Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Vise

I have had chronic back pain since about 1998. The diagnosis is a bulging disc and degenerative disease in the lower lumbar and sacral spine. From childhood I have also had occasional paresthesia in that area, though that was not officially diagnosed until last year, when I suffered an attack that began during the last part of my walk to the chiro’s office and continued until well after I got there. Paresthesia is irritation of or damage to a nerve that manifests as a feeling of numbness, tingling, crawling, or some other sensation, in my case an intense, burning itch that always had me scratching my buttocks, hips, and thighs with a ferocity that felt—and to any observer probably appeared—as though I were trying to dig my way to China through my own body. Every so often I also have muscle spasms in my back. These are painful to varying degrees. The most recent one happened July 3 and is the reason I’ve spent so much time in the chiro’s office this month.

The chronic back pain has taken a toll on me. Walking has been increasingly difficult. Although the visits to the chiro have greatly helped the sciatica caused by the bulging disc, nothing has really touched the pain. I have described it as feeling as though someone had clamped a vise around my lumbar spine and was using the vise to pull my spine out. This pain typically begins within a couple minutes of continuous walking and ramps steadily up until I’m forced to stop walking. A walk to the bus stop that took eight minutes when I moved to my current location now takes almost twice as long and may feature several pauses to lean myself in a standing plank position against whatever telephone poles or other sturdy vertical structures I find along the way. Prior to the beginning of my grand experiment, I had gotten to the point of a despair so great that I truly began to believe that I would soon never be able to walk again. It was a scary place to be.

So, one of the things I inferred from my chiro’s assertions about a starchless, sugarless way of eating was that I would experience a decrease in inflammation in my body, resulting in a decrease in pain. Although I’ve noticed improvement in my ability to rise and move after prolonged stillness, I was not yet able or willing to attribute any change or decrease in pain to the dietary changes I’ve made.

I had yet another chiro appointment today. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to face the walk to the bus stop. I set out anyway.

The terrain in my community is all over hills, and I have to ascend a very steep one almost right out the door. I slowly began the climb and waited for the vise to clamp and the pain to escalate. I climbed. And waited. Nothing. I kept climbing, waiting for it, waiting for it. Finally, at the top of the hill, the pain met me. It squeezed my spine, a light squeeze, as if it were actually not much interested in clamping down so much. I crept closer to the highway, hands at my waist, just above my hips. The vise still didn’t clamp. I kept going. I was actually able to notice other things, like how tight my thigh muscles were, and how I was doing protecting my left knee from being wrenched or twisted because of a misstep. And though the rest of the walk was uncomfortable and slow, the vise never clamped. By two thirds of the way on, I was sending up thanks out loud to Jesus!

This was my walk to the bus stop on a rainy day, post ovulation. The post ovulation part is important, because whatever conditions I have seem to intensify in the days post ovulation, which in the past meant that my back pain normally became more severe, and walking became more difficult at that time. And anyone with arthritis is familiar with what happens on rainy days. This walk today was easier than walks I’d taken in the days after my menses, before ovulation, when pain is generally less troublesome. I was stunned. And jazzed. And grinning like the long-lost idiot who finally found her village. I started singing.

I was ecstatic in my description of my experience when I got to the chiro’s office. The chiro was happy, too, speaking strong encouragement and inspiration to me. Unlike the despair I’d come to feel while walking, unlike the sure certainty I’d come to feel that I would one day lose the ability to walk, I was, as I told the chiro, able to see my life stretching out before me. A life where I get the joy of putting one foot in front of the other and loving it again as in times long past.

And even at the limit of my endurance for the day, the pain still never got as bad as it has in the past. I even felt well enough when I walked back into my place to wash the dishes, warm my supper, and stretch a little bit before finally sitting down. The vise never clamped.

It feels good to hope again. My heart is soaring in anticipation of the next walk, in hope that it will be at least as good as this was today. In hope that from today, the vise remains loosened, never to clamp again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bahama Mamas Day: Sugar v. Nectar

Today was Bahama Mamas Day!

No, you won’t find that on your calendar anywhere. To my knowledge, not even the Bahamas has Bahama Mamas Day, although I may be wrong.

But that’s what we celebrated at the home of some friends. They opened their home to a bunch of Christ Sisters, the men disappeared, and the women had a blast. Good food, good fun, good fellowship! The sun was warm, the skies were blue and dotted with puffy clouds, the pool was cool and refreshing to those who entered, the oldies music on the radio made an appropriate counterpoint to pleasant conversation on the deck. There were lots of memories to chuckle over, lots of new developments to note, and lots of love all around. Days like this are gifts from God, made to enjoy with all the senses and to share with others.

It was a feast day.

Our esteemed hostess provided plenty of water, tea, and other drinks. She provided nibbles such as cocktail shrimp, chips and a few different salsas, a couple of different cheeses, crackers, fruit, and the desserts: Bite-sized cupcakes and bananas, ice cream, and toppings for banana splits. I brought purple seedless grapes. Others brought various kinds of sweet and savory salads. There was lots from which to choose. And I partook freely of most of it.

I learned a couple of things.

I can stop when I’m satisfied without eating too much. Of course, I knew that already, and I’ve been fairly consistent about it for a goodly amount of time now. I don’t have to allow myself to be overwhelmed by choices. That was not a problem today, and it was a beautiful feeling, maintaining control. There were enough healthy offerings that I didn’t feel deprived when I passed up some things, like the crackers.

But I made up for that sacrifice by eating, along with my banana split, three of the bite-sized cupcakes, topped with dollops of white and pink icing and candy sprinkles. I’ve previously had days when I ate that much sugar at once, and thought nothing of it. Today, however, that sugar bomb was quite noticeable in its effect on me. Mind you, I’d already had three pints of delicious, sweet tea flavored with a variety of citrus, plus two small helpings of sweet salads that had mini-marshmallows, about a quarter cup each. So those three little cupcakes, along with a vanilla ice cream banana split topped with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, nuts, vanilla crunch sprinkles, and a handful of maraschino cherries all exploded in my system with some considerable force. Now I know what a sugar high is. I don’t like it much. My words actually slurred a bit, and my stomach wanted to be a little bit rebellious. I felt a little edgy, and I still feel that way as I’m writing this, although it’s now been about three hours since I finished eating all that. The crash, when it comes, will probably equally noticeable. Lesson learned!

I experientially understand the difference between refined sugars and agave nectar, not just in the fact that agave nectar has not affected me that way, but in the intensity of the sweetness of my frozen custard versus store-bought ice cream which, yes, I remember saying it, I said I would not eat anymore. My frozen creations have been quite good for something I made with just the right amount of agave nectar, without sugar, and without an ice cream maker, and after today I have reason to enjoy them all the more. The store-bought stuff, by comparison, was intensely sweet. Wow! The add-ons were more sweet upon sweet. It was way too much.

It seems that every week so far I’ve had something starchy, sweet, or starchy and sweet. I’m learning things though. That’s good. So tomorrow it’s back to no starches and no sweeteners except my prized agave nectar. That substitution is worth the money it will cost me to continue using it. I will consider it like a utility bill I’m willing to pay for something I enjoy: The ability to enjoy the sweet without overloading the blood sugar levels.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Second Week: Chiro And Custard

You know the kind of day I mean. If you’re old enough for anything I have thus far said in this blog to make even a modicum of sense, you’ve lived long enough to have one of these days. The kind of day when your get up and go decides to get up and go without notifying you of the fact, or worse, fails to show up at the needful time, and it’s now nine hours or more into the day when you most needed it to be there for you.

Today, on such a day, I visited my chiro.

The chiro whose oft-repeated suggestion and subsequent anecdotes are the impetus and inspiration behind this grand experiment on which I’ve embarked, that chiro. I had an appointment with this worthy person today.

Between self-injunctions to breathe, to relax, to allow myself to receive the blessing of repetitive down-pressings, out-stretchings, and occasional painful, sustained pokes at allegedly tight structures, I continued my litany of pain. Then, as I was gathering my glasses, my current paperback book, my cellphone in its waist clip, and my Eeyore back pouch made specifically for someone much younger than I am, I informed my chiro about my grand experiment, interrupting myself to comment on the photo of a chubby-cheeked, happy-faced little one Given that my chiro, a gentle-souled being, is the co-progenitor, the expression on the face of the offspring makes great good sense. I was delighted to see the offspring. The chiro was excited at my news.

I’ve brought that worthy being up to date on my progress so far, and now it’s time to update you, too. This past Sunday, two days ago, I ate some mac and cheese. Now this happened as a result of me bringing home, among other tasty food items, a huge chafing pan of homemade macaroni and cheese from an after-church dinner to celebrate their Men’s Day. I resolved to taste only a little of the cheesy pasta, but I ate rather more than I should. By the passage of several hours, I wished I hadn’t. I was headachy, and I felt extremely irritated and agitated. It was a most uncomfortable feeling.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the cornbread sticks that came home with me, of which I had a little nibble, just to taste one. Those are waiting in the freezer until Thanksgiving, when I will be called upon to make stuffing. Since my family prefers cornbread stuffing, they’ll have it made from the crumbs of actual cornbread this year. I’ll do my best to make sure it comes out well, and I have no reason to think it will do otherwise.

So how do I feel? Well, it all goes back to that rebellious get up and go I mentioned earlier. I started writing this an hour after waking up from a nap that lasted nearly three hours. My thinking is much improved, and I’m sure that now I’ve gotten into me a salad of romaine heart, sliced tomato, leftover barbecue chicken bits, and mayonnaise, I’ll start to feel more like a person physically. I just hate that it took this long into the day for that to happen.

As for any noticeable effects of the experiment, I do notice that, no matter how long I’ve been still, once I determine to get up, it is becoming easier to do so, and I get moving more quickly once I’m upright. My gait is still fat-arthritic person moving, but my speed of transition from long stillness to movement is more akin to normal person rising leisurely. And it’s a consistently noticeable thing, not something that’s hit-and-miss. I told my chiro that I wasn’t yet convinced of the supposed good benefits of being starchless and sugarless, but I must remember to mention this improved movement at my next visit.

And I’d like to now share with you a bit of culinary good news: You can make ice cream without ice cream makers, ice-filled coffee cans, and those crazy throw-balls that are supposed to encourage the more indolent among us that we should earn the right to eat the creamy goodness by pouring it into a contraption filled with ice and using it to play dodge ball or something while the ice freezes it for us. And you can make it without refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Go set up your mise en place (remember, that’s French for “get you mess in place”) and do like I tell you :-).

First, find a metal mixing bowl and your beater blades, tie them up in a bag, and put them into the freezer. Why? Because Alton Brown said so. Go ask the people at the Food Network who that is. Now set out six eggs and 1 C agave nectar. You’ll also need on hand at least a pint of milk, vanilla flavoring, a quart of heavy whipping cream, plastic wrap, and enough plastic freezable containers with lids to hold two quarts of finished product.

Set out a saucepan. Pour in 1 ½ C milk. This is ice cream, and I’m your cook here, not your nurse. Use the full-fat stuff. If you have lactose intolerance, you’re going to use the lactose-free full-fat stuff. Your tongue will thank you for the richness, and your stomach and fellow residents will thank you for the belly ache you won’t have. Don’t turn on the heat just yet, unless you’re experienced at what I tell you to do next.

Separate six eggs and put the yolks into another bowl. If you don’t know how to separate eggs, you can do one of two things. You can crack the egg and pour it carefully from one half shell into the other, allowing the white to run out until only the yolk is left. Or you can do it like the aforementioned Alton Brown and carefully pour out the whole egg into one hand, then carefully allow the white to drip from between your fingers as you pass the yolk from hand to hand until the white has dripped away. At this point, our beloved Bro. Brown would pick up a whisk and start whailing away at the egg yolks until they became light and fluffy, and that’s what I did, too.

I suppose you could save yourself some aggravation and beat the things with a mixer, but well beaten should be the end result. Once you achieve it, slowly pour in a cup of agave nectar while continuing to agitate the well-beaten egg yolks by your chosen method.

Now you can turn on the heat under the milk if you haven’t done it yet (and you won’t have done if you have any sense.) It doesn’t take that long for the milk to get warm enough for you to just be able to touch it for the heat, and you only want it just that hot for now. Remove it from the heat and begin tempering the egg yolk mixture. If you’re new to tempering, it’s easy. Scoop out maybe ¼ C milk, and while vigorously employing your whisk, slowly pour the milk into the egg mixture. Do this until you have maybe half the milk whisked in, then return the saucepan to the heat and slowly pour the tempered eggs into the saucepan, stirring continually. Make sure the heat is on medium-low at this point, and continue stirring your milk mixture while it cooks, When it coats the back of a metal spoon it’s ready. You should also notice that if you stop stirring for just a moment, it thickens up some.

At this point, you now have custard. Remove it from the heat, stir in at most a tablespoon of vanilla, transfer it to a bowl, put plastic wrap over it so that the plastic touches the surface of it, then put it into the refrigerator. It will need to cool thoroughly before your next step, so you have time to romance your lovely other, put the offspring down for a nap, catch up on the parts of this blog you haven’t read yet, watch a movie or two, or whatever else you want or need to do. It’s going to take a few hours at least.

When your custard is thoroughly chilled, remove your bowl and beater blades from the freezer and immediately pour in 2 ½ C heavy whipping cream. Quickly attach your beater blades and whip the cream into peaks that stand up when you remove the blades from it. It’s okay if it still moves around a little when you gently tilt the bowl. Get out the custard and fold it into the whipped cream, a little at a time, but with as little delay as possible. Pour your cream mix into the reserved containers, put on the lids, and put them into the freezer.

In my case, the resulting frozen custard cream was a little firmer to the texture upon freezing than you may find ice cream to be when you buy it from the store or make it in an ice cream maker, but it melts readily enough. I found the taste to be akin to caramel just before it burns, which some say is the exact way caramel should taste if it’s done right. I attribute this to the fact that I used raw agave nectar, which is why I plan to use the lighter nectar next time, but in the final analysis it’s quite delicious.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First Week And A Piece

For those of you keeping score, it is now a week and a piece since I began my grand experiment of having no breads and sugars among my food choices.

Well I have one transgression—I should more rightly say two, I guess—to report. This past Sunday evening, we had a church meeting over dessert. A dear friend who is an outstanding baker provided the goodies: Chocolate cakes with chocolate icing and cute little designs piped in white, and a vanilla cake topped with strawberries and vanilla icing. I had one serving of each.

The following night, for supper, I purchased a salad from Quizno’s, and it came with a piece of some kind of flatbread cut in half. I took one small bite out of one of the halves, just to see how it tasted, and tossed the rest. In my opinion, it doesn’t really add anything to the salad, so next time I will ask them to leave it off.

So what have I had today?

Breakfast: 10:00 a.m. – 2 bananas

Lunch: 1:30 or thereabouts – portion of roast chicken breast without skin (I ate it already) with Pace’s™ Triple Pepper salsa

Lemonade made with ¼ C agave nectar, ¼ C lemon juice, and enough cold water to bring it to 2 C total

I haven’t had supper, yet, but I’ve put some chicken wings into the oven. I’m going to have them with heart of romaine with celery, topped with a little mayonnaise. For later, I have a choice of desserts. Both are different single fruits blended with agave nectar, milk, and cream and thrown into the freezer. One is strawberry, and the other is sprite melon. For those who have never had sprite melon before, it is smooth like a honeydew, but it’s pale yellow-white instead of light green, and the taste is different.

Now, I tried to make a rub with hot paprika, garlic powder, sage, thyme, Old Bay seasoning, cinnamon, and salt. I wet the chicken in a base of olive oil with hot sauce, agave nectar, and some of my spice mix. If anyone has any good sauce and rub recipes, please feel free to submit them. I’d like them to not have more than 10 ingredients, please; and if any of your ingredients are exotic, please include information on how I may acquire them.

So how am I feeling? That’s important, because three of the supposed benefits of the bread- and sugar-free life are that one’s mood is significantly improved, one loses weight, and one experiences significant pain reduction.

So far, I can’t say I’ve seen much out of the ordinary that isn’t attributable to other things. I’ve just ended “that time”, and this is normally the point in my cycle when I feel the best. I normally expect to continue feeling relatively good until I ovulate, at which point, due to associated hormone changes, I will experience an increase in pain, my mood will become flat or negative, and I will become bloated or otherwise gain some weight from water retention. To complicate matters for this month, I suffered a muscle spasm July 3, two days before I started the experiment. Subsequent to this I have now been to the chiro four times, so of course, I would expect at this point to have less pain. I suppose the test for me will be to see how I fare in another two weeks or so.

The only things I can say I’ve thus far noticed that aren’t attributable to my cycle are that when I went out today, I was less short of breath than I have been in awhile when walking for any distance or up hills And when I got home, although I was somewhat tired from my trip, I did not feel as drained as I have in the past, nor did it take as long to recover. These may be the results either of the experiment or of the weather today, which was dry, with temperatures in the mid-80’s, which is cooler than normal for this time of year in this part of the country. This coming Friday is forecast to be more humid and may be warmer, so we’ll see when I go out again.

And that’s all folks! Sorry not to have made this a little more interesting, but It’s after six in the evening, my chicken wings aren’t getting done fast enough to suit me, and I’m hungry!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Experiment Has Begun!

Okay, I’m late.

For those of you who have been keeping up, yesterday was the start of the grand experiment. Beginning yesterday, I have determined to consume no breads and no sugar for a month. As I indicated when I first mentioned this, I am eliminating all forms of breads, grains, starchy vegetables, and breaded foods from my diet. Also eliminated are sugars and artificial sweeteners. I will only be using agave nectar, because it has a lesser impact on blood sugar than other sweeteners. I still haven’t decided about honey, but if I use it, the use will be minimal.

My biggest issue will be non-compliance, to which I am quite prone. Already I nearly succumbed to non-compliance, on the first. Day. Yesterday. Having failed to consume and/or throw out all my bread, I had four wheat bolillos in my fridge. I had, and still have, leftovers from a scrumptious, starch-free seafood stew I made just Saturday evening, and I was reheating some for Sunday lunch. Saturday night’s serving had been accompanied by well-buttered slices of crunchy toast from thick slices of a sandwich roll, some of the bread the taxi driver gave me from the panadería. Yummy! I like sopping soups and stews with toast! I wanted more!

I almost had it.

And then I said no.

True, it’s my experiment, and I can conduct it how I want to. I can start and stop any time I want. But I said I’d start on July 5th, and I said I’d do it for the next four weeks. I need to keep my word, even if no one else is watching. Because, although you’re not telling me you’ve seen any of this, it’s out there, and you will someday. And I want you to know I kept to my word. Beyond this, even if you never see it, God sees. That’s even more important.

So, on this second day of my grand experiment, I’ve started well. The breads I didn’t eat are in the chest freezer, me not liking to waste good food even if it’s not exactly what I should be eating. I have my supply of agave nectar laid in for the month. All my granulated sugar is used up and gone—at least, gone out of any stage I can use for cooking, hahaha.

So what’s in my stew? It went a little something like this:

Mise en place (French for get your mess in place :-)! )

Chop a large white onion, five ribs of celery, and one red bell pepper. The original recipe calls for fresh garlic; now is the time to prepare it. I used a largish spoonful from a jar.

Open and drain two 14-oz cans each of mushrooms and diced tomatoes.

Scoop out about four ounces of tomato paste.

Prepare 32 oz chicken broth and whatever seasonings you want.

Prepare assorted seafoods, up to about three pounds. Make sure it is in bite-sized chunks.

Now, heat ¼ C each butter and olive oil in a large pot. Cook the onion, celery, pepper, and garlic until just starting to brown, about eight minutes. Remove half and set it aside.

To the other half, add half the mushrooms and tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken broth, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat. Remove all the vegetables in the pot and about half the liquid to a carafe blender, pulse on low to get started, then raise the speed and puree. Alternately, you can puree it all in the pot with a stick blender.

Add back in the reserved vegetables, the rest of the mushrooms and tomatoes, and the seafoods. Return the pot to the heat and cook until seafoods are cooked.

Bread eaters will enjoy sopping this savory stew with thick pieces of bread or toast. Goes great with lemonade sweetened with agave nectar. My perfect recipe is one part each agave and lemon juice in six parts water. The same amount of sugar can be substituted for the agave nectar with equally tasty results.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What I Know About Hypothyroidism

I have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism since February of this year, but for sure I’ve had it for awhile longer.

Here’s what I remember about it from my research: It’s a metabolic disorder caused by underproduction of certain hormones. There does not seem to be a cure, but it is treatable with daily doses of synthetic hormones or of natural hormones from animal sources.

The thyroid produces several hormones, including thyroxine and triidothyronine. These hormones help regulate metabolism. Sometimes the thyroid begins to gradually underproduce these hormones, and when that happens, a person—commonly, though not always, a middle-aged woman—may begin to experience a wide range of symptoms including dry skin; dry brittle hair; weak, brittle nails; constant tiredness; depression; sensitivity to cold; weight gain or difficulty losing weight in spite of a decrease in appetite or food intake; and hoarseness of the voice. Because these and other symptoms of hypothyroidism are so common to other conditions and their onset so gradual, doctors commonly misdiagnose it and propose treatments that ultimately do not address the actual condition.

There are two ways a doctor can determine if a person has hypothyroidism, and both are blood tests. The first test measures blood levels of thyroxine and triidothyronine. If these hormones are found to be low, then this is definitive for hypothyroidism. Sometimes, however, these hormones may be within acceptable levels even when the thyroid is underactive. This is because of the action of the thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland. Thus, the second test a doctor can do looks at blood levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone. If there is an elevated level of this hormone in the blood, this is definitive for hypothyroidism.

There are a few different kinds of hormone replacement therapy a doctor may implement, but initial treatment will include routine blood work to gauge the effectiveness of the therapy used. The object of effective therapy is to help restore metabolic balance by supplementing the deficient thyroid hormones. A person will need to continue routine checks to ensure that therapy continues to be effective.

Typically, treatment is lifelong once it is begun. If the treatment is stopped without a doctor’s approval, the symptoms can come back more quickly and forcefully than they came on initially. Continued lack of treatment can result in a condition called myxedema. A person can go into a coma and even die. That should not be a worry as long as treatment is initiated and continued.

The things that I personally find most aggravating about hypothyroidism are what it does to my hair and my metabolism. I also don’t like the depression. And then there’s the thing with goitrogenic compounds!

These compounds are known to have a suppressive effective on the thyroid. According to my research, hyperthyroid patients are encouraged to eat lots of foods containing these compounds. A person with normal thyroid levels can also eat these foods with no problem. For people with underactive thyroids, however, the recommendation is to avoid raw foods containing goitrogens. Cooking destroys some of these compounds, but the recommended limit on cooked goitrogenic foods is 2-3 servings per week.

After scouring the internet for lists of these foods and finding several, I put them all together and came up with what I think is a comprehensive master list. I don’t claim that these are all the goitrogenic foods ever, but this is a list based on every other list I found. Foods that are on one list are not all on another, but all of them had some foods in common.

For my own use, I broke my master list down into three categories:

Fruits – Apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, honeydew, oranges, peaches, pears, prunes, raspberries, strawberries

Vegetables, Brassica (cruciferous) – bok choy, broccoli/broccolini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, canola, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, choy sum, collard greens, garden cress, kai-lan (Chinese broccoli), kale, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard greens, rapeseed (yu choy), rupini, rutabaga, tatsoi, turnips

Vegetables, non-Brassica – bamboo shoots, horseradish, lima beans, potatoes, radishes, soy/soy derivatives, spinach

Other – Almonds, cassava, corn, millet, peanuts, pine nuts, sorghum, tapioca, walnuts

So what, you may ask after reading all that, is there left for a person to eat? Everything else, basically. I’ve noticed that meat and dairy are totally absent from all the goitrogen lists. I’ve been getting plenty of those! The smart thing to do here is to check with your doctor and see what that person recommends.

And now you know what I know about hypothyroidism!