“Blushes” by Graham Swift [The New Yorker]

Taking place in the middle of the pandemic, Graham Swift’s “Blushes,” is a story about growing up with diseases. The protagonist, Dr. Cole, travels the empty streets to start his day at the hospital. He remembers his childhood infections. As a youth, he could check off the childhood diseases that he had overcome. He felt pride at being able to finish the list of “desirable” diseases after turning ten.

In the story, the young Cole has a birthday party that reminds me of confusing times as a youth. We both were put in situations where the right answer wasn’t clear. The grownups didn’t help it make sense. Thinking on the parents holding the party, the older Cole remembered the dear women he had lost in the past few years. As an older man, Dr. Cole was able to reflect on his tenth birthday in ways that he couldn’t then.

Blushes,” published in the January 18, 2021 issue of The New Yorker is one of the satisfying stories I’ve seen there. Each week, the magazine publishes a fiction piece, a short story, to counterpoint the excellent journalism in the rest of the magazine. I look forward to the story each week and make sure that I have time to read it. Often it is the frosting on the cake for a “birthday” that comes every week.

Low sodium

The past couple of months I’ve been practicing a low sodium diet. I have some worksheets from nutritionists but they haven’t been very helpful. There are several medical conditions that can benefit from a low sodium diet. Some medications affect the sodium balance in the body and need an informed medical professional to analyze ones personal situation.

Here are a few notes to share:

You can make a lot of progress by stopping the use of table salt and other forms of sodium chloride such as sea salt. The reason is that table salt is about 40% sodium by weight. After a while, I adjusted to not expecting a salt shaker next to the pepper. I have seen recommendations for spice blends to replace the salt.

One advantage to avoiding table salt is that it lets you be more consistent. When I used table salt, I couldn’t measure it consistently. (for example, I couldn’t know whether I used 1/8 tsp or just 1/10th or less). Taking sodium chloride out of my reach when I’m cooking and eating gives me room to fit in some medium sodium content foods.

When I am baking, I reduce the amount of sodium to add. I cut back on the salt, baking soda and baking powder ingredients. If I don’t, the sodium adds up. The totals could eliminate the advantage of baking my own food. I haven’t had any recipe failures because of a reduced use (but not elimination) of these big three sodium sources.

Another topic relevant to a low-sodium diet is dining out. It’s difficult to find low sodium options in a restaurant. The chefs’ include sodium in the recipes because it is a way to making their food more savory. In regular restaurants, the sodium content may not be documented. Fast food restaurants have substantial amounts of sodium in their recipes. Fortunately, fast food restaurants make their nutrition facts available online.

I must admit that some of the companies haven’t put a lot of thought into making the information useful. I think McDonald’s site is exemplary. Their website will summarize the nutrition facts of the combination of the foods you select. It enables you to track fat or sodium or carbs or any combination of nutrients because the site does the calculations. Other websites might need a pad of paper and a pen to get the total. There are websites that have tables with the nutrition contents of different foods, but I haven’t found them helpful.

One low sodium puzzle I haven’t solved is tomato sauces. Canned tomato sauce is high sodium. If you look at the total mg sodium per can rather than per serving, you can see that the sodium adds up quickly. I’d like to make spaghetti but must only make it very rarely to keep my average intake down.

In the grocery store, checking the sodium content can be an exercise. When you have an item on your grocery list such as breakfast cereal or salad dressing, there isn’t a fast rule for what to pick. I thought that the Chex brand cereals were good but when I checked they were actually pretty high sodium. Salad dressing takes effort to find the few that you can use. Even the same brand will have a wide range of sodium content for different dressings.

For a while I would write down how much sodium each item I eat has. Then, at the end of the day, I total the numbers. My goal isn’t to get a precise-to-the-milligram count of how much sodium I take. Rather the goal is to get a comparison from day to day. I’m ok estimating, say, how much peanut butter I used rather than knowing exactly.

Fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit are usually very low sodium. Canned vegetables are usually high sodium.

The doctor who encouraged me to start a low sodium diet thought that taking out the table salt would be enough. It takes more diligence than that. It’s worthwhile because it can help treat some diseases like hypertension.

iPhone privacy setting fail

Months ago, I made some adjustments to lock down my phone’s privacy settings. Today I found that I got bit by one of my changes. When I was locking things down, I disabled the microphone and camera for Safari.

Other useful apps, such as the MyChart medical records service, use the browser to do video calling.

My first attempt to repair the problem was to look for a bad settings for MyChart, but it didn’t show up there. Until I did a wider search did I find that I had hobbled Safari to my own detriment.

The reason I was unable to solve it in the past is that the problematic setting wasn’t in the obvious places. Camera settings, Microphone settings, Privacy settings and MyChart settings all looked irrelevant. Instead, it was in Safari settings. I hadn’t realized was so integral to other apps.

When they say that any sufficiently advanced technology is like magic, I thought that I would know the right incantation. I couldn’t find the eye of newt. It was hiding in the back of the produce department near the sign “Beware of the leopard.”