Happy Mardi Gras, Grandma Paula

When people die, they leave stories behind. I stumble over these stories unexpectedly as I go about my life, as if they are invisible cats that brush against my attention.

There’s a tiny bit of pain when I pause and let the story remember itself, but there’s richness as well. Today is Mardi Gras, and because of that, my husband made a big pot of red beans. His mama taught him to make these beans, and they are full of the flavor of her hometown, Baton Rouge. This morning I stole a bite, and Paula stepped into my mind.

When I was pregnant with Alba, Paula made me enormous meals once a week. She wasn’t feeding me so much as feeding her grandchild, but my appetite was up for finishing every bite. (There’s a reason Alba was 8 pounds 6 ounces when she was born, and it was due to D and P’s cooking.) Paula was battling cancer during the time that I was pregnant, but she still kept on cooking.

The night that I went into labor, I sat at the dinner table at Paula’s house, and she fed me an enormous plate of eggplant lasagne. “You look like you’re about ready to pop,” she said. Perhaps it was the eggplant, or perhaps Alba decided that it was time to step out into the world, but Paula was right. On the drive home, I felt a ripple in my stomach, and at 4 PM the next day, Alba was born.

A month later, we were all sitting at a brew pub in Athens. Paula sat next to her grandchild, of course, and at one point reached over and put some of the beer foam from her cup onto Alba’s little tongue. “Now you can remember that I gave you your first beer,” she joked. There’s not much more Baton Rouge than that.

Laissez le bon temps rouler, Paula! We’ll eat our red beans and rice and remember you, today.


Here’s Emeril’s recipe for red beans and rice.

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Easter via Instagram

My family really enjoys being able to share holidays with Khunyai (grandma) Tui and Khuntah (grandpa) Jack. Their daughter, my cousin Theresa, is half-Thai like I am.

I brought a certain Monkey down to enjoy the holiday, and we had a “traditional” Thai-western feast cooked by Khunyai Tui.  After that, an egg hunt for the Monkey, and a lot of relaxed chatting around the table on the porch.

Here are a few photos from our lovely day at this traditionally-untraditional Easter.

Five alternatives to a latte: No caffeine, no milk, no sugar, no problem

My world is sadly Starbucks-free right now, and as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been missing Starbucks like mad. I think I attained addiction-levels with mochas, because even though I knew they contained everything that is the worst for my particular stomach, I still drank them!

Deprivation is really just an opportunity, though, right? There are a lot of things to drink that don’t involve sugar, milk or caffeine. I’ve complied a list so that I can return here and look at it for inspiration when I crave things.

1. WATER.

I’ve talked about the health benefits of water before, but I have another story to add. The other week I totally had an episode of gout (it’s a common side-effect of chemotherapy). Yeah, THAT gout, the one that should only happen in England in the mid-18th century because water wasn’t potable. At any rate, the best cure for gout is to drink more water. I started paying close attention to the 40 ounces a day rule, and I haven’t had gout since. (Thank god, gout sucks!)

Price: Water is awesome and (for the most part) free.

2. TEA.

Black and green teas are antioxidants, which is why I stayed away from these during chemotherapy (I wanted the drug to hang out in my body for as long as possible). Now that cancer is gone, I have a cup of these every now and again to help my body metabolize any harmful chemicals that might be hanging out. This article talks about studies that prove that rats who drink tea tend to have less cancer. I try not to overdo it, though, due to the caffeine. Caffeinated teas are also dehydrants!

Herbal teas/infusions/tisanes are my favorite thing to drink. They fill the need for something warm and nurturing, and I like the meditation involved in boiling the water and steeping the tea. I’m not a tea snob — I don’t have looseleaf herbs and a tea ball — but I do like certain brands of bagged teas better than others. My favorite supermarket tea brand is Twinings. They spend little on packaging, but the herbs are very fresh, and they’ve made a few killer blends that I quite like. My favorite is pure peppermint, which apparently helps to relieve nausea and muscle spasms, and chamomile, which helps to relieve indigestion, insomnia, and cold symptoms. More information about the health benefits of various teas is here.

Kate adds: “Try yerba mate, which I loooooove with a little vanilla non-dairy milk of your choosing, and brewed with a packet or two of ginger tea.” Thanks, Kate! It isn’t technically tea, but actually a variety of holly, and I’m planning to read more about it

I’d add a bit about iced tea here, but I haven’t really gotten into making it. Anyone have a good recipe to share?

Price: Modest. Unless you buy the good stuff.

3. JUICE.

This is a good article about how to pick fruit juice that has few additives, no sugar, and 100% juice.

The most important bit of advice is to read the label, of course, and make sure it doesn’t have any of the following wording:

If you see the words “drink,” “cocktail,” “beverage,” or (in the United States) “nectar” anywhere on the label, this is code meaning that it could contain as little as 1% fruit juice. According to FDA regulations, anything that contains more than 0% fruit juice can be called “fruit juice,” but must also be labeled “drink,” “cocktail,” “beverage,” or “nectar.”

The only problem is that this stuff is EXPENSIVE. There is a very realistic discussion going on about how buying “health” food is something that only the upper-middle-class can really afford to do. But what’s the solution? Perhaps it’s to compromise and buy the least-crappy product at the most reasonable price for one’s budget.

Of course, given a bit of time, there’s always the option of making one’s own juice! These recipe ideas from A Beautiful Mess have sugar, but they also look awesome for summer…

Price: Modest. Unless you buy the good stuff.


(Image from Threemanycooks)

4. SMOOTHIES.

The way my husband makes smoothies turns them into something that’s not technically a drink — they’re more like a healthy glass of pre-digested salad. OK, I admit that this that isn’t selling it, but it’s a perfect way to get nutrients. My husband’s “Chunky” smoothie recipe goes like this:

Use a blender! Put in two bananas, a handful of spinach, a cup of plain lowfat organic yogurt (optional for those avoiding dairy), a few teaspoons of bran, a few pieces of ice, and some other seasonal fruit (like strawberries, right now). Then he starts to blend, adding orange juice until it’s all smooth. The final color is a fabulous shade of chlorophyll green.

This magic drink kept my iron levels up through pregnancy as well as during chemotherapy.

Christi adds: “For smoothies, frozen fruit can be cheaper than fresh fruit, and I don’t know that the difference is that noticeable in a smoothie.” Good point!

Smoothieweb seems to have a plethora of recipe ideas.

Price: Seasonal fruit is cheaper!


(Image from Making This Home)

5. CIDER.

Mmmmm, hot apple cider. I saved this for last because I just realized that it’s not on a disallowed list. This might even replace lattes as my go-to indulgence for those days when I need something awesome to drink. I like that this recipe uses maple syrup, but I like this recipe even better because it uses ginger and no sweetener at all.

Price: I prefer to buy the cider that is cloudy instead of clear, and organic. That makes this an indulgence! But it’s still cheaper than a daily mocha.

~

Got any more alternatives to a cup of dairy with sugar and caffeine? I wanna hear ’em!

These hands: Washing out what ails me

Today’s bit of alternative health research is about arthritis.

This morning I woke up to an unfamiliar feeling of pain in my right index finger. Motherf*****, I thought to myself. Is this ARTHRITIS? Not yet another thing!

I remembered the hands of my grandmothers, Lois, Renee and Saree. In their 80s, their hands had become so swollen and twisted by arthritis that none of the fingers lay straight. They’d earned those hands through years of hard work…

And then I took a deep breath and tried to think reasonably. I figure that it’s probably yet another part of the whole problem. My body’s currently like a four year old acting out in order to get attention. The Rituxan therapy seemed easy enough, but perhaps it depleted my body in ways that I’m still figuring out.

After I stopped freaking out, I did what any good child of my dad would do, and dug straight into research.

What helps cope with or reduce arthritis?

First I looked at a few Western medicine websites. These explained that pain blockers like Motrin help reduce the inflamation, but a common side effect is stomach cancer. Um, been there, done that, moving on. Western medicine also recommends that people lose weight to reduce pressure on joints, and do physical therapy to increase mobility. Fair enough.

Alternative medicine websites indicated that acupuncture can help, and these sites also mentioned physical therapy and nutrition. Research also suggests that meditation helps to improve symptoms of arthritis by reducing stress, which is one of the triggers.

Following a lead on nutrition, I pondered the fact that while I was doing chemotherapy, I ate a pretty healthy diet. I eliminated meat, focused on vegetables and fish, and cut caffeine. This was pretty beneficial to my system. I had few headaches and no colds at all while I was going through treatments. This article seems to point to the fact that the same diet, with an emphasis on fish and dark leafy greens, is good for arthritis too.

After treatments I added meat and a lot of dairy back to my diet, with the disasterous results that I discussed over here. After a few days of a veggie-heavy diet with no dairy and little meat and no caffeine, I’m on the path toward health again.

But seriously, why the arthritis? Am I not already eating pretty healthily?

Then it struck me, something so simple that I feel kind of silly writing an entire blog post about it: What I lack right now is water!

The direct connection is here, through this Ayurvedic text about the connection between water and arthritis: “Waste buildup and an accumulation of undigested food are results of these toxins. Toxins are able to build up in our system due to poor digestion.”

This made a lot of sense to me, and once again underscored what I know to be true, that my whole body is a system that works/doesn’t work together. So my digestion issues have accumulated toxins in my blood, which I haven’t yet flushed out, and they’ve pooled up and exacerbated arthritis. It’s time to drink more water and flush the toxins out of my system!

Research:

The puzzle of health: A Chinese medicine adventure

Last week I had a health setback.

People often ask, “How did you discover that you had cancer?” The answer is pretty simple — I had a day of vomiting so horrific that I was pretty sure my stomach was somehow broken. I went to the gastrointestinal doctor for it, and he peeked into my stomach via an endoscopy and found cancer.

So we fixed the cancer.

But last week, I had another bout of vomiting of the same sort that inspired my trip in the first place. I went to the GI doctor again (in the middle of sickness), and said, “HEY, what gives? Surely since my cancer is gone, everything should be OK now, right?”

He had no answers for me, though, except to give me an antinausea pill and instruct me to keep up the daily antacid (Omeprazol).

In fact, doing some research on websites about what might help a sensitive stomach, I came across a page that essentially said, “Don’t worry about what you eat. Either take a pill, or get an operation to cut off your duodenum and sew your intestine onto your small intestine.”

This seemed so ridiculous to me that I ignored it. First, I like my body as it is. Second, how could food not have anything to do with my stomach?

Luckily I had a trip scheduled to Tara Reed (a doctor at the Medicinal Life clinic). She gave me acupuncture during my chemotherapy, but I’d saved my last visit until just now, well after the chemotherapy was over.

We had a discussion about my health that felt incredibly relevant. Western medicine has its place because it fixes stuff that’s broken. But it doesn’t look at the entire body system and see how it fits together in order to make someone feel HEALTHY.

Tara listened to me talk about my various health issues.

I explained that it seems to me that there’s a sure way to get me vomiting, and it’s this: get post-nasal drip; drink hot lemon tea and kill my stomach with acid and heat; drink milk-based Starbucks drinks and fill my body with mucus; sleep little; exercise too hard; eat food that’s bad for me. = puke!

“So essentially, if you fill your body with mucus and then overdo it, your stomach rebels and you vomit?”

“Yep!”

Apparently in the Chinese medicine system, all of my symptoms (including cancer, uterine fibroids, and post-nasal drip) stem from an overabundance of phlegm in my system. She explained to me how this works (which I will share with whoever is interested), but importantly, she said this about my health:

“Your whole body is reacting badly to mucus. Reduce your body intake of stuff that gives you mucus, and do everything you can to reduce mucus, and all of these symptoms together will feel better.”

It’s nice to know that my body systems actually all interact, right?

This means she recommends no dairy, coffee, processed foods, or sugar in my diet, and she had a list of foods that are good for me to eat, mostly vegetables.

GOODBYE SWEET STARBUCKS MOCHAS. Amazing how this one addiction of mine contains everything that’s worst for me.

Still, it’s good to know that there might be something proactive to do to stop the current inbalance in my system,and I’m willing to believe something that sounds so incredibly practical as “eat healthy food, quit eating stuff that makes you sick, and you’ll feel better.”

There’s more stuff that gets into Chinese philosophy, and she also perscribed a herbal remedy. I’ll save the details for people who are interested…

But still, I feel better and more hopeful after this discussion. Who knows, perhaps I’ll have to be on an antacid for the rest of my life, or get that awful operation. But hopefully…hopefully…a little more careful eating will get me feeling as well as I did a year ago.