Friday, March 30, 2012

Bottoms Up

     No this has nothing to do with your bottom, it's the first of a few posts on being better to yourself. Incidentally, one of the hardest to get real information on. The experts don't agree, on anything. What am I talking about? Hydration. That's right, getting your drink on. This is by no means the definitive piece on staying hydrated, feel free to add corrections or comments as you see fit. It's just my musings.

     Everyone who tries to lose a pound or two always gets the, drink at least 8 glasses of water a day routine. It's not exactly wrong, but it isn't exactly right either. I'm going to back track a little, using myself as an example, because I know my routines, what I drink blah blah blah.

     Why is water so important?

     It makes up about 60% of our total body weight. It drives every bodily function of every cell. We need it to survive. As a baby, it makes up about 75% of our weight, decreasing as we age. The other factor is fat. The more weight you have in fat the lower your total body water. At 6 feet, 200 pounds and 47, my body water is around 48 litres. I'm rounding things out for the sake of making all of this easier. Because I'm about 25 pounds off my ideal weight, that number is probably closer to 45 litres. I'd need to get an actual medical test on my body fat and water content to be truly accurate.

     The average person, in a temperate climate, under normal circumstances loses over 2 litres of water a day. Through urine, sweat and the one everyone forgets, breathing. What that means is I lose between 3-5 % of my total body water every day, just being me. Turn up the heat, throw in some exercise, you're sweating more, breathing heavier, more water loss.

     Between 2 and 5 percent loss, you can experience a dry mouth, headaches, tiredness, muscle aches, attention loss. An athlete can see a potential 30 % reduction in their performance at 5 %. A loss of 10 -15 percent can be fatal. It's a surprisingly small margin before dehydration starts to have some serious side effects. Interestingly, it is a big problem in seniors.

     Get thirsty, drink, problem solved right? Do you always drink the minute you're thirsty? I don't. I can put it off for hours if I'm busy. Every summer on every patio I've ever worked, I've seen one co worker or another take the dive and faint.

     Always grab water? I never do. I don't really like plain water. Coffee, tea, beer, ginger ale, iced tea, those are my beverages of choice. It is all fluid and does go to making up the fluid loss. This is where the experts go crazy. Some say no, only water, others call that crazy talk, everything counts. Throw in the water content in our food and we should all be fine. Who do you believe?

     There is the myth, then the debunk about caffeine being a diuretic. True and false. Under about 5 cups of coffee a day, no real diuretic effect. I'm well over that. In my case drinking coffee helps hydrate and dehydrate me. Add in caffeine from soft drinks, teas and chocolate and you may be over the 5 cups too. Don't even start with energy drinks. Alcoholic drinks are also open to debate.

     The other problem with my personal selection is that they all contain a ton of sugar, artificial colours, flavours, salt/sodium and preservatives. Not necessarily the best things to be tossing back.

     Add a high sodium diet, that causes water retention and you can see how easily this can all go so very wrong.

     What to do?

     I'm going to cut back on my coffee intake ( a little) and try replacing it with this. The following recipe is not mine but I don't know where I got it. The page it's on says Bert Wood 1901, I'm pretty sure my great great grandfather didn't pen this. It is essentially a variation of the Master Cleanse and is a detoxifying drink, but no starving. Fairly easy to make and no juicer required.

Ginger Citrus Water
Juice of 1 grapefruit, orange and lime.
Fresh ginger, peeled and pressed/grated
cayenne pepper-optional
maple syrup or honey to taste, teaspoon by teaspoon
water, about 2 cups

Juice the citrus.
It's better to do this fresh because while you are juicing you also get the phyto nutrients from the pith which help your body absorb more of the vitamin C.
Peel and grate or press the ginger.
I use a piece about the size of a quarter and put it through my garlic press. 
Add to juice
Add a pinch of cayenne, or not.
Add 2 cups of water, preferable purified but I won't tell.
Add first teaspoon of honey or maple syrup, adjust sweetness to taste.

     This is kind of a hard recipe to write out because so much of it depends on what you like. You can adjust the sweetness, the heat, the amount of ginger, the amount of water until you have something you'll drink. I let this sit a bit, an hour or so and strain it as I use it. I hate the chunks of ginger floating around in my glass. Up to you.

     What you get out of it. Lots of vitamin C, lemon and cayenne are cleansing and good for your body, ginger is good for your digestive system.  No preservatives, no refined sugars, no salt/sodium, no caffeine, no artificial anything. A guilt free drink, designed to help you be less toxic. You can have it hot or chilled depending on your mood.

     If this isn't to your taste, plain ginger or mint tea is also good hot or cold. Just boil water, throw in a couple of pieces of peeled ginger or sprigs of fresh mint, or both and let steep 5 minutes. Strain, or not, but I hate things floating in my cup, and enjoy.

     Got a "good for you" way to re hydrate? Feel free to share in the comment section. 'Til next time, bottoms up.



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why is it so hard to be good?

     Okay, I'm not going all spiritual on you. I did that Sunday. I'm not talking about being good to others, I'm talking about being good to ourselves. Specifically, to our bodies.

     A couple of weeks ago, in another of my favourite memes, we were listing things were were bad at. It seemed like every other list mentioned exercise, eating right, losing weight. Being in need of shedding more than a few pounds, taking care of myself has been on my mind a lot. Throw in the fact 50, yes I said it, 50 is coming up faster than I'd like, taking care of my body has become more of an issue.

     So why is it so hard?

     One reason is easy, temptation. I have zero will power. I can resist anything but temptation in any way shape or form. And I have lots of enablers. Damn you Kitchen Slattern for posting these delicious cookies, you too Niki Woo, for not one but two mouth watering German Chocolate Cake recipes (although you do have some delicious healthy recipes too). Movita's birthday is on the horizon, so testing recipes for frostings, fillings, cakes and decorations. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Baker Bettie and her  Cookie 101 showing me the way to make the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. Yes, I place the blame squarely on your shoulders for every notch on my belt. Wipe that smirk off your face Alexander Keith, you've added more than a few calories yourself.

     I have been accused of being an enabler too. Left Brain told me to lay off the recipes because Rory was baking so much that he was gaining weight. I do believe in spreading the calories around.

     Being slightly more than 20 pounds over my ideal weight, I was shocked to find I fall into the category of clinically obese. That has all of the associated health issues. A bit of a sobering read.

     Other than not being able to unstrap the feed bag, there is another reason it is hard to take care of ourselves. As anyone who has ever tried to research a food allergy will tell you, reliable information can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

     I know a lot about food. Between growing up on a farm and working in the industry almost 30 years, I've picked up a thing or two. Few things raise my hackles faster than mis information about food. Here are a few of my current favourites.

     I read an interview about a well know RAW restaurant and chef. Raw eating is basically not cooking your food, Google it if you'd like more information. It's an interesting premise. I'm not knocking the movement, the restaurant or the chef but... During the interview, she spoke about lycopene, a very potent anti oxidant found in tomatoes. Check, then she went on to say you'd never find a cooked tomato in her restaurant. Okay, but lycopene isn't heat sensitive, cooking tomatoes concentrates it and a tablespoon of tomato paste (or ketchup) has more than a whole raw tomato. Kind of a misleading comment.

     The subway has been inundated with these ads promoting vegetarianism. Quite frankly, I don't care if you eat meat or not. I do. I don't debate the ethics of my meals. The reality is something dies so something lives, be it plant, animal or fungi, every meal of every species on earth. We're omnivores, not carnivores, not herbivores, we're designed to eat everything we can cram in our grubby little cake holes.

     What I do take exception to are the ads and the misleading information about the animals with in. Pigs are not imprisoned in crates for no reason, they eat their young. Are notorious for it in fact. Never have I heard a sow "sing a lullaby" to her piglets, unless of course she's lulling them to sleep so she can eat in peace.
Piglets teeth are snapped off because they're tusks, and dangerous. People die every year in North America from pig attacks. They aren't like Babe, no matter what Disney tells us.

     Cows are very maternal and will often search for their young for days. Yes, that would be the calf you are lying on and have just crushed or perhaps the one you just stepped on. Cows are kept on a vicious cycle of forced pregnancy to keep milk production. What exactly do you think happens to them if left alone? They give birth, nurse, wean, go into heat, breed, repeat. They don't take a time out to pursue a career, or just have a holiday, they breed. As does every other animal on the planet. Whether they're physically ready for it or not.

      Cows enjoy solving intellectual puzzles and have been know to "jump" for joy. WTF, the only jumping I've ever noticed is the fence, usually into a swamp, away from plentiful food. Mensa material I tell you.

     You don't want to eat meat, fine. I respect that. Don't feed me bullshit to justify it, you don't have to. Not only do I not care, I don't judge. Do what feels right for you.

     The top of my list has to go to this little catch phrase I've been seeing around for a bit. "If you think organic is expensive, try paying for cancer." Offensive, dismissive and just plain incorrect. No health care worker on the planet will tell you if you eat organic you won't get cancer. That would be criminally irresponsible.

     I get it. We live in an age of the 15 second sound bite and catch phrases. Everyone is trying to sell you something, from their ideology to the tricked out 9 layer forced air food dehydrator for a mere $999.99. I have the answers, the way, your life will be better if you just do this. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is crap, pseudo science at best.

     Our bodies are finely tuned machines. It takes surprisingly little to throw them off balance. Sure we go on, much like your car will even if you don't change the oil, but with a little care it runs so much better. Over the next little while, I'm going to post bits on healthier eating, sleep, hydration and exercise. Hopefully we'll all learn a little, lose a little and be ready for rockin' the summer.

      Just so you don't all despair, here is a little comfort food you can feel good about.

Apple Pear Crisp


4-8 cups of peeled, cored and sliced fruit, apples and pears for this recipe
1/2 cup of brown sugar, divided 1/4, 1/4
1/3 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup of flour
1/2 cup of rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, divided 1/4 , 1/2
3/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, divided 1/4 , 1/2


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Prepare and 8x8 baking dish. I use cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine apples, pears, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Mix until fruit is lightly coated.
In a small bowl, combine the oats, flour, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Whisk until well combined.
Add softened butter and using a fork or pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture.
You should have soft clumps, about the size of grapes or smaller.
Put the fruit mixture in the bottom of the baking dish, then dot the top with the flour and butter mixture.
Bake in preheated oven 30-45 minutes. Cooking time varies with the amount of fruit used.
I normally use 6 cups and 30 minutes is about perfect.
Serve warm or cold, with or without whipped cream or ice cream.

     Why feel good? All the taste of pie with out all the calories. Far less sugar, fat, flour, no salt. What it does have, fibre, anti oxidants from the fruit and cinnamon and most importantly, taste. To really punch up the healthy? Throw a tablespoon of ground flax seeds into the flour mix, you've added lots more fibre and an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids. Boost the protein with some ground or crushed nuts, it's even better for you.

     Dairy allergy (or want to cut even more calories), use soy margarine instead of the butter. Gluten allergy, use gluten free flour and oats. Don't like apples and pears, use what ever fruit is in season or that you like. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. (or what your kids will eat) You're welcome.

     Drop by Rory's and see what's on everyone else's mind.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Making Life Easier

     I can't believe it's Monday again. I just finished reading all the posts from last week. Stasha you're getting too popular and the rest of you are just too damn funny. I usually get lost back tracking through your posts, spending hours and hours reading and chuckling away.  The list.

     This week Terri wanted us to list 10 things, people or services that make our lives easier, bonus for pictures. Coincidentally, I stumbled upon this blog reading through the comments of yet another blog. That Jane Doe is hilarious and she had already done what I wanted to do. Take pictures of me bonding with my things. So scratch that idea, it's been done, and well. I know, the list, it's coming.

     I thought it would be easy. Then I got thinking, which 10 things? In the kitchen, the garden, life in general, blogs. How to choose? BTW, the wild grape jelly turned out awesome. The hardest part will be keeping a jar for Katie as a thank you. She is armed after all. All right, the list already.

10 things that make life easier.

10 Beer. Under your influence, I'm funnier, smarter, invincible.

9 The idiot box. With a push of your remote, I can lull the restless natives into a stupor. And get them off my back. Yes, I know it's cold in here, some one turned off the furnace. Yes I can smell that, close the lid on the compost bucket. Yes I do know who's dirty socks those are balled up in the sofa. Yes, this is very hot, now is not the time for a hug and if you make me burn myself there will be hell to pay. Just go watch television, please. It doesn't hurt that there is an Xbox and a PS3 to go with it.

The Hi Def flat screen is in my bedroom
right where it belongs

8 My iPod. Yes the original shuffle. With the idiot string so I don't lose you. With you blaring, all the other noise just drifts away.

7 My books. I'm instantly transported away or smarter when I open your pages.

A little bedside reading
Scarily enough, this is from Christmas on and I have another pile on my drafting table

6 My camera, with the crucial neck strap so I don't drop you. Maybe not as stylin' as Greta's but still. Maybe I'll add a manly rivet or two?

5 The dishwasher. Not only do you save me time, you double as an island and a catch all for my kitchen.

4 My equipment, both selves of them, all the drawers and cupboards full. You make me shine in the kitchen in half the time, with half the effort.

3 My computer (and attached modem for all the wonders of the interweb) I'd be lost with out you.

2 The coffee maker. Yes, you're old, you've seen better days but I will not abandon you. You've had my back for decades, the one who never complains but always comes through, supplying me with my beloved coffee. Don't ever leave me. Really. Don't. Ever. Leave.

Poor battered old thing, covered in age spots
 Time for a good bath maybe
Not to worry, I won't be trading you in for the trophy Keurig
1 Hands down number one thing that makes life easier, the clan. No, not that clan, my family. With almost a hundred years of experience to draw on, you are my resource for everything: gardening, cooking, home repairs and renos, blogging, anything. Whether I'm in need of a laugh, a cry or a good old fashioned scolding, you've always got my back. No pictures, you're all all over the blog already.

     Drop by Staha's and see what else make life easier.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Devil is in the Details

     Kind of an odd title for a Sunday, right? Well the other was Blasphemous Thoughts so..... Anyway, enough with the title on with the post.

     It's Sunday, nice-ish, not the absolutely gorgeous weather we had earlier in the week but still. I don't attend church regularly, or even irregularly, more like occasionally. I was in the garden playing with my new toy, my camera. Enjoying a coffee outside, in shorts, in Canada, in March. I know, awesome.

The view from my bedroom window
If I didn't leave for work while it was still pitch black outside
Or if I could actually see so clearly out of my window

Pretty, Non?
And the smell

I know, strawberries, in flower, in March

Crane's Bill Geraniums coming on strong

Violets peeking up

Bloodroots about to bloom

My blackberries budding, way too early

And my wild roses too

     As I was wandering around, stressing about everything being far too early, a good frost will kill a lot of my newly emerging plants and it is only March, I saw the church just out back of my house.

The mosaic above the entrance
Orthodox Ukrainian Church

     I got thinking of all the churches in my neighbourhood. The Mormons, the Baptists, the Christadelphians, the Catholics, Seven Day Adventists, the Jehovah Witnesses, all with in a block or two of my house. I'm sure I missed a few. My area has so many places of worship in it.

     This naturally led to pondering the differences, which led to my own experiences. I'm no one's idea of a good Christian. I'm a believer, but a lax one. I'll admit it. I have no doubt of God's plan for my life, I don't have quite as much faith in man's interpretation of what God has planned for my life.That is a whole other post, one I will probably never write. My faith is my own and I'm quite private about it.

     I have been baptised twice, Anglican at birth, then later as a Pentecostal. I've attended church often enough, studied the bible as a work of faith and as one of history. I'm familiar with Christianity or at least I thought so.

     I've been to a few Catholic services lately, a wake, funeral then just recently a memorial mass. Because there was so much going on during the wake and funeral, I wasn't completely focused on the services. Sure, I noticed things were different but didn't pay a lot of attention. The memorial mass was quite different.

     First, we were early. I knew where we were going, no scrambling last minute. I was able to give it my undivided attention, at least at first.

     Early on I realised I had no clue what was happening. I didn't know how or even if I should cross myself. I'm not Catholic so didn't want to offend. I avoided the Holy water. then sat quietly in the pew. Looking around, I realised I was way over dressed, the only one in a tie. Then the service started.

     Lord's prayer, I know this one. Except I didn't, not the way Catholics say it anyway. Then the blessing of peace, which I liked, but again, no clue. The rosary, the Hail Mary's, the mysteries, even the bible reading, the story of Joseph and the coat of the long sleeves, what no colour?, was not something I was familiar with. Throw in the kneeler, which I tripped over twice, up, down, up, down, up, still up, still up wow, we're standing for a really long time then start the stations of the cross and I felt like a fish out of water. Kind of like that recurring dream, you get to school, there's a test, everyone knows the answers except you, yeah, that one. For an hour and 45 minutes.

     It didn't take long for my mind to wander. I wondered about the Holy water. Did the priest make it or did it come in bottled and already blessed? How hygienic were those bowls everybody was dipping their fingers in? What happened when they needed to be cleaned? What do you do with old Holy water? Vampire slayer bulk store? What are communion wafers made of? Are they low fat, gluten free? No wine? Not even grape juice? Why is the priest singing the service in places? Where did the alter boy get those sneakers, or the track pants? Why are there 14 stations of the cross, not 10 or 12? Why so few hymns? What's with the chimes and incense? How do people not trip over these damn kneelers? Truly thoughts worthy of God's house, I know. Then the two priests and two alter boys finished the last station of the cross, filed out the door and left. Service over, what no farewell blessing, nothing?

     I left with a profound sense of feeling silly. One for not knowing anything about the how or why of the service I just attended, the other for letting my mind wander so. I realised how easy it would be think, Wow, have they got this wrong. I mean, I didn't recognise anything. Thankfully, I'm not that person.

     Even if I couldn't follow the service, I was impressed with the number of young people there. Even dressed in jeans and sneakers. The service was very interactive, engaging the congregation. So it was different, do the details matter?

     Quite frankly, I'm pretty sure God could care less. He wants us to worship and come together in fellowship.We're the ones bludgeoning each other over the details of how. Like there is only one way to worship.

     Once again, you've taught your wayward son. The power of faith, the blessing of peace and the strength of tolerance. Amen.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Is that all there is?

     So you may be wondering what does a farm boy, now living in the city, do to celebrate the arrival of Spring? I couldn't tell you but, I made some wild grape jelly, just finished it, waiting to see if it sets. Do I know how to party on a school night or what?

     Back tracking just a little. My grandmother used to make this when I was little. Yes she made jelly from regular old Concord grapes as well but the wild grapes were kind of a special thing. Why waste them?

     Last fall when I was home I noticed that we have an incredible crop of wild grapes along one of our fence rows. They weren't ripe so my Mom's friend Katie said she would pick them, Mom would freeze them, I'd take them home, make jelly. Share? Maybe.

That's Katie, armed and dangerous
That's my Mom laughing in the back ground
One more reason why you don't mess with the women in my family.

     I finally remembered to actually bring them home, so jelly it is. I don't know if you are familiar with wild grapes, they are about the size of a pearl. I spent four hours cleaning 8 pounds, to end up with 6. If I had a press I could have just done that but with stems, leaves et al attached, they had to be cleaned by hand, Otherwise the juice is ruined. So...

Hands worthy of a slasher flick

For six pounds of these

The extreme close up

     Before you get thinking it was all that difficult, I picked the grapes over while watching television so no real hardship. Grapes into the stock pot with 1/2 cup of water so they don't scorch, bring to a boil, simmer for 30 minutes, mashing the grapes with a potato masher for maximum juice extraction, strain through a cheese cloth and let the pulp sit for at least 2 hours, I let it sit over night, and you have your juice ready for making jelly. That is pretty much the same for any juice extraction if your jelly-ing.

     The juice will keep in the fridge for about a week so I finally got around to making my jelly tonight. I could open the kitchen doors, drift back and forth from the patio, all good. I was going to do this cool science-y thing, showing pectin using acetone (nail polish remover) and some of the juice but I forgot so, sorry.

     I ended up with 6 cups of juice, so a batch and a half of jelly but I was feeling lazy. I don't recommend this but I made it all at once. Because grapes, especially wild ones, are so high in pectin, they are a little more forgiving in changing the quantity of the recipe. So here is the recipe. Equal parts juice and sugar. Very complicated and hard to follow, I know.

Jars all prepared and ready

Ready to go
Stock pot on one burner, canner on the other

Sugar going in

Bubbling away

     Bring the juice to a boil and add the sugar, a cup at a time. Stir until sugar is dissolved each time. Pour into the centre of the pot so you don't end up with sugar stuck to the sides, it can scorch and ruin the taste.
Bring it back to a full rolling boil, one you can't stir down. Bring it to the gel point, 220 degrees in the US, about 104 here in Canada. Ya, we measure temperature differently. Handy to know when your reading recipes. If you bring your jams and jellies to eight degrees above the boiling point here in Canada you end up with fruit gummies not what you were trying for. Any how...

     Once you hit the gel point, skim off any foam and ladle into your prepared jars, top with sterile lids, tighten the bands and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Now comes the hard part, waiting.

     When you make jelly, as opposed to jam, it is a bit like manscaping. You have to take it on faith, you can't really see if the jelly is done and will set. Making jam, you can see and feel the change and have a pretty good idea if it's ready, jelly, not so.

     So here I am, waiting for the jelly to cool (and set) and see if all my efforts were worthwhile.

Seven little jars of goodness.
I hope.

     I know what you're all thinking.

Just for you Mark
Hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised tomorrow morning and it will all be worth while

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

See ya later

     That's right old man winter, you're outta here. The first day of spring and it is 24 friggin' degrees here in the city. This kind of awesome never happens in March, in Canada. To celebrate, I got out the new camera and went for a stroll.

     Other than getting a few hostile glances from neighbours as I was busy snapping pictures, I guess I really should have stayed off their lawns, it was a lot of fun. I'm really loving my new toy. The difference in picture quality is astonishing.

     I love the spring, seeing that first blush of new growth. Makes me want to go out and get dirty. In the garden. I am well aware this good weather will not last so I have left my garden alone for the most part but... it is torture. I had to console myself with just snapping a few pictures, over a hundred to be exact. Editing and cropping them was almost as much fun as taking them. More new toys from Christmas.

     Here are a few from my own garden, my herbs are all putting out their first shoots, just begging for a BBQ in the near future.





Winter onions

The squirrels didn't get it all after all.

The first promise of pies to come.

My daffodils are so early this year

I should have blooms by the weekend.

The delicate leaves of my columbine are starting to show

The red shoots that will become my enormous bleeding heart bush
One of my late grandmother's favourites

The Orthodox Ukrainian Church
right behind my house

The lone wild pansy sprouting on the church lawn

Beautiful crocuses every where in the neighbourhood
Hard not to feel good seeing them all around


Snowdrops again?

Little grape hyacinths


Some sort of heather I think

Lungwort, I think

A tiny little mini iris

Not everyone got the memo about the season change

Home renos, a sure sign spring is here

Only in the city
A Hawg with a recycling bin bungeed on the back
Cool and eco friendly.

A little Jurassic action in the neighbour's yard

Maybe time to get rid of the winter coat,
I am somewhere under all that hair
Lookin' a bit like Cousin It
I need a cut-Where are those scissors?

     My first brush with Spring. Swing by Rory's and see what made everyone else's day.