Friday, July 29, 2011

How to Make "Empty" Foods Better

Do you and your family like waffles, pancakes, biscuits, cream of wheat, oatmeal and/or grits for breakfast?  Those are all very common breakfast foods in the US.  There is nothing exceptionally wrong with those items as long as they are only a part of your breakfast and not the sole item of your breakfast.  Eating a high carbohydrate breakfast is setting you up for dietary failure.  Yes, first thing in the morning your body needs calories because you have, in effect, been fasting for about 10-12 hours. But pure carbohydrates with the super sweet (and empty calories) of the powdered sugar or syrup typically sprinkled or poured on the above items does very little nutritionally for you.

If you do like these things for breakfast make sure you balance them with some quality protein like milk, eggs, turkey sausage or bacon, or yogurt. If that seems too heavy of a meal for you then try this.

Substitute or add one or two scoops of a high quality whey protein powder (vanilla works best for favor) in your recipe.  I don't eat any of those normal breakfast items except uncooked oatmeal myself but I have cooked most of them for my family over the years.  Unknown to them I have always fortified the food with protein powder to help them get a better nutritional start of their day.  Protein powder added to pancake or waffle batter actually makes for fluffier pancakes and waffles.  Its the protein strings that do this.  That is the "secret" behind "Better for Bread" flour that you can buy at the grocery store. I made another blackberry cobbler yesterday and added two scoops of this product to stiffen the batter.  I like more of a "cakey" texture with my cobbler and I have to say that this cobbler turned out much better than the first and now has some nutritional value beyond the value of eating the blackberries.

The typical or stereotypical American breakfast is one of the cheapest meals of the day but it also is typically one of the unhealthiest or maybe I should just say "emptiest".  A simple inclusion of a high quality protein powder can change that and your kids will never know the difference.  In fact, the slight vanilla flavor apparently makes the pancakes and waffles taste even better (again, I don't eat them so I don't really know).

Do a Google or Yahoo search using the following search string, "how to add protein powder to recipes" and try some of the resulting recipes.

There are a lot of different protein powder companies out there but I have found the one I posted here to be the cheapest and best nutritional value for the cost.  It has a very good Amino Acid profile and significant amounts of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), which are more and more important as you grow older.  I am not crazy about the weak flavor of the Vanilla but the chocolate is very good.  One good thing about the vanilla is no one will taste it if you mix it into sauces, flour-based recipes, or drinks.  Another thing I don't like is that this particular protein powder creates a lot of foam when you mix it in milk.  That is great if you are making a smoothie but not so great if you are just mixing it with milk in a shaker.

At only 100 calories a serving it could be a great part of a weight loss or weight maintenance program.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Extra Eggs

Eggs and egg substitute products like Egg Beaters (c) or Kirkland Real Egg (Egg Product) are excellent protein sources and they all store really well.  Real eggs can be scrambled and frozen in ice cube trays for instance and then stored in plastic containers in the freezer for months. For my diet I stick to Egg Beaters, which I also freeze and thaw as I need them.

Right before I went on leave in June I saw Egg Beaters in the marked down shelf at my store; they were approaching the Sell-by Date.  So I bought two packages for less than half price.  Each package has three containers and each container is the equivalent of two eggs.  You've seen the egg, ham, and cheese on whole wheat bagel breakfast sandwiches I like in an earlier post. (Egg Bagel)  So I was thinking, how can I make it even easier to prepare my breakfast in the morning?  This is what I came up with:

I cut a canned fruit can in half to make a form.  I sprayed a non-stick frying pan and the inside of the form with cooking spray and set the form in the pan to heat up.  Once everything was up to cooking temp I poured about a 1/4 inch of Egg Beater into the form. Since it was already hot the eggs immediately thickened and sealed the bottom of the form.  I can't stand an over-cooked egg (there can be no browning) so I moved the pan on and off the heat until the egg in the form was pretty solid.  Then I lifted the form off the eggs and flipped the egg patty to cook the other side.  In 2-3 minutes I had a fully cooked egg patty that is just the right size and shape to go on my bagel breakfast sandwich. I let them cool down and then stacked them with wax paper between each one in a plastic storage container, which then went in the freezer.  When I want a quick breakfast I just take one egg patty out of the freezer and warm it up in the microwave while I toast the bagel.  Plop on a slice of cheese and some ham and in five minutes I have a great breakfast.  It can't get much easier than that.

This is a good way to take advantage of sales or to use up eggs or egg substitute product that is getting near its best used by date.  Either way you save money and time.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

15 Jul - Successful Forage

Last evening I went for what I expected would be a one hour walk after supper.  I wanted to go check out some cherry trees I know about and also some nut trees to see if they were going to produce this year.  Well, the cherry trees had all their lower branches trimmed and there was no way to reach the cherries this year.  Too bad for me.  But all was not lost.  Along this lane were plenty of Blackberries; some with ripe fruit and some still just flowering.

Blackberries most often grow along borders or edges; edges of fields, vacant lots, and roads. I had brought along two Tupperware(C) type containers in case I found anything to forage.  I couldn't get at the cherries so I picked blackberries.  I worked my way down this lane and in about 30 minutes I had five cups of berries to take home.  I could have picked more, many more, except for a couple things.  First, both my containers were full.  Second, I never pick all the berries from one spot or even from one plant.  Other people and of course the wildlife have a right to some berries too.  Third, and maybe most important, I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt and the area was completely covered with a plant we call "Stingweed"

Stingweed, more properly called, "Stinging Nettle", is covered with millions of tiny nettles or spines that are as fragile as glass and are coated with some sort of extreme irritant. If you brush up against the plant it feels like thousands of splinters are in your skin and everyone of them burns like it had acid on it. I have walked into stingweed plenty of times while hiking and I'll take the pain as well as anyone. BUT, I will not intentionally subject myself to it for anything less than saving someone's life.  As careful as I was I still got burned a couple times and still had welts and redness on my arms and legs this morning when I woke up.  So I passed on a lot of berries.  Even so I came home with five cups.  

What to do, what to do? My first plan was just to eat them with some cereal but as I quickly filled my first container I decided to attempt baking something.  I am a fair cook but I have no claims as a baker; my wife on the other hand loves to bake but hates to cook so we are a complementary pair in that respect.  When I got home I looked up some recipes online looking for the simplest one with the fewest ingredients.  Blackberry cobbler was the winner.  Anyone that has been camping as a Boy Scout (and maybe as a Girl Scout?) has probably made peach cobbler in a Dutch Oven. It is pretty dang simple.  So today I gave it a shot in my temperamental, Dutch, gas oven.

My first cobbler
 Betty Crocker Award Winning Blackberry Cobbler
1. Mix two and a half cups blackberries and one cup of sugar and let sit for 20 plus minutes.
2. Mix 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup milk, and 1/2 cup melted butter in mixing bowl.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees f
4. Pour mixture #2 into an 8x8 inch, un-greased square pan
5. Spoon mixture #1 on top of this
6. Bake for 45-55 minutes

Most people eat their cobbler warm with ice cream or whipped cream but I hate warm desserts.  I let my cobbler cool then put it in the fridge to cool some more.  I had a 1/6th portion for dessert tonight and it was awesome.  This cobbler will last me six days so I'll have to freeze the other berries I have for later.  Since it was so easy and so good, I will go to some other areas I have scouted out in the past and pick and freeze a couple more quarts of berries.

There are two and a half cups of blackberries in my recipe so for a total nutrition count double and a half what this nutrition label shows (144g is one cup). Blackberries have a significant amount of Vitamins C & K as well as Copper and Manganese. One cup of Blackberries will also provide 31% of your dietary fiber for the day.  Blackberries are also a good source of antioxidants, pectin (which lowers cholesterol), and omega-3s.  It's not a miracle berry but it certainly is highly nutritious.

I enjoy picking raspberries but for me, picking blackberries is something of a chore.  The reason is how they are attached to the cane.  Raspberries sort of peel off of the stem and you just have the fruit in your hand.  Blackberries don't peel off the stem, the stem has to break at the fruit.  This makes it a harder, slower, and far messier process.  You cannot pick blackberries without getting purple, sticky fingers.  It does wash off easy enough though.

A nice evening walk and free food; gotta love it.

Everyone should have a Dutch Oven.  Whether camping or to have when the power goes out it is a good thing to have around. Get one with the flat lid if you expect to bake in it; you have to be able to put coals on top. You can cook with wood coals from a fire, even in your fireplace, or with charcoal on the ground or in a charcoal grill.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Saved some Money

Today I stopped in at the commissary not really needing anything but I was at the gym and had just checked my mail so since I was there I walked through.  I bought a large bottle of Limeade for less than half price and a package of ham chunks for half price.  Their "Sell By Dates" are tomorrow and the store wanted to move them.  Good deal for me.  The Limeade is too strong so I can cut it 2:1 and get 33% more product.

I always check the discount self first and then look for red stickers on products I routinely use.  This has saved me lots of money over the years.

I have been conducting a human experiment of sorts these past four days.  Before I went on leave I had six yogurts in my fridge.  I asked my cat sitter to take them but she declined.  The Sell By date of the oldest was 8 June and the newest was 18 June.  Being the cheap ba$tard that I am I decided to try them out.  I have eaten five of them with no ill effects and they tasted just fine. Now, to be fair, I have to tell you that I grew up in a house that threw nothing away.  Green fuzz was scraped or cut off food and you ate it.  Along with that I have been eating native food in countries with less than our high food quality standards for the past 29 years.  I have a pretty robust immune system and a healthy colony of diverse bacteria in my digestive tract.  In fact, and my wife and kids will confirm this, I often and routinely eat slightly tainted food just to keep my system strong.  As a Soldier I never know where I will be sent or what the conditions will be.  I witnessed Soldiers puking their guts up after drinking local water and eating local food enough times to know how important this can be.

I am not recommending you do what I do, it could make you very, very sick.  But there are things you can do to obtain similar resistance (in no particular order):

1. Eat as diverse a diet as you can manage.  Depending on what your racial background is, your ancesters ate from a menu of hundreds of items.  The Hunter-Gatherer ate what was available in the location and season they found themselves. This will expose you to more substances.

2. Eat mainly unprocessed foods.  Fresh or frozen is fine but the ingredient list should be very, very short. You don't want the food to be highly processed and sterile.

3. Buy fruit and vegetables from farmers markets, organic if possible.  Naturally grown fruits and vegetables contain disease fighting substances.  They also are innoculated with the local bacteria strains from the soil and natural fertilizers such as animal manures and compost. Buy from various venders to increase the variety of bacteria you are exposed to.

4. Drink a variety of real tea that you brew yourself.  Teas and herbal drinks add a host of good things to your diet.

5. Eat real yogurt with active bacteria.  Your body needs to have a healthy amount of ''good'' bacteria in the digestive tract, and many yogurts are made using active (live) bacteria. One of the words you’ll see used is ''probiotics.'' Probiotic refers to living organisms that can result in a health benefit when eaten in adequate amounts. Miguel Freitas, PhD, medical marketing manager for Dannon Co., says that the benefits associated with probiotics are specific to certain strains of these "good" bacteria. Many provide their benefits by adjusting the microflora in the intestines, or by acting directly on body functions, such as digestion or immune function. Keep in mind that the only yogurts that contain probiotics are those that say "live and active cultures" on the label. Try to eat yogurts from several different companies because they all (I presume) have their own strains of bacteria that they have developed.  The more variety of bacteria the better. Natural sauerkraut and unpasturized apple cider will also add to your body's bacteria diversity.

How will all this bacteria cultivation save you money?  First, you'll rarely get sick; your immune system will be much stronger than the average person.  When you do get sick, you will recover quicker.  Secondly, you will be able to eat a wider variety of foods and eat foods that you were able to buy in bulk, cheaply, but are past their prime.  It is nothing for me to wipe a little bit of mold off of food and safely eat it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Foraging - 12 July 2011

Looking at my blog stats it appears that my posts on foraging are some of the most popular.  Maybe foraging appeals to the adventurer in all of us or maybe it is just the thought of being to obtain food basically for free.  For me, it is the ability to use old skills to utilize something that most people overlook.

Yesterday evening, after supper (part of which came out of my garden), I went for a walk around the edge of my village.  My intent was to take some pictures around the village for a personal blog that I write for my family.  But I can't just turn off my normal instincts to look for stuff that I can use.  My eye is always seeking valuable resources and I continually categorize and log the locations of resources that I might be able to use at a later date.

As I finished my intended task and was heading back to my house, I took a detour down a dirt road that went in the general direction I needed to go.  It wasn't the most direct path but I haven't been on this road for quite a while so I took it.  I always scan the edges of roads and trails and have found cash, bicycle parts, tools, hardware, and other stuff that has been accidently dropped.
Last evening I noticed squashed cherries so I looked up and I was standing under a large domestic cherry tree that had somehow grown in the hedgerow along the road.  It was loaded with ripening fruit.  Now that surprised me a little because the cherry season is pretty much over in this area.  Just before I went on leave in late June, I had picked a quart of delicious, sweet, dark cherries on the edge of a pasture near my village.  I didn't have the time to process any large amounts for juice or jelly but I had fresh cherries with my lunch and for snacks for five days.  I think this tree is a little late because it is heavily shaded and this is a dry spot.  We have only recently had normal rain and so now the tree is playing catch-up.  Good for the birds and good for me.  I'll go back in a couple days and pick some fruit.  The cherries on this tree are a brighter red than the ones I picked in June; those were dark maroon-almost black. 

The cherries are a near-term resource but I also have to look for things I can use further down the road.  As I walked on this road I also saw plenty of Elder trees and bushes.  Elder used to be very common where I come from in PA but they are increasingly hard to find.  They grow like weeds here in South Limburg.  Last year I picked a five gallon bucket of Elderberries and squeezed a little more than a gallon and a half of juice.  I put up six pint jars of jelly (one of my absolute favorites) and have a gallon or so of juice in my freezer.  I'll make some more jelly when I need to.  I don't eat pancakes or waffles but for those that do, elderberries make a great syrup to put on them.  Elderberries have all sorts of positive medicinal uses and I might pick some for juice to mix with and fortify my grape juice.  But I don't need any more for jelly since I will move back to the states next year.  Elderberry jelly is no harder to make than any other jelly.  The most difficult and time consuming part is getting the tiny berries off the stem.  My trick is to use a large serving fork and basically rake the berries off the stems into a large bucket.  Caution: the juice will stain so do it outside and use a clean five gallon bucket because the berries will sometimes fly. The recipe I used is similar to this one: Elderberry Jelly Recipe

If you have never tried Elderberry jelly and want to taste it before you go through the effort of making your own, you can order some online.  If you live near a good farmers market or an Amish Market, you might be able to pick up a jar there.  Otherwise it is somewhat hard to find.

I also saw quite a few blackberry bushes along this road.  Blackberries make great wine, jelly, syrup and baked goods (cobbler); they are also good to eat fresh. Here, blackberries are still about 2-3 weeks in the future but you will find a few that ripened prematurely.  I ate a small handful on Saturday when I took my weekend hike.  For fresh eating I prefer raspberries to blackberries because there is an internal stem in the blackberry and raspberries are just the fruit when you pick them.  But I really like the taste of blackberries so I deal with it.  I think I might have missed the wild raspberry season here.  
While I was home on leave my raspberries came in and my family picked buckets full.  My wife made three Raspberry Buckle cakes while I was home and let me tell you they never go stale.  Those would be $10-12 cakes if you bought them in a store. One time we had it with ice cream and that is a refreshing, cool treat.

I'm not teaching survival skills on this blog but one thing I couldn't help but notice was the large number of thistle plants growing along this road.  Some thistles are not edible, some are toxic, but many others are edible (peeled stems and the roots).  I have made string from thistle but have never eaten them so I don't know much about it.  But, if they grow heavily in your area, like they do here, it might be worth your while to study the types that grow there and see if they are a  resource you can use.

Now I'm coming to some long term observations.  Once the road came out from what is called a "holle weg" or sunken road configuration I was then walking between three different cultivated fields.  In these fields was corn, potatoes, and wheat.  I grew up on a farm and I am strongly warning against stealing from farmers; they have a hard enough time earning a living.  But what you can do, in the late fall, is go "gleaning".  Modern farm machinery is designed to be efficient and low labor.  Because of this, the machine does not pick everything and imperfect crops are often left behind.  Let's talk about corn.

Corn is an intensely planted row crop.  Right now corn is selling at an all-time high price and so many additional acres have been planted.  Corn harvestors go down each row and pull the cob off the stalk, husk it, and then shuck the kernels off the cob.  This is done at high speed.  A farmer is doing good if he gets 96-98 percent of the corn.  He could get more if he went slower or the corn was not growing so close together but then time is money.  Losing a little grain for the sake of time is acceptable in most cases.  What is a small amount of corn in the farmer's eye is a valuable resource for you.  When I was a teenager I would glean corn fields to collect what the farmer had left behind.  "Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest." -Wikipedia.  In my case we used the corn to feed our livestock but it is perfectly edible for humans.  All you need is a grinder and you can produce corn flour for bread, muffins, tortillas, etc.  If you are raising a couple chickens for eggs and meat it is a good way to get free feed.  Why will farmers let you glean their fields?  Well truthfully, some won't.  But many will because they are going to grow something else in this field next year and they don't want "volunteer corn" growing from the left behind seeds. You could always offer half of what you glean.  The best places to find corn is where the harvester had to turn and where the corn was off-loader from the harvestor to the truck. Back when I did it it was common to glean 2-3 bushels per acre.  It was a nice day outside, I got some exercise, I found arrowheads and other interesting rocks, and I collected a considerable amount of corn for free.

The next item for gleaning is the potato field.  Nobody eats more potatos than the Belgians and the Dutch; it is served with every meal.  There are thousands of acres of potato fields in my area.  Potato harvesting is difficult business because potatoes grow under ground.  It the old days you used a potato plow to unearth the spuds and then people walked along and picked them up.  Nowadays, there are automated harvestors that do it all.  The problem is, how does a harvester separate potatoes from the plant, dirt and rocks?  They use screens and shakers. The result is that some potatoes are cut and small potatoes pass through the machine.  These are left behind, often in piles at the ends of fields where the harvester off-loads.  Last fall I picked up a few while hiking to eat raw (yep, raw, salted potato slices were a treat in my house when I was growing up.  Try it sometime.).  I could easily have gleaned hundreds of pounds of potatoes from the local fields but I was on a low carb diet at the time so I passed on the opportunity.  This year I will go out and get some.

ok, that's it for now.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

110709 Garden

Well I came back from three weeks vacation expecting the worst for my garden.  What could have gone wrong?  My three biggest worries were wind damage, weeds, and drought.  Below is a picture of my garden the day that I got back:

As you can see it is not in bad shape.  I had partially weeded it before I took the picture not thinking about my blog.  But I can assure you the weeds were minimal.  There was no wind damage and the garden had received adequate water.  The only damage was that a lot of the new green bean plants in the bottom right portion of the garden had been eaten to stubs.  If I didn't know better I would think a rabbit had somehow gotten inside the bird netting.  I suppose it could have happened.  Some of them are starting to put out secondary leaves but at best they will be stunted plants.  That afternoon I picked lettuce, radishes, and green beans for supper.  The radishes were so good that I ate all of them at one meal.  I have had two meals from the green beans so far and have enough already picked for two more meals.

I love green beans.  The simplest way I cook them is to bring a pot of water to boil and drop a big handful of beans in.  I boil them for seven minutes and then pour off the water.  I then add a teaspoon of butter and some diced onions and stir until everything is mixed well.  Cooked vegetables is one of the few times I use salt.  I like a very small amount of salt on cooked vegetables. This was part of Thursday night's supper.  On Friday I made a garlic-chicken stir fry. I cut up green beans, onions, carrots, radishes, corn, broccoli, and some left-over garlic chicken and pre-cooked noodles.  I cooked all this on high heat in a frying pan sprayed with Olive Oil PAM and extra garlic powder.  This made enough for two meals (Friday and Saturday's) and cost next to nothing since most of it was left-overs or out of my garden.

Today I went for a hike and made roll-ups for lunch adding my lettuce.  I took a couple more radishes.  They are good and sharp.

What is my secret to a weed-free garden?  Well I do a couple things that are to my advantage.  First, I prepare the garden bed properly and then leave it alone.  There are billions of weed seeds in every cubic foot of soil.  Every time you disturb the soil you bring more seeds up to sunlight where they can germinate and grow.  Once I have the bed established for the year I only add compost to the top of the soil and then let the worms and other critters work it into the dirt. Proper clean-up at the end of the year is just as important.  I always ensure there are no weeds going to seed anywhere near my garden.  The fewer new seeds that drop in your garden the better.  Eventually you will clean up most of the billion seeds in your dirt and fewer weeds will even grow.

Secondly, I visit my garden every day, sometimes several times a day.  Each time I check the status of the plants, check the moisture level, and look for signs of distress and insect damage.  Each visit I make a point to pick some of the emerging weeds.  Doing a little bit each time makes it a routine and minor job as opposed to just weeding once a week when they are already getting big and sucking nutrients and water out of your soil. Nobody looks forward to spending hours pulling big weeds out of the garden.

Lastly, I cultivate intensely. This means that I over plant the soil so that the vegetable plants actually create a "living mulch" by shading out the weeds. (Normally I put down a layer of mulch but I don't really have access to anything suitable here.)  Most gardeners plant their crops in long rows.  This makes it easier to run the rotary tiller down between the rows, thus mechanizing the weeding process.  I only do that with corn.  Everything else I plant in blocks.  I plant in staggered rows so that each plant grows mid-way between two other plants in an adjacent row like this diagram shows.

What I usually do is take the recommended plant spacing distance from the seed packet and add 50-100 percent to it and then stagger-plant them in a block.  In the case of these carrots, my experience tells me I can plant them four inches apart (double the recommended spacing for a row) in a block.  I will actually get many more plants in the same space this way and as they grow their greens will quickly fill the space between the plants and shade out almost all weeds.  A few weeks into the life cycle and you have no weeds in that plot.  When you plant in rows you almost always have bare soil exposed in the rows.  That begs weeds to grow and is also hard on the soil and soil organisms since the sun burns the top layer and quickly forms a hard crust that water cannot easily penetrate.  Without 4-5 inches of organic mulch the soil will dry out and start sucking water out from under your plants as well.  Square Foot gardening and/or block planting (also called wide-row planting) are easier and better for your soil and plants.

The last thing I did in the garden was to pinch off the growing tips of my tomato plant.  Is is almost as high as my bird netting and big enough for the amount of tomatoes I will need.  Limiting further growth of the plant will allow it to divert more energy to production of fruit (in this case, tomatoes).  There are several nice green tomatoes started so I expect to eat my first one in about two weeks if all goes well.

In the past three days I have supplemented all my meals except breakfast with produce from my small garden.  Not too bad for such a small plot in a bad location.

I highly recommend this book if you don't know much about intensive gardening methods.  This book gave me the foundational knowledge that I use as the basis for all my gardens.  Through experience and additional research I have modified a lot of it to suit me and my growing locations/conditions.  But it will teach you what you need to know to grow the most food in the smallest space.