Monday, 25 January 2016

Spinning tales

The sun looks glorious through the
frosted trees
Well we have some good news this week, Eyre the kitten has recovered. She did have a trip to the vets and was given a drip and a course of probiotics, apparently she had gastroenteritis, but this morning she was bouncing out of the greenhouse to greet us as we arrived in her normal bouncy way. Such a relief, because at one point she wasn't even interested in drinking, just sleeping on the radiator.

These are the chickens that were free range and we brought
inside. They have settled in well and apart from one flying
out at night because I put them away in the wrong order, they
have stayed put in their enclosure.
We did however, lose another chicken. This one was regularly picked on by the four older ones in the same ark and never really fitted in. Again the prolonged cold spell we have had, must have been hard on it. Fortunately or unfortunately as the case maybe it is starting to warm up, with temperatures forecast to be above freezing this next week. So we are either going to have a dumping of wet slushy snow or wet soggy fields and we are not quite sure which is worse, especially when I shall be on snow clearing duties at our apartment block this week if necessary. I'm glad I got a bit of skiing in this last week while the snow was good. I found out that the tractor trails up to where we buried Snowdrop were ideal for skiing in because they had a light covering of snow, the ones that were fresh in the morning were too slippery for me and my cross-country skis as I'm not a confident or competent skier.

Such a cheery face. Mari is really getting quite bold now and
coming up to say hello. We think she will make such lovely 
therapy animal with her gentle nature
We both attended another Soil Science seminar this week and it has given us a lot to think about in terms of how we manage our land to protect the soil. I have known for a while that too much digging damages the soil, but how to manage land in a practical way to produce food was not covered in those kinds of academic circles, just the worry over the loss of microbial life and soil structure from conventional farming techniques. The seminars we attended this week were more practical in nature with remedial action that can be taken to correct problems and suggestions as to how to limit the damage. Now we just have to work out how to practically incorporate the details into our own set up.

Chanel is shyer but still such a smiley face
We have been out and about a lot this week it seems as today we took a trip to our friends at Raksi camelid centre. We haven't seen them in a while and we wanted to pass on the new information we have on the situation in Estonia and the opportunities for greater collaboration and training that we have. It was a good time to share our knowledge as they have looked at using alpacas as therapy animals but it didn't really fit with their operation, so they abandoned that idea. It could work for us though and so they will pass on what they know. We also had a good time looking around their place. They have new camels and they are very gentle animals and like some attention and a good nose scratch. Shame we forgot to take our camera. It looks like Ian might have another shearing job though in the early summer, providing of course he recovers well from his operation next month. He will have to be on best behaviour to make sure he does.

One of the dyed t-shirts
The rest of my week was spent preparing for my evaluation for my PhD which happens next week (sometimes in the car on the way somewhere, thanks to a mobile internet) and dyeing wool hanks and t-shirts. The t-shirts were all getting a bit yellow with age and so I threw them in with the wool hanks I was dyeing to give them a new lease of life. Ian's week has mainly consisted of looking after the animals of course, spinning wool and trying to mend my mixer. A slightly eclectic life we lead! Ian seems to be getting quite good at the spinning, he looks so relaxed as he either cards the wool to prepare it for spinning and then just gently peddling away as he spins the wool. I knew he would be good at it, at least he isn't tapping his leg all night making an irritating noise now, he is being productive in the process. The yarn is also getting better and more even as he practices.

Two of the dyed hanks of wool
A while ago I mentioned that I was testing my blood sugar because it seemed to be going to high at times, well after about four months of testing and adjusting my diet to the findings I have lost about 8lbs (about 3.5kg) in weight. I am nearly at the same weight that I got down to about 13 years ago when I had gall stones and had to monitor my fat intake religiously or suffer dire consequences - you could wave chocolate under my nose and I was not interested, unheard of for me and of course didn't last once I had surgery. I spent one week or so doing regular tests throughout the day to see what it was that was sending my blood sugar up and then used that information to adjust my diet and now just test in the mornings to make sure the diet is working. Scientists are beginning to see how individual our responses are to foods and it certainly showed in the differences between Ian and me. I have found that I cannot eat more than a small potato at night, or a small portion of carbohydrate rich food, but potatoes are the worst, whereas they didn't seem to affect Ian that much and he needs more calories than I do.

Our sheep have responded to the cold by putting on a lot of
fleece. They must be well insulated as that snow doesn't
melt off their backs
Timing is also important I can eat two of my own home-made breadrolls for lunch but not in the evening. I found that out this week after a rather high reading one morning. It makes sense when we remember that our bodies have a diurnal rhythm (daily rhythm). I take my time making bread and so it is more of a sourdough recipe, which also helps, I did find out though that shop bought white bread is only for emergencies, as the blood sugar rise is quite alarming. It is annoying though that if we run out I have to spend so much time reading the labels on bread to see which does not have added sugar - a good job I have new glasses and can see all the small print now and a good job that Latvians like a sour-rye bread and so easily available, even if I do have to hunt for it.

Yes we still have our Christmas tree up, but
it will be coming down at the end of the 
week. It is now starting to drop needles but 
it has been such a lovely addition to our 
lounge that it seemed a shame to throw 
it away too early
Paradoxically fruit is great and desserts are okay as long as they have protein in it, so small piece of cake (and I mean small) and custard - no problem. Ice-cream - fine! Once in the hotel I asked for just ice-cream and they gave me the ice-cream with baked banana in caramel sauce and nuts and the next day my blood sugar was not too bad and certainly not as bad as I had been expecting. If it had been two potatoes, that would have been a different story. Of course the initial rise may have been high - I didn't test that, but it did come down again by the next morning.

Our chain harrow disappearing beneath the snow.
I can also eat porridge in the morning, which not every person struggling with blood sugar can, but I do wonder if that is something to do with making a big batch of 4 or 5 grain porridge. If pasta is better cooled and then re-heated for blood sugar control, then maybe the carbohydrate structure in porridge also undergoes a similar transformation. I have found the same effect with both milk porridge and porridge made with fruit juice or fruit purée (we have a lot of berries in the freezer). I eat my porridge with apple sauce and kefirs and only add honey to the fruit porridge. That all worked out fine without any dire blood sugar spikes. One morning I made the porridge and ate it that same morning and my blood sugar rocketed up.

We don't like leaving these out, but not much choice unless we
build barn number two
One of the advantages of the revised diet is that it has pushed me into using some of the grains we have grown such as quinoa and amaranth. These are actually classed as seeds or pseudo-grains rather than actually grains (grains being the seeds of grass plants) and so higher in protein than the traditional grains. The quinoa is the easiest to process but harder to grow successfully, so we haven't as much of that. Amaranth is very easy to grow but far more fiddly to process because the seed is so tiny.  Quinoa makes a great substitute for rice and is quite tasty. I made a nice mix of the quinoa with fried carrot, peas, sesame seeds, linseed, apple, blackcurrant and gooseberry. The fruit was just warmed through but not enough to disintegrate. It was nice cold later on too. I think we will definitely have to work on upping the production of that this next year.

The girls have a new hay feeder, a special long one so more can
eat at the same time
The amaranth though is more difficult to use and needs to be treated more like polenta. I am also going to see if it works as a porridge for the morning, as this will reduce the total amount of starch I eat. I made flour from the amaranth to use in a crumble for a savoury squash dish and that worked okay and I will have to find out how much I can use amaranth as a substitute for flour. I already use a commercial pea flour to substitute a quarter of the flour in bread sometimes, so I can work on playing with that recipe.

A corner feeder too. Obviously well appreciated
The reality though is that overall the one strategy that has kept the weight coming off more than any others is portion control. I use the same plates I have always used, but instead of filling it, I use the circle that edges the pattern on the plate as my guide. My evening meal has to fit within the circle. A very simple technique. The next part of the portion control is that instead of half being carbohydrate, now it is a third or less. It is easy to visualise and keeps me on track for blood sugar control. After that I eat exactly the same as Ian does. Despite the fun of playing about with new recipes, I do find it hard sometimes. What I really miss though is toast when I feel like a snack, so I can relate to this video of a song from my childhood (forgive the overdone specimens of toast in this clip though, link here). Hopefully over time though my body will recover from its insulin resistance and I won't have to be quite so careful, as long as I keep the belly fat off.

I cannot get enough of the stunning
colours of frosty wintry landscapes

To finish off with, we have just realised that I missed an anniversary last week. It was 8 years ago on the 18th January that I wrote my first blog. We were still in Colorado then and just preparing for our move to Latvia. We didn't know what we were setting off to and certainly had no idea that eight years later we would be caring for alpacas and working out how to process alpaca fleece, along with managing 13ha of land. I had no idea then that I would be studying towards a PhD either. Amazing what you can do when you set off prepared to take the adventures that come your way.


I love to hear your comments and will always reply, so go ahead, ask a question or just say hi