Sunday, July 29, 2012

Getting close

So maybe starting a jar of pickles in 70-80 degree weather and then leaving town for a week was not the best way to try my hand at making sour cucumbers. Needless to say, my first attempt was mushy and unappetizing. The sauerkraut on the other hand turned out great! It was yellow from the beets and pungent from the ginger and garlic. Laurel and I both had some for lunch! 

After a trip to the farmers market to stock up for the week, I decided that today was the day to do the final purging of our cabinets and fridge as we were planning to launch into the full GAPS diet on August 1st. Before putting my beautiful produce and eggs away, I did a thorough cleaning of the fridge drawers and shelves and pulled out everything processed and otherwise GAPS illegal: ketchup, mayo, fish sauce (made with sugar), jam, tofutti sour cream (sorry, Laurel!), maple syrup, and hot sauce! I then turned to the pantry, pulling out jars of dry garbanzos, cans of pinto beans, agave syrup, quinoa, coffee, and more. It was sad to say goodbye to so many tasty (and expensive!) products, but I knew of a good home for them. 

Emptied pantry shelves!

Laden with two grocery bags and one cardboard box full of the exiled items I headed over to a house where some friends were having a garage sale. They were thrilled to receive the bounty and we ended up talking about the diet (i.e. why we were getting rid of all this stuff) and fermentation. I told them about my pickles that had gone ary and my kraut that was fabulous. One of them, a seasoned fermentor, offered me a beautiful ceramic crock from their own kitchen plus fresh grape leaves to help maintain the crispness of the cukes. I headed back home to start a new batch of pickles!

Back at home, I also had to check on my chicken stock that I left simmering on the stove (don't worry, Laurel was home!) and my first batch ever of home made yogurt. Here again, I had already had one failure and one seeming success. I had bought a Bulgarian yogurt culture that needed to be activated by a 5-7 hour fermentation in a little milk. I also bought a little tub of commercial yogurt to use as a starter, just in case. I started one jar of the bulgarian culture to activate and 4 jars of yogurt using the commercial yogurt as a starter. Since I started them last night, I got up early this morning to check on them. Luckily, the dehydrator I was using as a yogurt maker seemed to be holding the right temp, the 4 jars looked okay, but the bulgarian jar would just not set. I checked on it several times until it had gone for 12 hours, at which point I finally gave up and left it out to cool. After chilling for a few hours, it had a nice flavor, but the texture was loose and clumpy. Not sure what exactly I will do with it...

The chicken stock turned out great. I used a whole chicken from the farmer's market, plus some extra necks, carrots, celery, and onion, and a little vinegar (I was short on cider vinegar, so I used a little umeboshi as well). After simmering for abour 5 hours, I fished the bones and meat out and blended a little of the broth with the boiled carrots and onions for a soup for Laurel. I even stirred in some of my Bulgarian failed yogurt (which tasted great in the soup) and drizzled on some toasted pumpkin seed oil and chives from the garden. 

Carrot chicken soup with stewed zucchini and homemade basil pesto

Because I had thrown out all our condiments, I decided to make some mustard. I found a recipe for it in Dr. McBride's accompanying recipe book that called for dry white wine, onions, garlic, honey, mustard powder, and olive oil. I was awed by how simple it was- simply cook it all in a sauce pan until the alcohol evaporates and it thickens. They chill in a the refrigerator for a few weeks until it mellows. I tried a fingerful and was surprised by how horseradishy it tasted. 

Making mustard!

It is almost time to check on my yogurt. Can't wait. GAPS Diet, here we come!

Friday, July 20, 2012


Since everything I have been reading lately has talked about the virtues of fermented foods, I decided to try my hand at it. I started with a one night class, put on by the City of Portland in cooperation with a small teaching farm, Living City Gardens. They demonstrated to an odd assortment of students the methods of punching down cabbage into a sauerkraut crock and how to make a brine for sour beets and pickles. Because I don't have it in me to follow instructions, I came home and made my own attempt at fermented veggies: a brined cucumber pickle and a caraway-beet-ginger-sauerkraut. I had to get creative with the containers because I didn't have anything like a ceramic crock on hand. Here's hoping they turn out!

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The GAPS book arrived and I started devouring it with what felt like a ravenous hunger. I was fascinated and enthralled by the detailed explanations of our gut flora and the interconnectedness of the different parts of our bodies. Emily (the health coach) had told me not to worry about reading the chapters about schizophrenia and anorexia, and to focus instead on the diet. But I read every page.

I read stories about gut imbalances (or dysbiosis) passed down through generations, compounded by poor diet, lack of breastfeeding, use of antibiotics, and other toxic exposure. How some stomach rumblings in a grandmother were passed down to a daughter who had seasonal allergies which was passed down to a granddaughter who became autistic.

The basic analysis is that so many of our modern ailments--from depression and schizophrenia to food allergies, autism, and MS are caused by overgrowth of bad bacteria in our intestines, creating toxicity that affects the brain and other parts of our bodies. She explains how a person suffering from anorexia does not just think they are fat compared to supermodels in magazines, but due to toxicity in their guts causing an imbalance in their brains, their actual perception of themselves is skewed. They see themselves wrong. Similar with cases of dementia.

Reading about allergies hit home hard. I come from a long line of both food and seasonal allergy sufferers. Additionally, there is cancer, dementia, lack of breastfeeding, toxic exposure (my grandmother was a chemist!) depression, skin rashes, and hives all over my family's medical history. With sudden clarity, I realized that embarking on this GAPS diet was not solely to heal Laurel of her celiac and graves disease. It was for me too. I was just as much a GAPS person as she was. And I was afraid that if I was not able to heal the imbalances in my gut, I could have a child with something worse than hay fever.

So I read on. I am still reading in fact. I have to tell myself to put the book down and go put away the dishes or make dinner. And I am still exploring. I stopped by a new health foods store after work and picked up a pamphlet put out by the Westin A Price Foundation called "Principles of Healthy Diets." The pamphlet's advice fit in exactly with everything I have discovered from the SCD and GAPS diets. It talked about the healing properties of bone broths, animal fats, and fermented foods, and decried the modern diet full of starches, chemicals, sugars, and processed vegetable oils.

In a way, I feel like my world has been turned upside down. Or that I have walked through the looking glass into a different reality. "Saturated fats are healing, use them liberally," the pamphlet and the GAPS book state, as if today is backwards day. "Do not practice veganism, avoid low fat dairy products and lean meats," they continue, affirming things I intuitively knew (like microwave ovens and factory farming are bad) and also surprising me with how far they are from mainstream "health" wisdom. I am afraid that I have entered a place that will be hard to relate to for people not on this health journey, but there is no turning back. I am ready and open for truth, healing, knowledge and wisdom. 13 days until we begin.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Setting out with a Leaky Gut

We decided to meet with Emily, the Health Coach I had run into at the grocery store, to see what exactly a health coach did. After a few email exchanges to provide some health history and negotiate a time and place, we met back up at the same grocery store where we had our first encounter, this time in the little eating and sitting area in the back corner of the store. I introduced Emily to Laurel and we dove in, the two of them sharing stories of decades of pain and suffering--Emily from Crohn's disease and Laurel from Celiac and Graves. As twisted as it sounds, I think they both loved meeting someone who had suffered as much as they had. Someone who understood.

Then we talked about the diet. I told Emily about discovering the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) through blogs and recipes, and that I had recently ordered and read the book. She asked if I had heard of the GAPS Diet. Like SCD, I had run across references to GAPS on several occasions, usually breezing past, thinking this strange and scientific scientific diet must be for people who are really sick. Recently I had run across it again and ended up perusing the website, because from my research on SCD, it seemed the two diets were quite similar, and recipe authors tended to use the terms interchangeably.

When I finally visited the website, I was put off when I realized that GAPS stood for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I was trying to heal Laurel's guts- what did this have to do with psychology? Emily informed me that though GAPS talked a lot about mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, the diet was essentially an evolved version of the SCD. A British MD, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, had come along and picked up the diet where Elaine Gottschall had left off, improving it by adding fermented vegetables and krauts, and refining the legal/illegal food list. Additionally, she expanded the introduction phase of the diet to a very structured eating plan involving bone broths and cultured dairy products, meant to seal up leaky guts in preparation for healing.

As Laurel had been told by several different health care practitioners that she most likely had a leaky gut (very common in Celiac patients) I was all about this gut sealing business. What terrified me a little bit were the meat broths, sauerkrauts, and severely limited food choices. I told Emily that what we could most use her help with was one little hurdle. Laurel was mostly vegetarian.

A reformed vegetarian myself, I had been working on Laurel for the past two years to incorporate more meat into her diet in the name of her health. When I met her she was eating a lot of processed gluten free breads and crackers and dairy- none of which were making her feel very good. We had made baby steps over the years, now I could get her to eat five bites of fried and breaded fish, or a handful of homemade chicken nuggets. The key to my success had always been disguise--if I could grind it up small enough, cover it in a sauce, and fill her plate with enough other things to rotate bites with, I could usually get her to eat it. Now we were faced with the prospect of stripping all the usual cover ups out of our diet and eating plain, simple foods in as close to their natural form as possible. Though Laurel said she was committed, how in the world were we going to do this?

We talked some more about how Emily could work with us, and decided to meet back up again in August, when we were ready to dive all the way in to this new way of eating. She gave us each some assignments for the next meeting. Laurel was supposed to work up to eating different kinds of meat at least four times a week and I was supposed to get myself a yogurt maker, figure out how to use it, purge the kitchen cabinets, and read about the GAPS diet. We were on our way.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dry Curd Cottage Cheese and a Chance Meeting

At the grocery store for the first time since discovering SCD (the Specific Carbohydrate Diet) I viewed each item with fresh eyes. What are the hidden ingredients in this? Will this product hurt or heal Laurel's guts? What is left to eat that doesn't contain grains, sugars, chemicals, etc? When reading about the various components and limitations on the diet, one redeeming factor was that it allowed dairy.

Dairy had been a mostly forbidden food in our house, with both Laurel and I showing "slightly allergic" to cow's milk in various allergy tests and both struggling with congestion and gastrointestinal issues when we overdid it.  We limited our dairy intake to hard cheeses, goat's milk products, and on special occasions sour cream or creme fraiche. Sadly, yogurt and cottage cheese had been totally off limits.

I read the chapter on fermented dairy in the Breaking the Vicious Cycle book with wide eyes. It claimed that fermented dairy (i.e. yogurt that had been cultured for 24-48 hours) no longer contained any lactose, was much easier to digest, and was actually good for us. Certain other dairy products such as butter, hard cheeses, and a special kind of cottage cheese (dry curd, pot, or farmers cheese are different names for it) contain very little lactose and are also safe for people with digestive issues to eat. Though I was still a little wary about the congestion side of things, I was too excited about trying this special cottage cheese to worry.

I was nervous that I would not be able to find this cottage cheese at my neighborhood health food store because I had never seen it before, so I planned to make a second stop at Whole Foods. Passing the eggs and sour cream case, I noticed a small white container nestled between rows of normal cottage cheese: Alpenrose Dry Curd Cottage Cheese. There was only one option and it was not organic, but it did state that the cows were not treated with growth hormones. I picked up two of them.

At the checkout line, a slight woman came up to me and asked what I did with the dry curd cottage cheese in my basket. I told her that I was starting this special diet, the SCD, because my partner has celiac disease. The woman smiled and told me that she also had celiac disease, in addition to crohns, and she had been on the SCD for several years. She said it had saved her life. She told me she was now a health coach who specialized in helping people navigate this very diet. We exchanged numbers and I left the store feeling that our journey with this diet was now bigger than me. The Universe was involved.

Monday, July 9, 2012

"All Disease Begins in the Gut" - Hippocrates

Here is the next part of our story. The book arrived and I read it in a day. Elaine's book spoke not just of eliminating Laurel's symptoms, but of actually healing her- healing her intestines to cure her Celiac disease. I had never heard such a thing. With wide eyes I read story after story of children who were able to return to normal eating after a few years on a special diet. Clearly this was not the just gluten free diet we were already on. After three years of pretty strict adherence to it, Laurel still had regular run-ins with contamination, was sensitive to dairy and many other foods, and was no where near being able to return to "normal eating." 

I was hooked. I started telling Laurel that I wanted us to try this kind of crazy diet in order to heal her. Her initial reaction was, "Sure, of course I'll try it." I realized that it was easy to make that commitment when the diet was an abstraction. I dove in to figuring out what it was all about. These are the basic tenets of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD):
  1. Eats fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, eggs and nuts.
  2. Do not eat anything that is canned, processed, or preserved.
  3. The only sweetener you can have is honey (no sugar, maple syrup, agave, stevia). 
  4. Eat only lactose free dairy (including yogurt that has been cultured for 24 hours in addition to certain hard cheeses and butter)
  5. Eat no grains of any kind, and limited legumes and seeds.
On a very basic level, the philosophy behind the diet is that what the body consumes and cannot properly digest causes harm. The book uncovers what seems to be a great conspiracy about the gluten-free diet, namely that the original treatment for Celiac disease was to remove all cereal grains from the diet, which proved to be very effective for many years and was adopted by physicians all around the world. However a research study published in the 1950s that looked only at the effect of the elimination of wheat gluten from the diet gained popularity and momentum and quickly became the diet of choice due to its relative simplicity compared to the grain free diet. 

Though the gluten free diet is effective at eliminating most of the symptoms of Celiac disease, it is not able to cure it, nor does it cut out all the foods that cause damage to the gut wall. Armed with this illicit truth and a handful of SCD recipes, I set out for the grocery store and a path towards healing. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Diving In

It all started with a baguette. I was supposed to be discussing setting up a bookkeeping system for my friend's new business. In between bites of baguette and cheese, we both kept remarking how exciting it was to eat this forbidden food. You see, in our houses, there are no baguettes. Both of us live with partners who suffer from autoimmune disorders. My partner, Laurel, has both Celiac and Grave's disease, so we follow a strict gluten free diet in our home. So even though we had set out to discuss bookkeeping, we kept coming back to our individual journeys to help heal our partners through food.

We had both tried various diets and food philosophies. My fall back was and had been for several years the anti-inflammatory diet recommended by naturopaths and acupuncturists. Recently we had tried the Abascal Way diet (also anti-inflammatory) and before that, Dropping the Acid to address Laurel's acid reflux problems. At this meeting, my friend and I exchanged recommendations for food blogs and one that she directed me to was When I got home I poured over the recipes on this site, finding many of them appealing and safe for Laurel. On the "about page" I read that the author followed the "Specific Carbohydrate Diet" in order to heal her son who had Crohn's disease.

I had stumbled on references to this strange and scientific sounding diet before while checking out recipes and advice on gluten free food blogs late at night, and had wondered what kind of people followed such a diet. Those people must have really serious health problems, I would think to myself. This time, reading about it again after two years of feeling powerless to help and yet terribly impacted by Laurel's intestinal turmoil, dizzy spells, acid reflux, various aches and pains, weakness and fatigue, I was curious. This time, I thought that we might be exactly the kind of people who would follow such a crazy diet.

I went straight to the source, the website of Elaine Gottschall, the woman who created the Specific Carbohydrate Diet many years ago to help her child who was suffering from another intestinal disorder. I checked out the website a little, reading a page on how to make a special kind of fermented yogurt. From what I could tell, the diet seemed restrictive, not hugely different from how we already ate, and like a big commitment. From the statements about the "high success rate" of healing intestinal disorders (such as celiac) I felt a glimmer of hope. I ordered the book. And couldn't wait for it to arrive.