Saturday, September 22, 2012

Free Food!

Now that I have your attention.....

There is FREE FOOD everywhere in your neighborhood now, and for the last couple of months. People have fruit trees in their yards. The fruit ripens, maybe they pick some, maybe they let it all fall onto the grass or the sidewalk. Maybe they eventually pick up the rotting carcasses of the fruit and throw it in the trash.

We have had a WONDERFUL fruit year here in Northern Colorado. No late freezes in the spring means that our fruits were 3-4 weeks early in ripening, starting with the cherries, apricots, peaches, apples, pears, etc. The crops are very large, and at least for our fruit nicer than usual. Less insect damage.

So, introduce yourself to your neighbors whose fruit trees are groaning and breaking under the burden, and offer to pick the fruit for them. Chances are they will be thrilled. You can bake them a pie, give them a couple of jars of preserves, or just give them a bag or two of nice-looking picked fruit for themselves. If you have more than you can use, drop them off at your local Food Bank. They will be thrilled to get them. Apples, even organic apples with some worm damage, are very welcome there.

Obviously, don't take them fruit that is already rotting. Give that to someone you know who has chickens, or a pig or horse. Our chickens have eaten so many windfall apples in the last month, they are eating almost no chicken food. Every day I collect a bucket of decent looking ones and throw them in the chicken yard.

Our Fruit Parade:

  • May: Texas wild mulberries (delicious, if we can steal some from the robins); Nanking Cherries (like pie cherries but half-sized)
  • June: Pie cherries, apricots (first crop ever for these trees)
  • July: Early apples (4 weeks early this year); peaches
  • August: more peaches, greengage plums, purple plums, and wild plums; grapes
  • September: main crop apples (an old Delicious variety which really IS delicious); wild grapes
Our main crop apples usually ripen around October 1. Being a Delicious variety, they are watery, watery, watery, until they are ripe; then they have a beautiful sweet honeyed flavor. They make perfect applesauce (no sugar needed), are an excellent eating apple, and keep until March if you pick through them every 10 days or so and keep them in a cool place. Why the former owners of our property planted three standard trees of the same variety is beyond me (and our neighbors each have at least one tree of the same kind: cheaper by the dozen?). A semi-dwarf tree makes more sense for a family, but we have these Delicious apples, and are trying to find homes for them since the crop is well far and beyond what we can use.

We've been picking now for a couple of weeks, and many have fallen off the tree and gone into the chicken yard, and there are still about 1/3 of them up there. I've taken five boxes to the Food Bank, given away dozens of bags, and there are still more. The bounty is just astounding.

So, go out and pick some free food.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Amazing Lilies

Did you realize that onions and garlic are in the lily family? I am constantly surprised by the robustness of the onions. When you pick a head of lettuce, it will keep for a few hours without being chilled. When you pull a carrot, it will keep for a few days on the counter. Yet those marvelous lilies can keep nearly from one harvest to another, at room temperature.

About a month ago I harvested the garlic I planted last October. I used 4 big heads, planting 6 cloves from each, and ended up with 24 healthy and hearty garlic plants. In dry periods during the winter, I watered them a bit. In the spring they were off to the races. They were hardneck varieties, and in May and June gradually unrolled their beautiful seed-stalk, to more than 5 feet high. When the bottom leaves start to yellow and dry out, it's time. I dug them gently, tied them in bundles and hung them in the open air of our back patio, just out of the sun. After 3 weeks, I rubbed off the dirt and trimmed back the roots and stalk. From each of the 4 varieties, I picked the biggest and most beautiful head, to save for seed. Each seed garlic got its own brown paper bag, with its name on it. Then I had 20 heads to use for culinary garlic. I put the paper bags into the garage, a slightly cooler place, but one which does not freeze.

When you harvest garlic at the right stage, and cure it carefully in the open air, you can probably get it to last until next June or July. Isn't that amazing? I learned about garlic from the book "Growing Great Garlic". Garlic, which wants to be in the soil, can hang around for months and months waiting to get there, trusting that one of us humans will make it happen. As months go by, sometimes it grows a tiny beard of roots, just living in hope, waiting for dirt. And occasionally a green shoot will come out of an impatient clove.

Garlic is the queen of lilies when it comes to keeping qualities, but other onion varieties are also good. I recently used the last of the shallots I bought through the food cooperative. I bought them in April. They were grown on an organic Colorado farm. Harvested no later than early November, probably in October. They've stayed healthy in the garage in a cardboard box, enriching soups, salads, and veggie dishes. I only had to throw out two or three of them which were sprouting, out of 10 lbs that I bought.

Next in the list are well-cured dry onions. I've had both yellow and red ones on hand, grown and harvested in October, from a Weld County organic farm. I bought them in April, still good. As the months went by, some of them sprouted. I used the sprouts as scallions, and as much of the bulb as was still crisp and good. The last few went into the compost in June.

Last summer I raised a few red onions from seeds. I harvested most of them, but missed a couple of little ones. This year, those small bulbs shot out a seed stalk probably 5 feet high. They happened to be where I had planted my garlic, and at first I thought they were weird-looking garlic. But no, after I dug them, I noticed they were my stray onions. I quickly packed them back into the wet dirt. They continued to grow and mature seeds. I recently cut the seed head and shook out some black onion seeds. I will plant these next spring. They must like it here.

My other culinary lilies are chive plants. They're up first thing in the spring, blooming with pretty magenta flowers by June, then staying green and good, ready for some snipping, until frost in the fall. The one clump I had three years ago has had children: three more good-size clumps I put in pots, plus more little ones in the garden to give away. The flowers are also good in salads, with a pleasant pretty onion-y flavor; just tear them apart into petals.

I love spring onions, fresh onions with their greens that show up at farmers' markets and in our cooperative in June. By August, now, the onion leaves are dying back, and farmers are harvesting and curing onions for this fall and winter. With some care and attention, and good storage areas, you can have the amazing lilies in any month of the year.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Food Restrictions and Local Foods (and a little history)

Back in the olden days, when I was young, I ate just about anything I wanted to. In my late teens, lunch was a 10 cent packet of dried soup (calories about 3, nutrition 0). Married at eighteen, pregnant at nineteen, knowing nothing about nutrition or caring for myself, stick-thin, miscarriage at 5 months.

In my early twenties, glazed donuts for lunch, dummie me! I got on a fiber kick and ate cracked grains cooked in a thermos every day for a year. At the same time I made bran crackers and ate them every day (read the wrong book!). Intestinal explosions were common. Keep that in mind, #1.

I once went on a diet of only hardboiled eggs (3 per day) and vegetables (low-calorie variety). I lost 30 pounds in 30 days. I Do Not Recommend This. I was weak, tired, and cold. Those 30 pounds came flying back as soon as I stopped. Keep this in mind too, #2.

I tried macrobiotic diets, without the optional fish, in my 30s, and could NOT force myself to stay on them for more than a couple of weeks. Cravings ate me alive. At least with a growing interest in nutrition I stopped drinking sodas. Hypoglycemia was a big problem for me, from age twenty onwards. I taught myself to stay away from juice, fruit, and cereal in the morning, and soda at all times.

After I turned 40, all the dietary sins of my youth came back to haunt me. The weight I had been keeping at bay with frequent crash diets came back to stay. My body strictly refused to eat more than a few eggs per week (#1).

In graduate school (around 40 years old), I ate my way through a bag of corn chips Every Day, putting on the weight as you can imagine, developing arthritis in my knees, not able to go jogging or hiking any more. Keep this in mind, #2.

And probably the most serious, I started working my way toward celiac disease (gluten intolerance causing serious digestive problems). Here is #1, back at me. The "low-fat vegetarian diet" was the last straw for my insulted gut. My hypoglycemia got more and more serious; I was eating constantly, Snack-Wells, fat-free cookies, pretzels, bread, pasta pasta pasta, and still hungry every minute of the day. Loose stools a dozen times a day. Tired, muscles aching, depressed. It worked its way to a crescendo after a business trip, and finally the light-bulb went on. "It's the gluten." By that time I actually knew what gluten was at least.

I went gluten-free, absolutely, for 3 weeks. Symptoms went away very nicely. I challenged with a pasta meal. All back, first the depression, then the intestinal upsets. Repeat. That was enough. The rigors of staying vegetarian and gluten-free were too much for me, so I started eating chicken and fish, and eventually red meat. I had been semi-vegetarian for two decades, and full-on vegetarian for three years, so it was a big change both nutritionally and culturally for me.

I later realized I had probably compromised my gut with the bran crackers and the cracked-grain lunches, years earlier. The cheap processed foods, and my high-stress job at the time, just finished the job. I do realize there are more intelligent ways to be vegetarian. But for me, starting with nice healthy starches promotes the roller coaster of hypoglycemia crashes and constant hunger, and ends with caramel corn, candy, cookies, and tears.

So, my first really serious dietary restriction is gluten-free. This means no wheat, rye, and barley; no spelt, no kamut, no seitan. No wheat-containing pasta, cookies, pies, cakes, breads, muffins, pancakes, breaded foods, meatloaf, croutons in my salad. The list can be pretty intimidating. Some celiac sufferers can't eat oats either, without repercussions, and I found that I fell in that category.

So, still not getting the picture about the starches, I turned to rice and corn. Weight kept climbing, hunger kept increasing. I hit my all-time high weight. Gluten-free junk food is STILL JUNK FOOD. Too much popcorn, too many GF crackers, too much ice cream, too much taffy. Too many colds, too many attacks of the flu.

It was just too hard to do gluten-free and low-fat vegetarian. I hit my all-time high weight. Something had to give. I rethought, researched, and found books by Ray Audette, Loren Cordain, and Boyd Eaton, on paleo eating. Fifty pounds came off, and I had more energy and far better health.

The years since then, about 1999, have seen much improved health, though if I ever get off into starchland, especially with corn, weight comes back on and my food choices deteriorate again. Before long, I was eating only starches and a little fat, and giving protein a miss. I also was getting increasing fibromyalgia, with depression, fibro-fog, continual muscle and joint pain. Troubled sleep, unable to stand more than a few minutes at a time, unable to walk or hike for pleasure. Just a misery. Pain-killers really don't touch fibromyalgia pain.

I started with local foods in Fall of 2007. I had no problems satisfying the demands of gluten-free eating, and it allowed me to find really high-quality humanely-raised meat and eggs, so it actually helped.

In 2010, I learned about dietary oxalates. Oxalate is a dietary poison, not a sensitivity. Plants express oxalates to discourage plant-eaters, 2-legged, 4-legged, and 6-legged. Most people's bodies have techniques to tie up the oxalate with calcium or magnesium and excrete it before it causes a problem. But some people, and celiacs are particularly prone to the problem, can't excrete enough of it, so it gets stored in the body. In the muscles, in the endocrine glands, in the bones and teeth, in the kidneys (kidney stones, anyone?), in the mucous membranes (such as vulvodynia). For more information, see website. I joined the Yahoo! forum Trying_Low_Oxalates, and read about list members with fibromyalgia, vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel, kidney stones, and autistic children, who had been helped by a low-oxalate diet. For a recent article from Britain, see The GP Who Gave Up Fruit and Veg.

You don't have to give up ALL fruit and veg, but there is a long list of high-oxalate foods to stay away from. We can start with spinach and chard, rhubarb, starfruit, chocolate (sigh!), whole wheat, brown rice, most alternate grains, beets, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes, dried beans, nuts.... the list goes on. I gave up my CSA membership, since I was giving away more than half of my share every week. I gave away a lot of my stored staples to friends who could use them.

Net result: my fibromyalgia is down by 90% in pain and distress. Others have had similar results. By any objective measure, I just don't have it any more. Is it worth it, all the restrictions? You bet!

Summary up to this point: no wheat, rye, barley, oats, few eggs, half the veggies prohibited, half the fruits, no nuts in any but minute quantities, no dried beans except for split and fresh peas, potatoes, chocolate, carob, no buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, teff, etc.. Can I still eat locally? Yes, for the most part. In fact, I grow a lot of veggies in my garden, the ones that I can eat, and eat fruit from our own trees, which is as local as you can get. Local humanely-raised meat, eggs. Do I still enjoy my foods? Yes. Do I still enjoy good nutrition? Yes, far better than in the olden days.

Last step: Moving into my late 60s, insulin resistance was rearing its ugly head, and weight was still a problem. I went on Jack Kruse's Leptin Reset diet, starting Jan 1, 2012. For this I removed all sugars, honey, and artificial sweeteners, as well as the rest of the grains and starches. Seven months later, down 27 pounds, fasting blood glucose back to normal, blood pressure back to normal, energy back to normal. Another 20 pounds would do it. Dr. Kruse suggests seafood, which was a big change for me, and pretty much not local (except for the trout raised in Boulder County).

Summing up: I'm working with celiac disease, oxalate problems, and staying low-carb. 90% of the foods in the grocery stores are off-limits to me. Maybe 95%. Most of the shelves are full of packaged processed high-carb foods. Just don't go there. I eat local veggies and fruits, local meat and eggs, local cheeses. Not so local: some seafood, some tea, a bit of coffee, olive oil, coconut. I'm still running our local food cooperative, which supplies most of the foods I eat except for what I get in my front yard. So, the answer is yes, you CAN eat local foods and work with food restrictions.

I wish I could go back and undo some of the really stupid food things I have done in the past. But at least I feel that I'm on the right track now.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Off in the Weeds

I never finished my series on Food Rewards, because I started a new plan, the Leptin Reset diet of Jack Kruse (see his website Jack's Blog. My Leptin Prescription. Briefly, the plan requires eating the "Big A** Breakfast" with 50 grams of protein, doing no snacking, eating a basically paleo diet, and eating your last meal 4 hours before bedtime. Easy! From the very first day, I lost all my cravings for starchy, sugary foods. Just like magic.

Cravings have always been a problem for me. I can use my resolve to not eat the Food Rewards kinds of foods: junk food, fast food, candy, popcorn, gluten-free cookies, etc. etc. etc., but eventually the strongest resolve fades in the face of overwhelming cravings for these foods. With the Leptin Reset diet, I could stay on the plan because I had no cravings at all. I ate my big breakfast, I was not hungry until lunch and then not much, and ate a modest-sized dinner.

It caused me to reexamine the whole concept of Food Rewards. Attempting to regulate my eating using the concept of Food Rewards (all during 2011) took me into the weeds as far as weight loss was concerned. The secret is carbs, causing insulin to be released, eventually causing insulin resistance and leptin resistance. My fasting blood glucose was not much below 100, much too high for good health, though not overtly diabetic. I tried at least 6 or 7 times in 2011 to get back on the weight-loss bandwagon, but to no avail.

The usual time for people to be on the Leptin Reset diet is 6-8 weeks. I was on it for 29 weeks, starting Jan 1st 2012. I think I have reset now. My fasting BG is around 80. I have lost 26 pounds. I can now eat a moderate amount of carbs at breakfast and not have a blood sugar crash before lunch (as would always happen before). My fingernails have stopped breaking, and my color is better.

The Rewarding Foods

Just to say another few words about Food Rewards: what are the rewarding foods? Foods high in starches, and/or sugars, and/or fat, and/or salt. Before agriculture, finding a stash of fruit was the occasion for a big feast (because you WANTED to gain weight for the winter). Convenient for fruit to be available in late summer and fall, just when you wanted to put on weight. Just like a bear heading into hibernation. BTW the bear has been coming into our yard, to tear down the chokecherry bushes. I'm worried about the nearly-ripe plums on our two trees. He only shows up in the night, after we are asleep, but can do a lot of damage to the fruit trees in the course of eating his fill.

Fat alone is not one of the rewarding foods. Sitting down with a nice stick of unsalted butter is not anyone's idea of a binge. You can't keep eating plate after plate of steak, like you can eat bowls of popcorn. Steak is satiating. Butter is satiating. But have a nice stack of fresh steaming baked potatoes, or a big bowl of popcorn, and a little salt, and that stick of butter can disappear in a hurry.

The meals I've been eating are simple: meat/poultry/fish and two or more veg for supper, a light lunch with a couple of brazil nuts, a little meat, some raw veggies, and for breakfast side pork or ground pork with an egg or goat cheese, or perhaps an omelet. Very satisfying. Now that it's fruit season, I have one or two pieces of fruit daily, usually from our yard. Very rewarding meals, with fresh clear tastes not burdened with too many spices or sauces. No commodity foods, nothing from a factory, nothing from confined animal feeding operations (CAFO). No grains. That's a shock, huh? No grains. No bread, no pasta, no GF desserts. In a Yahoo group I belong to, someone asked what they could put their sandwich filling on, since they are eating gluten-free and low oxalate. My answer, a bit facetious: a spoon!?

I will speak about low-oxalate foods in a future post. This has been another big change in my eating patterns, which poses a few challenges for local eating, but not insurmountable. In two years my fibromyalgia pain has dropped by 90%, so it's certainly worth it to avoid spinach, chard, rhubarb, chocolate, and other high-oxalate foods.

In some ways, I've relaxed the rules on local eating (e.g. the Brazil nuts), but in other ways most of our food is more local than ever, with meats and eggs from northern Colorado, veggies and fruit mostly from our garden and fruit trees, or from Colorado, with only a bit from California. Cheese made in Colorado. I'm still using a little olive oil from California, a little coconut oil from Asia. Tea from Asia, coffee from central America (but not often). Nothing from packages, nothing prefabricated, no ready-to-eat meals. Occasional dining out. With the food cooperative I manage, we continue to have better and better sources for local foods. I buy most of my foods through the coop.

A fun blog: The Diet Doctor. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt is Swedish, and his blog supports LCHF (low carb high fat) eating. Sweden is 2nd lowest in Europe for obesity (after Switzerland). Food CAN be rewarding without being high-carb.

Next post: Eating locally with food restrictions.