Therapeutic mac and cheese, fiber, and recipes!

Cooking is soo therapeutic, and I can’t remind myself of the fact too often. Today, after another night of not enough sleep, I was still feeling groggy and bloated from my cousin’s wedding on Sunday. All I wanted to do was be lazy and re-watch Full House on Netflix. Days like this spell danger with a capital D for my eating habits, since the temptation to just grab a bowl of cereal or a plate of carbs is soo very…tempting. I might have given in if it weren’t for laziness—and actor, author, and Youtuber, and comedian Grace Helbig. I was I was binge watching her videos and found one where she made lemon angel hair pasta with shrimp. Pass on the shrimp…yaass on the pasta!

I ended up removing my butt from the recliner, and making a yummy, creamy version of macaroni and cheese. About 6 months to a year after surgery, one of the things I did to take back control of my life was research ways I could get vegetables into my diet, while reducing the amount in insoluble fiber I consumed. It is counterintuitive to what we are usually told by doctors, magazines, and the internet. But to a person whose gut still healing from major surgery—ok, I’ll back up a bit.

Basically, there are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, which you get from oatmeal, peeled fruit and veggies, and various other sources, thickens stool (poop). It grabs on to water, and therefore slows down everything that happens in the intestines. This is especially important to people who have had bowel resections. I had about a foot and a half of small intestine removed, including the ileum—which a part which usually plays a big role in digestion. Since there was less intestine in which digestion could happen, slowing the process down made it easier for my remaining intestine to absorb whatever nutrients they possibly could. That’s what soluble fiber does.

Insoluble fiber (found in fruit and veggie peels, whole grains, and such)…well, it very much has the opposite effect. The s***s I got for at least a year post-surgery while I healed and figured out my new diet were some power s***s. If I hadn’t temporarily removed as much as possible from my diet, I can’t imagine how much less energy I would have had.

All that to say, I had to get pretty creative with how I got my veggies. Cooking vegetables breaks down a lot of the molecular bonds that make them hard to digest, as does pureeing them. One of my top tricks was to buy up bell peppers from my local farmer’s market when they were in season I’d roast them, freeze them between layers of wax paper, and then use them whenever I needed them on pizza, thrown into pasta, on sandwiches…

I’m also pretty picky regarding the texture of cooked veggies, so I did a lot of food dupes, like you do when you don’t want picky toddlers to know what they’re eating (what can I say? I’m working on it!) One of my absolute favorites was the Super Mac & Cheese recipe from simplebites.net. Since the recipe was from a post geared towards babies and toddlers, it didn’t use a lot of spices, and sat very gently with my gut. Although I usually east pasta with peas, if I only felt up to making the mac, I still got a boost from the pumpkin in the sauce! Another healthier mac and cheese recipe I love is from pinchofyum.com.

Another great trick that my sneaky mom used from the time my brother and I were little was adding ground veggies to tomato sauce. Carrots and those priceless roasted bell peppers work especially well.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, today’s lazy recipe was Karen from kitchentreaty.com’s delicious take on macaroni and cheese. Now, although the original recipe was vegan, the way I made it definitely was not. I didn’t have the vegetable broth the recipe called for so I used chicken instead. Also…I added lactose-free cheese. BUT I did taste the sauce before I added it, and it was delicious that way too!

Now…I may not have got as much done today as I “should have” done to qualify for the mature, functional, adult awards but at least I made one good choice. Getting into the kitchen felt incredible. While washing, peeling, and chopping the veggies I felt the satisfying feeling of crunching through them with my favorite chopping knife. I looked through the window, and saw a grumpy-looking bird sitting on the lawn. I felt the steam from the boiling water. Most of all, I was proud of myself for each nourishing ingredient that went into cooking that dish.

When I cook, I am showing myself that I matter instead of just telling myself. When I buy ingredients for a new recipe, I nurture curiosity and interest. When I tweak ingredients mid-recipe, I am showing myself that it is ok to take risks, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant.

I nurture. I thrive. I grow.

Much love.

 

Advertisements

Food, Glorious Food

One of the best health decisions I’ve made was to start roasting bell peppers. When I’m feeling all-around crappy and have no desire to cook, it is easy for me to go a day or two consuming very little to no fruits and vegetables. Obviously, this does not do good things for my energy and mental health. So I try to make it as easy as possible to get SOME amount of easy-to-digest veggies inside me, even if it is only a bite or two at a time.

This is an interesting and fun goal. I was a childhood picky eater and I carried my aversion to many vegetables into adulthood. When I lived on my own for a year I was kind of forced to try new things and experiment with recipes. Some of my discoveries?

1. Roasting bell peppers in the oven and freezing them. Since bell peppers tend to be pretty expensive, this lets me stockpile them when I find them on sale. Frozen bell peppers can be cut into skinny strips and and tossed with olive oil, parmesan, and pasta (veggie, healthy fats, protein); a wider slice can be added to a simple cheese sandwich (carbs, protein, and veggie!); strips can be added to soup for great flavor and another veggie serving…limitless possibilities with only one messy cooking job covering many meals.

2. Comfort food with sneaky veggies. A Google search for healthy mac and cheese turns up tons of recipes, most of which use some kind of pureed squash in the sauce. My favorite so far uses canned pumpkin, and the result is orange and creamy like KD, and does NOT taste of pumpkin! 😀 A crap-ton of vegetables can also be pureed and added to a plain tomato sauce to eat with spaghetti. Probably the simplest discovery I’ve made is to add a smashed clove of garlic to the water when I cook pasta.

3. Using my juicer. I  got a gently used one from a wonderful cousin, and while I don’t think it’s a good idea to regularly substitute meals for juice–even fresh juice you make yourself–it is a good way to get extra vitamins without a lot of insoluble fiber (the kind that leads to diarrhea). Vegetables that are slightly too far gone to enjoyably eat as they are are great in juice. Yesterday I used a few peaches and pears, a handful of grapes, some unroasted bell pepper, and two carrots for a great result to drink with my iron pills

Whenever I get a day off work, I love taking the morning or afternoon to try new things I have bookmarked online. It seems to help  view it as less of a chore when I come at cooking leisurely.

Back again, with good life choices!

This morning I woke up around 7:15 with strong gas. I went to the bathroom, then came back and snuggled back into my bed with a book. Not too much later, the gas was back again, so I made another bathroom trip. I decided my body was telling me it was time to be up, so I decided to go upstairs and start my day. Good life choice #1. I still live in my parents’ house, in the basement room my brother occupied when he was still at home. (Side note: although I moved back home before my abdominal troubles started, things worked out excellently. My parents tend to spend most of their time upstairs, so unless someone’s doing laundry the downstairs tends to be pretty quiet. I have a bathroom only steps away from my bedroom door, so if I feel like it, I can pretend I still live in an apartment and seek out my parents’ company as it suits me.)

I am feeling pretty good today. While I was not tap dancing and singing show tunes when I came upstairs, I was in a good enough mood to take the 1:00 total it takes to scramble myself an egg in the microwave instead of reaching for my usual cereal and plain yogurt. I ate my egg on a slice of white bread with a piece of Muenster cheese hacked off the loaf my dad brought back from the States. It was delicious. I also peeled myself two peaches. GLC #2.

As if the wonders  would never cease, after letting stuff digest a bit I did a gentle Pilates workout I found on Youtube, and supplemented it with some more advanced Pilates moves I knew already. After that, I went for a brisk walk down a few blocks and back. GLC #3! It was the best kind of workout I can do for myself. Before my troubles (I say that a lot…shorten itmaybe to B.C? Before Crohn’s?) I did do Pilates, but also loved doing heavy workouts–Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred, her kettlebell one, and other 20-minute cardio and dumbbell  workouts I had on DVD and found online.

My incision has long since healed, and my doctors have given me clearance to do whatever exercise I feel up for. For the most part, that has not included long workouts like that. To clarify, for the most part I have simply not wanted to. I work a challenging retail job, with a LOT of standing, walking, and crouching. On the days when I work, I usually count that as my exercise. Often, I am so mentally and/or physically tired and uncomfortable that it feels like work takes the kind of effort I used to put into my old workouts, without the endorphin rush. I am not fully happy with this choice, but to quote one of my co-workers, “It is what it is.” Most often, since varying levels of depression have become my norm, on days I DON’T work I tell myself that I need to rest, and save my energy for work. Whether or not this is true or just a trick mental illness plays on me, I’m also unhappy with this choice–but it is one I am making steps to change.

I think that part of the reason exercise seems so daunting is that I am on some level stuck in the same mindset in which I approached exercise B.C. That mindset might work for and inspire some people, but it is not healthy for me any more. The all-or-nothing, go-go-go, type of inspiration now feels like bullying my body instead of listening to what it desperately needs to tell me. My goal is to do SOME kind of physical activity on the non-work days, even if it is only a 10-minute walk. Yes, ideally the human body should get more than that, but for me it is an achievable, non-scary baseline when brushing my teeth and hair twice a day feels like a prize-worthy achievement.

Gentle, yet effective forms of exercise I have found are:

1. Solo walking. Indoors to a video or outdoors. Sometimes I will break it into chunks, doing 10 minutes or however long in the morning, and again in the evening or whenever

2. Pilates. Pilates can be extremely demanding, but it is a type of exercise that is based on quality of movement rather than quantity. So, doing only a few repetitions of a movement with proper breath can be extremely effective AND feel really good! When I am exercising pretty regularly, I like Pilates For Dummies. When I am feeling less in shape, there are tons of gentle Youtube workouts that are designed for pregnancy, or bodies that have other challenges. Do not feel ashamed of searching these out!

3. Walking with friends. I put this in a separate category than solo walking, since it takes more effort to co-ordinate schedules. DB (Dear Boyfriend) is a fantastic partner for me since he is encouraging of however long or hard I want to walk. I’ve also walked and hiked with my parents, DB’s mom, his brothers and sister-in-law, and my own brother and sister-in-law. I am blessed with a fantastic support network, but you can also often find walking buddies through fitness stores, gyms, and the Y.

4. Squats, belly dancing moves, leg lifts, and the like while brushing my teeth and hair, fixing food, washing dishes…if anything else feels like more than I can handle, this is a fantastic outlet! It probably looks pretty funny, but screw anyone watching, it’s good for you! You can get a decent amount of total movement a day just by doing this. When my depression is strong, my days can get pretty sedentary. Movement keeps me fit, and helps prevent blood clots by keeping my blood flowing.

To sum up: I feel good today. It is almost 11:00 AM, and I have already made several healthy choices! Blogging was #4 for anyone keeping track 🙂 Any one can feel big on its own, but when I help myself wake up well, one small good choice tends to prepare the ground for another.

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow”

–Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden