Sunday, July 27, 2008


I think it was somewhere in my first year of graduate school when I began eating oatmeal for breakfast almost every morning. It started with toasted sliced almonds, diced apple, and apple pie spice. Soon, I was experimenting with all sorts of fruit and nut combinations, including strawberries, blueberries, and raisins. Once I discovered bananas, however, I found it hard to mix it up; every time I thought of trying something different or using another fruit, I couldn’t get myself to give up the taste of warm bananas with chopped pecans swirling in my mouth.

So, I went on a bender. Almost every morning, I ate ½ cup rolled oats cooked with 1 cup water, a sliced banana, and a handful of chopped pecans. I did this for almost 3 years. And I never got sick of it.

Until I found out I was gluten intolerant and discovered that, while my taste buds might not be sick of it, it might be making me sick.

When I first started eating gluten free, gluten free oats were not readily available on the market, like they are now, so I had to find a breakfast alternative.

Amaranth became that alternative for me. It takes longer to cook, but it is high in nutritional value and very inexpensive.

The first time I cooked it up, I threw in some leftover baked apple from dessert the night before and added apple pie spice to the amaranth. Mmmmm….it was soooooo good that I continued to eat it that way for a while. I cooked coarsely chopped apple in a small saucepan with some apple pie spice and threw it in the amaranth.

Then I re-discovered bananna. And how. This time, I had been playing around with coconut milk, adding it to smoothies and various recipes (since I am sensitive to soy and frankly cannot stand the taste of rice milk). I cooked up my amaranth, placed a serving in a bowl, added about ¼ cup of coconut milk, a sliced banana, chopped pecans, and chopped coconut. I cooked it for a few minutes more in the microwave to cook the banana.

Then, I was in heaven. And you can be too:

Banana pecan amaranth

¼ cup amaranth grain
¾ cup water
1 banana
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon chopped wide, unsweetened coconut
¼ cup lite coconut milk

Place water and amaranth in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat and cover. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until all water is absorbed, stirring a couple of times during the cooking process (amaranth tends to settle to the bottom of the pan).

If you are cooking just one serving at a time, I recommend adding the sliced banana, coconut and coconut milk half-way through the cooking process. Then sprinkle the pecans on top.

Tip: I usually cook up about 4 servings of the grain (1 cup grain and 3 cups water) then store in the refrigerator for the week. Each morning you can spoon some out into your bowl and add whatever toppings you want and heat in the microwave for a few minutes. It makes weekday morning breakfasts fast and easy!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Feeling strong

For the past month, I have been tired. And, I mean TIRED. One of the medications I have been taking has made me particularly tired as it works out the built-up toxins from my body (all those that built up since my immune system was so badly damaged by gluten). Even going on my morning rows twice a week has been a challenge.

And, I’m TIRED of being “sick” and taking what feels like a million pills every day and watching carefully what I eat and not having available the convenience of someone else making a meal for me and just picking it up on my way home from work.

And, although those close to me have been very patient, I can see how they are TIRED of me as well. They want me to “keep a stiff upper lip” and a positive mental state ALL OF THE TIME. They don’t want to hear about how difficult some of this is for me. And, that’s fine. I understand.

However, I know very well that it’s important to grieve. What I am dealing with is a chronic condition. There is no magic cure. This is something I will live with for the rest of my life. If I don’t process this now, I believe there is no hope for me to move beyond it fully. I need to be allowed to cry every once in a while over silly things like a bakery I can’t try or the delicious-looking sandwich in the fridge at work. I need to be able to re-define myself and re-build myself anew. Stuffing these feelings for a false “sense of victory” will only bring long-term detriment to my mental health.

That being said, I refuse to wallow in it. My health psychology education has taught me not only a lot about chronic disease management, but also a lot about coping. That is, what is healthy in what situation and what is not. Emotion-focused coping is engaging in “feel good” or “avoidance” activities such as hanging out with friends or doing something you enjoy. This obviously is not a good path to take when your problem requires action (e.g., you need money to pay the rent so you take a vacation to Las Vegas to forget about it instead of finding a job). Problem-focused coping is engaging in the steps you need to take to resolve a problem. This only works, however, when the problem is within your control. If the problem is outside of your control, such as the threat of nuclear war, then trying to engage in this kind of coping can be mentally detrimental.

Me? I run. After engaging in all of the problem-focused coping I can (eating right, taking my medication, etc.), I run. Sometimes I don’t make it all the way around my 2.8 mile route along the Willamette River, but I try.

This morning as I was running, the sun was sparking off of the river and the tall, shiny downtown buildings and I felt strong. I had Cheryl Crow’s song, “Run, baby, run” in my head, thinking that all I need to carry on is to run. I know it’s not exactly the meaning the song intends, but it’s something I have always thought. Initially, I learned how to run longer distances because it was the only form of exercise that was readily available when I was studying abroad in Germany. Incidentally, that is also where I hurt my knee, which prevents me from running really long distances, such as half marathons…but that’s another story.

Now, running has become the greatest coping mechanism for me. Whenever I am upset, stressed, or worried about something, I know a good run will make me feel stronger. I think more clearly about things when I’m out there, breathing hard and watching the simplicity of the water and the world.

This morning, I thought a lot about my need to grieve and what that process looked like for me. I encourage anyone out there to take the time to do the same, no matter what it is you are dealing with, however large or small. In a culture that begs us to be “happy” all of the time, it is important to recognize that it is far healthier to process and accept your sorrow and move on than it is to stuff it deep down for another day.

Also, do something for yourself that makes you feel stronger. So what if you have some limitations in your life, focus on those areas where possibilities are LIMITLESS. Try something new, learn a new craft, or run longer than you have ever before in your life. The accomplishment will leave you feeling on top of the world…and you never know what you might discover about your own inner strength.

Try this simple activity to feel your body and your muscles:

Turn on your stereo and play some of your favorite music – choose something up-beat, jazzy, or sultry. Play it a little louder than you normally would and allow the music to move you. Let go of any intimidation or self-judgment and dance. Do not censor yourself or critique your movements. Feel the ease of your body in motion and let go. And, if you are so moved – sing along to the music, at the top of your lungs!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Home-made mayonnaise and an “egg salad”

The universe be praised! I CAN have egg salad – cool, creamy, with the crunch of celery and the tang of olives (yes, I like olives in mine, and sometimes capers instead of olives).

I find it funny that I have been craving egg salad this summer. I used to LOTHE mayonnaise and could not stand anything that was tainted with it. Growing up, I could never understand why people would ruin a perfectly good sandwich with mayo or how they could stand to eat potato salad, deviled eggs, or egg salad sandwiches. Blech!

Now, I still feel somewhat weary of the jar of mayo itself, but I crave the things that come from it. Before I kicked the anti-inflammatory diet into high gear this summer, I made a delicious gluten-free pasta salad to take along camping and I had been making egg salad sandwiches like they were going outta style. However, by the time I began following the diet strictly, I had removed mayo from my list of available foods because it was “processed” and all of the grocery-store brands contained soy, canola, or safflower oils (or even worse things) or, in the case of veganaise, soy protein in the place of eggs

My mom, bless her heart, has been reading the Body Ecology Diet and came across a recipe for mayonnaise, which I have slightly modified here.

Home-made mayonnaise:

2 egg yolks
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 cup olive oil

Begin with all of the above ingredients, except for the olive oil, in your blender and begin blending for about a minute. Add ¼ cup of the oil and blend for a few more minutes. Continue to add a little oil at a time, blending for a few minutes in between each addition, until all of the oil is added. I discovered the hard way that adding the oil too fast gives you a liquid mess. Spoon the mayo into a clean jam jar or other glass container with a screw-top. The mayo should last in the fridge for 7-14 days.

This jar is ridiculously too large for the amount of mayo I made, but it’s the only one I had around – Ben had brought over some of his homemade loganberry jam in this jar and, luckily, we had just finished it off the Sunday previous!

Since I am not supposed to be eating bread with yeast, I have begun eating my egg salad as a salad and not as a sandwich. This, in my humble opinion, is one of the best ideas I’ve had in a while. Even though I love bread, eating it in this way makes me feel like I’m somehow being devilish, like eating the frosting out of the bowl without any cake or eating a batch of guacamole without any chips.

“Egg Salad”:

2 hard boiled eggs, chopped coarsely
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped baby spinach
¼ cup sliced green onion
One stalk celery, sliced lengthwise and then chopped into ¼ inch pieces
A couple of good dollops of the home-made mayo
A smattering of sliced green olives or capers

Mix all ingredients well and eat right out of the bowl with a fork. I found I like this best when it has been in the fridge for a couple of hours, as the mayo softens the spinach and the flavors blend together.