September 23, 2010

What with all the projects I’ve got going, I’ve been feeling a little frantic for the last few days. I’ve got wine in my crockpot, eight jars of kombucha engulfing the counter, and red wine vinegar percolating in the cupboard. There’s a sourdough starter on the heater, and my garden is withering and bolting in equal parts. Never do anything halfway, right?

My classmate pointed out this morning that it’s the full moon–time to bring the crazy. When I asked her whether I should try to calm myself down or just go with it, she said, “Just be yourself.” Smart girl.

I consulted with myself. Conclusion–time to take a break from my to do list. After all, stress is bad for digestion.

So tonight was Potato Kale soup, red wine, a good long foot soak, and a manipedi. Yes, I still have case studies to do. There are papers all over my living room (and the bedroom, come to think of it). The garden needs watering. And yes, there are dishes in the sink. But my heart is finally beating at normal person speed.

And my nails look fabulous.

The Art of the Public Forage

September 22, 2010

There’s something about free food that I am coded to respond to. It must be in my genes–in my family, saying no to food was pretty much the ultimate heresy. So I guess my urge to pick things off trees and squirrel away seeds in my pockets isn’t much of a stretch.

I usually gather my treasures in alleys and back roads, places where no one is likely to come after me with a stick. But this time, I had something a little more ambitious in mind.

Along some stretches of recently developed public walkway, the city has planted large patches of wild roses. As I was biking by the other day, I took note of the hundreds of enormous rose hips beginning to ripen. If you aren’t aware, rose hips are the fruit of the rose, growing when the rose flower has shed its petals. Rose hips are ridiculously high in Vitamin C, and taste something like a cross between apples and guavas.

Now, I’ve seen rose hips before. But these–these looked more like cherry tomatoes than the dry withered things I had come to associate with this fruit. Alluring, juicy, shiiiiny….So this afternoon, on my way home from work, I determined to gather enough to make rose hip wine.

It was an interesting social experiment. I was half expecting someone to yell at me, but the closest I got to that was a mini lecture from a Japanese woman, telling me not to take too many. I smiled, nodded, and told her she was absolutely right. The goal of foraging is to take only what you need, and to leave the plant as if you were never there.

Everyone else who spoke to me wanted to know what I was picking, what the fruit tasted like, or (in the case of two older women) whether I was making jam or tea. Two twenty-something girls thought they might be tomatoes. Two European tourists wanted to know which ones to pick. One woman told me stories about her mother bribing friends to help pick dandelions for dandelion wine, and informed me that you can make wine out of anything, even tea. Perhaps because I was picking something unusual, I was quite the curiosity.

All in all, it was delightful. I’ll start the wine this evening, and possibly, if I have enough bounty, make jam as well.

Have you foraged in public? If not, would you ever try it?

My Rules for Public Foraging

1. Be polite. Don’t trespass or trample over gardens, and if someone asks you to leave, move along.

2. Be friendly. Smile at people who are watching you, and be ready to answer questions about what you’re doing. Also be ready to listen to the marvelous stories of those who have done it before.

3. Be conservative. Take only what you need, and never take all of what’s growing in one particular spot. Try to leave it as though you were never there.

4. Be smart. Check to make sure that the plants you are harvesting haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. Don’t harvest near the road.

5. Be adventurous. Take a walk with an open mind, and see what is out there for you to sample. If you’re not sure what something is, take a picture or a sample and look it up when you get home to make sure it’s safe.

101 Things. 1001 Days. Ready, go…

September 17, 2010

Months and months ago, I came across a list of 101 things that someone planned to do in the next 1001 days. I got really excited about the idea, made my own list, then promptly forgot all about it.

I came across the list yesterday when wading through the massive piles of paper engulfing my living room. Interestingly enough, I realized that I had, without realizing it, already completed nine or ten things on the list.

It seems that there’s about a six month lag time on many of my ideas. I’ll get really excited, buy all the necessary materials, and then nothing will happen. One day, I’ll wake up at 3 am, and for no reason at all, that will be the day when I do . Sometimes I get frustrated, because it feels like I never complete what I start. But that’s actually not true–it just takes me a while.

So I’ve decided to resurrect the project. Even if I don’t consciously concentrate on it every day, I have a feeling that I’ll make headway. I’m mildly fudging the start date, since some of these things are done. Oh well.

Deadline for completion: January 26, 2013.

101 Things

Make soap.
Make cheese.
Make kombucha.
Make sourdough bread.
Make tej.
Make dandelion wine.
Make something out of travel material.
Find a way to bind D’s correspondence.
Make something out of school material.
Make paper.
Make butter.
Make 72 new recipes. (-11)
Make mineral makeup. (book workshop)
Make a chapbook.
Make 6 logos. (-1)
Make pumpkin butter.
Make tofu.
Create a graphic design portfolio.
Build a website.
Make a recipe website for class.
Transition to homemade self care products.
Transition to homemade cleaning products. (laundry soap)
Make chapstick.
Make a tincture.
Make kimchi.
Make a worm composter.
Make sourdough croissants.

Repair bike (brakes, gears, tires).
Learn how to silkscreen.
Learn byzantine tones.
Learn obikhod tones.
Work through Illustrator book.
Work through Photoshop book.
Take a class in typography.
Take singing lessons.
Learn how to drive.
Work through food book.
Become a holistic nutritionist.
Become a yoga teacher.
Learn how to sharpen knives.
Try barefoot running.
Learn how to sew.

Get a drill.
Get a computer.
Obtain items on basics clothing checklist.
Buy a pair of Fluevogs. (in process)

Write 101 letters.
Write 101 poems.
Edit 6 manuscripts.
Read through the Bible.
Send 36 emails to family.
Write a book.
Read 36 books. (-1)
Write 100 blog posts.
Reconnect with an old friend.

Grow a garden.
Do 12 cleanses/fasts.
Create a budget.
Put all bills online.
Host 6 dinner parties.
Do 101 unprovoked acts of awesome.
Take a significant trip.
Celebrate 10 unbirthdays.
Have all shoes maintained.
Clean filing cabinets.
Do taxes.
Put a basket on my bike.
Be debt free.
Find a new job.
Finish a degree.
Volunteer 100 hours.
Teach 5 classes. (-1)
Ask for a raise.
Get great skin.

30 day trial—prayer
30 day trial—no waste
30 day trial—yoga
30 day trial—no shampoo
30 day trial—from scratch
30 day trial—raw
30 day trial—6 am
30 day trial—no plastic
30 day trial—binge free
30 day trial—sugar free
30 day trial—laugh/cry
30 day trial—supplements

Do 10 consecutive pushups
Do 100 consecutive situps.
Take a biking day trip.
Hold plank for two minutes.
Do a cartwheel.
Do a handstand.
Lose 80 lbs.
Do crow pose.

Wear six costumes.
Create a clown show.
Perform a clown show.
Lighten up 400 times.
Make and explore 10 masks.
Find clown makeup.

(un)Labour Day

September 6, 2010

I woke up this morning bright and early…who am I kidding? It’s a holiday. I lay in bed for three hours, looking at Stuff On The Internet, until the inevitable melancholy of a lazy rainy day began to nip at the bedspread. I finally oozed out of bed around 11 (shameful), and decided to do my daily yoga to see if it might chase away the blues.

It didn’t. But today is a rain day, in all senses. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, giant sky-buckets of water being dumped upon our roof. A good day to be sad.

What better to eat for breakfast on a blue blue day than oatmeal? Steel cut oats, slow simmered with cinnamon, topped with coconut milk, raspberries, and one perfect apricot.

I must mention that as much as I love Bob’s Red Mill, I can’t sanction his back of the package recipe. Bob kindly requests that you cover your oats while they cook. I kindly decline. If you are like me, and prefer to let your oats cook while you do something else, like yoga or showering or other morning-such things, then Bob’s recipe might net you a puddle of oatmeal soup in your burner from an over-roiling pot. Just add a bit more water and leave them uncovered. Of course, if you like to watch your pots boil, do what you like.

Also, I don’t bother letting the water come to a boil before adding the oats. Maybe with instant oats. But with these, it really makes no difference that I can tell. Dump ’em in with the water, bring it to a boil, then lower it to a simmer, set your timer, and go do something else. Come back 20 minutes later in time for yum.

Now I shall ostensibly tidy.

30 Day Trial–Supplements

September 2, 2010

Today in class, my teacher and I had an interesting discussion about the value of scientific testing versus anecdotal evidence. She comes from a very scientific background–even though she KNOWS how thoroughly trials can be skewed, she still finds herself looking for studies to verify her recommendations.

I’m a big fan of self-experimentation. Many of the blogs I read are written by people who have done extensive self study to figure out what works for them. To me, it only makes sense. Of course, it’s important to do research and consider contraindications for any diet or lifestyle change, but when it comes to advice on how to live well, science, not tradition, is the upstart impostor. What are cultural food traditions if not extended anecdotes, passed on throughout the history of a people? And what is our own food culture if not a story about what we’ve learned in our lives?

Although there’s much value in scientific testing, only I can really determine if a particular nutrient or program works for me. My body is unique, and randomized trials aren’t going to tell me whether medicine A or exercise B suit my constitution. Because I’m learning so much amazing stuff in class, I’ve decided to test some of it out on myself.

Successful self-experimentation seems to involve several factors. It must be consistent, specific, and long-term. For my first 30 day trial, I picked an area of intrigue that I knew would be fairly easy to implement–supplements.

After reading the book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, I’ve wanted to experiment with supplementation as a way to boost mental health. The author, Patrick Holford, is doing fascinating work with megadoses of specific nutrients, and if what he says is even partly true, I stand to benefit enormously by trying it out.

Here’s the breakdown:

Course of Action: Take supplements consistently for one month, with megadoses of particular nutrients aimed at stabilizing mental health.

Details: I’ve been taking supplements three times a day, at breakfast, lunch, and just before bed. At breakfast, I take a multivitamin, EPA, a B complex, B6, chromium, and vitamin C. At lunch, I take another multi, EPA, cod liver oil, a B complex, and vitamin C. Before bed, I take St John’s Wort, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and EPA. Let me just say, that is a ridiculous amount of pills.

Specific Symptoms to be Monitored: I have what appear to be mild manic depressive tendencies. When I say mild, I mean compared to what is actually diagnosed as manic depression. So I can hold down a job and not bankrupt myself, but if left to my own devices, can go a week without leaving the house and the next week with five projects every day on three hours of sleep. I would like this to stop happening. I’ve also developed some PMS symptoms in the past few years that didn’t exist when I was younger.

Hypothesized Benefits:
multivitamin: provides the body with any nutrients that may be lacking in the diet, allows other megadosed nutrients to be synthesized more effectively. This is more an insurance policy against further imbalance than it is for any particular symptom.
EPA: low levels linked to depression. Protects against inflammation, linked to memory and focus, heart health, brain health, and about a zillion other things. When it comes to many mental health issues, it’s specifically the EPA that seems to make a difference, not the DHA.
B Complex: provides energy, necessary for nervous system support and optimum function, linked to mood and digestion
B6: specifically useful in treating PMS symptoms
Chromium: useful for blood sugar balancing
C: potent antioxidant, reduces inflammation, boosts immune function, and cleans the kitchen sink
Cod Liver Oil: a good source of Vitamin A and D, traditional remedy for everything
D: sunshine vitamin, necessary for bone health, mood, immunity
St John’s Wort: traditionally used as a herbal remedy to boost and stabilize mood
Calcium: ah, we all know about this one, right?
Magnesium: did you know that calcium has to be balanced with magnesium? Many of the bone disorders attributed to lack of calcium are actually a proportional imbalance of calcium to magnesium. Also acts as a muscle relaxant, and aids in PMS symptoms.

Hypothesized Drawbacks:
In case I haven’t mentioned it, that’s a lotta pills. Also, there are studies showing that supplement use can be harmful. Also, I could create drastic, life-draining imbalances in my system if I’m not careful. If the supplements aren’t effective, it could be a waste of money.

Economic Impact: $$$$ Not cheap, my friends. I paid the most for my multivitamin, figuring that at least I’m getting a little of everything in a fairly absorbable form. The quality of the rest of the supplements varied substantially.

Placebo Effect: Another side benefit of this trial was that it provided me with an easy, life-affirming dose of self discipline every day. I felt good about myself for sticking to the trial. That, in and of itself, is enough to provide health benefits. A recent study (that I can’t find at the moment) showed that following through on any task every day, no matter how random, tended to increase happiness. Since one of the things I struggle with in my depressive periods is maintaining healthy habits, it was useful and happy-making to start with a small and sure success.

Verdict: B+ for now, withholding final judgment.

In terms of effort, this trial was fairly easy. I found a pill holder that could manage a week’s worth of pills, so I always had what I needed when I needed it. I managed to take some of my pills all of the days and all of my pills on 28 out of 31 days. Not bad.

One side effect I noticed was feeling sleepy and low on energy for the first week and a half of the trial. This symptom can be linked to St John’s Wort. I switched my routine so that I’m taking the whole dose at night. Since then, I haven’t had any problem. I also notice that I sometimes get mild heartburn after taking the supplements. I suspect that this is partly because I don’t wash the pills down with enough water, and partly because I need to boost my stomach acid.

My mood when starting the trial was low, and now it’s on the upper end of middle. This is a tentative positive, both that my mood is improved and that it hasn’t improved too much. Also, I often get mood crashes before PMS, and that hasn’t happened this time around. I’m reserving judgment on this, because my mood swings aren’t exactly predictable. If I stay within a stable range for two months, I’ll know it’s because of the supplements.

I plan to continue with this program for another month, after which time I will evaluate again. Once I’m convinced that it’s working, I’ll start eliminating particular supplements to see which of this massive list has the greatest impact. Maybe I can narrow it down to two or three.

Next 30 day trial? Yoga.

Yikes.

The Accomodating Pantry–what are your staples?

August 27, 2010

One of the things that I’m finding interesting about eating “whatever I want” is how many trips to the grocery store it necessitates. This isn’t because I have a demanding palate. I just have different pantry staples than many people.

That’s what’s so interesting about kitchen necessities–they’re completely different for everyone. Me, I can’t sleep at night without flaxseeds and a well-mannered variety of dried beans in my cupboards. My friend, on the other hand, thinks that flaxseeds are some kind of extraterrestrial but won’t be caught dead without turkey breasts at beck and call.

Once upon a time, I had an idea for a thesis. Compare the pantry of a woman, her mother, and her grandmother. Consider. I’m still intrigued.

My mother was a baker. When I was growing up, we had huge bins of (white) flour and sugar on the shelf beside the deep freeze. We had chocolate chips (handy for sneaking), raisins, cocoa, cherries. Up until recently, I thought such things had no place in my house. After all, they’re unhealthy. They’re dangerous. You have to keep your eye on them or they might muster force and jump down your throat a dozen at a time.

Sad as it is, I might somewhat sort of possibly still feel that way.

But I’m getting really tired of writing off recipes because I don’t have butter and I don’t have flour and I don’t have chocolate chips. It’s one thing to health up a recipe once you know what you’re doing, once you know what it’s supposed to be in the first place. It’s another thing to force yourself through that third loaf of gluten free rice bread because you didn’t realize you couldn’t just substitute. Ahem.

Anyway, I’d like to be the kind of person who eats oatmeal and guzzles kale wheatgrass spirulina smoothies for breakfast, but has no issue with a chocolate chip cookie after dinner. That’s what normal people are like. They don’t have to eat the whole batch.

That said, I’m still very intrigued by vegan cooking. I like making delicious things that also happen to be good for my body and for the planet. I’m not going to try vegan gluten free croissants until I get down the technique for the regular ones, but I’m also not going to pass up a vegan gluten free cookie recipe. O no, I most certainly am not.

I made these tonight after my Spinach a la Ottolenghi (I’m a little bit obsessed with him recently) and Baked Cod dinner. They’re a bit sweet for me, which may be because I got carried away with the chocolate chips. Next time, I think I’ll up the coconut and reduce the sugar. Either that, or find a way to sneak some kale into the mixture. Other than that, they’re pretty much perfect.

August 26, 2010

This week, I tried an unusual experiment. I made a menu, a pretty thing with lots of swirls. On it, I put a list of foods that I really wanted to eat. And I ate them. The End.

Only not so much.

You see, I have a problem with food. Always have. Ever since I was seven years old and worried about getting a bit fat, food has been my addiction of choice. Not enough food, far too much food, only this food, never that food–I’ve covered the entire palette of options.

And I’ve tried all the cures. I’ve been to acupuncture, chiropractic, psychotherapy, naturopathy, yoga, meditation, journaling, and nutrition school. I’ve been low carb, high carb, no carb, no sugar, gluten free, meat free, fat free, and fruit free. The only measurable outcome of those cures, besides having nothing that fits in the closet, is to make me a rather complicated dinner guest.

As of dinner, I think I’m done with that.

Of course, I also have a problem with declarative sentences, so I’m not ready to pinkie swear and blood oath just yet. But this week has made me realize something. My problem is not what I eat or don’t eat, but rather with what I give myself permission to eat or not eat. It’s with what is okay.

Food is food. Everything is okay. The dose is the poison.

It’s not like forbidding something means I don’t eat it. It means I eat a LOT of it, in secret, out of the freezer in a dark room with nobody watching. It means I out-health a wheatgrass juicer half the time and out-eat a garbage disposal the other half. It means that the crap I eat tastes like crap, because I buy it out of convenience stores and don’t bother to prepare it. Food you don’t put effort into isn’t really food, didn’t you know?

From now on, I want my crap to be delicious. So fine. A pastry (gasp!) with butter (oooh!) and flour (defiantly not whole wheat) for dinner. But a homemade pastry, topped with farmers’ market zucchini and fresh feta cheese and homemade yogurt and mint grown two feet outside my front door. A pastry shared with friends, in a park, in the sunshine. A guiltless pastry. A pastry of victory.

An edible experiment.

oh i see

June 25, 2010

I thought I would be good at fasting. After all, I am the queen of the restrictive diet. Wheat free, sugar free, dairy free, fat free, meat free, gluten free, nut free—just ask. So giving up meat (which I don’t eat), fish (eh), dairy, eggs (whatever), and oil? That’s kindergarten stuff.

Scene: my first fast as an official Orthodox person. Being the slightly somewhat unbalanced person that I am, the rules and requirements of the fast didn’t seem rigorous enough. So I decided to make adjustments.

I would begin the fast with the master cleanse (a scrumptious blend of lemon juice, cayenne, and maple syrup). After ten days of that, I would progress into an extended juice fast, followed by rice and steamed vegetables for the duration. With all the free time not eating gave me, I would maintain a dedicated rule of prayer, and make every attempt to fill my days with good works.

Ahem.

I lasted three days. On the third, I walked into a corner store, bought a block of cheese, ice cream, and a cinnamon bun, and resigned myself to trying harder next time.

You see, fasting isn’t about food—it’s about obedience. It’s not about being better than everyone else, being special. It’s about doing exactly as you’re told. And though I am very very good at dieting, I am very very bad at obedience. Fasting brings out my rebellious spirit. I eat worse during fasts than I do off them (really, who eats cheese at every meal for a week unless they are making a statement of protest?).

I’m sure it isn’t this difficult for every Orthodox person. After all, I have food issues (we call them fissues around here). Since my fissues have their roots deep in control issues, turning over that control to someone or something else is, quite frankly, terrifying.

But that’s exactly what this is about. I’m not in control of anything, really. O sure, I am responsible for my life and my choices, I am the master of my fate, captain of my bla bla etcetera. I certainly do believe that if you ask nicely (and persistently), the universe is inclined to cooperate. However, I am also a small boat on a very large sea with the clouds roiling and no land in sight. I don’t know everything.

Shocker.

Maybe (only maybe) I don’t know enough about fasting in the Orthodox manner to make my own special modifications.

So, on the opportunity of this, my second Apostles’ fast, I’m trying it (just the rules, ma’am, just the rules). No adaptations, no exceptions, no rationalizing, and no cheese.

It seems that fasting isn’t much like what I thought it was. It’s not heroic. It doesn’t really make me special. It’s not unusual, and it’s certainly not a weight loss tool.

But neither is it about deprivation, drudgery, and endless plates of sludgy lentils.

Fasting is about recognizing abundance in what I already have.

It’s about the quality of attention that I give to my food, its selection, preparation, presentation, and consumption. It’s about being present in the moment in which I participate in an act which gives me life.

When I have less on my plate, I chew more. I linger. All around me, nature is bursting out of her frock with green things. Her garden is blooming (all of it is fast friendly :)), and I have a standing invitation to pay a visit. This is the season of abundance. I feel so thankful.

I promise…

June 1, 2010

I will no longer be divided between what I believe and who I love.