Grain-Free Mediterranean “Bulgar” Salad

With Papa & Granny in Kent, WA

With Papa & Granny in Kent, WA

I have a story for you today to go with the recipe. I know I haven’t had a lot of stories to go with my recipes lately. Most of the recipes were either inspired on the spot in the kitchen while trying to figure out what to do or something I toyed with in my head just because I thought it sounded good before toying with it in the kitchen. I’ve also been getting my story telling out through my creative outlet on Chocolate Wasteland so I don’t feel the need to tell as many stories here. That can be a good thing when all you want is a recipe. But today this recipe has a background and if my bestie reads this she’ll probably roll her eyes because I’m going the long way ’round to tell this story.

Back in the early/mid 2000’s, Chaz kept messing with the Atkins Diet. I tried it with him once and lasted four days. In 2004, he decided he wanted to do the South Beach Diet. He gave me the book to read and I agreed. Then Granny’s health went downhill. Fast. Towards the end of the first week of the elimination phase I had to fly out to California to see her to say goodbye. I found my way to the Tustin Whole Foods on the way to my grandparents house after picking up my rental car just outside the John Wayne Airport in Orange County and picked up a salad from the salad bar. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of healthy options at the house.

Given the stress that weekend, I stayed on track. By Monday, I was calling my boss to extend my trip because the hospice nurse felt Granny would not last the week. I was not going to fly back to Kentucky just to turn around and fly back for a funeral. My bestie drove down from L.A. to spend the afternoon with me, Granny, and the aunties and distracted me with jewelry-making and clothes shopping. When you intend to travel somewhere for a weekend, you don’t have enough for a week. And I definitely didn’t have the clothes for California weather.

Granny passed some time Monday night/Tuesday morning. I found her in her in the hospital bed in the den, one eye closed and the other half open. The humming of the oxygen tank filled the air but I knew something was amiss when I started talking to her before I reached the bed. It is amazing how working in an environment full of crises trains you to be calm and methodical in the face of your personal crisis. I checked for a pulse and breath. She was ice cold to the touch, no pulse, no puffing of air coming from her mouth or rising and falling of her chest. I quickly skirted Auntie Jude sleeping on the futon in the living room and went directly to the bathroom where Auntie Boogie was getting ready for jury duty. It wasn’t until my aunties were at Granny’s side and crying that I finally broke down.

They made the phone calls to hospice, the funeral home, Papa’s care home, the church, and my mother. We brought Papa over so he could say goodbye to her. The funeral home came for Granny. Hospice came for the bed. My mother, sisters, and niece drove up from Encinitas in time to meet with the Pastor. By the time my mother and sisters left, we each had tasks to complete for the week. That night my aunties and I returned to Auntie Boogie’s condo in Fullerton rather than staying at my grandparent’s. We went through a bottle of wine while talking, laughing, and crying together.

Being myself with Auntie Boogie and Granny

Being myself with Auntie Boogie and Granny

The next day, Auntie Jude called my mother from Granny and Papa’s while we were getting the house ready for guests to see what she had done from her list. Nothing. She took a nap after getting home because she had “a bad day.” To say I lost it is an understatement. I went on a screaming tirade until I couldn’t scream anymore. I had another one back at Auntie Boogie’s that night as the three of us shared TWO bottles of wine. There are things you can’t un-see or undo. I will always have that image of Granny laying in that bed lifeless and pale burned in my memories. I will always have the memory of shoving feelings and emotions aside to check for vital signs instead of giving in to them instantly. I had a bad day and yet I was still functioning. I was cleaning the house. I was making and writing up thank you cards. I was taking calls. I was searching for Bible verses for the memorial service. I was angry I was doing more for Granny’s memorial than my own mother.

After the first screaming tirade, before returning to Auntie Boogie’s and engaging in another one, I was sitting at the kitchen table staring at all the food neighbors and friends had been bringing over since the weekend. Up until that point I was staying on track with South Beach. Homemade Persimmon cookies and I were having an intense staredown. I was having a very bad reaction to my mother’s excuse for not doing her tasks. I demolished a few of the cookies. I felt better. And that’s when I realized that trying to be vigilant about the diet I was on by choice was silly while I was under so much stress. When I talked to Chaz later and told him about the cookies he laid into me. That’s when I fired back with, “Granny just DIED and you want me to worry about a diet? Screw that. I’m eating what I want until I get back home then I’ll pick up with it in the phase you’re in.”

I didn’t go overboard with the foods I shouldn’t have been eating. I didn’t sit and polish off an entire bag of cookies and a pint of ice cream or a pizza. I had the one moment of emotional eating with the Persimmon cookies and the evenings with my aunties and a bottle of wine. That weekend, my sisters and I took my niece to Rodeo Drive. Granny and Auntie Carol used to take me to Rodeo every year I visited from out-of-state and when I lived in Encinitas. We would eat a picnic lunch in a park between the shopping area and the residential area. We “shopped” on Rodeo and Beverly Drive. Then we ate dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. Or sometimes we’d eat lunch there and walk everything off while shopping. I had cheesecake in Granny’s memory and all those memories with her in Beverly Hills and her snickering smile when we spotted a good deal.

Goofing off on Rodeo with Dawn

Goofing off on Rodeo with Dawn

The next day, Auntie Boogie and I went to Rodeo with my bestie. In high school, Granny and Auntie Boogie let me bring Dawn along. More cheesecake was had. It wasn’t the same without Granny, but we carried her with us in our hearts and enjoyed the day despite her absence.

Tuesday came around and I was on a plane back to Louisville, Kentucky. True to what I told Chaz, I jumped right back into the diet with him in the phase. There was no point to going back to the beginning. Sometimes you just have to hop back in where you left off instead of returning to Start. I didn’t beat myself up over getting off track and I didn’t let Chaz beat me up either. This wasn’t like I knew I had Celiac or food allergies at the time. I wasn’t trying to recover from alcohol or drug addiction who fell off the wagon. It wasn’t life or death and I didn’t let it become life or death. It was a simple change in diet I chose to make. That was the first lesson this taught me and I carry it with me when I’m supporting friends who are trying to make healthier changes and they can’t seem to stay on track. I tell them, it’s okay, just get back on track and keep going until you fall off again then repeat. The point is to just keep going forward.

The second lesson is how to substitute what you know for something different. On South Beach it is a shift from refined grains to whole grains. It really wasn’t too hard to do that. But when it came to cutting out/down on processed foods before going gluten-free I would sit and think, I did it on South Beach, I can do it with this I just need to figure out an option. And that’s how I process every time I’ve had to remove something. There are some food allergies for which there is no substitution. I don’t like the dairy-free cheeses and now with all the other food allergies they are not an option anyway so it was a good thing I never relied on them. Some people like using baking soda/powder and apple cider vinegar (ACV) as a yeast-free option in baking, but it is not entirely yeast-free. Yeast is used to ferment ACV and other vinegars. There are some vinegars which are not fermented with use of yeast. But to try to keep track of them and each brand would be too much so I do without vinegar completely.

So what does all this have to do with the Grain-Free Mediterranean “Bulgar” Salad in the title of the post? Everything. There was a bulgar wheat salad I made frequently even after we stopped doing South Beach months later. It was just good. South Beach taught me how to think to substitute and with looking at doing the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP) the years of substituting different vegetables for grains has me ahead of the game as far as being ready to go without going insane trying to figure out what I’m doing. South Beach is also tied to my memories of Granny’s death as she left us as I was in the beginning stages. It’s all tied up together in my head and so I had to get it all out together.

I used grated cauliflower in place of gluten-free grains in this recipe. I tried to make it once with quinoa but Chaz hates quinoa so I don’t use it unless Chaz isn’t home. But on AIP, quinoa isn’t allowed anyway. You can keep the cauliflower raw in the recipe instead of cooking it like it did, but to me it tastes better when you lightly sautée it. Cauli Mint Salad

Grain-Free Mediterranean “Bulgar” Salad – serves 6

1 head cauliflower, grated

1/2 pint grape tomatoes, quartered

1 cucumber, seeded, quartered, sliced

1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil, divided (2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons)

2 teaspoons lemon juice


Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and coat the skillet. Add the cauliflower, season with salt, and stir often until it is tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add cauliflower, tomatoes, mint leaves, and cucumber to a medium mixing bowl. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup (I prefer the latter), add the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Whisk together until emulsified then pour over the salad and mix well. Serve at room temperature or chill before serving.


Lemongrass Ginger Salmon With Mango Mint Salsa

My favorite beach

My favorite beach

I miss home. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss the food. I miss the tradewinds. I miss the beach. I miss the vibrant colors. It’s been over a year since my last trip home and I am due for a visit. But it won’t happen until next year at least. Thank goodness for our upcoming family reunion in Vegas. Until then, the only thing I can do is make food that reminds me of home.

This recipe can be used with shrimp, too. My first attempt was actually with shrimp on skewers using my indoor grill. I’ve been too tired to peel and de-vein shrimp lately so I went with salmon instead. Who doesn’t love salmon? The Mango Mint Salsa is my new favorite thing. I ate the leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.Lemongrass Ginger Salmon with Mango Salsa

Lemongrass Salmon – Serves 4 

1 – 1 1/2 pounds wild caught salmon fillet cut into individual servings.

1 mango, large dice

1/4 red chili pepper, large dice (set remainder aside for salsa)

1″ piece of ginger, minced

2 lemongrass stalks, 1 halved and the other rough chopped


Season salmon fillets with salt and set aside. In a high quality blender or a food processor, place mango, chili pepper, ginger, rough chopped lemongrass, and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth. Place salmon in a bowl and cover well with the marinade. Marinate at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Preheat oven to 200º. Wipe off some of the marinade (but not all) and place fillets on a baking sheet or pan. Place halved lemongrass over the fillets, cut side down. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, longer for well-done. Serve with Mango Mint Salsa.

Mango Mint Salsa – serves 6

2 mangoes, diced

reserved 3/4 red chili pepper from the salmon, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

1/4 cup mint leaves, rough chop


Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Salsa tastes better if you make it earlier in the day and let the flavors sit for a few hours.

This post is linked to Whole Food Fridays at Allergy-Free Alaska. 

Unconditional Love

Honolulu - Capitol Building, DebiI started writing this post with the intention for it to be part of the July Self-Care Retreat, but as I kept writing it became something more.

Indulge me just a little.

You would think I would be an expert in self-care by now. After all, that is why I quit my job last December. To devote all my time to take care of myself so I can recover. My self-care when I started out was reading, scrapbooking, writing (oodles of it), going to the movies, shopping, spending time with friends as I was able, sitting on the patio and enjoying the sun, painting my nails (yes, I need a pretty pretty now and then), yoga, and interval runs. However, with each new challenge thrown into my lap since comes a firestorm of emotions within. Anger, sadness, fear, doubt, grief.

I once posted on Facebook that when we go through years of being misdiagnosed then finally get on the right track it is like peeling an onion. You take off one layer and there is another one waiting. I feel like I have an onion that doubles every time I peel back a layer. Adrenal fatigue. Multiple food allergies. Leaky gut. Sjogren’s Syndrome. More allergies.

Through it all, I do what I feel I need to do each day to take care of myself. Put off doing chores because I feel like crap and go to a movie instead? Yes. Read a book instead of vacuum because I have no energy? Yes. It’s the Spoon Theory at work. There are things I have to do each day: shower, floss, brush my teeth (up to four times a day), and cook dinner. Those tasks are spoons that are spoken for as soon as I wake up. The rest of the household tasks and exercise depends on how many spoons I have left. If those are all the spoons I have for the day, then the rest of my day is spent doing whatever doesn’t take much energy.

Sjögren’s is taking a toll on me. I still fatigue easily if I’m not careful.  It’s tough reminding myself that I’m not simply being lazy. I’m not lazy. It’s tough looking at the mess that sometimes grows around me and remind myself tomorrow is another day. Even if tomorrow turns out to be like today.

The baby thing is still living in my head. I can’t seem to shake it. At least not right now. It’s reminding me of a lesson from my years in martial arts that no matter how much I think I know, I know nothing. It’s also teaching me a new lesson.

We need to love ourselves. I’m not talking about loving who we are: strong, independent, witty, talented, etc. It’s loving who we are how we are in each moment. Broken, scarred, flawed. I have to love the me riddled with health problems, may never have children no matter how much I may want them, and functions on a how-do-I-feel-right-now basis.

It’s harder than it sounds. Just yesterday I lamented out loud, “I hate being sick.” A far cry from self-loathing and yes, I’m allowed to have feelings and express them. But I beat myself up for even saying it. That’s not loving myself.

I have to allow myself my feelings without judging myself and move on. Sound weird? Maybe. But we don’t want others to judge us. Why is it okay for us to judge ourselves? Why is it okay for us to love ourselves only when we feel we are perfect or only for those traits that we feel are good? We can love others unconditionally, but not ourselves.

This is work I do every day. Accept and love me for the sick me I am right now as much as I accepted and loved the healthy me.