Surprisingly good whole-wheat pumpkin bread

I adapted this recipe from the Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread I found on… but the extra nutritious twists are all mine!

The first time I made this recipe, I accidentally doubled the amount of pumpkin I used (don’t ask).  The thing is, it actually turned out great!  Although people generally associate pumpkin with desserts, it’s actually really good for you.  It adds some extra fiber, and it has a ton of Vitamin A– one medium slice of this pumpkin bread gives you 150% of your daily value.  I think the extra pumpkin also helps to make this bread extra moist.

I love pumpkin. Look at that bright color– the more orange the vegetable, the more Vitamin A it has.

This recipe makes two generous loaves.  This bread is healthy enough that I feel totally justified in having it for breakfast every day.   Three people can definitely go through two loaves in a week; if it’s just you, just pop the second loaf in the freezer until you’re ready for it.

Wet ingredients:

  • 2 cans of pumpkin (approximately 3.5 cups)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3.5 cups whole wheat flour (you can use white wheat or regular white too)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • raisins or nuts or whatever you want to put in

You will need two large bowls to make this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

First mix together the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, salt, and baking soda.  When these are well-mixed, add the flour and sugar.

Next, combine the wet ingredients in one bowl.

Wet ingredients.  Apparently my new eyeliner made it into the picture as well.  Guess I got a little too excited to start cooking!
Wet and dry ingredients ready to be mixed.

After the wet ingredients are mixed, then slowly combine the wet and the dry ingredients in the same bowl.

The batter is almost ready to go.

Add as many raisins as you would like; just eyeball it.  I personally throw in a ton of raisins because I cut way back on the sugar in this recipe.  (I guess this doesn’t exactly make it a low-sugar recipe, but it’s healthier this way because at least raisins have some extra nutrients that plain sugar doesn’t).

Pour the batter into two greased and floured loaf pans.  I’ve made this recipe with both 8 x 4 and 9 x 5 inch pans.  You’re fine with either one; they’ll just give you loaves of different heights.

And into the oven.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately one hour.  I start checking them by sticking a wooden chopstick into them around 50 minutes, but sometimes you have to cook them for about 70 minutes total.

Let them cool, and enjoy!

The dog runs out of the room every time someone turns the oven on. She’s learned to be afraid of it because every time my dad cooks he sets off the smoke detector.


The Pain Clinic

I once had the opportunity to attend a pain management clinic run by a prestigious rehabilitation hospital in Boston, and it was a total bust.

I recently had a conversation with my neighbor Carolyn about my terrible experience there.  She’s had problems with one of her shoulders for years, and she mentioned that she was currently on the waiting list for the same place.

Judging by the wistful tone in her voice, I could tell Carolyn’s doctor had built up her expectations of the pain clinic just as much as mine had.  She explained how the waiting list was months long, and how she was scared she’d never be able to get in.  Suddenly I understood what my doctor had meant when she said she’d had to pull some strings to get me through the door.

I told Carolyn not to worry if she couldn’t get in; she wouldn’t be missing too much.  She looked confused.  “But my doctor said there’s no other place like it around here,” she said.

“Yes…” I replied, choosing my words carefully.  Apparently I had to be the one to initiate Carolyn into the depressing world of trying to get help for chronic pain.  “The sad thing is, that doesn’t mean this place is any good.”


Before I go on, I should probably back up and explain a little bit about how I ended up needing to go to a pain clinic.

Two years earlier, I threw my back out.   In a bad way.  I will talk about it more in another post, but suffice it to say, my back was wracked with muscle spasms.  The whole thing hurt, from my neck, to my shoulder blades, to the base of my spine.  Some days I couldn’t even raise my arms above shoulder level.  My doctor called it “glass back syndrome” because I was so fragile I could hardly even stand to be touched.

During the first few months after I hurt my back, I found the best thing I could do for the pain was to take walks.  This was particularly important in the morning: when I first got out of bed, I was so stiff that I could hardly move.  I would stumble out of bed and pace up and down the hallway of my dorm for about five minutes. This got me to the point where I was loosened up enough to put on warm clothes and my coat.  At this point I would head outside for a twenty-minute walk around campus.  Only afterwards would I feel human enough to deal with brushing my teeth, breakfast, and everything else.

I was eventually to get my back pain somewhat under control, through a combination of exercises and medications that dulled the pain enough for me to be able to exercise.   But the pain never completely left me, and I spent the next two years trying to be free of it.  I had MRI’s.  I had trigger point injections.  I tried physical therapy at numerous different facilities.  Nothing seemed to work.

After about two years, my doctor said she wanted to refer me to the pain clinic.  She explained that she had done her residency in pain management at the same hospital, and couldn’t recommend it highly enough.  I was thrilled and agreed optimistically to go.


I started at the pain clinic in the summer of 2006.  The session was supposed to run for six weeks, four days a week. The day was broken up into 45-minute blocks that were set by a predetermined schedule, and I was one of twelve chronic pain patients who would be doing everything as a group.

On paper, the clinic sounded great: the brochure I found in the lobby said there would be classes on meditation, ergonomics, and pain relief.  Patients would have the opportunity to work out in the gym twice a day under the supervision of physical therapists.  We would be given the chance to try yoga, tai chi, and biofeedback.  And finally, we would also have the opportunity to meet with a physiatrist and a psychologist.  It sounded absolutely amazing.

And how did it go?  Well, most of my experiences there were neutral.  I met with the physiatrist, but he said pretty much the same things as my own doctor.  (This made sense, since he had been one of the doctors to train her).  I met with the psychologist, who didn’t really say anything helpful, but didn’t manage to offend me either.  Anyone who’s read my post on the problems I have with yoga knows how that part turned out.  I did enjoy the tai chi, however.

Biofeedback was sort of interesting, but it doesn’t really accomplish anything when you only try it once for fifteen minutes.  I’ve actually done biofeedback in physical therapy since then, and I feel confident in saying that it takes several 45-minute office visits to really even begin to know what you’re doing.

I actually enjoyed the part about ergonomics, or how to set up your home and workplace to allow you to do things in the proper anatomical position.  That was actually helpful, and I still think about some of that stuff today.  With that being said, any physical therapist can teach you how to set up your workstation.  You don’t need to attend a six-week program.

The best part of the clinic was actually the time I spent hanging out with the other pain patients.  We got each other.  Lunch, when we all sat outside at picnic tables in the sun, was the most fun part of the day.

There was aspect of the clinic, however that was just so horrible that it pretty much overshadowed everything else.

We had two 45-minute sessions in the gym each day.  One was at the beginning of the day at 10 am, the other was at 2 pm.  You were supposed to use one of the sessions for cardiovascular exercise, and one for weight training and other exercises.  I ended up getting into a stand-off with the head physical therapist over the fact that I also wanted to do a short cardiovascular warm-up before I lifted any weights.

Now I might be about to go on a bit of a tangent, but I have a very big problem with the concept of doing any kind of weight-training or other serious exercise without doing a warm-up first.

It’s common knowledge that doing a gentle warm-up at the beginning of your workout both improves performance and reduces the risk of injury.

With this in mind, there was no way I was going to do my exercises at the clinic without a warm-up.  I explained to the physical therapist at the beginning of my “weight-lifting” session why I was walking on the treadmill.  She didn’t really respond so figured it was fine.

A few days later, however, the same person took me aside and demanded to know why I wasn’t doing my strengthening exercises.  She spoke in an angry tone of voice, as if this was some sort of personal conflict between the two of us.  I was completely bewildered.  Her anger was totally out of left field.

I tried my best to smooth things over by explaining what I was doing.  She calmed down slightly when she realized I wasn’t intentionally skipping my exercises, but still tried to talk me into skipping my warm-up. “You won’t have time to get to all of your exercises if you do a warm-up,” she said.  “You have to do all of the exercises on your chart at least once a day.”

This was news to me.  I thought these were just things we were supposed to try.  I didn’t think I was at the point where I was strong enough to do all of those exercises in one day anyway– especially if I wasn’t going to be allowed a warm-up.

Neither one of us wanted to give in, and things were getting more and more awkward by the second.  All of the other patients in the gym had noticed the physical therapist’s angry tone of voice, and were watching.  I wished I could just agree to do what she wanted, but I knew it wasn’t physically possible.

We eventually compromised, agreeing that I would only spend the first five minutes of the weight-lifting session doing my warm-up rather than the ten or fifteen I would have preferred.  I was slightly uncomfortable with this short amount of time but it was close enough, and it wasn’t worth the argument.

But wow.

I had thought a pain clinic was the one place where someone wouldn’t give me a hard time about the things I needed to do for my body.

Every day the staff gave us little lessons on “self-empowerment.”  These were supposed to be about how we could articulate our needs and stand up for ourselves when the people in our lives were pressuring us to do things that would worsen our pain.  And here I was, having to defend my need to do a warm-up before a workout to a member of their staff.

A better approach would have been for her to be flexible, to ask me to tell her more about why I felt walking was so important.  It could have been an opportunity for a conversation in which we could talk about my fears and anxieties regarding exercise. If she thought I had my facts wrong, she could have taken that as a chance to impart valuable information.  I mean, this was a pain clinic; I was there because I had trouble doing things normally.  She should have been trying to understand what caused my pain, not getting into an argument with me about what I did and didn’t feel.

This physical therapist’s lack of personal skills aside, who in their right mind would ask a group of chronic pain patients to skip warming up before exercise?  Many of the other patients were obese, and looked as though they hadn’t exercised in years. If anyone was likely to injure themselves during exercise, it was this group.  Proper exercise protocol shouldn’t have been something I had to beg for; it should have been part of what they were teaching at the clinic.

The next few days were pretty awkward.  I stuck to only using the treadmill for five minutes, but even so the physical therapist would walk over from time to time to check the timer on the treadmill.   I could tell she was just waiting to catch me going over the five minute mark.

Fortunately I didn’t have to deal with this situation for more than a few days.  I went on vacation to Virginia during the third week of the clinic, and while I was down there I got a voicemail from the physical therapist saying I’d been discharged for having missed too many days.  I was a little bit surprised, because I’d given some other staff members the dates for my vacation during my intake appointment and they’d said it wouldn’t be a problem.

I mean, this was a six-week clinic that ran through July and August—what did they expect?  I wondered if maybe they’d forgotten what I told them.

The physical therapist’s message said I could call back if I had any questions.  I interpreted this to mean that if I was really upset about it, I could call back and beg and they would probably let me back in.

I thought about it for a few minutes.  Then I deleted the voicemail.

That was that—sometimes you have to know when to let things go.  No matter how good it looked on paper, that place wasn’t working for me.  I was just relieved to have a graceful way out.

A little bit more about my story

People that know me in real life have seen that over the course of the past ten years, I have often had some kind of physical problem that’s limited my ability to walk, drive, work, or even hang out with friends.  Someday when I get brave enough to share this blog with friends and acquaintances, this is probably the first post I’ll want them to read.

There are two major health issues on the table for me right now.

1) Getting back to shape after severe injury

I am perpetually struggling to get my body back to where it was before the injury that ended my running career.  I was a long-distance runner in high school, participating in both the cross-country and track teams, when I developed severe compartment syndrome during my junior year.  It got to the point where I was unable to walk or even stand for more than a few minutes at a time (forget about running).

My doctor told me I should try conservative methods of treatment before I went the surgery route.  I wasted two and a half years of trying to live with compartment syndrome and waiting for physical therapy to help me before I finally decided to have the surgery.  The surgery was a breeze and I was up and walking the second day afterwards.  My compartment syndrome was gone, but I was left completely out of shape.

Once you lose your body’s equilibrium, it can be hard to get back.  I was lucky enough to be born healthy.  But everything in the body is connected, and if one part of your body isn’t functioning properly, it is only a matter of time before something else starts to hurt too.  This is why I often refer to my health problems as a row of dominoes that got knocked over.  Everything’s fine and dandy when all of your dominoes are standing upright in a line, but knock over just one domino, and it triggers a chain reaction.  They all fall.

2) A nervous system that’s freaking out

A few months after my surgery for compartment syndrome, I began to feel almost constant pain that migrated through different parts of my body.  Although I did have objective measures of pathology from everything my body had been through, almost every physical therapist I saw would tell me I seemed to be in more pain than other patients they had treated with similar problems.  “I don’t know why it hurts you so much… you do have a problem here, but it shouldn’t hurt that much,” was a common refrain.

For years, I dealt with this mysterious pain on almost a daily basis.  I spent a lot of time and money seeking out answers from various medical specialists and physical therapists.  I also endured a lot of frustration and indignity.

Finally finding answers

Six years into my battle, I finally found an amazing physical therapist who had been trained in a relatively new approach to chronic pain treatment, called pain neurophysiology education.  I’ll be talking about this more in the Calming Your Nervous System section of my blog.

This PT was able to explain to me the changes that had taken place in my nervous system, after all that my body had been through.  He explained that sometimes, when the body goes through something that it perceives as traumatic, it can affect the way the nervous system works afterwards.  This is known as central sensitization and research is increasingly showing it to be one of the main causes for chronic pain and fibromyalgia.

He was also able to explain to me some new techniques that research is showing can help the nervous system to calm down.  These techniques haven’t taken the pain away completely, but my life is a million times better now.

Looking towards the future

I’ve found the best way to move forwards is to learn as much about the body as I can. For one thing, it helps to keep my level of pain in check because, if a given part of my body starts to hurt, at least I have some idea of what could be going on.  Research has shown that the more knowledge a chronic pain patient has regarding the nature of the nervous system and anatomy in general, the less likely their level of pain is to fluctuate out of control.

Furthermore, at times when things are calm and I’m not in too much pain, I can actually pause and recognize that what’s happened to me is actually kind of interesting.  It’s like the advice that is often given to people trying to meditate: be still inside and observe everything that goes on around you without judgment.  Sometimes I am able to apply this philosophy to dealing with my physical problems and, even if for just a moment, detach and become still on the inside.

From that perspective, I can think about how amazing the body is– the millions and billions of cells, the intricate network of capillaries and blood vessels, the delicate wiring of neurons and nerve cells communicating– the human body is a miracle.  It’s horrible to be in pain, but the experience of pain, too, is a part of that miracle, and our anatomy can be fascinating.  The more I learn about how the body works, the more I have a sense of awe for it, and it is easier for me to switch from anger to appreciation mode.**  This is why I recommend everyone learn as much about anatomy and physiology as they can.

**Don’t worry. I also have plenty of days where I am grumpy and cranky and I hate everything.  I am less excited to document those on the Internet.