Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Call Home

Almost a year after my cancer and I reached an agreement, negotiations broke down for my uncle. At the service that followed, one of his dearest friends told a story about the summer when my uncle fell in love with his wife, Alice. From Boston, he hitchhiked the three thousand miles to California, and made his way to Catalina Island. He and his buddy hiked twelve miles overland to a remote beach only accessible by foot or by water. At the end of this beach was a pay phone. My uncle picked up that phone and called Alice, back in Boston.

I turned twenty one in Budapest. Four thousand miles from home, I was miserable; depressed, drunk, and surrounded by people who neither understood nor loved me. My dad sent me an email. "When I turned twenty one, I bought an ancient Ford. I still have the Ford, and I still have you, although we were not to become acquainted for a few more years. Life develops a strange kind of symmetry when your children turn the age you think you still are. Happy Birthday."

Sometimes you call home; sometimes home calls you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Not To Be Cool

You know what's cool? Never letting your passion for something make you vulnerable.

I am not cool.

In high school, the dominant code was to be cool. When I look back on my time there, though, I realize that the most interesting things I remember were the moments when individuals weren't cool. The times when we were wrapped up in things that could hurt us, extending ourselves over the precipice; that's where the color is. If I have a regret in my life, it is that I spent too much time trying to get back to cool (which is a place I never could find anyway).

Last Sunday I turned 35. I went to see Gillian Welch and David Rawlings perform in concert. Let me make you a list of things that are not cool:
*Refreshing your browser every five minutes on the morning that a band plans to announce tour dates in your area.
*Hustling your toddler into the car and driving an hour to stand in line waiting for the ticket window to open.
*Buying a t-shirt, and a tote bag, and a signed poster, and an art print of the album cover.
*Having a total meltdown because you were in the ladies room when rock star (whom you had seen the day before in concert and whose t-shirt you were wearing, albeit covered in sardine juice from an in-car eating incident), stops at same rest area to buy a burger and your husband fails to waylay him.
*Running out of the theater after the show and standing at the loading dock for an hour in hopes of intercepting rock star on her way to the car. Because, of course, you know what they drive.

Now, none of this is cool. But you know what is? This:

And these:


So I give up on trying to be cool. If you want something, if you love something, try for it. It's pretty cool in the grave, I'll be cool then.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Shoulders of Giants

I was thinking about Townes, and Dylan, and Gillian, and Tom Waits, and how art gets made. I wrote a poem about it. Here it is:

Idol

I spoke to you in the sleepless dark as if you were a deity
Your voice was my wings and my crutch
I followed your words into the wilderness and wept in the wastes
In ruined temples I tore out my heart and offered it to you
You hold it
like a vice holds an egg

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ask Your Doctor...To Shut Up

Does the diagnosis "Failure To Thrive" sound like something you would want to hear about your infant? If your pediatrician then recommended supplementing your eight-month old's breastmilk diet with formula(!) and solids, which subsequently made him sick, would you be stressed-out? If her sole reason for this diagnosis was that he is in a low weight percentile according to the American Academy of Pediatrics chart, which is heavily weighted towards formula-fed infants, would you get suspicious? If she then told you that her practice sees (not "diagnoses", but "sees", as if it is some objective truth to be observed rather than interpreted) this "condition" in a third of their patients, primarily in families where the babies are exclusively breastfed and the parents are conscious of careful nutrition and physically active, would you start to get pissed?

If you were diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and the doctors recommended surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, and then more of the same when the first round failed, would be feel distressed? If no one mentioned that
  • the studies used to proclaim the "success" of chemotherapy don't count people who died in treatment because they didn't complete the course, 
  • that some research concludes that as many as 80% of tumor cancer patients do not see any meaningful benefits from chemotherapy 1, 2, and that the improvement in five-year outcomes is partly related to the inclusion of non-lethal cancers and early detection (which has nothing to do with chemo), 
  • that prolonged exposure to chemotherapy will cause organ failure and, possibly (probably?) death (no citation needed here, just read the side effects from the drug inserts)
Would you feel betrayed?

If you were a college kid and the doctor told you that you had to have "minor" surgery on your cervix or you would get cervical cancer (and during the surgery she screwed up, and you could see the fear of a malpractice suit in her eyes when she apologized), and then you found out later that this condition and the associated virus often resolve without treatment, would you feel frustrated?

If you suffered from minor medical maladies for years and the doctors all suggested it was psychological and prescribed some superficial treatment, and then you healed yourself by dramatically reducing your exposure to HVAC and altering your diet, would you be annoyed?

If you took your toddler to a doctor for the first time in his life because of odd stools (that ultimately resolved without medical treatment) and ended up in the pediatric urologist's office with a specialist
  • recommending surgery with general anaesthesia for a 22 month old because the fluid around his testicles might annoy him at some point (which it did, of course, after the doctor messed around with it), and 
  • telling you to forcibly break the foreskin adhesions because, er, well, just because, 
would you shake your head and walk away?

If you had personal experiences with all these things, would you stop listening to doctors?

Do I sound unusually negative today? I guess the extent of this malpractice is weighing on me. These are people's lives! Practitioners in the allopathic tradition have either forgotten to stop talking when they don't know, or they have forgotten that they don't know. If you have a doctor, that relationship needs to be a partnership, not a professorship or a dictatorship. If you are a client, listen to your instincts and participate in the diagnosing process; YOU are in charge of  the healing process! So, most respectfully, I suggest that, when the doc says something that sounds strange, you politely ask your doctor...to shut up. Just for a little while.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just some snacks

No deep thoughts today, just a couple of quick recipes that I have made with success.

I finally made my own fermented vegetables, and it was so easy! My first batch was a mix of cabbage, beets and onions. I bought some beet seconds in bulk from a farmer friend, a couple of cabbages and a few pounds of onions. The first lesson was that a little goes a long way with these vegetables. It's not perfect, but my first batch went like this:

1 large head organic white cabbage
5 lbs organic beets
2 lbs onions
sea salt
well water

I cut the cabbage into large pieces that fit in my food processor feed tube, and then I shredded them. I cut the beets into quarters and sliced them in the food processor (next time I might cut them a little smaller). I did the same with the onions.

I mixed it all together and packed it into 1/2 gallon mason jars and a ceramic crock, pressing down occasionally to make it really compact. Then I mixed a solution of 8 tsp sea salt to 8 C water and covered the vegetables; I added just enough to liquid to cover them when they were firmly pressed down. I had to keep re-pressing and packing more vegetables to make sure that the air was out. I closed the lids tightly, covered the crock with an inverted lid and a weight, and put it all in a cupboard for a week. I packed the kraut from the crock into jars and put it all in the fridge. Done.

Chocolate-Ginger Macaroons - paleo approved!

I got this from Michael Kenney's 'Everyday Raw,' but I modify all his recipes to substitute either honey or maple syrup where he calls for agave nectar because I don't think agave nectar is a healthy alternative to sugar. I cook this recipe, so it's not raw (and neither is maple syrup, anyway, or cocoa).

1 3/4 C dried coconut
3/4 C chopped macadamia nuts
3/4 C + 2 T cocoa powder
3/4 C maple syrup
1/4 C + 2 T coconut oil
1 T ground ginger
1 1/4 vanilla extract
pinch sea salt

Mix together dry ingredients; add wet ingredients and blend. Drop by spoonful onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheets. Place in oven and turn on to 200. Check every half hour until they are the texture you prefer (or you can dehydrate them for two days, but I am too impatient!).

I am currently in the process of making a vegan, grain-free key-lime tart, so I'll let you know how that turns out.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Your Life

I am so fortunate to have a life full of amazing responsibilities. My time is occupied with the demands of a toddler and a young child discovering themselves in the world, and with supporting my husband as he pursues his dreams. All of this leaves me with little time for "The Nourishing Path" these days, but my mind is often on it.

There are a lot of scared, angry people in the streets lately. In believing the promises of people who were never in a position to deliver the goods, they followed paths that seem to be leading to dead ends. They suspect they have been had, and they're looking for someone to blame. In Wall Street, some of them think they have found it.

Whether this is true is the subject of a different discussion. It is natural to look for a bad guy when we think we have done all the "right" things and life is still turning out "wrong." But even if the bad guy really is a bad guy, is my current situation his fault? If I own every action, every moment of my life, there is no way it can be wrong. The path is always evolving, always unfolding. Is it a nourishing path? Do these choices make sense? Is this my dream, or the road to it? Am I living my life how I want to be living it, right now? Am I banking on a pay-off that I am in a position to attain?

In the words of Wall St., another's "past performance is no indication of future returns;" I cannot live anyone else's life.

So I'll leave the occupiers in the street, and hope that each and every one of them can find the individual nourishing path that springs from within, and that will lead them away from the rage of feeling helpless.

Am I failing to deliver on my promises to myself? If so, then it is time to Occupy My Life.

(Sometimes the hand does seem devastatingly crappy, and sometimes there is someone else to blame, at least in part. Nonetheless, in my life I have never found that a peaceful, positive outcome can stem from angry action.)


Want some recipes?

Most of the time I cook simple meals from the farmer's market, since I like to shop there and, once I'm done, I rarely have much cash left! Once a month I shop the sales at the grocery store fish counters, and I fill my freezer with eight dollar sockeye salmon and six dollar haddock and cod.


Coconut-Pistachio Fish Fry (serves 4)

Exactly what it sounds like.
2 lbs white fish, such as cod or haddock (previously frozen works fine)
1/4 C ground pistachios
1tsp sea salt

1/4 C coconut oil

Heat the coconut oil in a skillet (coconut oil will smoke and burn if it gets too hot, so keep an eye on it).
Toss the salt and pistachios together, then dredge the fish in this "breading."
Cut the fish into four pieces and fry for a few minutes a side, depending on thickness, until the fish can be flaked with a fork.

Coconut oil is super good for you, which is a great excuse to eat fried food!

If you want to add a sauce, strain 1/2C yogurt through a coffee filter for 1 hr, and then mix in some chopped garlic and lemon juice.

Serve with parsnips roasted with honey mustard, and fermented beets (I am about to embark on a beet fermenting process, so I will fill you in once I have done it. In the meantime, I buy Real Pickles brand beets from the natural food store.)

Breakfast-for-Dinner: Salmon and Eggs (serves 4)

15oz can of Alaskan salmon
1 C chopped organic celery
1/2 C chopped organic white onions
1 tsp curry powder

Preheat oven to 350.

Remove salmon from can and take out large vertebrae, but leave the skin.
Mix the ingredients together and press into an oiled loaf pan and drizzle olive oil over the top.
Bake about 25minutes, until a little crusty.

While the salmon is cooking, you can make hollandaise or lemon curry mayonnaise, depending on whether you want a strictly paleo meal. They are both easy to make, although hollandaise requires some practice. For mayonnaise, follow Julia Child's recipe here. For hollandaise, I also stick with Julia.

This is her recipe, it makes a lot so I usually reduce it by 2/3 (using 1 egg yolk, 1 tsp water, and 1 tsp lemon juice)

Ingredients:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 6 -8 ounces very soft unsalted butter
  • pinch salt 

Directions:

  1. Whisk the yolks, water, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in the saucepan for a few moments, until thick and pale (this prepares them for what is to come).
  2. Set the pan over barely simmering water and continue to whisk at reasonable speed, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan, where the eggs tend to overcook.
  3. To moderate the heat, frequently move the pan off the burner for a few seconds, and then back on. (If, by chance, the eggs seem to be cooking too fast, set the pan in the bowl of cold water to cool the bottom or onto a cool, damp towel, then continue).
  4. As they cook, the eggs will become frothy and increase in volume, and then thicken. When you can see the pan bottom through the streaks of the whisk and the eggs are thick and smooth, remove from the heat.  Immediately add 1 Tbsp cool butter and whisk.
  5. By drops, add the soft butter, whisking constantly to incorporate each addition. As the emulsion forms, you may add the butter in slightly larger amounts, always whisking until fully absorbed. Continue incorporating butter until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you want.
  6. Season lightly with salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper, whisking in well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding droplets of lemon juice if needed. Serve lukewarm.

Fry eggs to order and serve over the salmon, topped with hollandaise or mayo.

Squash stuffed with walnuts, apples, cabbage and goat cheese (serves 4)


2 large acorn squash
1 small head red cabbage
2 white onions
1/2 C chopped walnuts
1 tart apple
4 oz chevre
1 C balsamic vinegar
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cut the squash in half through the "waist," so that each piece has scalloped edges. Scoop out the seeds. Place the squash face down on a sheet pan and add 1/4 inch of water. Place the pan in the oven and cook about 45 minutes, checking occasionally to add more water if necessary. When the squash is done it will pierce easily with a fork.

While the squash is cooking, slice the onions finely and put them in a skillet with olive oil over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring constantly, until they brown. Shred the cabbage or slice it finely and add it to the pan, stir to coat with olive oil and then cover and cook about 10 minutes, until wilted. Chop the apple and add to the pan, stir, turn off the heat, and cover.

After the apples have warmed, about 10 minutes, empty the pan into a bowl and return the pan to the burner. Over high heat, add the balsamic vinegar and stir constantly until it has thickened.

When the squash are cooked, place them face up on plates (cut or notch the bottoms if necessary to make them stand), and add a pat of butter. Toss the walnuts and crumbled chevre with the cabbage mixture and then spoon into the squash shells. Spoon the vinegar reduction over the top, and serve.

Roasted beets glazed with ginger and cumin (serves 4)

2 lbs beets
1 T grated ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 C butter
1 shallot, chopped fine

Preheat the oven to 450.

Place the beets in a roasting dish that just accommodates them, and add 1/2 inch of water. Cover tightly with a lid or foil. Place in the oven and cook for 1-2 hours, depending on the size of the beets, checking on the water level occasionally. They are done when they pierce easily with a knife. Remove the beets and drain in the sink. When they are still warm, but cool enough to handle, slip the skins off. Cut into wedges, and cut the wedges in half.

Heat in the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the ginger and stir constantly. When the ginger is fragrant, add the cumin, and when it starts to foam, add the shallots. Stir for 2 minutes and then add the beets and stir to coat. Turn off heat and continue to toss the beets until glazed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

War and Peace

Apparently I always rush off the to ER on the Friday before Labor Day.  This year it was for something that turned out to be nothing, and I knew it was going to be nothing.  I have no idea why I went; I have only gone to the ER three times as an adult (including for my kids).  As I was driving over there, already feeling silly for getting worked up over something minor, I realized that I had checked myself into the emergency room of Mercy Hospital exactly one year before.

So my year of the crab has come and gone.  I went to a party on Saturday afternoon, and celebrated both the occurrence and the completion of the past twelve months. (I drank too much of Chresten's amazing home brew and belabored the point, so I don't plan to rehash it here.)  But then I got thinking.

The language around cancer (and illness in general) is often very violent.  I hear terms like "battle," "war," "fight," "survivor."  If violence is not the path to peace over geopolitical differences, how can it be the path to peace within our bodies?  How can it ever be a path to peace? 

In declaring war, I name an enemy.  It seems to me that this act makes the "enemy" stronger.  The more violent the assault, the more powerful this enemy becomes.  We see it now, today, in the current military conflicts raging in the Middle East.  But look at the other wars we live with: the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Illiteracy and Ignorance, the War on Obesity, Mental Illness, Disease, Terror.  Have these become stronger or weaker as these wars have raged on?  Or have these wars just made more enemies, caused anxiety and casualties and collateral damage, and squandered resources and lives?  Could it be that war is never the answer, no matter how well-meaning I am? 

Now we are in the thick of another presidential election, and declaring war on "bad ideas" and "bad  government" (a redundancy, in my mind), and on each other.  Is it possible that, by staying in this constant cycle of political battle, I strengthen the opposition, or even create it?

I can be free even as the shackles rattle on my ankles, and I can work towards harmony and well-being for the whole world, by recognizing the inherent violence in the effort to bend others to my will.  (I think it's pretty hard work, but it feels like good, meaningful work).  It is possible to shine the light of compassion on the most challenging of adversaries; really, I think it is critical in order to get off this treadmill.  Even disease, ignorance, terror, poverty are not meaningful without recognizing that it is the human experience of these things that makes them important.  These issues are always about people

If "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger," what happens to that which we try to kill?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When the Walls Close In

I have been sketching and scrapping posts since we came back from our trip.  I want to tell you about the Newport Folk Festival, which means so much to me.  I want to tell you how Dave Rawlings taught me to play guitar (and if you have heard Dave play, and heard me play, you will wonder if I was paying attention).  I want to tell you so many things that are flying around in my head, but I find myself with an hour to write, and it is this hour, and this is what I am writing:

Today is August 21.  A year ago at this time, I was ignorant of the fact that the walls were about to close in.  I felt bad enough to finally make a doctor's appointment (having not slept for more than a few hours for at least a month and finding myself almost unable to eat due to pain in my mouth), but not bad enough to think anything was really wrong.  I had a bump on my jaw that I needed to have checked out, and I would half-joke to myself that it was cancer (I think I knew it was cancer), but even that didn't alarm me particularly.  By Thursday of this coming week I will know that I probably, most likely, have leukemia.  I will sit on the grass in the sun in front of my house in a hallucinogenic daze, weeping in fear and in joy and in confusion.  I will realize I don't know anything about leukemia.  I will spend the coming weekend with my husband's mother, brother and sister-in-law, trying to smile, waiting for the results of my biopsy and trying to figure out how to treat myself and how to avoid chemotheraphy.

The world will become very small, the slant of light thin and blinding; the periphery will disappear.  I will spend most of the September that I had so looked forward to, that golden child of the calendar, in a series of small, white rooms in an aged brick building in Portland.  I will spend the rest of it trying to rebuild myself from inside ninety-two pounds of flesh, behind sunken eyes, under a shaved head. The rest of the fall will look much the same.

Sometimes the moment is so big that you can't climb out of it even if you want to.  Sometimes the sky falls so far that you find yourself sitting in the clouds.  Sometimes, somehow, gratitude and fear are the same. 

I had so many things I wanted to tell you tonight.  I am grateful, so grateful, that I will have another day in which to tell them.
This photograph was taken at Thanksgiving, 2010
This is me now, with John's grandfather and the little boys



Monday, July 25, 2011

A Little Light Mourning

When John and I were in our mid-twenties, we lived in a trendy little city.  Every Friday morning, we would have coffee and salt bagels at a cafe.  Another young couple, attractive and hip in the way that we secretly hoped we were, had the same ritual at the same time.

Now I am in my mid-thirties.  I don't drink coffee anymore, and I have stopped eating grains.  I am trying to eliminate cheese.  No more coffee and bagels at the cafe.  I think that other couple broke up.  She keeps a shop in that same city; when I'm in town I stop by.

A friend of mind has found herself suddenly adrift.  With two small children and no place to call home, she's off to clean out her old house.  All her possessions, the peripheral items that color her rituals, are going into storage.

Each day, each hour, each minute, a little door closes behind me.  I don't dwell in that, but I acknowledge it.  "You're gonna drown tomorrow, if you cry too many tears for yesterday," as Townes said.

I rejoice in this moment, on the crest of the wave of my life.  I am grateful for the great force of the swell beneath me, and for the detritus lifted or left behind.  Still, there are flickers of sadness for the little things lost along the way, and it would be foolish of me to deny them.  Much we make of the addict's desire to return to a chemical state, but that's not the whole story.  It is also the association of our memories, the big and small places that we choose to leave but in which we also leave a piece of ourselves. "I don't want another drink, I only want the last one again," as the song goes.

So for a moment, even as I throw my arms wide in acknowledgment that I choose this place with all its rewards, let me mourn.  A slice of pepperoni pizza.  A favorite coffee cup.  The giddy luxury of a bender, when the next morning was unclaimed by children, household and health (and age).  Bread with butter.  Pierogies.

I will not try to re-create these riches now in rough facsimile, but rather let them linger, bittersweet, in my memory.  Occasionally I will put fresh flowers on their graves.  Sometimes I will throw a death-day party.

Sometimes we put parts of our lives in storage; sometimes we leave parts behind.  That's okay; if we can allow ourselves the emotional space to find what is opening ahead it can even be wonderful.  Nonetheless, those little losses are real, and sometimes I need to mourn them.


And with that, here are a few recipes that are working in my life Right Now.  One is vegan and can be raw or cooked, one has fish.

Taco-less Fish Tacos

Ingredients:
1-2 lbs. firm wild-caught white fish, such as haddock or cod
3 large sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp chili powder

Sauce
1 C yogurt, strained through a coffee filter or cheesecloth for an hour
1 Tbsp cumin
1 clove garlic, diced fine
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Optional toppings: 

1/2 C grated gruyere
chopped scallions 
diced avocado

tomatillo salsa

Directions:

Bake sweet potatoes at 450 until tender when pierced with a knife.  I make a slit in the top of them while they cook to let the steam escape, and I put a baking sheet on the rack below so that the sugar doesn't bake onto the oven.

Once the potatoes are done, remove and lower the heat to 350.  Allow the temperature to drop, and then brush the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with chili powder.  Bake about 10 min, until flaky.  Check it regularly so it doesn't overcook.

Mix the yogurt and other sauce ingredients.   If you are not eating any dairy products, you can try making a similar sauce using a base of soaked, pureed almonds, avocado cream or a nut yogurt.  You can also omit it entirely, along with the cheese.

Cut the potatoes in half.  Put two halves on a plate, top with butter and 1/4-1/2 lbs. of fish. Top with sauce and cheese if desired.  You can also add other taco toppings, if you want.

Portobello Cap Pizza

6 large portobello mushrooms 

Marinade (optional - this is only necessary if you plan to eat these raw.  Mushrooms should not be eaten totally raw; they require cooking or marinating)

1/4 C soy sauce or tamari
1/2 C olive oil

Toppings

1/2 C softened sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 C pitted calamata olives
1/4 C olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley
Parmesan cheese (optional)

If eating these raw, marinade the mushrooms until they feel "cooked," about 15 minutes with regular turning.  

In a food processor, process the topping ingredients until they are finely chopped but still chunky.  Top the mushrooms.  

If eating raw, warm them in a cool oven to desired temperature (food must be less than 115 to be considered raw).

If cooking, put the topped mushrooms on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until warm and soft.

You can do any pizza topping on these; this was what I had in the house.

Now I have my computer back, and soon I will be getting a keyboard that works properly (the u and the 7 don't function on this one so I have to cut and paste from other text), I should be able to keep up with my blog again!  However, due to all sorts of excitement that I will report later, I will not be updating the blog next week.         

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Cure for the Common Everything. Best Paleo Veggie Burgers Ever, Plus a Little Impermanence For Good Measure

Yesterday morning I sat down to a precious few minutes at the computer and began to load last week's photos for My Time-Lapse Life.  My computer crashed.  Undeterred, I rebooted, only to discover that iPhoto was completely blank.  Yep, pictures all gone.  Five years of photos, not backed up. (The thing about the lower items on my to-do list is that, as the upper items all involve the survival of the family and are barely executed most of the time, they stay at the bottom.  Undone.  I have been meaning to back up my iPhoto and iTunes for about 3 years.)

My first reaction was to wail and weep as if the house had burned down.  Since then, oddly, I have felt really calm about the whole thing.  There is a good chance that I can retrieve the files if I take the machine to a tech (yes, I will buy backup memory and back everything up RIGHT THEN!), but my usual response to this type of situation is to panic until I have taken care of things.

Why am I sharing this scintillating tale with you? Well, in addition to offering an explanation for why I won't include any pictures this week, I think this is a testament to the incredible success my current dietary regimen has had in terms of regulating my adrenals.  Accepting impermanence, staying present and mindful, meeting each moment with openness and energy; everything is suddenly much easier.

I have shared here before that I often have insomnia, waking during the night for hours at a time.  While my other anxiety symptoms have declined over the years as I have made chances to my lifestyle and diet, I occasionally feel panicky or my heart races.  I have to be very careful what "news" I consume and how; certain issues put me over the edge and I have trouble bringing myself back to a normal mental and emotional state.

Last week, I wrote that I was making a casual transition to a modified paleolithic diet (and by modified I mean that I cheat sometimes!).  So now that I have gone and told everyone to eat lentils, I am easing myself off legumes and pulses.  Since I stopped eating wheat and all other grains (I am not strict about beans and lentils and dairy products, although I can tell that I don't digest as well when I eat them), I sleep at night.  Almost every day, I wake up refreshed at a reasonable hour.  If I am up during the night, it is because the baby is needing something, and I can usually nap during the day with him to catch up.  Other than that, I have energy all the time.  I feel terrific.

The big issue I am noticing during the transition is that I am hungry often.  At first, I felt really hungry, and I just ate snacks as often as I could, making sure to keep a lot of good stuff on hand.  After a little more than a week, I need to eat fairly often, but I don't feel ravenously hungry ever.  I don't eat very much at any one time, except for when I occasionally eat meat.  When I eat meat, I tend to eat a lot, and then I am not hungry for a long time; usually well into the next morning.  It occurs to me that I may be adjusting to a natural condition of being slightly hungry; I don't need to eat, but I can.  That would make sense if I were a grazing omnivore in a jungle somewhere.

One symptom I have been fortunate to avoid over the years is chronic headaches, but I know many folks who suffer from them.  I have recently read some fascinating stuff about glutamates (including, but not at all limited to, MSG).  You are right, Mom, autolyzed yeast is essentially MSG.  A lot of foods are high in glutamates, or exacerbate glutamate-sensitivity when cooked or fermented.  Check out the information on this website, it is fascinating stuff.  All of us should be careful with glutamates.  We need some, they are essential to the production of hormones that calm us down.  Too much overwhelms these processes and produces opposite and undesirable effects.  This is an area where I need to learn a lot more, so please add any links that are useful to you.

So what are we eating, you may ask? Here are some terrific recipes that are working for our family.  I still make bread or pasta when it is requested, but I am noticing a decline in demand lately as we all start feeling better.

I am living out of Ani Phyo's "Ani's Raw Food Kitchen".  Sometimes I follow her recipes but cook them.  I find the text in this book to be somewhat sanctimonious and annoying, but the recipes are terrific.

Sun Burgers with Basil Cashew Sauce

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 C chopped celery
  • 1/4 C chopped yellow onion
  • 1 C chopped cremini mushrooms
  • 1t sea salt
  • 2t dried oregano or 2T fresh oregano
  • 1 C sunflower seeds, ground 
  • 1/2 C flax seeds, ground
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 C chopped parsley
  • Basil Cashew Sauce, see below
Instructions:

  • Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, adding water last to get a good burger texture.  As it is important not to eat mushrooms raw, you can either pre-marinate them in a little olive oil and tamari, as I did, or cook the burgers.
  • Form burger patties.
  • If cooking, bake at 350 for about 10-15 minutes, checking regularly.
I did not use parchment or silpats, but I think these would be helpful in keeping the burgers from sticking the pans.

Basil Cashew Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 2 C cashews (I soak mine for 4-8 hours)
  • 4T lemon juice.  If fresh, juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 1/2 C water, as needed
Instructions:

  • Puree all ingredients in blender or food processor to make a thick cream.  
I keep a batch of this in the fridge; it is terrific on raw veggies, or on "breads" (I'll add some bread/cracker recipes next week).

Ragged animal hides not required.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Preference for Poison

The pharmaceutical companies might not have as much to worry about as they think from vitalistic health approaches.  It isn't because there aren't non-toxic or non-pharmaceutical alternatives to most of the mainstream treatments for major and minor maladies.  I believe that there is so much we can do with whole foods in various forms to prevent and heal damage that I feel compelled to study it with devotional zeal.  No, it is because a majority tends to view the allopathic approach as the "easy way." 

I was chatting with a friend whose father-in-law has AML.  He is in chemotherapy, but he isn't interested in modifying his diet or his lifestyle, and the prognosis is not promising.  The odd thing is, he feels terrific on the chemo, and horrible off it.  Now, the way chemo works, it is true that the nadir (rock-bottom) comes after the treatment, but I would not describe the experience of toxic drug therapy as "terrific."  No; "white-knuckled and teeth-clenched, grasping at the core of health lest I spin off into black misery" is closer to it.  And yet it is easier, psychologically, to undergo these treatments than to stop eating bread or drinking coffee (and don't even ask me about alcohol).  Whyizzat?
My Beautiful Bread!  How do I part with it?
There are deep cultural and social reasons, as well as individual psychological ones.  Many of them are well documented and explained in this article, which highlights the addictive and toxic characteristics of all the grasses we eat (including rice, corn, and any monocotyledonous foods), with wheat at the top of the heap.  (See also this for an explanation of the health dangers of whole grains, aside from gluten)  Read these essays.  They are stunning arguments for an immediate cessation of grain consumption, even for healthy folks.

Sustenance is the basis of much of our human interaction.  We identify ourselves by what we eat, and our cultural rituals are rooted in it.  To stray from the norm, and again from our own place of comfort, feels a radical act.  All addictions are ritualistic, and all rituals are habitual (with apologies to Jane's Addiction).  In order to change, what we are moving towards must become as compelling, or more so, as what we are leaving behind. 

This transition happens slowly, at least for me.  Now I am moving towards a paleolithic diet, in a household where my partner is a pesca-vegetarian and my children like nothing better than bread with butter and honey (NOT toasted, thank you).  The amazing thing is, it's working!  It is working because it finally made sense, on an emotional level.

It is certainly cheaper to heal yourself with food than drugs, but the pharmas have psychology and cultural identity on their side.  Until we identify this weight, we cannot unburden ourselves from it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ritual and Replenishment: A Few Thoughts on Surviving a Hospital Stay

My day is full of rituals.  (I feel like I am documenting them in my My Time-Lapse Life project, which is cool).  I used to make coffee and an egg; now I make a green smoothie and some tea, but the idea is the same.  The hospital is full of rituals, too, that became mine: the 5:30 am rounds of the phlebotomist, the routine vitals report every four hours, the 2am changing of sweat-soaked sheets and pajamas.

In my life, I have spent approximately seven weeks in the hospital; six of them were this past fall.  It is possible to make a home within those four white walls.  Here are a few suggestions, either of things that I did or things that I should have done, to make myself comfortable.  I hope some of them can be helpful to you. 

I know there are fancy hospitals out there; this wasn't one of them.  Picture fifties-era motel in forgotten tourist locale, and you have the image.  Nonetheless, or perhaps because of this, the medical and support staff were extremely flexible and accommodating.  I cannot say enough good things about Mercy Hospital.  Some of the following were their suggestions.

-Private Room
You may not have much influence here, but it's worth trying.  Your doctor, and the staff at her or his office that are making your "reservation" might be able to help.  Ask them.  Call the nurses station before you check in (this is wise as a confirmation anyway; waiting in admitting for several hours is pretty boring), and find out if you are in a private room.  At Mercy, the oncology patients are always in private rooms, and guests are welcome to stay.

-Refrigerator
Ask the hospital if you can have one.  They like to inspect it.  This way you can keep your own food or supplements at hand.  Hospital food is no way to get healthy; I became quite dependent on fish salad and ferments. 

-Pillows, Mattress Pads
The mattresses and pillows in the hospital are made of plastic.  You know why.  Even if you don't have the sweats from your treatment, you will from the bedding.  If your hospital lets you bring your own, I recommend it.   If you are sensitive to the chemical detergents and bleach used in the linens, you can bring those as well (don't forget a laundry bag).  If you are using theirs, ask the staff to put a flannel blanket under the bottom sheet.

-Soap
My skin inflames immediately if I use anti-bacterial detergent soaps.  You will probably remember your toothbrush, but try to remember your soap, too.

-Pure anhydrous lanolin
Hospital air is awful, and the windows cannot be opened due to infection risk.  My skin got terribly dry, especially my lips and around my eyes.  The hospital will happily sell you moisturizers, but they are all full of petroleum and parabens.  Get pure lanolin at the drug store, or have someone bring it to you.

-Ipod, Ipod dock
All hospital rooms have televisions, but I don't like to watch tv.  I find solace in music.  Plus, hospitals can be noisy; the more sanctuary-like you can make your room, the better.

-Clothes
Do you really want to be in a one-size-fits-all johnny the whole time?  Some treatments require it, but if yours doesn't, I recommend bringing your own clothes.  And even if you do need to wear a johnny, you can still have your own shorts and bathrobe.

-Outside food source
Have I mentioned that hospital food is no way to get healthy?  I found a nearby cafe that specialized in local and organic foods, and would maintain a prepaid account in my name.  This way, friends could bring up a meal without having to front the cash, and I didn't need to keep cash in the hospital.

-Bottled water
The hospital will have this, but I recommend ordering several whenever you get anything from the kitchen.  That way you will have them on hand when you need them, and not have to wait for a nurse to get them.

Label all your stuff, and don't keep anything in the hospital that you would be devastated to lose.  My hospital was very safe, but things do get stolen.  You don't need cash or credit cards when you are there; get insurance on your phone.  It can help to tuck stuff into a drawer if you are leaving the room for a procedure.

Okay, so those are some mundane details, but the larger picture I want to paint is that of getting through the day.  I found my time in the hospital to be a gift.  How often in your life do you have no job but to focus on your own well-being?  That said, the whole environment can get a bit tedious.

-Create rituals.  I had several.  My grandmother gave me an electric kettle so that I could make tea (another reason to keep extra water on hand).  A couple times of day I could make a cup of tea and sit down with some blogs or a book.

Every night after dinner I got out of bed, unplugged my iv stand, stuffed the tubing into my bathrobe and strolled the halls in my Crocs (slippers or rubber shoes are great in the hospital - the floors are gross).  While I walked I would recite my mantra to myself - writing a healing mantra is another important ritual that I recommend.  The evening ritual made it easier to go to bed.

While it isn't an idyllic meditation center in Western Mass., the hospital can still be a mindfulness retreat.  There are a million little beeps and buzzers to act as reminders, and there is plenty of time.  I recommend sitting upright or lying flat; the semi-seated position that hospital beds encourage is not good for your spine or your energy.

Of course, I had books and magazines and movies too.  It all helps.

-Make friends with your nurses and support staff.
It isn't their fault you are sick; they are trying to help.  I liked the people I saw every day, and having their encouragement did make a difference.  Plus, when you are soaked in sweat at 2 in the morning or waiting for someone to empty the commode, you don't want to be on the wrong side of the staff.

-Pay attention, if you can.  If you can't, make notes.  If you are engaged in your treatment and ask lots of questions, especially when getting a medication, you will be more informed about what is happening.  Mention everything when the physician's assistant or doctor makes rounds - they don't always know what the nurses are suggesting and they might disagree.

The strange thing about in-patient chemotherapy, at least for me, was that I was usually feeling totally fine until they started medicating me.  My mind would be alert and active, my body would crave exercise.  Instead, I would be tethered to a machine in a tiny room.  Despite all that, I found ways to make my stays bearable and even restorative.

Please feel free to add any additional suggestions.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Right Now: My Time-Lapse Life

I sat down to write this post and this was in my blogroll.  Cancer is curable; please consider helping this young woman corral the funds she needs to tackle her illness outside of the toxic assault paradigm of allopathy.  No gift is too small; some of the largest and most powerful presents are just in the healing energy you can send.  Trust me, I know.  If you don't have any money, sit down and take a focused moment to envision her raising this money and getting well. 

She has moments to live.  So many.  I have often written about the importance of staying in the present.  Yesterday I began a new project with that in mind.  It is a Twitter-based micro-blogging art journey called Right Now: My Life In Time Lapse.  Or My Time-Lapse Life.  I'm still working out the bugs.  Each hour I take a single photograph from my phone.  Low-fidelity, no editing, no effects.  Point.  Shoot.  Publish.  If you are on Twitter you can follow it here.   I will be blogging the project once a day at http://mytimelapselife.wordpress.com/

Never fear, I will still be writing my weekly Nourishing Path musings and nutritional adventures!  My Time-Lapse Life is part of my path right now, and this project is already amazing!  I hope you will join me!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Grit Into Gold Dust: The Gift of Right Now

There was a time in my life when I thought I might be an engineer, or a pilot.  Perhaps I could have been a lawyer.  I have pictured myself as a professor, comfortable in a sinecure somewhere, elucidating the vagaries of Misesian praxeology or describing the subtle distinctions between Rembrandt's etchings and those of his followers.  At one point I was quite certain that I would be an equity analyst in some large New York firm; I chased that dream to the towers of lower Manhattan before backing slowly away.

Somewhere in the current of that stream I got married and had two children.  The life I pictured began to have other people at its center.  Wallace sawing away on a tiny violin, my children participating in the musical culture that is the center of our social life.  Staying up late watching nature documentaries with the older child, while John and the baby sleep, sharing fantasies about sailing to exotic places.  Someday, preparing food and offering solace to people struggling with the illogic of serious illness.
In my picture, my children don't attend school.  We sleep late on a Monday, make a snowman and a bowl of soup on a winter Wednesday; we never have the Sunday Blues.  So when I found myself too sick and too exhausted to be the primary source of a social structure and activity that my older child was craving, I fought against the option of offering him the local pre-K program; my children don't go to school.  As I began to look forward to the end of my treatment, though, I imagined recovering slowly, caring for a young toddler and a five year old without the amazing assistance upon which I had been so dependent during the Fall.  I suggested the school to my then-four-year-old, and was startled at his immediate embrace of it.

The school in this town makes it hard to be hostile to school.  With only about a thousand permanent residents and a strong social fabric, its little pre-K-to-sixth grade school is responsive, transparent, and nurturing.  Wallace can attend as many or as few days as he would like (this continues past pre-K, as well).  The peer environment is much like the ones I witness in families of many children, where everyone is a new friend and the older children willingly take the younger ones under their wings. 

With some trepidation, I enrolled him one day a week.  At his request, he is now up to three.  I think he would go all five if I encouraged it, but I miss him.  Childhood is short; I don't want him to spend his somewhere else, and I don't want it to end before it needs to.  That said, he is thriving, and he adores it. 

I woke in the quarter-light of pre-dawn the other morning, struggling with a strange conundrum. Why, if my child is so happy in school, and the school is such a positive place, am I still so resistant to it?  What are my fears?  As I began to parse them out, I realized that, although there are specific details and rationales, the root of it is that I had a different vision.  By spending my time in some other place in my mind, I forgot to be in the place where I am.  The place where everything is working, and everyone is happy, and every problem seems to solve itself.  That is always this place, when I remember to stay here.   

The person in the mirror always looks a little different than the one in the photograph; I struggle to reconcile the images.  It's like looking at one of those Magic Eye pictures, crossing my eyes until the real Sarah Thompson emerges (she appears to have crossed eyes).  A close friend once remarked that referring to past gaffes is a way of distancing ourselves from them, desperately hoping that the ability to recognize the errors proves that we are "cool" now, incapable of similar stumbles.  I think it can go the other way, too: by imagining a fantasy future we can fall into the trap of treating the grit of our present as a shortcoming from which we plan to escape.  The thing is, it only looks like grit beneath the broom; if I hold it in my hand, it turns to gold dust.

Do you experience friction between your reality and your vision?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Naps, Nutrition and A Cure (!) for the Common Cold. Plus, Digesting Sulfur-Rich Foods.

I love to nap, how I love to nap!  ...And we have been having some serious napping weather up here in Maine, lately.  Given that I have two wee ones, napping is usually needed and rarely occurs, but oh! what a treat when it does.  I consider napping to be one of my primary untalents.  Yesterday, for instance, I took a two hour nap.  Then I was awake all night, which gave me plenty of time to think about what I should write this morning.

This week it's an easy one, because I have something powerful to share: The Cure For the Common Cold!  I swear to you, I went to a Children's Museum (read: germ factory) on Tuesday, started feeling sniffly on Thursday, went to parties Friday AND Saturday night, and still woke up on Sunday feeling completely better.  As part of that story, I want to relate some nutritional healing and rebalancing that has worked for me, in the hopes that there is something in all of this that you can use!

A couple of months ago, I started having mysterious stomach aches.  They came on mid-morning, generally, and were often quite severe.  This would be disconcerting in itself if I hadn't just had cancer.  Since metabolic imbalance is an inherent characteristic of all illness, and not just a worrisome inconvenience, I did not want to ignore this information.  I started with eliminating wheat, but that didn't seem to change much.  I tried dairy products, but I don't really eat much anymore so that didn't make a difference either.  Finally, I pinpointed eggs.  Now, giving up eggs doesn't feel like an option to me, so I kept monkeying with different combinations and rhythms. 

What I have found is that I cannot eat eggs in the morning, or bread, but I can eat eggs at other times of day and bread on occasion (but not on an empty stomach).  Breakfast of fish or green smoothies works well, as long as I don't add raw egg to the smoothie.  A major key, though, is adding dairy kefir, which is best for me in a smoothie.  I was eating a lot of fermented foods, including water kefir, but until I added the milk kefir, my symptoms persisted.  Thus I am advocating adding milk kefir (or perhaps milk kefir grain-cultured items, such as almond or coconut milk kefir) for gut normalization and enhanced sulfoxidation.  Read the following blurb on sulfoxidation.  One indication of an impaired sulfoxidation process is any problem digesting sulfur-rich foods.  If your urine smells like asparagus after you eat it (the asparagus, not the urine), suspect this detoxification pathway. 

(From http://www.beatcfsandfms.org/html/HealYourGut.html
Why Sugar, Meat and Egg Can Be Very Bad
"Glucose and most sugars are "aldohexoses" which means they produce a chemical called aldehyde. There is a liver filtration process called sulfoxidation, and if it is impaired (e.g. due to enzymes that have been inactivated by bad molecule such as lead or mercury), then the aldehyde will consume more of the enzymes used by sulfoxidation and therefore slow it down, causing toxins to build in the body. Methionine from eggs, meat and wheat produce poisonous H2S, CH3SH and formaldehyde from fermentation, and these consume enzymes used by the liver, causing toxins to build as well. Sugar itself requires mono-oxidations to burn it, and this process is also used to make ATP energy, therefore, the sugar inhibits the generation of ATP energy by stealing away mono-oxidation. In summary; egg, sugar and meat can cause fatigue if several enzymes in the liver have gone down due to bad molecules. The test for this condition is to avoid the "bad" foods listed above for several days and see if one feels significantly better." (Follow the link to read this organization's recommendations; I don't know anything about them so this does not constitute a recommendation, but the information above seems correct to me)


After just a few days on my modified regimen, I had dinner of fried eggs on asparagus and toast, with hollandaise, and felt fine (as well as digesting normally). 

Now, about that cold!  All of the above is related to the problem of viral load; if I am under the weather I try to reduce or eliminate wheat, dairy, and sugar (of course).  In addition, when I am sick I take large doses of sodium ascorbate, which is a buffered form of vitamin C that is extremely bio-available.  I am sympathetic to the argument that we should get all of our nutrients from food forms, but I make an exception for C (and occasionally D, in the winter), because our bodies have evolved with a deficiency: the gene that should enable us to synthesize vitamin C in our livers doesn't switch on.  Goats generate tons of vitamin C internally, making them very resilient.  Guinea pigs, on the other hand, make very little.  Hence, they are terrific lab animals because they have no internal mechanism for processing toxins.  I'd rather not be a choice subject in the rhinovirus experiment, so I take the C.  (Approximately 2 grams when I am ill). 

This time around, I added a new magic bullet: Master Tonic.  I discovered this recipe through Heal Thyself, which is an amazing website (I recommend it, but I think there is a one-time fee for membership now.  You can also "like" Heal-Thyself on Facebook and follow @foodhaspower on twitter for free).  This recipe is based on a plague formula, and I believe it.  You have to put this stuff back like cheap vodka at a college party; it goes down ROUGH!  Nonetheless, it is worth it.  Here's the formula.  I use all organic ingredients, and my peppers were frozen; my vinegar was Braggs.  I put it all in the food processor, skins and everything, and pulsed until it was the right texture.  Be careful; the fumes can burn your eyes!  You don't need to time it with the moon, just make sure it infuses for 14 days.

Master Tonic Ingredients
1 part fresh chopped garlic cloves (antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitical)
1 part fresh chopped white onions, or the hottest onions available (similar properties to garlic)
1 part fresh grated ginger root (increases circulation to the extremities)
1 part fresh grated horseradish root (increases blood flow to the head)
1 part fresh chopped Cayenne peppers, Jalapenos, Serranos, Habeneros, African bird peppers....any combination of the hottest peppers available

Preparation
· Fill a glass jar 3/4 of the way full with equal parts of the above fresh chopped and grated herbs. Then fill to the top with raw unfiltered, unbleached, nondistilled apple cider vinegar.

· Close and shake vigorously and then top off the vinegar if necessary. Begin this formula on the NEW moon and strain and bottle on the FULL moon, (approximately 14 days). Filter the mixture through a clean piece of cotton, bottle and label.

· Make sure that when you are making this tonic that you shake it every time you walk by it, a minimum of once per day. Remember that all the herbs and vegetables should be fresh (and organic if possible), and to use dried herbs only in an emergency.

Usage:
Strain liquids from solids through muslin cloth or strainer into a 8oz. Glass. Note: the solid ingredients retain almost the same potency as the liquid ingredients; therefore, these solids can be puréed to use with other ingredients like honey and lemon to make a salad dressing or to marinate meats of all sorts. For example mixing to taste with Peanut oil makes a great sauce to roast chicken. This formula will not spoil unless mixed with new ingredients.

Dosage:
1/2 to 1 ounce, two or more times daily, gargle and swallow. I hear it is not only the cure for the common cold but every other disease of mankind. lol

Note:
Store your tincture in a dark place as light will deteriorate it. You can put the jar in a paper bag for the brewing and shaking process. “Tinctures last indefinitely, while herbs can lose potency within a year. Also, tinctures enter your system in seconds, as compared with dry herbs in capsules which have to be digested first.” Advised Schultz.

This tonic is extremely powerful, because all the ingredients are fresh. Its power should not be underestimated. This formula is a modern day plague tonic. It is said that when added to an incurable routine it could cure the most chronic conditions and stubborn diseases. It stimulates maximum blood circulation, while putting the best detoxifying herbs into the blood. This formula is not just for the sniffles, it has helped to turn around the deadliest diseases.

"...I designed this formula as a fresh herb alternative to Dr. Christopher’s plague formula, to be more alive, a herbal juice tonic, and believe me, you don’t want to be without formulas like this when you or your loved ones get ill; it will save your life. Make up plenty, it can’t go bad because vinegar already is, and will last almost forever..," writes Dr. Shultz.

Quoted from Sam Biser’s “The Last Chance Health Report” on Killer Viruses: A formula for stopping them when drugs fail. http://www.its-my-health.com/documents/MasterTonic.pdf

That's my health report for the week; may it be of some use to you!
See, no plague!
The Nourishing Path itself runs through my back yard

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

There are a lot of memes that circulate on Facebook about cancer.  I saw one a few months ago that said:

"We all have a thousand wishes..to be thinner..to have more money...a cool car..a new phone...to date the person of your dreams.  A cancer patient has only one wish: to beat this disease.  I know 97% of you won't post this as your status, but my friends will be the 3% that do.  In honor of someone who died, or is fighting cancer, or even had cancer...blah blah blah." 

(Well, all right, I added the blah blah blah.  I hope I can still be your friend even though I never forward.  But folks mean well, and that's what matters.)

I read this and I thought, "Hmm.  Nope, even when I had cancer I definitely still wished I could sing like Gillian and play guitar like Dave Rawlings, look like Vanessa Paradis, write like Emily Dickinson, paint like..well, you get the picture.  Serious illness may make life simpler, but it didn't turn me into a bodhisattva, for cripes sakes!

Wallace brought a book home from the library once about two small, charismatic, cuddly animal friends of some variety.  One spent all her time trying to write so that she would become a famous author, and the other tried to win a cooking contest.  Both endeavors were disastrous, and the would-be author conceded that she hated to write, while the chef ceased to enjoy cooking when it became competitive.  What they were both really talented at, it turned out, was sitting outside and watching the fireflies.  So that's what they did.

I may not be exceptionally talented at anything of particular interest to anyone else, but I'm pretty good at watching fireflies.  Here are a few of them.  What are yours?
  1. The first sip of the second beer
  2. Nailing the harmony note
  3. The woven cadences of the breaths of my sleeping children
  4. That shade of green that the lichen turns on the trees in the rain
  5. That moment right before I drift into a nap when I realize that I don't have anything I have to do for the next two hours
  6. Lying all the way back, fully dressed, in the warm, black sand
  7. The surreal gold and green of sunlit trees against a storm gray sky
  8. The moment when a dear friend, far away, actually picks up the other end of the phone after months of tag
  9. Leaving the window open at night
  10. Putting too much wood in the wood stove on a wet, cold day

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Mother Tree

Mom is at the top of the decision tree of life.  Born?  Yes-continue journey on this plane.  No-continue journey on metaphysical plane.  Survive?  Yes-see above.  No-see above.  Thrive?  Yes.   Get first tooth?  Yes.  Lose first tooth?  Yes.  Shortly thereafter, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure of adolescence and adulthood begin; try not to get captured by aliens or eaten by a sea monster.

I believe a mother's presence remains in those brackets, sometimes consciously, but more often not.  And if we become mothers ourselves, there is that moment that we will hold our child and know, as in Tina Fey's wonderful poem:

"My mother did this for me.  My mother did this for me."
My Mom
I know women who are estranged from their mothers, but in this divergence there is an influence as well.  I know of a consultant who coaches women on speaking without using their mother's voice; I have seen my own Mother consciously choose to break certain maternal patterns with which she grew up.  Most of the time, I suspect, we are not even aware of how our mothers affect our choices.
And here's me, just a few hours after becoming a mother for the first time
And a few days later, after I had gotten a shower
The capital "B" bad decisions in my life have yielded better outcomes, pound for pound, than many of the capital "G" good decisions, but the Good decisions have had their day as well. 

"Bad" decision - To quit soul-destroying but steady job in remunerative industry immediately after getting a mortgage - I have never regretted that decision for a minute.  Not that it did not have ramifications - we sold the house at a loss seven years later after I decided to stay home with our kids - but we have been nothing but grateful and astounded at our good fortune all along the way. 

"Good" decision - To put myself in the hospital on September 3, 2010, and trust the universe to deal with the unanswered questions.  No regrets there, either, although certainly the consequences of that decision were manifold.  Such is the nature of the decision tree.

Of course, it has gone the other way, too.  "Bad" decision - Making no effort to immerse myself in the social opportunities at college my freshman year on the grounds that I didn't have anything in common with most of my classmates.  If it had not been for the dogged efforts of a few of my dorm-mates to ignore my self-absorption and superiority and drag me around, I would be adrift without my husband or many of my dearest friends (not to mention more than a few valuable lessons). 

"Good" decision - To keep an important commitment one Sunday afternoon during Winter term, senior year of high school, rather than spend the day at a party in the woods with my crew.  That one has haunted me for years; I still wonder if I could have changed my plans.

Now here it is, more than fifteen years later.  I find myself at the top of two little decision trees, wondering what the "Good" and "Bad" decisions will be for these amazing new people.  Do I dare to hope that the whispered voice of the mother-presence in their unconscious will be:

"Follow Your Dreams. 

-Except for the ones where you find yourself in a meeting with no pants, or show up for an exam without having attended the class.  Don't do that.

But all the rest of them.  Float to the island when it is time to float, but don't be afraid to grab the tree and shake the fruit off when you arrive."?

What are the seeds of the Mother-Tree?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Changing My Diet - 5 Recipes

When we recognize that something is out of balance with our bodies, it is logical to start by looking to our diet for the answer.  Often, we find that something needs to change.  Changing our eating habits is no simple task, and I talk to a lot of people who find the prospect utterly intimidating or even impossible.  It is very difficult to accomplish anything if I am feeling overwhelmed.  One of my goals with this blog is to look for simple steps towards larger goals, be they physical, psychological or emotional.  Today I would like to post five recipes that are working for me, as I attempt to move away from wheat, dairy and sugar, while living in a household with others who have different dietary requirements.

When I met my husband, he was a strict vegan.  Over the years, as we have been able to exert more control over the sources of our food, he has added back eggs, cheese, yogurt and fish.  With a B+ blood type, he thrives on cultivated foods and does not suffer from an absence of meat.  I, on the other hand, have type O+ blood, and would likely be healthiest on a paleo diet, rich in meat and vegetables and devoid of grains and dairy.  I don't know my children's blood types; one of them seems to thrive on ice cream and grapefruits, and the other loves hot dogs and kimchee. 

The aggressive steps I took to modify my diet during my cancer clearly made a difference, and I was able to tune into my body's responses to food.  There are a number of good recipes in The Lentil Challenge and 10 Simple Ideas for Modifying Your Diet, but I have five more that are working for me.  I plan to occasionally share meal ideas, be they complicated or simple, traditional or Nouvelle, to which my body (and maybe yours, I hope) responds well. 

Before I post them, let me point out that I don't intend to eliminate dairy, wheat or sugar.  If it happens, great.  Just as I quoted in my friend's comments about turning a deaf ear to the urgency of a new diagnosis and seeking for a path that fits without panic, I remind myself that indulging in these foods didn't kill me before, and it won't kill me now.  In fact, I can listen more attentively to my physical and psychological reactions to these foods because I am aware of them, and if I choose not to eat them it is a choice that feels right. There's nothing fancy about these recipes, and that's the point.  A lot of the foods that work for our bodies are simple and available, when we view the task as basic meal preparation rather than total diet overhaul!

Fish Salad

Ingredients
1 5oz can Alaskan Salmon
1 stalk organic celery
1 T chopped red onion or 2 scallions, optional
1/2 C fresh sprouts, such as daikon radish
Handful fresh greens, such as lettuce or spinach

Miso Dressing
2T brown rice miso
2T soy sauce
1/4C olive oil or sesame oil
2T rice vinegar or ume plum vinegar
1T grated ginger
2 cloves chopped garlic, optional
1t chile paste, optional

Blend in food processor, keeps well for weeks in refrigerator

Oil and Lemon
2 T olive oil
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 t sea salt
few grindings black pepper
1 t Madras curry powder
1 T capers

Either of these dressings blends well with the salad; if using the oil and lemon dressing, the salad is also good with a mix of salmon and canned kippered herring (check the label to make sure you are getting kippers preserved in only olive oil and salt; some brands have chemical preservatives).

I eat this salad on a bed of greens, or roll it up like a tamale in collard leaves.  To do this, cut the woody part of the stem out of the collard leaf, put a few T of salad on the whole part of the leaf, fold up the tails and roll.  Secure with toothpicks.  I eat this for breakfast often.

Egg Salad

Okay, you don't need me to tell you how to make egg salad.  Make it how ever you like it.  But, the key with my egg salad, is I make the mayonnaise.  This is so easy, once you know how to do it I'll bet you never buy mayonnaise again.  Here's the recipe that I swear by, from the one and only Julia Child, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".  Read this so you know the science behind the process, first.  It helps. This recipe always works; I use a spicy chipotle oil which is excellent with eggs.

These are the ratios (from the above site, which is a verbatim reprint of the original text):
Number Yolks Cups Of Oil Vinegar Or Lemon Juice Finished Sauce
2 1 to 1½ cups 2 to 3 tablespoons 1¼ to 1¾ cups
3 1½ to 2¼ cups 3 to 5 tablespoons 2 to 2¾ cups
4 2 to 3 cups 4 to 6 tablespoons 2½ to 3-2/3 cups
6 3 to 4½ cups 6 to 10 tablespoons 3¾ to 5½ cups


Ingredients
  • Round-bottomed, 2½ to 3-quart glazed pottery, glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. Set it in a heavy casserole or saucepan to keep it from slipping.
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Large wire whisk
  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar or lemon juice (more drops as needed)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon dry or prepared mustard
  • 1½ to 2¼ cups of olive oil, salad oil or a mixture of each. If the oil is cold, heat it to tepid; and if you are a novice, use the minimum amount
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
Directions
  1. Warm the bowl in hot water; dry it. Add the egg yolks and beat for 1 to 2 minutes until they are thick and sticky.
  2. Add the vinegar or lemon juice, salt and mustard. Beat for 30 seconds more.
  3. The egg yolks are now ready to receive the oil. While it goes in, drop by drop, you must not stop beating until the sauce has thickened. A speed of 2 strokes per second is fast enough. You can switch hands or switch directions, as long as you beat constantly.
  4. Add the drops of oil with a teaspoon, or rest the lip of the bottle on the edge of the bowl. Keep your eye on the oil rather than on the sauce. Stop pouring and continue beating every 10 seconds or so, to be sure the egg yolks are absorbing the oil.
  5. After 1/3 to 1/2 cup of oil has been incorporated, the sauce will thicken into a very heavy cream and the crisis of potential curdling is over. The beating arm may rest a moment. Then, beat in the remaining oil by 1 to 2 tablespoon dollops, blending it thoroughly after each addition.
  6. When the sauce becomes too thick and stiff, beat in drops of vinegar or lemon juice to thin it out. Then continue with the oil.
  7. Beat the boiling water into the sauce. This is an anti-curdling insurance. Season to taste.
  8. If the sauce is not used immediately, scrape it into a small bowl and cover it tightly so a skin will not form on its surface.
I store it in a Mason Jar, and I have had it separate eventually, but I have NEVER had it go bad.  Just use a clean utensil every time.

Miso Ginger Scallops with Soba Noodles
This is a modified version of this recipe, which was very popular with my little people.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces soba noodles.  There are two kinds, at least: 30% buckwheat and 100% buckwheat.  The latter are more expensive, but I think you can eat them if you are gluten sensitive.  Correct me if this isn't true.
  • 3 tablespoons white miso
  • 2 tablespoons mirin, or orange juice
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound dry bay scallops
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup sliced scallions

Directions

  1. Cook noodles according to package directions (about 4-5 minutes.  Use a large pot; the starch is really bubbly.)  Rinse in cold water and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk miso, mirin, vinegar, canola oil, ginger and garlic in a medium bowl. Add scallops and stir gently to coat. Let marinate for 5 minutes (scallops will begin to break down if marinated longer). Using a slotted spoon, remove the scallops, reserving the marinade for the sauce.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and cook until golden brown, tossing, about 4 minutes for bay scallops and 3 minutes per side for sea scallops. 
  4. Reduce the cooking liquid in the pan to a paste consistency.
  5. Heat the remaining marinade separately, but DO NOT BOIL!  That destroys the active organisms in the miso.  Mix with the glaze and pour the sauce over the noodles, add scallions and toss to coat. Top with scallops and serve immediately.
Farinata

This is a dish made from fermented chick pea flour.  If you have a Vitamix you can grind the chickpeas yourself.  If you don't, you can purchase chick pea flour (besan) from Indian markets, and there are good organic sources online.

Ingredients

3  1/2 ounces chick pea flour
1 C warm water
4 T olive oil
1 t fresh lemon juice or organic apple cider vinegar
1 t salt
Roasted or braised vegetables of your choice
1 T chopped basil (or 1 t dried)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Whisk the flour into the water until smooth; add salt and lemon juice or vinegar.  Cover bowl with cloth and leave in warm place overnight.
Preheat oven to 425.
Roast or braise vegetables to serve on farinata.
Add 2 1/2T olive oil to batter.  Put the remaining olive oil in a cast iron skillet and heat in oven until just before smoking.
Pour the batter into the pan, add herb and vegetables and pepper.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until crispy.  Remove from pan promptly.


Beef Stew

Stocks made from slow-simmered bones are an important source of many minerals, gelatin, and other joint- and bone-strengthening agents.  They are also very cheap to make.  Beef stock is especially inexpensive, as it is often possible to get soup bones from organic farms for between 0-$2/Lbs.  Some bones can be purchased with meat on them sufficient to make a stew.  Otherwise the stew beef can be purchased separately, but a little will go a long way in a good stock.

I start with a modified version of Julia Child's Brown Stock.

Ingredients

Stock:
3-4Lbs. soup bones
2 onions, halved
2 carrots, scrubbed and quartered
2 t salt
2 celery stalks, with leaves
bouquet garni: 1/4 tsp. thyme, 1 bay leaf, 6 parsley sprigs, 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, 2 whole cloves

Directions 

Roast the bones, carrots and onions for 30-40 minutes in a 450 degree oven, turning the bones occasionally so that they brown.  Roasting the bones gives the stock a richer flavor and removes some of the sourness of beef stock.

Remove from oven and transfer to a crock pot or large kettle.  Pour out fat and return pan to oven with a bit of water to simmer; scrape up brown bits and add to pot.  Cover the ingredients in the pot with water and turn the stove or crockpot on to high just until the water begins to boil.  Skim the scum that rises to the surface and reduce the heat.  Add the salt, celery and herbs and keep at a very low simmer for at least four hours (I do mine overnight).  Beef stock should NOT BOIL, or be covered tightly.  It will cloud the broth and make it sour.  I keep my crock pot on warm, so that a single bubble rises to the surface every few seconds.  You can also prop the lid with a chopstick.  Add more water as necessary.  Strain through cheesecloth.  If you like to eat the marrow, go for it.  The stock freezes well.

Stew:
 
Ingredients

1 Lbs stew beef, marinated overnight in dry red wine.  Julia always said never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink.  As I have mentioned before, the box can be great for this purpose.
2 onions, diced
3 T butter
I lbs cleaned, diced potatoes
1 1/2 T flour (if you are avoiding flour, I think you can just leave this out.  If you need a little starch in the recipe, arrowroot powder will probably work)
1 t salt
4 peppercorns
1/2 bay leaf
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t thyme or majoram
brown stock

Directions

Preheat oven to 300.
Saute onions in butter.  You can saute them with 1/2lb chopped bacon or salt pork, if you eat pork. Remove from pan.
Brown meat in fat.  Dust with flour.
Place in ovenproof dish with the potatoes, salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, garlic and herbs.
Cover with hot wine and stock. 
Cover dish and cook for 2 hours.
Add onions and optional pork and continue to cook, covered, until meat is tender.
I tend to do all of this in the crock pot; it's cheaper and I can ignore it.  I usually add all the stock, either during cooking or at the end, and adjust the vegetables to stretch it.

Since I am the only adult meat-eater in the house, I make a large batch of stew and freeze most of it, and then eat it for lunch during the week.



As I said before, there is nothing fancy here.  My guess is that you will read this and then, if you want to make beef stew, use your own recipe.  The point is to develop a repertoire (and a freezer full) of recipes that work for your diet as you envision it.  Sometimes the nourishing path is specifically about nourishment!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Birth, Death, and Bare Feet

The water is cold where my feet sink into the moss in the low spots.  The acorns are sharp.  The rocks are warm, a baby is born, and they tell us the Bogeyman is dead and drifting to the bottom of the sea. 
After Lysander was born I stopped wearing shoes at home.  We moved here in the early Spring, and I began to step gingerly from the door to the clothesline in bare feet.  The end of Summer approached and I could imagine ages past when I could challenge the burning sand, the boiling tarmac, and the rough gravel by the bike rack at the beach.  Then suddenly I found myself in compression stockings and Crocs, pacing the hospital corridors, under strict orders not to go barefoot lest I contract an infection or bleed to death from a cut on my foot.  In the trough of the wave all you see is walls of water.

Yesterday I held a three day old baby girl, daughter of dear friends.  In their exhausted glow I could see the light of that simple truth that comes so clearly in those moments: the things that matter most are within our reach, and the greater our embrace of them, the simpler everything becomes.  As I washed dishes and wondered if I felt a loss with my newborn days behind me, I realized how fortunate I am that life has handed me an extra teaching in renewal. 

When I lay in that hospital bed and invited the cancer to share its gift without destroying the recipient, when I promised my body that this wasn't a war but a rebalancing, all that was extraneous fell away.  As I continue to unwrap this present for years to come, one lesson is already clear.  I can return to my moments of triumph and crisis to find the simple things and to see what holds me back and weighs me down.  Once again, I step gingerly from the door to the clothesline, welcoming the new terrain to fragile flesh. 

A life lived well is a cause for celebration, and at its end it is only our own loss that we regret.  I do not rejoice the rumor of the end of a life lived in darkness; this is a moment for mourning the wayward paths of human potential.  I seek within myself new and more powerful roads to light and peace, that there may be more of both in the world.