Eating Well When You’re Too Exhausted to Cook

Eating well when you're exhausted, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos, autoimmune disease, paleo

One of the most challenging aspects of chronic illness – autoimmune disease in particular – is that there are often elements of our illnesses that would be significantly easier on us, if we just had the danged energy to do them. Or, in the best case scenario, they may even be practices that help put us into remission. Two of the hardest, in my opinion, are exercise and eating well.

Eating well when you’re exhausted, is not easy. I don’t have the answers. I’m still struggling through this myself. In the last month, I’ve made some attempts to right the ship in terms of my gut health overall. But it’s hard work. If your autoimmune disease is attacking or destroying your gastrointestinal system, hopefully your docs will give you the right combo of meds so that healing can begin. But I believe strongly that what we put into our bodies, is a critical piece of the healing journey.

I’ve always thought this. I just haven’t always had the ability to do it. What I know for sure is that exactly one month ago, I started getting sick every time I ate. I wasn’t particularly nauseous, though I often struggle with nausea. I couldn’t eat anything but extremely bland food. Anything that was “normal” food – just didn’t work. I was sick for a couple of weeks without being able to figure out what was truly going on. I didn’t have the flu – it went on for too long.

So, I went drastic and removed everything in my house that potentially had gluten cross-contamination, anything with “gums” such as xantham or guar gum, almost all processed foods, etc. I removed all dairy. And while I intended to remove all grains, it was gluten free pasta and rice that I seemed to tolerate without getting sick, so I kept those on hand.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

Hippocrates


I’ve settled on Paleo as the type of eating I feel may be safest and healthiest for me. The problem is, for the most part, it requires that you cook nearly all of your food at home. I started reading Danielle Walker’s memoir, as I mentioned here and I bought her second cookbook. After reading through the cookbook and based on what I already knew, I came up with a plan.

I bought locally raised meat (which is pricey for me as a single person – but I will do about once a month), mostly organic herbs, vegetables, and fruit. We live in an area that struggles to get everything we need at times, so there were some fresh vegetables I couldn’t get that week. I bought frozen instead (don’t recommend canned).

The cookbook has a meal plan that includes grocery lists and all. It’s super helpful for organizing. I made some simplifications where I could. For example, in the first week’s meal plan, there are chicken ranch wraps. The recipe calls for homemade wraps. I will get to this eventually. But I just didn’t have the strength to deal with that too. What I did know I could find was “coconut wraps” (which I love). I couldn’t get the wraps from Thrive Market in time – so even better, I went to a sort-of local store that sells specialty, organic, vegan, keto, etc., food. The coconut wraps are straight up, simple food without any junk. They’re coconut, salt, and the Thrive brand also uses coconut oil.

Overall that week I made Danielle Walker’s Crockpot Thai Beef Stew, a shredded pork shoulder dish, baked bacon for my “ranch wraps” and my Mom baked up some of the chicken (breasts & thighs) for me. By far, my favorite recipe was the Thai Beef Stew! The beef, from a local farm, is some of the best I’ve had in ages. The stew (linked above) was filled with goodness – carrots, broccoli, coconut milk, fish sauce, red curry, and more. The stew was served over coconut lime cauliflower rice.

Crockpot Thai Beef Stew, Danielle Walker, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos

If you’re on your own, like I am, this is extremely intimidating. And honestly, it feels next to impossible. My mom came over to help me prep. She helped me with washing and cutting some veggies and helped get my kitchen organized beforehand. Using someone else’s system via the cookbook, helped a lot. I made a list of what I would need to do first and in what order. I highly recommend you doing this if you struggle with organization and memory issues like I do.

I was hopeful though – hopeful that after almost two weeks of getting sick after eating, I was on the right track.

I ended up getting sick that very night. I am not going to lie, I was heartbroken all day Monday. I was also exhausted from shopping for the food (though most of it was just pre-ordered and picked up), and then cooking. I felt defeated the next day. I won’t lie – I have been on a roller coaster ever since. I’ve gotten sick a few times since then. When it happens, I revert back to very bland food for a couple of days and then go right back to eating my delish food.

I did roll back my decision to not eat any processed food or grains. With getting sick so much and feeling so exhausted by it all, I added in some comfort food – like corn tortillas, as an example. They’re gluten free and there’s no junk in them. But my system will probably eventually need a total break from the grains like rice and corn. For now, it is what it is.

If you have to backslide a little, especially if your autoimmune disease isn’t under control, don’t beat yourself up. Do the best you can. I’m a snacker for instance. This new way of eating cuts out my absolute favorite thing to much on – tortilla chips! Last grocery order, I went half way and ordered a blue corn organic chip that had no junk – whatsoever. This order, I don’t have any munchies. Do what you can, when you can. At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

Here are a couple of other things I’ve bought or am doing:

– Coconut yogurt from So Delicious (I was so hungry last night before bed and had vanilla coconut yogurt, blueberries, and a tiny smidge of raw honey).
– Smoothies for breakfast

healthy smoothies, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

So much of the almond milk out there has junk in it. But you guys – I’m just not at a place where I can make it like I probably should. So for now, I’ll buy the cleanest brands I can (most have the gums in them). While I have tons of fruit, including some that are great for your gut like pineapple or are anti-inflammatory like cherries – this week, I’ve enjoyed the smoothie above:

– 1 Cup of almond milk
– 1 (or 2) Tablespoons of almond butter
– Banana (frozen banana would probably be better)
– I used 1 scoop Ancient Nutrition Chocolate Bone Broth powder
– Any protein or collagen powder would be great
– Avocado is also a great addition – You can find cubed, frozen avocado at Wal Mart too.
– If you don’t have a collagen or protein powder that has a natural sweetener, a teaspoon of raw honey is great. If your bananas are very ripe, you probably don’t need any additional sweetener.
– Add all ingredients to blender and blend until combined.

Tomorrow (a day off work), I’ll be making a beef and pork roast to save for meals throughout the next week or two. I still have chicken from the previous cooking marathon! Next weekend, I’ll order from the local farm again. If you don’t cook your meals after prepping, you can place all ingredients, including the raw meat, in plastic bags and freeze. And then, for those recipes that are crockpot friendly, you’d place in your crockpot before leaving for work for the day.

If you cook and freeze, wait until the food has cooled and divide into freezer bags or glass or plastic containers, to stack in the freezer. The goal is to spend 1-2 days cooking vs requiring the energy to do it each day.

This makes eating well when you’re struggling with exhaustion, just a smidge easier. It made a huge difference over the last couple of weeks to know that I could grab something healthy and homemade from the freezer, without having to think too much. If you’re like me and have to work full time (that’s a whole other post), the last thing you want when you come home exhausted, is to worry about cooking food that’s good for you.

Making a transition like this is not easy. To be honest, I’ve been plenty discouraged. But find time savers where you can. If you can’t make everything from scratch just yet, find specific ways you can make adjustments and go for it. For instance, make 2-3 meat-based dishes that can be used for lunches and dinner and maybe use convenience foods like frozen bags of cauliflower rice (versus trying to make it from scratch), to eat with your main dishes. Find healthy “wraps” for sandwiches or divide up salad mixes into individual containers and add your meat dishes for salads throughout the week.

This is going to be a process. It’s not easy. I’m a foodie. I love cooking and the whole process of deciding on food, wine, or even cocktails to go with meals. I love cooking over the holidays. I mean, I adore it. Finding yourself in a position where you can’t eat what you love, stings. Being so fatigued that simple life tasks are excruciating, doesn’t help.

But if I can do it, with a stressful job, and challenges all around me – you can too. What are some ways you’ve made meal prep or healthy eating a priority or easier on yourself? I would love to hear!

A Meal Shared

elaina avalos, live well be well

In the late days of spring, when the chill is gone and summer sits right at the gate, quietly whispering its promise, I’ll cook a meal, our first to be eaten outside for months. The table will be surrounded by candles and white lights. The flowers I found at the farmer’s market gracing the table with pops of color.

In the kitchen, with Pandora choosing our soundtrack, I’ll dance around, my spirit light and full of hope. I don’t know why it is that cooking does this for me {or maybe I do}, but it gives me joy.

Coq Au Vin, parsley potatoes and if I want to really Julia Child it, buttered green peas. There’s a joy that takes over me when in the kitchen, but it increases when I’m cooking for others. The routine of chopping, pouring and measuring is better than therapy. Cooking for another increases this soul satisfaction.

When the food is ready and we sit to eat, you’ll pour the wine – perhaps a red from the southern Rhone Valley? I’ll wait for you to take the first bite. And then I will wait for your approval (which, I will get). But I’ll wait with anticipation just the same.

There’s something so absolutely beautiful about a meal shared. Food, made well, and with passion, is sensual and life-giving. It meets a basic need for nourishment. And yet, there’s something so luxurious about the process of creating. And then, the slow process of savoring a meal with company you treasure, begins.

Honey Lemon Chicken with Pasta {Gluten Free of Course}

Honey Lemon Chicken, Chicken,

Listening to: No music for me tonight. Fixer Upper was my soundtrack.

Drinking: La Vieille Ferme Luberon Blanc 2014

It’s been a crazy few weeks, dudes. My house still isn’t in order even though I moved two months ago. I’m not a huge fan of the set-up of the living room or kitchen so I’m not feeling super motivated to cook. Or to do anything for that matter (#realtalk). But I cooked. And it was good.

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As for my house, I love houses with tons of light. My house is very dark. I feel like I live in a cabin in the woods. The yard has trees everywhere. I LOVE this. I really do. But everything is so dark and I have sucky cameras or my iPhone so when I’ve taken photos  . . . well, they’re not looking so hot. Don’t let my photos keep you from trying this. It really is quite good.

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The recipe needs some tweaking for next time, but it’s still a winner overall. I slightly adapted a recipe from Averie Cooks, after finding the recipe on Pinterest today. I will probably do some more tweaking the next time. It was much sweeter than I anticipated. Here is my adapted recipe. You can find the original at the link just above.

honey lemon chicken with pasta, gluten free

Ingredients

1/2 box of your favorite pasta. I used Barilla Gluten Free spaghetti noodles.                                                                         1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced

Directions

Mix the honey, lemon juice, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and salt/pepper to a bowl and whisk. Once ingredients are combined, set aside.

Heat water for pasta and then add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to a pan to cook the chicken. In addition to the salt/pepper in the sauce, I lightly seasoned the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Cook chicken about 6-7 (these chicken breasts were quite thick – less time may be needed) minutes per side. Mine had such a nice color to it – perfect. Once the water is boiling for the water, add your pasta. I added olive oil to the water as gluten free pasta can be clumpy.

After about 10 minutes, add the sauce to the pan. Boil the sauce with the chicken, until it thickens. Stir often.

Once the pasta was done, I drained it and then tossed it slightly with a pat of butter and squeezed more lemon onto the pasta. At this point, I thought it was sweeter than I expected so I was looking for something to cut through the sweetness a bit.

Add the sauce and chicken and then toss! I sprinkled some parmesan on, in addition to the extra lemon to even out more of the sweetness.

While sweeter than I expected, this was delish!

I don’t buy lemon pepper seasoning which is an ingredient in the original recipe. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’d add that next time. What I will do is cut down the honey and add some more lemon.

Try it!

Fried Green Delish

IMG_4793 IMG_4771

I know! It has been awhile. Shortly after my last post, I made a scrumptious Easter dinner. Of which I intended to post about. But it started what ultimately turned into several weeks of being sick and/or having no appetite. Horrible, no?

Anywho. I’ve taken photos of a few other recipes but I thought I’d get back into the game with what I made tonight.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk, Chipotle Dressing!
Oh. My. Holy. Heck. Were these ever good?!
I’ve made fried green tomatoes before but this version was the best yet.
The goods:
1lb Bacon {I used Hormel Old Smokehouse Bacon – cured with sugar. Because it’s amazeballs.}
Fried Green Tomatoes – Ingredients:
2 green tomatoes, sliced
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
1/4 Cup Masa Harina (corn flour)
1/4 Cup Corn Meal
salt and pepper for seasoning
oil or bacon grease for frying {I way prefer bacon grease, dudes.}
Buttermilk Chipotle Dressing Ingredients:
1/4 Cup Buttermilk
1/4 Cup Mayonaise
1 TBL Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Chipotle powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
For the tomatoes:
Slice tomatoes and place in 1/4 cup buttermilk. Soak for thirty minutes. I flipped them over after 15 minutes. If you’d like, you can double the buttermilk. That’s what I did.
In a separate bowl, mix the masa harina, cornmeal, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Masa harina is a staple in my mostly gluten free home {I’ll explain the mostly later.}. This is the cornmeal I buy. I’m fond of the packaging. Yeah, I don’t. It just makes me feel southern. Even though I’m not even remotely southern. I’m fond of buying products from my own area code.
While your tomatoes soak, fry up your bacon. I place on plates with paper towels as I go, letting the bacon fat and drippings stick to the pan.
Once I was about done with the bacon, I dredged the tomatoes in the the cornmeal mixture.
Sometimes, the way I cook isn’t pretty. And sometimes, I don’t take perfect photos. And sometimes, my hands are caked with cornmeal and masa harina and my tomatoes are lumpy. But I don’t even care.
Once the bacon is finished, I immediately started frying the tomatoes. Each side should be done in three minutes. I did have to add a smidge of vegetable oil to finish. But I did use the same pan I fried the bacon in. So delish, yo.
While frying the tomatoes, I made the dressing. Combine the buttermilk, mayo, salt and chipotle in a bowl. I actually doubled the buttermilk and mayo {but not the other ingredients}. You don’t have to. If you don’t, there will be a bit more bite to yours and you may not have any leftovers.
As I finished the tomatoes, I placed them on a plate with paper towels to soak up some of the oil. After finishing the tomatoes, I did this . . .
Oh goodness. This was so good. I need people to cook for. I simply cannot cook for just myself any longer. 😉
You should try it. You’ll like it. Tart, spicy, savory. Mmm…DE-lish!

Drinking: Margaritas. I don’t know. I’m in a mood. I had one last night too. This ain’t yo’ mama’s margarita though. It’s super low-cal and not even remotely sweet. Me likey.

Listening to: Coldplay station on Pandora. I’m sort of addicted.

Strawberry Caprese Salad

I have a strawberry problem. I was such a freak about strawberries when I was a kid, my Grandma made me a purse with strawberries on the fabric. I was am a nerd. Strawberries are, without a doubt, my favorite fruit. Someday I shall grow them. And annoy my someday family with strawberry everything.

In other news, I know I just shared a recipe with balsamic vinegar. But I was in the mood for this salad and so . . . here we are.

Caprese salads are on a continual repeat in my house during the summer months. The typical tomato Caprese, with fresh mozzarella pearls is my favorite. Every once in a while I change that up with small chunks of avocado. I have also made a couple of variations to include a plum Caprese salad that was ahhhmahzzing.

I’ve seen a few variations of strawberry Caprese salads on Pinterest. I’m all about trying a few of those this summer. But this one is a tad different. Me likey. It calls for a balsamic reduction that makes it over the top delish.

So here ya go:

For the balsamic reduction:
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
For the salad:
Whatever lettuce you want to use (I know some food blogger guru is freaking out right now but whatever. Use what you like. I prefer the spring mix or spring mix/baby spinach blend.)
1 cup strawberries
Fresh mozzarella (Pearls are perfect, but cubing some fresh mozzarella is easy peasy)
A handful of basil leaves, torn
Toasted sliced almonds (to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Flaky or coarse salt (I use Morton’s Coarse Sea Salt)
1. The reduction is super simple. If you’re like me, I had no idea what a reduction was when I started my learning to cook journey. If that’s the case, Google is your friend. But here is one website you can check out. Combine 2 Tablespoons of honey (I use local honey. It’s worth the price, ya’ll.)  and 1/3 Cup of balsamic vinegar, in a small saucepan (medium to low heat).

2. Bring to simmer. Stir from time to time. You will continue to simmer until it’s reduced by 1/3. You’ll want to see it quite bubbly and thick. It will look like this:

You should be able to tell that it’s reduced (you will likely be able to see the original line on the side of the saucepan). If you’ve never made a reduction before, you may not want to wander too far from the stove. It should simmer like this for about five minutes. It will be quite thick.

3. Turn off the heat, and set the reduction aside. I cool mine on the counter in the glass container I store it in.

4. The original recipe suggests the use of baby lettuce. I say . . . use what you’ve got/what you like. My preference is a mix of organic spring greens and baby spinach. I love to cook. And I love learning what I can. But sometimes, people are so snobby about food. I can’t handle it. You’re probably not going to get an iceberg lettuce salad at my house. I do think it impacts the taste of the salad. But if you’re not very adventurous and it’s hard for you to step out of your box, use what you’ve got. If you want to branch out, try a red/green lettuce first. Anywho, arrange your greens on a plate.

5. After washing/hulling a handful of strawberries, quarter them and place on the greens. You’ll then place your mozzarella pearls on the salad. I have trouble finding the pearls here (here = the boondocks) sometimes. If you can’t find them, or you already have fresh mozzarella, cut it into small chunks and go for it. Pearls Schmearls. Use what you’ve got. Unless it’s not fresh mozzarella. In that case, get thee to the store. You will then rip up some fresh basil and add that in for good measure.

6. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil on top of the salad. And then drizzle 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons (I use 2. Okay, maybe sometimes more. But whatever.) of the reduction. Add slivered almonds (I had honey roasted almonds) and some coarse salt.

Lordy, ya’ll. This is so good:
If you don’t have the flaky or coarse salt, I don’t recommend using salt at all. I didn’t the first time. I loved the salad then. This time? The salt takes it to a whole other level. It’s an awesome combo of sweet, salty and savory.
You’ll have enough reduction for 4-5 salads. It will keep at room temperature if you’re like me and cooking for one. But I recommend glass versus plastic for storing.
Try it. You’ll like it.

On another note, I ate this with a mushroom alfredo pasta. I am not going to lie to you. I bought a store bought alfredo (Classico). But in a moment of sheer insanity, I made Julia Child’s “Champignons Sautés Au Beurre” to add to the alfredo sauce. Sounds super fancy, right? It’s sauteed mushrooms. But honestly, made this way, they’re amazing.It’s 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. It’s impossible to go wrong with mushrooms cooked this way. These sauteed mushrooms actually go in Julia’s Beef Bourguignon recipe (which I have made). I could seriously just eat these without anything else for dinner. I’m not kidding.

You think I’m kidding. But I’m not kidding. They’re pretty awesome. I added those to the sauce, cooked up some gluten free spaghetti and then? I chowed down.

I might have made a second salad. Okay, I did. So delish.

Drinking: Pinot Grigio
Listening to: Dinner with Friends & French Dinner Party on Spotify