Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rice and Greens and Sprouts...O My

As part of our new health revamp at the Row, we're eating tons of this stuff. It's one of our favorite quick meals. I keep the sauce in a honey bear container in the fridge (and add it to other things, as well). This recipe makes enough for two people to eat for a couple of days or more.

Korean Kongnamul Bab

Make sauce ahead: In a shakeable bottle, put ½ c. soy sauce (I use Bragg Liquid Aminos), 3 T. roasted sesame oil, and 1 t. cayenne pepper. Shake & refrigerate.

Put 1 c. rice in a large, heavy stainless steel or ceramic pot.
Add 2 ¼ c. water or stock to the pot.
(Note: If I’m using brown rice, I put a lid on the pot, put the pot over high heat, and add remaining ingredients once steam is coming out around lid. If I’m using white rice, I add all other ingredients first, then start the cooking.)

Add to pot in layers, any combination of:
(1)   chopped bok choy, hin choy (amaranth, also called Chinese spinach), napa cabbage, fresh spinach, kale…whatever greens you have around
(2)  chopped broccoli or other veggies (I only had red pepper to add to the batch pictured here)
(3)  snow peas & green onions
(4)  a big, thick layer of bean sprouts on top (I MUCH prefer soybean sprouts, but they’re hard to find and can't be had in our Little Town at all, so I often use mung bean sprouts)

Put lid on (I usually have such a mound by now that getting the lid on is a trick), and put pot over high heat. When steam begins escaping around lid, turn heat down to low and simmer until all liquid is absorbed. Dish up, sprinkle with just a LITTLE sauce (it’s HOT), serve with cold kimchee on the side, and eat while watching Finding Bigfoot. Mmmm!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Militant Nutrition

Some gooder stuff
A psychic once told me that I starved to death in a past life in 1000 BCE China. So that’s gotta be the root of my obsession with food, right? Anyhoo, in the aftermath of our collective health scares, we’re going all OCD on our eating habits. The new plan: eat less meat and more fish; up the daily fiber; buy as much local and organic food as possible; eat low glycemic index/load foods; reduce fat & salt; and eliminate processed foods. In America, and maybe especially in the farm-belt state of South Dakota, this is like going back to hunter-gather mode—in the Sahara. We may eventually resort to a diet of only free-range peacock, rocks, and filtered water, though I’m highly suspicious of filtered water…

Jada's post-hedgehog-attack nap
In the past week’s effort to get on a better dietary path, we’ve been to four regular grocers, a health food store, and three Asian markets. Our fridge is jammed full of organic produce, cooked black eyed peas (that I now put in everything), a new batch of quinoa/bulgher tabhouli (with black eyed peas), and unhomogenized organic Iowa milk. The freezer’s stocked with wild-caught salmon and tuna, and free-range, grass-fed, local organic chicken, lamb, and venison (though the venison might be corn-fed, too). We’re scouring labels for any sign of corn-based products, which we’re also trying to eliminate (check here for the staggering list: And I’m now on a subscription plan to get 5 lbs. of Café Altura water-processed, organic Italian roast decaf beans delivered to my door every two months.

Canine cuisine: Basics food with yam & snow peas
In addition to our own burgeoning foodiness, we’re switching our two dogs and our cat to an entirely grain-free diet. We raised our Aussie, Jada, for her first two years on the BARF diet, because I believed in the idea of feeding her as close to a wild dog’s natural diet as possible ( But I eventually got tired of grinding up 40-lb. boxes of bone-in chicken backs with greens and veggies, so we switched to New Balance kibble, high-quality stuff with no by-products or preservatives. It was way more convenient for memememe. Then recently, I came across a photo of Jada back in her BARF days. I was shocked to see her gorgeous silky coat and clear, bright eyes. Now, she sheds by the handful, she’s arthritic, and she struggles constantly with overweight and allergies. Since our furry buddies are mostly in the house and don’t hunt to survive, they have ONLY us to depend on for her food, so…

Yogi: Is he smiling? Yes, I think he is.
We switched all our furry friends to Blue’s “Basics Grain Free” foods: Basics kibble “dressed” with a little Basics canned. In addition, they get table scraps, but only raw (Jada loves tomatoes, Yogi loves sweet potatoes, and they both adore snow peas), and no grains. The dogs love the change. Rickie Lee, resident feline, is more stubborn and will carefully nibble around each Basics morsel to get to her old Purina standby (we’re acclimating her with ½ and ½ for a while), but we have hope. We figure it will take a month before we know if the change is making a positive difference, but so far, no dog breath, and that’s a good thing, since we sleep “pack” style on a frameless king-sized bed (So 13-year-old Jada has easy access). And yes, it’s no longer exaggeration—considering price-per-pound, our furry friends ARE now eating better than we are. The Blue rep pointed out the irony (without realizing it) of healthier foods when she said that the Basics diet was more expensive because “they had to take a lot of stuff out.”

Rickie Lee: Serve me. Serve me now.
I’d love to think our bodies can process whatever abuse we hurl at them. I’d love to think the adage is true that’s it’s not as important what goes IN our mouths as what comes OUT. I’d love to think our bodies will crave only what they need for balance & good health. Or, I’d love to think that in the crapshoot theory of the Universe, it doesn’t matter WHAT we eat. And we will, no doubt, fall off the holistic wagon often (who’s gonna eat those Sixlets and chocolate oranges in the freezer?). But tonight, we’ll dine on tofu-falafel burgers and steamed fresh Brussels sprouts. And we’ll stop feeding the peaflock corn, just in case. And if nothing else fights off the fluffy, pasty, midlife Pillsbury Doughboy bodies we’ve been cultivating until now, we have acres of organic hardwood trees, and our teeth are still good…

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Living off the fat of the...bland?

I have not been a tiny little thing since I had my first child a few decades ago. But I tell ya, this dang BS is trying to turn me into Rotunda, the Humorless Wonda.

I am the object of the Universe’s hilarious health hijinks, almost cartoon-like in their wicked irony. I’ve gained at least the weight of a beefy newborn or two since my stroke a mere four months ago. I want to slap my doc every time she says, “eat less, exercise more…try for an hour a day.” She and I both know this is a catch 22 and that her pat answer is just something to shut up my whining. She and I both know this is how the Universe is playing it:

1. Stroke
2. Quit smoking = lower heart rate and BP = slower metabolism = weight gain
3. Quit caffeine = lower heart rate and BP = slower metabolism = weight gain
4. Beta blocker = lower heart rate and BP = slower metabolism = weight gain (one of the most prevalent side effects of this class of drugs)
5. SSRI to combat post-stroke emotional “incontinence” (laughing hysterically at UPS driver; weeping uncontrollably at a falling leaf) = feeling more stable = better appetite = weight gain (also a common side effect of SSRI’s)
6. Clunky left leg & lack of balance = no running/jumping, difficulty walking distances/stairs = less exercise = weight gain
7. Plantar fasciitis = painful left heel (slow to heal due to stroke aftermath) = less exercise = weight gain
8. Holidays = Mom’s sugar cookies & Chex Mix + post-stroke fatigue & obsessive knitting = weight gain
9. Diminished sense of humor (another common after-effect of stroke) + frustration + weight gain = spousal jitters

So, it seems I was maintaining my sveldt silhouette by keeping myself perpetually stressed out and hopped up on stimulants. But isn’t this extra weight putting a strain on my heart? But if I stop the beta blocker to kick-start my metabolism again, won’t my heart rate (and possibly BP) go up? But if I stop the SSRI so I can get back to my pre-stroke stressed out non-eating, will I go back to loud, annoying sobbing in the hardware store? and will the freaked-out stares of hardware shoppers raise my anxiety level and, hence, my heart rate and BP? I have a pack of American Spirit cigs in my freezer (for nostalgic smell-a-thons)…should I start smoking again to boost my metabolism? Should I just go back to my pre-stroke breakfast of a bottomless pot of spoon-corroding, high-test Italian roast and a couple of coffin-nails? But couldn’t that lead to another stroke?

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. You get the picture. There’s no good way out of this mess. I refuse to sacrifice my summer vacation for a week at Fat Camp. So for now at least, I’m eating mouse-sized portions of brown rice and steamed veggies. I’m thinking up affectionate nicknames for the hand weights and recumbent bikes at the gym. I'm avoiding anything that might be (a) delicious; (b) comforting, or (c) fun. I’m cultivating a Johnny Cash (the late years) je ne sais quoi: black moo-moo, black stretch pants, black industrial steel-toed boots, black bandido poncho. And if teaching doesn’t pan out, I think poetic psychic medium has possibilities, because this old poem of mine was surely prophetic…

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST              
patron of health spas

Let me burn slowly in the fire
of Midsummer, feed me only
roast lamb and hypericum,
let me sweat off a pound a day
for forty days and forty nights,
wrap the demon cellulite clinging
to my thighs in a pall infused
with kelp, salt, lemongrass, 
let your dizzying mineral steam
drive out this ghostly evil adipose,
stir ashes and dust into rosewater,
a fine holy paste for stubborn heels,
purge these wanton open pores
with fennel and warm clay, anoint
my idle hands with castor oil and lanolin,
lead me beside distilled waters
(my ass will need a miracle).
Let me fit, at last, into that black
crepe dress, the slinky one with
blue glass beads like fading stars,
the one I keep buried
in my cedar chest.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

The BS Aftermath

It’s been three months since this stupid BS (my affectionate nickname for the stroke I had back in October). And now that I’ve been back at work for a little over a month, I’m ready to admit to the nagging daily interference of BS. I’m not saying who, but some people might have had an inflated sense of their own superhumanness, and some people might have needed more than 10 weeks’ recovery time after a stroke before jumping back into the fray…

Ongoing Challenge #1: Balance. I’m always just slightly dizzy (either from the stroke or all the new BP meds, I’m not sure which). Not long after classes began, I realized that while I’d been home on leave, if I felt especially off-balance, I sat down or took to my bed. But standing in front of 24 students, if the room starts wavering, I have to muster extraordinary concentration and nonchalantly inch my way—while simultaneously explaining the advantage of an unreliable narrator in a feminist reading of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”—to a desk, a chair, the whiteboard, or anything I can hold onto.

It only occasionally feels like a T-Rex ate my brain.
Challenge #2: Coordination. At home, I keep a clear path, since my left side still doesn’t always know exactly where it is in space.  My left arm & leg sometimes overshoot or undershoot their mark. Ray and I are used to the fact that I will occasionally side-swipe, knock down, catch on, or slam into things. Ray tries not to startle when I suddenly grab for a railing, a wall, or his hair in order to steady myself. But if you’re a daydreaming student, it can be alarming when your teacher sends notebooks and handouts flying across the room with an accidental fling of her wacky left arm.

Challenge #3: Fatigue. At home, my rule since the stroke has been, if I’m tired, I sleep. But I can’t really pull that off at school. And the more tired I get, the clumsier and achier I get. I find myself in my office hours, stabbing at the keyboard as I type things like “Please make sure you drift fodders contin the dfellowin: 0#b8. Tink you.” Sometimes those two hours in class are so exhausting that I go home after classes, take a nap, wake up for dinner, take another nap, and wake up to go to bed.

Challenge #4: Muscles. Back in the hospital, when the neurologist said, “Your left side is affected,” I don’t think I realized just how much stuff I have on my left side. On especially wonderful days, I get up in the morning feeling like if I only had a cape (maybe teal lamé with silver sequins), I could save every gadget-head, non-reading, apathetic late teen soul in the universe. But by evening, I feel like someone has strapped a giant Slendertone belt around my middle, set on “constant punishing contraction.” My stomach muscles hurt from breathing and holding myself upright, my right hip throbs from compensating for my clunky left leg, my eyes ache from trying to focus together, I’m hoarse, my throat is sore, and my left hand wants to curl into a little ball. In one short day, I can go from Wonder Woman to Kwasimoto.

Challenge #5: Brain. This is the hardest one to admit to. I’ve always liked and appreciated my chatty, over-analytical brain. So I really struggle some days with the fact that right now at least, my brain is not the same. It’s hard to describe—I wouldn’t call it “damage” exactly; I can’t say I’ve lost one iota of my cognitive function, though my memory is a tad spongier than before. And other things are certainly different in there. Some things I used to think (obsess?) about—Yeats’ poem “Vacillations;” writing a cycle of poems that re-imagines the “stations of the cross” in terms of mundane daily activities; writing a book-length collection of prose poems about a modern-day Joan of Arc; working out a “stuck” chapter in the novel I’m writing about an alternative healer who stalks Dean Stockwell—I don’t seem the least bit interested in anymore. And my vocabulary wasn’t affected, but the timing of word recall was—it takes me a split-second longer to dig through the brain files (or travel the new neural pathways?) for a word I want, so I tend to pause, stutter, and uh-uh-uh-uh more than before BS. And in spite of my new friend and savior, the SSRI (clinical depression--as opposed to the frequent and perfectly normal WTF-happened?-ohhellno! post-stroke response--is quite common after a stroke), my “new” brain sometimes switches on an emotional shit-storm (beg pardon) that reduces me to a steaming pile of blubbering mush because I didn’t get a pony when I was 12, or because my black shoes need polishing, or because Ray left an orange on the counter.

Lest you think BS turned me into a big whiny baby, you should know that I’m constantly, completely grateful to be in the shape I’m in—I shared the stroke ward with folks who showed me just how lucky I am. I get that. So, as my mother says, “Head down, plow forward.” And thankfully, one thing hasn’t changed: I still love a good challenge.

P.S. Blogging is another good way to avoid grading papers.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Why these papers need to grade themselves...

I’m totally gonna grade these papers now.

I've gone through each lit analysis paper folder to check for completeness. I've neatly stacked folders in piles by class, then arranged each pile alphabetically by student. I've gathered my grading necessities: Coffee with cardamom & cinnamon. Check. Stapler. Check. Colored pens (no red, so I’m not too discouraging). Check. Rubrics. Check. Highlighters to draw attention to rubric skills that need work in revisions. Check. Handbook cheat sheet so students can look up error patterns. Check. iPod for meditative paper-grading playlist. Check. Thermal patch for the back of my neck as I hunch over the papers for hours. Check.

Okay, I’m totally ready to start grading.

But wait, this coffee needs more cinnamon.
Wow, these spices are a total mess. I should clean out and re-organize this shelf.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a spice rack on the wall, where I could see the spices? I’ll bet I could find something on Amazon.
Seriously? Go back a page to those square red spice jars. They’d be so cool in the new spice rack! 
Uh-oh, I’m almost out of cumin. We’re going to Omaha in a couple of weeks, so I could stop at Penzey’s. I should take an inventory and make a Penzy’s list.
I’m not crazy about this note program on my phone. I’ll Google the best reminder app.
Gee, I should charge the MiFi.
Holy smoke, look at the dust on this desk. I’ll just put a load of clothes in and quickly run a dust rag over things.
There’s got to be a better way to organize these cleaning supplies.
I wonder if my passport's expired? I’d better check.
I should dig through this closet for that cute little blue passport bag.
Sweet…my old railroad overalls! I wonder if they still fit?
I should make a pile of stuff for the Civic Council. And there’s that box of old dishes and utensils in the basement.
I’m hungry. I should make tabhouli; I think I have bulgher and quinoa in the freezer.
Boy howdy, this freezer needs defrosting.
Speaking of frost, we’re in a blizzard watch for this weekend. I should go to the store.
I need to clean this fridge out before I put the groceries away.
The dishwasher’s full, but I should fill the rinse compartment before I run it.
If we’re gonna have a blizzard, I should put up that brooder lamp in the loafing shed for the peacocks.
Yikes…I could use a nap.