Cold Tofurky

Thirty days ago, I walked into my doctor’s office desperate for answers as to why I couldn’t seem to shake the massive fatigue and dizzy spells I had unexpectedly fallen victim to. At this point, three weeks into my turbulent journey, I had confirmed that I was not pregnant, I’d had a urinalysis done at the urgent care that was normal, and I wasn’t suffering any allergic reactions that I knew of. I was eating food, but it was mostly the meals I could stagger in to pick up or food my family had prepared for me out of the goodness of their hearts. My doctor ordered lab work for me, and also made some suggestions for lifestyle changes that might improve my energy levels. While her recommendations had to do with increasing water intake and cardio exercise, I saw this as a turning point in my adulthood to make a change I had been contemplating for approximately two years. “I think I’m going to become a vegetarian,” I told her. She replied that she was a vegetarian, and that if I was truly interested in making the change I should take an additional B12 vitamin to supplement. I went straight from her office to the health food store to make some purchases, and when I got home, I purged our refrigerator of meat products, save for the frozen food items, which I told my husband to make disappear in the next few days.

When I announced my decision to change, most people around me were very supportive and encouraging. Of course, there was also the plethora of questions and doubtful comments, and I’d like to try to address those concerns and curiosity now:

1. This is completely and utterly about me, and nobody else.

Most people’s response whenever anyone shares any dietary choices or restrictions they’re following is usually along the lines of whether or not they’d be able to commit to the same regimen. I’ve done it too. “You’re a vegan? I’m not sure I could ever give up cheese.” I see the ignorance in a response like that now, because nobody asked me if I was or could be a vegan. Similarly, I didn’t change my diet so that the rest of the world could, and my criteria for who I keep company with hasn’t been affected by what I eat. I did this because it was something I wanted to do. No doctor, dietician, animal rights activist, vegan, or vegetarian coerced me into this decision – as I stated, I’ve wanted to do this for at least two years, but in 2013 to late 2014 I was pregnant then breastfeeding, and I didn’t think making a change during that time was the best move for me.

2. I’ve made other changes, too.

In addition to dropping chicken, beef, turkey, and pork from my diet, I’ve also cut my sugar consumption and substituted agave nectar as a sweetener for things like tea and oatmeal, and I’ve eliminated most processed snack foods in favor of high protein and high fiber snacks like legumes, fruits, and vegetables. I still eat tortilla chips in soups and while dipping guacamole.

3. This lifestyle is cheaper.

My grocery bills averaged around $250-$350 total a month depending on the time of year, if I was hosting any dinners, etc. The average cost for a trip to Sam’s Club or Costco was easily $100-$150 due to buying meats like chicken, steak, and turkey burgers. Grocery store trips were usually around $120-$200 picking up all things I don’t buy from wholesale stores like those and alcohol. I didn’t save my Sam’s Club receipts from last month after making the change, but as evidenced from screenshots of my bank statements, I only spent $47.74 on my first trip, and $61.22 on my second one. I did manage to save one of my Publix receipts…

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Screen grab from my statement at Sun State Credit Union. This shows evidence of purchases from both Publix and Sam’s Club. Those trips will last us about 2 weeks for groceries.

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One of my Publix receipts. You can see some of the items I bought, which includes whole milk for my daughter and other groceries like cream cheese and bagels for my husband. The total is less than $100.

I buy specialty foods like Neat Meat substitute, and Woodstock brand extra firm tofu from a place called Earth Origins. Both items are priced at $3.97 and $4.29 per package respectively, and one package of each yields at least three meals. This is cheaper than buying packs of cut chicken or pork from the grocery store, which average around $9-$12 per pack, and only yield one to two meals.

The idea that eating healthy is too expensive seems baseless to me. I think it’s the convenience of opening a bag of potato chips vs. having to steam broccoli crowns that turns people off.

4. My digestive system is on FLEEK!

Let’s not beat around the bush. Shitting on a regular basis is an important part of everyone’s health. Ask anyone who hasn’t been able to go for a few days and they will tell you that all they want is to be able to drop a deuce. The increased fiber I take in from this plant-based diet has regulated my system, making me a happy camper.

All in all, I’m very proud of myself for sticking with this change through the 30-day mark. It takes 30 days of repeated action for something to become a habit, and this habit is one that I’m happy to embrace. I hesitate to label myself as a vegetarian, as I do still eat certain fish like salmon and ahi. The term “pescatarian” doesn’t roll off my tongue as easily, and implies that I eat fish on a regular basis, which I don’t. I prefer to just say that my diet is plant-based – it’s largely vegetarian but I will eat fish. With that being said, I leave you with a glimpse of what meals without chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and processed foods look like:

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Eggs scrambled with bell pepper, black beans, and onion. Served with homemade hash browns and topped in salsa verde, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla.

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Quinoa and steel cut oats simmered in milk with strawberries and agave nectar. This is easily my new favorite breakfast food.

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Mixed greens with tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and farro.

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Of course, I still blend up green smoothies.

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Peanut and tofu str fry in a mixed soy and oyster sauce.

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Ahi tuna steak, asparagus, and farro.

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Mixed vegetable stir fry.

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Cobb salad with carrots, beets, tomato, onion, corn, avocado, and hard boiled egg.

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Pan-seared salmon and sautéed kale greens over barley.

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Plain greek yogurt with strawberries, raspberries, and agave nectar.

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Neat tacos with organic tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and avocado made with Neat meat substitute.

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Spaghetti in “neat” sauce, made with quinoa noodles and Neat meat substitute.

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A few of the new staples I use in my kitchen these days.

The Ride of My Life

It was finals week for my corporate finance class. I was hanging on to my A by my pinky finger, desperate to squeeze by, but the angst of finding variances, determining interest earned on investments, and finding internal rates of returns was beginning to make my knees buckle. Some things I give my all at and succeed. Others, I give my all and just have to live with the results that come. It’s not failure, but it’s not to my liking either. This finance class was one of those impossible, but not failed at, things.

Stress started to mount as well, as it usually does in life. Bills have to be paid, deadlines have to be met, and work always requires something more. My head was in a million different places as well as nowhere at all. I felt like I wasn’t getting much done beyond writing notes of things to do and hardly checking things off. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday flew off the calendar leaving me with Friday, the only day a week I work outside of my home and also the day before my final was due. I was exhausted and used up, yet somehow, I managed to get through my four hour lecture, look after my daughter, and have my work submitted on time. My head hit the pillow on Friday night with intentions of keeping my body dormant for at least six months, but a small synapse went off when I realized the plans my husband and I had for Saturday. All day plans. Plans that had been paid for with money that could not be returned. I shed a misty tear over the clear divorce that had been served up between me and my beloved rest.

I charged through Saturday on a jittery caffeine high. I was pinging all over the place, but it was either that, or fall asleep in the middle of things. I needed to be alert, so I did what I had to do. I was so glad for the end of the day to arrive as I tucked Kennedy into bed at home and whispered prayers that she’d sleep uninterrupted. I was hazy, a little unsteady, mind fried. I figured the night of rest ahead would help me to recover. Then Sunday came, and I felt the same. Then Monday came, and I felt the same. Tuesday. Wednesday – a marked dizziness was descending on me. My mom picked up Kennedy on her way home from work so that I could try to recover sans baby. Thursday was worse. I took a break from chopping myself up mentally for not being around for my daughter to secure the first available appointment at my doctor’s office. Sadly, it wasn’t until the following Wednesday. Friday, it was worse yet. I stood to write on the board of my classroom and forced myself to sit down before I went crashing into the first row of desks. I left work early, and my husband took me to the urgent care. Urinalysis was normal. Pregnancy test was negative. “There’s nothing more we can do for you at this point,” said the nurse. Thanks for your help, and enjoy that expensive ass copay. I joined Kennedy at my parents’ home where I could rest under supervision. Walking up and down the stairs of my house was becoming dangerous as the dizziness became worse upon standing, more turbulent with walking, and violent when walking and elevation combined. At this point, my arms were also weak, and I felt tingling in my hands and feet on occasion.

I sat on a speedy merry-go-round, spinning, whirling, constantly moving. Conductor, please let me off.

“You need to rest!” my father said to me, over and over. No amount of rest was recharging me. I slept for nearly six hours during the day on Saturday only to wake up feeling tired still.

“You need to eat…” my mother insisted, which has pretty much been her answer for everything that happens to me since I was in high school. In her mind, the reason I was so sick in my first trimester of pregnancy was because I didn’t eat. (I didn’t want to eat. Food smelled awful at 10 weeks pregnant!) I was eating. I love food. Neither of these areas were the source of my problem.

I stayed with my parents until Sunday night, then returned home, determined to figure out a way to cope with what was looking to be my new norm.

I had to move slowly all the time. Trying to be brisk just made my symptoms worse. Sitting down or stepping down or lying down was like an earthquake. I reminisced on my days as a college senior when I was surfing on a regular basis, for going to bed was much like riding a giant, king-sized mattress board. Swaying, rocking, moving – it was a joy to go off to bed with. I tried to maximize on the small edge of energy I had at the beginning of the day to get grading, cooking, and studying done so that I could ease off to bed once night fell. Kennedy’s usual fun bath time was reduced to a quick sponge off and straight into the crib so that mommy didn’t have to lift her too many times before bed. I cherished Fabian’s days off as an extra set of hands and arms to push, pull, and tie. Washing my hair in the shower was nearly hazardous, but I refused to walk around with dirty hair. On Tuesday night, I dropped to my knees at my bedside and tearfully prayed that if this was to be my new life, I could at least get some answers from the doctor the following morning. I couldn’t let this, whatever it was, take me over without even getting to know its name. Thyroid disorder, diabetes, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, whatever, just tell me! Just as we have a right to face our accusers, I feel we have a right to know firsthand what’s truly bringing us down.

My plucky new doctor offered no definite answers at my visit, but did offer up a host of suggestions and insights about exertion and fatigue, as well as answered my questions about dietary choices. She scribbled on her doctor lady notepad and walked with me to the lab to have blood drawn. Normally, I tremble at the thought of having blood taken (Tons of bad experiences. I still have a mark on my left wrist from where they botched my IV while I was hospitalized for preterm labor in 2013) but I was grateful for it this time. A sweet medical assistant took three vials from me, I paid my less expensive copay, and I went home to wait until Friday for the results. In the interim, I dropped chicken, beef, and pork from my diet and purchased new iron, B12, and calcium supplements from Earth Origins.

One line echoed in my mind those next few days: “You have to allow time for recovery…” She said it at least three times during our visit. I hadn’t been through battle. I’d long since given birth to my baby. I wasn’t in an accident. Recovery from what, lady?!

Then, Friday came.

Thyroid, kidneys and liver: normal. Blood count: normal. Diabetes: none. B12 and folate: low. “Are you giving yourself time to recover?” she asked after listing my results. “I’m trying to,” I replied. Shit. Maybe she was on to something…

I had started going to bed earlier the night before, but was bound to stick to my new “bed time” moving forward. I kept up the supplement regimen in the mornings, but added an extra B12 at night to see if anything would change. I spent more time in the kitchen playing with things like soy sauce, broccoli, carrots, and tofu in my saucepan for meals among other things like quinoa oatmeal, meatless tacos, and thick green smoothies.

I started chronicling everything in my planner – appointments, bill amounts and due dates, homework assignments (for me and for my students), to-do lists, you name it. I didn’t want to have to think about that stuff too much. It’s a reliance measure, sure, but it also frees my brain space for other things.

I upped my H2O intake, which upped my bathroom usage.

I cranked my Aroma Ace to diffuse lavender and jasmine essential oils in our bedroom for more restful sleep. I stopped taking things like my laptop and students’ work to bed.

Then, Saturday came, and so did more energy. I was less dizzy. I took my daughter out shopping with me.

Then Sunday, and more energy still. Monday, I walked into Planet Fitness and swapped my Oceanside, CA keytag for a Gainesville, FL one, then ran three miles on the treadmill and did some leg weights. I returned to pole fitness on Wednesday. “You washed your hair!” my husband said as I stepped out of the shower.

“Yeah.”

He paused

“Oh my. I didn’t have to call you this time!” I exclaimed. The news really was a shock to me.

The doctor offered me no real diagnosis other than possible nutrient deficiency, exhaustion, dehydration, and mental strain. I think I allowed my world to turn into a tornado of sorts by failing to maintain balance. It’s nice to go hard on the health kick for a few days, but following up those days with lazy time passing and nourishment is an undercut. Relaxing for a day or two here and there is fine, but carving out time to decompress daily is essential. With all that I have to do, I can’t really afford to fall and stay down. Staying down was killing me. I’m so grateful to be able to get back up after nearly a month of swaying and rocking.

Whereas my world was a never-ending carousel, it’s returned now to being a stable pathway of steps. Thanks, but no thanks, conductor.

Black Bean Soup

I had a hankering for some black bean soup last week, and Mother Nature ushered in a timely cold front for me to contend with, so I searched the Internet for some recipes. This one looked most appetizing to me, but I made some tweaks to suit my taste as well as create enough portions that I could spread out over the week. My recipe is as follows:

Ingredients

4 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained, divided

3 celery ribs with leaves, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 lime

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

3 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) chicken broth or vegetable broth

2 large tomatoes

3 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 bundle cilantro, chopped

Salt to taste

Sour cream and chopped green onions for garnish

Directions

In a small bowl, mash one can black beans; set aside. In a large saucepan, sauté the celery, onion, red pepper and jalapeno in oil until tender.

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All good meals start with great foundational flavors. Sweating vegetables and herbs to get that is one of my favorite methods.

Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer.

Stir in the broth, tomatoes, green pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, coriander, hot sauce, pepper, bay leaf, remaining beans and reserved mashed beans. Bring to a boil. Salt to taste. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

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Discard bay leaf. Stir in lime juice. Garnish each serving with sour cream, cilantro, and chopped green onion.

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Fiesta in my mouth. Probably the prettiest bowl of soup I’ve ever eaten!

NOTE: Wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers; the oils can burn skin. Avoid touching your face.

Bonus: I threw some tortilla chips into my bowl after snapping the photo above. DELICIOUS!

Quinoa and Black Beans

I’ve been going hard on the weights lately, which means amping up protein is essential. One food I turn to for high protein is quinoa. I offered a recipe on how to make a toasted citrus quinoa salad a few months ago, but this recipe of quinoa and black beans is my favorite way to prepare the superfood.

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Not pictured: cilantro and garlic.

 

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 1 can vegetable broth (14.5oz)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

 

Directions

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir onion and garlic until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

2. While waiting for oil to heat and onions and garlic to brown, start boiling the ears of corn. Set ears aside after cooking to cool. After corn cools, cut the kernels from the ears with a large butcher knife.

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3. Mix quinoa into onion mixture and cover with vegetable broth; season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until quinoa is tender and broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

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4. Stir corn, beans, and cilantro into the saucepan, and continue to simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.

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5. Serve warm; avocado optional as garnish.