Adventures of the Bean #27
Shop Ethnic to Create a Vegetable Broth/
Navigating the World of Glucose Meters
by VOW, of course
One of the best legacies my mother gave to me was a sense of adventure in trying new foods. She loved to visit ethnic markets and poke around in the mysterious items on the shelves. We'd bring our purchases home and open up every can, every box, every wrapper and taste all the goodies. There was always much giggling and carrying on, and those memories always bring a smile to my face. I tried to offer the same adventures to my children when they were growing up.
With this background, I used my diagnosis of diabetes as a motivation to learn about different cultures, different foods, and different cooking styles. Many larger cities in the United States have markets which cater to different populations of the world. We are truly a melting pot society, and this can only mean wonderful things for your diet.
Here in Southern California, we have a large Hispanic influence with many markets that feature products from Mexico, Central America, and South America. I LOVE to shop at those markets! Often their produce is bigger, fresher, less expensive, and more varied than what you find at the local, "white bread" chain grocery store. The Hispanic stores often feature large pegboards containing cellophane bags of herbs and spices. The exotic aromas wafting around this pegboard is intoxicating. Most items are labeled in both Spanish and English. After checking out the herbs and spices, you'll probably see bins of dried chile peppers and dry beans. Look for the Peruano bean. Pinto beans and black beans are typically available in bulk, too.
Enjoy a stroll down the aisles, and check out the different canned products you'll find. I discovered a can of purple hominy during one of my forays, and it's still sitting in the pantry waiting for an inspiration. If you find something intriguing that doesn't have a label in English, write it down on a notepad, and investigate the food online later. That's one of the joys of having internet access.
Since our mission in this adventure is broth, I direct you to the seasonings aisle. Now, most cooks are familiar with bouillon. It's a dehydrated, seasoned broth, typically found in cube shapes or granulated. It's extremely high in salt as well. At your neighborhood grocery store, the bouillon available is chicken or beef. Read the ingredient list on any labeled chicken or beef, since it probably contains actual animal broth and/or fat. Rarely, you can find bouillon labeled "brown" or "golden" that contains no animal products at all. At the Hispanic market, I hit paydirt when I found onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and chipotle bouillon cubes. I discovered another brand which offered a tomato-and-chipotle bouillon, but alas, it contained beef fat. I also found a seasoning packet containing Mexican saffron, which did a beautiful job of flavoring and coloring a pot of rice when I cooked it with a batch in the rice cooker.
As lovely as these Hispanic bouillons are, keep in mind they have a LOT of salt. Use them judiciously when cooking, and reduce the amount of salt in the recipe.
Keep your eyes moving about, you never know what else you could discover in a Hispanic market. I've purchased flax seeds, and even dry soy chunks at one!
Asian markets are another way to travel the world without a passport. Bring your sense of adventure along when you visit one. Make sure you check the spice shelf in the Asian market. I had to keep my eyeballs from popping out of my head from shock when I saw a small jar of ground cardamom for just a couple bucks. If you've priced ground cardamom in the neighborhood mega supermarket, you have to apply for a LOAN to buy a bottle.
Many Asian markets offer a wide variety of canned meat analogs at reasonable prices. Peking Duck and Abalone are two that I recall, and I know there are many, many others. The analogs are composed of soy, gluten, or a combination of the two. I've also seen vegetarian worcestershire sauce there, also at a very inexpensive price.
The best discovery in an Asian market, in my never-humble opinion, is a treasure-trove of dried mushrooms. Make sure you go with a buddy who will be kind enough to catch you when you faint over the prices! Most dried (or freeze dried) mushrooms I've ever found in a "regular" market cost more than a tank of gasoline.
Even if you aren't a mushroom aficionado, you should still buy some of these things. Because when you soak those dried mushrooms to rehydrate them, the remaining water is a wonderful broth for cooking purposes. You'll need to strain the water through a coffee filter, because a little bit of sand always seems to get caught in the mushrooms.
The reconstituted 'shrooms might have a texture that you don't particularly care for. Some end up being quite rubbery, and that may not be a quality you want in your cooking. No problem. You can either discard the inner-tube-like mushrooms, or toss the broth and mushrooms in the blender and buzz together to get an even heartier broth.
Wanna REALLY get creative? Add the bouillon cubes or the dried mushrooms to your veggie trimmings when you boil up your own broth. You'll get a richer, much more flavorful end product, and if you are using the bouillon, you'll dilute the salt to a much more manageable level.
So, I hope you now feel completely educated when it comes to options for Vegetarian Broth when that item is mentioned in any bean or soup recipe. No need for just boring water; you have an INTERNATIONAL selection of flavored liquids that will definitely add depth and character to your finished dishes!
Keep in mind, too, we're looking at HOLIDAY season now! Broths are wonderful components of holiday fare, such as stuffings and GRAVY. I've often had the entertaining experience of watching the omnivore guests draining the veggie gravy boat while the carnivorous gravy sat on the table and congealed.
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On to the Diabetes part of the column!
Glucose Meter Basics
A major part of a diabetic's life is testing! The tests your doctor orders are, of course, extremely important, but the backbone of good blood glucose control is the testing you do at home. This allows you to get relatively instant feedback, both good and bad, of how life affects you. The human body is an amazingly complex machine. Your innards perform so many tasks simultaneously and manage to do them all while you are unaware of the activities. Your glucose meter actually allows you a tiny window to your inside workings, and it's a tool of relatively recent appearance. Talk to any "old timer" diabetic, especially an Insulin-Dependent Type One, and you can get your ears filled with horror stories of mad scientist games in the bathroom with test tubes of urine and tablets and color comparison charts. By the time sugar shows up in your urine, major damage to important body parts is already in the works! That little gizmo that beeps and nags you with numbers is an amazing thing, and we often forget just how lucky we are to be living in this computer age.
You'll see a lot of commercials on TV for services that provide testing supplies delivered to your door. Sometimes, if you sign up with one of these services, you'll even get a free glucose meter. Is this a good thing? Maybe. Do your research. Check with your insurance company. Visit several drug stores, both real life and online, and compare prices. If you order anything, also factor in shipping charges. And keep in mind, the companies who make glucose meters enjoy the biggest profit on the testing strips. Let's be honest: it's pretty doggone hard to actually wear out a glucose meter unless you leave it in the car trunk in the boiling hot summer sun, let it freeze solid through several blizzards, drop it into the toilet, or have it end up in a load of clothes going through the washer. As long as you keep it out of the barbecue or the driveway, a glucose meter is going to last a long, long time.
Compare the price of the test strips. How often do you test per day? How many will your insurance company pay for? How easy is it to insert the test strips? How long does it take to get a reading? Can you read the display easily? Diabetes can adversely affect the eyesight. Maybe, a talking meter would be best for you. Meet with other diabetics and ask them what features they look for in a meter. Ask about different lancing devices. Some use an ultrafine lancet while some lancing devices would bore a hole in a two-by-four. While using the first lancing device I ever had, I ALWAYS yelled "OUCH!" when I poked my finger.
Once you have your meter, keep the phone number of the manufacturer handy. If you have any problems, if you misplace the instruction booklet, if the meter is acting strangely, give the customer service line a call. I was getting a frequent "ERROR" display, and aside from the fact it was annoying, I was also using up extra test strips. During a phone call I was told, "Don't use the meter around your laptop computer." Apparently, it gets confused. And the service rep was nice enough to send me some extra boxes of test strips to compensate for the ones I had to throw away.
If you lose your insurance coverage, or if you find yourself in a financial bind, that's also a great time to call the customer service line. They may know of resources where you can buy your strips at a reduced cost, or they might even GIVE you some strips to get you through a rough patch.
A glucose meter is indeed a diabetic's best friend!