Kimchi in progress

image

So I uploaded that photo to Instagram over the weekend and set off quite a tizzy of social media activity. (I doubt the word “tizzy” has ever been used in a sentence with “social media” before – talk about a clash of eras.) A bunch of friends said that they’d always wanted to try making it, but, you know, life and recipes and ingredients like “fermented salty shrimp” and stuff. I’m getting on my little soap box now to tell you to drop your excuses and make a batch today! (Or actually, depending on your schedule, this weekend, cause it does sort of take a while…)

So yes, it does take an afternoon. Most of the prep work is in the chopping. I mean, I use six pounds of cabbage, a half pound of radishes, and another pound of carrots – that’s a lot of chopping. Plus, the spice mixture uses – no lie – 24 cloves of garlic, which of course means a solid 15 minutes of peeling cloves. But! A single batch lasts months. So four or five hours of work on a Saturday afternoon yields months and months of deliciously crunchy, spicy, oh-so-good-for-you kimchi.

I know I’ve talked about my strict lunch regimen around here before, but I left out the part about kimchi. I eat it every single day. Not mounds of it, probably only about 1/4 cup each day, but I am diligent about eating it every day because it helps me so much.

Now I’m gonna veer topics here and careen right through the TMI border and tell you that I’ve always been the type with digestive issues. I am always the first person out of a group, any given group, to get, as your grandma puts it, tummy troubles. Whenever we go on vacation I pack a veritable pharmacy in our suitcase, full of Immodium and Pepto-bismol and Alka-seltzer. (Even more telling, I did not have to google any of those to check the spelling…..) I have long since come to terms with the fact that my digestive system just seems a bit more fragile than most. (I married a man with a digestive system made of steel so I’m hoping to pass along his genes to our offspring. Fingers crossed!)

But about eight months ago, I got the idea to try fermented veggies. Luffy had been researching remedies after I complained for the upteenth million time that my stomach was upset after dinner and he came across a lot of anecdotal evidence pointing towards fermented veggies as the cure for, among other things, stomach ailments. Without anything to lose, I agreed to try and dove into the how-to’s.

The primary sources of fermented veggies are foods likes pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi. The catch is that if you can buy it in a store, chances are it’s not actually fermented. Pickles are the perfect example. Your average dill pickle from the store has not been fermented to achieve the sourness, it’s been processed, so it has no more probiotic benefit than your average cucumber. So this means if you want to eat fermented veggies, you usually have to do the fermenting yourself. Luckily, it’s not hard at all. (I’ve been meaning to try my hand at pickles, but the kimchi comes out so well (and is spicy!).)

So, I made my first batch of kimchi. Within a week of eating it every day, I thought I could already tell that it had made a difference. And after a month of eating it? I could definitely tell. I didn’t have the same amount of stomach issues as I had previously had. More, I could actually start to tell when I wasn’t as diligent about eating it because my symptoms would return. I started lugging jars of it on our vacations instead of my pharmacy. It’s a life saver whenever I have to go on antibiotics (those used to wreak havoc on me) and nothing calms my system down faster after a spot of trouble. Even today, eight months later, whenever I start feeling off, I (1) usually realize that I’ve gone a few days without a dose of kimchi and (2) immediately eat a couple of helpings to get my system back on track.

Now, you’ll find sites out there touting fermented veggies as a cure-all for allergies and skin issues and other weird things like sharpening your memory and helping you shed pounds. I think a lot of that is BS, but it’s also helped me and my digestive system a lot. So if my situation sounds a bit familiar to you, maybe it’s worth trying? Worst case scenario, you have a batch of awesome homemade kimchi to impress your friends with.

My kimchi recipe is a cross between Maangchi’s easy-to-make kimchi and her napa cabbage kimchi. I prefer my cabbage chopped and I don’t have (or want to find) fermented shrimp or salty squid, so I just use some fish sauce instead. I do make the porridge she mentions in her napa cabbage recipe and I have to say that the results make it worth the extra effort. She does go into more detail about fermenting in a few of her posts, but it’s seriously not hard at all. Just mash out as many air bubbles as you can and leave the container out on a counter for a few days. You can also get little packs of starter from Amazon or use the fermented shrimp to jump start the process.

Advertisements

#CycleGoals

I believe I’ve mentioned my love of a good plan before (possibly here, here, and here too). Well I have a new plan for this cycle. And I am telling the internet because COMMITMENT. I am going to be super-annoyingly-healthy-pre-conception-lady. No one likes her. But I’m gonna be her.

When you dive into the world of trying to conceive, there’s a lot of conflicting advice, especially regarding nutrition. Part of it is, we just don’t know. Much like we don’t know exactly what our own bodies need (ex: the ever changing nutritional guidelines and yes-fats/no-fats/yes-fats trends), we don’t really know what the ideal pre-pregnancy (or even pregnancy) diet is. There are some obvious ones (you should probably not consume four tubs of frosting on a daily basis or go on an all-red-meat diet), but there are numerous gray areas on what and how much. Caffeine and alcohol are perfect examples and are two items in the “reduce” category. As in, you should try to reduce your caffeine intake while trying to conceive; the lower the consumption, the better. But reduce from what? If I’m only taking in 50 mg of caffeine a day, far less than a cup of coffee, does it really do me any good to further reduce my caffeine intake? Or, in general, researchers don’t think that moderate amounts of alcohol consumption while TTC has any effect on conception or fertility, but for every researcher saying it’s ok, you’ll find five armchair experts reminding you that “no consumption” is the safest bet.

Anyway, it’s one of my chief complaints (someone’s writing this down yes? I believe management should get a copy) about the whole trying-to-conceive/pregnancy business. Conflicting advice. Lofty goals for the ideal standards. I usually try to take it all with a grain of salt and weigh my mental health above some of their suggestions.

But not this cycle.

I realized that I technically only have two more tries to get it right, so to speak, before I’m put on ovulation meds. And I really don’t want to have to go on those. I want to ovulate myself. Like I’m supposed to. Med-free. (Also for the cost. Another complaint for management: paying for all of this fertility stuff when my body should be doing this FOR FREE. Get your shit together ovaries and stop freeloading!) So, two more tries and since that’s not a lot to go on (especially since I haven’t successfully ovulated myself since March), I’m gonna go full on super-annoyingly-healthy-pre-conception-lady.

I eat well as it is (my love for broccoli really comes through for me right about now) but I’m gonna go a step further for SAHPCL. Few sweets. No processed foods for SAHPCL. An extra helping of veggies every night. No alcohol. SAHPCL doesn’t need caffeine; caffeine is for the weak. Never miss a workout. MOAR WATER! Lofty goals, to be sure, but there they are – all spelled out on the internet so I can’t ignore them. I want to be the pillar of pre-conception health.

Now I know, I know. SAHPCL is really annoying and nobody likes her. I don’t like her either. But I’ve got to try. I just don’t want any nagging doubts that there was more I could have done. You know?

Smells like home

Last week, Luffy and I decided to try a new recipe. This new recipe, to be exact. One of our favorite restaurants serves incredible Sichuan-style green beans and we were eager to take a stab at recreating them at home.

Now, for some background, if you’ve read through the archives, you might have realized (or guessed) that Luffy is Chinese. As in, he was born in China. Shanghai to be exact. He and his parents moved to Miami when he was nine and they eventually made their way to the DFW area. Since he’s been here so long (he turns 29 in November), he primarily identifies as American. If you ask, he’ll tell you he’s from Dallas. Also if you ask, he’ll tell you he would never want to move back to China.

So this probably explains why I mention Chinese food so much. Luffy grew up on the stuff and I’ve quickly warmed up to it. (You would too if you could eat his parents’ home cooked meals every two weeks. Originally, I think they were just so excited that Luffy brought home a girl to meet them, they made ALL of my favorites. Every. Single. Time. They mix it up now, but are still making dumplings just for me, every single time we go.) When we visited China last year, we gorged ourselves on all of his favorite childhood dishes.

Anyway, back to the recipe. You might have noticed that the recipe calls for Sichuan preserved mustard stems. Rest assured that we do not typically have preserved mustard stems on hand, but we were able to procure them through the powers of Amazon Prime. While Luffy went to pick up a last few essential items, I started to prep everything. I opened the vacuum sealed pack of mustard stems. And the scent that wafted out. Oh you guys. It was terrible. I can’t even quite explain it. Musky, but in a putrid sort of way. Not completely overwhelming, but awful nonetheless. I quickly minced up three tablespoons worth and then promptly washed my hands to remove the stench.

Right about that time, Luffy walked in the door, stepped into the kitchen, took a big whiff and….

“It smells so good in here!”

I was stunned! How could he smell that atrocious thing and actually think it was pleasant. And then it hit me: it reminded him of home. Of his childhood. The scent probably conjured up warm, fuzzy memories of Sunday mornings at home. (Preserved mustard stems are a typical topping on congee, a rice porridge breakfast item.) And actually, now that he mentioned it, I had actually enjoyed it on congee when we visited China.

We finished up making the green beans (delicious, btw, although not quite what we were shooting for). Just an interesting reminder of how our childhoods shape us. I was raised by my half Italian mother and grew up on pasta and rosemary and olive oil. Luffy was raised on stir fries and congee and tofu. And now that we’re preparing to raise our own children, and we’ll be shaping their little palates, I wonder what dishes will eventually remind them of home.

The Highs and Lows of the Lunch Hour

(aka An Introduction to One Two of the Many Neurosis of Belle)

Let’s rewind the clock a bit – back to say, noon today. I was messaging Luffy and we were both whining about how hungry we were, comparing our snack options and our lunch plans. (And actually, let me preface this whole entry by explaining that I’m on the tail end of my latest round of hormones and this makes me a tad PMS-y. You know, mood swings, food cravings, all that jazz….) So Luffy mentioned his plans to pick up fast food for lunch and my brain immediately went OOOHHHH!!!!!

I’m usually very strict about lunch. It’s one of the few meals I look at through the lens of practicality only. Food equals survival and no more. My lunch is pathetically small and rarely varies from one day to the next. And I’m usually ok with this. Plus, it’s not like I starve, which is a stark reminder of how little food the human body actually needs and how bloated today’s portion sizes are. I like maintaining a healthy weight, but I also like indulging in awesome foods. I compromise at lunch and generally stick to veggies and greek yogurt.

But today. Today my stomach was just not feeling its usual fair and had decided noodles would do and nothing less. Garlic peanut noodles from a fantastic Chinese noodle shop in Deep Ellum, to be specific. Luffy, who is a very bad influence, egged me on despite my protests and incriminating evidence (the sugar cookie crumbs at my desk).

Belle neurosis #1: Eating out for lunch.

You see, something happens to me, when I contemplate eating out for lunch. I heap loads and loads of guilt on myself for two reasons: money and healthy eating. It takes me ages to gather the nerve to squash this guilt and treat myself once in a while. I focus on the money I’m about to throw away and the (usually) not-so-healthy meal I’m about to partake in and beat myself up because I have a perfectly good, free, and healthy lunch in the fridge at work. For the record, I have no such guilt with dinner, or even breakfast for that matter. Only lunch. Shrugs.

So I laughed off Luffy’s chants of DO-IT-DO-IT-DO-IT and gave him my patented line “we’ll see” which generally means “ha ha no.” Except that when 1:00 rolled around, I decided that I damn well could treat myself (and my PMS-y, hormone-driven stomach). It’s only $9, that’s nothing! And yeah my waistline could probably do without carbscarbscarbs for lunch, but it’s only for today. Live a little! My neurosis kicked in again about halfway to my car and I debated just turning around and eating my broccoli for lunch instead.

I will not bore you with the back-and-forth that took place inside my head as I walked to my car. Suffice it to say that I made it to the noodle shop shortly thereafter. Now, this noodle shop is located in Deep Ellum, as I mentioned earlier. For those of you unfamiliar with the city of Dallas, let me point out a flaw with the Deep Ellum area: lots of restaurants, quite possibly three parking spaces for the entire district. Parking is terrible down there. Everything’s paid parking and you can never find a spot without circling the block at least four times. Next to said noodle shop though, there’s a little paid lot. One of those where you stick your dollar in the slot that coordinates to the space you parked in. However, I never pay it when I’m picking up lunch at the noodle shop because (1) it takes five minutes and I’ll be damned if I’m paying a dollar to park there for five minutes and (2) I’m right there and I’ll be damned if I’m paying a dollar to park there when I’m right there.

I made my way up to the window and ordered the Garlic Peanut Noodles and stepped to the side to wait. They only had a few patrons today and, after a few minutes, they called a name. Not my name, but a name. After some confusion, the window lady realized they had made a duplicate order rather than mine. Apparently the ladies right before me had ordered 2 (two) orders of Garlic Peanut Noodles and the noodle masters had made 2 (two) additional orders rather than my 1 (one) order. I joked that I would take all their noodles (ALL THE NOODLES!!!!!) and was ecstatic when she said she’d just go ahead and give them to me.

2 (two) ORDERS OF GARLIC PEANUT NOODLES ALL FOR ME!!!!

I was trying to text Luffy and was halfway back to my car with my bonus order of noodles when I got a glance of a man in the parking lot with a hat and a notepad, furiously scribbling what I can only assume to be license plate numbers of all the cars in the lot. I picked up my pace and prayed that I could drive off before he got to my car. I was steps away when I saw him move to the back of mine. I got in and studiously ignored the shit out of my window, preparing to just drive off like tra-la-la-la-la, when he tapped on my window.

“Did you pay the dollar?” he practically growled at me.

“Erm….” was my brilliant response as I tried to motion to the food and noodle shop and thought briefly about explaining my whole FIVE MINUTES and RIGHT THERE rationale.

“Did you pay the dollar? Pay a dollar first next time or I write you an $18 ticket,” he grumbled at me as he charged off to check the pay stand.

Now, at this point in time, I should have realized that he hadn’t actually checked whether or not I had paid, so he could only assume I hadn’t based on my gurgled explanation. Plus, he probably hadn’t had time to even write my license plate number down because I interrupted him. Last, the ticket’s only $18, hardly breaking the bank.

I should have realized all this as I watched him lumber over to the pay stand. But I didn’t.

Belle neurosis #2: Invisible Authority Figures

Let’s pause for a second and I’ll explain. I was a good child. A rule-follower. A goody-two-shoes, some might say. I naturally followed rules and directions, and it honestly never occurred to me to break one. In my adult life, this has translated into someone who is irrationally concerned with following societal rules and regulations. In some weird ways. The speed limit, for instance, never gets obeyed. Keeping off of grass, however, always gets obeyed. Paying my dollar for parking obviously doesn’t get heeded when I think I can get away with it. Being herded by a rent-a-cop through a crowded entryway when there’s clearly a better way to get through and I stay mute and wait my turn as I glare at the more sane people going the other way.

So what happens when my Invisible Authority Figure suddenly appears?

PANIC

In a nutshell.

So that’s what I did as the angry parking lot enforcer walked away from me. Rather than rationally thinking through the situation, weighing the pros and cons, and coming up with a sane solution, my brain skipped right over that into HOLY CRAP territory. I knew I didn’t have a dollar as I never carry cash, but I pulled out my wallet anyway. I checked my coin purse, praying a quarter (or four) had magically appeared. My panic bordered on terror as I tossed the coin purse aside to paw through my purse, looking for pennies or nickels I could scrape together.

I feared the worst (which, as a side note, would only have been to explain the situation to the mean guy and then calmly take the $18 ticket, w/e) when….. a miracle. I suddenly remembered the gold dollar I had been carrying around with me since last Chinese New Year’s or possibly the one before that.

I was saved!

I hopped out of my car and all but skipped over to the evil parking enforcer, plunked the coin into his hand, and sashayed back. My heart was hammering in my chest. My palms were sweaty. I took a deep breath to calm my poor frayed nerves.

And then I realized that I am an absolute idiot. But hey, at least I have two orders of garlic peanut noodles to show for it.

Flip of the switch

Something has changed.

Last year, when Luffy and I tossed the birth control pills, I was excited. Luffy wanted children. I did too, don’t get me wrong, but mainly I think I looked forward to something new and different. I looked forward to being pregnant and special (I know, I roll my eyes at me too, but I’m just being honest with you guys). Much in the same way that an excited bride-to-be looks forward to her wedding without really thinking about the whole marriage part afterwards, I looked forward to babies.

When I thought about us trying to conceive, I thought about hazy pictures of my pregnant belly or giving birth or holding a squalling newborn. I thought about positive pregnancy tests and ultrasounds and baby showers. Whenever I thought about our label of “trying to conceive,” I always thought about it in terms of the pregnancy.

But not anymore. Something has been changing over the past few weeks and culminated over the weekend. I’m not really sure what triggered it. We were in Mexico, but we saw plenty of vacationing Asian families, many with adorable babies and toddlers in tow. Perhaps it was being with several of our friends who are still primarily concerned with partying and realizing that I’m mostly over that. Perhaps it was just some internal clock that finally struck the fabled stroke of midnight.

Whatever happened, something’s changed. Now, whenever I peer into our future, it’s not the pregnancy I’m focused on, it’s the child. The adorable little half-Caucasian, half-Chinese baby that will be ours. The precious toddler and brilliant child. I’m impatient to hold our baby and am irrationally upset that, even if we were to get pregnant TODAY, I would still have to wait 40 weeks to meet our little dumpling.

As we thought, I’ll have to rely on progesterone again this cycle. I was scheduled to begin this round on Saturday, while we were in Cancun. I figured I’d start it Sunday when we got back, only a day behind, not bad. I (unfortunately) decided to pick up my medication on Sunday, rather than picking it up before we left town. The pharmacy closed earlier than I thought it did and I missed the deadline. I was upset, but Luffy talked me down, pointing out that I could pick it up the next day. Only two days behind now. Of course, the next day was Labor Day and even though I thought pharmacies hardly ever closed (I mean, it’s medication people! kind of important), the pharmacy that I use was closed. I had to push back starting my medication to Tuesday, which meant that I was a full three days behind schedule. Obviously, three days isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, but with my new-found impatience, it’s agonizing.

Even more surprisingly, I’m impatient with work. I’ve always thought that I would ideally like to be a mom who works part-time, a sort of best-of-both-worlds approach. Stay home with our children most of the time, work from home (or even from an office) part time. That’s been my plan for a while. And yet, with this flip of the switch, I’m not even sure I want that; it seems like a distraction from my true goals. I looked around the conference table during a meeting this morning and was overcome with the feeling that I don’t belong here. I belong at home with our babies. My purpose in life is to raise our children, not sit here listening to partners talk about the decline of equity markets and when the next bubble might pop.

Impatience. I’m ready for the next phase of our life to begin, even if my body isn’t quite cooperating yet. Cheers to another round of hormones; maybe we’ll have better luck next cycle.

Mexico!

We’re back!

Luffy and I, along with some friends, headed down to Cancun for a few days over the Labor Day weekend. We stayed at a wonderful all-inclusive resort down there and had a blast hanging out in the pool, sipping frozen drinks, and trying to fit as many dining options as we could into our limited time (second breakfast anyone?! How about a pre-lunch snack?).

We were only there for two full days, so we literally did not do anything. No excursions. No shopping trips. No planned activities. Just hours of pool and ocean time. Naps for Luffy. Reading for me. We went out to a local club Friday night and danced until our feet hurt. We played in the ocean until everyone’s eyes stung with salt. It was glorious.

The only hiccups in our trip were transportation related (we missed our connecting flight to Cancun in Mexico City because we stood in the Immigration line for over an hour and a half!), but were minor overall. The resort was all-inclusive, as promised, and we enjoyed the fact that they actually meant it. (I hate it when they promise all-inclusive, but then they want to charge you extra for something like water in your room.) Everybody got adventurous with their drink orders because of the FREEDOM of just ordering a different one if you didn’t like it.

We got back Sunday evening and then had the day off yesterday to catch up on errands and get ready for the week. I’m back at work now, of course, with a full day’s work ahead of me but I’ll leave you with some pics from our balcony.
image

image

An update on charting

At the beginning of the summer, I had a slight breakdown over the fact that I was 72 days into my cycle with no end in sight. I had had a false positive ovulation test (which, when I go back to look at the pics, actually does not look positive at all) and was bummed by the fact that my period hadn’t arrived yet. After reaching out to a forum of local ladies, I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and purchased a basal thermometer to start tracking my basal body temperature (BBT). When I started charting, I was full of hope and optimism – this would be the thing! This would help! This would shine a light on the mystery that was my reproductive system.

Three months later, some of the illusion has worn off. There are aspects of charting that truly are helpful, but other parts don’t seem to be. Now, I should preface this (for anyone out there with a regular cycle) that this is coming from a woman with highly irregular cycles. As you can tell from the archives, I was already more than 70 days into a cycle when I started charting. That cycle lasted a ridiculous 148 days and only ended because I was prescribed progesterone. I’m half way through my next cycle and will likely rely on the progesterone pills to bring this cycle to an end as well. So, take all of this with a grain of salt that it might work better for you and your body.

What I found helpful:

Charting and fertility awareness method basically boils down to paying attention to the subtle changes the female body goes through each cycle. There is, obviously, an emphasis on natural clues to fertility. I found this to be really helpful because I, like I’m sure thousands of others, wasn’t very knowledgeable about what goes on down there. I knew the basics, but not much else. The discussion on cervical fluid, for example, was very useful. I had no idea that the different textures indicated which phase of my cycle I was in. I started paying much closer attention to this. In my case, it’s shown me how often my body has tried to ovulate (even though it hasn’t been successful, many of the symptoms are there as it tries to) and reinforces all those almost-but-not-quite-positive ovulation test results I got.

The TCOYF also showed me just how easy it is to throw off your cycle and that it’s actually ovulation that’s critical to the timing of your period. I always thought that the timing of your period was random, so being stressed or sick around that time could delay it. Turns out, it’s the timing of ovulation that’s random. Your period always follows ovulation by 12-16 days (the luteal phase), though a specific woman’s luteal phase is typically the same number of days. Thus, it’s easy to delay ovulation with stress (and this will delay your period), but once ovulation happens, your period’s due date is set. The more you know!

The pitfalls:

As I said, when I started charting, I thought it would be this amazing tool, a clear look into my cycle. Reading through TCOYF basically promises it will be. However, tracking my BBT hasn’t been all that useful for me (and again, this might just be my body). I have a myriad of complaints, but they all come down to the fact that it’s kind of hard to see a pattern. TCOYF stresses that you shouldn’t try to analyze each specific day’s temperature, but that you should take a step back to analyze the trend. Overall, you should see lower temps pre-ovulation, followed by higher temps after ovulation that drop off if you’re not pregnant or stay high if you are.

But the problem is, “higher” and “lower” are all within 1 degree. Yes one. As in, my highest recorded temperature during the ten days I was on progesterone (which mimics the luteal phase and is the hormone that actually causes the raise in temperature) was 98.81. My temperature this morning, pre-ovulation, was 98.03 and yesterday’s was 97.54. Because we’re talking about such a small difference, seeing the trend can be challenging, even without all the noise that daily life causes. (Wake up an hour late – temp’s off. Wake up two hours early to pee – temp’s off. Cat sleeps on your chest – temp’s off. Consume an alcoholic beverage before bed – temp’s off. Violently snooze the alarm – temp’s off. Actually, all of these should say might be off because there are times when it doesn’t seem to have an affect and you just never know when that might be.)

Now for me, tracking BBT has always been a supplement to my ovulation test kits. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable relying on it as my primary birth control. I just don’t have a regular enough cycle to make sense of the “trend.” Perhaps, if you truly are viewing the highs and lows over a single month, it might make more sense. (I suppose I’ll get a chance to try that out this month when I start the progesterone pills in a few days.) However, I’ll probably continue keeping track of it because it could possibly still be useful, in hindsight of course. And, perhaps after a couple of years at it, I’ll know my body well enough to be able to see those patterns.