Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Keeping Me in Stitches; Cream Scones with Currants

Sometimes it's easy to feel demoralized. Especially when coping with the afflictions of the body.

Like when we learned 2 months ago that the reason our 12-year-old son had lost so much weight these past few months and was plagued with digestive issues and weird skin and scalp rashes, was that he has Crohn’s Disease. It is not fatal but it is chronic, with intermittent flare-ups and periods of remission, manageable with diet, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. Diagnosis and treatment monitoring involved an extensive series of tests involving imaging, colonoscopy/endoscopy, and blood draws. The first blood draw had been sheer hell. Two of us, a lab tech and I, had to help hold him and his arm steady while he screamed in pain and, mostly, terror. If there is one thing that rips a Mom apart, it is seeing her child suffer. The 1-minute draw felt like an hour, it was so grueling.

Oh, and my Mom had a recurrence of her non-Hodgkin Lymphoma this year, so she just finished chemotherapy. Did I mention that my Dad still has Alzheimer’s Disease? The main change with him is that he no longer speaks at all and is shakier getting up and sitting down.

To top this off, two weeks ago when I went back to the doctor to find out my lipid panel results, he told me that, despite my having lost 60 pounds and keeping it off for the past 10 months, my numbers suck again. "It's just genetic", he said. "We'll put you back on Zetia.” (He wanted to do Statins, but they gave me such bad side effects that I think of them as an evil to avoid at all cost.)

“Oh, well, it was a good experiment”, he said.

"Experiment?!?" I wanted to exclaim. “My losing 1/3 of my physical self and changing my eating habits was an experiment?!?”

Yes, I know he meant that we needed to see what my lipid levels are at a healthy body weight, without medication intervention. But part of me wants to just scream. Throwing something might not be bad, either.

My LDL – the “bad” cholesterol – is up again. Admittedly I indulge my love my milk fats and carbs on Fun Day. But it is hard to accept that my genetic makeup is such that that one weekly day of indulgence can kick my numbers right back into the hot zone.

In a weird way, though, I feel redeemed that it is genetic and not my fault. I want to shake my Dad out of his senile stupor, summoning forth the doctor in him, shaking my lab report at him and saying, "See? I am doing what you always told me to do, and still! It is not because I was heavy!" Part of me is scared that he will temporarily wake up and say, "Fine, Mrs. Know-it-All, but either way, you better watch those lousy lipids of yours. Genetics! Remember, every cell in your body is half from me!" And then he'd smirk in triumph that somehow, I’d always be a part of him. Just like the old days when he'd drive me insane.  And part of me longs for this, too.  I really miss him, except when I don’t.

Ultimately, it is too overwhelming to stare all of these issues in the face at once. Like standing at the edge of a tall mountain and thinking, "How the hell do I get to the top?" Nope. We'd never do it if we thought about the whole mountain. We have to take things step by step, setting small objectives. And most of all, appreciating the steps along the way. I can’t wait for all of this to go away so I can live life. This is life. As Erica Brown pointed out,

Anne Lamott in her latest book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair …Creates a metaphor for responding to pain: "We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky." We live in the moments between, focusing on the way that we stitch, the way we put together into a pattern of meaning that which seems puzzling and vexing. "You have to keep taking the next necessary stitch, and the next one, and the next... Without stitches, you just have rags. And we are not rags."

-- Dr. Erica Brown, Weekly Jewish Wisdom, (24 Heshvan 5775)

So life is keeping me in stitches.

I wouldn’t be so affected by family illness if these people didn’t mean so much to me. There’s the rub: All this stitching can feel constraining, like a corset, so at times I long to break free and say, “I don’t want to have to think about all this!” But other times, the garment that results keeps me warm, loved, protected. I worry because I love these people so damn much.

And then sometimes while I am stitching, seemingly ordinary moments become awesome. Like today, when I took our son to do yet another blood draw/needle procedure. He plopped down on the examining table, held out his arm, and matter-of-factly chatted with the tech, eyes averted but steady as she inserted the needle into his arm and did what was needed. What was once so scary to him is now ordinary. That, to me, is extraordinary. Then we bonded over lunch: Burgers for him, chicken salad for me. And it was good.

Regarding my health, I haven't fallen off the whole mountain, just hit a plateau. My triglycerides are better. My “good” cholesterol is better, almost doubled, from 29 to 53. I feel far fewer aches and pains than I did 18 months ago, so daily living is far easier than it was then. I have better energy and health to handle the nuttiness of life. Not to mention, I have built up an awesome wardrobe. Next step: Add meds and egg substitute. Stitch it up into the next set of patterns.

Most rewarding is that our son is doing much better since starting treatment. His energy, weight and appetite are up. We enjoy fun times with my Mom when we see her. Hubby is well, and older son turns 16 on Monday. And my Dad lets me feed him without fussing.

And now that cold weather is upon us, for my Fun Day, I felt like baking, so I made Martha Stewart'scream scones with currants.

(If you have slogged through this whole post, I thank you. You really sang for your supper this time.)

My modification: I had no whiskey so I soaked the currants overnight in triple sec and cognac! also I shortened the baking time to 12 minutes. True English scones are not browned, just ever so slightly baked. Hubby said they were superb, like the ones we'd eaten in Scotland years ago.

Eat healthy, indulge on occasion, get labs, scream, love your family, laugh. Stitch. Repeat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blogger since 2008
Blog:  The Wandering Taster

One of my friends, Edith-Ingrid, kindly nominated me to write about my blog, so I am stepping up to the challenge here.  Here are the basics of who I am and why I blog.

I was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA, but moved to the East Coast of the United States when I was 18, and basically stayed here since then.  I have lived in Northern Virginia for 20 years. 
Why did I start blogging?  I have always written down my observations, thoughts, feelings.  I started The Wandering Taster because like many people, I love food.  To me it is more than a basic need that keeps us alive. It is an expression of my personal memories, my associations with my family, and my links to the larger cultures around me. 

Food can be a force that unites people.  Latin Americans light up when I mention dulce de leche or flan.  Argentines get very happy if I suggest a beef cookout.  These are foods that were a regular part of my childhood trips to Buenos Aires, Argentina, my parents’ home country.  So for me this food symbolizes a sort of homecoming.   

It can also be a force that divides.  We have all been to that restaurant in a particular part of the country or world that makes things differently, in a way that we did not expect or like.  I think of my first experience with New-York style pizza.  As a native Chicagoan, I could not believe that what I was eating passed for “pizza”.  To me, it is deep-dish or I am done!  And it should be cheese and sausage, not cheese and pepperoni.   I have argued endlessly with my husband, a native New Yorker, about this.  It is an area where we have agreed to disagree.

Why my blog is different:  Most people agree that cooking and eating are meditative and pleasurable.  When I make a new dish, why did I choose it, and what does it evoke? A friendship, a country visited, an early memory?  This is what I explore.  It is not so much a “how-to” blog, which states, “this is what I made and how”.  Don’t get me wrong:  Such blogs and channels have their value and I watch and read them avidly.  But my blog is more of a reflection of my relationship to food.  I write about why I made a particular dish, and what this dish evoked for me when I made it or sampled it.    I also explore food, not just in my kitchen or a restaurant, but its presence and meaning in movies and other media. 

Another reason my blog is different:  Well if you haven’t already guessed it, I am a non-linear thinker -- ah the joys of ADHD!  So my essays tend to wander from topic to topic, just like my brain and my interests.  To some readers, this may be a drawback, because they will say my blog lacks focus.  Other readers might enjoy the free-association of my writing.  But ultimately, I say, “To thine own self be true”, so do what works for you. 

Thanks for your interest.  If you are new, enjoy what is on my pages.  If you are a veteran reader, may you keep carrying the torch for my blog.  I am very grateful for you, my awesome audience.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Triglycerides, part 2 -- what I did next

After the appointment with the doctor, I alternated between being mad at the world and generally feeling sorry for myself.  Why did it have to be ME, the foodie, the person who has loved food all her life and made a passion out of cooking, to be the one with heart-attack level triglycerides?  (Well, DUH.)
I knew of course that this approach wasn't helping.  But I felt stuck.  Three days later, on the airplane on the way to Miami with my younger son to visit my mother, a very heavyset woman came down the aisle during boarding and sat down next to me.  She even needed an extra seat belt.  "The universe is mocking me", I thought bitterly. "I bet her triglycerides are lower than mine."  (See, even another person's obesity is all about me.  I am the consummate narcissist.)

Truth is, I was scared to care again about my food intake, weight, and health. I didn't really know how to stop eating the way I had been. In a bid to support me, my mother helped me out by making low- carb meals during our entire visit. Not typical of our family pattern.  Only for us could she make changes that she is unwilling to make for herself.  Still, old habits remained:  With a gleam in her eye, she would shove an entire veggie loaf at me and say, "eat as much as you want! It is low-calorie."  But better with a veggie loaf than a cheesecake, right?  And I was grateful for the jump-start.

Then when I returned home, I decided to go ahead and do the diet program from the doctor's clinic, because I needed help with this. The program is called Ideal Protein.  

The first week was a bit of a shock to my system. I spiked a slight fever, which the coach told me can happen, because the pancreas is used to high amounts of carbs and it is thrown off when that changes suddenly.  The weekly weigh-ins with the coach and her support and encouragement have been crucial in keeping me on track. 
Then, two weeks into it, the Carb Dreams started.  I would fall asleep at night and dream about huge portions of cake, fries, doughnuts, you name it, and me gorging and then feeling scared that I had done it.  I would wake up feeling chills and dread, then a disoriented relief at realizing that these were only dreams, and I had not just stuffed my face, acting out the simultaneous horror and craving that is addiction.  Maybe this was a natural stage of dieting, but it didn't feel good.  It was primitive fear, the remnants of old bulimia brain pushing through.  I needed to change my outlook to change my eating, and I needed some guidance on doing it.  So I bought the book by Dr. Tran, the originator of Ideal Protein, "Because It's Your Life".  He discusses the entire mindset and imbalance, psychological and physical, that occurs with overeating, and how this is brought back into balance with mindful eating and awareness, as well as a good diet.  He understands the struggles of his patients, especially with women.  He gets it.  This made me trust the process.  So I stuck to it.

Within a few weeks, my body started responding to the weight loss and diet.  The sharp pain I felt in my left heel when walking, especially in the morning, disappeared after I lost 10 pounds.

Back and headache after wearing high heels:  Gone after 15 pounds off.
After 20 pounds: inflammation in my fingers down. I could wear my rings from high school and college days again.

And now, 5 months later, I have lost almost 60 pounds.  My triglycerides went from 463 to 55.  You can see the before and after results here:  

Cholesterol: 228Triglycerides: 463HDL Cholesterol: 28 LDL Cholesterol (not calculated;  triglyceride levels greater than 400 mg/dL invalidate calculated LDL results.)*
* I am not sure what this means, but it seems to underscore how my numbers sucked!

After (end of weight loss):

Cholesterol: 164Triglycerides: 55HDL Cholesterol: 58LDL Cholesterol: 95

Looking back I can see that the conversation with the doctor, the working relationship I have had with my coach, and the connection I felt with what Dr. Tran states in his book, all helped to motivate me to stay on course with the diet.  Our relationships to others will always influence our relationship to food. 

This week, I entered Phase 4 of the diet:  Maintenance.  Eating with enjoyment, but mindful portions and choices. Then one " fun day" per week, planned in advance, where I can eat what I want within reasonable portions.   And back to cooking, but tweaking the recipes to these principles.  
I bought Chef Verati's book of Phase 4 (maintenance phase) recipes, "Taste the Freedom".  I look forward to trying them.  I still love cooking and now I can keep my passion going.And fun day -- can I eat my carbs but not to the point of stuffing myself? Then going back to healthy eating?  That is the challenge now. I want to make it a good one, because my health and life literally depend on it.

As the Buddhists say:  Simple, but not easy.