Sick Steph

My story begins innocently enough with a trip to my pulmonologist for my annual “I can’t breathe” check up. We do the tests for my lungs to see what my lungs are doing, or should I say what my lungs are not doing. She sits me on the table and asks what’s been going on, I proceed to tell her my usual “well doc, I seem to be short of breath and sometimes feel as if I get no oxygen in my lungs. It’s worse at night and I wake up coughing or having the feeling as if someone is strangling me.” She brings me to her office and gives me a LIST of medicines. Allergy medicine, an everyday inhaler which has steroids, a rescue inhaler and some pills that are supposed to help my throat because every time I cough stomach acid ends up in the throat? She took some blood to run some tests and said to call her if I feel worse on Monday.

As I left the doctors office, I sat in my Jeep and thought to myself “damn Steph, what happened to you?! You never needed any of this! You were a star athlete and in really good shape… Get your shit together you’re not even 30 yet!” My next move was to call my husband, “How’d it go babe? Are you ok? What did the doctor say?” I answered as I drove down the street to pick up my endless supply of pills. Standing in line, I again started to reflect because that’s what I do, I overthink things, I analyze every little thing to exhaustion. Something needed to give, but what?

Enter 30 year old Steph now to the picture, after an incredible and unforgettable trip to Cuba I came back with a totally changed view of everything. I mean EVERYTHING! Life, people, food, work, the car I drove, the House I lived in, the toilet paper I was so easily able to get. I started to think of how precious everything we have in life is and how I really didn’t even notice it. Still, holding dearly to my inhaler and at this point keeping one in my Jeep and one on my nightstand. I got a call, from my doctor. “Steph, I need you to come in if you can to go over your blood work if you can.” I couldn’t so she read them to me over the phone.

My cholesterol was all over the place too high for my age, my sugar was insanely high and in her words, “Steph, you are .2 mg/dl away from diabetes, I’m going to need you to get some exercise,” Also, I’ve never seen vitamin D levels this low before I’m prescribing you some vitamin D pills to get them back up. “I need you to really try and lose a little weight.” For those that don’t know, I have PCOS and bad… If you want to have a baby it’s a little trickier and complicated than just getting knocked up. PCOS contributes to weight gain, diabetes and a whole bunch of other issues. My doctor was concerned for my well being especially because I’m so young.

I hung up the phone and broke down. If there’s one thing you have to know about me is I never weighed more than 120 lbs. all my life. I got married at 23 and that’s what I weighed. I always played sports and tried to eat a health balanced meal. My family always called me “flaca” which in spanish means skinny. So, here we go. I weighed in at 160 lbs. I had gained 40 lbs in 7 years! I couldn’t believe this was me. My health was no longer good and I knew it but I guess I needed a reality check. I loved my cheeses, all kinds, it didn’t matter to me as long as there was cheese I was happy… I loved my burgers, tacos, mac and cheese, all the “normal” comfort foods and then some. This put some things in perspective though. If I wanted to be healthier and fit back into my jeans or even have a kid at some point I needed to change. Yes, IVF is in my back pocket but it’s science and feels so cold… So this blog is about my journey to a healthier life and also a way to vent my frustrations.

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Butternut Squash Soup my Vegan & Gluten Free Way

Well the fall weather has FINALLY hit NY!! I love the warm weather but absolutely love the Fall in NY, and those chilly nights call for a nice bowl of soup. I have a lot of time on my hands now and so I experiment a lot in the kitchen and this was one that was actually a hit in my house. So here it is:

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Ingredients: 

– 1 Large Butternut Squash (I peeled the skin and cut them into cubes)

-1 TBSP Olive oil or Ghee

-3 Carrots (diced)

-1/2 medium onion (white onion)

-2-3 cups of veg. broth

-1/2 cup full coconut milk (optional but I used it and it was spectacular)

-1/2 TBSP Cinnamon

-1/8 TSP Sage, Nutmeg, chili powder (opt.)  & ginger (opt)

 

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Preparation: 

– Start by heating the oven to 375 and lining a baking sheet with tin foil

– Cut the Butternut Squash in half (long way) and scoop out the guts

– Place the squash, the onions and carrots in the oven for 45 minutes (remove and let cool)

– In a blender put the veggies, broth, coconut milk, cinnamon, sage, nutmeg and ginger and blend until it’s smooth adding more veg. broth if needed to thin out the soup

Toast some bread and enjoy!! 🙂

 

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My Grown-up Vegan Grilled Cheese

I think grilled cheese is one of those comfort foods that we still hate to admit we love as adults. I for one, cannot and will not deny my love for grilled cheese sandwiches. As an adult, I put a little twist to them now to make them more “grown-up.”

So here’s one of my go to recipes for grilled cheese when the craving hits like tonight.

For the caramelized onions:
• 2 tsp. “butter” (Earth-Balance)
• 1 large onion, thinly sliced (Spanish onion)
• 2 tbsp. sugar (I used coconut sugar
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

I start by slicing the onions as thin as I can get them

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Then I drop in the “butter” and let it melt and throw in the onions… I like to let the onions  get soft and once the smell of onions cooking hits then I throw in the sugar and the balsamic vinegar and sautéed it until it looks “burnt.”

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once the onions are done cooking I let them sit while I start my grilled cheese… I start by “buttering” my bread on one side and throwing them on the pan for a few minutes until it’s a nice crispy toast, flip it and put “cheese” lately I’ve been using the “gouda” cheese. But feel free to use whatever you want.

Right before you put the both ends together put those onions on the cheese and close that baby up… and then cut it in half just like mom used to and dig in!

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I’m Back!

I haven’t written in a while and mostly because I’ve been swamped at work and then also just got back from vacation.

I’m starting off this post with an updated on my health. I finally had a check up with my doctor a month ago and this is how it went. My doctor weighed me and told me the greatest thing every woman wants to hear… “Congratulations you lost 10 lbs!” Woo!!! I deserve an adult gold star for that. Blood work was next and when called with the results I immediately told my husband the news. My cholesterol had significantly dropped and I was no longer in danger of being a diabetic. When she asked what I had been doing I simply answered, “well, I did what you said and changed my diet, I’m a vegan.” She was so thrilled for my clean bill of health and told me to continue doing what I was doing and to throw some exercise in there.

Fast forward to my vacation that I just got back from.. I went to visit my family in Spain, land of amazing cheeses, olive oils, seafood and meats… which at one point I would have devoured in the amount of time there. This trip was different for my husband and I and here’s how it went. My grandmother could not understand it and still will not understand it at all. I let her know that my husband and I were both vegans and didn’t eat meat, seafood or any sort of poultry… her facial expressions said it all. It was the hardest vacation ever for us. She went and bought fish the first day there… I had a salad… the second day she made chicken… etc.

Because my husband was there with me I felt like I had some support so we would wander off for walks and eventually came across a vegan supermarket! We went on a little bit of a shopping spree and brought home cheeses and breads and vegetables and my grandmother, being the grandmother that she is was a little upset but got over it once I really let her know how the situation was. I have a new found respect for my commitment and my strength during vacation while being vegan because it was not an easy thing. Being in NY veganism is easy to do if you really want to but back in Europe it’s the hardest and one of the most challenging things to do.

So, that’s it I just thought I’d share my update on my health and my trip and I should be writing more frequently now that I’m back! Thanks for reading!!

Milk ‘n Eggs

There’s nothing I loved more than waking up on the weekend and making breakfast.. It didn’t matter if it was French Toast, Pancakes, or 2 fried eggs with toast and turkey bacon. My weekend mornings have become a little different now. Some of my friends have asked about milk alternatives and what to do about eggs because they can’t live without them and sometimes I really crave it too… So here goes:

Milk Alternatives:

1.) Almond Milk- There are tons of different types and companies that make them… “Almond Breeze,” “Califica,” “Pacific,” “Silk” and you can get them sweetened, unsweetened, chocolate, vanilla, hint of honey… some that have cashewblend others that have a coconut blend. I enjoy “Silk” and “Pacific” almond milks myself and usually the unsweetened version.

2.) Coconut Milk- “SO Delicious” is my go to for coconut milk, lately I’ve been on a coconut kick not sure why but I just love the taste. This company is so good they even have Nog for the holidays! They also have amazing ice-cream choices if you need something sweet on these hot summer days.  http://sodeliciousdairyfree.com/product_groups/dairy-free-beverages

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3.) “Forager”- I am a huge fan of their “cashewgurt” yogurt that’s obviously made with cashews and not milk. Just recently I discovered that they have “milk” now too! 4 different flavors, the unsweetened plain, chocolate, vanilla and original. I’m a fan of the vanilla and haven’t really tried any of the others because I’m not too into all that… I do have to suggest also trying their “yogurt” they are amazing! I put my sister-in-law on them and she can’t get enough of them either. You can find these at DeCicco’s in NY or some Stop & Shops as well. Mrs. Green’s sometimes carry them and lately they’ve been getting plenty of new vegan additions.   http://foragerproject.com/products/

Egg Alternative:

1.) NeatEgg- For my baker friends like myself this is a great product that replaces the eggs in the baking dishes. It’s made with chia seeds and garbanzo beans. Related image

2.) VeganEgg- I tried this not too long ago and actually really enjoyed it making it is super simple and at the same time kind of threw me off as I added water to the powder and cooked it… It’s made by “Follow Your Heart” company and totally plant based too. It’s Cholesterol-Free which was got me, it’s also GF, Allergen-Free, soy-free and Non-GMO. The “egg” is made from Algal but don’t worry it doesn’t have an algae taste to it.  http://followyourheart.com/buyveganegg/

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These are the only egg products I’ve tried and liked… I think it’s almost time to get cooking in my next entry. Stay tuned!

“Meat Me in the Middle”

After emerssing myself fully into the Vegan lifestyle there was obviously something else missing… Meat! In my house we used to have some type of meat or chicken with vegetables and rice or something along those lines. We would either go out for wings or burgers. Thinking about it makes my mouth water. So, here are some suggestions that I found for a replacement to meat and chicken.

1.) Jack Fruit– This magical “fruit” that I’ve never ever seen before in my life and is enormous! This fruit here grows in South Asia which is another reason why I’ve never seen this before. The good thing is that if you have an Asian market around you can find this in fruit form or you can look for the jackfruit in can also. Jackfruit has the same texture as “pulled pork” which is why this little fruit has helped my husband with his pork fix. (Recipes to follow) sweet-jackfruit-pieces-today-stock-inline-170111_161effb635290b78dbc9fe142a9c1463.today-inline-large.jpg

 

2.) “Beyond Meat”- This company has many different “meat” and “chicken” products available. I’ve had the crumbles and can say it’s amazing! I had this when I wanted spaghetti with bolognese sauce and it tastes exactly the same as ground beef or better! The “Burger patties” are probably mine and my husbands’ favorite. They look exactly like regular burgers and offer lots of protein at the same time. If you love grilled chicken on your salad or on a sandwich they have differnt flavors of “chicken” and they’re all pretty darn good! http://beyondmeat.com/products

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3.) Tempeh: Which is a traditional soy product and It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form, similar to Tofu. It can take many different forms and flavors depending on how you cook it. It’s not the best thing to look at but it’s really yummy I think.

4.) Cauliflower- You can make cauliflower into anything really… I’ve made Beer battered cauliflower tacos and they were a hit I’ve even had Cauliflower General Tso’s for those nights I crave chinese food.

Now if you’re looking for Sausage and peppers type of deal I’d suggest using Field Roast, these are as close as you’re gonna get for a great sausage experience. My favorite is the Chipotle sausage because I’m a fan of spicy sausages. The Italian one is perfect for sausage and peppers. Field-Roast-Sausage-Links.jpg

If you’re looking for hotdogs they have them too as well as breakfast sausages if you’re into that kind of stuff.

My husband is a fanatic for ham and cheeses so I had to do some searching and taste testing for “deli slices” and here’s what I found:

Tofurky:  Just as the name suggests it’s made with tofu… This is something I was super hesitant about. I’m not a fan of tofu AT ALL… It looks gross and there’s something about the texture I just am not a lover of… unless it’s in a miso soup sometimes. However, when I was looking for something to substitute as deli meat I found this one and decided to give it the college try… and… It wasn’t bad AT ALL. There is the issue of the “look” of the deli slices but once you get over that then it’s really not that bad at all. They have different types too so it’s not just one boring slices. http://www.tofurky.com/what-we-make/deli-slices/smoked-ham/

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For the Love of Cheese!

My love of cheese was the hardest thing to give up during my change of diet. However, I found comfort in these new cheeses:

1.) “CHAO” Field Roast-this company makes 3 different types of cheeses as you can see from the photo below. My husband is a fan of the Tomato Cayenne slices it because it has a little kick at the end. I’m a fan of the Creamy Original because I love grilled cheeses. These cheeses are found at “DeCicco’s”, “Mrs. Green’s” “Trader Joes” or any other health food market around and are usually kept in the Vegan section or fridge. These cheese slices cost around $5 and are all Non-GMO and Non-Dairy. I give these cheeses a 5 star rating. http://fieldroast.com/chaostory/

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2.) “Follow Your Heart”– This company makes cheese alternatives, spreads, dressings, and vegenaise. They’re cheeses come in slices and blocks too. I am a huge fan of their shredded Parmesan cheese and they’re mozzarella. When I first picked up the shredded parmesan my heart jumped for joy because I used to go to the fridge and just eat shredded parmesan straight out of the container. This Parmesan tastes just like the regular one. Now, when I saw the mozzarella there, I had mixed feelings because in my head I thought “how could anything really resemble mozzarella?” but the other night I cut up some pieces, sliced up some tomato and basil and bam it was amazing! I have yet to try their slices but they have so many different cheeses I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time. https://followyourheart.com/

 

3.) “Go Veggie”– I found this cheese when I was planning a trip to the beach… Yes, the beach. I like to take cheese and crackers with me to the beach or really anywhere I go if I can. This company has slices which are perfect for burgers, sloppy joes, and grilled cheeses, they also have a grated parmesan cheese option for your spaghetti and the best thing is their individually wrapped serving of cheese, perfect for the beach, pool or just snacking on. They also have shredded cheeses which are pretty amazing also! http://www.goveggiefoods.com/

 

4.) “Daiya”– Cream Cheese!!! Because who doesn’t enjoy a nice toasted bagel with cream cheese in the morning?! This cream cheese is so good and if the husband is a fan of it then I know it’s a winner in our house!  It’s soy free, casein free and lactose free! 90 Calories and Cholesterol Free. Now I’m a plain type of girl but they also have Chive & Onion, and Strawberry flavors. Daiya also offers, shredded cheeses, cheese blocks, pizzas, Yogurts, Cheesecake, salad dressings and they even boxed mac and cheese. https://daiyafoods.com/our-foods/cream-cheese-style-spreads/plain/

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As you can see I haven’t really experimented too much in this department mainly because I found what I loved and kind of just stuck with those products for the moment. My next entry (on Monday) will be on meats and eggs because I can’t live without those either. I hope this was helpful!

 

 

The Big Change

The day finally came when something snapped in me. I was sitting on the couch at home late at night looking for something to watch since Orange is the New Black was done. I was scrolling and then I saw it “What the Health?” a documentary about food. I was nervous when I first clicked on the play button. “Will I regret this in the morning?, will I even really care? Will I run to the deli in the morning and order an egg and cheese on roll without really even thinking twice?”

So, I watched it.. All… Even the gross parts with my eyes open. Needless to say, I woke up the next morning, opened my fridge looked at it and saw, eggs, chicken, turkey bacon, and a boatload of cheese… and thought, “this is it! I have to cut all this out of my diet.” I started this journey of weeding out (slowly) all the dairy out of my diet because I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be eating it to begin with (according to my doctor). It was not an easy task and my husband wasn’t too thrilled to say the least. I started doing a plant-based diet that week to see how I felt, this was more of a “trial period” for me. I’m not a fan of “trending diets, or fads” so I didn’t want to seem like one of those people.

First thing I noticed, I wasn’t using my rescue inhaler as much as I was before. Second thing I noticed, I wasn’t in a “fog” at work and wasn’t sluggish during the day it was quite the opposite I felt like how I used to feel when I played sports. My husband who is my support system and always pushes me also felt the same way and when he said that, I knew I was on to something. The third thing I noticed was my face clearing up from the acne that my PCOS also contributes. I was hooked.

We started the transition to Vegan… I never in a million years thought I would EVER say “excuse me sir, do you have anything that’s vegan on your menu?” I prepared myself for the looks, the comments and the “oh is this another one of those diets to lose weight?” from friends and family. I prepared myself to give some answers. My first experience, my mother-in-laws birthday party… Steaks and chicken on the grill, hot dogs, cheese.. the works! Naturally, my husband was still slowly transitioning and so was I, I opted for bean tacos with no cheese, and when I got the question “you don’t want a piece of steak? or chicken?” “Not even cheese? It’s your favorite!” I answered with an excuse “No thank you, I’m not feeling so great and just want some beans to hold me off for now.” I suck I thought to myself.

Lucky for me my sister in law was also trying to stay away from dairy, poultry and meat so I didn’t feel so awkward. Later on, I faced my mother and had to tell her that I was trying to change my diet and her response “well, when did this happen? and why?” as she ate her salmon. My response “I have to do this for me and my health and I’m already feeling better.” My sister, at least she sort of understands it and replied with the best answer to my mother at the table “Because Mom! It’s not vegan or gluten-free!” I love her for being so blunt.

So, here I am 2 months in I’ve gone to BBQ’s, the beach, birthday parties and a baby shower and I’ve survived! I’ve done A LOT of research, read plenty of articles and made a commitment to myself to keep going. It’s hard and I’ve thought plenty of times it’s stupid, it’s too hard, or it’s pointless… but the truth is, you have to work hard at things in order to succeed and see the benefits. Now that I’ve bored you with my background I will share some recipes and some products that have helped our transition into veganism a little bit easier to deal with.