Where we get fit and spin (wool)

pexels-photo-949070.jpegDo you eat cereal? I was thinking about having a bowl of cereal for desert, as I was craving sugar. Most commercial cereal is so unhealthy it is a desert, yet it is touted as a healthy choice. But then it occurred to me that in many, many households, it is the healthiest choice they make, and how much boxed cereal improved the nation’s health when it was introduced, simply because it is vitamin fortified. That led me to think of how relative healthy eating is.

While some of us worry about whether our produce is organic, if our food is locally and humanly raised, or if it is the healthiest of competing eating plans, while many people here in the United States don’t even know, or chose not to know, what they should even be worrying about. There is a vast distance between the  “haves and have-nots” of nutritional awareness. Many people think fried chicken and biscuits are suitable to feed a child. Most Americans have no idea how much refined grains and sugar they are consuming, or the correlation between that and type 2 diabetes.

 Don’t romanticize the past.  While I do believe much of our obesity problem is because of the food industry, eating like your ancestors doesn’t guarantee healthy eating. The one thing I disagree with author Michael Pollen about in his book, “In Defense of Food” was his contention that people in the past ate better. Some did, most didn’t. We may be dying from an overabundance of sugar and calories now, but people died from pellagra, beri beri, scurvy and rickets in the past. Poverty and poor availability of food were extremely common. People in the rural south at corn, but, unlike the Native Americans, they didn’t know to soak their corn in alkali to make its niacin content digestible, which caused rampant pellagra. They also liked it “degermed,” taking more of the B vitamins out. People, for some reason, like their food white and mushy. So rice was also degermed, making it “white.” Rich people ate white bread because it cost more and was “finer”,  that made everyone want it. People abandoned whole wheat as being too rural or poor, which we now know was a huge mistake.

Poverty was a driving force. People took advantage of each other, bakers put sawdust, chalk or alum in the bread, spices covered the smell of spoiling meat, they watered down and chalked the milk. People ate what they could afford, which might be good, like collards or beans, or bad, like fat back, white bread and mayonnaise sandwiches. The ultimate hierarchy of good eating for most people in the past was simply getting enough food to not go to bed hungry.

Education was spotty or nonexistent in the past. Who was teaching about food? The local grange or cooperative extension? Home Ec. class in school? What did they teach? Did they just focus on food safety or how to follow recipes? Or did lessons of nutrition get taught? Did you only get this education if you were middle class or higher? I’ve read some grange and home ec. material from the 40’s and 50’s, and most of it was very sound. Even back then they recommended to not eat cake often. However, then, as now, people had to seek out information, and most didn’t.

Cereal was invented as health food. At the time commercial  cereal was invented, rich people ate whatever they liked, without regard for whether it was good for them or not, poor people ate whatever was cheap.  Having read writings from the past, there was a lot of common knowledge that vegetables were good for you. But then, as now, cake tasted better. People went to spas and sanitariums as they do now, to lose weight and feel better. The sanitariums, for the most part, fed them vegetables and whole grains. It was out of these sanitariums that the cereal industry was born. Those early cereals weren’t too bad; they were whole grains that weren’t overly sweetened. Boxed cereal was affordable, so the poorer people bought it too.

The government got involved. The government later demanded fortification in response to widespread health deficiencies. Bread and flour was fortified with B vitamins in response to pellagra and beri beri, milk with A&D against night blindness and rickets, salt with iodine to prevent goiter. The government also passed food safety laws. While I’m no fan of overreaching governmental influence, those things have made a huge difference.  Not every parent can parent, and if you can prevent a child from having a low IQ from serious deficiencies, they at least stand a chance.

You know, but you don’t know. Now we know better. As a society we are being educated to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. That’s why no one eats hot dogs on buns anymore. Fried chicken has been completely taken over by grilled. And when was the last time you saw a french fry? Ok, so my sarcasm is over the top here. But seriously, do we know? Then why is there a whole aisle devoted to soda? Why is sweet tea still the national drink of the south? Why are white flour breads, rolls and cookies still out there in abundance? Judging by the success of the fast food industry, the amount of donuts brought into work, the aisles of junk in the supermarket, we still have a very, very long way to go.

Getting back to my cereal. For me, it’s desert, for someone else, the healthiest choice of the day. If the choice is between cereal and a donut, cereal doesn’t look so bad. For those of us who worry about our diets and try to eat for health more than taste, try to remember “The perfect is the enemy of the good”. Many people will not give up what tastes good, in spite of being diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, metabolic disorder or the host of other ailments that can be prevented or mitigated with diet. If we can make some of those foods healthier, or steer people away from the worst offenders, we’ll have still made a difference.


How I make Yogurt

I am currently on a big yogurt kick, primarily fueled by having bought an Instantpot®. Yes, I’ve joined that cult. No, I don’t cook everything in it, but when it comes to beans or yogurt, I’m a believer.

My daughter bought me a lovely yogurt maker that I used for years, but it used 7 little jars, which I always ended up combining. I often wished there was a way to make a BIG batch of yogurt at one time, but keeping the temperature correct, which is the key, seemed too iffy. The yogurt making feature of the Instantpot was half the reason I bought it, with it’s 8 quart capacity. IF you say to me, “why make it when you can buy it”, I reply, it is cheaper, and I get a great deal of satisfaction, and I get the whey. More about that later.IMG-4965

So what I do is heat the milk first in the microwave, using a very large bowl. I am not certain about the reason for this, my understanding is that it eliminates foreign bacteria that could spoil it, or possibly it changes the nature of the protein, making the yogurt thicker. In any case, I do it and it has always worked. I have never worried too much about the temperature, I get it good and hot, over 160 F on my thermometer. I used to do one qt. at 11 minutes, I do 2 qts. at 15 minutes on high and all seems well.

Next I let it cool to 120 F. I made two batches this week, one using frozen whey, the other fresh, and the first I added the frozen whey when it was at 140 F, hoping the fact the whey was frozen would prevent it from killing the bacteria, the second it was cooler than 120 F, as I had forgotten it, and they both turned out fine.

A note on the whey. I have gone from feeding it to my dogs, plants, compost, etc., to hoarding it for myself. Using a half cup or so to start the next batch is about all I’ll spare from eating it myself. It does make for a more liquid yogurt to use it for the starter, but I strain my yogurt anyway, so I get it back.

Next you add the starter to the warm milk, either in the pot you heated in, or the Instantpot. The starter can be whey from a previous batch, yogurt from the store, as long as it is plain and says live cultures, or yogurt from your previous batch. If you don’t plan on straining your yogurt, don’t start it with whey.

The next step is to throw it in the instant pot on the yogurt setting for 12 hours. You can do 8-10, but I like to give the little critters all the time they might need. I have no idea if there is such a thing as too long.  Put the lid on, go to sleep and wake up to yogurt the next day. When you take the lid off, take a peek and see if it is jelly like with chartreuse liquid about. Don’t worry if you don’t see any liquid, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

Now I pour it in a strainer lined with paper towels set over a LARGE bowl. I set it in the fridge until I remember IMG-4966to look at it again. Seriously. I always forget about it at this stage. It can get too thick for my liking, so I get aggravated at myself if I forget it too long. It has to be a large bowl. You will be shocked at how much whey is in there. Cleaning whey off of the fridge shelf is not my idea of fun. I left it for 6 hours yesterday and that was pretty good. I usually do it for 4-8 hours.

Don’t panic if the paper towel sticks when you go to dump the yogurt IMG-4967

out to it’s final home. For whatever reason, yogurt sticks better to itself than to the towel. I’ve never had a big problem with separating the two. yogurt.jpg

Here is the final product in all it’s glory, ready to eat. I don’t know if you can see in the picture, but more whey continues to come up even after all that straining.

Now, about all that whey. I tried soaking my everyday loaded oatmeal in it overnight and now I’m hooked. I try to keep sugar to a minimum, and somehow the whey makes the oatmeal taste sweeter, and makes the texture creamier. If that idea does not appeal to you, you can still use it for your pets or plants, or even as the liquid in baking bread, it’ll give the yeast a boost and condition the dough.

I’m going to be nice. If you are on a diet where you have to avoid something, I won’t pick on you. Many people have to avoid certain foods for lots of reasons. If you think it is making you healthier, well, that depends on what you are replacing the banned food with.

This post was prompted by my amusement over my husband’s creamer bottle, proudly stating iIMG_4611t is gluten and lactose free. If you have celiac disease, or are lactose intolerant, that’s a good thing to know. However, if you think for one moment that either of those things makes creamer healthy, it doesn’t.  First, the ingredient list is closer to a chemistry classroom than a kitchen, and second, sugar is a top ingredient. Third, I don’t know how quickly you’d go through a quart bottle, but in our house, it’s about a one a week. I did the math. That’s 35 calories a serving, times 63 servings, 2,205 calories a week. That’s a whole days worth of calories in one extra ingredient. That is a perfect example of little things adding up.

Getting back to the “Free” business. Just because something doesn’t have an ingredient that is on your personal no-no list, doesn’t make it a good product. I know vegans that live on brownies and potato chips, since they make vegan versions. White bread is vegan, and there are a multitude of reasons to not eat it.

I’m lactose intolerant, so I might get enticed by our little creamer here, except for all the problems already mentioned. Nowadays there are dozens of options, from lactase pills, lactose free milk, soy, almond, coconut and rice milk. Since I look to milk for protein, carbs, and calcium, I opt for soy. Most almond milk, no matter how fortified, doesn’t have the same profile. When you decide something is off your eating list, you have to carefully consider what to put in its place.

Another example. Sugar is very bad for you. I could show you all the studies, but it is like using rocket fuel in grandma’s sedan. Unless you are very, very active, you won’t use it, and it will raise your blood sugar and increase the odds you’ll get diabetes. Like everyone else on this planet, I have a strong desire for sweets. So what to do? Rather than substituting something else, I try to keep the quantity of real sugar to a minimum. I try to avoid “mindless” sweets, and save my sugar for the “good stuff”, in my case, chocolate.

I found another funny example. Look. It’s a sensible choice. No fat, no cholesterol, no trans fat. Must be good, right? Turn it over and read the label. IMG_4646

IMG_4647 Twenty seven grams of sugar in a one third cup serving. That is identical to a Snickers candy bar. If you are trying to lose weight, fine. A snickers has 250 calories. If you are striving for all over health, and healthy foods, no.

I love my cranberries. I put them in almost everything. However, I don’t put 1/3 of a cup in. They are a condiment, and a source of sugar. I do try and eliminate certain foods, sugar being one, so I try and keep that overall amount of added sugar down to 25 grams. I wouldn’t want to  blow all of that on one serving of cranberries!

Moral of the story? Don’t trust labels or eliminating specific categories of food to make you healthy. Eat mostly vegetables, then fruit, then grains, meats and dairy and finally sweets. Read the labels. Learn all you can. Whatever your favorite belief system is about food, read the criticism of it and see if it is accurate. If you aren’t getting the results you want, rethink what you are doing. Don’t follow fads. Keep trying.

Faith in Things Unseen

So I haven’t written in awhile, I’ve been so busy going back to school. However, an event today spurred me, since it is too long for a Facebook post.

I put a pond in about two years ago.IMG_4334

This is what it looked like in the beginning of summer, after I got two koi to add to my gold fish. The little colored specks are the fish. I get very attached to them. The light colored one towards the back, that’s Blondie. I really didn’t think she’d made it through the winter. Every time I thought she was gone, she fooled me. Other ones did die, I bought 6 more goldfish at the beginning of this summer, along with the koi.

All this time, I’ve wanted to deepen it. I felt we were too hasty to get it done and didn’t dig it deep enough. Especially since I kept finding dead fish in my pump, which I kept in the deepest part. I felt the fish were trying to get in there to hide from predators.

Well, I hadn’t seen a fish in weeks. Yesterday I put water clarifier in, the pond was very green. It must not have been enough, it only lightened the green, it didn’t make it disappear the way it did previously in the above picture. Today, I was convinced the fish were gone, and I thought “Now’s my chance to dig it deeper, with no fish to worry about.”

Can you guess where this is going? Oh me of little faith. Not only was Blondie and one of the koi alive, but someone had been busy. There were at least 5 goldfish that I had never seen before. Very little goldfish. I couldn’t have been more proud if I had hatched them myself.

empty pond, looking awful.

See that little muddy hole? There was still one more fish in there after I scooped all the others out. I never found him till I was done and started putting everything back.

Of course, I have to give credit to my helper.My long suffering husband. I'm sure this is not how he expected to spend his Sunday afternoon. Once my husband saw I was determined to do this, he came out to help.


It was all worth it in the end.

I even made a new hiding place for them. Now they don’t have to commit suicide in the pump to get away from bad guys. Moral of the story: Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it is isn’t there. And it might just be better than you thought. And you can make all the spiritual allegories you want. I will, and do.


“Should I Juice?”

This is what a friend of mine asked me recently. Since I am obsessed with fitness and nutrition, I would have thought this question had been answered and settled long ago. I forget for people who don’t think about this stuff all the time, this might be the first time they heard of juicing. I have two answers. One, you’re a grownup, do what you want, and two, no, it won’t do what people are telling you it will do.

I told my friend that if what she wanted to do is fast, sure, go ahead. She said, “No, this isn’t fasting, as least they don’t say it is”. Let me assure you,unless you are on TPN, if all you are consuming is two glasses of juice a day, you are fasting. Or even three glasses. Just drinking the juice of a plant or fruit in limited quantities is not enough calories for a day. And yes, you will lose tons of weight, since you are not eating enough. And yes, you will gain it all back, plus some, the minute you resume normal eating because while you were fasting, you weren’t establishing better eating habits and you probably weren’t exercising because you felt like a limp noodle.

So my friend said, “what if I put it all in a blender and make a smoothie?” Well, that is better, at least you are getting the fiber and bulk, and that will slow down all that sugar from hitting your bloodstream at once, but still, what have you learned? Are you planning on eating that way the rest of your life? What is your transition plan? Plus, all those foods are delicious. Why put them into a blender and end up with something you can barely tolerate?

That brings me to my next point- most people pushing juicing are doing so to sell something. Either a powder to add to the juice, or a juicer, or their book. Anytime you see a “new” diet method, follow the money. What are they selling.

So, juice or smoothie if that’s what you love. Remember it has calories, so if you are adding juice to your diet, replace something else. In fact, you want me to support your juicing, tell me it replaced doughnuts in your life, then I’ll be on board all the way! A fruit and vegetable smoothie is a GREAT replacement to 90% of what Americans eat for breakfast. Add some yogurt or protein powder and have that. I’m not against those things by themselves, I’m against people trying to lose weight with JUST those, and no plan. Remember the “sensible meal” part, and learn what that is.

It’s Never Enough

Our society jokes about being “OCD”, and obsessive compulsive disorder figures in many tv shows like Monk, so it’s a familiar concept to many people. I’m not going to talk about the psychiatric disorder, but rather its precursor that is in all of us, that need to have or do more.

I have several friends who have Christmas villages that take over their houses every Christmas. It may take them months of free time to set up and take down. Yet, there is always something else to get for the village. As far as I know, they are still collecting.

My mother had anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder where there is no stopping the desire to lose weight by not eating. Their only goal is to lose weight, and there is no reasonable end point.

No reasonable end point. That’s the problem, isn’t it? While we get aggravated by the perceived slackers in our society, even they will play video games till they lose jobs or need Redbull to go on. It’s what appalls us about capitalism, that no matter how much money a person or a company makes, it’s never enough. It’s a biological drive run amuck, or subverted in ways we don’t see anymore. It’s why athletes take drugs to do more, it’s at the root of addiction, it’s why people amass huge collections. It can make people either impressive or pitiable. It took us to the moon, and causes there to be a “1%”. It is part of our nature, for better or worse, once you look for it, you see it everywhere.

We always talk about obsessive behavior in terms of the rewards. Hoarders supposedly have a sense of loss that the stuff around them staves off. Of course, if your obsessively focused behavior gains you money or status, the payoff is obvious, but I would suggest it is a drive, like hunger, and that the payoff is in satisfying it. I know for myself, I have that driven feeling very strongly, but fortunately I can channel it any number of ways, although once something takes hold, it is hard to stop it. I “need” to make things, and I “need” to exercise. I put those in quotes, as they both have the type of urge in them. It is an emotional/mental need for me, that if I don’t do it, I can’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t make anything during the last semester, I subverted all my drive into school. I literally went on a creative bender once school ended.

I usually like to end my blog entries with a solution. But is this a problem? I picked some examples that can end in problems, but the drive itself can lead to great things. I just want to float the idea, to get it out there for others to play with. Maybe if we start thinking about the drive itself, instead of its objects, maybe we can get a better handle on it.

What are your drives? Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? That need to do the thing,  that is gets you out of bed in the morning and what you go to sleep thinking about? Is it your motivation, or your bane?

The One you Feed

Alert- this  post features Christian thought.

So our Sunday school lesson this morning is on Psalm 119:9-16. I was struck by these verses, “9  How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
10 With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!”

I was thinking how hard it is for me to memorize bible verses, and what it means to hide God’s word in your heart. It made me think about the story of the Two Wolves, an old Indian legend about the war in the human heart being a war between two wolves, one good and one bad, and the one that wins is the one you feed. Reading God’s word is feeding the good wolf.

I don’t know how many of you know about neural plasticity, the idea that our brain actually reshapes as we learn, a blessing since we don’t grow new neurons, and damage does occur. When we learn things, our brain makes new physical connections between the neurons. When someone has a stroke, other parts of their brain can “rewire” to take over for the damaged parts, making connections to cover those lost areas. We can see this happening for physical tasks, like walking, talking and feeding yourself. This also true of the more nebulous things like feelings, personality and remembering phone numbers.

This time of year is difficult for me, I get sad and maudlin. All the negatives in my life, from childhood to mistakes in raising my own children rear up and assault me in the emotionally charged atmosphere of holidays. Last night I did not allow those thoughts to take over, instead, I found the things that gave me pleasure, and focused on those. I have not had an alcoholic beverage in over 20 years, and I was musing on how quickly a bad mood  of such magnitude could arise as to cause fleeting thoughts of it to pass through. Through long experience I knew other choices to make, and made those instead, reinforcing the positive pathways in my brain.

Feelings come and go, we can stoke the good ones, and tamp down the negative ones. Our decision making ability is the one thing under our control. We can’t control emotions springing up, but, like water, we can channel those emotions so they can become positive things. We can choose what thoughts we allow, and where our thoughts will go. Thoughts are what trigger emotions. If you don’t believe me, just think about whether you turned the stove off, or if a bill is overdue!  If we spend time in God’s word, or around positive people, or reframe our experiences for the positive, we can remake our thoughts. Reframing means changing the context of a thought. For example, I can think “my friend didn’t call me because she is angry with me”, causing a cascade of negative feelings, or I can think “my friend didn’t call me, because like me, she is busy and had no reason to call”, causing no feeling. In other words, don’t go borrowing trouble.  If any of you are suffering from depression, I don’t mean to make it sound easy, I have been there, I know you need help getting a foothold on that ability to reframe.

Which brings me to my last thought. Every time I read about a person changing their life, it comes down to making up their mind to do so.  But most of them had tried changing more than once. Most of the people who succeeded had failed previous attempts. I really think it is like Dumbo’s magic feather. For those that don’t know, Dumbo was an elephant whose enormous ears allowed him to fly, but he didn’t believe he could, so his friend gave him a “magic feather” and convinced him it gave him the power of flight. I think most of us just need a magic feather. You have to have faith that you aren’t in this alone, that you can do what it is you are attempting, and that it will work. Without that faith, attempts fail. I had tried to quit smoking numerous times before I succeeded. Someone said to me “don’t smoke, even if your butt falls off”, and that thought carried me through. It reframed the situation for me. Instead of thinking “can I get through stressful situations without a cigarette?”, it became “nothing is more important than quitting.”

Of course, as a Christian, I believe God is the ultimate object to have faith in. If anyone is familiar with 12 step therapy, you know that they frame it as a higher power, which can be anything outside yourself. Sometimes you need a “subcategory” of something to have faith in, like the fact that others have done what you are doing, or that the process is worth it.

I wrote all of this to pass on what it has taken me years to learn, and what benefits me on a daily basis, as someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, who did go down the road of addiction and come back. I hope my explanation is clear, and that you might get some benefit from it.

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