20 Questions…More Or Less

Just a reminder:  I’ve been nominated for Best Recipe Blog, Best Healthy Cooking Blog and Best Food Photography on a Blog at The Kitchn’s 2013 Homies Awards (along with a lot of other nice blogs). Take a minute and check it out – and vote (for me!) if you’re so inclined. Thanks!

Last summer when I completed a Whole30, I also began to exercise every day.  The “every day” aspect didn’t last long beyond the end of the program, and exercise pretty fell completely by the wayside during the holidays.  Since I’ve been keeping a closer eye on my blood sugar lately, I’ve begun regularly exercising again; because of the weather, that means the treadmill in the basement.  I’ve been walking at least a mile, if not a little more, twice a day during the week, and once a day on the weekend.  It’s been good for me.

Friday, The G Man came over so he could spend the night with Meema and Papa.  He loves playing in the basement – the only place in the house he can throw a ball around – so when I went down for my evening walk on the treadmill, he was right behind me.  After a few minutes of climbing on the futon and the BowFlex, he came over to watch me.

At 3 1/2, he’s entered the “why?” stage of toddlerhood with a vengeance, so I can’t say I was surprised by what followed.

“Meema, what are you doing?”

“I’m going for a walk!” I replied.

“Why are you going for a walk?”

“Because I need the exercise!”

“Why do you need to exercise?”

“Because I’m too fat!”

“What’s ‘too fat’?”

Ah, sweet boy…Meema adores you, you know.

Avoiding the Flu

It’s cold here again today.  See?

Chillier in Podunk

For those of you who are metric, that’s -17 C.  BRRRRR!!

Of course, the “flu epidemic” is all the news right now and I, for one, am determined to avoid it if I can.  However, my preventative measures will not include a flu shot.

For one thing, in the last 20 years, with the exception of about 5 years ago when I caught it from The Young One, the only time I’ve gotten the flu is when I’ve gotten a flu shot.  Well, duh – you’re being injected with the flu virus (to say nothing of a nice dose of mercury – there’s nothing like good ol’ heavy metals circulating throughout your body, is there?).   According to Scientific American, flu vaccines are almost useless for the very demographics for which they are most recommended – the very young and the very old – and they’re generally not all that effective for the rest of us.

So, what am I doing?  Well, avoiding crowded public places as much as possible and dosing daily with vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, cinnamon, fermented cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil – both of the latter are available from Green Pasture Products and, if I’m not mistaken, are available via Amazon.com, as well.  The cod liver oil and butter oil aren’t cheap, but I’d rather spend a little extra money if means not coming down with what appears to be a particularly virulent strain of the flu; I’ve heard of people being flat on their backs for a week or more.

There’s also increasing evidence that homemade bone broths, rich with easily absorbable minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, and trace minerals difficult to obtain elsewhere, are also effective in preventing colds and flu, so I’ve begun incorporating tasty beef and chicken bone broths into my daily diet.  They are particularly nice and warming on these very cold winter mornings, if nothing else.  Of course, a healthy diet rich in nutrient dense foods is also beneficial, so I’ve been incorporating more leafy green vegetables – particularly kale – and organ meats, as well as pastured eggs, into our meals lately.

So far, so good – we’ve been flu-free so far this winter, and according to the CDC it appears to be winding down.  One can only hope.

Have you had the flu this year?  If not, what are you doing to try to prevent it?

Don’t Celebrate Just Yet

Today should be a national holiday. Why?

BECAUSE AFTER TODAY I WON’T HAVE TO LOOK AT ANOTHER POLITICAL AD.  At least until the next circus starts for 2016.

The prospect is enough to make me want to cry.  Or throw a party.

Granted, I live in Ohio, upon which the entire election hinges, or so they say.  It looks like it’s going to be a squeaker, too – most polls show Obama and Romney tied in a virtual dead-heat at 49% each.  (What about that other 2%?  Well, that would be me, since I voted early and for, well, someone else.)   I read somewhere that Ohioans have seen enough political ads over the last 18 months to run for 89 days straight, and I believe it.

I’ve also read that because of some whonky Ohio laws governing provisional voting we may not know who wins for over a week.  Essentially the law states that if a voter requests an early ballot but decides to vote on Election Day, they must cast a provisional ballot – which can’t be counted until November 17.   So if it really does come down to Ohio, and it’s as close as they say it’s going to be, it could be another 11 days before we know who will be sworn in next January.

I apologize in advance for my state of residence, and remind you I’m from Texas.

Another issue that’s been closely followed by the Real Food crowd is Proposition 37 in California, the initiative to have genetically modified foods labeled, since where California leads, the rest of the country often follows.  Things aren’t looking good for poor old Prop 37, for many reasons.  The biggest concern for most is that, if passed, the law will have no teeth – there are just too many exceptions.  For example: meat, dairy and eggs produced from animals fed GMOs won’t have to be labeled as such.  Food consumed at restaurants won’t have to be labeled.  You get the idea.

It’s going to be industrially processed “food” – sodas, chips, cookies, crackers, bottled sauces and dressings, boxed dinners, etc. – that are going to bear the brunt of the labeling law.  And since the vast majority of junk and pre-packaged foodstuffs contain corn and soy, the two most heavily genetically modified crops (more than 80% of corn and almost all soy produced in this country is GMO),  those are the things that will have to be labeled.

These products are the big money-makers for companies like Pepsico, Nestle and Cargill (and, by proxy, companies like Monsanto), and these are the companies most opposed to Prop 37.  They’ve pumped close to a billion dollars into the campaign to keep the law from being passed, citing it as confusing, unnecessary and expensive.  And it’s the “expensive” part of the argument – that it will cost the average family an additional $400 more per year – that is the most compelling; so much so that the NAACP has come out against the initiative, citing that if Prop 37 is passed, it will cause undue economic stress for low-income minorities.

You know, if someone had told me 20 years ago that my grocery bill would increase by $400 a year because of a silly little label, I’d have voted against it, too.  But it’s not the label that will cost the money.  The label is already there, telling us how many servings per package, how many calories, how much fat (including trans fats, which is a recent addition), how many grams of carbohydrates and protein, how much sugar, and all of the ingredients.  It’s not going to cost any more to add “genetically modified” in front of the corn and soy-based ingredients.  No, the real cost will be because the companies will have to reformulate their products using non-GMO ingredients.

Why would they do this, especially when they are so insistent that GMO foods are harmless?  Well, it might be because they know this not to be true, but it’s mostly because their marketing shows them a GMO label will be the kiss of death to their products.  No one will buy them.  And if the big food companies don’t use GMO ingredients, biotech companies like Monsanto will take a hit.  If you don’t buy processed foods containing GMO ingredients, the companies that manufacture them won’t buy the GMO crops.

I, personally, am watching the results of this particular issue with interest but no real hope, I’m sorry to say.  I don’t eat processed crap and make an effort to know exactly where my food comes from, so it wouldn’t affect me personally, anyway.  But I’d love love LOVE to see the mighty Monsanto brought to it’s knees, and the labeling of GMO ingredients in industrially processed foods would be a step towards accomplishing that. Too bad Prop 37 most likely won’t pass.

Ferments

Kimchi and Cranberry-Orange Chutney
Kimchi and Cranberry-Orange Chutney

Aren’t those jars just lovely?   They’re delicious, too – I’m in love with the fermented cranberry-orange chutney.

But why five quarts of fermented fruits and vegetables?  One word:  probiotics.

We’ve all seen the commercials of the lady showing up on airplanes and at town hall meetings, asking people embarrassing questions about the state of their digestive systems before handing out boxes of (expensive) pills.  We’ve seen Jamie Lee Curtis shilling for yogurt guaranteed to fix those same embarrassing digestive issues in just two weeks.  But just what are probiotics?

Well, we all know what antibiotics are:  medicinal products that either kill bacteria in the system or keep them from reproducing, allowing an infected body to heal by producing its own defenses and overcome the infection.  When antibiotics were isolated in the mid-twentieth century, they were widely hailed as ‘wonder drugs’ and indeed, formerly life-threatening infections could now be easily cured within a few days.

We’ve become quite dependent on antibiotics, in many cases to the point where some, like penicillin,  are no longer very affective; many people have also developed penicillin allergies.  Another undesirable affect of antibiotics is that in addition to killing off or halting the spread of “bad” bacteria, it also does the same thing to beneficial bacteria that our bodies actually need (hence the term probiotics – they’re literally the opposite of antibiotics.)

Most of these beneficial bacteria live in our gut – our digestive system.  When they are not sufficiently abundant or the balance of the different types of beneficial bacteria are out of whack, we often suffer from a host of irritating, if not downright unhealthy, digestive issues – the famed constipation, gas, bloating and diarrhea the lady with the pills carries on about.

Why not just take the pill or eat the tiny little container of yogurt?  Well, for one thing, as I noted before, this can be expensive – those pills the lady hands out so liberally can cost me and you upwards of $20 for 30 tablets (the recommended dosage is often 2 pills – or more – a day, depending on the severity of the symptoms).  As for the yogurt, it is made from pasteurized lowfat milk and contains added sugars or artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavors, and thickeners (modified food starch and guar gum) along with the probiotics – which don’t come from natural fermentation but are added afterwards.  There are also often only 2 or 3 types of beneficial bacteria in such products; far more live in your body, and an imbalance of probiotics is not a whole lot better than an absence of them.

Fermented foods contain more than just two or three types of beneficial bacteria.  As an added benefit, fermentation makes the nutrients in the foods more available to our bodies and easier to digest.  Making ferments is easy to do – the cranberry-orange chutney came together in all of 5 minutes – and is far less expensive than pills or tiny containers of yogurt.  Those five quarts will literally last us months – vegetable ferments especially improve with age (fruit ferments should be consumed a little more quickly) – and cost less than one bottle of probiotic pills.

Traditionally fermented foods have been around for thousands of years, and the commercial versions (sauerkraut and cucumber pickles immediately come to mind) are sad, pale bastardizations of what can and should be delicious, healthful additions to our diets; most are preserved with vinegar and pasteurized, which sort of defeats the purpose of them in the first place.   Not that I don’t enjoy a good canned pickle – I have over 20 jars of them in my basement – but they are not a replacement for the traditionally fermented kind.

If you haven’t eaten a true, traditional ferment, why not give them a try?  This kimchi recipe – spicy, tart, salty, crunchy and delicious – is a good place to start.

Let’s Get Physical

Let’s be honest here – my idea of exercise consists of yelling for The Young One to run down to the basement and bring me a jar of tomato sauce.

And I have the ass to prove it.

Making a deal with TC, my young diabetic friend, to exercise every day of the Whole30 was probably the best thing I’d done for quite some time.  Yes, I was disappointed that I only lost 2 1/2 pounds after it was all said and done, but there was another benefit I hadn’t really considered when I’d agreed:  it made me feel better.

Understanding the health benefits of exercise is one thing; doing it is something else all together.  I don’t necessarily enjoy it so I tend to do it grudgingly, and heretofore the only thing it made me feel once it was over was gratitude that I wasn’t doing it any more.  However, recently I’ve found that it offers a measure of relief – sometimes a great deal of it – when I’m getting to the point where I’d gladly punch bunnies and kick puppies.

Which is not to say that I’m going to join a Crossfit gym ever in my life any time soon, but if walking on the treadmill for 30 to 45 minutes 4 or 5 days a week will keep me from gouging my loved ones in the eyes with a letter opener, then hey – I’m all for  it.

But why does it make me feel better?

Just a little consultation with Dr. Google reveals something rather frustrating, if not downright depressing:  no one can really tell you for sure what causes the often erratic mood swings that accompany perimenopause.  However, it seems that the hormone imbalances caused by the decreasing frequency of ovulation – in other words, an increase in estrogen and decrease in progesterone – affects the body’s production of both endorphins and, more importantly, serotonin.

While both endorphins and serotonin are known for boosting emotions, serotonin produces a milder effect, causing happiness and feelings of security. Endorphins, on the other hand, are a more intense form of pleasure, sparking such intense reactions as euphoria and ecstasy, depending on the amount of endorphins circulating in the bloodstream at any given time. At low levels, endorphins can produce the mild effects of relaxation and joy, similar to those produced by serotonin, making regular, moderate exercise very important, especially when you’re feeling particularly stabby.

We’ll address exercise and weight loss (or, if you’re fortunate, management) at a later date.

For more sweaty Spins, run on over and visit Gretchen at Second Blooming.  On the double, people.