Sunday, February 23, 2014

I Feel Like A Rock Star!

“You’re stable and in remission.” Seriously? A huge grin spread across my face when my doctor read the technician’s report and reviewed the new full set of MRI scans with me. This good news made me absolutely giddy! My neurologist’s assessment exceeded even the most optimistic of my expectations going in to my appointment! I anticipated the scans might reveal a few new small lesions and possibly an active lesion now that might be the cause of my ongoing and currently increased fatigue. At no time did I anticipate that all of the lesions showing on my new set of MRIs would be accounted for in scans done two or more years ago.

It’s been a few days, and I’m still giddy. MRI scans give me much needed feedback that over the last six years has helped me learn to discern whether a new symptom is just old damage flaring up or a new relapse.  I hadn't thought I was having a relapse, but I think I was too nervous to even hope for the news I received. Absolutely NO new lesions in the last two years?  My neurologist told me that with the disease modifying drugs he counts them as successful if relapses occur once per year.  Six years ago, I was experiencing three relapses per year.  Now I feel like a rock star!

The results of my scans validated my dedication to improving and maintaining my health given old lesions cause me difficulty. Mostly I experience fatigue that makes working full time and living a normal life tough.  Numbness, pain and intermittent loss of function are normal yet fortunately still invisible to others.  Please don’t take this as complaining.  I know I have it a LOT easier than many of my friends with MS.  And easier than a lot of people without MS for that matter! I’m fortunate that in spite of lesions in my spinal cord that my neurologist would expect to cause much greater loss of function and symptoms, I can still be active and experience a pretty athletic lifestyle.

I credit a lot of this to learning to listen to and adapt for what my body needs. Unfortunately I have not found a short cut for this.  It just takes time, patience, research and dedication.The short list of practical living tips (in no particular order) I consistently follow are:

  1. Eat healthy foods my body appreciates. It’s going to be different for each person, but currently I eat a blender full of fruits and vegetables spread out over each day to boost my nutrient intake and smooth my digestion outtake. Sticking to protein, fruits and vegetables and avoiding grains 90% of the time is working for me.
  2. Exercise moderately a minimum of three times per week. More if I have the energy.  Mix it up given the time of year and weather conditions. Do yoga at least once a week.
  3. Rest as needed. Prioritize activities and only do the top of the list based on mandatory items and those that will support me the most. See my Learning to Pause post.
  4. Take supplements to help with my individual symptoms and for general health.
  5. Consistently take my disease modifying drug.
  6. Lean on my friends and family. These relationships aren't one-sided, but they mean everything to me. These people help cheer me up, give me reality checks and are supportive of me no matter what.  I’m lucky to have them.
  7. Contribute to society each day. It can be through work, volunteering or just brightening someone's day.
The best part of my recent “stable and in remission” diagnosis is feeling that I don’t have to be perfect to have good health. My fear of experiencing disease progression and some day feeling I hadn't done enough to prevent it has subsided for now. What I’m doing is enough to not trigger my disease.  What a relief!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Convenience Food: Kalamata Olive and Turkey Meat Pucks

Eating food that hasn't been pre-made or packaged requires a lot more time in the kitchen.  When you need to eliminate certain foods from your diet, it’s a must to make your own from scratch.  I've eaten foods where the ingredient list should result in a food safe for me to eat.  I’m not sure if it’s the processing or trace amounts of something not included on the wrapper, but I know something is off when my throat gets sore or my head gets congested. Regardless, the only way to be sure what’s in your food is to make it yourself from fresh ingredients.

These meat pucks are terrific for cutting up and adding to salads or whole as grab and go meals.  I’ll eat them for breakfast with a green smoothie or as a snack with some cut up raw vegetables.  They’re great convenience food for traveling.  I can freeze them and put them in a cooler for overnight trips.  It’s nice to not have to completely rely on restaurants or grocery stores to get my basic food needs met.  At approximately 2 ounces each, they provide half the protein I like to eat in a meal. They help me maintain my self-control with food choices and avoid emergency occurrences where I’ll eat anything I can find!

You may modify the meat mixture to your heart’s content. Making and freezing a couple variations of these meat pucks allows you to vary your meals throughout the week without extensive cooking time. Substitute other ground meats for the turkey with beef, pork, lamb, or chicken. This is also a good recipe for including organ meats if you’re trying to up your intake of offal. I've also added shredded carrot, sweet potato, kale, and spinach to the meat mixture prior to baking with great results. Just make sure the vegetables are cut small enough to cook completely  with the pucks. Adjust the seasonings depending on what you prefer and have on hand.  If you omit the olives, make sure to add a teaspoon of salt to the mixture before baking. Be creative!

If there are two or more people in your household, make sure to make a lot of meat pucks.  These disappear quickly!
Kalamata Olive & Turkey Meat Pucks
Kalamata Olive and Turkey Meat Pucks
Chef’s knife, cutting board
2 Muffin tins to make 24 pucks
KitchenAid Stand Mixer with paddle attachments, or a large bowl and your hands
Standard ice cream scoop with a spring to release the food
Cooling racks preferred but not necessary

3.25 lbs Ground Turkey
3 Tbsp Solid Cooking Oil (lard, coconut oil or palm oil is preferred for high heat)
1/2 Onion, (5 oz) diced
30 Kalamata or Green Olives, pitted and chopped small.  Check the ingredient list on olives.  You want to make sure there isn’t something in them that you don’t want to eat.  The kalamata olives I found have red wine vinegar in them.  I did find some green olives with only olives, water, salt and lactic acid.
6 Cloves Garlic, minced (approx 2 Tbsp)
12 stalks Thyme, ¼ oz fresh stripped off stalks and minced, or 1 Tablespoon dried thyme
6 stalks Fresh Sage, 1/3 oz, leaves stripped from stalk and minced, or one teaspoon dried ground sage

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Prepare all the ingredients by cleaning and chopping them.  Place everything into the stand mixer and mix for 30 seconds to a minute until blended through.  Alternately you may just mix it all with your hands in a large bowl.  It’ll be cold and will take longer, so I prefer to use a mixer.
2. Grease the muffin tins with coconut oil or palm oil.  Turkey is low in fat, and you don’t want the pucks to stick to the pans.
3. Using the ice cream scoop, scoop the turkey mixture and press it against the bowl to fill the scoop. Release one scoop of meat into each muffin tin.  Once all 24 are filled, you may have a little extra meat mixture. Either evening add a little mixture to each muffin tin or refrigerate the remains for use in another meal.  I had 3.5 oz left over and refrigerated it to scramble with veggies tomorrow.
4. Flatten the top in each muffin tin to make each puck.
5. Place both muffin tins into the oven, close door and cook for 30 minutes.  Make sure to set the timer so you can track how long they've been cooking. (This note is for me since I could easily forget I have something baking or what time I put it in…)
6. After 30 minutes pull the muffin tins from the oven and turn off the oven.  Remove the meat pucks from the pans and place them on a cooling rack.  Eat them or once cooled put them in a lidded glass container for storing in the refrigerator.  You may also freeze them for future eating.  Enjoy!
Fresh, fresh, fresh!
Only a chef's knife and cutting board are needed for prepping all the ingredients, but you may use dried herbs and a garlic press if you prefer less preparation time.
Done and ready for eating, refrigerating or freezing

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pork Chop & Sweet Potato Stew

Pork Chop & Sweet Potato Stew
Soup on a cold winter day fills my belly and soothes my soul.  And in the case of soup, more is always better.  Leftovers are the best. With a long cooking time and each reheating, the soup flavors continue to meld and become even more delicious.  Made in a crock pot, this soup greets me at the end of a work day with comfort and a clean kitchen. If you’re short on time in the morning, you can do as I did by preparing it in the evening and letting it cook overnight.  I then left the crock pot on “warm” throughout the day to let it stew even further.

For years I relied on pre-made bullion to flavor my soups.  They were delicious, but often mystery ingredients can sneak in unbeknownst to us.  Specifically, yeast is in a lot of store-bought bullion among other food items.  It might be a contributor to additives named natural flavoring, caramel color, or citric acid.  I've found that cooking meats on the stove, making sure to include any pan drippings in the soup, and a long slow cooking time in the crock pot leads to a flavorful meal without using pre-made bullion.

This Pork Chop & Sweet Potato Stew is hearty and flavorful.  A garnish of fresh green onion and avocado slices adds a nice texture and contrast to this substantial dish.  You could also substitute beef or chicken for the pork. I like eating broccoli florets as a side dish and using the stems in soups and smoothies.  You may also substitute celery for the broccoli stems.

Broccoli stems are terrific for adding extra nutrition and fiber
to a soup without adding an overpowering flavor.
Pork Chop & Sweet Potato Stew
Large Skillet, I prefer cast iron
Large Crock Pot – if yours isn’t extra large, I suggest halving the recipe.
Cutting board, knife, spatula, tongs and soup ladle

2 lbs Pork loin sirloin chops, boneless, (4 thick cut chops)
3 Tbsp cooking oil (lard, coconut oil or palm oil is preferred for high heat)
1 large Onion, (15 oz) diced
2 lbs Sweet Potato, (3 medium) diced to ¼” cubes
Broccoli stems from one large head of broccoli, minus the florets, diced to 1/8” cubes (approx 8 oz)
6 Cloves Garlic, minced (approx 2 Tbsp)
8 cups Water
1 tsp Salt
12 stalks Thyme, ¼ oz fresh stripped off stalks, minced
6 stalks Fresh Sage, 1/3 oz, leaves stripped from stalk and minced
Fresh sage and thyme complement
pork and sweet potatoes nicely.

Avocado, sliced
Green onion, chopped

Heat a skillet (I prefer cast iron) over medium high heat.  Add oil and coat the pan.  Cook the pork chops at medium high heat for three minutes each side or until browned.  Add to crock pot with the uncooked diced broccoli stems.  Turn on crock pot to high.

Break apart the meat into small pieces
by squeezing it on edge with tongs.
While the pork chops cook, cut up the vegetables.  Once the pork chops are done and removed from the pan, add the onion and cook until translucent.  Add the minced garlic to the onions.  Cook until onions are lightly brown. Add mixture to crock pot.  The onion mixture will deglaze most of the brown bits from the pork chops.  Add a cup of water to the skillet to deglaze any remaining bits.  Add to the crock pot with the rest of the 8 cups water.  Remove pan from heat and turn off the stove burner.

Add salt, thyme and sage to the crock pot.  Cover and cook on low for 10 hours.  Alternatively you could cook it at high for 6 hours and it would still be great.

Go to work or take off for the day.  Come home to the wonderful smell of dinner ready. Or make this in the evening, let it cook overnight and wake up to a finished stew.  You can put it in the fridge or leave it to cook on low during the day.

Break apart the pork chops into smaller pieces approximately 1" in size with tongs and a fork.  Slice the avocado and chop green onion, serve on top of the stew. Enjoy!