Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Word About Lyme

Old Lyme, Connecticut, looking up the Lieutenant River.  The neighboring town of Lyme gave its name to this disease after several cases were found there in the '70s.  (From a watercolor sketch I made one May.)

I'm not going to go into great detail about my experience with Lyme disease but after a friend suggested it might be helpful to others, I thought I'd briefly describe this situation which came to me early June in the form of a tick, producing full-blown rashes all over my body and a positive blood test.  Plus a depleted summer, if I might say so, that left me with deep fatigue, fuzzy mindedness, a couple of protocols that brought on dietary restrictions, nausea, plus what I call "the wobblies"--feeling as if I'm on a rocking ship crossing the Atlantic or else wearing someone else's glasses.  So it was a punk summer--cancelling visitors, not feeling good for much, staying out of the sun because of sun toxicity from the antibiotic.  (I even wore winter mittens when driving so the sun wouldn't burn my hands on the steering wheel as it did even though I'd been using sunscreen.)

Summary:  Don't get Lyme.  Watch where you walk.  Don't blithely get in there and weed your garden without taking precautions before and after.  Check your arms, legs, and shoes (plus the rest of you) when you come indoors.  Put any suspect clothing in the dryer for 15 minutes.  Move to a different part of the country where Lyme doesn't exist.  (Is there such a place?)

In the past--as with two frozen shoulders--I've found help by combining Western and alternative therapies including some that are Chinese based.  So I've done the same with this.  With Lyme, the Western includes two different trains of thought--one, that of the infectious disease people who call for an initial two-week dose of antibiotic and the other, that of the Lyme literate people who call for double the dosage for double the time.  I went for the latter.  (Of course, any antibiotic requires one to take a probiotic some two hours afterwards in order to restore intestinal flora.  I also upped my intake of magnesium since Lyme apparently depletes it.)

After that, my Western medical practitioner said there was "no follow up."  Not heeding that, I chose a naturopathic doctor who did believe in follow-up treatment.  In effect, she told me that as soon as the pathogens saw the gangbuster antibiotic coming down the pike, they protected themselves with a biofilm.  (Which means they could reappear later and do more damage.)  So I went through another month taking a very specific herbal treatment four times a day.  Since there is apparently no test to tell whether one is free of the pathogens once one has had them, I then went to an applied kinesiologist who muscle tested me.  (If there's another way to find out, no one I've spoken with knows what it is.)  At that point, it appeared that I was not yet free of the pathogens so I took another month of the naturopathic herbs.

Everyone agrees:  it's a complicated disease, especially if one doesn't realize one has been infected until much later.  Then, too, there's the possibility of finding Lyme-infected tick-bourne worms in the body's tissues after the above procedures have been completed.  (Not a nice image, that.)

My tally so far with the Lyme treatment has been:  Western medicine, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, lymph-drainage massage, chiropractic work, applied kinesiology, BodyTalk (most easily described by looking it up online), reflexology, and chi gong energy work.

In meeting all this, I've mused on the difference between Western and Chinese medicine.  Rather like our foreign policy, the first seems to identify the culprit and send in the armaments.  (Anti-aircraft in the form of antibiotics:  pow, pow.  Plus talk of "battling" disease.)  As well as using herbs and tinctures, the second takes a more holistic approach clearing energy channels so the body can work to heal itself without gunky toxins clogging things up.  My bent is toward the latter, though in the case of Lyme, I feel that, to begin with, Western antibiotics are essential.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tomato Time


It's tomato time ... with all those good market displays of real tomatoes, not those tasteless things picked green, gassed with ethylene to turn them neon red, then shipped hundreds of miles.  Maybe I shouldn't keep bringing up the old days, but I can so well remember the time my mother came home, set down her groceries, and said that the price of tomatoes was going through the roof.  (She liked terms like that.)  They were now 25¢ each, she said.  Well, I just paid $1.75 for one tomato at the farmers' market.  Granted, it was absolutely fresh.  It was flawless.  It was organic.  And it was local.  I mused later about its also being worth its weight in gold but decided I was way off base on that one.  At $3.85 a pound, the tomato came in at about 7¼ ounces.  At today's rate of $1,772 per ounce of gold, the equivalent would have cost $12,850.

I bought the one tomato because I wanted to make a tomato and onion tart for my supper, using a half piece of frozen puff pastry still in the fridge.  I sort of made it up as I went along, but it turned out to be delicious, even if very messy to eat with flakes all over the place.

Here's what I did.

I took a small red onion and sliced it very thinly.  I lightly sautéed that in olive oil, then removed it from the pan to cool.

My small red onion

Lightly sautéed

I then took my beautiful tomato and sliced it thinly as well.  At that point, I realized I also needed to ever-so-gently sauté it in order to extract its juice so the juice wouldn't mush up the tart as it baked.  So I fit a single layer of tomatoes into the same sauté pan then, after a minute or so, turned off the heat and put on the lid.  I took the puff pastry out of the freezer to thaw.  And then went out for my daily walk.  When I returned, I spread the tomatoes onto a paper towel so they'd absorb any left-over juice.

My "golden" tomato

Thinly sliced

A perfect fit in my small sauté pan

Draining off the juice

After turning the oven on to 425º to preheat, I sprinkled flour on a pastry board and rolled out the puff pastry until it fit my sheet pan.  I set the pastry onto the ungreased pan and poked it with a fork.  Then I beat an egg with a tad bit of water and brushed that over the entire pastry.

After applying the egg wash

I had some nice Havarti cheese in the fridge so got that out and grated enough to cover the entire pastry.  (I'd previously used Gruyère mixed with a bit of Cheddar on a zucchini-onion tart, so that would work, too.)  After sprinkling the cheese on the pastry, I carefully arranged the tomatoes in an even pattern ... followed by an equally careful placement of the sliced onions.  I wanted the whole thing to look as if I were off in France and had just happened upon a charming outdoor stall that sold fabulously tempting tarts.

I ended up using about twice this amount

Ready to go in the oven

I might have drizzled a little olive oil over the top, but I didn't think about it at the time.  I did consider adding a few sliced kalamata olives but decided not to.  Finally, I sprinkled on salt and pepper.

Then I set the whole thing in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. 

When I took it out, it looked amazing.  And, I have to admit, it was ever, ever, ever so good!

As good as anything in France
Thanks, K., for putting me onto puff pastry tarts in the first place--you, who made a successful one using asparagus.  (And my zucchini-onion one was also excellent.  If you decide to make it, be sure to separately sauté the thin zucchini and onion slices before arranging them on the pastry.)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Changing Map

I was always keen on geography.  In class or out.  I adored maps.  I adored spinning our family globe of the world, putting my finger on a spot, then wondering what lay at that very point.  I put maps on the walls beside my bed.  Using National Geographic photos, I rendered Pakistani boats, Welsh dancers, African landscapes into watercolors.  In fact, I decided that I wanted to work for National Geographic.  Go out on assignment.  See these places, not simply paint them from photos.

When I moved to the East Coast as an adult, I even went to their office and applied for work but was told I'd only be hired as a secretary (and thus stay in D.C.) ... except--though I had good typing skills--I didn't know shorthand.  Well, nuts to that, I thought.  I'll just go out and see the world some other way.  So that's what I did.  Later, out on the road, I met a geographer, married him, and got to see the world all over again.

But as the years went by, things kept changing.  I mean, when I was in school we spoke of Peking, Burma, Ceylon, Tanganyika.  Granted, Persia had already changed its name to Iran.  And Siam to Thailand, so those names seemed quite normal.

When Mrs. Miller was my 7th grade Social Studies teacher, I loved the fact that she'd once gone to Africa.  I yearned to do that.  It didn't matter which country--I simply wanted to set foot on that beguiling continent and experience its (for me) antipodal sense of place.  So, for a school project, I made a large map of Africa and asked my brother (who could print better than I) to write in the names of each country.

Today, of course, that map is horribly out-of-date.  Egypt and Morocco are still there.  And a few others.  But French West Africa is gone as are French Equatorial Africa, Northern and Southern Rhodesia.  Bechuanaland is now Botswana.  South West Africa is Namibia.  Nyasaland is Malawi.  Tanganyika became Tanzania.  Kenya changed its pronunciation from Keen-ya to Ken-ya.  Perhaps a third of my map was British Commonwealth and another third French.  And Libya was still an Italian colony, to receive its independence imminently.

India, too, has experienced changes even since my last visit including a couple of new states carved out of old.  Though I've long since learned to call Peking Bejing, I doubt I'll get used to turning Bombay into Mumbai or spelling Calcutta Kolkata. 

Then, with the more recent map changes there's the problem of not knowing whether I've been to a country or not.  I mean, yes, I've been in Yugoslavia--by bus from one end to the other.  But does that mean I've been in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia?  No, I wouldn't say so.  As for the Soviet Union, at least the new countries kept the names of the old Soviet republics--Ukraine, Uzbekistan, etc.--so that presents less confusion. 

But getting back to Africa, as it turns out, I've been on something of an Africa jag lately.  I watched the ten-part series, Long Way Down, in which Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman rode their bikes (motorcycles, to me) from the tippy top of Scotland, John o' Groats, down to the tippy bottom of South Africa, Cape Agulhas.  Then I read Alan Moorehead's now-classic, The White Nile, about the search for the source of the Nile (by various Victorians including Burton, Speke, Livingstone) and the subsequent British attempts to maintain hegemony over the river.  (Mostly, they didn't want anyone messing with Egypt--tampering with the Suez Canal and their easy access to India.)  Now I'm into Moorehead's follow-up, The Blue Nile--the river that starts in the mountains of Ethiopia and connects with the White Nile at Khartoum.

All this made me want to get out that 7th grade map and connect old and new place names.  And, yes, I did eventually set foot on African soil after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and reaching Tangier.  I was thrilled.  My husband's immediate reaction was to quote Pliny the Elder:  "There's always something new out of Africa."

This dates from ca. 1951.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Gallery of Seasons: Walking Beside the West River

I know:  autumn doesn't begin until the equinox.  But don't you agree that once Labor Day is over, once school has started, it feels like autumn?  De facto if not de jure?  Seasons always seem to start earlier than the equinoxes and solstices indicate.

Certainly, in this part of the country, things shift once September arrives.  School is in its first week.  The air takes on a crispness ... plus a sense of invigoration missing during summer's humid days.  It's time, one thinks, to make some resolutions, to figure out one's life.  All those good things that were put on hold for "vacation time."  And then colors begin to change--all leading to October's big splash before the equally big adjustment to winter's totally different landscape, temperature, life-style, outlook. 

Except for winter, when it is not plowed out--and is thus blocked by snow--I like to go out to the trail beside the West River.  Once a rail bed ... the river on one side, a corn field on the other until that gives way to hillside.

On these meditative, oxygenating walks, I look out at the river flowing slowly--a whistling summer blue over which the sun-god has tossed handfuls of sparkle.  Or a steely, wintry ultramarine.  Sometimes, wind ruffles the feathers of a black bird sitting on a high branch.  Or Canada Geese bleep and cry and go "oh-wop."  Rumi says, "Keep walking, though there's no place to get to."  I do keep walking.  Then I turn around and walk back.

Over the years, I've chronicled the seasonal changes.  Here are some ... starting with the end of summer.

The Marina boat dock and restaurant.

Preparing the corn field.

Mid-summer's full growth.

And so ...
Early September
... we go on around again.  The corn is now cut.  Goldenrod blooms.  Summer's green has deepened, hardened, resembling a jasper necklace or Mexican agate as the first yellow is washed across the land.  Berries appear.  Leaves droop and fall.  A monarch butterfly joins me as I walk.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lisianthus, A Favorite


This is the time of year for one of my favorite flowers--lisianthus, also called prairie gentian and eustoma.  It's an elegant, delicate flower very similar to a rose.  It loves hot sunny days and is apparently native to the prairie, to the grasslands.  Though considered a half-hardy perennial, around here it's an annual.

This year I bought purple, white, and light pink lisianthus seedlings which I put into pots. (Another year, I had a splendid deep pink.)  As a casual gardener, I pay enough attention to water them if there's a dry spell.  And I'll dead-head them and weed the pots.  Otherwise, I don't do anything.  But even with that minimal care, they still bloom their little hearts out come August and early September. 

I first saw them more than twenty years ago.  I took some home, immediately got out my watercolors, and rendered a bouquet into a painting.  They are a delight to paint.  They also make a light, airy, splendid bouquet--and even with the stems cut, the buds still bloom!

"Lisianthus, Prairie Gentian"

Detail (with window reflection)

"Lisianthus Dawning"
"August Lisianthus"