Friday, April 27, 2012

Sugar Surrender

As I mentioned in my last post, I've committed to eliminate sugar from my diet for 10 days in an attempt to recalibrate my body and reduce what I see as a sensitivity to the sweet stuff. I have in the past been diagnosed with Candidiasis, a common condition that many people have but don't know it as the symptoms are so wide ranging and general in nature that most people just think it's normal to feel that way or they chalk it up to something else. I'm very in-tune with my body and know right away if I am reacting to something I've eaten. I'm sensitive to eggs, wheat (not gluten), dairy, soy, sulphites, corn, beets, raspberries, beer (or something in it) and I am suspicious of several others. I've learned a lot about sensitivities and food intolerance since my own diagnoses, and in some ways it's been a good thing, it's forced me to eat clean, eat healthier and make better food choices but it's also immensely frustrating and limiting at times. Also, I'm human and so although there are things I know I'm sensitive too, I do eat them from time to time.
Sometimes I get away with it, sometimes not. My tolerance level seems to change daily, depending on what else is going on such as other stresses, illness, fatigue etc. In 2010 I was tested for candida overgrowth by my naturopath. Candida is a part of the gut flora, everyone has it, but sometimes it can overgrow and cause a lot of problems. It feeds on sugar so once you've got an overgrowth/imbalance, any sugars just feed it, and the symptoms more. Sugars includes the typical refined sugars (white sugar, maple syrup, alcohol etc), natural sugars such as fruit, juices and sweet veggies like carrots and sweet potato. Everyone has Candida in their gut, and a significant proportion have Candidiasis, or an overgrowth of Candida. Candida starts to cause trouble when there is some change in your body that allows it to overgrow. This change could be anything from a few courses of antibiotics, a prolonged diet rich in carbohydrates and sugar, or even something as common as a lengthy period of stress at work. For me, it flared up a couple of years ago when I was going through a lot of major life changes and under stress. I had known about my food sensitivities for a while and was managing them for the most part but these symptoms were noticeable and I knew something else was going on. Different people experience different symptoms. The overgrowth of Candida produces toxins that your body's immune system can struggle to cope with. The wide-ranging side effects of this battle range from headaches and fatigue to abdominal pain and depression. For me, it was fatigue for no reason, weight gain despite exercising a lot and reducing my caloric intake, digestive distress and generally feeling in a fog all the time. I got tested and it showed I had an overgrowth as suspected. The only way to deal with it...stop feeding it. So stop eating all sugar. Now I'm not a sugar fiend in general, my food sensitivities limit a lot of treats like cakes, pastries etc but I do enjoy and regularly eat fruit, drink wine and eat chocolate. My overgrowth was moderate to high in 2010, but not the worst possible, so my naturopath directed me to avoid alcohol, high sugar fruits like bananas and mango, fruit juice and any obvious sugars like syrup, honey and refined sugar. Some people have to be a lot stricter (that's a tough pill to swallow) and there are other foods to avoid that can also feed candida such as yeast, vinegars and mushrooms. Click here to see a list for people who have to be really strict...thank goodness I was only moderate. I followed the plan fairly consistently for 6 weeks and got re-tested and had reduced my levels a lot as well as losing the 5lb I had gained for no known reason. Some candida still remained though so I was advised to be aware of sugars in general from now on.
In the past 8 months, I have again gone through a lot of changes, all good and exciting changes, but changes none the less that caused stress, physically and emotionally. I moved across the country to Halifax where I knew not one single person (PB was in Toronto training for the first 2 months I was in Halifax), first in to a rental suite and then moved again 3 months later in to a house PB and I purchased. In this time, I also have had 3 jobs and worked completely irregular hours and not really had a formal weekend (2 days off in a row). My exercise level has dropped significantly although my eating has been great, I've been able to focus on that. Nonetheless, I was noticing those old symptoms coming back and knew what it was. The biggest symptom is the fact that although eating super heathily, I was super sensitive to my allergens and seeing big weight fluctuations due to water rentention from bloating and abdominal inflammation. So here we are...Day 5 of 10. I did this for 6 weeks last time although was not 100% compliant the whole time. This time my plan is to be strict for 10 days, then to ease up a little bit for another month before re-evaluating the situation. Last time I eliminated sugar was very hard but after a few days I felt AMAZING! I woke up before my alarm reading to tackle the day and was uber-productive all day long, every day. I had great sleeps as well. I want to get back to that again.
My plan here is to eliminate the following foods strictly for the 10 days:

-any refined sugar
-honey, maple syrups, jams
-candy, chocolate, all the good stuff
-no wheat or refined grains
 -reduce fruit intake, especially high sugar tropical fruits

So far it's been okay although major sweet cravings ( which I usually do not have) set in on day 4. Breakfast is also proving a struggle with my other food limitations, even more so with these added restrictions. This morning I ate a veggie burger with avocado and salsa. We were out and about for lunch so I had Tim Hortons chili...not a lot of other choices that fit my needs out on the road in the countryside of Nova Scotia.
My saving graces have been kale chips and rice cakes with almond butter or guacamole on them. I have eaten 2 apples and 2 small bananas over the 5 days but only because I was starving and had no other choice within my restrictions. I am starting to feel better overall although I know I'm not there yet. I'm still bloated a bit and feeling tired but less than a week ago and I've been more consistent and energised for exercise.
I bought some unsweetened flax milk to make overnight oatmeal with and I plan to add cinnamon and chopped apple to it for some sweet sugar free flavour.  I need to find some other options though that will fuel me through to lunch.
Lunches have been soups, or leftover BBQ salmon with roasted peppers and quinoa that I made a batch of earlier in the week. Dinner is the usual veggies and protein, I don't usually add sugar to the main course so no modifications needed here!
I am missing the wine, especially on Friday night but I know how good I can feel and I know that if I do this now, I will feel better for a long time after. They key to success however, is not determination or willpower, it's removing temptation from the house!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spring Wings

Spring is finally arriving, I'm not used to it being this late but it's always a pleasure to see those first daffodils of the year exploding all over the place suddenly. This morning our Azalea bush has started to bloom and I've even seen some tulips out and about too....another week and there will be colour everywhere! Winter has not been too harsh this year, compared to a usual maritime winter. There was not much snow and a lot of sunny but cold days. Beats the rain any day! Saying that, the rain we've had the last couple of days seems to have been the push the grounds needed to start the bloom....Summer is gonna be epic.
The veggie patch is taking shape, PB and I made our raised beds a couple of weeks ago. They are made of pressure treated lumber so we have to put a lining inside them to stop any leaching from the wood. Cedar would have been the best choice but it runs at 3 x the cost.

Next we need to add some gravel to the bottom, fill in with soil and bring up the ground outside with wood chippings to close off any gaps. Oh, and we have to build a fence to keep the deer and other various wildlife out. The beds are 4x8 feet each. Should be able to fill them pretty quick. Already thinking we need more!

Seedlings are doing well, I noticed the pepper seeds are finally germinating and tomato and leeks are all going strong but I can tell they need to upsize to bigger pots. Most of the tomato seeds grew, I had 4 varieties. They are going to go on the deck in pots in a few weeks. The last frost date is mid May, so I'll wait until then. The leeks are at the far end, tomatoes in the middle and then basil in the front of the picture.

These are the broccoli seedlings, they seem to grow an inch a day and suck up lots of water. I really hope I can eat their fruit one day, although broccoli is well liked by lots of pests so who knows.
In other foodie news, last week I cooked lots with meat. This week I am working on reducing that, it's too expensive and although I love it, I think it's better for me to eat a little less. I do want to go meat free for a week or two but I'm going sugar free this week (no honey, alcohol, fruit juice, chocolate..sniff..., etc) and thought combining the two would end in some kind of chocolate covered blood bath rare steak fest followed by a hangover. So, I'm going no sugar (except 1 piece of fruit per day) until the end of the month (10 days in total) and reduced meat with a focus on soups, quinoa, kale and some fish. Before that started though, I made these wings for playoff of the 5 playoff nights the Canucks played. But we're not going to talk about that. I saw this recipe being made while I was on the treadmill one day, it was on one of my fave cooking shows called Best Ever Recipes on CBC. The wings are baked so that takes care of the health component. They do have a breadcrumb coating but wheat intolerant peeps can use spelt or other wheat free breadcrumbs. I did try making some without breadcrumbs and just using the wet mustard based coating and they were yummy too. Here is the link to the official recipe. Check out the rest of the site too. 
Here is my modified version:

2 lb chicken wings (you can buy them with the tips removed ready for you)
1/3 cup (75 mL) Dijon mustard
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cayenne pepper
1 cup (125 mL) dry bread crumbs
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) dried oregano or basil
1-2 tsp garlic powder
1-2 tsp dehydrated onion or onion powder

Preheat oven to 400F.

Melt the butter and mix with dijon mustard, salt and cayenne pepper.
Mix wings into this until coated.
Prepare a baking tray. I used a cooling rack over a foil lined baking sheet.
Mix breadcrumbs with dried herbs, onion and garlic powders.
(I added garlic powder, dehydration onion and  omitted the parmesan from the original recipe due to my dairy intolerance)
Dip wings in breadcrumb mix and place on baking rack.
Cook for about 45 mins until wings cooked through.

PB* and I planned to eat about 10 each and save the rest for lunch the next day. Wishful thinking. They all got devoured. They were delicious and very crunchy with a rich, satisfying taste. The mustard added a depth but not hotness, and you could not tell there was mustard there, it really complimented the chicken and the coating.
Will definitely make these again and use mustard as a base for other coatings. I am allergic to eggs and many coatings call for egg to make it stick so mustard will be my substitute from now on.

 *In case you are wondering, PB stands for Polar Bear. It is the nickname of my partner in love, life, gardening, Prison Break marathons and all things foodie :-)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Burger Booster

I came up with this on the fly last week when PB and I were making burgers one evening after I got home from a late shift at work. Actually it was Easter Sunday. I worked a split shift that day from 6:45am-12:15pm and then back there from 5-9pm. Easter was cruel and inflicted a wind/snow storm on me so that when I left the house at 6:15am, the truck was covered in snow which continued to blow sideways as I cleared it and none of the roads were ploughed either. By lunchtime it was all but gone and seeing as no one else was up at that hour, I felt like I was the only one bearing the brunt of the storm. After the end of a very long day by the time I got home (for the 2nd time) it was almost 10pm (as you will see from the oven clock in one of the pics) but we were both starving and I wanted something to pump up my burger but didn't have an hour to make the caramelised onions I usually have on the side. I love shallots and lately have been making a point of having them in the fridge at all times. I put them in salad dressings, chopped up in burgers, as a coating for roasted meats and vegetables and now as a crispy garnish.

This was simple to do:
1) Slice the shallots into either rings or strips and separate out all the rings.
2) Dredge in a mix of flour (I used spelt flour here) seasoned and spiced however you like. I used salt, pepper and garlic powder.

3) Heat canola oil in a large pan. You want about 1/2cm depth of oil for shallow frying here.
4) Test the temp of the oil by sacrificing a piece of shallot to the pan. If it sizzles right away, it's ready.
5) Shake excess flour off shallots and add to pan. They don't take long, maybe 2-3 mins to go brown and crispy. Keep stirring so they cook evenly.
6)Remove from pan and shake off oil. Drain on paper towel if you have it. I didn't so these were just shaken and put in the dish.

Mmmm crispy and delicate all at once...melt in your mouth yummy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Snow joke, BBQ season is ON!

As mentioned a recent post, PB and I recently purchased our first own BBQ. After lots of research and speaking to dealers and reading consumer forums, we settled on a Canadian made Napoleon. We got a great deal as it was last years model and they only had a couple left. The box was huge and heavy, but PB and I managed between the two of us and he spend the next few ours constructing it in the garage. It looked wonderful but it order to use it, we had to haul it up 2 sets of deck stairs. This thing was not light and didn't have a lot of areas you could really hold on to easily. We got it across the lawn and realised we would need to be more creative to get it up the first flight as we couldn't both fit on the stairs width-ways at the same time. So out came the wood ramps PB had previously bought and we shoved it up the (very steep) incline, with our victory short lived as we faced the second flight. This was easier though as they were very wide steps. We got er done in the end and planned our first meal...simple beef tenderloin, with nothing but olive oil, salt and pepper. We fired it up, opened up a nice bottle of red we had been saving for the occasion and salivated as we saw the smoke rise and swiftly be blown away by the strong wind and snowflakes that were blowing horizontally past PB's face as he opened the grill. We served a side of roasted vegetables and frostbite.
Since we bought the BBQ just about 3 weeks ago, we've lived off the thing and we keep it really simple, just protein and vegetables. We've been cooking breakfast sausages on there, salmon filets, pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin, chicken breast, chicken thighs, homemade burgers and assorted vegetables. Even with just seasoning and oil, everything tastes amazing and there is no washing up of pots and pans! BBQ is a year round cooking method for us now, the only thing that stops it is strong winds but that's it. Easter brunch sausages were BBQ'd right after we cleared off the snow that fell overnight on Easter Saturday (see pic at top of post!).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Germination Nation

So, it's now April 4th, just 5 days since I planted my seeds and so much action has taken place!
The broccoli seeds seem the most aggressive, they all have sprouts about an inch high. I had put 2 seeds in each cell and they all germinated so I snipped off the 2nd sprout to allow the alpha sprout to do it's thang.
The leeks, tomatoes, basil and alyssum have also sprouted too but no signs of life from the pepper seeds or the lobelia yet. Now that most seeds have sprouted, I need to remove the lids of the trays and no longer need the additional heat source of the oil heater. now they just need water and light, and lots of it. I must check the seeds 2-3 times a day and ensure the cells are wet in the bottom and slightly dry on top. I must rotate the seed trays daily to prevent the seeds growing towards the light.....they love the light!
As they start to grow, I will need to move them to bigger pots, which I plan to construct/recycle from random things around the house like yogurt containers. Oh wait, I don't eat yogurt. Hmmm, plan B?
Construction of the raised beds is due over Easter weekend, as we can get some cooler weather crops out before the last frost. Super excited to see things grow but nervous about the abundant deer in our area who were walking all over the soon-to-be vegetable patch on Sunday. They appreciate home grown goodies too, apparently.

On the BBQ front, we've been using it like crazy. My latest love is a plain ol' salmon filet with salt pepper and olive oil. So simple, so tasty, so MMMMMmmmmMMMMM. Crispy salmon skin rules!
I served it with a side (under?) of the avocado and mango salsa I made a few weeks prior (click here for recipe). I also topped it with my homegrown cress seed. I liked it so much, I planned to make it the next night but mother nature decided to send down a windstorm that blew out the propane flames, even though the top of the BBQ was down. The up-side was that the wind dispersed the propane gas sufficiently to eliminate any chance of major explosion. So back to pan frying (and consequent washing up pans after) it was. Still yummy as pictured below:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lettuce Begin the Growing

Since moving into our new home, PB and I have been eagerly planning our vegetable patch. We haven't been able to make any physical progress until now due to the ground being frozen and, let's face it, me not wanting to be outside in the cold winter air.

We have earmarked a location and are planning to have 2 raised beds approx 8ft x 4 ft as well as growing tomatoes and peppers on the deck in pots. We have to use raised beds for 2 reasons: the soil is very clay-y and also we don't want to interfere with the septic field underneath the lawn. I also think raised beds are neater and easier to maintain. PB cleared the area of debris (lots of rocks, some in the region of 100lb or more-he tired himself out by deciding to do it on his own while I was at work) and then I marked out the bed location as below:

We are aiming to be planting by mid May so now need to decide what type of wood to use for the raised beds and work on the planting/growing schedule and bed layout plans. We also need to deer-proof the beds as we regularly have deer moseying through the yard looking for tasty treats. The first couple of times we saw them we squealed in excitement and grabbed the camera. Now we just glance over and carry on with what we were doing.

I haven't done any serious gardening over the years but have dabbled a bit here and there with limited space, knowledge and time but still successfully managed some vegetable yields from throwing/sowing various seeds into a patch of earth with no care and attention except watering. If that can produce results, then taking some time this year to research vegetable gardening should be very exciting and productive as well as $$ saving. We eat lots of fruit and veg and some of it is not so cheap, especially peppers, salad greens and even onions are getting up there. The growing season on the East Coast here is a little shorter than in Vancouver, although I'm hoping it won't be as wet early on which ultimately ruined my tomatoes when I tried to grow them in 2010, and apparently everyone else in the Pacific North West, from what I gathered.
I've chosen a range of vegetables based on what we typically eat on a regular basis:
  • Tomatoes -4 varieties including romas, cherry and some yellow ones)
  • Bell Peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Leeks
  • Scallions/Spring onions
  • Snap Peas
  • Carrots
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Parsnips
  • Yellow onions
  • Kale
All of these can be grown directly from seed into the soil once the frost has passed but as the growing season is shorter and I'm keen to produce a yield early, I'm starting some of them from seed inside in an inexpensive store bought propagator with individual peat pellets for each seed. On March 29th I set about planting the peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, leeks and a couple of bedding plants (lobelia and Alyssum). For germination, you need a soil temperature of about 70F. I put the propagators by the back deck sliding doors for good light and then set the oil heater close by.

After germination, I won't need as much heat but will need the light source. This is my first try at growing seedlings for transplant. I'm not using a soil thermometer or a heating pad or an artificial light. I'm just doing my best to create the ideal conditions with what I've got and sending them lots of love and encouragement ("Grow my pretties, grow!").

I plan to put out the tomatoes in pots or a large wooden planter in mid -May, and put the remaining seeds in the ground too and then the leek and broccoli seedlings will go in to the raised beds a couple of weeks later.

In the mean time, I needed a quick growing fix so I bought some cress seeds (mustard seeds) and put them on the kitchen shelf. In 2 weeks I had full pot of spicy sprouts to add to my salads or just randomly pick and eat.

I'm also planning a herb garden, some potted and some planted out. I want some inside too, on the windowsill for quick and easy harvesting mid meal preparation. Basil, cilantro, rosemary, oregano and thyme will do nicely.