Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Update on Our Farm

It's been a while since I have posted anything about our CSA and I have been receiving several inquiries lately.  Mainly, "Is it worth it to join one?", and, "Will you do it again next year?  Personally, I have enjoyed it.  Nothing I have eaten has "bothered me" and a lot of store-bought produce does, especially greens.  I think there has been more Kale and Chard than my husband was hoping for, and the Asian pears taste like raw potatoes, but besides that, it has been great. 

As for the greens, I have learned to really enjoy them, especially using recipes I find online.  Kale is a bit chewy, but the flavor is nice and it is so good for you.  As for the "tasteless" Chinese pears, I baked them into a cake (see photo above).  I found the recipe online and reduced the 3/4 cups oil it called for to 1/4 cup, adding 1/2 cup applesauce as a substitute for the remaining oil.  I also used eggbeaters for the 3 eggs it called for and cut the pecans down from 1 cup to 1/2 cup.   And it turned out great - passed the "younger son" taste-test with flying colors.

One thing you need to realize if you join a farm (or CSA as they are called) is that they can only grow what is in season for your region.  And here, in Northern Virginia, it has been a lot of greens, peaches, corn, beets, Japanese eggplant, green beans, apples, and Chinese pears (so far).  This week, we will receive our first installment of squash - acorn squash, to be exact.  I imagine that over the next month or two, we will be receiving different types of squash, as well as cooking pumpkins, and potatoes.  And that will be fine with me! 

Will we do it next year?  For my husband, I may try our local Farmer's Market instead.  He wants me to try going there once a week and actually choosing what we want, as opposed to getting a box filled with what our farm is growing that week, divided out to each "member" as the crops allow.  But I have a feeling we will be back the following year.  I have really enjoyed our farm and all the new foods it has introduced to our diet.

Fall officially begins this week.  Can you believe it?   I hope you all had a wonderful summer!  Until next time, happy and healthy eating! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bottled Water: Friend or Foe?

The day we moved my son into his college dorm, it was miserably hot, so we bought him and his roommate a case of bottled water.  Later that weekend, my son texted us to say that the water was ruined -  his roommate had stuck it all in their freezer and it was now poisoned.   Yesterday, a friend sent me an e-mail warning me and some other undisclosed recipients not to drink bottled water that has been left in a hot car - that Sheryl Crow's oncologist told her the dioxin that leaches from such bottles caused her breast cancer!   

Well, as both a connoisseur of bottled water and a two-time breast cancer survivor, I felt it was time to do some research in an attempt to set the record straight.  You see, I can only drink bottled water with any regularity.  When I drink too often from those lovely taps that allow things like that supposedly harmless orangey-pink-tinted bacteria to get through, I get mouth sores the size of a dime.  To most people this bacteria is supposedly harmless, but it isn't to me.  When my system is really run down, I even have to rinse my mouth with bottled water after brushing my teeth.   And, yes, I always leave a bottle of water in my car.  I sometimes get thirsty when I drive.  Funny thing is that when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer 10 years ago, we were drinking only filtered tap water...Needless to say, I was a skeptic when it came to all this sudden hype about bottled water and was, frankly, angry at the audacity of some of the claims.

In January of 2008,  a representative from Johns Hopkins refuted the supposed claim that freezing water bottles leaches dioxin into the water.  He called it what it was - an Email Hoax.  And as for bottles of water getting hot in your automobile and then becoming poisonous?  Unless, the bottles are made of inflexible (hard), "unclear" plastic, there is no danger of anything happening to the water.  The chemical that can potentially leach from plastic into water is Bisphenol A (or BPA). And disposable bottles do not contain the chemical.  "Plastic bottles of the type used for commercially marketed water are regulated by the FDA as 'food contact substances' and are held to the same standards as food additives."  (About.com, April 2007)  Yes, I know that the FDA is not perfect and has let several unsavory items slip through the cracks, but poison in our water bottles is not one of them. 

This is a very touchy subject for me, since after 4 of my 5 immediate family members contracted some form of cancer in a 5-year period, a study was conducted in the area in which I grew up and an unusually high number of cancer outbreaks (with a cancer death in virtually every family on our block alone) demonstrated that I grew up in a cancer hot-bed.  The culprit was something I was alerted to way back in 1981, after beginning a campaign to rid our area of the smelly, oily, brown sludge that stained our sinks and bathtubs.  This was in my college apartment, 30 miles from where I grew up, but it opened a can of worms.  We found that the culprit's business practices covered an extremely wide area.  And it seemed that I had moved from the proverbial frying pan into the flame!  Where I grew up, we were upwind from a series of oil refineries that occasionally made our air unfit to breathe.  Schools were closed due to "bad air" that made it literally painful to inhale.  Moreover, for as long as I could remember we "had" to have bottled water delivered to our house because the stuff that came out of our pipes tasted so bad.  

Our tap water is something I wish more of us did care about.  Why should we put up with pinkish orange bacteria?  And how do we know it is really harmless?  The alternative is equally daunting.  Large quantities of free chlorine are sometimes run through our water supplies when they are found to contain dangerously high levels of the more dangerous bacterias.  Has it ever hurt your eyes when you let the hot water run for too long?  Like when you are doing a huge batch of pots and pans?  Or taking a long, hot shower on a cold, cold morning?  This is far scarier to me than leaving my water bottle in my car.

Dioxin, one of the most deadly chemicals known to man, was what Agent Orange was made of.  And we know what that was used for.  It was an exfolliant that stripped trees bare of all life so our soldiers in Viet Nam could navigate through dense terrain.  Sadly, it also stripped people it came in contact with of things like hair and skin, not to mention the long-term affects of having been doused with it.  Dioxin is formally called Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxin and can occur naturally when fire comes into contact with chlorine.  Hmmmm....I wonder why very hot, chlorinated water might make our eyes burn   Diseases linked to dioxin exposure include an unsightly skin condition called chloracne, problems with one's tooth enamel, nervous system disorders, thyroid conditions, diabetes, and damage to one's immune system (leading, I would imagine, to a susceptibility to various cancers).  It was manufactured to do such things as bleach paper white and came to the forefront during the Love Canal tragedy which made headlines in the late 70's. 

I am not saying that bottled water is pure and clean.  I'm not sure that completely pure water exists anywhere anymore.  But if you get an Email telling you that the water you've been drinking in your car can kill you, delete it and do not give it another thought.  And if you should accidentally (or intentionally) freeze your bottled water, there is no need to throw it out.  Remember, we are made of about 80% water and need to drink several glasses a day.  And be wise when you give your body anything it needs....Until next time, happy and healthy eating (and drinking!).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reflections On A Recent Chat With My Son

The other day, I am ashamed to admit that I had a pity-party.  On September 12, 2001, as we all were reeling over the tragedy of 9/11, I had the first of many surgeries that marked the beginning of my struggle with cancer.   I heard myself sharing that with my friends and whining about how I wish I had never undergone chemotherapy, since it has left me with a permanently impaired immune system and memory, and painful growths all over my liver.  And to those friends, I offer my apologies.  Because my very wise 16-year old son helped me put things in perspective - again.  He reminded me of the tremendous good that came from my having gone through what I did 9+ years ago.  He understands that I would never put my body through an ordeal like that again, but  reminded me of the wonderful gift God gave me during that time - a gift that will last a lifetime and beyond.

In August of 1981, I reached the point in my life where I knew beyond a doubt that God was real and that, because He came in the flesh and reconciled mankind to Himself, I would never die - not in any way that matters.   I would eventually shed this body that gets sick and breaks down with time, but I would still "be".  It was a wonderful revelation and it sustained me throughout my life.  But when I was undergoing grueling cancer treatments 20 years later, I feared I would not survive, and what had been a warm-and-fuzzy relationship with my God, suddenly took a dramatic turn.

Many women do just fine through chemotherapy treatments, feeling some nausea and becoming fatigued, but none the worse for the wear.  I was not one of those women.  After my first treatment, I was so hyped up that my heart raced, I could not sleep for days and my eyes occasionally rolled back into my head.  This was due, I discovered, to the steroids I was given to help stave off a possible allergic reaction.  We could not eliminate them altogether, but we cut the dose in half.  I've been told that there are high performers on chemo and low performers (people who handle the drugs just fine and those who don't).  I was an extremely low performer.  After the third of 6 treatments, we could not control the vomiting.  For days on end, I was unbelievably nauseous - have never felt anything like it since, even with stomach flu.  My white blood cells plummeted to almost nothing and made me susceptible to pneumonia and various other infections (things I still struggle with now), and when my red blood cells fell as well, it became difficult to breathe.  Long story short, I was sure I was going to die - that my body would not survive the battering it was taking.  And I took to prayer like I never had before.

Before those days, when I prayed for comfort, I got it.  God's presence would envelope me like a warm blanket and I knew all would be well.  But when I prayed during the 6 months I underwent chemotherapy treatments, God dealt with me much differently.  There was no more soothing milk, so to speak - it was time for solid food and hard truth.  God showed me that physically dying would not be the worst thing that could happen to a soul.  And he revealed areas in my life that had spun out of control, leaving me spiritually broken and crippled.  I have shared some of this with you before so I won't belabor the point, but suffice it to say that my diet was such a mess that, my lack of control over what I was eating, led to lack of control in most other areas of my life, as well.  The book of the Bible God led me to read?  Revelations.  I learned that, like everything else in God's Word, there was not one meaning to that difficult, highly symbolic book.  At one time or another, each person goes through his or her own personal "revelation" - a reckoning, a test of fire, a final battle here on earth.  I learned a lot and, through the years, I have shared that knowledge with my son, who has one of the deepest relationships with God I have seen.  

The other night, after I had my pity-party, my son and I shared a dinner together and I confessed what I had done and how I felt that day and he pulled me up short.  He told me that it was because of what I had been through and how God had dealt with me through it (including healing me of liver cancer - see post dated 3/19/11 ), that he had the faith he did.  He knew I would die someday (we all die), but was thankful that God was keeping me here as long as he was.  Oh my!  I was stunned - happily, of course, but stunned nonetheless.  And we proceeded to have "one of our talks"....

As a result, I have remembered to take one day at a time (thankful for each and every one of them), to be mindful of my limitations (but never lose sight of the fact that my "good days" are often very good), and grateful for the things God has taught me, especially that, although this life is indeed a precious gift, it is but a mere flicker in the scheme of things.

This post may seem to have nothing to do with food, except that it was in learning to control my diet that I also learned to control many of the other passions that kept me captive, as well as to be able to draw closer to the Source of all I see, smell, hear, taste, desire, and love.  I have a long way to go - that goes without saying - but I am grateful for the journey, on most days, that is.... : )