To have a place to talk about food, food follies, recipes, garden lore, historical garden & food lore, climate & weather, natural selection, food selection, building health and so on. To skewer the silly, serve up the savory and garnish with gleanings from the news. To flame, to flesh out the facts, to farm the fun, to portion out the passion and perfect the presentation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Choices from the past inform us today

Don't dis what your ancestors knew...

Where were you 4000 years ago? I mean, where were your ancestors and their friends? Mine were in Northern Europe, possibly in the British Isles. Of course we've all had a lot of ancestors, hundreds of them in the past 4000 years, so ‘we’ could have been in many different places.

Of all our ancestors living back then, it is likely that most struggled to get enough food to survive. Some grew their food, others went out looking for it. And as they grew or found what they could, they adapted to it. Or else they didn’t. We sitting today at our computers are the survivors of a long journey of adaptation. Other family lines died out along the way as they failed to grow, find, and adapt.

They balanced their diets by taste and the messages their bodies sent out: "I'm just dying for some salt" probably had a literal meaning back then. They were lucky when they had enough of anything! A plump salmon or young reindeer were probably life-saving in the bounty they provided.
Anyone who grew his own food chose which squash or green to save the seeds from, so crops changed over time. If you tasted a squash from just 200 years ago, it would have been far different from anything available today. Tastes change: we grow what we like, and we’d better like what we grow! What satisfies today’s palate is no doubt far different from what was even acceptable in a different era. (Have you had a hankering for beetles recently?)

What hasn’t changed are the body’s nutritional requirements. How we get them - the food we eat today - has changed, but what we need - the list of nutrients - hasn’t. We still must have the 3 (or 4) macronutrients: carbs, fats, and protein, (and possibly fiber goes here). And we must have a large number of micronutrients, 80 of them or more, some in the most minute amounts. What we need is what we grew or found long ago that allowed our lines to survive when other lines didn’t.

Since the 1980s, for politics and profits, one of these macronutrients has taken a bad rap. You can read about it here. One of these essential sources of normal body function has been and continues to be villified as bad. (How can a fundamental building block of the human body be deemed bad?)

That macronutrient is fat.

You know how bad fat is! You hear it all the time. You are probably drawn to low-fat alternatives, to margarine (a manufactured product) over butter (a natural product). To lean meat over fatty. To egg whites over yolks. To low-fat cookies. And of all absurdities, to non-fat sour ‘cream’. (How can there even be such a product? Cream is the fat of the milk!)

No doubt you recognize these choices, and you have probably made them. I certainly have.

Twenty or so years ago, we took our family to a remote spot every summer to camp in our travel trailer. We’d carry all our food, including snacks. I had read a lot about the importance of low fat, so I chose that option whenever possible.

For cookies, this meant choosing ones similar to fig newtons, with gooey fruit-based filling inside and a cakey outside. The fat content was less than 30%, the well-publicized new recommendation for a healthy diet. Yay, cookies that were good for us! Perfect!

HOWEVER, that gooey filling was based on the new healthy wonder sweetener high fructose corn syrup, now well known as the basis of our overweight epidemic.

When the percentage of fat is lowered, the percentage of carbs has to go up. (You have to make cookies out of something!). And this trade-off happened not just in the cookies I bought. For 20-plus years we all have been buying low-fat foods, and that of necessity means high-carb foods. High-carb foods mess with our blood sugar and lead to obesity and diabetes, which leads to heart disease and so on and so on.

I want to leave politics and profits out of it for now. The bottom line is that we have all come to feel that FAT IS BAD!

How can a major nutrient be bad?

The fact is, fat isn’t bad. Fat is essential. Our brains are made of fat! Fat keeps us happy. It satisfies our hunger and leaves us satisfied for hours. (Carbs stimulate our appetite.) And it doesn’t make us fat! Here is a post that links to several articles to read for more information about what’s good about fat, and why you should be very wary of low-fat foods. Everyone should be wary of low-fat foods, including those who want to lose weight.
Losing weight was just what our ancestors feared. They did all they could to eat when they could. Times change in terms of the food supply. It's odd that today we are in danger of starvation just as they were, but for different reasons: ours ignorance is in not trusting our bodies to know. Don't you just love butter, real butter? That's because it's good for you. More on this important topic soon.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Walking: Is that all it takes?

Walking is not all it takes. The real formula for health includes:

Good food - fresh, garden-fresh if possible, with lots of fruits and veggies
Weight management - We recommend Cinch Inch-Loss Plan because the high leucine and balanced carbs and protein mean building lean muscle mass and feeling satisfied. Read more about it here.
Physical activity - How much? More than you are doing now. That statement is the latest news in fitness.
Good supplementation - Click here to read about the recommended program.

These 4 are considered the essentials for building or maintaining health.

Philosophizing: Why walking works

These are my thoughts about why walking works so well to make us healthier:

Once upon a time, long long ago, we walked everywhere we went. This is before cars, before horses and camels, before reindeer....

Not much before reindeer, though.

Here's the story I tell myself when I think of the time before cars and domesticated animals:

'We' (my ancestors, and maybe yours) left Africa and wandered to the Fertile Crescent. But this was before agriculture. Then we started following the retreating glaciers of a long-ago Ice Age. We walked northward well into Europe. Then came another Ice Age, and we went south again, possibly to Iberia. Then the ice finally retreated and we walked back to the north country, and some of 'us' found our way to the British Isles.

Even though all that took more than 50,000 years, it was still a lot of walking! And those for whom walking was good survived to pass that trait on to their kids and those for whom walking was not good did not survive to pass that trait on to their kids.

Walking takes us to where the food is. Walking takes us to shelter. And since we walked everywhere, our whole bodies are adapted to walking. For example, the motion of the muscles in our legs while we're in motion supplements the efforts of our heart. Walking aids digestion. Walking uphill builds our endurance, while the stretching we experience going downhill helps cells metabolize better. (This isn't understood, but it's true, and when someone walks up and down hill today it causes better heart function AND prevents diabetes!)

We evolved walking. We are adapted to walking. THEREFORE, walking is good for us. And if we do it, we will thrive. And if we don't - we don't at our peril.

That's it for now. Much more could be said, and I need to show the citations for these claims. I'll do it later, after I take a walk.

Recipes: Garden recipes for late spring

This pair of recipes uses things that you might find in your garden right now. I've made each of them from my garden: first rhubarb and then kale. Even if you have to buy these in the store, they're in season now and at the peak of their taste and freshness.

Rhubarb chutney - a versatile spicy/savory concoction using rhubarb - could be canned

Savory creamed kale - very satisfying!

How-to: Rules for walking mailboxes

Walking the mailboxes is a technique invented by the man I call Jack (see story: The man who walked back through time). Here's how it's done. These rules are mine, based on my experience.

1. Add one new mailbox each walking day.
2. Return home by the same route, doing the same mailboxes as on the way out, in reverse order. (This one sounds simple till you begin to apply it...)
3. If you miss a day, make no change in applying Rule #1.
4. If you miss another day, back off one day (one mailbox).
5. If you miss because you are sick, back off one mailbox each subsequent day; if you miss because you just didn't get out there and do it, back off one mailbox every two days.
6. Each mailbox counts as a mailbox. If several come together in clumps, count them separately.
7. If you don't have mailboxes at the street, you can count driveways instead.

Try it, then report back here on how you're doing. PL

True Story: My walking miracle

Back in 2007, John retired earlier than we'd ever dared hope for. That freed us to undertake a long-term service project we had thought would be years in the offing. All we had to do was pass the physicals!

I didn't know it, but at that time I was seriously anemic. I knew I didn't have a lot of energy, and though anemia would explain the way I felt, I never considered it as a possibility. Instead I had secretly concluded that I was in the early stages of heart disease. My mom had had it....

All I could think to do, as I prepared for the physical some months off, was to build up my heart function with exercise, specifically with walking. I had had experience before with walking and knew I would experience at least some improvement.

So I began walking the mailboxes.

"Walking the mailboxes" was my name for what Jack did. (See The man who walked back through time.) I had walked the mailboxes with my dog 10 years before, and had ended up walking miles and miles every day, losing weight, and gaining stamina and endurance.

But now we lived in a new area. I didn't want to walk on any busy streets. I looked around our neighborhood: plenty of mailboxes, some quite far apart, some in bunches. Some flat, some hills. I would give it a try!

The first day always seems a bit silly. The first mailbox is our own. Out and back takes a minute or two. But over time the distances start to add up. By the time the day of the physical rolled around, I was walking at my fastest speed something between 2 1/2 and 3 miles at a time, 6 days a week.

I had the physical. Part of the form required a trip to the cardiologist for a stress test. As I sat in her office, I saw a chart on the wall describing various levels of cardiac fitness, bright red at the top, dusky purple at the bottom; bright red - grade A - for great heart function, dusky purple - grade F - for heart failure. I thought to myself, oh please let me a B! I'm too young to be worse than that!

She examined me and set up a date for the nuclear stress test, about a week later. More waiting! I kept walking, going a little farther and a little faster each day.

The test took place on a treadmill. They hooked me up to an IV and measuring devices and so on. They asked me if I was worried about being able to walk on the treadmill. I said no, as long as they started slowly so I could warm up. I put my feet on the belt, they pushed the button, and we were off to the races! Full throttle! I started chugging away, striding out as fast as I could.

Soon I settled into a rhythm. It wasn't particularly hard. I was surprised when they said I could stop or keep going. I said I would keep going. They said to let them know when I'd had enough. After a bit I thought I should just stop. I had no idea how long it would take to taper down and when I'd actually be able to hop off, and I didn't want to fall over dead before the machine let me stop.

No worries! It stopped as fast as it had started. I could have gone on for another minute or two, at least.

They had to inject things and time things and take blood pressure and watch me for several minutes. Finally we were done. I found out then that I wouldn't get the results for another week.

I came back and ended up sitting in the same room waiting for the doctor as before and looking at that red-to-purple chart. Again I hoped I could make the B grade.

Finally the doctor came in, with some papers in hand. She sat down to talk to me. She said, "You passed." I was so relieved! But I had to ask: what level, what grade? How well did I do?

She said, oh, A+ of course. No problems at all.

I was ecstatic. We would be able to do the service project! And I didn't have heart disease! What a huge relief!

It was later that I found out I had serious iron-deficiency anemic. In fact, the anemia almost kept us home from the service project.

That just pointed out how much walking had done for me. I had done the whole 'walking the mailboxes' program with impaired oxygen-carrying capacity due to the anemia. I had passed the stress test with anemia. What would it be like when I got a little iron in my system?

That's another story. This story is about walking and the miraculous things it can do for the body.

True Scary Story: What happened to Ruth

Ruth was never particularly athletic, though in her youth she had made a point of walking home several miles from college to save 5 cents on the trolley. And she had ridden horses. And later, in mid-life, she had played tennis fairly regularly in the summer. Her best exercise was going up and downstairs as she kept house, hung laundry in the basement, and walked from the car to the store - all the regular sorts of activities of modern life.

When Ruth was in her 70s, she moved across the country to be with her grandchildren, but it didn't increase her activity level very much. She volunteered in the school library and walked her grandkids down to the pool at her condo, but she never swam herself. When she was alone, she liked to read, watch TV, and knit - sometimes all at once.

Then Ruth was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, had surgery, and lost her eyesight as a result. Then she had a stroke. She was in a coma. She was sent to rehab, where she was given exercises to teach her to use a walker and toss a ball. She was not particularly mentally able to engage in doing these things and it looked as though rehab were going to be a total waste.

Then one day she 'woke up'. She grabbed a hold of her walker and zoomed around the corridors of the rehab center with no intention of stopping. Everyone was worried about her balance, but even after 5 weeks of being in bed, her legs still worked. She couldn't get enough of walking!

Gradually she regained her mobility. She went to an independent-living adult community and did fine, despite her blindness. She had an uncanny way of knowing where she was. She enjoyed going down to the dining room and being with her many friends. They found her engaging. She even 'watched' movies with them. She never complained.

Another stroke landed her in assisted living. Her balance was a little less trustworthy, her ability to get around a little more impaired. She was back to using a walker to get to meals.

A series of setbacks having to do with diabetes and other ills soon landed her in a group home. She could still walk, but was weak and needed a hand to steady her.

But the young employees at the group home didn't see the point of slowly walking her to the dinner table (15 feet from her room). It was far easier to put her in the wheelchair.

Soon Ruth was either in the wheelchair or in the chair in her room. That made it easy for the staff to take her to the bathroom or to meals. She had never mastered wheeling herself from place to place, and her arms were too weak for her to make much progress, so she stopped spending time with the other residents.

Soon her visits to her family required that she travel with her wheelchair, not just her walker as before. The wheelchair was heavy, the family car small. It was easier just to visit her where she lived than to take her out, except to go to the doctor or the lab, or to vote - something she insisted on doing! The visits became fewer and fewer.... She never walked again.

Ruth had never intended to give up her mobility. It had just been easier for the staff to wheel her about....

True Scary Story: Elsie's decision

Elsie had been a pretty good runner as a girl, a normally active adult, and a somewhat sedentary senior. She got around fine, she just wasn't terribly interested in vigorous physical activity. She lived in a small apartment in an independent-living senior community, where most days she went down for meals and to visit with her friends. If she took a walk from time to time, it was not with any regularity.

One Sunday afternoon, as she was working her way through the crossword puzzle, the phone rang. She jumped up and slid on the stack of glossy ads she was planning to discard and had left on the floor. Her foot went out from under her and she landed on her knee. Something gave way and she collapsed to the floor in serious pain.

Her daughter, the caller, arrived to see why her mother hadn't answered the phone, and Elsie was rescued.

She spent some time in the hospital, where it was determined her knee should be replaced. She underwent the surgery, but really hated the physical therapy, even though the therapist came to her apartment to help her with the exercises.

Then she developed an infection in the knee. Round after round of antibiotics couldn't erase it because the bacteria were hiding in the artificial knee where her immune system couldn't reach. There was talk of taking out the new knee and replacing it with a 'clean' one. But after many days of being drenched with IV antibiotics, she showed signs of improvement and was able to go home.

By this time she had been immobile for weeks, and virtually immobile since the time of the accident a few months before. She could no longer make it to the bathroom on her own or with a walker, so she started using a wheelchair.

Once again she tolerated the visits of her physical therapist but wouldn't do the exercises on her own. She spent her days in the wheelchair. At first she went to the dining room by wheeling herself to the elevator. Once on the first floor, someone was always willing to push her to the dining room. But since she didn't feel good about wheeling herself about, she started taking her meals in her room and never went out on her own. Only occasionally did she accept invitations to her daughter's house for a couple of hours' visit.

The senior community was not equipped for long-term stays by non-mobile residents, so she had to leave her lovely setting and ended up in an assisted-living facility. She had her own room off a corridor with other residents and access to help whenever she needed to be pushed to the bathroom.

Elsie never walked again. A simple accident that resulted in a knee replacement began a gradual loss of mobility. Her decisions along the way ended up condemning her to years of dependency in a wheelchair that she had little ability to move on her own.

Oddly enough, though she lived to 90, some 15 years after her accident, she never seemed to mind the loss of her mobility. So this is not an entirely sad story. But it's scary. How easily mobility can be lost!

Walking: The man who walked back through time

I'll call him Jack. This is a true story about a man who walked back through time. He began the journey almost too late.

Jack was home alone. His wife, who always got the mail, always fed him, was always there in the house somewhere, was visiting their daughter. He had settled in on the couch as usual to watch the news at noon. Then the mailman came. Jack could see him out the window.

Jack would have to get the mail, or let it build up for the next two weeks. For a moment he contemplated driving their car down the 40 feet of driveway to the mailbox, but he didn't know if he could still slide in behind the steering wheel. He would have to walk to the mailbox.

He sighed and hoisted himself out of the couch. His shoes were by the door. He leaned over his big belly to tie them. He was breathing hard, barely able to catch his breath. When he stood up, he was dizzy.

Letting himself out the front door, Jack blinked as sunlight hit is pupils. He shuffled forward, holding tight to the railing as he stepped down onto the front walk. Slowly he progressed to the driveway, and then step by step to the mailbox. He was breathless as he grabbed onto the box to steady himself. Taking out the mail, he contemplated the long trip back to the house, and then the steps up to the door. Would he make it, or not?

He made it, with a lot of huffing and puffing. Inside, he slumped back into the couch, wiggled out of his shoes, and with a disgusted tone hurled the ad flyer to the floor. All that for nothing!

Jack reached for the remote, then paused. He looked down at his enormous thighs, his round belly, his flabby arms. How had he gotten this way? When had it happened? He felt old. He was trapped inside a great bulging body barely able to sustain life.

He was 68 years old, and he had grown obese and unfit. Unfit for Life.

Jack realized that he needed to get moving. Running was out of the question, and so was driving to a gym. All he could do was walk.

Tomorrow he would walk to the mailbox again. And then maybe he'd even walk to his neighbor's mailbox.

Which is exactly what he did. The next day he walked with great strain to his own mailbox, paused long enough to catch his breath, and walked to his neighbor's mailbox. He was happy he'd made it, and gave it a little tap on its top. Then he walked back to his own mailbox, touched it, and went inside. Again he sank into the couch. In no time he was asleep.

He awoke proud of himself! Tomorrow he would walk to the mailbox belonging to the neighbor beyond the one next door.

Which is what he did.

It wasn't easy, but he thought it would become easier. Plus, he had to do it for Life. Either walk, or give up Life.

The days went by and Jack added a mailbox each day. Each day he walked to the mailbox beyond the last, tapped it, went back by the same route, tapped his own mailbox, and went inside.

Soon the first several mailboxes were so easy he didn't notice them. Soon he looked forward to his walk and adding one more mailbox.

He continued adding mailboxes for an entire year. At first he wound around inside his subdivision, then ran out of mailboxes and ventured out to the main road. Eventually his path took him up and down hills. They were much harder than walking on the flat, but he did them, mailbox to mailbox.

He kept walking as though his life depended on it, which of course it did.

At the end of one year, Jack ran a marathon, a real one. His daily walks had taken him miles and miles each day. He had lost weight, at first slowly. His walking had become faster until he had broken out in a trot, then a run.

He had rolled back the clock on his health, had essentially walked back through time to an earlier Jack. Of course he saved his Life along the way.

Walking: Luther's longer life

Luther was the son of a man who had died a horrible death at age 60 due to heart disease and kidney failure. It was in the days before dialysis. He had filled up with fluid until the end. Luther would never forget it.

Luther took pretty good care of himself. His wife cooked decent meals. He wasn't particularly overweight. But then he was diagnosed as having a heart condition, just like his dad. He was devastated.

This was back before the 1970s, and bypass surgery wasn't yet common. He had some sort of operation, but basically he was told to expect a slow decline quite similar to his father's.

Everything inside of Luther recoiled at the idea of such an ending. He took matters into his own hands and decided to walk.

Luther was walking for his life. He knew no moderation. He walked as far as he could every day, leaving only the smallest margin of error for making it home again.

Luther was able to walk farther and farther. He left his little subdivision and ventured into the town. Then he went to some of the commercial areas. While there, he stopped in to say hi to merchants he knew. Then on he went. He developed a circuit. He became known around town. He got better and better, more and more fit. He felt good.

Over time, Luther found himself walking for most of the day, even when weather was not so good. His quick visits to shops around town became predictable. People out in their cars would say, "There he is." People were amazed at his diligence. They commented on how good he looked. And how far he walked!

Luther postponed heart disease for 20 more years. He died at the age of 88.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sticker shock!

It's not just that more and more kinds of produce at the store are getting stickers, and it's annoying to bite into an apple and eat one. Or maybe to peel one off and then have nowhere to put it - suddenly a very portable snack has a paper thingy to dispose of. No, these are not the sticker-shock I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the price of things. Have you noticed? Produce is sky-high. Take a head of garlic, for example. One costs $1. Add that to the price of the rest of the ingredients in your meal - most people don't make a meal out of a head of garlic - and you've paid a hefty price for a healthy meal.

But growing garlic is easy. Plant 10 pounds, get back 50. Stick them in the ground in the fall, harvest them starting in June. Grow some hard-necks that are full of flavor all winter and eat them all summer. Grow some more in the spring and eat them in the fall. Grow some soft-necks and store them all winter and eat them till June rolls around again.

You pay for the sets and put in half an hour sticking them in a pot or in the ground. You get paid back all year.

This is just one example of saving with a garden. The photo is of our garlics that have been growing now since late October. We weren't even home for most of their lives. The deer gave them wide berth. We'll start eating them in the next two months.

I can't wait. Not only will they be free at that point, but there's more variety there than you can find in the market. YUM!

Photos coming!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Squash: Are you ready to grow some? Some videos for you.

These first two videos demonstrate briefly how to grow butternut squash, a delicious and popular winter squash.

This video shows how to grow squash in very limited space by guiding the vines up a simple trellis.

How to store and harvest winter squash. Under good conditions some can last up to 6 months - great food storage!

I hope you enjoyed these videos. Please leave me some feedback by clicking Comments.

Recipes I love using squash

Here are some excellent squash recipes, either from trusted chefs or ones I have made and loved. Please leave your feedback in a comment here, and add your own recipe if you've got a great one that uses squash.

Basic squash custard and variations. Good for any main course or dessert. Standard stuff at our house.
Winter squash souffle. I haven't tried this but it sounds wonderful. From Nourished Kitchen.
Pepitas (roasted squash seeds - heavenly snack, healthy too. See story about ancient uses of squash seeds)
Pipian Rojo This traditional sauce uses squash seeds to thicken and flavor savory dishes.

The pre-history of squash - guess where it came from!

To the reader: The links in this post include references, photos, recipes, and books. I could have displayed the photos but not without the danger of violating copyright laws. I hope you enjoy them on the linked sites, especially the ones linked to the story about the San Xavier mission.

Squash appears to be a New World plant. All the earliest archaeological finds of the cultivation of squash have occurred somewhere in the middle Americas. (This is not true of melons and gourds close relatives of squash.) Here are some interesting facts about the early cultivation of squash:
South of Tucson, out in the broad floodplain of the Santa Cruz river, a cathedral rises up like a vision. It is called San Xavier del Bac, a mission founded by Father Eusebio Kino in about 1650. Next to this lovely building is a small museum. Photos of traditional agriculture show temporary shelters where Tohono O'odham farmers rested during the flood season, when they could take advantage of the seasonal monsoons to irrigate their crops. 

They grew what had been grown there for millennia, namely squash, corn, chilies, tepary beans, and a few others. These formed their diet, along with the occasional deer or javelina (wild relative of the pig). 

When the rains stopped, the community moved to more hospitable living quarters back in their home communities.

When Europeans arrived and set up the mission, they were unfamiliar with the seasonal migration routine and prevailed upon the Tohono O'odham to settle down into their communities and no longer follow the seasonal planting cycle.

So the Desert People had no choice but to begin to eat the foods the Europeans ate. Today the Tohono O'odham have the highest incidence of diabetes of any Native American community. 

Outside the museum, surrounding the entrance to the cathedral, booths made of native plants serve traditional chili and (perhaps not so traditional) fry bread to tourists. It alone is worth the visit.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March Garden: it's time for squash, maybe...

You can read about growing winter squash organically (or otherwise) all over the internet. I went to and searched using these exact keywords: growing winter squash organically and found hundreds of sites that told me how to grow winter squash.

Unfortunately I have been entirely spoiled by reading the excellent chapter on growing squash by Carol Deppe in her book The Resilient Gardener. And I suggest you do too.

For Carol, squash is one of the 5 essential crops for being able to survive without recourse to grocery stores. (The others are potatoes, corn, beans, and ducks. Curious about why? I can't recommend this book too highly.)

Squash needs warm soil to grow. So depending on where you live, it might be necessary to get a start on the season by seeding them indoors.

Here where I live in the Pacific Northwest, the season is long enough between frosts. But we never get very warm, and squash like it warm. I need to start them indoors, plus warm up the soil with a plastic cover. (More on what kind of plastic cover another time.)

Here's the very specific issue we all face: The best-keeping squash are the giant ones, and the giant ones grow so vigorously that they outgrow their little indoor-seeding pots almost immediately. Their roots burrow through the bottom of peat pots and then are damaged when the seedlings are transplanted.

We can lose the whole crop this way, or we can end up with only the weakest, slowest-growing of the giant squashes: they're the only ones whose roots don't poke out of their little pots and hence get damaged during transplanting.

Carol Deppe, who is adept at seed-saving as well as growing her own food, makes a strong case that this is the best way to lose the best characteristics of all giant squash.

Bush squash have a slower pattern of growth, and there's no problem with starting them indoors. The squash are much smaller and their roots aren't nearly as aggressive as those of their larger cousins.

So March is the time for starting squash. Start them outdoors if you're in one of the minority of places in North America where the soil is warm. And start bush squash (usually C. pepo varieties) indoors for transplanting. For the biggest (C. maxima) squash, you'll have to wait to direct-sow them directly in the garden when the soil is warmed up.

And that will give you time to read Carol's great book!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Do you eat winter squash? Some great things about it.

Whole books have been written about squash. And according to the chapter on squash in Carol Deppe's wonderful book The Resilient Gardener, squash is one of the 5 essential foods we should consider growing.

(If I had tried to guess which 5 foods were essential, I would not have guessed squash! But Carol Deppe makes a very good case for squash. In fact, she makes squash sound irresistible.)

You can find nutritional facts for winter squash online.

Some reasons to eat winter squash:

  • low calorie
  • rich, intense, satisfying taste - both filling and nutritious
  • low glycemic index - 8 on a scale that goes as high as 250
  • anti-inflammatory
  • high protein for a veggie that's not a legume (pea, bean)
  • many vitamins and minerals, esp vitamin A (if you don't eat squash often, you may need this)

Carol Deppe grows enough winter squash (of particular varieties) to last her all spring, until late-spring and summer veggies begin to come in. And she reports she never gets tired of them.

Carol makes such a good case for squash that I am ready to grow enough to store next winter. That means trying some new recipes, too.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Think it's getting hot?

Over the past 100 million years, Earth's temperature was hotter than it is now about 97% of the time.

Ice ages began in earnest 1 million years ago. (Earlier episodes of glaciation also occurred.)

In the past 1 million years, in what we call the Quarternary Ice Age, we have had advances of ice every 100,000 years. We are currently in an interglacial period of the Quarternary Ice Age.

Only 10,000 years ago, while Earth was warming from the last Ice Age, a partial new ice age began that lasted only 1000 years. (It was called the Younger Dryas.)

At the end of that 1000 years, about 9000 years ago, the temperature rose quickly and Earth was hotter than it is now.

It's cooled off slightly since then, and we are enjoying a nice stable warm period, more stable than any in the past few million years.

Since 9000 years ago we have gone through several warming and cooling cycles with smaller ups and downs than the earlier spikes. The most recent of these is the 'Little Ice Age' of about 1300-1850 AD.

We're still warming from the Little Ice Age but have not reached the warmth of 9000 years ago.

What's next? Looking at the past, the best answer is more cooling, and sooner or later another ice age. How man's activities might change that - if man could come close to changing such powerful cycles - is unknown.

For more information about temperature variations on Earth, see: Ice Ages and Interglacials by Donald Rapp, The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan, and Frozen Earth by Doug Macdougall.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Winter garden

To read a solid article about what can be grown in the winter, read this article.

Maybe not actually grown, says Eliot Coleman in his very popular book on four-season gardening. But we don't need everything to grow, just stay alive for winter harvest. And then the veggies are ready to start growing again when spring arrives.

He goes into detail about how to extend the growing season all over the country.

Then we can have garden-fresh veggies all year round, even in cold places.


What do you think of potatoes? Years ago they were considered a starch. Today some people avoid them because they have calories. When we're traveling by car and trying to put on the miles, we like to stop at Wendy's because they have baked potatoes, and if you get the plain ones, they're really inexpensive.

A lot of people like the taste of potatoes, for example mashed with lots of butter, but feel guilty for eating them. And a lot of people avoid them entirely.

These days there are russets, whites, reds, and yellows in most stores. And often there are fingerlings. Most people buy potatoes frequently. Or they buy mashed potatoes in boxes.

If you want a passionate discussion of the virtues (many) of potatoes, the ease of growing them yourself, the harmful chemicals used on store potatoes, and suggestions for storing them and living off them for months at a time, you must read The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe.

She will convince you in short order that you should eat more, grow some, and enjoy them without guilt.

Now is a perfect time to plant potatoes. They're fun to grow because they do well in bags. But that's another topic. I hope to get to it soon.

"Don't eat canned tomatoes"

In a recent (no obvious date) article by Prevention Magazine, I found out that we all shouldn't be eating canned tomatoes. The lining of the cans leaks bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen.

The article is called "7 Foods That Should Never Cross Your Lips" and starts with canned tomatoes, including quotations by experts and references, plus an explanation of why we don't want to consume synthetic estrogen.

So eating canned tomatoes is something like being on birth control pills, which little spaghetti eaters don't need.

Fortunately some companies that can tomatoes have switched to glass jars. Nice to have an alternative to cans.

Another alternative is to grow your own tomatoes. They're cheaper, more fun, and don't have anything on them or in them that you don't want. Gardens are groovy, or if you don't have the time and space, put your tomatoes in containers. No cans needed.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The great outdoors!

All last week I looked longingly outside but didn't want to walk the icy roads. Snow doesn't fall here often, but last week we got 6 inches and by nightfall it had turned to ice. No plows came to scrape it up. So I stayed indoors.

But I wanted to go out. Right now I want to go out to plant my garden, walk safely around the block, throw off my jacket and boots...

Ironic, then, that even yesterday I didn't go out, even though it was merely overcast with a few rain showers. I've gotten in the habit of being inside, cooking, writing, sitting on chat with my daughter.

When I was a kid, I did everything I could to be outside. On Fall Saturdays I chose to rake leaves rather than dust the furniture. In Winter I shoveled snow by choice. After school in Spring I played baseball or rode my bike. I found salamanders and snakes down by the brook. My friends played outside roller skating or jumping rope. That's what kids did.

It's not true any more. Kids today spend almost all their time indoors, according to writer-naturalist Mike Weilbacher in an article called Want healthy kids? Unplug them and send them outdoors published in Mainline Media News. He reports:

At the same time, numerous studies indicate kids are physically and mentally healthier if they spend time outdoors and in nature. They calm down when surrounded by green, which seems to ameliorate their ADD. And free play outside lets children develop social skills they can’t get from tube-watching (or from playing sports under adult supervision), and their skills are more age-appropriate. They are more creative too.

We all need to go out more, but especially our children. Take a look at the article, and maybe read the book Mike Weilbacher talks about. Someone needs to reverse the trend - why not the kids in your life? Or you?