I do believe I’ve discovered something that’s more excruciating than
watching paint dry, and that is: watching sheet rock compound dry.
We got back from North Carolina early on Friday morning last week, after a 17-hour travel day (I drove. The whole way. Which was fine. Except for the speeding ticket in Durham. And the part where I almost rear-ended another car at 60+ mph coming off the Delaware Memorial Bridge because I was trying to figure out if there was a toll and my eyes were up and looking for a toll gantry, and not on the guy slamming on his brakes in front of me as a box blew across the highway in front of him). We left Black Mountain at 7:45 a.m. last Thursday, and arrived home at 12:45 a.m. on Friday, remarkably unscathed, but exhausted.
Therefore (!?) no work on the downstairs hallway began until Monday of this week, and not a whole lot happened Monday. Tim made a call to the supply house about the door for the bathroom; a couple of pieces of trim went up; and that was about it. Yep. I’m cranky.
Things picked up more today: this morning we heard back from the supply house with the price for the bathroom door and we finally placed the order. They say it should be here in a week. I hope they’re right. The sheet rock around the doorway between the hall and the dining room was also hung today, and 2 coats of tape/compound applied, at long last obliterating the final bit of visible structural skeleton in the house. I should throw a party. We have our old friend the plug-in fin heater cranking in the hallway, consuming untold kilowatts, to make sure the compound dries as expeditiously as possible. We also procured the hanging hardware for the “barn door” approach we’re taking, but the handles/pulls and locking mechanism have yet to be identified. The hanging hardware is standing on its end in the foyer, awaiting its implementation.
After I spent several hours yesterday trying to find the right pull
& locking solution(s), we concluded that we should hang the door first to
see what kind of clearance, if any, the door has as it slides past the wall, so
we know how much projection the handle/pull on the inside can have – likely not
anything more than 1/4.” And I’m not very excited about a simple recessed pull for
the inside of the door (this won’t be a lightweight door, and for someone
elderly with diminished strength in their hands/arms, something like that could
prove difficult to use). I feel like a handle of some sort is much more user-friendly,
but there isn’t a lot of recessed folding-handle hardware out there. (*Note to my
I’m told that the hall will be painted tomorrow. That would require all the taping/sanding to be complete. I think it’ll be just a little bit of a miracle if that’s the case, but if it isn’t tomorrow, it should be Thursday. I can live with that. But, as ever, there’s so much more to what little appears to remain: the hanging hardware for the door needs to be installed – possibly this week – but the door needs to show up before it can be hung, which won’t be until at least next week. Then we have to figure out the pulls, and the lock, and install those. The hall-facing pull/handle should be straightforward. The inside pull, and the lock? Don’t lay any odds down on the duration of those.
Meanwhile, I think during one of the lulls, we might, finally, be painting the front door. Once all of that is done, it’s on to the finish trim outside, and to the looming beast of landscaping. I’m hoping against hope that we have a design for that in the next month or so, which would allow a feeble prayer of the work getting done this year. Though if it slips into next year there is something appealing (in a slightly masochistic way) about being able to say this renovation took a decade. . .!
Hooray!! The last Eyedrop Episode was, in fact, the Friday
of the day of mom’s last post-cataract surgery check-in with her ophthalmologist.
As I’m writing, we’ve even picked her new eyeglasses at the Optometrist’s, and
we’re excitedly awaiting the phone call, hopefully later this week, telling us they’ve
arrived. After more than 2 months straight of preparation, surgery, and post-op
care, it’s nice to have a little fun in the forecast.
Meanwhile, back in the regular world, there were a few
follow up tests mom’s doctor (Dr. K) had ordered back in January to be done
sometime between then and her annual wellness check in early summer. Two are
fairly routine: bloodwork and a bone density test. The other is a little less
routine – a chest CT, to take a closer look at a nodule they must have noticed
when they did the prep tests for her pacemaker surgery. To be honest, I hadn’t
even looked at the details on any of the orders until yesterday. I don’t recall
Dr. K assigning it great gravity, but thinking back, I do believe, the last
time we saw her (for mom’s pre-cataract-surgery physical), she talked about
getting that done. I didn’t have an order for it, so they sent it to me. Then,
with all the relative noise in the calendar between January and now with her
pacemaker post-op follow-up appointments and the 2 cataract surgeries, mom had
wanted to wait to do these other things until we were done with everything else.
Understandable, and I was happy to *not* have to deal with those in the midst
of everything else.
So yesterday morning, first thing, I called to make
appointments for the bone density test and the CT scan. The bloodwork can be
walk-in, but it’s usually better to make an appointment. I’m going to be away next
week – Tim, James, and I are driving down to North Carolina to retrieve Owen
from his freshman year, and my sister is coming down to stay with mom & dad
while we’re gone. I need to see if she’s OK to take mom for that sometime next
week, and if she is, I’ll schedule it. Bone density is today. CT scan is Friday
afternoon, and now that I know what it’s for, I’m kicking myself about once an
hour for not looking at the details on the order sooner and making this
appointment sooner. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it’s nothing, while my
brain rushes ahead to the worst-case scenario. Yet all I can do is wait. And push
my worry out of my head, and my chest when it fights its way in and sits there,
like a weight hanging off my heart.
Fast-forward a week and a half now, because I started this post but am just picking it back up to finish it after being away. I got mom to her appointments that week, and my sister took her for bloodwork this week while we were down in NC. I ended up in the ED with mom & dad last Saturday afternoon and evening for almost 6 hours because dad was feeling really awful and although he didn’t have a fever, I couldn’t be sure his pneumonia hadn’t come back (a story for another day). This past Tuesday evening, as we were picking Owen up from his dorm to head out for dinner, Dr. K’s office called (another Dr. from the practice actually, because Dr. K was away). Instantly my heart started pounding because I knew the doctor wouldn’t be calling just for yuks at 7:30 on a Tuesday night.
I felt like I was listening to him through a pillow, and in slow motion. He went through a few things: 1) the nodules in her lung – they looked to be emphysema, though not extensive – had she ever been a smoker? No, but her father was, and my father, too, so lots of second-hand smoke exposure. I shared that she hadn’t been experiencing any discomfort or shortness of breath, which he said was good, and they’d continue to monitor that and we could discuss further with Dr. K at her annual wellness check later in June. 2) Her gall bladder – there appeared to be stones forming. Again – I expressed my surprise, as she hadn’t been in any pain or complaining of any symptoms. Good, again – we’d just keep an eye on that and treat if/when necessary and discuss further in June. 3) Her thyroid. Nodules there on the left side. More concerning; want to get ultrasound to have a closer look sooner than later. Ok, I say – send the order in to the imaging lab and have the office call me once that’s done. I’ll set up the appointment ASAP.
I’m actually somewhat relieved as we finish up the call –
still concerned, but somewhat relieved, because I know most thyroid cancers, if
it comes to that, are very treatable and have good prognoses. Nodules on her
thyroid could explain why she’s lost weight in the past several months, and
somehow, this seems better than something questionable in her lung. Somehow. Or
is that just my inherent optimism?
The office called the next morning to tell me the order was
in to the imaging lab. I made the appointment for the soonest I could do it
(next week) and decided to wait until I got back home and could talk to mom in
person before telling her what was going on. I didn’t want to leave that to my
sister to deal with solo while I was still away. I texted my sister at 8:00 on
Friday morning after I got back in from NC late on Thursday night – was she
going to be there until 9:00 or so? I’d come by before she left.
She was, so I did. I explained the 3 findings, and that I had
made the ultrasound appointment for Wednesday afternoon. I wrote it in the
calendar. After my sister left, mom asked me to repeat the 3 things while she
wrote them down. She wanted to look them up (she was a medical transcriptionist
at 2 different times in her life, so she still has some of her medical books,
although at this point they’re at least 25 years old).
Mother’s Day will have come and gone by the time this post goes up, but it will still be 2 more days, and probably another day or two after that, before we have an idea of what this ultrasound has to say. Another phone call I’ll be waiting for, but not looking forward to.
If you’re also following my page on Facebook, you may have seen my post from a week and a half ago: last month, I decided to put myself out there and write an essay for a Mother’s Day contest in a Boston area online publication called Herself360. I’m excited to say that mine was one of the winners.
Apologies that this week’s Food Friday isn’t going up until Saturday, but Owen asked for us to drive straight through Thursday on the way home from picking him up from his freshman year at school, and what should have been about a 13 – 14 hour trip turned into a 17-hour odyssey (I drove all of it) and us not pulling into the driveway until nearly 1 a.m. on Friday. As a result, what I was hoping to write when I got home Thursday night had to wait through a Friday consumed by unpacking, returning the rental mini-van, catching up with mom & dad, and the long-awaited family viewing of Avengers End Game.
Now, at 10 p.m. on Friday, I can finally gather my thoughts
and start waxing poetic about my week in food. I love cooking at home, but when
I’m on a vacation like this, I like to lay down my chef’s knife to explore local
restaurants. So when we were down in the mountains of western North Carolina (with
a stop-over in Winchester, VA) this past week, I took every opportunity I could
to check out some new spots, from coffee to breakfast to lunch to dinner and there
was a treat at every turn, even if I was left wishing for 6 stomachs and
another week’s worth of time – there’s just never enough.
It seems that in just about every place I’ve been, good
coffee isn’t hard to come by anymore; and, with apologies to all the Dunkin
fans out there, I don’t mean Dunkin. I’m not bashing them. I just prefer foods and
beverages that aren’t mass-produced and homogenized into repeatable, predictable
submission, but I recognize that some people like to know exactly what they’re
getting. Every time.
For coffee lovers on the road – actually for all food and beverage lovers – Yelp, in my opinion, is the best invention ever. It’s like word of mouth times a thousand, and it has never steered me wrong. On this trip, it was 3 at-bats, and a 1.000 average: Steamy’s in Winchester, Dynamite Coffee Roasters in Black Mountain, NC and The Beehive in Arden, NC. I should probably be more scientific about my coffee excursions than I am, but I’m not on a quest for the best coffee in the country, just a place that gives me some meaningful choices as far as origin, type of processing, roast, sourcing standards, etc. When I say “scientific,” I mean maybe only ordering a pour-over every place I go, or the same type of bean, but that second one is way too variable and would come down to a meaningless comparison of apples (Macoun) to apples (Delicious), and would definitely alienate way too many baristas and patrons waiting in line behind me, which I’m just not that into. So I’m perfectly happy to roll with a nice, simple, unadorned black cup of the brew of the day, and enjoying the amazing variety in fruitiness, earthiness, acidity, etc, of a wonderful range of options. Steamy’s also makes a great bagel (in-house); Dynamite has a can’t-go-wrong featured brew of the day and yummy scones, and The Beehive makes a mean cold-brew.
When you only have a few days someplace with a lot of other attractions (such as, um, some of the most beautiful mountains in the country, and one of the most scenic roads ever built to get you to them), unfortunately, carving out the time to check out different breakfast spots each day may not be realistic. As much of a morning person as I am, alas, a sit-down breakfast every day just wasn’t in the cards. I’m thrilled to report, though, that the one place we did indulge ourselves with was so wonderful that I might not be able to venture anywhere else the next time I’m in Black Mountain. That spot was Louise’s Kitchen. I’m usually more of a savory-breakfast person than sweet, but this time I went for broke with the blueberry waffle and it was excellent – perfectly crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, and the locally made sausage patty that was one of the side options was unique and delicious. Washed it all down with a “mega-mosa” (because what’s better preparation for a 90-minute drive and sometimes chest-clutching hike to a waterfall?)
Barbecue & Smokehouse
No shortage of either one of these things in and around Asheville, that’s for damn sure. The two we got to experience on this visit were Luella’s BBQ in North Asheville (melt-in-your-mouth brisket, baby; plus hush puppies and collard greens – braised southern-style with that nice, vinegary bite – I was one happy camper!!) and, on our last night in Black Mountain, Foothills Butcher Bar, where I had one of the best pork chops of my life (it was the blue plate special). These guys source everything locally – they know the farmers who raise their meats, and they run their own butcher shop and smokehouse, where they also produce their own cold cuts. My dad is a huge bologna fan, so I snagged a pound and can’t wait to give it a try when I bring it to him tomorrow (because I forgot it in the fridge when I went over to see them this morning). They also made a version of poutine that was incredible – fries done in beef tallow with the obligatory cheese curds melted on top (from locally made cheese, of course!), topped with their own not-to-be-sneezed at “pulled beef” with a beef demi-glace in place of the usual gravy, some sriracha aioli, and, to break through all that richness, pickled red onions and a nice sprinkle of fresh cilantro.
We kicked off our trip on, of all days, Cinco de Mayo, so I think we were all kinda leaning toward margaritas and Mexican food (if we could find a good spot at our stop-over in Winchester, VA). Turns out that we’d just missed the fracas that is the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in town this past weekend, and many of the locally-owned establishments were plumb tuckered-out from the Shenandoah-shenanigans of the thousands of visitors that had overwhelmed them from Friday night through Sunday morning. Thankfully, there was a good Mexican option that picked itself up, dusted itself off, and carried on gallantly, in the rain. And, as it turned out, El Centro in Old Town Winchester makes some pretty mean carnitas, and a decent top-shelf margarita. I’m as picky as they come when it comes to carnitas, to which I was introduced on a visit to southern CA many years ago, by friends who ventured over the border into Mexico fairly regularly, and were capable of finding a truly authentic Mexican restaurant inside of hours of arriving in any unfamiliar city. Those first carnitas were memorable – soft, juicy, just a little fatty, and crispy all at the same time, perfectly seasoned, though I had no idea at the time with what – I just knew that dish would more or less haunt me for years – I never could find anything that came close to it anywhere (even on many visits to Mexico!!). Then, a few years ago, I came across a recipe for it in the New York Times and decided to give it a go. The result was so close to that first taste that it was nearly a religious experience. That doesn’t stop me from trying them at restaurants that offer them though, because, well, you just never know. And this time, while they weren’t quite the originals (or the NY Times version), they were pretty great – they didn’t go all the way to crispy, but they were tasty and clearly the result of the long cooking process and absorption of spices that makes the best carnitas.
Also, as if the Universe were actually paying attention to stuff I write about, I finally got to try a spot on Tuesday night in Asheville that’s been on my list for a while – The Blackbird Restaurant, and what did they have on their menu that night? Roasted marrow. It. Was. Heavenly.
Our post-waterfall hike lunch was at HomeGrown in Asheville (we went to the one on Merrimon Ave.), which bills itself as “Slow Food Right Quick.” That’s exactly what they do, and they do it spectacularly. They balance a lot of challenging variables: practically everything locally sourced; soul/southern food; simultaneously vegan- and omnivore-friendly. The result could be disastrous, but it’s far from it, and I pretty much inhaled a scrumptious buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with incredibly fresh lettuce, pickled onions, sprouts, and horseradish honey-mustard, set off with a side of sautéed ginger-spiked, sesame greens (kale) unlike any I’ve ever had, and I’m a greens-lover. Tim had their cheesy grits as a side to his “Redneck Cuban.” I could have married those grits, or at least slept with them. O.M.G.
Finally, helping to make the 17-hour trip home at least not THE worst travel experience of my life, we found our way to Metro Diner in Middletown, DE sometime around 7:30 Thursday night, after close to 12 hours on the road, and one speeding ticket. One of their specials was a homemade turkey pot pie, which was almost perfect (including the crust, my only criticism for which was that I wished there were more of it). It helped me keep it together for the 4 ½ hours of driving (and crawling through construction within the last hour of the trip) that still faced me. This was the one “chain” I succumbed to (besides the quick in/out fast food stops for breakfast on the way down and lunch on the way back), and it was really OK. Or at least my pot pie was.
Through all of it, we didn’t have even one bad server. Here’s
to all of them, and the chefs, and roasters, and everyone else who makes and
serves, and cleans up after the food and drinks that speak the deeper language and
culture of a place, and make the travel experience that much richer.
We’re on a short hiatus this week, down in the mountains of western NC,
picking Owen up from his freshman year in college. It’s so incredibly beautiful
and peaceful here, so far from the dust and decisions of working on the house. I’ve
been looking forward to this trip, along with some Blue Ridge hiking for months
(I’m typing this on the back porch of the house we’re renting, listening to a
symphony of birdsong, led most vocally by 2 male cardinals who are clearly
drawing the battle lines around their spring conquest). Thankfully the weather
is cooperating, though truthfully, I brought my rain gear because I wasn’t
going to let the opportunity to hike these mountains pass if Mother Nature
decided on 4 more days of precipitation. I’m hoping for everyone back home that
the sunny weather we had here yesterday and, so far, this morning, is gracing them
as well, because it has been so incredibly rainy for the past several weeks at home
that people are starting to lose their shit.
But, since this is a page dedicated to what’s going on with the
renovation, an update: aside from a GFI outlet (and switchplate cover), one or
two last pesky plumbing joints to tighten up, and, oh yeah, the door (which
means the hallway also has to be finished – a small task I’d all but forgotten
needed doing) the bathroom is DONE!! I’ll share the photos in a minute, after I
explain how I could have forgotten about the hallway, or why *that* has to be
done before we can call the bathroom done.
So first, what does the hallway have to do with the bathroom? Since you asked (ha 😉), I’ll tell you. When we changed the bathroom doorway and made it wider, we had to remove the entire frame (and trim, inside and out) of the previous doorway (recall the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde intro from several weeks back). I’d like to say that was the only factor that began the cascade of re-doing the hallway, but in reality, that began at least a year ago – maybe more, but neither of us can remember the point at which the hallway went from finished to unfinished. All I know is that the doorway from the dining room into the hallway was similarly taken apart and, looking at it, it appears that we added some structural 2 x 4’s around the door frame. However, they’ve been flanking the hall-side of that opening, exposed like the cutaway view of bones in an anatomical model, for so long that they’ve become invisible to us, and clearly those 2 x 4’s are too new to have been there since the original house was built.
I think there must be a condition – I’ll call it “Renovator’s Amnesia,”
which kicks in as a form of emotional self-preservation when a renovation
project hits flood stage, flows over its banks, and messes up parts of your
house you never really anticipated it would; and the project, which you thought
would take “x” amount of time, grows and morphs into something with a life and
a personality all its own as it approaches “x-squared.” You no longer remember
all the details, or when you did what, or even why. You’re just happy when you
can call something – anything – “done.” Thus it is with that hallway: I’m so
used to it in its partially-torn-apart state that when Tim asked me last week
what color I wanted to paint it, I was taken entirely by surprise.
Back to the bathroom door: the hallway side of it needs new trim (which also needs to be painted) before we can hang the hardware for the barn-style sliding door (and the actual door itself, which cannot be hung until it’s ordered. I will now go inside and remind Tim that we need to do this, though it probably won’t happen now because for some reason he’s vacillating on the style of the door, meaning that it could actually be weeks longer before this project is finally, fully complete. Sigh). Further, because that doorway needs new trim, the trim in the entire hallway needs to be torn out and replaced. That’s because the style of the old trim is so completely different than the style of the trim in the rest of the house (see what I mean by “cascade?”). To be fair, he actually did put up the new trim around both the bathroom doorway and the doorway into my office, plus the baseboard on 2 of the hallway walls, Saturday afternoon. He even humored me and put up samples of the 3 possible paint colors I picked up late last week.
Meanwhile, though, I’m thrilled with how this bathroom turned out, even if no one will use it until it has a door.
The Friday before mom’s second cataract surgery, as I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, was her first appointment with the geriatric psychiatrist, Dr. M. We came away from that appointment with a prescription for a medication to treat her depression, with him telling mom that any side effects were rare and, if any appeared, typically very mild, tending toward those of the gastrointestinal variety. He recommended that she take it in the morning with food to avoid any of those potential side effects. I swung by the pharmacy first thing on Saturday morning to pick up the prescription, and since by now we were back on the 3 eyedrop-a-day regimen for the second pre-surgical eye (while still administering 2 a-day for the first eye), I dropped it off when I delivered the first round of drops for the day.
There were 2 dosages of the depression medication: a lower dose to start for the first week, then a higher dose she was to take for another week and ½ before her follow up appointment with Dr. M. I put the higher dosage bottle away in the cabinet, leaving the lower dosage one on the kitchen counter where she would see it in the morning when she made her breakfast. I left all the standard literature that comes with any new prescription off to the side on the kitchen table. I came back in the early afternoon for round 2 of the daily eyedrops to find my mother somewhere well-beyond agitated, bordering on the accusatory:
“I’m not taking those new pills.”
Instantly I knew what had happened.
“I read those papers and it said there could be eye problems so I called Dr. M’s office and told him I’m not going to take them.” She didn’t want to risk messing up the surgery.
I started to remind her that Dr. M had said that the side effects were rare and mild, but thought better of trying to talk her into it at this stage given her frenzied state of mind. She continued, attempting to convey her concerns, her frustration building , unable to extract and articulate the thoughts in her head. I quickly put it all together based on the sentence fragments she was hurling at me. Her eye doctor didn’t know about this new medication because she hadn’t been on it when they last reviewed her medication list. Then she wasn’t sure *who* she’d called, causing her more frustration, so I looked at the call log on the phone. Turned out she’d called the eye surgery center. I told her they weren’t open on the weekends so they wouldn’t be getting back to her until Monday morning, but also conveyed not to worry about it – if she wasn’t comfortable taking it yet, then she shouldn’t take it. We’d wait to hear from the surgical center or the doctor on Monday to be sure it was OK, and if it was, she could just start it on Tuesday, since she had to fast Monday morning before the surgery.
Monday morning the surgical center called back and told her the medication wouldn’t interfere with her surgery. I did the drops, later than normal, just before we left for the surgery, which, this time, was scheduled for noon. All went well, and, because she now knew what to expect, though I offered to stay over again this time, she was comfortable with me spending that night in my own bed. I reminded her though, that if anything was even a little bit off, she should just call me.
I arrived the next morning around 9:15 to help her remove her patch and dressings and to be sure she ate something and took her first dose of her new medication. Her appointment was at 10:15, so we were planning to leave a little after 9:30, so I was surprised to find the place eerily quiet. I called out. No answer. I wondered if she’d overslept.
I went to their room to find her sitting in the chair next to her dresser, in quiet tears. She seemed shaky and weak. Panic rose. She said she was feeling dizzy and strange and that she didn’t think she’d be able to go to the appointment. I felt her head for fever as I ran through the list of post-op complication warning signs I’d since memorized: bleeding through the dressings (no); fever (no – though she was a little sweaty); chills (she said no); nausea (no); vomiting (no); pain at the surgical site (it felt like the other eye had, so no). I asked her if she’d eaten anything (no), so I went out to the kitchen, peeled her a clementine, poured a fresh glass of cold water, and brought them in to her.
It was imperative that we see the doctor that day for the post-op follow up, but I told her not to worry – that I would call to change the time to later. While she ate the clementine, I called the doctor and left word on his assistant’s voicemail with what was happening and asking if we could bump the appointment to later.
After a few minutes, mom seemed marginally better. I made her some toast. Hannah had arrived so she helped her finish getting dressed. They came out to the kitchen and I went back to get my phone off her dresser, distracted for a minute by a reminder that had popped up on my screen. I came back into the kitchen to butter the toast. By now she was sitting in her spot at the table, so I washed my hands in preparation for removing her patch and dressings and doling out another dose of eyedrops. The eye looked red, as the other one had the morning after surgery, but nothing alarming. I decided to wait on the eyedrops until after she’d finished her toast.
As I went back over toward the sink to grab a napkin for her, I saw the bottle with the new medication on the counter, so took one out and brought it over to her to take now that she was eating something a little more solid. As I laid it on the table next to her plate, she said, “Oh, I took that already.” (What?!?)
“You did? When? Like before I got here this morning, or just in the past few minutes?” (Could she have taken it in the time it took me to get my phone?)
She thought for a moment. “Before you got here. I was up early and walking around and I saw it so I took it.”
“Did you eat anything when you took it?”
“I think that’s why you were feeling so dizzy and strange! Dr. M said you should take these with food or they might make you feel funny. How are you feeling now that you have some food in you?”
My phone rang. It was the doctor’s assistant. I explained what I thought had happened and that I thought we may still be able to make it but we might be a few minutes late. She said not to worry and did some re-arranging of the schedule, working us in after 1:00 that afternoon instead. Perfect.
Mom finished her toast, now on the upswing. I plopped in another set of eyedrops and headed home for a couple of hours before I’d be back for the post-op appointment, which went not unlike the one for the left eye. Another week of 3 drops, 3 times a day in the right eye until we were back for the second follow up appointment. We could stop the drops for the left eye, which felt like a small victory.
At the second follow up, the doctor noticed some swelling in the left (first) eye, so my small victory evaporated as the regimen was shifted again: 2 drops, twice a day, in *each* eye until the final follow up appointment at the end of April. As I’m typing this, we’re counting down the last few days before what should be the final follow-up appointment, the much-anticipated measurements for her final eyeglasses prescription, and The End of the Eyedrop Episodes. There’s a part of me that will rejoice, and another part of me that’s already working on a reason to go over there every day anyway. Maybe just not twice a day. . .
I am a meat lover. To be even more specific, I am a fat-loving
meat lover. Fat has always made me happy. And so far, it seems to also be keeping
me healthy, which isn’t something I’m sure would work for everyone. (I have a
theory about diets in general and why there is no single “best” or healthiest
diet that is the right one for every person – I’ll post about that sometime in
the not-too-distant future).
Full disclosure though, I am also a vegetable-lover, so
perhaps that’s my nutritional saving grace – who knows? The only vegetable I’ve
ever tried that I didn’t like was okra. Bitter greens, like mustard, dandelion,
broccoli rabe? Bring ‘em on. Brussels sprouts? I can hardly get enough. I’m crazy
about kale; cuckoo for kimchee (technically a fermented vegetable, I know – I’ll
do a post about fermented foods sometime in the future, too). But nothing makes
me drool more than a well-seasoned ribeye, freshly sizzling off the grill, and
the near-swoon of anticipation I feel slicing into that first, beautiful, melty
piece of salt & peppered fat.
True story, just to put a needle-sharp point on my
borderline obsession: we, like millions of others, had a ham for Easter this
year. Because we were a small crowd, I got a quarter ham, bone-in. Until the
end of the day, when I was cleaning up and putting away the leftovers, I had
not considered a truly wondrous thing: in order to have a “bone-in” quarter ham,
the bone would have to be cut, too. And, there, as I lifted the ham by its partial
shank bone to nestle it into a storage container, I spied it. Shimmering unctuously
at me from the cocoon of that split shank was that grail of fat-lovers
everywhere: the *marrow.* I stopped dead in my cleanup tracks, gasped at my
fortune, then proceeded to scoop and slurp up every last molecule of it. Yes. I
LOVE fat. (If that just grossed you out, my apologies. On the other hand, if you
have a leaning toward fat and you’ve never experienced the sublime joy that is
marrow, go forth and find yourself a great restaurant that serves osso bucco. Your
life may never be quite the same again).
But I’m not mindless about it.
With all of that said, I have to share something else that
has grown to be a part of my life and routine, though I must admit that I’m not
always able to follow this perfectly: when I buy any kind of animal protein
(meat, poultry, eggs, fish, even dairy products), I spend the time to find, and
the extra money to buy (though often to buy reduced quantities of) products
which are grass-fed, pasture-raised, free-range, wild-caught, hormone- and
antibiotic-free, etc. I don’t do this because I’m a food snob or an animal
rights activist. I do this because I believe that animals raised eating the
foods *they* were meant to eat (cattle eating grasses & hay, as opposed to
grains, soy meal, and God-knows what else; chickens tapping around and eating
insects, seeds, and worms; etc.), and in surroundings they were meant to inhabit
(cattle in fields, rather than crammed into muddy, manure-filled pens; ditto
for chickens or pigs, or even fish) are inherently healthier themselves, and by
logical progression, their meat is also healthier when we consume it.
Grass-fed, free-range: really healthier?
This is borne out by studies of cattle fed grass diets versus grain diets. The concentrations of, for example, healthier omega 3 fatty acids are consistently higher in grass-fed than in grain-fed beef. While omega 6 fatty acid concentrations don’t seem to change significantly with the different diets, as I noted a couple of weeks ago in my Step Away From the Canola post, we should be after ratios of omega 6: omega 3 more in the range of 4:1 or lower (ideally, 1:1), whereas now, our typical ratios are sky-high (15:1 or higher). Grass-fed beef provides a better ratio. It also has higher concentrations of antioxidant enzymes, among other benefits. While grass-fed and free-range animals do tend to have lower overall fat content and slightly different flavor profiles, I’ve been perfectly happy with the fat they do have, and have grown accustomed to the flavor profile.
I also think there’s something to be said for “happier” animals in terms of the eventual healthfulness of their meat: in the same way that elevated stress hormones are known to have deleterious effects on humans and our propensity for all sorts of disease, animals under chronic stress respond similarly. Keep subjecting them to stressful situations; drive up their stress hormones and, not surprisingly, you will decrease the quality of their meat.
But what about the environment?
Finally, I return to one of the areas I said I’d focus on at
the outset of writing this blog a few months ago, and a huge reason I buy
carefully: environmental impact. The production of animal protein, no matter
what, has a larger carbon footprint than the production of most plant products
(though that does start getting more iffy with some monoculture crops, many of
which are produced for what? Animal feed. But I digress). However, the negative
environmental impact of grass-fed/pasture-raised/free-range meat production is
significantly lower than high-intensity “factory farming” techniques. There’s a
great book about this called Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat, by Philip
Lymber with Isabel Oakeshott, which, despite the alarmist title, does a very
balanced job of laying out the horrific environmental impacts of factory
farming, along with a very solid argument for how, despite broad belief to the
contrary, expanding global populations do *not* demand more such intensive
farming techniques. You can find a good overview and review of the book here
on The Guardian.
Our choices, our future.
It’s critical that we all understand the absolute power we wield to shape our own futures, whether carnivore or vegan, not only by how we eat, but by how we spend our money. We’re seeing more food retailers adding organic options to their shelves, and many manufacturers shifting to non-GMO ingredients. They aren’t doing that just for yuks or out of a sense of environmental stewardship or social justice. They’re doing it because of consumer demand. That demand, my friends, begins and ends with you and me.