Food for Thought

Beef-Butternut Stew with Pear and Thyme prepared from Mickey Trescott's beautiful Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.
Beef-Butternut Stew with Pear and Thyme prepared from Mickey Trescott’s beautiful Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.

Over three months into the Paleo Approach and Autoimmune Protocol diets (AIP for short) and it’s time for an update from my (rather grubby and well-used) kitchen. As faithful followers of this blog may recall, I began the elimination journey back to my hunter-gatherer ancestors’ fireside feasts on the first day of August. And, despite the formidable lists of forbidden foods and ingredients, bounty from this year’s autumn harvest has been my saving grace.

Every week, besides our usual visit to the regular grocery chain, I travel to a local orchard’s farm store to consciously purchase pastured meats, as well as fresh cider and the perfect cooking apples for homemade applesauce and crisp. I buy fermented raw kraut from the Saturday farmer’s market, and gorgeous multi-colored chard from a vegan/GF restaurant that grows its own vegetables behind the building.

I’ve taken to hanging around the organic sections, and familiarizing myself with strange, misshapen fruits that hide their beauty on the inside. Sarah Ballantyne, well-known AIP author and cook, challenged herself to buy and prepare any exotic produce that she’d never seen before. I’m not that adventurous yet, but I’m making friends with some pretty homely root vegetables.

As winter sets in, I’ve stocked up on every kind of squash and lined them along my counter, where they wait patiently for me to whip up enough courage to cut into their hard exteriors before softening them up in a slow-roasting oven. I’ve discovered that braising in a tightly covered pot can tame any wild beastie or vegetable into delectable submission. And I utilize everything, from poultry innards and bones, to the tops of beets and fennel — nothing goes to waste if I can help it.

Granted, all of this takes commitment. If I still worked at my old job, I wouldn’t have the time or energy. Slow food can take hours, even days to see results. Crock pots, pressure cookers and heavy cast iron utensils can take a toll on your arms, patience and wallet. Our lack of space in the new galley kitchen often leads to a frustrating dance while family members prepare different meals for separate diets. More than once I’ve caught myself longing for the generous side-by-side fridge that we left behind as cabbages and cauliflower roll out of our currently overstuffed apartment refrigerator.

But is there a payoff, you ask? How about no more joint pain, considerably less inflammation even after injuries, weight loss without your friends becoming alarmed, and lower doses of medicine, all while chronic conditions grow quiet or go into remission. The benefit to eliminating misbehaving dietary culprits, however socially painful, is that when I reintroduce them, I can usually tell within a day or two whether we can play well together yet. If not, the offending foe is placed on a back burner for another day.

While I had hoped for these intended results, what I didn’t expect was the spiritual connection I’ve discovered from taking this often rocky road to recovery. As in life, I’m learning not to wait until I’m starving and desperate to cook and nourish myself. This should be second nature, but in the modern world, we find it so easy to reach for the quick, impersonal calories of convenience that leave us unfulfilled and a little sick. Now, I can take a bite into something that has slowly simmered and stewed in the warm glow of an Indian summer afternoon, and really taste the thought in it.

Love Potion

DAY 31: LOVE
DAY 31: LOVE

Almost every morning, my husband makes us a pot of tea. Real tea, with loose leaves, a mesh steeping basket, and water brought to boil then just briefly left to sit. He’s even been known to make me coffee, although he doesn’t drink it himself. He says he just likes the smell.

And I more than like him.

This is the final day of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. I want to thank and share the love with all those who liked and supported me this month, in particular commenters Maureen, Bonny, Karuni, Linda and Shirah. Everyone who stopped by kept me going with your camaraderie and encouragement. Plus, a big shout out to Meg of Meg Wolfe Writes, who accepted my double-dog dare, and not only joined Instagram, but also used Susannah’s visual suggestions as a starting point to blog about her own writing prompts while she works on a second novel in her mystery series. If you are a writer, I highly recommend that you check out Meg’s insights!

Take away for this second time around: I really enjoyed the interesting topics (thanks Susannah!) and the addition of Instagram this year to help me see everyone’s creative interpretations of the daily prompt. As for the diet challenge, going public kept me accountable so I only cheated twice, to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a little champagne, and a few sips of G & T while listening to some live music on a Friday night (hey, I’m not a saint and besides, no gluten was involved). I’ll write more about the autoimmune protocol results later, but I will say that blood pressure and TSH were greatly improved at my doctor’s visit this month. Yay! Hope everyone has a great weekend (and Labor Day in the US).

Look what’s coming to dinner

DAY 28: SOMETHING NEW
DAY 28: SOMETHING NEW

“What’s new?” could be the overwhelming question of the year for me, especially this August. Everything is a first: new food, new diet, new cooking equipment, new kitchen, new living arrangements, new lifestyle, new world. I am nothing if not adaptable, but I may be taking things a little too far this time. Still, when I stop long enough to savor these unknown territories, I’m impressed with the view.

Take these colors for example! Oh, the beauty of food in its purest form is always a wholesome revelation that I need pounded into my stubborn brain (and spooned into my mouth) every few months. I gaze at all those vibrant reds, yellows, oranges and purples, the source of my newfound health on parade, not to mention those multitudes of greens. I’m learning to be unafraid of exotic produce, to march right up to them and twist their little hats off, to peel them out of their skins, to slice them thinly and bathe them in coconut milk and olive oil, then toast them until they surrender to the touch.

The stove may be a battlefield, but there upon the dinner plate this will always be their finest hour.

This month I’m taking a photo a day and following the topics of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. And why don’t you join me? I double-dog dare you!

Ode to Pistachio

DAY 21: TREASURES
DAY 21: TREASURES

They sit on our kitchen counter, available yet forbidden. You see, pistachios aren’t allowed in my diet this month. It’s all I can do sometimes not to pop the lid off their clear container, and shuck little wooden shells off those delectable green nuggets inside. I watch my husband with envy as he absent-mindedly snacks over the trash can, litter falling like the premature leaves turning on trees outside.

No, I can only hover beyond their barrier, the treasure chest of walls reflecting endless riches consumed in the not-too-distant future. Just wait until the end of the month, pistachios.

This month I’m taking a photo a day and following the topics of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. And why don’t you join me? I double-dog dare you!

Elixir

DAY 10: DRINK
DAY 10: DRINK

This is Day 10 of the August Break, and also the strict autoimmune diet I’ve undertaken. How are they going? Here’s the latest:

1. I hate to admit this, but I feel good. Better than I have in a long time. After a few rocky days at the start, I’m not missing the coffee, or the chocolate. Just really craving a good cracker along with my soup or a crunchy potato chip at lunch.

2. I’m meeting a lot of cool participants on Instagram, and quite impressed with the unique ways they find to illustrate the day’s topic.

3. The variety of ingredients I cook with is expanding rather than contracting in this elimination diet. And I’ve become acquainted with new foods such as fennel bulbs, kombucha, raw sauerkraut, and kale chips. Preparing everything from scratch requires me to slow down and relearn patience.

4. I get creative when I’m hungry. I’ve learned to throw whatever’s at hand into the blender in combinations I would never have considered before this protocol began. That’s a blueberry, pear and coconut butter smoothie in the picture above. My favorite so far and the perfect opportunity for today’s Instagram topic.

5.  I’ve only cheated once on a little coffee, black with no sugar, and I only drank half. I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I expected.

6. These challenges take more planning and organization than I anticipated, but it’s not as hard as I thought. On to the second week.

This month I’m taking a photo a day and following the topics of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. And why don’t you join me? I double-dog dare you!

Trio

DAY 5: THREE
DAY 5: THREE

I like pears. They are a maligned fruit in my opinion, always losers in the popularity contest with apples, pushed aside in summer’s parade of peaches, plums and cherries. They do the hard work in life’s produce section, heavy lifters holding up the rest of a centerpiece, the filler around flashier fare in holiday gift boxes, a bass in the band.

To me they sing like soft cellos in late August, harbingers of harvest, pied pipers to the root cellar. The bulbous beauties pictured above were almost passed over at Trader Joe’s, their blemished green skins overshadowed by brighter counterparts. But the minute I bit into their soft flesh, a juicey ocean from autumn filled my senses and soul. I have seldom tasted anything so sweet.

However perfect, they can’t escape the inevitable fate of fall fruit. Still, it was a shame to break them up this morning for their breakfast solos.

This month I’m taking a photo a day and following the topics of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. And why don’t you join me? I double-dog dare you!

The Joy of Cooking

Granola Goodness

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before on this blog, it’s all or nothing with me and chores, or pretty much anything to tell the truth. Which is why the simple chicken soup planned for my sickly, sneezing family turned into a baking and broiling marathon of such epic heat that mere mortals had to get the heck out of the kitchen.

Left to my own devices while my spouse spent the first day of his annual winter head cold in bed, I drove a potholed obstacle course to my grocery store for provisions that I had either forgotten or denied that I needed. Upon return, unfrequented cupboards were flung open and out came a box of neglected raisins covered by dust from the ancients, an assortment of hoarded gluten-free flours, various coconut-based elixirs and a whole lot of foodie attitude leftover from the 90s.

Dinner still far enough off to procrastinate, I decided to use up massive amounts of rolled oats collected in a fit of food virtue by trying out that homemade granola recipe I’d squirreled away somewhere on my laptop. And after scrolling saved downloads in the tens of thousands, why not print out instructions for some GF scones I’d glimpsed in passing. This would also be a clever way to involve some shriveled currants that were even older than the raisins, and besides, the oven was on anyway.

And so, with every pan and bowl and utensil stickily engaged in the good fight, granola burning to a nice crisp on baking sheets, food processor belching wheat-less puffs of pasty promise, a chicken breast I forgot to thaw for the soup thumping around in my microwave, I discovered that I was in over my head, drowning in dishwater overflowing a sink crowded with dirty little secrets.

Where had my cooking mojo gone? I ruefully realized that over the years my husband had slowly slipped into the role of family cook, as my motherly pressures to feed a toddler faded, and demands from a public service job increased. My waning interests in cable cooking shows and fancy gourmet magazines were replaced by elimination diets and autoimmune protocols.

I am rusty. I have to start over in this kitchen, get comfortable again with that dance inside a magic triangle of stove, sink and fridge. Ingredients may be different but timing is the same. So what if the granola is a little dark, scones a bit dry, and the soup has too much black pepper. I can’t let silly mistakes and food intolerances shut down the satisfaction of filling containers with tasty fare that I make possible.

As for those coming weeks and years of culinary adventures, I resolve to trim off my fears, simmer some experience, and stock up on joy.

My Darling Clementine

DSCN7464

We spy you behind the orange veil, playing coy in the supermarket. You come from the land of living, and in our frozen white world, we crave the gold you guard, the vitamin C you hold and the nectar from those tropical gods who made you.

We wait all year for you to arrive, appearing late fall inside a Cleopatra’s fleet of exotic promise, displayed in tiers of temptation, surrounded by the usual peasant vegetables and utilitarian fruits. Unlike your giant navel cousins, you are small but mighty.

Once captured, you release your skin willingly, and when tenderly touched to the core, fall to pieces on our behalf. Each section can suspend time, until all of your seedless secrets are consumed.

Over the season, you offer yourself up in hopeful sacrifice, and linger beyond your best interests. Almost too late, you leave while we are welcoming in the spring. But we still mourn your absence, for you hold a place in our hearts, saving space for the returning sun.

Life Without Bread

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I can look at it, smell it, touch the crust and make patterns on the counter with the crumbs. I just can’t eat it. Not right now. Maybe not ever.

As longtime readers may recall, after four years of searching for answers to a wide range of afflictions, I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in 2003. And, for the most part, I have succeeded in managing this genetic autoimmune disease (predominately seen in the female population) that causes our bodies to attack their thyroids.

But I knew from my own research (even the specialists don’t want to admit to anything until pressed) that all bets are off upon entering menopause. And admittedly, I looked forward to saying goodbye to some of the unpleasant playing rules of perimenopausal thyroid disease.

I just wasn’t sure how well menopause and Hashimoto’s would play together, which one would dominate, which would imitate the other, and whether one or both would become unmanageable enough to require medical attention. Considering my poor track record with western medicine taking my symptoms seriously, this is always the path of last resort.

So, I focused on diet, and bought plenty of fans. I downed my vitamins and took myself outside for exercise and Vitamin D. I got rid of all those turtlenecks. My hands weren’t perpetually cold anymore. And life wasn’t too bad, at first.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, the balance I had so carefully maintained began to erode. (If there are any guys still reading at this point, hang in there. This could pertain to you, although I’ve cleared a room of dudes by bringing the issue up at a dinner party.) Sure, there were the expected hot flashes and heart palpitations, the embarrassing memory loss, the sudden fits of hormonal rage when someone cuts in at the checkout line.

What I didn’t anticipate were severe digestive issues in the way of constipation, bloating and gas. The joint and muscle pain grew worse, my heart fluttered after meals before keeping me up at night. I began to feel hyper and dizzy right after I ate, or around 3 am despite going to bed feeling just fine.

And since one autoimmune disorder can invite home other autoimmune buddies like Celiac and Irritable Bowel, I decided it was time to eliminate. First to go were the delicious microbrews my husband loves to bring home in his growlers. Suddenly, the pain in my feet and legs started to recede, and I reluctantly realized why I could barely walk during yearly vacations when we like to visit local breweries and nurse a couple of pints every evening.

Next went the daily sandwiches I made religiously with “healthy” whole wheat bread. Instead, I fixed myself a green salad with spinach leaves, walnuts and lean meat or tuna.  Mysteriously, the extra pounds I couldn’t budge for three years began to drop off. Mind you, I was still eating sugar and fat in various forms to keep my sanity.

Sadly, pasta, pizza and other wheat products were soon to follow. Last to be crossed off was the whole grain cereal I had eaten every morning for decades. Never one to climb aboard the fad diet bandwagons, I found myself searching for gluten-free products in the health food aisles, ashamed to admit to my foodie family that I had gone over to the Paleo dark side.

But there is something to this madness. As I watch my parents and older relatives become immobilized by crippling arthritis and unsuccessful joint replacements, vascular inflammation leading to high blood pressure and stroke — all despite an incredibly diverse diet full of organic homegrown vegetables, pasture-raised meat and local dairy, nothing processed — I have to wonder.

Let me be clear. I am not against grains. I love wheat (especially the fermented kind). But just as my genetic forebears have left their calling cards at the door to my health, so too have they given me a hint about my origins, a map to what kinds of foods kept my bloodline alive back before mankind was a sure thing. Perhaps we all possess a built-in guide to what makes us thrive based on where our family trees began. This ancestral diet digest is not, unfortunately, what I’ve been following or even acknowledging.

My own earliest memory centers around Mom leaving slices of white bread in the toaster too long because I loved to watch the curling wisps of smoke and craved the charred black edges of burnt toast.

Ironically, the worst part about giving up the bread that nourished my beginning sense of self is baked into a profound loss of belonging. And I strongly suspect I have the ancestors to thank for it.