Saturday, January 31, 2015

Change is in the air

(photo credit: The Values Pages Group)

There have been a few times in my life when I've just known things were going to change, and change in a big way. I consider it a gracious act by a loving Heavenly Father to allow His really-hates-change daughter to mentally prepare for what's coming next.

The first time was on the way home from church one Sunday way back in 1984. Within a few months we were packing up to move from Indiana to Florida.

During the summer of 1996 I was getting ready to visit friends in northern Michigan. Just the kids and I were going and, for some reason, I had a feeling it would be a life-changing trip. It was, but not because of the actual trip. While we were there, Ivan called and asked what we thought about him submitting his name to the church for consideration as youth pastor. Within six months he was called to that position, and by default I became a pastor's wife.

Fast forward a few years. We were going through "Experiencing God" with the youth. I had the feeling that God was getting ready to do something big.

He sent us to Africa, where we spent an amazing year in Uganda.

And those are just a few examples. 

What I've learned is that the nudge from God isn't a warning, like the robot in "Lost In Space" frequently gave.

God is not announcing danger, and He's not giving me the option to refuse the course of action.

When the feeling of approaching change settled on me recently, I thought it had something to do with selling our property and moving yet again.

And while those plans are still in the works, that wasn't it.

It started innocently enough. Ivan followed a link on his sister's Facebook page. That article led him to other ones, he asked me to read one of them. It was like a history of my life.

It prompted us to ask for an additional test when I was having blood work done a few weeks later. A negative reading would be 10 U/ml or less. My test result: 97.

I have celiac diseaseAnd folks, let me tell you, this is a life-changer.

It explains so much, now that we know. I'm a 'typical' atypical celiac who doesn't have intestinal issues but I have, or have had, most of the other adult symptoms:
  •  unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
  •  fatigue
  •  bone or joint pain
  •  arthritis
  •  dental problems
  •  canker sores
  •  depression or anxiety
  •  tingling numbness in the hands and feet
  •  migraines
  •  psoriasis
  •  acid reflux and heartburn

Some of these have been life-long problems (anemia, anxiety, fatigue), but I also had other symptoms common in children while growing up. I was considered "puny" as a child, and delayed growth is one of the symptoms; it was 11th grade before I could stop shopping in the children's clothing section. I caught everything going around (well, except for chicken pox) and remember a lot of missed school and other activities because I was either sick or just didn't have the energy.

But lacking the chronic diarrhea which was considered the marker for celiac, no one ever put the dots together.

Although various symptoms have been evident for years, some became more pronounced after moving to Argentina. I don't think my blog is the place to tell you about all my aches and pains, like somebody's great aunt Myrtle, so I have seldom shared the physical struggles and limitations of recent years. Although we'll never know for sure, what we think now is that the combination of having parasites that first year (which went undiagnosed for months) and the change to a diet that's heavy with breads and pastas, simply overwhelmed my system. My body has not been able to recover from being stripped of the nutrients it needed by the parasites, and the diet kicked the celiac into high gear.

When we took the blood work results to our doctor, she took away any doubts we might have had. In fact, she said the number was so high she did not see the need to get a biopsy (typically done to confirm the diagnosis). I've since learned that, while the biopsy is a good tool if celiac is suspected and the blood work is negative, it is by no means required for a diagnosis.

I've done a lot of research, and little else in past the week, and am really grateful for what is now available online. The Celiac Disease Foundation, American Celiac Disease Alliance, Celiac Sprue Association, Mayo Clinic and more provide a wealth of information, advice and links. And do you know how many celiac-related blogs there are? Some focus on what's new, in terms of products and research. Others post only recipes. Still others talk about how to meet the challenges of traveling with celiac.  I'm finding new blogs daily, where pretty much anything and everything to do with celiac is discussed.

I don't intend for this to become a blog about celiac. But because this is part of my life now, I will talk about it occasionally. In fact, I plan a follow-up post about the week immediately following the diagnosis and how I'm learning to manage it while living overseas. Otherwise it's back to your regularly scheduled program of Project 365, crafty endeavors, my adorable grandchildren, and just life-in-general here in Argentina.

Oh, and occasional recipes too (although they will, no doubt, be gluten free). I'm relieved that some of my favorites are naturally gluten free. Like the creamy chocolate pudding I posted recently. Whew!

Of course there are plenty of favorites that are now forbidden. So tell me, are there any foods you can't eat for health reasons? Leave a comment and let us commiserate together.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Week 4: Project 365, the 2015 Edition

Tuesday, January 20:

Ivan returned from Totoral Monday night with nine kilos of fresh figs! He helped pick them at a friends' on Monday afternoon. They were ripe and needed to be used pronto. I sorted through, pulling out the ones that were more firm for whole figs in heavy syrup. I ended up with 3 kilos of those:
 (The scale is set to grams.)
Can you tell there are two varieties?

The remaining six plus kilos were rinsed and sliced to start jam:
To make the jam, I weighed the figs and then divided by two to get the amount of sugar needed. There was such a quantity of figs plus sugar I had to use my largest stock pot. I started cooking the figs about 10 a.m. and it still wasn't thick enough by the time I went to bed, so I left the pot sit overnight (just like I'd done with the plums the week before).

Wednesday, January 21:

After a doctor appointment first thing in the morning, I finished cooking the jam and was thrilled to end up with 12 jars, plus a small Rubbermaid container we're using right away:
I was well into my 30s before I had a fresh fig. Prior to that I'd only ever had Fig Newtons. This jam brings those soft cookies to mind because it has that same thick gooey goodness I remember from my childhood.

Thursday, January 22:

My friend (and former Spanish teacher) Marcela came over with her oldest daughter Carolina, who's visiting from Europe. Caro is a flight attendant and spends most of her time traveling the world.
It was so good to catch up with Caro and see Marce. Living so far from my own kids, I know how much Marce is enjoying Caro's visit and we appreciate that they carved out time to spend with us.

Friday, January 23:

So I didn't mention how I made the whole figs in heavy syrup. I found the recipe here but had to substitute homemade brown sugar for the hard brown cane sugar. Thankfully the substitution worked just fine. I also chose not to use any spices.

This was another multi-day process. On Tuesday I put the figs in water to soak. On Wednesday I cooked the figs in fresh water with a pinch of baking soda. Thursday I started cooking them in a mixture of brown sugar and water. Since I basically tripled the recipe, it took all day and then some, so I didn't finish them until this morning. I think because the figs were so ripe to begin with, a lot of them had started disintegrating by the time the syrup was thick enough. I poked through and pulled out the whole ones, filling two large jars. The remainder I put into a 4-cup Rubbermaid container and have in the fridge. They'll keep quite a while that way, and make a nice treat when we have guests.

Whole figs are normally served with cheese for dessert. We buy fresh farmer's cheese from friends in Totoral and I wish I could convey what an utterly amazing taste combination this is!
Keep in mind these are some of the less-than-perfect figs that had started to disintegrate. I sort of propped them up to look whole for the photo :) And I have to 'fess up and admit that after the photo shoot, I put two of the figs back because they are so rich, one was plenty with the three small pieces of cheese. So, so good!

Saturday, January 24:

Ivan had to replace brake pads on the front of the car this morning. I sure am glad I have a husband who is handy with tools!

Sunday, January 25:

Our friends received Rainbow Rhino, and thoughtfully took a photo of their wee one on top of it for me:
Look at that head of hair! I think she gets that from her grandma. Lois has such lovely, thick hair and so does her daughter, and now granddaughter. Lucky girls!

Ivan spent siesta time working out in the shop, "making sawdust" as he calls it. He has started on a little project:
Can you guess what it is, and what it's for?

Monday, January 26:

The grass seed is already starting to sprout! Not everywhere, but in a lot of places, and I.Am.So.Excited! We're finally going to have a lawn in front of the casita! Woohoo!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Week 3: Project 365, the 2015 Edition

Ivan was sick last Monday and it was my turn this week. Not only did I not get the post up yesterday, I didn't take a photo either. It was just one of those days. Thankfully I'm feeling fine today.

Tuesday, January 13

This is what the plums looked like after sitting overnight with the sugar on top.
Nice and juicy! After stirring them well, I let them sit another four hours before cooking them for 3 hours on low. Then I put the lid on, and let them sit.

Wednesday, January 14

Had to go to Tanti for some blood work. A small town not far from Carlos Paz, Tanti has a kind of Boulder, Colorado vibe. The office is next to this small park. There were a few people there and one of them offered to take our photo.

Ivan was able to get some nice, rich black soil for free. He just had to haul it from the work site to our house. He made two trips late Wednesday and several more on Thursday. For one of the loads, our neighbor was home and came over to help.

Thursday, January 15

Today was all about the jam. After cooking for four hours on Wednesday, today I cooked it another 3 hours before it was finally the right consistency.
We were amazed how much it cooked down. If you remember, we had 3.3 kilos of fruit and added almost 2 kilos of sugar. We ended up with 5-1/2 jars. The jars I used are about equivalent to a pint and a half; so just a little over 8 pints, more or less. We're really pleased with how it turned out, although mystified as to why it tastes a lot like grape jelly. Anyone have an idea why?

Friday, January 16

We tried to unload the soil in various spots, so it would be easier to spread. I couldn't get a good picture of the whole area but just imagine mounds like this one scattered all over.

Saturday, January 17

Ivan spent the day in Totoral. Some of you know that Ivan grew up in the Grace Brethren Fellowship and we stay in touch with a lot of friends from those days. The Totoral team hosted an asado for some of the men from the GBF, and several men who attend Bible studies in Totoral also joined the group. They had a great day sharing their hearts and what God is doing; learning from, and encouraging, one another.
left to right: Reuben, Juan, Steve, Daniel, Cristian, don Chavez, Walter and Joe (Ivan's taking the photo) 

Sunday, January 18

Here's a little collage of things we're growing in a container garden. We have a bunch of 20 gallon buckets and Ivan also built a small wooden frame for the lettuce and a few herbs.
The roses are beautiful and we are harvesting tomatoes, peppers, basil, dill, swiss chard, and lettuce. We are hopeful the rhubarb and cilantro will flourish as well.


Ivan worked on spreading the soil just about every day, (mostly) finishing it over the weekend. He was gone all day yesterday and this morning he raked and then spread some grass seed. Now if only it will keep raining as frequently as it has been, we'll be in good shape. It rained last night, and today it's cool and overcast but no rain.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Quick and Easy, Rich and Creamy Chocolate Pudding

Even though we're experiencing a milder-than-normal January doesn't mean I'm in any hurry to turn on my oven. And since the upper element in the toaster oven burned out, I'm avoiding all recipes that have to be baked, roasted or broiled. I'll use my crockpot on occasion, but do you realize those things actually put out a lot of heat too?

I have a few tried-and-true dessert recipes that don't require any oven time, that I typically make when we have company over: no bake cookies, chocolate lasagna, tiramisu, or homemade ice cream. But sometimes I want something chocolatey and I want it quick. That's where this recipe from The Happy Housewife comes in. Because, start to finish? Ten minutes!

Chocolate Pudding

2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium sauce pan, whisk together milk (I use low-fat and it doesn't affect the creaminess at all), sugar, cocoa powder (we prefer the dark), and corn starch. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Boil two minutes, continuing to stir constantly, remove from heat and add vanilla, mixing well. Pour into dessert dishes.

Now, how easy and quick is that?!

If you have the will power, put plastic wrap on top of the pudding (push it right into the pudding) to prevent a skin from forming, and chill for a few hours. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if you so desire.

But me? I prefer my chocolate pudding piping hot! Right-out-of -the-pan-steaming-so-you-have-to-be-careful-or-you'll-burn-your-mouth hot.  I also like to eat it with the tiny spoons typically used to add sugar to coffee or tea. Makes it last longer :)

This recipe makes one round of hot pudding, followed by a second of cold pudding, for the two of us. It's also the perfect amount for an 8x8 pan of chocolate lasagna.

You're welcome.