Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gardening Group Woes

Most of you know I've been an active member of the gardening site Dave's Garden for many years, beginning back in the days when it was a free site and had fewer than 1200 members. Many of you who read this blog are also members. Over the years it grew and grew; last count I saw was approaching half a million combined paid subscribers and free limited memberships.

Dave sold the website about 2 years ago, yet managed to retain full control of everything but the headaches. Now the website has been sold again and his new responsibilities are nil, other than being like any other paid subscriber.

My guess is that the list of paying subscribers will dwindle over time, the friendliness and individualism disappear, and the blatant ads increase. After all, don't websites exist just to make money?? That's really too bad. What made Dave's Garden so attractive from the beginning was the community that formed strong bonds. Many of my own friendships have developed from that community, and as a whole, that community is extremely generous and helpful, far beyond what you would expect from people who have never met.

I could cite time after time when they have pulled together in a spontaneous effort, whether just to replenish a garden that was vandalized, to offer shelter and support to Katrina victims, to raise money to buy tech equipment for a blind member, to send daily cyber hugs to a member with a terminal illness, or to send a digital camera and computer to someone in India. I could probably drive across this entire country and back, finding a bed and a meal with a member every place I stopped.
Incredible generosity having to do with the people, not the organization.

Like every organization, it isn't all a bed of roses. There has always been an exclusive inner clique but for the most part everyone is generally accepted. Rightfully, troublemakers have been quickly dispatched... but so have some fine members who merely disagreed with management in some way.

I shall be sad to see it crumble because so far it is still the best site to get information and help... whether you are a newbie gardener or an advanced horticulturalist.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wolf Moon

Photo from Ghetu Daniel's photostream, used by permission

Tonight's Full Moon is traditionally called the
Full Wolf Moon by the Native Americans of the eastern and northern parts of the United States. They named it for the wolf packs howling hungrily in this lean and cold month.

It is spectacular, and the closest full moon of the year. Get outside for a moment and enjoy it!

Terra-Cotta Flower Pot Smoker

The place where I live has an old shed that once had been used as a smokehouse. The chimney is still there, but a bare interior, so I'm not sure how they fired it for use. There's enough room to hang several hams, hundreds of feet of sausage, and still hold half a cow too. That's far more space than I want to heat for a smoker, although back in the days of farmsteads it probably was perfect for smoking enough meat for the winter for a large family.

So, I recently found some information on making an inexpensive backyard smoker out of a new terra-cotta flower pot. It is supposedly fashioned after an Alton Brown idea, and actually it's pretty simple. I plan to make one and will post photos, but in the meantime, here's the general idea:

You need a large terra-cotta flower pot (maybe 16"-18"), and a terra-cotta saucer to act as a lid. For a heat source, the heating element out of a hot plate works well. You can run the electric power for the hot plate out of the drain hole in the bottom of the pot, and you should have some spacers/feet to hold the coil itself above the bottom of the pot. (You could use smashed soda cans.)

Then you need a container to hold the charcoal, maybe an old metal pot or bowl... and a grille to hold the jerky, bacon, steak or whatever you are smoking above the heat source. Drill a couple of holes in the saucer to hold a handle or knob, and invert it for the lid.
Presto! Inexpensive smoker!

I'm thinking that when I make mine, I'll look for a better temperature controller than what comes on most hotplates, or maybe change it out later, assuming of course that I really like smoking stuff.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Super Bowl Snacks

Are you stocking up on Super Bowl Snacks already?

Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest eating day of the year, barely lagging behind Thanksgiving. There is ONE big difference, though... the sheer volume of snack food consumed. In fact, the average arm-chair quarterback will consume roughly 1200 calories and 50 grams of fat from snacks alone... not counting the 'real' meals of the day. You'd have to run an hour and 45 minutes to burn it off.

Here's what the
American Institute of Food Distribution says for consumption on that day:

Nearly 9 million pounds of tortilla chips

8 million pounds of popcorn

29 million pounds of potato chips

An estimated 2+ million pizza's

450 million chicken wings, with Utah and Louisiana eating the most (makes me wonder where all the legs go?)

But there's a bright spot or two in the junk food consumption:

8 million pounds of avocados will be used to make guacamole
And I have no doubts tomatoes will do equally well, even if only there to support the guacamole or become salsa!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quirky Food Rules

Michael Pollan has a new book out, Food Rules. Here are some fun and quirky food rules from his book:

Rule # 57: Don't get your fuel at the same place your car does.

Rule # 21: It's not food if it's called by the same name in every language (think Big Mac, Cheetos or Pringles).

Rule # 36: Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

Rule # 20: It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car.

Rule # 26: Drink the spinach water.

Rule # 32: Don't overlook the oily little fishes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Crash Hot Potatoes

The folks over on a forum where I chat have been raving about this easy and tasty recipe, so I thought I'd pass it on. The photos are wonderful, enough to make me drool. Check it out!

Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm Thinking Gardening...

Last year I became so disgusted at the weather impact on my garden that I vowed NOT to do another garden this year. However, as time rolls around and the catalogs roll in, I seem to be wavering.

Right now, and whether I put in a garden or not, I'm working on how to make an inexpensive biochar crusher. I'm convinced
biochar that's been inoculated with beneficial microbes is the best thing next to homemade bread hot from the oven. The problem isn't making biochar, it is in getting it crushed small enough for distribution in my garden.

The charcoal bits remaining in the ashes from my wood stove are 75% perfectly sized, but not many folks have a wood stove anymore. Last year one of my gardening friends up the road crushed some Cowboy Charcoal (which you can buy at Lowe's and is pure biochar) with the help of her husband and son, and said it was a messy and dirty business.

Biochar is easily made by burning any organic matter (sticks, deadfall, tree trimmings, even green plant material) in a drum; the trick is to char it thoroughly rather than burn it to pure ash. Another consideration in making biochar is controling the gases given off in burning rather than adding them to the atmosphere. The optimal idea is to capture the gases and recycle them back under the drum as fuel; that's called a retort.

I have several ideas about making a crusher, but I want to do it cheaply. The roller mills made for crushing feed would do the job but they are hundreds of dollars to purchase. The home grain grinders the beer hobbyists use to crush the grains look like they would grind too small; fine for mash but maybe not biochar.

This project probably won't make much progress until it gets warm enough for me to spend some time working outside. I'll post any progress.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Looking at Time, and Mortality

Yesterday the very last of my mother's generation (and the youngest) died. Aunt Martha was my oldest uncle's second wife, whom he married later in his life. She was 83, and a delightful member of our family. She always has a sunny disposition, even later as Alzheimer's took hold.

Their only son David is the youngest of my generation, nearly 20 years younger than I am. I'm the oldest of my generation, which brings mortality to mind. When we are young, we think death is so far away as to be unthinkable. Now I'm of an age where older family members are all gone, and friends are beginning to die.

Where does the Time go, and so quickly?


Well, my 'puter is back up and running just fine again. Unfortunately I lost some folders full of files. They just went poof from my desktop. The folders included one with notes on ideas for this blog, and one with sketches for a cottage industry making inoculated biochar to sell.

About half the files can be slowly rebuilt, and photos that I've emailed can be sent back to me. The big loss is a bunch of genealogy files that will take me months to re-capture.

The loss wasn't from a hard drive crash; my drive never crashed. It was only part of the stuff on my desktop and It happened in the rebuild of Firefox, my favorite browser. Naturally I hadn't done a recent back-up either.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"American" Test

Okay, here's a quick and easy test.

Similar tests run around the 'Net, but I found this one interesting and informative because it tests what we know about our government, constitution, and rights.

24 out of 30 is considered a passing grade. Supposedly 96% of all High School Seniors FAILED this test...

AND if that's not bad enough, 50+% of all individuals over 50 did too!!

American Test

Monday, January 18, 2010

Short & Quick post...

I'm having computer woes, but I'll be back as soon as I get them worked out.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

They're Rioting in Africa

Remember this?


There are days in my life when everything is dreary
I grow pessimistic, sad and world weary.
But when I'm tearful and fearfully upset
I always sing this merry little minuet:

They're rioting in Africa

They're starving in Spain
There's hurricanes in Florida
And Texas needs rain.

The whole world is festering

With unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans,
The Germans hate the Poles

Italians hate Yugoslavs

South Africans hate the Dutch
And I don't like anybody very much

But we can be grateful

And thankful and proud
That man's been endowed
With a mushroom shaped cloud

And we know for certain

That some happy day
Someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away

They're rioting in Africa

There's strife in Iran
What nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.

© Alley Music Corp. and Trio Music Co., Inc

Friday, January 15, 2010

Vitamin B-3 for Energy

Depression, irritability, mental confusion and even indigestion can be signs that you are low on vitamin B-3.

The B vitamins are what helps the body convert carbohydrates into energy, and to metabolize fats and protein. Since the B vitamins are water-soluble, our bodies do not store what we don't immediately use and we must continuously replenish the supply.

The best foods for supplying B-3 are pork, poultry, beets, brewer's yeast, sunflower seeds, peanuts and dried beans, plus oily fish like salmon that also supply omega-3. Breads and cereals are often fortified with niacin, a form of B-3, ans niacin helps improve circulation and reduce cholesterol levels.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Working on a new web site

Sorry I've been slow to post new items on this blog lately. I've been quite busy creating a web site for some of the genealogy I've been doing for months, and should have it up and running in another day or three.

It's strictly a site to sell bits and pieces of Hardesty/Hardisty family tree data at affordable prices. Many folks don't want to pay a monthly fee to belong to a genealogy site and/or don't have time and inclination to do their own research, yet they still would like to know something about their ancestors.

With just under 16,000 people in the tree, we (a cousin works on it too) should have ample opportunities, provided I can market it correctly. We're not offering to do any new genealogy research for someone, just offering some of what we already have worked so diligently to acquire and document.

I have no idea if we'll make any money at all, but hope to at least make enough to cover the monthly hosting fee. Only time will tell. Plus, we always have the option to take the site down if it doesn't pay for itself after a few months.

It's amazing that a simple site of just a couple of pages can take so much detail work. Most of the work was in choosing a hosting company, then getting email and PayPal set-up. Even though I use my computer a lot, much of the terminology was foreign to me, so I've had to learn a few new things along the way.

Harder to teach this old dog new tricks than it used to be!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Calcium to Fight Stress

Calcium is essential to maintain the body. Virtually all our cells require calcium, and if we don’t get enough, our bodies rob the calcium in our bones. As we age, our calcium requirements go up, and our ability to absorb it goes down.

Foods we eat can inhibit the absorption of calcium. Iron (commonly added to multi-vitamin supplements) interferes with calcium absorption, as does fiber, and the aluminum in antacid tablets. Too many carbonated colas (which contain phosphorus) inhibit calcium utilization, and so does alcohol.

Calcium is good for fighting stress, and people who don’t get enough calcium often complain of restless sleep and muscle cramping. The better you sleep, the better you are able to handle the next day. Calcium is a natural sleep aid!

Do you get enough calcium, and is it the right kind? We get calcium in foods such as dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, but many folks are lactose-intolerant so drinking milk is out of the question. Some vegetables like broccoli contain calcium. Green leafy vegetables like spinach and chard contain lots of calcium BUT they also contain oxalates, which bind calcium into insoluble salts.

Bioavailability of calcium varies with the type of calcium, and whether it is in food or supplements. Many of us take calcium supplements, which vary in the form of calcium used; they vary in the amount of elemental calcium they contain.

Studies have shown that calcium supplements are not all alike, and some of us cannot absorb the calcium in them due the kind of calcium or binder used. Some of the forms of calcium are calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, coral calcium (a kind of calcium carbonate), a microcrystalline form called MCHC, and chelated calcium.

Generally, the amounts of absorbable calcium breaks down like this: dairy products, 25-35%. In supplemental forms it’s calcium carbonate, 40%; calcium citrate 21%; calcium lactate 13% and calcium gluconate, 9%. That’s the percentage of the total calcium contained… so if a tablet contains 500 mg of calcium carbonate, at best we can only absorb 40%, or 200 mg.

WHEN to take calcium is as important as how much. Our systems can only absorb so much calcium at one time, so divide up when you take calcium into several doses a day. Calcium taken at bedtime seems to have a beneficial effect not only on sleep, but on bone-building as well.

Remember the old cure-all of drinking a cup of warm milk at bedtime? It works!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Folic Acid Fights Depression

Low levels of folic acid in the body are known to be directly linked to depression. Increasing your levels of folic acid will help fight depression better and faster. It has other health benefits too... read on!

Folic acid is one of the water-soluble B vitamins (B9), and we use it to build healthy red blood cells. Enough folic acid working with vitamin B12 can help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, strokes and colorectal cancer.

Interestlngly enough to me, short-term memory and mental agility are improved in older people when getting higher amounts of folic acid. The risk of macular degeneration and rheumatoid arthritis is also reduced. There is little risk of getting too much folic acid since it is water-soluble and we excrete any excess. The risk is that higher amounts may mask symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
. Higher amounts usually come from taking too many supplements; try getting your folic acid from foods instead.

Folic Acid is found in green vegetables (higher in green leafy ones like spinach), asparagus, wheat germ, dried or fresh beans and beans, peanuts, fresh orange juice, canned grapefruit or pineapple juice, and fortified cereals. Folic acid found in foods is susceptible to reduction by high heat, and exposure to light.

I have used wheat germ added to cereals and yogurt for years. Generally what is sold in the supermarket is toasted for a nuttier taste, but since heat reduces folic acid, I just use more. Yesterday I found a box of
Hodgson Mill wheat germ (un-toasted) on the shelf but I haven’t tried it yet. Bob’s Red Mill also sells it in bags like flour.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Iron and Energy

Liver and Onions Photo by Jannie-Jan's photostream, used by permission

Energy. Ahhhh, wouldn't we all like to have more energy and feel better? Iron increases our energy levels by helping the red blood cells carry more oxygen to our muscles. Iron has some other benefits, too. It is anti cancer; it helps reduce insomnia and improve restful sleep, and it helps our immune system.

We all know we need iron in the body, and we hear everywhere that we get enough iron in our foods and don't need to take iron supplements unless a doctor prescribes iron for anemia.

Yes, that's more or less true. However, absorbing the iron in our foods is another matter, making it sometimes difficult to actually get enough iron. Iron is the central atom the heme group, a metal complex that binds molecular oxygen (O2) in the lungs and carries it to all of the other cells in the body (like the muscles) that need oxygen to perform their activities.

Good sources of easily absorbed iron are oysters, mussels, sardines, salmon, tuna, lean red meats, organ meats and eggs (especially the yolks). The more difficult to absorb iron (non-heme iron) is found in whole grains, legumes, and green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and collards, all still a good source of dietary iron.

Some things decrease iron absorption. Commercial black and pekoe teas contain substances that bind to iron so that we cannot absorb it. Coffee has a similar effect.

On the other hand, foods high in Vitamin C in a meal help us absorb iron. Include some in your meals. Also, if you mix some lean meat, fish or poultry with vegetable sources (beans and/or dark green leafy vegetables) at a meal, you can increase the absorption of iron from the vegetable sources by as much as three times!

I grew up loving liver and onions. The last time I ate liver and onions was a few years ago, while having lunch with a cousin at a Shoney's. He said,
"I make it a point not to eat filters." His point was well taken considering today's massive containment feedlots and liver's function as a filter, so I no longer eat commercial liver.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Fighting Depression with Better Nutrition 1

My friend and neighbor who lost her 19-year old son to a fatal accident in early November is having a rough time with depression. For many years she has worked in the drug and alcohol addiction treatment field, and is naturally adamant about not taking drugs for depression.

For the next few days I am going to try and write about some foods that help fight depression and simultaneously increase overall health.

Today it’s essential fatty acids.

The human body can produce all but 2 of the many fatty acids needed for health. These 2 are linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), called essential fatty acids both because we need them, and because we cannot make them. They must be supplied by food, or by supplements.

Essential fatty acids are important in several body systems including the immune system. They are needed to produce the hormones that regulate blood pressure, blood lipid levels (think cholesterol), cell growth, immune response and injury infection response. Essential fatty acids are necessary in brain functions, and changes in the balance of these essential fatty acids in the brain can affect our dispositions, sometimes severely.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are 2 important types of essential fatty acids we need. They are polyunsaturated fatty acids that differ from each other in their chemical structure and function in our bodies. They must be in balance for optimum function. Unfortunately, the typical American diet no longer provides these essential fatty acids in roughly equal amounts.

Omega-6 essential fatty acids are found in plant oils derived from seeds and nuts. Refined oils such as soy oils, are found in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, sweets and fast foods in our diet. Soybean oil alone is now thought to account for more than 20% of our daily caloric intake.

The longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA) are found in some fish oils, and walnuts. Cold water fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon and cod are significant sources of omega-3 (unfortunately also a source of mercury from our toxic oceans).

The imbalance of these essential fatty acids is believed to contribute to the rise of diseases like asthma, coronary artery disease, many forms of cancer and neurodegenerative disease, all believed to stem from inflammation in the body. (Omega-6 increases inflammation.) This imbalance of fatty acids is also thought to contribute to obesity, depression, hyperactivity and even violence.

Joseph Hibbein, MD and psychiatrist at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and perhaps the world's leading authority on the relationship between fat consumption and mental health, recently cited a study showing that prison violence dropped 37% after omega-3’s and vitamins were added to the prisoners’ diets.

Omega-3’s have been have been studied in mental health clinical trials for years, and consistently shown to make significant improvements in many areas. They have proven to fight depression, positively affect even more severe mental illnesses like bi-polar disorder, and improve the behavior of children with ADHD.

“You can cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and fast foods, and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed, for example). At home, use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and in salad dressings. Eat more oily fish or take fish oil supplements, walnuts, flax seeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs. Your body and mind will thank you.”
~Dr. Andrew Weil

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Nuttin' to write about...

Reality is in slow motion following the holidays, and nothing going on around here worth noting.

I had planned to write about the dangers of BPA in canned tomatoes, and tout the Muir Glen canned tomatoes I love. They come in a can that has a white coating inside to keep acidic tomatoes from reacting with the can, but it turns out their coating contains FDA-approved BPA as a food preservative. (I buy them only because they are organic, and use them when necessary to supplement bad tomato years like this past season when I couldn't grow enough tomatoes to can in glass jars at home.) Sigh.

I have a critter visiting the front porch late at night. I have seen the back end of it just once when I went outside late for more firewood. It waddles slowly, but it's not an opossum... too wide and too fluffy, plus dark fur. Since it's been so cold, I've been sticking my pint of half and half for my morning coffee just outside the door rather than trekking all the way down to the kitchen. Last night the critter took it, container and all! Drats.