Friday, October 28, 2016

Vegetable Appreciation Curry

Yes, vegetarian curry is delicious. Meat curry is also delicious, but you can love both of them without incurring any cognitive dissonance. (Maybe don't go on about how awesome meat curry is to your vegetarian friends though, I've found they don't necessarily take it that well.) Curry generally is fabulous, but it does provide a certain opposite-of-air-freshener scent to your house when you cook it yourself. Don't let that deter you! This curry also costs approximately $8 to make and will help clean out the veggie drawers in your fridge. If you're really disturbed by the post-curry-cooking smell, throw some water, white vinegar, and a few drops of lavender or clary sage essential oils in a saucepan and boil it on the stove for 15 minutes or so.

This particular curry was developed as a cooking lesson for a vegetarian friend (and posted here so he doesn't forget how to do it!) and offered here more for ideas and technique than exact measurements and ingredients.

You will need:

1 onion (non-negotiable)
a bunch of mushrooms, finely chopped (about 1-2 cups worth) - shiitake are great but any mushroom with good heft and flavour will do. (So, portabello ok, oyster not so much, and this would be a huge waste of chanterelles so if you do that, don't tell me please)
coconut oil or other high-heat-compatible oil
2 large cloves garlic
curry spice blend + whatever other spices you like
1 can coconut milk
juice of a lime (maybe half)
lots of vegetables - I think we used parsnips, delicata squash, red bell pepper, zucchini, tomato, mango, collard greens... but really, any mix of vegetables will work, and try to get a variety of textures.

Chop the onion while you heat the oil in a large sauté pan. When the oil is melted or approaching hot, add the curry spices - how much depends on many things, but for a curry for two people, I used about 1-2 tbsp. You don't want to skimp on the spice. And unless you have a huge tolerance for heat, it's best to start mild and add hot stuff, because you can't un-spicy a curry. You can also customize your spice blends as you want - add extra turmeric, cardamom, etc. Whatever - go with what you like.

Anyway. When your curry/oil mixture starts smoking (and it does need to get to this point, but NOT past it to actually burnt), add the onion. This is a hands-on thing and stuff needs to be stirred frequently. (Assume "stir" between and during all subsequent instructions.)

Cook this until the onions are a bit softened and then add the mushrooms.

Once the mushrooms have cooked down a little, add the harder veg (squashes & root veg), cook until starting to soften, then add softer veg, cook a little more, then add some salt. Not too much, a couple of good-sized pinches - you can add more later, and the salt helps draw more liquid out of the veg, but you can't unsalt something and this will cook down a bit. Using smoked sea salt is a good idea here, but not required.

Add the leafy veg, then the coconut milk. Let the whole thing simmer, uncovered, for a while. If you like rice and forgot to put it on when you started, now's the time to do it, and/or make pappadums, or warm up some naan bread, or whatever.

Taste the curry just before serving. Add salt/hot stuff/lime juice as required - if you taste it and think "yeah, that's okaaayyyy..." then add some lime juice, it's probably just missing a bit of acid. Then add a bit more salt.

Consume and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

oh, hello blog, I forgot about you!

Note: the following post is lengthy and personal. The TL;DNR version is - I self-diagnosed as type 2 diabetic and am dealing with it successfully and it doesn't suck too much; recipes to follow.

It has been a while since I posted anything. Many things have happened. I started a Master's degree, got a real job (in health communications, yay!) and euthanized my marriage, which had not been healthy for a very long time. In the process of all this, I had to face the reality of how I'd been using food as a coping mechanism. Most of the time, I quite consciously made bad feelings go away with the application of things like croissants, peanut butter m&ms, potato chips and their "healthy" brethren (hey lentil snaps, I'm looking at you), and other assorted treats. "What do my feelings taste like today?" was a question that came up frequently. I was fully aware that I was pacifying my emotions with food, and I was okay with it. It worked. It meant I didn't have to change much else. Occasionally when things were stable I could do a Whole 30 or whatever and bring my weight down to manageable levels, but I didn't really change anything that could affect my dietary decisions long-term.

But, after I started my job, which I do love, but it all takes place at a desk (apparently in order to qualify for a standing desk with the government, you need to have been in a pretty severe automobile accident) I started feeling weird. Jittery but tired, not sleeping well. I had a suspicion of what was wrong, and it was confirmed when I hauled out my blood glucose monitor (obtained during the borderline-gestational-diabetes I enjoyed during my second pregnancy). Sky-high fasting glucose - indicative of at the very least major insulin resistance, but possibly high enough to qualify me for a type-2 diagnosis. Also I was at a minimum 40 lbs overweight (which does not sound like a lot, but remember I'm barely 5' tall. 40 lbs on me is like 70-80 lbs on someone who is a normal height. And, too, I think there's a lot of individual variation in terms of the excess weight one can carry and not suffer health effects - and I think I drew the short end of the stick there and can't cope with much.)

I have to renew my life insurance later this year, and the last thing I want is to be identified as an obese type-2 diabetic. Fortunately I have the dietary knowledge and understanding of biological processes to know how to fix this without running to my doctor, who probably has better things to do than tell me what I already know. Stop eating crap, and exercise intelligently.

In order to sustainably stop eating crap I had to take some concrete steps to get back to feeling in control of my life. Because sugar WORKS when nothing else does. (Ok, maybe psychiatric meds do too. But I'm unreasonably anti-drug for someone who works for PharmaCare.) Unfortunately, one of those steps was actually doing something about my relationship problems, which turned out to be of the "irreconcilable" variety. This of course brings its own set of stresses, but it's remarkable how much less I feel the urge to gobble sugar when I am responsible for the proximate causes of the stress, and actually capable of working to resolve both those and the ultimate causes. Control over life is so hugely, massively important. I couldn't have done this without the stable job, functional career plan, and incredible net of social support I enjoy. The desk job precipitated the crisis, but it also provided me with the independent means of support to resolve it. Agency - it's a wonderful thing.

(And, for those of you with a more neo-liberal view of the world - I'm not fooling myself that my ability to pull this off isn't due about 90% to the white middle-class privilege that affords me the financial and social capability to land a good job after years out of the work force and extricate myself from an untenable marriage without stigma. Ok, political ranty part over.)

Of course I'm posting this because it's working. It was surprisingly not difficult to make a mental shift from my self-perception as someone who just takes comfort and pleasure in food and consequently suffers from a bit of pudge, to someone who has a metabolic disorder that requires a restricted diet. I had to do away with the idea of myself as fundamentally whole and healthy, but that's kind of reality. I've successfully avoided sugar and refined carbohydrate (including flours; even "whole grain" flours are still refined) for over 3 months now. I've been using the gym, albeit not as frequently as I'd like, and riding my bike or walking to work. I try to get in at least one decent hike up a steep hill (Mt. Doug works) a week. My fasting blood glucose has dropped from dangerously high to just outside of normal range. I've dropped a substantial amount of weight (not sure exactly how much) and I have way, way more energy.

Food is still hugely important to me, emotionally - but more so as a means to connect with people than as a direct mood modifier. I've enjoyed sharing meals with so many friends over the past few months - THAT is a healthy use of food, I think. It's surprisingly easy, most places, to avoid starch and most sugars (not all. there is still a ton of hidden sugar in restaurant food.) One of the upsides to the "epidemic" of obesity-related metabolic disorders is that most restaurants are pretty clued in to why you don't want the potatoes or bread, and are happy to leave it out or give you more veg. Even food courts are fine - you can get curry without rice, Korean meat, kimchi & veg without rice and sauce (still tasty!), straight sashimi without rice, Greek food that's just salad and skewers of meat.

The other thing I've realized is that it's okay for me to admit that I love sugar and grains and starch. Sometimes, you love things that don't love you back. It's better to acknowledge it as a loss than to try to pretend that those things aren't wonderful. I think I've gone on about relationships with food before - this is a more nuanced, gentle view of it, I think. Cookies aren't jerks, after all. I do love them, but I can't enjoy them. Unrequited love sucks, but I think it's still better for your soul than twisting it into hate...and there's a better chance that unrequited love can slip quietly into the indifference that is the true opposite of love. I long to be indifferent to the charms of croissants, but I don't think I'll manage it any time soon. In the meantime, I acknowledge it, and I cope, and I remember that I can still love steak, every vegetable on the planet, pork chops, bacon, fresh fruit (although the upcoming fig season may be challenging for my insulin levels), and cheese. I'm still pretty lucky, food-wise. I live in about the best place in the world for good, fresh, healthy food, and I have the privilege of being able to afford as much of it as I need.

I will try to post more recipes. I've had requests for simple, single-person meals and since that's something I'm working on developing for myself (now that I only have children half the time) I think it's a good goal. So stay tuned - and pester me if you don't see anything!

Friday, September 26, 2014

And the results are in...

This morning I got to weigh myself and have a milk kefir smoothie.  Both were largely enjoyable experiences.  I've lost just over 13 lbs in 30 days, which is quite a lot for me.  Previously on a moderately Paleo diet I averaged about 5-7 lbs lost per month.  However, probably a few pounds were due to water/bloat loss - but still, that's pretty good.  I can fit pretty much all of my clothes that I was wearing just before I got pregnant with my little monster, so even though I have no idea how much I weighed then, I would say it's a safe bet that I'm within 5 lbs of that.  I rediscovered a pair of skinny jeans that stopped fitting me right after I bought them, and they fit really well now.  That was a nice surprise.

I also feel a lot calmer and confident about food.  At lunch today I had miso soup and that was a real treat.  The lunch was just all over a treat, though - chatting, uninterrupted, while people brought me food - LUXURY.  One doesn't really appreciate restaurants until one has a toddler who keeps one out of them.  (I think I will, however, start smuggling coconut aminos into sushi restaurants.  It's just that much tastier than soy sauce.)

Dinner tonight features cabbage cooked in BUTTER and I may not wait until the family gets home to dive into that.  Also, a little bit of baked potato with butter.  I'm going to see how the fermented dairy and butter suits me before diving into cream in my coffee and cheese, though.

So overall, I call the Whole30 an entirely feasible, successful experiment.  I have no desire to reintroduce sugar or grains to my diet, but I may try some beans or lentils at some point, and probably most forms of dairy.  I will see how that goes.  I would strongly recommend this to anyone who is having issues with feeling yucky, or control over eating.  It's done me a world of good on both counts.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Nearly done...

Tomorrow is my last day of the Whole30.  With a few teeny tiny exceptions (wasabi, vanilla extract) I complied 100% for the whole thirty days.  Yay me.  I'm going to take this opportunity to call bullshit on the prohibition of every single teeny bit of alcohol (eg, vanilla extract) though because the program DOES allow kombucha and water kefir and they both contain small amounts of alcohol.  So pbbbbbttttt Whole30 I don't feel bad about that little bit of vanilla in my better-than-oatmeal breakfast.

Anyway.  My insides are telling me they want dairy-based kefir again so I am going to have some first thing Friday morning, and it will be delicious.  The coconut milk kind of screwed with my kefir grains (well, my fault for using cheap coconut milk) so I've had them resting in milk since then. 

But, I think that will be the only dairy I allow back in for a while.  I do still miss cheese, but I can see how I eat a bit too much of it sometimes.  And I am totally fine with coconut milk in my coffee (which has turned out to not affect my sleep at all, which is good.)  Although, it is conceivable that cream might have fewer calories.  I will have to check.  Not that it's a significant part of my daily caloric intake, but every little bit helps.

I definitely do not feel like running out and eating donuts.  I will go back to a fairly moderate paleo diet with some dairy (butter, cultured dairy, cheese if someone forces it down my throat), the odd bit of soy sauce, and the occasional potato. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Three Weeks: Eating Out

Wow three weeks of no dairy!  I'm impressing myself.

This week my dear mama came to visit so there have been some attempts to eat out.  The only real eating-out attempt was successful food-wise, not so much happy, peaceful dining-wise, thanks to my littlest monster who is at exactly the wrong age for eating out, especially in a food court with no high chair in which to contain him.  We got the build-a-salad at Roast (at the Victoria Public Market) and it was GREAT - totally possible to do a good meal that's completely Whole30-compliant.  Since the meal ended rather badly, with the older child following the small one as he careened around and finally bringing him back screaming his head off, we have avoided the restaurant scene.  But my darling mumsy wanted to treat the family to a meal so we got take-out.  I opted for Messob Ethiopian in Cook St. Village and the nice lady there put together an awesome plate of veggies (potato/carrot mix, spinach, and cabbage) and spicy beef and it was amazing - and completely Whole30-compliant. 

I wasn't aware of it until today (when I actually re-read the rules) but the Whole30 allows for industrial vegetable oils when eating out, so you don't have to be a complete PITA when you're at a restaurant.  Some cuisines are better than others, obviously... Asian restaurants are mostly out due to the soy and sugar (you could do sashimi & salad if you smuggled in your own dressing and coconut aminos), fully upscale like Camille's would be totally fine, probably the majority of the stuff on the menu would be okay.  In-between, anything that offers meat and veg is doable.  I wish we'd been able to go to Skinnytato, the Polish restaurant, because it's fantastic and I could get a really, really yummy and Whole30 compliant meal - but the allure of a potato pancake filled with sausage and sauerkraut does not quite cancel out the potential horror of my darling offspring flinging food all over the restaurant and screaming "DOWN!!! DOWN!!! DOWN!!! BOOOOBIES BOOOOBIES!!!!".  It's a small restaurant and nobody needs to have their lunch with that kind of entertainment going on. 

So, anyway, things are going well still.  No idea how much weight I've lost since weighing one's self is not permitted on the Whole30.  At this point though, I feel so good and I no longer even miss dairy, so I might just stay on the basic Whole30 plan except for extremely convenient things like soy sauce.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2 Weeks in on the Whole 30

I don't actually have much to report, besides the usual - my clothes fit better, I have more energy, my teeth feel awesome (a low-ish starch, zero sugar diet is GREAT for dental health)... also, food has started tasting a lot better.  Sugar really messes up your taste buds, I think - even if you *think* you don't eat a lot of it (for example, no candy or donuts) it's in pretty much every packaged product out there.  Mayo, ketchup, soy sauce, sushi (even the damn wasabi), bread, cereal, etc., etc. )  It all adds up and ends up influencing how you taste.  I won't lie - it's actually really, really hard to avoid all packaged food and sugar (and I haven't, I just read the labels obsessively... but there is very little out there in a package that doesn't have grains, some form of sweetener, some form of dairy, chemicals, soy, or industrial vegetable oils. And - full disclosure - I have allowed myself very tiny cheats in the form of the aforementioned wasabi (I used a pea-sized bit in some coconut aminos for dipping some sashimi the other day) and I have used a few drops of soy-containing sesame oil for flavour here and there.)  But there are definitely a lot of intrinsic reasons to go to the trouble to fully (or almost fully) eliminate the packages.  Right now I am munching on some kohlrabi with homemade guacamole and it is FANTASTIC.  It is exactly the same as a snack I had last month at some point but it tastes so much better.

In other news, I finally found a book on nutrition that I feel like I can recommend without much in the way of caveats: Denise Minger's Death by Food Pyramid.  (Don't get it on Kindle though - the formatting is screwed.) She's famous in the blogosphere for her take-down of the China Study analysis (and data collection methods) and is pretty damn meticulous. This book is reasonably thorough (not nearly as mind-numbingly complex and complete as her China Study posts), and includes a section on how to interpret scientific studies and how much to believe them, and that part at least is well-written enough that it should be adopted by schools and taught to kids from about grade 8 onward.  The history of the USDA food pyramid is okay - interesting, at any rate - but the real strength of the book is in looking at what the current science REALLY says about nutrition and taking the strengths of disparate diets or ways of eating and figuring out what the truly effective parts are of each.  I also like that she is about as unbiased as a person can be - she has her preferences, which she states, but leaves it up to the reader to figure out what he or she should actually be eating.  I also like that she understands and reports the nuances in the research - for example, that it appears that the context of nutrients matters (ie, saturated fat... good in a whole-foods, low-glycemic diet, not so good in a donuts-and-hamburgers diet).   It's definitely a should-read.  (And kudos to Mark Sisson's company for publishing it even though it contains some not-so-veiled references to diet programs that also sell supplements and rely on a personality at the head of them...) 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

One week of Whole 30 - and I am seized with inspiration!!!

Still Whole 30ing nicely.  I am missing dairy less now, as I have replaced morning coffee and cream with morning roiboos chai and coconut milk, and have stuck the children with no cheese except orange cheddar, which is less than appealing.  Unfortunately I am now able to taste the chemicals in cheap coconut milk so this is going to get expensive, especially as I am also making coconut milk kefir (which is awesome in smoothies, and may just edge out cow milk kefir for flavour), and now I am going to have to shell out for the decent stuff.

On the good side of things, tonight I figured out how to do awesome stir-fry without using any non-Whole30-approved ingredients (ie, every single Chinese sauce ever).  I found coconut aminos at Thriftys (very tasty, actually) and I've decided that the teensy amount of sugar in fish sauce is insignificant.  But I was still puzzling out how to thicken the sauce in a veggie stir-fry when I spied a container of baked sweet potatoes on my counter.  Sweet potato!  Is there anything it can't do??  I made up a quick sauce using a sweet potato, juice of half a lime, a few drops of fish sauce and a good big slug of coconut aminos.  Worked like a charm - perfect balance of sweet, sour and salty (and it would have taken some hot sauce nicely too, but one of my children has a thing about that so boo no hot sauce).  I am very relieved to have discovered this because stir-fry is what happens when my fridge is overstocked with vegetables, and it is that season when vegetables literally appear in boxes on my doorstep.  My mother-in-law made sure she was on the plane to Hawaii before I found out how many zucchini she'd shunted my way.  But I can deal!  One whole one went in some spaghetti sauce last night (just for the record, you CAN buy Whole 30-compliant spaghetti sauce in a jar at Thriftys, but it'll cost you more than $6.  Everyone agreed that it was the best spaghetti sauce ever though, so possibly worth it as a regular purchase.) Another one went in the stir-fry tonight.  At the current rate of one per day, I should get through them all before they rot, without resorting to baking, which is a kind of temptation I don't really want right now.

Anyway, I feel great, the pets and children are no longer in danger from me having sugar withdrawl, my button-up pants are fitting better and I am way, way less bloaty.  My insides seem quite happy with me.  So, all good so far.  Now to try out some new recipes...