Easy Slow Cooker Chicken Curry Stew (AIP, Paleo)

As January comes to a close, so does my 30-day yoga challenge. I’m sure you’ve been losing sleep, just dying to know … did I make it? Did I do yoga every day for 30 days? The answer is: almost, which is something to celebrate.

With me and goals/aspirations/30-day challenges, if I miss one day, my tendency is to completely give up. Probably because it’s just easier to throw up my hands and say, Well, I failed! It’s finished! Now I can go back to scrolling through Twitter.

But I’m proud to say that this month, after missing about two days right at the beginning, I kept at it. I showed up on the mat. And that’s really what these 30-day challenges are about: showing up for myself. Acknowledging that my body and mind are worth the 20 minutes of intentional yoga practice, or for February, the time spent drawing or creating something.

I found a YouTube video series (a 30-day yoga challenge, how fitting!) that I liked. That series guaranteed that every day would be different, have something new. I began to look forward to it every day. It became my ritual.

And it’s amazing how different it has made me feel. I feel more settled in my skin. I can identify the ways I have gotten stronger throughout the month, and how I’ve built endurance. I can also see how I am more able to create a some space, emotionally and physically, and breathe a little more deeply, even if for just a short while every day.

So, even if you’re not doing yoga, or a 30-day challenge, or anything, try showing up for yourself in some way, that matters to you, every day. See what happens.

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Easy Slow Cooker Chicken Curry Stew

I’ve made this dish a few times in the past month. It’s SUPER easy, since it uses frozen veggies (no washing/chopping) and is made in the slow cooker. I’m amazed at how delicious and tender the chicken turns out.

*If you have reintroduced seed-based and nightshade spices, by all means, use curry powder for this recipe!

Ingredients:

2 lb. chicken breast
1 can coconut milk
2 yams, chopped into large chunks
3 bags frozen veggies (I’ve used different combinations of leeks, pearl onions, carrots, broccoli, and peas. Note that peas are a reintroduction for AIP – avoid if you are still in the elimination phase and have not reintroduced.)
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 inch piece of ginger, minced
2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Instructions: 

Place chicken breast on the bottom of the slow cooker.
Sprinkle some salt, ginger, and garlic pieces on top.
Add frozen vegetables next, followed by sweet potato chunks on top. As you go, layer in spices, garlic, and ginger.
Pour coconut milk over the top.
Add remaining spices, garlic and ginger.
Cook on low for 8 hours (or longer – I left mine for 8.5 overnight and it was just perfect).
Stir to incorporate – the chicken is so tender it just falls apart.

On the New Year

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a commission. I only affiliate myself with products I believe in and I think are worth the money.

Ah yes, the post-Christmas anticipation for New Years. I like the idea of starting fresh and making new goals, even if in past years my resolutions didn’t last much past the end of January. I enjoy the sense of possibility, of self-improvement, of hope.

For me this year, instead of hoping that the leap into 2015 will see all of my bad habits disappear magically (because 2015 Emily is so much more put together than the 2014 version!), I decided to plan on a series of 30-day challenges. For me, 30-day challenges are easier to swallow than resolving to do something for an entire year. They provide variety and the feeling of accomplishment of establishing healthy habits.

I’ve decided to focus on activities that will help me manage my stress. In the past couple of months, I’ve kind of been letting this slide. Stress is one of those factors that is so difficult to pin down because we live with it always, and it piggy-backs on other things that can’t exactly be avoided like work, school, and relationships. But finding a way to deal with it is so important, as psychological stress plays a major role in physical health.

My 30-day challenges for the first half of 2015 will  incorporate different ways to manage stress. February will be a 29-day challenge, and on the months with 31 days, the final day will be a break from all challenges before jumping into the next. My hope is that after six 30-day challenges I can evaluate the year so far, and continue on with a new set of challenges for the rest of the 2015.

January: 20 minutes of yoga every day. There are too many health benefits of yoga to list, but from personal experience I know that I feel more grounded, limber, and relaxed when I do a little yoga often. Twenty minutes is a completely doable time-frame to work with.

February: Make a piece of art every day. Now, I’m not a skilled artist or anything, but I find that creating art is very peaceful and I just never take the time to do it. For this challenge, I can draw, paint, or make a collage each day.

March: 10 minutes of meditation every day. There are so many benefits to meditating, yet I have trouble getting myself to do it even for a short time each day. This March, that all changes!

April: Journal every day – even if it’s just one sentence.

May: Send an email/text message/phone call/letter to a friend/family member every day. Though I am definitely an introvert, but there is no denying that simply connecting with someone I love throughout the day, giving and receiving encouragement, can help relieve stress in an instant. I also have a number of friends from my past that pop into my mind from time to time, and I think I should send them an email to see what they’re up to! but rarely get around to it.

June: Take a photo a day. This is just a good way to slow down and notice what’s going on around me.

If you are planning to take the leap into some big dietary/lifestyle changes on January 1, the Family Resolution Revolution bundle is a great resource. Put together by Paleo Parents, the bundle includes The Paleo Approach Dinner Club e-book (for your resolution to build community around eating for health) and a bunch of other amazing e-books, meal plans, magazine subscriptions, and resources. The bundle includes over $800 worth of resources and it only costs $39. That’s a deal! It’s only available until January 4. Learn more about at at the Family Resolution Revolution website.

As the New Year approaches, what are your resolutions/hopes/plans for 2015?

Awesome FREE Resource for the Holidays!

Holidays on AIP

This is a quick post to let you know about a new, free recipe guide called “Holidays on the Autoimmune Protocol.” The document is a collection of links to 85 AIP-complaint recipes from a number of talented bloggers. Recipes are split up into categories of appetizers, breads and rolls, sauces, entrees, sides, desserts, and leftovers. Be sure to check it out and again – it’s free!

Find more information and the link to download the PDF at http://autoimmune-paleo.com/introducing-holidays-on-the-autoimmune-protocol/.

On Finding What Works

 

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The past year was a tough one—winter in particular. I was in a state of suspension, a sort of hibernation. It was a long, cold winter of polar vortexes and piles of snow and swollen lymph nodes and burning shoulders and acne and fatigue. I experienced a lot of physical pain, and a lot of fear because of that pain.

In the spring, I started using functional medicine, which helped many of my symptoms, but not all. Soon after, I added back a mild medication to ease the swelling in my joints. When my doctor told me it was time to do something different to get my inflammation under control, I listened. I had to face the fact that a year using the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet, lifestyle changes, and functional medicine (along with the medication my doctor had prescribed me) were not enough to fully correct my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Within two weeks of starting the new medication, I felt amazing. The medication took away the persistent inflammation that had been dogging me since February. I could breathe again.

As a result of feeling better, I began to say yes to more social activities because I wanted to be out and about. I tried dating again (just wait for my post on that!). I explored some high intensity interval training because my wrists could bear my weight again and my energy levels were soaring. I even went horseback riding, something I’ve always loved and which in the depths of last winter thought I would possibly never be able to do again. I was finally able to try reintroducing non-AIP foods like nuts, eggs, and spices because my RA symptoms were stable enough that if I flared up after eating them, I could attribute it to the food and not the roller coaster of inflammation I was already riding.

A big part of what drove me (and I assume drives many people) to use alternative therapies to treat disease was the fear of lifelong medicating and the accompanying side effects. The thought of taking something that could give you macular degeneration or lymphoma or kidney failure is, understandably, really scary. And in my experience, doctors kind of brush off side effects and fail to understand or empathize with that fear.

The main thing I remember from my first visit to the rheumatologist after I was diagnosed was that as soon as she came in the room, the first words out of her mouth were the ugly names of medications (Methotrexate? Blech!) followed by their many side effects. Literally, that was all she said. There was no discussion of what the disease was, or what it might look like to live with it every day for the rest of my life.

When I first started AIP, I had glorious visions of managing rheumatoid arthritis with diet alone. While I hoped that the autoimmune protocol would be the whole answer, I’ve learned that my autoimmune disease is tricky and that there is no silver bullet. What works wonders for one person – whether it be a certain diet or certain medication or combination of the two – might not work for another. You really can’t compare yourself and your healing to anyone else’s.

We’ve all read the stories about the people who are med- and symptom-free, lost 20 pounds, published a best-selling novel, and won the lottery all within two weeks of changing their diet (hyperbole, but you know what I mean!). I sometimes wonder, What am I doing wrong? Am I a failure? 

The answer is no. Using a combination of therapies isn’t failure: it’s common sense to use all the tools available to feel the very best (see this great post from Slightly Lost Girl about this topic). In order to be healthy, medication is part of the answer for managing my RA. It’s taken me a while to come to terms with that, and it is something I am still working on. My ultimate goal of implementing dietary changes is not to come off all medications, though that would be great. My ultimate goal is to manage my disease so that I can do the things I love.

I continue to be committed to and enthusiastic about using the autoimmune protocol, tweaking my diet, and learning as much as I can about the different factors that contribute to autoimmune disease. I truly believe that using the AIP allows me to manage my RA on the mildest drugs out there, and that eating in a non-inflammatory, immune-boosting way benefits my overall health immensely.

When I was suffering last winter, the first thing I thought about when I woke up was how much my wrists hurt, which led to worrying about the damage happening in my joints, which led to being afraid. Now I wake up in the morning and actually don’t think about my RA until … well, sometimes I don’t think about it at all. And that feels really, really good.

Announcing The Paleo Approach Dinner Club E-Book!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a commission. I only affiliate myself with products I believe in and I think are worth the money, since I understand what it’s like to operate on a tight budget!

You guys!

I am thrilled to announce that I have been part of the creation of a collaborative, amazing new e-book, called The Paleo Approach Dinner Club! This genius idea came from Sarah Ballantyne (The Paleo Mom) herself, and she invited a bunch of bloggers (me included!) to contribute recipes.

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The e-book provides 12 complete dinner club meals plus two bonus meals – each with five original, delicious recipes created by amazing AIP bloggers just for this book! There are 82 recipes total! In addition to the recipes, the book contains helpful information for starting, organizing, and planning a “dinner club” with 8-10 people – it even has party game suggestions.

The idea is this: each dinner club meal has five recipes, including a main dish, three sides, and a dessert/drink. Each member of your dinner club will prepare one or two recipes or components of the chosen meal. This lets everyone share the load while ensuring a complete meal of healthy, delicious food.

Click here to view more details and to purchase the book!

This e-book is a great resource for the upcoming holidays. You can use it to introduce family and friends who might not follow the Paleo diet to the delicious, filling, and healthy foods you are able to eat while following the autoimmune protocol (AIP). It would also be a fantastic resource for setting up a social event with folks who do follow this lifestyle.

Often times being on a strict diet can feel lonely. This e-book helps fulfill an important part of being healthy – building community!

To get more information and purchase the e-book for $16.99, click here!

Golden Squash Drop Biscuits

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These beauties look, taste, and smell like buttermilk biscuits: gooey and moist on the inside with a little golden crisp on the outside. They’re a lovely, easy way to use up leftover roasted squash and only take a few minutes to whip up and bake.

The squash I used this time was a carnival squash (see photo below), which is orange inside and slightly sweet.

When I set out to make this recipe, I had no idea how different the texture of different squashes could be! Acorn, butternut, buttercup, festival, and delicata all produced slightly different results. After making these a million times with all kinds of squash to work out why sometimes the dough was too wet and other times was just right, I’ve changed the recommendation from using a food processor to mashing by hand, and provided additional ingredients to try if your dough turns out either too dry or too wet.

Good luck, and let me know what works for you!


Golden Squash Drop Biscuits

Servings: Makes 6-8 small biscuits.

Ingredients:

1 cup roasted squash, mashed
2 Tbsp tapioca starch
1/4  tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Up to 2 TBSP coconut oil
Up to 4 TBSP coconut flour

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Add squash, tapioca starch, baking soda, and salt to a bowl.
4. Mash together your ingredients until well mixed to form a sticky dough.
5. If the dough is too dry, add a small amount of melted coconut oil. If the dough is too wet, add up to 4 TBSP of coconut flour.
6. Form dough loosely into 1.5 to 2 inch diameter balls.
7. “Drop” onto parchment covered baking sheet.
8. Bake for 20 minutes, until the outside turns golden brown.
9. Let cool for 5 minutes before eating.

Tips:

– To roast squash, I cut it in half and place cut side up in a baking dish. I add a little coconut oil and roast at 400 for 30-45 minutes. The result is not overdone or over soft. That firmness helps keep the dough from getting too moist.

– If using leftover squash that is cold from the fridge, pop it in the microwave to warm it up. This makes incorporating the oil and starch much easier.

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Zucchini Apple Hash with Chicken and Sage (AIP, Paleo)

Zucchini Apple Hash

Ingredients

serves 1-2

2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp coconut flour
½ tsp sage
½ tsp salt
1 cup zucchini, shredded
½ cup apple, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cooked chicken breast, shredded

Directions

1. First, take care of shredding your zucchini and cooked chicken breast, and dicing up your apple and onion.

2. In a small bowl, mix together coconut flour and spices.

3. In a large bowl, toss together shredded zucchini and apple. Drain off any of the excess liquid from the zucchini (after sitting for a few minutes, I definitely had some liquid to drain).

4. Add coconut flour/spice mix to zucchini/apple mixture and toss to incorporate.

5. Heat coconut oil in frying pan over medium-low heat.

6. Add diced onion and cook until soft and carmelized (about 10-15 minutes).

7. Add zucchini/apple/spice mixture and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, or until apples are soft.

8. Stir in chicken and cook for 2-3 more minutes, or until chicken is hot.

9. Enjoy the taste of fall.

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Two Reviews: The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook and 28 Days of AIP e-book

The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook by Mickey Trescott
This book has been around for a while, so I’m a little late to the party but hey! I’m happy to be showing up now. The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook is written by Mickey Trescott, who blogs at www.autoimmune-paleo.com. She was one of the first resources I found about AIP, and her incredible blog helped me so much in making the decision to try the AIP, so I was thrilled when she gave me a copy of the cookbook to review.

There is no doubt that this book is gorgeous to look at. The photography, layout, and font all bring to mind an idyllic, rustic scene of natural goodness. Each page is simple, uncluttered, and clear. The recipes are straightforward, without unnecessary wording crowding up the page. But the book goes far beyond being pretty: it is a fabulous resource for anyone following an allergen-free diet, at any stage of their journey. For those new to following the AIP, the book opens with the mainstays of the autoimmune protocol diet, including a brief explanation of the AIP, lists of foods to include and exclude, and the food reintroduction process. There are even two, four-week meal plans with shopping lists to help you get started.

For those who have been following the AIP for a while, and feeling bored or stuck in a rut (like me, lately), this book provides a way out through delicious, colorful, nutrient-dense recipes guaranteed to inspire. The book covers basics like bone broth and kombucha, twists on old favorites that are easily missed on the AIP  (like Mayo and Cherry BBQ Sauce, which was a huge hit with my family), and creative ways to keep entree dishes exciting (I made the Garlic Beef and Broccoli this weekend- yum!). There are meals to impress dinner guests (Herb-Stuffed Trout, anyone?) and staples to get you through the week (like Tuna Salad and a variety of ground meat patties). No matter what stage of the AIP process you are in, The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook will meet you where you are and make your journey more creative, more tasty, and more nutrient-dense. You can order the cookbook at http://www.amazon.com/The-Autoimmune-Paleo-Cookbook-Allergen-Free/dp/0578135213. 28 Days of AIP 28 Days of AIP by Christina Feindel
Anyone who follows a lifestyle like the autoimmune protocol knows that food can keep you constantly preoccupied with meal planning, grocery shopping, recipe hunting, and food prep. Christina Feindel of www.ACleanPlate.com has harnessed her no-nonsense approach to a healing diet by creating a great resource to help you get out of the kitchen and back to doing what you love. She gave me her new e-book, 28 Days of AIP, to review. The book provides four weeks of meal plans, grocery lists, and links to her recipes at www.acleanplate.com.

At the beginning of the book are some helpful suggestions for adapting the meal plans according to your needs.  The e-book incorporates old favorite recipes from the archives at A Clean Plate (many of which I’ve tried before and loved) and also introduces 8 brand new recipes to add to your repertoire. One of the things I struggle with is getting enough variety into my diet. I find what’s easy and stick to it, sometimes slacking off on focusing on varying my food and nutrients. These meal plans ensure that you’ll get a variety of nutrient-dense foods recommended in The Paleo Approach, including plenty of veggies and organ meats (I am planning to try the liverwurst recipe when I can get my hands on some good grass-fed liver). For anyone feeling overwhelmed by following the AIP or looking for great suggestions for changing up a repetitive routine, 28 Days of AIP is the way to go! Download the e-book at http://www.acleanplate.com/28-days-of-aip/.

Pesto Pasta Salad (AIP)

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Big news, folks! As of last week, my blog has been awarded “The Paleo Approach Approved” badge (see sidebar)! The badge indicates that this blog is a resource which aligns with the recommendations in Sarah Ballantyne’s book, The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body. I feel so honored to be a part of the growing Paleo Approach community with a number of other talented bloggers. To view all the TPA Approved resources and blogs (all of which I highly recommend!), visit http://www.thepaleomom.com/tpa-approved

On to the latest recipe! Now that the farmers market is just bursting with fresh produce, I found myself overwhelmed with the amount of zucchini in my fridge. Zoodles  (“zucchini” + “noodles”. Get it?) are a fabulous way to eat it up!

Pesto Pasta Salad
Serves 4

Ingredients

For Pesto:

1 bunch basil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp salt

For “Pasta” and Veggies:

3 zucchini
1 carton mushrooms (8 oz), sliced
2 baked chicken breasts, shredded
2 Tbsp coconut oil

Directions

First, make your zoodles. If you have fancy tools for doing this, like a spiralizer, great! Use those. If you do not have fancy tools (like me) just use a potato/vegetable peeler. Peel off the skin and discard, then just keep right on peeling the flesh into long strips, straight into a colander. This makes fettuccini-like noodles. Peel until you get to the seeded, inner part of the zucchini. Set seeded part aside. Sprinkle zoodles with salt and set colander in the sink for 20 minutes.

Make pesto. Remove basil leaves from stem. Add basil, garlic, olive oil, and salt to food processor. Process until well-chopped and mixed.

Slice up remainder of zucchini. Heat coconut oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and zucchini. Cook for 10-15 minutes until cooked to your liking. I like mine to start getting a little brown and crispy.

While shrooms and zukes are cooking, squeeze excess moisture from the zoodles (the salt helps draw it out). Once the mushrooms and zucchini are cooked to your liking, add zoodles and cooked chicken to pan and cook for 3-5 more minutes until zoodles are slightly cooked and chicken is warm.

Remove from heat and stir in the pesto. Enjoy hot or cold!

On Swallowing 57 Pills a Day

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Or, “What to Expect When You Visit a Functional Medicine Doctor.”

Well, I did it. I finally made an appointment with a local Functional Medicine Doctor (www.funcionalmedicine.org) to help me work out my persistent issues with inflammation despite almost a year on the Autoimmune Protocol.

For a long time, I’ve had a sort of fairy tale fantasy of what visiting a functional medicine doctor would be like. In my mind, the doctor would sit and listen for hours about every pain I’d ever experienced, every round of antibiotics, every digestive anomaly. They would pat me on the back for all the work I’ve been doing to heal with diet and who would provide a clear answer as to the reason I am still struggling with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. The reality was a little different.

The Initial Appointment
I met with Dr. M to discuss my current symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle factors. He did indeed want to talk in detail about my medical history. He was quiet, yet knowledgeable and decisive about where to go from there. 

Test Results
Dr. M suggested I order two tests – one blood test for zonulin (which would tell us if I have leaky gut – read more about that here) and an organic acids test that looks for yeast/bacteria in an effort to solve my digestive mystery (which involved FedExing my pee to Kansas!). It was so helpful to be given a narrow list of tests to get, since I’ve often gotten lost down the Google rabbit-hole researching the multitude of tests I should get.

I tested positive for zonulin, indicating that I, after 9 months on a gut healing diet, STILL have a leaky gut, and I had elevated yeast presence as well. While frustrated that my gut hadn’t healed after all this time on my diet, I reasoned that I was still on hormonal birth control for 7 of those 11 months. Before that, I was on daily NSAIDS for 2 years and several rounds of Prednisone. As those medications likely contribute to leaky gut, then I can understand why it might be a problem. I can’t help but wonder if my current remaining medication, Plaquenil, is contributing as well but there is no research on it that I can find.

Diet
His recommended diet was basically exactly what I’ve been doing: healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil, pasture-raised meats and fish, and 9-12 cups of vegetables per day, with an emphasis on eating a variety of colors to ensure a variety of micronutrients. He recommended keeping carbs at 100 grams per day (to help fight yeast overgrowth), which I naturally tend to fall right around. He recommended adding back nuts and seeds (which I’ve successfully reintroduced some varieties of), and he is a big proponent of juicing and smoothies, which I incorporate occasionally. 

Supplements
Doctors prescribe medicine, functional medicine doctors prescribe further testing and LOTS of supplements. I was somewhat prepared for this, but nothing could be prepare me for being told to take 57 pills a day, plus a powder and two liquid supplements. These supplements include: herbal anti-fungals to kill off the yeast overgrowth in my gut; digestive support in the form of probiotics and digestive enzymes; gut healing supplements like L-Glutamine, MSM, and others; and key vitamins and anti-oxidants to help support my body’s ability to detoxify. The financial cost is enormous, and I can’t yet tell you how far into the future it will be financially sustainable for me. However, it helped to have someone knowledgeable about supplement quality recommend certain brands and look at my specific health history to recommend dosage. It took the guesswork out of buying and taking supplements helter-skelter.

Next Steps
The beauty of functional medicine is that you dig deep in search of the root cause of your illness. However, there seems to be no end to the depths which to dig to. One round of tests provides some answers that call for another round of tests. You can test for this gene defect (MTHFR) and these food sensitivities (IgG test) … but oh, if you have toxic levels of these heavy metals, then you’ll likely not improve even if you address those other factors. It’s really frustrating to start on the path for answers, learn which way you could take to get them, and then have to choose from a list of tests because you can’t afford all of them. Also, it’s hard to get good information about which tests are truly effective. I am still trying to research and prioritize what (if any) further testing I would like to do.

Results So Far
Though the doctor said it might take months to see real progress, since starting this supplement regimen three weeks ago, I have seen a number of improvements. My digestion has been the best it’s been since starting the AIP last August (though I have been experiencing some nausea and lack of appetite after taking my pills in the AM) and I’ve felt a surge of energy and a lightening of my mood.  My acne has calmed down.  My joint pain and inflammation has decreased quite a bit since my recent flare, and pain/stiffness is much improved.

The improvements so far are encouraging – especially that of my emotional wellbeing, which makes such a difference in the way life looks. So, though the reality of following this functional medicine plan means swallowing my weight in supplements, I’ll continue to pursue it and look forward to further improvement.

Feel free to ask me anything about this experience in the comments!