Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer as Medicine

While I am sure it is merely my lack of vitamin D in the winter, I always feel healthier in the summer. I get less sleep (and need less), get outside more, and am just happier to be alive. I also eat a lot of strawberries.

The height of strawberry season was last weekend up here and we took full advantage. Abby took an afternoon off to pick a baker's dozen in pounds of berries and for once, I could eat them (although regardless of how great my digestive system is, there is a limit to the amount of berries I can handle). With our early summer bounty, we froze some and made 12 jars of jam. For those who cannot handle excessive amounts of sugar, here is the secret to making tasty jam.

1) Get a bunch of ripe or overripe strawberries (pick your own is the cheapest unless you grow your own).
2) Start a large pot of boiling water to sterilize the jars. Boil jars 10 minutes.
3) In a separate pot, boil the berries with some pectin. While there may be some debate over using or not using pectin, we find it makes a "jammier" jam.
4) Simmer the berries for 5-7 minutes. Turn off heat and then add a few "swigs" of agave nectar. If you can handle sugar, eat some other form of sugar, but agave nectar has a low glycemic level.
5) Transfer berry mixture into sterilized jars. Put new tops on jars.
6) Boil jars for 5 minutes. Remove and let cool. Ensure the tops are sealed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Digestion on the Rise

After being unable to digest the lettuce greens I grew indoors back in March, I was hesitant to grow larger amounts of fresh veggies outside. I get nervous when I eat an uncertain or unsafe food. With a weak digestive system, I cannot handle wheat, corn, soy, dairy, sugar, nightshades, and an excessive amount of any grain. But I had a low vitamin-D level, so gardening would only help even if the food is inedible. So when I harvested my own lettuce greens and spinach and had the desire to stuff my face with my spring bounty, I knew the healing process was true.

While I am sure it is a coincidence of time that I am now able to eat the raw greens after tending the garden for over a month, I cannot help but to find a correlation between growing food and feeling better. Michael Pollan says connecting with your food is good for you, and I wonder if I am more mentally sound being outside in sunny and warm weather with a bunch of living edibles. Perhaps gardening is my mental health treatment after being trapped inside all winter with a swollen stomach. I may not be able to digest everything, but at least I feel I could digest everything I grow!

Now that we harvested our first greens and spinach (it has been a slow, cold spring), I am excited to have instant snacks, whether raw or cooked. Below is my recipe for fresh wilted spinach:

2 handfuls of washed spinach
1 tbsp. oil
2 pinches of salt

1) Heat the oil in the pan on medium high.
2) Before the oil starts to really sizzle, but is hot, throw in the spinach.
3) Stir the spinach into the oil and once it is coated, add one pinch of salt.
4) After a couple minutes the spinach will become bright green and soft enough to poke a spoon through (if it still makes a crunchy sound like raw spinach, keep cooking). Remove from pan, and another pinch of salt, and eat immediately!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I Would Pick Corn, Beans, and Dairy

After about nine months of eating a highly limited diet (no beans, wheat, sugar, corn, dairy, chocolate, many fruits, potatoes...), I am getting antsy. Every week or so I'll wig out and buy grapes or corn chips and pay for it in stomach discomfort. I definitely notice improvements in that I can eat a small amount of sugary fruits like blueberries and be generally fine. I can also eat agave nectar (which I have found to be easier to digest than even raw honey) to sweeten my foods. Yet I am still entirely stuck when I am hungry and want to fit in with everyone else's eating habits.

If friends are eating corn chips and guacamole, I have to worry about the tomatoes in the guacamole and I have to exert willpower not to eat just one chip. In the end, I am probably healthier, but sometimes being healthy is not fun. So if I could choose a few things from my banned list, I would chose corn, beans, and dairy. With corn, I'd be able to eat sweet corn which is flat out awesome and I'm growing some this year. Being able to eat beans would mean that I could have a snack wherever I go and I'd be able to make a filling soup without loading up on rice. The day I can eat dairy again, I am going to gorge on cheese. I miss cheese. I would love to eat it even if it meant I never ate wheat again in my life.

Almost there...

Monday, June 1, 2009

It's Been a Long Time...

Whew. It has been quite some time since I wrote here. I am not done with this blog and I guess my only excuse for the gap in posting is gardening season and impatience over healing.

If anyone is interested my health, some days I am sure I am getting better and others I still feel like I have a digestive disorder. This uncertainty is creating stress which only makes my digestion worse. But, I will stay positive. When I eat safe foods, I feel well, so I must look at my safe diet as if I’m in a groove and not in a rut.

Gardening season got off to a hot start up here and now some plants are bitten by the frost. The cucurbits are turning white and the tomatoes are a few days away from crying, but even dying living things help my mind. Without any scientific proof, I strongly believe that it helps everyone to witness the life cycle of plants. It may reduce stress, put the world into perspective, or just create some excitement about creating one’s own food, but I see the effects in all school gardens. School gardens can be as small as one raised bed, but providing experiential education is enlightening for students who live in a theoretical lifestyle.

Expect more gardening posts and pictures in the future.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Down the Drain

Today I was watering the raised beds at a local school and focusing on the ease of water access when I understood the injustice of water distribution. Even if I must get a key to turn on the spigot, all I do is turn my wrist and out comes clean water! I do not have to put up a political fight, add iodine tablets, or walk further than fifty feet with a bucket of water. Around here, get clean and relatively cheap filtered water to use on things that do not necessarily require clean filtered water.

We also put our waste into clean water (maybe the bowl is dirty, but the water comes in clean) only to create a waste product. Isn't our waste already waste and will just break down without the help of clean water? Fresh water access knocked out most of the need for outhouses or composting toilets.

While we are becoming more efficient in terms of consumption per capita (some of which may be attributed to a more capitalistic model of paying for the value of water), the U.S. still consumes more than three times as much water per capita. Water access is a topic as complex as food access: one that is compliated by politics, weather, the natural landscape, and personal desires. I cannot attribute one cause for why I have easy access to clean water and others do not, but I plant to explore this further. All I know is I must be grateful for the ease of gardening, cleaning vegetables, and washing myself.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Immune System

Reader-friend Shirley from Gluten Free Easily sent me an interesting link to an article that describes how our eradication of lice may cause modern allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders. This is a broad-based statement, but the study shows that mice without louse infestation have overactive immune systems. Similarly, now that most humans are mite, tick, flea, lice and hopefully avian/swine flu free, humans have super sensitive immune systems.

The author says this “hygiene hypothesis” was already found to be true for intestinal parasites. Before people in wealthy parts of the world were able to use antibiotics to get rid of parasites, humans had stronger immune systems to prepare for "dirty" environments. Perhaps this is why my body had such a severe reaction to giardia. If I were exposed to more bad things from a younger age, I may not have had such a serious reaction. This is the same theory of why westerners get more parasites when they travel to countries that do not Lysol everything.

Dr. Steven Singer at Georgetown is taking this idea one step further by suggesting that giardia may actually be helpful (for more information on why parasites exist, read this). Dr. Singer is finding giardia itself does not cause inflammation or irritation, in fact it prevents those symptoms. Mast cells are sent to the intensines in an immune response, and these are what cause the inflammation and irritation. These cells are essential in battling the parasite, but Dr. Singer wonders if these cells can do their work without the discomforting symptoms. If giardia actively prevents inflammation, then Dr. Singer ponders the possibility of giardia playing a role in fighting Crohn’s disease. Does this mean I should want to live with giardia?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ramps, Wild Leeks

During an unseasonably sunny and 85 degree “spring” day in April, I made my way out of the city to harvest some ramps, or wild leeks. These little leeks pop up through leaves and twigs all across Appalachia, from South Carolina up to Ottawa and Quebec. They create an island of green amidst a land of brown leaves.

Ramps are tasty and perhaps best described as a mild leek with garlic undertones. They have large, captivating green leaves and a small white and purple bulb.

We harvested small amounts from each cluster and somehow ended up with about ten pounds of leeks. Ramps are only available for a couple weeks so we were more than happy to put up a bunch in early spring. After a few hours in the kitchen, we had them all cleaned, trimmed and either pickled or ground into a pesto. With a careful cleaning and cooking, the wild leeks are safe for my unreliable stomach.

Fresh-Pickled Ramps (makes two pints)

100 small/medium ramps (about two handfuls), cleaned and trimmed down to one inch of leaf
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. peppercorns
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (use less if not a spicy fan)
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. coriander seeds (substitute a couple pinches of ground coriander if needed)
1 tbsp. salt (optional if you want them to be just sweet and tangy)

1) Boil jars and tops in water for 10 minutes to sterilize jars
2) Blanch ramps in boiling water for 2 minutes. Move immediately to ice cold water to “shock” them
3) Bring cider vinegar, honey and seasonings to a simmer
4) Place leeks in jars, top with pickling mixture and seal jars. Jars do not need to “pop” or seal. Store in fridge for up to a month.

Ramp Pesto

3 handfuls of cleaned leeks and their leaves
1 handful of pine nuts
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1) Blend the leeks with olive oil until it becomes a paste-like texture
2) Add salt and pepper to taste
3) Add the pine nuts and blend briefly
4) Freeze in clean jars or store in fridge for a couple weeks