Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Did you know -- Lectins and tomato frogs (both can be unhealthy)

Tomato Frog, photo courtesy of cites.org

    In 2006 in Japan, over 1,000 people got sick after trying a new food fad (no, this isn't about the tomato frog-- that comes later). This "fad" instructed them to toast white kidney beans, then grind them up in a coffee mill. THEN, put them on their rice, to help them lose weight.
    Many experienced vomiting and diarrhea, with 122 going to the hospital. Their problem? Lectin poisoning.
    What on earth are lectins? Lectins are special proteins in many legumes, fruits, and beans. They are actually used as a defense mechanism against insects trying to eat them. They are NOT digested easily. (Have you ever been advised to not eat a kidney bean raw?) Over time lectins can damage the intestinal lining, possibly causing "leaky gut" and immune disease.
    But if they(beans) are cooked thoroughly the lectins shouldn't be a problem. Raw kidney beans  have 70,000 lectin units, but if soaked overnight and boiled fifteen minutes, it goes down to 200-400 lectin units. And they have interesting health benefits. They can actually modulate inflammation. According to reporter Cara Rosenbloom, these proteins stick together, are antimicrobial, and have anti-cancer potential. Dr. Michael Gregor cites research where lectins limited tumor growth. They could even "extinguish" colon cancer cells and help them differentiate back into normal cells. (This research has only been done with animals and in petri dishes, but researchers are encouraged by this.)
    Lectins can be found in potatoes, peanuts, seeds, green peppers, and fruit. But well cooked,  they shouldn't be a problem. Avoid if you have digestive issues with these foods.
    And speaking of tomatoes (was I?),  there's a unique, almost comical looking frog found only in Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. From the genus Dyscophus, the tomato frog is a red-orange (even redder in females) frog that lives in a rain forest. Its body is wide and squat, a fat, round shape that almost looks like a tomato slice on top, a dark brown body stripe running from behind the eye to the rear leg on each side. 
    They will even "inflate" their round body and extend their legs out to appear larger when threatened, their reddish color no doubt a hint to predators that, hey, we're toxic, stay away. They actually give off a white substance, which irritates people's hands if they try to touch one. (I don't know if I could ever find this freaky frog in the forest -- its' only three inches long, five inches for the female.) And when they mate, a female can lay up to 15,000 eggs!
    Over a decade ago, here in Virginia, it rained for the whole month of July. and I didn't get to try out the wading pool my son had bought me. In August I noticed these tiny lines moving in the pool -- they were tadpoles! I'd read online they could eat boiled (then frozen and thawed out) lettuce and grass clippings, and any algae found in their watery home.
    Some of them did get big enough to hop out, but only a few. After four months I put them in a pail of  pool water (they were probably green frogs) and took them to the nearest lake. Many of them still had a tail or only two legs. I spilled them into the lake, hoping they wouldn't be eaten by a fish before they grew up.
    It seems I have little control over frogs, but I will watch my "lectin" intake in the future (and help prevent gas).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Highlands Fest -- one part of historic Abingdon

                                            The Barter Theatre, part of historic Abingdon, VA.

        Abingdon, VA. Historic Abingdon I find to already be an interesting place to visit. When I lived close by I got my exercise by going "up and down" the steep veterans' park in town, and loving the hot fudge cake at nearby Shoney's. But this venerable town, serving an important function during the Civil War, brings citizens near and far together for its annual Highlands Fest.
     The Highlands Festival brings artists, writers, and the curious to the town managing the state theater of Virginia, The Barter Theatre. My spouse Frank and I stopped there on the second day of our weekend visit. I couldn't believe my college friend Kenny was behind the counter at the gift shop. He commented how he liked being in management at this unique theater (where people would bring cabbages and other produce to feed struggling actors during the Great Depression), and that we could volunteer as ushers, even if we lived far away.
     The Barter sits on Main Street, where the regional Shriner's group drove some 1920s open cars during the parade that is part of the festival. This we watched from the arts and crafts fairgrounds that are to the left of the historic Martha Washington Inn and Spa. The inn has been a women's college and hospital, and boasts ghosts AND wonderful fine dining (and dessert carts!). But I needed to see the great variety of art, which included old Christmas post cards showing cherubic children I was very tempted to buy. And the food tent with a nutella and banana based wrap was original (but a little too mushy).
     There was a play and '60s beach band near the town's farmers' market area, but we chose to relax at the family owned Alpine Motel, very reasonably priced. That afternoon I listened to various writers talk about method (selling and writing) at the Higher (kind of a theme in this mountainous town that is part of Appalachia) Education Center, even getting a few tips from Adriana Trigiani. Trigiani has made herself known with her book made into a movie, Big Stone Gap, and discussed her love of directing. She also suggested you could "dream up" a story. Well, it's not THAT simple. At another writers' conference I went to an author said if you wrote down a question for your story next to your bed and thought of it as you went to sleep, you'd wake up the next day with your answer. I don't know if that's true, but, hey, why not give it a try.
    The various memories I have of Abingdon will have me coming back again. It's where history and art come alive.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Did you know -- Zucchini is a foreigner (but good)?

Zucchini in the garden

     They may not be space invaders, but they "do" come from a foreign country. I'm not talking about starlings, snakehead fish, or British soldiers (during the 1700s). I'm talking about my favorite summer vegetable, that dark green summer squash, the humble, versatile zucchini.
     It has a rather foreign sounding name, said to come from the Italian word for squash (zucca). But Italians brought it over to America in the 1920s and it started getting popular, even though it was already being grown in places like Mexico and South America. I had always found it pretty easy to plant and grow, and sometimes, it comes in a deluge! In fact, one summer I had so much I basically substituted celery for it, and called my recipe "Zucchini Chow Mein." Of course, that presupposes I wasn't using much chicken, but it was in there, along with the bean sprouts, onions, soy sauce, a dash of sugar and some rice on the side. The Bristol Herald Courier (VA.) daily liked it and gave me a  white (with red border) "potluck" apron for my efforts.
     I've since learned that this low cal phenom is loaded with vitamins. It has a whole "set" of vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, K,  B6, as well as potassium and magnesium. And it has such a mild taste that is great in soups, salads, chow mein(!), or in the kind of sweet bread recipe used for bananas. I so look forward to this favorite fruit (it has a lot of seeds in it, as a fruit does). But last summer it didn't do as well, as it needs certain insects (bees) to pollinate it. People can help pollinate the female flower (the male flower is much smaller) using a Q tip, if needed. I may try that. But I did put marigolds nearby and wonder if they didn't distract or repel the bees last year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Did You Know -- A few things to know about Snow

                                     Snowflakes come in an abundant array of shapes and sizes

         This winter season it seems we had "more" snow in March and April than actual winter! (Climate change, perhaps?) And our next to last snow, right around the beginning of spring, was 13 full inches! But the next day it was sunny and warmer, most of it melting away in one day. So why wasn't the area flooded?
     It's interesting (perhaps Mother Nature's way of being merciful) that 10 inches of snow equals only one inch of water when it melts. When all that snow melted it didn't cause a horrendous flood. I guess the snowflakes themselves, since they are all shaped differently, had a lot of spaces in between, piling up in a lopsided fashion.
     According to a Mental Floss article, a snow with the largest snowflakes was reported in 1887 at Fort Keogh, Montana. The people there saw the snow coming down and thought the flakes were bigger than "milk pans," which I'm guessing were pretty wide. Deep, compressed snow can appear to have a color -- why else would those icebergs in Alaska look blue?
     They say igloos can actually be quite warm. The compacted snow traps air and keeps colder air out, so it's a great insulator. Even so, I don't see myself any time soon residing in a snow house, though somewhere up in Scandinavia there is a hotel that is all ice, I believe. I heard the temperature was NOT warm!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Snowdogs in the future?


Virginia in the winter.

    We received "some" healthy fresh air when we went outside the other day to build a snowman. I tried something a tiny bit different -- I gave the snowman a smile shaped from yellow squash. It surprises me that there even "is" squash this time of year. This time of year this vegetable is probably trucked in from Mexico and been sprayed with a half dozen noxious chemicals, no doubt.
    This winter all the big snows have gone to the south or north of us. So Mr. Snowman was a long time in coming. We're not kids anymore but so what? It's fun to get out and do something in the snow. Right as we were finishing our messter-piece, my spouse suggested we should have done something more original, you know, like a snowdog or even a snowcat. But what would you use for whiskers, straws? Blades of grass? Long pieces of material plastered to the side of the head to represent dog ears?
    We haven't done this yet. And as our gloves easily got soaked in this wet yet clumpy snow, we realized there wasn't time to fix our snow person into something else. Maybe next time.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Was the groundhog wrong -- warm February and weather concerns


                                     Chickadees seem to hang around in the winter.

     Is this climate change or is this just "the usual" for February? Living in the southeast a number of years, there seems to always be a bit of a thaw the end of January or mid February. But now it's staying warmer for longer periods -- yet now too long, as my daffodils have yet to come up.
    I know we need the moisture, but all this rain has turned part of our unpaved parking lot into mud! Mud remains me of the name of that doctor who infamously tended to  John Wilkes Booth's leg during his escape from D. C. after shooting President Lincoln. That occurred in April, one of my favorite months of years in the weather department. Wilkes Booth ran north (well, not literally) for a while and then headed south, about 25 miles from D. C., perhaps in rainy weather himself. For a short time he and an associate stayed at the Garrett farm, where they had heard little of his serious act. But he was tracked down to the Garrett's tobacco barn, almost going out surrounded by a blaze of fire, after being shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett in a burning barn. Booth was dragged out the of barn and died a little later of a neck wound. Whether the day was warm or cold, it didn't turn out well for Booth.
     Here is hoping February warms a bit (without all the rain), leading us into March and the optimistic hope of green plants growing and spring!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


                                       Frog glued to a rock at Margaret Beeks Elementary

    If you were to visit New York City's 843 acre Central Park, you'd find yourself being surprised every so often by the statues you'd see along your walk. Like the one of Christopher Columbus, and a brown looking, well, brown bear. There's also a bronze of Alice in Wonderland, the literary character with a Cheshire cat and Mad Hatter surrounding her, and heroic sled dog Balto in the distance. Statues make any walk more interesting. Some even have a purpose.
    The bronze frogs in and around downtown Blacksburg (VA), the Virginia Tech college town, do indeed have a purpose, showing off the town watershed, among other things. On a cold day in mid January I set out with some hearty hikers (good alliteration there) to discover where exactly the 16 different frogs were.
    At twenty degrees, it was NOT the ideal day for a hike around town. But the sun was out and we bundled up in layers (like two layers of socks in my fur lined boots), so with a coat, insulated gloves, a hat and scarf covering part of my face, I set off with several others. 
    Just what are the 16 frogs?  They were four inches of bronzed statues, some attached to a lily pad, some not, set in different places throughout Blacksburg to point out the waterways that once provided life giving drinking water to town residents. (The New River has since taken over that task.)
    How much value do we place in our waterways, streams and creeks that feed into rivers that feed into big lakes that may feed into really major waterways, like the ocean? These creeks are living worlds for fish and mayflies and salamanders. The frogs in the area need them as well. 
    We walked all over downtown to different spots. I liked the one by a fountain at the renovated Black House on Draper Road.  One of the walkers said I was nuts to sit on the cement area next to the frog and lily pad attached (cemented?) to it. But hey, I had on my good winter coat, jeans, and three layers under that! When our leader Pauletta took a pic of the group, I was the one pointing to this dark gray colored frog.
    A few frogs were noticeably glued in place. I was told a few had already been "stolen" -- really, too cheap to go to your own nearby garden supply store for decorations? Or perhaps they were big animal lovers. Not long after this we took a break and warmed up at the Squires Student Center. But there were parks, bridges, and other places still to explore.