Monday, April 16, 2012

Raw Revelations

Well, I've done it. I honestly thought that I might not be able to finish this goal by June, so for me it's a sense of accomplishment above and beyond what I've felt for any of my other goals. So it is with great pleasure that I am able to finally cross off: GOAL # 15! I've eaten a raw diet for an entire week! Starting April 9th I embarked on somewhat of a last-minute and unplanned journey into the land of uncooking. For seven days I used nothing more than a knife, a food processor, a stick blender and a juicer (which is totally optional) to prepare every morsel that has passed through my lips. The real challenge was over in the first 72 hours. After that, it was smooth sailing!

Days 1-3 were difficult primarily because of the habit changes and cravings. It was sheer determination that got me through these days. I felt hungry, sluggish and foggy, particularly on day three. I researched nonstop and realized that I just wasn't eating enough. I upped my fruit and veggie intake, added a few nuts and the rest of the week was a breeze. I learned in those first three days how much of my typical eating habits are based on psychological desire, and was surprised to find out how quickly cravings go away if you just keep your belly full of really good food.


The volume was difficult to get used to, because I really do have to eat a LOT. I purposely did not include much overt fat (minimal oils, one avocado over the course of the week and the occasional 8-10 raw walnuts or pecans in the afternoon) and I did not eat any prepared calorie-dense raw food (such as LaraBars - which I know from previous encounters are totally yummy but the raw equivalent of a candy bar) so in order to get enough calories to sustain me, I really had to eat a ton. That part is AWESOME.

Other awesome things about eating raw:

1. It is so little work!
There are no pans to heat up (or scrub clean), no paying attention to things bubbling on the stove, and meal prep can be as simple as washing a pear. The most work is the juicer, because I have to take it apart after each use and rinse all of the components, but even that takes less than 2 minutes so as far as cleanup goes, it's no comparison to the scrubbing I have to do when I cook something. Most of the time this week cleanup was just a matter of wiping off the knife and cutting board. It also has saved a lot of time in the grocery store. I only have to go to one section - produce. There is nothing else I need to buy, so I cut the other 75% of the store right out of the shopping equation!

2. I learned that I really like celery!
I never used to eat celery. Well, maybe once a year when my mom made stuffed celery at Christmas, but never on a daily basis.

In the past week I have eaten 3 heads of it. I like it juiced, I like it sliced and tossed with green apples and a dash of sesame oil and lemon juice - I LOVE celery. I put celery into almost every juice I made this week! It is so refreshing, and it is naturally higher in sodium than most other raw foods, so it helped to ease the transition to a salt-free diet.


3. Never feeling guilty or worrying what's going into me.
When every single thing I put in my body is good for me, I don’t have to stop and think about a single bite of it. Ever! No mental energy is wasted on feeling bad about my food choices. That is so incredibly liberating - for someone who has had food issues since she was a zygote, it is truly nothing short of revolutionary.


4. Not being hungry, never feeling weighed down.
I really thought this was going to be a miserable week, and at the beginning I had to focus a lot of energy on encouraging myself to make it through the Whole. Seven. Days. It was easier after one hard day, because I decided that day had to be the worst one, and I didn't want to have to re-live it if I failed and had to re-start the challenge! But once I changed my eating patterns, I began to realize the benefit of no hunger. It took a huge mentality shift - because everything going into my body was incredibly healthy and because I ate whole foods (vs. dehydrated or re-amalgamated raw foods) I realized I could eat as much of it as I needed to feel satisfied. After the first 2-3 days I never felt like I needed to stay hungry. I ate whenever I wanted, as much as I needed to feel satisfied. Best of all, unlike eating a typical heavier dinner entree, even when stuffed on raw foods I did not feel heavy, sluggish or tired. And because the whole foods are processed so quickly (30-60mins) that fullness feeling passes very quickly, instead of lingering for hours like richer food would.

5. Better Sleep
There is no question my quality of sleep has improved significantly! I've been waking up only once (to go to the bathroom usually, because of all of the water in my food!) and have been able to go right back to sleep. Amazingly, I have been awake before the alarm clock for the past 4 days, and I wake earlier and earlier without feeling tired. This morning was a full hour earlier than usual, and I literally hopped out of bed and got going. Not bad for someone who consistently used to whack SNOOZE precisely four times each morning.

6. Scads more energy!
It took a little bit longer to notice the energy benefits. I think this may be due to the fact that the first few days I was not eating enough. But for days 5-7 I found myself going all day long without sugar or caffeine, and when I did stop it was because of physical fatigue, not because of mental lack of desire or sluggishness. I accomplished more in this past weekend than in the last month of weekends combined! I even got down to the picky little tiny to-do things that have been nagging me on the list for weeks, and that feels incredible!

7. I am much, much happier.
I wasn't expecting this benefit, but it is very clear that over the past 3-4 days I have felt very calm, peaceful and happy. I do not feel stress in the same way that I typically do. My shoulders aren't tight, my mind isn't racing. Without intending to, I seem to have just fallen into a calmer rhythm. It is likely a result of less work for meal preparation, better sleep and more energy for staying moving and getting exercise, and getting so much crossed off on my to-do list. Whatever the reasons, I am very thankful for them!

8. Weight loss.
Wow is it incredible how much water weight I’ve been carrying around as a result of my high-sodium convenience food lifestyle! In 7 days of no-salt and whole foods I flushed 9.4lbs down the drain. My rings fit better and I feel much lighter, overall.

9. Having a better sense of what - and how much - my body needs.
This is the best one of all. For the first time in my life I feel like I am able to trust the signals my body is giving me. When I'm hungry I eat. It's all good food, so I can eat 10 times a day, if I'm hungry 10 times a day. I have become much more of a grazer - an apple here, a couple of carrots there. I don't think it is much different than my typical pattern, but I'm eating pears and bananas and kale salads with lemon instead of pizza or sandwiches or salty popcorn, so there is no negative consequence to eating more often. And I'm finding that I seem to have more 'normal' satiation signals.

I am typically constantly very hungry until I am very full. I have always believed that I don't have a 'shut off' switch to stop me before I've gone too far. And I eat even when I’m not hungry – because I feel like my body wants *something*. This week, for the first time in my adult memory, that has not been the case. I learned while doing some research yesterday that there are some very good reasons for that. It turns out there are multiple things that go into feel satisfied; one of which is blood sugar. When eating complex carbohydrates, it takes the body time to turn the carbs into easily burned simple sugars that enter the blood stream. Until that happens, my blood sugar receptors are yelling to be fed and I feel hungry so I keep eating, and I get very full before my brain has gotten the signal that my blood sugar is increasing.

But this week, by eating more often and more simple sugars, I am not reaching the point of feeling famished, and when I eat the simple fruit sugars my body can very quickly process the available energy and get the signal to my brain to hit that shut-off button much sooner than usual. Another key to feeling satisfied is how full the stomach is. The bulk from eating so much fibrous food signals the stretch receptors in my stomach to trigger much sooner than with more calorie-dense food. I can use this to my advantage, even when re-introducing non-raw foods by including fruit as a meal precursor.

I am really glad that I undertook this challenge when I did. I chose the week last-minute because I realized there were no holidays or social engagements to be concerned with and I didn't have many obligations on the calendar so I was really able to make sure I had enough time and mental energy to focus on doing something totally outside of my box. I had a lot of great revelations about myself and my relationship with food, and I am beginning to discover how different foods affect me in different ways. I am much more in tune with my body's needs and have more energy than I've had in as long as I can remember. There is still a lot to learn, but I can't un-realize all these wonderful benefits! I enjoyed this process very much, and despite this being my first day officially off the challenge, I am easily recognizing what my body really wants - and day 8 has been as un-cooked as the previous seven. The results of this challenge are, for me, life-altering.

Go on, now - eat something good, for me!

Interested in learning more?
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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sowing the Seeds

Last night we began serious work on Goal #43; planting a harvestable garden. We rented plots this year in the Bangor Community Garden -- (facebook page). This is a wonderful program started last year with the efforts of the Cooperative Extension at the University of Maine, and the City of Bangor - it recycles an old, abandoned lot close to downtown and utilizes the elbow grease of volunteers and donated supplies and equipment of local vendors to build 4x8' raised beds which are then rented for the very reasonable rate of $25/season. This is a blessing for those of us who live in apartments downtown with no land of our own to cultivate.

Robb and I each rented a plot and set to work last night in MSPaint to create some crude sketches of our gardens. They will both grow edibles but his will be much more scenic and beautiful than mine (I'm just too practical to forsake tomatoes and zucchini for decorative appeal!).

Robb's Plan (Not sure what's going in the corner, yet.)

My (messy but bountiful) Plan
After mapping our plots we set to work planting seedlings. Better late than never, I suppose! I made these seedling cups out of newspaper, inspired by a post on Pinterest. You make them by wrapping newspaper around the top of a straight-sided glass, tucking the free end of the paper into the inside of the cup, sliding the cup out and then tamping down the paper in the middle (I used the bottom of the cup for this; worked great).

I am lucky that my straight-sided glass is exactly the same size as the inside of a canning jar - so I was able to use my canning funnel to help slide soil into the cups, mess-free.

We also save and recyle egg cartons for planting our smaller indoor starters. It is easy, at planting time, to gently scoop the seedlings out of the egg carton with a soup spoon and set them into their outdoor growing spot.

One of my favorite ideas for the seedlings this year is to use a disposable foil baking dish with a plastic cover. These are inexpensive, fit a good number of seedlings, and act as a greenhouse. Last year I grew negligent and all of my fragile plant babies died because I forgot to water them one day. I added a small cup of water to the inside of each of my greenhouses to keep things nice and moist - just in case!  Place in direct sunlight or under a lamp, and you've got a cheap little seedling sauna! Best of all, the greenhouses will nestle and stack into each other after the growing season is over, can be filled with leftover seed packets or growing containers, and will be easy to store until next year.


How will your garden grow this season?

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Today marked the first day of Kayak Season in Bangor, ME. Coincidentally, it was also the first day of Flipflop Season which makes me equally ecstatic. I paddled a new stretch of water today, at the end of Field's Pond in Holden. Beautiful narrows stretched before me with bright yellow sun and bold blue skies above.

I have never paddled this early in the season in Maine before, and it was such a treat. There are no insects out yet, and very few birds, which made for a very peaceful afternoon - occasionally interrupted by the birds fighting with each other.

~Ducks flying into the sun~

I was happy to be able to navigate an area that, based upon depth and the dense reed and grass thickets, I don't believe I would be able to travel in the summer when the plants are grown up.

And I was so glad to have found this stretch of open water - it was my third stop because the other places I went were still too frozen to navigate. The narrows had some ice that made areas off-limits, but it was largely open and easily navigable. It was really neat to hear the sound of the ice. It was rhythmically squeeky with the bobbing water from my wake, as the frozen edges rubbed together. I tried to record it but the sound was so gentle my microphone couldn't pick it up.

~Thankfully the boat stayed upright. It would have been a chilly dunk!~

After a couple of miles I turned back and caught some really great shots of red-winged blackbirds high in the trees overlooking the marsh.

Today's paddle rounds out my 27th Goal: to kayak three new bodies of water. Last summer I went adventuring on Mud Pond in Old Town and Souadobscook Stream, a tributary to the Penobscot River. Below are a few shots from those trips. In order to attain my goal I did some research and found a comprehensive list of all the ponds and lakes in Maine. I have a feeling this summer The Frogg and I will be visiting many more new spots!



Pick a puddle, and paddle!

Sunday, March 11, 2012


"Simplify" has become somewhat of a buzz word these days, as we are increasingly bombarded with dings and jingles from the entire world that now lives in our pockets and purses. It is so easy to reach out to anyone about anything, and so easy to be reached in return. A blessing and a curse, our communications infrastructure has paved the way to a world construct that allows us to be perpetually connected, almost forces us to be chained to the portable little boxes that have become the instruments we use to interact with the whole world.

Don't get me wrong; I love the ability to use Google as an endless library and email to dash quick notes off to friends and loved ones. But there are times when I can't help but realize how inorganic our system has become. When was the last time you put pen to paper and mailed a real, actual letter? When was the last time you perused the aisles of a real library, greasing the cogs in the back of your mind that remember how to use the dewey decimal system? When was the last time you turned everything off?

There's something to be said for that stillness of time and quiet of brain. As a child, some my favorite memories are of the days we spent home from school, the power out, room lit with candles, no sounds other than those that we ourselves generated, playing board games and reading, toasting bread on the surface of our wood-fired cookstove.

Gone are those days, as I live a more urban lifestyle in a downtown apartment of a small city. I don't have a woodstove here and the power never goes out. But I was reading through my goals list this morning, thinking about how so much of it is geared toward getting back to basics. Getting in touch with history, with where I come from, with the techniques used generations before me to keep a household running, with reaching back to a day when you couldn't buy yogurt in the stores and bread didn't come wrapped in plastic. These innovations are also a double-edged sword. Designed as a convenience to simplify the process of running a home and allow everyone to focus more energy on non-homemaking activities, they also strip us of the joy that comes from getting our hands sticky and making our kitchen smell like home.

I don't eschew or vilify modern conveniences, because they touch my life in as many ways as everyone else's. But occasionally doing things 'the old fashioned way' is what keeps me grounded and allows me to step outside of the every day hustle and bustle of dings and rings and sound bites and headlines, to find the sanctity that is in every home, when you remove distraction and focus on a moment. What do you do yourself or with your family that allows you to remove distractions and just BE? I'd love to hear the responses. If you can't come up with one, I challenge you to plan a blackout day. Shut down anything that buzzes and chimes, lights up or glows in the dark without flame. Pull out some books and cards, crayons and paper and just see what happens. Although there will be the initial 'what now?', you may be surprised at what comes from an afternoon of serenity.

~What fun my friends and I had one evening with nothing but a box of rocks!~

I spend many of these quiet afternoons in the kitchen, because that is how I best connect with a feeling of liberation from the daily grind. Some may enjoy time in the yard, knitting, reading or painting. What is your escape? Today, I am off to strain the yogurt I started last night and make some homemade granola. My phone is off, TV powered down, my surroundings simplified. Just the way I like it - every once in a while.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Inner Pretzel.

Given the nature of my work, traveling all day, it is difficult to find time for group activities during the daytime. I had been waiting and hoping that Central Street Yoga would be offering a class that fit into my schedule. Finally, in early September there was an offering for beginners on Saturday morning! I'm sure there are other studios around that I could have gone to, but this one has been taunting my eye for ages.

Located right in downtown Bangor, less than a block from my house, it fills the top floor of one of our historic buildings. When in it, you can see all of the major city streets intersect in the heart of our downtown area. From the street you can see their large tropical plants fill the windows and the warm brown of the cork walls lit up with beams of sunshine. In the evenings, warm light glows from that top floor, and I just knew it must be a wonderful place to go and learn. I had never been in it before my class, but I reeeeally wanted to go spend some time in there.

The long-awaited viewing of the studio.

I was a bit of a nervous novice, afraid to look silly in front of a bunch of locals, but Terry, the owner and instructor assured me that it was a complete beginner's class. Immediately he made us feel comfortable. "There is no wrong way to hold this pose. All poses can be adjusted. Every body, every limb, has it's own strength, flexibility and limits. There are purists who will say that your feet must be here and your arms MUST reach THIS far, but that is in a perfect world. I am not perfect and I don't imagine you are, either." Throughout the 4 relaxing weeks, Terry continued to encourage us, used perfect examples and imperfect examples of poses around the room, and helped us to find modifications that ensured every person in the class was having a pleasant and relaxing experience.

Terry: owner & instructor @ Central Street Yoga

Every Saturday morning I was excited to hop out of bed, toss on my comfy clothes and trot around the corner to the studio. I learned that the same week, a meditation class was starting. I have tried meditation many times over the years because it always seemed like it would be so relaxing, but after 6 seconds of mental peace the shopping lists, the laundry pile or the dusty livingroom shelves would start to fill the pretty little space I was trying to create in my mind. Five minutes would feel like 30, as I wrestled with those euphoria spoilers and I would give up, more frustrated than relaxed. So, on Tuesday nights at 7pm I would, again, don my relaxing garments and head down to the studio for Leslie's guided meditation for beginners.

It turns out, guided meditation is just what it took for me to not only push the big piles out of my mind, but also dust the corners and cobwebs to create a very calming, very quiet head that I filled with the sounds, images, sights, smells and feelings that I wanted to have. It didn't happen that way EVERY time, but even when it didn't I still left feeling calmed. And I got better at it with practice. Our instructor, Leslie, was very encouraging and frequently reminded us that no one has stunning sessions every time they try to meditate, and that is not the goal. The goal is to make space for yourself, every day, select a focus and live completely in that moment.

The Meditation Room @ Central Street Yoga

The first evening of class, there was someone in on another floor doing construction. We could hear banging and power tools. Leslie spoke what everyone in the room was already thinking "I bet you are all wondering how the heck are we supposed to meditate, with THAT going on?!" Well, she guided us through some sound exploration meditation. Letting the sounds in, really experiencing them and listening to them. From the room we were sitting in, to the streets below, what sounds could we hear? It was an interesting concept because I have always been under the impression that when you meditate, you are trying to turn everything OFF. But, no! Over the 4 weeks, each time we meditated, we turned something ON. We focused on one thing so intently that everything else fell away. Sounds, smells, feelings in your body - even something like an itch that you leave unscratched, exploring what that really feels like. It's not always just an itch. Sometimes it feels prickly or tingly, faint or strong, present because your shirt seam is rubbing your shoulder, or there for no reason at all. We talked about walking meditations, phrase repetitions, loving kindness meditation - I had no idea there were so many different ways to pull focus from myself or the world around me.

We explored fully experiencing how something tastes and feels by chewing a raisin, slowly, for-ev-er, and letting a chocolate chip melt on our tongues, breaking down the sensation of eating to explore the wrinkly texture of the raisin to the slightly gritty texture that is left in your mouth after a chocolate chip has dissolved into nonexistence.

I was very sad when my two classes ended, 4 weeks later. As I write this post, I see there are some more evening classes available at Central Street Yoga so there's a good chance I'll wander my way down there, again. I have not been great at daily practicing of either yoga or meditation since the classes ended but I do sometimes. I climb to the big dance studio on the top floor of our building and pull out the yoga mat that Robb got me for my birthday. Even though I don't do it every day, it is nice to have the physical and mental tools to use when the feeling strikes.

If you have always been curious but have been too intimidated to try either of these peaceful practices, I encourage you to seek a recommended teacher in your area and give it a try. I found the experience to be very positive with people who are doing the same thing I am, trying to find mental space and physical calm from their hectic, every day lives. I never felt judged or inadequate and I thoroughly enjoyed each hour I spent at the top of my city. Thanks to Terry and Leslie, I came to understand their motto: "It's about the journey, not the pretzel."


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wild Forager Wines

After another hiatus, I am finally back to tell you all about my adventures as a spare-room vintner. This little adventure started in August, 2011 when our good friends Dewey and Danner bestowed upon us several gallons of "junk berries" from their blueberry business. Those little suckers got run through our Kitchenaid foodmill attachment, Robb diligently filling the hopper, each gallon magically becoming a little more than a quart of berry juice and pulp, free of seeds, sticks and leaves.

That juice has since been turned into jam, syrup and most importantly, WINE!

Since my last post I have made a second batch of blueberry and 1 gallon batches of rosehip, wild cranberry, wild grape, crabapple and plum!

~Straining and Racking~

This one goal resulted in a spinoff interest that I wasn't expecting. In my quest for free wine-making juice, I started foraging. In the beginning, it was an accidental discovery of wild grapes on the side of the road as I was driving to a patient's house. Once I found out what they were, I kept my eyes open. They were all over the place!! In one very lucky spot I was able to find wild grapevines woven over some highbush cranberries, sitting in the middle of a thicket of blackberries! This one spot will give me harvest from spring to fall next year!

~Rose hips~

I also kept my eyes open around town. Turns out there are domesticated plums being grown ornamentally behind the bank, rose hips by the bushel could be harvested from the grocery store parking lot dividers, and crabapples galore outside my chiropractor's office. On the waterfront I was able to find bayberry bushes, echinacea and mint, and at the end of a patient's driveway, a beautiful Chicken of the Woods mushroom that was wonderful sauteed and served over salad. It was such a fun fall, harvesting food that I didn't have to grow! I also learned how to prepare and preserve them all - what great skills to have! All of these things foraged discoveries became wine, jam and/or dehydrated for homemade teas (except the mushrooms).

~Wild Plums~

After mashing up my fruit, I found recipes online for each type of wine I made. I found this to be one of the most helpful, in terms of giving me the general framework for my endeavor. Combined with the help of the folks at Central Street Farmhouse, I had plenty of information to get started.

~Blueberry Pulp~

Blueberry Wine Recipe
Highbush Cranberry Wine Recipe
Rosehip Wine Recipe
Wild Grape Wine Recipe
The plums I went rogue on, feeling comfortable twiddling with my own ratios, after having made the others.

~Sterilizing the bottles~

So far I have only bottled the first batch of the blueberry wine. What is most surprising is how much the character of the wine changes as it ages. In the very beginning it was a delicious, sweet juice, thick in the mouth and hopping with blueberry flavor. After fermentation it became ... hooch. We could have used it as turpentine - and that's about what it tasted like, too. A month or so into the racking process it mellowed out slightly, but had a very pungeant aroma - kind of like wet socks. Now it's really starting to settle down and the flavor is coming back into itself. I don't know how good it's going to turn out, but the brave chap at Central Street Farmhouse that tasted it said it will be just fine - it just needs more time. Apparently wine-making is teaching me patience, too!

I am so glad that I embarked on this goal four months ago. My quest to complete it has led me to places I didn't even know I'd want to go, and I am left with lifelong skills of foraging and food preservation. I may be the only one who will love that wine enough to be able to stomach it, but there are worse things than having 10 gallons of wine all to yourself!

~The Very First Bottle!~


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seeing Blue

It's been a while since I've crossed something off! I've been working on several things - Chinese classes are going very well, next week we will learn all of the food terms and go out to Panda Garden for dinner and practice. The compost worms were ordered but didn't get sent, so after a call to customer service at Uncle Jim's Worm Farm those little wrigglers should be on their way, soon!

Nicholas is working the summer on the blueberry farm of my friends Dewey and Danner (the same friends who donated their house to us for the formal dinner for hospice.) I requested they save some of the scrap berries that would otherwise get thrown away, so I brought home a 5 gallon bucket of wild blueberries (full of leaves and stems even after going through the sorter which is why they get tossed). Robb and I processed all of them to 2 gallons of pulp and juice using our Kitchenaid Fruit strainer attachment, in very short order! 2 quarts went into a double batch of blueberry jam that I will pray sets up properly, and another 5 quarts will go to the wine-making goal! Pretty awesome for a bucket of berries that was going to get thrown away!

So I went down to the brewing store around the corner:

Bryan was so helpful, looked over my recipe I'd researched this morning and said it looked like a good one, and proceeded to use the instructions as my shopping list - they had every single thing I needed! Also got all the components I needed - hydrometer, syphon, airlock, etc... and will buy my buckets tonight at Walmart. After we run Nick back to Blue Hill my first wine-making venture will be underway!


Go and see Part 2