Gall Talk

Sharing recipes, war stories, and advice about gallbladder surgery

The Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse and Cinnamon Blueberry Oatmeal

Confession: I am really bad at diets.  You’re like, “Wait, what? Aren’t you always on a diet?” No, grasshopper, if you’re “always” on something, you’re not on it — it’s a change in your whole life style. Like I said before, post-surgery, it’s really easy not to eat the things that are bad for you because your body immediately rebels.  That being said, I was kind of curious about the “Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse“. A) I did overeat during the holidays and B) I love Bon Appetit. Their recipes haven’t led me wrong yet.

They kindly have a two-week menu broken down into meals and grocery lists (PDF). Here’s the problem: I do not have the majority of these foods and/or ingredients already at my house. And really… wtf are pink peppercorns? harissa paste? I don’t own bamboo skewers… or whole brown mustard seeds, cardamom, or flaxseed. The chances of me going out to get them just for these two weeks are nil.  However, I am with them on the spirit of the cleanse… and the oatmeal breakfasts, which I did start this week. I’m not sure if oatmeal can qualify as a recipe, but here’s what I put in mine:

Cinnamon Blueberry Oatmeal

1/2 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1 cup water (as per instructions)
a little 2% fat milk
2 tsp sugar
sprinkling of cinnamon
half a handful of dried blueberries
a few chopped walnuts

Cook oatmeal according to instructions. When almost done, add a little milk to give it nicer color and flavor.  When I say “a little”, I mean like no more than 1/4 cup. Cook till it’s thickened to a desired consistency. Add cinnamon and sugar (to taste, really). Add dried blueberries, or other dried fruit of choice and any kind of nuts you like.  Stir around for a bit, let cool before you dig in.  See, told you it’s a not a “real” recipe.  Not so much on the exact measurements.

Bon Appetit does have a list of detox foods to incorporate into your diet if you can’t follow their schedule, so I will probably do that instead. I just got more chickpeas and pink beans, as well as broccoli, and I do love me some sweet potatoes. Recipes will keep coming!

Color affects the taste of your food

Image courtesy of The Rocketeer via Flickr

We now have an explanation for why green ketchup failed.  Apparently, the color of your food actually has an effect on your perception of the taste of that food.  Or drink, which is how Coke discovered that people thought Coke in white cans tasted different than the Coke in regular red ones.  Crazy, right?  If they blindfolded you, you couldn’t tell the difference, but just looking at something that’s not what you expect changes how you think it should taste.  It’s all mind over matter people, it really is.

I suppose that’s why people want to hide vegetables in other food for their kids, so they don’t notice and turn their noses up at them. Would you participate in this experiment? I dare you to try it at your house one day. Actually, that would be a pretty neat science project for a 7th grader.  Color the same food in different ways and ask people if they can taste the difference. Boom! Now you have an idea for your science fair (as long as it’s not tomorrow, in which case, bring your cup of dirt).

Apple and Walnut Matzoh Kugel

Today’s PSA: You don’t have to be Jewish to buy and eat matzoh. And it doesn’t even have to be Passover to get it, unless you live somewhere without a large Jewish population — in which case you’re missing out anyway on a lot of good food, and you need to come to NYC, stat.  But whether you love or hate matzoh itself (let’s face it, it tastes like cardboard), you will absolutely love this apple and walnut matzoh kugel. It is so full of yum, I actually recommend doubling the recipe and making it in a 9″ x 13″ pan instead. My family demolishes it completely within mere hours of it coming out of the oven.

Apple and Walnut Matzoh Kugel

2 granny smith apples, diced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup orange juice
4 sheets of whole wheat or regular matzoh
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup white sugar
4 tbsp grapeseed oil
handful of walnuts

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Mix together apples, brown sugar, and orange juice in a large bowl. Break apart matzoh into small pieces, and let soak in boiled hot water for a few minutes until soft but not too mushy. Whisk together eggs, salt, cinnamon, white sugar, and oil. Combine with matzoh, then add apples. Cover an 8″ x 8″ tray with parchment paper, and pour in the mix.  Sprinkle walnuts on top. Bake about 1 hour, or until kugel is totally dry when poked with a toothpick.

On the importance of granola bars

Image courtesy of theimpulsivebuy on Flickr

Or any other food that travels well.  You see, sometimes you have to go places where you don’t if you’ll be able to eat what they have.  As my mother always says, “If you’re going to someone’s house, eat at home first.”  Frankly, you never know.  Sure, your close friends probably know not to serve you deep fried Twinkies, but your spouse’s coworker’s family that kindly invited you to their summer BBQ probably does not. Moreover, it’s very rude to show up to someone’s party, exclaim you can’t possibly eat anything, and sit in a corner fuming that everyone else gets to chow down.

So, bring a granola bar. Or eat at home. That way, if you go to someone’s house, you’re not so hungry that you eat everything in sight and then have a stomachache, but you can almost always find a little something to eat to be polite, even if it’s just grazing on salad (before it’s smothered in Ranch dressing).

Roasted Butternut Squash, Feta, and Apple Salad

How much of a recipe do you have to change to make it your own? I often wonder this as I look through some of the reviews on different recipe sites where people say, “Well, I made this, but changed EVERYTHING about it”.  I found this recipe on Epicurious, but by the time I was done, it looked a whole lot different.

To be honest, I don’t really know what endives are, and blue cheese is such a strong flavor, I knew many in my house would turn their nose. So here’s my take on it, as well as instructions on easily dealing with a butternut squash — delicious but deadly without the right instruments.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Feta, and Apple Salad

1 butternut squash, cubed into 1″ pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 green apples, matchsticked
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 head of romaine lettuce, torn up small

For butternut squash:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar

For dressing:
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice

Peel and cube squash**. Preheat oven 400 degrees. Whisk together vinegar and sugar. Brush squash with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast 5 minutes. Brush with vinegar and sugar mix, and roast another 5 minutes. Turn and shake it up, and then roast 45 mins-1 hour, or until soft and tender. Let cool, and add salt & pepper to taste. Combine with other salad ingredients, whisk together dressing and drizzle on top, and serve.

** Butternut squash is hard as a rock. To peel and cube it, you need a seriously sharp vegetable peeler, and a very long, extra-sharp knife. I’m not kidding.  Use low-quality tools, and you’ll be fighting with it, which can easily result in injuring yourself, and a trip to the hospital ain’t much fun.

Even with good instruments, this can take a while, so it can be done earlier and just stored in the fridge up to 1 day.  Cut the squash in half, separating the long skinny part from the bottom bulbous part. Cut off the ends, making yourself two cylindrical shapes that easily stand on a cutting board. Remove the seeds and string from the bottom half using a fork or a grapefruit spoon.  Peel in long skinny strips until you hit bright orange. Then cut in halves and halves again until you can easily cube 1″ pieces.

Roast Chicken Breasts with Garbanzo Beans, Tomatoes, Spinach and Rice Pilaf

I will tell you this – I have never been led astray by a Bon Appetit recipe.   I really only ever change them up if I am certain of the ingredients. Today, I found this recipe for roast chicken breasts with garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and paprika and thought, “I could totally make that”.  However, that’s not a meal in itself, so I added spinach and rice pilaf.  A set of recipes follows; I’m just going to say this — the yogurt sauce is amazing. I’m not usually one to expound the virtues of something like yogurt sauce… but this one’s worth it.

Roast Chicken Breasts with Garbanzo Beans, Tomatoes, Spinach and Rice Pilaf

Time: took me about an hour and a half to do everything, mostly because it was a new recipe.
Serves: 4 people, at least once, with possible leftovers for lunch

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 oz plain Greek yogurt (like 1 container of 2% fat Chobani)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 4-6 pieces of even thickness
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
1 12-ounce container cherry tomatoes
1 handful chopped fresh parsley, divided
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/2 lemon

2 large bunches of fresh spinach, rinsed well
4 garlic cloves, chopped and divided
1/2 cup of white wine, divided

Trader Joe’s Orzo & Rice Pilaf (cooked as per directions, omitting the seasoning, just add salt)

Preheat oven to 450°. Mix first 4 ingredients in medium bowl. Whisk 1 teaspoon spiced oil mixture into yogurt. Place chicken on large rimmed baking sheet. Rub 3 teaspoons spiced oil mixture over chicken. In a large bowl, mix beans, tomatoes, carrots and half the  parsley with most of remaining spiced oil mixture (I eyeballed it and had a little left over). Pour bean mixture around chicken. Sprinkle everything generously with salt and pepper, squeeze some lemon juice on top.  Roast covered about 20 minutes, then uncovered about 20 mins.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cilantro. Transfer chicken to plates. Spoon bean mixture over. Serve with yogurt sauce.

Meanwhile, saute 2 cloves of garlic in 1/4 cup of white wine for 2 mins, then add 1 bunch of clean spinach, and cook on low heat, covered, until it wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste. Repeat with the second bunch.  Yes, this is what you get from two bunches when it’s all wilted. Not much at all… but full of healthy good-for-you-ness!

Arrange delightfully on a plate and enjoy!

Ginger and Baby Bok Choy Shrimp Noodle Bowl

My camera is still out of commission, so… let me just describe in words how tasty this dinner is. It is yumm-dilli-dacious. And I don’t make up words lightly. As a preface, stir fry anything is the ultimate in choice and flavor selection — you can put it whatever veggies you like, make it as spicy or not as you can handle, and it’s easy to make it vegan, vegetarian, or chock full of meat. There’s barely any fat and a whole lot of flavor, which is the main thing in my kitchen. The following recipe is something I threw together, so most flavor measurements are approximate at best. For something like this, you really can taste as you go along and add things to suit.  Oh, and I’ve got plenty left for lunch tomorrow. Score!

Ginger and Baby Bok Choy Shrimp Noodle Bowl

1lb frozen shrimp, defrosted, peeled and deveined
1 package Chinese noodle soup, seafood flavor
2 tbsp wok or sesame oil, separated
5 scallions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1 small piece of ginger, cut into thick slices
1 carrot, thinly sliced
2 packages of button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
~1 grocery bag full of baby bok choy, leaves taken apart and thoroughly washed
~2 tbsp soy sauce (or more, to taste)
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp hoisin sauce

Heat 1 tbsp oil in large skillet. Add half the garlic, scallions, and ginger, and saute 3 minutes. Add shrimp, and cook until pink through. Remove from pan using slotted spoon.

Cook noodles according to instructions, but add only a tiny bit of the soup base, not the whole thing.

Add other tbsp oil to skillet. Add remainder of garlic, scallions, and ginger, and saute 3 more minutes. Add mushrooms and cover, cooking on medium heat until mushrooms have released juices and turned a light brown. Add baby bok choy, and cook until mostly wilted, 5-7 minutes. Add carrot, and stir.

Now start adding soy sauce, curry powder, sugar, and hoisin sauce to taste. If you like a little more heat, feel free to add sriracha.  When it tastes good, add the shrimp and the noodles. Stir fry until all the sauce and flavors are distributed and absorbed.  Enjoy!

Whole Grain Green Apple & Yogurt Muffins


I modified this recipe from this Pinch My Salt recipe, which is awesome but sadly sour cream is just not in the cards for me.  I will also confess that my pictures aren’t nearly as pretty because my camera battery died and I had to do these with my phone. The muffins came out super-tasty and crumbly, so I am pleased to share the recipe with everyone.  It still warrants some fidgeting, perhaps with chocolate chips, but that would certainly put them squarely into the “dessert” — not that I’m against that.

Greek yogurt, by the way, is a fantastic substitute for sour cream if you ever need one.  It also has the benefit of coming in 2% and 0% fat options, or at least Chobani does.  And while there isn’t any in this recipe, apple sauce is a long-standing substitute for butter in a lot of baking.

Whole Grain Green Apple & Yogurt Muffins:

Set 1:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oat bran
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Set 2:
8 oz 2% fat Greek yogurt (I like Chobani), at room temp.
1/3 cup grape seed oil (or canola)
2 eggs
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Set 3:
1 granny smith apple, peeled and diced
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds – your choice)

cinnamon and sugar mixture (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 12 cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together Set 1 ingredients: flour, oat bran, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

3. In a separate bowl, beat together Set 2 ingredients: Greek yogurt, oil, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla.

4. Gradually add Set 2 (dry) into Set 1 (wet) and stir until combined. Fold in Set 3: apples and nuts (if using).

5. Divide batter between the twelve muffin cups. Sprinkle tops of muffins with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar if desired.

6. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

You will now eat ALL THE TIME

Remember how it used to be “three square meals a day”?  That’s nice, but it ain’t gonna cut it. You, oh gallbladder-less one, have now joined the ranks of the grazers.  You will eat several, 5 or 6, mini-meals throughout the day, so that the bile your liver produces gets used up and doesn’t cause you agita (agita caused by your job, mother-in-law, or people who don’t walk fast enough when you’re running late is a different story).

Sample day menu:

Breakfast, 7am – cup of coffee, low-fat whole-wheat waffles with chocolate cheese spread (yes, chocolate in the morning)

Breakfast 2, 11am – 1% fat honey-flavored Greek yogurt, cup of tea

Lunch, 12.30pm – iced tea, grilled chicken salad dressed with bit of salt and olive oil (no vinegar!)

Snack, 3pm – granola bar or string cheese, cup of coffee

Dinner, 6pm – baked tilapia filet, mashed potatoes, salad, followed by cup of tea and 1 piece of dark chocolate

Snack again, 9pm – fruit of choice (apple, watermelon, cherries, etc.)

Extra fun bonus — your coworkers will start bitching, “How do you eat all the time and never gain weight?”  Unless truly pushed, try to resist responding with, “Well, I don’t eat Oreos and Cheetos swilled down by Coca-Cola, do I?”

Gallbladder surgery, Part 2

If you’ve never been had a hospital stay, it is one of the most terrifying, boring, painful, confusing, humiliating, life-defining things you’ll ever experience. Did I make it sound like a bowl of kittens just now? Oh good.  That’s kind of how it is when being around friends for more than 15 minutes makes you tired, and you are making deals with G-d that sound like, “If you just let me poop by myself, I will donate to charity, read to the blind, and never think a bad thought about my mother again”.

Which, by the way, if you’re extraordinarily lucky, you have the kind of family that brings you chicken broth so you don’t have to eat hospital food, trades off spending days with you so you’re not alone, and braids the hair you haven’t washed in a week. If you’re even luckier, your friends come by with flowers and giant-ass cards and specially printed pajamas, and aren’t upset that one day you tell them not to come because you are so unbelievably in pain from (of all things) being gassy.

On the more medical side, not everyone has the best bedside manner. One of the techs that did a test actually made me cry because he said something like, “Oh, well, they’ll cut you open and take it out, no big deal”. Ahem, that “cut you open” part is a REALLY big deal, buddy. I do have to say that laparoscopic surgery is fantastic.  The recovery time is minimized considerably, to the extent that shortly after surgery I was able to get up and walk to the bathroom by myself. That’s not possible with the regular kind.

The other thing I’ll tell you is that morphine really is the trippiest thing. I would close my eyes because it made me sleepy, but then would feel like the room is rocking back and forth on giant waves. Eventually I figured out that if I fight the sleepiness for 20 minutes, I’ll get the pain-killing benefit without the bad hallucinations.   It’s not fun if you’re not dreaming of unicorns,  bunnies, and Brad Pitt swimming in a bowl of Lucky Charms.