Thursday, March 27, 2014

Oven Updated, Musing on Recovery and What That Might Mean to This Season

On Tuesday, our oven was finally repaired.  We were given a new door.  Last night I baked our dinner (vegan manicotti.  It was delicious.  M made the filling and we shared the work of filling the manicotti.), and it was a relief.  I missed the oven! 

In also exciting news, it means that M can finally make me my birthday cake!

On Monday, I had my long-awaited doctor appointment.  I really wanted to get to the root of my GI problems. This practice has several naturopaths working with it, and a focus on balancing Eastern and Western medicine, and they like to treat patients with lifestyle modifications before going to heavy-duty pharmaceuticals.  I like to try to treat things as naturally as possible. If I can alter a life habit in order to avoid taking pills, I will.  (Seriously, folks. I gave up dairy, for pete's sake!  I am willing to do lifestyle modification!)  

I should write some more about my beliefs on the mind-body-spirit connection, no?

I learned that I have to do a rather extensive battery of tests, including some new-to-me ones, with the expectation that we will figure out what is at the base of all the ongoing GI problems.  

At the end of the day... 

The PA agrees with my Oregon doctor, thinking that I was probably lactose intolerant for a long time before I was finally diagnosed with it.  Meaning she thinks it's unlikely that it'll ever go away or just cure itself.  She does think that once we get everything else that is going on squared away, that I might be able to do a regimen of introducing some lactose back into my diet and may eventually be able to tolerate a small amount.  But getting back to the point where I could have a glass of chocolate milk?  Unlikely.  If I'm lucky, maybe I might have some small yogurts in my distant future.  

This was disappointing news, as I was really hoping to hear "Oh, yeah, we can fix this!".  I know, I know, but still...  I am trying to comfort myself with the reminder that we don't have local dairies available to us here in Tysons Corner, so all our milk would come from miserable slave cows, and at least I'm not supporting miserable cows.  But I didn't give up dairy because of sad cows, so I don't really get any moral points, there. 

GI tracts, when they are hurt, do heal, but they tend to take their time.  So for this season, I might have to be fairly gentle.  The PA in the practice is an RD, and she has said that once we get the big-deal stuff straightened out, she will work with me to plan a meal plan that will support my activity level and feed me the right foods to help my gut get strong again.  

And meanwhile it's a battery of tests to see what's causing the ongoing GI problems.  Which could mean that within a week or two, we will have lots of answers and I'll be on the real road to recovery. 

For my race plans this season... I think it means I'm taking it easy.  I hope to do Nations.  I would like to do the Wine Country Half Marathon (but it'll be a slower race for me, mostly likely).  I don't know if I'll have any other big plans, or if this season will basically have to be about building back up a strong base and letting my poor GI tract really heal.  And maybe just a few events to keep my medal wall growing.  

It's disappointing to know that there's no quick fix ("Just eat a banana every day for a magical fix, and you'll be back to normal by April!"), but it is good to know that there's hope for a good fix.  

Lenten Discipline (updated!)

Lent has come along, and with it, the adoption of a discipline.  

This year, we are participating in Change for Lent, where we collect change in a jar, choosing to have gratitude towards the discipline that we have taken on.  The Change is then given to a group at church (in our case, the youth) who will have sole discretion over how to use the money. 

For us, we decided to give up purchasing baked goods, and to give all the money we'd be using to buy those goods to the change jar.  

All was going well.  I had ground several types of flours.  I had taught M to make grant loaves- a dump-and-stir bread that is the #1 easiest of all.  (Kneaded breads were next, and no-kneads breads were going to be introduced in April.)  I'd had a few whoops moments, like when I got to a restaurant and clean forgot it was Lent so I snarfed up a couple slices out of the bread basket before remembering!  But still, the jar was filling up. 

And then the oven broke.  

I was baking eggplant for eggplant sandwiches.  Batch one went great.  But as I opened the oven for batch 2, the inner glass in the oven just SHATTERED!  It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen happen in my kitchen.  It was like shattering Pyrex.  

We are now on day 7 of No Oven, and it will be Tuesday before we have an oven again.  

So today I am experimenting with Slow Cooker bread.  I will include a recipe below, but not the link that I adapted the recipe from.  I don't want to embarrass the blogger (who has a ton of comments saying "Wow, this recipe didn't work for me").  I think the blogger has a great recipe, but she didn't write it up very well.  She advised mixing the yeast and salt, and then putting that into the flour and adding water.  There was also way too much salt- a whole tablespoon!  Oops.  Overall, I think she knows what she's doing, but mixed up the recipe, and I know what I'm doing, so I knew how to fix it.  

Here's what I did- your mileage may vary!  

It is still in the slow cooker.   I have NOT tried this yet, so it could still be horrible.  You've been warned.  

Here it is!  It came out delicious!!  I am curious as to whether using a loaf pan could help it plump up a little thicker, as it was pretty flat, but it clearly increased in size.  So maybe a loaf pan to encourage that increase to be verticle rather than horitzonal?  Overall verdict, though: YUM! 

Second overall verdict: Anxiety producing, as I was concerned about whether I was burning down the house using a dry slow cooker.  

This makes two small loaves.  I almost got cocky and put them both into the slow cooker together.  Do NOT do that!  The dough continues to rise in the slow cooker and it would have overflowed!  Whew.  Dodged that bullet! 

This is a half batch, enough for 2 small loaves
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 Tb yeast
1 tsp sugar
Mix all these together, and put them somewhere warm.  Boom.  You are now proofing your yeast.  

In a LARGE bowl: 
1/2-3/4 Tsp kosher salt3 1/4 cups flour- I used a mix of regular flour, vital wheat gluten, and quinoa flour, since I've been dying to see how it would behave.  I used 2 cups of regular, ¼ cup of gluten, and 1 cup of quinoa.  For a regular loaf, I'd recommend using ½ and ½ whole wheat/white flour, and in the base of each cup, add a spoonful of gluten.  The vital wheat gluten transforms your regular flour into a "bread" flour, with a higher protein count.  It's not ESSENTIAL, but every time I've remembered to use it, my bread is comes out better.  I'm going on about 14+ years of making my own bread, so the non-scientist here says "Gluten… it makes your bread yummy."  (With apologies to my friends with celiac, who at least can have those ice cream cones that are forbidden to me!)  

Make a well in the center of your flour and salt mixture.  Then add your water/yeast mixture.  Mix it all together, and maybe use your hand to get all the flour moistened.  Then pop it into a warm place to rise for 2 hours.  I put mine in that handy turned-off microwave aka bread-proofing box and went to visit the boy at the Bike Shop.  

One of my friends works for Powerbar and was doing a demo.  Wow, has Powerbar come a long way!  There was a time when I couldn't even LOOK at Powerbar because their bars were so awful.  And today I was snarfing down samples.  If you've been avoiding Powerbar because you, like me, experienced the rubbery bars years ago, it is time to give them another look!  Num num num.  

Then I came home, separated the dough into TWO pieces, and put a piece of parchment into my slow cooker.  I shaped the dough into a ball (well, sort of a squoval- a squareish oval sort of thing) and plunked it into the cooker where it is right now.  

I put the other piece of dough into the fridge and will take it out in a few minutes for batch #2.  Remember, for love of Pete, do NOT get cocky and bake the whole batch at once!  That is bad!  I thought the two dough balls were pathetically small, even after they rose pretty impressively, but batch #1 has CONTINUED to rise in the slow cooker!  I would have had an overflowing swear word situation on hand.  Believe me, separate this out into TWO BATCHES! 

Will update when bread is ready

Also today, I went to REI.  I had gotten birthday money from the parental units, and so I decided to indulge in a little thing I'd been day dreaming about- a running belt!  I need to have sports drink handy, and a snack, and my phone when I run.  Seriously- I'm like a kindergartener.  No snack?  Temper tantrum.  

After getting M an Amphibipod belt for Christmas, I borrowed it one day and loved it.  Zero bounce, and super comfy!  Just a wee bit big.  Thankfully, there was a women's version available, but I'm terrible at buying things for myself.  (I have too much guilt and anxiety to successfully be a good impulse shopper.)  So birthday money, meet birthday treat.  I now have the cute girl version of the running belt, and with the extra water bottles I already bought, we can each pack three bottles of water and food for a nice, long outing!  

This is the one I got.  I'll post pictures of that, too, later on.  

Wow, terrible and blurry shot that I snappy to show my mother!  But this is the design.  Since I took this shot, I collected ALL our amphibipod bottles, and reorganized the pouches.  So Martin has the BIG pouch and three bottles, and I have this small food pouch and another small phone pouch, and three bottles.  And we now have bottles in two sizes, plus two spares! So far, am pretty happy with the lack of bounce, although it needs a real outing.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Pictures for a snow day.

Last night, we went to the Loving Hut.  It's a great, cheap dive of a vegan place.  But I love it because I can order any damn thing off the menu without thinking.  I'd been craving a burgery kind of sandwich for a few days, so the night before last, we stopped at Silver Diner where I settled on the bison burger and veggies. The diner had a large table full of screaming out of control kids whose family seemed to think they were at Chuck E Cheese, so let's just say I did not end up with a bison burger and left with my sandwich urge unscratched.  

Lent approaches, and with it, my ban of all storebought baked goods.  I wanted my sandwich, dagnabit! So Loving Hut it was, where I could have not only every single item there, but all the desserts as well.  I got my sandwich AND tiramisu! Itch scratched. 

Then I dreamed that the snowstorm fell apart, and it was just a warm rain to wash away the nasty snow, and that I woke up to blue skies and green grass and flowers. 

Reality was not nearly so idyllic.  

Because the outdoors looks like this...

Everyone is staying home.  It's my day off, anyway.  I didn't really want to go out and play, really.  

So I'm doing stuff like this- 
Those are raw squash tempura chips.  It's a buckwheat/flaxseed/spice coating.  I also tossed some tofu with this mixture, and we will see how it comes out.  I was thinking of this for snacks, when I just like something to nibble on but don't want anything greasy. Flaxseeds, like many seeds, have great healthy fats and fiber.  We will see about these! 

I also made a flaxseed cracker that is different from other recipes I've made.  I've always used whole flaxseed, and that is pretty good.  Except the seeds get stuck in your teeth and you spend lots of time cleaning little bits of seeds out.   This time, using the vitamix dry container, I ground half the flaxseed and some buckwheat into a meal, along with the larger spices, and mixed it with the remaining whole flaxseed and the small spices.  I wanted to try a different texture and see how I liked it. 

M looked doubtfully at me loading our wee little dehydrator and stated he thought the chips,  tofu, AND cracker would take a week to dry! But after two hours or so, the cracker was dry enough to peel off the cracker form and flip.  The veggies and tofu are taking longer but I think we will have snacks by tonight. Right on time. 

I also made this...
That's a coconut oil coffee.  I read about it on the Almighty Internet when I was looking for home ground grain recipes, and decided to try it. You put your brewed coffee and a small spoonful of coconut oil into a blender and whirl away. Whoosh!  It comes out really creamy and not actually tasting all that much of coconut. I don't like sugar in my coffee, so I can't speak to how added sugar would take. 

I'd heard of butter coffee before (adding a pat of unsalted butter), but this was new to me.  I've enjoyed it.  In Oregon, my fabulous doctor took a look at my diet and decided, because I make so many of my own things at home and eat so little meat, that my fat intake might actually be too low.  He suggested adding coconut oil to my smoothies or being a little more generous with my salad dressing, and to eat the nuts and seeds.  I dropped 12 pounds last summer so that obviously has some truth in it! 

(I thought I gained back 12 pounds, but as of two days ago and two days into antibiotics, I had dropped about 8 pounds again, so I think there was some mega water retention going on with the being sick.) 

I also did this. 
This bad boy is a little tub of almond butter, raw, homemade.  I've tried this before and got a mealy mess.  Some blogs had instructions to add extra oil and honey, but I didn't want to add sweetness or extra fat.  But then I checked my Cuisinart book, and it mentioned the processing time- 15 MINUTES! That was much longer than I'd been doing.   It works like a charm.  At first, you get a mealy texture.  Then it starts to clump (and that was where I'd always turned it off before). But around 10 minutes in, you start seeing it get wetter and smoother, probably as the oils are released from the almonds.  I stopped this at 13 minutes. The mixture was a little warm from the friction, but it was a processor full of smooth creamy goodness!  I think there are almond butter sandwiches in M's future! 

By the way, if you under process your butter and get a stiff mealy mess, do not pop it in the microwave hoping that the heat will make it creamy. That is not the answer.  You will burn the almonds and it will be gross.  

Finally, I did this.
Ground chickpeas for flour.  As of now, we have quinoa, chickpea, and wheat flour in our freezer, and some flaxmeal for vegan egg replacers.  I keep saying I'm not vegan (hello, bacon and attempt to eat a bison burger!) but I have found I really like the texture of the baked goods when I use the flaxmeal instead of egg.  

By the way, I haven't "gone vegan". The vegan baking has been due to the dairy allergy. I can substitute our almond milk for dairy milk, but I have just been finding more interesting recipes in the vegan end of the spectrum.  Some of them I wouldn't even know were vegan, like the Red Devil Beet Bundt cake (hat tip to Vegetarian Times where you can find the recipe.). 

So at this point, I remain slackertarian.  I eat mostly vegan these days because it's just where I'm finding the most fun and the tastiest recipes.  But I still have eggs for breakfast and the occasional piece of bacon with them.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Almost Lent: Preparing for the Discipline (and a little whining)

First, my whine: 

Cadbury creme eggs.  I ONLY eat them during Lent.  From Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday, and ONLY then, I would consume a lovely Cadbury creme egg whenever the fancy struck.  And I loved them.

Until this year.  They have milk in them.  No Cadbury creme eggs for their #1 fan.  I'm pretty sure the Cadbury bunny is crying for me.

I keep hoping that maybe the dairy allergy diagnosis was a mistake, and maybe it was just a misdiagnosis of GI issues.  Then I would get Cadbury eggs and ice creme back.

Secondary whine (bonus whine! yeah!): 

I'm on antibiotics.  For two solid weeks.  You know what you can't do while on antibiotics?  Have a delightful grown-up beverage.  I'm a pretty moderate drinker anyway, but at the moment, I'm abstaining pretty carefully.  (OK, I have a sip or two of M's at times.) I hate being a responsible patient.

Lent approaches- PANCAKES!: 

How excited am I?  You know when Kermit the frog gets excited and flaps his arms all about?  That's me.

Lent starts on Wednesday.  Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday, AKA Mardi Gras.  Throw a party, please!  I will be eating pancakes.  I'm not sure what spiritual or liturgical tradition the pancakes have (perhaps it was something to do with using up all the fat and other goodies in the house?), but I do know: breakfast for dinner, yes please!

Call me a geek, but I do love a good church supper.  As wee acolyte in my hometown, I was a food server.  Pancake suppers might be my ultimate favorite church supper ever.  It's the community, and the getting to talk to people, and the burning of palms, but it's also the down-hominess of something simple like pancakes.  I've never missed a pancake supper- not in England, not in college, not while a chaplain.  34 years and counting, perfect attendance.

When I achieve my life's dream of dying during Lent, passing cheerfully away between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday (so I can break all the liturgical rules and have an Easter service during Lent!), I expect the priest to mention that in my funeral homily.  "Well, Betsy was certainly a… ahem, frankly boring… priest.  Wrote no great books, did no real scholarship, and flitted about with the attention of a fruit fly, but she had perfect attendance at Pancake Suppers."  

Of course, in signs-of-the-times news, our pancakes this year will include a gluten free and a dairy free option, cooked in separate pans, away from the regular killer pancakes that will be cooked with delicious delicious butter.


M and I have been talking about the spiritual side of the discipline we are doing.  It's taken some convincing to get him to see this as a spiritual endeavor for me.  He understood that I wanted to explore and work on my impatience and tendency to be swift to anger, but he insisted it was a psychological thing.  I think it's really a spiritual thing- our spirituality is intrinsically tied up into our psychology.  I think our spirituality affects our psychological resilience and our outlook.  Cooking with my spouse will force me to confront my impatience and anger.  So if my spiritual life is angry, my psychological life will be short tempered, as well.

And I was angry with God for a long time.  During the Year M Was Away, I had an ongoing conversation with friends in Oregon, who each week wanted to know if I was still mad at Jesus.  Answers ranged from "Sort of" to "Yep, totally pissed!"  With all the stress in our lives last year, I was pretty angry that God could lead me out to a glorious place like Oregon, and then not let me keep it.

As I settle back into VA, it's like pulling out an old quilt that's been packed away in the attic.  Our families are happier.  We've already had a few situations where being close proved to be the right choice.  And the parish I'm serving is a really cool, delightful place (that'll be hiring later this year, in case any of you are Episcopal clergy in search!).  It's a comfortable quilt where I know every hole and stain and moth-eaten spot and I love it anyway.

When I think of Oregon, it's the people I miss with deep piercing pangs- my women's group, my dinner friends, my bike tribe.  I miss going to the ocean, running on the dunes, and being able to snowshoe with my best Oregon friends.  I miss being able to get into the woods for a mental health break.  I make a soup, and I remember as if it were a minute ago the first person I made it for and the dinner we shared.  Tysons Corner is like a desert- trees wrangled to within an inch of their lives and dirty snow and road salt everywhere.  I deeply miss my green.  I have to drive most places.  None of my friends live IN Tysons Corner (even though lots of them live nearby.  They all have more sense than to live IN Tysons!)  But when I roll over at night and the bed isn't cold, and I see how happy M is here, I think it's worth it all.

Interestingly, we had a trip to Fredericksburg (where we lived briefly when we were first married) and there were the trees and the green everywhere.  VA does have the ocean and the outdoors… just not around my current apartment.

So yes, I'm happy to be back in Virginia.  Yes, I'm grieving the loss of Oregon.  Yes, I am so, so thankful for Skype, Facebook, and picture texting to stay in touch with friends.  And no, I'm not angry with Jesus anymore.  I'm trying to understand why this all happened as it did.  What am I supposed to be learning or doing or being?  Why did the call come now, to come home to Virginia?  I'm trying to listen.

And that's why a discipline like bread baking and making our own flour is spiritual: because perhaps, in learning how to be gentler and more patient with my spouse as he learns, I'll learn to open my own heart and mind to learning and listening as well.  And maybe some of that patience will roll over into the relationship I've got with the Great Above, and perhaps somewhere, that still small voice will explain to me all that has happened and why it happened as it did.

Saturday Chores

Other than finishing my sermon for tomorrow, writing some funeral homily notes, and writing an Ash Wednesday sermon (luckily, M is going out with friends tonight so I need feel no guilt about holing up in the study with streaming Pandora), I've got some chores.

M is on board with my Lent idea, so yesterday we bought the grain grinding jar for our Vitamix.  I don't think grinding your own flour is at all essential to this make-our-own-bread discipline we'll be doing, but we've been interested in grinding our own for a while.  Without being able to eat dairy, I'm thinking of other ways to work protein into my body, AND to be able to make sandwiches.  You know, for easy lunches and on-the-bike food.

This week, our experiments will start with garbanzo, quinoa, and almond flour.  I don't think we'll do a one-to-one ratio of anything, but it will replace SOME of the wheat flour in our baked goods.

By the way, in case you were ever tempted by the lesser-cost container of mixed nuts and thought "Hmmm, mixed nut milk…", like we were… don't do it.  Don't make mixed-nut milk.  Bleargh.

That means I'm going to head out as soon as I press "Publish" and get us some garbanzos and quinoa.  Then I'm stopping at REI to get more NUUN tablets for all the massive amounts of water I must drink right now, and look into exchanging my heart rate monitor watch.  After killing two Timex Ironmans, I switched to a Polar FT7, and while that is super comfortable and easy to use, it's a little too light on features for me.  There's no lap counter or stopwatch feature- it's really just a heart rate monitor focused on whether you are in fat-burning or fitness zones, and I'm looking for a little more info than that.  But I don't have the cold cash to trade up to a full Garmin just yet!

I promise to be good at REI and not go batsh*t crazy around all the fun gear.  It's a playground for me.

Overall, I'm recovering pretty well from last week's bug.  All the lab tests are back and it'll be a little while of some heavy drugs, but the doc changed me onto a formula that does not have lactose in it.  Shockingly, part of the reason I was feeling so crummy was the drugs intended to knock out the infection included lactose as an inactive ingredient.  Darn it.  Every time I think, "huh, maybe this is all in my head after all…"

Meanwhile, I'm taking my probiotics like a good girl and switched to a different multivitamin.  Er, actually, I started TAKING a multivitamin again.  I had quit taking mine for a while, but I have decided- even though I eat veggies and colors and a huge variety of foods- right now, my body is still recovering a LOT.

I was so freaking good this week.  I did not go to the gym.  I did not train.  I spent more time asleep and in bed than I can ever remember, so those of you who thought I should get a Sick Coach should be very, very happy.

And now I would like the Polar Vortex and all the sloppy winter storms to go far, far away so I can go outside and go for a nice long ride with M to explore the trails near us!