Brrrr, it’s been a bit nippy here in the foothills west of Denver lately. For those of you in the midwest, I’m not complaining. I promise. Not after spending some time in Chicago recently. My gosh, talk about wind chill! I’m a mountain girl, a snow girl, a winter girl, but there’s something about that bone-chilling cold out there in middle American that just gets to you.
So, what better way to warm the spirit than to add some spice to your food (and to your life)! This month’s list of seasonal foods is all about spices and herbs. Enjoy!
Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric is part of the ginger family and is one of the main curry spices. It is native to Asia and has been used as a flavoring, dye, and for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, especially in Ayurvedic medicine. India is the main producer of turmeric, where it’s used as a cooking spice, an antibacterial agent, and as a medicinal dietary supplement.
The potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in turmeric is curcumin. Research involving curcumin is exploding and studies indicate it may be helpful in a variety of inflammatory diseases, including IBS, pancreatitis, liver disorders, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and intestinal cancers. I decided to showcase this zippy little spice because these inflammatory conditions can be symptomatic of celiac disease and using food in healing is my interest and protocol for people with celiac (that includes me).
You’ll be hearing more about curcumin, as it’s the new super-star of antioxidants (new to the west, not to the east). There are clinical trials currently underway at the National Institutes of Health, Yale University, and UCLA (just to name a few) about the health benefits of the spice. Hundreds of research papers have appeared in the past few years, touting the medicinal properties of curcumin, the magic agent in turmeric and curry.
* I did a post specifically on turmeric back in my early blogging days. I’m lifting the above information from that post. For a scrumptious pork and curry recipe from my favorite English chef, Miles Collins, click here.
Basil Basil is an absolute favorite of mine, whether dried, cooked, or fresh. Plus, it’s another healthy herb to add to your arsenal of natural healing substances. It is used in India to help boost the immune system and fight off colds and bronchial infections. You can throw some in a big pot of steaming water, put a towel over your head and breath in the healing properties. It has antimicrobial compounds and may even reduce coughing fits. Add a bunch of fresh basil to a plate of sliced tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella cheese, drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette (yum!).
I use cinnamon on a daily basis and search out different varieties. Although a touch mundane, cinnamon is my favorite spice. Even my new love, cardamom, takes a back seat to cinnamon.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known and is indigenous to Sri Lanka. It was treasured as a flavoring, sought-after as a medicinal herb, and even used as an embalming agent (probably limited to royal mummies). Legend has it that the Roman Emperor Nero burned a full year’s supply of cinnamon at the funeral of his wife in 65 AD. Sweet tribute. Cinnamon is also mentioned in many classical writings as well as several places in the Bible (don’t ask me where).
On to the nutritional benefits of cinnamon, which are numerous. I’ll list a few of the reasons I like it, other than the wonderful sweet – and even savory – taste.
• helps reduce fasting blood glucose levels in diabetics
• helps reduce triglycerides, LDLs, and total cholesterol
• works as a circulatory stimulant
• has antibiotic abilities
• is anti-ulcerative
• helps with digestion
• is a carminative (fancy word for helps relieve gas and bloating)
• is a diuretic
The healing abilities in cinnamon come from three essential oils found in the bark: cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol, along with some other good substances. So, use it in baking; sprinkle it on hot cereal; use in curries; and add it to smoothies, teas, and other beverages.
This is a another wonder food as it helps lower blood pressure, improves cholesterol ratios, and has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It’s especially helpful in combating colds. Add it to everything! For a detailed post on garlic and how it can help you boost immunity and avoid icky cooties during flu season, click here. There’s also a garlicky green bean recipe on that post.
Aside from the fact that wild sage is a staple in New Mexico and Colorado and I love the smell of sage after a rainstorm, it’s also one of my favorite savory herbs. I much prefer fresh sage and have found the taste and smell differs each time I grow it. Soil and climate affects the aromatic strength and “notes” of the plant (to use a wine phrase). I love fresh stage in stews and soups, but it’s not a subtle herb, so use sparingly. Sage is another herbal remedy for colds and respiratory problems. Drink sage tea or use as a steam inhalation for congestion.
Go forth and spice up your life (and boost your immunity at the same time)!
Okay, I almost promise this will be my last HFCS post.
For some reason, this subject won’t leave me alone. I was minding my own business reading some online news sources about what’s happening with the auto industry bailout. Nothing about nutrition, nothing about HFCS, nothing about sugar. I just wanted to know what was going on in Washington. Seriously, would you expect to run into HFCS on forbes.com?
Forbes — like in money, business, and investing — not corn syrup and sugar.
Well, surprise, surprise. I’m reading about the economy and here’s this side column with a teaser, The Skinny On Sugars And Sweeteners. I couldn’t resist. With one click I was knee-deep in artificial sweeteners and soda pop again. I don’t even drink the stuff and I can’t get away from it.
So, what do the people at Forbes have to say about sugar? Keep in mind that this isn’t exactly a website for food critics and nutritionists. These are business people (capitalists no less), not holistic health advocates.
According to this article (on forbes.com), “Americans now eat less table sugar than they did in 1970, but the advent of corn syrup as an additive in everything from ice cream to ketchup means we consume more sugars than ever before. In 2007, Americans consumed 44 pounds of refined cane and beet sugar and 40 pounds of HFCS per capita.”
What? Are you kidding me? Eighty-four pounds of sugar per year? Per person? No way. I didn’t realize it was that much. I used different data when I posted my second (or was it third) HFCS/sugar post. (If you didn’t see that one, click here.) Or here for a diatribe on soda pop with more stunning consumption figures. Regardless of the exact numbers or how the data is communicated, Americans eat way too much sugar and it’s contributing to the increase in obesity and chronic disease. (For my complete glossary of everything sugar, click here.)
I also did a post back in September on the HFCS commercials by the Corn Refiner’s Association. If you want to see their deceivingly sweet commercials and read my take on them, click here. You need to understand what their diabolical plans are to understand this response from the King Corn guys.
Now, on to the fun stuff. If you haven’t seen King Corn, you must do that. In the meantime, enjoy this spoof of the HFCS commercials from Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, the creators of King Corn.
No more HFCS stuff. I must get on with my life.
Go forth and eat healthy food. Real food. I’ll take a hiatus from my ranting and start posting recipes for the holidays. How’s that?
P.S. I’m not knocking good, organic corn. I love a nice grilled corn on the cob, but I’m not crazy about the fact that cheap, crappy, unhealthy corn is in everything we eat. If you eat fast food, you’re eating corn, corn, and more corn. Ugh!
You can’t see me, but I’m dressed in black from head to toe.
Like some veiled matriarch whose sullen soul wanders the night, I too, drift in despair. My FINAL Grant Family Farms CSA box, the sine qua non of my existence, was delivered last night. I feel abandoned and filled with dread.
Now I’m left with 2 sugar pumpkins, a delicata squash, a bag of potatoes and a faint will to live. It’s only been 24 hours and already the simple pleasure of farm-fresh kale is but a bittersweet memory. Entwined garlic scapes a thing of the past. And my downfall, an earthy ménage a roots, all but gone with the freshly fallen snow.
What am I to do?
Troll the aisles at Whole Foods?
It’s not the same. I want to know where my food came from. Who took the time, care, and love to grow it. I want to be surprised each week when I open my big red box.
(And contrary to what you might think, it often costs more to buy your food from a grocery store. Not to mention the cost to the environment. Oops, that was out of character. I’m in mourning, black tights and all. Filled with angst.)
Back to my woebegone produce eulogy.
On second thought, I should probably get a grip. I’m sounding a bit nutbar-ish. I don’t want my own personal CSA farmers to contemplate a restraining order. Anyway, I’m hungry and now that I think of it, I do have some dark chocolate with almonds and cherries hidden away in my half-empty veggie drawer.
Veggies? What veggies?
Check in with me in a day or so, I’ll have something more uplifting for you.
I’m in pre-mourning mode, so this is going to be short and sweet. Tomorrow is my last CSA delivery for the season and I’m starting to lose sleep over it.
The tanking economy? Big deal.
The drop in the stock market? So what.
Taxpayer bailouts? Who cares.
The new first dog? Well, I am curious.
Anyway, just warning you — my next post will be a dark and dreary one.
In the meantime, I’ll eat comfort food and whine a lot. I made these muffins after Thanksgiving, determined to use all the leftovers in creative ways. My CSA delivery (which is almost over, as you might recall) included a small sugar pumpkin. I also had a cup or so of leftover cranberry sauce and I’ve been looking for any excuse to play with my new-found love, cardamom, so I made some catch-all muffins. For more information on cardamom, check with my favorite English chef, Miles Collins.
I broke open the cardamom pods and ground the seeds. You don’t need to use much, a little goes a very long way. The smell will infuse your home and lift your spirits. Even if you are facing a seasonal veggie recession. Did I mention that my (yes, MY) Grant Family Farm is covered with snow and my last CSA delivery is tomorrow?
Okay, I must get on with my life.
Home-made muffins? With cardamom? Sounds like a start.
pumpkin, cranberry, cardamom, pecan catch-all muffins
what you need
1 small sugar pumpkin (use 1 cup of prepared puree in this recipe)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cut pumpkin in half (or quarters), clean out and remove seeds. Rub a little butter or olive oil on pieces and place meat side down in glass baking dish with an inch or two of water (like you do with acorn squash). Put in preheated 375 degree oven for about 45 minute or until tender when pierced with a fork. You can also put the pumpkin skin side up without water and roast it that way. Cool and then scoop out the pumpkin meat into a food processor or mixer. Add the maple syrup, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. Puree well.
Beat together Earth Balance Butter, eggs, and 1 cup of the prepared pumpkin puree. Add baking mix and blend well. Gently mix in cranberry sauce and pecans. Fill 12 muffin cups (lined or greased) 2/3rds full and bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes. Use the rest of the pureed pumpkin to make buckwheat pancakes.
Do any of you know who Art Linkletter is? He had a TV show back in the 1950s and 60s called Art Linkletter’s House Party. Later in his career he co-hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things with Bill Cosby. If you have an extra 7 minutes and want a good laugh, check this YouTube video of highlights from these early shows. He certainly brought the best out in kids — or at least the funniest. If you recognize yourself, let me know. And if you know where I can get a pair of glitter glasses like the ones Karen is wearing, please tip me off. I love those.
What does this have to do with anything, you ask? Especially a nutrition blog?
Art Linkletter did his show in front of a live audience. Although not part of this video clip, legend has it that he once asked a cute, freckled-face little boy if he wanted to say something special to one of his friends at home watching him on TV.
Hey Tommy. Look at me, I’m on TV and you’re not.
You know, something like that.
The kid thought for a moment, then looked directly into the camera, stuck his hand up in the air, vigorously flipped the bird, and said, “This is for you Herbie, and I really mean it.”
Yes, kids say the darndest things.
Again, what does this have to do with my nutrition blog? I’ve been inspired by a friend to write a post on soda pop. Inspired by his refusal to give the stuff up, not because he asked me to share my evangelical ranting with him. In fact, quite the opposite. But that’s never stopped me before.
So, this is for you Don and I really mean it!
(No accompanying hand gestures necessary.)
Pay attention. And yes, I do realize I can be bossy and annoying.
First off, if soda pop is an occasional treat, that’s probably okay, although I suggest eliminating it altogether. It has ZERO nutritional value and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is a common ingredient. New research published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that the ratio of fructose to glucose (chemical names for sugar) in HFCS converts to fat in the body more efficiently than other forms of sugar. The study found that as the fructose concentration went up, so did the rate of lipogenesis (the process in which sugars are converted to body fat).
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, soft drink companies produce enough soda pop to provide each and every one of us with 52.4 gallons per year. That’s 557 12-ounce cans each. According to the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA), the number is closer to 600 12-ounce cans per person, per year. Who’s drinking my share? And that’s not even counting all the other junk drinks like Red Bull, sugar-sweetened iced tea, diet drinks, and so on.
The NSDA also claims that carbonated soft drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet (are they bragging about that?). How can that be? I suppose if you’re drinking two 12-ounce cans of Pepsi per day, you’re getting 320 calories and that comes out to about 16% of caloric intake (in a 2000 calorie per day diet). That pushes out goodies like broccoli and kale. (Yes, you should be eating broccoli and kale.)
Okay, how much sugar is that? If you drink two 12-ounce cans of soda pop, that’s 80 grams of sugar. Four grams equals 1 teaspoon, so that’s 20 teaspoons of sugar per day in soda pop alone. Yikes!
The stuff is cheap because it’s mainly water and corn syrup, so no wonder the kid behind the drink counter at the movie theater encourages you to buy the 36 ounce soda for an extra 25 cents. Wait, that would be 30 teaspoons of sugar, wouldn’t it? Not only that, but a certain type of sugar that converts to fat more efficiently. And you’re not expending many calories while sitting there watching Kung Fu Panda. It’s not surprising that obesity is on the rise.
As Marion Nestle points out in her wonderful book, What To Eat, soda pop is inexpensive because, “water is practically free, and your taxes pay to subsidize corn production.” Does that mean that as tax payers we’re directly contributing to the obesity problem in this country? I want to personally choose where my tax money goes. Wouldn’t you be more willing to cheerfully pay your taxes if you could specify what program your money went to? “Cheerful” might be a leap, but I prefer my contribution not be part of the HFCS subsidy.
Okay, I’m not picking up that “food politics” rope. But I will say, #*^@!
Back to soda pop and HFCS. The above mentioned article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains, “Fructose is a simple sugar found in honey, fruit, table sugar(sucrose), and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Because of theworldwide increase in the consumption of these sweeteners, fructoseintake has quadrupled since the early 1900s. The past 30years have witnessed an even greater acceleration in consumption,in part because of the introduction of HFCS; this phenomenonparallels the rise in obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and kidneydisease.”
Studies show that excessive fructose ingestion can cause inflammation, promote hyperactivity, induce insulin resistance, cause cavities, elevate blood pressure, contribute to fatty liver and renal injury, cause oxidative stress, and contribute to obesity.
Gosh, they had me at inflammation. I’ve got an autoimmune disease (celiac), so increasing inflammation is not on my “to do” list. It shouldn’t be on yours either.
If that’s not enough, phosphoric acid, added to give soda pop its “zip” causes calcium loss. We don’t want that. Pure phosphoric acid can eat its way through almost anything (metal, cement). Household hints columnist, Mary Ellen, suggests using Coke to clean your toilets, bathtubs, and sinks. Heloise, another hints queen, suggests pouring Coke over car battery terminals to get rid of the corrosion. And we’re drinking it by the gallon. Ugh!
Most soda also contains caffeine. High amounts stimulate the adrenal glands causing chronic low grade stress and poor quality sleep. Not good. Caffeine also contributes to gastric inflammation and increased stomach acid levels.
“From the health point of view it is desirable especially to have restriction of such use of sugar as is represented by consumption of sweetened carbonated beverages and forms of candy which are of low nutritional value. The Council believes it would be in the interest of the public health for all practical means to be taken to limit consumption of sugar in any form in which it fails to be combined with significant proportions of other foods of high nutritive quality.”
The above statement was released in 1942 by the American Medical Association’s Council on Food and Nutrition. We should have paid attention. But it’s never too late to dump the stuff in your toilet, scrub well, and flush.
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should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.