She Was a Specialty Food Shop Owner Before She got Diagnosed. Now She’s Writing a Cookbook for Others with ME.

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Living with ME is a long journey filled with challenges, and for many within our community, nutrition is one of those uphill battles. #MEAction had the opportunity to sit down with former specialty food shop owner and private chef Rachel Riggs to discuss her forthcoming cookbook, Clean Eating Foodist. The book, Riggs says, is designed to deliver “simple, scrumptious, and nutritious meals” for people like herself who are living with ME. 

As the story goes with so many in the ME community, Rachel’s illness grew progressively worse until she had to sell her beloved specialty food shop. She had just signed a deal to write a book on artisan cheese, but as she slowly grew sicker, she found that she could no longer consume the very foods she was to write about. She was able to work as a private chef for a few executive clients but by 2013, she was too sick to do that, and has been largely housebound ever since. 

While navigating the medical labyrinth that anyone living with ME knows so well, she eventually began a stringent elimination diet in an effort to identify any foods which might be exacerbating her symptoms. Knowing her way around a wide array of foods, her first thought was “I got this!” Surprise and frustration came quickly as she recognized just how few foods she had to work with and how few resources there were to help her. 

It was an intense process to figure out how to make food within her energy envelope that was not only free from all the ingredients she couldn’t have, but free from deprivation too. It was through this process that Riggs was compelled to start up her new writing venture: Clean Eating Foodist.

“Every scrap of energy goes to developing recipes. Every scrap,” Riggs said of the process. “Clean Eating Foodist keeps the life of someone with ME in mind.” Riggs’s cookbook is designed to keep recipes “nutrient-dense and delicious” while requiring very few steps to make food prep simple and as time-efficient as possible. Her baked goods, for example, can be made with a single bowl and whisk.

The recipes in Clean Eating Foodist are free of gluten, grains, pseudo-grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, soy, shellfish, pork, nightshades, peanuts, cashews, obscure flours, and artificial sweeteners. And Riggs assures that they are, most of all, “free of deprivation.”

Clean Eating Foodist will have broad appeal,” said Riggs, explaining that her recipes fall within the parameters of popular approaches such as Whole 30, The Wahls Protocol, The Pegan Diet, and others.

Riggs notes that “appealing to a broad audience means that more people will learn about ME.” Riggs has generously committed to advocacy with Clean Eating Foodist by pledging to donate 100% of the first year’s profits to #MEAction.

Riggs told us that she’s nearly ¾ of the way through the recipe development portion of the book, but the journey doesn’t stop there, as she hasn’t yet secured a publisher. She is looking forward to finding just the right publisher to take this offering to the shelves.

Do you like what Rachel’s Clean Eating Foodist has to offer? These days, an author’s following is important to publishers and could help her to secure a book deal. Share this article and give Rachel a follow on Instagram at @CleanEatingFoodist.

Finally, Rachel was kind enough to share a sneak peek of what Clean Eating Foodist has to offer with a few recipes…

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

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As July gives way to summer’s full glory, our grills are out in full force. We can’t get enough of this simple flank steak which relies on coconut aminos as a stand-in for soy sauce. I give it a 24-hour flavor bath and then it’s onto a scorching hot grill for a quick sear. Flank steak is a particularly lean and flavorful cut of beef and is readily available at any grocer. This may be your new summer staple!

Serves 4

Ingredients
1-1/2 pounds flank steak (I prefer grass-fed)

3 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1/4 cup coconut aminos

Marinate: up to 24 hours before grilling – the full 24 hours will net the most flavor
Add the grated garlic, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and coconut aminos to a large ziplock baggie. Place the flank steak in the baggie and swoosh it around until all the surface areas are coated. Press the air out of the bag and place it on a plate in case there are any drips. Store it in the refrigerator until ready to use. You can do this the night before grilling, and then flip it over in the morning to make sure the other side gets its share of the marinade.

Grill it quickly on high heat. Flank tends to get chewier the longer it’s cooked, so cooking it to medium-rare is ideal.  Grill on high heat for about 4-6 minutes per side depending on the thickness – until an instant-read thermometer indicates it’s reached an internal temperature of 135-140° F. Taking it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before grilling will help it cook more evenly.

Let your steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into it so the juices can redistribute.

Slice it against the grain. This is critical to keeping a cut like flank nice and tender.

To Serve: sprinkle liberally with flake salt. Add freshly ground pepper if you’d like.

Notes: I prefer Big Tree Farms brand coconut aminos (original). Look for a brand that only contains coconut nectar, water, and salt. Coconut aminos are a great substitution for soy sauce if you’re adhering to a soy-free diet.

Pasadena Chicken Salad + Sweet Sesame Dressing

Pasadena Salad 2

The Pasadena salad is one of Trader Joe’s most popular prepared salads. It’s tasty but has a lengthy ingredient list that includes a number of additives. I long for a day when food can be food and not franken-food full of gums, colorants, and artificial preservatives. Dear TJ’s: lemon juice is a natural preservative, yo. This cleaned-up version is a staple worthy of your regular rotation. It’s sweet + crunchy, and the scallions give it a subtle bite. Rotisserie chicken saves the day, making this the assembly-only salad of your weeknight dreams.

Serves 4

Salad Ingredients:
12 ounces (3oz per serving) shredded rotisserie chicken breast
8 cups thinly sliced romaine hearts
4 scallions, green and white parts, sliced thinly on a deep diagonal
2/3 cup toasted slivered almonds (if using raw nuts, make sure you toast them)
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
optional: 1 ripe creamy avocado, sliced  

Dressing Ingredients:
1/4 cup [unseasoned] rice vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
1/4 teas freshly ground black pepper

Make the dressing: Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use. 

Assemble the salad: in a large bowl, toss the lettuce, chicken, scallions, almonds, and 1 tablespoon of the black sesame seeds together. Add the dressing and toss again until well coated. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sesame seeds and top with sliced avocado if you’d like. Serve immediately.

Notes: to serve two people (for two consecutive days), I assemble this salad using half of the dressing and salad ingredients, and save the remaining ingredients for day-2. 

Dark Chocolate Pots de Crème

pot de creme 2

These irresistible pots of creamy dark chocolate are ridiculously easy, and are the perfect way to punctuate a meal – especially during the summer months when a few bites of something sweet is often enough. Chocolate and raspberry are a classic coupling. But you can customize to your taste by topping each one with fresh cherries, strawberries, toasted hazelnuts, coconut flakes or coconut whip instead. Serve them straight from the fridge or they will melt in the summer heat! Note: I’m taking a more relaxed approach here and allowing 72% chocolate into the mix, but the cookbook version is sugar-free.

6-8 servings

Ingredients:
13.5 ounce can of reduced-fat coconut milk (I use Trader Joe’s)
13 ounces of 72% dark chocolate (I use Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup          
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt         
12-ounce container of fresh raspberries

Directions:

Break the dark chocolate into squares for easier melting.

Heat all the ingredients (except the raspberries) in a medium-sized saucepan on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate begins to melt, 3-4 minutes.

Use a whisk to gently stir until completely melted and smooth (stirring vigorously will produce bubbles). Do not allow the mixture to reach the boiling point, you just want enough heat to melt the chocolate.

Once the mixture is looking really smooth, use a rubber spatula to scrape any chocolate from the bottom of the pan that the whisk was unable to reach, and incorporate it into the mixture.

Pour into small (3-4 oz.) ramekins or vessels of your choice. Leave enough space at the top for the raspberries! For ease of pouring, transfer the mixture to a glass measuring cup with a pour spout. Or if you’re ok with a few drips here and there, you can pour the chocolate directly from the pan.

Let them sit undisturbed for 20 minutes before covering each one with plastic wrap and refrigerating. Allow to set fully – about 4 hours. Add fresh raspberries or the topping of your choice just before serving.

Recipe Notes: Trader Joe’s canned coconut milk is my coconut milk of choice because it’s delicious and additive-free. Their “Pound Plus” bar (make sure you choose the 72%) is rumored to be made by Callebaut which is a well-known Belgian chocolate company. And at around $5 for over a pound of chocolate, it’s an incredible value. If you’re using the Pound Plus bar and don’t have a kitchen scale, you will need 29 squares. If using unsweetened coconut flakes as your topping, I recommend lightly toasting them in the oven for a few minutes at 350 degrees until slightly golden.

Please note: #MEAction does not endorse any way of eating above another. No particular nutritional plan will suit all people with ME, but we are excited to share what Rachel has learned and hope the recipes will be helpful to many in our community. It is always recommended that you check with a medical professional about changes in your diet.

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38 thoughts on “She Was a Specialty Food Shop Owner Before She got Diagnosed. Now She’s Writing a Cookbook for Others with ME.”

    1. I also clean eat and I believe it helps I’ve studied herbalism aswell and use food from mother earth to add to my dinners. Your an inspiration and I hope your book gets published as I would definitely purchase it. Well done. Xx

  1. Theresa Schroeder

    Wonderful idea! Recipes sound delicious and, as noted, book would be valuable resource for anyone, with or without health issues. I have serious ME and now have to cook in stages. I make one part of recipe, such as salad dressing, then rest. Later, or next day I complete recipe. I also sit on kitchen stool instead of standing whenever possible. Wish I had a kitchen table where I could sit for food prep. Hope this finds a publisher!

    1. Hi Theresa,
      That’s exactly what I have to do also!
      I make dressings in the morning, I wash and spin the greens during a midday trip to the kitchen for something else, and then I simply chop greens and assemble my dinner in a few minutes at dinnertime. I really rely on a rotisserie chicken or big batches of roasted chicken breasts as part of my strategy, and those tips and tricks will all be detailed in the cookbook.

  2. Ok for people with very mild m.e. No good for people that are more unwell. I thought it would be more like dr my hill cooking methods for people that are moderate to severe, which are so much easier.

  3. I am sure you are aware of this, but never hurts to mention, Amazon has a POD, print on demand, publishing wing and most of the gizmos to help setup the book.

    1. Thank you, Ted!!
      I’m planning to go the traditional route. The photography is a really important component and with 80-90 full color pics it’s expensive to print and quality is critical.

  4. Have had ME for 20 years. Navigating dietary recommendations/restrictions then finding satisfying recipes I have the strength to prepare is an ongoing struggle. I can’t say how much I look forward to Rachel Riggs’ cookbook!

  5. I was diagnosed with ME in 1993. About a year and a half ago I started following the dietary suggestions of Mark Hyman. My diet is free of gluten, sugar, dairy and vegetable and seed oils. I have increased energy and have been able to add exercise and longer walks to my routine. I have been on a search for simple recipes that are within my diet. I am really looking forward to Rachel’s book.

  6. This is a great idea! My son has ME and is also a vegetarian. Will you be including any vegetarian recipes in the cookbook?

    1. Thank you, Sandi!
      Yes — most of the recipes start out vegetarian with the suggestion that shredded rotisserie chicken or chicken breasts can be added for protein. There are a few beef and Bison recipes, and a handful of fish dishes – but the majority are vegetarian!

  7. THIS IS SHARE WORTHY FOR SURE!! This illness is a devil, it takes you down and takes away your abilities to do just about everything, including researching ways to keep any of the energy our body manages to make. I have had people offer to make me meals and I had a hard time coming up with much, much less tasty things… I may have to buy a couple copies to pass around. People want to help, they just don’t how. AND if she is sharing back profits- HALLELUJAH – BLESS HER.

  8. Will there be any mast cell friendly recipes?
    Vinegar, marinated meat, rotisserie chicken, and the like, sadly, aren’t foods on my okay list.
    Thanks for your efforts for others who can eat a broader range of foods- 🙂

    1. Hi Lisa!!
      YES, I have pretty severe MCAS and so there are lots of strategies to be had. Unfortunately, with MCAS intolerances are pretty individual – but I have eliminated as many common trigger foods as possible!

  9. Both my daughters suffer with me fibromalagia I learnt something regarding food and there conditions. Can’t wait for the book

  10. Don-louise McBlain

    Both my daughters suffer with me fibromalagia I learnt something regarding food and there conditions. Can’t wait for the book

  11. This is a great idea and the recipes look nice, however this seems to be aimed at a US & Canada, market? If you want to have wider appeal it would be advantageous to include the metric system for measurements, include a glossary of alternative names for ingredients that they are referred to in other countries ie. Flank steak, scallions and coconut aminos aren’t anything I have ever heard of in Australia, and avoid referring to brand names unless they are found worldwide, eg no such thing as Trader Joe’s here. Just some tips if you want to expand your market reach.

  12. Looks nice going to look for the availability of some of the ingredients. I cook everything from scratch for my daughter with severe ME. We have cut out all processed food. She has a problem with nuts recently. I use two cooking without books a friend gave me years ago but would definitely get your book when it comes out.

  13. I am looking forward to the extraordinary cookbook!
    I also cook in several parts but sometimes it takes a lot of time and energy.
    Sometimes eating well is a day-filling program for people with ME.
    That’s why I’m looking forward to quick and creative recipes.
    Best wishes from Germany
    Andrea Daniel

  14. I have been eating healthy for over 7 years and yes food prep because of my Severe M.E disability progressively worsened is now very much a battleground making dinner. I look forward to your book and very refreshing it’s from within the community.

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