Sunday, December 11, 2016

Staying Healthy This Season

I woke up this morning to 12 degrees of coldness outside, but to 60+ degrees of warmth inside, thanks to our lovely woodstove insert.  Such happiness, to not have to rely on 60 year old electric ceiling heat to try to keep up when outdoor temperatures are frigid.

But enough on that; that's not why I'm writing today.  I'm writing because of the excess of colds and flus that accompany winter.  I work in a school, with students aged 10-15 -- I am surrounded all day every day by a variety of bacteria and viruses and other bugs -- and here are my tips to staying mostly and relatively healthy.

1. Rest & relax
2. Hydrate
3. Get outside
4. Eat lots of vegetables (and fruits)
5. Take an elderberry tincture
6. Drink kefir
7. Find reasons to be happy

Rest & Relax
Winter is a stressful time, especially for northern folks.  The days are short and dark and cold, many layers are required to simply go outdoors.  A lot of jobs become more stressful in the late-fall, early-winter months, and holidays cause their own brand of anxiety.  It's an exhausting time.  In eras past, this time of year was one for sleeping and resting and finding time to *enjoy* the company of others.  Follow the lead of those long past and create regular downtime for yourself.  You'll be glad you did.  (Our pets are also master-relaxers, so if you don't believe in learning from history, you can learn from them.)

The body needs water to work, and the dry cold weather and the dry pumped heat of winter wreak havoc on physical body systems.  Hair dries, skin cracks, and the internal systems aren't immune either.  Drink plenty of water (add a piece of citrus to your water to improve taste and add natural electrolytes) and get a humidifier -- fight off those dehydration headaches and sinus issues and the exhaustion that comes with a body that doesn't have enough water.  Humidifying can also help with sleep, which is also part of that "resting and relaxing" bit above.

Get Outside
I'm not much of a winter person (neither are my chickens), and I quite frankly hate being cold.  But I find that I have been getting sick less often since we got a dog and I have to take the dog out, rain or shine or snow or wind.  I get at least 30 minutes of semi-active outdoor time every day with our dog, and I'm pretty sure that has boosted my immune system.
Getting outside will also help you get more sunlight into your eyes, which can help counter the "winter blues."

Eat Lots of Vegetables (and Fruits)
It's old news, if it's news at all, that vegetables and fruits are healthy for you.  They are full of vitamins and minerals and hydration (if fresh) -- all things that can help ward of colds and flus.  Plus, eating more simply helps your body have energy.  Fruits and vegetables make up close to 50% of the daily recommended food intake (if you take advice from MyPlate and others).
There are many ways to eat vegetables and fruits -- fresh, frozen, dried, smashed, steamed, cooked in soup, pickled -- just make sure they aren't over-processed, because then they loose a lot of their potency.  (We love salt-pickled veggies and a potato-cauliflower-spinach smash and fruit-veggie-kefir smoothies.)

Take an Elderberry Tincture
A couple of years ago, I took an online herbalism course.  I learned a lot about natural remedies to common problems, and elderberry was something that I learned could improve the immune system.  I started making (and taking) an elderberry tincture, and it has been great!  My body has more capability to ward those nasty bugs.  (My tincture is filtered water, vegetable glycerin, elderberry, echinacea, and apple cider vinegar.)

Drink Kefir
Kefir is one of those special things that not everyone takes to right away -- it's a kind of a sour, liquidy yogurt.  But, it's full of probiotics and bacteria that are good for your insides -- and a healthy gut helps make for a healthy body. 
Using kefir for smoothies by adding fruit and vegetables (banana, frozen mango, spinach for example) is a delicious way to drink kefir and get the extra fruits and vegetables recommended above.

Find Reasons to be Happy
The mind affects the body and vice versa -- a whole person is an amalgamation of complex systems that work together.  Finding something to be happy about or thankful for on a cold, dark, dreary winter day positively affects those systems -- it's like taking a different kind of vitamin!

One last tip:
Did you catch that cold already?...  Mince and crush some garlic, mix with honey, and take in tiny portions throughout the day.  The duration and symptoms of your cold should decrease.

Happy health!
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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Relishing the Relish

Just in time for the holiday season, I present one of my favourite holiday foods -- cranberry relish!  I know cranberry relish doesn't typically hit the top ten ten list of holiday treats, but it's a big deal at my house, and I try to keep a bowl of it around from mid-November through the end of December.

I have fond memories of Thanksgiving in my youth.  It was always a big family affair with many relatives and often friends, too.  My grandmother made the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth rolls and my grandfather made cranberry relish (they also made fabulous stuffing).  I started making cranberry relish on my own when I moved far from family after grad school and needed some traditions to help me feel connected and grounded.  I didn't have a recipe, so I recreated it from childhood memory.  It has been a personal favourite ever since, giving me an easy, quick, healthy food tradition that adds brilliant colour to the dinner table and reminds me of happy childhood holidays.


1 bag cranberries
1 apple (sweet)
1 orange
1 c. frozen raspberries
3/8 c. sugar (more or less to taste)

Total time: ~30 minutes
Clean the fruits -- rinse, wash, etcetera.  Pour 4/5 of the cranberries into a food processor and chop into pieces; dump into a large bowl.  Core and chunk the apple; put the pieces in the food processor and chop.  Save out 1/5 and pour the rest in with the cranberries.  Do the same with the orange (rind and all, though you can remove the white strings).  Add most of the raspberries in with the raw fruit.  Mix in approximately 1/4 c. sugar, stir, and let sit.

Put about 1/2 inch of water in a small pot, add the saved-out fruit and 1/8 c. sugar.  Heat over medium until the fruit comes to a boil and the cranberries start popping.  Turn the heat down and allow to simmer until it turns into a lovely, red, sweet sauce, slightly thickened.

Pour the sauce over the raw fruit and stir well.  Eat immediately or let sit.  It ages very well.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The New Wheelbarrow; or, the Perils of a Too-Small Car

A few weeks ago, we had two cords of wood dumped onto our lawn -- potential energy to provide our winter heat.  Two cords is is big pile and it takes some effort to move.  We started in, piling it into our rickety wheelbarrow, and stacking it.  Until the off-balance wheelbarrow, which we bought second-hand at a garage sale, got a flat.  And not just a flat, but the flat after the flat after the flat that we already fixed.  So, we decided it was time to purchase a new wheelbarrow.

We went to box store #1.  Didn't find what we were looking for.  We went to box store #2.  Found what we were looking for.  Bought it, unreasonably excited to have a new wheelbarrow.

And we couldn't fit it in the car.

We both drive small, economy cars -- we try to be as efficient as possible.  But there was no way that wheelbarrow was going to fit in either of those cars.
A quandary.
Option: we decided to buy online.
Which we couldn't, without paying a huge shipping fee.

Option: get a wheelbarrow that's not assembled yet.
All the wheelbarrows, upon arriving at the store, are immediately put together.
And they can't be disassembled, because the people at the store use a fancy machine to make sure the bolts are too tight to remove.

Option: rent a truck and drive it home.
Really?  We have cars.  Why can't we get an unassembled wheelbarrow?!  We don't even need the box.
Plus, renting a truck for a wheelbarrow ....

Option: find a friend to pick it up for us.
Unfortunately, none of them with big enough vehicles were around at the time.

Option: go somewhere else and try again.
And so we did.  A locally own smaller-box store.  They had what we wanted, assembled, but were more than happy to take the time to disassemble their wheelbarrow, so we could fit it in our car and take it home.
And now, despite having too-small cars, we have a new wheelbarrow.  Soon we will also have marvelous stacks of wood, seasoning in our back yard, readying for the cold of winter.  With this heat potential, I can almost look forward to winter.
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Friday, August 26, 2016

Small-Portions Harvests

For a variety of reasons, our garden this year (as in many other years) yields "small-portion harvests" -- just enough during any given week to treat us to home-grown fruits and vegetables that subsidize the rest of our meals, but not enough to store away and preserve.  Every year I work towards a more productive harvest, and each year it does get a little bit better (except maybe this year -- drought, ya know).  Nevertheless, despite the frustrations, I am filled with gratitude and wonder at each small-portions harvest that comes from our land.

Isn't it beautiful?  Colours, textures, scents, and flavours....
Four kinds of tomatoes, 2 kinds of potatoes, husk/ground cherries, buttercup squash, and the inevitable egg (though the hens are starting to molt and egg production is decreasing).  Not shown are the Astrakom eggplant and the German Englischer custard squash (which have been suffering mold problems) that we already ate this week.

Many more tomatoes to ripen, more squash and eggplant, and at least 2-3 more buttercup squash on the volunteer vine that this one came off of.  Our best produce is grown from the compost pile.  If only my whole garden were as rich as our compost pile....

(I am considering for next year limiting the scope of my garden, so I can spend more time and have more earth to amending and enrich.  And if there's little planted, I can let the chickens in to help me out with that -- they would love that!)
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Monday, August 22, 2016

For the Joy of Garlic

I love growing garlic.  If the soil is rich enough, garlic can be a very rewarding (and easy) thing to grow.  Planted in late autumn, it sits in the garden throughout the winter, popping green shoots through the cold earth before anything else in the garden even begins thinking about waking up.  At our house, it begins showing before the daffodils and tulips.  During the spring it grows tall and strong, and when summer hits, it sends out twisting, curling scapes that will eventually carry a large, round, seedy blossom at the end (if not cut down).  By late July or early August, garlic is ready to be harvested and cured.  Right now, we have a bushel basket of garlic in our dining room, complete with scapes and stems and some flowers.  I held out some of the best bulbs for planting in October, but the rest will be used in soups, stir fries, sauces, and more.  Glorious, delicious, pungent garlic.

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