Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Unemployment is the new black.
Really, everyone is wearing it.
Okay, maybe not everyone, but there are many of us.
There are obvious disadvantages to not having a paycheck, but being unemployed has its benefits; like having the time to recognize what really constitutes a priority.
I have always known that having two new cars in the driveway was of little importance (precisely why hubby and I can't seem to let go of a beloved vehicle with "vintage" roll-down windows). But I must admit, until recently, I gave little priority to the subject of health. I think I somehow took for granted that I would always feel well (save for the common ailments), and always feel like, well... me.
But as my forties approached, I hardly recognized the person staring back at me in the mirror.
For almost an entire year, I have been battling some unexplained dizziness (having nothing to do with my semi-processed blonde hair). Countless physicians have turned me away with few answers and loads of advice (enough to make anyone who isn't already dizzy, dizzy). In fact, my most recent trip to a well respected ENT had me understanding why so many of us turn to the ePages of the web to embark on that tricky, and often dangerous path of self-diagnosis. My visit was short and after explaining my symptoms, the ENT scheduled me for a two-hour exam and handed me a mountain of paperwork to read through when I returned home. In a nutshell it explained that I was required to fast before the exam, refrain from drinking alcohol or using any type of stimulants, anti-depressants or pain medication. The test would require the doctor to squirt warm and cold liquids in both of my ears, at which point, I would be strapped to a motion table and rotated in several positions--including upside down--to determine possible causes for dizziness.
Need I say more?

And so, I decided to embark on a more practical path of self-evaluation and search the web for remedies that if not helpful, would not be harmful to my health.
One thing you should know about me is that I am a voracious reader, to a fault. When a topic interests me, I saturate my brain (and ultimately only my short-term memory because I suffer from CRS) with as much information as it will hold on said subject.
As a black-belt food lover and seasoned dieter, if I have learned anything of importance over the years, it's that what we put in our bodies plays a major role in how we feel.
Simple concept, right?
To some perhaps, but not to this whitebreadrefinedsugarloving mama. And don't get me wrong, I love good, healthy food-the kind that once had roots-- but let's call a spade a spade here. Most of what I was eating never required the use of a spade, or any other gardening tool to get it to my plate. So my first order of business was to find a good, safe eating plan to detoxify my body from my most recent gastronomic transgressions. I wasn't sure if it would have any effect on my current state of unwellness but I was willing to give it a try.

Each time I googled terms associated with detoxification, I was immediately directed to wellness programs recommended by
raw foodists (my own term because I'm not sure what to call them).
I spent an entire weekend reading and reviewing countless articles about the nutritional and health benefits of a raw food lifestyle. Admittedly, I was intrigued.
I zeroed in on the articles that specifically detailed the foods that would encourage ones body to maintain a proper Ph level--not too acidic or too alkaline. This was a subject repeatedly presented to me by one of my doctors who detected (from extensive blood work) that I was running on the high side of acidic. As it turned out, most of what I put in my body was on the list of high-acid foods. To my surprise, most of what I thought belonged on the "acidic" list (and thus, avoided), was actually part of the alkaline family of foods. Who knew?

After much deliberation, I decided to try a raw food plan for one week. I would determine at the end of the week if there was a significant change in my overall feeling of well being.
I dragged the juicer up from the basement and compiled a lengthy shopping list. On the upside, I wouldn't be using my oven much and would likely save a few bucks on my utility bill. On the downside, I had danced with organics before and found them totally unaffordable. What I didn't anticipate however, was the sheer inability to locate merchants who carried more than half of what was on my list. My first (and very unsuccessful) trip had me walking the non-produce aisles of a supermarket thinking to myself "what do these people eat?" Save for the fruits and veggies already in my cart, there was quite literally nothing to eat--well, at least nothing that appeared on my computer generated shopping list.
Disappointed, I returned home and placed an online order for several raw items, the likes of which included familiar nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, and an assortment of foreign items like Himalayan sea salt, raw hemp seed powder, and chia seeds (I have no idea if these are related to the famed Chia Pet, but I seriously considered eating a Chia-Pig right out of the box during a particularly hungry trip to Wal Mart). That handful of items cost me one weeks grocery money and none of it required the use of a fork.
I was worried.

Several articles warned about the side effects of detoxing too quickly. For this reason, I opted to stay close to home on days one and two. This is advisable only for someone who isn't constantly thinking about food, and isn't surrounded by foodie magazines, kitchen gadgetry, and a pantry full of teen-friendly snacks. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me. I passed the time by reading raw food cookbooks (I kick myself every time I have to repeat that ridiculous term), and testimonials from the rich, the famous, and the ordinary, about the life changing effects of a raw food diet.
As it turned out, sticking close to home was a good idea since days one and two consisted solely of clear liquids and small portions of raw, organic produce. Use your imagination.

I wish to spare you the sordid details, so let me offer you a summarization of my week on the wild side, beginning with day three:

Many who subscribe to the raw food lifestyle generally do not eat meat, or dairy, or poultry. Some however, allow their diets to include the raw, unpasteurized versions of the aforementioned including raw milk, raw-milk cheeses, and organic, fertile eggs. I challenge you to find these products locally, wherever you live. I can tell you with some surety, they are not hanging around my neck of the woods. So, breakfast on day three immediately presented a challenge for me. I settled on a slice of sprouted bread with a schmear of raw honey (oh come on, just because I can't have a bagel, doesn't mean I can't use the lingo) with a handful of raw pumpkin seeds, raw sunflower seeds and dried fruit--all washed down with a home-juicer concoction of carrots, apples and pears.
I missed my cereal. I missed my yogurt. And I was already jonesing for a baconeggandcheese on a roll (that's how we say it around these parts) in anticipation of the misery to come.

A raw food diet is not complicated, although some of the ingredients are (I never gave a moments consideration to sprouting my own nuts, beans and seeds for bread or making my own nut milk from raw nuts, but, to each his own. I simply do not have the time or inclination to do so).

I entertained the thought of a simple raw nut-butter and jelly sandwich on sprouted bread for lunch, but the jelly part turned (an otherwise simple American staple) into an intensely complex production requiring a blender, a dehydrator, teflex sheets and a food processor. Making raw preserves takes forty-eight hours and surely by then I would have been dead from starvation (keep in mind here that although I've been known to put up a few jars of homemade preserves, I always believed squeezable jelly was a groundbreaking invention). So, PB & J was out.
For lack of any better ideas, I settled on steamed kale, quinoa and raw pine nuts for lunch
(minimal cooking at temps lower than one hundred fifteen degrees is permitted on a raw food diet).
It was uneventful, less than memorable, but I was full.

When I had a hankering for a midday snack, I turned to the dried fruits and raw cacao nibs I purchased online. Throughout the day, I munched on raw veggies, drank plenty of water and made a few cups of herbal tea from organic tea leaves (no bag, no string, higher price).
By this time on day three, the sense of deprivation I felt was overwhelming, but I won't lie to you; I was surprised to discover that I wasn't experiencing what I call the "witching hour," usually around late afternoon, I am ready for a nap. Just three days in, I found that I was able to skip my usual cup of joe to ward off that drowsy feeling.

Dinnertime frustrated me. I couldn't seem to find a protein I liked that was acceptable on the raw food plan. I tried to have an open mind and purchased a package of cold-smoked salmon, hoping to replicate a weekend brunch I had many times at my childhood friend Ellen Bernstein's house. Only this time, there would be no toasted everything bagel and no mountain of cream cheese. I sliced extra onion to layer atop the (sprouted) bread and salmon sandwich upon which I spread mashed avocado. I ate it -and hated it. I dreamed about that avocado nestled between sour cream and queso fresco on a crispy taco. I got through it in anticipation of the smoothie ahead of me.

The smoothie is one of my great success stories on this plan. I discovered that rice milk is nearly undetectable when combined with an assortment of fresh and frozen organic fruits. It fulfills the need for a small amount of liquid to blend otherwise chunky ingredients to a smooth consistency. I already had a jug of raw agave nectar in my arsenal (months prior I had been experimenting with different sugars in my attempt to battle chronic fatigue and the crash commonly associated with the consumption of refined sugars) and it served me well as an added sweetener when necessary. The rest of my family had steered clear of my alien menu until the smoothies invaded my kitchen. They were on board for every fruit (and often veggie) concoction I whipped up, with rave reviews.

With a full day of raw food under my belt, I retired to bed and slept soundly until my alarm rang the next morning. I managed to get through another twenty four hours on the plan (eating variations of the same foods), with a noticeable rise in my energy level.
On day five however, I called it quits.
My reasons are simple.
I don't suppose it would be fair for me to assess whether or not the plan was working because clearly, I didn't give it enough time. What I can tell you is that there was improvement not only in my energy level, but my body in general, seemed to be operating with more regularity. While the dizziness remained unchanged, I slept more soundly than I had in months and as a frequent sufferer of headaches, I am pleased to report that I was headache free for my short time on the plan.
Coincidence? Perhaps.
So why did I quit?
Well for starters, I knew I was in trouble when I found myself clutching my sheet pans and asking out loud "how would salami taste in a cookie?"
But truth be told, the real catalyst was the arrival of my beloved cooking magazines. One article in particular struck a chord with me and there was no turning back. It featured recipes for healthier versions of comfort foods and the accompanying pages depicted families sharing homestyle meals around a well-worn dinette.
There was no choice involved in my surrender. Those families in the photos might as well have been my family and that sauce-spattered tablecloth, my own.
Times like these, when our nation is on the cusp of something, and jobs are hard to come by, we all need something to depend on. I can't think of a more solid foundation than my old dining table and my rickety ladderback chairs to comfort us during a period of such uncertainty. Somehow, the notion of a raw meal spread upon inherited table linens doesn't bode well with me.
On a more personal note, I know that over the past decade, many things about me have changed. I have joined the ranks of the over-forty set, my memory isn't what it used to be and I no longer recognize the names of the IT celebrities--but to those who know me and love me, I'll always be the cook. That's right, the cook, not the salad maker, or the juicer or the sprouted-bread maker--THE COOK.
As my nest gets emptier, I am comforted by the notion that wherever my children are, they might look forward to returning home for a favorite meal. They will remember my simple advice that in social situations, the ice can always be broken with a discussion about food--the universal equalizer. They will remember my mantra that nothing in life can't be improved with a little melted Mozzarella. And maybe, just maybe, they will remember what joy homemade food has brought to our household and they will carry on the tradition with their own children someday.
I rest my case.

Were my efforts for naught?
I dare say they weren't.
As I am typing this post, I am munching on a mix of raw seeds and raw cacao nibs, a surprising and tasty addition to our snack pantry.
My blender remains on my kitchen counter as a permanent addition to my most-used kitchen appliances. Since the beginning, we haven't missed a day of homemade smoothies.
Kale has become one of our produce staples. After all of the fuss and experimenting, it turns out we like it best raw and slapped on a sandwich.
Agave nectar has replaced the addition of sugar in our beverages and wherever possible.
I spend more time in the produce aisle and the perimeter aisles of the grocery store than anywhere else.
I have a newfound respect for the role protein plays in ones diet. My hat goes off to those who maintain a raw lifestyle and manage to creatively prepare a very limited selection of raw proteins.
You don't know what you have until you can't find it.

Quite honestly, I was surprised at how many of the raw food items I enjoyed ( I stand firm however, in my protest against outrageous prices--one small loaf of sprouted bread costs five bucks). Perhaps as more of us rethink that term consumption, focusing primarily on consuming more of what comes from the earth, and less on our role as consumers who depend so heavily on chemically engineered foods, we will have more available to us-- at more affordable prices.

That is not to say however, that I will ever permanently give up the all-American hot dog at a family picnic, or pass up the opportunity for a diner breakfast at midnight with a dear friend. But I am committed to making more conscious choices for the sake of my health.

In retrospect, I wish I could have been one of those raw diet success stories.
But alas, it was not meant to be.
Tomorrow morning I will once again browse the want ads, quite possibly with coffee and donut in hand, content to accept the fact that my goose, quite literally, is cooked.

Until next time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food



catsmum said...

I take it that the simple solutions - like low BP - have been eliminated.
Has anyone mentioned Menieres as a possibility ?

Damon said...

I'm sorry to say "detoxification" is total bunk. Honestly. The science is in. It's right up there with colon cleansing.