Category Archives: good living

Low-Sodium Square One

I received a couple emails this week from readers who had been newly diagnosed with some life-altering situation and, as you can probably guess, had been told to start a low-sodium diet.

Some of them were friends. Some of them were strangers. Some were nearing their sixties. Some had barely left the nest at twenty.

All of them were stunned.

So while I had a lovely seven layer low-sodium salad ready for you today

I thought it might be better to pause from the cooking and talk about taking on this low-sodium diet, starting at square one.

First, it is important that you focus on the positives and find that silver lining…

…wait, wait, wait. That’s not right. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because before you can really, guininely believe in any of that Pollyanna stuff, you need to do something else. You need to swear. Loudly. And I’m not talking about “shoot” or “goshdarnnit” or something really creative like “fothermucker.”

I’m talking about shit.

SHIT!

Yes, I just wrote that. And I’m going to write it again – shit. Because that is exactly what this sudden, unexpected crack in your life feels like. And when your life has changed, start picking up the pieces by swearing. I know you thought I would say something else inspiring. But this is just the truth, people.

And don’t just sit there. Scream it with me. I’m running through the halls yelling at the top of my lungs and you should be too. Or if you need some more support, phone a friend and scream it with them (although, please do let them know why you are doing this so as not to scare them off). You don’t have to be on a low-sodium diet to swear. And I’m sure your friend will find it equally therapeutic.

Now, doesn’t that feel better?

I know. It really does. It feels like pirate yoga. And it is an extremely important exercise to practice, because you have to own all the anger and the fears and the anxieties that come with a life changing moment.

Then you have to release it. And while it is ok to be scared and sad and swear-crazy, it is equally important to not let those emotions paralyze you.

With that out of the way, now you can really, truly start seeing the positives.

Like the fact that you may be able to be healthier just by changing your diet. And that this diet – the one you thought was going to be boring and difficult – can actually be very tasty and a lot of fun. Did you see that seven layer salad?

And that you are not alone and there are many wonderful, creative, and caring people out there who will rally around you. If you let them. And you don’t always swear when they answer the phone.

So it is up to you to own your feelings, let them go, and then latch onto those silver linings. And to change your perspective from feeling limited to limitless.

Because this is not the end to an exciting life. It is just the beginning of one.

Pinkie swear.

For more thoughts on taking on a low-sodium diet, check out some recent articles on Stanford’s Scope Blog and Lifescript.com. Oh, and have a good weekend too.

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Look What I Made Wednesday: Low Sodium Ravioli

You may have noticed that I was a bit slow in posting today. Almost twelve hours late. Where did the time go?

I think I lost it with my words, marbles, and vision as my face has been tightly pressed against the computer screen this past month in order to get all the low sodium tips, recipes, and other salt-free nuggets of advice down on (electronic) paper so that sometime next year, it can be in your hands.

That was a really long sentence I think I have lost my ability to punctuate too.

While I reboot my brain, I wanted to give you a sneak peak of some love pockets. Some would call them ravioli. But this blog is about embracing the freedom to be creative with food. So I’ll call them by whatever name I want.

Sorry, did that sound cranky? Then, seriously, check out these love pockets. They’ll fill you with warmth. Herby, buttery, butternut squash warmth. And I rolled the dough by hand. Just for you. Also because I don’t have a pasta roller. But whatever the reason, it was surprisingly easy. It makes me want to do it again. On a school night.

So thanks for hanging in there with me and enjoy virtually making these salt-free raviolis.

Weren’t they easy?

Chow on.

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Bunny Bars

Hey. Congratulations.

We all totally survived that whole “end of days” thing. What a load of hype. There wasn’t a single meteor, no invasion by aliens, and hardly a tremor. I think the rattling I felt was just a combination of the wind and the Muni passing by. Sometimes I do think it’s an earthquake. Don’t judge. The supposed Rapture sure didn’t.

So, yeah, that whole apocalypse thing not happening was kind of a relief. Although we took full advantage of the buzz and hosted a party to celebrate. The theme: your last meal on earth.

I made low sodium meatball subs. Obviously. Was that even a question?

But the idea of impending disaster – whether real or highly dramatized – was also a good reminder to be prepared. To have your earthquake/apocalypse kits packed and ready to go. And I’m not just talking about water, first aid supplies, and a cross bow. I’m talking about filling those 911-bags with low sodium foods that are lightweight, nutritious, and low in salt.

I’ve found some great products already, which include things like individual packets of tahini butter and these other goodies. But finding a granola bar has always been a bit difficult. Between my salt-free needs and my nut allergy (ugh), there aren’t many cunchy oat snacks that I can eat.

Until Bunny Bars. Which are sold in WALGREENS. And are gluten, sodium, and nut free. Score.

They’re great for the emergency kit, as an afternoon snack, for hiking, for lunch boxes, for baseball games…

…and definitely good for magic shows too.

I think these treats may be marketed specifically for children. I just have a hunch.

But their taste is definitely appropriate for adults. A population that can eat chocolate at all times of the day without having to ask for permission. Ever.

So yeah, sodium-free Bunny Bars. Hop to it.

And chow on.

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College, Kidneys, and Viral Videos

Perhaps you’ve heard of someone named Justin Bieber. He is a teen dream and he is said to be responsible for an international outbreak of Bieber Fever.

Not gonna lie. I caught it.


You may have also heard of Rebecca Black. Although slightly less well known and with no “fever” to her name, she too recently swept the nation with her song “Friday,” in which she “drives” around with her friends and sings (auto-tuned) about how excited she is that it is Friday. I’m already sorry for linking to this video.

But Bieber and Black, watch yourself.

You may both be huge hits on the YouTube, you may have the charming good looks of someone who has not yet gone through puberty, and you may have huge crews that back you up in choreographed dance routines.

But guess what? I’ve got a crew too and a video on YouTube to prove it. And while I don’t even attempt to do the running man, I do talk about Lupus, kidney disease, and living a limitless low sodium life with a lot of energy, hot pictures, and a horrible hair cut.

Kidding aside, it was such an honor to be back at my alma mater, sharing my stories, advice, tips, and even food (that’s right – I made salt-free sushi!) with a group of low sodium warriors.

And if you missed the talk, not only can you watch it here anytime you want (see: video above), but I’ll be speaking as a part of Stanford Hospital’s Health Library lectures again on Wednesday June 22 at 7pm at the Redwood City Public LIbrary. Call (650) 498-7826 to register. It’s free. And I’ll bring more sushi.

As an extra bonus, I’m also very excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at the Bay Area Association of Kidney Patients on May 22nd. Check out their website for more information! And I’ll try to come up with a good dance routine for that appearance as well. Requests welcome.

And finally, I also had the recent honor of guest blogging for one of my favorite websites – Big Girls Small Kitchen – and their sister site – Small Kitchen College. As someone who lived through undergraduate with a host of dietary concerns, I wanted to give current collegiate cuties some helpful tips on how to eat at the cafeteria, snack during finals, and of course, go out on dates without worrying about their dietary needs. Who can bother with food when you’re already stressing over which jeans to wear?

So if you know someone lucky enough to still be in high school or college, and who must keep to a strict meal plan, then please forward these tips along. Click here for the Top Five College Dietary Challenges (and Their Awesome Solutions).

With that, I’m off to enjoy my Friday (slash, work furiously on finishing my book). And I promise, next week will be full of lots and lots of yummy recipes.

We we we so excited.

Chow on.

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Blast from Past: Fuel Efficient

Today, my non-work task lists includes the following items: 1) find wetsuit somewhere in “organized” sports closet; 2) pick up mountain bike from shop downtown; 3) pack up cooler with an extravaganza of low sodium carbohydrates; 4) buy sunscreen; and 5) get on the road by noon thirty.

Pretty standard for a Friday, really. Or at least a Friday before race day.

Tomorrow, I’m swimming, biking, and running at the wonderful Wildflower triathlon – my sixth tri event in the past three years – and I can’t wait to be surrounded by beautiful bushels of mustard buds and amazingly chiseled athletic bods.

While most people would keep my little Lupus body wrapped in a bubble, it is challenges like these that make me feel truly alive, like a fighter, and capable of doing anything. Even if I have to stay in bed for a week afterwards.

This is how I approach low sodium cooking. This is how I live a full low sodium life. This is how I say, I accept you Lupus and Kidney Disease, but you’re not gonna stop me from having fun. Or being awesome.

And when it comes to racing, it is not just about the physical strain of the event to consider and prepare for. But as someone who must cut the salt, you must also find safe ways to stay hydrated and electrolyted without consuming too much sodium.

So while I try to find my racing booty shorts, warm up and cool down with last year’s post on low sodium fuel solutions for the racer inside us all.

Tomorrow is race day. For the last few months you have been training for (insert here – a triathlon, aquathon, marathon, or any activity that brings you further than the walk from your refrigerator to your couch) and your muscles, mind, and spirit are set to crush the course.

In the last few hours, before the start whistle blows, you gather all the tools you need to finish this test of physical endurance. You’ve packed the tennies, the padded shorts, the swim goggles, and an extra pair of socks. But don’t forget one of the most important items you need to keep your body moving – fuel.

The majority of sports snacks and drinks are very high in sodium. A vanilla Power Bar? 200mg of sodium. Chocolate CLIF Bar? 140mg of sodium. And the old standard, orange Gatorade? 270mg of sodium.

Avoiding the high sodium, energy snack issue may seem like an impossible feat that is worse than climbing an 11% grade. And if you don’t know what that means, your thighs thank you. Packing a bag full of granola isn’t very practical, or aerodynamic, and you don’t really want to tuck other low sodium snacks into your shorts. Although, I have seen an older gentleman who bikes with three bananas in his jersey pocket and he looks quite happy. So I guess, never say never.

But here’s the great news. For effective, low sodium race snacking, there exist two brands of liquid fuel which do a great job of keeping you energized without overloading you with salt. I discovered these energy shots three Fourth of July’s ago, when I was taking my first bike ride across the Golden Gate bridge and I had completely underestimated my need for carb loading, or eating anything, before I began.

Towards the end of the ride, almost 20 miles later, I suddenly felt my body shut down. There was nothing left to burn and as I looked forward, to the rolling hills ahead, I knew I was done. My bike partner was ready to finish the ride, grab the car, and rescue me from my feeble state. But I was stubborn (what a surprise) and asked if he had anything I could eat.

All he had was GU performance energy gels and we both thought that we were out of luck. But thankfully, we flipped the packet around to see that it only contained 40mg of sodium (less than an egg) and at that point, I needed all the electrolytes I could get. Within minutes of downing the treat, I felt my body perk up. Relieved and with strength regained, I clipped back into my pedals and climbed the final hill home, leaving the potential fuel fiasco behind me.

If you are training for a race, pick up a box of GU or CLIF Shots – two low sodium treats that pack a true punch. They are also great for camping trips and even to carry with you when you travel. When living with a dietary restriction, you never know when you’ll be able to find your next meal and these packets are a great emergency snack to have on hand when you start to feel like your light is burning out.

You can also replace that Gatorade with a bottle full of coconut water. It is bursting with tons of electrolytes (especially potassium) and many brands tend to be under 40 mg of sodium per serving. This will refresh your body and will keep your muscles from cramping. Without the sugar or salt.

On the evening before your big day, pack up these low-sodium race essentials, eat a big bowl of pasta, and get some rest. You’ve got a long road ahead of you. 56 miles to be exact.

Race on.

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Low Sow-Your Own

I think my heart just exploded. In a happy, non-messy kind of way.

Just looking at this picture fills me, no, overwhelms me, with tingles of warmth and excitement. Because this picture is just the beginning of what is to come. Of what is to sow. Of what is to grow!

Three friends, toiling away in the gentle sunshine, on a small plot of earth, overlooking a small piece of heaven.

I mean, do you see that view?

That view shouldn’t be legal.

But forget about the view for a moment and think about the dirt. I get to play in dirt. Mountains of dirt. Planting in it anything that my belly desires.

Imagine the kind of food that we will grow. Dinosaur proportions of chard, kale, asparagus, herbs, onions, and everything else that drips with natural flavors. That I could eat by the pound-full. And exclaim, with my mouth full, I made this myself.

All this bounty of goodness should seriously be punishable by law.

But before you break out the handcuffs, let me back up and explain how we got to this hill, with the sunshine, and the view, and dirt, and our very own garden.

I happened to marry someone with a green thumb. That’s him right up there. Looking all green-thumb-like.

Actually, he comes from a long line of green thumbs. And while I come from a family of emerald digits as well, I wouldn’t say that I am the best with plants. Actually, I’m the worst. I tend to kill them. I water them too much or too little. Or as he would tell you, not at all.

I spray instead of drench. I watch them turn brown, shrivel, and then fall dramatically to my floor. I lack any good plant instincts. It is just too confusing for me. And I’d much rather leave it to my green-thumb-like husband (or buy a succulent) and call it a day.

But when it comes to food, and growing food, it is a different story.

Three years ago, we put our names on the waiting list for a community plot. Unsure if we’d even still be in our neighborhood. But we put our names down and patiently waited, growing herbs in pots on our back steps, my husband dreaming of the day that we would have room for peas and squash, while I slowly murdered our house plants.

And then, we got the phone call.

Joy doesn’t even begin to describe the thrill that came over us. Suddenly, it was real. The garden plot was ours. The possibilities were (depending on the weather patterns) endless. And we were suddenly responsible for more than just indoor ferns and cacti.

And that’s how we got here. That’s how we get to exploding hearts, illegal views, and chicken manure deep under our fingernails.

With some Spring rain by our side, we’ve dug up the weeds, mixed our nutrient rich dirt, and planted our first set of veggies and flowers.

And what does this have to do with eating low sodium food?

Well nothing compares to fresh-from-the-garden ingredients. Apparently, asparagus right from the ground tastes nothing like the kind you buy from a grocery store. And I’m expecting the squash, peppers, chard, and walking stick kale that we’ve planted will be equally unmatchable.

So this is the start to a new chapter of the Sodium Girl adventures. Where we begin to low-sow our own flavor-rich food and take the salt-free experimentations beyond the grocery store aisles.

And since people always say that food cooked with love stands far above the rest, then these future low-sow your own low sodium meals will surely be the tops.

Green thumbs crossed.

Chow on.

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Pomegranate Molasses Granola Bars, Sort Of

I’ve always been pretty good at making up my own rules.

When my grandparents babysat me, I convinced them that we always ate cookies before dinner. It helped prep the stomach for the nutrients to come. When it rained, I never wore shoes. What’s the point? My feet were going to get wet anyways. And in college, I pretty much majored in the art of rule making. They called it Creative Writing.

From early on, I gave myself license to do what I wanted. Which, turns out, is a very important life skill. Because the truth is, most of the time, things don’t often go quite like you’ve planned. That’s not to say that things won’t eventually work out. They always work out. But just when you think you’ve built a straight and narrow path from point A to point B, something’s bound to gently nudge you off the road and force you to re-imagine your route to that final destination.

Which, yesterday, was a pan of granola bars.

I began my Thursday with the intention of creating a chewy, low sodium, salt-free granola bar that I could munch on for breakfast, during a bike ride, or while hiking in the hills.

I had grand plans for this granola bar. I was going to take oats, chopped dates, apricots, and cranberries and mix them with honey, brown sugar, and pomegranate molasses to make a treat that was full of sugary calories, but not too sweet to eat. I mixed, I melted, I baked, and I waited. These granola bars were going to be great.

And then, from the oven they came. A golden brown block of granola. That, much like my achey body on some mornings, refused to budge from its baking bed.

I knew that as soon as I tried to remove the granola, it was going to crumble and fall apart. Dreams of a perfectly rectangular piece of granola were shattered.

And as I stared at my brick of toasted fruit oats, I knew I had two choices: give up and crumble apart myself, or, come up with a new plan. Redefine the path from A to B. Reinvent the rules. And decide that this recipe was never meant to be for granola bars. This was for making granola bites.

If you live with a chronic illness or any kind of health limitations, this is the same choice you are faced with everyday. You wake up each morning with your grand plans and then, something – whether it is a doctor appointment, the need to find a low sodium snack in a salty world, or the fact that your joints just won’t move like you want them to – will cause those plans to get derailed.

But like my granola, you have a choice. You can either view the disruptions as impermeable road blocks. Or you can simply go build a ladder out of wood or marshmallows (remember, you make the rules) and climb right over them.

Sure, there are plenty of times I’m faced with moments where I can’t do things like I want to. But it doesn’t mean I can’t come up with a different solution that gets me to the same end goal.

So go ahead, find control in making up your own rules and in making some granola this weekend. Feel free to not follow my directions. Maybe your version will even successfully come out of the pan.

Happy weekend. Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup diced dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup diced powdered dates
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup of orange juice and zest from entire orange
Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 dg F.

Place your oats in a baking pan and toast in the oven until they turn lightly golden and begin to smell oaty, 10-12 minutes. Take out of the oven and place in a large mixing bowl.

While your oats toast, chop your dried apricots and dates, either with a knife or a quick pulse in the food processor. Add them and the cranberries to the mixing bowl with the oats.

Lower oven to 300 dg F and cover an 8×12 inch baking pan with parchment paper (or grease well with unsalted butter).

Then, in a small pot, melt the butter and allow it to brown and smell nutty, 5 minutes. Add the sugar, honey, molasses, orange juice and zest, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes and then pour immediately into your mixing bowl. Stir the contents until well combined and pour onto your parchment covered baking pan.

Place pan into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. The granola will be a darker brown when it is done and it will still be soft when you take it out. Allow to cool and harden at least 1 hour before cutting. Whether it comes out in squares or chunks, it will be delicious.

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