Food, Friends, Family & Faith – My Heart Changed My Path (part 3)

My advanced cooking adventure kicked in late 2018 when I was hit with severe myocarditis and spent five long days in the cardio ICU. My effraction rate was less than 10%; a typical rate is around 55-60%, so in bad shape. It was a life-altering experience with a lengthy road to recovery.

The doctors gave me a complete overhaul, including the uncomfortable cardiac catheterization (also known as cardiac cath, heart cath, or coronary angiogram). Doctors inserted a catheter into the main artery in my groin area and snaked a thin tube through my artery to the heart. Once at the heart, they injected a special dye and examined the valves and chambers of the heart.

The “interesting” thing I learned during the procedure is that arteries do not have any nerves, so you do not feel the tube inside your body. But, sweet baby Jesus, you certainly feel when they puncture the skin in your groin to insert the catheter. I may have uttered some dark language from Mordor.

My arteries, valves, and heart chambers were not blocked or a risk. Therefore, heart failure was not a result of weight or dietary choices. However, if I wanted to recover (and fast), I had to change my diet.

The heart failure was not a result of my gluttony and overindulging in fatty foods. However, it certainly made me realize that a change was needed.

When you are strapped to a bed in the ICU with tubes and wires attached to you, beeping noises, and getting massaged by the mattress to avoid bedsores, your mind starts to contemplate your mortality. Others in the ICU were suffering and screaming, and I was unsure if I would leave walking or in a box. My mind was drifting to the dark side, and I was mentally in a severe decline.

On the 3rd day of my ICU stay, the local priest visited patients in the ward. I thought he came to read my last rites and forgive me since, but he merely prayed with me and held my hand. I found comfort in God at that moment, and my spiritual healing started.

My journey to recovery started with putting faith in God, praying, and building up my mental state again. Then, finally, the priest came at the right moment, and I saw it as a sign. After that, everything was going to be ok.

I thanked the priest, took the host, and cried momentarily as I asked the Lord to help me.

We all deal with grief and difficult situations differently. Some of you might not seek spiritual guidance but instead, work on your mental health through other faiths or beliefs. That’s the beauty of people. We do what we feel most comfortable with; hence I chose to restart my relationship with God.

Home Sweet Home

After five long days in the ICU, I was moved to a step-down unit for cardio patients. No more wires. No Nurse taking my blood every four hours. Instead, I was allowed and encouraged to walk around the ward, which scared me immensely as I could feel my heart increase with a slight 20-yard walk.

The next day my wife picked me up, and I would be without the safety of the nurses, which scared me again. As the anxiety increased, my heart rate increased. I was suddenly out of breath just from walking to the lift.

The walk through the hospital corridors felt like an eternity. I felt everyone staring at me with pity, and I felt sorry for my wife that I was such a burden. The next few months would be as trying for her as they were daunting for me.

I cried again because I was uncertain about my future and why this had happened.

After my discharge, I went through four months of physical recovery and learned how to manage my heart rate, what I could eat, and what exercises would have the most impact. The physical healing was tangible and manageable.

I still had to learn to live without understanding what happened, the uncertainty of relapses, fearing to depart too soon, and wondering if a higher power was testing me. To help with my mental journey, I consulted with our priest, who spent hours helping me accept that God is in control and has a plan for me, and he taught me how to pray. After that, I turned to spiritual healing through the Bible, listening to Max Lucado, and praying to share my story with God.

Then I decided to share my experience and journey with others and started the Viking Heart Within website. If my experiences inspire and help others in similar situations, that was worth it and part of the journey God had laid out for me.

At first, I focused on heart recovery and mental strength, but I soon turned to a healthier approach to food. Well, in all honesty, the dietician who helped me after my discharge was the one who explained to me what I should eat and, more importantly, what I should not eat.

No salt, pork, bacon, chips, cakes, sodas, beer, red meat, sugar, yeast, etc. She listed all the stuff I loved. I might as well go to the grave now. How can one live without bacon!?

I ate like a mouse, fearing that everything I ate would cause another heart incident. Within five months, I lost 53 lbs and felt much better. I had stopped snoring, slept like a baby, and did not experience any headaches. I realized that food impacts how you feel and how your body reacts. Therefore, food is essential to a healthy life.

From early 2019 to early 2021, I made healthy meals for myself and my family. We explored all kinds of spices, substitute dairy products, and vegetables and learned to control portion sizes.

In January 2021, I started sharing our weekly lunches and dinners on the meal plan journey on my website and posted these on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Health Alert - I eliminate salt from all recipes where possible.  I will elaborate later, but most recipes and chefs worldwide use excessive salt, well above the recommended daily sodium intake.

The next part of the post will share some of the steps I take to implement meal plans, how I prepare and cook dishes, and if there’s any magic to my fantastic journey.

And that is how the Viking Heart Within and Heart Warrior were born!

Making a unique meal plan

There’s nothing magical about meal planning, but it helps you focus on the food you consume and manage your budget. And, you can relax during the week as all your dinners are prepared in advance and need to be reheated.

My sources of inspiration range from our extensive library of cookbooks, Instagram, YouTube, magazines (yes, paper magazines), listening to podcasts.

We explore cuisines from around the World. Some dishes are phenomenal, and others are less exciting. I learn a lot from experimenting with various dishes, and it allows me to adjust the recipes to suit our palettes.

Once I’ve selected several recipes for lunches and dinners while enjoying a quiet Saturday or Sunday morning sipping on a nice cup of Black Rifle Coffee. I use a simple and inexpensive meal plan pad that I found on Amazon to map out our meal journey. You can use anything to write down your meal plan and groceries – whatever works for you is the most important.

The meal plan allows me to prepare the grocery list for each meal, and I include a few additional items that we may need for laundry, toilet paper, breakfast stuff, dog food, etc.

I will probably spend 30 minutes researching the meals and recipes for the coming week, checking our pantry for ingredients, and then another 15 minutes finalizing the grocery list. In the grand scheme, time is well spent preparing for the week.

Shopping for success

Armed with detailed grocery shopping, you can now visit your local sources of groceries, produce, and meats. Depending on the meals you cook, you may have to visit specialty stores or shop on Amazon. Unfortunately, some items are unavailable in regular stores – the demand and supply theory.

You DO NOT need to visit the finest and most expensive artsy-fartsy shop. But, of course, if you have the funds to shop at Whole Foods and other artisan shops (bakeries, butchers, etc.), then by all means, do so. I have no interest in buying additional mortgages to shop in those places, although I sometimes get some high-quality meat for special occasions.

I, however, prefer to shop at the local supermarket. Supporting local shops and business is essential, and you get to know various people in those shops, and they might share some tips for how to cook something to perfection.

During the farmer’s season, I support the farmer’s market for vegetables and if I want to splash out on farm-raised poultry and eggs. I have established excellent relations with a local farm and will buy vegetables directly from their patch, and I also bought our Thanksgiving turkey from the farm.

I have also become friends with an excellent butcher with fantastic meat quality and reasonable prices. He’s my go-to guy for beef, chicken, and pork cuts. It is essential to have a good meat supply if you like grilling, smoking, and roasting meat.

Seafood is challenging to get our hands on as we live 3 hours drive from the ocean, and most fishmongers have a limited selection. I would love to have easier access to fresh seafood, but not possible, so we buy local.

The best time to visit the local supermarkets usually is Sunday morning between 8-10 am. It is also the day and time that the elderly community goes shopping. I enjoy mingling with the elderly community while we exercise and sharing smiles when we pass down the various aisles. The older ladies smile and wave, and the “young” lad, smiles back. A bit of Sunday morning flirting before mass.

I shop at BJs to fill the pantry with canned stuff and toilet paper. It’s cheaper in bulk. On Amazon, you can find all kinds of ingredients, probably made in China, and they ship directly to your house.

Grocery shopping takes less time if you have a plan, and if you only buy what you need (on your list), you will see that your grocery budget is dropping, and you will have less waste. It’s a win-win.

You will notice that the meal plan does not cover Friday nights and weekends. That’s because I reserve these for family dinners around the dining table, and I often cook over the fire or in the Trager. It is becoming a good tradition, and we even attempt to leave cell phones away from the table.

The Viking Armory

You might think I have deployed a wide range of battleaxes, knives, shields, and helmets in different sizes to prepare all the meals I cook. In addition, I have a massive wood and stone worktable where I butcher and prepare vegetables. Then, in the garden, I have huge iron-made stoves and grills that I feed with wood – and sacrifice the random virgin for midsummer celebrations.

Sorry to disappoint. I can see how that is a logical thought since I’m a full-blood and Genomelink-verified Viking. But since we live in the modern age, in a rural area in upstate New York, I have replaced the Viking armory with a selection of more standard gadgets, knives, bowls, mixers, etc., that I use for cooking.

You do not need to buy well-known brands and expensive kitchen appliances, pots & pans, bowls, knives, etc. The food does not taste any better, and fancy shit does not make the food faster.

However, I highly recommend investing in a Dutch oven, some high-end frying pans, 1-2 good kitchen knives – and a solid cutting board.

For years I bought shitty and cheap frying pans, and they all ended up in the bin (trash) as food started to stick and the heat was not well distributed. Finally, we invested in some Le Creuset frying pans two years ago, and they have been fantastic and almost as smooth as when I opened the box. Expensive but worth it.

It is also no secret that I had a friend make a few knives for me from scratch. He forged three fantastic knives I designed, and they came out perfect. Again, they are expensive but built to last for many years.

I have a simple stand mixer, a hand mixer, and a food processor, and I bought cheap mixing bowls on Amazon. But you probably have a lot of gear already, so there is no need to replace what you have.

Your kitchen is ready for action – time to get cooking.

Meal Plans in Action

I prepare and cook most of the meals for the week every Sunday, before and after mass. It has become a routine, and we often plan around my cooking activities, as the family knows that if I don’t cook, we don’t eat excellent food.

Much to the annoyance of my family that likes to sleep in on the weekends, I crank up the Demerbox or Sonos speakers in the kitchen early Sunday morning, throw on the manly apron, prepare my weapons, put on my old-man glasses, and then attack one recipe at a time.

The next few hours are spent washing vegetables, frying meat, baking bread, grilling meat, rocking to the music, and boiling and roasting food. When I cook Italian meals, I make sure to use red wine so I can sip a little while cooking.

Cooking and working in the kitchen is my mental health session. I get the opportunity to focus on food instead of tedious work or family challenges, eliminate stress about the age of our roof, change light bulbs in the wife’s car, not shout at kids to do their homework, and not worry about my health. Instead, all my attention is on the meal plan.

If I am lucky, my kids might join and help me, but that is a rarity. My son will happily sit by the kitchen island, but I know he’s only looking to taste the food and not help.

I want to teach them the basic skills needed in a kitchen since the schools no longer provide that education. My mum taught me a lot of tricks, and I still reach out to ask her questions if I’m stuck with a Danish recipe.

Healthier Choices

Honestly, healthier does not equate to a vegan and plant-based diet. On the contrary.

It does, however, mean that you have to be more conscious about the ingredients you use and the quantities you eat. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can lose a few lbs or kg by removing bread, soda, chips, and cakes.

When I was sick in late 2018 with heart failure, I lost 55 lbs by changing food options, reducing portion sizes, and eliminating bread. I also ate healthier choices such as fish and poultry and increased my consumption of green stuff.

I have almost eliminated salt from our meals. However, because some food and canned items have some salt, we can never eliminate salt entirely. So instead, I’m using substitute items such as coconut cream instead of heavy cream, making our health bars as a snack, and using different spices to bring out flavors.

While many chefs and recipes call for salt, it is unnecessary. You barely taste the difference, and everybody we’ve had over for dinner does not even realize that I do not cook with salt.

Cooking at home and preparing meal plans is almost a religion and a commitment you must make. However, once you start, you will quickly discover the benefits. Not only an improved food budget, but once you start having meals ready for the week, you will no longer have to stress about cooking during a busy work week.

Again, it is a choice you have to make, but I can guarantee that your meals taste much better when you cook yourself and use fresh ingredients.

It’s a life style changes that will change your life for the better!

The following post will cover actions and activities I focus on outside my meal plan. Every step I take is focused on making my life and interaction with family, friends, and faith more valuable. In addition, I focus on things that I enjoy and that remove stress or unpleasant moments.

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