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Is inflammation the root of all evil when it comes to health?

I have spent the last 10 years reading about, thinking about, and trying different approaches to a healthy lifestyle. I am more and more convinced that the secret to a healthy life is to remove inflammation from our bodies as much as possible. Recent scientific research is finding that inflammation is the root cause of many ills, especially those we associate with aging. It might not be age as much as the accumulation of damage from inflammation that is causing our poor health.

Inflammation appears in many different ways. Inflammatory reactions can include things such as:

  • Post-nasal drip without being sick
  • Stuffy head without being sick
  • Sneezing, especially just after eating something
  • Stuffy ears without being sick
  • Asthma
  • Acne
  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Pimples (sometimes in odd places, like on your forearm or leg).
  • Upset stomach
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Ulcer
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gout
  • Joint pain
  • Swollen joints
  • Arthritis pain
  • Fuzzy headed
  • Dizzy
  • Headache
  • Memory problems
  • The Blahs
  • and many more

Some scientists think that possibly things such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and dementia may have inflammatory reactions at their root.

Inflammation occurs in our bodies because something is irritating our body. You know how a cut gets red around the edges? That is your body’s reaction to the irritation of the cut. So things that cause irritation and inflammation can be illness, injury, diet, air born irritants, drugs, lack of sleep, stress, and I’m sure other things I have not come across yet.

I can’t fix absolutely everything in my life to prevent inflammation, but the more I do, the healthier I feel. I’m only human though, so I forget what to do right. Then I do not feel as healthy and I start again to focus on living in a healthy manner.

I recently started again to really focus on a healthy lifestyle. I thought I was going to last fall, but now I’m really serious and focused. Instead of trying to lose weight, I’m trying to do all the right things that are healthy for me. When I do, I also lose weight. And hopefully also improve my blood pressure and cholesterol. I really want to stop taking pills every day.

I’ll share my journey in this blog. Everyone is different, so what works for me may not work for you. So let’s share our ideas and experiments as we work together toward a healthy lifestyle and a healthy life.

Honey Glazed Gammon (cured ham)

Since the cured ham is quite salty, we start this recipe by boiling the ham with some veggies and spices. This removes a lot of the salt and imparts some new flavors.

The ham is finished by baking it with a honey glaze.

Boiling the Ham

  • 5-6 pound cured ham (not smoked, just cured)
  • 1 carrot, chopped roughly
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 1 leek (the white part), trimmed and chopped roughly
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 bay leaves

The night before, or at least 3-4 hours before cooking, put the ham in a large pot and cover with cold water. Let sit until ready to cook. Then pour off the water and refill the pot with fresh cold water.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes per pound. For a 5 pound ham, this is 2 hours and 5 minutes. For a 6 pound ham, this is 2 hours and 30 minutes. Watch the pot and be sure the ham is covered with water throughout the cooking time. Top up the pot with boiling water as needed. If you see any foam at the top, scoop it out and discard.

At the end of the cooking time, remove the ham from the pot and put it in an oven-proof dish, such as a roasting pan, fat side up.  You will not be covering it, so an open pan is fine.

Some people say they keep the broth for soup. It is extremely salty though, so I just throw it all away.

Honey Glazing the Ham

  • Handful of whole cloves (about 25) to stud the ham
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Madeira wine
  • 3/4 cup honey (250g if you prefer to weigh it)

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Score the fat side of the ham in diamond shapes and put a clove in the center of each diamond.

Put the sugar, vinegar, and Madeira in a small pan and bring to a boil (watching carefully so it does not boil over). Add the honey, bring to a boil again, and remove from heat.

Pour 1/2 the glaze over the fat of the ham, put in the hot oven, and roast for 15 minutes. Pour the rest of the glaze over the ham, and return it to the oven for about 35 minutes. Baste the glaze over the ham about every 9 minutes. Turn the pan around 1/2 way through so it browns evenly.

Keep an eye on the ham; it should turn a lovely reddish brown color. Any darker is over done, so you should remove the ham from the oven before it gets dark. (My picture above shows a somewhat overcooked glaze.) Note that boiling has already cooked the ham, so you are just using the oven to glaze the ham. When the glaze is ready, it is done.

Remove the ham from the oven, put on a serving plate, and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.

In the roasting pan, whisk together the honey glaze and pan drippings. Pour it into a bowl and serve on the side. (The honey glaze should be a thick liquid. I have had it turn into almost a candy consistency. In that case, it does not make a good side! Just put the pan in the sink, put really hot water in it, and let it sit during dinner so you can clean it later.)

Cooked ham can be kept in the fridge for 3-5 days. If you do not use it all by then, you can freeze the leftovers for another day.

Wiltshire Cure for Ham

When BH and I lived in the UK, we had gammon. This is a cured (but not smoked) ham. Actually, it can be smoked as well, but most of the time you will find it not smoked.

Along with this lovely ham, I found a recipe for honey glaze. Oh so yummy!!!

I tried the honey glaze in the US, where hams are almost always smoked. It did not really work that well. I actually found a butcher in the Eastern US making gammon with Wiltshire cure. But it was hugely expensive, and the shipping cost nearly doubled the price. Almost $100 was too much for honey glazed ham!!

So I determined to make my own cured ham. Is this recipe the “real” Wiltshire cure? No one knows, because the Wiltshire family keeps it a secret. What I do know is that this ham was just as good as the gammon I had in the UK.

In this post, I describe how I cured the ham. In another post (Honey Glazed Gammon (cured ham)) you will find the recipe for honey glazing it. I hope you have as much success as I did!

The finished product, honey glaze and all.

The Meat

Fresh (not cured, not smoked, the raw meat) boneless ham – 5-6 pounds from the leg or shoulder (shoulder is called a picnic cut). Traditionally ham is always from the leg, but many people like the picnic cut just as well.

I used boneless because I don’t like carving around the bone. It turns out for curing that it is easier to do boneless as well. If you have bone-in, you need to inject the cure around the bone before putting the ham in the brine. You do not need this step for boneless.

Have I convinced you that boneless is better?!!

If there is skin on your ham, remove it. It impedes the cure and you don’t need it. If you want to, make cracklin’s out of it.

The Brine

In a large (non-reactive) pot stir together:

  • 1 pound Kosher salt
  • 1 pound dark brown sugar
  • 1 generous measuring teaspoon curing salt (Prague Powder #1) – it is also called pink salt but is completely different from Himalayan pink salt. You want curing salt. A flat teaspoon of curing salt is fine for 5 pound ham, but for ham up to 6 pounds, you will want about 1/4 teaspoon more.
  • 1 Tablespoon lightly crushed juniper berries
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme or a big pinch of dried thyme
  • 1/2 gallon hot water

Bring the mixture to a boil, and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and add enough cold water to make 1 gallon of brine. Cool to room temperature.

Put your ham into a 2 gallon food grade bucket (or something equivalently sized). You can get these buckets at a store selling equipment for home brewing.

Pour the cool brine over the ham. It should be completely covered in brine.

Add a weight to keep the ham submerged. I used a ceramic bowl, but another easy way is to take a gallon sized plastic zipper bag, fill about 1/2 with water, seal well, and put on top of the ham. You don’t want this bag of water to leak or it will dilute the brine!

I put the cover back on the bucket (as you see in the top photo) to keep out any curious critters. Put the bucket in a cool place for 7-9 days, or up to 2 weeks if you want.

1/2 way through the cure, turn the ham over so the part under your weight gets good contact with the brine as well.

What should the temperature be? I have seen posts saying up to 60F, but I kept mine at about 40F (out in my garage in early January).

How long to cure? The brine will be absorbed at about 1/4 inch per day. Since this is a boneless ham, it is absorbing brine on the outside surface but also in the cavity where the bone was. If the thickness of the meat (from outside to the cavity) is 3 inches, and the brine is absorbing from both sides, then the brine needs to move 1.5 inches to cure all the ham. That would be 6 days. So assuming your ham is about as thick as mine, then curing for 7-9 days should be enough.

When the cure is complete, remove the ham, pat dry, cover and refrigerate for no more than 5 days (fresh pork is supposed to keep for 3-5 days in the fridge) before cooking.

Here it is cured, but not cooked. It will be a bit brown due to the dark brown sugar and crushed juniper berries.

A Soothing Video of the Niagara River

This summer I went to Niagara Falls, Canada with my family to celebrate Mom’s 80th birthday. While there, I took some footage of the Niagara River with the idea of making a soothing video (pretty scene, white noise).

I like to listen to things like this to take a break in the day and relax. It is part of my stress reduction strategy (lower stress, less damage to the body).

I finally completed it today, so I’m sharing it with you.

Niagara River

Sweet and Tangy Chicken Strips

I was at the farmer’s market today. Found some lovely sweet corn and local honey. My bees are not producing enough honey to harvest yet, so I picked up a jar of honey.

BH was in the mood for some chicken strips, and I was tired of my usual recipes. So I browsed online for some inspiration and then made up something that seemed it would be sweet and tangy.

Olive oil, a bit of lime juice, some seasoning, and honey are all you need. Cook until the honey starts to caramelize. Yum!

The only thing I did not really measure was the honey. I just grabbed a teaspoon from the cutlery drawer, dipped it in the golden honey loveliness, and mixed it into the rest of the ingredients.

The lime added a hint of tartness and freshness to the taste. It was a nice change from using lemon or orange, which is what you usually find with chicken. A nice surprise for the taste buds.

I’ll have to post a photo another time. BH was already hungry and nibbling the chicken as it came out of the skillet, so I did not want to delay dinner by getting a camera out!

And the sweet corn? It went really well with the chicken 🙂

Sweet and Tangy Chicken Strips

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4

Serving Size: 1 chicken thigh

A lovely, quick way to prepare boneless, skinless chicken thighs. A bit of honey for sweetness and lime juice for tartness. Cooking the chicken until the honey starts to caramelize intensifies the flavors.

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 Tablespoon additional olive oil.

Instructions

  • Put the chicken strips into a quart size storage bag in a single layer. The strips should fill most of the bag.
  • Whisk together the rest of the ingredients. Pour over the chicken and close the bag. Squish the chicken around until all the pieces are covered. Open the bag, squeeze out most the air, and seal the bag again. Press the chicken down to one layer. Let sit about 15-20 minutes, turning the bag over a couple of times.
  • Heat the 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a skillet until hot. A drop of water added to the pan should pop (stand back when you do this so you don't get hit with hot oil).
  • Add the chicken strips in a single layer (you may need multiple batches to cook them all). Cook for 8 minutes, turning every 2 minutes to keep from burning. Ideally, the honey should start to carmelize (turn dark brown), but not burn.
  • Enjoy!
  • Note: These would also work well cooked on a clean grill.
  • Notes

    Prep time includes marinating time. It really only takes about 5 minutes to cut the chicken into strips (especially if you use kitchen shears) and mix up the marinade.

    http://www.alifeinharmony.me/?p=62


    Cauliflower Cheese

    It has been cold and rainy here, and I really wanted some comforting Winter type food last night. Cauliflower cheese is a healthy comfort food for me and BH enjoys it as well.

    I remember having just this dish for dinner one night at a restaurant in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, when it was about 40 below zero outside (but toasty warm inside). I do not remember what else I ate that week, but I do remember the Cauliflower Cheese!

    Cauliflower is a plant that likes cooler weather. It is a vegetable you may find available from local farms even into the late fall or very early winter, as well as in the late spring and early summer.

    Sweet and Tangy Chicken Strips

    Prep Time: 20 minutes

    Cook Time: 15 minutes

    Total Time: 35 minutes

    Yield: 4

    Serving Size: 1 chicken thigh

    A lovely, quick way to prepare boneless, skinless chicken thighs. A bit of honey for sweetness and lime juice for tartness. Cooking the chicken until the honey starts to caramelize intensifies the flavors.

    Ingredients

    • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into strips
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
    • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
    • 1 teaspoon honey
    • 1 Tablespoon additional olive oil.

    Instructions

  • Put the chicken strips into a quart size storage bag in a single layer. The strips should fill most of the bag.
  • Whisk together the rest of the ingredients. Pour over the chicken and close the bag. Squish the chicken around until all the pieces are covered. Open the bag, squeeze out most the air, and seal the bag again. Press the chicken down to one layer. Let sit about 15-20 minutes, turning the bag over a couple of times.
  • Heat the 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a skillet until hot. A drop of water added to the pan should pop (stand back when you do this so you don't get hit with hot oil).
  • Add the chicken strips in a single layer (you may need multiple batches to cook them all). Cook for 8 minutes, turning every 2 minutes to keep from burning. Ideally, the honey should start to carmelize (turn dark brown), but not burn.
  • Enjoy!
  • Note: These would also work well cooked on a clean grill.
  • Notes

    Prep time includes marinating time. It really only takes about 5 minutes to cut the chicken into strips (especially if you use kitchen shears) and mix up the marinade.

    http://www.alifeinharmony.me/?p=14


    How to Find Foods Healthy for You

    What is healthy eating? What does it mean to you?

    The joy of life is that we are all so different! I love meeting new people, making new friends, and finding out new things. To me, if we were all the same, life would be boring. Of course this can be very challenging when it comes to diet.

    What is healthy for me, may not be healthy for you.  So finding out what is healthy for you will be a voyage of discovery.

    There are certain basics things that are good for everyone.  That is to eat as much fresh whole food as possible and reduce packaged and processed foods.  If the food says artificial, like artificial sweetener, then avoid it as much as possible. A potato product means it has some potato in it. A cheese food means it has some cheese in it. Why not have the potato or the cheese instead of the artificial versions? Instead of drinking orange juice, eat an orange.

    When I was a young child my father suffered from heart disease, so we were all on a heart patient diet. Back then, doctors encouraged the use of margarine instead of butter. When I moved out of the house and was cooking for myself, I figured that margarine was fat and butter was fat, but butter tasted better. I never bought margarine again.

    How will you know if a food is not good for you?  You can follow a formal food challenge protocol (a local naturopathic doctor can help you with this), but if your health problems are small, you might start with just noting what you eat and how you feel. This is how I found that gluten is bad for me. (My “Eating by the Season” food journals are designed to help you track the foods you eat and your reactions to those foods.)

    Foods that are bad for you personally will cause some kind of inflammatory reaction in your body. An inflammatory reaction indicates your body is unhappy with something you ate, drank, breathed, or rubbed on your skin. So what are the symptoms of an inflammatory reaction?  Here are some common ones that are easy to spot:

    • Post-nasal drip without being sick
    • Stuffy head without being sick
    • Sneezing, especially just after eating something
    • Stuffy ears without being sick
    • Asthma
    • Acne
    • Skin rash
    • Hives
    • Pimples (sometimes in odd places, like on your forearm or leg).
    • Upset stomach
    • Gas
    • Diarrhea
    • Abdominal pain
    • Joint pain
    • Swollen joints
    • Arthritis pain
    • Fuzzy headed
    • Dizzy
    • Headache
    • Memory problems
    • The Blahs

    I’m not saying food is the only cause of these things, but it can certainly be a contributor. I had moderate arthritis in my lower back, verified with an X-ray. When I stopped eating gluten, all the pain from the arthritis went away.  When I tried having a nice spaghetti dinner with garlic bread, I was in such pain the next day I could not walk.  That was enough to convince me to go on a gluten-free diet!

    How quickly will you have a reaction to foods that are bad for you personally? It can be anytime from immediately to about 48 hours. If I cheat on gluten (I have), I will know it the next day (about 12 hours).  So you can see that tracking what you eat is important because the reaction may be delayed and you may not remember what you ate.

    When you stop eating a problem food, how long will it take to feel better? I suggest making a goal of not eating the possible problem food for 2 weeks, but you will almost certainly see improvement before then. Most people I know start feeling better by 48 hours, and feel much better after a week. If you do not feel better after 2 weeks, that food is probably not a problem for you (or other foods are even bigger problems).

    It is easier to find problems with whole food groups than individual foods. So here is a short list of food groups that many people have problems with:

    • Gluten products, primarily anything made with wheat, rye, and barley
    • Dairy products of all kinds
    • Sugar of all kinds

    These food groups cause problems for enough people, it is worth a try to eliminate one from your diet if you think food is causing you problems, then see how you feel.

    Just because a food is supposed to be healthy does not mean it is good for you personally. One friend thought she was being really good on her diet, but started feeling bad when fresh blueberries were in season and she was having them every day at breakfast. When she stopped eating blueberries, she felt much better. Fresh blueberries are generally thought to be a healthy food, but they are not healthy for her.

    Of course there are many other things that may be unhealthy for you. I have heard of people having health issues when they eat peanuts, soy, eggs, salmon, shell fish, broccoli, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Some people do not tolerate foods in the nightshade family which includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and okra. A blood or skin test may be useful to find allergies to specific foods (instead of whole food groups as I listed above).


    Healthy Snack Bars

    As I have gotten older, I have found some foods just do not work very well for me. For example, when I eat something with gluten, I get arthritis pain. Also, I try to eat natural food, by which I mean ingredients that I can find at a regular grocery store. Finding a quick snack that is healthy for me can be a challenge.

    I have tried a number of snack bars in the past. Many of them taste yucky or have a gluey texture, and others are loaded with sugar or cereal. While I have not found perfection, I have found a snack bar that is pretty close.

    I finally found a good tasting snack bar that is very low in sugar, contains protein and fiber, and is just 200 calories. It is the “Kind” brand of food bars. I can keep one of these tucked in my purse when out for the day, and they are a lifesaver on long plane flights.

    I like most of them, but my absolute favorite is the Dark Chocolate, Nuts, and Sea Salt.  Very yummy! It gives me a boost of energy without caffeine, does not cause blood sugar spikes, keeps me going until I can get a “real” meal, and I get to have CHOCOLATE.

    I find single bars in many shops, but lately I’ve just ordered these a box at a time from Amazon. I keep a couple of varieties in a kitchen cupboard, so anyone in the house (family, visitors) can grab one when needed.


    Winter Eating

    In the winter, our bodies tend to want more calorie dense food, which typically means more fat. This makes sense for a couple of reasons.

    First, winter is the coldest season in most parts of the world. We use more energy keeping warm in places that are not climate controlled (such as outside or in an unheated building). For this reason, you may find yourself craving fatty foods and sugary foods.

    Second, most people live in places where not many plants grow in the winter. In times past, food was much less available in the winter, so we ate things that could be preserved by methods such as drying, smoking, pickling, and fermenting. In particular, meat can be dried or smoked and kept for a long time, providing food through late winter.

    Of course today we can get strawberries in the middle of winter because they are shipped in from places where it is warm enough to grow them.

    In trying to live a life in harmony with my world, I choose to eat locally sourced foods, which means I eat what is available depending on the season in my area. This is good for the local farmers, less expensive because I eat the kind of food that is currently abundant, and potentially healthier for me because I am eating according to natural rhythms.

    When cooking in the winter, I like to prepare meals in the oven. Slow roasting less expensive cuts of meat helps to tenderize them, and using the oven helps to keep the house warm.

    So what would be traditional winter meals? Roast beef, roast chicken, roast duck, roast goose, roast pork, roast turkey, short ribs, ham, corned beef, and smoked meats (though not lamb because the little darlings have not been born yet).

    What usually goes along with roast meat? Roasted root vegetables of course! Onions, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and yams are all traditional accompaniments to a roast dinner. Desserts tend to feature apples and carrots (which both store well), so think of baked apples, apple pie, apple cobbler, and carrot cake (maybe with walnuts and a maple cream cheese frosting).  Cheeses and nuts also store well and therefore are traditional winter fare.

    Getting enough vitamin C and D is  harder in the winter. Traditionally people pickled vegetables in the summer to eat in the winter. Sauerkraut, rotkraut, kimchi, dill pickles, sweet pickles, and chutneys are some examples of foods that can provide additional nutrients in the winter.


    Why This Site

    I was talking with my friend Kira at the diner the other day, and she said “Have you shared information you learn with others all your life?”.  The answer was yes, I have. In recent years, I have done more writing than sharing information in person because so many of my friends and family are scattered around the world.

    I’m always learning new things, especially when it comes to having a life of balance. I feel that if I can achieve a balanced life then I will be as healthy and happy as I can be.  This balance means I am eating in the right way for me and living in harmony with nature and her rhythms instead of trying to force my rhythms on nature.

    A short time later I was sharing something with my sister, who lives very far from me, and she said “You should blog about this, then I can come and read it anytime”. Then my friend Bella suggested the same thing.

    I like writing, especially in blogs because it is so easy. And if I can share something I learned with someone else, and they find that information useful, that makes me very happy.

    And because I want information flow to be two way, I want to learn from others as well as sharing what I know, I set this up as a blog and a set of forums. The blog is the place I can share what I know, an easy way for me to reference basic information, and the forums are where we can have a community with everyone sharing with each other.

    Come and read my posts and share information in the forums. I look forward to getting to know you. 🙂