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Long Absences, Trips to China, and Adrenal Fatigue

I’ve been gone a long time. I know! My last post was waaaay back on June 28, which is an eternity ago in blogging years!

So here’s what happened: My family and I went to China in August. And the preparation for that took over every millimeter of brain space for the entire month of July so blogging completely went out the window. And then I got back and kind of became a raving lunatic in the grips of adrenal fatigue. (That picture up there really just sums up how I felt for about 2 months). But more about that later.

First, it was an amazing trip! We went to volunteer with an organization called Evergreen. Evergreen runs a camp for children and youth in the summer called Joy in the Journey, a place where they can practice English and also just have a break from the intense academic pressure that’s put on Chinese kids. My husband is friends with the man who is in charge of that camp, and so we were excited to go help! We taught English, helped cook, led activities, learned some Mandarin, and forged relationships. And we got to see the Great Wall! As a mother, it was completely satisfying to see the impact the trip had on my children, and how much of a life-changing experience it was for them! Here, briefly, are a few pictures for the curious among you, before we go on with the point of this post.

food We got really good at chopsticks! d and t eating IMG_3327 IMG_4672 Fulfilling a life long dream to walk on the Great Wall! IMG_4301 IMG_4398 IMG_4083 This was a completely exhausting, but also completely amazing, bike ride through the Shanxi countryside. IMG_4162 IMG_4170 IMG_2890 IMG_4180 IMG_4175 IMG_2957

As amazing as the trip was, though, it took a HUGE toll on me physically. I knew I wasn’t doing well while we were there, but I thought I’d just push through it and come home and be all better again.

Well, I was wrong.

After a few weeks back home I was doing worse than ever. I was tired all the time but I couldn’t sleep. I was extremely, irrationally emotional. Tiny little life stressors became huge deals that sent me spiraling. I cried all the time. I was, in short, a complete mess. And the very last thing on my mind was keeping up with the blog!

It finally dawned on me what I was experiencing.

I’d experienced it before, but just not as dramatically. Once I put the pieces together, though, it all made sense: adrenal fatigue! My adrenals are a weak spot with me, but I’d never experienced symptoms as severe as this.

Adrenal fatigue, in a very simplified sense, is a condition in which your adrenal glands – the part of your endocrine system that’s responsible for regulating your responses to stressors and manages your “fight or flight” reaction – becomes overtaxed and sort of short circuits. It no longer responds appropriately. So when you do experience anything that would require your body to compensate for stress, it can’t. There is no adrenaline to push you through. There’s no coping mechanisms. You just are tired all the time, and very easily overwhelmed by the tiniest things. It’s pretty debilitating, especially when you’re a mother homeschooling two children!!!

Several things can contribute to adrenal fatigue, such as:

  1. Psychological stress - emotional trauma, life pressures, things like that. For me, the time leading up to China involved a lot of this kind of stress as I tried to make sure all four of us had everything in line to be ready for this trip, and also anticipating the unknown. Then there was also the stress of adapting to an entirely alien culture, dealing with language barriers, navigating personality conflicts, etc. that aren’t a big deal on their own, but add up over time.
  2. Physical stress – being sick, over-exerting yourself, etc. I got sick while I was in China, and I about died while mountain biking in a way that my body definitely was not prepared for! Then there was also the sleep deprivation that went along with the 30 hours of traveling and jet lag.
  3. Environmental factors – smoking and drug use are obvious stressors on your body, but also are environmental toxins. There were many wonderful things about China…but the air and was not one of them. The minute we got out of the airport in Beijing I felt my lungs seize up with the pollution in the air. Some days were better than others, but I was always aware of the smell of it in the air, at all times. I would wake up in the middle of the night with it in my nose, and every time I blew my nose it was black with pollutants. This environmental stressor was definitely a contributing factor!
  4. And, finally, diet – If you’re eating a diet that your body has to compensate for – refined sugars and flours, chemicals, bad oils, artificial ingredients, etc. – it will drain your adrenals. The food was actually amazingly delicious in China, but I had to completely ignore my anti-inflammatory guidelines. Noodles and bread were common. White rice. Soybean oil was used in everything. My body seems to be more sensitive to these foods, for whatever reason, so two weeks of it definitely took its toll.

So, looking back, it totally made sense that my adrenals were feeling attacked! The rest of my family were a bit knocked up after the trip, but bounced back after a week or two. That’s a normal reaction. That’s the body repairing itself after a time of stress, and is what it’s supposed to do. I just got worse, and worse, and worse. That’s an adrenal fatigue reaction. The body is unable to repair itself because it doesn’t have what it needs for the job!

Fortunately, I knew what I needed to do to take care of myself once I figured out what was going on. (Now, I am not an expert about this by any means, so don’t take this as medical advice. This is just what I did to take care of myself.)

Recovering from Adrenal Fatigue:

1. Sleep! Take any chance to sleep that you can find. Your body needs a break, and physical and mental exertion taxes you in a way that you can’t take when your adrenals are fatigued. Now, sometimes that’s more easily said than done. We have to work, we have obligations, we have kids to teach and take care of. But as much as you can, let things slide so that you can sleep. It’s okay if the house is a wreck or if you have to say no to things. This is not the time to prove how much you can do!

2. Rest your mind. This is especially helpful before bedtime, because people with adrenal fatigue typically have racing minds that just can’t stop. Spend time in intentional meditation, stilling your mind and calming your body. This can be very difficult to do at first, because it’s hard to wrestle your brain into submission! I cannot over-emphasize how important this mental rest is in your healing.  I find the website calm.com  to be very helpful for this. You can choose music or nature sounds by clicking on the music note icon at the bottom. You can set a timer so that you’re not distracted by the time. If you’re new to this and have a hard time relaxing I suggest choosing the “guided calm” option because it really helps you figure out how to really relax your body and mind. Do this at least once a day, but preferably more! I personally use the time in which I’m stilling my mind to connect to God in quiet prayer, so it’s kind of a two-for-one, but you can do this without the prayer aspect and it will still greatly help. 

3. Clean up your diet. Seriously. Get rid of all the cheating. Be especially conservative about consuming any caffeine! Follow the guidelines for the anti-inflammation diet strictly, because anything that causes inflammation in your body also stresses it out. If you’re brand new to it, then it might be a little overwhelming to change all at once, but at least start and do your best. Read my page about Getting Started if you’re overwhelmed! 

4. Focus on good brain food, especially fats! Up your intake of coconut oil, butter (especially grass-fed butter), olive oil, avocados, nuts, fish (but not farmed-fish – they have too many toxins), and quality meats. Also remember to take your good-quality cod liver oil supplements. Your brain needs cholesterol and fat to function properly, and the very last thing you want to do when it’s stressed is to eat low-fat! Restricting fat intake is a bad idea in general, but especially when you have issues like these.

5. Also eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, in conjunction with your good fats. I find that the easiest way to do this is to make smoothies. I will make a smoothie out of whatever fruits I have on hand as well as as many mild-flavored veggies (think carrots, butternut squash, cucumbers, spinach/kale, etc.) as I can get in and still like the taste. Also put in some coconut oil, ground flax seed, nuts, avocado, or other sources of oils and fats. Sweeten with fruit juice or liquid Stevia if necessary. This will give you a good powerhouse of body-healing foods!

6. Take a good-quality adrenal support supplement. Two that I know of that are good are Drenamin by Standard Process and Adren-All by Ortho Molecular Products. The best place to get these supplements are from chiropractors or natural health practitioners, but if you Google it you can sometimes find them for sale places. They’re generally more expensive than they are from a doctor, but you can still find them that way. Yes, they are more expensive than whatever you can find at your local CVS…but that’s because you pay for what you get. Don’t cheap out! However, a pill alone will not fix you. You can’t take a supplement and ignore all the other steps and expect to get better, so don’t see this as the only thing you have to do. It’s harder and more intentional than that.

7. Think about adding massage therapy to your healing. Find a licensed massage therapist, preferably someone who knows about trigger and pressure points and can use them to help your body heal itself. There are several pressure points that correspond to adrenal health that can help when worked. At the very least it’s relaxing, and at the best it will also help your body get back in line.

8. Last – but not least! – control your thought life. It’s easy when you’re stressed and tired and your adrenals are shot to see the worst about everything. You become paranoid. You become irritable and critical. This will only hurt you, so don’t indulge! You have to take your thoughts captive. Be intentionally grateful. Thankfulness can not be over rated about how it affects you mentally and physically! Is there someone who is really irritating you? List all the good things you can think of about that person. Is there a situation that’s stressing you out? Think about all the other things in your life that are good. You might be tempted to think, “There is nothing good about that person or situation!” but you’ll be wrong. There is always something good. It’s a matter of what you choose to think about. This is a verse that I always think about with this, and it’s a good one whether you’re a religious person or not: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8). Think about the pure, lovely, admirable things. Seriously…it helps. If you poison your mind with continuous negative thoughts, you will not get better. If you fill your mind with positive thoughts, you’ll see a definite change.

Do you suspect that you might be dealing with adrenal fatigue?

Unfortunately, most doctors won’t know how to identify it if you go. They will find different symptoms, but most MDs don’t follow the trail of symptoms down to the root cause. They’ll give you different pills or treatments for the symptoms only, but the cause is still there. My adrenal fatigue was originally caught by a holistic MD who did a thorough comparative blood lab and history, but most MDs don’t do that. However, it’s not too hard to recognize once you know it. This website has a thorough self-diagnostic test that can help you think through your symptoms. It also has a directory of some doctors who are knowledgable about adrenal health.

There are also simple tests you can do at home to test your adrenal health. This website lists three tests that will tell you quickly how stressed your adrenals are. (I’m an especial fan of the eye test).

So, that’s the story of where I’ve been, why I’ve been absent, and what I’ve been dealing with. I hope that it’s a little helpful to someone else out there who might be dealing with something similar! It’s been over two months since I got back from China, and I’m just now starting to feel like I can focus on things other than just surviving day to day. Things such as maintaining a blog to help other people who want to use food to make themselves better! So now I’m going to try to get back in the habit of thinking about converting recipes, trying new foods, and posting them here for you to enjoy. So stay tuned! I’m back!

 

quiche

Cheddar and Bacon Quiche (with spelt crust)

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on here before…but we got chickens last spring. Their names are Rosemary, BBQ, and Scramble. My daughter named them. 

chickens

We’ve had them for a year now. And they’re marvelous! Yes, apparently I have fully embraced the pseudo hippy in me and I now own backyard chickens in the middle of a town, for the sole purpose of getting eggs that I know are from pastured chickens but not paying a fortune for them. It’s not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. (Though once in a while they do escape and we have to go chasing them down the alleyway….)

eggs

And the eggs are delicious. With dark orange yolks and firm whites, the way eggs are supposed to be! And this quiche is one spectacular way to use them up. Bacon, cheese, onions, in a tender flaky crust? Yes, please!!

The quiche itself is perfectly simple. But the crust is a little trickier. It’s a lot more fragile than crusts made with white flour, so it takes some special handling. For that reason, this will be a long post because I’m going to walk you through the crust carefully so that you know exactly what to expect. Don’t be scared away by the length of the post, though! Once you get the hang of the crust it’s really not hard!

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pan-caramelized chicken breasts

Simple Pan-Caramelized Chicken Breasts

I want to share something with you that’s so simple it’s hardly even a recipe – more like a method. But it’s one of my go-to foods in my arsenal of keeping me away from simple carbs because it’s quick, easy, and delicious both hot and cold!

All it is is chicken breasts, sauteed in a cast iron pan until caramelized and crisp and flavorful. Here’s the best thing about this chicken: since it’s delicious cold, this is perfect for food on the go. If I’m going to be somewhere that I need to pack lunch, or on a trip and want to take easy protein along, I’ll cook up three or four chicken breasts this way, cut them into bite sized pieces, and store in a container. All I have to do is pop a few in my mouth whenever I feel peckish and they’re so good – so completely flavorful and satisfying. So if you’re stuck for what to do about lunch on the go without being able to eat sandwiches anymore, this is your answer!

A note about cookware: For this to really work, a cast iron skillet is really necessary. There’s no way you’ll ever get that beautiful brown, caramelized goodness from a nonstick pan. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet you can always do this anyway in whatever pan you have and it’ll taste fine – but it won’t come close to the fantastic goodness that a cast iron skillet will give it! (consider this your motivation to go get one. A 12 inch Lodge pan at Target is only like $20, so what are you waiting for?)

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Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

Technically, this is dessert. I know that. It is not, and nor should it be, lunch. Or dinner.

And yet, in the past two days I have had it for both of these things.

Yesterday I made a whole bunch to take to a friend’s house for a lunch-time “strawberry shortcake feast.” And then, tonight, my husband’s working late and it’s just me and the kids and I didn’t feel like cooking and there were all these left-overs from yesterday’s lunch and so….

Strawberry shortcake for dinner. Yes I did.

The kids think I’m the best mom in the world right now.

But, really, it isn’t SO bad if you think about it. (Or, at any rate, that’s what I’m telling myself so that I don’t feel guilty about feeding my kids dessert for lunch. And dinner.) Because, really, what is it? It’s biscuits – tender, flaky biscuits. And sweet strawberries. And freshly whipped cream. None of which have a lick of refined sugar in them at all, with only the tiniest bit of maple syrup. Really, (if you cross your eyes and squint) it’s just like having a piece of bread, some fruit, and a glass of milk! Right?! So, see, it’s not THAT bad!

So, there you have it, folks. Your ready-made rationalization as to why it’s okay to have dessert for dinner!

And here’s how you make it. It’s basically just my standard Spelt Biscuit recipe with a few minor changes.

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scalloped ham and pasta

Scalloped Ham and Pasta

When you cook with good quality ingredients – especially grass-fed butter and raw milk – it gets kind of expensive. They’re treasures, and you start to understand why someone might, indeed, cry over a glass of spilt milk when it costs $8/gallon!!

Because of that reason, I’ve been terrified to try to thicken any of my sauces with something I’m unfamiliar with, like arrowroot or tapioca powder. I’ve been sticking to whole grain spelt, because the last thing I want is to waste an entire pot of sauce made with Kerrygold butter and $8 milk! I’ve been total chicken.

However…I’ve been having a LOT of problems with my sauces breaking (or curdling), and since I never used to have such a problem with it, I’m wondering if the whole grain spelt is to blame. And so I wanted to try something different. With much trepidation, therefore…I tried making a cheesy white sauce with arrowroot powder.

And…it worked! It worked just fine! The sauce was beautiful, without a weird texture or mouth feel, and – even better – didn’t break!

This recipe is something I’ve made for years and years – but this was the first time I’d tried it with arrowroot. It’s a great recipe because it uses up all that leftover ham that you loved so much when you made it, but three days later are starting to get really sick of eating cold from the fridge. And, it’s an all-in-one meal, which I always love!

So, this is my debut of my adventures into trusting arrowroot powder more often! (I think I’m going to have to go back to my macaroni and cheese recipe and make a note!)

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orange pineapple sherbet

Orange Pineapple Sherbet

Sherbet is delicious. And, for the purposes of eating better, it’s great because fruit is the main ingredient, and fruit is so naturally sweet that it requires very little sweetener added! It’s really pretty much a guilt free dessert. 

This particular sherbet is something I love to make when I have a cold, especially a sore throat. Not only does it feel nice a soothing, but the combination of orange and pineapple juice is an immune booster powerhouse. I grew up drinking a combination of orange and pineapple juice when I was sick, so this is basically the same thing – just frozen!

My sherbet is a little different from most recipes you see out there because I use much less dairy. I do this because I like more of the fruit flavor to shine through – and therefore less sweetener to be added. Technically, sherbet is supposed to use milk, not cream, but I use half cream and half milk so that I can still have enough cream content to make it creamy, but use much more fruity goodness! It works out great.

The most obvious thing you have to do is juice oranges. Lots and lots of oranges. How good your sherbet is directly depends on how good your fruit is! So use good, sweet oranges, not bland tasteless ones!

orange pineapple sherbet

You want 4 cups of juice. As you juice – DON’T THROW AWAY THE PULP! Keep the pulp and include it in with the juice. Not only does this mean that you have to use fewer oranges, but the pulp is full of really good health-boosting stuff, not just the juice. Combining the two is a great idea especially when you’re trying to fight off sickness. Don’t worry – we’re going to blend it all smooth so you’ll never know the pulp was there.

Pour the juice into a blender and add in 1 cup of pineapple juice and half a cup of honey. If you have it, also add in 2 tsp of tapioca starch. This isn’t strictly necessary so if you don’t have any, no worries. But it helps make a smooth consistency so if you have it use it.

You’ll see in the picture that the pulp rises to the top.

orange pineapple sherbet

Blend away on the highest speed until the pulp is completely blended in and is no longer visible. Pour it into your ice cream maker and add in one cup of whole milk and one cup of heavy cream.

Taste the mix. If necessary, add in some liquid Stevia extract. Whether you need this or not completely depends on how sweet your oranges were. For this batch I added in 20 drops of my Trader Joe’s brand stevia drops, but other times I haven’t needed any. So it’s important to taste to know!

Make it according to the ice cream maker instructions. Wait impatiently for it to be done.

orange pineapple sherbet

Then rejoice! Because your totally delicious, creamy, throat-soothing, immune boosting, healthy treat is done! Dish yourself some and scarf it down.

orange pineapple sherbet

Orange-Pineapple Sherbet
Author: 
Recipe type: dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
This delicious sherbet has only ¼ cup of honey for 7 whole cups of liquid - so it's really as safe of a dessert as you can get! The combination of fresh orange juice with the pulp and pineapple juice is also a great immune booster, so this is perfect to make when you're feeling under the weather, especially for sore throats.
Ingredients
  • 4 cups orange juice from fresh sweet oranges, pulp included
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tsp tapioca starch (optional - makes a smoother texture)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • liquid stevia extract if necessary to boost sweetness
Instructions
  1. Use only good sweet oranges. Sherbet is only as good as the fruit that you use!
  2. Combine the orange juice and pulp, pineapple juice, honey, and tapioca starch in a blender and blend on the highest speed until it's completely smooth with no pulp visible.
  3. Pour the juice into your ice cream maker along with the milk and cream.
  4. Taste for sweetness. How sweet your oranges are will depend on whether you need to make it sweeter or not. If the sweetness needs to be boosted add in some drops of liquid stevia extract until it's as you want it.
  5. Make according to the ice cream maker's instructions.
  6. Store left-overs (if you have any!) in an airtight container in the freezer.

 

braised beef brisket

Braised Beef Brisket (with amazing sauce!!)

This is another one of those “set it and forget it” meat dishes that I love. Like the rest of them, it’s super easy, and just takes time. If you’re at home all day, just start it around noon and it’ll be ready for dinner. If you’re at work all day, stick it in the crock pot on low and it’ll be ready when you get home! Love those kinds of recipes!

About 10 years ago a friend showed me how to make beef brisket using a can of cranberry sauce, a packet of onion soup mix, and beef broth. It made an absolutely delicious sauce and turned out perfectly every time! Of course, I’m obviously not going to use either cranberry sauce (because of the sugar) or onion soup mix (because of…well…everything). So I came up with this version instead.

And it turns out that this makes an even more delectable, irresistible sauce that that old version! My son says that it’s “saucesome.” :) Real food never disappoints!!

Take your beef brisket (preferably from a grass-fed cow!), and season both sides with salt, pepper, turmeric, and marjoram.

braised beef brisket

Heat a large skillet until hot and put in some olive oil, then brown the brisket on both sides.

braised beef brisket

 

Pick up the brisket and slip some sliced onions into the pan, then place the brisket on top of them.

braised beef brisket

Then pour in 2 cups beef broth, 1/2 cup red wine, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, and 5 pitted dates.

Yes, I said dates! Even if you don’t like to eat dates, stick them in anyway – you don’t have to eat them. They serve the purpose that the cranberry sauce did in my old recipe: they sweeten up the sauce. As they simmer in the liquid, all their natural sweetness seeps out into the sauce and makes it super yummy!!

braised beef brisket

Pop a lid on it, turn the heat down to low so that the liquid is barely simmering, and leave it for 4-5 hours.

Then you end up with this!

braised beef brisket

If you’re bothered by the fact of the dates, you can remove them now. Otherwise, kind of mash them down to incorporate them into the rest of the sauce.

I always like to serve this with rice, because the sauce poured over top of the rice is absolutely delicious! And we’re really into turmeric rice lately because it’s pretty, and because turmeric is so healthy, so that’s why it’s yellow.

braised beef brisket

And that’s it!

(If you want to do this in a crock pot, you’d season and brown the brisket in the oil, then put all the other ingredients in the crock pot and put the brisket on top. Leave it on low all day, or on high for half a day.) 

Braised Beef Brisket
Author: 
Recipe type: dinner
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
 
The dates in this recipe lend the sauce its wonderful slight sweetness, so even if you don't like dates leave them in! It's yummy!
Ingredients
  • 1 beef brisket (preferably from a grass-fed cow)
  • 1 onion sliced into rounds
  • turmeric, salt, pepper, and marjoram
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 5 pitted dates
Instructions
  1. Season the brisket with the spices.
  2. Heat a large skillet until very hot and drizzle in some olive oil. Add in the onions and then place the roast on top.
  3. Sear the brisket on both sides until browned.
  4. Pour in all the liquid and add in the dates.
  5. Turn down the heat to low and let the liquid barely simmer for 4-5 hours.
  6. If you don't want to eat the dates, remove them. Otherwise you can kind of mash them down to become more a part of the sauce.
  7. Serve with rice or something on which you can pour the yummy sauce!
  8. (To do this in a crock pot, season and sear the meat, then put the brisket in the crock pot on top of the sliced onions and add in the liquids and dates. Cook on high for half a work day or on low for a whole work day.

 

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