Friday, November 18, 2016

How my blog post helped me lose 21 Kilos.

Some time in May, I had written this post on my blog, about how water intensive, sugar cultivation is. As my contribution to our country and this planet, I decided to go off sugar and all food items containing sugar.
I did not however expect one side effect of this decision. A surprising weight loss .
I weighed about 94 kilograms when I wrote that post (with a overweight BMI of 29.4) today as I weigh myself the scale shows 73 kgs (BMI at 23.0). All I did was go off sugar (which includes jaggery and juices).

Prior to this, for the last 5 years I had made various attempts at losing weight, cutting down on oil, fats, starches, exercise etc etc.. perhaps other than taking medication, there was no stone left un-turned. I yo-yo'd between 80 kgs to 94 kgs during these years. During these years I also realised that diet, starving, fasting and all other fad methods are just temporary and perhaps work for only a few. Until a few months ago, I always believed that I consumed very little sugar- a couple of teaspoon in my tea and "occasional" dessert after a meal. Never did I realise how much of an impact those few teaspoons made.
Was sugar the culprit all these days- I think so.
In fact other than causing large scale environmental turmoil, sugar can wreck havoc in our bodies. Sugar is addictive and it is so addictive that it is called the new age cocaine 1. It is hard to get off it- but it is possible and one should.
First of all, the sugar industry is a big lobby with a massive political clout. It is so powerful that in 1960's it paid researchers at Harvard to show that fat and not sugar caused heart disease. 
These reports then shaped nutrition requirements for years and most of them continue to be used. So whatever value that is considered as 'safe sugar intake' all require a re look.
As newer research is pouring out, sugar in our diet is shown to cause heart disease; cancer; eye, kidney, and nerve damage; and more than 100 other health hazards.
Quite surprising however is how sugar promotes cancer. In his book "Life Over Cancer", Keith I. Block, M.D and a renowned integrative cancer-care specialist and medical director of the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment says "most cancer cells thrive on a high sugar diet…if you strangulate the supply of sugar to the tumor, it may actually trigger a form of biological suicide among the malignant cells…very few cancers can survive without a steady supply of glucose.” he also adds "... all your cells need glucose (blood sugar), but cancer cells are “glucose guzzlers,”

You need not even read too much of research reports to know what sugar is doing to our body- just see the people that are following the Standard American Diet, which has the world's highers per capita sugar consumption. Slowly we all are heading that way.

Its never too late- Stop sugar, save your body and save earth too. The first 7 days are hard- it then becomes easy and by 21 days, you will never want sugar.

Extra Notes:

So how does sugar make you fat? Here’s what happens: Normally, when you eat sugary food, your body’s digestive system breaks the food down into glucose, a simple sugar that is your body’s main source of energy. Glucose is easily absorbed into your bloodstream. When your blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) rises, that’s a signal to your pancreas to release insulin, which regulates your body’s blood-sugar levels and escorts glucose into your cells, where it’s used to create energy.
Now, when you consume sugar in any form all day long, your body produces excess glucose (anything you don’t need immediately for energy), which is first converted into glycogen, the storage form of glucose. Your body can only store a limited amount of glycogen, so excess glucose is stored as body fat.

1.William Dufty declared in his landmark, best-selling 1975 book, Sugar Blues, “the difference between sugar addiction and narcotic addiction is largely one of degree.”
He goes on to explain: “After all, heroin is nothing but a chemical. They take the juice of the poppy and they refine it into opium and then they refine it to morphine and finally to heroin.
“Sugar is [also] nothing but a chemical,” Dufty continued. “They take the juice of the cane or the beet, and they refine it to molasses and then they refine it to brown sugar and finally to strange white crystals.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wheat Cheats

The news is out on papers today- the bread we eat contains cancer containing additives says a study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Not just that, they include one additive that can cause thyroid disorders too. So why will any one add such chemicals in our bread? How do they benefit? I had highlighted this issue in one of my blog post three years ago- it went unnoticed. Now that the issue is in news- I felt it's time to reiterate this fact.

Wheat is not the healthiest of the grains available. Despite all the millions spent touting wheat to be a wholesome grain, nutritionally it is just a mediocre grain. Finger millet (Ragi), Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl millet (Bajra ) etc are much more nutrient dense than wheat.

Wheat however has a protein that makes it a delight for bakers and makers of food to use it- that protein is called 'gluten'. Gluten, is a protein that can link up with neighboring gluten making a long chain of gluten proteins . Because of this property, wheat has a stringy texture and one can make lovely shapes out of it. You can make stringy noodles, crispy thin crackers, spongy breads, soft cakes, the list is endless. Hence when you visit a supermarket- more than 85% of the food products have wheat in some or the other form. All thanks to gluten.

Like I mentioned earlier, the gluten proteins need to link with each other. To make a link like this gluten requires oxygen. Traditionally, after wheat was milled, it was aged in air for a few weeks. As the flour aged in contact with the air, its gluten and baking properties improved. Then came the time of fast paced production and cut throat competition. Bakers and manufactures where looking for methods to fasten production of their products and soon they got their answers.

Ageing wheat required space and time- both a premium in today's world. So to save time and money, millers began artificially oxidizing (adding oxygen) their flour. Oxidisers like Chlorine gas, pottasium bromate and others. It not only improved that binding of wheat but also saved a lot of time and ultimately money for the bakers.

These additives are given very neutral sounding names in the list of ingredients. They may be called dough improves, dough conditioners and so on. But the harm they do to your organs are conveniently brushed off.

Not just to improve binding, but also to make wheat look white- wheat is bleached with chlorine. This process has a side-effect of producing a chemical called Alloxan (No one checks for it- but you can be assured your flour has it). Alloxan selectively destroys the insulin producing cells (beta-cells) in the pancreas- which causes diabetes. Studies so far have observed this in rodents and many other animal species. Although I could not find any study done on humans- there is a very good possibility that one day news may break out that wheat can actually cause diabetes.

Meanwhile , India allows wheat makers to use potassium bromate and pottasium iodate in the making of wheat. There is absolutely no need for it, other than for the profitability of bakers.

Not just breads- rest assured these residues will be present in noodles, biscuits, cakes and all other wheat products. Finally the choice of consumption is in our hands- in a country like India where we boast of a plethora of grains, do we continue remaining blind to the hazards of today's wheat production or do we choose to care for ourselves, our children, our loved ones and switch to the alternate grains available to us. Our choice will determine the future of not only our health, but of our children too. A choice that is in our hands. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Cost of Sugar.

Yesterday I posted on how we made sun evaporated sugar at home. One of the reasons why we felt the need to stop using processed sugar and use our own sugar was because consumption of sugar and jaggery come with a price tag- that of our health. But that is not what this post is about- Sugar production comes at another great cost- that of environment and our nation.
When the country is facing an acute water scarcity- sugar is something we cannot afford to produce and export. But we do it and continue supporting a luxury that we cannot afford.

It takes 2100 liters of water to produce 1 kg of sugar. This means that in a state like Maharashtra, which is facing acute drought, sugarcane occupies 4% of the cropped area but consumes 70% of irrigated water.
So every gram of sugar requires 2.1 liters of water, which means- A 330 ml of Coca-Cola can, which has 35 grams of sugar (7 teaspoons) took 73 liters of water just to make it sweet. An India Today report points out that the daily requirement of water in Latur is 85 liters per person. So every time one drinks a can of coke- crudely putting, one is robbing a person's entire day's supply of water !!!
Now that's how demanding our sweet tooth could be.

In 2014-2015, India produced around 28 million tonnes of sugar-  3.7 million tonnes more than demand. This excess sugar was exported and when we export sugar, we are essentially exporting water. A commodity that we are facing acute shortage of.

Like I mentioned above it takes 2.1 million liters of water to produce one ton of sugar. So when we exported 3.7 million tonnes of sugar we exported 7770 billion liters of water. Assuming a district like Latur requires 209 million liters of water a day, we exported 37,177 days of water requirement of Latur. To put it in simply, "India's one year of sugar exports, took away a districts century worth of water supply"

So not just your health- sugar can strip away a nation's vital resource too. Take this challenge- Try and see if you can completely stay away from processed sugar. If  you can, you will be doing a great service to yourself and the country. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sun Evaporated Sugar.

How would it feel to use locotarian, organic, sustainably grown, free from processing, free from added chemicals,  nutritious and wholesome sugar. Hard to believe such a thing exists! especially when it concerns sugar which has now earned the moniker - white poison.

Well, we we just managed to make such a batch of sugar right at our home. All it required was patience.

This April we harvested a small crop of sugarcane, organically grown in our backyard. It turns out, sugarcane is quite un-fussy and easy to grow. It just needs a lot of water and manuring. After eating some, giving it to friends and keeping aside a small portion for the next round of crops we managed to get  2.5 liters of Sugarcane juice.

We planned to make sugar out of this juice and employed mother nature to do all the hardwork. We spread the juice over 3 large tarts and started to evaporate it under the harsh April and May summer sun of Goa (Surprisingly this summer has been much pleasant than last year- or perhaps our plants have grown bigger) .

After 15 days of evaporation, during which the liquid had to be protected from ants, bees, birds and other sugar deprived creatures, the colour slowly turned reddish-golden from the original olive green. The volume had substantially reduced and the entire juice now could be accomodated in a single tart.
Another 15 days of drying and the rate of evaporation had substantially reduced. The liquid had become so viscous that I could hold the tart vertical without actually spilling the juice. It can perhaps be called molasses at this stage.

Another seven days of drying I realised that there was no reduction in the volume of liquid- The sun had  finally given up.
I tasted some of our lovely sweet nectar and it tasted great. It initially tasted like dark jaggery and has an after taste of honey and the flavour lingers for quite sometime.
Sugarcane juice is very nutritious but the process of manufacturing sugar and jaggery robs all its nutrients making it a junk and harmful product. Considering the temperature may never have crossed more than 40 degrees during the making of this sugar, I believe it retains most of sugarcane's nutrition (the inevitable loss due to degradation by time is always there). What more could I ask for.

 We gently poured and bottled the liquid sugar and managed to get about 250 ml of sugar. (Ah! I lost about 300 ml of sugar, when a naughty bird toppled one of my tarts). All said and done this should last us for 8 to 9 months (Nope! our sugar consumption is not low, its quite normal. Anything more than this is excess sugar in your life.)

Meanwhile the next batch of sugarcane has sprouted this time all going well- expecting a larger batch of the golden syrup.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Recipe from a Bouquet

A tree that grows fast and gives abundant flowers is the drumstick tree. Said to bear nutritious leaves, seeds and flowers the tree is a favourite to a lot of creatures. Many birds especially the Parakeets, Orioles, flowerpeckers visit it and squirrels enjoy the abundant flowers it gives.
The flowers make a very tasty dish- you just need it to eat once and you will forever fall in love.
So when I gave Aarina a bouquet of drumstick and banana flowers she cooked a delicious dish from them. Well this is how she did it.

The red banana inflorescence, which is removed as the bunch grows to optimum size has small florets in it.

Keep the yellow stamens and discard the  outer calyx. 

The drumstick flowers are much easier to clean. Just pluck the flowers from the branch.

One branch gave quite a bowl full of flowers.

The recipe is quite simple. Take oil in a vessel and heat it up. Splutter some mustard seeds, then add curry leaves.
Add both the drumstick and banana flowers and salt. Add a little water and close and cook for 5 minutes. Then add freshly grated coconut and cook for another 5 minutes.
We also added fresh greenpeas along with the flowers and they do go well with the flowers.

Oh yes- that's it, serve hot; it's pretty darn delicious. 

Monday, May 09, 2016

Banana Stem Cutlet

It is always a pleasure when your plants fruit- we recently had one such delightful moment when we harvested a big bunch of banana. Once the fruit ( banana is botanically a berry, but still...)  is harvested, the banana plant (which is technically a herb, but still...) is chopped off. One edible, tasty and nutritious part of the plant is its inner core. We always make it a point to cook it and this time we made cutlets; that made a perfect breakfast for us.
So below is the recipe for Banana stem cutlets:

1. Cut the inner core of the banana steam into small pieces and keep aside. Similarly chop, onion, garlic, ginger  and green chillies. ( I'm not mentioning quantities since you can vary it as per your taste)

2. Pressure cook and mash potatoes and keep aside.

3. In a vessel take oil and splutter mustard seeds. Then add curry leaves and the chopped onions. As the onions start to discolour, add the ginger, garlic, green chillies and fry. (We also added turmeric, coriander, cumin and Garam masala for a heavy body flavour. We have even skipped these spices out, and the cutlets turn out to be equally good)

4.  Once these spices start to give out aroma, add the chopped banana stem and little water and cook for about 15 minutes.

 5.Cook till the water is fully evaporated, then cool it. Once cooled, put it in a blender and grind it to a fine paste.

6. Take it out of the blender and add the mixture to the potato (equal quantity of potato and mixture). The mixture will turn out quiet watery, since the stems release water when grinding. To make it more pliable add gram flour. Add salt and mix well. In case your mixture is quite dry, we still recommend adding gram flour, since it gives a nice umami flavour to the dish.

7. Take very little oil in an  iron girder, put a blob of cutlet mixture and gently spread it into cutlet shape. You can even shape it in your hands and place it on the girder- however use wet hands and that makes shaping easy.

8. Fry till the crust turn dark brown and the cutlets are firm. Serve hot- makes a tasty, wholesome breakfast. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Once bitten twice shy

In one of previous post on harvesting a beehive from our garden, I mentioned that I was stung by one of the bees. This time, I went prepared-  completely covered with head to toe.

 As you can see, the hive was smaller than the last one.

But the  honey quantity was larger, since the hive was younger. But the beeswax quantity was  much smaller.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Why investing in LIC is a very bad idea….

Long time ago, when I knew money needs to be saved, but cared little to know about finance or economics I had purchased a pension plan from LIC. Swayed by a sweet speaking, erudite LIC agent I took in a 25 year pension plan (only thing I knew those days was that investment had to be long term). The monthly premium was quite small- it was a stepping stone after all, out from Post office savings and banks FD’s to the exciting world of equities and bonds.
With monthly SIP’s automatically getting deducted, I did not follow up on the performance of my investment for years. As years passed on and when my interest on all things finance kindled, I remembered my first LIC investment – How was it doing? What were the returns? And many such plethora of questions rushed to my mind. After many years, I logged into my account and checked the values. Well the balance was more than the investment. That was a good sign.
Then I plugged in the numbers and the preliminary returns turned out to be a measly 4.1% ! I wanted to calculate the exact returns on my investment (XIRR) for which I needed to know the monthly deductions (various charges levied by LIC), NAV at which the units were purchased and the date of purchase every month.
So I called up the agent and asked him to give me these details. He was flummoxed at my request, looked at my numbers and told me- “well you have for a 5.5 % return.”. I told him “That is simple interest, what about compound interest, or what about IRR, XIRR?”. To which he replied my LIC app. Does not give those details!! Realising that it was a futile endeavor, I decided to write to the LIC’s regional office to give me the NAV details. After beating around the bush in a couple of mail’s, LIC finally admitted that they had NAV details of only 1 year and they can’t find the other 6 or so years.
“The details are not important, they are required only to calculate your returns you see… “ was the indirect message that was being conveyed.
With so many people investing in LIC, I wanted to know how good their investments are doing. Are they making justice to people hard earned money? So I began my research- it was pretty simple, I only had to read LIC’s balance sheet.
This is what I discovered.
Income from Investments (Crore)
Investments (Crore)
Average return on a Bank FD during the same period

As you can see, LIC has done a pretty miserable job when it comes to managing people’s money. It has been lagging behind even bank FD’s by more than 150 basis point and in some years even by 200 basis points. If one had kept their savings in a banks FD, they would have generated better returns.
Also, as you can see from the above table, the money people are investing in LIC is certainly growing. Thanks to the “Govt. backed up” tag it has got. Government has been milking its cash cow for many years and will continue to keep doing so. Well as long as government interference continues, all your hard earned money in LIC is certainly doomed.

Well, LIC is anyway a poor investment disguised as an insurance, which is generally inadequate. So to all my friends reading this get wise and forget LIC… 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Honeycomb adventure

There was a honeybee hive growing on two of our chickoo (choko, Sapota, Sapodilla) trees and with the fruits ready to be harvested, it was quite tricky to pluck them without disturbing the hive. So we finally decided to remove the hive. With no idea how to go about it- the general consensus was to burn the hive down. 
This is something that really bothered me. One is, bees are in decline and although they are not classified as endangered they are rapidly falling in numbers  (thanks to all the chemical farming methods and climate change )
The second reason being, it is these bees that had pollinated our fruits and vegetables and we need them to continue pollinating them- How could I burn them ? 

Fortunately for us we came across an elderly acquaintance of ours ,who just knew the technique of harvesting a honeycomb without killing the bees.  Just what the doctor ordered. 

So below is the video of how he went about it and he took me along (the trainee) to teach the method. It was simple, take a sharp knife, tie it to a long pole and cut the branch on which the bees have built a hive. Then run... 

Well, we just did that, and a few minutes later, most of the bees had abandoned their fallen hive. The few remaining ones were not just bothered as we picked and handled the hive. 

I must admit here that although no bee stung the master- one bee did sting the apprentice. It was darn painful. Well initiation ceremony perhaps. But I was happy to know that no bees were killed in making of this story (except the one that stung me )

The bee hive was quite old, so the bees had used about 85% of the honey they made. So despite the size of the hive we only managed to squeeze out about 45 ml of pure wild honey.

Well now we had a big hive to take care of and a hive has something very precious in it- Beeswax. 
Beeswax is used to make premium candles and pure natural beeswax also gets used in the making of high end cosmetics. Most of the off the shelf cosmetics use paraffin a much cheaper option.

Gram for gram bees wax is many times expensive than honey itself.  

So this is how I got the wax out. The hive was placed in a cotton cloth and a bundle made of it. The bundle is tightly knotted and put in boiling water. I used an old vessel, since once the process is over, the only thing the vessel can be used again is to make more beeswax.

I boiled the entire thing for 10 minutes constantly pressing it with a spatula to squeeze out the molten wax from the bundle.  

 10 minutes later the water turns brown and yellow waxy stuff appears. Take out the bundle and squeeze out all the water with a pair of tongs. All that remained in the cloth were dead bees and unhatched eggs.

Let the water cool down. Since it was a hot day, I refrigerated the vessel for 1 hour and the wax solidifies.

 The wax formed a nice rim and is smooth and can form a lovely salve for dry-skin in winter.

Well enough adventures for the day- the next honeycomb- for another day. This time the apprentice will be the master.

Monday, April 18, 2016

More precious than gold !

We have been growing turmeric organically for a couple of years now. Mostly for its aromatic leaves, in which we use to wrap and steam cook quite some delicacies. This year, we decided to go a step ahead and make turmeric powder from the rhizomes. 

After the green leaves wilt the rhizomes are generally harvested. Although our plants wilted in November itself, due to lack of commitment from our part we left the rhizomes in the ground. Mother nature takes care of them. Finally in April, we dug out the Rhizomes and manged to get about 4 kgs of them. We kept aside 250 grams of healthy looking rhizomes for the next crop and washed the rest of the turmeric rhizomes thoroughly to remove all mud.  

Next we boiled the turmeric for about 45 minutes. This boiling makes the turmeric yellow in colour and floods the kitchen with turmeric aroma. (my previous experiment with a small batch of unboiled turmeric gave me dark brown turmeric, instead of yellow ones.)  I boiled the turmeric till I was able to easily poke a fork them.

I decided not to peel the skin of the turmeric. Since our turmeric is organically grown, the skin can have only valuable nutrients, without any pesticide residue and it is too precious to be chucked away. On the other hand, the colour of the turmeric will not be bright yellow-orange, something that we can live with.

We then broke off the fingers that are attached to the rhizomes into individual bits and once boiled they easily snap off.
The turmeric was then dried in the scorching April sun and after two days of sun drying, they shrivel up quite a bit.

We then took a  hammer and pounded the rhizomes flat. The increased surface area helps in drying of the rhizomes. See the photograph below of a well flattened batch of once juicy, plump turmeric.

A couple of days more of sun drying and the turmeric is completely dry. It feels as hard as a stone.

Now comes the powdering part. Instead of giving it to a mill, we decided to use our normal mixer to grind it. Although it meant more work, we did not want to contaminate our organic harvest with other unknown batches.

15 seconds of grinding, at the lowest speed, gave quite good results.  I sieved the powder through the finest net and and residue was put in the jar again for another round of grinding.

After two rounds of grinding and sieving, nearly all the turmeric was converted into a fine powder.

The powder was as fine as the ones made commercially.

It took me 2 hours of grinding in small batches, to grind our entire quota of turmeric. 4 kg of rhizomes gave us 650 grams of turmeric powder. The colour may not be bright like the commercially available variety, but the aroma is as powerful if not more than any turmeric powder that I have seen.

Free from pesticides and adulterants, this jar should last us for six month. The next time we aim for a quantity that is enough for one year.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The GDP Obsession

A few days ago the Central Statistics Office (CSO), declared the GDP for the period October to December 2015. India grew by 7.3% they said. Looking at the quarterly results of listed companies, it's hard to believe the 7.3% number, but that's another story for some other day. This post is to express my views on the concept of GDP itself.
The gross domestic product, (GDP), is today blindly used as a standard measure of success by every one- from the economist to the politician. It can be such a misused tool in the hands of the politicians, that the Indian government last year tweaked the formula to calculate the GDP so that the numbers showed the government performance in better light .
GDP counts the value of goods and services made in a country each year. But it has a glaring problem, it leaves out some really important facets of reality. For starters, GDP doesn’t account for the unequal and unfair distribution of wealth or look at how healthy, satisfied, or fulfilled people are. That’s why the GDP of India has grown at more than 5% and China's by more than 10% for years while the incomes of its workers have not grown in the same time period—the wealth has got stuck at one spot in the system.
But the biggest problem with how the GDP is calculated is that the true ecological and social costs of growth are not accounted for. Industries are usually permitted to “externalize costs,” which is a fancy phrase economists use to describe the fact that, while companies are busy producing and selling goods, they’re not paying for, or even tracking the side-effects they cause, like contaminating groundwater, exposing communities to carcinogens, or polluting the air.
So GDP counts activities that cause pollution and cancer (such as factories making pesticides or PVC) as well as activities to clean up that pollution and treat the cancer (such as environmental remediation and medical care), there is no deduction in the GDP for the pollution released into the air, soil or water or the loss of a forest.
I read a very interesting, but true story in the book Deep Economy by Bill McKibben which highlights the failure of GDP to measure success: "for years in Africa, the non-native water hyacinth was clogging waterways, and herbicides had done nothing to solve the problem. Then someone discovered that dried water hyacinth made great material for growing highly nutritious mushrooms, and that when the mushrooms broke down the cellulose in the hyacinths, it made a great medium for earthworms. The worms chomped that down and created high-quality fertilizer, then were themselves feed for chickens. The chickens, of course, provided people with eggs, while their droppings could be used to fuel biogas digesters that produced power, and this reduced the need to cut down more trees for firewood from the already deforested regions in that part of Africa. Because monetary transactions—like the purchase of fertilizer—were reduced, a solution like this actually shows up on a measure like GDP as diminished growth"- Shocking, but true. Yet it’s clear to anyone with eyes, a brain, and a heart that the hyacinth-mushroom-worm-chicken solution is true progress: healthy and sensible.
So in a blind race to compete for a higher GDP we are completely ignoring the effects it is having on our environment. As I experienced the air in China, during my short visits there, I have come to believe that GDP is gross destructive product rather than gross domestic product.

Have a nice day.