Sunday, January 24, 2016

Signs of spring.

It's been a while since I've posted anything not related to the GAPS diet, so with all the snow hitting the eastern seaboard over the last couple of days, I felt like talking about spring. Plus, a sure sign of spring for me arrived in the mail on Friday: the Vesey's bulb and seed catalogues.

Nothing lifts my spirits on a cold winter's afternoon more than leafing through gardening catalogues and dreaming of all the warm spring days to come. We're nearing the end of January and the days are getting noticeably longer. I no longer am leaving in the dark (although it IS still dark when I get up -- this, too, shall pass) and the sun is actually still visible on the horizon when I get home in the evening.

All this warms my heart and makes me realize that no matter how cold and blustery the weather may be at the moment, spring is on its way. February will soon be here and it will be time to start planning the garden, buying seeds, and setting up the greenhouse in the basement, ready to start planting.

So, if you're caught in the snow right now, stay safe, stay warm, gather up some seed catalogues and gardening magazines, grab a cup of tea, sit and dream and know that spring is just 57 days away!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Going overboard.

I have been noticing over the last week or so that I'm starting to feel a little bloated and constipated again and have been waking up with a headache every few days or so. I started to wonder whether or not it was a result of the solid foods introduced in GAPS Stage 2, but I couldn't see how -- the solid food I've been having up until now has been chicken, beef and fish and in very limited quantities.

So, I cast my mind about looking at what else I've been doing and realized that I have upped my consumption of probiotics via yogourt, kefir and sauerkraut now that I am in Stage 2 (and just about to move on to Stage 3).  The sauerkraut I started 4 weeks ago is now ready and it is delicious!

A typical breakfast for me has been a soup of some sort, a cup of broth, about a full cup of yogourt and one of kefir.  I don't take yogourt or kefir to work with me, so lunch is typically a soup or stew and herbal tea.  Dinner is more soup or stew (sometimes with sauerkraut, sometimes not) and another cup each of yogourt and kefir.

Just out of curiousity, I tried Googling "probiotic overdose" and was quite amazed at what I found. It seems that while it's pretty difficult to technically "overdose" on probiotics, there is definitely the possibility of having too much of a good thing. I looked at many of the links and gleaned a lot of information from them including the facts that ingesting too many probiotics, especially if your digestive and immune systems are already compromised, can actually worsen some symptoms such as bloating, skin eruptions and mental fog. Plus, having too many probiotics in your system can also cause you to crave carbohydrates! It's no wonder I went crazy with the pizza and chocolate!

Out of all my reading, a couple of links that seemed to be the easiest to understand are this one and this one. In particular, I was struck by this quote from the second link:

"If you think you’re very dysbiotic – you have a very disordered gut, or serious health problems – you’re going to want to start slowly with this stuff.  Taking tons of probiotics or gobbling up tons of fermented foods is probably going to make you feel bad, bad, bad.  The changing gut ecology brought on by an “overdose” of probiotics is going to send your system topsy-turvy and can lead to many issues, including diarrhea or constipation, fatigue and/or brain fog, body aches and flu like symptoms, skin “stuff” including rashes, and possibly a worsening of the symptoms you already have.  So start slow.  If using fermented foods, start with a teaspoon once a day and build up from there.  If using probiotics, go with one of the lower potency probiotics to start with, possibly as low as 1-2 billion/dose, and gradually increase from there.  (And, as always, it’s best if you can work with a naturopath or a functional medicine practitioner.)"

So, although I have been generally feeling better having been on the GAPS diet thus far, I'm a little concerned that my brain fog hasn't cleared as much as I had hoped. Ditto for my skin. Perhaps I am taking in too many probiotics. In their book, "The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet", Hilary Boynton and Mary Brackett state that you should start with a teaspoon a day of probiotic and/or fermented food and gradually work your way up. Which I initially did, but increased more quickly than I should have, I guess.

Actually, the container of kefir currently in my refrigerator has this on the back:

"A small portion is sufficient.
Only one tablespoon (15ml) per day is necessary to obtain 5 billion of good probiotic bacteria."

Since I have been taking in a lot more than that, plus the yogourt and now sauerkraut, maybe I have been getting too much of a good thing. I am going to try cutting back and limit myself to a daily teaspoon each of yogourt and kefir and ease back on the sauerkraut, too, perhaps having it only one or two times a week. I'll see what happens. Overall, I'm feeling pretty good, but I think I can do better and perhaps this will help.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Oops, I did it again!

They say confession is good for the soul, so here goes:  I cheat.  There, I said it!  I'm a big cheaty-cheat cheating cheater. If you've been following my progress on my other blog, A Digestive Diary, you'll know I'm referring to my cheating on the GAPS diet.

The pizza I snarfed down last Saturday night was one thing, but I did it again last night while watching Rick Mercer on TV. I had a perfectly lovely beef stew for dinner and was completely content and satisfied until, out of nowhere I simply HAD to have chocolate -- and a lot of it, too! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you're looking at it), I had a fair amount of chocolate left over from Christmas that I had stashed away at the back of the top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets. I had actually forgotten all about it until, in the throes of extreme chocolate craving, my sub-conscience helpfully reminded me.  And all bets were off. 

One full jumbo chocolate bar and half a box of After Eights later, and I finally convinced myself that I had had enough. Sheesh! Haven't weighed myself yet, but with all that sugar, I bet I've gained back those extra 2 pounds I reported lost yesterday. Again, it serves me right for cheating.

But, here's the thing. I'm good with it. As long as I don't make a habit of it. Once on Saturday and again on Tuesday is a bit much, so I am going to have to be firm with myself, be a good boy and buckle down for a bit. The thing with dieting is that in order to be successful at it, you can't allow yourself to feel deprived. For the most part, you need to fill yourself with diet friendly foods and as long as you're full and content, mad cravings won't happen. Well, let's say they're less likely to happen -- a mad chocolate craze can apparently hit at any time!

One thing to do when a craving hits is to pause and take a deep breath. This allows your brain a second to re-think and hopefully re-direct you to a diet-friendly alternative. Perhaps if I had done that last night, I would have been satisfied with some yogourt or a glug or two of kefir instead of chowing down a week's worth of chocolate and sugar!

Another thing is to recognize that cheating happens. It just does. And in Tim Ferris's 4 Hour Body diet, a weekly cheat day is built in. So, keeping that in mind, I am not beating myself up over the fact I cheated and will probably do so again. I am accepting it, I'm owning it, I'm getting back on that horse and I'm moving on.

A third thing I will do is create a supply of diet-friendly snacks. Yogourt cheese, for example, made by draining the whey from probiotic yogourt, mixed with herbs and spread on some home-made flax crackers is an excellent, tasty and satisfying GAPS-friendly snack. The more diet-friendly snack options you have at your disposal, the more likely your brain will choose one of them if given the chance.

And of course, you will always need a certain amount of will power to get you through.  So, I may be a big cheaty-cheat cheating cheater, but I'm a happy and content cheaty-cheat cheating cheater, so there!  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Poached chicken, chicken stock and a chicken & cabbage casserole

Heavy on the chicken are we in this post! There's a reason for it, though, and that is to show you one of the wonderful things about cooking for the GAPS diet: utilizing as much of the ingredients on hand as possible. As an excellent example of this, here is one of the mainstays of my diet thus far -- chicken. Much of the early stages of the GAPS Intro diet rely on chicken, beef and fish stocks.

A wonderful way to produce the staples for many of the GAPS Intro recipes starts with poaching a whole chicken.  If you include a few roughly chopped carrots, celery stalks and onions, you will end up with not just a supply of cooked chicken meat, but also a quantity of wholesome chicken stock.

Further, once you've picked the meat from the bones, you can freeze the bones and accumulate them until you have enough for a batch of bone broth. I absolutely love this use and re-use aspect!  Multiple products from one item.

So, to start, let's assemble the ingredients:  a whole chicken (still frozen!), a few organic carrots, stalks of celery and a couple of white cooking onions.  Don't peel the vegetables; just wash the carrots and celery thoroughly and trim the ends. Quarter the onions and leave the skins on as they give the stock a really nice colour.

Put everything in a large stock pot (yes, that is my blue enamel canner doing double-duty as a stock pot!), add 8 quarts of water, cover and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and keep at a slow simmer for 3-4 hours. Simmering will result in a clear broth. Unfortunately, for this batch, I missed it and allowed the stock to fully boil for nearly an hour before I caught it and turned down the heat. Consequently, my stock is cloudy. Still just as flavourful, just not nice and clear. Next time I will endeavour to watch more closely and catch the stock just as it comes to the boil.

After 3-4 hours, turn off the heat and allow the stock to cool for an hour or so.

Once cool, use tongs and a slotted spoon to remove the chicken and vegetables to a colander sitting inside a large bowl to drain.

I will be using some of the chicken stock right now to make a chicken & cabbage casserole, but if you are not going to be using the stock immediately, strain it into another large pot to remove any remaining meat and vegetables, then portion it out into freezer containers and freeze, or prepare a pressure canner and jars and process for 20 minutes (for pint jars) or 25 minutes (for quart jars) at 11 pounds of pressure at altitudes up to 1000 feet.  Adjust for higher altitudes according to manufacturer's instructions.  Stocks CAN NOT be canned in a boiling water bath.

So, to start the casserole, I strain 2 quarts (8 cups) of my finished chicken stock into another large soup pot and set it over high heat to bring it to a boil.

While the stock is heating, thinly slice half a head of cabbage.

Once the stock is boiling, add the cabbage, cover, turn the heat down to medium and cook for 30 minutes or until the cabbage is soft.

Meanwhile, prepare the "gravy" for the casserole.  I'm using a Stage 1 recipe for onion soup as inspiration. Thinly slice 2 leeks, a white cooking onion, a red onion and 3 scallions.

Pour the accumulated juices from the chicken carcass and vegetables into a large soup pot.

Once the cabbage has finished cooking, pour through a colander into the soup pot and let the cabbage drain for a few minutes.

Turn the heat on under the soup pot to medium and add the sliced onions and leeks.

Tie up a bouquet garni (I used parsley, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves) and add it to the pot. Cover and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pick through the chicken carcass and vegetables.  Add the vegetables to the compost bin and pick the meat off the bones placing each in a separate bowl.  In the top photo, there is a freezer bag of chicken meat from a previous batch that I will be adding to this batch.  At the same time, put the chicken bones into another freezer bag and collect the bones from subsequent batches until you have enough to make a batch of bone broth.

Once the onions have cooked and are soft, puree with an immersion blender.

Add the reserved cabbage and chicken meat and mix well.

Spoon into a greased oven-proof casserole dish and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

Cool, then portion out into freezer containers and freeze.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Breakfast soup hack

What a weird title for a post, but that's exactly what this is about.

Okay, so it's been long established that I am NOT a morning person. Never have been. Not even a little. Don't get me wrong, I love being up at the crack of dawn on a beautiful summer morning. But only if I can sit in the peace and quiet with a cup of coffee and watch the world slowly come awake and NOT be rushing around getting myself showered, dressed, fed and out the door in the freezing dark.

Such was the case Monday morning when, in addition to my usual morning free-for-all (and this was my first day back to work after 2 weeks vacation, remember!), I wanted to make a stage 2 breakfast mentioned in the book by adding an egg yolk and some spinach to re-heated stock. Sounds easy, I know, but at 6:45am on a dark January morning when I'm still basically asleep and running on auto-pilot, it was anything but.  Long story short, I got it done and into me and I was only a half an hour late getting out the door.

There had to be a better way, I thought on the subway ride into work, than fiddling around with separating eggs and doctoring up soup at that insane hour of the day. Such are the things I think about while on the subway. And so, a hack was born. Why not just make a soup with everything already in it, freeze it and it'd be all ready to go?

This soup is based on one of the Stage 1 soups in Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett's excellent book, The Heal Your Gut Cookbook.  You can find my recipe here.

The Stage 2 additions are the egg yolks and the spinach and I thought rather than just add them to stock, why not make an actual soup?  So, I took inspiration from one of the stage 1 recipes and went from there.

I started by chopping a couple of organic white onions and 3 or 4 cloves of organic garlic, then separating the yolks of 8 organic free-range eggs.  I saved the whites in a freezer container and froze them for future use (a pavlova, maybe?).

Next, I cored and diced 8 organic vine-ripened tomatoes. I would have used my own canned diced tomatoes, but my inventory is getting low, sadly, and I want to save some to use later down the line. So, in the meantime, I am purchasing as natural and organic produce as I can find. I used to think that going organic was a waste of money until I started reading about GAPS and the importance of organic farming methods to maintaining the supply of natural probiotics in food.  Plus, the colour, taste and smell (especially the tomatoes!) is just so much better.

Next. I brought 2 quarts of home-made chicken stock to the boil with a heaping tablespoon of ghee.

Once the stock was boiling, I added the chopped onions and tomatoes, turned the heat down to medium and let the soup cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, the onions and tomatoes were soft enough for me to pureé the soup until it was silky smooth.

Then, I quickly beat the egg yolks and whisked them into the soup, stirring constantly.

Next, I added a few big handfuls of baby spinach leaves, then covered the pot and let it cook for about another 5 minutes to wilt the spinach.

A final pureé with the immersion blender to chop the spinach into the soup, then I left it covered to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, I portioned it out into freezer containers and placed them in the freezer, ready for my next morning dash.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Movin' on

Well, I survived a week at Stage 1 of the GAPS Intro diet. Without getting into details, up until yesterday my digestion was really very sluggish and I felt like I was dragging myself around. But, yesterday, suddenly everything started up again and today I actually feel pretty good. My skin hasn't been very itchy at all and I do believe it is actually starting to heal!

And, I must admit for the first time in quite a while, I have been feeling more clear-headed and less "foggy" and with that some of my old energy has come back. So, today, I got busy and cleaned, sorted out and re-organized the basement -- something I have wanted to do for so long now, but it's just felt like such a monumental task I've been putting it off until I had the energy to do it. Well, today was the day and I feel wonderful for having gotten it done!

So, I am inspired by all this wonderful-ness to move on to Stage 2 of the GAPS diet and start getting some solid food into me. As I mentioned earlier, although the soups are tasty, they`re soups and I'm really getting sick of them! I was watching the news on television last night and an ad for Wendy's hamburgers came on. I found myself actually drooling at the TV!

Time to move on.

Stage 2 introduces egg yolks, more green vegetables, such as spinach and kale and solid meat via stews and casseroles. Everything is still boiled in stock -- nothing fried or grilled just yet -- but things like stews and casseroles can be finished in the oven, so a nicely browned, perhaps even crusty top is possible. Just writing about even this is enough to get me salivating!

I am definitely encouraged by these recent developments and I hope the improvements continue.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fermenting refined

It's been a while since I posted anything on the sauerkraut I started over two weeks ago, but to tell the truth, there hasn't been much to post about.  I have been checking it every few days and it is starting to develop a nice tang, however it still tastes very much like salty cabbage.

I consulted my trusty copy of both Amanda Fiefer's excellent book, Ferment Your Vegetables, and her blog, Phickle, only to discover that everything is A-OK.  My kitchen is probably a little on the cool side, even for sauerkraut which apparently likes it a little cooler, and looking at it now I see that I may have cut the cabbage a little on the large side.  So, I will leave it for a few more weeks and see.

While reading up on the vagaries of making sauerkraut (not many, I've got to admit -- it's ridiculously simple!), I came across some rather elegant ways of protecting the fermentation environment, in particular some glass fermentation weights made specifically to fit in a wide mouth Mason jar and a jar lid fitted with a fermentation air lock that, again, was purpose-made for fermenting in a wide mouth Mason Jar.

I was thrilled to find some Pickle Pebbles glass fermentation weights available here in Canada from The Cannery, in Calgary Alberta.  I ordered them and they arrived safely and very well packed within 6 days.

Being a home winemaker from way back, I have many extra fermentation locks and the thought occurred to me that I could make my own fermentation lids using the plastic storage lids that Bernardin sells to fit their jars.  So, a hack was born!

I decided to make four fermentation lids:  two to use on the jars of sauerkraut and two extras. Plus, I had four Pickle Pebbles. First, I collected my materials and tools: plastic storage lids to fit wide-mouth Mason jars, four fermentation locks, four 5/8" rubber wire grommets and a variable-speed drill with a 1/2" bit and a 1/8" bit.

Turning a lid upside down on a block of wood to protect the top of my workbench, I use the smaller bit to drill a pilot hole in the center of the lid.  Turning the lid upside down prevents the lid from cracking.

Next, I enlarge the hole by drilling with the 1/2" bit.

The hole isn't perfectly centered, but that's okay.  It won't affect the operation of the air lock.  Brush away the shards of plastic produced by the drill.

The rubber wire grommets have a groove running around their outside perimeter.  Take one and slide it sideways into the hole so that the edge of the hole fits into the groove.  Work your fingers around the grommet until it is fully inserted and seated in the hole.

Take a fermentation lock and gently insert it into the hole, carefully twisting it if necessary so that about a 1/2" of the stem is visible on the underside.

And there we have it!

Back in the kitchen, I have replaced the jar weights with my new glass weights and fermentation lids. The jar weights work just fine and there's absolutely nothing wrong them (plus, they're free!), but being the gadget freak that I am, I just couldn't help but try out these fermentation weights and lids.

And while we're on the topic of refined fermenting, (this is SUCH a bad segue, I know -- please forgive me!), I've made it through nearly a week of the GAPS Intro diet.  I'm really pleased with the near-constant, gradual weight loss, but apart from that, I really don't feel that much different.  The brain fog is still here as are my skin problems, although I can't decide whether or not the lichen planus is actually starting to heal or not.  It's definitely nowhere near as itchy as it was, so that's a real bonus!

Maybe I'm expecting too much too soon, but I was thinking I would somehow be feeling "lighter" and "clearer" by now (not sure how better to describe it).  The books state that the healing begins immediately and you will go through a period of discomfort first as your body eliminates all the built-up toxins. Apart from a bit of bloating and a couple of headaches, I can't say I've really had any discomfort, so maybe it's like my sauerkraut and it just needs more time.

We'll see.  I have to admit that although the soups are quite tasty, and it was easier than I thought to start having soup for breakfast, I am getting tired of them morning, noon and night, so I am beginning to think about moving to Stage 2 soon, where I will be able to have egg yolks (no whites just yet) added to my soups as well as fresh herbs and more dairy.  Also, stews and casseroles made with boiled meat and vegetables! Whoo-hoo!