Friday, May 31, 2013

Another Fermenting Aid

ReCAP mason jar lids

It's starting to be fermenting time again as veggies begin to appear in our summer gardens.
These lids may make it less messy to ferment veggies at home. Simply add a rubber stopper (with a hole in the center) onto the spout hole, put a fermentation lock into the stopper hole, and ferment away.

If fermenting (which actually INCREASES nutritional content in foods), just type fermenting or ferments in the search box located on the right column and it will bring up several posts I've done on fermenting.
Rubber stoppers come in many sizes. A #6 should fir the ReCAP lid.

One of several styles of airlocks from any brewing supply store.

The other good thing about these lids is their general use for mason jars used to store beans, sugars, flours or even vinegars that can be poured out through the jar opening. BPA free.

ps, I own NO stock in this company!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Eating what I grow

I'm deleting a few veggies from my garden this year... those I seldom eat although I enjoy them immensely, and those that are always iffy for me to grow (like melons, peppers and sweet potatoes). I'm finding it is less stressful to just buy those occasional things at the farmer's markets, as long as I know the vendor and how he or she grows them.

The things I will give more garden space are the vegetables that I can overwinter in the root cellar (mostly winter squash), or put up by either lacto-fermenting, freezing or canning... things like sauerkraut, green beans and tomatoes. Also vegetables that are far too expensive for me to purchase on a regular basis... such as fennel bulbs, leeks and shallots. 

This year I'm trying to grow some cipollini onions that are carried on many olive bars (in balsamic vinegar). I LOVE them but not at $9 a pound!

"Cipollini onions (pronounced chip-oh-lee-knee) were once a rare treat only to be found at fancy restaurants and the occasional gourmet market. We’re glad they’re finally getting their due attention...Now what exactly are they?

Their name literally means “little onion” in Italian, and indeed they are! Cipollinis are about the size of a golf ball with a flattened appearance. They’re thin-skinned and have translucent white flesh with more residual sugar than your average yellow or white onion.

Which makes them incredible for roasting or caramelizing. Roasted whole in the oven or cooked in a little butter on the stove top, cipollinis become soft and practically melt in your mouth. Those residual sugars caramelize and concentrate, leaving behind none of the astringent raw onion flavor.

Seriously, you haven’t had caramelized onions until you’ve made them with cipollini onions. Even you onion-haters out there might be swayed!
" Source

Monday, May 27, 2013

Our Nonchalant Observance of Memorial Day

Graves at Arlington National Cemetery (Photo is in the Public Domain)

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May and is usually celebrated with the first picnic or BBQ of the summer, often neglecting or forgetting the real reason for the holiday. However, there are still many small towns and cities across the country that have local parades to honor those who gave their lives in military service, and fly the United States flag in profusion up and down the streets.

The small front yard of our county courthouse is stacked with rows and rows of American flags, each with a cross bearing the name, unit and date of a man or woman who died in service. We also have a parade.

Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of ALL U.S. military veterans, living or dead.


On Memorial Day the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.

The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

Recent History

On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress' change of date within a few years.

The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address:
"Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Magnesium for Health

The majority of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and that includes me (but not for much longer for me). Both times I have been hospitalized this year, they have given me magnesium through the IV lines and I began to feel better.

Actually it took some digging to make the connection with how I felt and my magnesium levels. When a person isn't well, and is admitted to a hospital, it's easy to believe feeling better is the result of the overall course of treatment rather than focus on a single element (unless it's specific like surgery, setting bones, stopping a blood loss...).

Magnesium is extremely important for good health. Yet for far too many years this vital mineral has been largely overlooked by most doctors. Shockingly, most laboratory blood tests do not even measure magnesium status although magnesium is involved as an essential factor in more aspects of health than any other mineral. Since magnesium status is rarely measured, most doctors don't know when their patients are deficient in magnesium, even though about 80% of us are deficient in this essential mineral.

I did notice that both times after I was released from the hospital, I felt better overall for several days and then went into a slow decline even though the original cause had been "repaired".  It was only in recent soil testing minerals for my garden that I began to make the connection (which I actually knew about several years ago and soon forgot).

My Wish List on has a folder of books I want on health, and I'd had The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Carolyn Dean listed for a long time... so I finally ordered it 2 weeks ago. Fantastic book for anyone really concerned about health and well-being! I was about halfway through reading it when I had a routine follow-up with my doctor. When they drew blood for some tests, I asked that magnesium be measured. (It is NOT routinely measured.)

Sure enough, the labs showed a magnesium deficiency, and my doctor sent in a prescription to my pharmacy for magnesium oxide (with no calcium), 400mg in the mornings, and another 400mg at night. I'm not convinced this is the best form of magnesium for bioavailability, so more research on my part is needed. For the nonce, it's what I have.

By the way, there is a serious additional benefit from magnesium: it's alkaline. Our American diet is far too acidic when it should be pH neutral, so adding an alkaline food or supplement will help towards a neutral pH balance.

Most OTC magnesium supplements have too much calcium, and the ratio of calcium to magnesium is quite delicate, according to Dr. Dean. Magnesium is necessary to properly metabolize calcium, and it keeps calcium in solution in the body, so it prevents calcifications which are quite common. Calcium causes muscles to contract, while magnesium gives them the ability to relax. (That means no more leg cramps for me!)

Magnesium (Mg) is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. There is an increased interest in the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Magnesium is at the core of the chlorophyll molecule, and an essential ingredient for healthy plants, and the animals (including humans) that eat those plants. All living organisms depend on magnesium in all types of cells, body tissues and organs for a variety of functions. Magnesium in human and animal bodies is important in regulating muscle and nerve functions. Half the magnesium in humans is found in our bones but only 1% in the blood.

Where can we get magnesium other than in supplements? Foods such as green leafy vegetables, some legumes, nuts, seeds and unrefined grains are good sources. (There is a list below of some good foods for magnesium.) However, if those plants do not get enough magnesium from the soil, neither do we. We know our soils have become depleted in minerals and microminerals over the last hundred years, yet few of us have soil tests done, nor do we add much-needed mineral replacements.

Without enough magnesium, plants often develop some yellowing in their older leaves between the veins. Magnesium is essential for photosynthesis, and helps activate plant enzymes needed for growth. Animals have a need for more magnesium than plants, so a plant magnesium deficiency often shows up first in the animals, especially those that graze or forage.

Magnesium in our soils

Where does magnesium originate? Magnesium is an abundant alkaline element in the earth’s crust, occurring naturally in several minerals like dolomite, vermiculite and clay soils like montmorillonite. It is the third most dissolved element in sea water, and seafoods are among the foods highest in magnesium. Alkaline soils and humus-rich soils generally contain more magnesium that acidic soils. Magnesium found in the form of magnesium ions (Mg2+) in the soil (in solution or bound to soil particles) is the most important for exchangeable magnesium. However, magnesium ions are at risk of leaching along with nitrates and calcium.

Other plant sources for magnesium are organic materials (compost), animal dung and plant material. The more magnesium taken up by the old plant material, the more will be available again for new crops. Cation Exchange Capacity, called CEC, affects the potential for plants to take up magnesium.  Soils with a high CEC tend to hold more magnesium. However, if there are also high levels of N and K (nitrogen and potassium) in the soil, less Mg will be available. 

You can add magnesium with serpentine superphosphate (a slow-release magnesium), dolomite (a calcium-magnesium limestone), and calcinated magnesite. You can also add magnesium by using Epsom salts, which is very water-soluble (thus readily available to plants) and best used as a foliar spray to prevent leaching. 

Epsom salts is a magnesium sulfate, extracted from the mineral Epsomate, and naturally occurs in water. The name Epsom comes from the town in England (Epsom) where water was first boiled to release these minerals. The advantage of magnesium sulfate over other magnesium soil amendments (such as dolomitic lime) is its high solubility.

Some plants, notably tomatoes, potatoes and peppers require a soil high in magnesium. If you grow these, you should have a soil test done to determine magnesium levels, especially available magnesium, and then choose your magnesium amendment(s) carefully for optimal uptake.

Some High Risk Groups for a Magnesium Deficiency
People taking Certain Medications:

Proton Pump Inhibitors
Prescription PPIs include Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium)
Dexilant (dexlansoprazole)
Prilosec (omeprazole)
Zegerid (omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate)
Prevacid (lansoprazole)
Protonix (pantoprazole sodium)
AcipHex (rabeprazole sodium)
Vimovo, Prilosec OTC (omeprazole)
Zegerid OTC (omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate)
Prevacid 24HR (lansoprazole)36

Diuretics: Lasix, Bumex, Edecrin, and hydrochlorothiazide

Antibiotics: Gentamicin, and Amphotericin
Anti-neoplastic (Cancer) medication: Cisplatin
Zinc Supplements

People with Gastrointestinal Disorders - Most magnesium is absorbed through the colon so people with gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn's disease are at high risk for a magnesium deficiency.

People with Poor Functioning Kidneys - The kidneys should be able to regulate magnesium in the blood, excreting less when stores are low, however, excessive loss of magnesium through urine can occur to people on specific medications, poorly managed diabetes, and alcoholics.

People Consuming high amounts of Fiber - Eating large amounts of fiber has been shown to interfere with the bodies ability to use magnesium. However, more research needs to be done to confirm how much fiber affects magnesium.

Some Magnesium Rich Foods:
Fish - Halibut and Yellow Fin Tuna
Seafood - Oysters, Shrimp, and Scallops
Chocolate - Chocolate Nibs, Dark Chocolate, Cocoa Powder and Milk Chocolate
Beans - Black Beans, White Beans, Kidney Beans, Black Beans, Lima Beans, Navy Beans, Pinto Beans
Nuts & Seeds - Pumpkin Seeds, Almonds, Pine Nuts, Brazil Nuts, Macadamia Nuts, Cashews
Dairy - Cheese from
Grass Fed Cows, Chocolate Milk, and Organic Raw Milk
Meats - Grass Fed Meats, Pastured Poultry & Eggs, and Bison Meat
Leafy Greens - Spinach, Kale, Dandelion Greens, and Beet Greens
Vegetables - Artichokes, Pumpkin, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Okra, Squash, and Parsnips
Sea Vegetables - Kelp and Seaweed
Fruit - Dried Figs, Dried Apricots, Prune Juice, Bananas, Avocados and Raisins
Culinary Herbs - Basil, Cilantro, Tarragon, Chives, Spearmint, Sage, Dill, Savory, dried coriander
Legumes - Peanuts, Chickpeas or Garbanzo, Cowpeas, Black-Eyed Peas, and Lentils
Grains - Buckwheat, Oat Bran, Brown Rice, Millet, Cornmeal, Spelt Grain, Barley, Quinoa and Whole Wheat
Tomato Products - Tomato Paste and Sun Dried Tomatoes
Blue Green Algaes - Spirulina, Chlorella, and Klamath Lake Blue Green Algae

A good substitute for refined sugar in cakes and breads, molasses is also a great source of magnesium. Molasses provides 242mg (61% DV) per 100 gram serving, 816mg (204% DV) per cup, and 48mg (12% DV) per tablespoon.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Homemade Extracts and Salad Vinegars

I lucked out on a bag of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans on Amazon, 1/2 pound for about $25 including shipping. There were over 60 bean pods in the bag, which I split with a friend. That's a great price, considering vanilla beans in the grocery stores run around $10 for 3 pods. Even the natural food stores where I buy bulk herbs want $2 per bean pod.

The first order of business was to start some homemade vanilla extract. I used 6 bean pods, split open, cut in half, and put into a pint bottle of vodka. The recipe called for just 3 beans but I wanted a stout double-vanilla. The vodka already smells like vanilla after just a few days, but I will continue to let it steep in a dark closet for 3 months before using. The remaining beans are in double zip-lock bags in the refrigerator. A few will be placed in granulated cane sugar to make vanilla sugar for dessert toppings. (But not much, as I don't eat much sugar if I can avoid it.)

Being on a roll, I also started some orange extract. I zested 2 navel oranges and covered the zest with 2/3 cup of vodka. I should make more since I use a lot of orange flavoring, but that was all the oranges I had on hand.

The chives circling one of my guilds are in full bloom, so I started some chive blossom vinegar. No measurements... I simply filled a pint canning jar with blossoms (stems cut flush to the flowers) and poured hot champagne vinegar over them. (Be sure to soak the blossoms in water for a few minutes to dislodge any tiny critters.) They will steep a couple of weeks and then I'll strain out the blossoms. Small jars of this vinegar are a lovely deep pink and make nice gifts!

I have more herbal salad vinegars in mind to make as soon as I can afford more champagne vinegar in gallon jugs.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Busy, with small garden accomplishments

In spite of burning up the highways with many trips to Wake Forest Medical School in NC to see my doctors, I've managed to do a few things for the garden.

It's another day here of scattered t'storms. Good thing I have a table on the front porch where I can work on starting seeds.

According to the biodynamic planting calendar, yesterday, today and tomorrow are good days to start fruiting vegetable seeds. I started some tomatoes and a few winter squash yesterday but I need to find more seed flats. Hopefully there are some in one of the sheds; I'm such a pack-rat.

The few seeds I started 3-4 weeks ago are really healthy and ready to transplant. Like a fool, I thought I'd remember what was where without markers. I can tell the summer squash from the beans, but not which is which bean variety, nor can I tell the yellow squash from zukes. What an idiot! I made sure to use markers in the seeds I started yesterday.

I left last fall's dried Japanese morning glory vines on the new trellis, thinking some seeds would fall and germinate. Wrong! Too bad, because I built that trellis specifically to grow enough vines to shade the end-wall of the house from the hot summer sun. 

However, the 2 hardy kiwi I planted last spring on that trellis are doing great and have climbed to about 4-5' tall already. They won't fruit this year (I think they are too young); their fruit is a little smaller than a regular kiwi, and smooth-skinned rather than fuzzy, but tasty. I'll take some oics when the rain stops.

Mike accidentally mowed down the 4 grape vines I started last year on the other trellis. He mows for me when I'm unable, and complains more every year about the things he has to mow around, whereas it was just all grass when I moved here 6 years ago. I keep telling him that my goal is zero grass except maybe a small patch for the dog.

The 2nd food forest guild, started last year (with a plum tree seedling in the center) is slowly taking shape. The chives I planted around the periphery had grown enough by early spring to divide, which I did yesterday. They are wilted but will perk right up in a few days. (A ring of alliums or daffodils around the perimeter is said to keep the grass from encroaching. We'll see if that's true.) I found a bag of daffs that I'll plant tightly between the chives. I have several herb plants to place between the plum tree and the chives, plants that attract and feed pollinators. This year a few tomatoes will go in that bed since the plum seedling is still quite small.

Photo by RC Designer

As my friend in Chile says, borage is a great beneficial plant. It attracts bees, which increases pollination of nearby plants, enhances the growth of tomatoes (by confusing and repelling tomato hornworms); helps brassicas (by repelling and confusing cabbage worms); and strawberries. It's also beneficial for cucumbers, beans (both climbing and bush beans), grapes, zucchini/squash, and peas. Borage can help all plants increase their disease resistance.

Borage is also useful as a mulch, and is very good for the compost pile. It contains calcium and potassium which may account for another reason why tomatoes do well near borage. Blossom end rot, not only in tomatoes but also with zucchini, is caused by lack of calcium. Potassium helps plants to bloom and set fruit, which may increase production in tomatoes and strawberries.

Photo by nociveglia

Borage is an attractive annual that should be grown in every home garden. It produces beautiful star-shaped blue flowers and cucumber-flavored leaves. Used for flavor in salads, cream cheese, tall drinks or cook it and eat like spinach. The flower has a sweet honey-like taste and is often used to decorate desserts and dishes. If frozen into ice-cubes, the flowers become exotic drink coolers.

The oil that is extracted from the seeds (marketed as "starflower oil" or "borage oil") is a good source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Borage also has herbal / medicinal value.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Short History of Medicine

The History of Medicine

2000 BC:  Here, eat this root.

1000 AD: That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.

1800 AD: That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.

1940 AD: That potion is snake oil. Here, take this pill.

1985 AD: That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.

2011 AD: That antibiotic doesn’t work any more. Here, eat this root.

Thanks to The Herbarium for this short history of medicine lesson!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Growing Zucchini

If you only plant one zucchini seedling, it will die. If you plant 2 or more, they will ALL live and you'll have a bunch to give away.

I always try to grow 2 plants (enough for just one person), and always used the excess grated and frozen to make zucchini bread in the Fall and Winter. Since I don't need all the fattening stuff in zucchini bread, I decided last year to make some Zucchini Faux Crab Cakes from a recipe I found on the internet.

They were acceptable when I ate a couple of them just-made, but when I started eating the ones I froze, they were delicious! I squeeze some fresh lemon on them after re-heating. YUM!

Zucchini Faux-Crab Cakes from

2 cups coarsely grated Zucchini
1 cup Bread Crumbs (I used a baguette)
1 Egg
2 Green Onions, thinly sliced, use entire scallion
¼ cup small diced Sweet Red Bell Pepper
1 ½ teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 Tablespoon Mayonnaise (or plain yogurt)
Juice of ½ Lemon
a pinch or 2 Red Pepper flakes

vegetable oil, for frying with a smidge of butter (I used EVOO and butter, equal amounts)

Place grated zucchini in a colander; sprinkle lightly with salt, allow to stand for 30 minutes draining. Squeeze to remove additional liquid – zucchini should be fairly dry. Place zucchini, bread crumbs, with all the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Form into 8 patties the size of crab cakes.

Heat a small amount of oil and butter in a skillet, and cook patties on both sides, browning well. Drain on paper towel.

Freeze any extras.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Helmann's Mayo

Most people don't know that back in 1912, Hellmann's mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York. This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico.

But as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York. The ship hit an iceberg & sank, & the cargo was forever lost. The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise, and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss.

Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning, which they still observe to this day. The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th & is known, of course, as Sinko de Mayo.

(Please Note: this is just Cinco de Mayo humor, a play on words. The Titanic was carrying NO jars of Mayo, they were NOT slated to go to Vera Cruz after New York, and Hellmann's Mayo was neither sold nor manufactured in England until 50 years after the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic.)

Kent State

Lest we forget...

Check out "Ohio", by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The pictures of military guns against unarmed students are scary.

(Thanks to Crooked Shade Farm. I never forgot the appalling tragedy and stupidity of our government but somehow lost the exact date.)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Health Update

Just got back home from a long day at the medical facilities of Wake Forest Medical School in Winston-Salem, NC. The dermatologist I saw found more pre-cancerous skin places that I hadn't discovered (or that I thought were just "age spots"), and he did CryoSurgery on several. They take 2-4 weeks to heal so I'll look very diseased with open sores in a few days.

The other news is that my hearing is faltering, no surprise there. The hearing exam results were pretty much as I expected: moderate hearing loss and getting worse, but nearly equal in both ears which surprised me. I thought one ear was worse than the other. They recommend digital hearing aids (they DO NOT sell them), and apparently my test showed more volume helps in most of the tonal ranges. Medicare won't pay for hearing aids, and my sis and I cannot, even between us. If I still lived in NC, there are some programs through Wake Forest Medical School for help, but Virginia doesn't offer much help except for kids with hearing loss.

Good programmable digital hearing aids seem to run in the $5,000 and up range, and I don't know if that's for just one, or a pair.

The Virginia Rep for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (who is getting me the CapTel telephone shown above) is supposed to send me some information about Virginia and National programs for possible financial assistance for hearing aids. Doesn't look too promising, though.
I go back to Wake Forest next Wednesday to have a CT scan w/contrast for the aneurysm, the lesion on my left kidney, and the growth on my pancreas, followed by a consultation with the vascular surgeon. It will be another long day.

Please bear with me as I struggle through health issues until I can get back to regular posting!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

10 Kitchen Gardens to Visit Before You Die

I'll be away for a few days (medical), so some of the info from this post on Kitchen Gardens' blog might be interesting in the interim.

This one interested me the most, perhaps because I have been to Cuba, and had Cuban friends long before Castro took over and Miami/South Florida took in thousands of refugees.

Havana's Organopónicos (Havana, Cuba)

Then these:

Forest Farm and Four Season Farm (Harborside, Maine)
The old walled gardens of Helen and Scott Nearing (Forest Farm), and the newer gardens of Eliot Coleman who learned from the Nearings.
Monticello (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Kibera Sack Gardens (Nairobi, Kenya)
Amalfi Coast MountainsideGardens (Amalfi Coast, Italy)