Recipe: Thai beef curry

Today I created my own version of this dish that is simpler than the recipes I found online, many of which have lists of 15 ingredients. Although the coconut milk this recipe calls for is high in saturated fat, this meal is nutritious and healthy in moderation.

So here’s my beef curry recipe; it has less than 10 ingredients and takes about an hour to make:

What you’ll need…

  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 small piece of ginger root
  • 3 Tsp. curry powder
  • Sirloin, cut into chunks (I used about 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 Can coconut milk
  • 2 Sweet potatoes
  • 1 Tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 Cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • Jasmine rice

Follow five easy steps…

  1. Cut onion into chunks. Peel and finely chop ginger root. Cook both in a large skillet over medium heat until the onion is opaque.
  2. Add  curry powder and stir for 3 minutes. Then add beef and continue to stir until meat is browned.
  3. Add coconut milk, chopped sweet potatoes, brown sugar, and peanuts.
  4. Simmer for 30-45 minutes over medium heat, or until potatoes are tender.
  5. Serve over rice.

There you have it! Makes enough to have leftovers throughout the week. You can add peas, carrots, chickpeas, chicken…anything really! Enjoy ūüôā

Reducing screen time

I’ve recently realized that almost every activity we do on a daily basis requires looking at a screen. Whether we’re catching up on social media, shopping online, completing an online class, filling out job applications, or watching Netflix, we always seem to be on the computer. And then when we close our laptops, we start texting and looking things up on our phones. The¬†problem is, we’re addicted to the internet.

As an introvert, I love that I can connect with the world from the comfort and solitude of my cozy, Disney-adorned bedroom. I can stay busy and productive all day without moving an inch. But I don’t let myself do that.

It’s not healthy physically, and it’s not psychologically healthy. We can read so much on the internet, it can send us into sensory overload; we can have the opinions of hundreds of people in our heads, people we don’t even know. It’s important to set limits on screen time, to step out of virtual reality and remind ourselves that we live in the real world.

The problem is this: with so much of our work, education, entertainment, and even personal communication happening online, how are we supposed to reduce screen time? I’ve had a few ideas:

  • Go for a walk
  • Try some new recipes
  • Go to the gym, or put on some music and do an at-home workout
  • Sing, play guitar
  • Read a book
  • Write in a journal
  • Clean the house
  • Play board games
  • Go visit someone
  • Do a puzzle, coloring book, or crafts
  • Sort through the closet and donate clothes you no longer wear
  • Browse at the mall
  • Check out local events like free concerts or festivals

Any other tips on reducing screen time? It’s easier said than done!

My trip to the ER

The

The “after” picture. We were relieved at the diagnosis!

I spent this summer taking two courses and working at my graduate assistant position. Due to the nature of summer classes, I had homework almost every night, and I spent several days at work out in the 100-degree Louisiana heat talking to incoming freshmen. Needless to say, by the end of July, I was ready for my much-needed three-week semester break. I had big plans to travel to North Carolina to serve as godmother at my niece’s baptism and spend some quality time with family. Although I did get to do so, my semester break turned out much more differently than I could have imagined.

It all started the first Sunday of my break. I had just finished my online final and I was done with summer classes! I considered eating out to celebrate, but instead decided to stay in and eat eggs for dinner. The eggs in my fridge may or may not have been expired…I didn’t check the date. But I was convinced they were when I woke up the next morning with nausea, headache, vomiting, etc.. Thankfully this all passed after a few hours and I went about my day as usual.

The next day my only plans were to laze around my house–and it’s a good thing, because midday I started running fever. I spent the whole day in bed. The same thing happened the next day: I developed a fever and headache as the day went on, and I also had a weak appetite. Convinced I had salmonella poisoning, I made an appointment with the school nurse the next morning.

I was hoping the nurse practitioner would prescribe me an antibiotic to clear this up before I left for North Carolina. Instead, she checked my vitals and told me there was nothing she could do. She proceeded to advise me to not take anything for the fever unless it was over 105. At that point I just stopped listening.

I left school and headed to meet my parents. We spent a couple of days in Baton Rouge with family, and then a few days at the homestead in Alexandria. We then made the 3-day drive to my brother’s house in North Carolina. My aunt and grandpa flew in to meet us, and we all witnessed little Sophie get baptized. Unfortunately, the whole time I had been running fever on-and-off, and experiencing headaches, no appetite, and no energy. Even taking short walks drained me to the point where I had to take a nap. This had been going on for two weeks when my sister-in-law, Dr. Wendy, finally did a checkup on me. She saw an infection in my throat and started me on an antibiotic.

The next day I woke up throwing up, so my mom took me to an urgent care clinic. Still convinced this all started from food poisoning, I described the situation to the physician assistant. She prescribed me two heavy-duty antibiotics: one for salmonella, one for the throat infection. Unfortunately, these made me even more nauseous; I woke up the next morning throwing up bile (I had eaten so little over the last few days, my stomach was completely empty). I couldn’t eat or drink anything, my stomach hurt, and I was extremely dehydrated. I was also upset at the situation and scared, not knowing what was wrong with me.

My brother insisted we go to the emergency room at Duke Med to get tests done, and my mom could tell by looking at me that I needed help right away. So my mom and Dr. Wendy took me to the Duke Med ER. The wait time was only 15 minutes; I first had to explain my symptoms to two different nurses, two doctors, and a PA student. After all that talking and an initial checkup, they took about 5 vials of blood, a throat swab, and a urine sample. Then finally, just when I felt I was about to die, they hooked me up to an IV and treated me for dehydration and nausea (my nurse was very good, so I barely felt a thing!).

A long hour later, my IV ran dry–they had put a whole liter of fluid in me. I perked up a bit. We waited and waited and waited, and finally the doctor came in. He told us I tested positive for mono. My reaction was “Mono? As in mononucleosis?!” My mom, Dr. Wendy, and I were shocked and relieved.

The good news is that my mystery illness wasn’t due to cancer, peritonitis, or some other serious condition. The bad news is that there’s no cure for mono, so I have to wait this thing out. Also, because mono affects the liver and the spleen, I have to take it easy for several months while my body sheds the virus. That means no 5Ks, no triathlons, no lifting heavy objects, and no standing on my feet a lot. In fact, for the rest of this year, I will have to entertain myself with a lot of video games, movies, art, and music.

I’m not upset about it though. If there’s one thing I realized from being sick for 3 weeks straight, it’s that any day you spend in good health is a good day. One of the most miserable feelings is having your family around you, laughing and enjoying good food, and not being able to join in because the mere thought of eating is repulsive, and laughing takes too much energy. I’m only upset that I didn’t get to enjoy my semester break. I made memories though!

Decreasing Sugar Intake

Researchers have recently announced that our daily consumption of sugar should be reduced from 5% to 3% of our total energy intake. The recommended amount was 10%, but health organizations have been decreasing that number. Considering only one can of soda can account for over 3% of your daily energy intake, the new guideline will be quite difficult to follow. This particular research study examined the financial and health consequences of sugar intake from a dental perspective, but I would argue that diabetes and obesity are much bigger public health issues.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-29212780

According to Dr. Mercola, we shouldn’t be eating as many carbs as we do because our bodies don’t need as much sugar as we may think. He claims that for the gallon of blood circulating through our body, we only need one teaspoon of sugar. If that were to increase to one tablespoon, we would go into a hyperglycemic coma. Thankfully, insulin prevents that from happening. But when we consistently pour huge amounts of sugar into our system (like when we eat a pasta dinner with a large coke and ice cream for dessert), our pancreas has to pump out lots of insulin. After a while, our cells become less sensitive to insulin and we need more of it to get our blood sugar down. When cells become insulin-resistant, we may develop diabetes.

While I don’t agree with all of Dr. Mercola’s health advice (I love carbs and will continue to eat lots of whole grains–we need it for energy!), I can definitely see the logic behind his argument. And while 3% is a tiny number, I think it’s a good goal to shoot for. Cutting back to just one soda, or one dessert, a day is a reasonable plan of action. The proposed “sugar tax” seems unfair and unnecessary. People don’t need to be punished for buying sweets by having to pay more. If I’m craving ice cream, I won’t be deterred if it costs a few extra cents (and really, the stuff is expensive enough already).

I try to keep my sugar intake low by not adding sugar to my coffee and not drinking any soft drinks or alcoholic beverages. Eating healthy snacks throughout the day keeps me from getting so hungry that I binge on sweets. Initially it’s difficult to give up sugary foods/drinks, but after a while your desire fades and you’ll find yourself making healthier choices.

Getting healthy skin

Last week I did something I should have done a long time ago–went to see my dermatologist. I hadn’t been since high school, back when my skin was quite problematic. Now, in my 20s, I’m battling acne once again. I’ve tried the over-the-counter washes, creams, and toners, as well as the natural remedies like honey masks (it makes your face smell nice, but it doesn’t really work). Even though going to the doctor is expensive, it turned out to be a worthy investment.

My dermatologist gave me an antibiotic along with an antibacterial topical ointment to use during the day. She also recommended a retinol creme at nighttime. I stopped breaking out the first day I started the antibiotics. I couldn’t afford the prescription retinol, so I ended up buying Neutrogena’s overnight tone repair product, which contains retinol and vitamin C. It has excellent reviews and only costs $20 a bottle (which is cheap compared to department store and prescription retinols!). It’s too soon for me to say whether this product works, but from what I’ve read, retinol is a great addition to your beauty routine whether you have any acne, wrinkles, discoloration, uneven skin tone, or just want to prevent these things. This article from Dr. Oz’s website even recommends using retinol as early as¬†your teens to maintain young-looking skin throughout life:

http://www.doctoroz.com/article/retinol-results

The article does warn that it may take months to see results. In skincare (as well as other aspects of health), there are rarely miraculous overnight results. It’s better to ¬†go straight to the professionals–like my awesome dermatologist–than pinning your hopes on the countless products lining the shelves. Whether it’s your weight, a skin condition, or some other ailment you’ve been struggling with for years, there’s no time like the present to get help.

I love lavender

My family bought a little lavender plant a few months ago, and it has grown enough to provide plenty of leaves for some at-home aromatherapy. The essential oils in lavender can be used to scent the home, to treat skin conditions like burns or acne, and to make tea that can aid digestion, promote sleep, soothe headaches and other ailments. Lavender is best known for it’s soothing effect. It’s a great little plant to have around.

To make a lavender tea, tear up several lavender leaves and stir them into your hot water. Wait a few minutes, then filter your water into another cup (I used a coffee filter) to get the leaves out. Add lemon and honey. It’s a great tea for stress relief.

You can also add torn up lavender leaves to boiling water and let the steam fill your kitchen with a lovely relaxing scent. Then once that water cools, put it in a spray bottle and spritz your lavender water on your pillows or pajamas to help you sleep at night.

Or add lavender leaves to your bath¬†for healthier skin. And to smell good. It makes a great¬†perfume, and it’s a lot cheaper than Chanel No. 5.

Look for products that use pure lavender essential oils. You can get the benefits of lavender through your candles, soaps, lotions, etc. It’s a¬†wonderful natural remedy¬†to several medical problems, but it’s also fun for an at-home spa day.

Take charge of your health

¬†There’s an episode of Golden Girls in which Dorothy goes to several physicians hoping for a diagnosis to a mysterious, 5-month mystery illness. Each doctor spent a few short minutes with her, ran some tests, then–when the tests came back negative–dismissed her as simply “depressed” or “aging”. A frustrated Dorothy finally finds a doctor who agrees that just because he can’t make a definitive diagnosis, doesn’t mean she’s not sick. He suggests that the condition is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and gives her some advice on how to deal with it.

I mention this episode because it made a statement about the lack of compassion in many doctors, largely due to the absence of good doctor/patient relationships. We live in an age when doctors are so rushed that they shell out anti-depressant prescriptions for any ailment they can’t view under a microscope, rather than learning more about the patient. Considering all this, it’s important to take charge of our own health and educate ourselves on preventative medicine, nutrition, and symptoms of common medical conditions.

I personally define health as not just the absence of disease, but as maintaining one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellness. My formula for good health (though grossly simplified) seems to work for me:

1) Follow the general diet portrayed by the food pyramid (or myplate.gov), and limit your simple carbs (sweets, sodas, any carbs that aren’t whole wheat). Don’t make yourself suffer through a diet; fad diets don’t work and they are unhealthy.

2) Move for at least 30 minutes daily (you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or triathlete, just do something you like–that doesn’t involve t.v. or internet).

3) Have a love and appreciation for yourself and others. Try to see others for who they are (an amazing human being just like you), and not what they can or can’t do for you. And start seeing yourself as inherently valuable, instead of comparing yourself to others based on looks, popularity, accomplishments, or salary.

4) Don’t smoke or drink. Simple as that.

To achieve good health today, I did the following:

  • Ate a breakfast of oatmeal with flaxseeds, raw honey, blueberries & blackberries, and cinnamon (for fiber, ALA omega-3s, vitamins, antioxidants, and cinnamon’s anti-inflammatory properties)
  • Drank coffee-milk (many studies have indicated coffee wards off dementia)
  • Took a complete multivitamin
  • Called my mom
  • Caught up with friends through social media
  • Ate a snack of strawberries, cantaloupe, and banana (for vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium)
  • Swam outside for 30 minutes (getting vitamin D and the sun’s other natural benefits, plus my exercise quota)
  • Cuddled my dog (pets lower blood pressure, love you unconditionally, and give you someone else to love)

Roasted Root Soup

Vegetarians and health nuts will love this roasted root soup recipe. My mom had fallen in love with a similar soup that a local restaurant served, and searched the internet for the recipe. She sent me this link for Masterful Matt’s Roasted Root Soup. The soup includes some root vegetables you’ve probably never even heard of, such as swede and celeriac. Unless you live near a Whole Foods, you may not be able to find these. Since I don’t live near a Whole Foods, I devised my own variation of the recipe, using veggies that have incredible health benefits (and can be found in most grocery stores) to make this possibly the healthiest meal ever:

roasted root soup

  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 parsnips
  • 2 red beets
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 3 carrots
  • 1/2 onion
  • 900 ml low-sodium vegetable stock
  • salt and black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and chop sweet potato, parsnips, and red beets. Mix diced veggies in a baking pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. Roast in oven for 15 minutes.
  2. In soup pot, cook diced onion, celery, and carrots in 1 tbsp olive oil for about 10 minutes at medium heat.
  3. Add roasted sweet potato, parsnips, and beets to the pot with the other vegetables. Add vegetable stock.
  4. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

There are hundreds of variations that you could make to this recipe by using different seasonings and vegetables. It only takes about 45 minutes to make (the most time-consuming part is peeling and chopping all the veggies). I use red beets in my variation because they are rich in antioxidants, low in calories, and full of many other (some surprising) health benefits. I also replaced potatoes for sweet potatoes, since sweet potatoes have greater vitamin content and beta carotene, which is great for your skin and eyes.

This recipe is vegetarian, vegan, low-cal, low-carb, and delicious. It’s great for cold, rainy nights. I encourage you to give it a try!

7 Daily Habits for a Healthier You

  1. Eat breakfast. Within one hour of waking, you need to get some food in your system. Appropriately named, this meal breaks the 8-hour fast that is sleep. It gives you energy, it boosts the metabolism, and it prevents overeating later in the day.
  2. Spend 15 minutes in the sun. This is the perfect amount of time your skin needs to convert cholesterol to vitamin D. Lots of people have vitamin D deficiencies because either A.) they never spend time outdoors, or B.) they never leave the house without slathering on sunscreen. Sunscreen is wonderful, but spending a few minutes in the sun without protection will allow your body to produce much-needed vitamin D.  
  3. Take a multivitamin. Vitamin D isn’t the only vitamin in which many of us are deficient. Considering many staples in the U.S. are processed and refined (such as flour and white rice), we fill up on foods that provide us with¬†little vitamin and mineral content. A complete multivitamin will help fill the gaps in your diet.
  4. Drink a cup of green tea. If you’re reading health blogs, you probably already know about the benefits of green tea (antioxidants being the main one).
  5. Watch the Dr. Oz show. I learn something new every time I watch his show. No need to take notes though; the most important health tips and advice are usually repeated by¬†his various guests. Watching his show consistently will ingrain in you a basic knowledge of health and nutrition. He¬†also¬†informs you of¬†red-flag symptoms that mean it’s time for a visit to your own doctor.
  6. Turn off your computer and TV. And get moving! When I don’t exercise, it’s usually because I was too involved in a TV show or something on Facebook. It’s easy to get engrossed in¬†virtual reality¬†and let the daylight slip away unnoticed. So this one is about self-discipline; just do it. Turn off the distractions, put on your workout gear, and go do something–run, dance, swim, walk around the park, yoga–anything involving movement counts!
  7. Meditate, journal, or take a bubble bath. I’m not going to lie, I got this one from the Dr. Oz show. A feng-shui¬†specialist was speaking to Dr. Oz about how “inner clutter” needs to be cleared from the¬†temple that is our body (much like we clear clutter from our kitchen table).¬†For us writers, journaling¬†our thoughts is a great way to get them out. Once I write something down, my mind moves on to other thoughts. Meditation works a little differently; using a ton of self-discipline, you clear your mind of all thoughts for several minutes. No daydreaming, no to-do lists, no reflecting on past events…just mental silence. When you come out of the meditation, you’ll have¬†forgotten what it was you were so worried about earlier that¬†day, and you’ll be one step closer to inner peace.

Fruit ninja: How to sneak more fruits and veggies into your diet

When I’m hungry, I don’t want to snack on an apple or a carrot. I want chips, ice cream, or a steamy bowl of pasta. We all know that the secret to great health is eating plenty of fruits and veggies, but it’s hard to reach the daily quota of five servings when you really don’t crave the stuff. That’s why in the last year, I’ve been getting creative in the kitchen and finding sneaky ways to get more fruits and veggies into my diet.

You know how little kids won’t eat an apple unless their mom cuts it, peels it, and places it right in front of their faces? You must do the same for yourself–you must¬†make fruits and vegetables more accessible. First and foremost, clear the pantry of junk-food snacks. Then head to the supermarket and stock up on a week’s supply of fresh fruits and veggies in a rainbow assortment. When you get home, dedicate an hour or so to washing, peeling, and chopping everything at once. Then stack your snack-ready goodies in airtight containers and place them in the front of the fridge, where they are easily accessible when you are cooking, packing a lunch, or just need a snack. Don’t forget to also stock your freezer with frozen veggies and your pantry with dried fruits.

As I mentioned before, I love a big bowl of pasta. (Like, you don’t understand. I could eat pasta every day for lunch, dinner, and a snack.) One way I trick myself into eating more veggies is by throwing veggies into my pasta dishes. Peas and mushrooms make a great addition to¬†fettuccine alfredo.¬†Cherry tomatoes and cooked spinach are delicious in a pesto pasta dish.

Don’t stop at pasta, though. Find ways to add fruits and veggies to every meal you eat. Here are some of my ninja moves: I put a handful of fresh blueberries or dried fruit in my oatmeal; I add strawberries and/or¬†raspberries¬†to my cereal; I place banana slices atop my Nutella toast; I dress my burgers with lettuce, tomato, and avocado; when I cook a curry, soup, or a stir-fry I add extra veggies not called for in the¬†recipe.

The last trick I want to mention is simple: make fruits and veggies more appealing. No one wants to snack on celery sticks. But once you fill the center with Kraft’s pineapple cream-cheese spread, it’s a different story (you can find it in the dairy aisle of most supermarkets and it is delicious!). Hummus, peanut butter, ranch dressing, dip, and Greek yogurt all make veggies more tasty and appealing.

I’m not saying you should eat fruit for dessert instead of ice cream (I mean you should, but let’s be realistic…it’s not the same), I’m just suggesting you add some berries to your ice cream. Even if you hate fruits and vegetables,¬†with a little creativity¬†you can trick yourself into enjoying them.