Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cooking Platanos Maduros (Fried Ripe Plantains)

Plantains, Ripe and Soft

When plantains are this ripe, the sugars caramelize when cooked and they are very sweet. Click here for nutritional information (They are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium.) and here for cooking tutorial on green plantains.

To prepare, cut off each end of the plantain, and make a thin cut down the length. The peel will remove easily.

Slice them on the diagonal.

Heat about half an inch of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the platanos. If the oil is not hot enough, the platanos will stick to the pan.

Turn occasionally, until they begin to brown. They will be very soft until they "skin over" in the hot oil, so use tongs.

Remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels.

These make a terrific side dish to black beans and rice, and pork.

Here's serving them with my dinner... The pork is just leftover roast pork tenderloin, and the black beans are topped with chopped onion. (Sorry the photos are poor; I first posted this on the Recipe Forum at and lost my original photos when my hard drive crashed.) 

An optional traditional topping for the black beans is finely chopped hard boiled egg. The pork should have a slice of lime to squeeze on it but I'm out of lime. The lime really perks up the taste. YUM!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Will Renaming HFCS make it healthier?

We are so gullible that the makers of HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) have applied to the government to change the name of HFCS to corn sugar on food labels. Changing the name has helped sales of other products in the past, like low euric acid rapeseed oil (now canola oil) and more recently, prunes (now dried plums). The FDA could take up to 2 years to approve the new name but that isn't stopping manufacturers from using the name now in advertising.

I'm not a chemist, nor an expert on what the human body knows, so I can't say for sure that "the body doesn't know the difference". BUT... I read a Rueters report about a US study which shows cancer cells know! They proliferate (multiply) on HFCS. ("Tumor cells thrive on sugar but they used the [refined] fructose to proliferate.")

I can say that when I pound a chunk of sugar cane and get a syrup, the water will evaporate and the sugar turns into sugar crystals all by itself. (I did it myself, as a kid in school!) It's nature at work. I can also say that most of the corn now grown is GMO... and highly subsidized by the government, making it much more profitable and 60% cheaper than cane sugar.

I read a Wiki article on producing high fructose corn syrup which states, "High-fructose corn syrup is produced by milling corn to produce corn starch, then processing that starch to yield corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose, and then adding enzymes that change most of the glucose into fructose."

Americans are increasingly avoiding HFCS, and even First Lady Michele Obama has said she doesn't want her daughters eating it. Some manufacturers are starting to get the message. Sara Lee switched to sugar in 2 of it's breads, and Gatorade, Snapple and Hunt's Ketchup have very publicly switched to sugar in the past 2 years.

The debate will continue, I'm sure, as HFCS advertising dollars go to work. However, the bottom line is too much sugar of any kind not only adds pounds, but is also a key culprit (according to the American Heart Association) in diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

As for me, I have given up all added sugars, and only eating the natural sugars occurring in my fruits and vegetables.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cooking Platanos Verde (Fried Green Plantains)


In many parts of the country, people see these in the produce section and haven't a clue what to do with them. They are plantains, in the Musa genus, and generally used for cooking, unlike the common banana (sometimes called a dessert banana) we see in our stores. 

Plantains are a staple in the tropical regions of the world, treated in much the same way as potatoes and with a similar neutral flavor and texture when the unripe fruit is cooked by steaming, boiling or frying. Plantains tend to be firmer and lower in sugar content than dessert bananas. Bananas are most often eaten raw, while plantains usually require cooking or other processing, and are used either when green or under-ripe (and therefore starchy) or overripe (and therefore sweet).

Only the one on the right in the photo above is for this recipe. Actually it's about a day or two too ripe; a bit greener is better. The greener the plantain, the better for this dish. As they start to yellow (and eventually brown) they get sweeter. I love them, and can have them occasionally on my food protocol because they are lower in sugars than regular bananas, and high in nutrients. (They are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium.)

Trim off ends of plantain. Make a shallow slit down the length and peel. Cut into 1 inch pieces, and place in a bowl of salted water for a few minutes.

Remove from salted water and drain while heating about 1/2” of oil in a skillet on medium heat until a drop of water thrown on it pops. Add the cut plantains, standing on a cut end not sideways.

After a minute or so and the bottoms are golden, turn plantains over.

When the second side has reached a golden color, remove and drain on a paper towel. Take a jar, wine bottle, coke bottle or anything with a flat bottom and carefully smash the plantains.

Return to hot oil (now on high heat) and brown on each side. If oil is not hot enough, plantains will absorb oil and be greasy.

Remove from pan onto paper towels to drain and immediately add salt.

May be kept warm in a 200ºF oven until ready to serve. YUM!

These will be starchy like a fried potato. If the plantain has started to yellow, they will have a hint of sweetness. When fully ripe with blackened outside skin (and when you might think they are spoiled), cooked plantains will taste like candy (Platanos Maduros, tutorial coming soon)

Plantains are a good source of Vitamins A, B6, C and Potassium. The ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is excellent, 1.75:1. Unfortunately the packaged fried plantain chops have a ratio of 101: 1, which is terrible and I assume is from the hydrogenated oil used for frying.

Tip: Place plantains in a brown paper bag in a cupboard to ripen evenly.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Real Milk and Local Dairies

Since Colorado passed legislation that allows their citizens the right to seek out and enjoy the healthy benefits of real milk, they have gone from 1 to 50 raw milk dairies in just a couple of years. These dairies can't keep up with the demand!

When you consider the idea that in Wyoming it is (technically, by their legal definition) illegal to consume food made in your own kitchen, maybe it doesn't seem so far out to grasp the fact that it is currently illegal to buy fresh, whole milk from your neighbor, or even drive to purchase it in one of the surrounding states and serve it to your family? 

Maybe it doesn't seem so crazy that someone who owns a cow or a pig can butcher it themselves, or take it to the local custom meat processor and have it cut up for their own use... this is considered perfectly safe by the USDA, but the minute you might sell a pound of hamburger to anyone else, that same meat becomes absolutely illegal and unsafe?  What?  If the meat is safe for the person who owns the animal, why is it not safe for someone else?  If all home butchered or custom meat is unsafe, why don't laws prohibit us from eating animals we own?

The point is that these laws and regulations have absolutely nothing to do with food safety, and everything to do with protecting big business from competition from local producers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MacEverything... including Drugs?

We commonly now add "Mc" or "Mac" to a lot of words to create a quick visual impression. McMansions come immediately to mind!

I recently read a post about MacStatins where the author of the post (Stephen Guyenet) quoted a PubMed study: "Routine accessibility of statins in establishments providing unhealthy food might be a rational modern means to offset the cardiovascular risk. Fast food outlets already offer free condiments to supplement meals. A free statin-containing accompaniment would offer cardiovascular benefits, opposite to the effects of equally available salt, sugar, and high-fat condiments. Although no substitute for systematic lifestyle improvements, including healthy diet, regular exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation, complimentary statin packets would add, at little cost, 1 positive choice to a panoply of negative ones." Mr. Guyenet and I both hope this statement was not a serious suggestion for fast food joints!

However, since there are now low-dosage statin drugs available over the counter, how far fetched is it in reality?

As Mr. Guyenet said, it would be far cheaper for industrial foods to add statins to foods (or make them available along with the condiments) than to educate the populace on how to eat well. A variety of studies show cultures that don't eat industrial foods are almost free of heart attacks.

Here's Stephan's alternative proposal: "Rather than giving people statins along with their Big Mac, why don't we change the incentive structure that artificially favors the Big Mac, french fries and soft drink? If it weren't for corn, soybean and wheat subsidies, fast food wouldn't be so cheap. Neither would any other processed food. Fresh, whole food would be price competitive with industrial food, particularly if we applied the grain subsidies to more wholesome foods. Grass-fed beef and dairy would cost the same as grain-fed."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Where My Readers Come From

Visitor Locations, Sept. 21, 2010

I have an invisible counter that tells me how many visitors, and what search engine/query (if they used one). It also shows me a map of visitor locations. Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Camelina, A 'New' Healthy Old Food Oil

I came across this oil in a newsletter from, and of course had to research it a bit. The oil is pressed from Camelina Sativa seeds and has been around for about 3,000 years as an oil crop for edible oils, also used as lamp oil by the Romans, and feedstocks. Camelina sativa, commonly known in English as camelina, gold-of-pleasure, or false flax, also occasionally wild flax, linseed dodder, German sesame, and Siberian oilseed, is a flowering plant in the Brassicaceae family which includes mustard, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts. It is native to Northern Europe and to Central Asian areas, but has recently been introduced to North America, possibly as a weed in flax.

The crop is now being researched due to its exceptionally high levels (up to 45%) of omega-3 fatty acids, which is uncommon in vegetable sources. Over 50% of the fatty acids in cold pressed Camelina oil are polyunsaturated. The major components are alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3-fatty acid, approx 35-45%) and linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid, approx 15-20%) so there is a decent ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. The oil is also very rich in natural antioxidants, such as tocopherols, making this highly stable oil very resistant to oxidation and rancidity. It is more shelf-stable than flaxseed oil (and comparable in Omega-3) and the organic, cold-pressed oils are about the same price for each one.

The vitamin E content of camelina oil is approximately 110 mg/100g. It is well suited for use as a cooking oil but because of the expense, better used as a salad oil. It has a delicious nutty flavor like almonds, and a delightful floral aroma. (It may become more commonly known and become an important food oil for the future as more is grown and the price decreases.) The oil is also sought-after as a beauty treatment, and is even being examined as a source of biofuel.

Camelina should be a grower's delight! It needs little water or nitrogen to flourish, it can be grown on marginal agricultural lands, and does not compete with food crops. It can be used as a rotation crop for wheat to increase the health of the soil and some growers plant it mixed with other grain crops, requiring only mechanical separation of seed at harvest.

Sources for purchase:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Biochar Field Day

I have been using, and writing, about biochar for several years, and I think I am starting to see some improvements in my own garden. Recently I had the opportunity to attend the "Biochar Field Day" workshop in the next county south of me, and want to report what I found interesting.

Biochar has been around for 2500 years or more, but largely unnoticed until recently. Terra Preta de Indio (or Indian Black Earth) is a Pre-Columbian dark earth mass re-discovered in the Brazilian Amazon region and several other countries in South America a few years ago. The soil is incredibly fertile, and contains charcoal (biochar) that has been there almost forever. Even though Biochar has received a lot of interest in the last few years, there have been very few documented studies that I've seen. 

I was suitably impressed with this event, not just by their demonstrated results after 2 years of trials (which I expected), but by the the overall project. 

The Virginia Tech Biochar Trials, headed by Dr. Rory Maguire, has developed a working prototype pyrolysis unit that can convert 4,000 pounds of waste poultry litter a day into some useable products. 40% is captured as high-value pyloric oil suitable for many purposes, perhaps like a heating oil; 40% is converted to a powdery biochar useful to help increase soil fertility, and the remaining 20% is mostly bio-gas, used as part of the fuel for the machine.

The speakers included Dr. Maguire and a couple of his grad students, Dr. Julie Major of the International Biochar Initiative who came down from Montreal (Canada), and Dr. Allen Straw, our very knowledgeable area rep from the Virginia Extension Service. Half he trials were done on the farm of Anthony Flaccavento (Abingdon Organics) where the workshop was held, and the other trial on another field several miles away belonging to Dr. Richard Moyer, who is my favorite egg man at the Abingdon Farmers' Market.

I am really pleased to see someone is making something useful from commercial chicken house litter, rather than just a stinky dump pile. Since I know I personally wouldn't use chicken manure from a commercial operation on my garden, I asked about contaminates from the litter. Dr. Maguire said the temperatures of the pyrolysis unit are so high that it kills any organisms that are in the waste. I didn't ask about other contaminants like heavy metals that might be in the feed.

I crush the biochar I make to about pea-size to use in my garden; it is far less messy than the bucket of powdered biochar demonstrated at the workshop. When they transferred the biochar from one bucket to another, a large cloud of dense black particulates hovered, and a good bit was carried away with the wind. Applying that fine powder on a field would mean tilling it in immediately, and even then there would be considerable loss from the mechanical action and air movement.

Something else I do with my biochar that they did not, is to inoculate it. I started using some fresh urine, which has a urea content of about 3-4%, as an inoculate. (Commercial urea is about 40% and will burn plants.) It helps feed the soil microbes. Next year I plan to inoculate my biochar with some EM™ (living microbes) and probably some fish emulsion.

Some of the group were totally unfamiliar with biochar, and I described adding plain crushed biochar to my garden as 'salting the soil with condos for the microbes'... and when I add inoculated biochar, I'm adding 'condos fully furnished, and with food on the table'.

One lovely couple in attendance are hosting a 5-weekend Permaculture Certification Course next Spring (as part of their "Help Build Community Resilience" efforts) and have asked if I'd do a workshop on building an inexpensive backyard burner for making biochar. Of course I'm delighted!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Chocolate Fix

Yes, I eat chocolate... and have all through this change in my diet protocol and weight loss.

Recently, experts  gave a thumbs-up to a little chocolate every day -- as long as you stick to a square or two of the dark kind, with 75% or more cacao. Their recommendations are to limit the daily amount in order to minimize sugar and fat intake, and maximize the potential health benefits.

Because dark chocolate and cocoa contain antioxidants (flavonoids), studies have shown they may help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke, and provide other cardiovascular benefits.

My chocolate bars pictured above vary in their number of squares, and their fat content but not sugar content per square. Each bar's nutrition facts indicate 4 squares (1 Serving) contain 5 grams of sugar. Those same 4 squares in the Lindt bar contain 210 calories, and 28% MDR of Fats; the Ghirardelli bar's 4 squares contains 250 calories and 38% MDR Fats. (The Lindt bar contains 10 squares and the Ghirardelli bar has only 8, so the bars are not really quite equal. Both cost and weigh close to the same.)

I am delighted to still have a decadent treat that doesn't make me feel guilty about eating it. Frankly, the fat content is of no worry to me, but I do limit my 'treats' to a single square or sometimes 2, because of the sugar content. A single square of the chocolate bars has well under 2 grams of sugar. The Ghirardelli has a slightly sweeter taste, feels creamier in my mouth, and costs a bit more even though it weighs less, but it also slightly affects my digestion. I generally buy the Lindt and I don't feel quite so decadent!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Damson Plums

Local Damson Plums from Crozet, Virginia

I am out of town, house-sitting for a week, and visited the local farmer's market Saturday. One man had Damson plums, and I bought 2 gallons. They look like wild Damson's (size and shape) but taste sweeter, like the tame ones. (I didn't think to ask him while I was there. Duh!)

I found some really interesting Damson chutney recipes online and I LOVE chutneys! I'll have to decide if I want to make Damson and Ginger, Spiced Damson, or a more traditional plum chutney with a bit of orange Juice & peel plus lemon juice & peel. I may be able to make two runs if I have enough plums after I get home and weigh out enough for a gallon of Damson Plum wine!

I will post photos and recipes when I make whatever I decide. For now, they will go in the freezer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Open-Face Broiled Tomato & Havarti Sandwiches

Here's my Last Hurrah to summer tomatoes, a tasty new take on the old grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. The tomato is a German Johnson Pink heirloom, a very tasty slicer. This one weighed 2 pounds!

Sliced hearty bread, 1-2 slices per person
Dijonnaise (mayonnaise mixed with Dijon mustard)
Havarti cheese, sliced thick
Beefsteak tomatoes, sliced
Dill, fresh if possible

Preheat boiler. Spread bread slices with Dijonnaise (I used mayo and Country Dijon); top with sliced tomatoes. Add thick-sliced Havarti and sprinkle with dill. Place under the broiler and toast until cheese melts and the tomatoes are warm. Serve immediately. YUM!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nutrition: Winter Squash vs Potatoes

Potatoes and winter squash are both starchy carbs, but there's a BIG difference in them nutritionally. Potatoes have been off my diet for several months, mainly because of the glycemic load, but I wanted to see how winter squash measure since I grew so many (and love them).

For the same weight of a baked white potato (nekkid) and a baked winter squash (also nekkid) the differences are significant where the glycemic index (affects blood sugar levels) and the IF (inflamation factor) is concerned.

Baked potato, 200g serving (that's between a medium potato and a large one)
Total carbs 42g
Calories 185
Protein 5g
Omega-3: 30mg
Omega-6: 86 mg
Est. glycemic load: 19.3 (Typical target is 100/day or less)
Inflammation factor: -119.3 (moderately inflammatory; Typical target is 50/day or higher)

Winter squash, butternut, 205g serving (1 cup)
Total carbs 21.5g
Calories 82
Protein 1.8g
Omega-3: 49.2mg
Omega-6: 28.7 mg
Est. glycemic load: 8 (Typical target is 100/day or less)
Inflammation factor: 165 (moderately anti-inflammatory; Typical target is 50/day or higher)

So, the same amount of winter squash gives me less than half the calories and half the carbs, a much better ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 essential fatty acids, a much lower glycemic load, and a significantly better anti-inflammation factor.

How to interpret the values: Foods with positive IF Ratings are considered anti-inflammatory, and those with negative IF Ratings are considered inflammatory. The higher the number, the stronger the effect. The goal is to balance negative foods with positive foods so that the combined rating for all foods eaten in a single day is positive. Experts vary on their recommendations for what your total glycemic load should be each day. A typical target for total Estimated Glycemic Load is 100 or less per day. If you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome, you might want to aim a little lower. If you are not overweight and are physically active, a little higher is acceptable.

To be fair, I also looked at the vitamin content. On the potato, only 2/3 of the amounts listed are needed to compare apples to apples (the potato values are for 299g of potato, whereas the butternut squash is for 205g).
Vitamins in 299g baked potato
Vitamins in 205g baked butternut squash

After adjusting the values of a baked potato by 2/3 for the weight difference, winter squash are higher in all vitamins except the B vitamins, and they are reasonably close even in B vitamins except B6, which I get plenty from garlic, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, kale, mustard and collard greens, chard and Brussels sprouts.

I will NOT be growing white potatoes in my garden again. Winter squash are so much better for me, and so easy to grow!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I LOVE Winter Squash!

Of all the things I grow in my garden, I think I love winter squash the best. It is one crop that I get to eat for several months exactly as it comes from the garden, simply because it stores well. All the other vegetables from the garden must have some kind of processing in order to eat them later...  freezing, canning, dehydrating, fermenting or pickling, all of which require various amounts of my time, labor and often some expensive energy consumption.

With winter squash, all I have do is pick them, cure/harden them on the shady porch with good air circulation for about 3 weeks, and store in the root cellar. Easy-peasy.

Even growing them is easy: stick the plants in the ground in June, and start looking for squash in August. I do water occasionally if it's a very dry season, but other than that, I do absolutely nothing after planting except to hunt for squash under the umbrella leaves later in the summer. Usually I can harvest them from mid-August right up until just before the first frost.

Generally, I grow C. maxima and/or C. moschato, and have not had a problem with squash borers the way summer squash (C. pepo) do. This year I grew some acorn squash, C. pepo, and had some squash borer problems with them... but I did get a few fruit anyway. (Their stem is hollow, allowing the borer to lay eggs in the stem, killing the plant.)

Squashes can belong to 4 branches of the Cucurbitaceae family:
C. maxima (Hubbard, Banana, Buttercup, Turban or Turk’s Cap)
C. pepo (summer squashes like zucchini and yellow crookneck, plus Pumpkin, Spaghetti and Acorn)
C. mixta (Green stripe, cushaw)
C. moschato (Butternut)
Within a branch they cross-pollinate freely, plus Pepo crosses with Mixta and Moschato, and Moshatao crosses with Maxima.

Every year it's a quandary for me as to which winter squash to grow... there are so many and I always want to try them all! I like the vining types best, maybe because I love to see the vines march across the yard, escaping the prepared bed area. I prefer to grow heirloom and open-pollinated squash and I'm always looking for new-to-me heirloom squash to try. It helps promote genetic diversity, and allows me to save seed as well.

Generally, winter squash fall into the following types (and with several varieties within each type): Acorn, Butternut, Buttercup, Hubbard, Turk's Cap or Turban, Vegetable Spaghetti, Sweet Potato Squash, and Pumpkins (which includes a couple of hull-less seed varieties).

Here are a few I have grown with notes on them, although some of the photos are not mine. 


Half a cushaw, plenty of seeds to save or roast

Canned Cushaw

Cushaw was one of the first large winter squash I grew, and I no longer grow it merely because it is HUGE (10-12 pounds)! There is no way I can eat more than one cushaw, so if I want one, I get it at the farmer's market. Although the flesh was fine-grained and not stringy, I thought it was a tad watery.

I did pressure-can some cushaw in chunks for pumpkin pies; the majority of the canned "pumpkin" in grocery stores is a mix of winter squash and mostly cushaw, but seldom pumpkin because pumpkins are so stringy. It is not advisable to can pumpkin/squash as a purée ready for pies due to the density; heat may not penetrate into the interior of the jars enough to guarantee safe processing.


Tromboncino squash are edible but mostly a novelty. The ones I grew (by accident) came in a seed trade that were supposed to be something else. They can grow 3-feet long, and turn tan when cured. The seeds are only in the bulbous end. I gave one to a friend, who peeled and sliced a portion of the neck... breaded them and fried. He said they tasted like fried green tomatoes! Fine-grained, rather bland.

Hubbard Squash, photo courtesy of Hellsgeriatric 's photostream

The Hubbard squash has been around in the US since the 1700's, mainly in New England. I haven't grown the Hubbard above (which looks like a Red Kuri), or even the Blue Hubbard below simply because they are too large for one person; most Hubbards range from 12-15 pounds. There is a Baby Blue Hubbard that is to 5-7 pounds that I have grown. All Hubbards are very tasty, fine-grained flesh. Store well.

Blue Hubbard Squash photo courtesy of Linda N's photostream
Banana Squash, Photo courtesy of Jcarbaugh's photostream

I have not grown the Banana squash, popular in American pioneer gardens during the 19th century. Long, prolific vines produce squash 2-3’ long and weigh 10-40 pounds. Banana-shaped fruits turn pinkish-orange when mature, with firm, sweet, yellow-orange flesh. Excellent for pies, baking, and canning. 100-120 days.

Kakai squash photo courtesy WxMom's photostream

The Kakai squash sold by Johnny's is said to be hull-less so the seeds don't have to be hulled to roast. Seed Savers Exchange lists it as Lady Godiva: "This variety is specifically grown for its naked, hulless, greenish seeds. Very unique. Seeds are nutritious and rich in protein, great roasted or raw. Flesh is not suitable for eating, but they do make nice Jack-O'-Lanterns. Up to 3 ounces of seeds per fruit and 12-15 fruits per plant. 90-100 days."

I don't know this squash either (or where I got the photo long ago), but I'm going to order seeds this year. The size is right for me, and the description of a chestnut-like taste in intriguing! Seed Savers Exchange says: "Famous winter squash from France. Name derived from potiron (pumpkin) and marron (chestnut). Very aromatic and chestnut-like in taste. One of the very best for baking and roasting. Nice-sized 3-4 pound fruits store well. 85-95 days."

Another winter squash I plan to grow next year is the Red Kuri, also known as Baby Red Hubbard and orange Hokkaido. (Follow link for photo.) It's a teardrop shaped red-orange squash from Japan, grows well even in a short season, weighs in at 3-4 pounds and stores well.

Butternut photo courtesy of Kaustav Bhattacharva's photostream

My favorite winter squash, at least so far, is the Waltham Butternut. "Prized for its uniform shape, rich dry yellow-orange flesh, nutty flavor and high-yielding vines. Fruits are 3-6 pounds and exceptional keepers. The result of years of patient refinement and selection by Bob Young of Waltham, Massachusetts. One of the most recognized types of baking squash. AAS winner in 1970. 83-100 days." I grow this squash every year, and have photos of my winter squash in a post yesterday titled "Garden Bounty".

Below is a favorite recipe for butternut squash, although I generally just bake them with a bit of butter like the photo above when there's just me and little time to cook.

Butternut Squash Chowder
Serves 6

1/2 pound smoked bacon, diced small (I have used less if the bacon is really smoky)
1/2 cup onion, diced small
2 tablespoons garlic peeled and minced
1/2 cup celery, diced small
1 cup carrots, peeled and diced medium
1/2 cup flour
1 bay leaf
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced medium
1 cup sweet potatoes peeled and diced medium
3 cups chicken stock (I use home-canned chicken stock)
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced small
1-2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauce pot with 1 tablespoon of oil, render the bacon on low heat until crispy.

Add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and bay leaf; sweat for 5-10 minutes. Do not brown vegetables.

Season with salt and pepper. Add flour to make the roux, and cook for 2 minutes.

Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and add squash, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers and thyme. Simmer for 20 minutes or until squash and sweet potatoes are tender. Use a stick blender and mash about half the vegetables for a creamier soup, optional.

Add heavy cream and simmer for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Variations: You could add corn, shellfish, tomatoes or any other vegetable you like. (I wouldn’t… it’s fabulous as it is!) 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why Do We Need Enzymes?

I have written several posts mentioning enzymes in foods, particularly fermented foods. Somehow though, I don't think I have talked about why we need enzymes, and what they actually do.

First off, there are 3 basic classes of enzymes: metabolic enzymes, digestive enzymes and food enzymes. They are basically complex proteins that catalyze almost of our body's biochemical processes, and thousands of them have been identified. No mineral, vitamin or hormone can do any work without enzymes.

The metabolic enzymes affect body functions like breathing, moving, thinking, and affect the immune system.

The digestive enzymes are generally manufactured in the pancreas, and break down the partially digested foods leaving the stomach going into the small intestine.

Food enzymes are contained in raw foods, and initiate our digestive system's actions beginning immediately upon contact with saliva in our mouths and continuing through the stomach. Here's the thing to know and remember: enzymes are deactivated by heat in cooking. (All enzymes are deactivated at a wet-heat temperature of 118F, and a dry-heat temperature of about 150ºF. ~ Nourishing Traditions.)

No, I am not going to promote a raw food diet... so don't even go there! It is true most of us don't get enough raw foods in our diets; even milk is no longer available as a raw food but only heat-pasteurized in most states, . So-called "fresh" fruit juices available for purchase in the cold dairy section of a store, or even canned juice concentrates, have all been heat-pasteurized, destroying enzymes.

However, if all we ever eat is cooked foods, it puts a considerable strain on the pancreas (and other digestive organs) to make the enzymes that should have been in our raw foods.

Most of us get some raw foods and thus some food enzymes... we eat a few salads, some fresh fruit, maybe an occasional bit of fresh raw (untoasted) nuts, and raw seeds like sunflower seeds; some of us still eat medium-rare steaks or steak tartare. That is, assuming we trust the safety of the meat. Remember when you could order a rare/medium-rare hamburger? That was before the gubbmint decided safety of meat had to be insured by the restaurant folks cooking it, and not 'just' the responsibility of the folks raising, processing and packaging it. The Consumer has no choice of 'rare' anymore unless we buy grass-fed... or take a big health risk by cooking CAFO meats rare or medium-rare at home.

However, there are many other foods we can eat that are not really 'raw' but still contain food enzymes, thus giving the pancreas and other digestive organs a break. Fermented dairy is one category and includes foods like butter, yogurt and cheese if made from raw milk. (Even the fats in raw milk contain enzymes.) Raw milk cheeses are legal in the US if they are aged, usually 60 days or more although it may vary by state. The advantage of raw milk cheese, butter and yogurt is that the milk was never subject to heat pasteurization, which kills the enzymes along with any "potentially harmful bacteria from unsanitary conditions". Cultured butter, cultured buttermilk, and yogurts in stores are all made from pasteurized (heated) milk.

Another category is lacto-fermented vegetables. These vegetables contain all the enzymes (and nutrients) of the foods in their raw state, and in fact, increases the enzyme and nutrient content by the fermentation process. Those of us who are older may remember when our grandmothers made sauerkraut and pickles in crocks, rather than the enzyme/nutrient-killing vinegar-heat-canning processes common today. (Today's processed kraut and pickles may be safe, but they are nutritionally lacking.) However, we may not remember that many folks also fermented almost any and every vegetable, not just cucumbers and cabbage. The only fermented vegetable that requires a bit of heat processing is a quick blanching necessary for green beans, but since the beans are not fully cooked, some enzymes remain.

So even if we are not considering a raw food diet, food enzymes are necessary to digestive health which in turn provides all our health, and we should get more raw foods any way we can.

The late Dr. Edward Powell, a noted pioneer in enzyme research, said that our enzyme-poor diets result in illness, less resistance to stress, and shortened life-spans. (1)

Dr. Howell formulated the following Enzyme Nutrition Axiom: The length of life is inversely proportional to the rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential of an organism. The increased use of food enzymes promotes a decreased rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential. Another rule from Dr. Powell can be expressed as follows: Whole foods give good health; enzyme-rich foods provide limitless energy. (2)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Amazing World of Whipped Cream

Whipping cream is an almost dead gustatory art, gone the ways of Beef Wellington, puff pastry, and home-made demi-glace. Probably has to do with the availability of imposters, and a generation who have never savored real whipped cream.

Since my dietary changes a few months ago, the only dairy I can have is either real butter or cheese, and fermented products like yogurt... with one exception: I can have heavy cream in my coffee (as long as it is not ultra-pasteurized) and it is extremely difficult to find.

One of my small treats that's becoming a rite, is whipping some of that heavy cream for my coffee on Sunday mornings. I fondly remember reading in The Little Prince many years ago about the fox, and rites: "Rites are actions too often neglected. They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours."

I have always loved whipped cream. As a youngster in high school (and the oldest grandchild), I was permitted to whip the cream for our extended family's Thanksgiving pumpkin pies. My grandfather still had my grandma's old tall and somewhat narrow thick glass container, barely wider than the old hand beater we used. The jar (and the beaters) went into the freezer for several hours before whipping the cream; it is essential for success that everything be well-chilled. One small half pint of real cream when whipped would fill the jar, and be just enough for everyone to have a dollop on top of their slice of pie.

Cream with a milkfat content of 30% or more (light cream is 30%-35%; heavy cream is 36% or more) will double in volume as air bubbles are captured into the network of fat droplets by whipping. You just have to be careful not to over-whip the cream or you will have butter for your pie! It was my job to also add the correct amount of powdered sugar as I was whipping. Just enough sugar will stiffen the mixture, and help reduce the risk of over-whipping as long as you are careful. Too much and the whipped cream will weep. I use just over a measured tablespoon, and taste... it sometimes needed a bit more, depending on the sweetness straight from the cow.

Did you know whipped cream with sugar added is known as Chantilly Cream, or Crème Chantilly across the pond, and sometimes also has a bit of vanilla added? I didn't, but I may try a bit of vanilla whipped in my whipped cream since I cannot have sugar.

You can also make a chocolate whipped cream by adding a tablespoon of cocoa to the cream before whipping. That might be interesting in my Sunday coffee too!

The internet offers up ways to save left-over whipped cream, or keep cream you have whipped in advance and placed in the refrigerator from weeping. I cannot imagine either... we had the anticipation of the pie while the cream was being whipped at the table, and we never had any left over! However, if you must, you can add a half teaspoon of cornstarch to a cup of heavy cream before whipping. (Powdered sugar contains a bit of cornstarch; it may be enough.) Old cookbooks say you can keep left-over whipped cream up to 2 days by putting it in a small strainer over a bowl to catch the drippings, and cover well before placing in the refrigerator.

Whipped cream for a frosting is possible if you stabilize it with gelatin. For each cup of cream, you need 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin and 2 tablespoons cold water. Mix the gelatin and water in a small saucepan with a heavy bottom over low heat, and stir until melted. Cool, set aside, and start whipping the cream. When the cream barely starts to mound, slowly drizzle the gelatin mix into the cream with the beaters running. Beat until it is stiff enough to frost your cake or pipe through a pastry tube.

I always heard you cannot freeze whipped cream, but a couple of sites say you can as long as it is sweetened and flavored first. But why would you want to?

The imposters
Reddi-wip, from Con-Agra Foods, actually uses real cream in their ready-to-use pressurized containers (Original, Extra-Creamy, Light, Fat-Free, Non-Dairy, and Chocolate), and is propelled by nitrous oxide (and approved by the FDA), the same gas that is used as a weak anesthetic by dentists. I'm not sure how the Fat-Free and Non-Dairy versions can possibly be made from real cream, though.

Cool Whip is a brand of imitation whipped cream named a whipped topping my its manufacturer. Cool Whip Original is made of water, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skim milk, light cream, and less than 2% sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, and beta carotene (as a coloring). In some markets, such as Canada and the United States, Cool Whip is available in an aerosol can using nitrous oxide as a propellant. Cool Whip was formerly marketed as non-dairy, but in Jewish dietary traditions, Cool Whip was classified as dairy rather than parve (non-meat and non-dairy) because of the sodium caseinate (which is derived from milk). Some Cool Whip now also contains milk and cream.

According to a Wired Magazine article, Cool Whip consumers are paying 41 cents per ounce for mostly water and air: twice the cost of homemade whipped cream. “A delicious blend of sugar, wax, and condom lube.”

Friday, September 3, 2010


I just received this email from Sarah Alexander, Outreach Director, Food & Water Watch:

"I was outraged when I found out that Jack DeCoster's eggs, which are at the center of the largest egg recall in history, are ending up back in our food supply. Recalled eggs shouldn't get a second life in the food system as liquid or powdered eggs.

Jack DeCoster is the "habitual violater" who's at the center of the massive egg recall.  Unfortunately he's still making a profit from his bad eggs because they are now being made into liquid or powdered eggs, and being put back into food products like ice cream, pies and cake mixes.

Under current FDA rules this is totally legal, but we think that if eggs are bad enough to be recalled, they should be destroyed, not put back into our food.

I'm outraged too! Although I don't buy liquid eggs (like Eggbeaters) or products that contain liquid eggs like mayo (I make my own, fresh), I do occasionally buy ice cream which usually contains egg yolks. I don't buy products that may contain dried eggs only because I don't buy most products requiring any label at all. I also don't eat scrambled eggs from a restaurant food bar.

But YOU might... and should be outraged too.

The USDA has this to say:
Egg Products and Food Safety
Of the 76 billion eggs consumed in 2004, more than 30 percent were in the form of egg products (eggs removed from their shells). Liquid, frozen, and dried egg products are widely used by the foodservice industry and as ingredients in other foods, such as prepared mayonnaise and ice cream.

Strange Place to Grow Potatoes

Potatoes growing at the back of my root cellar, on a concrete floor

I store potatoes over winters in layers of straw on shelves in my root cellar building. The first spring thaw this year flooded the root cellar where a water pipe had frozen and burst during a really cold spell. Well, the concrete floor in the back had some loose straw that got saturated, but I didn't remember there were any potatoes stored there, so it stayed in the corner while I threw away all the soggy cardboard boxes and trash.

Early this summer I was inside that building looking for something, and noticed potato plants emerging from the straw. After that, I left the door open for whatever possible bit of light to penetrate as far as possible, and the plants continued to grow even though 7-8 feet from the open door! There is always some moisture along the floor, where hydrostatic pressure from the hillside has breached the buried rear block wall, so the potatoes were in somewhat damp straw.

Yesterday I was cleaning out there so I can store my winter veggies, and decided to turn the straw and see what, if anything, grew. Imagine my surprise to find several large potatoes and a bunch of nubbins. They will get 'cured' for a few days, and re-buried in clean straw on a shelf. Potatoes are not on my diet right now, but they will be good for seed 'taters next spring!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Posting Schedule

As I start working on getting my house and garden ready for winter, I realize I have bitten off more than I can chew... so something has to give. For now, it's my blog schedule... I will try posting every other day and see if that works better for me. 

I have to be out of town for 10 days starting Sept. 9, but I already have a few posts in the pipeline. Plus, I'll have my laptop with me and maybe some time for research...  I have so many things I want to write about, but many of them either need money for pieces-parts, or research... and I'm short on both counts right now.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Interesting Unemployment Graphic Visualisation

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 31 million people currently unemployed -- that's including those involuntarily working part-time and those who want a job, but have given up on trying to find one. In the face of the worst economic upheaval since the Great Depression, millions of Americans are hurting.

"The Decline: The Geography of a Recession," as created by labor writer LaToya Egwuekwe, serves as a vivid representation of just how much. Watch the deteriorating transformation of the U.S. economy from January 2007 -- approximately one year before the start of the recession -- to the most recent unemployment data available, updated 7/15/2010.

Scary, isn't it? 

Added: On Thursday, Aug. 15, unemployment figures released the news that the number of first time jobless claims rose to 500,000. That's equivalent to another whole, good-sized city's population now unemployed.

According to wikipedia, 500,000 is larger than any of these US cities:
Kansas City, MO
Fresno, CA
Sacramento, CA
Long Beach, CA
Mesa, AZ
Omaha, NE
Miami, FL
Cleveland, OH