Friday, February 26, 2010

Green tea brewing should be like lingerie...


About 30 seconds or so seems ideal for green tea.

I've been drinking green tea heavily for four or five years now, after my mother recommended it as a healthy drink. I found green teas work much better unsweetened than black tea, or any other caffeinated drink. During that time I've tried quite a number of brands and flavors, most of which I quite like.

When I first started I brewed it till the tea was nice and dark, so it looked thick, since I've always liked my hot chocolate rich and thick, and the little coffee I drink is loaded with sugar and milk. But then the green tea tasted bad, and I slugged it down because it was supposed to be healthy.

Eventually, I came to realize that less brewing time was better. Most packages say 2-3 minutes, but in my experience that's way, way too long. Less than a minute and an unflavored green tea will have a pleasant, grassy flavor.

The worst is the one I drink the most of, Golden Tips pure Darjeeling, which is the only one here that comes in bargain boxes of 100 teabags. I begin most work days with two cups of this one, and then maybe a couple more during the day. However, I rarely drink it at home...

Brewing for more than a minute or two and it's bitter, sometimes even giving me a nauseas stomach ache. In fact, all of the women I've known who've tried it have gotten really sick from it. Leena tried it when I was in the U.K. and thought for sure she was going to die after drinking it.

Ah, but brew it for about 30 seconds, the time it takes me to walk from the office hot water dispenser back to my desk, and it's just right.

The one unflavored green tea with the absolute richest flavor of all is Dilmah's Ceylon green tea. It's a little darker than Golden Tips, but has a much stronger grass-like taste. It's delicious. It easily stands alone without flavor.

My current favorite flavored tea is Dilmah's Moroccan Mint green tea. A freshly brewed cup of that has a delicate mint taste and is easy to drink without sweetening. It takes a little longer to brew to get the mint strong, so it's a balancing act between stronger mint with bitter green tea or lighter green tea with weaker mint.

Until a few weeks ago, my previous favorite flavored green tea was Twinings Green Tea and Orange. It's still nice, but since the massive, persistent headache started a few weeks it's been giving me bad acid reflux for some reason. It's orange flavor is easily overpowered by the tea if it brews too long. The worst is sometimes the orange bits get oily and the sides of bag stick together, then tear while making it, so the bits of tea leak out and really stay in the hot water way too long...

The Twinings Apple flavor is good, but the apple is even more subtle than the orange and must be brewed very short or it's lost altogether.

One other I drink periodically, is Dilmah's Cinnamon flavored green tea. It's good, too, but is best loaded with honey. That's why I've cut back, I'm trying to reduce the sweets and sugar, and this tea simply needs honey to really enhance it. Then it's like a a baked good with lots of cinnamon, not like a cinnamon hot candy.

The last green tea worth mentioning is Ten-Ren, a green tea sold by Costco in the U.S. My mother used to recommend that one and once a friend brought a box of 100 of them for me here in India, but 99 of them were gone years ago. I found one late last year in a box of other teas, that must've been left over from my days at First Insight when I packed my personal things at the end of my career there. Ten-Ren is fantastic tasting, but too difficult to get here... And it survives longer brewing times, since back then I didn't know about doing it quickly.

The main problem with the short brewing times is the feeling that after spending the money to get teabags, I only use them for 30 seconds. It feels like I'm not getting my money's worth, despite being fully aware that the end result is best short.

In this way, it's not unlike fancy lingerie, expensive for very little material...

Both are effective by being brief, and both lead to a delicious *sluurrrrp*!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Exercise Plan

So, the first two days of my new exercise plan have worked out pretty well... While the doctor didn't pinpoint my being fat and lazy (he has before, but of course, used more professional, medical terminology, but hey, let's be honest, I'm fat and lazy) for the multi-week headache that just won't quit, and my blood pressure didn't stay up there at 145/100 for more than a day or so, I decided I'd better try to get into a little better shape.

Most workdays I can't sleep very late because I begin waking up by midnight panicking about being late and usually just give up around 3am anyway, since I'm not at all relaxed.

With that in mind, the last two mornings I've gotten up around then, then browsed Facebook and email for a few minutes, drank my morning nariyal pani (coconut water), put on my dirty clothes from the day before and gone out about 4am.

At 4am Kalyani Nagar is at its most pleasant for a stroll around the block. The sun's not yet up so the temperature merely hovers around 1,000 degrees, instead of the usually daytime million degrees. This way there's still a few small patches of my clothing that aren't soaked through with sweat.

Best of all, there's very little traffic. At that hour I might only pass a couple of dozen cars vehicles going one direction or another on the street. All the sidewalk vendors have packed up for the night and not yet started for the morning so on East Avenue I can actually walk on the sidewalk instead of in the middle of traffic, which helps me feel a little safer. Even where there are no sidewalks the traffic is much lighter, the vehicles fewer and farther in between and it's easier for me to hear them individually so none surprise me by coming out of "nowhere".

The dogs are a little frightening, however. Mostly they're paying more attention to one another than to me, but some of them follow me or head my direction a little before getting distracted by another one. Still, I'm a bit nervous about them.

It takes me about 35-40 minutes to walk, not fast, not slow, down Road 10, then a full loop around the center of Kalyani Nagar, East Avenue, Central Avenue, North Avenue and back up Road 10.

Then when I get back I jump in the shower, cool off, eat breakfast and take a nap before it's time to go to work.

Hopefully once I get into the routine more, and get further into cutting out junk food and greasy food some of this gut will go and I'll get back to being less unhealthy. This actually worked about five years ago when my doctor recommended it.

Then again... Leena's now got a gastrointestinal infection (from an out-of-date hamburger she left in the fridge too long before eating). But this happens consistently whenever I do a little bit of exercise and get in shape. I finally get so I'm not really, really out of shape, losing my breath just bending down to tie my shoes, then she picks up a 3-4 month sinus infection, a stomach infection, things like that.

But then again, if I'm still not gonna get laid, what's the point?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

An Apple a Day...

Well, we didn't end up going to the doctor on Friday night to follow up from Thursday's visit. I got ready to go, had a quick apple, brushed my teeth, got all dressed up (e.g. jeans, polo shirt, socks and Birkenstocks instead of sweat pants, polo shirt and flip flops), but then Leena called to confirm and the doctor said he was involved in something urgent and would not be free for his regular office hours. We fixed up for 12:30pm this afternoon.

This morning I got up, but the power went out between greeting Leena "good morning" and going to get my breakfast coconut out of the fridge. I was afraid we'd end up being late because the power was out so long I didn't know if I'd get a shower or not.

In any case, I skipped the apple, and we got ready to go and Leena called the doctor who said "come on over" and we did.

There you have it, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

Anyway, he checked my blood pressure and pronounced it "normal". He checked it four times and said it was normal every time, just a day and a half after it was so high he was concerned. We discussed my previous experience with American doctors always making sure my sleeves are rolled up compared with Indian doctors always measuring blood pressure over the top of my sleeves. He said it shouldn't make any difference at all in the readings.

Based on my blood pressure being normal today, when my headache was barely there, nowhere near as bad as it was on Thursday, just hardly noticeable, that my headaches probably aren't caused by high blood pressure, though they make my blood pressure go up, as evidenced. He mentioned "cluster headaches" but now that I'm looking at the Wikipedia article, that doesn't fit at all. He also mentioned migraines, which I've had for years, and what I've had the last three weeks are very, very different (and as I found out on Wednesday, not mutually exclusive, either, but I could tell the difference in the two simultaneous headaches).

He also noticed my squinting. I've done that since I was a little kid, with my father the first to notice it years ago. That's the lazy eye thing and I squint in my left eye to avoid seeing doubles. I told the doctor that and how I used to do exercises then wore glasses for a year in high school, at which time my frequent migraines started. But it must've been worse than normal if he noticed it today but never noticed it before.

He recommended that we go see a well-known neurophsyiologist (or neurophysician or whatever the proper title was) who has more of a specialty in headaches and nervous system issues. He said that while Leena's family has been pushing us to go right away, no delays, we should take time, prepare a history of my health so we go with all the facts that'll help him diagnose the problem better, not just show up with try to remember all the issues off hand and out of order.

Leena's family may not agree with that, "see him today" but it doesn't matter, that doctor is out of town for the weekend anyway.

As we were saying our good byes to the doctor the alert from his building's elevator made its high pitched screeching, that even through two closed doors made me cringe in pain, and he noticed that and said "if the noise does that, you must see the neurophysician".

So, we'll go later in the week.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Long Lasting Headache

So, I've had this headache for three weeks now, with quite a few ups and downs. It's survived through three trips to two different doctors and two courses of medication. What the fuck?

I think it started around January 30th, when I got a ride home from my in-laws' house on my nephew's scooter. No helmet, and going over the Yerewada Bridge some minivan behind us just kept honking incessantly. It hurt my ears like hell, and in fact, they haven't stopped ringing loudly since then.

That coming Monday my pair programming "pair" Vishwas came to work late. He said he was violently ill on the way to work and had to pull over, too sick to even type a message on his phone. We worked for about half an hour, during which I noticed he wasn't able to work well, making lots and lots of mistakes he doesn't normally. When I suggested he go home he said he was too sick, too dizzy to safely drive home, so I sent him to the office infirmary where he slept and drank Electrol for a few hours. Later he was obviously not well, but we worked together for another hour or two before he went home early.

The next couple of days he was out sick with a fever and unable to come to work. But that was when my own headache was getting its start, and I was feeling bad. Every morning I woke up as usually, head hurting, then I'd finish breakfast and nap again, like usual, only to wake up with a worse headache, and struggle to work. No amount of Crocin was doing anything for it.

Oddly, Thursday that week, we had a couple of meetings at work and by the end of the video conference, something that usually gives me a headache, my head actually felt a lot better, though not completely gone. Very weird.

Before the meeting I'd messaged Leena that I was feeling horribly, totally rotten and we might see the doctor after work. Leena called the doctor, and talked me into staying home on Friday, as the headache was going on too long.

Friday morning, February 15th, we went to the doctor who said there was a mild throat infection, but my blood pressure was normal. He prescribed five days of antibiotics and we went home. The headache, while not disappearing completely eased off until Sunday afternoon, when it was back with a vengeance.

Back to work Monday, with some relief in sight as the upcoming Friday was a national holiday and a day off work. Since the doctor didn't prescribe Crocin or anything I thought it's a good time to get off it and didn't take any.

Then on Wednesday afternoon I was clearly making a lot more mistakes at work, dumb things, really dumb things I wouldn't normally do.

Thursday, Feburary 11th, I work up feeling horrible. I ate breakfast, felt like it was uncomfortable and took my nap. When I woke up from that and started getting dressed for work, I got one sock on, then felt sick and went to the bathroom. Nothing. Put the sock on again, then got up and heaved up my breakfast. I felt a little better so I started getting dressed again, got that one sock on, but sat on the chair feeling like "can I really work like this?" and eventually answered "no" and got undressed and went back to bed.

Leena called the doctor, but he was out of town for a few days. I was quite feverish, and the pain and discomfort from the fever only made the headache 100 times worse. It was so bad that I was practically panicking about not surviving it, it was something fatal, and all that. After sleeping on and off, unable to keep down even gentle foods, I took a long shower, till i felt sleepy again. After that I was relaxed and slept well for a few hours.

That evening we went to the nearby doctor, one my in-laws thing is the best doctor in the world, but whom I dislike (at least, as a doctor). I was feeling more calm and not as bad as in the morning. He asked what was bothering me, and as I started listing the various things, headache, fever, ears ringing and narrowed it down to "what's bothering you the most?". He checked my blood pressure, said it was normal, and examined my nose and throat and eyes and what-not.

Then he said he could give me a shot, and "don't ask a second question, just take the shot and feel better in an hour, or go home without it". I accepted, feeling desperate. Then he gave his usual, four different pills to be taken twice a day for two days, no labels, no descriptions and no answer about what they were. We went home and within an hour or so the fever was mostly gone, but the headache remained.

Throughout the long weekend the headache slowly reduced, but never quite went away completely, bringing us to this week...

Monday, when I woke up the headache was nasty again. I struggled through the work week, not feeling well, feeling kind of uneasy, kind of unmotivated to work, and doing a less than stellar job of my work, until yesterday.

Yesterday, February 18th, I felt sick. I spent most of the morning sitting at my desk, having trouble really focusing on my screen, rubbing my temples from the pain, and waiting for the day and the week to finish. Early in the afternoon I helped my teammates try and solve a problem, but sitting over there, talking and working, I began to feel nauseas, and my throat burned with acid reflux and eventually I said "well, why don't you guys go for lunch and I'm going home sick."

Our new scrum master offered to drive me home but I said I'd get a rickshaw, however, he accompanied me downstairs to make sure I got one. It was the first time in many, many months I took an elevator down as I usually take the stairs in the afternoon, and felt pretty dizzy in it, even more sick. The rickshaw had some mechanical problem and I was afraid we'd have to get out and push, it kept slipping gears or out of gear and slowing, then the driver would do something and it would speed forward. But we got there…

It was the doctor's lunch break, so I just slept and slept till later. Leena and I left around 5pm and hit the doctor's office.

He did the usual checks, then the blood pressure. Which he repeated, then still puzzled he put away the electronic sphygmomanometer and took out a manual one, which he used twice and said it was odd that after a couple of weeks of it being normal now it was dangerously high, 140/100.

He didn't know what to say about that. He said maybe it was so high because I was tense about being sick, agitated from going home early from work and what-not. He didn't want to make any diagnosis based on that, because it had been normal just two weeks earlier. He prescribed an anti-anxiety medicine so that I'd relax and sleep all night, then be relaxed today so we could go back in the evening for another check and he'll try to make a better diagnosis from that.

For the headache he said if my blood pressure is as high as it read, it could be the cause, in which we'll need to work out a plan for bringing it down. If my blood pressure is back to normal tonight and my head still hurts, then he'll probably recommend I go to a neurophysician to see if there's something wrong with my brain or nervous system. Otherwise, we'll see.

Me? I think it's going to be the first one. I think the difference in blood pressure readings is the previous two times I wore long sleeved shirts and neither doctor made me roll up my sleep, but last night I wore a short sleeved shirt and he did the reading directly against my skin. I don't recall any time I ever had my blood pressure checked in the U.S. that the doctor didn't ask me to roll up my sleeves or remove my shirt, but no doctor I've been to in India has ever asked for that. I suspect it makes a difference (in fact, the Wikipedia article states, "The BP cuff should always be against bare skin, as readings taken over a shirt sleeve are less accurate").

So, my guess is what's going to come up is that my blood pressure is high from being overweight and not exercising. And I'm going to have to watch my diet a little more and exercise to bring it down. Of course, I need Leena to hear the first part from the doctor. I've known I've been overweight for a while, but even though I keep asking her not to bring such greasy or sweet foods home she does anyway, and then if I don't gobble them up, it's the guilt trip, "but I got it for you…".

Some will probably require lifestyle changes. I know our location causes some trouble for me, increases my stress and tension from all the noise. I have little doubt part of my stress yesterday was because there was no running water in the apartment all day as well. And of course, offices in India use far, far worse lighting than most offices in the U.S. that I always find extremely uncomfortable.

And exercise... The doctor previously recommended walking around the block for half an hour a day. And a few years ago it worked, but traffic has gotten a lot worse and nowadays I'm scared to walk here, it's just too nerve wracking. Plus with the ringing ears, the honking from cars is far, far more painful than it used to be.

Probably my expected move to the U.S. later in the year will have a good effect, but I need to get by until then.

We'll see in a few hours. In the meantime, I think I'll go lie down, my head hurts.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Healthy Bread Allergy

Between Steve's post about fast, healthy breads and this rip roaring headache I've had continuously for over a week with the only let up being a couple of days I didn't eat rice. I'm wondering if I'm allergic to rice, the rice is contaminated, or it's just coincidence. But it got me thinking about how I became allergic to whole wheat…

I guess it was around 1995 (or maybe it was 1996, who can remember?) that I became allergic to whole wheat. It was just out of the blue one day.

As a kid I hated whole wheat, I thought it was disgusting and only wanted to eat Wonder Bread. Then in high school my mother made me eat two slices of whole wheat toast with butter for breakfast every morning. Disgusting, gross, usually soggy and cold by the time she'd yelled enough to get me out of bed and to the breakfast.

Finally once I hit college I no longer had to bother with the horrible stuff… Not till i was on my own after that and started eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on thick, whole wheat toast for breakfast every day (made my own way, fresh out of the toaster, gooey peanut butter and no sogginess!).

I did that for a few years until I got sick. It just happened one week, every day I felt sick, kind of a fever, with my fingers and toes aching, then my arms shaking and a headache with a little nausea. Then on the weekend after not eating my workday breakfast I felt better.

The next week, by Tuesday it occurred to me that I woke up every morning feeling fine, it was only after breakfast that I started to feel sick, so I figured it was something I was eating.

I'd heard of peanut allergies, so that seemed like a logical place to begin finding out what was causing it, by skipping the peanut butter. But no go. The next morning I cut out the raw eggs in my chocolate milk, but still got sick.

Then I skipped the peanut butter and jelly sandwich altogether and felt fine, so I decided it must be the bread.

For the next few years I ate my morning PB & J's with mainly oat bread, and the occasional potato bread and didn't have any trouble (except the time I tried even healthier oat bread with oat bran and holy shit did that knock me for a loop, even worse than regular whole wheat).

Every now and then I eat some whole wheat, never on purpose and it usually doesn't take long for me to feel it. Just a few bites and my tongue gets an uncomfortable tingling, followed by my fingers, toes and then my arms and a headache and all that.

On the other hand, after all the years of my aunt trying to get my mother to get me to eat whole wheat and my resisting, now I have an excuse not to eat it.

For tomorrow morning I'll try breakfast without rice as I usually have here in India (e.g. dal chaval (well, okay, I quite this a couple of years ago, I simply can't stand it anymore), chicken curry in rice, dhansak with rice, mutton koftas in rice, etc.). I'll have mutton frankies in maida parathas...