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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Useful Gifts

The posting of my Sunday morning blog has become somewhat of a compulsion for me and until last Sunday I haven’t missed since I can remember. However illness in the family has taken precedence this week. Still I hope today’s subject is timely for those who, in this traditional gift giving time of year, are trying to think of interesting/useful and reasonably priced gifts for those who have everything.

Pictured on the left is a wine cooler.  It is an unglazed pottery cylinder sized to hold a wine bottle. The trick is to take your cooled bottle of white wine out of the frig, put it in the cooler that has about ¼ cup of water in the bottom and put it on the dinner table.  The water seeps into the clay and evaporates taking the heat energy from its surroundings to do so and keeping the wine cooled indefinitely. Try wetting your finger – its cooling illustrates the point. 

For centuries before refrigeration when people used to churn their own butter and needed to keep it cool, they used a similar technique. To make the process more convenient, in the 1600’s someone invented a butter bell as a way to store butter. As the video shows, butter is packed into the ‘bell’ and water is added to the base. The bell is then inverted and set into the base where it displaces some of the water so that it rises and seals the butter off from the oxygen and bacteria in the air. Originally, of course, the base was unglazed pottery and the evaporation cooled the butter and it was a convenient hygienic way to keep it.

Butter bells disappeared when ice boxes and refrigeration became common about 70 years ago but they have now been resurrected and can be purchased on line in several places for example at Amazon.  Unfortunately the concept of cooling by evaporation has been lost in the new ones that have glazed pottery bases so the butter is not chilled to the same extent.  However, apparently they still keep the butter cool but spreadable even in very hot summer weather. if the water is changed every 3 or 4 days, you can store butter in the bell for up to 30 days or more. 

Another unusual kitchen item that every good cook would probably appreciate is the ‘salt pig’ pictured on the right.  They are particularly convenient when you just want to add a pinch of salt or, if more, a small wooden spoon is available.  In the summer when there is lots of moisture in the air, be sure to mix a half teaspoon or so of rice with the salt to absorb water and keep it from caking.  They are available also at Amazon and other sites on line. 

Happy shopping!   Rie

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lopsided Geneology

I have often wondered at how patriarchal our society has been all through the centuries and – though changes are occurring slowly - how women have allowed themselves to remain so dominated by men even up to the present . In my post ‘On Being Female’ I talked about some of the reasons why this could have happened and I recently came across another.  
Aristotle, one of the most important thinkers in the Western world, not only in philosophy but also in the sciences, profoundly influenced scholarship well into the 17th century.  In 335 BC he proposed  that during conception, it was the man who ‘inoculated’ a woman with his child and that the woman's part was simply to sustain and succor the infant. When a child was born female or did not look like its father, it was explained away as ‘interferences’ that unfortunately occurred in the womb. It is no wonder that this idea was perpetuated since both Christianity and Muslim religions picked up on it and besides, men possessed the all the status and power in our society and in many cases still do. An indication of how pervasive this way of thinking is, just consider that when she marries, a woman commonly takes on her husband's surame as do all of  their children.
Having spent some time in the last couple of years creating genealogies for each of my parents  - tracing the origins of their families back to their coming to North America – I became acutely aware that when she married a woman lost her identity genealogically. Even her maiden came from her father.  It makes for tidy record keeping but since we know now that the mother contributes equally in passing on her DNA characteristics to her children, half a person’s biological history is routinely lost .
It turns out that the geneticist Bryan Sykes used a very neat and infallible way to trace one’s ancestry using woman’s identity only. He used the DNA in a type of bacteria called  mitochondria that have found their way into every cell in our body. They are vitally important in our metabolism because they are able to use the oxygen we breathe and, by combining it with food we eat, produce the energy needed by our cells  to keep us alive.  

In the conception of a child, the relatively large mother’s egg [pictured on the right] contains hundreds of the mitochondria while the male sperm contains only the father’s DNA.  Thus the mother passes on to each of her children, male or female, her own mitochondria. Each piece of mitochondria containing a relatively small piece of DNA whose code can be easily read by a geneticist. 

As in all living matter there can be the occasional mutation – they occur  on average about every 10 thousand years – so, depending on how many mutations  there have been and in what population they occurred,  it is possible to conclude that our species arose some 200.000 years ago, probably in south eastern Africa. Using our types and numbers of mutations over the eons, it is also possible to construct a type of genetic tree through the mitochondria of females. Our own mitochondrial fingerprint, identifies us as belonging to one branch of the Homo Sapiens tree shown on the left.. These branches are being given names and it has been suggested that in future a person will have three names - a first name, a name indicating our mitochondrial branch and a surname.  Rie

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Medical Revelation

As revealed in my last post, our bodies, particularly our gut (small and large intestines), are host to trillions of microorganisms whose cells outnumber those in are in our body by 10 to 1.  Bacteria make up most of the flora in our gut with about 500 different species, however probably about 99% of the bacteria come from 30 or 40 species - both good and bad. The main function of these bacteria appears to be in the digestion of the food we eat and in preventing the growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria. Actually it is estimated that about 85% of our immune system sits in our gut.
Early research, carried out mainly by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, claims that the ideal balance of good and bad bacteria forms the foundation for good health, both physical and mental. An interview with Dr. McBride reveals her own personal reason for becoming involved in tracing the effects of the gut flora in causing mental illnesses as well as allergies. Her first child, a son, was diagnosed with autism, and the fact that she found a cure not only for him, but also others with similar psychological symptoms, is profoundly convincing.

In researching the subject, I have found it amazing that a child is born sterile and it picks up the microorganisms that will populate its gut first in its passage through the mother’s birth canal and then in the mother’s milk as well as the environment. That nature would leave to chance such an important basis for the child’s health must have had no easy solution and explains why some infants have such a difficult time digesting food in their first few months. However, the bacteria in our digestive tract are very forgiving and usually the good bacteria win out. If not, in my health food store I found a brochure ‘Life Start’ advertising probiotic supplements that can ensure the mother’s optimal health and other products for the new born child - so now help is available for any mother who wishes to be proactive in maintaining and passing on a healthy bacterial system to her baby.
There are many informative interviews and talks on line by Dr. Campbell-McBride and one of her short but convincing videos is very worth viewing because it outlines the factors that damage our gut flora. For someone who suffers from autoimmune or degenerative diseases like Multiple Sclorosis, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, osteoarthritis, Crohns disease, ulcerative colitis, CFS etc., she has written a book that gives a diet that can reset the bacterial imbalances in your gut and cure your disease.  It is not an easy diet to follow but has been shown to work and she has many collaborators around the world who are trained and working with her methods. 
As I mentioned this has been a personal journey for me having suffered for over a year with severe digestive problems after undergoing a course of antibiotics. After posting the October 28 ‘Fermented Foods’ blog in which I said I was cured, I had a relapse for a day or so but then I felt even better again and have had no further problems.  McBride describes this reaction as a ‘die back’ where the good bacteria become so numerous they are able to kill off a pathogenic colony of bacteria, which then releases its toxins causing the illness symptoms to return temporarily. 

I have only barely touched on the subject of the importance of our gut flora, and its influence on our health. For those with some conditions that are not successfully treated by modern medicine, I’m convinced that their real challenge could well be to identify strategies that help optimize their bacterial population. The aim would be to heal and seal their gut and live happily ever after in a friendly, symbiotic relationship with the trillions of microorganisms that can optimize their health.  Rie