The End of An Era

It’s been a while since I last posted because May was a crazy busy month of finishing up rotations of the dietetic internship.  I’ve decided to make this post a very personal one, because I’ve realized, authenticity is a powerful tool of connecting with others.

Yesterday I officially completed the dietetic internship.  I anticipated having a happy, celebratory day.  Instead, yesterday was a day of mourning and deep sadness, as just a few hours before the internship graduation ceremony, my cat of 15 years passed away suddenly.

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The internship was challenging on its own, but this past year has been an emotional roller coaster.  In December, my Dad’s dog, Keenan, died tragically after a surgical procedure.  Keenan’s death affected me because I saw how much of a friend he was to my Dad.  Keenan was trained as a companion dog for blind/visually impaired individuals.  When he passed, it was like my Dad had lost his son, and I had lost my brother.

No one in my internship class knew that I was so sad all the time.  Instead, I isolated myself and focused on my assignments.  I felt stressed and alone, even though many of my peers were probably feeling equally stressed by their own personal lives outside of the internship.  After these experiences, I’ve realized that it’s helpful to talk to people after tragedy occurs.  We can’t help each other if we’re not open.

I have a fortune cookie message that I taped to my laptop that says “If you’re feeling down, try throwing yourself into your work”.  Note to self: this is not an effective coping strategy!  I hope that current dietetic interns, and those who will be starting their internship soon recognize that we’re all in the same boat.  Life happens and we’re all stressed out at times.  I’ve learned (in retrospect) that it’s better to lean on each other rather than isolating.  I wish I had spent more time at intern social events, but instead I spent most of my free time between cooking (which is my go-to hobby)  or feeling “down in the dumps”.  I’m deeply grateful for my family and boyfriend who were always there for me and helped me throughout my internship, but I feel like I missed out on making friends during my internship experience because of my depressed attitude.

The next step for all of us interns who graduated is to start studying for the RD exam that we all have to pass in order to become credentialed as Registered Dietitians.  I’ve started studying, but admittedly, it’s difficult to focus right now.  Hopefully, the pain that I’m feeling will subside, but instead of masking it through work, I’m ready to acknowledge my pain and share my experience.  Loss is something we’ve all felt at some point; it is a universal sadness that cuts to the core of our being, yet unites us.

I will update soon, hopefully with a more lighthearted blog post.  If you have a pet, hug it tightly, let your furry friend know how much you love him or her. Pets are truly special beings and the love and loyalty from an animal is unlike anything else.

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Buttercup, the sweetest little kitty

-Jess

 

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Baked Carrot-Raisin Oatmeal

This week was the start of my renal rotation and I’m learning a ton.  I really like working with this population and learning all about dialysis and end-stage renal disease…but this rotation is a little far from my house so I’ve been having to do some extra planning when it comes to making my mornings run smooth.

To make my life a little simpler, I’ve been eating a delicious, healthy, and wholesome breakfast on the go of baked oatmeal that I prep ahead, which saves some time in the morning.  Baked oatmeal has all the benefits of regular oatmeal, and it tastes like a delicious baked good (yum!).

For this recipe, I wanted to use some of the veggies in my fridge so I added carrots, and I got even more creative by adding raisins, pumpkin spice seasoning, and vanilla protein powder.  The full recipe for this whole grain breakfast is easy to prepare and will keep you full for hours, and if you’re feeling adventurous you could eat in your car as you sit in standstill traffic (but maybe don’t do this, because you should always pay attention to the road)  🙂

Baked Carrot-Raisin Oatmeal (makes 4 servings)photo (2)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry, old fashioned oats
  • 2 scoops of your favorite protein powder (I use Vega Sport Vanilla)
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin spice seasoning or use cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed + 2 tbsp. warm water (to make a “vegan egg”)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F
  • Measure oats, protein powder, and spices and mix together in a large mixing bowl
  • In another mixing bowl, measure and mix the apple sauce, vanilla extract, almond milk, carrots, and raisins together
  • In a small cup, create a “vegan egg” (a binder) by mixing 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp. warm water
  • Add the wet ingredients into the dry, then mix in the “vegan egg”
  • Using nonstick spray or a brush with oil, oil a 9×9 baking pan and spread the mixture onto the pan
  • Bake for 45 minutes at 375°F
  • Remove from the oven, allow to cool, divide into four servings, and enjoy

I’ve been eating this delicious creation with dairy-free plain yogurt and a tbsp. of my favorite nut butter(s).  Feel free to let me know how you like this recipe.

-Jess

Unreal Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

March is always an interesting month because of the unpredictable weather (at least in the northeast US).  Yesterday was the first day of spring and today there’s a major snow storm, which caused my dietetic internship program to declare today yet another snow day (I’m not complaining, although I’m really enjoying my clinical rotation).

I always find snow days are the perfect opportunity to create new recipes in the kitchen.  I decided to make these delicious cookies using Unreal chocolate covered peanut gems.  They remind me of peanut m&m’s, but they’re free from milk and artificial colorings which delights me, considering I’m a health nut with a weakness for sweet treats.  Normally, I’m not a huge candy person (I’m more into baked goods and ice cream), but I felt intrigued because I’ve been noticing a lot more vegan candy options on Instagram and at specialty food stores that I shop at (mostly Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s).  I was curious to see if these lived up to the hype and I can say that they definitely do.  If you’re craving something sweet, colorful, and a little crunchy, this cookie really hits the spot 🙂

Unreal Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 cup earth balance vegan spread- or use 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 4 tbsp. vegan chocolate chips (I used trader joe’s semi-sweet)
  • 32 (2 servings) of Unreal dark chocolate peanut gems

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F
  • Measure flour and sugars, combine in a large mixing bowl
  • Add baking soda, mix in with a fork
  • Measure and melt earth balance/coconut oil in the microwave (30 seconds-1 minute)
  • Add earth balance/oil to dry mixture
  • Measure and add apple sauce and vanilla extract
  • Add oats and mix everything together
  • Add chocolate chips and Unreal dark chocolate peanut gems
  • Using non-stick spray, coat a baking sheet with oil and use a spoon to scoop out the cookie dough into balls and place on the baking sheet (I made 18 cookies from this recipe)
  • Bake for 11-14 minutes
  • Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and enjoy

Is it snowing where you are?  How do you like to spend your time when there weather affects your normal routine?

-Jess

Italian Seasoned Cannellini Bean Balls

I’m currently sitting at home because my internship program has declared today a snowday.  I’m trying to make today both relaxing and productive, so before I dive deep into my internship assignments, I thought I’d share the latest recipe I’ve been working on.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I sometimes struggle with cravings.  Cravings for me are a sign that something is lacking in my diet, and my most recent cravings for protein- and omega 3-rich foods made it clear that I need to eat more of these nutrients.  I’ve created these delicious bean-balls that are packed with healthy fats, satiating protein, and savory italian flavors.  I hope you try them, and let me know what you think.

Italian Seasoned Cannellini Bean Balls

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can (~15 oz.) of cannellini beans (also called navy beans, white kidney beans)
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts
  • 1/2-3/4 cup packed ground flax meal (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand). Adjust if the batter needs to be thicker (see below for desired thickness)
  • 2 cups raw baby spinach
  • several sprinkles of garlic powder- or use 1 small clove of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil – or use 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  As the oven heats, drain the beans well, and measure the rest of the ingredients.  Combine all ingredients in a food processor until well blended.  The consistency should be slightly thick, so you can mold the mixture into balls.  Using non-stick spray or a brush with oil, coat a baking sheet with a thin layer of oil.  Using your hands or a spoon, scoop out some of the bean batter.  Mold the batter into balls using the palms of your hands, as if you were working with clay or playdough.  Place the balls on the baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes, flip each ball individually, and bake for another 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

I enjoyed this delicious creation with spiralized zucchini, and sauteed spinach in a delicious (store-bought) pesto sauce.  Feel free to add these balls to your favorite pasta dish, as a topping in a salad, or whatever sounds good to you.

-Jess

Oh, mega delicious chai spice walnut butter

Lately I’ve been noticing persistent, intense cravings for food that I don’t normally eat (salmon, greek yogurt, eggs, chicken).  Whenever I’ve had these cravings in the past, I would feel really conflicted because I have deep compassion for animals and all beings, and yet I’m a firm believer that cravings for groups of food (in my case, animal-based proteins) may be a sign of deficiency in one’s diet.  My most recent craving for salmon has been going on for a few months.  In the past, there were a  few times where my non-vegan cravings were so intense that I *may* have indulged in some non-vegan food, which led to confusion about my own veganism and a lot of self-judgment.  Recently, I’ve been feeling confused because I take a vitamin with algal-based omega 3’s so I feel like I take in enough of this essential fatty acid to keep fish cravings away.

I value authenticity and this includes my blog and my social media.  I sometimes really struggle with honoring my body’s non-junk food cravings and being true to my personal ethics of not harming others (animals included).  For the past few years (typically in the winter months), I find my body (or mind?) particularly craves heavier protein (from animal sources) and I proceed to spend months vacillating between staying true to my values and rationalizing why I should indulge in my persistent cravings.  I also spend time and effort doing research on the best sources of plant-based protein and amino acids, and make an effort to include at least 50-60 grams of protein each day (which based on my weight and activity level meets the recommended requirements–but may not be enough based on lab work and other symptoms).

There are so many reasons why veganism is important to me, to name a few:  I don’t want to participate in the mistreatment/abuse/slaughter of innocent animals, concerns about the environment and the sustainability of our current factory-farming system, my religious/spiritual beliefs of ahimsa (sanskrit for “do no harm to others”), health reasons, and the fact that I was never much of a meat-eater as a child, I became a vegan at 15, and it just kind of became my natural way of eating.

As a nutrition professional, someone with a master’s degree in nutrition, and a soon to be registered dietitian, if someone came to me stating that they had persistent cravings for certain foods (not junk foods, but foods with actual nutrients), I would examine their diet, and then make recommendations.  I would also check their blood work (if available), and ask them if they had any symptoms of a nutrient deficiency (fatigue, slow healing, light-headedness, hair loss, brittle nails, etc.).  I would never force my own personal beliefs on someone, as most people aren’t vegan, and a sure-fire way to make people defensive is to press your beliefs on someone.  I would probably recommend that this hypothetical client/patient include more protein in their diet (I would first recommend plant-based protein but if they wanted an animal-based protein, I can’t pressure them to be vegan/vegetarian).

I’m not one of my clients/patients, but I have been taking my own advice and eating more protein; however, the idea to just eat what I crave (animal based protein) is met with feelings of guilt and confusion.  It seems like this conundrum might just be a part of my life that I’ll have to deal with as both an empathetic person,  as someone who is well-versed in nutrition, and as someone who believes in honoring body, mind, and soul.

Because the craving for salmon is so specific, and because I know so much about nutrition, I’m thinking that maybe my vitamin with omega 3’s isn’t enough.  I’ve started including more whole food-based sources of omega 3’s that aren’t from a supplement.  One delicious source of omega 3 fatty acids are walnuts.  I was never a huge fan of walnuts, but I do love nut-butters, so I decided to see if I could make a walnut butter, and I was impressed about how it came out.  Below is the recipe for my walnut butter creation.

Oh-Mega Chai Spice Walnut Butter Processed with VSCO with f1 preset

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw walnuts (I used 365 Whole Foods Market brand)
  • 1 tbsp. organic virgin coconut oil (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 2-4 tbsp. chai tea (I used pre-made tea from Oregon Spice brand)
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. Vermont maple syrup

Directions:

Measure ingredients and mix until blended smooth in a food processor.  Enjoy, or store in the fridge.  To soften, microwave for 45 seconds.

This nut butter makes a delicious addition to oatmeal and tastes amazing on toast.  I had it mixed with dairy free cashew yogurt + jam and topped it on my favorite sprouted grain toast.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Have you ever experienced persistent cravings for a particular food/group of food?  How did you deal with it? Are you a vegan/vegetarian who struggles with a similar issue?  Feel free to share or comment on this post or through my instagram account @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Notes from an RD-to-be

Greetings readers!  It’s been way too long since I wrote a blog post.  I’ve been extremely busy with the clinical rotation of my dietetic internship which has been the focus of my life for the past few months.  If you’ve new to this blog or you just need a recap, I’m currently a dietetic intern in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  The dietetic internship consists of several rotations in different settings such as hospitals, long term care facilities, community programs, school food service, and others.  It’s a necessary step in the process of becoming an RD mandated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).  The process of the “rotations” is similar to how nursing students, MDs-to-be, and physician’s assistants gain experience in different areas of their fields after completing their schooling but before passing the certification tests.

Since January, I’ve been interning at a hospital and learning an immense amount about clinical dietetics.  I’ve really been enjoying this experience so far and I would love to work in a clinical setting after the internship and when I pass the RD exam (several months away, but I’m already nervous).  Every day I’m exposed to such interesting nutrition-related health problems and I’ve learned that I really enjoy being part of an interdisciplinary medical team.

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Some useful guides that I bring to the hospital each day

My typical day begins by reporting to the nutrition office.  Each day, I work with one of three preceptors who are all Registered Dietitians.  Every day there is a list of patients with some kind of nutrition-related health problem (i.e. diabetes, COPD, obesity, congestive heart failure, etc.)  that needs to be addressed by an RD.  A nutrition assessment involves reviewing the patient’s medical history, lab work, medications, and most important (for us) talking to the patient about their current diet at the hospital, their typical way of eating prior to admission, and any weight/appetite changes.  The most rewarding part of being in a hospital setting is educating the patient on how their diet affects their health.  Many people appear to be motivated to change after a hospital stay because no one enjoys being sick and it can be a wake up call to change ones’ habits.

On a personal note, I wish I could report that I’ve been living an exciting life outside of the internship, but in reality, this winter has been all about focusing on my work and trying to keep active at the gym.  Winter is my least favorite season, and I typically find that I’m less motivated to do fun activities, but I also know that staying inside all the time can be de-motivating in itself.  For me, being outside (even if it’s just a short walk) is necessary to keep the winter blues away.

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Beach life is more like burrrr life when it’s winter and you live on Long Island

How do you find motivation during the cold months?  Feel free to share, comment, here or through instagram/facebook @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Snowday Chickpea Blondies

This morning I woke up and saw that nature (and my car) was covered in a thick sheet of snow.  My email inbox was flooded with alerts from my internship program notifying us that we are not in session today due to the weather conditions (yay! Snowday!).  Snowdays are a perfect time to relax and in my case, get creative in the kitchen.  I decided to whip up these chickpea blondies after feeling inspired by my blackbean brownies that I made a few weeks ago.  If it’s snowing where you are and you’re feeling adventurous, feel free to try these delicious, fiber-packed blondies for a treat 🙂

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Ingredients:

  • 15 oz. canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini vegan chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life brand)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Use non-stick spray to spray a 9×9″ baking pan.  Set aside the baking pan as the oven pre-heats.  In a food processor, add all ingredients except chocolate chips.  Using the food processor, mix all ingredients until everything is uniform.  Turn off the food processor, add chocolate chips and using a spoon mix the chocolate chips into the batter.  Using a spoon or spatula, scoop the batter into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven, allow to cool, and enjoy!

Stay warm and safe

-Jess