How to poison your family and make it look like an accident

It’s almost Thanksgiving again, and time for the age-old debate of stuffing versus dressing. I originally posted about this  conundrum on November 25, 2010, and thought it worth repeating just in time for this Thanksgiving. After all, it’s not every day you get an opportunity to poison your relatives with a delightful holiday dish!


Stuffing Versus Dressing

A stuffed turkey

In the states it’s almost time for Thanksgiving, an annual holiday where everyone eats too much turkey and pie, and watches the Lions lose again. For the Thanksgiving cook, the meal preparation always brings up the age-old debate – stuffing vs dressing. They both start out the same – dried bread cubes, seasonings, sometimes broth, margarine or butter, and water, made into a conglomeration that is either stuffed inside the turkey (stuffing) or baked separately in a dish (dressing). Everyone has their own opinion on which is best, and families line up fiercely divided each year on which way this delectable Thanksgiving carbohydrate should be served. Accompanying this debate of which way is tastier is the issue (some myth, some fact) over which way is healthier or safer. Who knew that dried bread cubes could raise such ire among otherwise friendly people?

In my family growing up, we always had dressing. I’m not sure why, but I think it was in part due to the fact that: it was easier. The dressing could be made while the turkey was cooking instead of earlier in the day when the turkey was ready to go into the oven. It was quicker. Stuffed turkey is supposed to take longer to cook than unstuffed (although in my own cooking experience I have never found this to be true.) It was safer. My family and others believed that the stuffing could become contaminated with bacteria from absorbing the meat juices and turn an otherwise delightful day into a merry trip to the emergency room.

Then I met my future husband whose family was all stuffing, all the way, and why would anyone consider doing it differently? What could be better than bread cubes infused with savory turkey juices and the two pounds of butter that Buttterball and others inject into their turkeys before sending them off to the store?

So what’s a girl to do? I have to admit I found both ways tasty, although sometimes the stuffing did not look quite as appetizing as the dressing, depending upon what colors it turned from the meat juices it absorbed during cooking. Eventually when I took over hosting the Thanksgiving meal, my compromise was to make stuffing and dressing. The amount of stuffing that would fit inside the turkey was not enough to serve everyone at the table anyway, so I would serve a dish of each, or sometimes mix them together, which I guess gives you something which is neither stuffing nor dressing, but there is not really any good combination word you can make from combining stuffing and dressing.

This compromise did not come without a cost, however. Members of the dressing contingent would make sly comments like “Make sure you’ve cooked that stuffing to 160 degrees so we don’t all get food poisoning, ha ha,” while members of the stuffing contingent would say “Who would want to eat that dressing? It always turns out so dry.”

And when it comes right down to it, where did the whole stuffing/dressing custom come from anyway? Imagine the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. They’ve had a horrible year. First, all that travel and they couldn’t even earn any points from it. Then, having to build a settlement, squabble with the Native Americans, endure hardship, disease, cold and hunger. Finally, the ones who survived prepared what was probably a somewhat meager feast in celebration. There was no Kroger stores in Plymouth, so they had to hunt down their turkey, then pluck it, cut off the inedible parts, and remove the disgusting innards. After going through all that, and wrestling the turkey into a heavy cast iron roaster, you’d think that the Pilgrim cooks would have had enough of turkey prep for one day. But some creative person, staring into the empty cavity of the just gutted turkey said “hey, wouldn’t it be a great idea to cut up bread into cubes, add water, lard and spices and stuff this sucker?” And the rest as we say, is history.

Whether you eat stuffing or dressing, may you all have a happy and grateful Thanksgiving!

© Huffygirl 2012

(Dedicated to Aaron and Chris, my stuffing-loving relatives who will be eating someone else’s stuffing this year. Miss you!)

Born to run or not: 5K update

Mission accomplished. Here’s my son Mike and I prior to my injury-free 5 K race. Mike did great – we started together and seconds later I never saw him again. I kept my usual slow pace and managed to complete and remain injury free. But I’m dialing it down for now – no more 5K’s for a while. I’ll stick to my two miles two or three times a week, and behave. Maybe we are born to run, but at least for me, only in short, slow distances.

Kudos to blogger buddy Martin at Thoughts from Finchley who recently dusted off his old cycling jersey and got out on his brand new bike. I expect to see him passing me by any time now.

Meanwhile, cold weather is moving in here, making it almost impossible for a sissy like me to get outside and run or bike. For the next few months I’ll probably be mostly stuck in the gym, getting all tangled up on the treadmill, or slogging through yet another spin class. What do you do to stay active now that the weather is turning colder?

© Huffygirl 2012

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Global bacon shortage has consumers scrambling

English: Uncooked pork belly bacon strips disp...

English: Uncooked pork belly bacon strips displayed behind glass in Gorman’s Butcher Shop in Pine Island, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A global bacon shortage has egg and bacon loving consumers fearing the loss of this tasty breakfast meat. This past summer’s drought has cut the pork out of the pork industry. Hog producers have decreased the size of their herds, to save money on feed costs, after unusual heat and drought  caused a piggish raise in feed prices. Consumers, not wanting to miss out on this tasty breakfast meat, have bought up current supplies of bacon, contributing to the shortage.

Although, at least for Americans, there may be a silver lining to the bacon crisis, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius notes. “With two-thirds of Americans tipping the scales at overweight or obese, cutting bacon out of the American diet may just be a lifesaver,” says Sebelius. “Bacon, while adding flavor to our food, adds very little nutritive value, and is about 50% fat. If we cut bacon out of the American diet, over time we could have a lasting impact on our American girth.” Sebelius suggests that a Burger King bacon double cheeseburger might be just as tasty sans bacon, and would save consumers about 100 calories per portion.

While this baconpocalypse may benefit waistlines of hefty bacon consumers, farmers have a different take. With fewer piggies  coming to market and more staying home, farmers may suffer economic losses that may be difficult to recoup. Plus, farmers fear that once Americans stop bringing home the bacon, they may lose their taste for this porky product, and not resume bacon consumption once the shortage ends.

Twitter was abuzz this week with news of the global bacon crisis, although Kevin Bacon, the unofficial spokesperson for the pork industry, remained silent about the crisis.

© Huffygirl 2012

When potato chips were health food

Step back in time to when a modest complex was considered a luxury resort, and potato chips were health food. In 1951 the Nicolay Dancy Company produced the New Era Potato Chips, touted as  a newer and healthier version of the potato chip. Nicolay Dancy, headquartered in good old Detroit, Michigan, was not only a purveyor of healthy snack chips, but also the proud owner  of a luxury resort in Harbor Springs, Michigan, built in 1962 as a retreat center for New Era employees.  Considered opulent  for its time, the resort boasted two large field-stone fireplaces in the  gathering rooms, a complex of plush hotel rooms, which surrounded  a  courtyard recreation area, complete with  a heated pool and playground. All of this rested on a scenic bluff  overlooking Lake Michigan. Apparently no expense was spared. Rooms included the latest in modern decor, including a 1962 attempt at reinventing the toilet, genuine ceramic tile in classic 60’s yellow, and real knotty pine paneling. When the company was bought out by Frito Lay in 1982, the retreat center eventually became a locally run hotel, which remains mostly unencumbered by modernization, or as the owners prefer to call it, carefully preserved with the lodge aura intended by the builders.

At the time that Nicolay Dancy produced the New Era Potato Chip, there was fierce demand and competition among chip makers to produce this tasty,salty delight. New Era’s tactic was to promote the chip as a healthy food on the alkaline side, although I have no idea why alkalinity was thought to equal healthful. New Era backed up this claim with “science says so.” Otherwise-sensible consumers believed it to be true.  Straight from the can, because potato chips didn’t always come in crinkly bags, here’s the scientific claim:

Chemical analysis have proven New Era Potato Chips to be a highly concentrated, energy-producing food, 95% digestible, and of greater alkalinity than even fresh, raw potatoes. Feast without fear!

At the time, the FDA did not wield as much oversight of the food industry as it does today, so apparently New Era could get away with their healthy claims. So what was the secret to New Era’s healthfulness as an energy-producing food? The secret is revealed, right on the front of the can: “…processed in hydrogenated vegetable shortening.” Hydrogenated? Didn’t we just ban that a couple of years ago, because hydrogenated oil contains trans fats?

But never mind that. Back then people didn’t care so much about  cholesterol.  Folks were free to enjoy their healthy potato chips in peace. Consumers trusted the food industry, and New Era chips, with its depiction of slim, active women on the can, were tasty and popular, and thought to be good for you too. And why not? Wouldn’t it be great if today we too could just chill and eat our potato chips, as if they too were scientifically proven to be healthy?

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© Huffygirl 2012

Christopher McDougall and me: Born to run, or not?

Weeks after my reintroduction to running my first 5K in 30 some years, I’m getting ready to go out for a little run again. First  I tape up my recalcitrantly inflamed ankle. Next, Ace wrap my torn, aching hamstring. Then the usual stuff:  shorts, shirt, heart rate monitor, cell phone, and I’m ready to go. Turns out that running has only gotten harder, not easier, as my physical therapist and sports medicine doc can attest. So why do I still do it? I admit that most days I’m mystified myself.

If we are, as Christopher McDougall posits, born to run, why is it so hard, or nearly impossible, for most of us? I’m two years late to the party, reading McDougall’s 2010 tome, Born to Run, long after everyone else has already tried and given up on barefoot running and buying Chia pets to make their own chia seed elixir. Yet, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon, convinced that somewhere in this book is the answer to how a middle-aged women with a non-athletic body can somehow be transformed into a modicum of runner. My goal to run two miles twice a week, and a few 5k’s a summer, so far has been mostly insurmountable, and getting farther away each day, as every run I take I swear will be my last.

So I’m trying it again.  Like McDougall, I’ve been to my family doctor, who gently suggested that walking might be a better option, ahem, at my age. I’ve been to the sports medicine doc who told me that as long as I’m unable to hop on my bad ankle, I’ll have no success running on it. My bike guru who had gently discouraged me, now says “I’m surprised you’ve lasted THIS long.” The only bright spot is at  physical therapy, where, I’ve  actually garnered some understanding of my aspirations, and surprisingly, some improvement, including now being able to hop on each foot.

I could try gait analysis, but I’m afraid I’ll end up being the five-foot two version of McDougall’s running monster, as McDougall recounts here, which had me chortling uncontrollably when I first read it:

“Dr. Davis put me on the treadmill…and had me walk, trot and haul ass.. Then I sat in horror as she played back the video. …The guy on the screen was Frankenstein’s monster trying to tango.. I was bobbing around so much, my head was disappearing from the top of the frame. My arms were slashing back and forth like an ump calling  a player safe at the plate, while my size 13s clumped down so heavily it sounded like the video had a bongo back beat…my right foot twisted out, my left knee dipped in, and my back bucked and spasmed so badly that it looked as if someone ought to jam a wallet between my teeth and call for help. How was I even moving forward with all that up-down, side-to-side, fish-on a hook flopping going on?”

McDougall’s quest to run without injury brought him to explore the ways of the Tarahumara, a  tribe of super runners, and the Leadville Trail 100 ultra-marathoners, all of whom run amazing distances year after year, without harm. If those folks can run like that, shouldn’t McDougall and I be able to run our paltry little distances injury free? Unless McDougall’s writings are sheer hyperbole, perhaps I’ll find the answer by the time I finish the book.

Have you read McDougall’s book? What physical achievements have you accomplished, despite the odds tilted against your success?

© Huffygirl 2012

My doctor’s office STILL thinks I’m fat, and a troublemaker too

Well, it happened again. Unfortunately, I had to go back there. To the medical office that thinks I’m fat. In case you haven’t heard this story before, the skinny, er fatty is this: the new medical group I’ve been going to has decided that my BMI (ratio of height to weight) qualifies me as overweight, causing them to give me a weight-loss handout (aka fat handout) every time I leave their office.

Against my better judgement, I went back there for a follow-up visit, but this time, determined that I wasn’t going home with the fat handout again. My strategy: if I don’t step on the scale, they won’t record my weight, and won’t be able to give me the fat handout. I went in resolved to avoid the scale at all costs.

“Put down your things and step on the scale,” the medical assistant, whom I’ll call Ethel, says after calling me back into the office. “No, I don’t want to be weighed today,” I answered calmly. I was totally unprepared for the ensuing backlash. “You have to be weighed,” replied Ethel, her voice going up a few decibels. “Um, no I don’t and I don’t care to be weighed today,” I answered, pretty calmly I thought. “But you have to be weighed, it’s our policy,” Ethel replied, putting the same emphasis on the word policy as if she were saying mandate, decree, or law. “Well, no I don’t have to be weighed. I have the right to decline,” I answer back. I’m getting a little worried now about the backlash I’m getting, but I can’t back down now.

Ethel is positively sputtering now. Her voice has gone up well above inside voice level, and I’m a little surprised that she’s carrying on this way in what should be a professional setting. “Well, I’m going to have to get the manager,” she finally sputters back, several times, I might add. She’s positively frantic by now. Apparently, this hasn’t happened before.

The manager? Really? Let’s stop and look at this situation for a minute. The issue that has caused Ethel to go to red alert is that a patient has declined to be weighed. Does she get paid by how many people she weighs every day? Or does she get beaten or fired if she doesn’t weigh every patient? Now granted, there are a few groups who really should be weighed at their health care visits: children; anyone being seen for unexplained weight loss or illness; persons with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease, pregnant women, and people who are ill. But I don’t fall into any of these groups. I was just there a few weeks earlier and was weighed then, so this really shouldn’t be an emergency now.

But, back to reality. Ethel is still sputtering about calling the manager and their policy. She’s positively shrieking now. I would expect the manager to be more upset about her unprofessional behavior than the cranky patient who declined to be weighed. So finally to stop the standoff,  I told her to ask the provider I was seeing, and if she insisted that I be weighed I would do it, but otherwise not. “Well, we’ll just see about that” Ethel answered as she shuttled me back to the exam room.

So back in the exam room, I talked to my provider and told the whole awful story. She’s good-natured and understanding, unlike the others in this office. “I’m just sick of getting the fat handout every time I come here,” I told her. “I’m really not overweight, it’s just that I’m too short. If you could make me a little taller, I’d stop getting the fat handout.  An inch should do it”

So, I finished up the visit and left, not sure if she was willing to go out on a limb to save me from the fat handout. Then, I looked at the papers they handed me at checkout. I know I was 5′ 2″ when I came into the office. But on the way out, I had turned into 5’7″.

© Huffygirl 2012

Save a life: Learn CPR

The universal AED sign, developed by the Inter...Today I’m taking a break from my usual satirical rants to talk about something serious.

This week I completed what was probably my 15th CPR certificate renewal class. For the last 30-something years or so, I’ve taken BLS (basic life support) every two years, which includes CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). I have to take this class for my job, but I’d like to think that I would do it anyway.

I took my first CPR class in a Red Cross babysitting class in eighth grade. Back then, CPR was pretty new. There were a lot of rules of how to do it right and the class seemed pretty scary to a 12-year-old. We practiced on Resusi Annie, a life-sized model of a girl, who wore a blue track suit. The story was that Annie had died in a drowning accident, and her parents invented the CPR practice mannequin so people would know how to save drowning victims and prevent further tragedies. I never knew if this story was true, as we didn’t have Wikipedia back then.

Since then, CPR has come a long way. We now practice on mannequins that just have heads and chests – no arms or legs, no track suits. The CPR manual has gone from an inch-thick, technical manual, to 68 pages with color illustrations. The emphasis now is on doing CPR the best you can, and bringing an AED (automated external defibrillator) to the victim as soon as possible. We know now what we didn’t know 40-something years ago, that most cardiac arrest (unless caused by trauma) is caused by a bad heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, aka v-fib. The AED works by stopping the heart with a shock. When the heart restarts, hopefully it will restart in a normal rhythm. CPR helps keep oxygen circulating in the victim’s body until this happens.

In 2001, AEDs were starting to appear in many public buildings, but were still pretty new. I was a senior in my bachelor of nursing program. My project adviser was a physician on campus who questioned the feasibility of  installing AEDs in campus buildings. She was concerned about safety, liability and cost. For my project, I did an extensive report on why it was a good idea to have AEDs in campus buildings, and explored cost, training, safety and liability issues. She liked my report so much that she asked me to present it to the campus safety committee. The committee took my recommendations and  installed AEDs in campus buildings. There they sat for years, ready to go, but as far as  I know, like most AEDs , were unused. About ten years later, the university president emeritus had a heart attack while speaking at a campus event. Bystanders performed CPR, used the AED and revived him. My mom called me later that day and said “You saved the university president!”

Now AEDs are in most public buildings in the USA, including stadiums, airports, offices, museums, and grocery stores. Have you noticed them? Most of the time they are in a wall case, with a red or green sign like the one above stating  “AED here.” When you remove the AED from the case, an alarm is activated which sends more help, so in no time at all you’ll have other people there to help you with CPR.

What would you do if someone collapsed  at home or in a public building? Would you know how to help?  Save a life – learn CPR.

(Community CPR classes are offered through the Red Cross, hospitals, schools and community centers.)

© Huffygirl 2012

Finally – some help on my one woman war against cheese

English: Individually wrapped slices of Americ...

I’ve been waging my one-woman war against cheese for some time now, largely without any support, as, let’s face it, everyone loves cheese and they don’t want to hear someone telling them to stop eating it because it’s full of fat. But, now, I’m no longer alone. The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has jumped on the bandwagon, with an anti-cheese billboard campaign in Albany, New York. The no-nonsense billboard campaign features photos of folks with obese abds and thighs, with the captions “…your abds/thighs on cheese…” You can read the full story here, but the gist of it is this:  cheese is the number-one source of saturated (“bad”) fat in the American diet; we eat too much of it, and it’s making us fat, according to physician, food researcher and founder of PCRM Neal Barnard, MD.

Dr. Barnard goes on to further enlighten readers on the evils of cheese “…Americans eat more than 33 pounds of cheese per person per year—three times more than they did in 1970—and our country is more obese than ever.” and “…One-fourth of an average 12-inch cheese pizza contains nearly 13 grams of fat, including 6 grams of saturated fat and 27 milligrams of cholesterol. An ounce of cheddar contains 9 grams of fat, including 6 grams of saturated fat.” Read more from Dr. Barnard here and here, and you may be ready to jump on the anti-cheese bandwagon with me.

Of course, I’ve said all of this before in America’s Love Affair with Cheese, but it helps to have the full weight of an official-sounding physician’s group behind me. Look out America, the war against cheese is back!

© Huffygirl 2012

Confessions of a bad patient

I confess I’m a bad patient. Well, not bad in the sense of non-compliant. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t take all of her antibiotic, and then saves the left-over antibiotic in order to incompletely treat the next illness. (Yes, I know who you are.) No, I’m not THAT kind of bad patient. But, I’m not a patient patient. I think of myself as  a hardy, resilient person, ready to bounce back from every setback. Those rules for recovery apply to other people, not to me. Being ill, or in my case, recovering from surgery, seems like such  a waste of time that I’ll push myself to recover faster and better, even if, well even if it just plain wears me out. I just  want to be done with it.

I had surgery on my shoulder just over two weeks ago. Originally the doctor said I “…could probably go back to work after two weeks,” so two weeks to  the day I scheduled myself back at work. It didn’t take me very long to find out that was a bad idea. About nine o’clock I was ready to put my head down on the desk and take a little nap, then again at ten, and eleven, and so on until my husband finally came to pick me up from my extra-long half day. The next day when I dutifully went for my two-week follow-up, the doc said, “so when do you think you’ll be ready to go back to work?” No problem doc, already done. Turns out a little too soon, but that’s what happens when you think you’re hardy. I’ll know better next time. Well, maybe.

Two days after surgery I was making muffins in the kitchen, adapting everything to doing it one-handed and coercing my son to help me with stirring and scooping. It made a terrible mess, but better than sitting around doing nothing all day, and we had healthy bran muffins to boot.

My instructions said “no strenuous activity until the follow-up appointment,” but what’s strenuous about a gentle bike ride on the trainer? I worked pretty well until I got done and found out I couldn’t manage to get out of my sweaty clothes in my one-armed state. Hey, I’m sure my husband didn’t mind leaving work to come help me get undressed.

Being a bad patient is probably not all bad. Studies of resiliency have shown that the qualities that resilient people show, such as adaptability, humor, optimism and flexibility help them cope and adjust to stressful situations. If you are not already a resilient person, don’t worry. Resiliency can be learned and cultivated. You can practice adopting the ten qualities of a resilient person, until it become part of you. It’s never too late. (After all, optimism is one of the qualities.) Although, I do admit, that should I ever have surgery again, I’ll definitely take a few things a little slower. Now excuse me – it’s time for my nap.

© Huffygirl 2012

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My doctor’s office thinks I’m fat

Huffygirl: the obesity epidemic starts right here

I visited a consultant at a new health care group recently, and it turns out, that they think I’m fat. And, they’re determined to do something about it. Every single stinkin’ time I go there. Yes, obesity is a huge problem in this country, and my doctor’s office is determined to nip it in the bud, starting with the biggest offender – me.

My first time there, as I left the office, the receptionist  handed me a packet of papers and said somewhat sheepishly, “Here’s some information on healthy eating.” My first thought was, “wow, how wonderful that they care about my health as a whole person,” until I got home and looked it over. Turned out these papers were all about obesity and weight loss, and what I must do to start taking care of my obesity problem, today. Really. To say I was insulted was putting it mildly. But I thought I’d be the bigger person. After all, they think I am. So I put it aside. I refused to let my self be annoyed.

Until the next time I went there. Nothing was different about my weight, so turns out, I’m still fat. When I went to leave, there they were again with the fat handout. Now granted, even if I was fat, and, spurned on by their wonderful diet information, had decided to do something about it, chances are, I’d still be fat when I came back four weeks later. And the next time. And the time after that.

So the next time I complained to the doctor, who I must say, had a good 30 pounds on me. “Your people think I’m fat,” I said, “and I’m getting a little offended by it.” Well, she looked at me, looked at my chart, tut-tutted and said “well yes, your numbers don’t quite meet our guidelines, blah, blah” and then she went on to blame the government. Yes, according to her, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requires health care providers to provide, among other things, weight loss information to patients who, according to whatever mystery standards they are using, are fat. Then she went on to a well-rehearsed speech about how they are only doing this because of the government, and if I didn’t want to get a fat handout every time I came there, I needed to contact my congressperson, instead of complaining to her. So there. Instead of the lecture, it might have been nice to hear which obesity guidelines they were using that labeled me as fat, as according to BMI (body mass index) I’m still under the wire. But no. Just you’re fat, the government makes us say so, so there.

And so it’s continued. Every time I go there, or to any other office within that health care group, I get the fat handout. The last time I was there, I balked. “Don’t give me those fat papers again, I already have them,” I said to the receptionist on my way out. She started in with the usual diatribe about the government makes us, we have to give them to you, blah, blah, and handed me the fat papers again. In anger, I ripped them off of the stack of papers she gave me, and flung them down on the check-out desk, it turns out, on top of a huge stack of the same fat handout, left by other angry patients.

I have to confess that I am unfamiliar with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and even after reading about it, still do not see where it says in there that I’m fat. I’d be interested to hear from others if any of you have  had similar experiences. In the meantime, I’ve either got to look for a whole new bunch of doctors, or resign myself to being called fat every time I darken their door.

Huffygirl aka Fatgirl

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