Food Medicine Feed

Crockpot Congee: A Quick, Easy, and Healthy Rice Dish

Congee11

By Lisa Brunette

When I showed you how to cook a perfect pot of stovetop rice every time, I mentioned that next up I'd demonstrate a quick-and-easy recipe for a crockpot rice dish. That dish is the Asian rice porridge known as congee. Never heard of it? Well, neither had I until a friend spirited me away to a delightful, unexpected place in Seattle's International District called the Purple Dot Cafe, where I had my very first bowl of this heavenly porridge.

Congee's secret is a relatively low ratio of rice to water - and a slow cooking time. For this dish, I used 1 cup of rice to 10 cups of water instead of the usual 1:1.75. If that sounds like it might produce a bland-tasting ricey soup, never fear. Congee's packed full of ginger, garlic, and onion, making it just the thing to eat in the fall, when your body's readying for the winter season. In fact, the recipe I'm using below is adapted from Thompson Acupuncture's Ancient Roots Nutrition video series. Lindsey Thompson, as a previous guest here at Cat in the Flock, suggests congee as one of three recipes in her segment on the fall season in Chinese medicine. It's my favorite of all the recipes in the series.

But I'm breaking out of the fall mold here with a late-winter congee, and that's okay. The copious amounts of ginger in the porridge is a great spice for the transition season here between winter and spring. I had a whole head of cabbage I wanted to use - this porridge is full of it - and cooking rice by crockpot method is also part of my quest for a permaculture badge in food preparation and preservation. Not to mention, I was hankering for a bit of congee, and since I'm a few thousand miles away from the Purple Dot, that means I have to make it myself!

All right, on to the porridge.

Ingredients: 

  • Half a head of cabbage (or more if you desire)
  • A half or whole white onion
  • Fresh ginger root
  • Anywhere from 3-8 cloves of garlic, to your preference
  • Soy sauce, tamari, or coconut sauce
  • 1 cup of rice to 10 cups of water
  • Salt (optional)

1. First, dice at least half a head of cabbage and one onion. For this batch, I used a whole head of cabbage because I wanted to, but you use what you want. As Lindsey says, "Congee is really forgiving," so don't sweat the exact amounts. You can dice them small if you prefer, but I like my vegetables chunky. Place these in the crockpot.

Congee1

2. Next, grate a good amount of ginger into the crockpot. I used a whole, small-sized root. Depending on your love of ginger, you can use less - or more. Note I used a Microplaner to grate the ginger - I have to credit Lindsey for this tool as well, as I first heard about them from watching her video series. They come in multiple grate sizes meant for everything from nutmeg to cheese and are really handy to have in the kitchen.

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3. You can add in garlic, too, and the same rule applies - as much or as little as you wish. We like garlic, and I tolerate it much better when it's slow-cooked like this, so we went for a lot. Pro tip! Garlic cloves are way easier to peel if you pour boiling water over them first. I just found out about this from the first episode of the Netflix show Nadiya's Time to Eat (love her!). I was skeptical because every 'easy tip for peeling garlic' I've tried hasn't really worked that well, but this one actually does! 

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Now for the garlic, I just use the traditional garlic crusher. I've had my OXO for going on seven years, and it works great. For me the Microplaner isn't as useful because cloves are too small to grip without the risk of grating your finger.

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4. Now for the rice. Like I said above, the ratio is 1 cup of rice to 10 cups of water. I used white basmati rice this time, but you can use any white rice. I'm not sure about brown, though; I think its "chewiness" might not work for congee. But feel free to experiment!

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Lindsey's original recipe called for 10 cups of water. But it also contained fewer veggies, and since I went for the whole head of cabbage plus dialed up on the garlic and ginger, I added a couple of extra cups of water to compensate, for a total of 12. Remember, congee is forgiving! I've made crockpot congee numerous times, and it's always turned out tasty and satisfying.

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5. The last step is to season it with a bit of tamari or soy sauce, according to Lindsey, or with coconut sauce if you're me. Soy and tamari are both high-histamine products, which triggers a mast cell reaction for me. Yeah, it bites because I love the taste of soy (and tamari even better). I struggled with this through 13 years of vegetarianism and beyond, though, and it's just better for me to say no. The coconut sauce is sweeter, so I add a bit of salt to bring it over to the umami side of the palate. Then you can start the crockpot, cooking it for 6-8 hours on low. Lindsey recommends eight, but I've had success at just six. Still, it's good to know you can set this all up in the morning, work an 8-hour day, and come home to congee. It fills the house with the exhilarating aroma of garlic and ginger.

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And it tastes great. Though it's low in protein, you can drop an egg on it or eat it alongside a grass-fed beef patty, as we often do, to round out the meal. You could even top it with crumbled bacon, ham, seeds, nuts, or cheese, though I'd hate to subtract from the clarifying quality of the meal by adding a dairy product, especially if you're trying to bust a cold. 

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So there you have it: crockpot congee! But if you're ever in Seattle, I recommend heading to the Purple Dot to get your congee fix. You'll be glad you did.

(Note: We'll always tell you if we're getting a commission or anything else in exchange for mentioning or linking to the products, services, or establishments here on Cat in the Flock, but none of that's happening in this post.)

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How to Cook a Perfect Pot of Rice Every Time

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By Lisa Brunette

It's tempting to buy prepared foods, whether that's shelf-stable packaged stuff or frozen. We're all really busy of course, even if we're working from home these days because you know, working from home is still working. But what if I told you the only thing standing between you and healthy living was a mere 15-20 minutes of cooking time per week?

Yeah, that's right: You can just say no to the 'ronis and the helpers because chances are, they're not really saving you any time at all. 

It takes just 15-20 minutes to cook up a simple pot of rice, and then you have a grain that will last you all week. Rice is versatile enough to use 3 meals a day - just add fruit, milk, maybe some nuts, and maple syrup, along with a little flax meal, for breakfast. 

I bet the prepared foods aren't saving you any money, either. There's a serious markup on those things, and to make matters worse, what you're paying for isn't even really 'food' at all, but a lot of fillers and additives that are almost wholly divorced from their origins as plants or animals.

Making your own grain every week (it doesn't have to be rice) is a great way to save money and eat healthier. It can also have an impact on climate change to cook grain from scratch rather than rely on highly processed ingredients that likely traveled long distances and couldn't have come into being without fossil fuel-based agriculture. Even better if your grain's local and organic, but you know, we're not purists here. Try your best.

1_2 cups rice

Now for the steps toward rice nirvana:

1. Measure the right ratio of rice to water. If you're starting with 2 cups of white basmati rice, as shown above, that means a corresponding 3 1/2 cups of water. Pay attention to the directions on the package. Brown rice will have a different ratio, as will wild rice, etc.

3_water for rice

2. Place the rice and water together in the pot, and feel free to add a flavoring or fat. Some good candidates: stock you've prepared ahead of time yourself (a worthy endeavor and vastly better for you than any stock or bouillon you can buy; we will cover how to do this in an upcoming post, but it's easy, I promise); beef, duck, or other fat; bacon grease, olive oil).

4_coming to boil

Use a large enough pot, with a lid that allows some steam to escape so the pot doesn't boil over. This can happen even in the simmer stages, so it's key to have a good quality pot with steam holes in the lid, such as the stainless steel one shown here, which I've had since a friend of mine bought it when she came to visit me in the early 90s. She took one look at my paltry kitchen cookware, pronounced it deficient, and went out and came home with this. The lid was missing for a time when I left it at a post-wedding party at another friend's house; but that friend recovered it years later when packing to move. And that is the story of this pot. Back to the rice: Next, bring the pot to a boil.

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3. Just as it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to low and cover. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. A timer is a great thing here, especially if you are working from home. You can start the rice, put the timer on, and voila! You've got rice in 15 minutes.

If you need it to go longer than that, never fear. Sometimes I turn it to the lowest setting and simmer for a full 30 minutes because that works better for my timing, and the rice turns out perfectly.

It's really that simple. You can even store the rice in the same pot you made it in. You can now whip up quick meals by adding veggies and a protein to that rice in a variety of ways. Our favorites:

  • Sauté kale and bacon together and mix it with the rice
  • Steam broccoli, brown ground beef, and mix it with the rice and a little tamari or coconut sauce
  • Cook chicken thighs, onions, and olives together and serve it on a bed of rice
  • Serve shredded, sautéd cabbage and carrots with peanuts on rice

As an added note, learning to cook grain yourself from scratch (four ways) is part of my Permies.com certification in food preparation and preservation. This is step one for me; next up is to show you how I cook it in a crockpot, which for me means a nice homemade rendition of a favorite from Seattle's International District restaurants: congee. Stay tuned...

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The Skillet Feeding You! How to Cook with a Cast Iron Skillet

The Cast Iron Egg Test: Does It Slide?


The Cast Iron Egg Test: Does It Slide?

By Lisa Brunette

We've been meaning to post an update to the cast iron series for some time, as we ended up modifying our care and maintenance just a bit, and the result is pretty much the perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. One way to test this is to fry an egg in the skillet and see if it can easily slide around on the skillet surface, as in the video above.

You can see the surface of the skillet has a lovely sheen. The egg doesn't stick. Neither does other food, such as these greens I cooked up right after the egg.

I'm taking part in an online permaculture education program, and I've just earned my first step toward a badge in food preparation and preservation by being able to demonstrate the above egg slide. But how did I get there? By taking the advice of permaculture author and educator Paul Wheaton as detailed in this cast iron how-to. For us the big takeaway was to just use a lot less water in the cleanup stage. 

That was something to wrap my mind around at first, for sure. I mean, I'd already come a long way from my weird American phobia of germs enough to forgo soap when cleaning the cast iron cookware. That's important because soap strips away that 'lovely sheen,' which is in fact a hardened layer of grease and oil. But as Wheaton points out, it's not that you can't ever ever use soap, it's that you're really better off if you can avoid it. 

So when I researched enough to see that we were probably using way too much water when cleaning the cast iron, I had to again quiet down the voice that worried the pan somehow wouldn't get 'clean' enough. Kind of silly when you think about it, since the pan is constantly getting heated enough to kill off any 'germs.' Besides, studies have indicated for years that we're probably screwing up our immune systems by killing off perfectly good microbial flora in our environments.

What really sealed it for me is this interesting phenomenon: I found that the less water we use, the cleaner the pan is. Why? Because the surface became truly non-stick, so food just slipped right off of it. Here's our typical cleanup now: simply wipe with a paper towel!

So that's our latest advice: Just wipe out the pan after cooking if you can. If you need to scrub, use a non-abrasive scrubber*, with just a little bit of water to loosen the food bits. If you do this, it's a good idea to set the pan back on the heat for a bit to evaporate the water, and then rub the pan with oil before storing.

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Photo courtesy NonToxicHomeShop.

*Some people use rock salt, though we have not tried this. We have also not tried these chain mail cast iron pot scrubbers available on Etsy, though it's on our list. (That's our affiliate link, by the way, so if you buy one using the link, we might get a commission.)

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Why You Need All of Tammi Hartung's Books

Hartung books
My own collection of Tammi Hartung books.

By Lisa Brunette

I've been fangirling author Tammi Hartung for some time now. I think you should share in the love, so we're running this giveaway, which I'll get to in a moment. I picked up a copy of her 2014 book The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature a couple of years ago at my neighborhood used book store, and I was immediately hooked. When I found out she'd also written on growing healing herbs and how to make use of native plants, my soul-sister crush was cemented.

Here's a list of just a few of the many things Hartung has taught me:

  • That plants signal their use somewhat metaphorically, through color, shape, and way of being in the world. This is called the "doctrine of signatures." A good example is the heart-hued, heart-shaped rose petal offering healing powers for the heart muscle.
  • Your quest for food plants does not have to be in conflict with your desire to help support wildlife. In fact, the two can coexist in a mutually supportive way.
  • It's surprisingly easy to grow, harvest, and make use of your own healing herbs as teas, tinctures, food medicine, syrups, poultices, balms, the list goes on.

An ethnobotanical herbalist and organic farmer, Hartung champions an approach to gardening that is gentle on the earth and its creatures. Her books are enormously helpful if you've wanted to garden but felt turned off by guides that call for fertilizer and pesticide use, or simply zap the fun and natural-world connection out of the endeavor. 

Now for a rundown of all four books, in order of publication date. I highly recommend every one. You can try scouring used book store shelves for them, but I've also provided handy links to the Amazon pages for each. We don't receive anything in return for including these links.

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Growing 101 Herbs That Heal: Gardening Techniques, Recipes, and Remedies - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2000

Publisher's Description: What better way to take your medicine than straight from the garden? From St. John's wort to fennel, chicory to skullcap, herbalist and gardener Tammi Hartung introduces you to the special cultivating and care techniques required to grow 101 versatile and useful herbs.

How I've used this book: As a reference guide for the historical medicinal use of 101 herbs and for how-to's on handcrafting herbal teas, tinctures, and other products. It's illustrated and full-color, which helps you picture unfamiliar techniques and makes it an attractive reference.

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Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More Than 100 Herbs - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2011

Publisher's Description: Infuse your yard with the flavor, fragrance, beauty, and healing power of organic herbs. Whether you want to work herbs into existing flower or food gardens, grow them in containers, or plant a dedicated herb garden, Homegrown Herbs is your in-depth guide to everything you need to know about planting, caring for, harvesting, drying, and using more than 100 herbs.

How I've used this book: Same as the above, as I believe this is an updated version of the original. But they're definitely both worth owning. This one includes some helpful tips on harvesting and drying flowers and herbs, a list of edible flowers, a good assortment of food medicine recipes, and other additions.

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The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2014

Publisher's Description: Make beneficial wildlife part of your food-garden ecosystem: they'll pollinate your plants, feed on pests, and leave behind manure to nourish your soil. Tammi Hartung has spent years observing natural rhythms and animal habits in her garden, a peaceful place where perennials attract pollinators, ponds house slug-eating bullfrogs, mulch protects predator insects in the soil, mint gently deters unwanted mice, and hedgerows shelter and feed many kinds of wildlife. Her successful methods are a positive step toward a healthier garden.

How I've used this book: This book has formed the basis for my wildlife-friendly garden design at Dragon Flower Farm. It's why we have a brush pile supporting families of rabbits and other critters, a rock garden for snakes and reptiles, and a host of other features that encourage everything from opossums to monarchs to visit our garden.

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Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants - Storey Press - North Adams, MA - 2017

Publisher's Description: The plants in your backyard have amazing stories to tell and fascinating uses you've never known about. For millennia, we humans have relied on these plants to nourish, shelter, heal, and clothe us. Through captivating tales and images that illuminate our lost wisdom, Tammi Hartung reveals the untold histories of 43 native North American plants and celebrates their modern versatility.

How I've used this book: The prettiest of Hartung's works, the hardcover is a pleasure to leaf through for the luscious imagery, entertaining fun facts, and short tips on native plants we might actually take for granted. It's a bit of a fascinating history lesson, too, as told through flora.

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Tammi Hartung.

Just as I finished this last book in Hartung's oeuvre, I lamented she had no more, but then I discovered her blog, which is an extension of her work as co-owner of Desert Canyon Farm. As mentioned in her Amazon author bio: 

She and her husband, Chris, own Desert Canyon Farm, a certified organic farm since 1996 in southern Colorado, where they grow more than 1800 varieties of plants. They grow all types of herbs, heritage and heirloom food plants, native and wildlife habitat plants, edible flowers and more. In their flower seed production field, they grow over 60 varieties of perennials for a German seed company called Jelitto Perennial Seed Co., so seeds from Tammi's farm end up being grown by gardeners and growers all over the world!

Through the blog newsletter, I enjoy hearing about Desert Canyon's work across all four seasons, as well as getting to know Tammi and Chris, not to mention dog Shrek. Tammi's blog posts offer a glimpse behind-the-scenes for both the farm and her latest author project, a children's plant book. As an avid hiker myself, I also like the photos and accounts of their hikes through southern Colorado terrain, which is much more arid than my environment here in Missouri. Side note: Tammi is a friendly, responsive writer, too; I reached out to her to find out if I could buy her books directly through her instead of Amazon (the answer is no, as she directed me back to the 'zon), and we had a really nice exchange. She's also graciously provided signed copies of her wildlife gardening book, which brings me to the giveaway details...

And Now for That Chance to Win a Free Paperback

We're giving away two paperback copies of Hartung's third book, The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature, signed by the author. All you have to do if you're new to Cat in the Flock is sign up for our email newsletter. If you're already a subscriber, all you have to do is get one friend to subscribe to our newsletter, and both you and your friend will be entered into a drawing. The bulleted how-to:

  1. If you haven't already, sign up for our email newsletter. That's all you have to do! New signups from today's date onward are automatically eligible for the drawing.
  2. If you're already signed up, forward our newsletter, share a link to our blog, or somehow else get one of your friends excited about Cat in the Flock enough to sign up for our email newsletter.
  3. If you're getting a friend to sign up, mail us at this handy link to let us know you succeeded, and include your friend's email address used in the signup so we know to credit you and your friend!
  4. That's it! We'll reach out if you've won. For friends-telling-friends about Cat in the Flock, if one of your names is selected, you both get a copy of the book.
  5. The deadline to enter is Valentine's Day, Feb. 14.

Good luck on the drawing, and in the meantime, I hope you check out Tammi's books and get as much out of them as I have. 

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My 30-Year Battle with a Disease I Couldn't Name

Lisa Brunette 1989
High school, 1989.

By Lisa Brunette

In my early 20s I wrote for a fledgling arts newspaper here in St. Louis called Intermission Magazine, and one of the columnists was a New Age devotee named Jeannie Breeze. I don't know if 'Breeze' was her real name or a pen name chosen for its metaphorical quality, but my legal last name is Brunette, which is a family name, so anything's possible. Jeannie was a real character; she always wore a purple knit beanie (yes, even in summer), and she fluffed auras for a living when she wasn't penning columns.

Lisa B&W1995
On a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, 1995.

Jeannie once pulled me aside to say she "sensed" the physical pain I was in, and that surprised me because I didn't think I showed any outward signs. Maybe I did and didn't realize it (I'm not known for my poker face), or maybe Jeannie really was "in tune" with this kind of thing. But either way, she did me a real kindness: She gave me a poem called "Putting the Pain to Sleep." In it the speaker sang a lullaby to her pain, as if singing a child to sleep. It was maybe a little hokey for the edgy youth I was at the time, or at least fancied I was, but it helped.  

I've thought about that poem a lot over the years, and I've tried to put to sleep many a pain.

Back then I had two diagnoses for the symptoms I'd experienced since high school: 1) endometriosis and 2) interstitial cystitis (IC). Neither is very easy to talk about. Both center on inherently "embarrassing" parts of the body. The quest for the diagnoses themselves was painful and invasive, involving catheters and laparoscopic cameras and sample pieces of my internal tissue removed for examination. During one particularly painful procedure, a nurse assistant said:

"You just have to ask yourself, Why me? The answer? Because you can take it."  

I did not punch her in the face, but maybe I should have.

Lisa 1997
In 1997.

When a doctor wanted to put me on a drug that would essentially throw my body into 'fake menopause' in my early 20s, I got a second opinion. The new MD tossed out the endometriosis diagnosis but doubled down on IC. There's no cure for it, but we tried all of the available treatments. None of them worked.

Now I'd like to cue a montage sequence spanning more than a decade. It shows me living, laughing, and loving while simultaneously struggling with discomfort and at times acute pain (because that's what we do, right?) I want you to imagine the last UTI you had, how that SUPER sucked for you. Now imagine that's your life. There's no antibiotic for it, no moment of relief, just persistent pain and a blur of time spent in the bathroom.

Which is not to say I didn't have some nice periods of decreased symptoms, and even for brief spells, total remission. A good diet and exercise seemed to help, as well as stress-reduction. Exercise and diet were always easier to control than stress, though. Ya feel me?

Lisa_2002
On a beach in the Florida Keys, 2002.

Complicating the quest for a cure were some other health issues in the form of "allergies." Throughout childhood, I had awful hay fever, and I also often reacted to food with severe heartburn and systemic digestive distress. Attempts to control the reactions through diet were met with little success, though I tried a wheat-free diet for a time. I was also a vegetarian for 13 years and a vegan for a good portion of that, but I was miserable pretty much the whole time on a diet high in beans, nuts, and soy.

Prone to hives and rashes, it was often difficult to pinpoint a trigger for the reaction. Unlike other people I know with distinct food allergies, I didn't react to any food consistently enough to rule out the offenders. I was diagnosed with asthma and given an inhaler for the wheezing and chest congestion and told to take antihistamines for the rhinitis, but there wasn't anything anyone could think to do about the food.

By the time I'd migrated to the Pacific Northwest in my early 30s, my allergies were deemed severe enough to finally get me in to see an allergist. He prescribed an epinephrine pen and put me on a diet of only meat, vegetables, and white rice. But I was still a vegetarian, left with only white rice and vegetables. After developing walking pneumonia, I broke the 13-year meat fast.

Lisa2007
On a Washington state beach, 2007.

At this time I also began to make changes in my environment to reduce allergens. I zipped up the whole bed, box spring and mattress, in a plastic covering; donated rugs, down comforters, and other sneeze-inducing items; and washed all my bedding and towels in hot water. But I swear to this day it was hot yoga that got me out of the allergy loop. After a year of regular Bikram yoga practice, I felt better in all ways, head to toe. 

However, yoga only kept the wolves at bay for so long. After a few years, the allergies resumed even worse than before, despite a regular, committed yoga practice. With them came a new level of digestive distress, along with extreme night sweats, severe insomnia, a crazy amount of ringing in the ears, perceived hearing loss, benign cysts, joint pain, and inflammation.  It's a party all the time when you're giving blood, urine, and stool samples, undergoing procedures like colonoscopy and mammography before you're old enough to warrant them, and then being diagnosed with some third-world, parasitic disease.

Yeah, that's right. I had hookworm.

My MD had missed it; I'd finally resorted to paying out-of-pocket for the services of an irritable bowel disease clinic, which my insurance wouldn't cover. Not even after the hookworm discovery. It's so rare in the States, I had to travel to three different pharmacies to piece together enough of the drug meant to eradicate it. It wasn't that the hookworm infestation caused the other symptoms, though. It was just part of it. The theory was that since my system is always inflamed and reacting to foods, the hookworm somehow took hold and stuck around - for how long was anybody's guess. Hookworm isn't even supposed to survive in cool climates like the Pacific Northwest, and I'd left the tropics of Florida a full decade before this.

Lisa 2013
In 2013.

By my 40s I had to give up fruit juice, I could barely tolerate alcohol, and soy was a huge problem. There seemed to be nothing I could do for the insomnia and night sweats, and I wondered if I were heading into the great 'pause a bit early. The IC roared back with tremendous severity, and a catheter scope (now with video!) found landscapes of scar tissue lining my bladder, including one particularly gnarly beast that looked like the boss at the end of a video game.

Worst for me, the digestive symptoms went into overdrive, and my eyes became increasingly sensitive. Somewhat desperate by this point and not finding a whit of relief though traditional medicine, I tried vitamins and supplements, acupuncture, cleanse diets, the Whole 30, wheat-free/gluten-free/dairy-free/soy-free/egg-free/taste-free/satisfaction-free diets. I took up Pilates and dance. I flirted with meditation, joined a spiritual center, and even went to see someone calling himself the "bone whisperer." But things continued to get worse. 

Lisa2016
In 2016, because life's a merry-go-round.

Flash-forward to just two years ago, when I made a last-ditch effort to treat with two things I hadn't yet tried: medicinal herbs and Maya abdominal therapy

You might remember a couple of articles posted this year on the blog from Amanda Jokerst of Forest + Meadow Apothecary and Clinic. She shared her thoughts on how to foster a healthy immune system and how to support your immune system with herbs. I met her at a farmer's market, of all places. The final clue to my lifelong health mystery came from her.

By now you're likely wondering how all of these painful, annoying (though thankfully not life-threatening) symptoms relate to each other. Or maybe you've sussed out that they're all part of the same autoimmune disease. Good job, detective!

After Amanda and I went through - over the course of a year - absolutely every known cause and treatment for what might ail me, she proposed a couple of possible diagnoses:

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).

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Last year.

But of course Amanda will be the first to tell you she isn't a medical doctor. She referred me to a gastroenterologist whose specialty includes both MCAS and SIBO. 

It took me a year to get in because Dr. Leonard Weinstock has a loooong waiting list, and also COVID-19 happened. In the meantime, I tried another, more available general allergist, who was only helpful in a small way, switching my at this point regular antihistamine from Zyrtec to Allegra, which has fewer side effects for me because it doesn't cross the blood/brain barrier. Otherwise, though, I could do nothing but wait.

During that wait, my symptoms worsened further, to the point where I now react to a wide range of health and beauty products and household allergens. Eating in restaurants has become so difficult for me that I don't miss them as much in these lockdowns. 

When I finally got in to see Weinstock, I gained answers to questions I'd had for 30 years. 

Apparently, I'm a "poster child" for MCAS, in his words. After blood and urine tests, as well as a comprehensive review of my medical history, I now have a definitive diagnosis of MCAS. My condition is "clinically significant," and I've been placed in a research study. MCAS is a "spectrum" disorder; we all have mast cells. They're pretty useful for snuffing out foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Mine just behave as if there's always a war going on, and everything that enters is the enemy.

Every one of the symptoms and conditions I've mentioned above, from IC to the food, inhalant, and contact allergies, and including a nasty bout of colic I had as a baby, fall under the MCAS umbrella. 

Lisa 2020
On a Missouri river, 2020.

And the SIBO? Yeah, I have that, too. It often accompanies MCAS and is responsible for the severe bloating I've had (so much fun when people actually think you're pregnant, but you're not). This diagnosis was confirmed through a lactulose breath test. Fortunately, there's a cure for SIBO. It meant taking the same drug used to treat E. coli, a prescription that cost me close to $700 out of pocket. Without insurance, that price tag would've been $2 grand, and that's with a hefty pharmacy discount. Hopefully, SIBO's gone for good.

I'm not happy at all to tell you that MCAS has no cure. The only thing we can do is decrease the symptoms. So I'm trying a medication that works by triggering your body's endorphins as well as supplying a few of its own. Endorphins, those feel-good hormones that give runners a high, tend to get suppressed under MCAS, which is why my reactions often hit extreme on the pain scale. Let's hope that this drug works, and the side effects are minimal.

Because lately, it's been a lot harder to sing the pain to sleep, and that lullaby is sure wearing thin.

Note: Please do not take the information presented here as a cue to self-diagnose. As described above, my diagnosis was arrived at through testing and determination by a medical doctor with a specialty in gastroenterology. It's best to consult your physician with any concerns you might have. That said, be tenacious if you aren't seeing improvement. Medical science is quickly evolving, with new discoveries and answers turning over established ideas all the time. MCAS wasn't really a thing back in the 90s when my own journey began.

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