Thursday, August 26, 2010

Going Gluten Free

In June of this year, I started back to Weight Watchers in a life long effort to get thin.  Technically, it has only been half my life.  I realized this year that Kate was turning thirty and next year I would turn 60.  I got fat when I got pregnant with Kate and except for a few brief moments I have been grossly overweight ever since.  Half my life.  I decided that was long enough. 

At the same time, I decided that I would give up wheat and gluten.  It has not been as difficult as I imagined.  At first I simply got rid of the obvious stuff, breads, donuts, cakes, cookies, etc.  But the problem with gluten is that it is in everything.  At least in an awful lot of processed foods.  So now I am being very careful.  OK, yesterday I had a breakfast meeting and they served muffins, a breakfast burrito and a little bit of fruit.  I ate the fruit.  Dumped the muffin and unrolled the burrito.  I'm sure my eggs were contaminated but I was hungry.

So why am I going wheat and gluten free you ask.  Well for one thing it knocks out a lot of tempting foods right off the bat, making it easier to stay on my weight watcher's plan.  I can still eat a chocolate chip cookie, but I have to plan for it.  I can't just eat it because it is there.  And yes there are some pretty tasty gluten free cookies out there.  Giving up gluten also makes me stick to more basic foods that are naturally gluten free such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and meats and nuts.  They are making more and more gluten free packaged foods but I'm trying to stay away from those. 

The main reason I'm giving up wheat and gluten, however, is for health reasons.  Ever since getting pregnant the first time, I have had difficulty with swelling in my feet and legs.  My lymphatic system just doesn't work well.  A Naprapath once suggested I might have an allergy to wheat.  Every time I've eliminated it from my diet my swelling gets better.  There is also some evidence that wheat can cause inflammation and lead to autoimmune diseases. 

Celiac's disease is an intolerance to gluten.  Although the main symptoms are gastrointestinal it can manifest itself in lots of different ways.  I never had the test done to see if I have the disease.  I never had the typical symptoms.  I did have awful acid reflux which I could never quite attribute to anything specific.  I had finally decided it was caused by a high fat diet and simply overeating.  Now I am wondering if it was gluten or  wheat.  (By the way gluten is also found in rye and barley.  Some people have difficulty with oats but that may be due to cross contamination with wheat.)  My acid reflux  has completely disappeared and I am still eating fat, though not nearly as much and occasionally I over eat.  I had a touch acid reflux the other morning after the breakfast burrito incident.  Hum?

So otherwise how do I feel now that I've given up wheat and gluten in various amounts for 3 months?  Well, I use to have terrible feet pain brought on by standing too long or walking long distances.  It was the top of my feet not the bottom.  Lying in bed I would feel them get tighter and tighter and then the pain would start.  Some mornings trying to get out of bed was an adventure.  Some days walking to the train was torture.   My feet still have some swelling and stiffness but the pain is almost completely gone.  Because I believe the pain is due to arthritis and because arthritis has a habit of waxing and waning I am not 100% convinced it is the diet.  I'm going to wait and see.  But the other morning I was running for a train having to go down a flight of steps and then up another and I almost flew down the steps.  That hasn't happened in a long time.  My knees seem to be getting better as well.  Oh and you know how sometimes when something goes away you kind of forget you ever had it.  Neck and upper back pain gone.  Stay tuned to see if it is just all in my head or if there really is something to giving up gluten.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Art in the City

The great thing about living in Chicago is that there is always something to do no matter the season, though summer especially is filled with outdoor festivals and activities. I sadly have not taken advantage of all that Chicago has to offer. My roommate, Kim, on the other hand always seems to know what is going on. She suggested the Gold Coast Art Fair at Grant's Park this past weekend.
The fair is a "juried" event which means not just anyone can set up a booth. You have to meet certain standards. In all there were 578 booths of quality paintings, sculptures, photography, furniture and glass and of course, jewelry.

Kim and I headed down town via the brown line. We took our time meandering over to the art fair taking in the new Chinese Sculptures in Millennium Park and watching the kids (and adults) play in the Crown Fountain.

Once at the fair we were pretty overwhelmed with everything there was to see. Not that I had really intended to buy anything but the prices were a bit overwhelming too. But the art was great. It was a warm day with little shade and then to our unhappiness before we could see everything we wanted the fair closed early at 3 pm due to a stupid preseason Bear's Game. I am not sure what one had to do with the other unless it was about parking.

Before we left one artist caught my eye. His name is danilo cuevas. He paints primarily in oil and then scans the paintings to create digital images. From his bio: "an extremely versatile and prolific artist, cuevas is best known for his urban landscapes and still life botanical. when viewing his paintings, it is easy to see how they reflect his true knowledge of his subject paying meticulous attention to line, form, detail and color."

I bought a digital copy of his poppies on black. I am drawn to still life though many people find them boring. It is a direction I would like my own photography to take. He was a very nice and personable guy. Not all artist are. It helped that it was the end of the day and there was no one else at this booth. Because I was his last customer he gave me a notebook with one of his paintings on the front. A simple purple flower that I love as well. You can see his work at his website:

Because our time was cut short due to the Bear's game, I decided to return to the fair on Sunday by myself so that I could have more time to get inspired. Going on my own had certain advantages. Kim and I tend to worry about each other getting too tired and frequently rested. On my own I could go at my own pace. I have noticed in life that it is important for me to mix company with being by myself. Too much of one or the other isn't good for me.

I headed straight for the fair on the second day and spent about two hours taking my time at a lot of booths. I still did not see everything. Mostly I focused on photography. There were three that stood out for me. I did not get names but I will describe their work. The first gentleman was not a digital photographer. He says he does very little cropping when developing his film much preferring to capture what he wants as he takes the picture. He does his own developing with very little enhancement. I have always maintained that digital photography has come such a long way that film is no longer necessary. I changed my mind this weekend. There is a quality in film (at least in this photographer's work) that isn't captured in the best digital. I told him I might have to give up digital. He was a bit snobbish and said no you won't, this is way too difficult. And truly that is why I and most of the world have gone digital. It is easier, and much more versatile. Besides, setting up a dark room even for black and white film is expensive and problematic. Color chemicals are carcinogenic and hard to dispose of.

The second photographer has some great photographs mainly of South Carolina. He had a huge picture of an banyan tree. What was amazing was the absolute clarity of every detail from the pebbles on the ground to the leaves on the tree. I know how he must have taken the picture. He had an extremely high quality wide angle lens and goosed up the f stops as far as he could. At that point very little light is entering the camera so you have to use a tripod and a long exposure time and hope there is no wind. I wish I had gotten his website address.

The third was a gentleman who takes digital photographs but prints directly on to canvas with a specialized printer and ink. Wonderful end product. Good photographer as well. I didn't get his website either.

I ended up buying a pair of earrings from a really nice woman, Daniel Desjardins, from Lafayette, Louisiana. We talked for awhile. She told me a little bit about life on the festival circuit. She wasn't selling much. She says she really doesn't like the selling part. Says she does much better when a friend comes along that does like to sell. Being an artist she has little interest in the business end of her work, hates computers and thinks there might be a job for someone catering to the artist community.

I also bought a cool pen. When I told the young lady I was going to use it in my writing group she said it was a Zen Pen to provide all the inspiration I needed. I certainly hope so.

Buckingham Fountain in Grant's Park

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer is quickly coming to an end despite the last two days being the hottest of the season. I know this because it is dark now as I walk to the train on my way to work. The upside is that if I sit on the right side of the train, and don't have my noise stuck in the latest book I'm reading, I can watch the sun rise over the buildings. Technically we still have a month left of summer. My favorite time has always been summer's end, the warm September days when the kids have returned to school and the days are quieter again, a little cooler but still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors. For me fall has always been the anticipation of new things, new beginnings, excitement in the air.

The change of season is what makes the Midwest appealing to me. Except maybe fall to winter. The only benefit I see is that the dark days are at there peak and the light begins to return again. A guy I met in a writing class once told me that he liked winters. He said for him it was a good time to write because the good weather outside wasn't distracting him. He could hibernate, stay warm and write.

Winter to spring is a joyous time with all the new growth, the flowers, the baby bunnies and squirrels I see on my daily early morning walks to the train. I know I have said this before, but the great thing about Chicago's springs is that all the new blooms stay for so much longer and there is an overlapping of blooms we never had in Missouri. It is not at all unusual for tulips and daffodils to still be blooming when the lilacs and even the peonies begin to add their beauty to the world.

Spring to summer is a magical time when the mornings are still cool and your feet still get wet from dew when you walk in the grass. Everywhere there are neatly manicured lawns and flower beds. The days are at their longest. The festivals start. People are everywhere. Sidewalk cafes are full. You are finally free of cumbersome outer clothing.

Now as the days become shorter and the last days of summer are upon us the vegetation if not not tightly reined in is wild and untamed. The lovely flower beds of spring are outgrowing their borders. The hostas are huge. Black Eyed Susans are everywhere.

It will be five years since the Labor Day I came to visit Kate in Chicago and fell in love with the city and decided to make a big change in my life. It was the right move to make. I love living in the city, taking public transportation, working in a teaching hospital. I don't know if I will stay here forever. But it has been a good five years.

I am going to start blogging again. It will no longer be about Women of Great Taste (the cook book anyway). It will probably be mostly about my life in the city, certainly about food because that is where my passion lies and perhaps about the simplify I have found as I head towards the beginning of my sixth decade.

I am blogging because I enjoy reading my sister, Susan's, blog, 6 Sheep and a Llama (and others). I would sorely miss it if she quit and she says she misses my writing. So this is for her and the others out there that have the remotest interest in my internal and external life.