Monthly Archives: May 2011

Doesn’t it just figure?

Why does it not surprise me to find that the takeaway message from an article on how overweight women earn less than their average weight counterparts is that women should try harder to lose weight? Of course, there is also a need to throw in some condescending advice that implies that overweight women just don’t know how to lose weight, and of course, that they are lazy. God, will nothing stop the hordes of women that force us to look at their disgusting fat?

I suppose this is somewhat to be expected when the reporting is in the fitness section of the website, but I don’t really understand why that is the place for this article, especially given that the studies referenced report that men suffer no such disadvantage–in fact, men may earn more when they are overweight. I would think this would be more appropriately the start of a conversation on how to avoid this bias, but bias against fat people, especially fat women, is so totally accepted, this sort of thing is automatically viewed as just another hammer to try to force women to conform to societal ideals. Ugh.

Previous garden updates


5/21/11 Update

More planting

There has been less planting lately, but we are still getting some new things out there. Over the past few weeks, here is what we have added:

Purple cabbage
Curry leaves
Many varieties of tomato plants–Marsha brought over multiple seedlings that she grew in her basement, and she wasn’t even sure which kinds were going in here
Eggplant–at least two different varieties
Pepper plants, because the seeds didn’t seem to be sprouting

Using the produce

Finally, we are getting more usable stuff! The mint is insane already. I have used it in multiple ways, but the patch just seems to get bigger and bigger. I did minted lamb burgers on the grill a few weeks ago, and they were delicious. We had friends over and everyone loved them. Last week I made a very pretty and delicious chamomile mint tea (based onthis recipe, although I didn’t have quite 1/4 cup of chamomile flowers; the half a cup or so of mint made up for it):

This was so refreshing! I liked it so much, I asked Marsha to bring me more chamomile so that I can do it more often. I am planning on starting a new batch of mint liqueur today, part of my strategy to get a lot more out of my mint this year.

We have been using a lot of spinach. I go out before dinner many nights and pick a bunch of leaves to add to whatever I am making. I have used it in a sausage and tomato risotto, added it to soups, and put handfuls into fruit smoothies. The lettuce is looking very hardy, so I have been using that, too. I have added leaves to sandwiches and eaten many salads.

The cilantro that came back from last year is already flowering, so I need to take it and dry it soon, but in the meantime I have added it to guacamole and used it to top curry dishes, along with adding it to slaws and salads. I am thinking about taking some of the leaves and blending them with just a bit of water to freeze in small cubes to use in recipes for a more fresh flavor, too. I have another cilantro plant that is still not close to flowering, so we will have fresh cilantro for a while, still.

The asparagus has started producing this year, but not very much at a time. I have been picking one or two stalks every few mornings, and I have just been eating it raw. So delicious, but I am looking forward to getting enough to use in recipes. Hopefully next year.

The strawberries are falling prey to the the local wildlife. So far, I have eaten two strawberries that I found at the peak of ripeness. I think we need some netting if we are to save any more.

4/15/11 Update

We have so much more planting to chronicle this week.

On the effects of doubling the size of the garden

When I decided to double the size of my garden this year, I knew we would be getting more stuff, but I had no idea how much more. It doesn’t even seem like twice as much, it seems exponentially more. Is that possible? The planting went on for over an hour, and next week, there will be more. This week was all planting seeds, next week, Marsha will be bringing plants that she started in her basement. I am definitely going to have my hands full with preserving!

On the boy in nature

Wednesday, I took the boy out to look at the new garden, to see what we did with the new installation (he was at his dad’s house last week when the garden went in) and see if he had any questions to ask Marsha when she came the next day. He looked over everything with great interest. When we were done, he told me “Nature makes me calm. I don’t know why, but it does.” He really does amaze me—that is so insightful for an 8 year old!

Yesterday, he rushed home from school to make sure he didn’t miss any garden time, even offering another kid $1 to carry his backpack so that he could run faster. So cute! When Marsha arrived, he spent a long time out with her loosening the soil and planting like crazy. My job was to write down what was being planted on our handy little garden map (and make my own list to post on here.) At one point, I had to go inside for a bit to check on some things, and when I came back out, he ran around the boxes, pointing out what I had missed, wrapping his arms around the section where the watermelon was planted, pointing out the yellow squash area and the poles for beans. Near the end, he asked to plant some mystery seeds from the jar that Marsha keeps for seeds that fall out of their packets. She sifted out the dirt and handed him several seeds, and he looked through them, correctly identifying quite a few of them. He is definitely hands on in the garden!

What we planted

Banana melons
Pole beans
Scallop squash
Shiso–an herb I had not heard of; the packet says it has a flavor that has been described as curry-like and a combination of cumin, cilantro and/or parsley with a hint of cinnamon; it sounds delicious
Black Beauty zucchini
Striped Italian zucchini
Baby round zucchini
Lemon cucumbers
Armenian burpless cucumbers
Homemade pickle cucumbers
Yellow squash
Serrano peppers
Yellow bell peppers
Purple bell peppers
Orange bell peppers
Collard greens
Green/red bell peppers
Japanese eggplant
Purple ribbon lavender (French)
Hidcote dwarf lavender

Plants Marsha will be bringing next week

Tomatoes–many kinds
Italian eggplant
Various peppers
Whatever Marsha finds in her basement!


The garden has been started! This is my third year doing the backyard garden, and I am still ridiculously excited about it. I don’t do most of the planting and weeding work–Backdoor Harvest does that for me–but I do try to use everything that I can. Last year I really got serious about using up my garden produce; I’ve linked to several posts on my old blog about that below. This year, I am getting even more serious. I am getting a small freezer for my basement, and I am going to learn to can! I am so thrilled to be getting more and more of my food from my own yard, and I want to be able to take advantage of that through the winter, w
hen nothing is producing for me outside. We doubled the size of the garden this year, so that I have plenty of stuff to preserve.

I have created a spreadsheet to track what I want to grow, what we have planted, and to keep track of some recipes I want to try. Items highlighted in green have been planted, but here is a running list, starting with what we have at the initial installation on 4/9/11.

Here is a picture of the new garden boxes and most of the existing garden:

The new boxes will get summer plants tomorrow or possibly next week, when we are more sure there won’t be another frost.

Here is a picture of my fig tree. It isn’t very pretty, because I put some straw from back by the compost bin around it to help it stay warm, but it is the stick in the middle:

I am assured that this will get very big and have multiple figs this summer. I can’t wait!

State of the Garden

Already there, coming back from last year:
Tart Cherry trees
Kale (small amount)

Planted on 4/9:
More garlic
More spinach
Onions–red, white, yellow
Mustard greens
Sugar snap peas
Fig tree

Past using up the garden links

Using up the garden: Mint
Using up the garden: Turnip Greens
Using up the garden: Butternut squash, thyme and garlic
Using up the garden: Turnip greens, garlic, Anaheim chilis
Using up the garden: Various saved up pictures and meals

Tips for lowering cholesterol


The other day, a friend found that her cholesterol had gone through the roof in just a year’s time. She doesn’t want to go on medication, but she needs to get it down soon, or her doctor wants her to do the meds. I told her I would send on some information that we researched online, and I thought I would go ahead and post it here. I am not a doctor, and I am not a dietician, but this is mostly a summary of information I have found elsewhere, coupled with some recommendations on how I try to implement some of these suggestions in the midst of a busy life.

General recommendations

  • Eat oatmeal. Whole grains in general are good, but oats are particularly helpful because of the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which absorbs cholesterol very effectively.  I like to add dried fruit, cinnamon and just a small amount of brown sugar as it cooks. To eat, I top with vanilla soy milk and sometimes pure maple syrup.
  • Flax seeds have the good kind of fat, omega 3 fatty acids, which help fight cholesterol and plaque buildup in the arteries. For the most benefits, you want to use whole flaxseeds, not the oil, which loses its potency quickly. The seeds have a nutty flavor, and you can sprinkle them on oatmeal, cereal or salads. You can also substitute 1 TBSP milled flaxseed mixed with 3 TBSP water for one egg in baked goods.
  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. They have two aspects that interfere with the absorption of cholesterol–plant sterols and soluble fiber. I am a little crazy on this one, according to my kids. I look at every recipe or eating opportunity to see where the fruits and veggies can be added. We make fruit smoothies a lot in the mornings, and we often make them green with spinach or kale. In fact, there aren’t many dishes to which I won’t add a little spinach at the end. I add it to soups, pasta sauces, salads, casseroles, risotto, and whatever else I can think of. I always have bell peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and spinach on hand to add to whatever I am making.
  • Some particularly good fruits and veggies: garlic, apples, beans, soy proteins.
  • Get some exercise everyday. A daily walk is important, but staying active in other ways is important, too. Don’t sit for long periods. If you work in an office, try to stand up and move for just a few minutes at least once per hour. Try to do as many chores while standing as you can (standing at a counter to chop veggies, vs. sitting at a table, for instance). Park far away from the door at the store. Run errands on foot if possible. Get a good pedometer, and try to work up to 10,000 steps per day. 
  • Avoid saturated fat, especially partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Limit red meat, and when you do eat it, trim the fat or get leaner cuts.
  • Avoid processed grains. Whole grains are higher in fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol absorption in the body.
  • Eat a lower carbohydrate diet. I am not a fan of the super low carb, Atkins type diets, but limiting the amount of carbs that you eat is helpful, and getting most of your carbs from whole foods is ideal. Recent studies show a correlation between a diet high in simple carbs and LDL cholesterol levels (LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol). The fiber in whole grains, fruits and vegetables are beneficial in lowering LDL levels.
  • Eat fish regularly, especially salmon. 
  • Red wine and dark chocolate seem to be good for cholesterol levels, too, in moderation. I heard on the radio the other day that drinking a glass of red wine with a meal that follows the Mediterranean diet (whole grains, high vegetable content, moderate meats and eggs, nuts and beans, low saturated fat) actually results in your stomach creating antioxidants–a case of one plus one equaling three.

Fitting these things into a busy life

  • Plan. I try to make a menu plan every week. This does take some time, but the more I do it, the faster I get. If I know what I am going to cook for dinner when I walk in the door from work, I get right to cooking. Also, making the menu plan and then a grocery list means that I rarely find myself with a bunch of meal ideas with missing ingredients at dinner time.
  • Prepare foods ahead. This can mean spending an hour or two on Sunday making up some oatmeal and a veggie soup or slaw, or it can just mean doing a little extra prep work while you are making your regular dinner. If I have a recipe that calls for a chopped onion, I might chop another while I am at it and put it in the fridge for the next night. Chopped bell pepper leads to a sliced pepper for after school snacks. Or, I might make a double batch of dinner, and freeze half of it for a night when we are busy.
  • To get more veggies in, I like to have a vegetable soup or a salad as often as possible. We have a lot of slaw, because that is much easier to make ahead–cabbage doesn’t wilt in dressing like lettuce does–but a nice tossed salad can be thrown together pretty quickly.  For the lettuce salads, I like to use this Jamie Oliver recipe as a base, and this is my favorite slaw recipe lately. I have my eye on this carrot slaw to try soon, though. This cream of baby carrot soup is easy to make while doing the rest of dinner, and is a big hit with my family.
  • Bring healthy snacks to work. It is so easy to head for the vending machine when you are feeling hungry, or stop in the cafeteria for an order of fries. If you already have a healthy choice you can grab, it is easier to avoid this. I usually bring leftover for my lunches, but I also try to bring something for when the munchies hit. Almonds are a good choice for this, and I like to get ready made dried fruit and nut trail mixes. A piece of fruit is always good, or a bowl of fruit salad. I have had soup or slaw for a mid-afternoon snack, too, so I can get in more of those veggies.
  • For the exercise, I basically trick myself into getting more movement in my day. Like I said before, I park far away from where I am going, but I also do things like drink a lot of coffee or water, which makes me get up more often to run to the bathroom. I got a dog partly to make me walk more, but I know that is a bit drastic. I have also arranged with friends to be walking buddies to make sure I head out the door on a regular basis, which is certainly less expensive than a dog. For the gym, I like to sign up for a class rather than just rely on myself to head to the gym, because I am more likely to go that way. Also, I signed up for the Y and took to the kids to the branch with the awesome indoor pool, which means they are often asking me to take them. I exercise for a bit, then join them in the pool.

Avoiding stress as much as you can is important, too. In my experience, this mostly means controlling your reaction to stressful occurrences, as there are so many stressful things that you cannot avoid entirely. Very few of us can afford to just quit a job if the boss is a jerk. When I have had bad bosses in the past (thankfully, my current supervisor is wonderful–it makes a huge difference in enjoying my job), I worked very hard at not allowing that to affect me. I did the best job I could, and worked hard at not worrying about work when I was away from work. It is hard to do, but I would interrupt my thoughts when I found myself dwelling on it, and reminded myself I was doing the best I could, and I cannot control the boss’s reaction. There is no use worrying over what you cannot change.  I apply this to all stressors that are out of my control–my ex-husband, my teenage daughter’s hormones, politics, etc. It takes
practice and work, but I have been able to let a lot of this roll off my back, not letting it upset me.

All of these tips should be good for avoiding almost any health problem.