Friday, February 28, 2014

Manoomin (Wild Rice) & Mushrooms


     Thank you all for reading the reflective piece on my type 1 diabetes anniversary earlier this week.  It means a lot that my friends (in person and online!) and family support me and my struggles.  I have been especially struck by the outreach by the diabetes online community, how these support groups and forums can help you feel less alone and alienated by a disease most people don't fully understand.  Thank you again for the love and friendship!

     Today, I am taking a brief break to write you a recipe that's been on my agenda for some time.  I have been doing quite a bit of reading lately and trying to prepare for a presentation I am giving in mid-March and a paper I'm writing for a conference in April.  I feel like my research, ideas, and goals have been all over the place lately, so if you can send some positive writing vibes and clarity my way, it would be much appreciated!

     Back in November, I began reading a newly published Native American cookbook by Heid E. Erdrich, called Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes From the Upper Midwest.  I am nearly done reading through it and have had the opportunity to make a few recipes from it.  I hope to write a review on it soon so I can give you a full overview of Erdrich's impressive work.  Erdrich offers a wonderful recipe book derived from family recipes, traditional ancestral inspirations, and local and sustainable ingredients from regional sources around Ojibwe territory (Minnesota).  She disperses indigenous knowledge highlights, whimsical anecdotes, Indian humor, and plenty of resource information pointing readers toward best practices and Native food organizations.  The majority of her recipes are vegetarian, but there is plenty of room at her table for omnivores, vegans, and pescatarians.  I've actually been wanting to make more recipes from her book, but have had trouble with availability of ingredients and some restrictive ingredients.  I'm excited that spring's on its way in soon though and we'll be able to get our hands on some of the foods that are difficult to find in the winter!

     I found inspiration from Erdrich's work for this next recipe post: Manoomin & Mushrooms.  She dedicates a whole section of her book to this beautiful non-genetically modified indigenous wild rice grain and leaves plenty of room for imagination in creating delectable recipes.  This recipe draws inspiration from "Rita Erdrich's Manoomin" (p.26).  I have made my recipe version only a few times and enjoy it more and more each time.  It can easily be made vegetarian or vegan.  It is more diabetes friendly when served with a generous amount of protein and perhaps slightly undercooked.  Feel free to make any substitutions or variations as you wish.  I'm sure it would be made even more wonderful with the addition of bacon (what dish wouldn't be?), different spices, or nuts.  On the other hand, you could subtract some onions if you're not as crazy about them as I am.  It's a very rich, hearty dish and could very well stand on its own as a main entree, or could be served with a leaner main course.  In this case, I served it with broiled lemon rosemary haddock and sauteed green beans.

     While my ancestral homelands are on the other side of the Great Lakes from Erdrich's homeland, I guess you can say the Haudenosaunee and Ojibwe are like distant neighbors.  We shared many similar traditional foods being nations in the Great Lakes region.  We have our ancestral white corn, and they have their ancestral manoomin wild rice.  I've taken great care to photograph these beautiful foods (white corn and manoomin).  These original, heirloom grains have been harvested with love by their respective nations and provide a special connection between the earth, our ancestors, and our bodies.  It's a blessing that these ancient grains still exist in the form they do, that they are still harvested by loving hands that tend the fertile fields or sift through gentle lake waters.  I try to meditate on this gratitude and connection as I cook and enjoy my meal.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Printable Directions

1/2 cup Manoomin Wild Rice*
8 oz. White Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced, divided in half
1 small Onion, chopped
1 Shallot, diced
3 Scallions, chopped - separate the whites and greens
2 cloves Garlic
1 tablespoon freshly squeeze Lemon Juice
Homemade Chicken Stock - 1/2 cup and 2/3 cup (substitute vegetable stock for veg)
1 cup Filtered Water
1 tablespoon rendered Duck Fat (substitute Coconut Oil for veg)
1 teaspoon Coconut Oil
Fresh Rosemary & Thyme
1 tablespoon organic, grassfed Butter (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

*A note about Manoomin: Make sure you are using the real deal manoomin rice.  I order from Winona LaDuke's White Earth Land Recovery Project/Native Harvest brand because it is quality rice, sustainably harvested, and supports a Native non-profit doing amazing work for indigenous agriculture.  You'll probably want to rinse the manoomin with hot water a few times and make sure there are no pieces of dirt, unhulled rice grains, or other bits of debris.  I let it soak for a few minutes so the grains are nice and clean.  If 1/2 cup doesn't seem like much rice, be aware this stuff multiplies in volume!  Erdrich has very careful Manoomin prep. instructions in her book to which I have tried my best to adhere.

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Heat water and 1/2 cup of chicken stock in a medium saucepan over high heat.  When the water starts to boil, add the manoomin rice and some salt, and cover with lid.  Cook for 20 minutes without removing the cover.  This would be a good time to work on your main course dish or work on prepping the above ingredients.

3.  While you're waiting for the rice to cook, heat the duck fat and coconut oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat.  Saute your chopped onions, the white portions of your scallions, and half of your mushrooms for about 7 minutes until the onions start to turn translucent.

4.  Add the shallots and garlic and stir, sauteing for an additional 3 minutes or so.  Add seasonings - 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves and 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary, and however much salt and pepper you would like.  Add the remainder of the mushrooms.  Squeeze fresh lemon juice over mixture.  Stir and saute for another minute.

5.  Add 2/3 cup chicken stock and green onions, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

6.  Add cooked manoomin to a casserole dish.  Pour mushroom and onion mixture over the manoomin and mix well with a fork.  Dot with butter if desired.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Let dish rest to absorb any remaining juices before serving.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The 17th Time I Puked, or a Diabetes Diagnosis Story

           I sat on the plushy couch looking down on a pile of my vomit.  Yep, this is the 17th time I puked over the course of 36 hours.  Even water was becoming a challenge to hold down.  My heart beat so fast as I sat there, too weak to move any muscle unnecessarily.  There was a whooshing sound in my head that crashed like violent, stormy waves angered by a storm.  Little pink dots (capillaries?) scattered across my face as though they were strange, unknowable constellations.  I thought to myself, this can't be it.  My life can't be over at just 20.

          This, my friends, is my diabetes story.  I have seen posts across countless diabetes blogs recounting their stories.  Some are quite dramatic near-coma episodes and others are simple "we got your lab results, and..." kind of stories, but regardless, the emotional toll and life changes are the same.  There is a power within our stories, despite the pain, and a shared sense of community.  Today, Februrary 24, is my 10-year type 1 diabetes diagnosis anniversary and I am joining the diabetes online community in sharing my own story.  I am thankful to be a part of this community.


          I was a junior, English-major student attending Buffalo State College.  It was a bitter cold February in the city of Buffalo and the "spring" semester was full of deadlines, meetings, and schoolwork.  I was a seriously dedicated student in the McNair Scholars program with many aspirations ahead of me, including a doctoral degree.  I was somewhat healthy, even playing collegiate lacrosse the year before, but I had come across an overactive thyroid issue and other strange symptoms.

           Actually, two months prior, I was convinced I had diabetes after I drank a frappuccino.  All Wilford Brimley "diabeetus" jokes aside, I became really shaky and dizzy after consuming my twice-weekly indulgence.  I mentioned this to my doctor and my labs did not confirm anything wrong other than a hyper thyroid.  Soon I became unbelievably thirsty and regularly downed two-liters of Mountain Dew, Gatorade, water, anything I could get my hands on.  I started carrying bottles of water with me because my mouth got so dry.

          And with this new habit came many visits to the bathroom. I used the bathroom to urinate several times a day, morning, noon, and night.  My sleep became interrupted by constant visits to the toilet.  When I even got sleep, I would wake with excruciating foot and leg muscle cramps. By now my frame had shrunk down by about 20 pounds and I took on a much thinner appearance, which I didn't mind much.  However, this was even despite my binge visits to the dining hall buffet and constant hunger.  I also complained of it always being too hot and regularly waltzed into the February air with nothing more than a spring jacket on.  My now-husband, Dan, still teases me about this when I complain I'm too warm.

          I did notice I was having trouble keeping up with my schoolwork.  I was extraordinarily tired all the time and it took a ton of energy just to wake up and walk to class from North Wing.  It was when I was in one of my English composition classes when I really knew something was wrong.  In the middle of a lecture, I bolted out of the room with a queasy feeling in my stomach and headed for the restroom.  Unfortunately for me, the bathrooms were located on the basement floor of Ketchum Hall.  I got in the elevator and, unable to make it, expelled a Special K breakfast bar and apple juice onto the floor of the mechanism.  I still feel really bad for the misfortune of those who later had to ride that elevator.

          I went home sick and immediately called my mom.  We called my doctor and he dismissively asked if I was sure I wasn't pregnant.  I angrily assured him I was not and came in for an appointment.  He tested my blood sugar and it was 250 mg/dl, and then came the mistaken type 2 diabetes diagnosis at age 20.  He sent me home with a Metformin prescription and some labwork for the next morning, only this never solved my problems.

          The next 24 hours was a strange blur where time also stood still.  I was in my own little place of hell, alternating between vomiting, short shallow breaths, heart pounding, and the whooshing in my head.  I started to keep track of how many times I barfed and by the end of it all, the total tally ended at eighteen times.  My mother continued to call the doctor who thought it was a medication side effect and waited until the last minute to advise us to seek emergency medical treatment.

           Back to the couch.  There I was in all my fear, anxiety, pain, and discomfort.  I truly feared my life ending at age 20 since I felt I had so much more to do and experience.  While the world continued to turn and people lived their lives, there I was on the couch feeling so very alone and scared.  Grandma was there though.  She comforted me and told me I was going to be okay with a convincing and unwavering confidence that I came to believe.  I continue to be grateful for that loving moment.

           Eventually, my mom came home and we went to the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center Emergency Room.  The staff immediately checked me in (I used to joke that I got VIP treatment), started doing their labwork and tests, and began treating me with IV fluids and medications.  I puked one final time and then began my road back to wellness.  I spent five days in the Intensive Care Unit at the top floor and two days in the regular rooms downstairs.  My then-boyfriend/now-husband, Dan was there by my side for as long as he could be, and he continues to lovingly provide support through the years of living with this condition.  Today, sometimes the mere click of the lamp at 4am provokes him to ask if I need a juicebox.  His support has meant so much to me and in some ways, we have both grown through this condition.  Many family members and friends came to visit me which I was so grateful for.  I was given cards, plants, stuffed animals, and slippers.  When I wasn't being poked or prodded, I spent my time writing, reading, praying, reflecting, and growing stronger.  It was a blessing to see the rising sun in the morning from the top of the hospital.

          They diagnosed me as a Type 1 diabetic who had experienced severe diabetic ketoacidosis.  I later learned there is no known cure for this type of diabetes and it was caused by my immune system gone haywire that mistakenly attacked my pancreatic, insulin-producing cells.  I would forever be dependent on insulin to function until they found a cure.  This was much different than the more common type 2 diabetes most of my family members had.  I was immediately started on an insulin injection regimen, taught how to inject insulin into myself by syringe and pen, and later set up for nutrition classes.  I learned how to check my blood sugars, how to correct high blood sugars, treat lows, and count carbohydrate exchanges.  It wasn't until three months later that I was set up with an insulin pump which made things considerably easier.  For months, perhaps even years, my blood sugar levels hardly ever stayed within the ranges the doctors wanted and I struggled with the highs and lows.

          Ten years later, I have learned quite a bit about living with diabetes and how best to care for my body.   My HbA1c is much better and I feel more at ease dealing with the ups and downs.  I know now the best foods and practices that create balance and wellness for me.  Emotionally, I still struggle with what to make of my experiences and journey.  Sometimes I would sift through my old medical files like a detective, looking for the minuscule clues for what exactly caused my diabetes - Was it the strep throat infection I had a year earlier? Mercury fillings months prior? A sensitivity to gluten and dairy? The hazardous chemicals reputed to be buried under Chew Road? Immunizations? A stressful upbringing?  It didn't matter, really.  Nothing would change the fact that I had diabetes.  Other times, I spent a lot of time living in denial, rejecting my condition, and being very angry and depressed about the cards dealt to me.

           The most recent years find me looking upon this experience and condition with more acceptance, kindness, patience, knowledge, and spiritual understanding.  Don't get me wrong, I still have my moments, but I've matured and learned to love my body despite the stresses it can cause.  The truth is, I don't know why this struggle has been granted to me, but I choose to acknowledge, accept, and grow from it.  As much as it sucks doing your pancreas's job and worrying 24/7 about your blood sugar, bottoming out to a 30 bg on your 21st birthday (true story!), or facing the idea of your own mortality at a younger age than others, I think there's a wisdom that comes from this responsibility.  Dealing with these daily trials requires you to be a strong person.  It may sound funny, but I thank the Creator for my path even though it hasn't been an easy one.  They say that we're given a set number of days to live on this earth by the Creator, that he holds a number of sticks in his hand to represent how many days we are given.  No one knows how many days we have, whether a brief time or a long time.  I end my blog post today with gratitude that he still holds my sticks.  My days did not end at 20 and I continue to be blessed with the ability to walk upon this earth and enjoy life, maybe even inspiring others in the process.  Nya:weh for letting me share my story with you.

A picture of me two weeks before diabetes diagnosis.

Souvenirs from my hospital stay.

The plant I was gifted by the Tuscarora Baptist Church during my hospital stay.
A decade later, it's still living and growing strong like me.  :)

The slippers given to me by my dad and the stuffed elephant Dan gave to me.

My best buddies these days: Dexcom sensor & Animas Ping insulin pump.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Evergreens, a story

A beautifully winter-frosted Colorado Spruce pine in our back yard.

Good evening, readers!  I hope you're staying warm and safe tonight.  There's a nasty winter storm and treacherous roads right outside my window, but I am indoors and am finding comfort in some reading and a warm cup of tea (a new rooibos flavor/treat!).  I realize it has been some time since I've posted on here and it's probably because I've been in hibernation.  Just kidding.  Though on days like today, it's tempting to take a giant dose of Hibernol (remember that SNL sketch?) and sleep through the winter.  In seriousness, things have been pretty busy, actually.  In addition to dissertation research and prospectus writing, I have been designing a new set of note cards with Native American food graphics from photos I've taken - look for a separate post on this soon.  I'm also going to Kanyen'keha (Mohawk) language class and studying to hopefully join an immersion program in the spring.  This has been a time to take good care of myself too, going to all of my doctor's visits and reassessing my wellness and diabetes care protocols.

I'm excited to share I'll be giving a lecture as part of the Holistic Health Lecture Series at the Audubon Library (350 John James Audubon Parkway in Amherst) next month.  My presentation is titled, "Indigenous Food Revolution: Ancestral and Native American Approaches to Diet and Wellness," and will be on Tuesday, March 11th at 7pm.  At this gathering, we will explore the ancestral diet trends like the "Paleo" diet and seriously consider the decolonizing efforts being undertaken by indigenous people to return to traditional eating patterns.  I hope that we can spiritually reconceptualize the way we look at food, healing, self-sustenance, sovereignty, and our connections to the earth, its beings, and our ecology.  I'll post another reminder and a flyer as the date approaches.  Many good things are happening and I'm fortunate and grateful to be part of them.

Sadly, I do not have a recipe to offer you today.  I certainly have some in my mind as I've been tinkering around with a cranberry citrus bread and manoomin wild rice.  I'm also finding inspiration lately from the Paleo blogs and a recently released Native cookbook I've been reading (review to come soon!).  Instead, I thought I'd share a story with you.  The time is right for stories now.  Earlier last month marked the Midwinter ceremonies that cleanse, renew, bring together, and give thanks for the many parts of our universe that provide for us.  Even though we curse having to shovel, brush off our cars, chatter our teeth, and drive on gray, slushy, slippery roads, this time of year is a beautiful and necessary part of life.  Mother Earth and all beings need their rest, including us, and the winter forces us to slow down, take care of ourselves, and appreciate the weather and sunshine that we miss so dearly this time of year.  Winter has always been a time of storytelling.  I remember hearing that stories were supposed to be told between the first frost and the first thunder.  I can only imagine how comforting it must have been back in the day when these stories would provide warmth and entertainment on days when bitter cold, naked trees, and perhaps meager meals can seem to take the spirit out of you.  It definitely feels like something is missing when stories are condensed to the written word or the only communication is between your fingertips clattering on a laptop and a blinking cursor on a blank screen.  Enough of my intellectual ramblings though.  Below is a story I would often share with my students to explain how etiology (the origins, study of origins/causes) is found within oral tradition and stories.

Paraphrased and quoted from Joanne Shenandoah and Douglas George's Skywoman: Legends of the Iroquois (p.67-75). Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers, 1998.

"The Evergreens"

Long ago, if you can picture it, this earth looked like a very lonely, desolate place with endless, stretching plains, seas with no life in them, and great mountains of solid rock.  I imagine it would look like something from a science fiction movie, perhaps a planet where the Star Trek crew would make a stop.  The Creator realized this land needed beauty, life, and creatures on it and so they were made.  S/He took his time and thoughtfully created all of the land-dwelling, water-loving, and air-inhabiting creatures.  Soon there were fish, and birds, great animals, and even the tiniest of bugs we might now consider pests.

The Creator also paid careful attention to the plant life that would sustain these beings, and he began to create beautiful grasses, flowers, and plants.  These plants would take root in the earth and fill the land with magnificent colors and purify the air.  Trees were also made in so many different varieties.  They rooted themselves deeply in the earth, stood proud, and graced the earth with their delicate leaves, needles, and palette of color.  

All of these created beings were given instructions on how to live upon this earth and warned there would be trouble if this code were to be broken.  There was great harmony and peace among this world for a long time.  The Creator finally addressed the living world and advised them to remember the instructions they were given since he had to leave to spread life in other worlds.  He promised to return and reminded the trees that they were to watch the Earth and protect it while he left.  The trees affirmed their responsibility to remain alert, provide sustenance and shelter for animals and insects, and resist falling asleep during the darkened months.

And then the Creator left.  The trees remembered their promise and, season after season, year after year, stood still and awake, quietly watching the goings on around them.  When the wind howled or the rain went sideways, or the snow piled up and up, the trees remained strong and steadfast in their task.

One day, a maple tree curiously watched as the winter season started to roll in.  She observed the animals stowing away food in hidden places.  They also grew thicker fur coats and hunkered down in the deepest crevices of the earth to sleep away the bitter cold.  Maple wondered about this thing called sleep.  She would notice the animals curl up into a furry ball, close their eyes, and breath slowly.  They seemed to enter a magical, far away place deep inside their minds.

Maple often got lonely during the winter when the animals tucked themselves away for the season and she missed the Creator's presence.  She thought it might be possible to be with the Creator again by sleeping and temporarily leaving the outside world.  It wasn't hard for her to do.  She curled in each of her leaves, stopped her sap, and buried her roots deep into the earth.  The other trees noticed Maple's sleep and became equally curious.  They tried to wake her, but she was deep in slumber and quite comfortable.  

Eventually, the Earth turned toward Brother Sun again and his warmth reawakened all of the sleeping creatures.  The frozen lakes thawed.  Grass began to sprout again.  Birds sang with gratitude, and skinny, hungry animals were summonsed from their respite.  Maple also awakened, refreshed and renewed, with stronger branches and fuller leaves.  This greatly impressed the other broad-leafed trees and they decided to try it when fall came again.  However, the pines remembered their vow to the Creator and remained alert, standing tall even though their branches broke or they swayed in the harsh winter winds.

Winter came again.  The other trees joined Maple and curled up into a deep slumber as the snowflakes flew and animals hibernated.  Seasons passed.  Years passed.  All but the thin-needled trees went to sleep as they continued to watch the earth from lonely mountaintops, across hills, and in groves.

At last, the Creator returned to Earth from his visits.  He saw what had happened, that Maple and her friends shirked their responsibilities and neglected to watch over his creation.  Yet he was also very proud of the thin-needled trees.

Then the Creator decided.  Those who went to sleep during winter would lose their beautiful leaves during the winter and would have to grow new leaves in the spring, waiting a long time before they became fully dressed again.  They would not be able to enjoy the crisp, clear air of winter or feel the beauty of the season.  

The trees who stayed awake, the needled ones, would always be cloaked in lively green needles.  They would bring joy to the Earth with their presence and beauty.  They would be called "evergreens," a name of great honor since green is the color of life.  And so it is to this day.  The evergreens remind us to be patient and always live by our promises.  They continue to watch over us and the land.  

I should also note here that the white pine tree, an evergreen, is the symbol of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and that is likely no coincidence.  This "Tree of Peace" has great meaning to us and symbolizes our unity and need for peace, not simply from warfare but a state of balance, respect, and reciprocity for all beings.  I hope this story has brought you some peace, calm, and warmth on this snowy night.  Next time you're taking that frigid walk from the building to your vehicle, look around you.  Try not to feel embattled by the winter, but maybe comforted that the evergreens are still holding up their promise and looking over us.  Onen.

A spruce tree (not to be confused with the white pine) behind our apartment.

Close up of the needles and fresh clumps of snow.