Midlife Is Kicking My Butt

A few weeks ago, I threw out an errant tweet about some possible heart palpitations that had come on suddenly and then stayed with me. I was wondering if they might be a side effect of the Singulair I had started a few weeks earlier.

Well, I have my answer. It’s a side effect, all right, but not of the Singulair.

Toting around a Holter monitor for 24 hours revealed a bunch of PVCs—“premature ventricular contractions.” The name conjures the miles of PVC piping that adorn Boy Scientist’s crazy bedroom/laboratory.

PVCs of the coronary variety are an early and weak-ish contraction of the lower chambers of the heart. They’re usually followed by a contraction that’s more forceful than usual and that makes it feel as though your heart has skipped a beat, or is pounding, or that you have butterflies in your chest and throat.

Our friendly family doc described it as the electrical signal going flooey for a moment. It sounds bad, but is apparently not dangerous, once you’ve ruled the dangerous stuff out. (If you’re feeling something similar, get thee to your doctor).

PVCs, it seems, are pretty common. They’re certainly common in me now. The monitor detected a few hundred over the course of the day, even though I felt only three or four, and felt them rather tentatively, at that.

So, welcome my fluttery new friend.

The side effect part? Well, at about the same time, I suddenly found myself overheating for a minute or so at a time several times a day. Hot flashes!

“Aha!” said my doc. It’s midlife, the heart palpitations go with it, and it’s barging in just when I’m still far too young for this.

So, now I’ve got David Bowie’s “Changes” on an endless loop in my brain, even though it’s not exactly apt. Boy, those are some crazy lyrics. Pretty soon now, you’re gonna get a little older? Yeah. I’ll say.

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Why I’m Quitting Whole Foods

Perhaps you’ve heard it. Or heard about it.

On NPR’s Morning Edition, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey this week called Obamacare “fascism”:

“Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

I’m guessing the emails started rolling in, because the next day he backtracked—kinda, sorta—by telling CBS This Morning that it was “a bad choice of words.”

I’ll say it was a bad choice of words. And despite the pseudo-retraction, it’s a word choice that’s driving me out of Whole Foods. Which is too bad and is going to be a pain in the neck, because that’s where I’ve done the bulk of my weekly shopping for years now. Old habits die hard.

“Fascism” is a term that gets thrown around far too much these days, along with its rhetorical kin: communism, socialism, and, of course, Nazism.  They’ve become devoid of meaning—signifiers for bad and scary, as well as for the Obama agenda.

The legitimately passed law of a representative democracy is a far cry from fascism. And, frankly, the moderate insurance-company-placating approach of Obmacare is a far cry from socialism or communism, either.

Calling policies you disagree with “fascist” does nothing to further or elevate discourse.  Throwing around “fascism” chips away at the meaning of historical horrors and repressive regimes that Mackey rightfully—but belatedly and halfheartedly—acknowledges. It calls out the crazy troops.

I’ve been shopping at Whole Foods for years, even knowing about Mackey’s on-the-record opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Their produce made me look the other way.

No more. I’m out. I don’t want profit from my food dollars going to Mackey. With a good local food coop and an amazing farmers market in town, I’m lucky to have choices, even if they’re less convenient. Time to start using my muscle in the marketplace, John. That’s MY “conscious capitalism.”

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Mish Mash Muffins

2013 seems to have arrived in darkness. The Newtown shooting in December got wrapped up in a very personal way with my own sadness over the yartzheit of my father. Add in a few miscellaneous physical issues—a mild but stubborn respiratory bug that began (and periodically continues) with vertigo, a strange bout of heart palpitations, a stabbing hip pain—and it’s been hard to muster enthusiasm for the new year.

These muffins came along just in time, spreading a bit of sunshine in the kitchen. They are a slightly tweaked version of these gluten-free morning glory muffins, themselves a tweak on the original.

Photo of muffins

Mmmmm! Muffins!

Boy Scientist gave them two thumbs up and promptly dubbed them “Mish Mash Muffins,” which seems pretty apt to me.

Now all I need is a little Downton Abbey escapism, and perhaps things will start looking up again.

For those of you with multiple allergies: I apologize.  This one is chock full of nuts, coconut, and eggs. I’m pretty sure the chopped nuts are expendable, but I cannot vouch for using egg replacer or omitting the coconut. Let me know if you give it a try.

Mish Mash Muffins (makes about 24 wheat-free and dairy-free muffins)

Dry ingredients

½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups King Arthur brand gluten-free multi-purpose flour (see note)
½ tsp. xanthan gum (see note)
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. ground gloves
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

Chunky ingredients

2 cups grated carrot (about 4 large carrots)
1 apple, peeled and grated
8 oz. can of crushed pineapples, drained (see note)
¾ cup raisins
½ cup shredded dried coconut
½ cup chopped pecans (or another nut, if you prefer)

Wet ingredients

3 large eggs
1 cup light oil (I used ¾ cup olive oil + ¼ cup grapeseed oil)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease muffin tins or line with paper.
  3. Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Add all the chunky ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to mix well. The dry ingredients will try to sift through to the bottom of the bowl. Don’t let them.
  5. Add in the wet ingredients and stir until you have a thick batter.
  6. Portion out into muffin cups.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes (test with a cake tester).
  8. Cool a few minutes, remove to a rack, and commence devouring.

NOTES

I have learned from the inimitable Colette Martin that the weight of your gluten-free flour matters. A lot. If you use a lighter or heavier flour, you’ll want to adjust the amount. King Arthur is apparently on the heavy side.

If your flour already includes xanthan or guar gum, omit the xanthan.

I didn’t have crushed pineapple on hand, just pineapple chunks. Chop them finely and you’re good to go.

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Resolved

noisemaker_cropGrowing up, I made exhaustive New Year’s resolutions. Clean my room, write to my grandparents, be nice to my sister, blah, blah, and blah.

None of those lists lasted very long. Did yours?

This year, instead of things that are primarily character-building, I’m taking a different approach. Here are a few resolutions that I would like to keep, not because I know I ought to, but because I genuinely want to.

The resolutions are to…

Move. I really, really need to exercise more. I really, really want to exercise more. No marathons. I’d be happy with a regular walking routine and resuming yoga, which I abandoned when Boy Scientist came along a decade ago. Exercising also means coming to terms with my middle aged body and the various things that seem to be wrong with it these days—the asthma, now some mystery heart palpitations, to say nothing of crazy knees and hips and tendons. My theory is that my joints are paying the price for years of youthful ballet classes. My doctor disagrees. Either way, they are part of the package. It’s time to figure out the work-around for all of these things.

Act. The massacre at Sandy Hook in December continues to leave me shaken and outraged.  I know that many factors contribute to these horrors, but, after weeks of reading, I feel more convinced than ever that American gun laws are insanity. Activism was last a meaningful part of my life in college, but I have never, as an adult, felt more compelled to act than I do now. I am starting by helping to organize an informational program at our synagogue. I am also contacting all the local moms I know to see if we can organize some appropriate action or learn of one underway. I do not know what there is to be done, but it feels urgent to do something.

Write. The blog took a nosedive this fall as the Massively Allergen-Free Diet came to a crashing halt, and also as I completed an online certificate program that ate most of my evenings and weekends. I’m back. I’m pretty sure that I have things to say, perhaps even more things than I realize. I’d like to flex my creativity more. Will it all be in the blog? I doubt it. But blogging is a start, and perhaps some journaling, and then who knows. Common wisdom says, “Put your butt in the chair and write.” Right after I exercise, o.k.?

Move. Act. Write. Sounds easy, but, dang, they’re tough. Something always gets in the way. Perhaps focusing on satisfaction, rather than obligation, will be a good motivator. So will remembering that doing anything is more than I’m doing now.

And so, may your resolutions, if you have them, make your life better instead of harder. Happy 2013, everyone.

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One Week

Dec. 21. We’re still here.

But, honestly, I’m not so sure.

I have been trying all week to write something about my horror and grief following the massacre at Sandy Hook. There has been no way to say it. Imagining those children, imagining the anguish of their families. It’s all too much.

Today, that despair has been matched only by revulsion at the NRA’s press conference. I don’t know what they might have said exactly, but guns in every school? This is insanity. This is immorality.  This is a violent, dystopian, misanthropic vision for our country and our future. This is life as a prison, as a shoot-out, as mortal combat.

And yet, so many seem to embrace this view. Reading comments on news articles is like falling down the rabbit hole. I begin to wonder if there can be any common ground, any compromise with those who insist not only that more guns make us safer, but also that it is the right of “we the people” to arm ourselves–without restraint–against our own tyrannical government; who believe, in fact, that such government is imminent if not already upon us. I am not sure we live on the same planet. I am not sure that we read the same words.

Dec. 21. We’re still here. But the universe feels irredeemably changed, irreparably broken. Our children are paying for our national paranoia and our national love affair with guns. I fear that we will have much to answer for.

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Mr. Eos’s Totally Awesome Allergen-Free Latkes

latkes_cropAllergen-free cooking has felt too frequently like one big compromise. Working without the magic of gluten or the sweet richness of butter means that “good enough” is often about as good as it gets.

This week, we had a first. Mr. Eos made his trademark potato latkes—the fried potato patties that are traditional at Chanukah—and he graciously made them allergen-free. The result was not simply “good enough,” not even merely “good.” The Eos family has decided, by a vote of three to zero, that allergen-free latkes are better than standard latkes.

There’s not much in latkes to begin with. Some potato, some onion. Throw in an egg or two, add a dash of matzoh meal. Salt, pepper, oil, fry, and there you go. We were all a little nervous about tinkering with so few ingredients.

But substituting flax seed for the egg and gluten-free flour for the matzoh meal produced latkes that were unusually light, delicate, and potato-y. Mr. Eos even let us talk him into making a second batch tonight, jut to be sure that the first go-round wasn’t a fluke.

It wasn’t.

Call it a Chanukah miracle. Call it anything you want. Just enjoy!

Mr. Eos’s Totally Awesome Allergen-Free Latkes
(Makes about 2 dozen)

½ medium onion
2 medium russet (“baking”) potatoes (about 1 pound)
1 Tbs. flax seed
3 Tbs. gluten-free flour (we used the King Arthur’s all-purpose blend)
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil (safflower, canola, or something else that can take high heat)

  1. Combine the flax seed with 3 Tbs. warm water. Allow to thicken.

    Photo of latke batter

    Latke batter looks like mashed potatoes.

  2. In a food processor with regular (not grating) blade, process the onion. Then add the potatoes in chunks. Process until mushy, about the consistency of mashed potatoes.
  3. Let sit for a few minutes. Drain off the accumulated water, then squeeze out the remaining moisture with a dish towel or paper towel.
  4. In a bowl, combine the potato mixture, the flax seed gel, the flour, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
  5. Pour enough oil into a skillet or electric fry pan to generously cover the entire bottom of the pan. Heat the oil until it’s hot enough for frying. (Our electric skillet was set to about 380 degrees)

    Photo of latkes in pan

    Frying!

  6. Drop blobs of the potato batter into the oil and flatten with a spatula.
  7. When the latkes are browned around the edges, flip and cook on the second side until browned.
  8. Remove to a plate or baking sheet covered with paper towels for draining. The baking sheet can be put into a warm oven if you need to keep the latkes warm for a while.
  9. Serve with applesauce. (And sour cream, if you can eat dairy)

Bonus tips from Mr. Eos

  • The oil has to be really hot for these babies to fry. But not so hot that everything burns to a crisp.
  • Don’t make the latkes too big or too thick. You want them to cook through and get nice and crispy. Ours were no more than 2 or 3 inches in diameter. Forget the dumplings you sometimes see in the store.
  • Be patient in cooking. Really wait until they are brown and crispy around the edges before flipping them. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Chanukah!

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Lesson

When I returned in my early twenties from two years in Paris, I vowed to learn to cook. The mother of the French family I had stayed with made it all look so easy. She knew how to shop. She knew how to roast. She could sauté  purée, flambé, and even make vinegar. She also knew how to wear a scarf, but that’s a different story.

Back stateside, one of the first books I bought was the classic Moosewood Cookbook, and one of the first recipes I tried was the curried squash and mushroom soup.

I did everything meticulously. Three cups of squash meant three cups. The instructions said to bake the squash first and then sauté the mushrooms, so that was the order I followed.

Making that same soup tonight brought me back, as it always does, to the tiny New York kitchen where I first decided—finicky, bewildered me—that I would somehow master this mystery of making food.

I was also congratulating myself. What had once seemed a bewildering list of ingredients and steps was now part of a simple pattern, one that I had repeated dozens of times with dozens of variations: Vegetables, liquid, flavorings, simmer. I still can’t tie a scarf to save my life, but soup, I can do.

I was so busy feeling smug about my own development that I neglected to pay attention to the rest of dinner. There was a noise that I had never heard before. Opening the oven a few minutes later, I found something that I had never done before.

potatoexplosion

For the first time in over twenty years of cooking, I had exploded a baked potato! The most rudimentary of cooking tasks, and it was now all over my oven.

There must be a lesson here somewhere. I’m not usually one for cosmic comeuppance—at least not with something as minor as cooking—but it felt like the universe was taking me back down a notch. Be mindful, the potato seemed to reproach me, be mindful even when you’re on autopilot. Be mindful even with the things you’ve done a thousand times before.

There is always something new, even in the simplest of tasks. There can always be surprise in the familiar. There is always something there to see, even if the universe has to plaster it all over the oven to help you see it, even if the universe takes you back to basics in the messiest of ways.

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The Pie Report

I wasn’t expecting to post about The Pie, but a couple of Twitter inquiries have prompted me to pull this one together. Sorry for the lack of beauty shots!

First, off, put me firmly in the camp of those for whom Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without a slice of apple pie. So, about a week ago, I frantically started asking around the Twitterverse for a wheat-free, dairy-free recipe. This wasn’t a search for the perfect pie, just something not too gross and gloppy.

Thank you, tweeps, who pointed me in the direction of Cybele Pascal!

A few renditions of her pie crust recipe are online, such as here and here. (Note: However helpful these posts were, it pains me as a librarian even to point to copyright violations, so I won’t be reproducing the recipe here myself. If you ever read this, Cybele, please know that I’ll be purchasing  a copy of your book once Buy Nothing Day is over!)

I’m usually pretty lax about approximations and substitutions in recipes, but this one I followed scrupulously, with fairly attractive, if somewhat crumbly results:

Photo of unbaked apple pie

Not a thing of beauty, but definitely a pie. Ready to go in the oven.

The one exception to scrupulous recipe-following was that I had to use the Arrowhead Mills brown rice flour and the Bob’s Red Mill white rice flour that were on hand. The recommendation is for Authentic Foods superfine brown rice flour, and now I know why.

The crust was entirely delicious—flaky, crispy, and browned. But the whole thing was permeated by little pieces of slightly crunchy grit. Not as bad as eating sand; just crunch where there shouldn’t have been crunch. If it makes the grit go away, then an investment in the Authentic brand flour will be totally worthwhile. Pie!

You can see that the grit didn’t bother us too much:

Apple pie

The day after.

For the filling, I peeled and sliced six or seven apples: a couple of Grannies, a couple of goldens, a couple of whatever else we had on hand. (Mixing apples is always my favorite trick for pies and applesauce; it gives a much better flavor.) Tossed the apples with about 3 Tbs. tapioca flour; a quarter cup or so of sugar; unmeasured shakes of ground cinnamon, cloves, and allspice; and a squeeze of lime juice (thanks for the idea, Alton Brown). I let the whole business set while making up the crust, and then, since many of my other wheat-free baking experiments have turned out kind of soggy, I drained off the juice for fear of swamping the crust.

Popped the pan on a baking sheet on the bottom shelf of our electric oven for 25 minutes at 425 degrees, then another 45 minutes at 375 degrees. The whole thing needed to be tented under aluminum foil about halfway through to prevent burning.

This morning, I’m back on more familiar territory, with a big pot of turkey carcass soup simmering away on the stove and making the house smell fabulous for the second day in a row.

Photo of turkey stock in pot.

Mmmmm. Turkey soup!

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving!

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Thankful

photo of water in a glassWe have a joke in our house: Where other people see the glass half full, I see it three-quarters empty. Also dirty. And maybe the water is a little cloudy.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel deeply, deeply thankful. Perhaps I’m even more thankful than I might otherwise be for that remaining quarter of the glass. What is scarce is precious.

This year I am thankful for:

Mr. Eos and Boy Scientist. All summer, when I was cooking up wacky kitchen concoctions, they gamely tried every single thing that came out of the oven or off the stovetop. Sometimes, they were even more game than I was. They bent their diets, chose to forego eating at some of our favorite restaurants, and didn’t poach my safe chocolate too much. Mr. Eos schleps me to and from scopes, and Boy Scientist bravely lets me sleep it off. For my birthday earlier this month, uncertain what treat would be mom-safe, they concocted a beautiful plate of fruit with a bowl of first-class melted chocolate.  They stuck a candle in the banana. They bring joy to my life every day.

An amazing medical team. EGIDs are often mystery ailments, and some people wait years for a diagnosis. But right next door, I have a gastroenterologist and an allergist who are on top of this game, part of the next generation of doctors trying to crack these conditions. What’s more, they are capable, compassionate, and open-minded. They don’t balk at my many, many questions. They answer emails. They talk to each other, and they tell me about it.  There’s also my amazing new family doctor, who walked into my first appointment and said, “So tell me something non-medical about yourself.” She always greets me with a hug and she warned me up front that the practice often runs late because they want to give everyone their full attention. In fact, they do often run late. And when it’s my turn, I get her full attention for just as long as it’s needed. I’m fine with the running late part.

Corticosteroids. Really, what else do I need to say?

Food allergy awareness. It stinks that the incidence of food allergies and EGIDs climbs and climbs. It’s rotten that there are so many people with celiac disease. But thank goodness for the shelves of crazy ingredients at my local Whole Foods and my food co-op. Thank goodness for allergy-aware bloggers and cookbook authors such as Karina Allrich, Colette Martin, and Cybele Pascal. My plate would be much emptier and more bleak without the forces that bring safe ingredients to the stores and the culinary whizzes who use them to develop tasty recipes.

The Interwebs. I’ve said it before: When I was first diagnosed some thirty (!) years ago, eosinophilic gastroenteritis was weird and lonely. Today, the miracles of blogs, Twitter, and online patient groups have shifted the landscape beyond recognition. Online, I’ve met amazing strong people who deal with EGIDs and many other challenges with grace, wisdom, humor, and generosity. I’ve learned so much that I wouldn’t know otherwise. My understanding of healthcare, health professions, and patient-hood has become so much richer and more nuanced. With so many good people out there, here is a reason to feel optimistic.

So, there is much to be thankful for, and it feels good to immerse in gratitude. May you find a day, an hour, or even just a moment of joy this Thanksgiving. May you have much to fill your glass.

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Worth a Shot?

Flickr: Thomas Weidenhaupt

Poor blog. I’ve been neglecting you and I hate that.

The last month has brought an incrementally expanding diet. Rice, chicken, beef, corn, apple, and soy have are all back on the menu. What riches! It’s like a buffet all the time.

The next biggies to try will be nuts and coconut. Then, what I have recently learned are called “high heat eggs.” And then that’s about it.

“High heat eggs” is a term that I heard from my allergist on Friday, during an appointment to see how the food re-introductions are going, and also what’s up with my continuing shortness of breath.

I was skeptical going in to the appointment. Even though the allergist had spent a fair amount of time answering questions, I wasn’t sure she was quite getting my wish to receive detailed information or a full explanation of test results, such as the pulmonary function test she had sent me for. It’s not that she was dismissive or unkind; she just seemed a little puzzled by my desire for detail.

This time, things went much, much better. She reviewed the test results with me in great detail (upshot: maybe some small airway issues, but minor, and the large airways seemed fine). She acknowledged the symptoms I’ve been having, and also the anxiety they cause me.  She didn’t think it was weird that albuterol didn’t touch the breathing, but did make me feel like crap. She was really honest about the limitations of immunological knowledge. She’s wary of pharmaceutical company claims.

Most interesting of all, though: I think we may have something new to try.

Signs suggest the breathing issues have an allergic origin. We talked about trying Singulair and then, since I didn’t love that idea, also about giving allergy shots a try. There is apparently some thinking that, in addition to a good track record for essentially curing environmental allergies, the shots can also calm the immune system generally. So, turning down the aeroallergen reactions maybe, just maybe, could also help with the GI eos.

This approach is appealing to me because it’s become my fear that these immune reactions will keep snowballing. First it was eos and eggs. Next it could be who knows what.

Unless I change my mind—and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this plan, friends—I will go in for a fresh round of skin prick testing in two weeks, and then we’ll make a more specific plan. It will probably include Singulair for at least a while, but right now I’m also leaning to the shots because (forgive me), it sounds like it’s worth a shot.

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