Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eating Medicinally. Again.

"You eat medicinally!" a distant co-worker announced ten years ago, with the inflection of a scientist making an important but distasteful discovery.

He was right. I ate for the most basic of reasons: to fuel my body and improve my health. And, once I got past the carb cravings, I enjoyed eating that way. I liked my thinner self. I liked the way we can detect the sweetness in so many foods when we don't allow sugar to confuse our taste buds. Most of all, I liked knowing I was foiling the nasty combination of predispositions I'd inherited.

My family has a strong history of diabetes and heart disease. My paternal grandfather died of a heart attack at 61. My maternal grandmother died of a heart attack at 46. My theory—and I'll never be able to prove it—is that she had a tendency toward high triglycerides, and the German desserts she loved to bake were her undoing. I have the triglyceride problem, which can be a serious heart risk for women, and the only way to keep it in check is to severely limit carbohydrate consumption. They didn't know this, of course, in my grandmother's day.

I inherited something else, too: my dad's unusual fat-clearing (or, more accurately, fat retaining) gene. Well, I don't know if there's a specific gene for this, but it's the way I've always thought of it. Here's the story.

My father was 40 when I was born. He and my mom had met on the tennis courts, and he remained actively athletic until he was practically crippled by angina. This happened when I was quite young. I remember that he couldn't walk up a subway ramp without stopping to put a nitroglycerin tablet under his tongue. Any kind of exercise was out of the question. Back then nobody heard of cholesterol, but my dad's doctor was ahead of his time. He said saturated fat was the culprit, and advised my dad to give it up. All of it. No more cheese. No more ice cream, hot dogs, or juicy hamburgers. No more sausage. No more eggs. No more butter.

So he did. I grew up in a saturated-fat-free home, where polyunsaturated and cholesterol were household words. My dad stopped having angina pain, and was able to quit the nitroglycerin. He was able to start playing tennis again. He bought himself a bicycle, too. Over the years he found he could eat eggs without a problem. But if he ate fatty meat, or butter (this would usually happen at a restaurant), he would be in trouble the next day. Several times the resulting heart pains were strong enough to land him in the hospital.

For years he was told that it doesn't work like that. Cholesterol builds up gradually in the arteries; ingesting saturated fat doesn't clog them instantly. But in some people it can. A research study proved this a few years ago, but I had my own proof earlier than that.

It was about 20 years ago.....a cardiologist was preparing to perform a test in which my blood would be drawn and shaken in a test tube. When he shook the blood, he was appalled to find fat floating in it. He said he'd never seen anything like it. (And I think I just lost my more delicate readers.)

So. Whatever we want to call my father's odd fat metabolism, I share it. For that reason, and for the triglyceride issue, about 15 years ago I began eating medicinally. I got very strict with my diet, giving up saturated fats for one side of the family, and most carbohydrates for the other. It worked well for a good decade.

But at some point I started easing up on it. I was good about the fats, but I began allowing bread "if the restaurant is good and the bread is warm." Pasta once in a while. Some "whole grains," because they sound so healthy. That type of thing. But never, ever any sugar. And never ever any butter. Until the week before this Christmas.

My granddaughter and I had gotten together to bake cookies. I don't know what possessed me to taste them, but I did. I had just a few, but with cookies it doesn't take much. Cookies have got to be one of the most deliciously unhealthy things going. I had joked that our baking efforts were supporting the butter industry. And now some of that butter was coursing through my veins.

The next day I was standing in front of my washing machine, calmly folding laundry, when I experienced what felt like a dead-serious angina pain, traveling down the left side of my neck and into my chest. It was brief, but scary as hell. I've had little twinges where the arteries join the heart, but never anything like that. Being Harry's daughter, my first thought was, What did I eat? It took me a few minutes to remember the cookies of the day before. And then I remembered the goat cheese, of all things, from the day before that. Yes, I ate some of the goat cheese that a restaurant served with my lunch salad. I never do, but I did that day. Call it temporary insanity created by the merging of the Christmas season and my last day at work.

It was clear what had happened, and it was clear what I had to do. That day, three days before Christmas, I started eating medicinally. Again. As for all the foods I've had to turn down since then, I'll leave that to your imagination.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve makes me think of cookies......

.......and this year all my cookie recipes came from the Internet. I often get recipes online, and I look for ones that have lots of stars in their reviews. I don't know why I do that, because so many of the positive reviews are written by people who made so many changes to the original recipe that the review ends up being useless.

Consider this 5-star review of a recipe for bran muffins--regular old plain (but yummy) bran muffins. I'm shaking my head. :-)

I omitted the sugar and the raisins to form a batter that I could then half. One for a savory and one for a banana chocolate chip nut muffin. For the savory I added finely chopped boiled brocoli 1 1/2 cups, added 1/4 cup dried onion flakes, finely chopped sun dried tomatoes, 1 tbsp feta cheese, 1 tbsp romano, 4 tbsp shredded cheddar, and oregano. This is now one of my favorite breakfasts on the go. For the sweet I added 1 mashed banana 1/4 cup dark mini chocolate chips, 2 tbsp maple syrup, 1/2 cup combined chopped walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds.

Merry Christmas, everyone!! Here's wishing you a year filled with fun and good health—and not a speck of broccoli in your bran muffins.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

This Time Six Years Ago.........

It's December, and we all know what that means. Rather than write about shopping, wrapping, mailing, decorating, and baking (which is all I can think about this month), I'm sharing something I ran across this morning. I wrote it at the end of my 2004 Christmas letter:

As I write this, two guys from my gas company are attempting to convert the new range from natural gas to LP. They’ve been attempting this for about two hours now. When they arrived they took one look at the stove and said they didn't have the right tool. It sounded like they needed some special screwdriver bit, so I got out the set I'd bought myself a couple of months ago and asked if one of those would do. One would.

But there were other obstacles, and the guy in charge opened the owner's manual to do his research…until I discovered that he was reading the one for the microwave. Now I'm sitting here writing to you, and they're hunched over the stove, saying things like, "If you lose that, we're dead." and "Now which one goes in here?" and "Oh, boy, do I hate engineering!" and "Which one is the big one?" and “We lost 30 minutes because you didn’t listen to me when I said I was right!” and “How’re we gonna figure this out?” and the worst: "I'm gonna stick a piece of paper in here" "I dunno...I don't like the idea of paper in the gas burner." It’s a remarkably good rendition of the Three Stooges, minus one.

A sense of humor is a great blessing.