Baked Sweet Potatoes with Slow Cooker Carnitas and Lazy Guacamole

It can be difficult to maintain a social life while on the autoimmune protocol. My friend Kelsi started a conversation on her Instagram post last night that reflected one of the major struggles many of us face who are on restrictive or healing diets.

She asked, “Have you had someone choose not to eat something in front of you they knew you couldn’t have?

My response was, “YES! And While I appreciate the thought behind the gesture, I always tell people that I’d rather them eat whatever they want or can. I remind them that I am making a choice to restrict certain foods based on my own needs, but I want them to feel comfortable eating whatever they want with me! Company > cuisine.

That being said, it is always nice to be able to sit down with someone and know that we are sharing a culinary experience. The easiest way to guarantee this for me is to cook for people. No one ever says no to someone else cooking for them (in my experience, at least). In fact, I’ve found that my friends and family enjoy it–not only because they don’t have to cook, but because they get a peek into what I eat on the daily. And I enjoy it because I get to share a piece of my life (and passion for cooking) with them. Win-win!


I made this meal for a friend recently, then made it again for my mom the next day. It received rave reviews from both, and bonus: my mom and I were able to throw the leftover carnitas into everything the following week. My mom, who isn’t usually a huge fan of pork, kept requesting “that crispy, crunchy pork” all week.

I adapted the carnitas recipe from Juli at PaleOMG to make it in the crock-pot (she makes hers in the Instant Pot) and to make it AIP-compliant. Instead of sticking them under the broiler at the end like Juli recommends, I stored mine in a container in the fridge and crisped up however much I wanted to use on a skillet before serving.

This recipe also features the easiest way to get a perfectly baked, caramel-y, melty sweet potato. I’ve tried other methods, but I keep coming back to this one. It could be because it’s fool-proof and delicious, but it’s probably because it’s the easiest and I’m lazy. But seriously, check the above photo. Do you see how the sweet potato is glistening? That’s caramelization, folks. Sticky, sweet caramelization. So good.


Baked Sweet Potatoes with Slow Cooker Carnitas and Lazy Guacamole


2-3 lbs pork shoulder or butt
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp dried oregano
1 white onion, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 bay leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1 cup chicken broth, bone broth, or water
1 tbsp olive oil

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 avocado
Juice of 1/4 lime
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Sea salt, to taste
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup cilantro


  1. Carnitas:
    1. Combine the first 9 ingredients (pork shoulder through chicken broth) in a slow cooker, taking care to make sure that the fat cap on the pork is facing up. Cook on low for 9 hours.
    2. Once 9 hours have passed, carefully lift the lid off the slow cooker and break apart the meat with a fork. It should fall apart easily. Additionally, remove the bay leaves from the slow cooker. At this point, you can transfer the pork into a container and, after it has cooled, store it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. If doing so, only reserve enough liquid from the crock pot to cover the pork in the container; discard the rest of the liquid. 
    3. When ready to serve, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet (preferably cast iron) on medium-high heat. Add 1/2 cup shredded meat per person and distribute evenly throughout the skillet. Leave undisturbed and allow the meat to crisp up on bottom.
    4. After a few minutes, sauté the meat to redistribute, then allow to crisp up again. Do this until most of the meat has browned and is crispy.
  2. Sweet Potatoes
    1. Preheat oven to 425ºF.
    2. Wash and dry sweet potatoes. Individually wrap each one in foil, then place into oven for 1 hour.
  3. Assembly
    1. Carefully cut open the sweet potatoes, gently smashing it down a little bit to create room for crispy carnitas goodness.
    2. To make the lazy guacamole, scoop the flesh out of the avocado and add in lime juice, garlic powder, and sea salt. Mash to combine.
    3. Top sweet potatoes with crispy carnitas, a generous scoop of guacamole, minced red onion, and cilantro.
    4. DEVOUR.

-You could easily cook the carnitas and sweet potatoes ahead of time, them just reheat and assemble when you’re ready to eat.
-What to do with leftover carnitas? Crisp them up whenever you want to eat them, then use to top soups, salads, hashes, or even eat alongside some roasted or sautéed veggies for a delicious meal. They are incredibly versatile!
-If making this for more than 2 people, then just add in extra sweet potatoes, 1/2 cup of carnitas per person, and 1/2 avocado per person (adjusting guacamole ingredients as necessary).


The textural contrast of the creamy sweet potato and guacamole with the crispy carnitas and crunchy red onions, plus the temperature contrast of warm sweet potato and carnitas with cool guacamole…I cannot. This meal has so much going for it. I hope you make it and enjoy as much as we have!

Posted in AIP, Autoimmune Protocol, Food, Healthy, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, Paleo, Recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chicken Green Bean Casserole

I started the autoimmune protocol recently, and I’ve realized that for me the biggest challenge is convenience. Cooking for yourself for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day is NOT convenient. It’s exhausting. I initially found myself skipping meals just because I didn’t feel up to cooking three times a day.

In comes this casserole! I found Laura’s Tuna No-Noodle Casserole, and in an effort to adjust the recipe to my tastes and to make it AIP-friendly, this casserole was born.


I think of making this dish as breaking it up into five easy phases:

  1. Prep the spaghetti squash, then set aside.
  2. Cook the ground chicken with some seasonings, then set aside.
  3. Make the cream of mushroom soup, simmer it, then mix in the chicken and squash.
  4. Bake it with crushed plantain chips on top.
  5. DEVOUR.

This recipe will keep for about five days in the fridge, and it reheats beautifully. It’s a perfect casserole to make ahead, then eat throughout the week. I found myself reaching for this dish at lunchtime. Breakfast and dinner I can do, but I want a convenient lunch! This veggie-packed recipe fits the bill, and the coconut milk makes it satisfying and insanely filling (but the garlic and rosemary overpower the coconut flavor, so you can’t taste it).

Here we go!



1 medium spaghetti squash
1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp olive oil
3/4 lb ground chicken (I made 1 lb, then set aside about a quarter of it to use for later)
1/4 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, minced
8 oz baby portabella mushrooms, chopped
1 cup diced green beans
1 can full-fat coconut milk
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh Rosemary
sea salt, to taste

1/2 cup plantain chips
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried parsley

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
2. Using a sharp knife, cut the spaghetti squash in half, lengthwise. Scrape the seeds out, then divide the tablespoon of olive oil between the two halves and rub it into the flesh. Place the squash halves cut side-down onto a foil or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, then insert into the oven for 35 minutes.
3. Using a fork, scrape the squash out. It should easily come out in spaghetti-like strands. If it does not, then put it back into the oven for 5-10 minutes, until it is soft enough to scrape out easily. Scrape out all of the squash, then set aside.
4. Sauté the ground chicken, sage, thyme, garlic powder, and sea salt in the teaspoon of olive oil until the chicken is cooked through, breaking it up while sautéing and making sure the seasonings are evenly incorporated. Set aside.
5. On medium heat, add the tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the shallots and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, green beans, garlic, and rosemary. Sauté until the mushrooms begin to soften and the garlic and rosemary are fragrant, about 2-3 minutes (your kitchen should be smelling amazing right about now!!).
6. Pour in the coconut milk, increase heat to medium-high, and allow mixture to come to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, which allows the flavors to build.
7. Add the ground chicken and spaghetti squash, stir to incorporate well, and then salt to taste.
8. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish.
9. Combine plantain chips, garlic powder, and dried parsley in a ziploc bag. Use a rolling pin (or just a pot/pan, whatever works!) to gently crush the plantain chips. You don’t want them to become a fine powder, just crushed enough to form a bit of a crust.
10. Evenly spread the plantain chips over the mixture in the casserole dish.
11. Put into the oven and broil on high until the plantain chips are browned. Keep an eye on this because it will go from perfectly toasted to burnt very quickly! It should only take a minute or two.
12. Serve. Enjoy. DEVOUR.

-You can easily do steps 1-8 ahead of time, and then just add the plantain chips on top and toast them when you want to serve the dish. If doing this, I recommend preheating the oven to 350ºF and allowing the casserole to heat for 15-20 minutes, then adding the crushed plantain chips and broiling.
-This recipe reheats very well. Feel free to add more plantain chips on top after you reheat for added crunchy pleasure!
-This will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge. We ate this all week and enjoyed every bite.


While I wouldn’t share the combined casserole with my little canine, I did give her a few bites of spaghetti squash, which she loved. 



Posted in AIP, Food, Healthy, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, Paleo, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fighting for Your Life Physically vs. Fighting Mentally/Emotionally

Years ago, when my health was deteriorating at an alarmingly rapid rate, I expressed to my mom that I didn’t want to be alive anymore. The physical torture was so immense and unbearable that I could not imagine living that life long-term. If that was all there was to life, I wanted to throw in the towel.

When, after what felt like rock bottom, my family and I fought so unbelievably hard to preserve my own life, I told myself that every day, every moment moving forward would be treasured and used wisely. I would never waste a moment of my precious life, of this new lease I had been given on life. More notably, I genuinely believed that because I had fought so hard to be alive, I would never again wish I were dead.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned how naive that sentiment could be.

It just so happens that fighting for your life physically and fighting for your life mentally and emotionally are completely different.

When I physically fought to live, it was all about survival. Everything in my brain and body pushed me toward life. There did not seem to be any other options. At times, it felt like my personality had shut off and my survival instincts just took over. I felt like a shell of a human being, and I was trying hard to preserve what was inside the shell.

Dealing with depression, however, feels like the shell is irreparably shattered and the contents are overflowing, spilling out too quickly to control. The problem is, you no longer have the will to repair the shell or the contents inside. And even if you do have the will, you simply don’t feel capable of doing anything about it. So the contents continue spilling out of your shell until you feel empty. When fighting mentally and emotionally to survive, to want to survive, everything in my brain and body has pushed me toward death. 

After spending the better part of a decade fighting for my life, I ran out of energy. Each new problem presented as another obstacle I didn’t have the energy to overcome. Each day felt impossible to get through. Seeing my own pain reflected in the eyes of those I love with each new health flare made me wish I could stop being a constant source of pain for the people around me. The only real solution and escape from this perpetual cycle felt like it had to be death.

I thought that because I viewed life as precious, I would not be susceptible to thoughts of suicide. I thought that suicide was about actively wanting to die, but I learned that, for me, it was about not wanting to be alive anymore.

Screen Shot 2017-11-07 at 6.20.39 PM

If any of this resonates with you, if you can relate to how I have felt, then I want you to know that there are resources out there that can help. Click here, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you can’t do that right now, it’s okay. I know how hard it can be to reach out when you feel so tired of living, tired of everything. Depression has been one of the most difficult and painful things I’ve encountered in my life, and you don’t have to suffer in silence. If you are feeling the way I have felt, then I want you to know that I am a safe space. I love you, and I understand what you are going through. Please reach out to me or someone you love, and you won’t have to do this alone.

Posted in Healthy, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, mental health, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To the Person Who Didn’t Believe in Me

I’m going to be honest. This post is a difficult one for me. It is something I have wanted to share for quite a while, but I allowed myself time to develop the courage to share this. It’s extremely personal for me, but I hope that it can give at least one person hope.

Four years ago, I wrote this blog post.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 12.40.25 AM

My parents and me at graduation, something we once lost hope would ever happen. It was one of the happiest days of my life.


The day I accepted my offer at UNL. Celebrating with a close friend.

After I wrote that post, I wasn’t really sure where my life would go. I planned on going back to school the following Fall and graduating as soon as possible (I seriously just wanted to be done with school). But something beautiful happened. When I went back to school, I discovered a supportive environment full of faculty and students who believed in me. Soon, I developed plans of going to graduate school. Grad school turned into dreams of getting my Ph.D.

I promised myself that, when I got into a doctoral program, I would write a letter to the faculty member mentioned in the previous blog post. Approximately a year and a half ago, after accepting my offer into the School Psychology program at UNL, I came through on that promise.

I’m honestly not sure whether she ever received the letter. I think about it sometimes, but I quietly take solace in the act of writing and sending the letter. The act of standing up for myself. The act of standing up for others who have felt defeated by someone who didn’t believe in them.

Here is the letter I wrote:

Dear Dr. __________,

I hope this letter finds you well. You may not remember me, but I sat across from you in your office in Fall 2011, requesting my third complete medical withdrawal from my courses at the University of Oklahoma. I had been struggling with my health for years, as evidenced by the inches-thick binder of medical records that accompanied me during our meeting. You recommended that I do some soul-searching and suggested that I discontinue my college education. After I told you that I planned on going to graduate school, you glanced at my grades and the number of W’s on my transcript and said that I would never get into professional school with such a poor history. You told me that I would need to look into other options if I could not get my health under control. I left your office feeling hurt, defeated, and hopeless. I almost believed you.

The following semester, my health deteriorated further. I withdrew from my courses a fourth time. I became so sick that I was completely disabled. I required two major surgeries, coupled with months of rehabilitation and healing. By August 2012, however, I was back in school. I chose to attend a different university because I could not imagine being in a place that harbored so many negative memories for me. I maintained good grades, found ways to help my department, and graduated within a year and a half. With the encouragement of the faculty at my university, I started a masters program. This spring, I accepted an offer into the School Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In three short years, I turned my life around. And I have you to thank for that.

I think about our conversation every day. Your words almost broke me. If it had not been for my impossibly strong support system, they would have. While your words added fuel to my fire, they have the power to extinguish that of others. As [a leader at the university], you have the potential to ruin a student’s career by passing judgment at an inopportune moment. Students believe what you have to say. I urge you to think about the impact your advice can have on a student before giving it, to consider how it may affect his or her life. I imagine students come to you when they are already broken—I was. I urge you to encourage them, to help them mend their broken pieces instead of breaking them further. To understand that, as a faculty member at a prestigious university, discouraging a student from pursuing an education that he or she so badly wants can hinder potential greatness. I urge you to think carefully about the lasting impression you can leave on students; I know you have left one on me.


Pooja Parikh


Posted in Anecdotes, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, Misc, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

How to: the Perfect Smoothie

Smoothies are a huge part of my life (seriously, ask any of my friends). As a graduate student, there is nothing better than a meal I can throw into a blender and then slurp down as I run out the door to work or class. Bonus points because it’s good for me and keeps me full and energized for a long time.

I’m actually pretty picky about my smoothies, which is why I rarely buy a smoothie and prefer to make them myself. I think I’m allowed to be picky though because my smoothies are pretty delicious (not to toot my own horn). And there’s something to be said for knowing all of the ingredients I’m putting into my body!

So, while I usually mix up what exactly I’m putting into my perfect smoothie (mix up–get it?), there are a few things that I incorporate into the base of every smoothie (more or less) to ensure that my smoothie has optimal taste, consistency, and nutritional value.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 2.55.24 PM


  1. Always add greens. To me, a smoothie without at least 2-3 packed cups of leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, etc) is a wasted opportunity to incorporate greens. You cannot taste them (especially spinach–I promise it’s undetectable) and you get an extra dose of fiber, which will keep you full longer. Also, pro-tip: if you have a crappy blender like I do, pulse the greens with whatever liquid of your choice first until it liquifies, then add everything else. It’ll blend together much more easily, and your blender won’t have to work as hard! Also, using less liquid overall will lead to a thicker smoothie, which means you’ll basically be living the dream.
  2. Only use frozen fruit. I exclusively use frozen fruit in my smoothies–that way I never have to add ice! No ice = no watered down smoothie. Win/win. I also like to buy fresh fruit super cheap when it’s in season and freeze it in Ziploc bags.
  3. Add 1/2 – 1 frozen banana. It makes the base extremely creamy, which is great when you aren’t adding dairy to a smoothie (if you don’t like the taste of banana, see #4). I always buy a bunch of bananas, let them sit out for a couple of days to ripen, then peel –> smash –> freeze in individual Ziplocs. It may seem wasteful to put each banana in its own Ziploc, but it helps me portion better AND I reuse the Ziplocs so I feel better about it (I keep all my banana Ziplocs in a grocery bag in the freezer for easy organization). 
  4. Add 1/4 – 1/2 avocado + honey. Adding avocado to your smoothie not only gives you a punch of healthy fats which will also keep you full longer, but it makes the smoothie very creamy as well (good alternative if you don’t like bananas). Be sure to add a bit of honey (not too much–maybe a teaspoon or 1/2 tablespoon) or other sweetener if you add avocado because it has a noticeably savory flavor.
  5. Add protein. Smoothies are a meal replacement option for me, so I try to make sure I have all my bases covered. Protein will keep you full too! I prefer to add 2 tbsp of collagen to my smoothies, which has 11g protein, but you can add whatever you want!
  6. Liquid. I mix it up with my liquids. Sometimes I use coconut water, sometimes coconut milk. The coconut water helps with hydration and does not contribute a taste to the smoothie, and the coconut milk adds healthy fat, although it tastes coconutty. You could also use water, almond milk, anything! I’ve even left an opened can of LaCroix in the fridge and used that as my liquid base (amazing). I don’t recommend using fruit juice because it will increase the sugar content of your smoothie without really providing any nutritional value. 
  7. Lemon zest. This doesn’t necessarily go with every smoothie, but a pinch of lemon zest really brightens up a smoothie and makes it taste fresh. If you haven’t done this before, I highly recommend it!

So, there you have it. My main smoothie tips that lead me to making the perfect smoothie every single day. I will have another post soon in which I provide ingredient combination suggestions I like to use in my smoothies to hope give you more inspiration.

In the meantime, what are some tips you have to make the perfect smoothie that are not mentioned here?

Posted in Food, Healthy, How To, Paleo, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Approximately once every other month or so, I allow myself to go into a total mental breakdown about the state of my health and body. I jokingly refer to it as my bi-monthly breakdown. I am a fairly emotionally stable person, and I owe it in large part to the fact that I think it’s okay to occasionally feel sorry for myself. Is that pathetic? Absolutely not. Life is hard, and everyone has their struggles. If I refused to acknowledge my own struggle, not only would I be lying to myself, but I would be denying myself the opportunity to reflect and heal, as well as build strength.


Think of it as an emotional piggy bank of sorts. Each time I have a new flare or health-related upset, I put a coin in the piggy bank. Typically, within a couple of months, the bank begins to overflow and I cash it in for a good, solid cry. It is rejuvenating and I always feel 10x lighter after each breakdown.

So how does this seemingly masochistic semi-ritual of mine relate to building strength?

To me, strength is not about gritting your teeth and bearing pain with a straight face. It is not about silently tucking your pain away so that no one can see it. It is not about ignoring your pain. In fact, to me, strength is about embracing your pain. It is about allowing yourself to feel the pain, and then continuing to fight in spite of it. Strength is defined by the choice to keep fighting each day.

A beautiful thing about my disease is that it has trained me to be a fighter. After having to fight what felt like a losing battle for my life, it feels as though there is no endeavor too great for me. Whenever I encounter a challenge of any kind, my brain immediately begins developing a battle plan. I no longer know any other way.

My disease has made me a warrior.


I found this bracelet here, and when I sent a photo of it to my best friend, she immediately insisted upon buying it for me, without any hesitation. She knew how important the word warrior was to me, and she wanted me to have a constant reminder of my triumph over my health, as well as my continued will to fight. I am grateful that this bracelet not only represents my fight, but also my support system that has armed me with love and encouragement from the beginning.

This is what the packaging says:

“Remember that true glory is in rising every time you fall. Let this band be your reminder that you are so strong, so fearless, so powerful. You are a warrior, stronger than you have ever been.”

Every single day, I grow stronger. Because every single day, I continue to fight.

Posted in Anecdotes, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Seeking Wellness through Disease

When I go through difficult times (failures, breakups, bouts of loneliness, a bad flare, etc), I want ice cream. And pizza. And cookies. And cheese. And wine, beer, whiskey. Society has effectively trained me to crave these “comfort” items when I’m down, paired with spending hours, days, weeks wasting away on the couch and binge-watching Netflix.


Exhibit A…

And during this latest flare, that’s exactly what I was tempted to do; however, I had started the Autoimmune Protocol a couple of weeks before and was determined to stay on track. Instead of reaching for the ice cream or pizza, I filled my body with nourishing foods like fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Instead of lingering on the couch when I started to feel down, I leashed up my dog and went on a long walk to clear my head. Instead of getting lost in Netflix and staying up late, then sleeping in, I intentionally went to bed early and woke up with the sun, ensuring I spent most waking hours in daylight. Instead of shutting people out and sinking into a lonely abyss, I reached out to friends when I needed them and filled my days with activities and uplifting conversation.


Seeing Matt Nathanson in concert with good friends and amazing weather.

It has been really interesting to see the change in my brain’s response to pain since I’ve made an active effort to be kind to my body. Indulging in certain comfort foods may seem appealing, but it makes you feel sluggish, which (thanks to the beloved biofeedback loop) makes you feel worse and affects your brain’s ability to recover emotionally. Then the cycle continues.

Who knew that being kind to your body could help your mind heal more quickly? I have been able to embrace the pain and achieve clarity. I’ve also been able to listen to both my body and mind more and give them what they need.

So, this is where the idea of Seeking Wellness through Disease originated. I was telling my best friend about my change in mindset and its impact on my healing process, and he summed it up perfectly for me in those four beautiful words.

Be kind to your body, and your mind will follow.


Nature’s candy > Processed candy.

Posted in Anecdotes, Healthy, Paleo, Uncategorized | 2 Comments