Nurturing Whole Health
I awoke early today feeling a patch of fat, ripe blackberries was waiting for me. Alright, I was questioning if they were actually ripe, I drove to the spot where my dad and I picked berries every summer, after which, my mom would bake heavenly blackberry pie. I arrived at the berry thicket to find it heavy with sweet, plump fruit. My intuition that morning was spot on and I'm grateful I've finally learned to listen to it. My goal was to pick enough berries to bake a pie for my mom and dad.
Life changed much for my family two years ago when my parents moved to Montana to be near my older sister. Soon after, I relocated to Boise, returning to Oregon 8 months later. Over the years, no matter what else has changed, berry picking has been a constant, I picked my first black raspberry with my dad, in the steamy woods of Council Bluffs, Iowa, decades ago. Now, in the midst of Covid, it brings me great joy as I carry on this family ritual. In just over an hour I picked a heaping gallon of berries, paying the painful price of red, swollen, mucked-up arms and hands along with several rips in my ratty picking shirt. It felt like being home; the thorns; heat; blue sky; bird songs and the sweet taste of the abundant harvest.
My parents, ages 88 and 92 arrived back to Oregon exactly when shelter-in-place began. They wanted to come home to their friends, so my sister's and I helped make it happen. At the time, I didn't comprehend the magnitude of what was ahead, for any of us on the planet. As we Oregonians first hunkered-down, I listened to the song my daughter, Ailee, composed and performed on her ukulele, 5 months ago, welcoming the rest of the world to "The Covid Party." She recorded it, isolated on her rooftop in Hong Kong, where they were already 8 weeks into pandemic life. I laughed when I first heard her witty song, having no concept of the reality of the challenges she had already been living through.
Before the pandemic and for most of their lives, my parent's socialized often with their community of friends. As well, my dad, who lives for coffee, dessert and conversation, cultivated new acquaintances daily, at Mix, his favorite coffee shop. Connecting through relationships are deeply nourishing and essential for our emotional wellness. With Covid, socializing has radically decreased, affecting our mind-body wellness. My parent's move brought them to their new home straight into pandemic isolation. When I helped plan their move, I never imagined, their return to Oregon would coincide with Covid regulations that would isolate my parents from friends and family. When the Plexiglas wall went up outside for visitors, though it created a level of protection, it felt like prison.
I always assumed I would be with my mom or dad were a trip to the hospital necessary. Following their initial quarantine after becoming deconditioned from a very sedentary two weeks, my Dad was rushed to the E.R. late one evening. Due to Covid, no family could accompany him. I didn't know if we'd see him again and prayed he wouldn't die alone in the hospital that night. Thankfully, several gut-wrenching hours later, I got a call to pick him up and then dropped him off at the door to his building, from where my dad made his way back to their 3rd floor apartment at 1 A.M. My mother was there waiting and grateful.
Though staff helped my parents move-in, it was very stressful not being there for them. Placing furniture and wall art took place through video chat between me, my parents and staff. I always assumed I would be with my mom or dad were a trip to the hospital necessary. Following their initial quarantine after becoming deconditioned from a very sedentary two weeks, my Dad was rushed to the E.R. late one evening. Due to Covid, no family could accompany him. I didn't know if we'd see him again and prayed my dad wouldn't die alone in the hospital that night. Thankfully, several gut-wrenching hours later, I got a call to pick him up and then dropped him off at the front of their building, from where my dad made his way back to their 3rd floor apartment at 1 A.M. My mother was there waiting and grateful. With everyone in their building confined to their apartments, my parent's isolation following their big move, seriously impacted their pre-existing health conditions and aging process..
My parent's move brought unknowns, heart-break and more stress than I could have imagined. Though I could visit them outside of their building, I was not allowed in for close to 4 months, until my mother had a heart attack last month. Miraculously, the day she went to The E.R. was the first day since lock-down that the hospital began allowing in one visitor per patient. My mom's doctor scheduled a telemedicine follow-up appointment for the day after her discharge. I requested they schedule her an office visit since I serve as her health advocate and needed to be there. The doctor's nurse told me that wouldn't be possible and it could only be through telemedicine. I'm typically calm, respectful and soft-spoken, but the rigid Covid regulations, barring access into my parents home, along with managing their health challenges from a distance, have seriously triggered my stress response. When the doctor's nurse suggested that a staff member at my parent's facility be with my mother for the appointment or that it take place in my car, in the parking lot, I lost it. The nurse was the unfortunate recipient of months of my pent up frustrations. My blood pressure went up and the following rolled off my tongue, "My mother just had a fucking heart attack. Will a staff person with no understanding of her condition know what to ask; how to advocate for her and confer with the doctor regarding her condition? I will not bring my mom to my 95 degree car for a telemedicine appointment. She had a heart attack two days ago! Many people will die from Covid and it won't only be from the virus- it will be from elder abandonment, isolation, stress, and suicide. I need to be with my mom, inside her apartment for that appointment. I am an essential person for her care and wellbeing. Please, I need your help." Two hours later, after a rigorous check-in process, I donned the facilities' version of a hazmat suit; was chaperoned through the halls; instructed to touch nothing and stepped into my parent's apartment for the first time.
Following the appointment, I stayed longer, helping, organizing, supporting and simply being with my parents in the privacy of their home. They were so happy to welcome me into their home. For once, we were not required to shout through the Plexiglas outside or subjected to staff members running outside telling us to move farther apart, even though my dad needs accommodation for his serious hearing disability. I don't know when I'll be allowed inside again, but thankfully, since June, my parents have been able to go out with me and their friends, with no mandatory quarantine upon return. And now, no one asks us to separate since I have spoken to staff regarding the legalities of my dad needing accommodations for his hearing. Both my mom and dad keep saying, "I never thought we would live to see this."
A global pandemic has brought more meaning than ever to simply sharing time and space with family. This evening, we sat out on the Iawn in front of my parents building and shared fresh blackberry pie, tea, stories and laughter.
Today I bought some great pickling cukes and fresh dill at Ashland Food Co-op, having tried first at The Saturday Rogue Valley Grower's and Crafter's Market, where I am guessing farmer's will have their makings for pickles soon. The most difficult thing to find is fresh dill. Often there are piles of pickling cukes but no dill to be found. Gratefully, today I found both. With Covid still running rampant, it's a perfect time to get some immune-boosting lacto-fermented dill pickles or other veggies put up in your pantry.
"The consumption of fermented foods may be particularly relevant to the emerging research linking traditional dietary practices and positive mental health. The extent to which traditional dietary items may mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress may be controlled, at least to some degree, by microbiota."
Lacto-fermented pickles are so simple to make and such a wonderful way to get a powerful hit of healthy probiotics for daily gut and immune health. When I'm eating pickles and raw fermented kraut, I feel my gut and immune system are getting the essential coverage they need for optimal good gut bacteria balance. The word out from my peeps in the field of Nutrition and Chinese Medicine is that, eating fermented food with each meal offers important support for our spleen, digestive and immune system. Though it is always essential to keep our immune system strong, during this time of Covid, it is especially important. I make raw fermented kraut throughout the year and am now so excited to have just put up 3 quarts of lacto-fermented dill pickles. Adding some lacto-fermented foods with each meal is an important self-care practice for not only nutritional/physical health, but also for emotional wellness. There is much evidence-based research correlating healthy gut bacteria to a healthy brain, body and immune system.
"Properly controlled fermentation may often amplify the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods, the ultimate value of which may be associated with mental health; furthermore, we also argue that the microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways."
According to a 2014 study in The Journal of Physiological Anthropology, "The consumption of fermented foods may be particularly relevant to the emerging research linking traditional dietary practices and positive mental health. The extent to which traditional dietary items may mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress may be controlled, at least to some degree, by microbiota." The article states, "It is our contention that properly controlled fermentation may often amplify the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods, the ultimate value of which may be associated with mental health; furthermore, we also argue that the microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways." A great read on the gut-brain connection is the book, "Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain- for Life", by David Perlmutter, M.D.
So, enjoy these fabulous lacto-fermented, garlic dills. Here's the recipe and method.
Lacto-Fermented Dill Pickles
Makes 6-8 quart wide mouth canning jars
*I like to cut down the recipe and make 2-3 quart batches. This way you get fresher batches that don't over-ferment due to waiting months to eat them.
Brine for about 8 quarts- 9 Tablespoons sea salt or celtic salt to 4 quarts filtered water (mix together very well and remix just before pouring into filled jars- I use a blender)
2 large, folded *Grape Leaves per jar (tannins help keep pickles crisp)
Fresh flowering dill (buy a large bunch and divide between jars)
6 large cloves garlic per jar
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
5-7 small pickling cucumbers- or however many you need to fill canning jar.
Fold grape leaves into bottom of jars.
Place half the dill and some garlic on top of grape leaves.
Pack pickles into jars and add remaining dill and garlic as you pack.
After re-stirring brine, pour into filled jars, all the way to top.
Seal full jar with canning lid ( leave about 3/4 -1 inch to prevent explosion).
Place jar in a low-sided pan, tub or water proof container.
Cover jars with a large dish towel and place in dark cabinet. (55-75 degrees is good)
Let ferment for about 1-3 weeks at room temperature. If your space is warm, you may want to transfer the jars to fridge after only 1-2 weeks. Sample a pickle after one week. They will still continue to ferment in the fridge so judge by the climate of your home. The original method calls for leaving the jars to ferment at room temperature for several weeks but that can be too long unless you have a nice root cellar. Above 75 degrees will require refrigeration sooner than later. If you notice bubbles in the jar, get them into the fridge.
Be careful in opening the jars as they can be wildly fizzy.
* Note on grape leaves- tannins in grape leaves get extra concentrated with fermentation. If you are someone who gets migraine from tannins, simply do not use grape leaves and your pickles will still be awesome..
Yummy Happy Tummy,