A Face of Lyme Disease

A Face of Lyme Disease - Under the Monkey Bars blog

I was so exhausted the other day. I felt like a zombie. All I wanted to do was crawl into my cozy bed and read, but there was dinner to make, dishes to wash, and laundry to finish.

I could barely put one foot in front of the other. The minute Don walked in the door, I disappeared upstairs. I’d been dying to try this charcoal mask my friend Gia sent me from Beauty Counter and it was calling my name.

After I put the mask on, I saw the face of Lyme looking back at me through the mirror. My skin was the exact shade of our bathroom walls. I could have disappeared. My face hardened to the point that I couldn’t speak. In that moment, I became my chronic illness: invisible and silent, blending into the world.

I often get asked what it’s like to have Lyme disease. Before I was diagnosed, I truly had no idea. I thought that if someone got bit by a tick, they would take antibiotics and be cured. Unless you catch Lyme right away, it’s not like that at all. It’s really hard to describe what it feels like, but gray comes pretty close.

Every day I fight to participate in my own life. Besides the annoyance of taking medicine every day, there’s the rollercoaster of aches and pains, the tilt-a-whirl of nausea, and the marathon of exhaustion. There’s too many ups and downs to keep track. The worst part is never knowing what each day will bring and the fear and anxiety it creates.

Some days I feel like I’m lost. People describe it as brain fog. I walk around feeling uncertain of what to do next as the clock ticks on. I can’t remember things. I don’t feel like I’m in charge. It’s an awful feeling and unfortunately it comes and goes at least twice a week, some days worse than others.

I still have mono but the symptoms are lessening. I’m past the extreme heaviness, but feel like a zombie sometimes — especially after a busy day.

I’m thankful for the healthy food choices I make because I know it’s helping my body heal. The doctor who developed the herbal protocol I’m taking, Dr. Cowden, recommends a diet free of gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and sugar. I was mostly eating this way before my Lyme diagnosis a year ago. I’m more mindful of what I put in my body now more than ever. I really can feel the difference.

I’m so ready to be healthy every day. To wake up in a good mood, ready to greet the day. To feel good all day every day for a whole week. To go for a long walk, drink a glass of wine, and not worry about overdoing it. Enough already, Lyme. 

Life isn’t always unicorns and rainbows, but I much prefer when it is.

Gazpacho Andaluz

Gazpacho Andaluz - Under the Monkey Bars blog

La Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain

After a few years of tweaking, I’ve finally perfected my recipe for Gazpacho Andaluz, a soup made of raw vegetables and served cold. You’ll love this easy, naturally gluten free and vegan recipe!

Gazpacho Andaluz - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Don and I took an amazing trip to Paris and Madrid in 2013. I hadn’t been back to Madrid since college. So much of the city had changed, yet the food stayed the same: gazpacho, paella, sangria, patatas bravas, tortilla espanola.

For me, gazpacho is summer in a bowl.

As soon as we got home, I started experimenting with different combinations of vegetables to make my gazpacho taste exactly as did in the Plaza Mayor. I needed to recreate that experience of sitting under a misting umbrella with cobblestones underfoot and a sangria in my hand. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what ingredient I was missing. Finally I realized that the secret ingredient to Gazpacho Andaluz is white balsamic vinegar! 

Gazpacho Andaluz - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Gazpacho Andaluz - Under the Monkey Bars blog

I made Gazpacho Andaluz a few weeks ago when I was a guest chef at Mandarava Kitchen. Newburyport Olive Oil graciously contributed their robust white balsamic vinegar to cook with that night. It definitely elevates the flavor! If you haven’t tried their oils and vinegars, it’s quite an experience! I have a few more favorites, which I’ll be sharing soon in my next recipe post from our Mandarava tapas menu.

It only takes 15 minutes to make this soup without a stove or pot in sight. Don’t peel anything and only cut each veggie into chunks. Let the blender do the work for you! Once you quickly chop each ingredient, toss it into the blender. When the soup is ready, the only clean up should be a cutting board, knife, blender and spatula — don’t leave behind a drop!

This type of gazpacho is the traditional preparation you would experience if you visited the southern region of Andalusia in Spain. Gazpacho is particularly popular during hot summer nights because it is refreshing and cold. The color is perfection.

Gazpacho Andaluz - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Photo credit: Meg Manion Photography

Gazpacho Andaluz is a recipe that the whole family will enjoy. You can make it ahead and store it for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. Serve it as is or with toppings to stir in, such as cucumbers, peppers, red onion, parsley, and croutons. It’s the perfect summer recipe for a no-stress dinner.

When I studied abroad in Madrid during college back in 1998, my Señora Encarna would say, “Cómelo todo!” at dinnertime. It translates to, “Eat it all!” I sometimes say it to my monkeys with a smile, remembering that incredible experience. That’s why I include “Cómelo todo!” at the end of my recipe posts as a tribute to the lovely lady who made sure I was well fed all those years ago in Spain.

Try this Gazpacho recipe and let me know how you like it in the comments or click on the stars to review it. Cómelo todo!

Gazpacho Andaluz
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  1. 2½ pounds tomatoes (about 8 medium)
  2. 2 medium cucumbers
  3. 2 small sweet red peppers
  4. 1 yellow or white onion
  5. 3 cloves garlic
  6. 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  7. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  8. 1-2 tablespoons of honey or agave
  9. 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  10. 1 teaspoon sea salt
  11. Freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Wash the vegetables and cut into chunks, leave the skin on the cucumber.
  2. If you're using a large high speed blender, everything should fit into one batch. Otherwise purée in small batches until smooth.
  3. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
  4. Let sit for several hours or overnight in the fridge. The garlic flavor will become stronger over time. Serve chilled.
  1. - Use organic ingredients when possible.
  2. - Yields 48 ounces.
  3. - This gazpacho will keep for 4 days.
  4. - Newburyport Olive Oil's white balsamic really boosts the flavor in this recipe.
Adapted from Farm Girl Fare
Adapted from Farm Girl Fare
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandrava Kitchen

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Last week I cooked and served a mediterranean tapas dinner as a guest chef at Mandarava Kitchen in Newburyport. At 39, I wasn’t expecting to feel the exhilaration of a new experience, but I did. It was incredible and I loved every minute!

Before I tell you all about what it was like to be a chef for the night, let’s rewind ten years. I didn’t enjoy cooking, not even a tiny bit. I was queen of all things in a box: pasta with a jar of sauce and macaroni & cheese were a few of my greatest hits. We ordered takeout or went out to eat about 5 times a week.

Here I am now, a stay at home mom with a few cooking lessons plus hours of cooking at home asked to be a guest chef! I’m still pinching myself. How did this even happen?

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

It all started on Instagram. One day I posted a picture of a salad I made for lunch and Chef Mary Vyn commented saying that I should come cook with her at Mandarava. The next time I was in for lunch I asked, “Were you serious? I’d love to!” And so the planning began for my debut as a guest chef!

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Mandarava is a vegan, organic restaurant that offers one bowl for lunch based on the buddhist philosophy. It’s a scratch kitchen and their homemade bread is almost always gluten free. Therefore, our entire menu for my guest chef dinner was both gluten free and vegan: a perfect match for me. It’s such a challenge to eat out when you are conscious about what you eat. At Mandarava, I know the food is always going to be healthy and delicious.

When I arrived at 2pm, Mary and I enjoyed a cup of tea together while going over the menu details for our tapas dinner. We loosely put together the menu via emails and texts with room to create on the fly. So we nailed down some details over tea and decided who would start cooking what. With 6 courses, we had a lot of chopping ahead of us!

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I made the gazpacho, hummus, roasted carrots, and salad from start to finish. Mary created melt-in-your-mouth vegan cheez-its, mission figs, paella, and peaches. Together we baked the bread, garnished, and plated. The entire meal was truly a collaboration.

Tapas Menu:
– Stuffed Mission Figs with a Cashew Cream
Gazpacho Andaluz
– Marjoram Skewered Rainbow Carrots with Hummus
– Arugula Salad with Oranges and Pepitas dressed with Newburyport Olive Oil & Vinegar
– Sweet Pepper Paella
– Grilled Peaches with Maple Cream

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Mary made me feel so welcome in the kitchen, but when I got started I was a little unsure of myself. Once I knew where to find everything, things went smoothly and I was super comfortable. We chatted and listened to the Cowboy Junkies. Chopping and roasting, blending and baking. It was actually quite relaxing, and so much fun.

Even though we’d never cooked together, Mary and I had such amazing synergy in the kitchen. We completed each others dishes and finished each other’s sentences. It was such a beautiful collaboration of creativity. I learned so much about what it’s like to work in a kitchen that night.

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

When the guests arrived, one of my friends called me Chef Westermann. That’s definitely something I’ve never heard before! After it registered, it sounded really good.

I never dreamed of being a chef. Now that I’ve planned, prepped, cooked, and served a successful six course tapas dinner at Mandarava Kitchen, maybe that’s a possibility. Who knows what the future holds! I could actually see myself going to culinary school. Either way, it’s certainly a passion.

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

My Guest Chef Experience at Mandarava Kitchen - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I’m beyond grateful to Chef Mary for the opportunity to cook in her magical kitchen. It was already a happy place for me and I’ve definitely made it even happier by experiencing what it’s like to be on the other side of the counter. Thank you to the mother daughter owners of Mandarava Kitchen: Ellie and Mary, for trusting me and welcoming me into your special space. I look forward to setting a date to cook together again in the Fall!

Thank you to our dinner guests. Your constant mmmmm’s and easy conversation made my job a breeze! It was wonderful to cook for my super supportive friends and husband that night. It’s been humbling to have so many people believe in me.

Meg Manion Photography beautifully captured so many moments from that evening, even though the lighting was not ideal. Thank you Meg!

Blogging has opened some intriguing doors. Thanks for joining me on this adventure. Stay tuned for recipe posts from our tapas menu coming to the blog soon!

I still have Lyme…with a side of Mono

I Still Have Lyme - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Lyme sucks. That’s been my motto lately. Here I am 10 months after diagnosis and I still have Lyme disease…now with a side of mono. 

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about Lyme. Frankly, I don’t like to give it any more time than it takes up already. From the moment I wake up until I turn my bedside light off at night, it’s lyme lyme lyme. Daily aches and pains combined with exhaustion is really starting to wear me down.

When Don got injured in early March, I stopped taking my antibiotics so that I could take care of him. I knew I couldn’t handle another antibiotic at the time so I started the Cowden herbal protocol shortly after that. I’m on day 53 today.

I feel much better on the herbal drops, even though I have to remember to take them 4 times a day. It’s insane how much of the daily discomfort I’d been experiencing was just being on antibiotics for an extended period. I’m so thankful I no longer have the joint pain and difficulty walking that I did back in January and February on the antibiotic Tindamax. Over the past several months, I’ve learned that different kinds of medicine brings out different symptoms. It’s really interesting but no fun at the time.

I’m still having herx reactions on the Cowden. Lately, my left eye has been twitching a lot with severe pain in the sockets of my eyes and right ear. I have neck pain, back pain, fogginess, excessive sweating, a hung over feeling most mornings (without drinking!), and I’m mixing up words or having trouble finding the right word. That’s it. Honestly, it sounds like a lot but it’s way more manageable than before. Probably because I’ve killed off some of the Lyme bacteria at this point.

A few weeks ago, I found out that the mononucleosis or Epstein Barre Virus I had in 1999 has resurfaced as a result of my weakened immune system. It’s crazy that mono can actually do that. I’m not contagious: just really, really tired. Like I can’t get out of bed in the morning tired — and I’m usually a pop out of bed and greet the day without caffeine kind of girl. It’s such a drag.

Please don’t take this as complaining. And don’t be sorry for me. It is what it is. I can’t change the fact that I have Lyme disease, but I will tell my story in hopes that it will help others get diagnosed faster.

Many thanks to those of you who have reached out to share your Lyme stories. And I’m so happy I was able to help those of you who were suffering without a diagnosis. I love hearing from you so please continue to drop me a note in the comments or email me directly. I started this blog to share information to help us live healthier lives — without even realizing I had Lyme at the time. I truly believe that helping people is what I’m meant to be doing right now. 

The ticks are really bad this spring. Please check yourself and your family for ticks daily. There are sooooo many Lyme symptoms so refer to this list and look out for friends and family who have random things popping up. Thanks so much for reading this post and supporting Under the Monkey Bars!

Life on the Sweeter Side

Life on the Sweeter Side - Under the Monkey Bars blog

My sweet tooth is fierce, especially when the clock strikes 3 and 8pm. No matter what I do, it will always be there. I’m not one to deprive myself of a treat though. So I’ve found a way to balance the cravings and still enjoy life on the sweeter side.

Do you crave sugar? Most people do because it’s sooooo addictive. It’s seriously like a drug, hidden in most of the food we eat.

Ever wonder why there’s no daily value percentage next to “sugar” on the nutrition facts of an ingredient label? Fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, and fiber all include the daily value percentage on food labels. But sugar does not. Kind of makes you think, right?

Hmmmm. Why doesn’t the government want us to know how much sugar we’re eating? I recently learned that during the low-fat and fat free craze, companies added sugar to improve taste. It seems that big business won and we lost. That’s only one of the reasons food labels don’t make the sugar count more clear. But positive changes are happening!

The latest dietary guidelines have drastically decreased the recommended sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. This translates to 12 teaspoons for a 2,000 calorie diet which I still think is too high. The World Health Organization recommends only 6 teaspoons a day.

What are we currently consuming? The average American eats about 22 teaspoons of sugar each day and — you’re not going to believe this — the average child eats 32 teaspoons of sugar daily. Wow! No wonder why our country has a diabetes epidemic.

So, how do can you cut down on sugar and still satisfy your sweet tooth?

  • Skip the soda, bottled juices, and sports drinks. Drink more water! Add a slice of fruit, cucumber, or fresh mint to your water if you don’t like the taste. You’ll get used to it. Water is way better for you and it’s free. Look, you’re even saving money!
  • Stop buying refined, white sugar. Switch to coconut sugar or date sugar in recipes that call for sugar. Better yet, seek new recipes that use raw honey, agave nectar, or pure maple syrup as sweeteners. You won’t find white sugar in any of the recipes here at Under the Monkey Bars.
  • Bake your own goodies. When you make something from scratch, you know exactly what’s in it. It takes extra time, but it’s totally worth it. We usually bake a minimum of 2 treats a week. Start with once a week and work your way up!
  • Buy plain yogurt. Four years ago, we started buying organic whole milk plain yogurt instead of vanilla. It drastically cut the monkeys sugar intake and it was an easy change to make. We add a drop of vanilla and some raw honey to the plain yogurt. Defrosted berries create their own syrup are a great substitution for “fruit on the bottom” type yogurts.
  • Reduce processed foods. Most of us aren’t sprinkling sugar on our food but believe me, you’re eating it! The less food you eat out of a box, the less sugar you’ll consume. 
  • Eat more vegetables. Sprinkle some cinnamon on a sweet potato with blueberries and pumpkin seeds for your afternoon snack instead of a granola bar. It will satisfy your sweet tooth and provide more nutrition for your body.
  • Everything in moderation. I’m not saying don’t eat anything sweet because that’s just crazy. Aim for balance with organic fruits and dates for treats instead of what you usually grab. We all need one indulgence; mine is dark chocolate, which contains way less sugar than other varieties. I usually eat a piece a day and consider it healthy.

Start a healthier life on the sweeter side today. By reading labels and making a few changes, you’ll look and feel healthier. Promise!

P.S. If you haven’t already, watch Fed Up!