These dark clouds moved through here, just north of our town, two days ago, on the official first day of summer. We've been getting frequent rainfalls and thunderclouds but no gully-washer storms, which has been good for the farmers here in southwest Illinois. Temperatures have been above normal for June, but it's the humidity that has made it uncomfortable for people who must work outdoors. Unlike when I work outside or jog in Southern California, where the air is so much drier, I sweat a lot here in the Prairie State. I like it when jogging, because the sweat helps keep me cooler. However, yard work and mowing in the hot humidity requires occasional breaks. I look at the bright side: I'm still physically able to jog, mow and work outside. And a cold beer tastes so good afterward.
An old enemy visited me this past week, and he was a real pain in the foot.
By pain, I mean intensely excruciating discomfort. By foot, I mean mostly the big toe on my left foot, but it can also mean the entire foot. You see, I was hit by a gout attack.
A gout attack usually begins in one of my toes, usually a big toe, and it can blow up the entire foot. It feels like Wylie Coyote is slamming my swollen appendage with a 30-pound Acme sledge hammer – repeatedly slamming it, with great abandon and dastardly glee.
Gout hurts. Gout can really, really hurt. Almost as bad are the diet restrictions that accompany the pain – nothing sugary, nothing fatty, no alcohol, no whole-grain goodies or beans or mushrooms or asparagus or beef or pig or fish. Must I go on? Do I have to expound upon the details of the torture?
Folks who know me, know that I'm a chowhound, that I love to eat. But a gout attack takes away my grazing rights. I'm not allowed to snack, and I can't go crazy come dinnertime. I am restricted to fresh cherries, fresh or frozen pineapple, sweet potatoes and a few other boring things. Granted, cherries are not boring; they are delicious, but a gout attackee might get a little tired of them if his or her food intake is dominated by cherries. If, however, the cherries were to come also in the form of cherry pie, well then, that would be quite nice. Cherry cobbler would be quite good, too. Cherry turnovers would be a luscious addition to the gout-attack diet. Cherry danish would be great. How about cherry-cheese coffeecake or strudel? But, alas, all of those cherry delights are cherry pastries, which contain lots of sugar.
Those strict restrictions are required during a gout attack. When not being assaulted, I'm supposed to eat most foods in moderation, so that I don't get an attack. Some foods should be avoided completely. Not likely. As I've indicated, I'm a chowhound, a foodie, a connoisseur of all things edible.
My doctor has helped me in my quest to eat all the good grub of all the cultures on Earth. He has prescribed me allopurinol, a prescription medication to help prevent gout attacks. Allopurinol helps keep one's uric acid level in check. Elevated uric acid levels will create pointy, crystal-like calcium deposits in my joints, causing inflammation and pain. That's a gout attack. So, I take my nightly dose of allopurinol and try to watch what I eat, but I pretty much eat what the heck I want. Stand by, Asian buffet; here I come.
For those times when I do get a gout attack, despite my faithful intake of allopurinol, my doctor has prescribed me indocin, which is an anti-inflammatory medication that attacks the gout attack. Hang on, juicy thick fillet and lucious red wine; let Mr. Indocin do his work here, and then I'll be right with you.
Some people don't have to worry about gout. They can eat 10 beef fillets, drink a gallon of red wine, and finish it all off with cherry pie and ice cream. Gout is one of those hereditary things, and I inherited it from my grandfather, Earl Monken. Thanks a lot, Grandpa. Why couldn't I have inherited his everlasting, thick, dark hair, for example? I could comb back my full locks and then dig into a greasy, saucy, slab of St. Louis ribs, plus a pile of mashed potatoes sopping in butter and salt, with a side of corn bread drenched in maple syrup. Oh, and throw in a big serving of those oven-baked, brown-sugar beans, which also contain some honey and molasses to sweetly help offset that apple-cider vinegar.
And some people think gout happens only to older men, who gobble down giant legs of lamb and swill down tankards of ale. My first gout attack hit me more than 30 years ago. The pain surprised me. There I was, thinking that only a battlefield wound could be so painful.
Josh Billings, the 19th century American humorist, put gout in perspective back in his day. Remarked Billings: "The best medicine I know for rheumatism is to thank the Lord that it ain't gout."
Gout schmout. I must not allow the possibility of a gout attack to hamper or jeopardize my wonderful enjoyment of food.
My niece Jackie, who is down this way from Chicago for a couple of days, has invited me to Sunday brunch this morning. Since I'm recovering from a gout attack and have to be careful of what I consume, I'm a little worried about brunch – you know, all that food, all that bacon, all that sausage, all those pancakes covered in maple syrup.
Never mind all that. I've got to hit the shower and get dressed. Can't be late for brunch.
Last week I enjoyed the delicious taste of mulberries, but this week my very favorite wild berries are ripening. In the middle of a hot and sweaty three-mile jog this morning, I stopped to pick wild black raspberries, filling my half-empty water bottle with the luscious little fruits. Most of the berries on the vines were still red, but quite a few were dark enough to pluck and bring home. I figured that I had burned a lot of calories out there in that humidity, so after the run, I rewarded myself with a sweet muffin topped with some of those berries and a dollop of sugary sour cream. Joggin' and pickin' go well together. Hey, at my age, I need some delicious incentives to get me out there on the road, stomping that asphalt and pounding that dirt. I stay off of the concrete, because my knees are still good, and I want them to stay that way. Besides, you can't find berries along concrete. Slip on your running shoes and head for the countryside. It's healthful; it's invigorating; it's the berries!
I plucked some tasty Illinois mulberries during a couple of evenings this past week while out jogging and walking. And soon, the wild black raspberries will be ripe and ready here around my hometown of Lebanon, Ill. After that, the dewberries will make their appearance. My mother, who is 96, told me last week that she remembers her mother taking orders for wild berries and sending out my mom and my aunt to gather the little fruits. They lived on a farm north of Lebanon, and berries were plentiful in the countryside. I can picture my wonderful grandmother on an old-fashion telephone, taking berry orders from folks in town, and then handing a couple of metal pails to her girls and putting them to work. I wonder how much of the profits my mom and aunt ate while they were out picking. After all, those berries are darn delicious.
T.E. Griggs is a writer, editor and photographer and a retired U.S. Marine.