Spaghetti Sauce

Why pay extra for a premade chemically preserved spaghetti sauce when for less money, you can make your own wholesome, healthy sauce and taylor it to your likes?

Spaghetti Sauce

16oz can peeled and diced tomatoes
16oz can tomato sauce
6oz can tomato paste
2 Tbls sugar
3 Tbls basil
1 Tblsp oregano
1 Tbls thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
2 Tbls dry parsely
1 lb lean, natural ground beef
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves minced garlic (more if you are a garlic lover)

Brown beef. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain off fat. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for an hour. In the mean time make a nice side salad, cook up your pasta (gluten free if you prefer) and grate some fresh cheese. Parmigiano reggiano is my favorite hard cheese and very available in stores.

Enjoy!!

Lifestyle versus diet

When you are trying to lose weight, reduce your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol, maintain your blood sugar, curb menopause symptoms or are trying to recover from an illness or injury, are you focusing on nutrition? It will have the biggest impact next to prescription medications. Many people do focus on the food they eat as prescribed by their doctor to rectify a problem. Some of you may read my entries and try one of the recommendations. But are you consistently following through with these changes in your day to day life? Lots of people say, “I’m on a diet” or “My doctor put me on this diet”, or “I’m trying something new in my diet”. What happens later? Are you still on a diet?

I have special ways of eating to cope with conditions I have and also things I’ve done to enhance my life. I would probably be fine without some of the changes I’ve made to my eating habits, but I want to feel young and energetic as I get older. That is why rather than following a ‘diet’ which I will eventually stop and lose its effects, I make a ‘lifestyle” change. I try new things one at a time and see if they improve my quality of life. If they don’t, I toss them out. If they do, I add it and make it part of my regular routine.

It doesn’t have to be drastic. Take baby steps rather than doing it all out at once. It’s hard to maintain extreme changes. Do things like change your 2% to skim milk. In my case, I mixed the two together for a while until I could get used to the skim. I want the transition to be successful, so I don’t expect too much out of myself at one time. I love my food too much! Think creatively.

So take the word diet out of your vocabulary now, and add ‘lifestyle’. Say, “I’m adding a new supplement to my lifestyle.” Or “I’m going to start walking 2 miles a day as part of my lifestyle”. It even sounds more committed…doesn’t it? Then keep doing that thing that was so important if it works. It’s the only way to maintain that simple healthy life.

Tea for two, or how to make compost tea

Your plants are starting to feverishly grow for spring and they need food! So rather than sitting back drinking your tea and watching them grow, it’s time to brew up compost tea to spray your plants for foliar feeding! Why compost tea rather than just spread compost? Well….I do both. Spread compost when planting, and mulch around the plant as it’s coming out of winter hibernation. Then, I make compost tea so I can SPRAY it on. I’ve tried a vegetable garden both with and without spraying compost tea on the leaves. I found that spraying it on seems to fend off fungus. The plants looked greener and healthier with very little brown, spots or discoloration from disease.   Of course you can also just pour the tea around the plant, but spraying on the leaves seems to give them an extra boost. Best of all, you almost can’t overdose your plants with compost. Only chemical fertilizers need to be carefully controlled not to harm your plants. Also, compost adds good bacteria and microbes to your plants that chemical fertilizers lack. Kind of the like the good bacteria in your body. It makes everything work more efficiently, just the way mother nature meant it to be.

SO! Here is how you make compost tea!

All you really need is compost and a food source which is some form of sugar. You can either use compost, or you can buy a compost inoculant from a gardening source (my favorite is Garden’s Alive).  Here is the total list for your recipe, or that should already be in your purchased inoculant:

Compost (mandatory)
Sugar (mandatory, most prefer molasses)
Humic Acid (preferred but not necessary)

You can also add such things as corn starch, kelp or fish meal.

Get a 5lb bucket, fill with water and put an aquarium aerator down in the bottom of it. They are cheap at your pet store.  Let the water aerate for 24 hours to de-chlorinate it. The room should be roughly 70-80 degrees.  Add  your ingredients and continue aerating for 24-72 hours and let it brew!  Some people put it in a mesh bag to keep chunks out of their sprayer. I usually just let it settle to the bottom and pour the remaining scum under the plants. Once you stop aerating, you only have 6-7 hours to use it before the microbes in your tea start to die off.

So there you have it! Tea for your plants, so now you can go back to making tea for you!

Coconut Recipes

As promised, here are a couple of my favorite coconut recipes! I believe I found the Mounds candy bar on Food Network website and the Thai Chicken Soup was in a Seattle newspaper.

Word of warning….. they are not low fat!

Mounds

1 tsp vanilla
4oz sweetened condensed milk
1 cup powder sugar
14oz shredded coconut
24oz dark chocolate chips
Paraffin wax

Mix together vanilla and milk, slowly adding sugar until they are incorporated. Mix in coconut. This will be your firm center. Line a pan with wax paper and press in the coconut mixture, chilling for an hour or so until it’s hard enough to cut firmly. Melt chocolate in a double boiler, or if you don’t have a double boiler, you can float a small pan inside a large one containing  simmering water. Melt in a small amount of paraffin wax. This is to help harden the chocolate so it doesn’t melt as easily.  Cut your coconut mixture into squares or bars the size you would like your candy to be. I like 1 ½ inch squares myself.  Now you may have a more graceful way to dip your mixture in the chocolate to coat it, but I like to use my fingers, swirling it around until I feel like it’s got a good thick coating.  Lay on sheets of wax paper to cool.

Thai Chicken Soup

4 cloves of minced garlic
1 tsp ground ginger
2 TBLS canola oil
1 red onion julienned
1 red bell pepper julienned
1 medium carrot sliced
6 oz chicken breast sliced
15oz canned chicken broth
15oz canned coconut milk
4 heads of bok choy sliced
Cilantro and crushed red chilies to garnish

in a stock pot, over medium-high heat, cook garlic and ginger in oil for 1 minute. Add onion, pepper, carrots and cook one minute longer. Add chicken and cook for 5 minutes, browning as you go. Add broth and coconut milk, bringing soup to a boil. Just before serving, add bok choy and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in bowls and add cilantro and chilies.

Coconuts, the latest hype

Someone asked me for my opinion on the health benefits of coconuts, the latest hype in the nutrition world. That’s how I’ll start….“It’s Hype!” After being focused on nutrition for years, I’ve seen so many  “miracle foods” come and go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these foods aren’t good for you. I’m just always amazed at how something is now suddenly the cure of all that ails you when it becomes the latest fad.

Coconut trees are called the “Tree of Life” by Pacific Islanders.  Coconuts have historically been a staple food and known to be nutritious and potentially medicinal. There are, in fact,  many good things that coconuts bring to the table (no pun intended).  They are fairly low fat and low sodium, contain a fair amount of fiber and protein besides having a healthy form of carbohydrate.  There is also quite a list of nutrients which includes calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium,  and even copper and selenium. There are multiple ways to have coconut. You can eat the flesh like you would find in a Mounds candy bar, drink the milk, the water, or use just the oil.

I’ve always been fond of shredded coconut. Mounds is one of my favorite candy bars. I have a recipe to make them at home that I’ll share with you later.

The latest fitness craze is to drink the extracted water from young coconuts. The high electrolytes found in the water are considered hydrating and compare to fitness sports drinks. It’s also natural versus chemically manufactured. That reminds me of something. I was on a tour in Tasco Mexico when our bus broke down and we were overheating in the sun. A local family owned convenience store sold us all the drinks they had in their ice chest which was mostly beer. Unfortunately that caused us to quickly dehydrate.  The entrepreneurial father  knocked coconuts down from the trees, punched holes in them for us to access the water. It was quite refreshing! If I was a serious athlete and had my sports drink of choice, I wouldn’t just switch it out for coconut water just yet. There hasn’t been enough research to prove any of the claims coming out of the “hype”.  There is nothing wrong with giving it a try, just keep in mind when something is in hype, it may not work and it usually costs more.

Coconut milk is becoming popular as a substitute milk for people with milk allergies, lactose intolerance or vegans. After all, it has carbs, protein and calcium! Lucky for me it’s commonly found in Thai food which is where I get my regular dose. Remind me to give you my Thai Chicken Soup recipe that contains coconut milk.

The oil is used like other cooking oils or as medicine. Make sure it’s not hydrogenated which is an unhealthy form of fat. It’s also used externally for such things as the skin and hair.

The reason why the coconut hype is only recent is the long running concern over the saturated fat content. Finally, someone pointed out that the overall benefits outweigh the relative nature of the fat. There are long chained, medium chained and short chained triglycerides and the long are the worst. Coconut fat is medium chained which means it’s relatively better than most saturated fats. Plus, one the main components is Lauric Acid which some believe can help fight bacteria and viruses.

Unfortunately, the hype has led to a huge list of claims of which most have never been proven. The list includes prevention of and assistance with heart disease, osteoporosis, liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and digestive disorders.  Some go as far as saying it promotes weight loss, fights HIV and cancer. As you can see, there are a lot of good nutritional benefits from coconuts but watch the claims. Are they coming from an MD or Dietician? If so, do they work for a coconut company which may result in bias? Are they quoting research done by the coconut company or an unbiased party that may prove results?

Try to not get caught up in hypes. If you see something you want to try, do so, but make sure any results can be duplicated by starting and stopping periodically to see if the results are consistent.  I am going to try using coconut milk more often to see if it helps some issues I currently have and will report back on my findings.

Sinus infections…..the vicious circle

There was a period in my early 20s when I had sinus infection after sinus infection. They tested me for allergies, but found almost nothing. A very slight reaction to two grasses and a fungus that’s found on rotting produce. No hay fever or seasonal allergies. But…for some reason, I developed chronic sinusitis.

Here’s the problem. I get a sinus infection, they give me antibiotics, it gets better, but then my immune system breaks down from the antibiotics. Because my immune system isn’t working well, my body is susceptible to invaders and next thing you know, I have another sinus infection! The doctor gives me more antibiotics and my immune system gets weaker, opening up to more issues, and now the next sinus infection is worse than the last!

That’s not the only part of the vicious circle. Along with the antibiotics, I’m given a decongestant to dry up the mucus. That dries my sinuses, cracking the skin and increasing the chance of a bacterial attack which results in a sinus infection. An antihistamine dries my sinuses which also results in thickening of  the mucus which doesn’t drain properly, festers in my sinuses and results in a sinus infection!

When will it ever end?!! It’s madness!

After about 5 years of being on antibiotics 30% of the time, I finally saw a doctor that set me straight and gave me a lifesaving homeopathic remedy that I now live by! Nasal Irrigation! Sounds like a scary medical procedure, doesn’t it? How about using a Neti Pot? That sounds more comical, and if you haven’t heard of it, you are probably curious. Nasal irrigation is basically  cleaning out your sinuses with a salt water solution both to fix an issue and also to prevent infection. A Neti Pot is a cute little pouring contraption that makes it easy to do. WebMD has a good article about the process and Neti Pots are becoming quite popular and available all over the web.

So now I was armed with some great information, but unfortunately  was in such bad shape the doctor told me my sinuses had swollen shut and nothing could move in or out. We were in a desperate situation which required desperate action. Now I’m going to gross you out, so if you don’t want to read about it, skip to the next paragraph!  He drilled a tiny hole into my sinuses from the outside, took a syringe of saline solution and squeezed, forcing the nasal hole open and flushing everything out! That was most unpleasant …initially!

Then suddenly my head felt clearer than it had in years! I was only prescribed a steroid to reduce the swelling and told to irrigate my sinuses rather than taking decongestants.  The doctor explained that sinus holes many times swell shut and then no amount of antibiotic is going to cure it. Some doctors recommend laser surgery to make the holes larger, but scar tissue can develop in some patients and make it worse. There is also a balloon surgery where they stick balloons in your sinuses and blow it up to expand the hole.  If you can start fresh and prevent the issue, or catch an infection early, you are much better off.

I don’t know if you have sinus infections yourself, but I know everyone I recommend  nasal irrigation to has great luck with it. Give it a try…….it is allergy season you know….

Beans, beans the magical fruit

Did you know that beans  really are technically a fruit?  They are also magical in all the benefits they provide.

One of the biggest health benefits of beans is they are high in protein without all the fat and cholesterol  you find in meats. Beans are a vegetarian’s best friend along with those who need protein to level out their blood sugar. They are loaded with B vitamins, iron, folic acid, potassium and calcium. Interestingly, these are also the same nutrients most cereal manufacturers believe are the most vital and supplement their cereals with them. We keep bringing up antioxidants, and this is another one of those foods that’s loaded with them! To refresh your memory, antioxidants help you prevent, among other things, heart disease and cancer.  Beans are even considered helpful for weight loss due to the fullness from the fiber. Fiber also helps your digestive system work more effectively.

Beans not only benefit your health, they also benefit the environment. Growing legumes like beans, peas and lentils does not require fertilizer because they fertilize themselves. The roots of the plant work with nitrogen fixing bacteria to release nitrogen to the soil for any plants to use. This is why farmers grow cover crops that are from the legume family. It prepares the soil for the following year’s crop.

All of these benefits for pennies. Have you compared the price of a bag of dried beans to a sirloin steak? You are saving a lot of money while improving your health.

I bet you are saying……okay, I can’t argue with that, but…….what about the “tooting” part that you missed? Well, okay, there are some people that get gassy on beans.  People who don’t eat enough fiber need to add it slowly to their diet. The body adapts and digests it better over time. Some of my skeptics were surprised to find that they can eat beans by slowly adding more to their diet. There are also tricks in preparing your beans to minimize your body’s reaction. There is a sugar or oligosaccharide that human bodies don’t have the enzyme to break down that causes gas. It will break down if you soak or precook your beans, then you throw out the water before re-adding more water for final cooking. It makes a world of difference. Unfortunately, if you don’t cook your own beans, you don’t have that luxury.  Cooking beans is easy and cheaper than buying canned.  Worst case scenario, there is a product called Beano that you can buy that breaks oligosaccharides down for you.

Soak beans overnight or cook beans for 10 minutes in water.  Turn off heat and wait an hour. Drain water from the beans, add more water and continue simmering.  Cooking time depends on the size of bean and how soft you want them. Black eyes peas only take 15 to 20 minutes, while my ultra-soft pinto beans take 90 minutes to 2 hours.

I cook pinto beans and throw them in a food processor with garlic, chili powder and cumin for my own tostadas. Beans are great cold in salads, hot in soup, and a great side dish for picnics. Hey….it’s summer and I have a great recipe for a black bean salad. But that’s for another day!

Frost….after planting!

So 5 days  after I planted my vegetable transplants, the weather man predicted FROST! Any time it’s predicted to drop in the 30’s there is a potential for frost to form which will kill the leaves on your vegetable plants. Some plants are more tolerant, like onions, carrots, cabbage, and spinach while others are very susceptible, like peppers, tomatoes and lettuce. If you have brand new seedlings, they are also very susceptible! Seeds still in the ground have a good chance of surviving.

Cover your plants the night before the frost while the sun is just starting to go down. Sun beating on the covered plant will leave a pocket of warm air that will take longer to dissipate.  I cover my small plants with pots turned upside down. I also like to drive a stake down by the plant and use the hole in the bottom of the pot to push it through. This will hold the pot in place in case of winds.  You can use anything out of your kitchen like bowls and vases, or you can buy special gardening items made especially for this purpose. For row crops, there are covers available from garden centers. I use bed sheets but you can also use weed block, tarps, or something similar. I put sticks in the ground here and there to hold the sheet above the plants. Even if the sheet ends up resting on top of the plants, it’s still just as useful. It just may crush down the plants more than you’d prefer. Make sure to put something heavy like rocks on the edges to hold it down in case of wind. For my tomatoes, I already have tomato cages, so I just wrap them in sheets.  Make sure to turn off your automatic watering off so it doesn’t cause a freeze.  After the danger has passed, you may remove the covering and water your plants.

Worst case scenario, you have to replace a plant that didn’t survive. Luckily, most garden centers or nurseries have a good selection of transplants available at this time of year, so you shouldn’t lose too much of your gardening time!

Cranberry juice…another super fruit!

You may have heard that cranberry juice helps fight bladder infections, but there are so many more health benefits!

Cranberries contain acids and minerals that keep bacteria at bay in the urinary and digestive track. It helps prevent and cure bladder infections, certain ulcers and even prevents plaque buildup on the teeth.  They say it also prevents kidney stones. Besides containing some of the most important vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium, it also contains a high amount of antioxidants. As we’ve talked about before, antioxidants help the immune system , prevents cancer and heart disease.

There are so many types of cranberry juices on the market. Which one is the best? First, you’ll find that many cranberry juices are full of water, sugar and sometimes have very little cranberry juice in them. Read your labels! It’s a good sign when you see a juice that states 100% Juice. Also look for those that say No Sugar Added. Avoid those that show high fructose corn syrup. To sweeten 100% cranberry juice, most manufacturers will add other sweeter juices like grape or apple to make it more palatable. This is what they call a juice BLEND, and most should be labeled as such. Unfortunately, many companies are putting very  little cranberry compared to other juices in their blends. Under these circumstances,  companies are now required to label them as cranberry FLAVORED. In case you didn’t know, ingredient lists are in order of the highest volume ingredient to the lowest. Always look at your labels to see how low cranberries are on the list.

There is such a thing as 100% PURE Cranberry Juice. Have you ever tried it? The two I’ve tried are R.W. Knudsen’s Just Cranberry and Lakewood  Pure Cranberry Juice. Boy, are they ever TART!  What I’ve done to get the most cranberry possible while still enjoying my drink is to mix a combination of the 100% juice cranberry BLEND with some of the 100% PURE cranberry juice. I might even get used to drinking the pure juice by mixing a little more each time I drink it. That’s how I moved from whole to skim milk, and now even 2% milk tastes like cream to me, but I digress………….

Cranberry juice is just another one of things you can easily add to your diet that will improve your overall health. I drink it every day for breakfast, and request it with a twist of lime when I’m in a bar but not up for alcohol. See what creative ways you can use it, and share some with me please!

It’s Easter weekend – time to plant tomatoes!

I don’t know about where you live, but in my area it turned from winter to summer this year! So many things are blooming and weeds are taking over! It’s Easter weekend and my favorite time to start planting everything in my vegetable bed.  There is nothing more representative of coming to life than planting seeds and transplants.

If you followed my earlier blog you know my tomato transplants I grew indoors were out of control. I finally got them in the ground yesterday at almost 3 feet tall! Here is a neat  trick I learned. When you have a tall, lanky tomato plant (peppers and eggplant also), plant it as deep as possible and take off the leaves at the nubs that will be underground. At each nub, roots will grow increasing your tomatoes ability to draw in water and nutrients. If you can’t dig that deep, you can have the same effect by digging a trench as low as possible and laying the plant on its side, covering up them stem. Usually, when the plant is that lanky, it’s easy to curve the top portion of the plant upright and stake it so it will stand straight at the top.  You should give some fertilizer to your transplants when you plant them, and then add more when you see flowers starting to form. I also like to spray and water with compost tea periodically. They tend to fend off disease better.  You can get kits online.

Besides the 6 different varieties of tomatoes I planted, I also planted  3 different types of peppers, onions, carrots, beets, watermelon and okra. I’ll keep you posted on their progress.