I Will Not Bash the DASH

Okay! So you’ve been on a “more healthful eating plan” for a month. You’ve taken “energizing walks” at least five days each week. You’ve lost a few pounds, but something is missing…the sheer enjoyment of food!

If the above statements are true for you, then we are kindred spirits. I’m hoping that if you read to the end, you will find a renewed resolve and realize that patience is the key!

As I noted in an earlier blog, my husband and I received some less than stellar reports during our annual check ups. My husband had reached a point where medication for high blood pressure had reached its maximum benefits. Along with high blood pressure, his triglycerides were elevated, and his A1C (test for diabetes) was rising. Due to various bad reactions/allergies, he had no other medicinal alternatives. Our doctor suggested that losing some weight and cutting out salt might greatly improve his situation.

Though my hypertension was being well controlled (with medication) and I have not yet shown any signs of Type 2 diabetes, my triglycerides were elevated and the 20 pounds I had lost 3 years ago had crept back on.

With spring on the horizon, a good friend started a blog called “Fat Blasters” to encourage us all to get back on track with healthy meal planning, eating, and exercise. We began with enthusiasm and optimism. Four weeks down the road our enthusiasm is waning and, as my mother would say, the bloom is off the rose!

When considering our health issues and what needed to be done, we began the DASH diet. DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” It is largely a low-sodium, high fiber diet. The DASH plan promotes eating significant amounts of vegetables and fruit (8-10 servings per day), with moderate amounts of low-fat poultry, fish, beans, and meat. Since we are also trying to lose weight that means 5-7 oz. per day. Notice I said low SODIUM not low SALT.

Sodium is in almost every food we eat, so the DASH diet promotes obtaining the sodium your body needs to function by eating unadulterated foods, minimally processed foods and no added salt. That means, when TV chefs say sprinkle on a little salt and pepper, you only add the pepper. When you are unable to cook from fresh, any canned product must be very low in sodium or sodium free. Our target is no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day. No, those soups that say “30% less sodium” don’t qualify because they still can pack a whopping 600 mg!

In this month, I have tried 40 new recipes, and have also tried to tweak several family favorites. My kitchen window ledge now contains several small fresh herb plants (parsley, thyme, cilantro and basil). I’ve bought organic fruits and veggies (they really do have more flavor) and I’m using infused vinegars, fresh lemon and lime juices in ways I never imagined.

Here comes the downside. I’ve only found one recipe I would serve to company and 5 or 6 I would ever serve again. Why? They have little to no flavor. Most recipes are either much too spicy for our taste or completely bland. One of the ways that the recipes try to make up for the lack of salt is to add lots of spices including black pepper, cayenne, chilies, and other veggies and seasonings that pack a wallop on the Scoville scale (the measure of spicy heat).

I was speaking to one of my best friends yesterday. The three of us are working on this as a team. She expressed our feelings perfectly, “we are eating for sustenance, but all the enjoyment is gone.” You have to understand, we were brought up in Polish/German, Italian, and Norwegian homes that regularly used butter, salt, olive oil, bacon, eggs, whole milk, sausage, pancetta, ham, and marbled meats. When our moms, and later when we cooked, folks walking in the door, raised their heads and said, “Wow! What smells so good? When will it be ready? My mouth is already watering.”

Today the smells may be appealing, but from the first bite, we can’t deny that “something is missing.” The “something” is enough fat, salt and/or sugar to linger on the tongue that one delectable moment, which spurs you on to take another bite and then another, until you are left with nothing but a memory of the delightful experience of a taste treat beyond compare. I recently made a vegetable lasagna with fresh basil and oregano, carrots, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, whole wheat pasta, a tiny bit of skim milk ricotta and mozzarella cheese. It was aesthetically nothing in comparison to my mother-in-law’s recipe! Her layers of delectable lasagna noodles, mouth-watering three meat sauce, rich Italian sausage, eggs, hearty whole milk ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses were pure culinary bliss!

The toughest part is that the new eating plan is WORKING! My husband’s blood pressure and glucose are staying in target zones. His BP has dropped from numbers in the 170/90 range to an average of 130/70! He has lost 12 pounds and with his current glucose ranges, I’m sure his next A1C will be much lower.  I have lost some weight and my heartburn has improved.

Scientists, dietitians, and nutritionists say that it can take 90 days for taste buds to acclimate to the absence of salt. In a small way, I can honestly say we are trying to kick a bad habit or an “addiction” to salt, fat, and sugar. So we will remain undaunted! I am committed to face one day and one meal at a time! I will approach each new recipe as an adventure in new flavor profiles. I will persevere in my search for meals that are BOTH tasty and healthful.

For now, even though I am seriously tempted, I will not bash the DASH!

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Pre-Dawn Pondering

I’m sure we have all been there. It is two, three, or possibly four in the morning. Something has roused you from a sound sleep. You listen for a moment. You reassure yourself that there are no burglars, no dogs barking, no unusual house sounds. If you have pets, they are all peaceful and sound asleep. All is still. You close your eyes and relax, trying to regain the blissful sleep you enjoyed only a few moments before. Then it begins!

The position you are in becomes uncomfortable, so you turn this way and that. You try to find that certain spot in your mattress which cradles you perfectly. You turn your pillow. Then you flip it over. You may even make several attempts to fluff its stuffings. All your attempts are for naught. By this time, your brain has cleared it’s pre-dawn fog and your thoughts begin to run around as if it were daylight!

It is within these minutes, which sometimes turn into hours, that I find it a perfect time for quiet contemplation. Once I have accepted the fact that I am awake and that sleep is not soon to return, I can settle in and begin watching where my mind travels. I must admit, it was not quite as easy when I knew that the alarm clock would ring, at its appointed hour, and there would be a full day of work ahead with no opportunity for even a tiny cat nap. In those days, I would nearly drive myself insane trying to force myself back to sleep.

One of the blessings of my retirement is that I have learned to be gentler with myself. My only regret is that I didn’t realize, in my working days, that the brain frenzy of those sleepless nights, only kept rest and rejuvenation further away. Today, when I relax into the practice of passively observing my thoughts, sleep returns more quickly and sometimes answers to life’s puzzles are revealed.

Early this morning, about 4:30 a.m., I had one of those experiences. After making a casual examination of the house and our pets, I was assured that all was safe and sound. I returned to bed and found a cozy position and began to observe my thoughts as if they were paper boats sailing by on a clear blue lagoon.

The first thought was song lyrics, “at night when all the world’s asleep, the questions run so deep for such a simple man.”

The next “thought-boat” brought the message that the whole world is NOT asleep! Some people, particularly firefighters, police officers, nurses, many in our military, and all those dedicated workers on the “owl shift,” are wide awake and doing their jobs.

Then a quick little boat arrived to say, they are all awake with me! So I quickly said a prayer of gratitude for their services and the gift of their body clocks attuned to such late night tasks.

Several faces of friends and neighbors were on the sails of the next few boats, so I asked for blessings as each of them passed.

The next little craft was playing a recorded message from my childhood, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep….God bless….” I allowed the message to play out in its entirety. As each loved one’s name was played, I expressed how grateful I was to have them in my life, whether they were still here on earth or gone to their eternal reward.

It was awhile before the next little craft came by, so I knew I must have begun to doze. Then the most important vessel of the night came into view. Its message so funny, I think I may have involuntarily smiled. The little paper dinghy had a decal on it which read, “It MUST be 5 o’clock somewhere!”

For a split second, in half-sleep, I felt I was connected, beyond time, to every person who was awake around the world. In that moment, all the hero-servants working the night shift were my brothers and sisters. In my own little community, my spirit was joined with young moms and dads walking the floor with cranky babies, homeless people trying to find a warmer place to sleep, folks who were tending farm animals or preparing for a day’s work, those who were ill or in pain, and the lost and broken wanderers striving to find peace and contentment in these wee hours of the morning.

Beyond my local area, I realized, in that very instant, it was mid-day in Rome and for many of the world’s people it was sometime between dawn and dusk. Billions of people were awake and going about the business of their lives facing challenges and joys of every sort. My wakefulness was joined to that of billions of others!

I don’t recall any other boat passing. I must have fallen asleep!

Lithuanian Kugelis: A Neighborhood Recipe

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had to do research to find out what my old neighborhood in Chicago is being called today. As it turns out, I grew up in the “Lower West Side,” more recently referred to, in news reports, as “Pilsen.”

When I was growing up, we said that we came from “Saint Ann’s Parish,” alternately called the “Polish neighborhood.” All my Catholic friends-of-a-certain-age still talk about their childhood neighborhoods based upon the church they attended.

On many Sundays, after “church” and “dinner,” at about 2:00 p.m., we would carry our “skate cases” over to St. Stephen’s Roller Rink (about a half of a mile) into the “Lithuanian neighborhood.” Those cases were most often metal and decorated like antique leather trunks, complete with decals detailing the many roller rinks the case (and its owner) had visited.

It was in that neighborhood that I first encountered a Lithuanian delicacy called Kugelis. This is a potato pudding, also called potato pie or potato casserole. I recently found my mom’s recipe card for this decadent side dish and thought it would be fun to share that recipe with you today.

Kugelis

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Sour cream and parsley complete this tasty treat!

4 lbs white potatoes
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 lb bacon
1 sm. can evaporated milk (5 oz.)
1 cup regular milk
6 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and grate fine the potatoes and onion. Cut bacon in small pieces and fry until crisp. Pour fat and bacon over the potato-onion mixture. Beat eggs and add to the potato mixture. Add both milks, salt and pepper. Stir well. Pour into a greased 9 X 13 pan. Depth of potato mixture should be no less than 2 inches deep. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour until crispy brown on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Flavor is very similar to potato pancakes.

Pardon My Dust

Have you ever seen the sign, “Renovation in progress, please pardon our dust”? In my last post, Being Healthy and Happy, I talked about the strategies my husband and I were beginning to use to improve our health. The personal renovations have begun, and I am happy to say that the recipes I’ve found have been very tasty and satisfying. As a bonus, I am discovering new cooking and baking ideas, including a great recipe for a decadent Chocolate Cake which was truly delectable and worthy of company!

The “dusty” part is that it will take longer for us to know how these changes will impact our weight and other health indicators. Just as with any renovation project, it will require some patience and what my husband calls “engineered changes.” That leads me to today’s musings!

As I rather blithely said in my last post, we need to develop a new relationship to food. From current (and past) experience I know this is true. However, I’m just beginning to understand the true depth of that process. It is as if something has suddenly shifted, and I need to inspect the foundation, before construction is able to continue.

Another comment I made was that I believed in the adage, “everything in moderation.” What I have discovered, in this past week, is that my previous definition of “moderation” is very different from what my body (and dietary guidelines) are demonstrating. Those of you who have ever measured one cup of pasta or one serving of grapes, who have investigated how much sodium and carbohydrates are in the food we eat, or who have checked out a “nutrition statement” at a favorite restaurant, know exactly what I mean.

Though it has been evident for years, just this week my heart began to accept the fact that my body is changing. For any “youngsters” (those under 60), who might be reading this post, you may want to stop reading right here, the content ahead can be pretty scary. For those who have surpassed me in years, you are probably way ahead of me, and will be shocked it took this long for me to discover what you have long known. Either way, to those who are brave (or foolish) enough to continue, full speed ahead!

The conundrum is that, in my mind, I am still in my twenties or thirties, curious, inquisitive, quietly rebellious, studious, and eager to charge ahead into any subject that interests me. I am always willing to bite off more than I can chew, both figuratively and literally. Yet, my physical abilities, and the choices I have made (and continue to make), create various limits.

For example, I have never had very good hand-eye coordination. I was always the last kid chosen for any sport in gym class. If I truly loved athletics and dedicated myself to long hours of practice and endless drills, I may have developed into a mediocre player at best. Dedication and hard work are important, but there is something to be said for innate physical abilities.

Similarly, because I am in the third stage of life, I am selective with my time. If I was willing to invest several hours each day training, even with arthritis in my knees and hips, I might eventually be able to run a marathon. Though I truly admire the people who overcome gigantic obstacles to complete those competitions, I recognize that their dreams are not mine. I choose to spend my time playing with my grandchildren, taking long walks with my “sweetie,” working in the garden, taking in an exciting movie, and helping others wherever I am needed.

As my mother once said (most likely repeating the words of some other sage), “Today I am older than I ever was, but I am also younger than I will ever be again.” I may have certain limitations, but I appreciate the skills and health that I have. I am no longer a teenager, a breast-feeding mom, or a working woman raising a family and going to college. I am a woman who has been blessed to reach retirement age. I have a loving family, a place to call “home,” and purpose in my life.

So what if the construction site has its boundaries, there are permits that need to be followed, the equipment sometimes goes on the fritz, and the architect keeps making adjustments to the plans? I am certain the project will be completed in its appointed time. In the meantime, please “pardon my dust!”

Being Healthy and Happy

It is the day after my annual physical, which always brings home the realities about what it takes to maintain a healthy weight and nutritional eating habits. It also makes clear the fact that I have not been doing what I know is healthy. After all, I love baking and cooking, which generally means I also like eating yummy things. I often think to myself, if I could just stop eating after one or two little bites, but that one bite always leads to a second, a third, and before I know it the entire lemon loaf is gone. Okay, so eating lemon loaf, instead of a vegetable salad, may also be part of the problem!

My physician said, “Did you know that you have gained two pounds since your physical last year?” Because I am who I am, I had to admit to her that I also lost twenty pounds this year and then put them all back on, plus the extra two! In my 60-plus years, I have experienced this many times. I am the classic yo-yo dieter. However, observing a healthy lifestyle also means I need to keep a positive outlook. With that in mind, I am still below my highest weight, I have not given up on my goal to eat and exercise sensibly for my metabolism, age, and current health, AND most of all, I am not alone!

The arrival of spring and the thought of bearing abs, wearing short-sleeved shirts, capris, shorts, and (God help us) a bathing suit, leads many people to face the fact that we have been eating more food than our body burned through activity. A friend of mine just began a blog called Fat Blasters, and invited friends and neighbors to support each other in practicing good nutrition habits, getting moderate exercise and pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Thanks, Sarah! Together we can get healthier!

As I have said, I know what I need to do. The fact is, I don’t do it often enough or consistently enough to maintain a truly healthy lifestyle. In the past, I have had success using the computer applications My Net Diary and My Net Diary Running. They are terrific (and inexpensive) apps.  My Net Diary allows me to record food by using a huge database or scanning a UPC code! However, the success factor, like most things in life, depends upon using the app consistently and honestly. I have resumed that practice today!

The My Net Diary Running app is great for recording almost any activity. It allows you to record strenuous activities like washing your car or running, but it also lets you record the time you were strolling through a mall, doing your grocery shopping, and other less “athletic” activities. Still, it needs to be used to really be helpful. Therefore, I also resumed that activity today!

If you are not a person who is comfortable with computers, just keeping a hand-written food and exercise diary can be very helpful for people who respond to those visual aids.

No single diet or strategy is perfect for every person! It is really important to understand your own health needs and cravings, and how your body metabolizes food. That is why it is important to seek your physician’s advice for any food or exercise plan you would like to begin. For example, with my physician’s approval, I was an ovo-lacto vegetarian for about ten years. However, as my body changed, the excessive dairy consumption began to drive my cholesterol up. I added fish and soy products to my diet, again at my doctor’s suggestion. After about five years, my husband’s health changed and he developed diabetes. When we examined our meal plan, we realized that the soy alternatives we were eating were very high in carbohydrates. We then began following the “My Plate” plan, suggested by the diabetes dietician, along with a consistent walking plan. That worked, both of us lost weight and our health improved significantly. Now, after almost two years of retirement, we have become careless about our snacking. As the doctor reminded us, “Grazing can be a very healthy way to eat, but only when you eat six to eight small snacks per day NOT three full meals AND six small snacks.”

Maintaining a healthful lifestyle can sometimes be a serious challenge, I realize that as much as anyone who is reading this post. Please know that whenever you take the time to have your doctor monitor your health, plan a nutritious meal, improve your knowledge about food, shop for wholesome food, read labels, take a walk, or participate in active play, you are improving the quality of your life. I know that from experience! Eating healthy does not mean you have to give up every pleasure. You just have to develop a new relationship to food and exercise. I am, once again, examining that relationship anew. My mantra, in the days and months ahead, will be “Moderation in all things!”

Batman vs. Superman

Okay! So, you most likely would not expect to find a critique of the most recent Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in a Grandma’s Door post. Still, here it is! Let me preface my review by saying that my family has long enjoyed all forms of myth and science fiction, especially when it deals with questions of theology, psychology, and morality.

I will do my best to keep any spoilers out of this post. In deference to those who have not yet seen the movie, I promise I will take extra time and effort in editing to ensure I don’t reveal any key information.

My son and I somewhat disagreed about the first part of the movie being overstuffed with information and seemingly pointless plot lines. I felt that several scenes could have been edited or completely cut. I admit that, beforehand, I read several critics who also felt that way during their viewing. I respect my son’s knowledge of the genre, and admit that he has a better understanding of the mythology being created in these comics. He astutely pointed out that much of the information, contained in my disputed scenes, will be important in setting the stage for future movies, which are already in production. I realize that I am not heavily invested in the DC and Marvel universes, so I will leave those technical discussions to the experts.

We both agreed that some of the dream sequences might have been edited, yet I could also see how those scenes were inserted to impress upon the viewer the fact that one of the characters was heading down a very dangerous psychological path of increasingly sadistic behavior.

I have always found the religious symbolism and moral dilemmas of the Superman and Batman mythologies to be very intriguing. When I think back to watching George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman, the morality was very clear. Superman was the “good guy,” who always did what was right, and never questioned the actions he took against the “bad guys.” Because he always fought for “truth, justice, and the American way,” and because I was only a little kid, I never would have thought of George Reeves as a Christ-figure, but things have certainly changed.

In Man of Steel, which preceded the current Batman vs Superman, I felt that Henry Cavill’s lines and actions often mirrored Biblical themes. The religious connection was a little less obvious in the current movie, though it is still a very strong undercurrent and becomes stronger as the movie comes toward a conclusion. One particular scene emphatically portrayed a composite of many of the artistic images of Christ being taken down from the cross.

This most recent interpretation of the Superman mythology also has a greater focus on Kal-El’s internal struggles. Similar to Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ, Superman struggles with the temptation to ignore the high ideals his father has laid out for him. He questions whether it would be easier to lead a “normal” life, rather than use his extraordinary gifts to fight for the survival of humankind. He must decide whether to obediently live out his father’s commission, or live according to his human desires.

The current movie finds both superheroes being internally tortured by the sacrifices they have made to protect the innocent. Batman faces the realities of an aging body and a creeping darkness that has always overshadowed his soul, since the death of his parents. Much of the dialogue between Bruce Wayne and his butler, Alfred, demonstrates that they are losing hope. Batman seems to be losing the certainty in his higher purpose, and succumbing to his “vigilante” reputation.

Superman is weighing the depth of his love for Lois Lane against the needs of humanity. Like Batman, he is dealing with his relationship to his parents and the limitations of a human life span. I definitely got the feeling that both characters were dealing with the tasks of mid-life and differentiating their own life purposes apart from those of their parents.

In this movie, and its predecessor, I could not watch images of large office buildings being toppled and exploded without thinking of the 9/11 massacre. In the current movie, when Bruce Wayne is driving through the streets and rescuing people from the concrete and metal debris, with clouds of dust engulfing him, the audience can understand his visceral anger against the two beings who are destroying his city.

Peace and understanding are only reached after tremendous sacrifice. A true battle royal ensues until the super heroes suddenly, and quite by accident, discover a common cause and begin to resolve the issues which have divided them. From then on, the action is driven by a new purpose and the spotlight focuses on Lex Luthor and his diabolical machinations. The movie concludes by pointing toward the next installment of the superhero saga!

Now we just have to be patient for nineteen months until the release of The Justice League! Of course, in the meantime, we can look forward to Captain America: Civil War, The Huntsman, X-Men: Apocalypse, Star Trek Beyond, and King Arthur. Grandma is going to be spending a lot of time looking at the big screen!