Right now, I am answering emails from 2012. Yes. 2012. And I have about 200 more to go until I’ve completely cleared my inbox. This may make you nauseous. Or anxious. I know it makes me anxious. And that’s probably why I still have emails from 2012. It’s taken me a long time to get over that overwhelming hump of what’s ahead in order to dive in and tackle that electronic mountain of letters. I’ve put it off for days. Years, actually. Telling myself that I would get to it tomorrow. Or more like 2,190 tomorrows.
But finally, today, I did it. Starting with the oldest. I began to answer, archive, and trash each letter. I moved slowly at first, eventually picking up speed. I found a flow. And shortcuts. And soon, what started as an insurmountable task started feeling easy and fluid and like no big thing. Before you know it, I only had 100 emails left, only dating back as far as July 2014. That’s progress. And that felt really good.
Now my inbox is clean(er). I have a better system in place, more folders, and a new routine that will keep emails from piling up. Or in other words, keep me from falling back into bad habits. I feel lighter and less stressed and overall, better.
So what does this have to do with food? My gut is a lot like my inbox.
Eleven years ago, healthy eating prolonged my life. Hell, it saved my life. By tackling a low-so sodium diet, healthy eating also gave me a tasty life worth living. And this year, I officially celebrated ELEVEN! years with my two, once-failed kidneys — lovingly named “Frank” and “Stein.” Food helped me heal. And when I first met Amie Valpone (who we’ll get to in a minute, but here’s her website for now), I was fresh-faced and full of energy. Healthy and vibrant. And as much of a well-oiled machine as someone with kidney disease could hope to be.
But a few years ago, that shine started to fade. I struggled with inflammation and a host of inexplicable symptoms. I unsuccessfully battled climbing blood pressures and weight gain, with no apparent reason (or at least no solution) and little change with medication. I felt plump and itchy and hormonally imbalanced. I felt swollen and stressed. Devastatingly exhausted. And totally lost. I thought my kidneys were dying. I thought I was dying.
Now enter Amie, who I met at a food conference back in 2012. While everyone else chatted about Instagram filters or food trends (candy, pretzels, and potato chip brownies!), Amie and I found ourselves bonding over what it is like to sit at a different kind of table. One where food is not just about sustaining or entertaining, but helping us simply stay alive.
Even though Amie herself was currently battling a mountain of unknown medical issues, she had a spark about her. No bigger than a stock pot, she was full of fire. She was determined to find answers and to heal. And to do that with the help of medical professionals. But mostly, with food. Through the years, we’ve called one another, from opposite coasts, for advice when we hit medical walls. Which is often. And most recently, I called Amie about my own downward health spiral. And my gut. Which I needed to heal. But also, trust.
With her encouragement, I started looking more carefully at what I was eating. I began researching anti-inflammation diets and seriously considering if my few food vices (coffee, occasional candy binge, and a deep love for potatoes), might be wreaking havoc on my inside. And as I watched Amie’s health transform and improve, I realized that, just like with those pesky emails, it was time to clear and unclog my body of all the junk and spam that’s been collecting for years.
As with all new diets (or email mountains), making it across the starting line is the most difficult part. There were a lot of days when I promised to start “tomorrow,” sneaking in one last sip of coffee. Only to sneak it in the next day. To change my diet (again!) required action, energy, and effort. It required cleaning “house” and altering habits. It required time and focus. And sometimes, it required discomfort. Like giving up coffee. But just like with the emails, when I got going, I got going. And by the end of the first month, I felt lighter, less inflamed, and overall, refreshed. From the inside out.
The best news is, thanks to Amie and her new book, Eating Clean, no one has to do this alone. Ever.
I love this book. LOVE IT. And I’m not just saying that because I love Amie. But this book is an incredible tool for anyone to take control of their health, as much as one can, with their two hands. Amy does not just provide advice for the kitchen, but for the whole home and body. And even the world of grocery stores, supplements, and yes, doctors.
What I love most about this book, though, is that it is not a Bible. There are no commandments. Just her experiences and years worth of expertise. As well as a good number of recipes, too. Meaning, you use what you want. Devour the book whole and follow every tip in it. Or take one nibble at a time. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure for creating your own map toward health. Which is why it is not just a book for those of us with limited diets or health issues, but anyone looking for a clean slate and a clean start.
Speaking of nibbles, everything in the book is incredibly low-so friendly. Ingredient lists include sea salt and occasional products, like garbanzo miso paste, that have sodium in them. So adjust accordingly to your needs. But all the nut-cheese substitutes and seed-crackers will provide pleasant additions to your low-so kitchen. And I can’t wait to make her layered oatmeal bars and quinoa pizza.
But again, what I love about this book, is just like the advice Amie provides, her recipes serve as starting blocks, meant to be adapted to your needs. Like this Bell Pepper Soup (recipe below). I’ve seen a lot of orange soups in my time. But this one promises something more than a typical winter squash situation. That’s because Amie added bell pepper for sweetness and sweet potato for heft and creaminess. She topped it all off with DIY hot sauce and gluten-free croutons and avocados, for spice and texture and a kind of Tex-Mex twists. Which I’ve been seriously craving after removing night shades (aka, tomatoes) from my ingredient rotation.
So that’s the soup. The starting block.
But I made extra. And used it as a pasta sauce for brown rice noodles and browned lamb. I transformed it into a ketchup-look-alike for some sweet potato fries. I mixed it into my kid’s mac and cheese. And I dreamed of pouring it into my pressure cooker with chicken or short ribs. Or into a pot with fish, lentils, and curry powder. Proving that Eating Clean need not be boring or simple or a one-trick-pony. And that a big batch of this soup will get you through a week’s worth of meals.
And that’s it. A really long story about email, friendship, and guts. Both those that live inside us and those that we need to forge our own path towards health. Like Amie did. I hope this Golden Bell Pepper Soup serves as inspiration for your own journey — the one you’re on or the one you’re beginning. Or at least serves as a welcome break from all that cauliflower I’ve been serving up lately.
Serves 6 to 8