Product Review: Masterbuilt 30″ Digital Electric Smoker

Back in December, Fred and I were walking through Wal-Mart when we happened across a large stack of smokers near the clearance aisle.  I’d been wanting a smoker for a long time, but I was ready to dismiss the pile.  “They probably won’t do what I want,”, I told Fred.  We ended up taking a long look though because they were marked down to $99.

We talked about it for a minute, and we decided to take note of the model and do some research.  We finished our shopping, and we headed home.

Once we got home, through the wonders of modern technology, we were able to determine a few things.  First of all, the price was fantastic! Amazon sold similar models for $200-$250, and the retail price on Masterbuilt’s site was nearly $300.

Next came the fact that we could use this inexpensive smoker with a cold smoke generator (sold separately), and that requirement was a must for me since I plan to cold smoke homemade bacon.

After some talking and a bit more research, Fred and I headed back to Wal-Mart after 11:00pm to buy a Masterbuilt 30″ digital electric smoker in the middle of December in Indiana.  Crazy, I know!

Masterbuilt 30" smoker stock imagePros

  • The unit was easy to assemble.
  • The unit is sturdy and well insulated.
  • The controls are easy to use.
  • It is incredibly easy to load wood chips into the unit while it is smoking.

Cons

  • I have concerns about the long-term durability of the chrome-plated racks.  They seem a little flimsy.
  • The unit doesn’t accommodate more than about 1/2 cup of wood chips, so until we get the cold smoke generator (which also allows for extended smoking times), the unit needs a little more tending than I was expecting.
  • This particular smoker isn’t very deep (front to back) so smoking larger items may pose problems.

Despite the cons listed above, I’m so happy that we got this smoker.  It has given us a chance to learn the ins and outs of smoking, and it has allowed us to make some utterly fantastic food!

smoked chickens in a steam table panI brined some non-GMO chickens from Sam’s Club to use in our first attempt with the smoker.  It did take a lot longer than I expected — about three hours — and the chickens didn’t have crispy skin, but they tasted AMAZING!

We used mesquite wood chips with the chicken, and we all liked the flavor, we all agreed that next time, we’d use less smoke and we’d finish the chickens in the oven to crisp up the skin.

brats in a steam table panNext, we tried brats.  We didn’t use anything fancy.  We just got some Johnsonville brats from Sam’s Club and smoked them with cherry wood.  When the sausages hit an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit, he transferred them to our propane grill to finish them.

My husband said the brats tasted like they’d been injected with cherry juice, and while I didn’t think the cherry flavor was that strong, I still thought the brats were great! In fact, we enjoyed the brats so much that we offered to bring them to a family get-together at Fred’s parents’ house.  They were a hit there too.

apple wood smoked standing rib roastThe third item we cooked in the smoker was a standing rib roast.  My mom managed to snag one for us for a good price, and a friend of mine sent me a really great resource called Smoked Prime Rib Made Easy.  I was a little intimidated with this particular roast since I’d never cooked one before, but the instructions, our bluetooth meat thermometer, and the smoker made it so easy.  The roast was cooked to a perfect medium rare and aside from an over seasoning issue — I should have listened to my gut rather than that part of the instructions — it too was really tasty!

We used apple wood to smoke the standing rib roast.  In doing that, we learned that apple wood doesn’t really work for such a heavily seasoned piece of meat.  The apple wood flavor was only barely perceptible.

Although we’ve only had the smoker for about a month now, we’re looking forward to all sorts of delicious things to come, and I’m certain we’ll be sharing our experiences here on the blog.

 

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Update to Mail Carrier Woes

After all the frustration I shared in a previous post about my postal service woes, I thought it only fair that I post an update.

Apparently, complaints do affect change.  Although we didn’t get an immediate response, much to our surprise, our postmaster sent an email to my husband on December 28 inviting him to call her at his earliest convenience.  I had called the post office earlier that week, and I was told that the postmaster was on vacation, so I had expected no contact until after the new year.

Since I learned about the email after the post office closed, I called the next morning.  The postmaster was the one who answered the phone, and she seemed very pleased to talk with me.  She remained professional, energetic, and motivated to solve our mutual problem.

Long story short, she claimed she needed permission to turn around in the yard.  Our property is such that there’s no way to avoid turning around without using a bit of the green space, and if we’d known that was their concern, we would have addressed it much quicker.  I said that they were absolutely authorized to use the green space if that’s what they needed to do, and she seemed satisfied with that.

She also offered an alternative which we discussed at length.  She suggested a drop box by our mailbox, but I explained that we thought that’d be less safe for the mail carrier since she’d have to get out of her car on the highway to place the packages in said box.  My husband also pointed out that it wouldn’t exactly be possible because there’s a very steep ditch with no level spot to leave such a box.

smiley faceIn the end, it was irrelevant, of course, since they’ll now be bringing packages to the house.  Hopefully, the situation is resolved and we won’t have to fight over our mail anymore.

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Going Keto: Update for 12/29/17

Today marks the end of week sixteen since committing to a ketogenic eating plan, and I’m still plugging along.  The scale is moving, albeit slowly, and I’m continuing to get lots of practice at making this a lifestyle rather than a diet.

I’ve only lost 3.4 pounds since my last update, but the losses are really starting to add up now.  I’ve lost 25.2 pounds in the last sixteen weeks, and I’m going to need new pants soon.  I guess there are worse problems to have.

More important than the weight loss though is the way my thinking has changed.  Food is nothing more than fuel to me now, but I have remained vigilant, never taking my success for granted.  I will always have food demons, and the moment I let my guard down for even an instant, I’ll risk all the progress I’ve made so far.  That’s not something I’m willing to do!

Let’s take Christmas as an example.  In our home, we have a tradition.  I bake cinnamon rolls, and everyone expects them.  My husband takes some to his job, my kids expect them, and they’re gifted to friends and family who’ve come to appreciate them.  I went into the process of baking them by deciding I wasn’t going to have even one this year.  I know what they taste like.  I know they’re amazing.  I also know I’d regret it if I had one.  To me, it wasn’t worth it.

What I didn’t expect though was the deliberate thinking I did while making them.  It didn’t hit me until I was making the cream cheese frosting.  Making the frosting is messy.  Frosting the rolls is messy.  My hands were covered in the stuff and I really wanted to have just a little bit.  Soon, my thoughts were overrun by frosting.  “It’s a shame that so much of this frosting is getting wasted.” “Nobody would blame me for licking frosting off my hands.  It’s not that much, is it?”

For the briefest of moments, I worried about my resolve, but I remembered the decision I’d made before I even started the process.  I’m too fragile right now.  I can’t handle just one taste, and my success so far means more to me than some stupid frosting on my hands.

The conversation that I had with myself couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but it was significant.  I know that some folks can handle “just one taste” or “just this once”, but I’m not one of those people.  Do I wish I were? Of course I do! Have I talked myself into believing that I could be one of those people in the past? You better believe I have.  It’s for those reasons though that I had to hold my ground.  I owed it to myself, and feeling of accomplishment that I gained from working through that uncomfortable situation wasn’t worth all the cream cheese frosting in the world to me.

That’s one thing that has been different during this journey.  I’ve taken moments to work through some of my issues rather than just ignoring them or pretending that they aren’t there.  It seems so much more effective to do it this way because I’m building skills that’ll help me during the tough times (that I know will come.)

People who tell you that changing your life is easy are liars or fools.  I know.  I’ve been the liar and I’ve been the fool.  I’m determined to do things right this time though, and for now, with lots of hard work, I’m getting there.  What you do matters! Remember that!

 

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And the Mail Carrier Woes Continue

We saw a lot of great changes with our move into the country eight years ago.  Unfortunately for us though, better mail service was not one of those positive changes.

Over the years, we’ve had many issues with our mail carrier.  And what’s more, our postmaster is not responsive at all.  In fact, she’s almost impossible to contact.  This is a real problem when there’s an issue in need of resolving but my husband only has access to three business hours each week at the post office.  (The post office is too far for me to walk to, and since I’m blind, the only recourse I have is phone calls.)

I realize we’re not the only folks in the country who’ve ever had issues with our mail.  It was just particularly surprising to us because until we moved to the homestead, we’d always dealt with really professional folks who were great at their job.  Unfortunately that’s not the case now though.

I remember when the problems first started.  We ordered a set of cordless phones from Amazon.  Amazon and USPS claimed that the package had been delivered, but we couldn’t find it.  It wasn’t in either of our enclosed porches, it wasn’t outside any of our doors, and it wasn’t in the mailbox.  Turns out, the package had been thrown down in the driveway.  No attempt was made to put it in a place where it was protected or even visible.  It actually looked like it had been tossed out a car window.

Over the years, we continued to have issues with packages and certified letters.  We’d get notices in our mailbox claiming that an attempt was made to deliver our item but no attempt was made.  Then later, packages started getting delivered outside regardless of weather conditions.  I got tired of wet or missing items, so I contacted the post office, and I was told that they weren’t allowed to open doors to dliever items without express permission, so we gave them express permission.  (Remember, we have enclosed porches, but they are just that — porches.)

I thought things were going okay until a few weeks ago.  We got a notice from the post office claiming we had a package but it wasn’t delivered because “no turn around”.  We were perplexed because nothing had changed on our property.  And since it was a Saturday, my husband was home.  Nobody had come onto our property that day.

Of course I couldn’t call anyone since we got our mail after normal business hours, but I did call the post office first thing the following week.  The person I talked to claimed that they had a “no backing” policy for safety reasons and our mail carrier didn’t feel safe on our property.  I tried to get some more details, but the gal on the phone basically said, “I can’t determine what makes others feel safe.” Okay, I can accept that, but I still couldn’t figure out why our property was suddenly a problem.  Our property has had the same configuration since before we owned it, and until this month, USPS was delivering packages in a timely manner.

overhead view of my propertyI was annoyed.  My husband was annoyed.  It seemed like the mail carrier’s refusal to deliver our packages was an issue of laziness or unprofessionalism more than anything else.  My husband and housemate get off this property every day of the world with nothing more than a three-point turn.  Even large delivery trucks come on and off the property with nothing more than a three-point turn.  So what’s the deal here? I can understand if you don’t want someone backing onto the state highway on which we live.  I can also understand if you don’t want someone backing off the highway, but that isn’t necessary.

Given the circumstances, my husband filed a complaint.  We expected to have some sort of reasonable discussion with the postmaster, but that wasn’t what happened.  I was sitting at home minding my own business when the phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the caller ID and the person on the other end of the line was agitated and unprofessional.  She didn’t appear to know who she wanted to talk to, and after several offers to take a message, I was finally able to guess that I was talking to our mail carrier.

The upshot of the phone conversation was that she was going to come to our property to take pictures to prove why she couldn’t deliver packages.  After I hung up with her, I told my husband that I didn’t really feel comfortable answering the door when she came because she was so hostile.  When the bell rang though, I changed my mind and decided that I’d go out and talk with her.  When I got to the door though, she wasn’t there.  She was backing out of my husband’s parking spot.  So apparently she CAN maneuver on our property when she’s here to show how she can’t maneuver on our property.  I was really upset.

Shortly after the mail carrier’s visit, my husband’s complaint was marked as closed despite the fact that nothing had been resolved.

So fast forward to December 20.

  • 8:07am — one package shows in the USPS system as “out for delivery”
  • 8:22am — second package shows in the USPS system as “delivery attempted, Notice Left (No Secure Location Available)”
  • 10:00am — I went up to the mailbox to see if we had our mail yet since supposedly a delivery was attempted.  No mail.
  • 11:37am — The first package (along with that day’s mail) was delivered.

When Fred came home at lunch, he was obviously upset and frustrated.  That package that wasn’t delivered contained a prescription medication.  Since our post office isn’t open between noon and 1:00pm though, he couldn’t go to the post office to collect it.

Fortunately, my housemate was available to go to the post office for me.  She went fifteen minutes before it closed, but our package was not there.  Where it was, we have no idea, but we could only assume that it went home with the mail carrier since she finishes her route between 1:00pm and 2:00pm (or so I was told.)

We ended up retrieving the package two days after it got to the post office.  Since it was right before Christmas, we figured there wasn’t anything we were going to be able to do then, but we had plans.

Today (December 26), I decided to call the post office at the county seat.  My postmaster was on vacation (which always seems to be the case with her when we actually need something), so I thought the postmaster in Columbus might be able to help.

I found the direct dial number for the Columbus post office, and when a friendly voice picked up on the other end, I said, “Hi.  My name’s Sarah and I have a question for you.  You may or may not be able to help, but it’s worth a shot.  Do you happen to know if you guys have an jurisdiction over the post office in my town?”

“No, I’m sorry, and I would know because I’m the postmaster.” WHAT? Not only was the postmaster friendly and professional, but she was the one who answered the phone! I was shocked!

For now, we don’t have a good solution to our issue.  We won’t be able to attempt to have a conversation with our postmaster for ten or so days.  In the meantime, I’ll have to ship packages that come USPS to my husband’s job or I have to pay extra to avoid them altogether.  I don’t have any other course of action until I can have a conversation with the postmaster.  VERY frustrating!

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Goal Setting for 2018

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve always seen them as an excuse for people to get really excited for a few weeks (or even a couple of months) and then lose focus.  After listening to The Survival Podcast Episode-2121- Time to Start Planning for the 2018 Spring Garden, I got to thinking though.  It’s a great time of year to set some goals, and my 41st birthday seems as good a time as any to record them for posterity.

Microgreens

The other day when I was going through my small pantry, I had a moment of inspiration.  I forget what I was looking for in there, but as I looked at the shelves, I thought, “If I could only find another place for all this stuff, this pantry would make an excellent spot to grow more microgreens than I could shake a stick at!”

While I can’t actually grow microgreens in that pantry until our housemate moves out and my initial estimation of how many I could actually grow in that space might be overblown, it still left me wondering.  Why is it that I haven’t been growing microgreens? I love them, they’re easy, they’re inexpensive to grow, and they could be a potential revenue source.

To be honest, I got lazy.  I allowed things to get in the way that shouldn’t have, and before I knew it, I had no microgreens.  I have all the stuff here to start some, and I even have a handy shelf over my sink now.  So, after I finish all the Christmas baking and gift making, there will be microgreens at the homestead again! I have decided, therefore it will be!

Cottage Food Business

For those who’ve known me for a while, how long have I been talking about this? I think it’s been two years now at least, and I haven’t sold a single item.  I have, however, been more proactive over these past months testing recipes that could work for me.  Before I sell anything though, I need to establish the business entity and get the right insurance.  Fortunately, those are fairly low barriers to entry, but I’ve been suffering from “paralysis by analysis” for far too long now.

Homestead LIvestock

As many of my readers know, we are currently without chickens.  With a myriad of predators around, we were feeding the local wildlife (and stray dogs) rather than getting eggs for ourselves.  I miss homestead eggs, especially since I go through a lot of them, but I don’t miss the predation of my chickens.

We’ve talked about various thoughts on predation where the chickens are concerned, and I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to address that issue.  Fred and I have talked about something else though.  I told him that I wanted to hire a friend to build a hoop coop for us so we can grow some turkeys for next year.  Turkeys are something we’ve always wanted to do, and we knew they’d never be able to live in the chicken coop, so we knew we were going to have some sort of containment to raise them on pasture.  Next year is the year! I really want to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with turkeys that were raised on our property!

Health Goals

Lastly, I’ll be pressing forward with my health goals.  A ketogenic diet is working well for me.  I’m losing weight and seeing positive changes every day.  For instance, today I needed to leave the house for an appointment.  Rather than wearing a sweatshirt and pants that were too big for me, I put on pants that are a size smaller than I was wearing and I tucked in my shirt! It felt good to walk out of the house not feeling frumpy, and that was a great realization to have on my birthday.  I’ll have no trouble keeping that momentum going.

In closing, I know that it’s a busy time for everyone right now.  I also think though that it’s completely reasonable to take a bit of a time-out and figure out where you want to go next year.  A ship that’s just sailing around randomly covers a lot of ground but doesn’t necessarily get where it needs to go.  Put some forethought into things.  Set goals and write them down.  You might be surprised at how far you’ve come next year when it’s time to do it all over again.

 

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Bucking Birthday Tradition with ButcherBox

For more years than I can remember now, there has been a tradition in our home.  When someone has a birthday, they pick a restaurant for their special meal.  I have always enjoyed that tradition, and I think the rest of the family has too.  This year though, I asked my husband if we could do something different.

Last week, I got my first order from ButcherBox.  For those of you who’ve never heard of this company, it’s a meat subscription service.  On a monthly basis, you pick the grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, or pastured or humanely raised heritage pork that you’d like shipped to you.  They pack it and ship it, and it arrives at your door frozen solid in individual portions.

ButcherBox ribeye stock photoAnyway, when my box arrived, I was thrilled to see the quality of the ribeyes that received for FREE.  (I got a pretty amazing deal when I signed up during Cyber Week.) Ribeyes are my very favorite cut of beef, and these twelve ounce babies were BEAUTIFUL! I put them in the fridge to thaw along with some fillet mignon (also free) for Fred and some top sirloin for the kids and the housemate.

Last week was a crazy week, and with most of us sick, we never got around to grilling the steaks.  Fixing them today was out of the question because I started brining some non-GMO chicken from Sam’s Club; today was the last day I felt safe cooking them.  So what did this mean for my delicious steaks waiting in my fridge? It meant that a serious shake-up of tradition was in order!

This is going to seem random for a second, but stick with me here.  Back at Thanksgiving, we shared a meal with my side of the family at a track-side casino in Anderson.  The food was unbelievable, and even though my kids were more interested in desserts, I was loving the prime rib and seafood offerings.  It was the perfect meal for someone following a ketogenic diet, and I loved every bite of it.

Later, I said to Fred and the kids, “I know it’ll be really expensive, but maybe I want to eat at the casino buffet for my birthday meal.” Nobody objected, of course, and we kind of left it at that.

With everyone being sick though and some unexpected medical expenses that couldn’t have come at a worse time of year, I was pondering what to do about my birthday supper.  We definitely weren’t going to the casino, and I didn’t really think I could justify any of my other favorite places.  And to be honest, I’m just not feeling up to it anyway, so I hatched a plan.

My birthday is tomorrow, a work day, so the plan was going to require Fred’s approval.  I asked him if he’d mind grilling those steaks after work as my birthday meal since honestly, I’ll likely enjoy my ribeye much more than I’d enjoy spending a lot of money to have someone cook for me.  Sweet man that he is, he said, “It’s your birthday.  Whatever you want to do.” I really do love that man!

So the kids might not be too happy, but this year, I’m not going out to celebrate my birthday.  Fred’s going to grill a ribeye for me, and I think I’m going to make a cheesecake.  I’ve been wanting cheesecake for so long.  Tomorrow will be the perfect day to have some, I think.

After tomorrow’s feast, I’ll be sure to do a separate blog post detailing my experience with the ButcherBox beef.  I’m certain I’ll love it though.  Seems like a perfect way to celebrate my birthday to me!

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Contour Next One Blood Glucose Meter Frustrations

As most of my readers know, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic back in 2013.  I control my blood sugar with a ketogenic diet, berberine, and Tradjenta.  A critical part of my blood sugar control is self testing though.  So when they stopped making strips for the meter I was using, I got a little antsy.  As a blind person, I HATE shopping for new meters!

Sometime in late August or early September, I happened upon a meter at Wal-Mart.  It was the Contour Next One meter by Ascentia, and it seemed to be the perfect meter for me.  It caught Fred’s eye because he thought I might be able to see the LED display.  (Turns out that I can’t.) It also had the ability to connect to my smart phone via bluetooth so that I could make it accessible to me via Google Talkback.

I brought the meter home, I downloaded the app, and I tried to get started.  It turned out that the app wasn’t entirely accessible to me; there were buttons that Talkback didn’t even recognize.  If I hadn’t had my husband to help me, I wouldn’t have been able to set up the app by myself.

The app’s shortcomings weren’t a huge issue then though.  After Fred got everything set up, I loved the fact that I could take a reading with the meter and the numbers would pop up on my phone screen.  The important parts of the app were accessible to me, so I started collecting data.

Sometime in October though, my meter wouldn’t work with my phone anymore.  I got a little discouraged at first.  In order to use the meter, I’d have to take a reading and then find someone who could read it to me so I could log it.  It was incredibly frustrating.  I still loved how easy the meter was to use, but the sudden loss of accessibility didn’t thrill me.

Finally, this past week, I got sick of it.  I asked my husband if there was something that he could do to help me out.  He puttered around with it and couldn’t get it to work either, so he gave me the support number for the meter.

Before I say anything else, I have to say that the woman who tried to help me in support was fantastic.  She was patient with the fact that I needed help to troubleshoot the meter (since I can’t see), and she seemed to have access to clear, concise, and accurate troubleshooting steps.

At the end of the call though, I had no resolution.  We couldn’t even get my meter to pair with the app, and the gal in tech support said it was a known problem with Android devices running Oreo.  OK, well I can understand that, but I’m fairly sure I started haivng issues before the upgrade.  I set that aside for the moment though.

The woman in tech support advised me to enter readings manually even though she understood that it was a pain, and I agreed that would work since I still valued the app’s data tracking abilities.  Apparently though, entering readings manually on an Android phone running Oreo makes the app crash more often than not.  It’s bad enough that I have to enter the readings manually, but having to do it several times because the app crashes isn’t cool.

So today, thinking about my frustrations, I got an idea.  What if there were another app that was written better that would interface with my meter? Then I wouldn’t have to worry about Ascentia’s issues.

I was so excited when I found an app called Glooko that claims to be compatible with my meter.  I downloaded it, and I was happy to see that it was accessible from the start.  I turned everything over to Fred though since I figured he could configure everything for me faster than I could.

He got to the part where he was trying to sync my meter with app, and guess what! The meter won’t sync with Glooko either.  I’m so stinking frustrated right now!

Sweet man that he is, Fred tried to help by going onto Amazon and ordering a cable that’ll let me connect my meter to my phone via USB.  Hopefully, that’ll solve my issues.  In the meantime though, I’m feeling pretty defeated because the whole setup USED to work and I loved how it worked after getting through the initial challenges.  It’s like having a dishwasher that breaks.  You can still get your dishes clean, but it’s going to require a lot more work on your part.

I’ll definitely keep folks posted as the situation changes.  Right now, I’m just waiting to see what happens once I get my hands on a data cable.

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Cast Iron in the Homestead Kitchen

Folks don’t usually think of cast iron in December, especially here in Indiana, but with all the things that are going on at the homestead, we definitely have cast iron on the brain here.

About a month ago, Fred and I were shopping at Aldi.  We had originally stopped in for a few “essentials”, but by the time we left the store, we’d spent entirely too much money.  We got groceries, of course, but we also got flannel sheet sets for every bed in the house.  (Did I mention it’s winter in Indiana?) But my favorite find of all was the Crofton cast iron.

boxed cast iron cookware from AldiIt was the grill pan that caught Fred’s eye.  He knew I’d been wanting one for ages, but since I have a glass range top, my cookware has to be flat on the bottom.  I can’t have any ridges or rims.  And do you folks know how hard it is for a blind person to buy things online based only on the descriptions?

Anyway, I was basically acting like a small child right there in the middle of the store.  I took one of the pans out of the box and squealed with delight as I noticed that the bottom was flat and the cast iron didn’t have a surface that felt sandy or bumpy.  I tossed the pan into the cart before I even knew how much it was.  Then Fred proceeded to tell me that it was only $13 and they had other options too.  Boy, was I in trouble!

Next, I checked out a 12″ skillet, and if I hadn’t felt the weight of the pan in my hands, I almost would have suspected that it was some kind of Teflon coated pan.  The surface was so smooth, almost like it had been milled.  Since I had been struggling with some Lodge cast iron that wasn’t non-stick yet, I snagged that skillet too.  It was also $13.

I also ended up snagging a covered braiser.  I think I only paid about $25 for that piece.

I know a lot of folks might wonder why I’m such a cast iron fanatic, especially since I have a glass cooktop in my kitchen.  I guess I’ll start by dispelling a few myths.

  1. I thought you couldn’t use cast iron on a glass or ceramic stove top.  You can absolutely use cast iron a glass or ceramic cooktop with a few caveats.  Remember that cast iron is heavy.  Don’t drop it on your cooktop or you’ll break it.  Don’t drag it across the cooktop either or you run the risk of scratching it.  This isn’t a functional issue, but it’ll likely annoy you.  And lastly, make sure the bottom of your pan is FLAT.  If it isn’t, you don’t get the right heat transfer to the pan and you run the risk of creating a vacuum in that air gap that can break your stove top.  (I saw it happen once when someone set a hot lid on top of a glass cooktop.  It made a lid-shaped hole in the cooktop.)
  2. Cast iron is hard to care for.  In my experience, cast iron is a lot easier to care for than the other cookware in my kitchen.  In fact, because of that, I almost NEVER use anything but cast iron.  Frequent use maintains the seasoning so it doesn’t get rusty, and simple cleaning with hot water and a plastic scrubber or cast iron cleaner will keep your cookware in great shape!
  3. Cast iron is unsanitary because you don’t clean it with soap.  The issue of soap is a debated one.  Personally, I don’t use soap on my cast iron unless it’s an enamel coated piece or I’m trying to strip it to reseason it.  Outside of those situations, I’ve never had a use for soap with my cast iron, and the logic I use is this.  Cast iron does a great job at distributing heat.  Heat sanitizes.  If one uses cooking temperatures well above the boiling point of water, microbes won’t survive that, thus I don’t worry about getting sick.

A trend that I’ve really come to appreciate in cast iron cookware is the process of enamel coating.  I have a large enamel coated “dutch oven” (not the kind that you’d use on a campfire but the kind that’s basically a big covered pot), and it does an amazing job of cooking acidic soups or stews that I might not want to cook in cast iron that hasn’t been coated.

My new skillet and grill pan from Aldi are enamel coated on the handle and the outside of the cookware, and this makes care a lot easier in my view.  It means that I only have to worry about seasoning and rust on the cook surface rather than the entire pan.

I have enough cast iron at this point that I may need to reinforce one of my cupboard shelves.  The pans that I use most frequently though just sit on my stove top.  I’m certain that my fixation with cast iron will mean that I’ll have cookware to pass on to my children when they move into their own homes, and they’ll likely pass it on to their kids too.  And my cast iron isn’t even fancy or antique.  It’s just used frequently and treated right.

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Going Keto: Update for 12/04/17

It has been far too long since my last keto update, but I have nothing but great things to report.  Since I haven’t shared my progress for more than two months, I’m sure you can imagine that I have a lot of things to share.  I’ll try to keep it interesting.

The Metrics

I decided to enlist my daughter’s help with more progress pictures.  These pictures are only the second set that I’ve asked her to take since beginning this journey on September 8, 2017, because my weight loss is pretty slow.  Later, I think these photos will be a lot more impressive, but for now, they are what they are.

front view of Sarah standing in front of doorprofile image of Sarah in front of door

These photos were taken on December 2, 2017.  I weighed 264.6 pounds for a total loss of 23 pounds since September 8.

My daughter also took some basic measurements.  At two weeks and one day keto, my measurements were:

  • Hips: 60″
  • Waist: 48″
  • Bust: 51″

And at twelve weeks and one day, my measurements were:

  • Hips: 55.5″
  • Waist: 47.5″
  • Bust: 49″

I do have to say though that I question the initial waist measurement because I need to drop down a belt size and losing half an inch off my waist would not have accounted for that.

Labs

I had an appointment with my family doctor on October 11, and before the visit, we ran some labs.  At the time the labs were run, I had been following a strict ketogenic eating plan for one month and one day.  Here are some numbers of note.

  • Hgb A1c: 5.8%
  • Random Glucose: 74 mg/dL
  • Total Cholesterol: 229 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: 98 mg/dL
  • HDL: 63 mg/dL
  • LDL: 146
  • Vit D: 22.6 ng/mL
  • TSH: 3.590 mcIU/mL
  • T4: 9.5 mcg/dL
  • T3 Free: 2.35 pg/mL

There were a few items of note that we discussed at my October appointment.  First, I was happy to see that after only one month on a keotgenic eating plan, my blood sugar and A1c looked great.  I had assumed that the A1c had probably been higher and as I continued on my journey, that number would get better.  (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

My vitamin D level was still entirely too low despite supplementation, so we decided to continue the supplementation and retest before the end of the year.

My thyroid levels weren’t in the optimal range, and since I was having hypothyroid symptoms despite taking 30mg NP Thyroid each morning, we decided to increase my thyroid meds by 15mg and retest.

My kidney function (which I didn’t share above) was stable, but that was a little disappointing since I’m not going to recover full kidney function after taking Victoza in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

In preparation for my November visit with the doc, I had more labs drawn.

  • Hgb A1c: 5.9%
  • Random Glucose: 87 mg/dL
  • T3 Free: 2.11 pg/mL
  • T4: 9.1 mcg/dL
  • TSH: 3.740 mcIU/mL
  • TPO Antibodies: 17.7 IU/mL
  • Insulin: 7.0 munit/L
  • C-Peptide: 2.4

I was definitely frustrated with the second set of lab values.  Despite doing everything “right” with my eating, my A1c went up.  As a diabetic, I know I should be thrilled with an A1c of 5.9%, but the fact of the matter is, that’s still an average blood sugar of 133 mg/dL.

My healthcare provider and I discussed it, and we decided to try Tradjenta.  The hope is that we can get a better handle on the glucose that’s being made in my liver since it’s not coming from my food.  Paying for that medication is going to be a challenge though.  My insurance doesn’t cover it.

And then there’s my thyroid.  We increased my NP Thyroid in October yet my symptoms persisted and my lab values got worse.  We went ahead and increased the NP Thyroid to 60mg per day and we added 25mcg Cytomel.  I still think it’s a bit too early to tell if that’s making a difference or not.

Everything Else

Overall, my outlook is positive.  I’m happy with the progress I’m making, and aside from hypothyroid issues, I’m happy with how I feel.  I haven’t had trouble with acid reflux in weeks, the pain in my feet has significantly lessened compared to twelve weeks ago, and I’m very happy with my eating choices.  It’s really quite easy for me now, and I’m determined to do NOTHING to wreck my progress.  I refuse to mess with something that isn’t broken.

Eating on plan was so easy for me over Thanksgiving.  Even if we hadn’t eaten prime rib on Thanksgiving Day, I still would have had no troubles with food selections because there are so many things that are keto and satisfying to me.

I imagine that Christmas and New Year’s will be more of the same for me.  I’ve discovered some recipes that I absolutely love if I’m looking for something sweet, and I’m lucky that most of the people in my life support my positive changes.

In the end, I just remind myself to stay focused on the end goal.  And honestly, with keto as a tool, it’s about as easy as it could be.

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Recipe Review: Low Carb Pumpkin Bread

It’s that time of year where it feels like you can’t walk three feet without seeing pumpkin spice something, right? Well, I happen to like pumpkin and the warm spices of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon that happen to go along with it, so I thought I’d try a low carb pumpkin bread recipe.  It didn’t take much searching before I found something that looked tasty but didn’t look too complicated, so I decided to try some one Sunday afternoon with the help of my daughter.

sliced pumpkin bread on a cooling rackI made “Healthified” Pumpkin Bread from Maria Mind Body Health, and my recipe choice was definitely a winner! I was a little worried that the bread would taste too nutty and gritty since the recipe is based on almond flour, but the texture was smooth and moist like pumpkin bread that was made with wheat flour.

As is the case with almost every recipe I try, I made a few modifications to suit my tastes and ingredients.  First, I didn’t make the glaze.  I just wanted a basic pumpkin bread that I could enjoy with butter.  I’ve never had a glazed pumpkin bread, so it didn’t really sound appealing to me.

The second change I made was a substitution.  I added four teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice instead of the sum of the spices that were in the recipe.  I was afraid that four teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice would be way too much, but it was actually perfect.  In fact, maybe that’s why the nutty taste of the almond flour didn’t shine through.  It worked out well.

Lastly, I used Truvia and liquid sucralose instead of the sweeteners that were recommended in the recipe.  I like a blend of sweeteners to round off the sweet taste.  To us, doing that tastes more like sugar than any one sweetener alone, and none of us react adversely to sucralose, stevia, or erythritol.

As I had hoped, this recipe was delicious spread with warm butter, and everyone in the family loved it.  I intend to make it again but I’ll try making it in some silicone baking cups that I purchased recently from Amazon (review to follow).  Having muffins rather than slices of bread might be a little more convenient for my family.  I’ll add comments to my post with the results of that experiment.

If you’re following a gluten-free or low carb eating plan and you’re looking for pumpkin bread, I can’t recommend this recipe highly enough!

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