Archives for January 2010

{Omnivore’s Dilemma: Part Zwei}

As mentioned earlier, a huge portion of the book is devoted to discussing corn.  Why? Check out Part 1.  It should be noted that the problem is not necessarily corn.  It’s the amount of corn…and the type of corn.  The corn grown today is genetically engineered.  In the 1920’s, 20 bushels of corn could be grown on 1 acre of soil; now, 180 bushels of corn is grown on 1 acre of soil.  It’s taken a whole lot of engineering to modify the corn crop enough to make it grow in such close quarters, and so big and tall, and with so many kernels.  But it’s not just the genetic engineering.  It’s the fertilizer.  To me, here lies the bigger problem.

In 1947, the decision was made to use leftover ammonium nitrate  from WWII on farmland as fertilizer, as it contains nitrogen, which plants need. (Don’t forget that there is a great process that Mother Nature put in place to help plants fix nitrogen.)  The chemical fertilizer industry, along with that of pesticides, which are based on poison gases developed for the WWII, was the product of the government’s efforts to convert it war machine to peacetime purposes.  As one activist notes in the passage, “We’re still eating the leftovers of WWII” (41). The man credited with the invention of fertilizer is the same man who promoted the Nazi wartime efforts by inventing chemical warfare in WWI and the gas that was used in the chambers of concentration camps in WWII.  Ironically, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize…That’s right.  We’re putting chemical warfare on our crops, specifically the crop that makes up the majority of the food we eat! The book below (all about Fritz Haber,  may have to make it’s way onto my To-Be-Read list, or the movie entirely in German, although I don’t think I speak it well enough to follow) discusses the invention of chemical warfare and the ultimate invention of fertilizer.

Now, making fertilizers relies on fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas…), and when you add together the natural gas in the fertilizer, and the fossil fuels it takes to make the pesticides, drive the tractors, and harvest the crops, dry the crops, and transport the crops, you find that each barrel of corn requires about 1/3 of a gallon of oil to grow it, or around 50 gallons of oil/acre. Pollan then mockingly suggests that we just drink the oil and save ourselves the time…Oh, we do.  In Iowa, they have something called “Blue Baby Alerts”.  That’s right-some days there is so much run-off fertilizer in the water supply that giving infants water will inhibit oxygen from being carried through the body, causing the infant to suffocate, turn blue, and eventually die.  Many folks in corn regions won’t even cook or bathe with the water-they have specialized filtration systems, which admittedly, doesn’t filter it all.  Follow the run-off a little further down the Mississippi, and you’ll end up in the Gulf of Mexico, where a polluted spot as big as New Jersey is void of sea life.  That’s right, everything except the algae is dead.

The  corn crop isn’t the only food process using a large amount of petroleum and causing pollution from run-off.  One calf, from birth to death, consumes nearly 35 gallons of oil (84).  The cattle industry is a scary, scary place:

  1. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, cows were 4 or 5 years old when slaughtered.  In the 1950’s, they were 2 or 3 years old at slaughter.  Now?  14 months old.
  2. What gets a calf to go from 80lbs. to 1100lbs. in 14 months?  Well, a tremendous amount of corn, protein, and fat supplements, and a ton of new drugs.  Cows are  fed cornflakes.  Yep, cornflakes.  And then…get this…OTHER COWS!  This was the problem that led to Mad Cow disease in the late 1990’s.  The FDA stepped in, but said it was still okay to give them cow blood products and fat.  In fact, FDA rules allow cows to be fed non-cow animals including feather-meal, chicken litter (including bedding, feces, and discarded bits of feed (more corn!) from chicken pens), chicken, fish, and pig meal.  Furthermore, the now banned cow meat is being fed to other animals.  Follow me here…chickens are fed cow meat…but the those same chickens are fed to the cow…so the cows are still eating cow meat.  Keep in mind…cows are herbivores!  Cows are also fed molasses (more sugar) and a synthetic nitrogen that is very similar to fertilizer. Throw in some synthetic estrogen and antibiotics and you’ve got one yummy cow buffet.  Literally…
  3. Cows are fed 32lbs. of corn/day.  This leads to marbling of the flesh.  This used to be a not-so-good thing.  Consumers didn’t like their meat marbled.  Then the USDA put out a “grading system” that gave high marks to marbled meat, and voila, consumers now think marbling is good.
  4. Eating this diet that they are not naturally supposed to be eating, causes all kinds of yucky problems for the cow.  The corn causes gas to build up in the stomach, which must be belched or umm, belched the other way.  BUT, the diet causes a layer of slimy stuff to line the stomach, which means the gas can’t escape.  To remedy this, (if its noticed in time) a hose is shove down the cow’s throat into the esophagus.  This also causes the stomach to become very acidic, when it is usually not.  It eats holes in the cows stomach, allowing bacteria to leak in to the bloodstream…and the meat which is eaten by consumers. 15-30% of cows have this, and on some feedlots, it’s as high as 70%.
  5. Prior to 1980, a new strain of e-coli had never been seen.  This new e-coli strain comes from the stomach of cows.  Before, the cow’s stomach was neutrally balanced, which means if the bacteria did get into the human’s stomach, it would die because our stomach is acidic.  But now that it’s starting off in such an acidic environment, if it gets into our acidic stomach, it continues to grow and thrive.  As few as 10 microbes of e-coli in the human body can cause kidney failure and death in a matter of a few days.  Sadly, I’ve recently read that this strain is starting to show up in other animals and grass fed cows, too, because they are drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated feed or encountering some of the run-off from feed lots.
  6. A really-smart-guy at Cornell found that switching the cows over to a grass and hay diet for just a few days before slaughtering  would reduce the presence of e-coli by almost 80% in the cow, and in the pens (because they are shoved in there, eat there, sleep there, and poo there-so they’re standing literally knee-deep in e-coli filth-which is sprayed off during slaughtering, adding a nice flavor to the meat, don’t ya think?).  What did the agricultural industry decide to do?  Spray more chemicals to try to kill the bacteria on the cow and in pen, and give more anti-biotics to kill it within the cow.

 

To me, these were just some of the big ideas that every consumer in America should be aware of.  The book presents an abundance more material worth looking into.  No need to Paperbackswap this book, as there’s already a queue of people waiting to read it.

9.5/10           A definite read for anyone who eats…

{Foodie-Friday: Obama-rugula}

Food: Arugula

Arugula is a leafy-green, which means it can be used just like lettuce or spinach.  It has a much more spicy flavor than some other greens, so it makes a great addition to salads or even as a salad of its own.  Some people liken the taste to radish, but I don’t think it’s that strong.  Arugula also makes a great addition to stir-fry or pesto.  Use it raw in salads or on top of pizza, garlic bread, or chicken, or mix it up with other ingredients to make pesto or salsa.

Pronunciation: ah-ROO-guh-lah

Word, to yo mother (or Etymology)

The Latin name is Eruca Sativa. Say “Eruca” 5x fast and you can kind of get it.  Around the world, it’s also known as Garden Rocket, Rocket (British English/Australian & New Zealand English), Eruca, Rocketsalad, Rucola (Italian), Rukola (Macedonian, Serbian, Slovenian, Polish, Danish, Czech), Rugola (Italian), Rauke (German), Roquette (French), Rokka (Greek), Roka (Turkish), Ruca (Catalan), Beharki (Basque), Voinicică (Romanian) Rúcula, Oruga and Arúgula (Spanish), Rúcula(Portuguese), Jarjeer (Arabic), Ruchetta (Italian), Rughetta (Italian) and Borsmustár (Hungarian)…

Random Fact

Obama offended Iowa’s citizens during the campaign by asking, “Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?”.  Apparently this had people scratching their heads wondering exactly what ‘arugula’ was.  They were also a little offended that Obama thought they had the money to be shopping at Whole Foods.  This is just one example of how many view arugula as an “elitist” green or a “snobby” food.  Granted, I hadn’t heard of arugula until a couple of years ago, but since I started eating healthier, I can’t escape it.  It’s everywhere.  I think it’s a great, tasty green and reject any “elitist” motives.  And I didn’t really know about Whole Foods until a year or two ago.  So, I understand Iowa’s confoundment. But as hard as I try, I can’t figure out why Barack would choose arugula or Whole Foods to talk about in Iowa.

Where Is It Grown?

It grows wild in Asia and all over the entire Mediterranean.  It can be cultivated just about anywhere else.  Start with seeds, which will be begin sprouting in about 7 days, and ready to pick in about a month.  Softer, rich soil placed in a sunny place is ideal, but it can tolerate a variety in soil and sunlight.  In the Summer months, it’s actually best to place it in partial shade. 

 

Can You Grow It At Home?

Yep! It’s actually a good choice for an indoor garden, too.  It can be grown indoors year-round, and it grows quick. Start with seeds, which will be begin sprouting in about 7 days, and ready to pick in about a month.  Softer, rich soil placed in a sunny place is ideal, but it can tolerate a variety in soil and sunlight.  In the Summer months, it’s actually best to place it in partial shade.  Check out this article for some insight on how easy it is to grow.

When Is It In Season?

It begins to be ready to harvest in late Spring and throughout Summer.  It can be planted on a rotation, and because of its short growing time, it will continue to grow until a frost hits.  Or it can be brought indoors.

Storage & Shelf-Life

Arugula doesn’t store well.  It seems best to grow your own, and pick it when you’re ready to eat it. Freshly picked arugula should be dried on a paper towel, and then stored in the fridge for up to a few days.

Ummm, Why Should I Care?

Arugula is a readily absorbable source of calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and potassium. It is also a good source of vitamins A, C, K, and folic acid. Most people think of calcium only coming from milk or cheese, but dark, leafy greens are just a good of choice.  These nutrients come with only a few calories (really, just a few!) per cup serving.  It’s like the proverbially free-lunch come true. 

Another big benefit is their phytochemical content. Eaten on a regular basis, it’s been proven to prevent most types of cancer. Research has linked a diet high in leafy greens and other vegetables with disease prevention time and time again-they are pound for pound the most potent anti-cancer foods. Some of the phytochemicals are responsible for stimulating enzymes which help the body cleanse itself of toxins and potential carcinogens.

Arugula is also a wonderful source of chlorophyll, a compound that the body can always benefit from. Chlorophyll cleanses and energizes the blood. It helps bring large amounts of oxygen to all parts of the body, creating an environment undesirable to viruses and harmful bacteria. Chlorophyll also supports healthy skin.

Other Uses

It’s known as the “romantic salad green” because it has been used as an aphrodisiac as far back as Roman times. ::Bow chicka wow wow::

Although it’s fallen out of favor now, previous times have seen arugula seeds being mashed and used for diffuser oils.

In fact, the seeds and flowers of arugula plants are edible.  Many love the flowers, although I’ve yet to eat them.  Use them as a garnish on a salad or other dish.

Recipes

I happen to love pairing arugula with something sweet.  No, no.  Not chocolate.  More like strawberries or pineapples.  I’ll throw either, or both, on top of greens for a great salad, or use pineapple and arugula on top of grilled chicken breasts.  Basically, I throw a handful of arugula on top of everything.  No need to make it harder than it is.

Arugula Pesto

Tuscan White Bean and Arugula Soup

And…because I secretly love Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop site:

Broccoli and Arugula Detox Soup

{And It Was Called “Yellow”}

I’m ready for Spring.  I’m really ready for yellow.  Yellow in the Winter just doesn’t work.  Yellow in the Spring is fantabulous. Maybe I’ll get some yellow pumps…

Or maybe a yellow throw pillow…

Or maybe I’ll just eat a banana.

{Big Gulp, Eh? Welp, See Ya Later}

27oz Klean Kanteen

1. Name the movie.

2. Quit buying bottled water.

3. Get ready for a rockin’ product review.

I only drink two things.  Water and green tea.  I don’t drink tap water.  I’m not a fan of fluoride. Or chlorine.  Or hazardous waste.  And I especially don’t like drinking it. Check out this blog to educate yourself on the dangers of fluoride and tap water. 

Here’s my history with water:

1. As a child, I ate snow and drank from the hose and played in the sprinkler.  I probably have lead poisoning.  No really.  We lived in a very old house.

2. As a young adult on-the-go, bottled water was very convenient.  And trendy (Admit it!).  But pricey. At $1-$1.25 per bottle, I was probably spending $20/week on water!

3. I realized that buying bottled water from vending machines on-the-go was making a dent in my finances.  I resolved to plan ahead by buying bulk bottled water from Wally World.  24 bottles of Dasani for $4.50 seemed like a pretty good deal. And it is.  Until I found empty bottles under the bed, next to the trash, under the car seats, under the couch…and most of the time, they were about a quarter full.

4. This seemed asinine.  Obviously we were still wasting money by not fully drinking the water. But the amount of plastic water bottles that surrounded us was insane.  Literally. We were cleaning one afternoon and both looked at each other and said, “we’ve got to do something about this.”  And the even more shocking reality…where did all of these bottles go? Estimates are as high as 2 million bottled beverages consumed every 5 minutes in America.  Crazy.

 

plastic-oceans-photo09191

5. I did some research.  My initial idea was to run out and buy a Brita system and the first water bottle that I saw, but I was also starting to see some very sobering studies about plastics.  Enter Klean Kanteen.

As far as I can tell, this is one of the best options on the market for the intended purpose of water-on-the-go without plastic water bottles.  Now, I didn’t say it was 100% safe or a miracle cure for our water problems.  I said it was one of the best options.  I put one for both me and the hubs on our Christmas Wish List, and we got them along with a Pur Filtration System.  Why Pur over Brita?  Well, let’s just say we have a partiality to the parent company.  Of course, filtration systems come with their own risks, but again, it’s better than the alternative and a step in the right direction.

After using the KK for a month now, I love it.  I have yet to take a sip out of a plastic bottle.  I’m lucky enough to live close enough to go home for lunch, so I fill it up at lunch to have enough water for the afternoon.  I have the 27oz, but larger bottles are available for those without the luxury of filling up half-way through the day.  It takes a bit of perseverance to remember to fill it up each night and throw it in my bag for the next day, but after a few days of this, it has become an easy routine.  I feel kind of ashamed that it took me this long to do it.  And it looks super-cool.  Even the hubby got complimented at work!

Pros

1. It’s not plastic. Plastics can contain BPA’s (bisphenol A).  BPA is a known hormone interruptor (meaning it messes with your cycle, fertility, and reproductive organs). It also contains no DEHP which is a suspected carcinogen (cancer-causer).  Most plastic water bottles are made from petroleum.  These chemicals can leach into the water from the plastic, even at room temperature.  Imagine what happens when it’s left in a hot car, or a hot warehouse.

2. It’s durable.  I’ve dropped mine a few times, and even full of water, it hasn’t dented or scratched.  I’ve read that the colored ones can chip or scratch, but I was a bit leery of the painted ones anyway, so I went with regular old steel colored.  Although the orange one is verrrry tempting.

3. It’s easy to use.  It’s lightweight, so it is easy to take along anywhere.  The sleek design also makes it easy to hold and carry.  The variety of caps that can be interchanged makes it versatile.  There are numerous different “add-ons” for those more sports-inclined, such as carry cases and thermal bags and what-not. The variety of sizes also ensure that everyone can find something they like.

4. It’s reusable. It’s dishwasher safe, but the wide mouth makes it easy to wash by hand.  Again, the sleek design is in place so that no corners, threads, or hidden folds trap bacteria or cause damage to the bottle.

5.  It’s also a thermos.  And they make a wine carafe. Sounds pretty cool for an eco-friendly picnic!  A new design allows for it to be used as mug for hot beverages as well.  The original will not be harmed by this, but it does conduct heat so it’s hard to hold when it’s that hot.  The hubby tried this with coffee and learned the hard way.  The new ones even come with a better lid that mimics the traditional sippy coffee lid.  Hmmm…Valentine’s present inspiration?

Cons

1. I hate when people deliberately spell things wrong.  It drives me batty.  Spelling something with a “k” instead of “c” does not make it instantly cooler.

2. It’s made “RESPONSIBLY” in China.  That’s seems like an oxymoron.  Yes, I would rather support the American economy by buying domestic, and yes, I’m skeptical of anything that comes from China (especially 8 year old Olympic gymnasts who try to pass as 16. Ouch.)

3. It’s a bit pricey.  Plan to spend around $20 for a good-sized KK, but considering the durability and versatility, I definitely say it’s worth it for us, especially considering the amount of water that we drink.

4. The opening is very wide, and it takes some practice to not dump water all over yourself.

5.  It is still made of metals and the colored ones still have paint.  10 years from now we will probably know that this is harmful, too… The Sports Cap option means the water is still passing through plastic. 

Overall, this little device has helped me reach my January goal of drinking no bottled water.  The hubby has bought-in, so to speak, which makes it score double points in my book.  With the Christmas gift of the Klean Kanteens came the Pur Pitcher, the Pur faucet filter, and 2 boxes of replacement filters.  What’s that mean?  We got free water for a year (especially since we don’t pay for water in our current apartment)!  Easy on the pocketbook, easy on the body, easy on the environment.

{Omnivore’s Dilemma: Part Uno}

I realized today that I am going to have to do my January book review in parts.  There is just too much information for one post.  This month, I finally read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  This has been on my To Be Read list for almost a year, but because I would rather receive a recycled copy rather than buying a new one, I waited for it to be swapped.  Then the holidays rolled around, and I think I probably read Twilight in there a few more times.  JK, JK…not really. 

I found the book, I can’t say enjoyable, as it was more disturbing, but definitely worth the read.  The author, Michael Pollan, presented the information in an honest manner.  What I mean by honest  is that even though he was presenting a very controversial topic, I did not feel a bias radiating from the pages.  In fact, in many cases, he made very strong cases for the other side…before he presented the common sense, of course.  I didn’t feel like I was being pressured, bullied, and drawn-in to a hype or “eating trend”.  It was simply, “here’s the information. Make your decision.” Granted, this is only one person’s view.  But I’m a believer in common-sense, and Pollan presents common-sense.

So what is the Omnivore’s Dilemma?  Michael Pollan explains it this way: “Like the hunter-gatherer picking a novel mushroom off the forest floor and consulting his sense memory to determine its edibility, we pick up the package in the supermarket and, no longer so confident of our senses, scrutinize the label, scratching our heads over the meaning of phrases like, ‘heart healthy’, ‘no trans fat’, ‘cage-free’, or ‘range-fed’.  What is ‘natural grill flavor’ or TBHQ or xantham gum?  What is all this stuff anyway, and where in the world did it come from?” (5). He continues, “What should I eat [can] no longer be addressed without first addressing [one] other even more straightforward question: ‘What am I eating?’” (17).  It is argued that if we knew, “we would surely change the way we eat.” (11).

Change the way I eat, indeed.  I’ve mentioned before that I’ve already made major revamps, but this book has helped to further understand the jargon found on food labels.  And although I’ve known for awhile that TBHQ is some sort of “not-natural” food additive, knowing that it is short for butylhydroquinone will have me avoiding it at all costs.  Why?  It’s lighter fluid.  BUT?!?! How does that end up in my food?  The FDA allows .02% to be sprayed or used in foods.  That’s good because a single gram can cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.  5 grams can cause death (114).  BUT, surely this is found in weird foods that no one eats, right?! 

Ever had a McDonald’s Chicken Nugget?  You are the proud owner of a stomach that has encountered lighter fluid.  Congrats! (And just think…how many chicken nuggets have you eaten in your life?  Ever had a 20 piece (or two 20 pieces) at one sitting?  Yuck.  They also have “anti-foaming agents” like dimethylpolysiloxene, which is a suspected carcinogen (cancer-causer) and an established mutagen (mutates DNA), tumorigen (causes tumors), and reproductive effector (damages reproductive organs (not just the ladies’ fellas…)).  It’s also flammable.  Now, what was in the nugget in the first place that made adding this seem less harmful?! This is scary, considering that 1/3 of America’s children eat fast food every day and 19% of American meals are eaten in the car (110).

A large portion of the book is spent on corn.  Why?  Because there are around 45,000 products in the supermarket, and more than 25% of them contain corn (19).  If you’re further interested in corn, and the big hype of it right now, check out the movie King Corn if you’re not planning on reading this book. 

A few points on corn/growing crops and depending upon them on such a large scale for you to think about:

1. There is a long history between the government and farmers.  There is also a very convoluted process for paying farmers for corn. Why? Well, I promised myself I wouldn’t get into politics on this blog…so I’ll just go with the facts.  Today, the true cost (what farmers are being paid at the market) for a bushel of corn is $1 less than what it costs to produce the bushel of corn.  That’s like me saying, “it takes $3 to make this beautiful hand-crafted card, but I’m going to sell it at the craft fair for $1.75.”  GREAT capitalist, I am.  The government pays the farmers the difference (or in my analogy, the government would send me a check for $1.25).  Great for the farmers (not really, but that’s another complicated story(and btw, I’m not blaming the farmers)), bad for you and me.  You see, $5 billion a year of taxpayer’s money is spent on paying that difference, or what the government calls subsidies. So basically, you are paying me $1.75 because I decided to sell my card for less than it cost me to make it.

2.  This sounds a like a pretty sweet deal.  But, the more farmers that grow corn, the more corn gets sold at the market.  Basic economics of supply and demand tell you that when everybody is selling a lot of the same product, prices will fall, as everyone keeps dropping the price to entice customers to buy from them, even though they can buy it anywhere.  The more the price falls, though, the more corn the farmers plant, so that they have more corn to sell to make more money from (which also means more money the taxpayers are paying, too).  Even though the price is cheap in the supermarket, you’re still paying the same price because you’re paying more in subsidies through the government.  The more corn that is on the market, and that the government essentially owns now, the more uses we must find for all of this corn.  That being said, we have found some really strange uses for corn.

3.  60% of this corn is fed to livestock-most of it beef cattle.  Cattle are grass eaters by nature.  They are not designed to eat corn.  (More on that later…)

4. Corn that doesn’t go to the feed-lots to feed livestock goes to a “wet-milling” plant where it is broken down into “other” corn products: fructose, MSG, etc. The corn starts by getting a nice, hot soak in a spa tub…in sulfur dioxide.  Then it goes through a lot more grinding and soaking (which uses 5 gallons of water to process 1 bushel of corn + other energy).  What’s left is cornstarch, which can be used in laundry detergent…or food.  Whatever.  You’re also left with High Fructose Corn Syrup (which I’ve already determined is evil, so I’m not the most unbiased population to get information from), and “other items” which are used to make adhesives, coatings, plastics, gels, and “viscosity-control agents for food” (90).  After nothing much is left, they take the “steep water” (sulfur dioxide and all) and feed it to the livestock.  Cause they get thirsty eatin’ so much corn, you know?

5. Of the 38 ingredients in a McDonald’s Chicken Nugget, 13 come from corn.  Most others are completely synthetic ingredients made in a chemical or petroleum factory.  Carbon graphing was used to determine just exactly how much of an item was made of corn for certain items on the McDonald’s menu: soda (100% corn), milk shake (78% corn), salad dressing (65% corn), chicken nuggets (36% corn), cheeseburger (52% corn) and French fries (23% corn) (117).

 milkshakes600x600.jpg image by kate_m

The implications of this are unknown, but as omnivores, we are not designed to eat only one food.  Coupled with the actual corn that we do eat knowingly, we are essentially nothing but corn.  And part of that corn has been so radically changed and broken down and put back together in a lab somewhere, that we have no idea the havoc it is wreaking on our bodies.  The corn we grow now has also been so hybridized and genetically engineered, that we have no idea the havoc we’ve wreaked on the corn.

{The Vacation Chronicles: Smoky Mountains NP}

Way back in college (okay, 2004), I took a class titled Geology of US National Parks. It was a super-fun class, and not just because the instructor was a crazy, liberal spaz or because we made videos for every project, or because it was a 6 week Summer sprint. It was actually really enjoyable material. During that class, I made a goal to visit all 57 National Parks (and now there are 58!). I’ve averaged about 1/year, which works well if I want to be doing this until I’m almost 80.

The first park I visited was The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was quite the adventure! You see, in 2005 when I took this trip, the hubby and I had only known each other for less than 5 months (so he was still that Creepy-Boy-Who-Kept-Calling-Me-for-Random-Reasons), and we had only actually started talking to each other for the latter few of those. After one extremely long finals study session ending at 2:30am, we decided that we needed a vacation. The next thing we know, it’s 6:00am, and we have email confirmation for a hotel room in Daytona Beach, FL. Whoops. Read up college students: caffeine, cold pizza, and cramming does not lead to good decisions.

 Two days later we found ourselves in the parking lot of our university with suitcases packed and mixed CD’s galore (they were totally still cool at the time!). Now, I had mentioned in passing that I would like to visit all the National Parks, so that Creepy-Boy-Who-Kept-Calling-Me-for-Random-Reasons Really-Sweet-Guy-Who-Listens-When-I-Talk mapped the GPS to the Smoky Mountains instead of Daytona. BUT, because we left during rush-hour, and we stopped for dinner, we were four hours behind schedule.

It was very, very dark by the time we got to the park. Oh, but have no fear. Eric was trying to woo me (I would later find this out. I apparently wasn’t a very quick one). He was determined to make me love him. He decided it would be a good idea to assert his manliness and try to drive to the tallest peak we could see… We eventually made it up. But we couldn’t make it back down. That’s right, we were stuck in the mountains, with zero visibility, at 2am.

We could have died, or worse. But being young and naïve, we just couldn’t stop laughing. We decided if we were stuck in the car all night, we should do what any young adult college student trapped in a car with the opposite sex would do…watch Pretty Woman on the laptop and eat all of the snacks. As we were waiting for the sun to come up, there was some sort of scratching outside the car. For this reason alone, I do not recommend sleeping in cars on mountaintops. Creepy.  NOTE: This is not the source of the scratching noise, but it could have been.  I would put money on it…

Eventually the sun came up, and it was a beautiful sight to behold.

Me: This is so beautiful. It was worth it (sleeping in the car).
Creepy-Boy-Who-Kept-Calling-Me-For-Random-Reasons: You’re more beautiful. And definitely worth it.

::BLUSH::

Have no fear. There was no magical kiss or declarations of love. (I honestly think my first thought was, “Wow this guy is smooth, and totally full of “bleep”… Come on, what guy actually says super-romantic things at the perfect moments after orchestrating fun, random, beautiful adventures?!) And nice enough to give me his sweater cause it was really cold. And windy.  And I had just spent 12 hours in a car with no bathroom, and about an hour of sleep.  Look, even my jeans wrinkled!

We got out of the car to stretch and take a few pictures, and realized there were already people there. So, either they drove fast up the mountain, or we weren’t the only ones sleepin’ on the peak. Double creepy. Next stop: the closest Mc Donald’s cause we had to pee! And so started our first vacation together…

{Foodie Friday…ish}

So…I forgot to post this before I left work on Friday.  I got busy.  Go figure. Featured Food of the Week?

Food: Carrots

Word, to yo mother (or Etymology)

Comes from the Middle French carotte, from Late Latin carōta, from Greek karōton, originally from the Indo-European root ker- (horn), due to its horn-like shape. 

Random Fact:

Carrots were the first vegetable to be canned commercially.

Carrots come in a variety of colors: purple, white, red…-orange was not the original color.

During World War II, British aviators were fed a specially developed English carrot, high in beta-carotene, to overcome night blindness.

Where Are They Grown?

For the United States, 80% of the carrots consumed are grown in California, on 700,000 acres, bringing in $275-$325 million annually. 70% of the crop is grown specifically for baby cut carrots, which are regular size carrots just cut and reshaped (and knocking down the nutrients).

Can You Grow It At Home?

Probably not the best choice for beginners or those with smaller gardens, but yep they can.  Deep, softer soil is a must, and even watering every week is needed.  There’s a lot of different varieties and colors to choose from.  Check out this link from Cornell (can’t get much more scholarly than that!) for detailed information:

When Is It In Season?

In California, carrots are grown year-round, so thanks to  the industrial “machine”, carrots are available year-round relatively easily.  Carrots cannot tolerate frost, so they are planted after the last frost in Spring, and usually ready for harvest about 60-70 days later.  Other varieties of carrots can be planted in Summer, and harvested before the first frost of Fall.

Carrots

 

Storage & Shelf-Life

Even the green tops of carrots are edible, but they should be stored without the tops in the fridge.  Cut the tops off about a ½ inch to an inch below the greens.  The greens can be kept for a few days in the fridge, and taste great in soups, salads, or as a garnish.  I made soup this weekend and added the tops- even the hubby admitted it smelled great and he hates carrots.  The carrots themselves should be stored in the crisper drawer for about two weeks.  Before using, use a vegetable brush to remove all traces of soil.

Carrots can be frozen fairly simply.  Blanch whole carrots for 5 minutes, or diced or sliced carrots for two before freezing. 

Ummm, Why Should I Care?

To me, carrots are the like a super-hero.  They leap tall buildings in a single bound and all that stuff. Metaphorically, obviously.  But they do in fact do super things for the body. Of course, many know that the beta carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in the body, is good for the eyes.  But the beta carotene is also a strong antioxidant that helps to keep free radicals in the body in-check and therefore lessens the risk of all types of cancer.  They are a great source of fiber, which helps rid the body of nasty toxins and keep everything, umm…regular.    Carrots are great for women’s health.  They help to regulate menstrual cycles and enriches the adrenal glands to help stabilize the endocrine (hormones!) system.  In addition, they can help a woman make extra healthy breast milk. Studies also show that when carrots are eaten daily, they lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as regulate blood sugar. 

Still not impressed? They can also improve the appearance of the skin, hair and nails.

Still not impressed? 

Carrots are also helpful in the following cases: Obesity, poisoning of the blood, gum disease, insomnia, inflamed kidney, liver, gallbladder, Alzheimer’s disease, colitis, ulcer and painful urination, strengthening bones, nervous disorders and increased energy.

Other Uses

Really, the only interesting use I found was as a contraceptive!  Many research studies (including modern day and ancient trials) found that seeds and tops hindered implantation.  Eat up…or stop eating them (depending on your goal, obviously). 

Recipes

A lot of people I know hate carrots. I love ‘em.  I eat them like chips or pretzels, which means I eat them raw.  Cooking carrots can increase their glycemic load, or the amount of sugar that they dump into the body at once.  Since I personally need to stay low on the glycemic index, I choose to eat them raw.  BUT! It’s actually okay and recommended to eat them cooked, or roasted, or baked, or in cake (probably not that last one).  I do make homemade chicken soup a lot, with lots of carrots.  Because they are a root vegetable, it can take a lot to break down the carrot to access the good stuff (the nutrients).  Cooking carrots starts the breaking down process which makes the body work less.  BUT! Extreme heat can “kill” the nutrients.  So what do you do?!  Eat a few raw carrots everyday and add a few servings of cooked carrots each week. This is why it’s important to know your own body, and what your body needs.

Besides just the regular boil and serve, carrots can be added to many dishes in a variety of ways.

Yummy Carrot Cake

Carrot Soup

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Oatmeal Carrot Cookies

{Road of Death Leads to Garden Magic}

Last night, my very botanical friend (once referred to as “The Alan Greenspan of Botany”) sent me a link to the Cincinnati Flower Show.  It was just the visual break I needed after a few weeks of no shining sun.  The hubs and I actually made our way to the Flower Show last year, and boy was it crazy!  They host the HUGE show at LITTLE park in a small town.  No parking is close, so you either park at Rozzi’s Famous Fireworks factory (ummm, no thanks), or you park a mile down the road and walk down a busy, congested street with no sidewalks.  $40! later, we were in.  Where we found these little gems…

 

and these bigger ones.

 

And our future greenhouse that will be built with our future house.  Sigh.  A girl can dream.

This year we will go.  But we will be more prepared.  Discount coupons for admission can be found here.  They’re advertising it as a Valentine’s Day sale, and methinks that would make a great gift.  Snag a cute bunch of flowers from Wally World, slap in a vase, and slide tickets to the Flower Show in. Voila!  And we’ll carpool with other flower-lovin-eco-friendly folks so we have someone to walk down the road of death with.  There’s safety in numbers, right?

This year looks like it’s going to be just as gorgeous as last year. Doesn’t it make you just want to throw a traditional garden party or a frilly bridal shower?

They’re also sponsoring a “Learn to Grow Your Own Food” thingy, which looks really fun.  One of my long-term goals is to start an indoor garden, so this might be just the step that I need.

{I Learned How to Die At Work}

 

So I open up my browser window this morning, to peruse the news, and what’s the first headline I see?  “How to Get Fit at Work”.  Sounds good to me.  ::click::  While many of the tactics I already do (like taking a few minutes to stretch every few hours, or take the long way when walking to a meeting or the restroom), others I have been dying to try.  I would love to replace my cubechair (cubicle: blah, I hate working in a cube, even though it is a stylish one)  with a stability ball.  I already own two because when the hubby and I were still poor, struggling college students interning in a strange town, we couldn’t afford, and didn’t want to bring furniture with us.  We bought two stability balls to sit on instead of a couch or chairs.  Fabulous idea.  Although the abs and posture are now non-existent since we went back to the couch.  We have a surplus supplies budget thus far this year…I wonder if I could get them to buy me this?

 

Or this?

That’s right.  The treadmill desk.  I’ve heard of this thing for some time now, but I haven’t looked into it much.  Apparently this thing works.  I landed on this blog, which has some great info. about “Walking Across the Country at Work.”  What a fun idea!  It even has ideas on how to DIY our very own treadmill desk.  Office project! Anyone? No?

The benefits of using a treadmill desk or stability ball or just general exercise at work seems convincing.  Improved circulation increases alertness which increases creativity.  Likewise, not hitting that mid-morning or mid-afternoon slump because of lack of energy leaves more time to get work done.  Overall muscle building and stamina leads to long-term health improvement, and who can argue with that?!  However, being one who is capable of tripping up steps and walking into wall and generally tripping over my own two feet, this seems extremely dangerous.  Walk, talk, click, and read all at the same time? Hmmm…I really want to try this just to see if it can be done by the balanced-disabled.  But then again, I can’t even get my ginormously large jiggly rear bum bum on the treadmill at home for 10 minutes a night.

{You’re Inspired? Really?}

This weekend, during “Operation Find Pants”, I drug my husband into Abercrombie and Fitch.  Like Bella, Eric was born 35 years old and gets more middle-aged every year.  Usually when we walk by a store like that, I’m regaled with broodings of, “Why do they have to keep the music so loud?” and “Why’s it so dark?” and “Overpriced blah blah blah.”  That’s when I was completely shocked when after a few minutes in the store, he actually looked like he was enjoying himself.  Why?! Well, he was committing the décor to his mental home décor notebook apparently.  You see, our Media room (non-existent at this time, mind you), is going to be based around A&F.  Really?!  Who are you and what did you do with my husband?! 

What got his attention first (like it’s supposed to) is their signature ginormous picture frame at the entrance.  However, rather than pictures, he has plans to put our projection screen behind a frame this size.  He even went so far as to think, “when we have parties and stuff, we could project pictures instead of movies, so it’s not just a blank screen hanging up.” Ummm, okay, great, wow.  100 points for the hubby! 

No surprise that he also liked the brown leather couches and chairs scattered about.  I’m actually a big fan, too, so we currently own brown leather furniture.  I am dying to obtain this chair…c’mon Target, drop it just a few more price points! Please?…The lighting actually didn’t bother him because a man cave is supposed to be, well, cavely.

In typical female fashion, I immediately jump to storage. Don’t you just love all of the open storage?

Eric’s always been a fan of blue, but we’ve never incorporated much of it.  I’m more of a neutrals kind of gal.  Seeing how the Media room, aka “the man cave” should be inspired by more of a rugged and manly style, I’m loving the idea of doing white beadboard paneling at the bottom ¾ of the way up the wall, with the darker navy at the top.  It would keep it bright, while still being dark and manly.  We have plans for hardwood throughout, and I love the idea of staining or painting it the same dark blue. That probably won’t fly with the hubby, so a few extra coats of polyurethane to make is super-shiny would work too.

Throw in some track lighting, a few accent lamps, a set of nesting tables, and a few knickknacks, and you’ve got one stylin’ man cave, which is lady friendly, too.  Now, in true A&F fashion, we’ll douse everything in cologne and hire a few half-naked models to cater our next party and we’ll be set!

 

And another reason my mother-in-law is so great? A few years ago for Christmas she bought her niece a giftcard from A&F.  The only option was one with a shirtless hottie.  So, what did she do? She colored a shirt on him.  I’ll have to dig up the pic.