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Veggie Soup for the Soul

I’m recovering from a cold and even took a day off work yesterday (rare, unless it’s for cancer treatment!). Luckily, our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares started this week also, so I had a fridge full of fresh organic veggies and farm fresh eggs. I also had some spices on hand, which seems to make me feel better when I’m sick. So, I made some easy healthy veggie soup to ease my throat, my fever…and my tastebuds…

I am calling this “Kale Egg Drop Soup” or “A-Good-Soup-For-When-You-Have-A-Cold Soup”:

– Chicken or Vegetable Broth
– Kale or other greens
– Garlic
– Spring onions
– Ginger
– Eggs (especially if they’re farm fresh)
– a little Jasmine rice
– As many herbs as you’d like…I used Rosemary, a Chipotle spice blend, Old Bay seasoning, an Indian spice blend, Cardomom, and a little Cinnamon
– Curry powder
– Salt and Pepper

Wash the kale and remove stems. Chop the spring onions, garlic, and ginger. Throw everything (except the eggs) into a big pot and add the herbs and spices according to taste (hopefully your cold won’t prohibit you from tasting a little bit!). Once everything has been simmering for a while and the kale is cooked, crack open a couple of the eggs and drop them into the soup. Stir everything and eat once the eggs are cooked, or allow everything to simmer for awhile and make your kitchen smell (if you can smell!) aromatic. This is easy enough to make while you’re sick and it helped me feel better quickly!

3 Foods You Should Be Eating, But Probably Aren’t (Part I)

In a couple more weeks, we will be starting our 2012 New Year’s Resolutions. In my online research on becoming healthier and overcoming cancer, I’ve learned about many different foods to try to incorporate into one’s diet to improve health. This post (and the next one), I’m dedicating to some foods I’ve learned about that you may want to try incorporating into your diet. Although I should specify that I’m not a nutritionist, there is a lot of positive information out there regarding these foods, which you should explore further if interested.

1) Kefir – a cultured, yogurt-style drink

Kefir is a smooth, slightly sour drink that tastes like yogurt. The name originates from the Turkish word “keif” which means “good feeling”. Hopefully this drink will have you feeling good. This beverage is easily digestible and contains many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, B2, B12, D and K, and calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. It also contains probiotics, and is responsible for improving immune function and digestion issues. It can possibly improve IBS, as well as other issues, such as high cholesterol, allergies, metabolic disease, and possibly even cancer. Kefir is now commonly sold in grocery stores and is often paired with other flavorings, such as blueberry or pomegranate. I have recently seen Kefir in both Bloom and Trader Joe’s, and both versions are delicious. Kefir can be sipped from the bottle, used with cereal, or as a substitute for yogurt or sour cream in recipes. I have read you can even freeze it and turn it into ice cream.

2) Raw Honey – the real stuff

No, we’re not talking about the stuff in the plastic honeybear containers at your local Food Lion. Make sure it says “Raw” and that it’s real honey. Much of what we see in our typical grocery store is NOT the good stuff. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s sells raw honey, that has been shown to be real in this study. Real raw honey has good bacteria and contains a wealth of nutrients, including B vitamins. Honey may promote better blood sugar control and improved insulin sensitivity, and is certainly a healthier sweet alternative to white sugar, especially for diabetics and those with metabolic syndrome. Honey also improves immune function, which results in better health overall. There seem to be certain unusual compounds in real raw honey that are not found anywhere else, but may be partly responsible for the medicinal purposes of honey. For children, try buckwheat honey instead of cough syrup to improve cough symptoms. In your daily diet, try a tablespoon with your tea or coffee, as a sugar substitute in baking, or on bread in place of jelly.

3) Beets

Now, everyone know what beets are, but do you know how good they are for you?
Beets contain a great deal of fiber, which is good for weight loss and digestion. These colorful root vegetables contain powerful nutrient compounds, such as carotenoids and phytonutrients called betalains that help protect against heart disease and maybe even cancer. Some of these contain strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification functions. Certain studies even indicate that beets may have anti-tumor properties. Try marinated beets or a warm soothing borscht during your next meal.

Turkey Leftovers Idea: Turkey Coconut Curry

Turkey Coconut Curry

Turkey Coconut Curry

It was our fifth day of turkey leftovers and I longed for something different. I didn’t have much time, between work, errands, and the gym, but craved something tasty. I decided to try the turkey in a coconut curry simmer sauce. This was also a way to use up a variety of vegetables that have been sitting in our fridge for a week. This recipe can be very flexible and is a good way to use what you have on hand, as long as you have coconut milk, curry spices, and some vegetables, along with your meat.

Since I had a very short time to make supper, I used a jarred Taste of Thai simmer sauce (red curry flavor), and added my own spices to make it taste more like the real thing. Of course, if you’d like to make the simmer sauce from scratch, use a can of coconut milk, curry powder or paste, and items such as ginger, galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir. These can be purchased at your local Asian market or other specialty store.

  • Coconut curry simmer sauce. To save time, I used Taste of Thai jar sauce, which contains coconut milk, curry spices, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir
  • Turkey leftovers, separated into bite-sized pieces
  • Curry spice or paste, for added flavor
  • I also used my Penzeys Spices Turkish Seasoning, to add some kick
  • Pinch of Red pepper flakes (if you like a little heat)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (I use Kerrygold because it’s from grassfed cows, is more nutritious, and tastes SO good)
  • Vegetables. I used cherry tomatoes split in half, julienned radish, sliced leeks (delicious in this sauce), and sliced mushrooms. Many other veggies would work, such as eggplant, onions, garlic, peas, carrots, broccoli…
  • Herbs. Fresh basil is great for this, but I used fresh thyme because that’s what I had on hand.

I melted the butter in a skillet and sauteed the fresh vegetables for a few minutes. Then I added the turkey pieces and the simmer sauce. I then added the spices to taste. 15 minutes later we had a quick, tasty but unusual meal that used our leftovers!

Healthy, Wealthy Olive Oil

As most of you probably know, olive oil is very good for you due to its polyphenols and antioxidants, has been used for thousands of years, and is part of a healthy diet. I suggest trying to find a good source of pure extra virgin olive oil as part of your lifestyle. Purchasing an inexpensive bottle of olive oil from your typical grocery store may not be as beneficial as you think.

We get our olive oil directly from an agriturismo we stayed at last year in Tuscany. They grow their own olives and press their own organic olive oil. We know these people and this is as much “old-world style” as you can get nowadays, short of having your Italian great-grandma hand-pressing your olives…

First of all, olive oil is better stored in a dark bottle. Otherwise, even a high quality olive oil’s taste and health benefits will diminish as light damages the oil. If you do buy your olive oil in a clear bottle, at least try to store it in a dark part of your pantry, or keep it in an opaque or dark bottle at home.

You may or may not be aware that there are frauds and conspiracies pertaining to olive oil manufacturing. Italy and other olive oil producing countries are aware that the pure oil is in high demand, especially by Americans, and is big business. There has been fraudulent activity where manufacturers substitute or dilute this high quality oil with canola, soybean, or sunflower oil and color it with chlorophyll to give it that olive oil color. Even a quick read on Wikipedia can tell you that we need to be careful with our olive oil purchases, if we’re relying on it for healthy eating. To read more about this, check out this New Yorker article or this NPR interview.

As the Wikipedia article states at the bottom, there are a couple home tests that one can perform to “test” the purity of your olive oil. The easiest one seems to be to put it in your fridge, and see if the oil becomes thicker or more viscous after a while. If it doesn’t, I would become suspicious and shop around for a better olive oil.

Turkey for You, Turkey for Me…

The holidays are upon us. In fact, it is time to pick up my Thanksgiving turkey at Full Quiver Farm on Saturday morning. We put a deposit on this fresh pastured turkey months ago, so it is exciting to actually see the goods. The pickup day is an event at the farm – with tours of the farm and the opportunity to buy other fresh farm items. It will be my first time visiting this particular farm (our CSA farm is a closer one, only located 5 minutes away from us). It is forecasted to be a beautiful Fall weekend, with many bright leaves still on the trees in Southeastern Virginia, chilly air, and sunshine. That, I think, is the perfect weather for visiting a farm. I’m ready to get on a heavy sweater and boots, and head over!

Benefits of a Pastured Turkey, as opposed to a typical turkey from the grocery store:

– The turkeys are fed naturally on a pasture, producing a low-stress healthy bird that contains higher amounts of Omega 3s, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), and vitamins. All are necessary for a healthy body, and fight against inflammation and cancer. Pasture raised turkeys are also lower in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

– No antibiotics or hormones are added to the poultry, providing healthier meat that doesn’t mess with one’s hormones, digestive systems, immune system, etc.

– They are supposed to have a richer more flavorful taste (I guess we’ll find out on Thanksgiving – I’ll let you know!)

– They are produced in an environmentally conscious manner, using only manure and compost as fertilizer, not harsh chemicals that get into the land and the water supply. Turkeys aren’t then shipped hundreds or thousands of miles on a diesel truck, thus being even more environmentally friendly.

– They help promote our local agriculture and ecomony

It’s a win-win! We get a healthy, tasty bird and we keep the local farmers in business!

I am THANKFUL for the opportunity to try a different type of bird this Thanksgiving! And if anyone has any suggestions for brining/cooking this turkey, let me know!

Herbal Vinegar Holiday Gift Idea

While I’m on a roll with creating Christmas gifts for my family and friends, I’ll talk about the herbal vinegars I’ve recently prepared. I actually got this idea from my mom, when I received a similar gift from her a couple years ago.

I have had several lovely dark glass bottles left over from the imported olive oil we buy from a beautiful agriturismo we stayed at in Tuscany, Italy. I didn’t want to waste these attractive bottles, so decided to recycle them to store herbal vinegar to give as gifts.

If you grow your own herbs, that is a plus, but “fresh” herbs from the supermarket will work also, as long as they are still on the stem. If something else was previously in your glass bottles, make sure you soak and air dry the bottles thoroughly. Insert several herb twigs in each bottle. I used basil, dill, and thyme, but other herbs such as rosemary and chives would be great also. Various types of vinegar can be used. I used apple cider vinegar, because my neighborhood grocery store sold large containers of this. Other vinegars, such as red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and even plain old white vinegar could work. It is up to you to create your own unique combination of vinegar and herbs.

The vinegars should be stored for a few weeks before giving them out, to allow for the herb flavor to be infused in the vinegar. You may also create handwritten or computer designed tags with a brief description to tie around each bottle, so your recipients know what is in them. Also, it is a nice finishing touch to buy pourers for each bottle, so that your friends can elegantly drizzle some vinegar on their salads or other culinary creations. A simple yet tasteful gift!

Goji Berry Christmas Gifts

I’ve gotten an early start (for me) with my Christmas gift-making this year. Although I do my share of online shopping, I like to make a certain percentage of my Christmas gifts each year, both for economic reasons as well as creative reasons. Plus, many people appreciate a gift that the giver took the time to actually make. One of my gift ideas for this year, which I am not actually “making”, but am putting some creative effort into, is Goji Berry Plants.

If you have any friends or family members who like to garden and enjoy healthy eating, a starter Goji Berry Plant may be the perfect idea. It is unusual (I don’t know anyone personally with a Goji Berry Plant in their garden), but they are apparently quite hardy to grow in most gardening zones (zones 4-9) and may even be adaptable to other zones. I ordered some plants from Garden Harvest Supply, and soon after received several plants that resembled twigs with roots in the mail. I’ve planted these five “twigs” in some potting soil in terra cotta pots and kept them indoors, so far for 10 days. Goji Berry Plants like a lot of sun. My living room doesn’t provide full sun, but there is  plentiful ambient sunlight from all of the tall windows. I water them each day, because they like to be kept moist, especially as they’re establishing. They are sprouting like crazy, each at slightly different rates. Since it is only November 1, I hope that by Christmas gift-giving time, they will look like attractive little plants. I will add an instructional tag with each plant and tie each pot with a ribbon. My friends can then decide to either transplant them into larger 5 gallon pots or plant them outdoors in the ground. Read more instructions on growing Goji Berries here.

Goji Berries have a lot of health benefits, including large amounts of antioxidants. They have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, eaten raw, in teas or juice. Apparently both the berries and the leaves can be used. Not a bad plant to have around when one is fighting cancer!

RAI of Hope

My nervously awaited Radioactive Iodine (RAI) treatment phase is almost over (at least for now – maybe forever?!) This treatment is indicated for many Differentiated Thyroid Cancer patients after thyroidectomy, and with my 11 malignant neck lymph nodes found at surgery, I was due for a fairly hefty dose (150 mci). As with most aspects of my cancer treatment, I researched a great deal about this treatment and its repercussions. Of course,  a lot of what I read on the Internet was not positive. The long-term repercussions in my case are still unknown, as certain side effects may not even develop for weeks or months. This process started with an endocrinologist appointment, who then made an appointment with their affiliated Radiation Oncology department. Rad Onc would be administering the RAI. For 2 weeks prior to the RAI, I had to go on a Low Iodine Diet (LID), which, for me, is one of the worst parts of the whole ordeal. Being on a healthy diet for years, due to my high cholesterol, has become part of my normal routine, and I am used to controlling what I eat for health reasons, so I thought this would be relatively easy. I was wrong. Although I appreciate the wonderful creative recipes that ThyCa.org provides, and somewhat enjoyed a couple of these recipes (the griddle cakes and chili, in particular), food without dairy just isn’t very satisfying. Also, with my extensive online research, I learned of the varying opinions and controversies regarding the diet, and I grew more worried that what I was eating actually might contain a lot of iodine. Or maybe not. In the end, I hardly ate anything, for fear that it was silently laden with iodine, which might interfere with my treatment. The premise of the diet (and according to most doctors, it does work) is that if I starve my remnant thyroid cells of iodine, these same cells will absorb the radioiodine like a sponge and the treatment will work better. The goal is for the RAI to ablate the thyroid remnants and kill any remaining thyroid cancer  cells wherever they may be in the body. So, during the 16 days I was on this diet, I went to a wedding, a tailgate, and a cookout…where the only things I could eat were carrot sticks and cucumber slices (without dressing, of course). It got to the point where everything just made me queasy because nothing was appetizing. I lost 6 pounds in just the first week. The countdown towards RAI (and the end of the diet) began.

The RAI week is very busy for the patient. On both Monday and Tuesday mornings, I received some blood tests and Thyrogen shots at the hospital. I was “fortunate” enough to find some Thyrogen. I also didn’t take “no” for an answer when my doctor and hospital told me that they couldn’t get any Thyrogen for me until 2012…you see, there’s a severe worldwide shortage of Thyrogen. Thyrogen, without getting too technical, prepares the body for the RAI, so that the treatment works. The alternative to Thyrogen or the “old-fashioned way” is to withdraw from our necessary thyroid hormone pills for a few weeks and become severely hypothyroid. Many people have awful side effects from this withdrawal, which may take weeks or months for the body to recover from. I work full-time and commute to work (driving could even become dangerous under this condition) so I did not want this option. So, when my doctor told me the bad news about not getting the Thyrogen, I started making phone calls. I called my insurance company to find out who their affiliated specialty pharmacy is. I contacted this pharmacy, who didn’t have any Thyrogen, but was aware of the shortage and suggested I call local retail pharmacies to see if anyone still had this important drug in stock. Thyrogen has a 3-year shelf life, so it was possible that some was sitting in a fridge somewhere in a local pharmacy. I called a local Walgreens and they did not have any. I asked if they could look up in their computer system to see if any Walgreens in the vicinity did have any in stock. He said that the system wasn’t always accurate, but it was worth a shot. He gave me a few phone numbers and I started calling. Finally, the last phone number the pharmacist gave me was the golden ticket! They did have Thyrogen in stock, so I left work with my insulated lunchbag, sped to the Walgreens (about 40 minutes away), drove home to place it safely in our fridge, and returned to work jubilantly.

On Wednesday, both Curt and I drove separately to the hospital, where I would get more bloodwork, then, finally, the RAI. Despite the crazy traffic heading to the hospital (it took us about an hour-and-a-half instead of a half hour), we arrived early. The radiation oncologist and nuclear medicine doctor both went over the safety precautions again and answered questions. Curt needed to leave the patient room and the doctor wheeled in a cart. On this cart was a heavy looking lead box and a Geiger counter. Inside the lead box was a lead cannister. Inside the lead cannister (kind of like Russian dolls) was the actual pill. We could not touch the pill, so she placed it in a cup. I was told to very quickly swallow this pill and use as much water as I  needed. I normally have a hard time swallowing large pills and was a little nervous about this for days. What if this highly radioactive pill gets stuck in my throat?? So, I knew what I needed to do…just chug the pill with no regrets as if my life depended on it. Maybe it does. I’ve never swallowed a pill so fast in my life. The big pill just slid down my throat and I drank 2 cups of water to make sure it was down. The doc measured my neck with a Geiger Counter and said “It’s down. Good. Now go!” The docs then scattered, as they didn’t want to be around “Chernobyl on Legs”…so, with my hands still trembling, I left the room, called to Curt in the waiting room, and we hurriedly left. Curt needed to stay 6 feet away from me and we drove home separately. I had taken prescription strength anti-nausea meds, and, luckily, felt fine. I didn’t feel radioactive at all.

Now the isolation…I was given restrictions that basically meant I needed to be alone for 7 days due to the radiation I was emitting. I needed to stay 6 feet away from people (and pets), sleep in my own bed, cook my own food, use a separate bathroom, flush twice, etc. The rules go on and on. There is also a lot of controversy and variation from hospital to hospital on these restrictions. In many hospitals, I would’ve been kept in the hospital for a few days, until I was less radioactive. In a way, that would’ve been easier. At first, it was lonely, frustrating, and stressful. But, by the 4th day or so, I was almost enjoying the “me” time alone in the attic! For the first time in a long time, I had time to read, sketch, learn new guitar chords, online shop, henna my hair. I Photoshopped the photos I took for a wedding, exercised, sang, researched new music on YouTube, texted, social networked…the time actually went pretty quickly and, here I am, on the last day of isolation! There is a possibility I will need this treatment again in a year. If so, I’m not looking forward to the diet, bloodwork, shots, radiation, possible side effects…but I won’t dread the isolation so much!

Now my hope is that this RAI will cure my cancer….

The Juicy Details

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As part of the revamping of my life, due to my thyroid cancer diagnosis, I decided to start juicing. We watched a movie called Fat Sick and Nearly Dead (thanks, Sam, for the suggestion!) that helped spark this interest, in addition to trying some freshly made juice at a friend’s house, although I had already added a juicer to my Christmas wishlist before this. Well, we figured, there’s no time like the present, so we ordered a Breville juicer right then and there. So far, it seems that whatever combination of fruits and veggies we use for the juice, it always tastes good.

Here are some recommendations we’ve tried so far:
-oranges
-grapefruit
-carrots
-blueberries
-watermelon
-canteloupe
-apples
-plums
-mango
-peaches
-ginger
-kale
-parsley

But, we’ll continue to experiment, and try other items like:
-pears
-kiwis
-cilantro
-pineapple
-strawberries
-raspberries
-lemon

To use, follow the manual’s assembly instructions and be prepared for a bit of a mess. But I think it’s part of the fun, as long as you don’t get too many blueberry stains on your ceiling. Wash, peel (if applicable), and cut your fruit as appropriate, then push them through the shoot a little at a time. You can even leave a little bit of any orange peel on, as the peel is very healthy and contains compounds called polymethoxylated flavones (PMFs) which lowers cholesterol without any side effects.

Voila! A fresh tasting nutritional drink full of antioxidants and other anti-cancer compounds!”

CSA Veggies and Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos with Radish Slaw

Fish Tacos with Radish Slaw using CSA Veggies

I picked up my first week’s worth of veggies at our local CSA…stomping through the farmland was a fun way to do some grocery shopping. There were many greens to be had, including turnip greens, red salad bowl, romaine lettuce, kale, tatsoi, and mizuna. I thought to myself that next time, I should bring a pen and sticky labels so I’d remember which was which, as I am not a ‘greens’ expert. We also had our pick of zucchini, squash, and radishes.

So, what are we doing with all of these fresh veggies? Well, the first night, we made the obvious choice of a big salad, including some greens, lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs (also fresh from the farm), onions, etc…

The second night, we decided on fish tacos. Fish was not part of the CSA (although this farm IS on the waterfront). However, we already had some frozen white fish and we incorporated other items from our fridge, as well as the CSA radishes and greens. This made an easy weekday meal:

Recipe for Fish Tacos with Radish Slaw

  • Cooked Fish Filets (a white fish is recommended), cut into sections
  • Tortilla wraps (ours were whole grain)
  • Trader Joe’s Chimichurri (a tasty shortcut for a weekday meal)
  • Salsa
  • Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, halved
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Other possible options: avocados, lime juice, peppers
  • Greens (we used the Radish greens, to make use of the whole vegetable!)
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper

        Radish Slaw:

  • Radishes (we used 5), cut in thin slices, then cut into thin strips
  • 2 carrots or 5 baby carrots, cut in thin slices, then cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cucumber, cut in thin slices, then cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • few cilantro leaves
  • vinegar (we used sherry vinegar)
  • dash of fruit juice (I try not to keep white sugar in the pantry, but the juice sweetened the slaw a little bit)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of mayonnaise (we used Kraft Olive Oil Mayo)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Warm the tortillas in the oven.

Prepare the slaw by added the shredded veggies to a bowl. Add a small amount of vinegar, just enough to lightly coat the majority of the veggies. Add the fruit juice and the mayo. Stir everything together and add the salt and pepper. Let sit in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

Saute the greens with some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. (These were surprisingly delicious!)

Add all of the ingredients to the warmed tortillas, according to taste.

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