Practical Distractions for Gardeners in the Wintertime

I have been dreaming about tomatoes. Specifically, tomatoes in my garden. And I don’t mean I have been metaphorically dreaming about them, or daydreaming about them. I have had actual sensory-laden night-time dreams so rich with sense memories that I could feel the weight of the sun-warmed fruit resting in my hand, its lush red skin smooth and taut with ripeness. When I woke from these dreams, I swore I could feel the rich black composted soil under my fingertips; smell the earthy scent of the rain nourishing the thick stems of the tomato plants; see the tiny tendrils of new shoots growing in the sun; taste the sweet and tart juice of the warm fruit exploding in my mouth.

And when I awoke to find myself not kneeling in the damp soil of my garden but overheating in my fleece pajamas under flannel sheets, electric blanket, and thick winter comforter, I felt a sense of longing so profound that I knew I must find a way to channel it into other endeavors to distract myself from cabin fever. First, I re-inventoried my canned and frozen items from last year’s garden. This proved rather a depressing task, as nearly everything has dwindled down to almost the last jar with the exception of crab apple jelly and sweet pepper relish. So I got to thinking: what can I do in the winter that I don’t want to do in the summer? What tasks heat up the kitchen, which is welcome in the winter but not in the summer? Here are a few distractions I came up with to keep myself from tomato-deprivation depression:

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I went to my dry goods and decided to work on using up all of those beans I have accumulated over the past few months: leftovers from recipes, portions from our weekly food-buying club bags, and sales where I stocked up. Each night I choose a different bean to soak, then the following day I cook those beans and either freeze them all right away or use some in a recipe and freeze the rest. The result has been rather impressive; my freezer is already jammed full, and it had been half empty before I started this project.

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This photo shows the many jars of beans, and you will notice that I use the straight sided Ball jars of all sizes: half pint, pint, and pint-and-a-half. Having so many cooked beans on hand naturally led to making lots of soup. There are jars of potato leek soup, mushroom pinto chili, and mock cream of potato soup here. This week I will make another large batch of vegetable soup to use up the ever-growing stockpile of root vegetables I have accumulated from our weekly food-buying club bags. I also had a carton of orange juice about to go out of date, so I froze small portions of it for use in recipes where I only need a few tablespoons or so. I also froze it into ice cube trays and put the cubes in freezer bags for use in smoothies in the future.

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Finally, I turned to likely the most traditional of winter kitchen activities, baking. I have been trying to cut back on the sweets, especially refined sugar, but I still love to bake. This week I made peach crisp, apple-onion focaccia bread, banana muffins, and my best creation of the week, almond orange biscotti, pictured above. I finally perfected my method for getting them as crispy as we like, which simply involves leaving the cookies in the oven with the heat turned off for several hours after the second baking. This allows the cookies to dry out just enough but not get burnt. These are a very low fat biscotti from the Forks Over Knives cookbook that I altered a bit with my own dried orange peel and some orange extract I had languishing in the spice cupboard. (I also inventoried my spices this week. Yes, I really miss my garden!)

Next week I plan to start mapping out my garden for the spring in one of the many garden journals I have collected. Even though we won’t be able to plant here in Northeast Ohio until after Memorial Day, a girl can dream…both metaphorically and literally. And in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you do in the winter to distract yourself until gardening season.

 

 

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Making the Most of Your Produce: Cook Your Own Vegetable Stock or Broth

Fresh Fork bag 10/22/2015: acorn squash, apples, apple cider, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, collard greens, and turnips

Fresh Fork Market vegan bag 10/22/2015: acorn squash, apples, apple cider, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, collard greens, and turnips

Whether you belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or Farm Buying Club, visit the Farmers’ Market regularly, grow your own produce, or glean bargains at the local market, chances are you throw away (or compost) a LOT of vegetable scraps. Recently I realized that I had been missing a prime opportunity since we joined our Farm Buying Club, Fresh Fork Market, earlier this fall. Each week as I unpacked our vegan share of produce, I trimmed the leaves off the broccoli and cauliflower, cut the tops off the carrots and beets, and pulled off the outer leaves of cabbage and sent all of these lovely bits off to the compost bin. But last week I finally realized that instead of paying $3.00 or more for each box of vegetable stock at the grocery store, I could simply make my own with all of these scraps. Genius!  We use a lot of veggie stock/broth at our house, as we use it in place of oil for sauteing vegetables, as well as all of the normal things you would do with broth, such as make soups or sauces or use as an ingredient in veggie Shepherd’s Pie. Too bad I didn’t think of it sooner…

Fresh Fork Market vegan bag 10/29/2015: acorn squash, beets, broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, eggplants, red cabbage, and red leaf lettuce.

Fresh Fork Market vegan bag 10/29/2015: acorn squash, beets, broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, eggplants, Melrose apples, red cabbage, and red leaf lettuce.

So after picking up my bag last Thursday night, I trimmed off all those extra leaves and tops again, only this time I put them in the fridge overnight until I could make the stock on Friday. (Let’s get this out of the way: I am using the terms broth and stock interchangeably in this post, because if you choose to not use the spices, you will end up with stock, but if you spice and salt yours, you will have broth, which is what I did.)

Assorted veggies from the past two weeks of our vegan share bags, plus a few other garden stragglers and scraps.

Assorted veggies from the past two weeks of our vegan share bags, plus a few other garden stragglers and scraps.

On Friday morning I pulled everything out of both refrigerators (the mini fridge in the garage has been a life saver this summer and fall) and washed it all thoroughly. I then proceeded to cut off the tops of the carrots and beets, cut off the stems of the broccoli and cauliflower, core the cabbage and peppers, and trim a few items I planned to use right away. I used all of the celery root, several whole cloves of garlic, most of an onion, and some frozen chopped tomatoes for extra color and flavor. Oh, and one sad, lonely Calliope eggplant left over from my garden.

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Add approximately the same amount of water as vegetables. Don’t stress about the amounts being exact, as this is just a guideline.

For my stock recipe, I partly followed the recipe in Alana Chernila’s book, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making; I used her recommended herbs and spices (see final recipe below), plus several of the vegetables she listed. I also did some internet searches and found that many others have had success using all scraps for their vegetable broth. The one guideline everyone seems to agree on is that you should only cook vegetable broth for 1-2 hours, as it will turn bitter after longer than that. Another helpful guideline is to make the vegetable to water ratio approximately 1:1, which I found very helpful. Meat broths can be cooked much longer to get the marrow out of the bones, but as we no longer eat meat, I only use veggie broth.

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Cook vegetable broth for only 1-2 hours, as it will turn bitter if you cook it longer.

I tasted my broth at the one hour mark and it was still way too weak at that point. So I ended up cooking mine for the better part of two hours. When the cooking time was up, I strained out the veggies and composted them, then ran the liquid through a jelly bag (cheesecloth would work just as well).

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Cooked stock veggies do double duty by going into the compost bin. They will live on in next year’s garden!

After straining out the vegetables and herbs, I was left with this gorgeous vegetable broth. You’ll notice that the jars are not very full; this is so that they can be frozen. I was very low on my favorite freezer jar, the pint-and-a-half (24 ounce) size. But wide-mouth quart jars can be frozen if you fill them to just below the jar shoulder, cool them to room temperature, refrigerate overnight, and freeze with the lid off or only loosely set on top. Once it is frozen solid, screw the freezer lid on. If you do all of these things, your wide-mouth quart jars will not crack or break in the freezer.

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Vegetable broth cannot be home-canned safely with a water bath canner, so the broth must be used up in a few days or frozen for future use.

So here is my final recipe for my first go at vegetable broth from mostly scraps:

  • I used a one-quart (four cup) measuring bowl and filled it with vegetable scraps until my stock pot was nearly full. For me, this was about five quarts of veggies, including: one onion; carrot tops; carrot ends; broccoli leaves and the large stem; cauliflower leaves and main stem; beet tops (greens); a whole celery root (celeriac) peeled and chopped; a bell pepper core; a small eggplant; a cabbage core; and two chopped tomatoes. Use whatever you have on hand, but onion, tomato, celery, and carrot should probably be represented at least minimally.
  • I used the following herbs and spices: several whole cloves of garlic; a bay leaf; ten black peppercorns; 1 teaspoon dried thyme (I used lemon thyme from my garden); 1 teaspoon dried parsley (or of course, fresh if you have it); and a tablespoon (or more to your taste) of salt. (If you don’t want your stock salted and spiced, leave all of this out. Or if you are on a low-sodium diet, use the herbs and spices but not the salt.)
  • I added an equal amount of water to the pot as the veggies that I measured, which was five quarts. Remember, the vegetables will give off some water while cooking.
  • Heat until the liquid comes to a boil, then turn to low and simmer for 1-2 hours.
  • Scoop out spent veggies with a slotted spoon and send to compost bin, then strain the liquid through a jelly bag or cheesecloth.
  • Cool to room temperature then put in refrigerator. Use within a few days, or freeze in freezer-safe canning jars (the straight edged ones, which come in 4, 8, 12, 16, and 24 ounce sizes, or see my directions above about using wide-mouth quart jars). Never use glass jars that have shoulders with a narrower neck, and don’t put warm or hot liquid in the freezer. Don’t screw lids on until liquid has frozen solid.
  • Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Waste not, want not!  Enjoy!

Therapeutic Thursday: Visible Growth

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6/18/2015. Lots of new growth after a very rainy week.

Last week’s post focused on being patient while growth wasn’t necessarily visible, letting water, sunshine, and soil work their magic underground and inside the plants. That patience has paid off over this extremely rainy week, and there is ample evidence of visible growth. I am hoping that the plants forgive me for making the mistake of crowding them all into a 4×4 foot plot and that, in the words of Jeff Goldblum’s character Malcolm in Jurassic Park, “Life will find a way!”

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6/18/2015. First tomato sighting of the season yesterday.

Not only have the plants grown larger, they are beginning to blossom and bear fruit. Yesterday I found my first tiny tomato, but since this is one of the four “mystery” plants we were gifted, I have no idea whether they will be grape, cherry, Roma, beefsteak, or anything in between!

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6/18/2015. More pumpkin blossoms.

The pumpkin plant is taking off into the yard, carrying with it multiple new blossoms every day. I have yet to work up the nerve to pick the male blossoms (I am told they have a pointy thing inside and they won’t bear fruit anyway) and stuff or saute them. I had the most delicately sauteed pumpkin blossoms at the Mansion District Inn B&B in Smethport, PA last year. We are headed there again at the end of this month so I will have to ask owner/chef Jovanna Porter for on tips for preparing them. I have also recently seen a recipe for cream-cheese stuffed nasturtium blossoms, and could use the same stuffing recipe for the pumpkin blossoms, replacing the cream cheese with Toffutti’s Better Than Cream Cheese non-dairy product.

6/18/2015. Pepper plant leaves twisting around the stalk.

6/18/2015. Pepper plant leaves twisting around the stalk.

I have never seen a pepper plant do what this one is doing with its leaves. I found them twisting around and growing up the plant’s main stalk, almost like a vine. The photo isn’t doing it justice, as I moved them to investigate and somewhat loosened their grip around the stalk.

I am concerned the peppers will suffer the most from my rookie gardening mistakes. I planted them too close to the tomatoes (which I almost moved over about 6 inches closer to the edge of the bed, then changed my mind about at the last second) and the row closest is a little yellow. I can’t be certain it is due to the tomato proximity, though, because they are a different type of pepper than the other row.

6/18/2015. Ray and Elliot, our blueberry bushes.

6/18/2015. Ray and Elliot, our blueberry bushes.

We finally got the blueberry bushes into the ground last week, and my husband built little bases for them out of leftover pavers we had from the front flower bed. He secured them with some waterproof caulk and they are bungee corded together temporarily while they set. We purchased two different varieties so they could cross-pollinate, and the two varieties are Blueray (left) and Elliot (right)–hence their names.

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6/18/2015. Cherry Roma potted tomato plant.

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6/18/2015. Herb container garden with rosemary, basil, cilantro, lemon thyme, chives, flat parsley, and Italian peppermint.

The cherry Roma plant has grown at least 6 inches in just the last week. Soon I will need to give it a taller stake or tomato cage. I am truly hoping it does as well as the hanging basket we had last summer. We won’t know until these start to produce if they are indeed the same variety we had last year, as last year’s either weren’t marked or I didn’t record the variety.

Finally, my little herb garden is still struggling along. The basil continues to get eaten by little bugs. Several gardeners have assured me that when the weather heats up and dries out the basil will flourish. My first batch of cilantro has already gone to seed, so I am waiting patiently for some coriander seeds to appear. I got a new cilantro plant that will hopefully last a bit longer this time.

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It is great to see the new growth, but I must remind myself that the end goal of the garden is to produce fruit and vegetables worthy of human consumption. I must remember to be vigilant about watering between rains and weeding and staking and cutting back when necessary. All of this hard work and preparation will hopefully pay off over the next few months, not only in volume of produce but in gaining valuable experience as well as confidence in my abilities as a gardener.

Thanks for reading today’s post! If you enjoyed it, please comment or follow me or share on FB or other social media. Stop back often for more posts on my journey toward living a simpler, healthier, happier life.

Whole Food Wednesday: Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Basil

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6/17/2015. Rotini with roasted grape tomatoes, chickpeas, and fresh basil.

Since we are trying so many new plant-based recipes, I thought I would share one of our new favorites. My husband made this for dinner tonight and it was quick, uncomplicated, and absolutely delicious.

The original recipe calls for 12 ounces whole-grain spaghetti, but we had whole-wheat rotini on hand, so that is what he used. Any whole-grain pasta will do. The original recipe also calls for cherry tomatoes, but we prefer the grape tomatoes so that is what you see pictured here. This dish reminded me quite a bit of another pasta dish my daughter discovered last summer, which calls for white beans, garlic, fresh basil, and fresh chopped tomatoes. Really, I think you could try just about any kind of beans in this and it would be great.

The thing that sets this dish apart is the roasted tomatoes. The original recipe calls for 1 pound of tomatoes, but we will definitely add more next time. Cut the tomatoes in half, sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic, and roast them on a parchment-lined baking sheet or a non-stick baking sheet for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

While the tomatoes are roasting, start boiling the water for pasta. When the tomatoes need only about 10 minutes left to cook, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to your package’s instructions. Save 1 cup of the pasta water as you drain it.

While the pasta is cooking and the tomatoes are finishing roasting, chop 1 cup fresh basil. More is even better! You can’t put too much basil or tomatoes in this dish! I prefer to cut my basil with my Ball herb scissors, but stacking the leaves and rolling them up to slice them into ribbons is quick and works well also.

When the pasta is drained, put it in a large serving bowl and quickly add the chopped basil (to get it cooked a bit by the hot pasta), the roasted tomatoes, and a 15-ounce can of chickpeas or cannellini or your other favorite beans. Toss it and add some of the reserved pasta water to moisten to your taste. Add your favorite salt (mine is Pink Himalayan),  freshly ground pepper, and more of the granulated garlic for an amazingly easy whole-food, plant-based meal.

We had planned to serve this up with a leafy green salad but got pressed for time; any vegetable medley would be great as a side, or even tossed right into the pasta dish. Follow with fresh fruit for dessert–Bing cherries are in season now and were great after our meal. We have so many leftovers that we will be eating this for lunch and side dishes for several more days. I plan to add some additional veggies, such as grated carrot or zucchini, for variety.

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The chickpeas are very hard to see here; they are camouflaged by being the exact same color as the whole-wheat pasta.

This recipe is from The Forks Over Knives Plan: A 4-Week Meal-by-Meal Makeover (How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet) by Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD.

Thanks for reading today’s post. Please stop back soon or follow my blog for more posts about living a simpler, healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle!

Therapeutic Thursday: Lessons from My Little Garden

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6/11/2015. Container herb garden: rosemary, lemon thyme, cilantro, basil, basil, chives, flat parsley, and Italian peppermint.

I got all of my herbs into the planter box on the deck this week. The basil is not doing well, and many of my friends have echoed the same lament. Basil was my best grower last year, so I am hoping it turns around. My go-to guy at the garden center said it has been too wet for it this spring and that as soon as it gets hot and dries out a bit it will be fine. I hope he is right. My other problem child in the herb garden is cilantro. It keeps falling over. If anyone has experience with cilantro I would love to hear what I am doing wrong and how to fix it!

I was gazing out the window, trying to decide if I should go out to my little 4×4 foot square garden just one more time to see if anything had miraculously grown or bloomed in the last 3 hours. I was thinking, I wish they would grow faster! when it hit me:  I am just as impatient with my garden plants as I have been with my own personal growth. That got me thinking about the lessons that gardening can teach us wherever we are on our journey of development as human beings. Here are a few I came up with:

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6/11/2015. 4×4 plot: 4 tomato plants, 4 red beauty bell pepper plants, 4 golden bell pepper plants, 2 watermelon plants, ping tung eggplant, calliope eggplant, and a pumpkin plant.

Lessons I am learning from my garden:

  • Be patient when looking for visible signs of growth. Even with the optimal amount of sunshine, rain, and fertilizer, plants can only grow in the correct season and at their own slow and steady pace. They must develop strong root systems, which we cannot see, before they can support large stems and leaves and heavy fruit. We may not be able to see the small increments of growth each day, but as the days and weeks add up, the growth is clearly evident. I must give them their time, and give myself my own time to grow in the areas of life I am trying to improve right now.
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6/11/2015. Cherry Roma tomato plant on the deck.

  • Bask in the sunshine. For those who live in sunnier climates, this lesson may sound trite, but Clevelanders and many others in the northern U. S. simply don’t get enough sunshine for a large portion of the year. When it is sunny I take advantage of it and get my vitamin D each day by going out for about 20 minutes without sunscreen, then applying SPF 30 or higher religiously at all other times. Sunshine always improves my mood and outlook on life.
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6/11/2015. Nessie the garden mascot. Last year a woman at the farmers market told she put rubber snakes in her tomatoes to keep birds out. It worked for us last year, so let’s see if Nessie can protect a whole row of tomato plants this year!

  • Get enough water. Think of what your plants look like when they get parched. They get wilted and the leaves hang listlessly from the stalk, but as soon as water is added they plump back up and stand proud! This one is especially tough for me, but on the days that I sip my water continuously all day, I feel much more awake and alert. Also, it keeps me more active as I have to keep traveling to the rest room to de-water before I can re-water some more! Last summer I discovered Ball’s water infuser kit for their wide-mouth jars. It includes a lid with a seal and an infusing attachment. I much prefer to drink out of glass than plastic, so I love this gadget. My favorite infusing recipe is to combine chopped cucumbers with chopped fresh basil leaves. I use the Ball herb scissors to get the basil leaves cut into thin little ribbons.
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6/11/2015. Elliot blueberry bush which was planted later in the day.

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6/11/2015. Blueray blueberry bush which was planted later in the day. We went with two different varieties as it was recommended for cross-pollination.

  • Live in the fresh air. Plants can, of course, grow indoors–but they do not do so naturally. What I love about being outside more than anything else is the fresh air. I have run in the freezing, pouring October rain not because I am a dedicated athlete but because I desperately needed to be outside and breathe the fresh air. And while breathing in the fresh air, I invariably begin to notice the other sights and sounds and smells of being out in nature, which maybe plants notice and maybe they don’t, but I talk to mine anyway just in case they do. Listening to and watching the birds always reminds me of mornings at my grandma’s house, and I would rather have to take allergy medicine  than miss the amazing and mysterious smells of the flowering blooms in spring and summer.
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6/11/2015. First pumpkin blossom.

  • Roots must grow strong to bear fruit. Underground is where the real action happens in gardening. The soil must be rich and re-fertilized from time to time to add new nutrients for the plants to absorb. The roots must have room to spread out and grow deep. Bugs and other micro-organisms do their part to aerate the soil and make it good for plants. So it is in my life as well. While my roots are going deep into my psyche and soaking up the richness of life–by reading, gardening, walking, doing yoga, or any other activity that feeds my soul–it may look to others like I am doing nothing. I need time to grow and spread my roots before any visible sign of growth–that is “fruit” in the form of writing or other creative productivity–appears above ground. Once I have had enough nutrients and enough time to process them, I will begin to bear blossoms and soon heavy fruit. But all in good time.

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Thanks for reading today’s post. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on FB or other social media and following my blog for a different topic each day of the week geared toward creating a simpler, healthier, happier life.

Whole Food Wednesday: Why?

Summer 2014 Jeep adventures.

Summer 2014 Jeep adventures.

So my husband and I have recently adopted a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and the most common question I get about it is, Why?

Well, the short answer is that I want to improve my health. But that is not specific, persuasive, or particularly interesting. A longer explanation would include the fact that I would like to live with the highest quality of health possible so that my husband and I can travel the world and have adventures together for many, many years to come.

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Green beans, purple beans, and yellow beans from the local farmers market.

The most accurate answer, however, begins with my 16-year struggle with a chronic health disorder called IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is essentially what they diagnose you with when they can’t find anything else to explain your symptoms. I was first diagnosed with IBS in 1999, and my internist’s exact words when he diagnosed me (based on my symptom descriptions with no further testing or referral to a specialist) were, You need to reduce chocolate, caffeine, dairy and stress in your life. My exact response was:

But I need the chocolate and the caffeine to deal with the stress in my life!

My doctor was not amused by my response. I was not the most compliant patient. I could go months without any symptoms (while consuming chocolate, caffeine, and dairy) and then seemingly out of nowhere I would suffer a barrage of debilitating symptoms that could last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I finally accepted that I was probably lactose-intolerant and stopped eating dairy, which helped. I never gave up chocolate, but I did eventually give up coffee and most caffeinated sodas. I now drink only tea and the occasional diet soda (this is my biggest weakness). But about that stress…

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Uh-oh. I left the lemon and cucumber together in the produce bin and look what I found the next day…lemon cucumber twins! Apparently, cousin squash is not a great chaperone. Thanks to our friends Mike and Carol for the awesome lemon cucumbers, which I used in my infused water for weeks.

When I was originally diagnosed I had just finished my first year of college as a full-time non-traditional student. I took 15 hours (5 classes) both semesters and kept a 4.0 while being a wife and mother of a 6 year old and an 11 year old. Add housekeeping and a part-time direct sales job (to help pay tuition) and it was a recipe for constant stress overload. My symptoms began after finals week at the end of my freshman year and continued to resurface at times of high stress or poor eating habits.

Fast forward to April 2014. For years I had kept the IBS in check with varying degrees of success. I had started exercising regularly in the summer/fall of 2013 and my weight loss had just reached the 30 pound mark. I was trying to “eat better” as well, which basically meant not partaking of the constant barrage of candy, desserts, and other junk foods at work. I thought I was doing really well–right up until I wasn’t. I got sick on a Saturday morning and the first bout lasted 5 days. After several more weeks of misery and a self-imposed period of eating no gluten (which made no difference), I made an appointment with my new GP who disagreed with my original diagnosis of IBS and referred me to a Gastroenterologist for further testing.

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Thinly sliced tender Japanese eggplants, both purple and white, water sauteed with grape tomatoes for a simple and delicious pasta topping.

The tests were uncomfortable, time-consuming, and ultimately inconclusive. They did reveal that I was not lactose-intolerant, but my GI cautioned me that dairy still aggravated my symptoms, so I should avoid it. I will admit that I did not complete all of the tests, as they were beginning to add to my stress level which–ironically–increased the severity and frequency of my symptoms. Talking to the GI, however, did make me realize just how sensitive a person’s gut can be. I began again reducing carbonated drinks, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and refined flours. I could definitely see a difference when I was vigilant about these things, especially the caffeine. I started shopping at the farmers market more often, trying to increase my fiber intake with fresh fruits and vegetables as my internist had also suggested in 1999.

I was becoming aware on a deeper level that I really needed to consistently improve my eating habits. I went to the library and started checking out books, but as my symptoms waned, so did my interest in changing my eating patterns. It is easy to ignore a chronic illness when you are not actively sick. As the year progressed and I couldn’t seem to lose any more weight, I began to research in earnest different types of eating plans. I wasn’t interested in any fad diets, and I knew I needed to make permanent changes instead of eating well for a while then getting lax as my symptoms abated.

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My new whole foods pantry, spring 2015.

Around this time someone recommended the Forks Over Knives documentary to me. I watched it on Netflix that very evening. Then I went to the library and checked out the books that had followed the documentary. I also started reading The China Study, which was the evidential basis for the Forks Over Knives movement. While I am not trying to persuade anyone that their way of eating is wrong or mine is the only right way, I do recommend the documentary and books mentioned above if you want to know more about the evidence which led me to the decision to adopt a whole-food, plant-based diet.

After my husband watched Forks Over Knives he was completely on board, which was a major relief to me since I had tried to move toward a whole-foods lifestyle in the early 90s, but the husband and kids didn’t much care for it then. It was also much harder to find things like whole wheat pastry flour in a regular grocery store back then. (Thank goodness that is no longer the case.) Back in the 90s I had used Nikki and David Goldbeck’s American Wholefoods Cuisine cookbook, but that became problematic as time went on due to the amount of dairy products in many of their recipes.

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The cupboard where I stashed all of my old cookbooks and processed oils while we cautiously converted to a whole-food, plant-based diet.

So we jumped in with both feet and started the Forks Over Knives way of eating. The simplest way to explain what that means is that we only eat foods that are whole and come from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Little or no meat, dairy, processed oils, refined flours or sugars, or artificial ingredients of any kind. While that may sound drastic, after struggling with IBS for 16 years, it was a small price to pay for better health. We did a 3-week transition into the eating plan, changing just one meal a day each week. This allowed us to slowly process the lifestyle change mentally, emotionally, and physically. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, so…did the diet help my IBS?

Unequivocally, YES! In the first 8 weeks we were on the whole-food, plant-based diet I had NO IBS symptoms at all!  Add to that the fact that we had a major life stressor occur during this time, and it was downright miraculous that my IBS didn’t kick back in. The only times I have had IBS symptoms since we started the program occurred when I went off the plan and ate processed foods full of sugar, refined flour, and fat.

I use the plastic freezer lids on my canning jars and label them to store all of our new whole food ingredients.

I use the plastic freezer lids on my canning jars and label them to store all of our new whole food ingredients.

So…that is the main reason in a very long answer to why I have changed to a whole-food, plant-based diet. There are other reasons and things to discuss about our progress on the diet, but I will save those for another Wednesday. Thanks for reading, and if you liked this post please comment or follow my blog for a different topic each day of the week. Happy Hump Day!

Therapeutic Thursday: In the Garden

Milton is exhausted after a hard morning of planting.

June 4, 2015: Milton is exhausted after a hard morning of planting.

This is our first garden plot, as last year we used only containers on the deck. We have graduated now to a raised 4×4 foot bed in hopes of having success with our Calliope eggplant, Ping Tung eggplant, Golden Bell peppers, Red Beauty peppers, and four “mystery” tomato varieties gifted to us by friends. After this photo was taken I added Sugar Baby watermelon plants and a Small Sugar pie pumpkin plant as well. The Cherry Roma tomatoes will be moving to their own container on the deck.

Last year we had only a small container garden on the deck, but we had great luck with a hanging basket of grape tomatoes and several varieties of peppers and basil. This year, the herbs will stay on the deck and the vegetables will go in the ground.

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Summer 2014: My first bell pepper!

I never thought I could be a Real Gardener. You see, my grandmother was an amazing gardener, with more varieties of daffodil than I have ever seen anywhere else. Her flower beds were elaborately designed, and she had acres of woods as a gorgeous backdrop to her vegetable garden, flower beds, and fruit trees. For many years, I have joked that her green thumb skipped right over me, as I have always managed to kill even houseplants. My flower bed in the front of my house is more a plant graveyard than a garden, but I discovered that for some reason, I can keep herbs and vegetables alive much easier than flowers or houseplants. Having small successes last year helped me gain the courage to expand to this year’s 4×4 foot raised bed.

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Additionally, the therapeutic value of last year’s container garden far exceeded any monetary value of the produce we grew and therefore didn’t have to buy. Every morning I would get up and before even sipping my tea or starting my breakfast, I would head out to the deck to make sure my plants were watered before I left for work. After work, I would go straight to the deck to again water my little garden and check how many new tomato or pepper blossoms I could count.

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Summer 2014: Ripening Beefsteak tomatoes.

Later, as the fruits and vegetables grew, I couldn’t wait to get home each day to see what had grown and find what we could harvest and use for dinner. The basil was so prolific that I made pesto all summer long; our favorite application was to spread it on thin slices of baguette and sprinkle finely chopped grape tomatoes on top before baking it for a few minutes for a heavenly pre-dinner appetizer. The grape tomatoes had so much more flavor than any store-bought version we had ever had!

By summer’s end, I was hooked on the feeling of awe and pride that came from growing food out of dirt with nothing more than water and sunlight. My grandmother’s green thumb gene had finally been activated and I had embodied the spirit of a Real Gardener.