Building an Epidemic of Connection

In my latest Huffington Post blog, I write about staring down the epidemic of loneliness in an effort to build an epidemic of connection. Through the use of counseling and through building our abilities to effectively connect with those around us, we can help to break down the walls of isolation and shame in our communities.

 

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Berries. Berry cubes. And berry smoothies.

It’s summertime, which means lots of delicious berries.

I recently attended a training on nutrition and mental health (for counselors), and it got me thinking about how I could easily introduce more healthy foods into my day. I don’t like fish, and tree nuts are out because of the food allergies, which means I don’t get a lot of omega-3s. (It’s okay if you want to tune out the nutrition nitty-gritty details here, I usually do). Anyway, those of us with food restrictions and picky palates can easily miss out on important aspects of our nutrition. For me, an easy fix to this is adding in ground flax seed to my diet. Doesn’t bother me, and it tastes kind of nutty, so I’m all for it! Also, blueberries are really good for you. So I decided I should eat more blueberries.

If there’s something you find you are missing in your diet, there may be an easy way to introduce it.  Even for the most complicated of eaters.  (One more complication for me: in the summertime, I get Oral Allergy Syndrome, which means that fresh fruits and veggies can make my lips swell up with hives because of the pollination process. The solution? Cook the fruits and veggies first.)

I don’t love the idea of adding supplements instead of real food, but I do love the idea of making healthy food easier. Which is why I decided to do some berry-smoothie prep.

So here’s what I did: cooked up some berries in a delicious manner, immersion-blended them, and froze the results in ice cube trays. It’s amazing what you can do with ice cube trays. The freezer is a lazy healthy person’s best friend. Now I can make healthy smoothies that won’t give me Kardashian lips!  And I don’t have to rush to eat 30 smoothies in a week before the berries go bad.

Here’s how it’s done:

FIRST, the berry cubes.

Heat a bit of vegetable oil in a pot with a dash of cinnamon and a little splash of vanilla. Add a bunch of blueberries and strawberries, simmer on low for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Next, either use an immersion blender to puree, or transfer to a blender to puree.

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Let the whole thing cool and then pour into ice cube trays to freeze.

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SECOND, to make Johanna’s healthy berry smoothie:

Into a blender add several berry cubes, a glug of milk, a healthy squirt of honey, a cup of your favorite yogurt, and 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of ground flax seed. And a bit of peanut butter if you’d like. Bananas optional. Blend, add some more water or milk for the right thickness, and YUM.

Berries. Berry cubes. And berry smoothies.

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3 years later, sausage.

For three years I did not eat sausage.

After I was diagnosed with severe food allergies to anything derived from a hot pepper (paprika, cayenne, chipotle, chili, etc) and tree nuts, I discovered that sausage is pretty much always made with some variety of pepper. No more Jimmy Dean or MickeyD’s breakfast sandwiches for me.

I’d had several people tell me I could make sausage, but I was convinced that the process itself would be so gross and disgusting that I would never want to eat it again. So I said no, thanks. (cue squinched-up face in disgust). Until my neighbor Liz decided that we could do it.

“I’ll handle the raw meat,” she said. “It’ll be easy.”

Liz is a force of bubbly nature when she gets an idea in her mind, so I knew this was happening. She texted me a picture of the meat she had chosen (ground pork) to make sure it was allergy-okay, and brainstormed ideas for fillings. She sent me a YouTube video. She told me to make sure I had Saran-wrap. I was confused and skeptical – since I hadn’t watched the YouTube video – but pulled out the Saran-wrap anyway.  There was a knock at the door.

“Okayy, let’s do this! Are you ready?” she asked, eyes wide with excitement.

“Yeah,” I responded. I grinned and made a face. “Is it gonna be gross?”

“I’ll handle all the meat, promise.” And she did.

We pulled out all the ingredients and got to work. It was no more disgusting than making meatballs! And it was really, really easy. I couldn’t believe it. Let it go on the record that I was wrong and Liz was right.  Here’s how you do it, with all credit going to Liz:

In a mixing bowl, place ground pork or turkey. Mix in spices you want (I did one version with basil, garlic, oregano, and a bit of parmesan cheese; one version with feta, dill, garlic, and basil). To make it all stick together, I’d recommend adding one egg.  We didn’t this first time but I plan to next time.

Take a big handful and roll it hot-dog style on a piece of Saran-wrap. Wrap the Saran-wrap around it and twist the ends. Do this for all the meat.

Par-boil the sausage by placing it (inside its Saran-wrap casing) in boiling water. Leave it until the meat turns white and the shape is solid; use tongs to remove from the water and let cool. Remove from the “casing” and either freeze it or cook it the rest of the way.

You can grill it or cook it up in a skillet. It wasn’t grilling weather the first time around, so I went for the skillet option, added some extra feta and carrots, and here’s what I got:

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And it tasted as good as it looks. YUM. Thanks, neighbor.

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