that [delicious] gluten-free, blueberry pastry

Last Sunday was the brunch for The Guiding Star Project here in Duluth. If you haven’t heard of them, you should look them up. They are a phenomenal organization doing ground-breaking work in the world of holistic & life-affirming women’s health. We were invited by some friends to attend at the Graysolon Ballroom (um, stunning). We had a lovely time and were so glad we went.

But I did something that day I don’t normally do.

I ate a gluten-free, blueberry pastry.

Yes. Katie, the self-proclaimed anti-grains queen (who was also on day 15 of her second Whole 30) ate a gluten-free pastry filled with grains, sugar, and dairy. And it was damn good. Now why on EARTH would I do such a thing when I’m trying so hard to improve my health?

Let me tell you. Up until the first time we conceived, I had become obsessed with nutrition. While there were reasons that made it necessary for me to look more carefully at what I was consuming, I went full-throttle into the world of “let’s eliminate everything and maybe it’ll work.” Do I still think grains are harmful to most, if not all, people? Yes. But I became so regimented and strict with myself that any mess-up would lead to extreme guilt and shame. (Like when I blamed myself for eating a piece of bread just before we miscarried.)

I love my lifestyle. I genuinely enjoy eating paleo. I am grateful for the Whole 30 and the perspective on food it’s given me (and I’d recommend it to anyone). I’m even inclined to start the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol soon (which is like a few steps beyond the Whole 30 – no eggs/nuts/nightshades).

But just as someone can be a slave to food by over-indulging in unhealthy items, I too can let food rule me to the point of deeply fearing a cupcake. How ridiculous! While there have been good intentions of bettering my physical health, I’ve failed to notice what it was doing to me psychologically.

So I very intentionally ate a gluten-free (blueberry) pastry. And it was delicious. And I felt fine. Maybe it wasn’t the best choice and maybe I’ll regret it. But I had lost the freedom I once had in choosing what I eat, and I am now re-claiming it. It’s important to me that I be happy. That’s not to be confused with gluttonous or over-indulgent. No. I probably won’t dip back into grains anytime soon, for sake of prudence. But I need to know the reasons for which I am doing this, and I need to freely choose this path.

So there. I’m a work in progress and I hope that’s okay. 🙂

Whole 30ing all over again

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Last March/Lent was when I committed to my first Whole 30. I had always been someone who believed all diets/cleanses were fads (I thought gluten-free people were just being ridiculous) and were pointless. As long as you ate balanced and lived a healthy lifestyle, you should be fine. But I guess almost two years ago now is when I began really to think hard about the connection between food & health. There are obvious no-no’s when it comes to nutrition, but what if things like my cycle, my period, my skin, or my fatigue could all be improved by changing the way I eat? What if I didn’t have to get a prescription for every little symptom that arose? What if it was, in fact, all connected?

So by this time last year after a great deal of research, I had begun to limit my intake of dairy & grains, but would still eat both casually here and there. The thought of eliminating them entirely was overwhelming – my solutions for quick & cheap meals had consistently been homemade pizza, fruit & yogurt, a sandwich, or a dish with rice/quinoa.  As for the legumes, that’s what I had replaced most of our grains with – so that was kind of a big deal as well. And sugar? I didn’t realize how much sugar I consumed on a regular basis until it was entirely removed. That was difficult (mainly because of the sugar withdrawal headaches).The alcohol portion, not a huge deal as I’m not much of a drinker anyway.

While I didn’t complete the Whole 30 perfectly, I was still pretty dang faithful. And I felt good. But very soon after, I went back to occasional dairy (mainly goat products, but not exclusively), dry/soaked beans, and slowly sugar crept its way back into my life again. And I’ll be honest when I say as much as I avoid grains like the plague, if it “accidentally” shows up in something I’ve ordered out at a restaurant (like breadcrumbs) – I eat it. And then there are corn chips & potato chips…my greatest downfall of all time. With the one exception, perhaps, being those tasty (and expensive) Starbucks lattes.

As of late, I’ve also been indulging like mad in sweet treats – all grain-free and mostly dairy-free – but still sweetened with honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and dark chocolate. And while most ingredients may be “compliant” for overall health, temperance Katie! There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these kinds of goods here and there (I’m not the food police!), but I’ve let it become my norm, essentially. While the whole 30 is a challenge with a time frame, it’s also a lifestyle. We are meant to learn from our experience, and apply those guidelines going forward if what we’re seeking is to truly improve our health. There is a reason this diet bans “replacement foods” with compliant ingredients.

So here I am. Ready for another 30 days of no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no sugar, and no alcohol. And while we’re at it, probably no caffeine (which I’ve mostly adapted to recently anyway). Will it be difficult? Yes and no. But mostly no. Last year it was difficult. But one of the greatest fruits of a Whole 30 is changing our perspective on food. A lot of the habits that began last March have now become second nature to me. I try to check myself if I find it becoming an something of an obsession, but I think I really just enjoy the model the Whole 30 lays out, knowing and having confidence in what I put in my body, and the creativity that it urges me towards.

Now that we’ve entered ordinary time and the Christmas season is officially over (wahhh), let us begin. Day one, today!

Whole 30: Day 27

How I made it to day 27, I’ll never know. I literally thought about doing a whole 30 for MONTHS and could not bear the thought of a week without cheese, chocolate, lattes, and chips. Truly. But I was driven to do it for reasons that I could not ignore. And here I am almost done! And Imma be real with you – it’s not that hard! I mean, it is but it isn’t. I honestly haven’t even thought much about being on it in the past two weeks. We buy the food we can eat, and we prepare that food. We don’t eat out much anyway, and the times we have gone out, it’s been fine. I may have occasionally bent the rules by not being a stickler for hidden sugar in a few things (particularly at a restaurant), but other than that – golden.

How do I feel? Great. I mean, once I got over the nasty cold, things improved tremendously. I am not craving grains. I am not craving dairy. I don’t really get hungry between meals. I haven’t gotten sick of eggs & sweet potatoes. I’ve made some delicious meals that are twists on grainy/dairy-filled classics. It’s challenged me a bit in the realm of meal planning, but as long as we have enough food on hand, things go well.

Now typically when I tell people what I’m doing, their response is “so do you just not eat?” NOOOOOO! Everyone wants an explanation of what exactly I can eat (expecting it to be a list of 2 things). So what has filled my fridge & pantry this month?

Meats & Protein

  • Pastured, grass-fed beef
  • Organic, free-range chicken (of all types)
  • Wild caught fish (salmon, cod, tilapia, shrimp)
  • Canned tuna fish (in water)
  • Organic, free-range eggs (so many eggs!)

Produce

  • ALL THE SWEET POTATOES
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Avocadoes
  • Organic kale
  • Organic arugula
  • Red cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Organic apples (honey crisp!)
  • Plantains (a newfound love!)
  • Oranges & clementines
  • Kiwi!
  • Bananananas

Extras

  • Organic coconut (milk and oil)
  • Dijon mustard (yummmmm!)
  • Almonds & pecans
  • Lara bars (because I can’t help myself)
  • Beef & chicken broth (organic, no added sugar)
  • Canned tomatoes & tomato paste (crucial!!)
  • Jars of roasted bell peppers
  • My unbelievable, homemade almond butter! (will share soon!)

There you have it. It’s a lot of foods. Not gonna lie, though…it’s pricey. I’ve gone all in and worked on buying more organic too. Why? If the goal of this is to seriously improve my health, and I continue eating meats with loaded hormones and produce with pesticides…then I won’t accomplish what I wanted. So while it’s more expensive in some ways, it’s worth it if I’m clearing out my system of anything harmful. There are still ways to save money and be smart about it, though. To be fair as well – I’m not buying junk like chips and salsa, I’m not buying expensive cheeses, I don’t really pick up any “treats” – and once I’ve eliminated all of that stuff, there’s more wiggle room than you’d think.

Would I recommend this? YES. SO MUCH YES. And I’d recommend it to anyone. Even if you’re the vision of health, you don’t have any obvious issues, and love your body. Why? It requires discipline, which I think is a virtue most of us could always strive to have more of. Think of all the times we indulge without realizing it – that mocha latte, cupcakes for a co-worker’s birthday, out to dinner with friends and family, an evening sweet on a snowy day, a treat for Sunday…I am the queen at finding all sorts of “reasons” to give in. And I don’t foresee myself giving up all tasty treats here on out, but just knowing that I can say no as much as I have…that’s a good feeling.

The Whole 30 has also changed the way I look at food and nutrition. Well, it’s actually been a long road and this cleanse is more so just confirming things I’ve already been thinking. But I am truly so much more aware at what goes into my body – the meats that most grocery stores sell, the 50,000 extra ingredients in so many products, the amount of sugar one could consume in a day without realizing it at all. Being aware and understanding that quality matters. And whether we have a food allergy/sensitivity or not, the government and food industries have certainly steered us wrong as to what we should be putting in our bodies.

So I plan on continuing a more paleo diet, with some added organic or raw dairy in certain forms (and maybe a bit of natural sugar here and there). I’m sure I’ll have slip-ups (April does bring with it Easter and my birthday, sooooo), but I’m so grateful I had the push to do this. Just a few more days!

Grain-free & Dairy-free Shepherd’s Pie

I hope everyone had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day and remembered to honor the Saint who we celebrate! I didn’t have much time to do anything super special, but we woke up to Celtic music, had Irish Soda Bread, enjoyed shepherd’s pie (below) for lunch, and then Kevin was able to go the Cathedral for midday Mass and get our annual St. Patrick’s Day shamrock! I also listened to the Celtic Pandora station all day at work…so that was a little treat.

If you’re wondering why I was so determined to make Shepherd’s Pie while completing a Whole 30, please read here (where there is also a recipe for compliant Irish Soda Bread).

Bottom line: Shepherd’s Pie is delicious and comforting and, when using the right ingredients, moderately healthy and nutrient dense. So all the Irish and Irish-wannabes enjoy!

Shepherd's Pie

Grain-Free & Dairy-Free Irish Shepherd’s Pie

Filling

  • 1 lb. pastured, organic ground beef
  • 4 organic carrots (chopped 1/4 inch thin)
  • 2 organic celery stalks (chopped 1/4 inch thin)
  • 1 medium onion (diced)
  • 3/4 C organic beef broth
  • 3 Tbsp. organic tomato paste
  • 4 tsp. arrowroot powder (or just thicken to your liking)
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt

Topping

  • 1 cauliflower head
  • 1/4 C coconut milk (full fat)
  • 1 Tbsp. Ghee
  • 1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (F). For the filling, cook the ground beef in a large pan (very technical terms). Once the meat is cooked through and you’ve added your seasoning, add the chopped carrots, celery, and onions and sautĂ©. Alternate adding the tomato paste, beef broth, and arrowroot powder until you get a nice and thick consistency. Put off to the side. Boil water and throw in the roughly chopped cauliflower (I did this part the night before so I didn’t have to worry about the topping). Once it is soft enough to mash, drain the cauliflower and mash it, mixing in the remaining ingredients. Pour the filling into a lovely 8X8ish dish, and then spread the cauliflower mixture on top. Bake for about 15 minutes and then if you’re feeling daring you can broil it for another 5 minutes to get a nice browned top.

This amount filled me and Kevin for three full meals (with a little side of cabbage and arugula). Super delicious and loaded with flavor, so I don’t feel like I’m missing the dairy that I love so much. So enjoy! And keep it on hand for a festive occasion!

Breastplate of St. Patrick

Grain-Free & Dairy-Free Irish Soda Bread

While there really is never an “ideal” time to do complete a Whole 30, I figured Lent would be the easiest, since it’s really not much of a time to indulge anyway. And I’d say it’s worked out well, thus far. My one hesitation, though, was the few great feasts during this solemn time – St. Patrick’s Day, the solemnity of St. Joseph, and the solemnity of the Annunciation! As a Catholic who strives to live the liturgical year in a very real way, I am all on board with fasting, but I am just as much on board with feasting – all in the right time.

St. Patrick’s day is a big feast in the Gearns household. One of the first things I learned about Kevin back in the day was that St. Patrick is his favorite Saint. There are numerous reasons for Kevin’s love of this great man, and I’ve come to know him and appreciate him so much more over the years. I think too often people just associate him with this secularized holiday with parades, Guinness, and pubs. And by all means celebrate, but do not forget the man whom we honor!

Anyway, we dream about fun ways to celebrate this feast with our family, and this year being our first, is more of an intro year since I am so busy with two jobs, we don’t have access to a bonfire (yes, that’s one of our goals), annnnnd I’m doing this ridiculous diet where I can’t eat anything fun. So out the window went my grand plans of Irish Potato candies (a long tradition in my family), Guinness chili, bangers and mash, and the like. But I was determined to still make some festive food, even if I could not use the typical ingredients.

So project one: Grain-free Irish Soda Bread! I’ll admit, I was skeptical (as I always am when I start eliminating standard things like FLOUR), but this recipe held it’s own! Inspiration started here to help me get started with flour ratios (the world of non-grain flours is still a complex one to me). For me, less is more. I just get overwhelmed if I see an ingredient list of 15+ items. I abstained from any sugar or sweetener, and it still tastes great. So the following is what I settled on:

  • 1-1/4 C Almond Flour
  • 2 Tbsp. Coconut Flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. Coconut Milk (full fat)
  • 1/2 C. Raisons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F). Whisk all the dry ingredients, and then add in the vinegar, eggs, and coconut milk (almond milk works well too). I used my kitchenaid stand mixer on low (don’t beat it too, too much!) and then mix in the raisons. Lightly oil a cookie sheet, and place the dough in a ball shape on the sheet. And for the final touch, add that simple cross with a knife. Place in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes!

When it is done, thoroughly enjoy with some Kerrygold Butter (that’s compliant, right?). I promise you’ll like it. 🙂

Super Foods on a Small Budget

The world of food and nutrition is such an expansive one. I’ve been learning so much over the past couple of years, and it still seems like I’m only just scratching the surface. After Kevin and I had been dating for a bit, I decided to start cooking without grains, in an effort to accommodate him. That first step opened up an entirely new arena for me. Removing grains from meals initially gave me this great void – how was I supposed to fill it? Bread, pasta, rice, chips, oats, flour, cereal – everything! I’ve come a very long way since then, and while it’s not always easy, I find it much more rewarding.

So aside from the fact that I’m doing a Whole 30 right now and have eliminated much more than just grains, there are certain foods that we almost always stock up on. In order for a food to make itself into my regular routine, it must be nutrient dense, somewhat palatable, and cost effective. I will also only be mentioning products that are year round, for convenience sake. I do encourage everyone to eat seasonally, though! It’s healthier and cheaper!

Super foods on a small budget

Spaghetti Squash // this delightful piece of produce is one of my absolute favorite foods. Kevin and I have no need or desire to ever eat pasta after eating this. It’s relatively inexpensive and is a food that you can base an entire meal around. Examples of how I’ve cooked it up: a universal pasta replacement, as a large casserole, as a pizza crust replacement. It’s versatile, filling, and has good forms of carbohydrates and fiber (which many people do not get enough of!).

Avocadoes // this all year round treat has served me well. With only eating a few food groups, I need to make sure I’m filling myself with healthy fats. This is sort of my go to. To be honest, I can avoid a dairy craving (like cheese or sour cream) if I have an avocado with my eggs, chili, burger, etc. It’s nutrition stats are off the charts too – Vitamin K, Potassium, Folate, Vitamin C. The benefits of this “fruit” are just incomparable.

Grass-fed Beef // this is a relatively new one for me, but I am all on board. While sometimes a bit more pricey than I’d like, the benefits over regular beef are too many to ignore. Instead of filling us with loads of bad fats, this beef provides those special Omega-3’s. Grass-fed meat is naturally much leaner than other cuts as well. I’m still learning to incorporate this into my budget, so we probably consume 1-2 pounds of this a week, spread out over multiple meals.

Pastured & Organic Eggs // First things first: eggs are so much a part of my diet. Protein, Omega-3’s, Vitamins A-B-D-E-K. I include eggs in as many meals as possible. I switch it up in the mornings: poached, baked, scrambled, over easy. I add them to soups for extra protein. I cook them with spaghetti squash as a type of “sauce.” They are and have been for years one of my primary staples for a good day.

Sweet Potatoes // I have to have at least five sweet potatoes on hand at a time or else I feel like our kitchen is empty. Every week I peel and cut up several of these vegetables to have ready to go for various meals. Not only is this perhaps my favorite tasting health food that goes with everything, but it’s just got so much good stuff packed in it that a lot of our diets seem to lack. Beta-carotene, Vitamin C, fiber, and so much more.

This is just a very short list of what I consider to be essential. There are a number of other great fruits and vegetables, some that are season-dependent. But the further along in my Whole 30 I get, the more of a firm believer I become that nutrient dense is the way to go. While there are so many foods I love and crave often, I really only need a handful of powerful proteins, carbs, and fats to get me through the day feeling great.

What are your staples for staying full and keeping healthy? 🙂

Collections.

Reading // Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Father Michael Gaitley. An inspiring read about how we can and why we should console the heart of Jesus. It seems to fit well with where I’m at in my spiritual life right now, and it’s helping me in ways I’d never imagined.

Cooking // anything whole 30 compliant. More specifically, I’m learning to add a whole lot of variety to foods I already love, like eggs, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, cabbage and more. I’ve also made a few sauces, dressings, and spreads that I’m quite proud of.

Watching // still Parks and Rec. I can’t get enough of this show. It just leaves me feeling so happy. Also, I’ve watched Leap Year twice since I’ve been on a rom-com kick the past couple of months. Any innocent love story that takes place in Ireland has my heart.

Wearing // the in between winter and spring clothes. Which is really just winter clothing 80% of the time, with some spring pieces mixed in. I went for a walk today and wore a light jacket with my riding boots in replacement of my winter coat and snow boots. Today was a rare gem – back to the 30’s tomorrow. This week the sun is out and the snow is melting, so praise Jesus for that.

Listening // Celtic Pandora station. This music brings me and Kevin so much joy. I could listen to this music for hours around the apartment and not get sick of it. We just want to go to Ireland!

Wanting // these moccasins from Minnetonka. I love moccasins, but I always go back and forth feeling like there’s no season for them here. It’s either precipitating or hot and humid. But I still want them!

Longing // Spring! Every little bit of sun that hits my skin is like a gift from heaven! The days are getting lighter, the sun’s making more appearances, the temperatures are slowly getting higher. I don’t want to get my hopes up too much because, as I’ve learned, winter could come back in April if it wants to. BUT I am excited nonetheless!