Coyotes and Sausage Cream Sauce (Or A Gluten Free Fall Recipe)

It was finally cool enough to take the Bubba hiking today. It felt great to get back out on our old trail and sit on our rock to be contemplative for a few seconds.

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Okay, I was contemplative. Albus was looking for coyotes.

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He wants to play with them.

I’ve tried to explain that they’re not dogs, but he doesn’t speak English except for the word, “chicken.” (This is why he is not allowed off-leash.)

ANYWAY, because it almost felt like fall today, I made a spicy Italian sausage tomato sauce with cream.

I try not to consume gluten (exceptions include: cookie dough and sausage pizza from Mozza), so I served it on roasted spaghetti squash instead of pasta.

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Ugly but delicious.

I added a little vodka to the sauce because renters left some in my freezer and because vodka cream sauces are from God.

If you want to make it, here’s the recipe.

Spicy Sausage in Vodka Cream Sauce

2 T Olive oil
1 lb Spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1 Medium onion, chopped
3 Garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp Red pepper flakes
28 oz Can of plum tomatoes in juice
1/4 C Vodka
1/2 C Whipping cream
Salt to taste

1 Spaghetti squash
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 375. Slice the squash into quarters. Remove the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil. Place on baking sheet and roast until tender and the insides can be removed easily with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium pot. Add sausage and cook until brown. Add onions and cook until translucent.

Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and vodka. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add whipping cream and salt to taste.

Serve over spaghetti squash.

Garnish with shaved parmesan if desired.

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Am I Over Thinking Food? (Or I Go Paleo. Sorta Kinda.)

So, you might have noticed I’m super hard on myself and I tend to over think absolutely everything.

And all of this thinking? Means it’s difficult for me to make a decision. Because there are so many possibilities.

And possibilities? Means I could be wrong. The “what ifs” and the possibilities can make you mad if you’re not careful —  particularly if you also happen to be a perfectionist — because you want to make THE PERFECT CHOICE.

But what is perfect?

Can I even define THAT?

This fascination with possibilities combined with a need for perfection has manifested itself in some problematic ways for me over the years.

For example?

I’ve messed with my “diet” 92 different times.

I bought into the low fat craze.  And the low carb craze. And the starve-yourself-on-25-points-a-day Weight Watchers craze.

Then when I found myself miserable, obsessed, and heavier than I was before I started worrying about any of it, I threw it all out the window and just ate what felt good to my body — and didn’t feel like excess or depravation. I found that over time the excess weight just naturally came off when I stopped over thinking it.

But all of this “listening to my body” has meant that my weight fluctuates within a small range constantly throughout the year. And this makes me crazy. Because I can’t shut off my head, and because I absolutely need to figure everything out, I recently decided it was time to check my “go with what feels good” against some nutrition theories. I wanted to see if I could stop this cycle of OHMIGODIHATEMYJEANSANDMYLIFE to EVERYTHINGISAMAZINGIAMWONDERFUL every six months or so.

I started doing research on the Indian philosophy of Ayurveda as well as the blood type diet to see if my cravings were aligned with those philosophies. Then I read up on the Paleo Diet because it was very similar to the diet recommended for my O+ blood.

And here’s what I discovered.

Most of my cravings were spot on. My body was actually leading me in the right direction. My cravings, the overlap of the Ayurvedic diet and my blood type diet, and the cravings I had as a kid are all fairly well aligned with one another. It turns out I probably had it right when I was a kid and not worrying about how I looked.

What I needed then is what I still need today: rigorous exercise, tons of fruit and vegetables, and a lot of protein.

The reason I haven’t gone fully Paleo or anything else is that I recognize the danger for me in adopting an extreme position. In the first few weeks of my research, I caught myself starting to worry about going out to dinner with friends. I would look at menus in advance to make sure the offerings were in line with my new eating habits. I was starting to get irritable, and I was telling my body what it needed instead of calming down and listening to it, so I had to take a step back from the “perfect” ledge.

So basically after all of my research, I have decreased salt, gluten, cheese, and sugar, but I’m not cutting anything out completely that I really, really like.

Because truth be told?

I’d rather die than forsake my whole milk lattes.

So anyway, I’m decreasing some stuff and I’m also changing the ratios of the things on my plate.

And now my Mexican food looks more like this:

Healthy Nachos from Dogs Dishes and Decor

These “nachos” are primarily comprised of oven roasted vegetables, homemade salsa, and hormone free chicken cooked in lime juice and jalapeños, served with flax seed tortilla chips, a dollop of refried black beans, and a bit of cheddar jack cheese.

Than this:

Big Juan on Dogs Dishes and Decor

This was Big Juan. My San Diego skiing buddies and I ate him at Big Bear last spring. He epitomized excess. And he was delicious.

There’s still room in my life for a bit of Big Juan every once in a while, though, because life is just too short for too many rules.

New thing I’m over-thinking now? Is that maybe my body doesn’t really want to lose that seven pounds I think it should and that’s why it keeps coming back….

Or… it could be that the weight tends to fluctuate with my erratic work schedule so it could just be stress screwing with my metabolism…

GAWD.

Please shut off my head.

If you want to read more about Ayurveda, you can check out Deepak Chopra’s site here. The test to determine your type is here.

For information on the blood type diet, check out Dr. D’Adamo’s site, and for information on the Paleo diet, see Dr. Loren Cordain’s site here.

This One’s For You, Justin (Or How to Make a Kale, Banana, and Nut Smoothie)

I’ll never forget the day as long as I live: It was Monday, November 12, around 5 pm. I was listening to the haunting, 80s-esque, synth sounds of Class Actress, and I was elbow deep in my aquarium, scrubbing algae off of the sides. I heard my mother’s ringtone, but I let it go to voicemail. My hands were wet and it wasn’t a good time to talk.

Also?

I had a to-do list a mile long.

I was starting a producing job for the Academy Awards the next morning, and I was trying to get my personal life in order before taking on the project.

My mother called again moments later, and I figured it was probably important.

In retrospect, I wish I had been kinder when I answered. My hands were still dripping with water, so I swiped my iPhone with my elbow and put her on speaker. “What?” I said, sort of annoyed.

“I have sad news.” Her voice was faltering, and I could tell she was trying to hold it together. I wiped my hands on my legs and picked up the phone so I could hear her better. “It’s Justin,” she said. Then she lost it. Like, gasping for air — sobbing — lost it. If you know my mum, you know she doesn’t break easily, so I knew something was terribly wrong. Yet somehow it almost didn’t register when she told me my cousin had hanged himself that morning.

He was 25.

Justin was a vegan, a home brewer an organic gardener, and an avid cyclist. He was also an absolutely brilliant mathematician who had always struggled with the strict structure of school.

Earlier that morning I had received an e-mail from my his mother, my Aunt Myrna, asking me to pray for him. He had sent her an e-mail on Saturday saying that he wasn’t doing well in some of his college classes, and she was concerned about him. By the time I opened the e-mail and said a prayer for him, he was probably already gone.

After I hung up with my mother, I called my aunt. The police and a priest were still at her house. She asked me if I had gotten her e-mail. “I did. I said a prayer for him,” I told her, my own voice breaking. I barely managed to get out the words, “I love you,” before bursting into tears.

The rest of the evening was a blur. I cooked dinner. I continued to cross things off my to-do list. I called friends. It all felt hollow and unreal. I barely remember setting my clothes out for work. I think I may have pulled out old photo albums, but I really don’t remember.

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Even though Justin and I were separated by nine years and more than 1,200 miles, we spent a lot of time together as kids.

The next morning as I drove to work, my mother was simultaneously en route to my grandmother’s house to tell her that her only grandson was dead.

THAT I remember.

My aunt and mother had decided my grandmother needed to hear the news in person, so that fell to the only person still living in Michigan: my mother. Understandably, she was terrified to deliver the news.

“I’m praying for you. You can do this. I love you.” I texted, as I walked through the polished lobby of the ABC building, head held high. On the outside, I was perfectly put together. It was as if my bright smile and my professional ensemble hid my broken heart. I told no one at work what was going on. I put my head down and crossed tasks off of my to-do list.

Later that afternoon when I was trying to access a work document on Google Drive, I clicked on Google + instead. I never go on Google + and almost forgot I had an account until I accidentally clicked on it.

Staring right there at me from my news feed was this photo of Justin.

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The caption read, “Keep it real. Keep it vegan. Keep drinkin’ beer.”

It had been uploaded Sunday night. It was the last thing he posted before he died, and I’m grateful I accidentally stumbled upon what may be the closest thing my family has to a goodbye note. Justin loved kale and grew it in his garden, so it’s somehow fitting he’s holding it in this photo. His roommates later told my aunt and uncle he had made himself a late-night meal on Sunday when they were heading to bed. Some time between taking this photo and the next morning, he took his own life.

I haven’t had much closure since losing my cousin. Work got in the way. (Or rather, I let work get in the way.) I didn’t attend his memorial because I was working on the Oscars.

On January 10, on what would have been his 26th birthday, I was locked in a room at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 13 hours without access to my cell phone because it was the day the Oscar nominations were announced. Still I told no one about my loss; I put my head down and did my job. I was torn between feelings of relief for the distraction on his birthday and feelings of intense resentment that I couldn’t let my guard down and miss him even for a moment.

The week of the Oscars, My boss put me in charge of the massive “In Memoriam” gallery commemorating all of the filmmakers and stars who had died that year. It took all of my strength to hold it together as I put endless hours into a gallery paying tribute to strangers when I had hardly taken a moment to honor my own cousin. Still, I told no one at the office.

About a month later, I had a conversation with a close friend who was going to the beach to light a candle on the anniversary of her mother’s death. She has done it every year since losing her mother to cancer, and it struck me that I had done nothing personal to pay tribute to my cousin. Sure, I had contributed to Wheels 4 Life, the charity my aunt and uncle selected, but it didn’t feel like enough. I admitted to my friend that I felt guilty I hadn’t found my own way to honor my cousin.

Last night I had to absolutely drag myself to the grand opening of a new CorePower Yoga location. They were offering a free yoga class, but somehow that didn’t feel like motivation enough for me to drive a mere three miles to the studio. Yet something deep down was telling me to go, something stronger than a desire to take a free class. Something deep inside me kept telling me, “GO,” so I did. The class was great, and I even won a Manduka towel in the raffle.

But the best thing that happened was sort of unexpected… and it didn’t hit me right away.

During the reception after class, I tried a kale and cashew smoothie provided by a local vegan restaurant. I was surprised to discover that it was delicious. See, I’m crazy carnivorous and typically I steer clear of vegan fare, but this thing was actually awesome.

I’m on a bit of a Paleo/health kick right now, so I decided to make my own version of the smoothie today. It wasn’t until I looked over at this note from my aunt and uncle while my Cuisinart was macerating the kale that I realized I was making a smoothie my cousin and I could have shared.

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Food is at the center of our lives. Not only is it essential to our survival, but it can also be an expression of our emotions. We mourn with food. We celebrate with food. And today as I sipped my smoothie I somehow felt like I was closer to my cousin — like I was honoring him in a way.

As I enjoyed a vegan kale smoothie, I realized I had finally found my personal tribute to my cousin.

I haven’t seen his mother (or my own mother) since he passed away. They’re both coming to California next month for their sister’s birthday, and it will be the first time we’ve all been together since we lost Justin.

I decided today that I’m going to make these smoothies when they’re here, so we can all toast him together. We can raise a glass of kale to honor a cousin, a son, and a nephew — a beautiful soul who left us all too soon.

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Justin Russell Drawbert, this kale’s for you. Bottoms up.

If you want to make this simple, healthy snack for yourself, the recipe is below. Even though they’re vegan they’re actually Paleo diet-friendly since the ingredients are mostly alkaline and fairly low on the glycemic index. (More on the whole Paleo thing another time. I promise.)

Justin’s Kale Smoothie

1/3 C coconut water
1/8 C unsalted nuts (I used pecans, cashews, hazelnuts and almonds)
1 ripe banana
1 T agave nectar
2 C fresh kale

Add the coconut water, banana, and agave nectar to the blender and mix to combine. Add the nuts and blend until smooth. Add the kale and blend until you achieve a uniform consistency.

Enjoy!