a celebration of health on TV Dinner’s 2nd birthday

Arthritis Health Monitor coverIt feels appropriate to share this Arthritis Health Monitor cover with you now because today is TV Dinner’s 2nd birthday, a good time to reflect on another year of food and how it’s become more a medicine to me than actual medicine.

I think about where I was last January — a month away from getting married, working out 5-6 days a week, feeling good, feeling strong, feeling in love. I was cooking all the time, but lots of fish and grains then. My ankle had just started to bother me and I began experimenting with new drugs (under the guidance of a rheumatologist, of course) to help with the pain.

But things went from bad to worse with my foot after that and in May I went to see Dr. Lipman, who would not only flip my diet on its head but also eventually change the course of my RA. It’s still a work in progress, of course, but I’m starting to feel some real changes in my arthritis that begin, as he believes and I now do as well, in my gut. To that end, he gave me some probiotics and other “gut-healers” to put in a shake each morning. I also started on a pretty strict Paleo diet and since then have only had a few bites of grains. Same for sugar and alcohol. (I had already given up dairy years ago.) I added some pasture-raised, grass fed meat into my repertoire, which was a weird thing at first — I had some moral dilemmas about it — but I decided to let my body choose. If it would help my gut, my joints, and by proxy, my RA, then I’d keep eating it. And it has. Foods like coconut oil, almond flour, ghee, grass-fed steak and bacon are now staples of my diet and I’m happy to say that arthritis-wise, I’m feeling good.

I’ve gotten off some of those aforementioned drugs I tried and more importantly, significantly tapered the steroids I’ve been on for years. My goal for 2015 (amongst others) is to get off of them completely. It will be tough and it will take time, but I will do it.

If I can get through this last year of joint pain and eventual foot surgery, I can do anything.

Which is why, in the right context, the pull quote on the magazine cover above makes sense. My RA is a blessing because it’s allowed me to appreciate every step I take (literally and figuratively) and discover what food my body can and cannot tolerate. Would I rather not have RA? Of course. But now I’ve got two healthy feet and a husband who loves me, so I’m actually pretty lucky.

That girl on the cover is hiding a lot of pain. My foot was killing me that day, long before I had surgery. Her name was different then, too.

This girl, Jamie Stelter, is ready for anything.

So here’s to another year of health and strength… and of course, many more TV Dinners.

** If you want to read the full cover story, you can find the Arthritis Health Monitor in many doctors offices. **

recovery update, week 8: back at the grocery store

first whole foods trip since novemberThis is my happy place: the grocery store, surrounded by greens. All the goodness! All the possibilities!

Man, had I missed it.

Yesterday was my first time there since before my foot surgery in November. I’m still walking in my boot — should be my last week of it! — but it was the first day I didn’t need my crutch. I had been leaning on it for support and safety because I just didn’t have the strength or energy to walk on my own. But I do now! Progress is a beautiful thing.

And so is the grocery store. We really take so much for granted everyday and of course you don’t realize whatcha got til it’s gone. But as people whizzed by me yesterday, in a rush to grab what they needed and get the hell outta there, I took my time. I smelled each green. I read each label. I poured over all the choices and took in the beauty and wonder that is each aisle of Whole Foods. It was glorious.

Brian came with me to mark — and celebrate — my return to the grocery store. Or maybe he’s just happy he doesn’t have to try and figure out which manuka honey to buy anymore. Poor guy, taking me shopping via Facetime for eight weeks; he’s a saint.

I’m glad I could finally cook for him again last night. It felt like the first time I ever cooked for him, three years ago, on Valentine’s Day 2012. I was a little nervous, but very excited. Before we ate I thanked him for everything he’s done for me these past two months, including helping me cook the dinner. I still need some help in the kitchen — lifting heavy pots, reaching for things up high on shelves — but it is what it is. I’m doing what I can. I’m making progress! And even if I’m not 100%, it still feels damn good to be back.

y’down with açaí? yea you know me.

homemade acai bowlIf you’re not familiar with açaí, or didn’t know you could make your own at home, now’s the time to learn about it. I don’t know about you, but I can never have enough healthy, easy snacks or breakfast ideas in the house. (Especially since I’m still not able to stand long enough to cook real meals yet. Soon though!) I first learned about these frozen açaí packets in Jessica Murnane’s new e-book appropriately titled, A Year of Breakfast. (It’s $9.99 and worth every penny; homegirl knows her stuff.) But before we talk about what to do with it, let’s back up for a second.

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recovery real talk

IMG_1046This was me yesterday, doing the traffic on two feet for the first time since the middle of November.

Okay, one foot and one boot, but let’s not split hairs. It’s progress! Progress that I’ve been waiting a long time for — to stand up straight without the help of a crutch, a husband, or a scooter. I’m trying to celebrate the small steps towards recovery (no pun intended) but I’m also a bit overwhelmed thinking about the long road I still have ahead of me.

I don’t just have to re-learn how to actually walk, I also have to re-learn how not to be scared to walk. I had been walking in fear for so long — at how bad the pain would be each time I took a step — that I now need to learn that it’s not going to hurt. That I’m not going do something to hurt myself. That I can and should just… walk.

IMG_0527It’s just another test in a series of tests I’ve faced these past few months. I’ve learned a lot about myself, but I’ve also noticed something — that we only talk publicly about the good days. All you see on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the celebratory moments. Like the day I came back to work on my scooter and felt so triumphant after doing my first traffic report kneeling on the upside down trash can. IMG_0660Or when I found a comfy enough spot on my brother’s couch when we were celebrating Chanukkah to take a cute shot of me and Brian’s ugly Eagles sweaters.

But the road to recovery isn’t just shaped by the moments of progress. I want to remember and document the trying times too, because I think it’ll make me appreciate the joyous moments even more so.

When the doctor told me he could fix me and that I would once again, one day, walk again without pain: I cried. I was relieved.

When the nurses got me all prepped and ready for surgery and I sat there waiting to be called in: I cried. I was nervous.

When I woke up on my couch the morning after surgery and realized the anesthesia had worn off: I cried. I was in pain.

When Brian pushed me to the bathroom on a swivel desk chair for what felt like the hundredth time: I cried. I was helpless.

When I left the house for the first time to go for my follow-up appointment with the doctor, and I realized I didn’t have enough strength to use crutches: I cried. I was exhausted.

When I fell getting out of the shower, landed straddling the lip of the bathtub, and Brian had to help me up: I cried. I was humiliated.

When I walked around our apartment yesterday for the first time since November, I felt like a scared, clumsy baby calf learning to walk for the first time. I crashed on the couch after and curled up in a ball. Brian snuggled up behind me and gave me a speech about how far I’ve come and how much better off I’ll be after the foot heals. I cried. I was grateful; I am loved.

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one-pot thai chicken curry

thai chicken curry in le creusetSince Brian doesn’t cook — yet, there’s always hope! — I wanted to make as much food that I could freeze as possible before my foot surgery. That way, we wouldn’t have to rely on Seamless for every meal. I was nervous because it would be at least a month or two before I was back on my feet to cook and even when you order a salad, or something considered healthy, there is still a ton of salt and other stuff added. Thanks, but no thanks.

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my subtalar fusion: two screws, one bionic foot, and the kindness of many strangers

foot xray subtalar fusion dec 9 2014See those two screws, the ones that were inserted into my right foot through an incision in my heel? It’s called a subtalar fusion, and it’s why I haven’t posted here in almost a month.

Long story, short: my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) got between two bones in my foot and wore away all the cartilage to the point that the two bones were rubbing against each other. I had been limping on my foot for about a year, sometimes barely noticing the pain. But when the pain went from bad to worse and I lost (almost) all function in the foot, I went to see Dr. Hubbard, Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. He told me he could fix me, and two short weeks later I was on his surgical table, getting those two guys put in place so I could once again walk painlessly. (I hate to sound like surgery is no big deal, but three years ago I had a C1-C2 fusion surgery on my neck, also with titanium screws, and also because of my RA, which made me a lot more comfortable going into this one.) Once the joint has healed, the screws will keep the bones away from each other, while still allowing it to function as a “normal” foot.

It’s now been three weeks since foot surgery, and tomorrow, it’s time to go back to work. I have been so nervous about how I would get around, how I would open doors, how I would have enough energy to make it through the day. And then yesterday I went outside by myself for the first time in a month — using the life-saving knee scooter that Brian bought me — and I figured out how I would do it.

First there was the guy a block from our building who pulled his truck over, hopped out, and came over to fix the steering on my scooter. Then there was the lady at the corner of 12th and 5th who saw me stumble and asked where I was going, because she wanted to make sure I got there safe. And how about the guy at the corner of Charles and 7th Avenue who asked if he could please drive me home? (I politely declined.)

The answer is: I wouldn’t have to worry about doing any of the things I’ve been worrying about, because strangers would help me. Total strangers. And that was just three of them! Others helped simply by smiling, acknowledging that I was having a little bit of a hard time. It’s one of the many reasons I love New York. These people didn’t want anything in return; they did it out of the goodness of their hearts.

So my worrying, like most worrying, was for naught.

I’ve still got a long road to recovery — another week in the hard cast, six weeks or so in a boot — but at least now I can focus all of my energy on healing and getting back to a healthy, strong place — a healthier, stronger place than I was pre-bionic foot. I want to keep my RA at bay with good food, fresh food, real food, and lots of herbal supplements and vitamins. And when I need, like I did with the strangers yesterday, I’ll lean on western medicine for help. I’m hoping that won’t be often (or at all), but I can only do the best I can. Which is where TV Dinner comes in. As soon as I am back on my feet I plan to get back in the kitchen and cook lots of new recipes… ones that bring wellness and strength to my body. And in the meantime, in the coming weeks, I’ll share some recipes that I cooked up before surgery.

Have any questions about a subtalar fusion, my doctor, medicines, supplements, or RA in general? Ask away — either in the comments below or click here to send me an email. I respond to every single one.

roasted vegetables in mustard + balsamic

roasted autumnal vegetables in balsamic and mustardBaby, it’s cold outside. Time to start thinking about warm cozy meals, while also savoring the last bit of fall. You can do it; eek it out, before it’s officially snow season. Take these beautiful autumnal vegetables for example. Roast ‘em, then toss ‘em in mustard and balsamic. They can play sidekick to a piece of fish or meat — they’d actually be a perfect tablemate to your turkey on Thanksgiving — or you can do as I did (in the photo below) and mix ‘em up with a handful of mini scallops and call it dinner.

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attention vegans: jessica murnane made my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe egg-free!

jessica murnane egg-free choc chip cookieI’ve sang Jessica Murnane’s praises before… but this time, man. Homegirl took my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe — which was already grain- and dairy-free — and removed the eggs. BOOM. Now all you vegans can enjoy them in all their egg-free glory. Check it out / make a big batch of ‘em / thank me (and Jessica!) later.

will you walk with me… to help cure arthritis?

jingle bell run walk 2013That was me emceeing last year’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk with 4-year-old honoree, Paula, who has juvenile arthritis. Each year the Arthritis Foundation recognizes different people with arthritis — their doctors, too — who are doing remarkable things to either spread the word, raise money, or fight for a cure. This year — in exactly one month from today — I’ll be the celebrity honoree.

I’m really looking forward to it because it’s been a rollercoaster of a year for me, arthritis-wise. I was the strongest and healthiest I’ve ever been leading up to my wedding in February, but since then have been dealing with a serious bout of pain, inflammation and disfunction in my ankle. I continue to try different measures — some old, some new, some western, some integrative/holistic — and I’m hoping to strike the right balance soon and shake this limp once and for all. The good news is, pain I was feeling elsewhere — in my hands, wrists and shoulder — has subsided… at least for now. But it’s a lifelong battle; one I’m learning more about every single day.

Which is why it would mean so much if you could walk with me on Saturday, December 6th here in NYC. Some people will run, some people will walk, and some others — like myself — will hobble as best they can. There’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about with this group. It’s a fun day, celebrating the life and function that we DO have. Not what we don’t.

So join me! Walk with me! And if you can’t be here, you can still support from afar.

Rishia Zimmern’s Chicken With Shallots

chicken with shallots in skillet, flat shotIf you, like me, wanna keep things real simple in the kitchen by the middle of the week… but also wanna make sure you have something healthy and satisfying for your family… this chicken dish is for you. Bonus if you, like me, only have two mouths to feed: you can pack up the rest and bring it with you to work for lunch. I was the envy of the office when, one morning around 10:30 (I get up early, remember), I peeled the lid off my tupperware, allowing the smell of mustard and shallots waft through the kitchen area. It was fantastic the night before, sizzling straight outta the skillet, but like most things even better cold the next day.

Major kudos to Rishia Zimmern, wife of Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern, for sharing her delicious recipe with NYT Cooking.

chicken with shallots, in skillet