As far as ruminants go, lamb is just luscious. In England, this tasty meat is not relegated to the back corner of the case for consumption only on the occasional holiday or on the blog of some fanciful food geek. No, here, this finely flavored foodstuff gets its very own section in the meat department.
I love flavor and, for me, lamb has it. You will understand, then, why acknowledging my sensitivity to lamb was hard for me. My skin, of all things, dries and cracks when I eat it, and my gut doesn't feel great either. It is an experiment I tried several times in years past, without promising results. At the British market, the brimming shelves of lamb call--but their call I must refuse.
Tonight, it is with great excitement, that I announce an alternative: venison. While less abundant than lamb, venison is still easy to find in a British market. It offers more flavor than your typical supermarket beef--whether that beef is supposedly grass-fed or not--and spares me the skin and digestive distress.
Prepare to fill my hotel room with savory scents and delight my palate with hearty flavors (all without the accompanying immune dysfunction). Tonight, you will contain venison and you will be delicious.
The eighth day of my stay in Hitchin coincided with a British bank holiday. When I took a walk around lunchtime, the town was hopping. Vendors and artisans filled the town square and I browsed for a bit, enjoying the sights and smells. When I headed out later, on my evening shopping excursion, things were different--Hitchin was a ghost town. In spite of my diligent efforts, checking the Waitrose's hours on multiple websites, it was, in fact, closed.
It was a funny thing, though. On my way to Waitrose, for no conscious reason, I crossed the street earlier than I had on any day prior. Thanks to this spontaneous variation in routine, I stumbled upon the most marvelous dandelion patch in all of Hitchin.
After my serendipitous harvest--following the foragers' code, of course--I ventured off toward another store. Sure enough, the Sainsbury's was open and had plenty from which to choose. It was actually a larger market than the Waitrose I had been frequenting, albeit with a slightly more blue-collar feel. No pastured British pork spareribs here...but if I can make do in Tampa, Sainsbury's would work just fine.
It was my seventh night cooking dinner in Hitchin and the middle of a bank holiday in England (we would just say three-day weekend back home). It was also the point in my trip at which I started really longing for home.
Admittedly, I had also been rather aggressive with my new microbiota, consuming lots of raw vegetables, sometimes with lunch and dinner. This was a big departure from my digestive norm and, therefore, not one promoted by the clinic. I was supposed to eat well, but also take it easy. When my microbes asked for a break, I had just the solution.
Hitchin is a lovely place full of friendly people, ancient cobblestones, beautiful gardens, and many supermarkets within easy walking distance. I could hardly imagine a better place for a low-stress therapeutic treatment. While, in some ways, it feels like I just got here, I am quite ready to go home. I have received nine fecal microbiota transplants at the Taymount Clinic--only one remains.
Slipping into a routine and having fun with the blog helped me pass the time and provided more of a purpose than just therapeutic relaxation. (Two full weeks of that would probably get me committed.) While I blogged consistently about my quirky cooking shenanigans, the main reason for my trip was not to photograph food in my hotel room. This trip was about me. It was about taking the necessary steps to be as healthy as I can be. I was on a mission to right wrongs from long ago. I escaped my downward health spiral years ago when I committed to a therapeutic diet and then improved my regimen in the years that followed. The groundwork was laid--it was time for a therapy that would target something closer to the root cause of my ulcerative colitis, maybe even the root cause.
That was a big steak I ate yesterday. Granted, it was my choice to prioritize quality (grass-fed) over appropriateness of portion size (most of the custom-cut meats were conventional). In the end, some combination of my standards and my American appetite won out, and I enjoyed every bite. For what it's worth, I chose the smallest ribeye I could find.
In an effort to balance my diet a bit, I thought I would cut back on meat today. I had initially set my mind on protein fasting, but when I started feeling weak and instinctively stalking the birds in the garden out back, I decided otherwise. A protein fast is simply a period of time when one avoids eating all protein. As Dave Asprey discusses in The Bulletproof Diet, there are certain health benefits of doing so. If the topic of protein fasting interests you, check out his blog post about it.
...But tonight, my body--microbiota included--asked for meat and I intended to heed their call. Luckily, I had just snagged a can of Scottish pilchards to have on hand, just in case. What was a pilchard, exactly? I wasn't quite sure. Suffice it to say, I spared that pheasant out in the garden for one more day.
I received my fifth treatment at the Taymount Clinic and my gut felt good. Lunch had already turned into a culinary adventure (in a good way) and I was eager to continue eating well, for the benefit of my microbes, of course. This meant seeking diversity of colors and flavors, eating some of my vegetables raw, and including some high-quality animal protein.
I often hear culinary herbs spoken of as if they are something altogether different from vegetables--as if we need a sanctioned reason to use them. Tonight, basil was not held to a different standard. While it may be chock-full of plant medicine, it's also just an edible plant. I'm a real rebel.
It was day four of my two-week FMT stint in Hitchin, UK. I was feeling good and I was cabbage-rich. In revisionist hindsight, the advance cabbage purchase wasn't so much an impulse as it was a sound investment. I had just finished reading about the benefits of leafy greens, specifically those of the brassica family (of which cabbage is a member). I also don't see tall green pointed cabbages like this back home. Clearly, I just struck while the iron was hot.
When I first started cooking in hotels, I went small, placing a high emphasis on convenience. This often meant I ate sardines with lunch and with dinner. If I was feeling adventurous, I might eat meat not out of a can. It was not long, though, before I tired of the canned-fish-for-days routine, realizing that empty sardine cans actually smell worse than spent meat wrappers. With daily housekeeping, what difference does it make anyway?
It was my third day of treatment at the Taymount Clinic in Hitchin, UK. I was feeling good and remained true to my mission. The clinic was pretty clear in their directive: minimize stress, get adequate sleep, and eat healthy foods. And what about their nutritional guidelines? Enjoy healthy fats, avoid gluten and grains, and eat my vegetables. They were preaching to the choir.
Back when I was much less well, this same dietary strategy helped me recover. Following the work of Dave Asprey, Paul Jaminet, and others, I began introducing copious amounts of clarified butter and coconut oil into my customized Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Suddenly, I had more energy, and my digestion dramatically improved. Avoiding gluten and grains was a no-brainer, as even microscopic amounts of the former would wreck my gut for a week. As for the eating my vegetables part, my parents used to joke that I was part rabbit--as a child, I would enjoy my salads one vegetable at a time and showed a penchant for whole lettuce leaves. In adulthood, living with ulcerative colitis, raw vegetables were rough on my gut, so I mostly ate them cooked. On this day, however, teeming with a hungry microbiota, the produce section looked less like a source of digestive distress and more like a colorful carnival.
I am now halfway through my ten-day fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) at the Taymount Clinic. Before I left home, I thought this day would be a big milestone. I thought I would know, for certain, that the treatment was going to work or it wasn't. Perhaps I was right.
Obviously, I really like food, and novelty is a big part of the fun. With ulcerative colitis, though, the cost of experimentation was high--usually higher than I was willing to pay. Throw travel, with its many variables, into the mix and novel foods started looking more like time bombs. "No, thanks." became my standard and final answer.
The Wahls Protocol has been on my reading list for a while and I'm finally digging into it. Terry Wahls is an amazing MD who arrested and then partially reversed the progression of her multiple sclerosis using food as medicine. As she points out in her book, there are many similarities between the various autoimmune conditions like MS, autoimmune hypothyroidism, Crohn's, and colitis, and many non-MS patients have seen improvements in their conditions by following her dietary and lifestyle protocols. A central principle of The Wahls Protocol is to eat a variety of colored fruits and (mostly) vegetables. Today, still set on my mission to nourish my microbiota, I intended to do just that.
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.