Saturday, February 20, 2016

Road food, simple, delicious no-cook low-carb breakfasts

Breakfast-on-the-road real time, in the camper van. That's my favorite flaxseed and ground almond cereal with fresh blueberries and raspberries and a handful of freeze-dried strawberries topped by a generous splash of hemp milk. PK chose the flax granola atop plain yogurt with berries. Recipes below. 
We're on the road for a couple weeks, traveling Highway 1 along California's spectacular coast,  and then perhaps heading to Death Valley to witness a predicted "super bloom".  It's so great to be back to ordinary life after my (our) involuntary descent into cancer hell.  I am grateful that the fearful episode appears to be closed, at least for now. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Our current  trip is a consolation prize for having had  to cancel an adventure to Ecuador due to my joining the Cancer Club in late December. 

You may know how it is when an ugly unexpected crisis prompts a  life reset. What's really important, and what can I let slide?  Do I really want to cook breakfasts on the road? Or even at home, except for special occasions? I decided before this little excursion that I prefer no-muss, no fuss, and turned to two tried and true on-the-move options. The breakfast treats featured here  are make-ahead treats that, consumed with berries, are delicious, and meet my new standards: they have health-promoting and cancer-defeating properties. Not at all like the corn flakes or cocoa puffs or bran pellets or other slurried-and-extruded-in-the factory breakfast shapes with added chemicals and vitamins that most of us gobbled in childhood.
    Flax granola has been a favorite in ours house for at least a decade.  It's not low calorie but is definitely low-carb, and it tastes fabulous.  It isn't the kind of granola you pour into a bowl and eat like cereal. It's more like a topping for yogurt and fruit, and is also great atop a substantial smoothie. Not bad as a snack, either. 

Flax Granola - (sans oatmeal)
Adapted from Dana Carpender’s Every Calorie Counts cookbook 

This granola is high in fiber, protein, and healthy fat, but low in carbs. It is great with fruit and yogurt, sprinkled atop cottage cheese, or eaten alone as a crunchy snack. It has scads of ingredients, which require about 15 minutes to prep and assemble. Baking takes a couple hours. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

2 cups ground flax seed meal 
1/2 cup oat bran
3/4 cup vanilla whey protein powder
1/2 c Splenda or other sweetener (I skip this)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp, cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted 
1/3 cup real maple syrup (or sugar-free pancake syrup for lower-cal, lower-carb.) 
1/4 cup water
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted (or not. Doesn’t seem to matter.)
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup dried cranberries (add last, do not bake), Optional (dried cranberries add carbs)

Preheat oven to 250 Fahrenheit

Here's the first 10 or 11 (if using Splenda) ingredients baked into a crunchy
sheet to break into pieces and bake again with nuts and seeds, in the bowl.
  • In large bowl combine flax meal, oat bran, protein powder, Splenda, if using, sesame seeds, coconut, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well.
  • Melt the coconut oil and stir together with the syrup and water. Pour this mixture over the stuff in the mixing bowl and combine until it’s evenly dampened.
  • Spray a jelly roll pan with cooking spray or melted coconut oil, and turn the flax mixture into it. Press it into an even layer. Bake for an hour at 250 degrees F.
  • Pull from oven, and after loosening with a spatula, break the mixture into bite-sized clumps. Then stir the nuts and seeds with the clumps. Return the whole thing to the oven  for another 60 minutes, stirring once or twice, It should be lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool. Store in a tightly lidded container in a cool place.
Flax and Almond Hot Cereal
From Dana Carpender's 500 Low-Carb Recipes 
Did you once love cooked oatmeal and cinnamon? Try this. It actually tastes better, and contains lots of protein and healthy fat. 

1 cup ground flaxseeds 
1 cup ground almonds (I use my Cuisinart. Any food processor will do. It's noisy but effective.)
1/2 cup oat bran
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1/2 cup vanilla flavored whey protein powder (this adds a touch of sweetness as well as protein)
2 tsp cinnamon

Flaxseed meal is readily available for purchase. Ground almonds? Not so much, although almond flour seems ubiquitous. I grind whole almonds coarsely then roast at a low temperature (275) until fragrant and starting to get a tan, about 20 minutes. 

I usually double the recipe to save time later. The mix stays fresh refrigerated.

I LOVE this stuff.
Here it is, in all its simple glory: flaxseed meal, oat and wheat brans, whey protein powder, and, in the food processor, ground almonds ready to be roasted.
After grinding and roasting the almonds, mix all ingredients and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

To prepare -  see if you can handle this work load: 
Boil a cup of water, add as needed to 1/3 to 3/4 cup dry cereal mix. Wait a couple minutes to see if you want to add more hot water. Add your liquid of choice -  cream, almond, coconut or other "milks"  and berries sweetened, perhaps, with stevia, maple syrup or honey. 

NOTE:  Start your day on the road (or at home) with the simple breakfasts above, but think also about preparing easy camping (or everyday) dinners in advance. A post coming soon about what we carry in our tiny freezer that translates into quick and easy on-the-move dinners. And also! Something good from an e-ffing box!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Back from cancer's brink - 10 lessons learned

Number Five on the lessons-learned list: food is the best medicine.  But it can also be poison. I knew this, but the lesson was reinforced in recent weeks. Above are ingredients for a delicious spring avocado, nectarine salad. 

Lesson 1-  We suffer in common

Having cancer—or any deadly disease—sucks energy and spirit and casts doubt on the secret belief that you're special; you're not going to get a killer diseases. You're going to be fine forever. You're not going to die. Of course, you know you'll die. But death is an abstraction. Even as you age, dying seems, somehow, distant.

So when a dread diagnosis arrives, the dreamy delusion that somehow, you'll be taken out in healthy old age by a lightning strike, or pass quietly as you sleep, dissolves. Or the belief that you'll be overcome by a sudden realization at 100 or so, that you don't want to live anymore, that you'll slide, smiling, into a garden strewn with rose petals with goldfinches feasting on your nearby chard, as they do, whether you're breathing or not.

Denial is powerful, but is eventually trumped by reality. My month-long episode with way-too-real melanoma, which was diagnosed as "invasive" and "metastatic", catapulted me into the Cancer Club.

Although I admit, I was in denial the whole time. A month isn't long enough to process that diagnosis. Processed or not, I had to deal with it immediately. Set up an appointment with a surgeon. Have a chest X-ray and blood tests.  Have surgery.

Then wait. Wait for biopsy results. From the time I learned I had melanoma until I accidentally got my biopsy results a few days early, I didn't know whether I'd be delivered from evil or macerated in cancer treatment machinery and spit out the other end in a cremation urn. It was a a month of living dangerously, but not in an adventurous way.

The biopsy results were in my favor. I don't need to fill a cremation urn quite yet. Whew.

But whilst thinking such thoughts, and sharing them here, I heard from cancer survivors, or those currently raging against it. I was humbled and touched by kindness, compassion, advice, wisdom, encouragement, and so on.

  •  A stranger sent me a link to the video that was shown at his wife's funeral; she'd died of melanoma.
  •  A woman with advanced breast cancer shared her travails as a single woman without resources or an advocate, and who believes she's at a serious disadvantage in getting the best care. 
  • Another breast cancer warrior is augmenting conventional treatments with healing foods, fungi, and herbs, and I have high hopes the combination will result in many more years for her.

So many stories. So much angst. So much ambivalence about the so-called blessings of living in the cancer danger zone. Some patients and survivors say they're grateful for their cancer "journey" because of all the good people they met along the way, and the life lessons learned.

Some things I'd rather learn by other means.

Lesson 2 - Suffering doesn't make us special; we can help one another

Note to self: Who are you to complain? So you had a helluva scare, but think of all the people who wage cancer "battles" for years and endure terrible treatments and don't even make it. And even if they do, there are continuing treatments and hair loss and pain and then the tests to see if the treatments worked and the waiting. Oh, the waiting.

During the worst of my month-long ordeal, I was an insignificant speck of fearfulness afloat in a sea of suffering, which can't really be quantified. Was mine worse than yours? It doesn't matter. People in crisis get self-centered, thinking they're alone, but they're not. Let's cast one another rope and hope, OK? And if there's somebody who's in no condition to reach out, let's make sure plenty of ropes are cast into his or her life. During a crisis, each act of compassion, caring and kindness matters. 

Lesson 3 - People who have had cancer never trust that it won't come back. 

Me included. Technically, my bout with melanoma ended when the after-surgery biopsy results came back benign. I just saw on Facebook a couple survivors rejoicing that their recent scans  are clean, as they have for at least 10 years. I'll be having dermatologist check ups every three months until—when? Once a member of the Cancer Club, always a member. A seed of vulnerability has been planted in my brain. It's not a seed whose growth I wish to fertilize. 

Lesson 4 - Life is short and time is passing too quickly to waste on holding grudges, being petty, picking fights, talking trash, or taking any person or any thing for granted. Be nice. Love. Figure out what you want to do or to be, and make it happen. It's never too late until.....

Lesson 5 - Luck cannot be overestimated.

I am deeply grateful for the little black spot under a toenail that a couple years ago propelled me to a dermatologist. It turned out to be nothing, but he found a basal cell carcinoma. When I returned to get the stitches removed from the biopsy, he suggested I see him in a year. That was how, that in December 2014, I made a dermatology appointment for December 2015.

The year flew. Then in early fall 2015, something on my lower right flank (lower side back) started itching. I couldn't see it, but looking with a mirror, I saw a tiny pinkish thing. Pinkish. Tiny.

Note: During scary Internet diving after melanoma horror entered my life, I discovered that itching, or pain, can be danger signs for melanoma, as can almost any change in an existing mole, or the appearance of a new one. 

But with my little pink spot, alarms did not ring.  images of typical melanomas.

If I'd waited, the harmless-looking but devious spot would have eventually drilled down far enough for melanoma cells to be whisked off to the nearest lymph nodes and then......

I got lucky. The main luck being that I kept my routine check-up with the dermatologist.

Lesson 6 - You can make your own luck with prevention. If you don't, you're an idiot.

I know this because I'm an idiot. I KNOW that preventive screenings are imperative; I wrote about them for years during my copywriting career, which included healthcare clients.

But I have not been religious about getting my chest units squeezed or my rear end reamed.

I got lucky with the early melanoma diagnosis, but also with a first-time colonoscopy about 10 years ago, during which a precancerous lesion was removed. I'm an idiot right now because I'm overdue for a colonoscopy and also a mammogram. But I'm on it! Appointments have been made.

Part of the apprehension about screenings is that "something" will be found. I know because of my own illogical fears. But my gratitude about having melanoma diagnosed before it spread is deep, and I'm committed to being a grown up. I will have screenings from now on, and schedule them in advance so I can't escape. How about you?

Is this what happens when you turn 70? No. This is what happens when you're born. Routine medical care, according to requirements of age, is a privilege and, we hope, a right.

Lesson 7 - Your primary care relationship can be your lifeline.

When I was in serious anguish about biopsy results following surgery, I happened to stop by the small local clinic, where I'd decided to sign on as a patient. When facing a killer illness, you need a medical insider in your corner, someone with access to your test results and who will go to bat for you to get the best specialists or whatever you need. Someone you know and trust. Someone who gives a damn. As if to underscore this idea, here's what happened when I went to the clinic. Also during that visit, I met my future primary care provider.

Lesson 8 - You need an advocate.

A friend who advocated for her husband during nearly five years of his cancer-fighting marathon described herself as a bulldog. She was not letting go of whatever control a patient, or a patient's  advocate, can have. When you're dealing with a complex disease that's trying to kill you, you must have some degree of trust in the medical world, but don't forfeit your patient rights, your right to know what' going on. Insist on being informed ASAP after test results are available. Every medical office has a patient bill of rights. Hold em to it. YOU are the boss of your health information.

Lesson 9 - Food can help prevent cancer and other diseases, and also cure them. 

I took a crash course in the food/cancer topic during the past month, and my interest is keen and ongoing. Dr. Mike credits food, fungi, acupuncture, exercise and other alternative approaches to defeating his stage 4 esophageal cancer. He also had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.

I also learned that there's a vast network of people who embrace food and natural remedies to prevent and  treat disease, cancer included. A terrible tension exists between them and some in the medical establishment; But there are also cross-overs from the world of modern medicine into natural healing. It's fascinating, intense, and food for thought.

Case in point:  A 15-minute TED talk by a cancer researcher that Dr. Mike recommends. Spoiler: Studies have shown that "super foods" have as much or more capacity to shrink tumors than does chemotherapy. Check out the graphs in the following. Do you have 15 minutes?

Can We Eat to Starve Cancer - TED talk by William Li, 

William Li presents a new way to think about treating cancer and other diseases: anti-angiogenesis, preventing the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumor. The crucial first (and best) step: Eating cancer-fighting foods that cut off the supply lines and beat cancer at its own game.

Cancer researcher
William Li heads the Angiogenesis Foundation, a nonprofit that is re-conceptualizing global disease fighting. Full bio
What's the big-time take-away?

Lesson 10- Don't eat crap food. 

Turn away from refined carbs - sugar, especially refined grains, bread, pasta, processed foods. Eat whole foods, and heed the 11th commandment: get your five to seven servings of fruits and veggies every single day. Here's a list of top cancer-fighting, cancer-prevention foods. But I think Dr. Li's list is better. Gotta watch the TED talk. 

My daily uptake of antioxidants has spiked, and I'm also dosing with turmeric and local mushrooms cooked into a tincture by the owner of the local herb shop.  He has an entire wall filled with his New Moon extracts. (Note to self: write a post about this, and the elderly mushroom guru. And Mike Amaranthus, who credits fungi and cancer-fighting foods with the fact he's alive and healthy, loving every day.) 

I'm going to quit for now. A month in cancer-limbo-hell slammed me, but I'm coming out of the fear-induced fog with gratitude and renewed commitment to healthy eating and making my own luck.

Don't forget to watch this 15-minute TED talk. Do it!!! Please.

Earlier Cancer Club Posts
Welcome to the Cancer Club - learning the terrible truth
Beautifully Benign! But how about more timely results?