fall spices

coriander + cumin + cayenne pepper + turmeric + cumin seeds + paprika + garam masala = indian spice heaven

still making a lot of chana masala. having a hard time with my split peas: they were in a crockpot on low for 6 hours and were still not cooked. moved them to a stove on low for another 6 hours. still not cooked. what am i doing wrong? this didn’t happen last time…

all things orange

*i got this sweet potato in my very last farm share last week. it’s about 9 inches around and 8 inches long. if my farm share wasn’t organic, i’d swear something creepy made this thing grow this large:

*here’s a funny thing: now that i’m cooking again, i can’t stop eating. can’t. stop. i think it has something to do with making up for lost time, working out again, and being able to eat whenever i want because when most of what i eat all day is veggies, beans & lentils, i can eat all the time and never have to think about gaining weight or being full. it’s lovely.

*i’ve added three things in: tomatoes, lentils, and some beans. as long as i soak the beans overnight, i’m good to go.

*i’ve been cooking off and on for 3 days. i made split pea soup, chana masala, stuffed cabbage, roasted brussels sprouts with apples, black bean tacos, and pumpkin quiona.

*i’m becoming addicted to indian spices. my mouth is on fire with curry, masala & cayenne pepper.

*if it’s orange, i’m eating it.

*it’s amazingly inexpensive to buy organic bulk beans, lentils & peas. i’m happy to be eating less meat and getting my protein from some new sources.

*if you’re looking for something to add to soups that will knock you back, try this:

*it’s also a lovely orange:

*my toes have been so numb over the last 2 weeks that i’m wondering if i’m deficient again…slacking on supplement intake lately.

*my latest cooking spree forced me to finally replace my cast iron cookware. i’m sad to see it go, but hoping to give it a good home soon.

curry masala lentils & sweet potatoes with kale

what C sees when he looks at my lunch: a bowl of grossly textured veggies.

what i see when i look at my lunch: indian-flavored heaven.

adapted from here




one thing i continue to learn on my digestive journey is that practicing self-care takes commitment. taking care of our bodies takes time and energy–time and energy that at times i think i will never run out of and at other times i think i’ll never have enough of.

my attempt to add things back into my diet two weeks ago went really really bad. instead of attempting to fix the problem by adjusting my diet, i shut down. i was a month into an extremely busy semester and stopped trying to find things to eat. i developed the habit of walking to the fridge, opening it, looking in, closing it, walking away. most days, all i had to eat before 3 or 4 p.m. was tea or coffee and a few almonds. the results: i had two anxiety attacks, no energy, and was a shaky mess.

so much for self-care.

when your diet is already so limited, it can feel exhausting to have to keep up with it. to have think about every thing that goes in your mouth can start to feel like a chore. there are no “fast” meals when you’re limited to cooked veggies, a limited amount of fruit, meat, a few eggs, and nuts. in order for me to have “smooth” weeks, i have to prep everything i eat days in advance: hard boil eggs, soups and stews, nuts to go. i used to stay on top of this really well. but i think 12 weeks of the detox on top of school starting threw me out of the loop.

yesterday, i was reading an essay by Alice Waters, founder of the Slow Food movement. she reminded me of what i haven’t let myself accept in the last few week: that preparing food and taking care of our selves is pleasurable. She writes:

We treat preparation as drudgery. Besides, other people are better at it than we are. Cleaning up is drudgery, too. There are more important things to do. We have been told that work is here and pleasure is there. But in fact real pleasure comes from doing. Work can feed our imaginations and educate our senses. If somebody else does it all for us, we miss out on the real juice of life.

last sunday, i spent the afternoon cooking and working with my friend michael. i made curried lentil sweet potato soup. he made roasted veggies and pumpkin quinoa. it took time. we broke from our school work multiple times to prep, stir, and watch pots of veggies morph into stews. it helped me get back on track: eating regularly, searching for new recipes, scheduling time to cook this week. it made me realize how much i need other people in my life supporting me during times of food-exhuastion. cooking with a close friend reminded me how i understand food as relational and loving. C has reminded me of this, too: making me dinner 3 times over the last week at times when i felt like i’d rather go to bed or keep working that make myself something.

accepting that my body will not allow me to eat what most people can is challenging. emotional. there are good weeks and bad weeks, good days and bad days, good meals and bad meals. what you’re not told when you are diagnosed with food allergies and intolerances is that part of the process is grieving: grieving the loss of foods that hold very important spaces in your memory in relation to family and childhood that you will never eat again; grieving the loss of not being able to share in eating and drinking socially with people you love unless special accommodations are made in advance; grieving the loss of not being able to enjoy meals at restaurants or at other people’s homes when there’s nothing served that hasn’t touched gluten or butter. 10 months into my official diagnosis and i think i’m still grieving the losses, even without realizing it.

but this is the body i live in, and it’s the only one i’m ever going to have. taking care of it might be the most important thing i ever do. even if it takes a lot of time.

Year 2010: Snapshot #2 (kidney stones and stomach pain are not the same)

January 2010.

On the way home from shopping with C on a bright and bitter afternoon a week after Christmas, I felt a very sharp pain rip across the left side of my lower back. It felt like someone had stuck a needle into some internal vein and dragged it for a stretch of 6 inches. I grabbed my back and tried to catch my breath. It was over as soon as it started.

We drove home and I went right to our bed, stretching myself out and wondering what that could have been. My stomach and intestinal pain was now going on 2 and a half solid months. I had lost about 8 pounds, I was hardly eating (or drinking) much of anything except what I made myself during family functions. My doctor had given me pain medication to deal with the chronic ache and burning in my digestive track. I had removed all dairy, coffee, beer/wine, and beans from my diet for close to 7 months and nothing was changing. IBS every day, chronic pain all the time. I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to start the semester in January.

I don’t remember how long I was laying there when the pain in my back hit again. It felt like my insides were being ripped open in sharp stabs. Because I was used to being sick, I thought: maybe this is a whole new level of IBS. Maybe this is horrible gas or I ate something really bad for me…maybe I’m going to get sick. C found me on the bathroom floor, writhing around, sobbing and shaking and rocking my body. I honestly believed it was gas and sent him to the store to get something for me. (This sounds terribly laughable now—as if gas could cause that much pain…) He came back with tablets that are supposed to relieve too much gas in your system. At that point I was on the floor between our bed and my dresser, sobbing and shaking and almost ready to pass out. He called 911.

C was convinced I was having a kidney stone attack. Having had one himself 2 years earlier, he knew what the pain looked like. Only I’m the woman with the world’s lowest pain tolerance (ask anyone who knows me: this is absolute Truth). The ambulance arrived and the two paramedics made their way through our gutted front hall to find me in the bedroom, trying to breath between the sharp stabs of pain. I could hardly answer their questions, the pain was so intense—I couldn’t get anything out in a full sentence. Rather than bring me out on a stretcher, I hobbled between them down the hall and they lifted me onto the stretcher in front of our house. On the way to the hospital, I kept trying to twist onto my side and rock myself while I sobbed, holding my left side, which now hurt significantly more than my stomach did. The straps on the gurney wouldn’t let me move.

C drove behind us the half mile to the hospital.

They set me up in the hallway, in line behind a row of people also waiting to be checked in. All I remember was twisting and sobbing and rocking myself on the gurney. No one paid attention to me—I’m sure you get desensitized to pain when you were in the ER and I was no big emergency.

Check-in was a blur of questions I don’t remember answering. When they finally moved me into my own room, the pain was so intense, I kept telling C I was going to be sick. He kept trying to get the nurse who first checked on me to come back, but he was no where to be found. I finally leaned over the bed and threw up green bile into the salmon colored plastic pan on the bed-side table. I heard someone outside the curtain yell “she’s throwing up, she’s throwing up!” and three nurses were in my room immediately. Note to self: when you want attention in the ER, just start puking.

A very kind nurse finally brought in an IV and told me I needed fluids and pain meds. When he inserted the needle, his eyes got large and he looked up at me and said, “wow, you might be the most dehydrated person I have ever worked on in the ER.” Not knowing what that meant for my body, I decided his comment scared me. Another nurse came in with two vials of morphine, smiled at me and said, “Sweetie, you are going to feel so much better in about 2 minutes, I absolutely promise you.”

There’s the thing about morphine: it’s awesome. It’s beyond awesome. I understand why people get addicted to pain medications—it’s not as if the pain completely went away, but once the morphine hit my system, I suddenly didn’t care about the pain. I watched him empty the drug into my IV and in seconds my mouth filled with a metallic taste and my vein felt icy. And then the world felt slower. And I could breathe normally again.

At some point, my father showed up. I’m pretty certain he had tears in his eyes. C called my parents while I was in the ambulance and my father got right in his car and drove an hour and a half to the hospital. He stayed with me and C for a few hours.

I was in one of the smaller city hospitals, so rather than having an xray, they decided to do an ultrasound to see if I had a kidney stone. I laid in a bed, full of morphine, while a tech rubbed jelly-stuff all over my belly. The process took a full hour. The test wasn’t conclusive: they thought they saw a stone, but told me it was small enough that I could pass it without an operation. I was sent home late that night with a bottle of painkillers.

24 hours later, I was back on the bedroom floor, freaking out in pain. The painkillers weren’t working. I could hardly move or breath the pain was so intense. C called his urologist at Strong, the major university hospital up the road, and told him what had happened. He told C to drive me to the ER at Strong immediately.

At Strong, I was sent directly down for an xray, then put in a bed in the overnight waiting area to wait out the results. This time, my mom drove out and held my hand and tried to look less worried than C did. C’s urologist was now my urologist: he strolled into my curtained-off room and said, “Never go to that other hospital: they don’t know what they are doing.”


He told me that the xray showed that I had not one, not two, but three kidney stones. And they were all too large for me to pass naturally. The other hospital didn’t know this because they had first pumped me full of pain meds and then did a sonogram, which clouded up the results and made it impossible for them to actually see what was going on in my body. I guess morphine does this to you. Had I gone to Strong the previous day, I probably would have already had surgery. Because of the location of the stones, they would not be able to do an extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy—meaning, they would not be able to blast my body with shock waves, breaking up the stones into little pieces, allowing them to pass. C had this done two years prior: you end up with a giant bruise on your side, but it’s less invasive.

Instead, I would have to have a cystoscopy-ureteroscopy—meaning they were going in through my urethra, up my ureter, into my kidney and capturing the stones with a wire and a wee basket and pulling them out. The process looks like this:

More awesome.

The urologist asked me if I had noticed anything other than the pain in the preceding weeks that might have altered me to the kidney stones. I told him about my chronic stomach pain. He told me the stomach pain/kidney stone connection was unheard of and very unlikely, but he wouldn’t completely rule it out. He also told me that given how dehydrated I was, it’s likely that not eating or drinking for almost 2 months caused the stones to move.

I decided it was my bodys way of saying, “F-you Rach—if you’re not going to feed me, I’ll just make it worse.”

He sent in a resident to explain the surgery. All I could think was: So, this really good looking resident is going to see me totally naked tomorrow. When’s the last time I shaved my legs?

I spent the night in the hospital and slept about 3 hours. The nurse was required to come in and take my vitals every hour. The morphine made me hallucinate: I would close my eyes and see scary devil faces laughing at me. Because of the IVs, I’d have to drag myself to the bathroom to pee, pulling my IVs behind me and trying not to trip over my hospital gown.

My surgery was at 6 a.m. C took my glasses and they rolled me into OR. I could hardly see anything without my contacts or glasses. At some point, a blonde petite woman walked over to my bed and said “Rachel! Remember me? Kelly?!”

Dear. God. Why? Now, in addition to an attractive resident and a handful of other urologist, urologists-in-training, nurses, and techs, did the one OR tech have to be a girl I worked with for 2 years at Starbucks? I felt two ways about this: 1. Comforted that I knew someone who was about to help push a wire into my crotch and relieve my pain. 2. Horrified that someone I knew was about to help push a wire into my crotch and relieve my pain.

They lifted me into a flexible bed and a tech started putting what felt like little suction cups all over my body to monitor my heart, etc. I had a tube in my nose. My heart was pounding. It was my first time every going under. I waited for the anesthesiologist to tell me to count backwards, because that’s what everyone said they do. But he didn’t. I heard voices all around me, and then things went dark.

I woke up sitting in a chair, covered in blankets, feeling like 10 trucks had run over me, a long black string hanging out from between my legs. A ureteral stent. It looks like this:

And yes, one end of it literally hooks into your kidney so that your ureter does not swell shut keeping the tiny stones from passing through you system.

Inside, it looks like this:

I didn’t know it looked like that until the nurse pulled it out of me 2 weeks later. I just knew there was a black string between my legs, that it hurt to walk, hurt to pee, and that my pee was bright blood orange. I decided right then and there that I needed to start eating and drinking again. Immediately.

pumpkin pie breakfast

my friend michael made me breakfast yesterday morning: a variation of this recipe.

here’s what he did different:
*instead of rolled oats, he used brown rice (i’m not eating gluten-free oats. yet. i am trying to eat a little millet, brown rice & quinoa.)
*instead of soy milk, he used unsweetened vanilla almond milk
*left out the maple syrup but added in golden raisins and crasins
*no soy whipped topping but it didn’t need it anyway

it was almost like a pumpkin risotto with the rice. it was yummy.

sugar and spice and all things acidic

*here’s a not-so-fun fact: i’ve been sick for 2 full weeks now. every morning. aaaaaand i’m over it.

*here’s a not-so-ironic fun fact: 2 weeks ago is when i started adding things back into my restore diet.

*this means 1 thing: the things i’ve added back have got to come back out.

*what i’m most sad about, in this order: tomatoes, coffee, red wine, honey.

*today is day one without these things.

*in a moment of i-can’t-take-this-ridiculous-diet-anymore-weakness, i made chocolate chip almond cookies and ate 3 of them for lunch on tuesday. the only thing in there i couldn’t technically have was the chocolate chips (sugar). they were awesome.

*onward and upward.

Year 2010: snapshot #1

I spent most of the holidays of 2009 laying on whatever couch was in sight, a heating pad pressed against my stomach. The pain began right before Thanksgiving, a sort of burning pressure that started in my stomach and ended under my breastbone. At this point, I had been struggling with digestive issues that went beyond a random stomachache for over a year.

2009 was a blur of toilets. Some times I was face first, watching the remnants of whatever my stomach decided to reject that day float and dip in the bowl: bits of half-digested toast, the bright purple skin of blueberries, forest green scallion pieces mixed in with traces of peanut butter Puffins—a bit of dinner from the night before accenting the morning’s breakfast. I would try to inhale through my nose fast enough to catch my breath before my body lurched again, trying not to let my face get too close to the stench in front of me—trying to register the distance through blurry eyes.

I’m not sure if this true for everyone, but I don’t know how to throw up without crying. I’m pretty certain they go hand-in-hand. I can’t remember a single time I threw up in the last 3 years that I wasn’t crying through all of it. Even times when I knew I would feel better after—that the pain would subside if everything was out—I never looked into that bowl through clear eyes. I never realized I was crying until the end, because I never remembered when the crying started. It just always happened.

Throwing up was rare for me, even in 2009. It happened every once in a while, but never enough for me to make any serious connections. Rather, I often thought I just had a stomach bug and because I’m a PhD student and take classes with hundreds of teachers, administrators, and students from all over the Western NY area (each bringing with them the germs and bugs and colds in their own schools) this seemed normal. A majority of my friends (and professors) were sick with colds and bugs every 1-2 months. I didn’t feel like I was any exception to that rule: My stomach hurt a lot. Sometimes it hurt enough that I couldn’t keep it down. (This is denial working.)

What I did notice was how much time I spent having anxiety while sitting on toilets. By spring 2009, it was difficult for me to get through a single day without getting sick. By May, I dreaded my own bathroom in the morning. I would sit there, listening to my insides churn and gurgle, knowing something was happening, but scared to admit to myself that I should expect the worse. I would run through everything I ate in the last 24 hours, searching for reasons. My heart beat would start to quicken until it felt like a hammer against my chest and I would feel the prinking of sweat start to burst all over my body: first in my palms and on my forehead, right below my hairline. Then, over the back of my skull and down my neck. At that point, I would start talking out loud in an urgent whisper “please let it be okay…please let it be okay…everything is okay…everything is okay. Deep breaths…”

I would repeat that out loud until it happened. Sometimes it burned. Most of the time it hurt. It never felt “right.”

And then I’d realize that I was crying. That the rest of my body was covered with tiny pin-pricks of sweat. That I was gripping the toilet seat with both hands. That I had stopped whispering. That the whispering hadn’t made anything stop. That I was alone in my yet-to-be-renovated, 2-toned lilac purple bathroom and the walls felt too close, too hot, too hideously purple.

I realize now that my physical and psychological reaction in these moments had become mini panic attacks in their own right. But back then, I had no other way to understand what was happening except what my doctors told me: stress + burnout = IBS. Do your best and take care of yourself. It happens to a lot of graduate students. Eat healthy and you’ll be fine.

There was a big part of me that wanted to believe this. I had grown up trusting doctors. Hell: if they believed that pooping once a month for the first 11 years of my life was normal, who was I to question it? Maybe I just grew out of it. Maybe if it was biological, like my dad wanted to believe during those 11 years, it would figure itself out over time.

But it didn’t. It never got better. It just got worse. The holidays of 2009 are snapshots of tiny plates of food—whatever I could force down of my mother’s Christmas dinner. My favorite cookie, Russian Teacakes, called me from the kitchen countertop, although with peppermint candy canes, peanut butter buckeyes, cutouts, pistachio lemon drops, homemade donuts, apple & pumpkin pie, and on and on. I’d eat one tiny Russian Teacake and wait. 30 minutes later, I was on the couch, heating pad pressed against my belly, my mother, sister, and sister-in-law bringing me herbal tea and asking me how the pain could be so intense. I didn’t know. I just knew that I was loosing weight, that my insides burned and ached, and that consuming food was starting to scare me. Really scare me.