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    Tuesday
    Sep202011

    Sheridan

    I spent this past weekend in Sheridan, WY, teaching three classes to their knitting guild. What a great group of women! They were interested, engaged, asked some terrific questions, and put forth a lot of effort in the classes. I had a good time and I think they did, too. Alas, I managed to leave my whiteboard and easel at the Holiday Inn, but it's replaceable. 

    Sheridan is a nine-hour drive from Kalispell. It's nine hours of highway and nine hours of scenery and nine hours of a severe lack of radio stations. I have no doubt that I would have appreciated the trip more if I were a tourist. It's stunning. But I live here and I see it every day, so for most of the trip I was wishing I had borrowed the husband's iPod and loaded it with podcasts to listen to. Thankfully, at least, I wasn't driving in a -20 degree blizzard like I did in February when I went to Billings (Sheridan is 2 hours south of Billings).

    I stayed with one of the Sheridan guild members and her husband. They were incredibly gracious and took good care of me. I always volunteer to stay with someone to help save the guild some money, but doing so is always a tricky proposition. Usually it's the very outgoing people who offer to have someone stay with them. I appreciate extroversion in very small doses. After a day of teaching, I usually just want to sit somewhere quiet and knit. My hostess and her husband understood this and were wonderful about giving me some space. 

    I have to be honest and say that I was really ambivalent about this trip. Knitting has been on the back burner for most of 2011, and I had to give myself a number of pep talks last week to get myself prepped to teach again. I'm still in the process of finding that balance between what I do and what I used to do. An interesting thing happened, though: I came home more jazzed about knitting and designing than I have been in a long time. It was as though the floodgates opened and I have lots and lots of designing ideas I'd like to try (of course, that also could have been a byproduct of spending nine virtually uninterrupted hours inside my brain on the drive home). We'll see how it pans out. I still have that small issue of "not enough hours in the day" to overcome.  

    Next month I head to Beaverton, OR, to teach at the weekend retreat of the Tigard Knitting Guild. That'll be a long weekend for me because after I finish teaching on Saturday, I am heading up to stay with DD#1. She and I are meeting one of my cousins and my aunt and uncle in Seattle the following day. My cousin just moved to Seattle and her parents are flying out to spend some time there. It's a nice bit of serendipity that we will get to see each other and I will get to spend some time catching up with DD#1. I'll come home on Monday. 

    And then in November I am heading to Lawrence, KS, to teach at the Yarn Barn. They were one of the first stores to sell my finishing book way back when, so it will be fun to visit them. 

    **************************************

    It was interesting to try out my new diet "on the road." It's easy enough to eat the way I want to here at home, but not so easy in an unfamiliar environment. My hostess prepared wonderful scrambled eggs and scrapple every morning (the scrapple was made by her husband and he gave me the recipe—I haven't had scrapple since I was in college!).  Lunch at the Holiday Inn would have been hard if I had to eat off the menu (mostly sandwiches) but they had a great soup and salad bar so I did okay there. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant one night and I ordered a taco salad without the shell. And then dinner the next night was a salmon filet and tomato basil soup that is still haunting me, it was so good. 

    I did take a cooler with me that had hard-boiled eggs, jerky, almonds, and string cheese, just in case. 

    I saw my doctor yesterday and I told him that I am having great fun eating this way. I never feel hungry and I have so much energy it's disconcerting. The only problem I seem to be having is—get this—taking in enough salt. I have to put salt on EVERYTHING or my blood pressure drops and my electrolytes get wonky. He thinks it's just my body adapting to this new way of eating and things will soon normalize. Weird. I think it's because I am eating mostly "raw" foods—raw in the sense that they aren't processed with all the added salt that we normally get in our diets. 

    Thursday
    Sep082011

    Food, Part 2a

    This does give me hope. I just ran across it today:

    Ancient Wheat a Montana Game Changer

    We shall see.

    Thursday
    Sep082011

    Food, Part 2

    Does anyone else remember DuPont Chemical's slogan "Better Living Through Chemistry"? 

    Lest you think that I am some anti-technology zealot, you should know that I minored in chemistry in college. That's the one subject whose material I use every single day, because I cook. In fact, we used to refer to a lot of our experiments in chemistry classes as "cooking." There are a great many similarities. 

    The benefits of technology and modern tinkering are a two-edged sword. I am aware that I sit here writing this because some drug company came up with a drug called idarubicin that cured my leukemia. Not all strides in technology and medicine are bad. However, just because you can doesn't mean you should. That applies most particularly to our food supply.

    I had an interesting conversation about GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) with some friends of mine a while ago. One of them said something to the effect that "humans have been genetically modifying food for thousands of years now, by breeding for certain characteristics." Well, not exactly. There is a big difference between applying selective pressure to a strain of tomatoes to breed for the biggest and juciest ones and actually going in at the molecular level and tinkering with that tomato's genes—or inserting genes not found in tomatoes in nature at all—to get that tomato to do something it wasn't programmed to do. 

    The most important thing to remember in all of this is that the structure of our commercial food supply is driven by one thing: money—making more of it. You don't make money if your crop fails. You don't make money if the tomatoes arrive at the market all mushy. You don't make money if the steak is tough. 

    Tom Naugton, the creator of the Fathead movie I mentioned in yesterday's post, has a great blog. I spent some time over there this morning and ran across two very interesting things I hadn't known before:

    Interesting Tidbt #1. Naughton reviews a recently-released book called Wheat Belly, by Dr. Wiliam Davis (which I plan to read), and takes the following excerpt from that book:

    Analyses of proteins expressed by a wheat hybrid compared to its two parent strains have demonstrated that while approximately 95 percent of the proteins expressed in the offspring are the same, five percent are unique, found in neither parent. Wheat gluten proteins, in particular, undergo considerable structural change with hybridization. In one hybridization experiment, fourteen new gluten proteins were identified in the offspring that were not present in either parent plant. Moreover, when compared to century-old stains of wheat, modern strains of Triticum aestivum express a higher quantity of genes for gluten proteins that are associated with celiac disease.

    Naughton points out, "Like Dr. Frankenstein, the scientists who created today’s wheat had good intentions: the goal was to produce more wheat per acre in a shorter span of time, thus vastly increasing yields and preventing worldwide starvation as the planet’s population swelled. To that extent, they succeeded. Geneticist Dr. Norman Borlaug, who created the short, stocky, fast-growing “dwarf” wheat most of us consume today, is credited with saving perhaps a billion people from starvation.

    "The problem is that dwarf wheat varieties were developed through a combination of cross-breeding and gene splicing. The result is a mutant plant with a genetic code that never existed in nature before. In fact, today’s wheat literally can’t survive in a natural setting. Take away the modern pesticides and fertilizers and it’s (pardon the pun) toast."

    Wow. Not your grandmother's wheat, indeed. And I have to wonder if perhaps the reason my FIL tested positive for an allergy to beef is because most of the beef we all eat has been grain-fattened. We know he is gluten-intolerant. It's not such a stretch to wonder if the meat from cattle who were fed grain all their lives has somehow been affected by their diet. 

    Interesting Tidbit #2. Naughton's brother (who guest blogs on occasion) posted about visiting a local farm where he spent some time talking with a beekeeper there. The beekeeper mentioned that commercial beekeeping operations feed their bees—get this—high fructose corn syrup. Okay, this is second-hand anecdotal evidence, so I went looking for some proof, and I found it. The following is an interview on the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education website:

    “Commercial beekeepers use high fructose corn syrup to feed bee colonies during the winter months. It’s inexpensive, easy to obtain, and can be bought in small quantities because of its long shelf life,” said Harris. “However, it’s been suggested that high fructose corn syrup makes bees more susceptible to Nosema, an illness that affects the bee’s digestive tract. It’s like dysentery in people.”

    SARE is sponsoring research to determine what the different kinds of feed (HFCS, liquid sucrose, and blends) have on the survival rates and health of commercial beekeeping operations. They should have results next spring, and it will be interesting to see what they find out. 

    I've made no bones about the fact that I think HFCS is horrible stuff. Here is a wonderful, succinct article about the corn industry—make sure you take a look at the graph in the middle of the page. HFCS is in everything, and I spend a fair bit of time when shopping reading labels to make sure I don't buy products with added HFCS, most of which has been added gratuitously (please tell me why white kidney beans need HFCS added to them?). Those products touted as "low-fat" are some of the worst offenders. If you take out the fat/flavor, you have to replace it with something, and most "low-fat" products have replaced the fat with sweetener of some sort. Ick ick ick. 

    Of course, the medical establishment and Big Pharma are complicit in all of this. Companies only make money if there is someone to buy the products they are producing, and much of what we call marketing is designed to convince people that they need what a particular company is selling, even if they don't. This was taken to ridiculous extremes a few years ago when one of the drug companies began running a series of ads touting the need for a new drug to manage the side effects of another drug. Seriously?!?!?!?! As I recall, there was some backlash and that series of ads didn't run for long. Yes, I need the thyroid medication that I take every day (without it, I die), but there are a lot of people out there on anti-hypertensives, statins, and diabetes drugs that could probably do without them if they were more selective about what they ate. 

    Please don't think that I am advocating one form of eating—Paloe, vegetarian, whatever—over another. I firmly believe there is no "one-size-fits-all" diet that fits everyone. I just want people to be aware that there are strong market forces behind what shows up in their grocery stores and those market forces are driven by money, not altruism. And this push for "heart-healthy low-fat diets" has its roots in some very suspicious data. Be skeptical, be vigilant, and don't believe everything you're being told. 

    I wanted to take a picture of my breakfast today, but I was hungry and I ate it. I shredded some zucchini and green peppers from the garden, mixed them with some eggs and herbs, then dumped the whole thing into a big buttered frying pan and cooked it on low heat until the eggs were set. It was yummy.

    If you stayed with me this far, thanks. I'll return to blogging about other stuff later this week. 

    Tuesday
    Sep062011

    Food, Part 1

    This has been the summer that I took a really good, hard look at what I put in my body to nourish it, and I've come to some pretty interesting conclusions. I needed to get this out of my head, so here goes. 

    First, gone are the days when I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain a pound. In high school I lived on Pepsi and Fritos. Seriously. I never had a problem with my weight until my thyroid conked out on me, and it's been a struggle ever since. Even now, optimized on thyroid meds, I am physically a different person. I had to accept that and move on.

    Second, we've had a rash of allergy testing in our family lately, and lo and behold—my sister is gluten-intolerant and so is my father-in-law (and he is also allergic to beef, the poor man). Now, my FIL is not biologically related to me, but it's interesting that these two people close to me found out they had food intolerances. I suspect that gluten intolerance is more prevalent than we think it is.

    Third, I've never been one to accept what mainstream medicine and the media spout as gospel, and I am not going to start now, particularly when what I have experienced empirically does not mesh with what I am being told. The husband and I watched a documentary on Netflix a few months ago called Fathead. If you have Netflix, watch it. And then watch Science For Smart People and see if your paradigm doesn't start shifting a bit. 

    Two years ago, I did a 23-day round of the hCG diet to get rid of most of the weight I accumulated when my thyroid went south. An interesting thing has happened over the past two years, though: I started to gain weight again, and it didn't happen gradually. Last summer I suddenly (over the course of two weeks) gained 5 pounds, and this summer the same thing happened. Nothing about my diet changed, and yet all of a sudden I gained weight. And once I gained it, nothing I did would make it come off. In fact, the harder I tried, the harder it was to lose it. How is it possible to eat salads and hike and still gain weight (and not muscle weight, either). My doctor didn't have an answer, although he said I am not the only person experiencing this. 

    You might think that the easy answer was the way I was eating. That's partially true, as you'll see in a moment, but not totally. I cook almost everything from scratch. There are NO products with high fructose corn syrup or soybean oil in my house. I bake bread with Wheat Montana flour, eggs from our chickens, and honey from our pastor's bees. My daughter had friends over for dinner one night. I served spaghetti, and they raved about how good the sauce was—it consisted of tomato sauce seasoned with dried herbs from my garden. I was assiduous about watching what went into my mouth. And still I gained weight. 

    After we watched Fathead, I started doing some additional research, and ran across the Paleo/Primal diet. There is a ton of information out there (some of it better than others), so I will leave you to do your own exploring. In a nutshell, though, the Paleo/Primal movement is similar to Atkins in that it's low-carb. The reasoning goes that Grok (our Primal ancestor) didn't eat a lot of grains and subsisted mostly on animal flesh, veggies, and berries.

    As with any movement, you will find those who are strident about adhering 100% to this diet, eschewing anything that they think Grok didn't eat (but really, how do we know? and also, just because Grok didn't eat grains doesn't mean that Grok was healthy). There are others, though, who take a more moderate view and are willing to eat cheese and drink wine. In any case, grains, legumes, rice, and potatoes (except sweet potatoes) are out. 

    I started eating mostly Primal at the beginning of the summer and was able to halt the weight gain, but contrary to the what the Primal proponents were saying, it didn't help me lose weight. Something is still out-of-whack with my body. At the end of July I went back to my doctor and asked him if I could do another round of hCG. He agreed.

    The interesting thing about the hCG diet is that after the three weeks of taking hCG are over, you spend the next three weeks (the "stabilzation" phase) eating a LOT of food including good fats, but absolutely no carbs except those that come from veggies. In essence, then, that part of the program is very much like the Primal diet. Some of my friends who have done the hCG diet said that those three weeks were unadulterated hell and they couldn't wait to "eat normally" again. Interestingly enough, once they started "eating normally"—which usually meant adding carbs back in—they started to gain the weight back. 

    So I have looked at these past three weeks as a further experiment in Primal eating, paying close attention to how my body feels. Things I've noticed: 

    • I don't get bloated after eating, even when I eat a lot of veggies.
    • My joints don't ache.
    • I need less sleep. This is so interesting to me. I always thought I was one of those people who had to have 9 hours of sleep every night. Apparently I don't. I can easily stay up now until 9:30 and still get up at 5:00 the next morning without an alarm clock, and I don't feel tired. Hmmm.
    • I can eat a fair bit of food, including butter and eggs, and my weight is quite stable. 
    • I am full after eating and I stay that way for a long time. No snacking necessary, although a handful of almonds is good around 3 p.m.

    So those are definite pros. The one con is that I seem to have more heartburn than I used to, and for that I am taking apple cider vinegar. It seems to help. 

    I suspect I would do even better if I cut out dairy products, but I am not quite ready to give up eating cheese and yogurt. I feel like I've given up so much already. 

    So here is my plan for the next 6 months, at least. I think it's important to stick with this for an extended period of time, although eventually I would like to be able to eat a piece of flourless chocolate cake once in a while without it showing up as a pound of weight gain the next day.

    • No wheat, no bread, no pasta.
    • No sugar (although I am not going to get totally neurotic about it; I know there is some added to the bleu cheese dressing I use, and I just deal with it). 
    • No beans (that will be hard, as bean soup in many incarnations is one of my winter staples).
    • As many veggies as possible. Right now that's easy—I just walk to the garden and pick them. This may be more challenging in January. 
    • Grass-fed beef, chicken, and pork. The chicken will be easy when we do our own. I have a friend whose kids do 4-H and she said they would raise a hog for us next year and the price was very reasonable. The grass-fed beef is a bit tougher, but I am working on it. This IS Montana, after all.  

    The husband is on board with this, although he pretty much doesn't care as long as the food tastes good and he doesn't have to cook it. Yesterday at noon I stuck a pork loin in the oven to roast and covered it with the spiced red cabbage I canned last fall (I've been trying to find a use for that cabbage and I finally hit on something). After cooking all afternoon, the pork was fork-tender and the cabbage was sweet and tangy. I paired it with some Yukon Gold potatoes out of the garden (for the husband, who never counts calories except to make sure he's getting enough) and a BIG garden salad. He said it was one of the best meals I'd ever made. 

    I've also found some great Primal recipe blogs, including Cavewoman Cafe (I want to try the Beet Pickled Eggs because I have beets and I have eggs). 

    So stay tuned. In Part 2 I want to put on my tinfoil hat and talk about some of the ways the government gets us to eat things that are bad for us (helped along by the medical establishment).  

    Friday
    Sep022011

    A Quick Garden Report

    It's September and that means gardening season is winding down. A front came through the other night and took our 85-degree temps with it. It's been cool the last couple of days, but the forecast for the next 10 days is for above-average temps. I think we can squeeze a few more weeks out of the plants yet. 

    We planted a variety of sunflowers that are supposed to provide excellent chicken food. They need to get moving and bloom, however. This is the tallest of them, which I plan to save for seed for next year (if it blooms). It is well over 12 feet tall. The others are a measly 8-10 feet. 


     

    Back in June the husband went to the hardware store and succumbed to the display of seedlings in front of the store. I teased him about this purchase: cantaloupes. I never thought I would see fruit on them. we may not see RIPE fruit unless it stays hot for most of the month, but it is an accomplishment to have gotten this far. 

    Back in June DD#2 and I went to the nursery and succumbed to the display of vegetables. She loves acorn squash and begged me to plant some. We'll get at least half a dozen off this plant, I think. The plant itself is trying to take over the garden. Note to self: It needs about 100 square feet all to itself next year. 


     

    I've been sneaking out and eating all the cherry tomatoes (Sweet 100's). I may have to share and put some in the salad tonight, though. 

    And yay!—it's a ripe regular tomato! These are the Early Girls. Everyone around here swears by them. I've never had good luck with them but they ARE the first slicing tomatoes to ripen so I may change my mind. 

    I need to dig up the beets. I dearly love me some pickled beets, but I just haven't had time to make some. 

    We decided we didn't have enough room, so the husband spread out the concrete blankets to kill the grass, and this will get tilled up this fall and planted next spring. I haven't decided yet if we are exercising excellent forethought or just need to have our heads examined. 

    We've already dug up some potatoes. It's like hunting for Easter eggs. One row is reds, the other is Yukon Golds. 

    The eggplants finally set fruit (I had my doubts). I think they need to get a smidge bigger, but I plan to cook up some of these. 

    We've been making notes about what we want to do next year.

    1. The husband thinks we should plant more potatoes. I am reserving judgment until I see how many pounds we get from this year's crop.

    2. The purple bush beans were lovely to look at, but barely productive. I think we'll skip them next year or find a different variety.

    3. The broccoli was awesome and that particular variety (I hope I have the tag somewhere) was nicely resistant to bugs and worms. Ditto on the cauliflower. 

    3. I adored the ruby red lettuce I planted. Next year I need to have a more formal succession planting schedule so that we have a regular supply. I also need to plant earlier. It does well in the cool. 

    4. I am not sure we need so many beets. Actually, I am not sure we need so much of everything, but we can always put a produce stand out front.

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    When I began my transcribing job, I had to buya PC. I have had a Mac since 1985 and I don't like PCs. (I still don't.) And yes, I can boot my Mac into Windows but it was too clunky to do that every day. I just bit the bullet and bought a PC and another desk. Now I have two desks, at right angles to each other, and when I type medical reports I have a lovely view out the window of my office to the front yard. The other day I counted 50+ bicyclists riding up or down the road during thye 8 hours I was working. Our road is a popular route for cyclists, but I hadn't realized just how popular. 

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    Tonight is the first home football game. DD#2 does not have to cheer, but she does have to sell programs. And the husband and I like football and it's a good way to see all of our friends, so we're going to the game. Tomorrow I think I might dig up beets. Maybe.