My last post received a lot of comments on Facebook. One was from a friend of a friend that simply read “Get tested for Lyme disease.”  I summarily dismissed it because if lyme was a possibility, surely those smart doctors would have tested me when I was in the hospital.  But I gave it a peek anyway, just to properly confirm that it couldn’t be lyme.  Imagine my surprise to find all the symptoms I’ve been experiencing (including things I’d not thought of as symptoms but weird, passing happenings) were all in this list.

Before I go into it, it’s important to note that a few years ago, while living in the Blue Hovel, I found a huge-ass bite on my hip, it was a large red circle (I don’t remember if it had a “bullseye” because lyme hadn’t touched my psyche at that point in life).  I always assumed it was from a spider, which made very little sense since it was an urban apartment and I’d not seen any spiders.  But I’ve had a few visits to upstate NY where my friends have a house in the forest (and ticks are known to reside).  Or locally, Wissahickon or Fairmount (not my usual running route but outside that) could have supplied such a thing.  No matter where it came from, I do remember that bite.

Back to symptoms, the major ones I’ve been dealing with are all listed: reduced reflexes, muscular weakness and poor coordination, constant varied joint issues, noise sensitivity, temperature sensitivity (been especially crappy the last couple weeks…it’s 70 degrees in my apartment yet by the afternoon I’m in 2 longsleeve shirts, a fleece shell, fleece robe and sweatpants and yesterday wore a coat on top of all that…crazy shite), a recurring ocular thing, along with a few random symptoms that have been decidedly weird but haven’t lasted long enough for me to dwell on or talk about. But it’s the cognitive symptoms I’ve been sweeping under the rug that are closing the deal on this line of reasoning.

Word Switching
As soon as I saw that, I knew exactly what it was without having to read anything about it because I’ve just started doing it in the past 3 or 4 months.  What happens is I’ll be typing and the wrong word will emerge. It’s not a misspelling or the result of fatigue, lack of attention or typing in a flurry; it’ll be a word that’s sort of related but not what you planned.  For example, on Saturday I was typing “August or September” but what came out was “August or Wednesday”.  Until now, I’d pause for a sec and think “huh, that’s funny” but now I’m taking notes.

Then on Sunday, I was getting ready to go to Lara’s baby shower and pulled out my skinny jeans for the first time this season.  I’m not a clothes horse by any means – I basically have 3 pairs of shoes I wear during the winter.  Last year I always wore these jeans with a cute pair of North Face hiking boots I’ve owned for 5 years.

But that day, I pulled the jeans from the closet and wondered “now what shoes do I usually wear with these?”  I had a sort of shadow in my head and a B appeared that made me think “brown, brown shoes” but that’s as far as it went.  I saw another pair of shoes on the floor and put them on.

It wasn’t till the next day when, once again, I pulled the jeans out but this time saw those boots right in front of my face. Suddenly I realized how weird it was that the day before I’d completely forgotten their existence and secondly, that I had so quickly ditched the thought without resolution.  A normal Flo would not have left the closet without at least mentally identifying those damn shoes, if not wearing them!

Like I say, I’m just now starting to pay attention to this stuff but I guess it’s been building for a bit.  Just a few weeks ago I had a regrettably angry exchange with a dear friend over my shitty memory.  I got totally defensive for forgetting something (one of many things) he had told me earlier. I was embarrassed and stupidly got pissed off for feeling stupid.  I’ve always had a crappy memory anyway (I joke that it’s because I used to smoke so much pot, though it’s only a half-joke because I was a happy little pothead) but it seems to be morphing into something else.

Anyway, step one is done, I got the lyme test yesterday. I’m incredibly nervous for the results because it’s classic that the test gives a false negative (like 50% classic), especially the longer you have it since the little spiral bacteria will have settled into many hiding places in the body, which also makes it so much harder to treat.  Couple that with the CDC having some crazy crap about what constitutes “treatable” lyme thanks to the doctors on the lyme board who have a financial interest in the disease (watch this fascinating free documentary if you’re interested) forcing people to drive hundreds of miles to find LLMDs (lyme literate doctors) who don’t take insurance but will treat you with the proper combinations and amounts of antibiotics, it’s all so incredibly tense-making.

But I’m happy to have started the ball rolling, whatever it ends up being. I should have the test results in a couple days and have an appointment with my GP for Thursday morning. Cross fingers for me.

 

ETA: Doctor just called, tests were as expected…negative.

This blog is a strange thing, always in the background, a place I used to write a few times a week, so excited by running and training that I’d often formulate blog posts in the midst of a run.  Now it sits quietly, a little sad and lonely for having been nearly discarded.  I keep thinking I’ll get back to writing regularly when things get normal in my running life, but alas, I’m not sure that’s ever going to be.

I had a couple months of near normal running. It was great and I was even considering a half marathon in the spring. My decision would be based on whether I was running normally by January.  The way things were going, I had high hopes that it’d work out. But here I am on a setback again.

In a nutshell, I ran 79 miles in October.  I could feel the weird symptoms becoming more pronounced and regular so I did mostly 4-milers and took generous rest days.

But last weekend, I got a harsh dose of reality. It was Saturday and I was on the beginning of a run, nearly at the first mile, which is always hard for me (not in a normal “just need to warmup” way but in the “my body is an unrelated stranger” way – the crux of my situation).

Anyway, my friend Jeff rode by on his bike, though I didn’t see him till he stopped behind me and called my name. When I went over to him he said, “Are you ok? You looked really unsteady there.”  This shocked me.  Although self-consciousness has been a constant unwanted companion throughout this period, I always want to believe that I don’t actually look like it feels.  But I do.

I stood there when he asked the question and couldn’t even speak, I was so upset, my mouth sort of opening and closing like a fish. He asked if it was the same thing and all I could do is nod dumbly.

Flash forward to today, I was at his house (he’s the hubby of my pal Lara) and I asked him to replicate what he saw.  Man, that was tough but very important to see. It’s a choppy, odd gate, veering to one side.  Now, this isn’t how my entire run is, it always loosens up to some degree (those good weeks were normal for most of the run) and on grass it’s always less stilted, but still, this shouldn’t be a part of any run.

So it’s clear now, I need to see some doctors again.  Not emergency room stuff, but a methodical ruling out by whoever will see me. It’s simply too long to have been saddled with this. I’m sure it’s going to take a fat collection of copays to get to the bottom of it though, and since I’m a little broke right now, I’m going to wait a few months but I will get it done.

Until then, I’m at a cross-roads.  I’m considering quitting running for a few months.  There’s a psychological hurdle to deal with every time go out, especially when it’s bad like this, that just lacing up my shoes is anxiety-provoking. And then if the run is bad, it’s so frustrating and saddening. The relief I feel when I decide “maybe I’ll take today off” is like a heavy weight off my shoulders for the rest of the day. Imagine this for weeks and months at a time.

But the crazy part of it is that I can still get those wonderful portions of a run that make it all ok and give me hope that this thing is just a sometimes deal. In fact, those two near-normal months have left me even more confused than before.  If I take a few months off, it could very well be for naught and I might waste time from that improvement curve I was on.  What if this current period is just one step back for two steps forward? I just don’t know.

I think what I’ll do is keep on with a few more weeks of 4s, even 3milers, just to keep some fitness up and hope the general status improves. But if it doesn’t and running continues to evoke fear or dread in any amount, then I need to stop. Better not to do it at all.

Tough times, indeed.

I have so much to say that for once, I won’t say any of it, it’s just too much to write.  I do, however, want to thank each and every blister that plagued me this summer.  In seeking out the cause, I found answers I didn’t expect and ultimately, an understanding of some key aspects of running mechanics I’d often read about but was never able to grasp, particularly regarding stride length, dorsiflexion and footplant.  Now I can feel those things.  I get it.

I’m now on week 8 of solid, consistent running averaging about 50mpw.  A couple weeks ago, I started adding in more pavement which no longer feels jarring or uncomfortable, just a little different.  Turns out I didn’t really need a more cushioned shoe, just a more cushioned way of running.  A little attention to my calves, ankles & feet along with a huge cameo appearance from my ass have made all the difference.  Or maybe my huge ass is the star of this show. Either way, it’s all coming together.

Many moons ago (December) I mentioned that running on softer surfaces had become noticeably more comfortable than pavement.  Having said that, did I then seek out softer surfaces?  Nope.  I thought it was just a matter of my legs working themselves out, that eventually I’d find asphalt to feel as normal as before, so I continued to pound the pavement.

Plain stubbornness led me to resist, as if giving into comfort was a cheat. But also, I wasn’t convinced that I was actually experiencing genuine physical relief, suspecting that it had more to do with the distraction of focusing on the ground that made it feel so much better than pavement. Because before this crap happened I hated running on grass, found it to be a total pain in the ass so it was all very confusing.

Anyway, a couple months ago I stopped fighting the urge and began adding in a small stretch of grass on the way back from every run.  I came to depend on that luxurious “Ahhh” moment when I’d land upon that cushy green carpet.

Beyond the wonderful softness, grass is great for a number of reasons: you can’t shuffle on it so you have to lift your knees higher which gives your hip flexors a good workout; I was sore for a few days until I got used to it – it’s like doing mini-drills without having to actually do drills.  You also have to stay focused on where you’re going to avoid ending up in a divot and spraining your ankle so it’s a great exercise in concentration.  It also encourages you to open up your stride and personally, I feel braver about landing heavier on it – this supplies more energy return resulting in more “bounce” which is a great feeling. Hell, even a half-dead sparse layer of grass now feels about a zillion times better to me than pavement.

As an interesting aside, though it feels to me as though grass gives more spring and pavement is entirely thud-inducing, in reality grass actually has the least spring and the harder up the surface chain you go, the more spring the ground provides, which makes sense if you consider bouncing a ball off grass vs asphalt.

So our legs adjust to the ground to compensate: stiffer on soft ground and more relaxed on pavement.  This was a revelation since mine most certainly feel more relaxed on grass but this could be due to having lost some ability to adapt due to the stiff-legged weirdness.

Anyway, the addition of grass was heavenly until loose, sweaty shoes + morning dew created a giant blister problem that took nearly 4 weeks to shake.  Part of this was exacerbated by new insoles bought to deal with Blisterpalooza because the location (inner edge of right foot) indicated pronation was part of the problem.  I bought two types of Superfeet, green and blue, and while the blue ones went unnoticed, my first run in the greens gave me yet another huge blister on that same foot’s arch. In the end I averaging a pathetic 19mpw for 4 weeks.

Of course, now that the blister nightmare is over I know how to deal with it next time (generous layers of New Skin plus tape the shit out of your foot every time you run) but there it was, another stupid annoyance in my running life.

Luckily, I was busy with design work and also, knowing this was a superficial bother that would eventually pass kept my spirits positive, but a few days following the blister adventure I tripped on a branch, gouging a sizeable hole into my ankle (same side as the blistered foot, of course).  That was not a good day.  I stood there and cried like an idiot, wondering what the universe was trying to tell me because after a year and a half of travails, it sure sounded a lot like “STOP RUNNING!“.

As it turned out, the universe was only saying “Haha, we were just testing you one last time, get back to it already!” because after that, my running turned beautiful.

Some credit goes to A Muse/Adam because when I told him how much better I felt in grass he suggested I run on it as much as possible and after that’s commonplace to begin folding in more pavement.  Up until then I’d been doing all pavement with brief moments of grass, so what the hell, I went for it.

After two days it became apparent that this could be Big.  By the end of the week, I had experienced a remarkable change in my running. And I never use the word remarkable.

Turns out my legs never go wonky on grass and afterwards I feel like a million bucks; all that lateral skirting over uneven ground is giving my ankles, legs, and hips a far better workout than flat pavement or even trail can do.

I figure that I’m now on pavement for about 1½ miles max per run, the rest is grass and trail.  Searching out every little strip of green isn’t easy, mind you, I’m having to jump on and off curbs, dance around trees, roots, grates, ditches and benches, balance on crazy cambers and hope I don’t land in a hole but it’s worth the ankle-twisting potential because gosh darn it, I feel like a bona fide normal runner again.

Mileage-wise, I’m in heaven, I was instantly able to lengthen my runs and it felt like nothing, as if I’ve been running this mileage for months. My last couple weeks were 48 and 47 mi. with a day off each week.  I’m not attached to a schedule of rest days, it just worked out that way due to sensibility in the first week and busyness the next, but I do plan to stay at this mileage for at least a few weeks.

The other major thing I’m doing
This isn’t just about grass.  At the same time I did the big grass switch, I also introduced some serious cadence retraining, though not for the usual outcome which would be to increase turnover, rather to slow my frickin’ legs down.

Thanks to all those months of weird tense running, I developed a manically high turnover rate – not a problem if I was racing a 5k from my front door but at easy paces, all it does is create a running stride that is short, choppy and energy zapping. I’ve been aware of this for months but no matter how many different cues I tried (slow arms, adjust foot placement, make a larger “wheel”, pretend I’m running aside a slower friend, etc) I found it impossible to stop the roadrunner legs – it’s hardwired to my brain.

Because of this, I’ve really struggled to find the comfortable zone on my runs.  I’d constantly pine for one of those loping-type jogs where you amble for a few miles and return home, but for the life of me I couldn’t manage it. There were times I even followed other runners trying to emulate the rhythm of their stride – that’s how much I wanted it – but again…couldn’t.

It isn’t about pace, either, because I’ve been running slowly for ages now, it’s just that I cannot get my legs (and thus, arms, too) to stop churning. This, btw, was the source of why I wanted those walking breaks I spoke of in the last post, because I’d been unable to rachet down to a slog and regather myself, as any runner should be able to do, I had to resort to stopping entirely.

The fix is actually very straightforward, same as when I trained myself to increase turnover rate years ago: load up the mp3 player with 90/180 bpm songs and run to the beat.  FYI: 180 is anything but slow and loping, it’s what people work up to for racing, but it’s my starting point to at least reach something more normal.

It’ll take some time before it’s truly ingrained but already it’s made a big difference: my stride (and thus my entire body) is a lot more relaxed while fast bits are especially gratifying – I experience an increase in length and at the same time, a real sense of letting loose.  I’ve actually had glimmers of this over the past few months thanks to certain things I’d been doing (Alexander Technique and the hip work) but it wasn’t till now when I’m pinpointing cadence that it’s become repeatable.

Anyway, the big take-home for me is discovering that power and strength can emerge from relaxation.  It’s exciting, these moments, and I anticipate the day when it’s no longer a novelty but simply the way I run.

Last words on surface

Now that I’m able to think more pragmatically and less emotionally about this long period of running suckage and because I now appreciate just how much surface does indeed matter, I think the ground probably had a lot to do with my situation.  While anxiety fueled the fire, I suspect the actual physical combination that put me in the red zone was this:

Months of high mileage + 99.9% pavement + doing it all in lightweight trainers (and racing flats used as trainers)

I’ve been researching posts and articles about surfaces and high mileage and came across a great podcast from Alberto Salazar.  If you fast forward to -16:10 he talks about how fanatical he is about his athletes staying off-road and how top East African runners will do anything to keep off pavement, even if it means running on a 300m loop of grass for 1½ hours.

And it got a bit freaky for me when he said that even if you don’t get injured from pavement, it deadens the legs. He was talking about it in regards to speed so I’m probably projecting, but it does seem like an adequate description of my stiff leg deal.  He also says that if his runners run 100mi in a week, maybe 3 is on the road and the only time he takes his athletes to the road is to prepare for a marathon and sometimes a half.

Elsewhere, in a LetsRun thread, someone mentions an interview with El G’s coach “Someone asked him how much running on the road his athlete did. He gave a horrified look and said he did no running on roads whatsoever.” And of course there are more examples like that.

Not that I need to supply proof of my naivete, certainly nobody would ever advise 90mpw on pavement in the lightest shoes possible. Duh. In my defense, I felt bulletproof till I wasn’t anymore.  Live and learn.

I can’t change history, but one last adjustment I’ve made is that I’ve finally bought a more cushioned shoe: Brooks Ghosts.  They’re not especially heavy but at 10 oz. vs my usual 7+oz, that’s a substantial increase.  I’ve only worn them twice so far but am very pleased with the purchase.  The plan isn’t to wear them exclusively, but I think they’ll help a lot when I increase the pavement miles.

Incidentally, I would have bought heavier shoes months ago but I’d been swayed by the common sentiment proclaiming modern-day running shoes are evil with their pussyfied cushioning, encouraging runners to run terribly.  It’s an effective piece of propaganda but ultimately, kinda stupid.  I mean sure, in a perfect world we’d all be running like gazelles across the plain, but if a stinkin’ pair of shoes allows some guy to run uninjured rather than fix his crappy gait, is that so awful?

Anyway, in my case, with racing indefinitely out of the picture and a simple goal of consistently having a good time out there, the last thing I need to worry about is a couple extra ounces or whether I’ll feel an uncontrollable urge to start tromping on my heels, so screw it. Cushioning…come to mama.

I had to erase a gushing paragraph about how thrilled I feel right now, this thing is already too long as it is. Instead, I’ll let the next few weeks of running continue the story.

In the meantime, y’all be good and run wonderfully, ok? Muah!

Six years ago, when I started this blog, I made that tagline “A Running Odyssey” because I thought it sounded catchy and made me seem smart. Never mind that twice I’ve spelled it wrong in the header graphic and continue to have to look the word up whenever I write it.  Spellcheck woes aside, what I never imagined was that I actually would be going on one.

I’m going to tell you the conclusion to the health thing that started a year ago last March. It’s a story I’ve been sitting on, wanting to make 100% positive sure that This. Is. It. before I went spouting off once more on a hunch. It’s amazingly simple when all is said and done, and here’s how it goes…

For over a year, I’ve continued to have the leg weirdness on many of my runs (for those just tuning in: bouts of strange stiffening where my right leg would become uncoordinated).  I would have short stretches of days where I’d think it was on its way out and was even considering doing a marathon this Fall, but then I’d have a series of bad runs that would leave me feeling defeated again.

May arrived, the weather was warming up and on one of those defeated runs, I just wanted to walk.  Not a whole lot, just to stop, walk a few yards and then resume.  This would appear to be such an obvious non-event, but being the somewhat “serious runner” I’ve considered myself to be, stopping to walk a few steps had always been anathema to me. After all, walking = weakness and once that starts, it’s a slippery slope to where it’ll become a habit and there goes your training OMG I might as well just sit on the couch for a week No! make that forever and Jesus Christ, it’s official, I’m never going to run again.  Fucking ridiculous.

Mulling this whole thing over for a few days and realizing how utterly senseless that twisted perspective was, logic eventually won out.  I would allow myself to walk, BUT, I would have to stop wearing the Garmin.

Now, aside from maybe 4 runs, I’ve been wearing a Garmin since before I even finished Couch-To-5K, while I was still “learning” how to run.  It’s been a fun and incredibly useful player in my running experience but now, with the walking idea, I knew that seeing the numbers in my running log get all skewy would not make me happy, so on May 12th, I stopped wearing the Garmin.

Watchless, not even checking a clock before I leave the house for almost 2 months, I’ve had absolutely no idea how fast I run which has been entirely therapeutic.  And for a couple weeks, I did take occasional short walk breaks,  and it was good!  Mainly, I needed to teach myself that I could walk, that it was “legal”, and the world would not come crashing down.  That was the first big thing.

The 2nd big thing, and this was a BIG thing, that coincidentally happened just days after I dropped the Garmin, was that I found the name for my symptoms.  I’m sure you can imagine I never stopped researching my health weirdness.  While I always had an underlying worry that it was a brain or organ thing (thanks to that totally unnecessary liver operation) I mainly just wanted one single thing that I could say “YES, those are my symptoms!”  And after all this time, I finally found it, to a T.

Well, almost to a T, because what I found concerns musicians: Task Specific Focal Dystonia.  It’s a movement disorder that, for musicians, interferes with the ability to play their instrument because their fingers or hands (organists get it in their feet) becomes temporarily stiff and uncoordinated (often described as feeling paralyzed).  It’s not painful at all, but feels like your limb is a foreign thing you can’t control.  The “Task Specific” part means it only happens when doing the specific thing – in a musician’s case, playing their instrument and in mine, running – while at all other times, the limb feels and works perfectly normally.

It generally shows itself after a period of heavy practice and the common progression is that the sufferer will feel the weirdness, blame it on tiredness but as it gets worse, try to rehearse their way through it, working even harder to try and push themselves clear of it.  All that does is make the nerve to limb connection even stronger which then makes it even harder to get rid of.  So my pushing through the stiffness in attempts to “defy” it was stupid but the reason I say “coincidentally” above, is that my instinct about needing to walk was exactly the right thing to do for myself.  Which brings me to the biggest and best revelation, #3.

While scouring a musicians dystonia forum, someone mentioned a book by Dr. Sarno, a professor of  rehabilitation medicine at NYU School of Medicine, called “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection“, though the title is deceptive because it’s about the entire body, not just our backs. Anyway, if you search his name on the web, you’ll find a ton of interesting stuff on his work, a great interview with Howard Stern (who thinks the man is God) and an excellent piece on 20/20.

Bottom line, my issue originated from one mundane thing: anxiety.  I never would have known this, since I don’t see myself as an anxious or stressed person, but once I learned what anxiety actually is, the constant negative monologues in my head, the dread and fear I’d attached to running (will this be a good day or a bad one?) it all made complete sense.

A little over a week after reading the book, my 6-month hip/back issue that had continued to waft in and out of my life disappeared completely, never to be felt again. It was magical.  However, as he warns, I got a hammy niggle soon after, which I knew was just my brain looking for some other physical problem to concentrate on.

One thing I should mention concerning mind-body, is that this is not the same as hypochondria, there’s nothing imaginary about it: my hip/back pain was real, the leg stiffening is real, the neurological tests I flunked in the hospital (I had no way of knowing what was being observed so could not have gamed it, even subconsciously) were real.  So while I was over-the-moon-relieved to find out it was just anxiety because it meant this was all within my control (so incredibly huge), “just” anxiety does not diminish it because it’s still something that needs fixing…but it is so very fixable!

I ended up reading 3 of his books and then a funny old book that’s highly recommended for beating anxiety, though it’s hilarious because it’s from the 50’s so she references gramophones and shock therapy (but seriously, if you have an anxious bone in your body, read it!), Claire Weekes’ “Hope And Help For Your Nerves“.  Her main message is that when you feel anxiety coming on, don’t fight it, it won’t get worse than what you’ve experienced so far, so accept it, ride it, and let it fade out.  So simple but so opposite of the natural impulse to get freaked out and try to resist.

Between these two books, it was as if a vice has been released from my brain, leg and heart.  Another great one that made a big impact was Jon Kabat-Zinn’s, “Wherever You Go, There You Are” which is a fantastic book about mindfulness. It got me on a meditation kick (I lasted about 3 weeks of doing it intensely before petering out, but I still consider it a great tool to have). Here’s a great video of him speaking to employees at Google  (which will also totally make you wish you worked at Google).

I also read a fair amount of stuff on Buddhist sites because the source of it all, when I really got down to it, was that old frienemy of mine, Ego: attachments to what I expect of myself, comparisons to others, self-induced peer-pressure…completely useless, unnecessary mind garbage. To realize the truth of this was, and remains, incredibly empowering.

Where does this leave me now?  Infinitely better. The quality of my runs has improved tremendously, my leg stiffness has been in hiding for a good while and some signposts I used to judge by have been clear for a few weeks.  I do still get anxious moments but I recognize them for what they are and can roll my eyes at them as they fade out – not a shred of fear about it being anything more worrisome.  I haven’t wanted to walk in weeks (though I could if I wanted and that’d be cool) but even beyond that, I’m learning that it’s ok to not run for a day, two days, even three in a row!  No fitness will be lost, no couches will come calling.  I do keep track of my mileage, generally doing 30-40ish a week, but not reaching for a specific amount. I also have no idea how far I’m going to run until I’m outside and I have no plans to strap a Garmin back on anytime soon.

Also, I won’t be racing this year at all.  The sole thing I need right now is to have a clear, unfettered mind when I’m out on the path, zero pressure. Thoughts of training and racing can be entertained again only after the anxiety blips are a distant memory.  That might mean next Spring or it might be 3 years from now, it really doesn’t matter.

In the end, it’s been an odyssey of the highest order.  In all my many years, I’ve never had so much reflection and self-discovery as I’ve had these past 15 months, so I can’t be sad or resentful for any of it, I’m grateful for learning more about what I’m composed of and for getting to recompose some of myself, too. In fact, I guess this isn’t the end at all, just some sorely needed closure for a long, complicated chapter.

And so the journey continues…

My regular blogging hat is back on again, at least for a little while.  I have a series of food-centric posts lined up, the subject: low-calorie treats, cheats and substitutions.  As mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen with the notion of expanding the parties on my palate while keeping the ole body in good form, so I thought it’d be fun to share what I’ve been messing around with.  (Full Disclosure: I didn’t come up with any of the things I’ll be presenting, they’re variations on ideas already floating around the web)

An important factor enabling all this homemaking fun, beyond a developing interest in recipe blogs and food porn, was to finally acquire the proper tools for the job.  And I don’t just mean replacing the bag of flour that had expired in 2011 (though that did happen), but for about 3 weeks, during my bronchitis phase, I went on an Amazon.com binge, buying everything from the mundane (whisks, spatulas, rolling pin, cast iron skillet, etc.) to implements and vessels I suspected would be useful though I was unsure exactly how (mini food processor, mini loaf pans, ramekins, mini dutch oven, etc) plus all sorts of food items like oils, flours and flavorings as well as items to make the kitchen more efficient, like this swiveling aerator for the faucet that gives me a visceral thrill every time I change its direction and a clever mesh sieve basket thingy that doubles as a drying rack for handwashed dishes.

At one point, when I was ordering stuff daily for about a week, I questioned myself “This is getting a little out of hand, do I really need all these things? What’s up with this?  Should I be worried about my mental health?” but I’m pleased to say that I’m extremely happy with, and use, everything I bought.

Oh, the satisfaction of beating an egg with a proper whisk instead of half-assing it with a fork!  And I was almost moved to tears while emptying a jar clean with my new silicone spatula, realizing that never again would I need to jab and scrape dregs with a lowly spoon only to find my hand and wrist coated in peanut butter.  It’s the end of an era.

But enough gushing over my Brand New World, let’s get on with the star of today’s show…

Gummy Candy!
There are multitudes of gummy recipes to be found online, Google “gummy candies” “gummy bear recipes” or any derivative and you’ll find tons, many with beautiful food photos that will make your mouth water and some that include really clever ideas like making your own leggo molds.  Some folks make a production out of it with double-boiling, some recipes feature juice and honey for a 100% natural treat though most recipes use jello or kool-aid for flavoring (no judgement from me, my first batch was made with Crystal Light since my flavorings hadn’t arrived yet – it worked great, but I prefer the non-packaged approach). No matter how you get there, it’s really cool to be able to make a seriously satisfying chewy candy that’s quick, simple and good for you, too.

In this plethora of online gummy madness, however, one thing all these recipes lacked was a universal ratio of gelatin to water so before I got started, I read tons of reviews and blog comments, noting which recipes people said were rubbery and which were said to be too soft and from that, found a happy medium which I find to be as good as store-bought (minus the sugar!).

The full recipe follows this photo walk-through, beginning with the liquids.

This is the orange oil I use, by Boyajian.  It tastes strikingly real and is one of my favorite flavorings. Another source of oils I use are LorAnn candy oils, which are super strong. You can get them online or at some craft and cake supply stores, supposedly Walmart has some, too. Note the teensy measuring spoon set was also part of my Amazon spending spree.

Pouring the liquid into the gelatin. Stir, stir, stir! Scrape around to get it all wet.

Pour the liquids into the gelatin. Stir, stir, stir! Scrape around to make sure it’s all saturated.

This is what to expect once the liquids are all stirred in.

This is what to expect once the liquids are all stirred in. Now stick it in the microwave for a little over a minute. This bowl, btw, is about 5½” diameter at the bottom, so that gives you an idea of what size to use.

 

After the microwaving, stir to make sure it's all blended. This is where I add the Vitamin C.

After the microwaving, stir to make sure it’s all dissolved – if not, put it in again for one or two 30-second intervals, stirring each time. As you can see, it gets a light foam but that’s only on top, the rest will set crystal clear. This is also the best time to sprinkle in Vitamin C from an opened capsule if you want to add a little health boost.

This is how it looks as you pull it up once it's gelled.

Put it in the freezer and after it’s gelled, peel it out and lay it down for cutting.

Not as cute as the candy mold ones but they taste just as delicious and at the rate I’m creating/eating the things, this is the sensible method.

When using candy molds, prepare the batch in a microwavable measuring cup so you can pour it directly into the molds. I’ve also used a baster but the measuring cup is the cleanest, easiest way.

These are blackberry gummies using candy molds.  I microwaved this batch in a glass measuring cup so I could pour it directly into the molds. I've also used a baster but the measuring cup is the cleanest, easiest way.

Voila…Blackberry!

Ingredients:
½ cup water
scant ½ tsp liquid stevia (or other sweetener to equal ¼ cup sugar in sweetness, stevia’s great because it’s natural)
flavoring extract or oil (1½ – 2tsp extract or 1/16 tsp to 1/8 tsp flavoring oil, adjust to taste)
food coloring (because it’s way more fun when it’s colored)
¼ cup gelatin (that’s equivalent to 4 packets of Knox, though I’m using this grass-fed beef gelatin from Great Lakes)
1 Vitamin C capsule (optional) the leggo guy uses this for souring but I don’t notice that effect – I’m just happy to get extra Vitamin C in a sly way.  But don’t get too crazy with it since Vitamin C can give you the squirts if you overdo it.  I use one 1000 mg capsule per batch with the understanding that I eat about a batch per day, if you eat less, you can add more.

  1. Mix the liquids together
  2. Stir quickly into gelatin till it’s completely saturated
  3. Microwave for about 1:15 min (micro times vary, you want to melt the gelatine without boiling, so keep an eye on it till you have yours figured out, it’ll foam a bit –  that’s normal)
  4. Remove from microwave and stir (empty a Vitamin C capsule into it, if you like)
  5. Freeze until gelled (10-20 minutes, Knox seems to set quicker)
  6. Cut it into squares and voila…yummy gummies!
    Makes approx 5.2 oz of gummy candy, 100 calories total

Notes:

  • My ratio is 2:1 for water:gelatin.  This is my personal preference for a good chew though you might like it softer or more rubbery, simply adjust water to suit.
  • The one constant you will find when it comes to flavoring is that there is no constant. Extracts use a lot more than oils but different flavors from the same manufacturer for both extracts and oils can differ greatly in strength. Just play around and give it a taste before you commit to combining into the gelatin.
  • If your batch needs tweaking (too sweet, not enough flavor, too rubbery, etc) not to worry!  Just throw the gummies back into the bowl, remelt it and adjust whatever you need to fix the batch. Gelatin is incredibly forgiving.
  • You can use candy molds but I only do that for showing off since it requires dirtying/washing more things and as mentioned, I’m a lazy cow.
  • Speaking of cleanup, hot water dissolves leftover gelatin off your bowls & utensils in a nanosecond.
  • You can keep the gummies out on the counter for a few days but they’ll get harder (which I rather like), otherwise you can keep them refrigerated for a couple weeks.
  • Don’t keep them sealed in tupperware in a dark cupboard if you use a sweetener without preservatives or you’ll be really sorry (read my previous post for details on that).

The best thing about this, besides the nutritional benefits of gelatin (you’ll have to Google it, this food blogging crap is a pain in the ass and I’m tired, but also look up “bone broth” while you’re at it) is that the entire batch is 100 calories.  How often do you get to stuff your face with 5.2 oz of chewy flavorful fun that’s actually good for you and have it be so low-cal? And is CANDY? Like, never.

Edit: Ok, I can’t not give you any of gelatin’s benefits, so first off, look up glycine, proline and arginine, it’s full of those along with tons more amino acids.  It’s supposedly great for skin, hair and nails (takes time, so be patient), helps with sleep and is said to boost HGH production so eat some before bed.  Gelatin fills your tummy up nicely and has a solid amount of protein, though it’s incomplete so while it can’t replace standard protein consumption, it’s a useful addition to the protein you already eat.  It’s also known for helping joints and connective tissue and people have been giving it to their dogs for decades (I always like hearing that since animals don’t know placebos). Knox makes a couple gelatin drink formulas for joints both with and without glucosamine that people seem to be very satisfied with.  I actually cancelled my last order of glucosamine and will be using gelatin to keep my joints happy from here on in.  And here’s an intense article on it by Ray Peat. But most importantly…CANDY.

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