Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Curry Extravaganza-What Low-Carb Looks Like

The makings for a quick beef and veggie curry. Lots of red and green sweet peppers,  cilantro, a bit of top sirloin , sliced onions, garlic, and super fresh shitake mushrooms  cultivated by Montana from my yoga class. In the center, a mound of red curry paste and, out of the photo, canned coconut milk.
When people with weight to spare adopt a low-calorie, low-fat, grain-centered diet, they often can't hack it. They end up giving up because their stomachs growl, they're overcome by cravings, and as they cave to the cravings and frustration, the weight they lost piles back on....and then some. Been there, done that. I think that the low-cal, low-fat diet is pretty much a loser except for the most dedicated and disciplined types—or people who don't really care about food, which is certainly not me! Low-carb is different.

If you read this recent post, you know that 10 years ago I lost 15 pounds when I went into septic shock with a life-threatening infection. Through a series of circumstances (keep reading), I went low-carb, which I've been, more or less, ever since. I'm into a carb "correction"right now, which means I went astray over the holidays, gained a few, and it's time to get back to reality: Carbs, especially refined ones in bread or sweets or those delicious ones in baked potatoes, make me fat. If you're interested in how I learned this, the tale follows.
The veggie/beef curry goes atop wilted spinach for me. Rice is off the table for low-carbers,
  but super-slender PK enjoys his with organic brown basmati rice AND spinach.
When my strength returned after my illness, I really wanted to keep those 15 pounds off, and I thought I knew just how to do it. I munched granola and other “healthy” cereals with skim milk, and ate lots of fruit and veggies, fat-free dairy products, brown rice, homemade whole wheat bread, baked potatoes with cottage cheese,  limited meat, and almost zero fat.
 I bought fat-free everything! Half and half, sour cream. cottage cheese, skim milk, even fat-free bakery products.(What a joke!)  I was addicted to Junior Mints, which were fat-free so harmless, I believed, but I did limit myself to one box daily.
 I thought I was right on top of it, but the number on my scale kept creeping up. One year later, I had regained nearly five pounds eating what I thought was a healthy, well-balanced diet and exercising like crazy. I did not like the trend; in a couple years, I'd be back to where I was before I got sick. 
Peanut sauce! OMG! Recipes below.
By Exercising Like Crazy I Mean
I have been a nut-case exerciser since age 31 when I chucked cigarettes and replaced a killer habit with one that enhances life.  For the past 35 years, including all the time I was gaining a pound or two a year, regular exercise was a priority. Even when I was at top weight—I was the captain of a racewalking team, for crying out loud—the ounces kept accumulating.  I walked 20 to 30 miles a week, many of them with the hip-rolling, feet-blurring manner of racewalking. I was hot-footing my 165+ bulk at a 12-13 minute-mile pace. If you think it is easy to walk a mile of rolling hills in 13 minutes, give it a try. I knew that without vigorous aerobic exercise, I would be a blimp. Oh yes, I did strength training too, and a killer spinning class at the gym. I had an athlete’s resting heart rate of 50 beats per minute. 

Ok. So I almost died. Lost weight as a result. Adopted a low-fat diet to keep it off. Exercised like crazy, and was slowly regaining weight! What the hell?

What Happened Next?
I accidentally got educated about low-carb nutrition. In 2002 I started working with a nurse practitioner
Here's the curry all put together in about a half hour, excluding the peanut sauce.
Delicious! High in protein, all the fiber, vitamins and minerals of veggies,  and packed with flavor.
But  but looowwww in carbs. Recipe below.
who was passionate about women's hormone health and well being and was death on sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. Editing one book for her and being the "with" author on another, was a crash course that changed how I viewed food and fed my family.

Over the course of several months, I learned how to live without bread, rice, Junior Mints etc. etc. PK, the metabolic animal, lost 20 pounds without realizing he was on a diet. He was so worried that he had a hidden cancer, that he saw his doctor!  Weight hoarder that I am, I lost about eight pounds, putting me back on track. I've held more-or-less steady, give or take a few, for the past decade, keeping up the exercising, of course.  My experience made me. for a time, a low-carb proselytiser that induced one of my friends to cover her ears and chant "lalalalalala" when I got on the subject. Now I know that low carb works for me—but not for everybody. More about that in another post. For now, here's how to make a killer curry in a hurry!

Thai Vegetable Beef Red Curry with Spinach and Peanut Sauce
Curry ingredients
1 T vegetable oil (I use unrefined coconut oil)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds sirloin tip or other tender steak, sliced (could also use chicken or tofu)
6-8 large mushrooms of your choice, sliced
1-2 T red curry paste (I use Mae Ploy Panang Curry Paste, which is a bit hot.) We like hot so I use more.
2 T soy sauce or Thai fish sauce
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 small/medium onion, sliced
1 serrano, jalapeno, or other pepper, minced
2 T fresh cilantro or basil

First get all the ingredients sliced and diced and ready to cook.
Heat the oil over high heat in a wok or large skillet.
Add the garlic and stir fry til fragrant, maybe 30 seconds.
Add the sirloin and stir fry for a couple minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and give the mixture another couple minutes over high heat. (Start with the mushrooms if you like them cooked through.)
Turn off the heat and remove meat and shrooms and set aside in a bowl. You don't want to overcook the steak.
Over medium heat, stir fry the curry paste about 30 seconds, then whisk in the fish sauce or soy sauce and the coconut milk. Fish sauce gives a more authentic Thai flavor.
Add the red bell pepper, onion, and chili. Simmer for for a few minutes, depending upon how crisp you prefer your veggies.
Add beef and mushrooms and accumulated juices. Mix and simmer long enough to heat the meat and shrooms. Serve with lightly steamed spinach (can substitute chard or mild kale) or, for those who are not counting carbs, steamed rice.
Top with heated peanut sauce and fresh basil or cilantro.

Peanut Sauce
Adapted from a recipe in "Authentic Thai Cooking" by Virginia C. Silpakit
1 cup coconut cream (I used coconut milk. Couldn't find coconut cream. I never buy "lite" coconut milk. Why bother?)
2 T red curry paste
2 T Thai fish sauce
2 T Golden Mountain soy sauce (or any soy sauce)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar (I use stevia - not sugar. Non caloric stevia is made from the stevia plant. It comes in powder or liquid form, and is very concentrated. I used less than a teaspoon. Taste and adjust carefully. Splenda can be used in the same proportion as sugar, if you like a sweetener processed with chlorine!
2 T tamarind concentrate (Very important. Can be found in Asian food section of larger markets)
1 tsp lemon juice
4 T peanut butter, smooth or chunky
1 T vegetable oil (peanut or coconut)
1/4 cup water

Heat the oil in a saucepan and stir fry the curry paste til the aromas are released. Add the coconut cream (or milk), sweetener, fish sauce, lemon juice, tamarind, and water. Mix well and boil for about 10 minutes. (I think the boiling is to dissolve the sugar that you're not going to use.) Add the peanut butter and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings. This would be when to add more sweetener. Simmer for about five minutes.
Peanut sauce can also be used with satay and many other curries. So good!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ordinary Day, Ordinary Life

January 19, 2012
Awake to NPR's Morning Edition, as usual, around 6:30 a.m. More blah blah blah about the revolting GOP. Good to learn Perry has finally done something smart: drop out before another humiliating debate. Doze. Radio quits at 7:20 a.m. signaling it's time to rise.

Check weight. Moderate low-carb regime makes for about one pound a week loss with little sacrifice. Make decaf. Can't handle leaded. Brew as usual, freshly ground, boiling water passing through a filter into insulated cup. Put teapot on for PK.

Check news online. Historic storm floods, ices, buries-in-snow Washington, parts of Oregon. Look out window. See small-scale flooding in orchard. Rain falling.
 Garden trenches are moats  every winter during prolonged and/or heavy rains.
No big deal. But is problem if crops are planted out there. Only garlic this year.
Marooned trailer will be there for a few months.
Prepare low-carb breakfast. Drag out frozen blackberries. Dump handful into bowl. Microwave on high one minute. Mix in Greek yogurt and a couple shakes of stevia. Top with homemade low-carb flax granola. (recipe below) Check Facebook while eating. See that Chris has survived yet another death-defying day in Zambia. Or Zimbabwe? Somewhere in Africa. Lose track.

Gear up mentally for yoga.  Meet friend in town to carpool to the funky Wimer Grange 8 miles into the countryside where Shanti holds forth Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Not like the yoga person parodied in this viral video. Instead she says: You think this yoga shit is easy? Ha! (smirks)
Her students pant, perspire, suffer. Return for more.

Limp home. Change sweaty top for Rotary meeting, but don't change all-purpose black stretch pants, perfect morning through evening—dancing, dining. hiking, yoga. Keep it simple with limited wardrobe.
Check solarium plant life. Geranium lookin' good.
Check greens in cold frame. Need thinning soon. 
Talk with friend at Rotary who has taken on clients I bid adieu to during past seven months of my client-by-client retirement process. After Rotary, she meets with my former (and favorite) long-term client to plan annual publication. Sigh. Smile.

Pick up materials for volunteer gig on behalf of WCST this weekend. Confer with organizer about how to get stuff to event in rain.

Visit 96-year-old mother, LaVone, who, two days ago learned her 92-year-old sister had died, and young pastor Evan from the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, who will help her through grief and into acceptance of the inevitable. Feel warm and good. Better than meeting with former client.
Spy on PK, who is scooting a wood stove into position
in his garage/shop. Retired four years. Always busy.
Get email from daughter-in-law. Reno is on fire again - five square miles.
A young man they know lost his wife soon after childbirth, left hospital alone, with infant son. Recall daughter-in-law's dicey birthing experience. Happy ending, but without excellent intervention, could have been tragic. Feel warm about her, son Quinn, grandson Noah. Tear-up.

Cook low-carb dinner: Thick pork chops in garlic/onion/vermouth/port/Creole mustard/cream sauce; steamed cauliflower with butter; green salad with chopped cabbage, peppers, avocados. Fried potatoes for PK. No suffering with low carb. But no potatoes, either.
Keep thinking about grieving young father and motherless child.

Best of the day to come, continue reading Cutting for Stone in cozy bed nest.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

No pasta, no bread, no sugar. A low-carb life rededicated.

I've resisted NY resolutions, but they keep coming at me. All online and print venues scream with January weight-loss plans and exercise programs. Have I ever resolved to lose weight and exercise? Of course! Only for about 40 years. Maybe more. I'm always nibbling away at poundage and at the pledge to get strong, flexible, and balanced. This year I thought, I'm not going there. I already know how to eat, how to keep fit.

Typical low-carb dinner: Soup with onions, garlic, kale, a few  beans, chicken and chicken broth, roasted green chilies, chipotle peppers, topped with avocado and a dollop of sour cream. Low-carb doesn't mean low-fat. The quesadilla on the side is a bit of a splurge as most small corn tortillas have 12-15 carbs.
But somehow, after an especially tempting and delectable holiday baking season, I have rededicated to a low-carb regime that began a decade ago, and that has kept me at a reasonable weight and good health without too much suffering or deprivation.

Unless, of course, I count the suffering and deprivation during my near-death experience in October 2002 and the subsequent circumstances that set me on this dietary lifestyle. As I wrote in 2005:
In October 2002, I accidentally lost 15 pounds. It was easy, and I didn’t have to do a thing except nearly die. This is not a weight-loss method I recommend, but it ultimately changed my life and the way I look at food. So I guess that like a lot of bad things that happen to good people, my illness can be viewed as a blessing and perhaps the world’s strangest route to low-carbohydrate nutrition. 
 I had just returned from three weeks in Nepal, a spectacular but terrifying third world country with its feet in putrid refuse and its eyes on the shining mountaintops. I carried back with me an evil hitchhiker, a virulent bacteria that multiplied exponentially and dumped toxins into my blood by the bucket load. 
After a few days of beating back a 104 fever with OTC remedies,  I ended up in the ER, weak and miserable beyond description. After misdiagnosis (and treatment) for malaria ensued, an ER doctor declared in a voice that I later realized was a bit peppy for the occasion, You're septic!
I had no idea what septic meant, which was good, although I was too sick to be scared. I was admitted to the hospital and lost consciousness almost immediately. 
The first, and, fortunately, the only, organ to fail was my kidneys. My loved ones offer sobering accounts of watching me puff up like a blowfish. My primary care doctor then, Dan Moline, M.D., pulled in infectious disease specialists and knocked himself out to find an antibiotic that would work, but nothing did. Fluids continued to seep out of capillaries and into tissues contributing to the blowfish effect. 
Dr. Moline prepared my family for the worst, but he refused to give up on me. He later told me that he stayed with me until 2:30 a.m. on the night he expected I would die, and then remembered a simple now out-of- favor treatment for kidney disease or failure: albumin infusion. The next morning he expected to see an empty bed, but there I was, sitting up in bed staring at my hideous arms, which looked like clown balloons and were too heavy to lift.
My kidneys had kicked back in, my capillaries were beginning to behave, and the fluids that had been pumped into my tissues for days began to drain. I had gained 70 pounds of fluid in less than a week.
Relocated from the ICU to a regular hospital room, I used my strange heavy arms to lift food to my mouth for the first time in a week. Hospital food! Bleah! Right off the bat, I was offered Ensure, a thick, sweet, nauseating concoction that coats the tongue like milk of magnesia. The first two Ensure ingredients are water and sugar. One cup of Ensure has 50 grams — approximately 12.5 teaspoons of sugar. I wasn’t paying attention to sugar grams back then, but knew that Ensure and some of the other “meals” that appeared on my bed tray were not doing me any good. (This later led to an early ah ha! moment: Most hospital dietitians and too many doctors are stuck in the dark ages about alternative approaches to nutrition.) 
Note: As I update this post in May 2016, I concede that Ensure has benefits. It helped keep my mother alive until her demise at 98, and a friend's mom, approaching 103, is on an Ensure diet.
With the catheter out, my main exercise was shuffling back and forth to the latrine as the stored fluids made their way through my restored  kidneys. Back home, I remained a frequent flyer to the bathroom. Each morning for a couple weeks I was rewarded at the scale with a one-to-three-pound overnight weight loss. Fun! 
I'd wanted to lose 15 or 20 pounds for years, but not badly enough to suffer deprivation.  I’d had it with yo-yo dieting, always regaining the five to 20 pounds I managed to lose. 
I'd shoved aside the fact that I weighed almost as much as I had when I was nine months pregnant with my first child (170 pounds), and told myself that wearing big tops over elastic- waist pants wasn’t such a bad fashion statement for a woman in her fifties. My body mass index, which, I knew nothing about at the time, was 26.5, putting me solidly into the overweight category. Nobody, especially me, was describing me as obese, but more like “she could stand to lose a few pounds.” Boy, was I in denial.
When the weight loss (and multiple nocturnal bathroom visits) finally stopped, I settled at 155 pounds, down 15  from my pre-Nepal weight. Yahoo! I thought. Now if I can just manage to keep it off.
Keeping weight under control wasn't quite as easy as I thought. After my medical crisis passed, I was back to preparing family meals as usual: lots of veggies, brown rice, baked potatoes, salads, and low-fat meats. Bacon was banned, and so was butter. But not Junior Mints, which were fat free. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty. Just ask all the people who gained weight and kept it on during decades of the low-fat nutrition craze, which still holds sway. Me? I'm a low-carb believer now, and have been known to proselytize.

All I need to do during the resolution time of year is to talk to myself about making a correction here and there.: Cut the bread, sugar, pasta, processed foods, cakes, cookies, and no sodas, ever.

So far, so good.
The low-carb burger. No bun, baby. Use a fork and a napkin.