Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Kidney Kitchen: EPIC PRETZELS!

  I'm a snack food lover. Especially crispy, crunchy things. But since I'm on a renal diet, I'm fairly limited in what I can eat. So I have to look for kidney-friendly alternatives, like the snack mix I featured in my kidney diet post on sodium (you can read it here: ).
  But recently I made what could quite possibly be the best snack ever. Really. Best. Snack. EVER. I call this culinary wonder EPIC PRETZELS! Just like that. All caps with an exclamation mark. They are seriously that good. And super addictive. And best of all, really easy to make. Just 5 ingredients and 15 minutes and you too can have EPIC PRETZELS!
  You start by mixing some sugar and cinnamon together in a small dish.

  Next, put your unsalted pretzels into a baking pan.  Add in a few more for good measure (and for munching on while you make the glaze).

  Cut a square of margarine in half, put it in something microwave-proof and pop it in the microwave until it's nice and melty.

  Now add some honey and half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Mix it all up and pour the liquid yumminess over the pretzels.
    Stir up the pretzels until they're all nice and coated.  Go ahead and lick the spatula.
    Pop them in the oven and bake them for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until the glaze is absorbed.  While the pretzels are getting all yummy in the over, line a large cookie sheet with waxed paper (or parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat...anything that will keep the pretzels from sticking to the pan).
  This next step needs to be done fairly quickly, because these babies will cool FAST.  Spread the pretzels on your prepared cookie sheet, spreading them out as thin as you can.  Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture over them.  Now let them cool.  Try to resist eating them, if you can.

And there you have it...supper yummy, super addictive EPIC PRETZELS! Keep them in an airtught container.  I can't tell you how long they'll keep for, because they only last for about 2 days in my house! The full recipe is below.
  Until next time,

  - 5 cups unsalted pretzels
  - 1/4 cup margarine, melted
  - 1/4 cup honey
  - 1/4 cup sugar
  - 1 tsp. cinnamon

  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2.  Mix sugar and cinnamon and sugar together in a small dish; set aside.
  3.  Measure the pretzels into a 9"x13" baking pan.
  4.  Measure the margarine into a glass measuring cup and melt it in the microwave.  Add in the honey and half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture and mix thoroughly.  Pour the glaze over the pretzels and stir them until they're well coated.
  5.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until the glaze is absorbed.
  6.  While the pretzels, are baking, line a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with waxed paper, parchment paper, silicone baking sheet, etc.
  7.  Remove the pretzels from the oven and spread them in a single layer on the prepared cookie sheet.  Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture over the pretezels and allow them to cool.  Store in an air-tight container.

Monday, October 26, 2015

No More Wounded Bird

  What do you think of when you hear the word "dialysis"? Is it positive or negative? Do you see dialysis treatments as some horrible ordeal, and dialysis patients as people to be pitied? I've had several people tell me how sorry they are when they hear that I have end-stage renal failure and am on dialysis. It would almost be funny if it wasn't for the fact that they clearly don't understand what dialysis is or what it can do for someone like me. While there are probably a lot of dialysis patients who would say that dialysis IS a horrible ordeal, and that it's not worth the pain and the hassle, I have a different take.
  Let me start by painting you a picture of where I was just three months ago. Think about the things you do on a daily basis. All those small little things you do that you don't really think about. Getting dressed. Making a meal. Doing household chores. Looking after children or pets. Going out to do a few errands or grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend. They probably seem pretty trivial. But imagine taking 20 minutes to get dressed; not because you can't decide what to wear, but because it takes so much effort to just put on your clothes. That's why most days I would stay in my pajamas; it was just easier that way. If you have stairs in your house, you probably go up and down them many times a day without thinking twice. But imagine not being able to do two short flights of stairs because the effort leaves you huffing and puffing, and you need to stop halfway going both directions because your body is so overloaded with excess fluid that you can't breathe. Have you ever had a really bad, itchy rash or a huge mosquito bite that itches incessantly and you just can't find relief? Take that feeling and multiply it by 50, and then imagine feeling that all over your body. That's what it was like for me because of the high levels of phosphorous in my blood. Have you ever had days when you're so tired you can hardly keep your eyes open, or had a night when, no matter what you did, you just couldn't get to sleep? Imagine dealing with both of those conditions at the same time for days on end. Kidney failure causes both extreme fatigue and insomnia. So even on days when I was so tired I could drop in my tracks, I couldn't get the sleep I needed at night to help me feel better. Think of the time when you were so sick you wanted to die. And then imagine feeling like that every day, with no end in sight...
  Kidney failure is brutal, and it sucks big time. But luckily for me and thousands of other people like me, there are treatments available that can help ease our suffering. Dialysis is one of those treatments. From a purely technical standpoint, dialysis takes the place of the non-functioning kidneys and filters the  waste materials and excess minerals and fluid from our bodies. The method in which this is done varies depending on whether you opt for peritoneal dialysis or hemodialysis.  But the end result is the same.
  But the feeling! There almost aren't words to describe how good I feel. I've spent a good portion of the last few years feeling like absolute crap. I've had some really dark days when I could totally understand why alcoholics drink or addicts do drugs to forget their pain. I would have done almost anything to forget, even if it was only for a little while, how terrible I felt. I battled with depression and anxiety but I was afraid to tell anyone beause of the labels that are associated with mental health issues. I struggled every day to just get through it. I was like a wonded bird, huddled in a cage, kept there by circumstances beyond my control.
  And now? This bird is healed and ready to fly! I feel like I've been set free to soar with the wind beneath my wings. A whole new world brimming with possibility has opened up before me, and I want to experience everything it has to offer. It's as if a new side of me has emerged, and kicked that other sick, miserable chick's butt to the curb. I feel strong, and confident, and I'm just so damn HAPPY! I've been doing so many things again that I couldn't before: cooking and creating and writitng and walking with the dogs and going out... I have more energy now than I've had in a really long time, and it feels amazing. I FEEL AMAZING! I want to laugh and dance and sing and shout and high-five everyone I see. Everything suddenly looks so much brighter, and I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel again. Life just feels so amazingly GOOD right now.
  So don't feel sorry for me because I'm on dialysis. Dialysis has given me my life back. I'm ready to take on the world and kick its ass! I've spent so long feeling like crap that I've forgotten how it feels to feel good, but now I'm being reminded. And that is truly a wonderful feeling.

  Until next time,

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thankful Thursday

  It's a beautiful fall day here today.  The sky is blue, the leaves on the trees (what's left of them, anyway) are a brilliant gold and the air is crisp.  Man, I love fall!  I love sweaters and boots and flannel sheets and pajamas and pumpkin everything (except that I can't pumpkin because it' high in potassium)... And fall is also when one of my favourite holidays takes place...Thanksgiving.  In addition to all the yummy food, I also like to take stock of the many blessings in my life.
  I'm thankful that today, kidney disease isn't the death sentence it was fifty years ago, and that there are treatments such as transplantation and dialysis that can help renal patients like me live a relatively normal life.  I'm thankful for the many doctors and nurses that take such good care of me, especially my dialysis nurse Lana.
  I'm thankful for the love and support of my family and friends.  There's no way that I could get through all of what I have without them.  I know I don't say it nearly often enough, but I love and appreciate each and every one of you more than I could ever express.
  I'm thankful for all of the wonderful, supportive people that I've met through the various Facebook support groups I'm part of.  I can't tell you what it means to have found communities of people like you who really "get" me and who give me such great advice and encouragement when I need it.
  I'm thankful for the renal diet.  That might sound really strange, given how limited it is, but it's help me not only unleash my creativity, but also realize how much fun it is to cook.  I'm thankful for all of the online diet resources I've come across, and for the people who have taken time to share their recipes with the kidney community.
  I'm thankful for the roof over my head, the clothes on my back and the food in my belly.  I'm thankful that, even though we have had tough times, we've never had to wonder where our next meal is going to come from.  I'm thankful that I have somewhere to come home to, and people to come home to.
  I'm thankful for my pets, both the ones I have now and the ones that have crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  I'm especially thankful for my Molly.  When I'm having a bad day or I'm not feeling well, there's absolutely nothing like puppy kisses and snuggles to make everything better.  Look at this face; doesn't she just make you want to smile?
  I'm thankful for my hobbies, especially since I've been home on disability.  I've had a lot of time on my hands, and my crafts have really helped to fill some of it.  I'm thankful for the craft groups on Facebook that I've joined and the members who share their creations and patterns and inspiration.
  I'm thankful for this blog, and the people who read it and give me feedback.  I'm thankful for the opportunity to share my story and my thoughts.  And I'm thankful for the Internet, and Facebook and Pinterest and all of the other (too numerous to mention) websites that I visit on a daily basis.
  Most of all, I'm thankful that God calls me His child.  I'm thankful that, no matter how many times I screw up, He always forgives me.  I'm thankful that He comes looking for me when I lose my way.  I'm thankful that He's always there, when things are sunny and when things are stormy.
  In the season of thankfulness, what are you thankful for? Take some time to think about it, and be sure to let the important people in your life know how much you appreciate them.
  Until next time,


The Kidney Kitchen: Protein and the Renal Diet

  Welcome to the final chapter of my renal diet series! I've enjoyed sharing my information, story and recipes with you, and I hope you've been able to learn something in return.  This post looks at protein.
  We all know that eating enough protein is an important part of staying healthy.  Protein helps our bodies to grow, repair tissues, and heal wounds and infections.  The average adult should eat between 40 to 65 grams of protein every day.
  But protein can be tricky to manage if you have kidney disease.  Many renal patients have to limit their protein intake.  I was first put on a low protein diet when I was still seeing the pediatric nephrologist.  Unfortunately I started losing a lot of weight.  Those who know me know that I am not a large person, so the weight loss was definitely a problem.  The dietitian at the time then wanted me to increase my calories.  Most of the foods that you associate with calories also have protein, so it was interesting trying to balance my reduced protein diet and my increased calorie diet.
  When we eat foods that contain protein, protein waste products are created. Healthy kidneys have millions of nephrons that filter this waste. It’s then removed from the body in the urine.  However, for someone who has kidney disease, their kidneys have lost the ability to remove protein waste and it starts to build up in the blood. Dietary protein intake for patients with CKD is based on the stage of kidney disease, nutrition status and body size.  For patients who are in stage 5 and have kidneys that work at less than 10 percent, dialysis is needed to take over for the failed kidneys or until a kidney transplant is possible.  Dialysis removes protein waste from the blood and a low protein diet is no longer needed. Unfortunately, some amino acids are removed during dialysis. A higher protein intake is needed to replace lost protein.  This is where I am right now.  I need to consume between 4 to 4 1/2 ounces of protein every day.  To get an idea of how much that it, look at a deck of cards; a piece of meat that size would be about 4 to 4 1/2 ounces.
  What do you think of when you think of protein foods? Probably animal products such as meat and eggs.  But dairy products, dried peas/beans/lentils, and nuts and nut butters also contain protein.  However some of these foods also contain potassium and/or phosphorous, so depending on your diet you may need to limit them.  In addition to low protein, I am also on a low potassium, low phosphorous diet, so I have to limit things like dairy and peanut butter (in my pre-renal diet life peanut butter was its own food group, so that one has been really hard for me!).
  One thing that I used to really enjoy before I started the renal diet was fruit smoothies: yogurt, juice and fresh fruit.  Yum! But yogurt is high in protein, potassium and phosphorous.  I did some looking online, and while there are lots of recipes for HIGH protein smoothies, but there are no recipes for LOW protein smoothies.  Fortunately, I had a list of recipes from the dietitian that I saw when I was a child to help me.  I went looking for ingredients, and I came up with this recipe.

  Low-Protein Berry Smoothie
  - 1/2 cup Chapmans Triple Berry Sorbet
  - 1/4 cup unfortified Rice Dream
  - 1/2 cup fresh or 1/4 cup frozen berries, whatever kind you like

  Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Then pour into a glass and enjoy!  You can also try this with different flavours of sorbet or sherbet and fruit and come up with your own flavour combinations.

  Thanks for checking out my renal diet series! And stay tuned for more posts...I'm already planning a Thanksgiving-themed post about how I modify some of our favourite dishes to be kidney-friendly.

  Until next time,

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Kidney Kitchen: Sodium and the Renal Diet

  Thank you for sticking with me, and welcome to part 4 of my renal diet series.  Today we're going to look at sodium.
  We all know the dangers of consuming too much salt...high blood pressure, a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, a higher risk of congestive heart failure.  People with kidney disease can also experience swelling (called edema), puffiness in the face and difficulty breathing.  I had no idea that the shortness of breath I was suffering with before I started dialysis was due to all the excess fluid my body was hanging onto.  Consuming too much salt can make you feel very thirsty and want to drink more, which can lead to fluid weight gain and the above-mentioned symptoms.
  Sodium is found in almost all pre-packaged and processed foods.  Some examples of high sodium foods are:
  - canned soups (the so-called "healthy" soups have even more sodium in them than their regular full-fat counterparts)
  - breakfast and deli meats
  - frozen dinners
  - pre-made sauces
  - fast food
  - some canned vegetables
  - snack foods such as chips and pretzels
  - packaged side dishes
  - low-fat products such as cream cheese, salad dressings and
The easiest way to limit sodium intake is to simply avoid pre-packaged and processed foods.  I make almost all of my meals using fresh ingredients.  That includes snack foods too.  I have found a few low-sodium packaged snacks that I can enjoy without consuming sodium (unsalted pretzels and unsalted corn nuts that I get from Bulk Barn are two of my favourites).  I also modified the following recipe to make it kidney-friendly and low sodium.  I'm posting both the original version and my kidney-friendly version.  As they say in the Twix commercials: try both and pick a side!

Honey-Glazed Snack Mix
  - 5 cups Crispix cereal (you can also use Rice Chex, Corn Chex or a mixture of both)
  - 3 cups mini pretzels
  - 2 cups peanuts
  - 2 cups Cheerios
  - 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
  - 1/2 cup honey

  1.  Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2.  In a jelly roll pan or large roaster, combine cereals, pretzels and peanuts; set aside.
  3.  In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter and honey.  Pour over cereal mixture and stir until everything is well coated.
  4.  Bake for 10 minutes, and then stir.  Continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, or until cereal is glazed and all of the honey mixture has been absorbed.  Immediately pour snack mix out onto waxed paper and cool completely.  Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Kidney-Friendly Honey-Glazed Snack Mix
  - 5 cups Crispix cereal
  - 3 cups unsalted mini pretzel twists
  - 2 cups unsalted corn nuts
  - 1/2 cup melted margarine
  - 1/2 cup honey

  1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
   2. In a jelly roll pan or large roaster, combine cereals, pretzels and peanuts; set aside.
   3. In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter and honey. Pour over cereal mixture and stir until everything is well coated.
   4. Bake for 10 minutes, and then stir. Continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, or until cereal is glazed and all of the honey mixture has been absorbed. Immediately pour snack mix out onto waxed paper and cool completely. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Note: Mix up your snack mix by adding unsalted popcorn, tiny crackers or other kinds of kidney-friendly cereal.

Until next time,

The Kidney Kitchen: Phosphorous and the Renal Diet

  Welcome to part 3 of my kidney diet series.  This post takes a look at phosphorus.
  Phosphorous is another mineral that we get from eating certain foods.  It helps to build strong bones and teeth and muscles and nerves to work properly, convert food into energy and helps with metabolism.  If your phosphorous level is too high, it can cause your blood calcium level to drop, which can lead to brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures or breaks.  It can also cause itching all over your body, red eyes, bone pain and calcium deposits in the blood vessels and organs.  Examples of foods that are high in phosphorous include:
  - milk and dairy products
  - cola drinks and some bottled iced teas and lemonades
  - coffee
  - chocolate
  - bran
  - whole grain breads, rices and pastas
  - wild rice
  - nuts and seeds, and butters made from them
  - dried peas, beans and lentils
  - beer
  - quick breads, biscuits, cornbread, pancakes or waffles made from mixes
  - pizza, lasagna, tacos and other "fast foods"
  In addition to limiting phosphorous-containing foods, another way to help control phosphorous levels is by using phosphorous binders.  Phosphorous binders generally contain calcium.  Your body breaks down the binder and releases the calcium into the bloodstream, where it binds with the phosphorous in your blood.  It is then excreted when you have a bowel movement.  I take Ultra Tums as my phosphorous binder.
  Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE chocolate.  So you can imagine my reaction when I found out that I would have to seriously limit my chocolate consumption.  But then I found this awesome recipe from DaVita for low phosphorous fudge! Hooray!

Low Phosphorous Fudge
  - 2/3 cup half & half creamer
  - 1-2/3 cups granulated sugar
  - 1 cup marshmallow crème
  - 1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1.  Grease a 9" square pan with nonstick spray or butter.
  2.  Combine half & half and sugar in a large heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium. Stir constantly and continue a rolling boil for 5 minutes.
  3.  Remove pan from heat and add marshmallow crème, chocolate chips and vanilla. Stir until marshmallow crème is melted.
  4.  Quickly pour into a greased pan. Cool; cut into 3" x 1-1/2" pieces, making 18 pieces.

Until next time,

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Kidney Kitchen: Potassium and the Renal Diet

  Welcome to part 2 of my 5-part series on my kidney diet.  This post will look at potassium and why I have to limit my potassium intake.
  Potassium is a mineral which helps your nerves and muscles to work properly. It also keeps electrolytes and the acid/base content of your blood in balance, promotes muscle growth and sustains healthy brain function. You need some potassium for good health, but too much or too little can affect your heartbeat. When your kidneys don't work properly, they can't regulate the potassium levels in your blood, and it can build up. A potassium level that gets too high (or hyperkalemia) can lead to a heart attack. A potassium level that is too low (also called hypokalemia) can cause muscle weakness or cramps, or even muscle paralysis.  By controlling my intake of potassium, I can help prevent these problems. Examples of foods that are high in potassium include:
- potatoes: red, white, sweet...they're all high in potassium
- dried peas, beans, nuts and seeds
- dairy products such as milk, pudding, ice cream and cheese
- dried fruit such as apricots, dates, figs and raisins
- fresh fruit like bananas, cantaloupe, oranges and kiwi
- tomatoes and tomato products like ketchup, tomato sauce and tomato juice
- All-Bran and other bran cereal
- whole grain breads and cereals
- salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride
- sodium-free baking powder
- sweets like black licorice, chocolate and molasses
- vegetables such as artichokes, spinach, pumpkin and large amounts of mushrooms
You may be thinking that the list of what I can't eat is longer than what I can eat. Well, you'd be right. But there are ways that I can still eat my favourite foods. Take, for example, the humble potato. There are ways that I can cook potatoes to reduce the amount of potassium. One method is to cut the potatoes into small pieces and double cook them. To double cook potatoes, you bring them to a boil and then drain and rinse them and continue cooking them in fresh water. Another option is to leach them in water for 3-4 hours (leaching is a fancy term for soaking). Leaching is what I do when I prepare the scalloped potatoes below.
  Potassium can be hard to control, because it's found in most fruits and vegetables.  But there are still lots of options that I choose from: peaches, sweet peppers, cabbage, apples, celery, turnip...and this is just a few.
  And when I feel like treating myself a little< I make these scalloped potatoes.  In place of milk, I use unfortified Rice Dream rice beverage as the "cream" component.

Jen's Kidney-Friendly Scalloped Potatoes
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (add more or less onion, depending on your tastes)
4 tbsp. margarine
4 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. no-salt seasoning of your choice (I like either Epicure Fine Herbes blend or Clubhouse No Salt Added Original blend)
2 cups unfortified rice milk
4 tbsp. herb and garlic cream cheese, optional

1. Slice the potatoes and put them to soak in a bowl of cold water for at least 3 to 4 hours, draining and rinsing the potatoes after 2 hours and putting them in fresh water.
2. When you're ready to make the potatoes, drain and rinse them and let them dry for a few minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 6"x9" baking dish and layer the potatoes and onions in it; set aside.
3. Melt the margarine in a medium-sized pot. Whisk in the flour and seasoning until smooth, then whisk in the rice milk. If desired, add in some herb and garlic cream cheese. Heat the sauce until it boils and thickens, stirring often to keep the sauce from sticking and/or burning.
4.  Pour the sauce over the pan of potatoes and onions.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until potatoes are softened.  Then enjoy!

Until next time,