Whooboy! There are loads of reasons why the pig pen has been so quiet this past year. I’ll refrain from inundating you with the nitty-gritty details of my life. But I will tell you this. My kitchen routine has been turned every which way and has temporarily landed on smack on it’s head. Not in a bad way, but enough to leave me feeling a little discombobulated.
This spring and summer I got hot and heavy into Ayurvedic cooking (and lifestyle shifts). Which means I was inviting more of a mind-body-spirit connection into my kitchen. I was concentrating on bringing all six flavors—sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent to each meal. I was trying to make lunch, rather than dinner, my heartiest meal of the day. My cooking got simpler. Indian influences took over my pantry with things like curry leaves, mung beans, and moong dal lentils. Certain foods, like garlic, tomatoes, and hot peppers were reluctantly set aside to enjoy during cooler times when my body would be more willing to digest them. It was, and somewhat still is, quite a fun experiment.
By October, however, I was immersed in a whole new lineup of blogs and cookbooks. What started as an act of desperation to help my best friend (and husband) get an upper hand on living with chronic Lyme and chronic fatigue has become a full-on lifestyle change for both of us.
Say hello to the Autoimmune Protocol. A meal plan that is essentially a slightly more restrictive version of eating paleo. It’s a nutrient dense diet, which means heaps of (most) vegetables, grass fed meat, seafood, and organ meat. It also eliminate foods that potentially cause inflammation and therefore disease—which, as it turns out, is a hell of a lot of food. This is especially noticeable if you heart longs towards vegetarianism. The last of my mung beans and lentils are pathetically lingering at the bottom of their jars.
So why even get onboard with such a crazy extreme diet? A couple reasons. Solidarity and keeping the cooking streamlined are the easy answers. But the more research I did on autoimmune disease, the more I started asking some sticky questions.
Haven’t I suffered from Raynaud’s disease (an autoimmune circulatory issue that causes extremities to turn impressive shades of white and blue) all my life? Don’t I have an eye virus that has a tendency to run rampant, even while on medication to suppress it? Haven’t at least four eye doctors told me I have an immune response that’s causing my poor left eye to destroy itself? And, oh yeah, haven’t I been on a steroid drop for over fifteen years to combat inflammation in that eye? It’s funny the things we can overlook in life, isn’t it? Denial is a crafty devil.
As is autoimmune disease, I’m learning.
All this to say, I finally came round to the fact that, yes, just maybe, my body is struggling with autoimmune issues. So I embarked on this radical diet with a half-skeptical “it certainly can’t hurt” approach. For years I have longed to reduce and even quit my eye medications, but such attempts always end in trouble. Maybe this will be my ticket.
So far this new way of eating has been a roller coaster with every high, low, bump, and twist I can think of. Honestly it’s been a little exhausting—both emotionally and simply with the amount of time I spend grocery shopping and cooking—it’s a very fresh diet, not a lot of dry staples on the pantry shelves. But my intrigue behind the science of the diet is high enough to keep me on the ride.
It also helps that there are some incredibly creative autoimmune cooks to draw inspiration from. I’ve learned to use cauliflower and winter squash in ways I never imagined. A food processor works magic on both—think fried rices and risottos. My toaster has not seen a slice of bread in months, but instead thick slabs of sweet potatoes toasted several times over. I top my “toast” with all sorts of things, but it makes for an unbeatable leftover turkey sandwich with avocado a dab of cranberry. I’ve finally perfected Sunday morning waffles using a base of cassava flour (a starchy root) and apple sauce. Coconut flour and arrowroot crust pizzas topped with things like figs, prosciutto, pears, and arugula come out for special occasions. And I even managed to make a tray of gingermen for the holidays. The dough was a little finicky, but what the men lacked in appearance, they made up for in flavor, rivaling even Grandma Myrtle’s recipe.
Clearly I am not suffering for lack of food. But this has been a dramatic shift in the way I shop, cook, and eat. And oddly, I haven’t felt like writing much about it. It feels too new, too uncertain, and too raw. Sometimes I’m convinced this is the wisest eating path I’ve ever taken (and there have been many) and other days I wonder what in the world I’m doing and why can’t I just be normal for god’s sake?
I’ve also been wrestling with my identity in the kitchen. One glance at my cookbook shelf can send me into a tailspin of despair. Until I remember I can still open them, make adjustments, and garner ideas. And the protocol does allow for trying to reintroduce a wider variety of foods as you progress. Which is comforting. Extremes make me nervous. So I tend to think of this as the first chapter in a long book. Here are my cliff notes to date:
- the quality of meals has been off the charts
- the prep time and planning required is also off the charts
- being thankful for the first and accepting of the second is key
- humans bodies are so responsive to the things we do and do not put into them
- understanding and aligning with this makes any shift in diet way easier
And if nothing else, I’m learning a great deal about myself and how I approach healing. My no nonsense, type-A personality makes me a very good rule follower. Give me a recipe, hand me the instruction manual, tell me what to do. I will follow it to a tee to get the results I’m after. Discipline is not my problem. It’s my white knuckle grip to succeed that gets in the way. And even though I can rationally tell myself that this strategy isn’t at all useful, truly letting go and easing up is still a daily challenge. And that’s exactly where I’m at. Trying to relax back from what’s supposed to happen and opening my heart to what is.
I’ve cooked some spectacularly delicious meals over the last few months. Not surprisingly, some of the simplest things are standouts. Like these two dressings. The honey balsamic is fantastic tossed with a salad of sturdy greens and warm roasted root vegetables. It’s also great on fruit based salads. I use the avocado dressing on slaws, dotted on fish and chicken, and as a dipping sauce for just about anything. Onward ho!
Honey Balsamic Dressing
(from The Healing Kitchen)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 t sea salt
Combine all in a jar and shake well. Keeps well for several days covered in the fridge (makes 3/4 cup)
(from the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook)
1 avocado, pitted and skinned
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine all in a blender and bend until smooth. Thin with a little water if it’s too thick. Keeps for a day or two covered in the fridge. (makes 1 cup)