Friday, February 9, 2018

The Year of Living DangeRAWsly 

Back in December we had dinner with some friends, and we got to talking about our diet. That’s typical because although we try our best to not be annoying and picky guests, we do have some pretty strict food requirements.

Plant-based, whole-food, low-oil, low-sodium, whole-grain – that’s a lot of hyphens. Usually if people don’t know us, we just say we’re big salad lovers. A BIG salad, please, and we’ll just eat a bowl of hyphens for dessert. Of course, if it’s a pot luck, I tote along some menu items we can chomp on to our hearts’ healthy content.

These friends were totally cool, and had dealt with their own health issues themselves. We happily dug into the bowl of edamame and a lovely crudité tray, and then enjoyed a tasty bowl of lentil soup. Fruit for dessert, along with some really edifying conversation, and we called it a wonderful evening.

During the conversation about food, I found myself telling our hostess how wonderful, fabulous, great, awesome and energized I feel on a raw food diet. She didn’t bat an eye. She’s had a life-threatening health scare, and she did alternative dietary treatments along with conventional medicine. She's now doing great and is very inspiring.

As we drove away I thought - Why would I tell someone there’s a way of eating that makes me feel better and more energized and less prone to the inflammation issues I battle – and then NOT choose to eat that way? I mentally checked off the answers:

·      It’s really hard
·      It’s really expensive
·      It’s so much work
·      It’s wintertime

That settled it - for a week or so. But then I started tossing around the idea of going raw on January 1st. We don’t celebrate the holidays, so November and December munching for me gets no worse than all the seasonal vegan treats at Trader Joe’s, plus a bit of wintertime slothdom. So while I didn’t think of putting it off because of holiday pressure, it just seemed easier to put it off...because being a raw vegan is hard, it’s really expensive, it’s so much work and let’s not forget it was wintertime.

It started with looking up some recipes, and thinking about dusting off the dehydrator and getting out the spiralizer, and before I knew it I went raw the last week of December, ahead of schedule. I wasn’t super prepared, but I did it and have no regrets. So far.

The initial decision was to try it for a month or so, to see how things progressed. Meniere's Syndrome, has wreaked havoc on my left inner ear and hearing. I had a very depressing hearing test that confirmed my fears – my left ear is just about totally shot. The good news is that the hearing in my right ear is really good, excellent in fact. "Thank you right ear, you’re my hero. Left ear, What do I say, you can still hold an earring and keep my hair tucked behind you, so don’t go away completely." My hearing specialist, who has a doctorate in audiology, firmly believes there is a strong connection with diet and hearing. She is very supportive of my efforts to protect my right ear’s hearing with all reasonable practices.

What’s funny is I don’t even “believe” in raw food eating, it just feels so incredibly good when I eat this way I would be a fool to not keep it up. Tremendous amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, in their whole form, plus nuts and seeds and sprouted grains seems to work well for me. I’ve tried this before, and the results were great, but just never sustained it. Why? See the bulleted list above.

My hope is to not be a freak about this, I already realized one of the salads I was picking up at Trader Joe’s wasn’t even vegan, let alone raw vegan. We were somewhere and the only salad option had quinoa in it, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Another salad we were served had garbanzo beans, and it was yummy. Coffee is still an occasional treat, although I’ve gone back to just tea in the mornings. There's been some roasted nuts and bits of cooked foods, but by and large, I’m buying large amounts of raw produce and products and eating only that. Next up is finding a natural addition for smoothies to cover all the amino acid and nutritional bases.

So my month-long plan is now a year-long goal. Challenges thrill me, I thrive on them. Next January I’ll reassess and see if I felt there was any change in my inflammation issues. By then I’ll know if feeling better on this eating plan is just in my head. Spring is just around the corner with all the yummy spring and summer fruits and vegetables ripening. By the time fall comes around, I’ll be totally in the groove and then it will be just a few more months to go.

My challenge now?

·      Not to look at this as hard, but as a doable challenge
·      Find ways to make it cheaper
·      Streamline the prep work
·      Try not to dread next winter

One of the difficult parts of this eating plan is the explaining it to others awkwardness. We are in a congregation full of Moldovans, many of whom experienced true food deprivations in their life. How do I begin to explain, even if I could come up with the proper wording, why I am not eating cooked food?  My trial run was dinner at our friend Galina’s house. She loves to entertain. She serves cooked food. That food is delicious. She goes to great lengths to adapt her thinking and her cooking to accommodate our plant-based diet. What would she think if I only had salad on a cold January evening? A salad I bought from Trader Joe’s? A cold, raw salad?

She didn’t bat an eye. She didn’t look at me weird, or raise her eyebrows or purse her lips. She just said, Wow, that sounds great! Well, actually she said in Romanian something like “Bravo Jessikutsa!” You’ve just got to love friends who trust you to do what’s best for your own body. Maybe this is terrible for me. Maybe it’s just a waste of energy and money and time spent buying, washing and prepping vegetables. But it’s only a year. I can’t do too much damage to myself in that amount of time. Hopefully I’ll do some good.

One week of produce for the two of us

Lots of leafy greens!

A new tool, this makes veggie confetti.

Now if only every McDonalds could become a Chopt 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

It’s a dry heat 

If I were given the task of finding the very worst place at our house to place our dehydrator, it would be our back patio in winter. First, even California winters get on the chilly side. Second, in Sacramento we get a very wet foggy drippy winter, even when it's not raining. Third, there is some strange force working on the overhang of our patio that causes that cold wet weather to drop gigantic plops of water in a regular pattern onto the patio. Imagine fog meeting polka dots meeting El Nino, and you've got the picture.

But on this drippy cold wet patio is where our food dehydrator has ended up, for now. Yes, the appliance that is supposed to turn wet food into dehydrated food by applying heat and dry air is fighting the good fight out there in Droplet Land, probably using gobs of electricity in the process of trying to save a few bucks.

Although I've had the dehydrator in our kitchen, the drawbacks are that it takes up a fair amount of counter space. I need all the counter space I can get, because chopping vegetables is my middle name. The other factor of having it in the house is the noise. It's not really that loud, and it's not even an annoying noise, it's just that drying food takes a long time, hours and hours for certain items, and the constant drone of a dehydrator starts to wear on my nerves. I've tried keeping it on top of our clothes dryer in the garage, which really is the perfect place for it, but it gets a bit linty, and right now our clothes dryer is sort of a way station for things looking for a better home. Maybe one day I'll find that perfect home for this appliance, but for now the wonders of a dehydrator must do battle with the drippy wet forces of a California winter. May the heat win!

Whether you are looking for a small unit or something really large scale, all the people who know about dehydrators will tell you the best one on the market is the Excalibur. Fortunately for us, they are made here in Sacramento, and the factory showroom has all the models displayed. Even more impressive for us drippy, wet and cold valley dwellers, the Excalibur headquarters sells factory seconds. I got ours with a dent in it that I can hardly see, for quite the discount. Three cheers for dents! Really, who could even notice a dent through all that drippy fog?

In the past when we were the recipients, in a very round about way, of the last castoffs of Trader Joe's food donations, I would get bins of very ripe bananas. Very. Ripe. Bananas. The super icky ones would go straight into the compost bin, and super ripe ones would go into the freezer for smoothies. But the just perfectly ripe ones would get sliced up and dehydrated. They were so yummy, like candy. It's been a while since the donations ended, and now I have to buy bananas like ordinary people, so I haven't made them lately. But if ever I have a pile of bananas nearing the end of their days, and the freezer is already packed with smoothie ingredients, I'll get some bananas prepped and dried.

Right now it's all about oranges and crackers. The oranges from our tree taste amazing dried, and I'm going to have to use the candy analogy again, because it fits. These are the Jolly Ranchers of my dehydrator products, pure sunshine. Our dog loves them, rind and all. We stand together in the kitchen as I say "just one more" over and over again, eating dried orange slices together. As for the crackers, I'm still experimenting. We think they're terrific, but our tastebuds are probably warped from not eating potato chips in a long time. I've made flax and carrot wraps, chia and veggie chips, kale, tomato and flax crackers and right now I have a simple flax and poppy seed concoction dehydrating out on the wet drippy patio. Given enough time, the dry will show the wet who's the boss, and we can enjoy the crunch of homemade crackers as we open up our electricity bill.

Sliced up and ready to be transformed...

...into dog treats!
Our pup lost a fight with a pit bull, and I'm a sucker for that pitiful stare. 

Carrots and flax meal finding a new purpose in life. 

Crackers! I made crackers!

Kale and carrots and flax, with tomatoes.
Nothing cuter than a dehydrated cherry tomato.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Quietly quit the quilt fair? Not quite!

It's not like I haven't sold quilts in the summer before, it can happen. A sweet little baby quilt here and there, maybe someone thinking ahead towards the winter months. But really, there's a season for quilts here in the Northern Hemisphere, and December is right smack dab in the middle of it. So what would be better than a craft fair in the Curtis Park neighborhood in Sacramento, early December? The weather is perfect, the demographic is a fit for my upcyled quilts, and the craft fair was one I had done before. An easy drop off of supplies, friendly attendees, a very supportive staff - I was really looking forward to it.

And was I ever prepared! I sewed up a storm, and then quit sewing quilts just in time to get myself organized for the fair. I had my signs made up, I had my tags created, I had all the things I need to display the quilts, namely quilt racks. I freshened everything, scented it all with lavender, found some crocheted hats I had forgotten about, and got the car loaded with every single thing I needed, the night before the event. I even packed about six big tablecloths, even though the most I could imagine using was two, three at the most.

The only nagging doubt was about our dog. Molly was just not herself, she had got into her dog food in the garage a few days before and was now not interested in food. I called my neighbors to ask if they could check on her while I was at the craft fair. I was concerned, but not overly so.

Well, as I wrote in my last post, our sweet Molly became very sick that night. I woke up early and got dressed for the craft fair, and only then realized how bad off she was. I called my husband who was out of town and then called a friend to help me load Molly in the car. Heading into full-on worry mode, I figured the craft fair was not to be. I emptied the whole back part of the car of the quilt racks and display items. Our friend Myra came over and in one amazing swoop got Molly up and into the car and I went off to the emergency vet. Somewhere in that time I contacted the event coordinator and told her I wouldn't be coming to the fair.

Once Molly was settled into her cage at the vet and the treatment plan was agreed upon, I realized that emergency vet hospitals are not like people hospitals, There's no chair set up to sit with the patient, and sitting on the floor by a cage with a sick dog is more of a hindrance to the staff than a help. There really is nothing for a worried pet owner to do but just go home and hope for the best. So I was about to do that, until I went to the car and saw the suitcases in the backseat, the ones filled with all the quilts and hats and scrubbies I had worked so hard on. I called the director of the event and told her I would show up after all, and headed to the Sierra 2 Center in Curtis Park.

I walked into a packed out hall, with vendors and their wares set up all so pretty and appealing. I wiggled my way in, rolling my suitcases, saying "excuse me, excuse me" to all the people, so many people. I found my bare and forlorn table, and wondered if I'd made a big mistake. The table, it was so flat. So very very flat. And all the other vendors had height. Such height. Shelves and little boxes and display cases and racks to lift everything up and make it look better. Everywhere I looked I saw height. I felt short and my table was flat.

There was nothing to do but throw down the tablecloths. Flat tablecloths. Still no height. If only I had my quilt racks! The only thing I had was tablecloths and quilts. What to do, what to do? I decided to get creative and put the empty chairs around me to use. I put one right there up on the table and covered it with a tablecloth. Height, I had some height. I was at the end of the row of sellers, so I grabbed another chair and sort of appropriated the area at the end of my table. Just to set the record straight, appropriating something is not the same as stealing, because you always give it back in the end. So between the chair on the table and the chair on the ground, I had some items that could act like quilt racks. I did my best to make the other quilts look as tall as possible, tall and interesting, while still looking cozy and soft. That's not easy, especially with no breakfast in my tummy and a dog with a very sick belly at the emergency vet.

The hectic morning turned into a pleasant afternoon and the craft fair was a success! A vendor even came down and raved about my great idea of using a chair covered with a tablecloth as a display feature. You just watch now, the lacey chair craze will be hitting the craft fair circuit, remember where you saw it first. I sold five quilts (plus one on Etsy a few days before the event), lots of face scrubbies, a baby pig hat and I even sold a hat for a turtle. The turtle was not at the event, although in Curtis Park one comes to expect the unexpected. The owner of the stylish reptile sent me a photo, she wants me to make another one. A bigger one. This turtle hat thing could take off. Slowly.

My day's earnings made me glad I was able to salvage the event. I packed up the remaining quilts and tablecloths, put the display chairs back against the wall and wheeled my now much lighter suitcases out to the car. I went to see our Molly, much improved after a few hours of IV fluids and antibiotics. I got the quilts put away and the unused quilt racks are now back where they stay in the attic space. I was super glad that all the heavier, more wintery, quilts were the ones that sold - currently all I have left are brighter and lighter ones. Perfect for a possible spring craft fair. Just wondering, do turtles wear sunbonnets?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

One sick puppy

Remember phones with speed dial? That list of about 10-15 numbers that we called all the time - family, friends, work, etc. If we were really super organized, we added the doctor's office, the veterinarian and then if we were about the smartest pet owner ever, we added the emergency vet's office. I could have used the emergency vet on speed dial this last Saturday morning. 

Our dog ended up getting acute gastroenteritis, and it went from not that bad to very bad in such a short amount of time. In fact, except for the diagnosis of a cracked tooth, Molly's regular vet saw her within a day of her health taking a turn for the worse, and since dogs are good at faking good health, she didn't catch what was brewing in Molly's gut.

One of the reasons dogs can get acute gastroenteritis is "food indiscretions." Another is stress, and another is cold weather. It was the perfect storm for Molly. Not only did she get into a bag of dog food in the garage, and then wanted to sleep outside in the near freezing temperatures because her stomach hurt, she was under a case of the "oh no, the suitcases are out again." Molly hates seeing us pack for a trip, and she had just seen my husband pack a bag to go visit his ill mother. I was prepping for a quilt show, and so I had even more suitcases out. So a bloated tummy, very cold weather and thinking her pack was leaving her (along with possibly the cracked tooth pain and only Molly knows what else) she got very sick. Very fast. 

I recommend this if you own a pet. 

  • Find out the nearest emergency vet
  • Put the number in your phone under Dog, Vet, Help, Sick Puppy & AHHHHHH!
  • Put the name, address, phone number and directions on your refrigerator 
  • Take a dry run in the car to the ER vet to see exactly where it is
  • Input the directions on any GPS devices you have
  • Put a hard copy of the map in your car in case your devices are all dead and you forget where the refrigerator is
  • Leave a trail of wait, my dog would eat the crumbs.
I had a vague idea where the emergency vet in our area was located. Very vague. And when Molly went from bad to worse and would not even get up, I bungled my way into getting the information I needed. But a sick dog that can't tell you what's wrong suddenly makes a grown adult lose all Internet skills, and I found myself on the phone with the vet just asking "OK, I'm coming from Highway 50 like I'm going to South Lake Tahoe, can you please tell me turn for turn how to find you." I have a feeling they get a lot of that.

They were amazing! If you live in Sacramento, you need to put VCA Sacramento Veterinary Referral Center on whatever sort of modern equivalent of speed dial that works for you. I walked in - and this is the protocol for everyone, every pet - and the reception person intercomed "TRIAGE" and a staff member came and assessed Molly immediately. She said her vitals were good. Great. I should have asked the woman to check my vitals.

Once we got into the exam room, Molly was done. She plopped down and didn't get up for her exam. Not even when her vet listened to her heart, one of Molly's greatest pleasures, she just loves a vet with a stethoscope. Her vet said what Molly needed, and needed quickly, was an IV. She had most likely been having bloody diarrhea in the yard, and I didn't notice it. There is a special sort of guilt reserved for unobservant dog owners, and I had a bad case of it. 

There is no way I could have nursed Molly back to health at home. She was refusing to get up, she was refusing her favorite treat of all, which is bread, and our normally fastidious dog had let her paws become caked with mud and dirt. When my husband came home, he found bloody diarrhea and holes in the yard. Ugh, more guilt. But she got what she needed, which was fluids and drugs, and she has recovered well. It's going to take me a bit longer.

From this... this in less than a day.
"Don't leave me here!"
"On second thought, leave me here, you don't know what you're doing."
Home. Very very sweet home.

"Can we get a stethoscope?"

Molly on opiates.
"What, you've never had a food indiscretion"?

Friday, November 10, 2017

The No Work Winter Garden

Are we programmed to start craving pumpkin this time of year, or is it just all the propaganda that hits us in the face when we enter Trader Joe's? I don't know where all the mango stuff goes, but there must be one night sometime in late September when Trader Joe's employees stay up all hours replacing the mango-centric foods with pumpkin-powered everything. I have no complaints, I'm allergic to mangoes, but come Fall I run on pumpkin.

November is that wonderful time of year when the nights are longer, but not too long. The days are cooler, but not too cold. And the sunlight doesn't hit our living room floor in such a way as to show all the dog fur, especially at the exact time a visitor stops by. Yes, we are in that glorious season when the sun is at the perfect angle for not revealing the hairy state of our hardwood floors. Can it just be Fall always?

Just when we are about ready to throw all the summer tomatoes at someone, perhaps the dog, and when we're all out of ideas of what to do with canoe-sized zucchini, along comes the joys of Fall produce. The sweet potatoes, yams, butternut squash, apples. persimmons and pomegranates are ready for their time in the waning sunlight. Not as luscious as summer fruits and veggies, what they lack in looks they make up for in heartiness. I love to make piles of autumn produce and see what happens when they all start getting to know each other. 

Almost squished by the squash...

...Ginger Bear becomes the mascot of Team Tubers.

If this doesn't say borscht what does?

I see curry in a hurry.
3 minutes tops for sweet potato curry in the Instant Pot. 

Persimmons need to get the same agent as pumpkins have.
I see Persimmon Spice Lattes as the next new thing.

Ginger Bear survived the curry stew.
But how long he can last into winter remains to be seen.

Brussels sprouts on the stalk.
It's like Jack and the Beanstalk grew a strand of DNA.

This is soup season.
Bean soup season.
Hearty bean soup season.
With all this cooking of vegetables I adore and crave, it behooves me why I never do a fall/winter garden. We have the weather for it. We have the little garden space for it. What's not to like about almost free kale and spinach and piles of cheap potatoes? Mostly it's because I want to be on the inside looking out in winter, not going out to save lettuce being crushed under the onslaught of a hail storm. When it's cold outside, I just want to be inside getting warm, not worrying about the garden. That's what Trader Joe does, and he does it so well.

But just for fun, and with the understanding that the only water the seeds would get is the kind from the sky and not the hose, I planted three things this winter.

Artichokes, because they are so pretty.

Beets, because something that color must be good for us.

And Pak Choi.
Because I thought it was called Bok Choy.
I like being corrected when I'm wrong.

Winter garden, before planting.

Winter garden, after planting.
Can you just sense the effort I put in?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Konmari the Kleaning Krud

I was not a neat and tidy child. Or teen. Or twenty-something. But when I moved out to room with my sister, I became a bit of a neat freak. I did minimalism before it was a thing, before anyone worried about their feng or their shui. When I was 28, everything I owned still fit in the back of a pick-up truck. It's not hard being a neat freak when there isn't much to freak out over.

Then came marriage and stuff. And more stuff. And various moves to various sized places, from a tiny one bedroom to places with a bit more room for dust bunnies to multiply. But still I kept the dirt and dust and dingy windows under control. 

But now I'm dealing with three distinct factors that are making keeping a neat and clean house a bit harder.

  • We have the biggest yard we have ever had, and since we are mortgage payers and not renters, we are supposed to be grownups and take care of it. It's almost 1/3 of an acre and there is not one sprinkler or nary a drip system in sight, and let's face it, Sacramento is a desert from May to November.
  • I'm not getting any younger. There, I said it. I realized last weekend, when we went away for four nights, that I was looking forward to giving my hands a rest as much as I was looking forward to seeing Washington DC. 
  • Our furry little pup has three goals in life: Be adorable. Kill vermin. Shed fur. She does all of them very well.

She brings the paper.
She doesn't do windows.
The other factor in my thinking way too much about cleaning lately is my desire to get our house more in line with our diet, which is as organic and healthy as possible. Munching on kale while an untold number of chemicals waft thru the air seems to defeat the purpose a bit, so I set out to gather all our cleaning supplies in one place. I thought I could get a good idea of what we had so I could know what natural DIY products I could make without a bunch of repeats. 

Yikes! We had a lot more than I imagined.
The dog will never ever run out of Windex at this rate. 

Madame Curie started out making toilet bowl cleaner.
I have that on good authority.

It didn't take off because it had some branding issues.

Rag sorting, it's not for the faint of heart.

That's right, label that homemade laundry soap as Laundry Soap.
Because a large bag of powdered substance sitting on top
 of the washing machine smelling like soap could be so many things.

Most of the recipes I got were from a book called Clean My Space, which has also given me lots of ideas on how to give my hands a break without having to leave town. It seems as if all you really need to clean house is water, vinegar and microfiber cloths. I hope now that I know how to clean more efficiently the house will shine, the car will sparkle and the clothes will iron themselves. And that will all happen as soon as our dog is done with the windows. Using only water, vinegar and microfiber, of course.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

3 bars Fels-Naptha laundry bar soap
1 box Borax
1 box baking soda
1 box washing soda

These are all items you walk right past in the regular grocery store, right there near the regular people laundry detergent. They are not razzle dazzle, they are just there on the shelf, ho hum. These products are so absolutely tickled when a person as cool as you buys them. They start humming with joy.

To make this stuff, you either grate the bars of soap in a cheese grater (I apologize to your hands) or you throw the bars in your blender or food processor, after you have chopped them into large chunks. Then just mix that up with the rest of the ingredients in a very large container. It smells good, it works great and you only need 2 Tablespoons per load. Some nifty people on Pinterest add a few other ingredients, and then put their laundry powder in a pretty glass container with a lovely metal scoop. I actually just eye-balled the ingredients, kinda, sorta, I used just one bar of the soap, threw it all in a zip lock with a plastic spoon and that was that. But every time I walk by that bag I know I made it, and that's an even better feeling than clean windows.