Saturday, May 28, 2011

I gots a bezoar, do you gots a bezoar?

Don't worry if you don't. Despite sounding like it came out of a Harry Potter novel (which it did, Harry saves Ron in the Half Blood Prince by stuffing a bezoar down his throat) it's not actually a good thing.

Bezoars are lumps of undigested foods that just sit obstinately in your stomach, causing trouble. Bezoars can be caused by gastroparesis. I realized after reading the symptoms that I probably had a whole gang of bezoars chilling out in my stomach (if only they did something cool like be antidotes to poison). Recently, every time I pooped I felt like I hadn't completely emptied (I know, I know, too much info). Which makes sense if there's a ruddy bezoar in the way.

Well the only dietary cures for bezoars is to go on a low-fibre diet. A what, you say? Well fibre is harder to digest and contribute to bezoar formation like packing snow does to a snow ball. So the best thing to do is to go on a low fibre diet just so that bezoars stop forming and you can cleanse your stomach.

This just goes to prove a point that I've learned a thousand times over since these tummy troubles began: everyone is different. On paper, it looks like I was doing everything right - eating high fibre foods, exercising lots, etc.

But I guess the nutritionist didn't know about bezoars.

Oh well, I forgive her. We can't all know everything. In any case, eating low-fibre doesn't have to mean unhealthy. It just means cooking things well so that the fibre breaks down and makes it easier to digest. That just means more yummy soups for me!

Apparently dairy is ok for a low-fibre diet. If it's ok for you, then go ahead, but for me, it's not. And cold things aren't either (I know, I'm weird.) Plus, we're on a 21-day cleanse, remember?

Of course, once those bezoars are gone, try introducing a little fibre back into your diet. Fibre is good for you, but just like everything else, balance is the key.

I can't tell you how much of a relief it is to finally figure out what is wrong with me. I'm not imagining things. And there is hope. And I don't have colon cancer (fingers crossed). It's just silly bezoars.

Makes you wonder how J.K. Rowling found out about them.

Bezoar Busting Blind Rice AKA Spanish Veggie Paella
This yummy one pot rice dish is called blind rice because the vegetables are cut into microscopic sizes and melts wonderfully into the rice, creating a concoction that even a blind person could eat (as in, no bones to pick). The original recipe called for saffron, but as I am a poor college student and saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, I experimented. And it turned out pretty damn tasty. And filled with goodness. If this is what I have to eat to kick some bezoar booty, I'll gladly eat it every day!
1 onion
a handful of cashews
2 tblsp. olive oil
1 bell pepper
1 zucchini
1 eggplant
2 tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/3 cups of rice
salt and black pepper to taste (you'll need more than you think because of the rice)
1 tsp. of smoked paprika
4 cups of water
1/2 tsp. of thyme
1/2 tsp. of rosemary
To Cook:
1. Saute your onion in olive oil over low heat until it turns translucent. Toss in the cashews and saute for another couple of minutes.
2. Meanwhile, dice your pepper, zucchini, and eggplant as teeny tiny as you can. Add to the onions and cashews.
3. When vegetables are soft, add diced tomatoes and garlic. Cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Add rice and half of the water, stir fry for about 5 minutes on high heat.
5. Add all your seasonings. and stir well. Then add the rest of the water and cover to cook on low heat. Don't stir.
6. After about 10 minutes, or when the rice starts crackling, check to see if it is done. Pick up a kernel of rice and see if it's soft. If not, add some more water and let to cook longer. (Add water a little at a time to allow the rice to soak it up.) Serve hot. Yum!

Serves 4-6

Memo from Stomach to Brain

Dear Brain,
I know that you're supposed to be the most highly evolved part of the body, but sometimes I can't help but wonder how things would be if I ran the show. I mean, hello? Who's idea was it to down a handful of chocolates (or two or three handfuls...I know that it was Lindt and I know that is was free...but come on!)so that the next thing you know, poor Jenny has enough gas to send her to Pluto and her blood sugar levels are along for the ride?!

And who has to deal with the stomach churning and the bloating and the goddamn feeling of incompetence as I rush to process all that chocolate? Me. For once, I'm going to stand up for myself. I demand a 21 day detox. If you don't take care of me, I quit (where's the stomach union anyhow? I'd like vacation and pension too, please.)
Yours affectionately,

Ok, so now that you all know about my naughty day and the aforementioned trip to the solar system, it's time to get serious. I realized after a hangover day of horrible headaches, tummy bloating, and blood sugar levels like a Six Flags roller coaster ride, that I really had better start taking care of my stomach before it bails on me. So tummy, you win - 21 day detox it is.

Actually the idea came to me when I was reading The Kitchen Shrink, by Natalie Savona, which is really a good book and I recommend that you check it out. There's a bunch of interesting chapters that I might react to in later blog posts if I have the time, written by a Cambridge educated ex-journalist and recovering depression-holic (is that a word?) She suggested a 21 day detox to give your stomach time to recover and start on a clean slate. My plan for the detox is going to be a little different from hers because a) I don't think some of her suggestions will work for my stomach and b) I need some meat protein to maintain my weight.

I've already made my lemon and ginger juice concoction and stuck it in the refrigerator, ready for me to heat up tomorrow morning in the true Ayurvedic fashion (I gave up drinking this a while ago because I couldn't be bothered to make it very morning, I don't know why I didn't think to make a whole batch beforehand).

She also says to have plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and fibre (which I need to work on). She also says to avoid alcohol, coffee, dairy products, processed and sugary foods, and limit intake of gluten to once every two days. Aside from her suggestion to eat soy for main protein source (because in reality, soy isn't that easy to digest), and snacking on raw veggies (because I can't digest those either) I think this is the way we should be eating all the time. Although I'll pass on her "liver flush" (grapefruit juice, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and ginger).

I'm excited to finally start feeling better and not be in limbo. I think it's time to stop pining after the foods I can't take anymore and give big hugs to the foods I can! I guess this means I'm going to have to be a little more creative with my cooking - good thing I found an awesome Indian cornbread recipe for that pancake batter sitting in the fridge at the moment. And this might mean that I'll be posting more often - which is fab!

Tonight I had buckwheat noodles with miso soup - it was good but not quite right so I'll post the recipe once I've perfected it.

Here's to healthy guts!

Thought for Food: Who wants to join me on this detox? It'll make me feel less lonely...!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Pancakes

Shortly after I moved from my horrendous first house at University of York, I had a craving for cornbread. So I bought a 5 kg bag of cornflour, convinced that cornbread was soon going to be my speciality. Unfortunately, after 3 tries, I had to concede defeat. I just don't think I'm a baking type of person. I'm too tempted to substitute and add random ingredients, and baking is a strict, by the book type of thing; not like cooking. My cornbreads would turn out really soggy or really sour or moist, or collapsed...So in a desperate attempt to use up the massive surplus of cornflour I now had on my hands, I started making pancakes. And now, I think I'm in love. Crisp and golden, I have them for breakfast and snack and love to experiment with fillings. The first batch I made was too egg-y for my taste so I upped the flour ante and accidentally added too much water. But it ended up being just right. Now I just make a huge batch of batter and then whenever I feel the munchies coming on, I whip out my skillet, heat up some oil and enjoy some yummy pancakes in less than 10 minutes. In the end, you use about the same amount of oil that you would if you were to bake the whole thing. Plus, frying lends itself to gluten free flours better because it doesn't cause the stuff to fall apart.

My favorite pancake is the spring onion pancake - a savory pancake with just a little sweetness to it from browning the onions. I also like to add little blueberries sometimes and next week I'm going to experiment with orange juice, green tea, and red bean paste!


Thought for food: Ever wanted to get rid of something that turned out to be wonderful?


Spring Onion Pancake
2 tablespoon potato flour
enough white rice flour to make it up to 1/2 cup
2/3 cup of corn flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup of milk (or water)
5 or 6 spring onions, washed and chopped
1 teaspoon xanthan gum OR guar gum OR pre-gel starch (optional)
To Cook:
1. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
2. Beat the egg in a separate bowl. Add the milk or water.
3. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and stir well. If it is too dry, add a little more water. The mixture should be smooth but thick. If you can, let it sit for a while so that the corn flour soaks up the liquid.
4. Heat a little bit of oil in a pan at medium heat. Pour in the batter - the perfect size is somewhere around 3-4 inches in diameter.
5. When the sides start stiffening, sprinkle in the spring onions, poking them so that they sink into the batter.
6. When bubbles start appearing on the surface of the pancake (about 3 minutes), flip it over and cook the other side for the same amount of time.
Makes 6 pancakes

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bitter Sweet

It's a well-worn cliche; the saying that it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. It all sounds nice and romantic and idealist, but I always had my doubts. I mean, when it comes to the prospect of pain, I'm an absolute wimp. So the thought of having my heart wrenched out and stomped on? Enough to make me sign up for a convent.

Similarly, every time I'm ecstatically happy and jumping around on my bed, there is a dark cloud that passes over in my mind and a voice that sounds like God on Judgment Day says, "It won't last forever..." Call me bleak. Or call me Charlie Brown, who said "Everytime you get too happy, something bad happens."

I posed this question to my brother - would he rather enjoy moments so much that it makes leaving all the harder? Because if there's one thing I've learned from growing up, it's that nothing lasts forever. He looked at me like I was dumb and said that of course he would rather have the moments.

Which reminded me of hiking in Wales. As we were walking around the quaint little town of Llangollen, dodging cars that seemed to have no moral conscious whatsoever, I spotted what looked like a horse shaped bush at the top of a large hill in the distance. Upon discovering later that this horse-shaped bush was actually castle ruins, we proceeded to climb to it.

Of course, the builders of the castle were smart, and we were dumb in that they purposely built the castle up a very, very high steep mountain and if any invaders dressed in jeans and carrying cameras, but foolishly forgot to bring provisions (ie. water and food), would perish and have no hope of invading.

We passed by a family bickering about how much longer the hike would take. We passed another couple of people who had presumably passed out by the wayside. And still, we kept going. I'd always wondered if hikers ever got bored of just climbing up to see a beautiful view that they'd seen several times before, only to climb back down again.

When we got to the top though, it was all worth it. Collapsing on the grass, it was just as well that there was no castle walls to penetrate or guards to fight off. No, it was just us, some tourists, and the breathtaking Welsh countryside, stretched out in front of us like an undulating ocean of green, cottages, and sheep. Something like pride rose in my chest with the cool wind as it wicked the sweat off our faces.

My legs were incredibly sore the next day, which unfortunately, made dodging morally questionable cars more difficult. Bitter, yes. But sweet as well. Oh so sweet.

Maybe my brother was right. Even the pain makes us remember that we're alive. and that is all that matters. That we're alive - and that we can feel.

Plus, with every tear, the smile is sweeter, with every winter, the spring is more lovely, with every night, the sunrise is all the more breathtaking. And of course, the steeper the climb, the better the view.

I remember this as many of my friends are graduating from university and some are leaving home forever. I might never see them again. But it's a bitter sweet time: bitter because of the good-byes, sweet because of the times we remember. I'll gladly suffer the pain so that I can cherish the memories of laughter.


Thought for food: What's your best bitter sweet memory?


Bitter Melon with Eggs
I hated eating bitter melon when I was growing up - but then I found this marvelous recipe that added a hint of sweetness. The secret is in caramelizing the onions, so make sure that the onions are nice and golden before you add the bitter melon.
1/2 onion, chopped
1 bitter melon, chopped and deseeded
2 eggs, beaten
To Cook:
1. Heat a tablespoon of oil and add the onions. Saute for about 3-5 minutes until the onions are nice and brown, but not burnt.
2. Add the bitter melon and cook on medium until soft.
3. Add the eggs and salt. Pour in a tiny bit of water if it sticks to the bottom of the pan. Cook until done. Serve with rice.
Serves 1.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Is it Possible to Love Something to Death?

I used to love bread. Absolutely love it. And I wasn't discriminating towards any kind of bread either - challah, raisin bread, whole wheat, white, French, soda, garlic, you name it - I loved it. There were few foods in my life that could compare with my love of bread - there was just something so simple and yet good about it. It was fluffy, warm, and smelled wonderful. With butter, jam, honey, or by itself, it was amazing. I could go through a whole loaf if no one stopped me. And when college rolled around, I proceeded to do just that.

And then came the terrible day when eating bread made me sick. It gave me tummy-aches and made me fart. How could such a wonderful thing do such horrible things to my body? I felt so betrayed.

I had a conversation with my flatmate today about how food intolerances develop. He said that he had a friend who ate 4 eggs every day developed an egg allergy. He himself once ate oranges for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because they were so cheap, that he developed rashes all the way up his arms until he stopped eating them. Could it be possible that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing?

Yes, indeed, it is possible. While food allergies generally develop from a young age because it has to do with the immune system, food intolerances have to do with the gastrointestinal system and therefore can develop when your body gets an overdose of something. The differences in symptoms are very slight and so to make sure, you should go to a doctor and get checked out. I did a test for gluten allergy last year (since my brother is allergic to gluten) and tested negative. The only way you can test for a food intolerance is through an elimination diet. So if you try to eliminate something from your diet and you feel a lot better but don't test positive for an allergy, then chances are, you developed a food intolerance.

It's funny how when you love something so much, it actually turns against you. I thought I was expressing my love for bread to its fullest when I ate so much of it, but ironically, now I can't eat any of it at all. The upside is that now I actually get to say that I have overdosed on bread.

It's been a hard lesson to learn for me. For someone who loves to overdose on everything (except drugs of course!) sometimes it's hard for me to take things in moderation. I like to think of myself as someone who just likes to live big, but of course, getting tummyaches and feeling nauseous and irritable etc. prevents me from living big the way I want to. Because after all, how can I go backpacking when I feel dizzy with weakness every time I go for a run? How can I run a summer camp for underpriveleged kids if I have to run to the bathroom all the time?


Thought for food: What's your favorite food ever? Celebrate it by taking eating just a little bit of today and saving more for later.


Image: chopstock