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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Braque Shocks Picasso

"Fruit Dish and Glass", Braque's first papier collé (1912)

"I felt a great shock and it was an even greater shock to Picasso when I showed it to him."

~Braque, on his first papier collé, "Fruit Dish and Glass", possibly the first ever collage

Source: The New Yorker: "Cubist Masterworks at the Met."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How to Eat--and Enjoy--Sugar

I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes nearly ten years ago, on my honeymoon in Barcelona. If you Google the phrase “Honeymoon Horror Story”, my essay about the prelude to this diagnosis (I was hit by a car) appears on the first page results. I’m perversely proud of this fact. But really, I do not remember my honeymoon as a “horror story." My diagnosis saved my life and set my path. With daily insulin injections, I recovered my health and transformed my lifestyle.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve performed a rigorous daily experiment upon myself: each day, I’ve tested my body’s response to the sugars in foods (up to 12 times a day), and I’ve calibrated my insulin needs and lifestyle to best suit optimal health. I believe my experience might prove instructive for others--especially as we enter the holiday season with its promise of cookies and candy and cakes.

1. Sugar (in most forms) is not necessarily unhealthy. We all need sugar to thrive. Glucose, specifically, is the optimal form of energy for the human body. Every cell, every bacterium uses glucose for energy. The trouble begins when we consume more sugar than our bodies need. If you received your sugar (fructose) only from vegetables and fruits, you’d consume about 15 grams per day—a far cry from most diets.

2. So how much sugar do you need? The answer to this question is specific to each individual, depending on your relative body type and activity level, but most estimates say that the human brain needs about 120 grams of sugar per day. If you're of the scientific persuasion, peruse this handy PDF from Dr. Brandt of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Dr. Brandt says:

"The brain uses about 120 grams of glucose daily: 60-70% of the total body glucose metabolism. The brain has little stored glucose, and no other energy stores. Brain function begins to become seriously affected when glucose levels fall below ~40 mg/dL."

There is much debate about this requirement, but for our purposes, using 120 grams as a baseline for 70% of the body’s needs, we see an estimate of 174 grams of sugar per day. This can come in the form of carbohydrates, which are converted to sugar (my favorite bread recommendation provides 17 grams of sugar per slice) or the pure sugar found in juice or soda (a 12 oz. Coke Class provides 39 grams of sugar).

3. Sugars exist in apparently healthy foods: Apples. Brown rice. Sweet potatoes. All carbohydrate foods are eventually metabolized as sugar. From a limited perspective, the sugar you receive from a bowl of grapes might be more than the sugar you receive from a Coke Classic. Of course, in vegetables and fruits, sugar is mixed with fiber and beneficial phytonutrients, which can potentially moderate any negative metabolic effects. The best way to consume sugar, of course, is to eat vegetables--like the winter squash dish below.  In any case, it isn’t that sugar itself is bad -- it’s excessive sugar that harms health.

4. Sugar that is not used is stored for later use. Any meal or snack with carbohydrates generates a rise in blood glucose. To adjust for this rise, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream, which lowers blood glucose levels. Insulin is essentially a storage hormone, evolved over millions of years, to store the excess calories from carbohydrates in the form of fat.

5. If you don’t use it you gain it: The upshot? Not matter what type of carbohydrate or sugar you eat, if you do not match your sugar requirements with your sugar consumption, you will likely gain weight.

With this in mind, I think it’s important to remember that sugar can exert a powerful and potentially positive emotional effect. So how can we modulate our holiday sugar consumption so that we can enjoy our favorites while still enjoying our health?

1. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise: To my point of view, there is no better way to truly enjoy a potentially sugar-heavy dish (like"perfect" mashed potatoes) than to truly earn it through exercise. When you exercise (especially intensely) your muscles become more efficient at absorbing sugar for a period of 24 hours or more.

2. Enjoy every bite! If you’re eating sugar this holiday season, make sure you enjoy each and every bite. Try to be conscientious about what and how you’re eating. All cookies are not created equal. And all eating experiences are not created equal. Save yourself for the best cookie and enjoy it with the appreciation and gusto it deserves.

3. Eat the real deal: More and more evidence now reveals that sugar is actually less harmful than sugar alternatives.

***

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

This recipe is adapted from the Cook's Illustrated mashed potatoes in The New Best Recipe. The recipe calls for peeling the potatoes by hand, but a ricer works wonderfully, producing the most light, airy potatoes imaginable.

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
4 tablespoons grassfed butter, like Kerrygold Butter
1/2 cup coconut milk (full-fat is best)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Place the potatoes whole in a large saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 35-45 minutes. Drain. Reserve pot for mashing. Meanwhile, warm the coconut milk in a medium saucepan over low heat. Season the coconut milk with sea salt, and black pepper to taste.

While still warm, cut each potato in half, then peel the skin with fingers or a small paring knife. (Alternately, and much better, place the potatoes, skin-on, into a ricer or food mill.) Drop the peeled potatoes back into the pot you used for boiling. Gently mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add butter and mix. Add the warmed coconut milk, and gently season with additional salt and pepper, adjusting seasonings to taste. Serve.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Squash Risotto

I always get depressed in December because squash season is almost over. So I grasp at the last of season and try to make something immaculate. I originally developed this recipe for Whole Foods Market. It's published here.

4 acorn squash
3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
6 cups water or gluten-free vegetable broth
1 cup finely chopped leeks
2 1/2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped sage, divided
2/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme 

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut each acorn squash lengthwise in half (from tip to stem) then scoop out and discard any seeds and stringy flesh. Brush insides of acorn squash with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt. Place acorn squash, cut side down, in a baking pan and roast until tender but still firm, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, start the risotto by bringing the broth just to a simmer in a small pot over medium high heat. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy 3-quart pot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add butternut squash and cook for 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until grains are fragrant. Add wine and stir constantly until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth to rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost completely absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, making sure that most of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Continue until rice is almost tender, but still firm to the bite, about 20 to 25 minutes total. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the sage and season with salt.

Meanwhile, put pine nuts into a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Stir in thyme, remaining 1/2 teaspoon sage and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

When acorn squash is cooked, remove from oven. Reduce heat to 300°F. Carefully turn squash over and fill each cavity with about 1/2 cup of the risotto. Gently press about 2 tablespoons of the pine nut mixture on top of the risotto in each squash half. Return squash to oven and bake until topping begins to brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Squash Risotto [Source: Whole Foods Market]

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Recent Obsessions: Gustin's Fabrics

I learned about Gustin from Put This On, the most literate and thoughtful style website this side of the Pacific Ocean. Gustin employs a zero-waste, direct-to-consumer business model (much like Everlane) that cuts out the middle man. What makes Gustin unique (or relatively unique) is its crowdsourcing business model: they don't make any product without appropriate funding.

In Gustin's own words:

So how does it work? We design boutique-quality handmade menswear. We create a campaign for an item, you back it. Once the number of items backed reaches the campaign goal, the item is successfully funded and we start production.

When do I pay? When you hit “Back it!”, you’re not paying immediately. We’ll validate your credit card number initially, and charge you when the item reaches its funding goal. If the item reaches its funding deadline without reaching its goal, you will not be charged.

***

Gustin is known for their raw, selvedge denim jeans, but they make plenty of other products, including chinos, jackets, and bags. I have yet to back a project (honestly, I've been discouraged by the complaints on Style Forum), but I've followed the brand for a year, and I've really enjoyed looking at their unique fabrics.

I would've backed the Japan Azure (below), but it was funded within an hour! In any case, I've posted a few of my favorite fabrics below. If you're looking a unique variety of colors and
textures, Gustin is your place.

Postal Herringbone: an Italian raw selvedge denim

An indigo plant dye chambray shirt fabric from Japan
A Japanese double indigo fabric for a dobby shirt. The swaths reveal how the shirt wears. 

A peach blue plaid cotton poplin shirt fabric from Japan
The Japan Azure: For me, this color evokes the vintage blues of JAWS (below). I love it.

At least five blues here

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Dictatorship of Likes

"Culture appears more monolithic than ever, with a few gigantic corporations—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon—presiding over unprecedented monopolies. Internet discourse has become tighter, more coercive. Search engines guide you away from peculiar words. (“Did you mean . . . ?”) Headlines have an authoritarian bark (“This Map of Planes in the Air Right Now Will Blow Your Mind”). “Most Read” lists at the top of Web sites imply that you should read the same stories everyone else is reading. Technology conspires with populism to create an ideologically vacant dictatorship of likes."

~Alex Ross, writing in The New Yorker, on "Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the critique of pop culture"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cassandro El Exótico: "Your Ego is Not Your Amigo"

“You know who I fight in the ring? Cassandro. The guy who needs to be famous. Your ego is not your amigo. It’s Saúl against Cassandro up there. I had to become humble.”

~The Mexican luchador, Saul Armendáriz, on his famed exótico persona, Cassandro.

Source: The New Yorker: "The Man Without a Mask."

Lucha Libre Poster [Source]

Cassandro [Source]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Suppose I Won't Deactivate my Facebook Account

We've all experienced that moment when, fed up with our Facebook experience, we think, "That's it, I'm deactivating!" Some of us actually do this. Others, like me, stick around for the next awesome post--like this photo from my friend, the writer, Rachel Pollon.


More Facebook:

"The Facebook Lists"

"Jamaal May's Facebook Status Updates" 

"First Grade Summer Journal"

& some Stonehenge:

"Stonehenge and the Promise of Spring"



Monday, September 8, 2014

The Warming Foods of Autumn

For some, the end of summer is a depressing time. If you’re like me, you associate summer with youth, that unbearably exciting season of limitless play.

Even as an adult, the return of school in September inspires within me a strange, sad mopiness. If I’m not careful, a mere errant wind, hauling the smell of scorched leaves, might crush me.

And yet, there is always that day, that inevitably gorgeous day on the nib of summer and fall, when, browsing the local market, I come upon the season’s first butternut squash; when, holding the squash in my hand, I recall the soulful thrill of butternut squash soup.

And so, after days of thinking, “I can’t go on,” I look at this simple gourd as nothing less than a total cure, and I say to myself, “I’ll go on. Soup will save me.”

A variation of my butternut squash soup for Whole Foods Market

To me, a seasonal soup is the absolute best way to eat the season. A light Gazpacho or Carrot & Almond soup is well-suited for the spring and summer months, but the cooler months compel opulent, humble soups: Butternut Squash Soup (recipe below), Chickpea Soup with Saffron and Mushroom-Almond Garnish, or Sweet Potato and Fennel Soup with Saffron.

Soup also offers a template for combining ingredients tailored for certain health conditions or body constitutions. A light miso soup offers refreshment to a sluggish constitution. Butternut squash soup, on the other hand, soothes a cool constitution like my own.

Most soup recipes are easily adaptable. With practice, you can tailor your soup to you and your family’s distinct emotional and nutritional needs. I add turmeric to my butternut squash soup, for example, because it lends an emotionally uplifting, vibrant color to the dish; but turmeric is also autoimmune supportive. Additionally, instead of olive oil, I add extra virgin coconut oil to my soup—not only for its fragrance, which reminds me of a certain surf shop in Stone Harbor, but because it is rich in antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral lauric acid.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What do we need to make the country grow?

Well, my telephone rang, it would not stop
It's President Kennedy callin' me up
He said, "My friend, Bob, 
what do we need to make the country grow?"
I said, "My friend, John, "Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg 
Sophia Loren"
Country'll grow.

~Bob Dylan, "I Shall Be Free"

Sophia Loren [Image via: Dappered]

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Man Fined for Pretending to be a Ghost

"The witnesses reported the group engaging in rowdy behaviour and one of them throwing their arms in the air and saying 'woooooo'."

 ~A Hampshire police spokesman, after local witnesses complained about a man "pretending to be a ghost and other rowdy behavior in a cemetery."

Source:"Man fined for pretending to be ghost in Portsmouth cemetery."

Anyone else excited for Halloween, 2014?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Now That's One Badass Blazer

[Source: Esquire]

Monday, September 1, 2014

Goodbye, Summer

Wooden Puzzle by Antonio Vitali [Source: An Ambitious Project Collapsing]

More goodbyes to summer:

A poem: "We Will Never Die"

An essay: "Be still, my shark-filled heart."


My daughter, Ella, dancing in an Icelandic toy store: July 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

R.I.P. Robin Williams

"There’s three things in this world that you need: Respect for all kinds of life, a nice bowel movement on a regular basis, and a navy blazer." 

~Robin Williams, The Fisher King  

[Via: Put This On]

Friday, August 8, 2014

Picasso in His Studio

[Source: OVADIA & SONS]

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Shape-Up: Day Five

As Healthy Eating Specialist for Whole Foods Market, in North Wales, PA, I am hosting a Seven-Day Summer Shape-Up, a gentle and easy-to-follow "cleansing" program. Today is the fifth day of the program.

Day 5: Friday, June 27: Eat only fresh, raw fruits and vegetables and/or lightly steamed vegetables or baked sweet potatoes or potatoes. Drink only clean, purified water and/or gently cleansing tea. (Limit fruit to 2-3 servings per day).

Today we continue the challenge of eating only fruits and vegetables for one more day. As we look ahead to a more expansive diet, we'd all do well to heed Paul Pritchford's wisdom from Healing With Whole Foods:

"When breaking...all fasts, the most important rule is to not overeat. The success of a fast depends on how well it is broken, for the desire to binge can be overwhelming. If one immediately puts all the excesses back in that came out during the fast, any benefit is doubtful."

This is the reason we've developed a seven-day fast that includes two days of gentle eating at the beginning and end of the fast. I know from my own experience that breaking a fast in the wrong way can not only negate the benefits, but also cause serious problems.

I broke my first fast, a five day raw fruit and vegetable fast, with a mixing bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and cold whole milk. I'm not joking. I ate the cereal with a wooden mixing spoon in a state of manic glee. My wife (girlfriend at the time), Karen, stood above me, begging me to stop:

"You're ruining everything."

I felt sick for days after: sick in my gut and head, so angry at myself for my idiotic indiscretion.

To honor (and subvert) my former idiocy, I now eat my salads out of mixing bowls.

My friend Steve Pyle offers a more reasonable, yet no less insatiable, portrait of breaking a fast with a pomegranate in his essay, "On Cleansing and Fasting":

"I must have looked like a monster.

I was sitting in the front seat of my car, parked at a fire hydrant alongside a busy Bronx sidewalk. I had a crazed look in the eye, my face seemingly smeared with blood, dripping from the chin. Teeth gnashing, I rolled down the window to spit out a mouthful of carnage, trailing a line of saliva from my bottom lip to the curb. People on the sidewalk took a wide berth of my car—afraid to look too closely, afraid they might see the scattered, half-eaten limbs of children strewn across the back seat.

Afraid I might eat them too.

I was only eating a pomegranate, barehanded, with no napkin or utensils. I forgot to get them from the guy at the fruit stand.

It was the fifth day of a week-long cleansing fast. I was sucking out the juice, spitting whole mouthfuls of seeds into the street. At the time, I was too delirious with hunger, too high from fasting to care what I looked like. I was only concentrating on the taste of the juice in my mouth: a supernova of sweet, a cataclysmic explosion on my starved palate.

I had never tasted a pomegranate like this before."


***

Fasting sharpens your senses, especially your sense of taste. In my own essay about type-1 diabetes, I detailed my first taste of honey after an extreme fast:

"I tasted pure honey for the first time one summer at the age of twenty at Miller's food store in Lancaster. By "pure" I mean that I ate the honey without any accompaniment whatsoever. It was merely a drop, an accident really: I had spilled the tiniest amount while opening the jar and, without thinking, I licked it up. At the time, I had not eaten for three days—I was in the midst of a three-day water and lemon fast—and this isolated taste of honey was the most unexpected and pleasurable food experience I could have imagined."

If you've followed the outline of this Summer Shape-Up, you might be experiencing this pleasure now; or perhaps you will experience it tomorrow, when you eat your first non-fruit or vegetable food.

Just remember: Take it slow. Be gentle. Chew your food thoroughly.Try not to eat too much food at once. And stick to tomorrow's outline:

Day 6: Saturday, June 28: Avoid all wheat, dairy, processed sugar, and grains. Drink plenty of clean, purified water.

If you have any questions about tomorrow, please email me: sethpollins@gmail.com.

And if you get a chance, please come see me at the Ambler Farmers' Market. I'll be there all day teaching kids' cooking classes.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer Shape-Up: Day Four

As Healthy Eating Specialist for Whole Foods Market, in North Wales, PA, I am hosting a Seven-Day Summer Shape-Up, a gentle and easy-to-follow "cleansing" program. Today is the fourth day of the program.

Day 4: Thursday, June 26: Eat only fresh, raw fruits and vegetables and/or lightly steamed vegetables or baked sweet potatoes or potatoes. Drink only clean, purified water and/or gently cleansing tea. (Limit fruit to 2-3 servings per day).

Today we continue the challenge of eating only fruits and vegetables for two more days.

In my experience, the second day of a fruit and vegetable fast is often the hardest. Anecdotal reports across the Internet seem to agree with this view. Generally speaking, the first days of any diet are considered the hardest.

I don't say this discourage you, of course, but to simply prepare you for a potentially challenging day.  And just remember: tomorrow is the final day. You only need to make it to Saturday morning, when you are free, within reason, to begin eating a more expansive diet. (We will talk about "breaking your fast" tomorrow).

Today, especially, you might find yourself bothered by hunger pangs or cravings for certain foods. In my experience with fasting, I typically begin to dream about food on the second or third day. Once, in the midst of a Master Cleanse, I found myself dreaming nightly of bananas.

Do not ignore your hunger. If you feel hungry, eat. If you feel you must eat more than fruits and vegetables, eat nuts. But moreover, do not ignore your hunger because, in a real sense, this feeling is exactly why you've found yourself here, now, in this moment.

We asked these questions before, during our 28-Day Challenge:

Why do we fast?

For that matter, why do we eat?

Why do develop cravings for food? It isn't always food that we crave. What is it then?

By examining your hunger as it occurs, in the moment, you might discover new answers to these questions.


I stopped eating wheat nearly ten years ago--a decision that irrevocably improved my health. I did not come upon the decision easily. In fact, I believe I needlessly suffered years of symptoms simply because I told myself I'd never, ever stop eating wheat.

Why? Well, so much of my experience with food had been determined by my love of wheat. I had so many positive associations with wheat; so many joyful moments. In fact, I date my true love affair with food to a precise moment in Florence, Italy, when I discovered my first crepe.

As I wrote five years ago on FoodVibe:

"My life as a cook commenced at the age of twenty-one, on a curb in Florence. It was a warm afternoon in early April and I had just discovered an open-air creperie on one of the hidden streets around the San Lorenzo market. Poking my head under the blue awning, I ordered a crepe with Belgian chocolate. A greasy, good-looking woman with a full mouth poured the batter onto a cooking stone, spread the batter thin with her spatula, and flipped the crepe onto another stone. Fluid in her movements, she barely paid attention as she spread the chocolate on the crepe, as the butter sizzled and melted on the stone.

I paid for the crepe and sat on the curb where a line of students were laughing and waiting. I took a bite. Suddenly, powerfully, I was stirred. I took another bite, a wide mouthed chomp of pure boldness. Chocolate oozed onto my lips. The crepe was delicious, perhaps the most delicious crepe in Florence—no, in the world! I looked at the greasy crepe lady. She certainly was good-looking. Suddenly, I felt an inexplicable urge: I wanted to make my own crepe. And I knew only this: it must be the most delicious crepe in the world.

I'm still working on it. Ten years later, I have yet to reproduce the most delicious crepe in the world. But the pursuit has inspired me. I just can't shake the indomitable bug that bit me that afternoon: the desire to create food.

That afternoon, I walked back to my pensioni, burdened with flour, fresh eggs, and a handful of chocolate chips. I spent several hours in the kitchen, trying to create, or rather re-create, the perfect crepe. Of course, I failed. And yet I did not suffer the sorrow of my failure. Later, lying in my bed, stuffed with batter and chocolate, I felt absolutely happy: I had spent the afternoon immersed in a creative venture, and the experience had vivified me.

This is the joy of cooking: the creative venture. I'm a writer. I'm also a cook. Both are forms of creative expression. Often, to me, cooking is the most powerful form of creative expression—an expression of love for those you cook for. When you mix the batter for a crepe, you are really writing a love poem."

***

When I stopped eating wheat, I felt as if I had lost this person--this inspired, young man.

It took me nearly a year to understand that, in fact, I had only lost the crepe--or, in any case, future crepes. Everything else--the boldness, the desire to create food, the joy--remained.

It might've taken me a year to understand this, yet I felt the benefits of avoiding wheat within a day. This experience--as well as the experience of so many others--has taught me that we often hold onto ways of eating that no longer serve our needs. We do so because we're in thrall of our former lives, all those moments that once gave us happiness.

A moment is not simply about a crepe, though.

And, of course, we change. Our bodies change. Our emotions change. Our associations evolve.

So: How do you feel now?

In the spirit of now, I'd like to offer a selection from Leaves of Grass, perhaps my favorite section of the entire poem.

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself: Part 44

It is time to explain myself—let us stand up.

What is known I strip away,
I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown.

The clock indicates the moment—but what does eternity indicate?

We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers,
There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them.

Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.

I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Were mankind murderous or jealous upon you, my brother, my sister?
I am sorry for you, they are not murderous or jealous upon me,
All has been gentle with me, I keep no account with lamentation,
 (What have I to do with lamentation?)

I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I an encloser of things to be.

My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly travel'd, and still I mount and mount.

Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon.

 Long I was hugg'd close—long and long.

Immense have been the preparations for me,
Faithful and friendly the arms that have help'd me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.

For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it
     with care.

All forces have been steadily employ'd to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer Shape-Up: Day Three

As Healthy Eating Specialist for Whole Foods Market, in North Wales, PA, I am hosting a Seven-Day Summer Shape-Up, a gentle and easy-to-follow "cleansing" program. Today is the third day of the program.

Day 3: Wednesday, June 25: Eat only fresh, raw fruits and vegetables and/or lightly steamed vegetables or baked sweet potatoes or potatoes. Drink only clean, purified water and/or gently cleansing tea. (Limit fruit to 2-3 servings per day).

Today we meet the challenge of eating only fruits and vegetables for three days.

If, in fact, this diet feels too challenging for you, I suggest adding small amounts of fats, like nuts (1/8 cup per meal) or coconut milk. Remember, too, fresh olives are a fruit.

You might also add additional protein foods to lunch or dinner: 4 oz. of lean protein, like chicken breast or wild cod, or 4-6 oz. tempeh braised in coconut milk and spices, or 1/2 black beans or adzuki beans. 

A Shape-Up participant, Jane, asked, "Can we use small amounts of oil for our salads and steamed vegetables?"

In theory, of course, you can eat whatever you like. This program is designed to gently guide you through seven days of light and healthful eating. If you feel that the design is too rigid--if you find yourself ravenously hungry--please add additional foods to suit your tastes and temperament.

If you do use oil, however, I suggest sticking to small amounts (1-2 teaspoons per meal) of raw extra virgin olive, raw extra virgin avocado oil, or unrefined nut or seed oils like sesame oil. For your vegetables, you might also use apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or wheat free tamari or mirin.

In short, if a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar help you stay the course--well, then, I say, "Do it!"

Another challenge with this sort of diet is boredom.

Most of us typically do not spend much time preparing fruit and vegetable dishes. If you're like me, for example, your tendency might be to treat your vegetables simply. Today, I'll steam my vegetables and toss them with my avocado dipping sauce. That's it.

For inspiration, browse Whole Foods Market's "Healthy Eating" recipes. Avocado and Grapefruit Salad is simple and healthy. Or how about a Carrot Dressing for your vegetables?

My friend, Candy Calderon, a health coach and recipe extraordinaire, offers plenty of inspiration on her Facebook and Instragram pages. Both of her recipes below use small amounts of oil, yet otherwise emphasize the elegant simplicity of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Persimmon & Avocado Caprese Salad

Persimmons stand in for tomatoes and avocados for mozzarella in this Asian take on a classic Italian appetizer.

2 teaspoon unrefined sesame oil
1 ½ teaspoon tamari
2 persimmons, sliced
1 avocado, halved and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Whisk together sesame oil and tamari in a small bowl. Set aside.

Arrange avocados and persimmons slices in overlapping pattern on serving plates. Drizzle with sesame dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using).

Enjoy!

Candy's Persimmon and Avocado Caprese Salad


Mango Avocado Salad 

If you're looking for more sustenance, and feel that you need extra protein, you might try my Mango, Avocado, and Black Bean Salad. However, Candy's recipe below is both beautiful and sustaining--a perfect lunch salad.


2 ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped
1 large avocado, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves

After preparing the mangoes and avocado, simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Enjoy!

Candy's Mango and Avocado Salad: Gorgeous!

Open Emails!

If during the program you have any questions, please take advantage of the "open-email" policy: email me at sethpollins@gmail and I will try to return your email within a few hours. Or please feel free to leave a comment below!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Want Flawless Skin? Skip the Soap!

For the first thirty-two years of my life I suffered skin problems: daily bouts with acne, monthly eczema, and seasonal seborrheic dermatitis. Then I stopped washing my face—and my skin problems disappeared. For four years now, I’ve used only one “product” on my skin—yogurt, with added probiotics—and for four years I’ve lived without the slightest hint of my former blemishes.

I only discovered this novel treatment after experiencing a horrid, three-month bout with perioral dermatitis—“POD” in Internet parlance. Wikipedia's description of the condition is pretty accurate to my experience:

"Perioral dermatitis...is skin disease characterized by multiple small...papules, pustules and vesicles which are localized to the perioral skin (around the mouth)."

Papules. Pustules. Vesicles.

Such hideous words.

I'd tried many different approaches to treating this condition, both conventional and natural, including extra virgin coconut oil, Balmex, sensitive face washes, and antibiotic gel. Each morning, I woke with the hope that somehow, miraculously, my POD had disappeared. And each morning, I felt demoralized by my first glance in the mirror.

Vanity aside, it's objectively hard to face the world with a face full of papules, pustules, and vesicles. After three months of this heartache, I seriously considered my dermatologist's first recommendation: a six-week course of internal antibiotics.

And yet, even as I considered the antibiotics, I did not give up my search for a natural cure. As I wrote here four years ago:

"When faced with a health challenge, I read every bit of information available on-line and in print…What I learned about POD…is that it's often a result of skin sensitivities. On my favored message board, Earth Clinic, many people suggested a simple cure for POD: don't do anything. Don't use any soap. Don't use anything. Maybe just a little apple cider vinegar. Or yogurt."

The idea seemed so ludicrously simple, so antithetical to my need to do, that I did not take it seriously. (I wished I'd known then what I know now about bacteria and skin health). In any case, after three months, feeling confused by my myriad treatments, and frankly just exhausted by my relentless need to do, I decided to give up, to do nothing.

So I did exactly this. Abandoning the costly skin treatments I’d relied upon for years, I washed my face with nothing but water.

This approach seemed to help, but I did not see quick results. So, as a gentle addition, I started applying yogurt masks three times a day (for up to 30 minutes each application).

My POD improved dramatically in a week, and disappeared entirely within three weeks.

Since that time, I’ve come to believe that my skin problems were not simply the result of “sensitivities" or a faulty skin-care regime. I've come to see that skin health is not necessarily dependent on any regime at all. In fact, the absence of soap and addition of yogurt seemed to hint at the opposite: the best possible skin antidote is the one we've always been taught to fight: bacteria. 

Yogurt masks cured my perioral dermatitis--and dramatically improved my complexion. Today, I only wash my face with water. Additionally, I apply about one yogurt mask per week.

The skin hosts a diversity of bacterial ecosystems--what researchers have called “communities.” As NPR wrote in 2009:

"Biologists have now taken a census of the bacteria that live on our skin, and it turns out that the diversity of life there is quite remarkable. The bacteria between our eyebrows are different from those on the elbow or in some other nook or cranny."

And apparently this bacterial diversity is a key to health--on the skin, and in the body.

As Michael Pollan wrote in The New York Times last year:

"A loss of diversity, say, or a proliferation of the “wrong” kind of microbes — may predispose us to obesity and a whole range of chronic diseases, as well as some infections…"

In terms of skin health, then, we might be compromising the variety of our bacterial communities--from our eyebrows to our elbow nooks--by the use of the very products marketed to keep our nasty bacteria at bay.

This is the conclusion, at least, of a new company, AOBiome, who is currently testing a “living bacterial skin tonic.”

As Julia Scott reported recently in the Times:

"The tonic looks, feels and tastes like water, but each spray bottle of AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist contains billions of cultivated Nitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) that is most commonly found in dirt and untreated water. AOBiome scientists hypothesize that it once lived happily on us too — before we started washing it away with soap and shampoo — acting as a built-in cleanser, deodorant, anti-inflammatory and immune booster."

Scott participated in AOBiome’s tests of the product, agreeing to not wash or shampoo for a month, and instead to mist her face, scalp, and body with the tonic twice a day. After a few weeks, Scott says, her skin improved:

"My skin began to change for the better. It actually became softer and smoother, rather than dry and flaky, as though a sauna’s worth of humidity had penetrated my winter-hardened shell. And my complexion, prone to hormone-related breakouts, was clear. For the first time ever, my pores seemed to shrink."

After a month, Scott admitted: “I found myself reluctant to return to my old routine of daily shampooing and face treatments.”

I’ve felt a similar reluctance since I stopped washing my face four years ago--a reluctance that now extends to body soap and shampoo. If my no-soap has been so beneficial for my face how might a similar regime effect my whole body?

For the sake of my wife, I’ll probably stick to my Dr. Bronner’s Soap and Acure Shampoo--at least until AOBiome releases its product. But I have to admit, on the heels of my success with yogurt masks, I’m deeply intrigued by the possibilities of bacteria for skin health.

I love the colors here. [Source: The New York Times]

If any of this information has inspired you to try a more “pro-bacterial” approach, I’d suggest following the advice outlined in Julia Scott’s article. After her experiment, she asked AOBiome which products might be the biggest threat to her skin’s bacteria:

"The answer was equivocal: Sodium lauryl sulfate, the first ingredient in many shampoos…but nearly all common liquid cleansers remove at least some of the bacteria. Antibacterial soaps are most likely the worst culprits, but even soaps made with only vegetable oils or animal fats strip the skin..."

At the very least, avoiding these ingredients and sourcing more natural alternatives, just might improve your skin health. And if you suffer from skin problems like acne or the dreaded perioral dermatitis, I suggest replenishing the diversity of bacteria by using a yogurt mask.

Seth's Yogurt Mask

I add probiotics to the yogurt to amplify the effects of the good bacteria. Full-fat yogurt is best. And Greek yogurt is a must--other, less thick yogurts, sort of just slide off your face. This recipe is good for a week's supply, depending on your usage.

1 7 oz. container Fage Total Yogurt (full fat Greek Yogurt is best)
1-2 probiotic capsules, such as Primal Defense Ultra

Place yogurt in a small bowl or Pyrex container. Empty probiotic capsules into yogurt and stir to combine. Refrigerate. Lasts about two weeks.

Summer Shape-Up: Day Two

As Healthy Eating Specialist for Whole Foods Market, in North Wales, PA, I am hosting a Seven-Day Summer Shape-Up, a gentle and easy-to-follow "cleansing" program. Today is the second day of the program.

Day 2: Tuesday, June 24: Avoid all wheat, dairy, processed sugar, alcohol, and grains. Drink plenty of clean, purified water.

Today we prepare ourselves physically and emotionally (and logistically) for the challenge of eating only fruits and vegetables for three days.

First, some background on fasting and cleansing (originally posted here; forgive me if you've read this before):

One might fast by eating nothing, or eating only one type of food, or simply eliminating a few foods from the diet. A fast can last several days to several weeks.

"Cleansing" is a relative term; it generally means the purging of excess toxins and residues--a view  not supported by medical science. According to the alternative health community, cleansing can be achieved in many ways; a fast is one method of cleansing. Others might include: enemas, cleansing kits, or extreme flushes.

Medical science and alternative medicine speak about cleansing and fasting in dramatically different terms. In fact, medical science believes "cleansing" is a misnomer, and has has all but denied its value. As Christopher Wanjeck writes on Live Science:

"Most doctors consider detox therapies to be pseudoscience, based on a misunderstanding of basic biology. Moreover, mainstream doctors view detox products as either a waste of money or potentially harmful."

Additionally, medical science has long debated the value of fasting, and although clear benefits have been observed in animals, the value of  fasting, or calorie restriction (CR), for humans is still unclear.

In their review of the literature on calorie restriction, Leonie K Heilbronn and Eric Ravussin, writing in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, say:

"CR reduces metabolic rate and oxidative stress, improves insulin sensitivity, and alters neuroendocrine and sympathetic nervous system function in animals. Whether prolonged CR increases life span (or improves biomarkers of aging) in humans is unknown."

Alternative health practitioners might urge you to expel mucoid plague. For medical science, though, the value of fasting is not detoxification, but cellular renewal and increased insulin sensitivity. If anything, the two agree on one simple fact: the digestive system requires a great deal of energy. Depending on your view, then, you might believe that when not digesting food our body works to detoxify or, as Stipp, writes "rev up cellular defenses against molecular damage."

Local greens and strawberries: I suggest eating a large salad each day for lunch.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Shape-Up: Day One

As Healthy Eating Specialist for Whole Foods Market, in North Wales, PA, I am hosting a Seven-Day Summer Shape-Up, a gentle and easy-to-follow "cleansing" program. Today is the first day of the program.

Day 1: Monday, June 23: Avoid all wheat, dairy, processed sugar, alcohol, and grains. Drink plenty of clean, purified water.

Today and tomorrow will serve as a gentle preparation for the somewhat more rigorous challenge of eating only fruits and vegetables for three days. The purpose of today's restrictions is to ease the burden of digestion and reduce the amount of circulating insulin in the blood stream.

You might already feel an intuitive sense of how avoiding foods like wheat, dairy, processed sugar, alcohol and grains can improve your digestion. Anecdotally speaking, this is the diet I've followed everyday for ten years--with the addition of wine--and I've experienced profound physical and emotional benefits.

I credit this diet--and the addition of bacteria-rich fermented foods--with essentially healing the symptoms of three chronic auto-immune illnesses: Raynaud's phenomena, fibromyalgia, and ulcerative colitis. I've never taken any medicine for any of these conditions. I've treated all of them exclusively with this diet.

If you're seeking evidence beyond my own anecdotal account, I suggest spending some time today reading the available science on gluten (and here), dairyprocessed sugar, alcohol, and grains.

Beyond digestion, however, reducing your circulating insulin levels might offer the most profound benefit. Many people do not know that insulin is a hormone that exerts a powerful effect on the human body. If you're interested in learning more about insulin's effects on health, I suggest reading "Always Hungry? Hear's Why" or any of the abundance of available science.

"This is an adventure" ~Steve Zissou [Photo source: Parabola]

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Seven-Day Summer Shape-Up

As Healthy Eating Specialist for Whole Foods Market, in North Wales, PA, I am hosting a Seven-Day Summer Shape-Up, a gentle and easy-to-follow "cleansing" program.

The program will begin next Monday, June 23. I will support each participant's journey with daily notes, optional personal consultations, and an "open-email" policy.

If you would like to schedule a personal consultation with me, please email me: seth.pollins@wholefoods.com.

If during the program you have any questions, please take advantage of the "open-email policy": email me at sethpollins@gmail and I will try to return your email within a few hours.

Beyond the optional personal consultation, this is a web-based program that you can follow from home.

Below is a brief discussion of fasting and cleansing with some very helpful links, a program outline, and "How to Prepare." If you would like to register, please email me: seth.pollins@wholefoods.com. If you have any questions, please email me or leave a comment below.

First, Why Participate?

My friend, Steve Pyle, wrote a thoughtful post on cleansing and fasting on our food blog, FoodVibe: "On Cleansing and Fasting." I highly suggest reading this article.

In this article, Steve clearly expresses the pitfalls of cleansing as well as the profound benefits:

"Even as I write this, I've just finished my second cleansing fast, and am still thinking about it. I’m thinking what people who know have told me—that the most important part of any fast is what comes after. That is, how the fast has changed your perceptions about health and wellness to the point that it has permanently changed your habits.

Because your body exists in such a delicate stasis while on an extended fast, you really see how the things you put into your body affect your energy level, mental acuity, and spirituality."

Of course, you might look at a cleanse as a method for achieving physical benefits--including improved digestion, weight loss, and clarity. Yet, I believe Steve reveals an even more crucial benefit: how the experience can change your perceptions about health and wellness.

As summer approaches, NOW might be the perfect time to revivify your relationship with food and health. Just look around: the local markets are bursting with the color and optimism of the summer harvest. Do you feel this optimism? Do you want to?

Do you feel optimistic about summer? [Photo Source: Secret Forts]


Think Brown Rice is Healthier Than White Rice? Think Again!

When I was twelve, my father lived at an ashram for a few seasons, and I stayed with him each weekend, essentially living the life of a monk. To my sensibility, the food was deplorable, and no single food upset me more than the brown rice: the ever-lasting staple.

Unfortunately, the potential health drawbacks of brown rice (as compared to white) have only recently come to light. And yet, I believe the evidence is hard to ignore.

If you’re a brown rice enthusiast, you might do well to read the following information. I would’ve liked to present this information to the trim yogis back then—but alas, it was not available.

First, from Dr. Mercola:

"Aside from providing excessive calories as carbohydrates, one of the major adverse consequences of most grains is that they are loaded with toxins…the average person gets about 1.5 grams of natural food toxins daily, which makes up more than 99.9 percent of all the toxins ingested. These are toxins made by plants, as opposed to manmade toxins, which serve to protect the plant from being eaten by mammals. The one grain type that is virtually toxin free is white rice, which has far fewer toxins than brown rice. The vast majority of toxins in white rice are destroyed by cooking…"

The "toxins" Mercola refers to are also often called "anti-nutrients." Gluten and lectin are two examples of anti-nutrients. You might have read about gluten before. If you're unfamiliar with lectins, I suggest reading any number of articles from the National Institute of Health's website, or this article, specifically: "Do dietary lectins cause disease?" You might also read this helpful post from Mark's Daily Apple: "The Lowdown on Lectins."

Second, from the New York Times:

"Consumers have already become alarmed over reports of rice-borne arsenic in everything from cereal bars to baby food. Some food manufacturers have stepped up screening for arsenic in their products, and agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration now recommend that people eat a variety of grains to 'minimize potential adverse health consequences from eating an excess of any one food.'

But it’s not just arsenic and cadmium, which are present in soil both as naturally occurring elements and as industrial byproducts. Recent studies have shown that rice is custom-built to pull a number of metals from the soil, among them mercury and even tungsten…The highest levels often occur in brown rice, because elements like arsenic accumulate in bran and husk, which are polished off in the processing of white rice. The Department of Agriculture estimates that on average arsenic levels are 10 times as high in rice bran as in polished rice."

If you’re looking for an all-purpose rice recipe that minimizes exposure to potentially toxic substances, I recommend one that suggests washing and soaking the rice (recipe below).

Perfect Pot of Rice
1 cup white basmati rice
1 2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
two whole garlic cloves
two slices fresh ginger
Saffron
Sea salt

In a medium saucepan, wash the rice in seven or more changes of cool water until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with cool water and set aside to soak for 30 minutes, or up to 18 hours.

Drain the rice. Throw the water, olive oil, turmeric, garlic cloves, slices ginger, a few pinches saffron, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Remove the rice from the heat. Remove the lid and put a few paper towels over the pot; cover again and let stand for 5-10 minutes.

Fluff with a fork, remove aromatics, and serve.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Stone Skimming Cures Boredom

"We positioned our village as the most boring resort in Switzerland. The idea is that it is so boring, you can relax. But some people did not understand it. Then we thought, well, what should we do for an event? And what does someone do when they are bored? They skim stones." 

~Andy Hostettler, a hotelier from the Swiss village of Ermatingen 

Source: "Swiss resort sets up stone-skimming contest to shake off 'most boring' label."

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bohumil Hrabal on the Twilight

“I always loved the twilight: it was the only time I had the feeling that something important could happen. All things were more beautiful bathed in twilight, all streets, all squares, and all the people walking through them; I even had the feeling that I was a handsome young man, and I liked looking at myself in the mirror, watching myself in the shop windows as I strode along, and even when I touched my face, I felt no wrinkles at my mouth or forehead. Yes, with twilight comes beauty.” 

~Bohumil Hrabal, from his glorious book, Too Loud a Solitude

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stonehenge and the Promise of Spring

In the April 14th issue of the New Yorker, Laura Miller details her recent experience at the Stonehenge winter solstice celebrations. The article also describes how scientists have come to understand “why Stonehenge is where it is,” and the findings read like a page out of Lord of the Rings.

Scientists have found “ridges in the chalk beneath the turf covering the final leg of Stonehenge Avenue, close to the stone circle.” These ridges point directly to the stones, yet if you follow the ridges away from the circle, you hit the nearby River Anon.

Miller writes: “This spot, archaeologists believe, was a ceremonial disembarkation point. Stone Age visitors, perhaps bearing the ashes of their most honored dead, would have stepped off their boats and walked up the avenue to the stones.”

I love this image: Stone Age mourners floating down the River Anon in boats, and disembarking on a bank not far from Stonehenge.”

But her article really goes Lord of the Rings, when Miller asks the question: “But where did these people come from?”

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Email From My Dad: A New Car

Hi everyone,

Sometimes the universe acts as if it has an independent intelligence. Tonight Phylis and I went to the Borgata for dinner. Over Phylis' objection, I decided to take my car. She felt that since the wipers didn't work and it was raining lightly with the forecast calling for heavy rainfall, it made more sense to take her car. I like the comfort of my Lexus, though, and the Borgata is only minutes away.

We arrived unscathed. I dropped her off at the front door and went to park in the surface parking lot. After a successful parking, I opened my door to get out and a hurricane wind blew the door back and off the hinges. It made a horrible noise. The door was absolutely ruined; it would not close. I knew it was the end.

Earlier this week the key had broken off while I was taking it out of the ignition. I ignored this sign of deterioration since we had another key, although it took some time to figure out how to get the broken key out. I could not and cannot ignore this obvious sign. I need a new car.

In any case, I drove the car home, holding the crippled door partially closed against gale force winds (no exaggeration), picked up Phylis' car and went back to the Borgata. The question of whose car to get rid of is solved. Now all we have to figure out is what new car to get.

Love,

Ira

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Toddler Time, Defiance, and Lessons Learned

We hid the eggs only three days ago, but I'm feeling nostalgic for Easter--for the leisure, specifically, all those unstructured hours traipsing around the neighborhood, guided by my toddler's tiny hand. I rarely, if ever, allow myself to lapse into "toddler time," a dangerous space of irresponsibility and glee, yet when I do I feel lightened in a way that feels instructive.

On most days, toddler time mandates inconvenience. Walking late into daycare, say, Ella will stop for an entire minute to inspect a pebble.

"Pebble," she'll say, pointing. "Pebble, pebble, pebble..."

And so on, until I yank her arm away.

Or perhaps we'll be crossing 8th Avenue in Brooklyn, hand-in-hand, and Ella will stop, look up to me, and say, "Hug?"

If I'm not careful, I might lose tens of minutes in this zone of pebbles and hugs. Prying Ella's lank little arms from my neck, I find myself late to another appointment, another task unaccomplished, the day creeping to its inexorable reckoning, the moment, after dinner, when I survey the dirty dishes, my marriage, and feel deeply my life with its preposterous flaws.

On Sunday, I lost myself for hours in toddler time, in what W.G. Sebald calls "a childlike mood of craving marvels," lazing about in the morning and afternoon with my wife and mother and daughter, hiding and hunting eggs, stopping only for hugs, and little conversations, and sips of green tea.

When we arrived at Easter dinner, hours later, I was relaxed in a way that felt elemental, as if massaged to the bone, drugged on my own blood.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ryan Trecartin on the Future

“Everything we do is going to be captured and archived in an accessible form, whether you want it or not. It’s going to change all our lives. We are a species that can no longer assume privacy. It’s not an individual decision, and I feel that’s exciting to explore--or something. There’s a lot of cultural content being generated right now that sees itself as post-human, but it’s assuming the twentieth century as its audience. It leans on structures that we already understand, but that we’re moving away from. My work is about humanity, and about the time I’m making it.”

~Ryan Trecartin on the future in The New Yorker

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Perfect Diet

In America views on healthful eating seem to fall on a spectrum defined by two opposing ideologies. On one side, people like Dr. Mercola, Sally Fallon (founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation) and Professor Loren Cordain (founder of the “Paleo Diet”) recommend the consumption of high quality animal-based foods, such as grass-fed beef, wild salmon, or raw grassfed butter. This side also typically advocates abundant raw vegetables and fermented foods. Excessive fruit consumption and grains, on the other hand, are typically discouraged. (The Weston A. Price foundation advocates soaked and cooked grains.)

On the other side, people like T. Colin Campbell, the author of The China Study, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn argue that animal-based products create disease, that there are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants, and that the best health-promoting diet is a low-fat, vegetable and grain-based diet--a vegan diet.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Wes Anderson's Style


On the occasion of the opening of Wes Anderson's latest, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," Richard Brody, matching his subject's elegance, has written a review of the Anderson style: "The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson's Artistic Credo."

It's a great read in full, but I particularly enjoyed the following lines:

"The hotel is the embodiment of Gustave’s taste, and Gustave is the embodiment of its delights. It’s a state of affairs that matches Anderson’s own art: the virtual signature that’s present like a watermark throughout his work is also a part of his personal style, his dress and his manner, his very way of life. That’s why I’ve compared him to such high stylists as Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, who similarly exhibited in person the extreme stylistic precision of their work. The artist isn’t just the creator of style but also its bearer, and the artist’s very presence is a work of art in person, creation on the wing by means of a turn of phrase, a gesture, a way of dressing, the aura of charismatic influence."

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Art of Not Eating

A few years ago, my good friend Kevin started a cleanse. He bought a cleansing kit. He took the cleansing pills and fiber for ten days. He refined his diet. For breakfast, he ate berries. For lunch, he ate salad. For dinner, he ate baked fish and steamed broccoli. More importantly (for him at least), he did not drink his micro-brews, and he did not eat his favored hard pretzels.

Kevin felt light and optimistic. He also felt insatiably hungry. So he called me.

"I need to eat more food," he said.

"So eat more food," I said.

"Like what?"

"A sweet potato?"

"But that sounds good."

"So?"

"Shouldn't I be suffering?"

Monday, February 24, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About Poop: On Sterility, Dirt, and Life

I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in May, 2002. I wrote about this experience last year, how, on the day of my diagnosis, I refused my doctor's prognosis, as well as the drugs, and commenced a journey to heal—a fifteen-month experiment, absent any conventional medical guidance whatsoever, that effectively ended midway through my honeymoon, when my new wife admitted me to the ER.

For fifteen months, I devoted my life to an obsessive and fastidious investigation. Hunched over my desk, I spent day after day Googling. For a phrase like “ulcerative colitis natural cure,” I'd click twenty pages deep, reading every word on every site—every blog, every forum. Certain opportune comments led to new searches in new windows, fresh rounds of clicking. When I risked leaving the house, I’d visit Barnes & Noble, where I’d scan the indexes of books, seeking the slightest reference to “colitis,” or “autoimmune,” or “Raynaud’s Phenomena,” or “Fibromyalgia." Inevitably, though, turning from my screen, or trudging from the store only briefly lifted by some tidbit—“even cases of not-so-mild ulcerative colitis can respond dramatically to changes in lifestyle and outlook.”—I’d come to think of the only definitive cure: death.

I do not believe my obsessive investigation, nor my despair, were unique. In my experience, most people who experience illness--from colds to colitis--have engaged in some form of this frantic search. And many, discovering confusing or contradictory advice, have yielded to despair. My search led to life. I've learned to heal my symptoms--without drugs.

And yet, each year, around March, just as the weather warms, I suffer a relapse, or "flair." The severity of these flairs vary--yet I know how to recover.

Last year, however, I suffered a particularly bad flair. My go-to remedies--a horridly wine-free lifestyle, VSL#3, and Metagenics--seemed to fail. Worse, the severity of the symptoms transported me back in time, to 2002, when I felt my despair most acutely.

My wife, who has witnessed this behavior over the years, has acclimated herself to my eccentricities. But even she was startled, last April, when I walked into our infant daughter's nursery, and pointed to the dirty diaper laying on the changing table.

"Save that," I said.

"What?" she asked.

"Save that," I said, and to state the case plainly, I added, with characteristic conviction, "I'm doing a fecal transplant enema."

Nearly all DNA in our bodies belongs to microorganisms: they outnumber our cells nine to one.

~Burkhard Bilger, writing in The New Yorker

Although the provenance seems to be disputed--by this guy, for example--the fecal transplant enema is generally accepted (by the folks at Wikipedia, and elsewhere, at least) to have been first described in 1958, when the Chief of Surgery at Denver Hospital, Dr. Ben Eisman, reported in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, on four patients who had been cured of pseudomembranous colitis (commonly known as C. difficile colitis or C. diff) by a novel treatment: Enemas containing feces from healthy colons had been transplanted into the patient's colons, and had successfully replenished the patient's bacterial ecosystems, effectively curing the patients.

The next documented success occurred in the mid-1980s, when an Australian gastroenterologist, Dr. Thomas Borody, was faced with a particularly challenging case. A traveler, recently home from Fiji, had contracted an especially pernicious form of colitis. Searching the medical literature for a potential cure, Borody discovered Eisman's article, and decided to give it a try.

Writing in The Scientist, Cristina Luiggi explained Eisman's procedure quite candidly in her article "Same Poop, Different Gut":

"He collected stool from the woman's brother, and after screening it for known pathogens, he stuck it in a blender, added some brine, and filtered it to get rid of any undigested material. The stool, now turned into slush, was administered to the patient—who had her gastrointestinal tract previously flushed—via two enemas over the course of two days. The results were nothing short of surprising, Borody said. Within days her colitis was gone, never to return."

This is the method I'd considered last spring. Obviously, like any reasonable human, I would've preferred to administer this treatment with a doctor.

Unfortunately, despite the mounting evidence of the treatment's success--including the first randomized control study--the FDA had made the procedure essentially untenable for any liability-minded doctor. (Recently the regulations have become even more strict.)

Faced with this climate last spring, but suffering acutely, I found myself standing in my daughter's room pointing at her diaper, envisioning my very own guerrilla enema campaign.

All I'd need, I told my wife, was a "dedicated" blender and a little poop.

To the extent that we are bearers of genetic information, more than 99 percent of it is microbial. And it appears increasingly likely that this 'second genome'...exerts an influence on our health as great and possibly even greater than the genes we inherit from our parents.
 
~Michael Pollan, writing in The New York Times 

I believe the FDA's regulations mirror a cultural obsession with sterility. And as Kathleen Barnes, A Johns Hopkins Medical School researcher, said in a Science Talk podcast on the "hygiene hypotheses," this obsession may be harming our health:

"The hypothesis is that as we make the shift from dirt to sterile that you are changing the direction of your immune response. And so in the context of asthma, and frankly in other autoimmune diseases and diseases of inflammation, it's this imbalance from that side of our immune response that we believe evolved to protect us against things like bacteria and viruses and malarial parasites to the other side of our immune system that, frankly, when it's revved up causes diseases like allergies and some of these other diseases of inflammation."

For me, this obsession with sterility--and by way of sterility, cleanliness and purity--touches the most intimate part of my life: my relationship with food.

For my entire adult life, I’ve been a staunch "health-food" enthusiast. At the age of twenty-one, while traveling in Italy, I became a vegetarian. But even before my trip to Italy, I'd experienced a lifetime of brown rice and Moosewood Cookbook recipes, organic broccoli and honey-sweetened treats. My mother raised me with a special attention to my diet; she also sent me to a school--the Waldorf school--that favored whole food cooking.

I lost touch with this impulse throughout my teenage years. Then, when I was twenty, in college, and in the midst a dismal semester eating in the student cafeteria, I came across a surprising fact in the cafeteria kitchen--a box of hamburger patties stamped with the following label: Grade F, But Edible.

Within a month, I was a vegetarian.

For me, vegetarianism, and later veganism, morphed in my twenties into obsession with purity. When I experienced my first symptoms of autoimmune illness, my obsession evolved, into what I now view as an eating disorder.

My early symptoms were vague: moving pain, crushing fatigue, listlessness, depression. Blaming certain foods, I refined my diet. For months, I refused to touch anything but organic greens, sprouted grains, wild salmon, brown rice, and tempeh. I drank green drinks. I refused wine. I did not eat one ounce of cheese or bread. I avoided all night-shade vegetables. I never, ever combined proteins and carbohydrates at the same meal.

By the time I received my ulcerative colitis diagnosis my diet was already remarkably limited. The new diagnosis, however, thrust me into a new realm.

At the time, my relationship with food, ritualistic and minutely precise, alienated me from others. When eating lunch, specifically, I simply could not bear company. I dined under strict conditions: on the zero or five, at say, 12:00, 12:05 12:10, and so on, exactly four hours after my last bite of food—a bite I might’ve detained in my mouth, for minutes, if the time did not match my zero/five requirement. For fifteen months, from my ulcerative colitis diagnosis to my wedding day, I never once finished eating on the one, two, three, or four.

For reasons I have yet to entirely fathom, this rigor did not survive dusk. Dinner absolved me—and Karen, from her patient allegiance to my eccentricities. We’d invite others to share the weirdness—to share our chilled Chianti and buttery Castelvetrano olives, our pan-roasted wild salmon and spice-grilled mini sweet potatoes. Easing into these dinners, I eased back to myself—my pre-illness self: the gallant host, the ecstatic narrator.

Today I live for dinner’s absolution, but I am still haunted by my daytime exactitude. My timing is more fluid, but I can only bear company to a point—as long as I’m free to sit in complete silence, and slurp my 1¼ cup seasonal soup, and dip each of my sixteen tempeh squares into a tiny ramekin of portioned apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, and eat my seasonal salad without once glancing to my left or right, but down, to the latest New Yorker.

My Lunch: Every Single Day
My obsession with purity nearly killed me. Refining my diet to an impossible degree, I distorted my relationship with my body and food and those around me. Worse, I'd tricked myself into believing that this diet was the only diet for my symptoms.

Even then, I felt shameful of my illness; shameful of the person I'd become, this ill person with this horridly embarrassing disease. Yet I felt powerless to change. I could hardly utter the word, "colitis," in private, let alone write about it on a public forum.

In a sense, I was guilty of "kitsch," as Milan Kundera defines it:

"The absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence."

My recovery was occasioned by the opposite: an embrace of the chaotic and messy in my life and writing, the literal ingestion of dirt, and an entirely new diet typified by my first bite of meat after eight years of vegetarianism: a juicy, blood red hunk of lamb, cooked rare.

I'd ordered the lamb, spontaneously, with the sort of nervous enthusiasm a person might reserve for a wedding proposal. It was this enthusiasm, this new sense of goofy caprice, that also typified the attitude that inspired me to walk into my infant daughter's room seeking poop.

Not to say that I hadn't researched the topic with my typical compulsive energy. I had.

By "goofy caprice," I simply mean to say that in learning to recover from illness, I've opened myself to change, and that in doing so, I've also learned to see humor in my vehemence.

For me, humor provides confidence even in the darkest hours. This is something I try to express in my writing. I often write about illness, about how I feel as if I’ve been slapped by life. In part, I want to express an honesty about my feelings of woundedness. However, I don’t want this sense to drive my writing into dour seriousness, but rather give me range to be, at times, slightly goofy, as all celebration is.

In the end, after a series of tedious conversations with my wife, I did not administer a fecal transplant enema. I'll spare you the details. Instead, as a compromise, I tried the probiotic enema suggested on the website Listen to Your Gut.

This video, specifically, convinced me as well as the raw testimony of the video's star, Crohns Boy:

"So to tell you the truth it sucked being sick for the last 2 weeks especially while I was in Hawaii. When I look back at it now I am almost grateful for being sick as it has taught me a lot in the process. I have learned that when I feel awesome and other people are doing shitty I really have to remember how I felt when I was in their shoes-feeling depressed, hopeless, insecure etc and I have to be able to communicate effectively that they will overcome this and that stuff will be lost in the process. I also realized life has a great way of humbling you from time to time even if it came in the form of a flare lol I realize you really have to soak up the GOOD TIMES and enjoy them!! Sunshine is always awesome and appreciated the day after the storm.....simply said."

Bacteria have a reputation for causing disease, so the idea of tossing down a few billion a day for your health might seem — literally and figuratively — hard to swallow. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria.
 
I am a passionate proselytizer of bugs--specifically the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods. In my position at Whole Foods Market, I have spoken to hundreds of people over nine years who have offered testimony after testimony to the effectiveness of probiotics. And finally, it seems, the idea of "beneficial" bacteria has entered the cultural conversation.

Michael Pollan's wildly popular article in The New York Times, "Some of My Best Friends are Germs," for example, speaks convincingly of the emerging science of the microbiome.

Although the microbiome is meant to describe our entire bodies’ bacterial ecosystem, much of the article focuses on the gut, and the profound influence this gut has on our health. Many of the scientists studying the microbiome are hesitant to make recommendations, but Pollan teases enough information out of his sources to discover “the outlines of a new diet.” Near the end of the article, Pollan writes, “one of the keys to good health may turn out to involve managing our internal fermentation.”

How is this done? If you’re interested in trying a probiotic, I suggest inner-ēco™ Coconut Kefir--a food-based probiotic that follows Pollan’s advice of tending to “internal fermentation.” Another option is eating small amounts of fermented foods, like miso, tempeh, or pickled vegetables.

Whole Foods Market currently sells a raw sauerkraut. I cannot recommend this product enough. I have experimented with this sauerkraut by eating one tablespoons (raw, unheated) each night with dinner. The effects have astonished me. My digestion has improved appreciably, and I am sleeping better. This is a simple addition to any diet.

I have learned that when I feel awesome and other people are doing shitty I really have to remember how I felt when I was in their shoes-feeling depressed, hopeless, insecure etc and I have to be able to communicate effectively that they will overcome this and that stuff will be lost in the process.

~Crohns Boy

By the time I'd read this, in mid-April, I'd already suffered two months of symptoms. I'd been to my doctor three times, and had, for the first time in my life, considered taking the potent anti-inflammatory drugs. I'd lost ten pounds, and had acquired the paperwork to take a LOA from work. Inspired by Crohn's Boy, I tried the probiotic enema on a memorable date, April 15, 2013: the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings.

That was Monday. By Wednesday, I was completely symptom-free.

I've remained symptom-free since then. (Update: As of August, 2016-four years later, I am still symptom-free).

I understand that the very nature of my illness might ensure a relapse--perhaps maybe even next spring. With each flare, and each recovery, however, I do believe I've learned to become a bit more human.

For me this means, specifically, an acceptance of that which I cannot control. Each year, I learn to cede a bit more control to life as it is: radically imprecise, often downright messy. Bacteria, and by extension, probiotics and poop, have become metaphors for my growth. That I can now talk about this so openly seems to prove the point--for me at least.