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Gardening Health

Planting potatoes

July 25, 2016

When most people plan their backyard gardens, I don’t think that potatoes tend to make the list. My own experience with growing potatoes was very limited until this year; I remember when I was still elementary school age, watching my grandfather dig up an area of his garden to reveal a whole mess of potatoes under the dirt.

I know now that it’s fairly simple to grow a decent crop of potatoes. And if they’re stored in a cool, dry, dark area, they will last several months if you don’t get to use them all right away.

What do you do with all those potatoes? To quote a certain hobbit, “boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!” Or dice them and throw them in a soup, slice them thin and fry them, bake them, mash them and top a shepherd’s pie…I think you catch my drift, there are plenty of ways to use your crop of potatoes.

This potato is done with being above ground.

This potato is done with being above ground.

This spring I came across some potatoes in Home Depot’s planting section and I decided to give it a try. Why would I be impressed with a little plastic baggie of non-GMO organic potatoes? Conventional potato farming involves a lot of pesticides, including known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins and reproductive/developmental toxins. Those happy little potatoes nestled under the dirt absorb all the herbicides and fungicides that are sprayed above the ground and are then further treated to prevent sprouting once they are harvested. I’ve read articles where potato farmers discuss the hazmat suits they were when spraying their fields, and how they won’t feed their own families the potatoes they grow.

If you can’t plant them, try to find them organic. If you want to plant them, even a sprouted treated conventionally grown potato will produce a crop of much less toxic potatoes, as they are not being exposed to all this in growing this time around. You may have complications, but what did it cost you? A few minutes to plant and some potatoes that would have otherwise gone in the garbage.

So, back to planting them yourselves. Look for organic potatoes in the garden section, or just plant your sprouted potatoes! All organic seed potatoes are ideal, but sprouted potatoes work too. When your potatoes start to sprout and get soft, don’t throw them out, plant them!

Sprouting sweet potatoes - purple sprouts!

Sprouting sweet potatoes – purple sprouts!

You can easily do some internet research on how to plant your potatoes for the best results, but this post is going to be quick as dirty, as my posts tend to be.

Since my initial batch of organic, from the store little white potatoes I have planted some supermarket potatoes that sprouted and they are growing away. Find yourself a planter or barrel with holes in the bottom for good draining and plant your sprouted potatoes reasonably deep (this can be done right in the ground too, it’s just easier to dig them up in a container). You don’t want to plant too close to the surface of the dirt because the new potatoes grow along the stalk, under the surface of the dirt.

Within a few weeks you’ll start seeing a thick, dark green stalk and leaves emerge from the dirt (mine have come up in just a few days). Water regularly and let them grow. After a few months you’ll notice the stalk start to fail – to turn yellow or start to fall over. That’s your signal that you can dig them up. If your stalks get tall enough, you’ll see pretty white to purple flowers blooming on them.

When you’re ready, dig up the dirt in the container or area in the ground, and give it a good sift. If you had a nice long period of growth you’ll have good size potatoes, or you may find a nice amount of “baby potatoes” only a couple of inches across.

Sprouted from supermarket potatoesI’ve had good luck so far, with my first batch of cute little white potatoes and nice growth on my sprouted supermarket potatoes so far. Potatoes are fond of cooler temperatures, so you can actually do a few batches each year right into the fall, as long as the plants are well established before the first frost. Also, rotate where you plant them or replace the dirt in your planter, as depleted soil will not grow as well.

That’s really it! So next time you notice your potatoes are starting to sprout, try tossing them in some dirt instead of the garbage and see how it goes.

Fun fact: onions make potatoes sprout faster, so don’t store the two together unless that’s the desired outcome!

Have you planted potatoes? How did you do?

Cooking Health Review

Food Rules: A Review

April 5, 2016

Several years back, my mother let me borrow Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by food writer Michael Pollan. The book features a collection of interesting rules for healthful eating, including:

  • “If it comes from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”
  • “Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.”
  • “Avoid foods you see advertised on television.”

Plus my very favorite, “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” I use this one to justify eating 6 homemade low sugar, high protein cookies made with coconut oil, organic oatmeal and organic eggs, should the mood strike me. Stop looking at me like that, I made them.

Anyway, I recently re-discoved Pollan with the Netflix miniseries Cooked (which I will review separately), so I went and purchased both Food Rules and Cooked for myself. Food Rules is a fairly quick read, and a worthwhile one. Here I will share a brief summary, with some of my own input because I just can’t help myself.


food rules review old fashioned modern livingI pretty much think Michael Pollan is a visionary. His views make perfect sense. They may not be popular, because they’re not convenient, and since he hasn’t stuck a fancy name on them, they’re not trendy. Following these food rules can make a huge different in your eating habits, your health and your lifestyle. Even just adhering loosely, but keeping these things in mind can make a big difference.

The dedication in the front of the book reads, “for my mother, who always knew butter was better for you than margarine.” This makes me snicker, because it sounds quite like my mother. Butter has gotten a bad name for being high in fat and cholesterol, but butter is a fairly basic food from a simple source; the fatty part of cow’s milk is churned into butter. Margarine on the other hand, is a man-made, highly processed food product. In moderation, butter should be just fine for the average person as compared to a product that is highly processed and loaded full of chemicals.

This book is broken up into 5 parts: an introduction, 3 main sections and acknowledgements. The table on contents alone offers valuable dietary advice, namely, “eat food…mostly plants…not too much”.

Section one is related to distinguishing real foods from food products, the highly processed food-like substances that fill most of the center of a supermarket. One of my favorites is “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” My great-grandmother (the only of my great-grandparents I have real memories of) was born in 1901 in eastern Europe. Her family traveled out of necessity (Austria wasn’t a great place for a Jewish family to be at that time), from their hometown to England and eventually, to the United States. She was raised in a largely traditional, religious setting. I would imagine that as a child, her family survived on what was available in and around her small hometown. Basic, whole foods. My grandparent’s generation on the other hand, were having their children in the 1950s, when the post-WWII processed food boom began; they were the very housewives and working husbands the processed food market was looking to pull in.

Also important is rule number 5, “avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.” Did you know that labels list ingredients by weight, from most to least? Keep that in mind when you look at ingredient labels.

Now that you can distinguish real food from not-so-real food, section two helps you navigate the specifics of what to eat for healthful living. Rule 25, “eat your colors” is a favorite of mine – it’s a point of pride around here than my daughter eats her greens, oranges, reds, blues, and just about anything else I offer her. Aside from being pretty, the different color vegetables contain a vast array of different and important nutrients and compounds.

This section deals with how much to eat of different real foods, discussing meats and veggies, breads and sweets, plus a few cooking tips too! I know from reading this book years ago that when vegetables are cooked in water, that water retains vital nutrients that leeched out during the cooking process. You can save the cooking water for soups or stews, or as I do, simply cook most vegetables by sauteing or steaming, and every now and then make a pot of the heartiest, nutrient packed vegetable soup around – and drink that broth!

Section three is about how to eat, meaning how much, and how often. An early rule discusses being satisfied versus being full, and the next addresses mindless boredom eating. Rules like “limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods” are simple to implement and can go a long way. An apple or cluster of fresh grapes, or a handful of veggie sticks is a lot kinder to your body than a bag of chips.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is a quick read. In paperback, it has a total of 140 pages, nearly all of which are a headline and then a brief description. This is not heavy reading and is so worth the time – plus you can get it for under $8 on Amazon. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy! If you’re already in the know, you may learn something extra or find an interesting tidbit. If you’re new to healthful eating, it can offer some serious food for thought that can make a major difference in your health and life.

Note: This is an independent review of Food Rules by Michael Pollan. I am reading it again and simply decided to share it here.

Health Recipe Uncategorized

Immunity Boosting Elderberry Syrup

March 15, 2016
immunity boosting elderberry syrup recipe old fashioned modern living

While winter is nearing an end (yes!) and cold and flu season is largely a thing of the past, the unfortunate warm weather illness or summer cold is still possible, and elderberry syrup is a great addition to your germ fighting natural arsenal. Elderberries themselves are high in vitamins, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and have been shown to both prevent flu and speed recovery from illness. The other ingredients pack a powerful punch as well, making this syrup a star for immunity boosting.

Back when I was in high school, my mother started buying Sambucol syrup, a commercially available elderberry syrup. It recommends daily maintenance dosage, and more intensive dosage when you are actually suffering from a cold or the flu. It’s a thick, sweet syrup that did seem to help. As an adult, I’d buy it periodically, but at $12.99 for a 4 ounce bottle that goes pretty quickly, I decided to try making it myself. It’s a simple recipe that yields a good result; me, my husband and Little Miss all use it.

To give you an idea of the cost of making your own elderberry syrup for comparison, the only expensive part is dried elderberries – and by expensive I mean I’ve found them online for about $4.75 for 4 ounces (at Mountain Rose Herbs), and you’ll need 1-2 ounces per batch. Also check local health food stores that carry bulk herbs. Then you’ll need water, honey, and some spices. It works out quite inexpensive all told, with a batch yielding about 16 ounces.

I’m just going to get this out of the way here, if you’re a certain type of person, the word “elderberry” probably brings one thing to mind. The French Taunter. So I’m just going to put it out there, while your mother is likely not a hamster, if you make this syrup, your house will smell like elderberries.

About the ingredients

immunity boosting elderberry syrup recipe old fashioned modern livingAny of the spices in this recipe can be left out if you prefer, but they do all serve a purpose. Let’s take a look at why this homemade elderberry syrup is such an illness fighting, immunity boosting powerhouse. All of these ingredients have a myriad of uses and health benefits, but I’m going to give a brief summary of the specifics that are relevant to this preparation.

  • Elderberries – They are anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory and boost the immune system. They can help sooth a sore throat and help coughs be more productive.
  • Raw honey – Honey is a natural anti-inflammatory as well as being anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Consuming local honey can help sooth seasonal allergies as well, so I order New York honey rather than purchasing whatever is on the shelf at the store.
  • Cinnamon – Packed with anti-oxidants, cinnamon is an anti-inflammatory and helps fight bacterial and viral illnesses.
  • Ginger – Ginger reduces inflammation, increases circulation and inhibits the growth of many bacteria.
  • Clove – Antibacterial, and a great immune system booster, encouraging production of germ fighting white blood cells.

A quick Google search will turn up a number of recipes, but this is the one I use. You can use dried spices or whole spices; I often use both because I have them on hand.

An important note – elderberries are dark purple and can stain! I use my silicone spoon and rinse it after each stir (you only stir rarely). I do this in my white non-stick pot and it does not stain, but I’m still not taking chances with my beloved wooden spoons.

Homemade Immunity Boosting Elderberry Syrup Recipe

You’ll need:

  • 3/4 cup dried elderberries
  • 3 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder, and/or 1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tbsp dried ginger root (or use a few slices of fresh ginger)
  • 1/2 tsp dried clove powder (or whole cloves)
  • 1/2 cup raw honey

Directions:

  1. Pour your water into a medium pot/saucepan with elderberries, cinnamon, ginger and clove (dried or whole). Bring to a boil and give it a quick stir, then cover and reduce to low simmer for 30-45 minutes until the liquid has reduced by roughly half.
  2. Remove from heat and allow to cool to a manageable temperature, then pour through a wire strainer into a glass bowl. Discard elderberries and whole herbs.
  3. When the liquid is still somewhat warm but not hot, add in your honey (you don’t want the heat to kill off the beneficial stuff in the honey) and mix well.
  4. Pour into a glass bottle (I use a mason jar) and refrigerate for up to several months. Take a spoonful every day for maintenance and an immune system boost, or take twice a day when you’re feeling unwell.

That’s all! It’s inexpensive and simple, and doesn’t take that long. And I’m not going to lie, this elderberry syrup tastes pretty good! If you wanted to drizzle it over vanilla ice cream just for the sake of it, I’m not going to say not to.

Note: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Do your own research and as always, use your best judgement.