002 Sugar, Secret Projects and Contaminated Soil

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On the second episode of the Root Simple Podcast we discuss the documentary Fed Up and what happened when we gave up sugar for a week. We also discuss that secret project that Erik completed while Kelly was off camping and we answer a reader question about contaminated soil.

If you want to leave a question you can call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected].

The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho.

A downloadable version of this podcast is here. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store. Note that it takes a few hours for the new episode to show up in iTunes.

Worth Doing From Scratch: Corn Tortillas

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We do a lot of experimentation here at Root Simple Labs. Some things work out and others fail miserably. I thought I’d periodically look at the projects that have worked in the long term, specifically from scratch. Call this the first blog post in a sporadic series about stuff that’s easy and economical.

Now you should be suspicious of any tortilla making advice dispensed by a gabacho. Let’s just say it’s easy and the results are way better than those dry tortillas you buy at the store. Some things I’ve learned:

  • I have a cast iron tortilla press that works great but my Mexicano friends in the know suggested a wooden press.
  • Making masa from scratch is a huge amount of work and I’ve done just fine with supermarket masa harina.
  • As I like to measure dry ingredients by weight I’ve figured out that for enough tortillas for four people you need to mix 250 grams of flour with 300 grams of water.
  • Cook as many tortillas at once as you can. I can do three at a time on our stove. Cooking one at a time takes forever.

Keep a bag of masa harina around and you’ll be ready for any tortilla emergency. In just a few minutes you’ll have healthy, tasty tacos and save money.

How’s the Sugar Free Experiment Going for Erik?

The Grape Nuts I eat in the morning have about as much sugar as Special K. Image: sugarstacks.com.

The Grape Nuts I eat in the morning have about as much sugar as Special K. Image: sugarstacks.com.

In short, not well. The first day Kelly announced she was going to forgo processed sugar I downed half a bag of chocolate chips. After all, I reasoned, they would go bad if someone didn’t eat them. I have a sweet tooth

Throughout Kelly’s sugar free experiment I continued my usual breakfast of Grape Nuts and rice milk. With neither grapes nor nuts, this cereal is little more than processed carbohydrates with a vitamin pill and 5 grams of sugar (in the form of malt syrup) per half cup serving. The rice milk contains maybe 3 grams of sugar for the amount I’m using each morning. If I go by the guidelines of the American Heart Association I shouldn’t exceed 36 grams of sugar per day.

Before Kelly began the experiment I objected that demonizing sugar is symptomatic of American diet trends that always have to have a villainous scapegoat. Look back at the past 100 years of food history and you’ll see fat, carbohydrates and protein (and, most recently, gluten) taking turns as public enemy number one. Sugar, I reasoned, was the next gluten. I’m sure the big food companies are gearing up to offer plenty of unhealthy low and no-sugar options in response to recent bad publicity. Root Simple reader Rebecca, commenting on Kelly’s anti-sugar post says,

Some colleagues of mine just recently (finally!) published a paper from a huge, ambitious study in mice, where they gave each mouse one of 25 diets containing different levels of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, and tracked feeding and lifespan. It seems to me like Americans really like to cling to stories that single out specific ingredients (see: gluten, sugar). But most foods contain a mixture of things. Evidence from the mouse study and studies in other animals suggest that many animals *jointly* regulate the intake of protein and carbohydrate, but with protein exerting a stronger effect on feelings of satiety – interestingly, the mice didn’t regulate for fat, they just ate whatever amount of fat was packaged along with the protein and carbohydrate. In tracking lifespan, they found that mice given lower-protein, high-carbohydrate diets actually had the longest lifespan and other indicators of better health compared to mice on high-protein foods. They were actually most interested in refuting the “caloric restriction” hypothesis of ageing, which ignores the type of calorie involved. But I think there are broader implications.

I watched Robert Lustig’s video six months ago, and I do think he makes some important points (plus I learned a lot about the biochemistry of intermediate metabolism from him). However…I’d still go back to this whole idea of vilifying a single ingredient. Americans are all still eating way too much processed food overall, and processed food is the larger culprit, in my book, especially because it’s cheap to add fat, carbohydrates, and salt to processed foods, but expensive to add protein.

The study Rebecca mentions is behind a pay wall but you can read the abstract here. Rebecca’s point is a good one. Human nutrition is enormously complicated and current bad health trends are not reducible to one single factor. The fact is that we have limited knowledge about all the complex interactions and feedback loops in human nutrition. This in not even to mention equally important factors such as how nutrition interacts with human customs, rituals and beliefs.

That said, processed sugar is definitely bad. I have no doubt about that. And I don’t think I need to tell the readers of this blog that processed foods as a whole are what are making us unhealthy. But as I discovered in my own life, it’s difficult to avoid sugar. It’s in everything the big food companies make.

Making time to cook from scratch and eating a diverse variety of foods looks like the only way out of the food mess we’re all in.

Saturday Linkages: Broody Hens, Killer Gardens and Salt-Rising Bread

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Surveillance camera bird-feeder http://boingboing.net/2014/05/27/surveillance-camera-bird-feede.html …

Broody Hens and the Meaning of Life. My new blog post on The Tangled Nest. http://thetanglednest.com/2014/05/broody-hens-and-the-meaning-of-life/ …

Coping With Heat in the Garden: Drought-Tolerant Crops, Resilient Perennials and More http://garynabhan.com/i/archives/2467

The whole world has a weight problem, new report says http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/28/world-obesity-report/9675267/ …

You’re probably using the wrong dictionary: http://jsomers.net/blog/dictionary

While the Economy Grows, Americans Continue to Drive Less http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/05/28/while-the-economy-grows-americans-continue-to-drive-less/#.U4fYr_rOBGc.twitter …

Killer GARDENS | Garden Rant http://gardenrant.com/2014/05/killer-gardens.html …

The Disquieting Delights Of Salt-Rising Bread http://po.st/RRay7W

Ruins on New York’s abandoned island reclaimed by nature http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27509955 …

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

Update on Hedge Fund Billionaire Crispin Odey’s $250,000 Chicken Coop

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British hedge fund billionaire Crispin Odey has done for chicken coops what Laibach does for popular music. That is to say, take a simple form and do it up in grand dictator style.

Odey’s coop also managed to exceed Marie Antoinette’s fake farm in the questionable timing department. He got a lot of bad press for beginning his $250,000 marble chicken coop in the midst of an economic downturn. An article in the New York Times, A Hedge Fund Highflier Comes Back to Earth, indicates that Odey has had to do some damage control,

Never one to sit still, he is also repositioning his poultry palace, which he said had “morphed into a library.” So what is the deal with the coop anyway?

“For me it’s more of a folly than a chicken house,” he said, referring to the ornamental buildings that adorn some of the grand English estates of past centuries.

He gamely showed photos of the nearly completed structure on his iPhone. “Once I started thinking about what I wanted to have there, it was a Schinkelian temple.” Karl Friedrich Schinkel, he explained, was the architect who worked for the Prussian royal family, “and built almost all of that stuff you come across in Brandenburg and in Berlin.”

Mr. Odey pointed to a relief visible along one wall. “I have the chickens and egg having the age-old fight of who came first,” he smiled. “It’s carved in stone,” and there will be a Latin inscription, “Quis primus venit?”

Meaning?

“Meaning, ‘Who came first?’ ”

So is it a chicken coop and a library? Perhaps Odey is familiar with the poultry housing described in Cato the Elder’s De Agricultura. In this early Roman agriculture manual Cato details a live-in chicken coop that provides housing for a worker who collects the eggs and keeps predators away. Maybe he can read Cato while admiring his hens. Just look out for those peasants with pitchforks . . .

001 Transplants vs. Seedlings, Josey Baker Bread, Gluten Intolerance and Rats in the Compost

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As they say in Silicon Valley, if you’re first release is perfect you’re too late. With that in mind, I’m finally putting up the first (after a few false starts) Root Simple audio podcast.

Right now the format is Kelly and I recapping recent blog posts and going into greater detail. Plus we answer some long overdue reader questions. When we get more comfortable with podcasting we’ll start having guests.

In this episode of the Root Simple podcast we discuss transplants vs. direct sowing, the book Josey Baker Bread, gluten intolerance and answer a listener question about rats.

Let us know what you think and what you’d like us to cover. If you want to leave a question you can call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected].

The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho.

A downloadable version of this podcast is here. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store.

Bees Like Mochi

This viral video proves two things:

1. Bees like sugar.

2. Foraging bees aren’t likely to sting.

And I love the way this street vendor keeps on working. If this were the US, there’d be a major freak out, the fire and health departments would be called and an exterminator would show up to spray poison. If you keep calm and carry on you get your mochi and the bees get a free lunch.

Thanks to Winnetka Farms for the tip. 

Pakistan Mulberry Fever

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Let me just say Pakistan mulberries. Now let me say it again. Pakistan Mulberries.  Let’s all repeat that as a mantra.

What are they? The tastiest fruit in the know universe. Imagine a longish, very sweet but ever so slightly exotic tasting berry. The problem: they go bad so fast that you practically have to eat them off the tree. The other problem: we have no more room left to grow a Pakistan mulberry tree. Thankfully fruit tree guru Steve Hofvendahl sold me two small strawberry cartons full of them over the weekend.

Now I need a regular Pakistani mulberry fix. If I wanted to plant one Bay Laurel Nursery has several varieties. It’s mostly a warm climate plant but some varieties do better in lower temperatures.

Here’s what Steve had to say about his six year old tree which he thinks is the “Cooke” variety:

It has totally thrived and become huge.  I have to top back huge vertical branches every year after harvest season and tie limbs down laterally.
And the harvest goes on and on and is not easy, you cannot shake the tree without bringing down loads of green fruit and stubborn ripe berries won’t fall.  You have to hand pick and it takes about 2-3 hours of combing over the tree from all the different angles with the orchard ladder.
Then I soak ‘em in a vinegar water solution and rinse and lay in flats refrigerated and finally weigh the good ones up, the not so good ones get made into delicious juice for jellies and my Jamalade with cumquats and/or habanero.
So it would probably maybe still be worth it to you but know what you are maybe getting into!

Again, the taste is so amazing that if I had the room I’d say it’s worth the hassle of harvesting.

Note from Mrs. Homegrown:  I wanted to add that the odd things about these mulberries is that they have a green stem which runs all the way through the center of the fruit, so when you eat them your sort  of scrape the fruit (drupes?) off the stem with your teeth, then discard it. Not that this is a problem–they’re delicious! I guess the stem is necessary to support their length.

Saturday Linkages: Holiday Weekend Edition

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Sailboat made with Home Depot buckets: http://www.pdracer.com/boat-shorty/50-dollar-sailboat-race/tbucket/ …

Brick wall collapses to reveal giant beehive via @BoingBoing http://boingboing.net/2014/05/22/brick-wall-collapses-to-reveal.html …

8 Takeaways From the Bike League’s Study of Cyclist Fatalities http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/05/22/8-takeaways-from-the-bike-leagues-study-of-cyclist-fatalities/#.U39XY2qRa40.twitter … via @StreetsblogUSA

Brandalism 2014: 40 street artists. 10 cities. 365 ad takeovers. 2 days.: http://youtu.be/lKRmVwqhEdE 

What happened to the man who made canned rattlesnake? via @BoingBoing http://boingboing.net/2014/05/22/what-happened-to-the-man-who-m.html …

Animal First, Citizen Second: Talking Bodily Politic with Nance Klehm #occupy http://shar.es/VuHNP

Silver Lake sheep shot http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2014/05/silver-lake-sheep-shot/ … via @TheEastsiderLA

Haitian Machete Fencing Is a Real Sport, and This Old Guy Is its Yoda http://gawker.com/haitian-machete-fencing-is-a-real-sport-and-this-old-g-1579082727/+aweinstein …

Confessions of an Outlaw http://boingboing.net/2014/05/21/confessions-of-an-outlaw.html …

An Egg on the Floor | HenCam http://hencam.com/henblog/2014/05/an-egg-on-the-floor/ … via @terrygolson

What Farm-to-Table Got Wrong http://nyti.ms/1nUIJGp 

Always hungry? Here’s why http://nyti.ms/1lIBNIX  via @nytopinion

Granny & Shady Lady: When “craft” crosses the line http://boingboing.net/2014/05/16/granny-shady-lady-when-c.html …

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter: