Saturday, July 23, 2011

Canadian Rockies gluten, dairy and soy free!

I'm here in Banff, Alberta, on a cold morning in July.  Aren't crazy things supposed to happen on a cold day in July?

Traveling with my family.  So lovely.  Part relaxing, part frenetic, fascinating, frustrating, funny, and full of love.  We take an easy pace.  Usually don't get out of our hotel room before 11, and by the time we get anywhere we have to eat lunch before we tour or hike.  We spend the afternoon and early evening touring around, then eat dinner, then go back to the room for some cards, or a movie, maybe some swimming if the hotel has a pool.

So far we've been to West Edmonton Mall.  Wow.  That is a big mall, with lots of non-shopping attractions and huge food courts!  Stayed at the Fantasyland hotel in the mall, which was nice.  I asked the room service operator if they had anything gluten free, and she said, "I don't even know what gluten is..." so I just had to wing it and hope for the best.  Luckily I have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, and my food issues are "sensitivities" or "intolerances" at worst.  Gluten will definitely affect my GI tract, but I'm willing to deal with a little discomfort because of cross contamination or small hidden amounts while on vacation.  The alternative would be too burdensome and stressful for me.  However, one cannot survive on food court food for too long with sensitivities like these!  I needed good food!

World Waterpark--West Edmonton Mall
Evil Dave's--Jasper, AB
We "did" the mall in 24 hours.  Galaxyland, Ropes Quest, Santa Maria, World Waterpark, and eating.  Got on the road at 5pm to head to Jasper National Park.

Jasper was very GF friendly!  Went to Evil Dave's for dinner, and they had a gluten free menu.  I was so excited and felt so accommodated and accepted, like I wasn't a big hassle.  My husband and I split the evil diva salad and the malicious salmon entree, both delicious!  Next door to the restaurant is a whole foods/bulk grocery called Nutters that had a wide selection of gf products, bulk nuts and fruits for trail mix, almond milk, and strawberries.  At home, I have gf cereal with fruit, chopped almonds and almond milk for breakfast almost every day, so that is nice to have here.  A bit of fast, healthy, safe comfort food to start the day.  Also got some GF bread so I can have a sandwich with my family when we don't want to go out for something so heavy.

5th Bridge (finally!)--Maligne Canyon, Jasper NP

Tekarra Restaurant just south of Jasper town was wonderful for a fancy dinner.  They also have a gf menu, and were extremely accommodating.  We ordered all the gf appetizers on my menu (4) and a fabulous tomato salad.  The salmon trio was the best, but the spicy risotto with pickled fiddleheads was a fabulous surprise too!

Between eating, we hiked Maligne Canyon, saw lots of wildlife (about 5 female elk were hanging out just outside our cabin!), took a tour of the Columbian Icefields, drank glacier water, and drove down to Banff.  Here we have hiked Johnston Canyon, taken the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, peeked into the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, and hung out at the hotel playing a lot of cards and hitting the waterslides and indoor playground.  Douglas Fir Resorts is a very family friendly place.

In Banff, the healthy eating spot in vogue is Nourish Bistro.  It is completely vegetarian, but their menu is so diverse that it wasn't hard to find things even my kids (8 and 11 and picky!) would eat.  Everything on the menu was labeled wheat free or vegan, etc.  We ordered their nachos--27 ingredients, anything from strawberries to 10 kinds of beans to rice or soy cheese--they were delicious.  Isabella ordered edamame, which I couldn't eat, but they looked good and she and Michael finished them off.  The organic greens salad was just what it was.  Could have used more dressing for all those greens, but very healthy!

Nourish Bistro--Banff, AB

I have to say, I did have a little spell of a sore throat and a bit of nausea at the end of the night, however.  With all those ingredients on the nachos, maybe there was something I was sensitive to hidden in there.  Soybeans?  Or maybe I got some regular cheese by mistake (we ordered half dairy, half non).  Plus I purposefully ordered a cheeseburger (no bun) for lunch with very little immediate effect.  Surely it didn't reveal itself that much later?  Anyway, it didn't last long, and I feel good this morning.  Just hungry for more!

I didn't think I would be able to eat this well, this easily while traveling.  I thank the universe that my sensitivities aren't any worse, because a lot more effort would be required to be safe.  But my outlook has changed a bit and my stress level lowered after a conversation with a friend with Crohn's one day.  I said, "How do you deal with it?"  She said, "I just live with constant diarrhea..."  It got me thinking--I wouldn't want to do that, but living with a few symptoms now and then and just accepting that it's not the end of the world makes me much less stressed out about eating.

Today, some more time on the waterslides for the kids, and on to Lake Louise!  Wonder if they have any gf menus there?  Time for some research!
Lake Louise, Alberta

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Me time, full circle

This past weekend was the French Quarter Festival here in New Orleans.  I was planning on going either Thursday or Friday afternoon, or possibly at some time over the weekend.  It is a free festival right in the heart of the city, so even stopping by for a little while would be worth my time.

As it happened, I was not able to go at all.  Between my own spiritual sharing group on Thursdays (which I love), and the kids activities for the rest of the weekend, I was booked morning, noon and night every day.  Michael's opportunity to play basketball on the Hornets' court--Friday afternoon, and Hornets game Friday night.  Michael's baseball game--Saturday morning.  Grocery shopping that HAD to be done--Saturday afternoon.  Isabella's cast party and final performance of the Aristocats--Saturday evening.  And all day Sunday, Isabella's school fair.  How did we get so overcommitted???  To top it off, Isabella's fair holiday was Monday, so she was home all day and had a friend over.

I want to shout out to the universe my gratitude that I have such a full life.  Thank you!  But I do need some regular me time too.  And that was sorely lacking this weekend.  Missing the festival wasn't really that big a deal to me--it was the fact that I had no window of possibility for the choice to go or not to go.

Normally after a stretch like that, it would have taken all of the next just to recover--remember, this is a health blog too!  I do have stress and energy issues.  Lately a lot of dizziness/vertigo too.  But Tuesday morning, I drove my kids to school, looking out the window at all the glorious green in city park, feeling the cool air with my windows down, and made a decision.  I am not sitting in the house all day today.  If I want a day for me, it doesn't have to be a recovery day.  How about just having some fun?

So I took myself down to the French Quarter.  It was far better than the festival would have been--no crowds, peaceful, just me strolling.  I headed straight for the French Market, since I hadn't been there for years, and I love the far side of the quarter.  (Bourbon Street gives the quarter a bad name!)  My husband met me for lunch and we ate at the market, watching a Food Network video being made right next to us.  Then we wandered through the stalls, picking out gifts for my brother and sister in law whom we are visiting next week.

I was there for only a couple of hours, but it was enough.  I was tired.  I felt like I got my me time, some fresh air, and I just felt better.  As I drove my husband back to his office, he jokingly mentioned a movie, and we veered around and went to the indie movie theatre downtown to see Win Win with Paul Giamatti.  So poignant and human and full of love and laughter.  A perfect way to end the day.  And I'm so glad Victor was there to share it with me.

I have to say that no matter how much "me time" I think I need, I always get over it within a couple of hours and want my family or friends around.  I witness all the wonder around me, and sometimes I need to be by myself to take it in, but then I feel lonely with no one to share it with.  I love the people in my life.

So thank you universe!  This week has truly been a gift.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who needs Lent?

At the time I met my husband, every year at Lent, he would give up meat and sweets.  By that he meant red meat, chicken and pork (basically anything besides fish), and anything that would qualify as dessert.  We had many conversations about what qualified as dessert.  Not muffins--that's breakfast.  But what about donuts?  Hmmmm, tough one.  At that time, I was eating fast food almost daily, and I might give up a favorite such as diet Coke, french fries, or potato chips.

Ahhh, those were the days.  I would resentfully cook up a separate spaghetti sauce for him with no ground beef, and be mildly annoyed that he wouldn't have dessert so I shouldn't either because it would be too hard for him.  

Now I think about what I have given up this past year.  Pretty much all bread (except a few gluten free dairy free soy free varieties), all fast food, all sodas--actually all beverages except water and a glass of juice very rarely.  My first food sensitivity test showed that I was intolerant to nearly all my favorite foods--potatoes, olives, garlic, onions, lettuce, spinach, mushrooms, celery, goat cheese, rice.  But none of the stuff that really bothered me, like fruit, sugar, wheat.  So I stuck with that diet for a while, eventually going on a rotation diet with everything else.

Then I was basically starving myself, so my nutritionist threw all the tests out the window and just told me to eat whole foods that didn't cause any symptoms.  Now I don't eat gluten, dairy, or soy, and limit the sugar intake.  I wish eating donuts was a choice.  Unless I want serious pain, I simply can't.  

So Lent has been a bit superfluous this year.  Well, that's not exactly true.  We've given up the Amex to see if we can work on a cash only basis.  Life's not hard enough, right?  We need Lent to really show us what a purposeful challenge can be.

Having vented a bit about all my poor pitiful food issues, I can honestly say that it's not that hard anymore.  Things are clearer.  I know that if I eat anything with bread or flour, I will suffer abdominal pain and all that goes with that for three days.  So it makes it really easy not to.  I know that if I eat cheese or drink milk or even eat yogurt, my ears will fill up and my throat will get sore.  Soy makes my throat sore too--even more than dairy.  Everything was so mixed up before.  Last summer I thought all I could eat was wheat, cheese, beans, and fruit.  Now that I've paid attention for almost a year, I can tell the difference.  I don't need to go by tests anymore.  I know what my body can or cannot handle.  I feel like I have a little more control now, and that feels good.

Saw a gastroenterologist this week for the first time (finally), and got labs to test for celiac plus a bunch of other stuff.  Seems like I'm always waiting for the next piece of the puzzle.  It's okay--I've learned patience.  Meanwhile, I'll enjoy Lent in New Orleans.  Peace after the chaos of Mardi Gras, beautiful weather, and excellent seafood, especially on Fridays!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Status Report, and latest favorite snacks

Spiraling up again, slowly.  Back on the thyroid meds at half the original dose.  So far so good.  More energy, but still a little weak.  Mainly trying to eat better, but also gluten free/dairy free, and here are a few of my favorite things!

In the morning:
I just tried cream of buckwheat.  YUM!  Cooked it in almond milk (slightly sweet) and piled it with blueberries and slivered almonds.  Wow.  I have always liked buckwheat and blueberries together, but this was easier and tastier.  And buckwheat is a gluten free food, unlike cream of wheat.  Also tried GF oatmeal, which tastes no different to me, so that's good too.

A hard boiled egg is hard to beat.

In a pinch, Nature's Path GF Organic Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise with coconut or almond milk (unsweetened) with a few nuts and berries sprinkled on top is good, although still processed.

I'm still a sucker for coffee--decaf only.  I use the So Delicious coconut milk creamer--they have plain, hazelnut and french vanilla now.  Lifesaver.  (Or maybe not, but still)

Afternoon snacks:
Of course, LaraBars are a favorite.  But I eat them so much, the sugar is getting to me a little (even though it is only sweetened with dates!)  May need to lay off a little.  I especially like the fruity ones--cherry pie, blueberry muffin, lemon, even key lime pie.

Made my own fresh tomato salsa recently, but I'm having trouble getting it right.  I do like knowing where all the ingredients are coming from.  Any ideas?

Also made some good hummus from frozen chickpeas recently.  The key is getting rid of the shells as much as possible.  Plus I used sunflower seed butter instead of tahini (just cause I like it better) and it gave it a nuttier, slightly sweeter, less bitter taste.  That's a keeper.  The recipe is right on the label.  You just have to warm up the chickpeas.  Sesame rice crackers work well with that.

Speaking of sunflower seed butter--it is divine.  I have some TMJ issues, so nuts and seeds and really crunchy veggies don't always work for me.  So all these nut butters are good--cashew, almond, pecan, walnut.  I have them with celery if I can stand to chew that much, or just GF rice or almond crackers or rice cakes.  For actual nuts, cashews are my favorite.  Soft enough and the perfect taste!

At night--
After dinner, I might sneak a little pinch of Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Dream choc. bar.  Pretty darn good for dairy free.

Coconut milk ice cream is also good.  I especially like just the pure chocolate or vanilla bean.  Simplest is best for my taste buds, I find.

I would love to hear your favorite, quick, easy, GF/DF snacks!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Today, I am tired.  Barely get out of bed, hand-shaking, dizzy tired.  It's Tuesday, but it feels like Monday because of MLK day.  And I felt the same way last Monday.  I wonder if there is a connection.

Last Monday, I was so dizzy I could barely walk.  My wonderful husband was so worried about me last week that he decided to take me to his own doctor.  Forget these alternative integrative holistic professionals that I've been seeing, he wanted me to see a plain old traditional MD.  Sweet thing.  I figured it can't hurt to get a second (or third or fourth) opinion.  So I took all the labs and records to him and he looked at them, listened to my story, and said the story I was telling sounded like this crazy rare disease called "sprue."  Wow, he must be brilliant!  With all the people I've seen, not one has mentioned sprue.  Never heard of it.

He ordered a lab test and I went home and looked it up on the internet.  At first glance, it looked like sprue is just another name for celiac disease.  I still didn't know why he called it sprue--maybe it's more exotic sounding and doesn't have "disease" at the end.  But the more I looked, I realized that sprue is derived from an old dutch word meaning "mouth blisters" which was the symptom that started it all for me.  So maybe he is a little brilliant.  Unfortunately, I cannot afford the lab test, being "between insurances" right now, so that has to wait a bit.  I believe the treatment is the same, though, so I've started trying to eat Gluten-Free as much as possible.  It makes sense.

In the meantime, I went back to MY doctor, who listened to my more immediate story, since she has heard all the rest.  She was especially concerned about the dizziness, and told me to stop taking the thyroid meds she had put me on in December.

Short history of my thyroid issues, which may be the key to it all:

1997--diagnosed with hypothyroidism, started taking levoxyl (T4)

2006ish--met someone who had intense thyroid issues who told me that she notices a difference every time she didn't take her medicine.  Realized that I often went without mine and never noticed a difference.  wondered why I was taking it.

2009--energy levels so low, doc ordered a test for adrenal gland output which was in "burnout" mode.  Then I went to 2 endocrinologists who both looked at my labwork and said, adrenal and thyroid levels on low side of normal, you don't need to take the T4 if you don't notice a difference.  Everything is fine.

2010--New labs, whole panel, look at everything!  My doc noticed something in the results no one else had seen:  While I had enough T4 stored, my body was not able to use it for some reason.  She prescribed T4 AND T3, another hormone that helps release it into the bloodstream.

I eased into it, taking half a T3 twice a day and 1 T4.  After a week, 2 T3s a day and 1 T4.  Let's see, I started taking it around Dec. 10.  By Christmas, I felt so much better I couldn't believe it.  I actually wanted to get out of bed.  I had energy to do the things I needed to do, plus more.  I hadn't felt this good in years.  I remembered what enjoying life felt like.  Wow.  UP SPIRAL!

2011--(and a little bit of 2010)--downward spiral.  Shortly after Christmas I started feeling poorly again.  First of all, I had a period every 2 and a half weeks for the last 6 weeks or so.  That's no fun.  Then I started having lower GI issues, cramping, bloating, gas, loosey gooseys.  And of course, energy levels WAY down again.  Then the dizziness/weakness started.

So I stopped taking all thyroid meds, which kind of pissed me off, because I knew I would have another up and down spiral.  A couple of days after getting off of them, I felt pretty good again as the levels of medicine were getting lower.  But now I'm back where I started and very ready to get the levels balanced out.  It was such a tease, actually feeling good again!

Acceptance--that's the word of the year.  This is where I'm at today.  Today, I will get rest and food.  I will not cry and whine (anymore) about the present.  It is what it is.  Spiraling has its ups and downs, right?  (Sorry)  Today I accept my reality.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pay attention and enjoy it!

It's the new year!  I couldn't stand seeing my old post on here anymore, so I have to write something new.

My goal this holiday season was simply to enjoy it.  It's supposed to be fun.  And meaningful, and all that, but above all, you should enjoy it, or what's the point?  Even if you are working hard, generally the goal is to enjoy life, and not necessarily for selfish reasons.  Let me know if that makes sense to anyone else.  I thought it was a pretty reasonable expectation.  Live in the moment, enjoy what is in front of you.  At the very least, pay attention!  If you're not enjoying it, at least try to figure out why, or why you are there in the first place!  This was especially true for food this holiday.

In the beginning of December, my nutritionist and I decided to basically get more food in me. I had lost about 15 pounds by then, and she read me a checklist for malnutrition.  I answered yes to almost every one.  So we scrapped the original food sensitivities test and worked up a new menu list that was MUCH more doable, with lots of added calories and healthy fats and even LaraBars!  Ok, these are my new favorite snacks.  All fruit and nuts, soy free dairy free gluten free snack bars! Plus I've really gotten into coconut milk products--hazelnut creamer anyone?  Otherwise, I was to avoid known recent sensitivities and pay attention to everything else, generally keeping with whole, unprocessed foods.

This is working for me.  One of the things she emphasized was broth.  She even gave me a link:  It's a long article, but I finally read the whole thing.  It is pretty fascinating and fits in with a lot of my symptoms and issues.  Here's what I've been doing:

Save any bones, carcasses, whatever is leftover from a roast chicken or turkey.  Save any vegetable peels, ends, leaves, rinds, etc. that you would normally throw in the trash.  Keep a bag of this stuff (labeled) in the freezer until you are ready to make the broth.  Throw everything in the crock pot, cover it with water.  Heat on low for about 24 hours.  Strain it and cool it in the fridge, unless you want to make a big pot of soup right away.  Just add meat and vegetables and cook it some more!  It should keep for several days.  If you have any left after that, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it.  Put the cubes in a freezer bag--8-9 cubes is about a cup and you can use it whenever a recipe calls for it.  By the way, don't skim off the stuff that solidifies at the top!  That's the healthy stuff!  Gelatin and whatnot.  It will immediately melt into the broth once it is heated anyway.

I paid attention these few weeks.  I can't tolerate dairy or bread in any significant dose.  I tried gluten free cornbread made with almond milk for the cornbread dressing.  It was not popular, and I didn't tolerate it well anyway.  I ate a lot of things made with cream or cheese or milk at various parties, just to see.  Also, I'm pretty sure something in the ham we bought at the regular grocery store had some nitrates or nitrites or something that didn't agree with me.  Ultimately my throat was constantly sore with post nasal drip, my ears were itchy and stopped up, my skin was itchy, my neck was stiff.  Lots of symptoms I hadn't had for a while.

I'm glad I experimented.  And even though it didn't always work out, I did enjoy myself.