point out that there is a rift in the medical community about which tests should be used and whether the IGENEX testing  (or any testing, for that matter) is reliable. I’m also aware that a lot of people who are suspicious that they have Lyme get an  eye-roll from conventional medical doctors, and are instead offered a possible alternative cause of their symptoms. Like, for example, my “depression,” for which I was prescribed Wellbutrin (which I never took because I knew I was not depressed). A great documentary called Under Our Skin really exposes this controversy and casts a much-needed light on such practices.

Anyways, in addition to the positive IGENEX test, I also tested positive for a number of other tick-borne diseases — Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia and Rickettsia, to name a few.

Suddenly, with all of this new information, things started making sense to me. Like why, two years ago, I felt like I was on my death bed with what turned out to be a nasty parasite called Cryptosporidiosis. My research on this parasite revealed that individuals with healthy immune systems can contract it and fight it off fairly easily, while others with HIV or AIDS (or Lyme, it turns out!) will have symptoms. And symptoms I had. Like, worst case of food poisoning you could ever imagine symptoms. Like, 94 degree temperature shortly followed by 102 degree temperature symptoms (that is not a joke). So, yeah. Apparently my immune system was not the healthiest.

I promise I am trying to get to the point here. But I also think it’s important that I be somewhat vocal about the fact that I went to countless doctors with my symptoms and was, basically, shrugged off. And even though I had classic Lyme symptoms (stiff necks, muscle pain, fatigue) and an equivocal test, I was told I was just depressed. So imagine my relief when I found a doctor who not only believed me and aggressively tested me, but who also is willing to aggressively treat me for what is actually wrong.

Unfortunately, the problem with aggressive treatment is the fact that it can be long and hard on your body. Since beginning antibiotics, I’ve experienced waves of nausea, chills, vomiting, fatigue and an increase in my muscle pains. This, I’m told, is the reaction to the toxins dying off and being released into your system. I’m not a fan. But it’s worth it because I know I need to get better. And while I try to get better, I need to remind myself to take it easy and not feel guilty about not responding to emails, comments, voicemails, etc. (I still feel guilty, but I’m working on it). I need to remind myself that even though there are still boxes piled up in our new home, there’s no timeline for getting everything done. I need to remind myself to leave work early when I need to, because otherwise I will just make myself worse.

Finally, I need to remind myself that even though I haven’t posted in three months, it’s not the end of the world! The blog can wait, as much as I love it so. Hopefully, it won’t have to wait too long.

But in the meantime, I did manage to make a dessert for our family Easter gathering last weekend. This avocado-lime pie turned out to be quite the hit. No one even guessed it was made with avocado. Plus, the lemon and lime juice kept it from discoloring, even though I made this two days ahead of time. The kiwi is optional, but I think it made for a nice presentation. You can make this in a traditional tart pan or in a springform pan as I did. Or if you’re looking to cut down on calories, carbs and sugar, simply make the filling and eat it as a pudding. It is very good on its own as well! I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Avocado-Lime Tart:

Crust:

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup raw coconut crystals

2/3 cup soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread

½ teaspoon sea salt

Filling:

2 ripe hass avocados (room temperature)

1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours, drained and rinsed

½ cup fresh lime juice

zest of one lime

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid stevia

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional:

2 medium kiwis, thinly sliced and patted dry with a paper towel to remove excess water

Directions:

1. For crust: combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until loose crumbles form. Press into a 9″ springform pan or tart pan, using the bottom of a measuring cup to even out the bottom. If using a tart pan, use fingers to push crust to edges and to even out the edges as well. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

2. For filling: combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender (I used the Vitamix) and blend on high until very smooth.

3. Transfer filling to completely cooled crust. Let chill in refrigerator for a few hours. If desired, top with sliced kiwi. This recipe can chill for up to two days in the refrigerator if covered directly with cling wrap.

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Red Lentil Dahl

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Vegucated giveaway contest! The winners were lucky commenters #7 and 8, which were chosen at random, funnily enough. I hope Melanie and Ashley enjoy Vegucated as much as I did and share their newfound knowledge with many others.

I also so much appreciated everyone’s comments. I considered responding to a few individually, but decided to hold off and address a multitude of your thoughts, stories and concerns in this post.

I would first like to say that in reading many of the comments, I recognized so many of my own thoughts when I was first considering a vegan diet — words like “scary,” “life changing” and “restrictive” floated around in my head on a constant basis. For awhile it was all I thought about. I would jealously ogle meat-eating restaurant patrons as I gazed into crowded restaurant dining rooms, street after street. I imagined I would  never get to be “one of them” again. I watched Top Chef on repeat just to get it “out of my system” (or is that just because Bravo happened to always run Top Chef marathons when there was never anything else on?) I passed the cheese section at Whole Foods for weeks on end, guiltily taking whiffs of the delicious Parmesano-Reggiano air. If I told people I was going vegan, there was no turning back, I thought. I would get called out for simply being found in the cheese section, let alone eating the stuff. I would be crucified if one night I “slipped” and caved to my seemingly endless sushi cravings. If I go vegan, I thought, it’s all or nothing.

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Vegan Chorizo Chili and Giveaway

* Scroll down to see giveaway info.

By now I’m sure it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Marisa Miller Wolfson and everything she does for the vegan (and non-vegan, and animal, and environmentalist) community. I first heard of Marisa when she a guest speaker at my law school for my animal law course (a life-changing class, indeed). My peers and I were honored with the privilege of being able to watch clips of her new documentary, Vegucated, years (OK, a year and half, to be sort of exact) prior to its initial release. As militant as I may have become over the course of my own “vegucation” (and inherent transformation), it’s always refreshing to see a film or read a book that is informative without being preachy; disturbingly real while still providing comic relief. Vegucated is just that and more.*

Well, it’s been over a year and a half since I watched my first clips from Vegucated, and since then I’ve gone vegan and gotten my parents on board as well (they saw Vegucated at the Vegetarian Summerfest in July and were big fans). I am noting all of this because today marks the official launch of the Vegucated DVD. Whoo!

In honor of its launch, I’m doing a giveaway with two prizes. One will be a copy of the DVD, of course. The other will be an amazing “Get Vegucated” t-shirt**, as I was so proud to model after getting one myself (my newly vegucated parents couldn’t resist the Vegfest souvenir).

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Tropical Green Detox Smoothie

Oh, the holidays. For some reason, my mind (and body) can’t decide whether they’re a welcome escape from the everyday grind — a time to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends — or whether the holiday season is an energy-sapping grind in itself, leaving me longing to return to the monotony of my 9-5 (more like 9-7) routine. Whatever the verdict, there’s no denying that my body could use a return to something at least resembling monotony. Between the Christmas-in-California jet lag to the New Years Eve late night to the endless holiday parties, I can slowly feel the energy draining from my bodily cells. Tonight, with a few hours of unclaimed time available for relaxation, there are hopes of much-needed blogging catch-up and some quality reading, but I’ll be lucky to stay awake past 10 p.m. at the rate I’m going.

In a similar way, I am also eager to reset my eating habits to the pre-holiday status quo. As much as I got a little tired of the morning power smoothie routine, nothing is sounding better than a cleansing drink after weeks of breakfast randomness. My California vacation breakfasts consisted often of leftovers from the previous night’s carry out dinner, while just this morning I preceded yet another trip to the airport with a breakfast consisting of brownies and pizza (albeit gluten-free, vegan pizza, of course).

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Fudgy Black Bean Brownies

I know I said I would lay off the brownie recipes for awhile.  Well, I lied.

I am choosing this recipe to be my inaugural submission over at Ricki’s Blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs for her Wellness Weekend. I always get such amazing ideas and find new blogs though her Wellness Weekend but have not submitted anything of my own. Mostly because….I always forget! I am ending that trend today.

Yield: approximately 12 brownies

Ingredients:

1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup hot water

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1/4 cup coconut oil (liquefied)

2 packets stevia

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 medium banana (no brown spots)

1 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon instant coffee or coffee substitute

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons coconut flour

 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a high-powered blender, blend together black beans, hot water, vanilla extract, coconut nectar, coconut oil, stevia and banana.

3. Add remaining ingredients and blend until just combined, stirring if necessary.Pour batter into a pre-greased 8×8″ pan. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40minutes, or until middle bounces back when pressed. Brownies will harden more as they cool. Allow to cool nearly completely before cutting.

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Chana Masala

Well, the 2nd annual gluten-free, vegan Thanksgiving was a success. Minus, of course, the Lions loss. Which is really nothing new for us Detroiters, except that this year, everyone was thinking (but not saying) that we actually had a chance. Turns out, we didn’t. And so, while the Lions’ defeats have been a constant in my recollection of recent Thanksgivings, my Thanksgiving plate has altogether done a 180 from the once dark meat and gravy-laden plates Thanksgivings in the past.

Ironically, I was the most stuffed this year than I have been in recent memory. I guess I have my willpower to thank for that. Or lack thereof…

There was also the problem of my menu planning. Two types of stuffing? Sure! Baked vegan mac and cheese? Why not? Cornbread and focaccia? Sounds good to me!

But I had absolutely nothing to do with my absolute favorite part of my meal. A wonderful Aloo Matar (Indian peas and potatoes) which was contributed by my aunt’s friend, an amazing Indian home cook. It was just too good, especially over mashed potatoes (who needs gravy when you can have Aloo Matar?).

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Ideas for a Gluten-Free, Vegan Thanksgiving

Last year was my first foray into a turkey-less Thanksgiving, and I have to say, I fared pretty well. I do plan on sponsoring a turkey again this year, and encourage all my fellow vegans and animal lovers to do the same.

I had hoped to outdo myself with this year’s offerings. Instead, I find myself struggling to find the time to make myself a freaking lunch for work, let alone plan a Thanksgiving menu. Let me tell you, I have a newfound respect for all you folks out there who manage to hold down full-time jobs and still blog, cook and do whatever else you do like champs. I am just not on your level. I suppose I can blame the underlying fatigue and health problems that had me examining my diet in the first place — those problems tend to rear their ugly heads whenever I’m amnesiac to the fact that I am not one of those people who can function on any less than seven or eight hours of sleep. So, to preserve my energies, I’m recycling a list of old recipes that I’m considering for my own Thanksgiving menu. Wholly unoriginal, I know.

This year, I am thankful to be with my family over the holidays. We are all praying for the soon-to-be newborn baby of my cousin and her husband. Last week, the doctors found hydrocephalus. He needs almost immediate surgery right after he will be born in a few weeks. Our family will be together sending positive thoughts and love to the little guy (yep, love vibes travel very nicely through the womb, I’m told) and to his parents. I’m accepting positive thoughts for baby Bennett, Kelly and Ryan from all of my Delectably Free readers as well. I am thankful for all of you.

Gluten-Free Breads:

Traditional Cornbread (Scroll down for recipe)

Cran-Apple Cornbread

Focaccia

“Cheddar” Scallion Biscuits

Sides:

Mashed potatoes and miso gravy

Portobellos and Gravy

Green Bean Casserole

Cornbread Dressing (stuffing)*

Salads:

Antioxidant Quinoa Salad

Beet Carrot and Apple Slaw

Sweet Potato, Pecan and Poblano Salad with Cranberries

Main Courses:

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Veggie Patties

Red Lentil Kibbeh

Dessert:

Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

Mom’s Apple Crisp

Low-Fat Pumpkin Mousse Pie

Applesauce Cake with “Cream Cheese” Frosting

* This recipe is also good substituting one recipe of the gluten-free focaccia for cornbread, or doing 1/2 cornbread and 1/2 focaccia (my personal favorite)

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Spicy Chorizo Pasta Sauce

I first made a version of this pasta sauce when I was studying for the Michigan bar and looking for something quick, easy, cheap and still actually filling enough to power me through an hours-long study session. Since then, this recipe has evolved into a weeknight go-to that is so easy, it will have Sandra Lee wishing she thought of it. Truly the “semi-homemade” meal, it’s one of my favorite dishes lately. And, in keeping with the “theme” of this dish (fast! easy!), I’m signing off with a short post today — it’s close to midnight on a Sunday night and I have to get up early for work. Oh, the joys of a full-time job…

Yield: Enough for about 1 lb. of pasta, plus a little extra

Spicy Chorizo Pasta Sauce:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 large zucchini or 1 small zucchini, diced

1/2 cup carrots, diced

1 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 package Trader Joe’ Soy Chorizo

1 (approx. 18-20 oz.) jar Marinara Sauce*

Directions:

1. In a large, deep saucepan or Dutch Oven, saute zucchini and carrots in olive oil on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until zucchini begins to soften and vegetables release their liquid.

2. Add mushrooms and saute until they begin to soften. Add chorizo and crumble with spoon. Add pasta sauce and heat through. Serve over your favorite type of pasta (I like spaghetti or fusilli for this dish), or spaghetti squash.

* I used Trader Joe’s traditional marinara, which is my favorite

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No-Recipe Stuffed Pumpkin

First, let me apologize (once again) for being, like, the worst blogger in history. The past four weeks have been incredibly busy at work, which has inevitably invaded my weekends and wreaked havoc on my social and blogging life (if this hadn’t already been thoroughly accomplished by the fact that we are still living with my parents). Then, I was sick. Then, there were weddings. Lots and lots of October-November weddings, in fact. All of which have contributed to my silence and absence from this forum.

Luckily, I have a mom who loves to cook and eats that way I do. I certainly haven’t been lacking in the dinner department. And thanks to my mom’s creative juices, this delicious and simple stuffed pumpkin non-recipe recipe was born. I can promise you that this deliciously fall aroma will permeate your home and provide a fitting backdrop for holiday gatherings.

Here are some other pumpkin-themed recipes to get you in the spirit this season:

pumpkin blondies

pumpkin ice cream pie

bran and flax pumpkin muffins

chewy gooey pumpkin bars

Ingredients:

1 medium pie pumpkin

a few tablespoons liquid sweetener (i.e. agave, coconut nectar)

2 medium apples, cored and chopped

a few tablespoons of currants

a sprinkle of nutmeg

a sprinkle of cinnamon

a sprinkle of ground cloves

1-2 packets stevia, optional

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Core pumpkin and scoop out insides. Rub inside with liquid sweetener. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix remaining ingredients, adjusting spices and sweetness to taste. Stuff pumpkin high with apple mixture. Place in a deep baking dish and cover.

3. Bake in preheated oven for approximately 2-2 1/2 hours, or until pumpkin is very soft (use a fork to test for doneness). Serve slices of pumpkin topped with apples and juice. Serve as a dessert or a holiday side.

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Tempeh Sloppy Joes

Well, the number of meat eaters in my family is slowly dwindling to a minuscule number. Soon, they’ll be brandished to another room altogether, forced to eat their meat in silence and shame, wishing they could one day break their nasty habit.

Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit. But seriously, if our extended family dinner Friday night was any indication, eating meat is so, like, 2010. After successfully converting my parents to a full-fledged vegan lifestyle, I’ve now witnessed my grandparents reassess their diets, swapping tofu and veggies for their meat -and-potato  dinners. Then recently my cousin — a professional tennis player, mind you — announced that he had gone vegan after watching the movie Forks over Knives. Even my meat-loving husband has changed his ways, if subtly. Last week, for example, he ordered an all-veggie pizza instead of his usual pepperoni and olive. And he’s been buying Amy’s organic frozen meals to sustain him throughout the week when I’m not cooking (I’ll pretend I didn’t see the Egg McMuffin receipt floating around our car last week).

Anyways, in honor of all of the recent converts in my family, I’ve decided to make a convert of Mr. Sloppy Joe — taking a formerly meat and butter-ladden dish and swapping in healthy tempeh and fresh vegetables for a much healthier meal. Eat your heart out, old Sloppy Joe.

Makes: approximately 4-6 servings

Tempeh Sloppy Joes:

1 tablespoon Earth Balance buttery spread (or olive oil)

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 small-medium zucchini, diced

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups baby bella mushrooms, diced

1 package soy tempeh, boiled or steamed for 10 minutes, then crumbled

¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

¾ cup organic ketchup

½ cup water

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon dried mustard powder

2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar or brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon dried celery seed

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Ground pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Boil or steam tempeh cubes for approximately 10 minutes to remove smell. Drain and rinse, set aside

2. In a large shallow pan or Dutch Oven, melt buttery spread over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, zucchini and garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and saute over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, or until onion becomes translucent and water is released from vegetables. Add mushrooms and tempeh and cook until mushrooms begin to soften.

3. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cook until water is reduced and desired consistency is reached, about 10 minutes. Serve over your favorite gluten-free hamburger buns or bread, toasted. Serve with homemade sweet potato chips or fries for a healthy side.

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