Ok. So. It has been a long time.
My last blog was months ago. And, as always, a lot has been going on here in Hard-Core Cookville. So, first, let me give you some updates. After that, I’ll talk a little about where I’ve been and where I think I’m going, both in this blog and outside of it.
The Kitchen Remodel Project
Kitchen remodel? What kitchen remodel? Did I announce that we were do-it-your-self-ing our kitchen, and that it should take only about a month or so? Well, let me tell you a little story…
Once upon a time (just before canning season), a wife and traditional hard-core cook looked around her outdated kitchen and found that it was lacking storage. Imagining the massive amounts of produce she was going to be putting up for winter, she said to herself, “This just will not do.” So she picked up the phone and called her husband at work, “This just will not do. We have to build some shelves in the kitchen on which to put all of these delicious foods I’m planning on storing for Winter.”
So, she drew up a plan and they discussed it.
It was a simple plan.
Move a cabinet. Add some storage (both refrigerator, freezer, and shelf storage) but keep most of what was already there in the way of furnishings to both save money, energy, and time. When they finished, they looked at the plan. And. it was a good plan.
They got to work right away. The nasty old acoustic ceiling tiles came down. The light fixtures came down. A cabinet came out. Broken grout was removed and new put in—on half the floor. (The other half would wait for some further kitchen repair. A new refrigerator and freezer (separate side-by-side units) were delivered and installed. And all was going well.
Then, along came a painter. He was hired to fix the ceiling, which was scarred from the glue and lattice work used to hang the acoustic ceiling tile. He got to work and the rest of the project ground to a halt. In fact, all cooking ground to a halt. The drywall work was extensive. Dust covered the kitchen in thick layers (which had to be removed every night before dinner). The painter was slow. It took him two weeks of solid work to finish. By the time he left, there was a beautiful new ceiling in the kitchen. However, he had also been hired to remove acoustic ceiling tiles in the adjacent room (the library). And, in that room, the repair had not gone so well. The entire ceiling had to be removed. And with, it came the door jam, the library shelves, and the fireplace surround. Because, as the couple reasoned, this was all drywall work and should be done at the same time.
And that’s where it got complicated. The couple was committed to doing most of the job themselves. (Plus, the quotes for drywall were outrageous). So, they dismissed the painter until a later date, and took on the project themselves. And, they made good progress. Then, company came to town. Two weeks in a row. And, on the third week, the husband broke his foot. By that time, canning season was upon them. So, the wife canned 300 pounds of tomatoes, and put up many jars of lacto-fermented goodies all with a quarter of her former counter space and storage space. (But managed quite successfully.) And then, the wife got sick for a week. After that, the kid got sick for a week. And so it went.
As you can probably guess, (especially if you’ve ever been a serious do-it-yourselfer) we still have a hole for a ceiling in the library, and no further work has been done on the kitchen. But, all of that time spent with a broken foot, alternating between couch and crutches (and trying to will away his pain without pain medication, because he is allergic to most pain meds) gave Brian a lot of time to surf the internet. And, what he searched for were kitchen cabinets. Which, he showed to me at regular intervals.
“No,” I told him, nearly every night. “We agreed. We’re going to use what we have. It’s economical and it’s green.”
“But, we could have this,” he’d say, showing me cabinets available through any of a number of discount suppliers.
“The cabinets are beautiful,” I’d say, “But they aren’t going to give us exactly what we’d want, if we were starting from scratch, so I think we should just stick to the plan… when you get better.”
After awhile, he gave up on me saying yes to buying cabinets. And, that’s when he started talking about building cabinets from scratch.
And, somewhere along the line, I started to listen. And then to believe. And then to dream. He ordered a Kreg jig and clamps. As soon as he could bear to stand on his healing foot, he built a prototype cabinet box. It looked beautiful. Even knowing that this would delay our finished kitchen indefinitely, I was on board 100%.
Here are some pictures of the kitchen cabinets we’re modeling ours after, though I expect to have some differences. (Notice that they had theirs built by a professional, and she’s a designer.) Brian found this blog after I showed him several inspiration pictures. My inspiration photos were also from Dwell, just like this blogger’s inspiration photos. The cabinets may look simple, and even minimalist, but don’t let looks fool you. Those inset doors with all the edges showing are some of the most difficult cabinets to build. Not only does everything need to be perfectly square (the acceptable margin of error is only one sixteenth of an inch), but the wood needs to be perfect, the cuts need to be perfect. In fact, it’s a cabinet and door style that many cabinet builders refuse to do, or will charge you so much for that you will wish you’d gone to IKEA and had the cabinets hand dipped in solid gold.
So, why do I think Brian can do it? Well, aside from the twin facts that he DID take wood shop in eighth grade, and we HAVE slowly been acquiring a mass of contractor grade tools in our nearly 13 years of marriage, I have simply decided to just have a little faith. It may take him awhile. He may have some failed attempts, but he’s my husband and I believe in him. He CAN do it. (Brian jokes that my faith in his abilities is based on stereotype—as in, I believe he can do carpentry because he’s Jewish.) And, I’ll keep saying that I know he can do it, even if I end up cooking for a year on plywood countertops wrapped in plastic tablecloths. (Btw, my old kitchen is still here, so I’m not in danger of that, YET.)
In the end, I think he will build me us a beautiful kitchen. Will it be finished by the end of this year? Likely not. But I’m betting it will be done sometime in 2012. And, as we progress, I’ll keep you updated.
My Health, Adventures in GAPS, and Low-Carb Living
I’m about to get really personal when it comes to diet and my health—both my physical and mental well being. As you may remember (if you stuck with me during my long, unannounced hiatus), my family was grain free for several months at the beginning of this year, mostly due to some health problems I was encountering. Specifically, I suffered from a fairly aggressive combination of bacterial and fungal infection on the skin of my arms and underarms. It is an understatement to say it was horrible. I was on antifungal creams, steroid creams and antibiotics. My arms swollen, red, and hot to the touch—as if I had a sunburn. At one point, the infection sent long, snaking red tendrils marching down my breast tissue (in the direction of my heart) and threatened to develop into mastitis. I’ll be honest, after trying several more natural remedies, I was pretty glad for some serious western medical intervention of steroids and antibiotics.
But—and this is the big BUT—after my treatment, I was left feeling down, depressed and unmotivated. For no particular reason that I could think of or put a finger on, I simply lost my drive to exercise, to cook, to write, and even to do basic chores around the house. Simple chores like changing the laundry over from the washer to the dryer felt like major tasks. And, I couldn’t attribute it to the reintroduction of grains because it started BEFORE I reintroduced them.
I didn’t even feel like Facebooking!!
It was like a fog had crept over me sometime in the middle of winter and just refused to go away. It got worse with some stressful incidents with the extended family in late spring. I thought time, summer and the sunshine would resolve it. And, I did manage to press through tomato canning season (and 300 pounds of tomatoes) without letting any go to waste. But, when August rolled around, I was still waiting for my summer energy to kick in.
It took me awhile, but I began to realize that it wasn’t just a normal fluctuation in mood or energy. I started to question what was going on.
You can’t read real food blogs (like Cheeseslave) without hearing or seeing the term GAPS. GAPS refers to Gut and Psychology Syndrome, a condition (or group of conditions) identified by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who wrote a book by the same name (and holds the trademark on the term). Campbell-McBride’s book jacket proclaims, “[s]he believes the link between physical and mental health, the food and drink that we take, and the condition of our digestive system is absolute…” In other words, the foundation of the dietary recommendations are that our physical and mental health is directly, intricately, and intimately linked to our digestive health. In even more words, heal your gut and your problems will dissolve like a bottle of Tums at one of America’s traditional greasy spoons.
I’ll admit. It sounds too good to be true. And, I’m skeptical of anything or anyone proclaiming that all psychological problems (or even all of any type—like eating disorders) can be cured through a healthier digestive system. But, I read the book, and started checking its references. While some of the cited sources are less credible (in my opinion) than others, the book on the whole is a very compelling work. I decided to give it a try. I ordered a probiotic supplement, got all my lacto-fermented vegetables in order (also probiotic, as well as excellent sources of digestive enzyme) and geared up to eat soup for breakfast. Brian thought I was more than a little bit crazy.
However, a few weeks in and I was feeling much better. I was still dragging a bit and my generally daily levels of motivation still had not quite returned to normal, but other (hormone-related) things had—for the first time in all my years of struggle with infertility. (For those of you who don’t know, we struggled with infertility our entire marriage and conceived our beautiful daughter through IVF, and feel blessed for having been given this miracle!)
At the same time I was delving into GAPS, I was also reading Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, and in every chapter, every point, could see my whole medical history unfolding and being re-explained. Taubes argues convincingly, with good science supporting his arguments, that there is very little evidence that fat accumulation is due to a simple calories in minus calories out equation. He says that when it comes to excess weight gain (we’re talking the clinically overweight and obese here, and not necessarily the person with a few more pounds than they’d like to carry) there are metabolic forces at work in the body (like insulin and cortisol) that promote fat accumulation—rather than fat burning. And, that the standard recommendation to eat a low fat, varied diet, might just be (and probably is) a leading factor in the obesity epidemic. He also argues that there is evidence that exercising more just doesn’t help—because the body automatically adjusts energy levels to conserve and promote fat storage. (I am paraphrasing horribly here… just read the book. It’s a tight, tidy, and compelling work of scientific journalism!)
A lot of what he reports makes sense in context of my life. When I was in grade school, my grandfather had a heart attack. A few years later, my mom got her cholesterol checked and it came back high. (You should know that cholesterol numbers a poor predictor of heart disease—unless perhaps you are talking about a full assay of the cholesterol particle size, including VLDL counts as opposed to LDL and HDL—and the science to show that cholesterol numbers don’t predict heart disease is about as old and consistent as the advice to check your numbers!) I came back from summer camp that year to find a HUGE cut your cholesterol book on her counter and our family diet radically changed. Out went the butter, the breakfast meats, and the regular cheese. In came the fat free and low fat sour cream, the fat free breakfast cereals, and the fat free yogurt. About that same time, I started junior high AND started having stomach aches every morning at school and was eventually diagnosed as being hypoglycemic—and told to have an orange juice mid-morning. I couldn’t go a day without a hypoglycemic reaction. I couldn’t make it from morning to break without and then break to lunch (about two hour intervals) without feeling queasy. No one attributed my rapid change in health to our new diet. Our new diet was, after all, based on the leading recommendations on nutrition for the day.
I put on fat all through junior high and high school, which my mom attributed to me eating junk food at my boyfriend’s house. (I ate lots of junk food when exposed to it at other people’s houses because I was ALWAYS hungry!) Also during that time, I developed chronic urinary tract infections, chronic yeast infections. I can also trace the beginnings of my eating disorder back to that very same time. (For those of you in the know, you might sum it up by saying, I became a GAPs patient!) And, incidentally, despite eating a mostly low fat, high fiber diet my cholesterol when tested at the end of my senior year of high school was 310. Way above the numbers that had sparked my mom’s initial enthusiasm for overhauling our family food supply. (Incidentally, we did not have cable growing up and we lived in the country, so I had a childhood full of manual labor, swimming in creeks, hiking, running around outside and generally being active.)
Reading Taubes’s book (along with works by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon) I had to reassess and wonder, would I have been so hungry and have gotten so fat and eating disordered if I’d been eating more meat and more fat, if I’d been eating the closer-to-traditional foods we had eaten before cholesterol became the big scary issue in my childhood home? My mom was just following the latest and loudest health advice, and doing what she thought was best, I think she was misinformed. I think we all were. The consequences, for me, were dire.
Skip forward through years of college and grad school, where I put on still more weight—despite a rollercoaster of dieting and a year of being a vegetarian. Medical professionals, my friends, and even me had started to wonder if birth control pills (which I’d been on since fifteen) were contributing to my health problems, so I stopped taking them and after a year was diagnosed with amenorrhea. After that, we come to my adult years when I was diagnosed as obese, infertile, and insulin resistant. At the time, I was put on glucophage (a terrible experience) and advised to exercise more and eat the standard American diabetic diet—which adds a double-D to the SAD. The standard diabetic diet is low in fat (including healthy saturated fats like coconut oil) and still includes lots of insulin spiking foods. The glucophage did nothing but make me sicker. I eventually gave it up and started on my own path of diet and healing-a path that was marked by a vast reduction in (among other things) carbohydrates and commercially processed food.
I have a strong suspicion that insulin, related to a high-carbohydrate, low-fat (and yes, at times processed foods—though certainly not in the past few years) diet is a major factor in the weight and health problems that have plagued me for much of my life. My most successful weight loss, which occurred before Mia was born and which I have maintained to this day, happened when I (among other things) cut out most of the sugar and refined carbohydrates in my diet. And, when I was pregnant and monitoring my blood sugars, I had the unique opportunity to test my blood sugar after every meal and keep notes on what caused spikes. It wasn’t fats or meats. It was the carbs. Especially whole grain bread—which spiked my blood sugar higher and faster than anything else.
Lowering my carb intake even further is most likely a necessity for my health. I have Gary Taubes and his book to thank for laying it out in a way that was devoid of diet frenzy and packed full of credible research. And, I have a whole body of real food writers (including bloggers) to thank as well.
I also have come to believe that I DO have some issues with gut flora. What clued me in? The chronic candida issues, for one. The chronic UTIs, which are caused by e-coli, for another. (According to McBride, some forms of e-coli are naturally part of the gut, and even necessary, but they shouldn’t migrate out to wreak havoc on the urinary tract. If I want to end the rounds of antibiotics, antifungals, and steroid creams, as well as generally feel better, then following a diet protocol to heal my gut is a good bet for me—and my family. (Flora issues are often family issues.)
Ultimately, what I decided to do was to keep some of the GAPS protocol that was working for me and also go low carb. That’s not to say I completely revamped our diets. I did not. We had already switched to 100% whole grain flour (milled at home) and limited our carbohydrate to whole food sources like root veggies and salad from our garden. And, though we were still using maple syrup and honey as sweeteners, our consumption of them was far, far, FAR below the national average.
So, I increased my consumption of homemade meat and bone broths, eggs, meats, saturated fat (from 100% grass fed beef, pastured pork, pastured chickens, coconut oil, butter from pastured cows, pastured local-produced lard and tallow, etc.) and bacon (glorious bacon) and decreased my consumption of all carbohydrates—eliminating all grains and fruits as well as some starchy root vegetables. I am still consuming dairy, but only fermented and drained yogurts, raw milk cheeses, and raw milk cream.
I consider it a lifestyle change, not a diet. So, unlike other times in my diet history when I have tried to do low-carb diets solely for weight loss, I am first and foremost adhering to a real-food diet sourced f largely from local farmers and my own garden. No artificial sweeteners or commercially packaged bars, candies, or foodstuffs otherwise labeled and marketed to the low-carb dieter cross my threshold, let alone my lips. (Have you read the ingredients lists on those things???? They are NOT food!!) I’m also leaving out the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and nuts—at least for now. (For anyone who is concerned, Mia is still eating a wide variety of fruits, nuts, and root veggies!)
I implemented these changes the minute I finished Taubes’s book.
And, like a miracle, one week in, I was bouncing off the walls with energy. I cleaned my house from top to bottom and then effortlessly kept it clean. I had more energy to do things with Mia—like entertain her with crafts AND cook at the same time! I got my Winter garden planted. We went for more walks. My mood lifted. (I also lost a few pounds and a few percentages of body fat!) I can honestly say I’ve never felt so good in my life! What is left of my rash is disappearing. My body is responding more quickly to exercise—I have more muscle, more pep, and for the first time since my c-section (almost three years ago) a noticeably diminishing lower belly. (I hope I don’t jinx it by writing that!)
I also started working on this blog post. My first post in months (and it has taken me a few weeks to write) but hopefully not my last!
Where I’m Going With this Blog
For the time being, I’m going to aim for at least one blog a week, but I’m not going to make any promises, yet. Sometimes it will be more, sometimes less. You can expect to see me blog about the food I cook as well as the ever evolving life altering course of eating wholesome food to heal my body. You can also expect to see me blog about the life of a family living on the fringes of society: consuming real, raw milk, local (properly-produced) meats, and lots of saturated fat; unschooling our child; avoiding restaurants; and, generally doing things our own way. (I’ve been making homemade sausage and branching out in my cheese making and can’t wait to write about it!) Along the way, I may blog about related social causes, something I feel passionately about, but don’t always have the time to research and write about in the kind of detail I’d prefer.
As time goes on, I would like to get back to a regular publication schedule. But, like many things, life is evolving here and I have to take time to make sure my family gets the attention it needs. I don’t want my daughter to grow up believing that my computer gets all my attention!
In the meantime, between blog posts, you can follow me on Facebook, and to a lesser degree on Twitter. (I don’t tend to Tweet much, but it’s something I know I’ll grow into eventually!)
Cook’s Notes: I no longer worry about my cholesterol numbers—at all. They have very little (if anything) to do with my risk of heart disease or metabolic disease for that matter. For more information on cholesterol, heart disease risk, low-carb diets, exercise, and metabolic diseases, read Gary Taubes book and see these links:
- What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie, Gary Taubes, New York Times Magazine, July 2002
- The Scientist and the Stairmaster, New York Magazine, September 24, 2007
- A Big Fat Mistake, Jack Challem, Experience Life Magazine, June 2011
- Myths & Truths About Cholesterol, The Weston A. Price Foundation
- Metabolism and Ketosis, Blog of Michael R. Eades, MD
- You Bet Your Life: An Epilogue to the Cholesterol Story, Blog of Michael R. Eades, MD
- The Pitiful State of Medical Ignorance, Blog of Michael R. Eades, MD
(And, just FYI, after starting on a real foods only diet a few years ago, my cholesterol was in the neighborhood of 220–a significant drop from 310. And, while I haven’t had my numbers checked, my diet and lifestyle are even healthier now. I will update you when (if) I get my numbers checked.)
*Credit Where Credit is Due: The title of this blog is a near word-for-word play on lyrics from the 1972 Led Zeppelin tune, “Rock and Roll” (Bonham, Jones, Page, Plant), also known as “It’s Been A Long Time”.