Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Sweetest Words

Some would say that the sweetest words they ever hear are, "I love you." Last weekend, I heard words even sweeter to my ears right now. While chatting in the kitchen as I cooked, Judy said, "I love my life." I was simply awed that anyone who is dealing with all that she is could have such a positive attitude. With serious heart and lung issues, in multiple organ failure, she is the most positive person I've ever met. Her faith is strong and she often talks about how things always seem to work out for her, citing me as an example. It would've been so easy for us to have missed reconnecting at that particular moment in time. If they had forgotten how to spell my first name or if they hadn't realized that I had gone back to my maiden name after my divorce, they might not have found me on Facebook. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, you have to admit that the stars certainly aligned perfectly to bring an old friend back into their lives who has as much diabetes experience as I have and who also happens to work for a food service company with access to the perfect set of recipes as well as a knowledgeable group of chefs in and out of my office every day to help us begin our journey. Fate? Kismet? Divine Intervention? Luck? Everyone will have to decide for themselves. 

Food Prep

One of the first things I did after I committed to helping was to go to Amazon and find containers for food prep and portion control. For just over fifteen bucks I snagged a set of containers perfect for the job. (Long live Amazon Prime!) I fill as many of these as possible on the weekends and pop most in the freezer for the week. I mark them with freezer tape with what's inside, the day to eat it (we have to make sure she gets the same amount of vitamin K daily so the greens in particular must be measured, because of the Coumadin interaction) and any reheating instructions. 

grilled chicken, smashed potatoes, mustard greens

On this particular weekend, I grilled chicken breasts with onions and mushrooms, There are also smashed, small red potatoes with a sprinkling of cheese, pepper and spring onions that she'll add a dab of sour cream to after reheating. The mustard greens were cooked with added sodium free Chicken Herb-Ox and a small amount of coconut oil (@1TBL for the whole pot).
We're discovering which things reheat nicely and which don't. Almost all proteins need added broth (before freezing and more before reheating) to keep them from drying out. Fish is a definite NO. It just doesn't reheat well so shrimp and salmon are cooked and eaten on the weekends as soon as I cook them.

Kitchen Tips

1. Avoid cross-contamination. When you have a compromised immune system, the last thing you need is food poisoning. Use different cutting boards (color coded works well) for meats and vegetables. There are even color coded knives that serve the same purpose.
2. Wear a cutting glove. If you're a new or fairly inexperienced cook, it's a great little investment. If you're cooking for someone who's REALLY immunocompromised, also get some thin laytex style gloves. They don't need your cooties.
3. A mandolin. If you cut a lot of small squash, zucchini and cucumbers, you'll thank me for this. 
4. When grilling meats like chicken and hamburgers it's a goof idea to use a grill pan to get the grill marks everyone likes but if you're freezing it, add some low sodium beef or chicken stock at the end to keep it from drying out. And remember, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice always brightens sauteed veggies. You can even cook it down to a galze and coat your chicken with it. YUM!
5. If food still just doesn't have enough flavor without the added salt, stand in the bake isle at the grocery store and stare at the spice section for a while. There are many salt free seasonings loaded with flavor these days. Our current favorites are Cavender's and Chef Paul's (salt free) Magic Seasoning. We add a dash or two to almost everything. The Magic Seasoning has a little kick. 

So while I'm in the kitchen measuring, mixing and tallying carb counts and Vitamin K amounts into little compartments and storage bowls, Judy's testing her blood sugar, recording her weight twice a day and calculating insulin dosages and boluses, all between scheduling doctors' appointments and other appointments. There are also calls and visits from friends. These wear her out quickly but she hates to miss any of them. This weekend, our dinner table conversations while Unk was in the bedroom resting revolved around ways to keep him from getting seriously depressed or even suicidal if she goes first. There will be weekend day trips for ice cream one or two towns over and I'll have to show him the local spots I know here in my county. There's the Whirlirgig Park in Wilson, the little Mayberry trype filling station outside of Sharpsburg and the sailboat someone brought home to set up on their property after they couldn't sail any longer, presumably because they loved that boat so. Or maybe they just got too old or sick to use it any longer. If you know the owner, don't tell me the reason. I don't think I want to know.

Growing Old

Whoever said that quote about how growing old isn't for the feint of heart sure knew what he was talking about. Facing serious health problems when your energy is lagging and your body is older, tired and wearing out certainly takes courage. The most any of us usually can hope for is to go peacefully in our sleep with no long drawn-out illness, no suffering to endure. That's my wish for all of us. God Bless us all.

chicken, greens, smashed potatoes,

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Food Police

Any Type 1 diabetic can tell you that one thing they hate almost as much as the constant needles is the "Food Police." These are usually well meaning friends and sometimes even complete strangers who think they know better than you. They're everywhere: at church, on Facebook, at school, shopping centers and especially at restaurants. Tired and cranky with a low blood sugar coming on, I snapped at my 8th grade teacher at a church pancake supper once because she offered me sugar free syrup. No matter how many times I tried to explain to her at previous suppers that I'd rather have the real stuff and that the sugar in the one tablespoon I was going to use was planned for in my carb count, she continued to insist that she knew more than I did- a diabetic of over 30 years. At 48 back then, I thought maybe I should be trusted to know what I was doing. It's maddening and a little exhausting. Well now I've become that person. The dreaded Food Police times ten. I'm the Food Police on steroids. I weigh, I measure, I portion and I figure carbohydrate amounts.

Paying careful attention to everything we put in our bodies is what every new diabetic starts out doing; usually the doctor sends the new diabetic to a nutritionist who teaches them about food servings and carb counting. After awhile, they've done it enough that instead of counting up the carbs, they just know. People get into food habits. They eat basically the same foods from week to week. Instead of adding up all of the carbs in their favorite sandwich and little bag of chips for instance, after awhile they just have the carb count for that meal ingrained in their brain, "a grilled ham & cheese with chips. That's 7 units of insulin." In Judy's case, since she's having to find new dishes to try, we are having to be like a new disbetic starting this journey from scratch. We count everything.

I've been scrambling to find different recipes to try on Judy to see if she'll like them. She's been very good about trying pretty much anything I fix. There are ground rules of course. She hates arugula, for instance. Several weeks ago she said she could eat chicken every meal. A week later, she said she was sick of chicken. Thank goodness I predicted it and had other meals prepped for some variety. Recently, it was breakfast. In an attempt to mix it up, I decided to try out a frittata recipe and see how she liked it. 

My Frittata

  • 4 eggs
  • a handful of fresh baby spinach
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 yellow squash
  • chicken broth or 1 packet of Herb-Ox
  • 2 tablespoons of minced shallot
  • sliced mushrooms (to taste)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 3 turns of fresh ground pepper (it helps us absorb the turmeric)
  • 2 shakes of turmeric (it fights inflamation)
  • 2 shakes of Cavendar's Seasoning (salt free)
I sprayed my non-stick pan with a spritz of EVOO and sauteed the sliced vegetables with the Cavendar's, pepper and turmeric, adding the spinach near the end. About halfway through, I added a generous splash of chicken broth for them to finish cooking. When they were almost done and the broth had cooked out, I added the eggs and cheese. When they were well mixed together and just starting to firm up, I poured the mixture into a pie dish and put it in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, being careful not to overcook it. It came out great and the whole thing was gone by the end of the day. She ate every bite and insisted that I add this one to the blog. It really was delicious and I didn't even miss the salt. I hope you enjoy.


The Food Police

Friday, January 12, 2018

Meet Unk & Judy

Unk, Scooby Doo & Judy  


Growing old is a privilege not granted to everyone. As I get older, the term, "old" has become relative. At 10, I thought 25 was old. Now that I'm 50, 70 doesn't seem all that old at all. That being said, I have a set of friends that I've known since I was 12. We met at the beach where we both had mobile homes in an oceanfront mobile home park in Emerald Isle, NC.  It was one of those places where the middle class could afford to own a weekend getaway spot without paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own cottage. "The trailer," as we called it was big and comfortable. It was 70 ft of home away from home getaway happiness, ocean breezes, and fresh seafood dinners.

After the 2 hour drive every Friday after my mom got off of work, the first thing I did was to check to see which of my friends were down for the weekend. My first stop was always Unk & Judy's. Although they were older than us and married, they had no kids of their own and always acted glad to see us. Unk seemed to us a big teenager himself, always willing to hang out on the beach or go swimming with any of us that asked him. While our mothers sunbathed, fished or read their books on the couch or sundeck, we were off swimming or at the pier house playing Foosball or feeding quarters to the jukebox. We weren't happy unless Foreigner or Journey was blaring. It was a wonderful way to grow up.

Eventually, we aged and life happened. The mobile home park was sold and demolished after a couple of hurricanes took out the pier. The last time I saw Unk & Judy was at the shower for my 2nd baby. That baby will be 21 in May. I can still picture Judy at that shower, stretched out on the couch having just been to a doctor's appointment at Duke to have her heart checkup. Although I knew there were issues with her heart, I was too overwhelmed with my own life to do more than add her to my list of people to worry about at night.

Fast forward to almost 20 years later. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, Unk & Judy and I have reconnected. I've lived in 4 other cities in 2 different states since I last saw them. The husband is now an ex and the kids are in college. The parents are gone and I'm trying to start over back in my old hometown, finally getting to plot my own path in life, broke but finally happy. That was around two years ago.

Divine Intervention

Some things just seem to be divine intervention. Ever had something work out that you think is just too perfect to be a coincidence? Through a few Messenger conversations, I learned that Judy's heart problems have become more critical. She's now had to start severely restricting her salt intake. Besides all of the morning weight checks, blood sugar checks and keeping up with all the medications she has to take, now there's this added diet focus. A type 2 diabetic for years, she's accustomed to carb counting but being insulin dependent, she could eat normally albeit in moderation. Ever noticed how much salt is in your food? It's a LOT. FDA guidelines for middle-aged and older adults suggest just 1,500 mg of sodium a day. I checked the ham biscuit at a popular fast food place nearby: 2,222 mg of salt in one country ham biscuit. Try keeping up with how much you get in one day. In one meal. The average person would be shocked. They wouldn't change anything but they'd be shocked nonetheless. Judy doesn't have that luxury. A few scant pounds of fluid retention could be life and death at this point.

I mentioned divine intervention because here's my dear friend trying to deal with her heart condition, her diabetes, and some pretty tough diet stuff and I suddenly come back into the picture. I've been a type 1 diabetic since I was 12, the same Summer I met Unk & Judy. I've had more visits with dietitians than anyone else she knows. To top that? I just happen to have a job with a huge company in their Universities division, feeding college students at a local college. My job is a combination of marketing, customer service, and administration. I've spent hours perusing the company database of recipes, mostly looking for new menu items to feature to ensure that the students don't get bored with the same dishes and trying to promote our healthier menu options. My company's healthy line has less fat, salt, carbs... you get the idea. They had some very talented and famous chefs come up with these healthy but delicious meals. These aren't rice cakes and cottage cheese diet foods. When we've featured these items at our Chef's Table, the line has wrapped around the station to get seconds. No, this isn't going to turn into a commercial for my company but you will see several recipes from that line. Eight or nine hundred hungry college students a day can't be wrong. Most of our students have pretty sophisticated palates. If it's not tasty, they're not eating it.

Trial & Error

I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist but I've known many excellent ones. My parents made sure of that from the beginning. I can't imagine having to do this and I'm certainly not going to let one of my friends feel their way through this when I know I can help. So, I've rolled up my sleeves and have gotten to work. Unk is there for her but as he's in perfect health, he can't quite empathize like I can. So every weekend I make the 40-minute drive to their house to do the grocery shopping and cook as many dishes as I can fit into the weekend.  We spend time discussing menu choices and insulin adjustments between conversations about old times. We've had some missteps and have had to make some adjustments but we're getting there, slowly but surely. Judy is hard on herself when she forgets something important but I try to remind her that none of us are perfect and we have to chalk mistakes up to our learning curve and move forward, better armed than before. We began with cutting out every grain of salt possible. If a recipe calls for it, we simply omit it. I spend ages in the grocery store aisles, reading nutrition labels searching for the lowest carb and salt choice on the shelf. "No added salt" does not mean low salt or salt-free, for instance. So, every recipe I list is made with the lowest sodium ingredients I could find and any table salt is omitted completely. Yes, it's that important.

Our First Healthy Recipe

Since Judy can't have salt, she had already begun experimenting with different salt-free seasonings. This one has enough flavor that it doesn't really need any substitute for the salt.
The chicken itself we grilled in a mixture of:
*1/4 cup lime juice
*2 dashes of cumin
*1 tsp minced garlic
*2 turns of fresh ground pepper
*1 teaspoon of minced chipotle peppers in adobo.
The black beans were cooked from dried but could've easily been rinsed beans from a can. I was feeling ambitious that day.

The salsa cruda was a mixture of:
*1/2 cup of frozen corn
*1 jalapeno pepper (seeded)
*1/2 cup of drained diced tomatoes
*1/2 of a small red onion
*fresh ground black pepper
*a scant bunch of cilantro (Seriously, you either love the stuff or you hate it. We compromised and just used a little.)
*1/8 cup of lime juice.
Everything gets diced, minced and tossed together. No cooking required for the salsa, just keep it refrigerated if you make it ahead of time. Yum!

The dipping sauce is simply:
*non-fat Greek yogurt
*a little fresh cilantro
*chili powder
I eyeballed the amounts but made way too much. Good thing it's a great snack dip for raw veggies, too. Keep that refrigerated as well. When I had everything ready, I sprayed a little EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) in a non-stick frying pan and put in my quesadilla wrap. Then on one half,  I scattered my diced chicken, black beans, and cheese. I topped that with my salsa cruda and folded the other half of my tortilla over the ingredients. After just enough time to brown that side over med heat, I carefully flipped it to brown the other side. Plate it and add a dollop of dipping yogurt. Voila! 

 Chicken & Black Bean Quesadilla with Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Here I am with my quesadilla and here's a link if you want to see what a professional cook's quesadilla looks like...