Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Growing squash in bales

Several years ago I planted vegetables in straw bales as an experiment, and had pretty decent results, and again the next year with potatoes planted in the remains of the bales. What I did NOT like was how much seed was still in the bales and sprouted. I fought them for 2-3 years.

Two years ago I cleared a large area, laid down cardboard, covered it with 6" of alfalfa from some bales I purchased locally, and covered it all with 6" of wood chips. I had 2 bales of alfalfa left over and just stuck them in the barn.

This year I took those 2 aged bales out of the barn and planted winter squash in them. I'm totally astonished at the growth. In the photos, it's hard to see there are actually 2 plants but one is an acorn squash and the other is spaghetti squash.

The acorn squash isn't doing well, but there must be a dozen or so spaghetti squash growing on the other plant!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Winter Fare

As low as my energy level is since my heart attack, I'm still managing to put up some foods for winter fare. Many are not from my own garden since I didn't get much planted this year due to health problems plus our crummy weather.

I'm really concerned that this winter may be a bear, and with so much of the country having either flooding or drought, I expect food prices to rise.

I bought a bunch of tomatoes, plus got quite a few from a neighbor and I oven-roasted them in batches with lots of chopped Vidalia onions and garlic. After going through the food mill, I have quite a few pint jars now canned for winter use. (My own few heirloom tomatoes got late blight, I think I only got 3 good enough to slice.)

Corn is not a favorite because it gets so starchy so quickly, but I have quick-boiled a baker's dozen and just need to cut the kernels off the cob and can them.

The few summer squash my sister's yard man didn't cut down have yielded a bounty of fresh squash, mostly now grated and frozen for later use. I found a recipe for Zucchini Faux Crab Cakes last year, and loved them.  My zucchini hasn't done well (other than the gigantic one that grew while I was in the hospital) but now has more blooms. 

I'm thinking to make the faux crab cake recipe with yellow summer squash since the squash is basically a filler, and if I get any more zukes, they will definitely be used in that recipe. They are easy to make, cook, and freeze for re-heating later as part of a quick meal.

Two other plants the yard man didn't cut down look to be maybe a spaghetti squash (and loaded with small fruits) and one acorn squash plant that only has a fruit or two that I can see among the humongous leaves. Both are planted in a 2 year-old alfalfa bale and growing like gangbusters! Good thing I like winter squash, and they keep well in the root cellar. 

He also cut down all my pole bean plants. sigh.

I have picked a few of my thornless blackberries, maybe close to a gallon, but it's become such an overgrown jungle that most went to waste. I'll make some spicy blackberry savory which is great with white meats (kinda like using cranberry sauce), and perhaps some blackberry syrup if I have enough berries.

My filbert bush looks like it will be the first year for a really good crop. It's now about 5 years in the ground here. The first year it bore nuts, I think I got about 12-15 nuts. Last year, probably 4-5X that amount.

I planted shallots, garlic and cippolini onions in one bed but it became so overgrown with weeds that I don't think there's a chance anything survived. I wanted SO much to make some cippolini onions in balsamic vinegar! They are $8.95-$9.95 a pound on most olive bars and I love their taste.

I may have already posted this, so forgive any lapses in my memory (which is not so good lately)... I have an upcoming trip planned with a gardening friend to go to the Outer Banks for several days in early October to get seafood. Living inland as I do, seafood is always the pits... frozen, stored, shipped, thawed, maybe re-frozen, but certainly NOT fresh... and most shrimp here are just tasteless farm-raised 'shrimp'.

Please put out good vibes that we can make our trip without the threat of a coastal hurricane! I haven't looked forward to such a trip in years so I'm kinda like a young kid anticipating Santa Claus and Christmas.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Agave Nectar

Recently, a friend gave me a bottle of agave nectar, saying how much she loved it. I haven't opened it, but did do some research out of curiosity. Turns out it has more fructose than HFCS.

Since I'm still recuperating and not up to doing much yet, here's the whole reprint:

Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?

The short answer to that reader’s question is simple: agave nectar is not a “natural sweetener.” Plus, it has more concentrated fructose in it than high fructose corn syrup. Now, let’s get into the details.

Agave Nectar Is Not A Natural Sweetener

Once upon a time, I picked up a jar of “Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar” at my grocery store. It was the first time I’d ever seen the stuff in real life, and the label looked promising. After all, words like “organic,” “raw,” and “all natural” should mean something. Sadly, agave nectar is neither truly raw, nor is it all natural.

Based on the labeling, I could picture native peoples creating their own agave nectar from the wild agave plants. Surely, this was a traditional food, eaten for thousands of years. Sadly, it is not.

Native Mexican peoples do make a sort of sweetener out of the agave plant. It’s called miel de agave, and it’s made by boiling the agave sap for a couple of hours. Think of it as the Mexican version of authentic Canadian maple syrup.

But this is not what most so-called “agave nectar” is. According to one popular agave nectar manufacturer, “Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been developed in the 1990s.” In a recent article now posted on the Weston A. Price foundation’s website, Ramiel Nagel and Sally Fallon Morell write,

    Agave “nectar” is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from the starch of the giant pineapple-like, root bulb. The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules.Technically a highly indigestible fiber, inulin, which does not taste sweet, comprises about half of the carbohydrate content of agave.

    The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into “nectar” is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into HFCS. The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites.

Compare that to the typical fructose content of high fructose corn syrup (55%)!

In a different article, Rami Nagel quotes Russ Bianchi, managing director and CEO of Adept Solutions, Inc., a globally recognized food and beverage development company, on the similarities between agave nectar and high fructose corn syrup:

    They are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes. They are also using caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches into highly refined fructose inulin that is even higher in fructose content than high fructose corn syrup.

So there you have it. Agave nectar is not traditional, is highly refined, and actually has more concentrated fructose than high-fructose corn syrup. It is not a “natural” sweetener. Thus far, the evidence definitely points toward the conclusion: Agave Nectar = Bad.

“But,” you ardent agave nectar enthusiasts say, “agave nectar has a low glycemic index. I’m a diabetic, and it’s the only sweetener I can use!”

What’s wrong with fructose?

First, we need to clarify something. Concentrated fructose is not found in fruit, or anywhere else in nature. When the sugar occurs in nature, it is often called “levulose” and is accompanied by naturally-occurring enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin.  Concentrated fructose, on the other hand, is a man-made sugar created by the refining process. To clarify:

    Saying fructose is levulose is like saying that margarine is the same as butter. Refined fructose lacks amino acids, vitamins, minerals, pectin, and fiber. As a result, the body doesn’t recognize refined fructose. Levulose, on the other hand, is [fructose] naturally occurring in fruits, and is not isolated but bound to other naturally occurring sugars. Unlike man-made fructose, levulose contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fruit pectin. Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, rather than digested in the intestine. Levulose is digested in the intestine. (source http://www.naturalnews.com/024892_fructose_food_health.html )

I want you to pay special attention to those last two sentences, for they are a huge key that will help unlock the mystery of why fructose is bad for you.

Because fructose is digested in your liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn’t get converted to blood glucose like other sugars, it doesn’t raise or crash your blood sugar levels. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics.

But it isn’t.

That’s because fructose inhibits leptin levels — the hormone your body uses to tell you that you’re full. In other words, fructose makes you want to eat more. Besides contributing to weight gain, it also makes you gain the most dangerous kind of fat.

This has been verified in numerous studies. The most definitive one was released just this past year in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The full study is available online, but for the sake of space I’m including Stephan’s (of Whole Health Source fame) summary here:

    The investigators divided 32 overweight men and women into two groups, and instructed each group to drink a sweetened beverage three times per day. They were told not to eat any other sugar. The drinks were designed to provide 25% of the participants’ caloric intake. That might sound like a lot, but the average American actually gets about 25% of her calories from sugar! That’s the average, so there are people who get a third or more of their calories from sugar. In one group, the drinks were sweetened with glucose, while in the other group they were sweetened with fructose.

    After ten weeks, both groups had gained about three pounds. But they didn’t gain it in the same place. The fructose group gained a disproportionate amount of visceral fat, which increased by 14%! Visceral fat is the most dangerous type; it’s associated with and contributes to chronic disease, particularly metabolic syndrome, the quintessential modern metabolic disorder (see the end of the post for more information and references). You can bet their livers were fattening up too.

    The good news doesn’t end there. The fructose group saw a worsening of blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity. They also saw an increase in small, dense LDL particles and oxidized LDL, both factors that associate strongly with the risk of heart attack and may in fact contribute to it. Liver synthesis of fat after meals increased by 75%. If you look at table 4, it’s clear that the fructose group experienced a major metabolic shift, and the glucose group didn’t. Practically every parameter they measured in the fructose group changed significantly over the course of the 9 weeks. It’s incredible.

Back to our original question — Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?

The conclusion is clear. Agave nectar is bad for you. It’s not traditional, not natural, highly refined, and contains more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

What natural sweeteners do I recommend?

If you’re interested in what other traditional sweeteners are out there that are actually natural, check out My Natural Sweeteners of Choice http://www.foodrenegade.com/my-natural-sweeteners-of-choice/ .

Or, simply skip straight to what I buy and use:

organic, raw honey
coconut palm sugar
maple syrup
sorghum syrup
maple sugar

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Muscle pains and Magnesium

I barely took notice that during my 3 hospital stays so far this year they included an IV drip of magnesium each time, but when I mentioned it to my PCP in June, she included magnesium testing in my blood work. Of course my levels were low, and she suggested magnesium oxide, available OTC and very cheap.

Frankly, it did nothing (only 4% of magnesium oxide is bio-available) and then I read up on magnesium and I'm now taking a slow release magnesium chloride.

What magnesium does is release the knotting or tightening in the muscles caused by an imbalance of calcium and magnesium (although we NEED the calcium for our bones).

Glad to say I haven't been awakened by any leg cramps since I started taking it, but I still have occasional back pains, esp. when I'm standing in the kitchen a long time when canning. I'm not sure I'm taking enough, but it will show up on my next blood work later this week.

My doctors say 90% or more of us are deficient in magnesium so if you are having musculature problems or cramping, I suggest asking your doctor to do a blood test for magnesium. DO NOT rely on any recommendation for magnesium oxide, but choose the more absorbable magnesium chloride instead, and/or read The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Carolyn Dean.  

Health-wise, I'm doing okay since my recent fairly mild heart attack, and I have a follow-up appointment tomorrow at the hospital in NC. I still have lots of bruises from all the heparin shots, and the place where they went into the femoral artery has lots of sore muscles around it still, although the incision has healed. I've been restricted from driving or lifting anything heavier than a half-gallon of milk, have a Home Nurse 2X a week, and PT 2X a week because I've fallen a few times for no reason.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sorry I've been AWOL. I had a heart attack 10 days ago and have been in the hospital until last night, and I'm recovering slowly but nicely. The good news is that my cholesterol is low (154 down from nearly 400 several years ago, thanks to diet), and a heart cath showed no blockages.

I'm on bed rest for 2 weeks, and no driving until then. I probably won't post much in the next 2 weeks as my energy level is rather low.

But, I'll be back!