Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tortilla Chips #3

This was a good trial.  Tortillas turned out fine.  I know now that I can't roll it too thin or it will break apart on the edges.  Cooked chips 8 minutes, switched pans, and then 8 more minutes.  Some of the chips did not get crispy, so I put them back in for another 8 minutes, removed the crispy ones and put it back in again until all were crispy.


1. Cook tortillas longer for crispier tortilla chips. The chips that took the longest to cook were from softer tortillas.
2. Brushing with oil may be optional.  Next time, I will brush one pan with less oil and the other will be without oil.  Salt may not stick this way but it's worth trying to see if this will help chips to become crispier.
3. Chips loose crispiness in bag.  Try brushing with less oil and soaking up oil with paper towels before and during cooking.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Homemade Tortilla Chips

From my initial review of recipes, they seem a bit easy to make.  However, I'm learning that "easy" will really come after making them several times and learning what the dough should look like and how this type of flour cooks.  The change that I am making with recipes I'm following is that I am using light in flavor olive oil instead of vegetable or canola oil.  Olive oil is a good fat plus it can be cooked safely at 350 F which is what is called for in almost every tortilla chip recipe I've seen.

Recipe Links:
fried tortilla chips: not fond of this one since they are friend. However, I took note of it since it is a recipe from scratch and also since it adds salt to the dough.
chips only: this a great way to make the chips once the tortillas are made.

Tortilla Chip Trials:

tortilla chips #1 & 2  25 Jul 2011
tortilla chps #3 28 Jul 2011

Homemade Tortilla Chips #2

So disappointed.
#1 - Last night I made tortillas for the first time and then made chips right afterward.  I followed the tortilla recipe on the flour bag and they turned out great.  However, I ended up overcooking the chips and they were way too hard.  My guess on the solution would be, of course, to cook them for a shorter period of time and also to roll them thinner.  I overcooked them purposely due to my experience with potato chips not getting crispy when following the recipe and also to adjust for altitude.  Fortunately, they are still edible after soaking in salsa. :(
#2 - Tonight I thought I'd try again.  However, I followed the recipe closer than the first time since I used warm water instead of cold.  This made it much easier to mix the dough.  However, the dough was a little sticky.  I know now I should have added more flour like most recipes suggest but I didn't.  I also added salt this time which may have resulted in a sticker dough.  I'm not really sure which one it was.  I wasted time rolling out all the balls and then found I could not remove the dough from the plastic without it falling apart in my hand.  I am thoroughly discouraged, but I know its just a matter of learning what the dough should feel like before rolling it.  So, I've learned that sticky is no good for tortilla dough and hopefully shortening the cooking time on the chips will solve the rock hard chip problem.  Though I hate having to throw out a failed batch, I'm encouraged to continue since I want to eat tortilla chips made with olive oil.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crispy Oven-fried Potato Chips

  • 1-2 medium sized russet (baking) potatoes 
  • 2 Tbsp butter (melted)
  • 2 Tbsp light in flavor olive oil
  • Salt to taste
Peel and slice potatoes to 1/8 inch thickness.  Be sure to work quickly to prevent potato slices from browning. Place slices from the first potato on two layers of paper towels and then cover with two layers of paper towels. Press the paper towels into the potatoes to soak up the moisture.  Place the slices from the second potato on top of the paper towels and then cover once again with two layers of paper towels. Press paper towels into the potatoes and then put all potato slices in a bowl.

Pour melted butter and olive oil over the slices and toss to coat each slice. Arrange potato slices in one layer on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Place a double layer of paper towels on top of the slices and press down on each slice to soak up excess oil.  Bake slices in a preheated 400°F oven for 30-40 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Since some chips will be ready earlier than others, you will need to remove the pan and remove browned chips so they do not burn. When you remove the ready chips, soak up excess oil on the chips. Be sure to repeat this step 2-3 times since excess oil will prevent chips from becoming crispy. When the chips are ready, scoop them off the pan with a spatula. Place on a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle liberally with salt. Toss chips and enjoy. If there are left over chisp, tore in foil in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature before eating.

Note: For different flavors, toss chips with herb infused oil or sprinkle with different spices.  To infuse oil, add dried herbs and oil to a container. Let sit in sunlight to infuse flavors. Flavor ideas: garlic, herbs, mustard seed, or rosemary

Health Note: These chips are healthier than store bought chips since they are oven baked, are made with olive oil and butter rather than canola or vegetable oil, and are free of preservatives and artificial flavors.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wine Making

Since wine making involves a great deal of waiting, I am still in the process of researching this topic.  So far, I've followed a homemade wine recipe which turned out great for the most part.  I've made two more of the same recipe using different flavors which I am still waiting to mature.

Homemade Wine Recipe Link:
This recipe works out great. If you've ever tried box wine, don't worry, this wine is nothing like it.  It isn't the same smoothness and strength as store bought table wine, but its actually quite good for a wine made from a concentrate.

Equipment Note: If starting with a ballon, a step up from that can be using an air lock with a rubber stopper.  If you buy an air locks and stopers, the investment will be minimal, around $8-$10.  However, the large jug that the stoppers fit in run about $40+.  If you want to ease your way into wine making and not spend $60-$100 on a kit, buy the air locks, rubber stoppers, and a gallon or 4 liter size glass bottle of wine or juice.  It is hard to find juice in glass jugs these days but there are always glass wine jugs available.  Though I cannot speak for the quality of wine sold in large jugs, it will be worth purchasing for the glass jug.  The rubber stoppers generally fit in these large jugs and you will only pay around $10 for the jug of wine/juice.
Once you are comfortable with using airlocks, you may feel ready to make wine using the whole wine making cycle of fermentation and syphoning.  However, be aware that the longer the wine ages, the more you have to worry about spoilage as well as other issues.  From what I've read so far, four - six week wine should have no such issues so adding preservatives does not need to be considered.

Sulfates as Preservatives in Wine
Making wine that ages longer than 6 weeks generally has a list of other ingredients that are added including sulfates.  Though many people have some form of intolerance to sulfates whether it is simply getting headaches, wine makers continue to insist that wine cannot be made without sulfates.  The number one reason for this is because sulfates are produced naturally when grapes ferment.  However, many wine makers add additional sulfates in order to keep the wine from spoiling.  So, if you are making your own wine and wish to avoid adding sulfates, you can keep it simple by sticking with the 4-6 week wines or you can gamble with your batch of wine and hope it does not spoil.  I have heard that some organic wineries are using a new method to make wine that keeps the grapes from producing natural sulfates as well as methods for avoiding having to add sulfates.  Since this is a new technology, it is probably not done everywhere.  I have not researched this extensively, but since I heard about this new wine making method from a relative who works at a winery, I can always add that information if anyone is interested.

Additional Topics to research: 1. Wine making basics  2. The best place to get brewing equipment.

Homemade wine - trial #1 19 Jul 2011
Homemade wine #2 10 Oct 2011

Homemade wine basics
Homemade wine making instructions

Homemade Wine #1

I hit the 4 week mark for my homemade wine experiment.  The recipe called for 6 weeks but the reviews indicated that the wine was fine to drink at 4 weeks.  The wine tasted a little bit strong but the strength of the alcohol did not seem as strong as most store bought wines.  Maybe waiting the 6 weeks would make a difference.  Though the taste was a little strong at first, it is not gross like box wine and probably is a step down from most table wines.  Definitely good enough to drink on a regular basis. :)

Anyway, I solved the sifting problem pouring it through a paper coffee filter and letting it drain into the bottle.  Toward the end of the jug, it drained more slowly and finally I just had to throw the rest out since it was too thick with yeast and sentiment.  The recipe did not give instructions on how to filter out the yeast but the reviews cited this as an issue people would have to figure out.

1 gallon jug makes approximately the equivalent of 3 bottles of wine.  Price $2.50 when taking sugar and bottled water into consideration.  Very economical if you like to have a glass of wine at night or with dinner.

Homemade Recipe Link

My only deviation from this recipe is that I released the air from the balloon when it started to get big.  I only had to do this once and I was careful not to let any air in.  Since my results were good, I'll do the same thing next time.  I'm sure a balloon can be substituted with professional brewing equipment for anyone who's serious about the wine making thing.  As for me, I'll be trying the same recipe with different flavors and possibly longer fermentation before I consider getting any brewing equipment.  It's nice to keep it simple at first.

Return to Wine Making Page

Favor Extracts #1

Just hit the 3 week mark on raspberry and strawberry extracts.  Strained extract and replaced old berries with fresh ones.  At this point, the strawberry extract smells very strong but does not taste as strong as most finished extracts.  The raspberry extract does not have as strong of a raspberry fragrance compared to the strawberry.  This may be due to the berry type and is sure to improve in the next 6 weeks.  Unfortunately, I was not able to get fresh organic raspberries for this change over so I used frozen berries.  So far, the berries have not broken apart in the alcohol which is a good sign since my fear was freezing would make the berries into mush.

These extracts had a very nice smell.  However, the strength of the extract was not enough to use in hard candy.  I used it in gummy bears and still the flavor did not come out very strong.  So, this was a fun experiment, but I was really looking for something for hard candy.  Since extracts last forever, I'm sure I'll find something interesting to use them in.

How to Eliminate Cravings

Cravings for sugar, caffeine, and alcohol is often the factor that throws most people off of any attempted diet.  Though it may seem impossible to imagine going without these things if you crave them, it is not impossible.  In fact, if you are able to eliminate cravings for these stimulants all together, you will not be thinking about eating or drinking the substances that will only lead to higher calorie and sugar intake and ultimately defeat your weight loss goals.
Since the key to eliminating cravings is to understand why we have them, I will examine where cravings come from and will provide you with six lifestyle changes that will reduce and eventually eliminate your cravings all together.

Why do we have cravings?
More often than not, people have cravings due to having a deficiency of a particular vitamin or hormone.  The biggest deficiency tied to cravings is a hormone called serotonin which is also known as the "feel good hormone."  Since ingesting sugar, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine stimulates serotonin in the brain, a deficiency in serotonin has been tied to cravings for these stimulants.  Though ingesting these substances will stimulate serotonin, the problem is that these stimulants are all quick fixes and when the effects of the stimulant wears off, serotonin levels will crash and cause one to have cravings once again.  This quick fix and crash cycle will go on throughout the day and instead of solving the serotonin deficiency, stimulants will only serve to make it worse.

What causes serotonin deficiency?
If you are someone who craves sugar, caffeine, alcohol or nicotine, it is most likely due to a lack of serotonin.  Though serotonin deficiency can be genetic, it can also be caused by our lifestyle.  Some of the factors that can deplete serotonin in our system are stress, insufficient sleep, insufficient exposure to sunlight, lack of exercise, lack of essential amino acids, and use of stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and nicotine.

So how do we eliminate cravings?
Boosting your level of serotonin and having a regular level of serotonin going to your brain throughout the day will eliminate your strong desire for foods and substances that that will temporarily stimulate serotonin.  Incidentally, the serotonin deficiency factors listed above are the factors in our lives that we must addressed in order to eliminate cravings. Working toward eliminating or reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, adequate exercise and adequate sunlight, eating the right foods and cutting stimulants out of our lifestyle habits are all sure methods for stimulating serotonin, which will lead to the elimination of cravings.  Following is a break down of each of these six factors.

Diet Choices: 
The factor that may be the easiest for us to control is our diet factor.  A lot of times people who wish to loose weight will actually eat things that make cravings worse.  For example, if you skip breakfast or skimp on any meal, you are likely to have cravings and end up eating something very bad for your dieting efforts. Additionally, there is a dieting myth that eating carbohydrates will make you crave more carbohydrates.  This may be true with simple carbohydrates like sugar but it is not true for whole grains. Caffeine and nicotine may be appetite suppressants; however, they deplete serotonin and when the effects of these stimulants wear off, your next choice of a fix may end up being sugar. 

So what should we eat?  The answer may seem quite simple since most of the foods that are good for us are also rich in amino acids that stimulate serotonin.  However, the best rule to follow when eating is to assure that each meal or snack is a serotonin stimulating meal.  This means you will need to eat protein and a little bit of whole grain.  These should be the main two elements in each meal.  Though protein and whole grains are the best serotonin production combination, eating vegetables and fruits will also add to the vitamins and amino acids needed for serotonin production. 

Also, if you are trying to loose weight, filling up on fruit and vegetables is much better than getting hungry and snacking on processed foods which are likely to have tons of sugar or corn syrup.  In fact, you want to consider sugar in all its forms as the main enemy and the thing you should strive to avoid.  Incidentally, though alcohol is generally considered a suppressant, it is considered a stimulant when it comes to serotonin since alcohol is loaded with sugar.  Caffeine and nicotine are considered appetite suppressants because they produce a temporarily serotonin fix which temporarily reduces cravings.  Caffeine and nicotine will still deplete serotonin when the effects wear off so if you wish to reduce or eliminate dependence on these substances, following serotonin boosting diet will help you get off caffeine or nicotine without gaining weight as a result.

Stress Reduction/Laughter: 
No matter how well we eat, sleep or exercise, excessive stress will ultimately chase serotonin away.  So if you have a boss, coworkers, family members or friends who create a hostile environment or drive you crazy, they are actually chasing away your serotonin and in turn causing you to have cravings.  Though we cannot always control how others treat us, communication can go a long way as well as avoiding people who are perpetually negative or confrontational.  We can also do a lot to eliminate stress by reducing what we try to accomplish in a day.  Try to take time to relax and spend quality time with your friends and family.  Make sure you have time each day to stop and smell the roses.

Laughter is another way to stimulate serotonin and release stress.  So if there's nothing to laugh about, watch some comedy.  If you have kids, joke or play around with them and they are sure to make you laugh.  Your kids will also benefit from some good health laughter.  Stimulating other hormones will also stimulate serotonin.  You, as well as others, will benefit from expressions of love and affection such as a hug or an occasional kind word.  So surround yourself with positive people and try to avoid the people that tend to bring you down.

Another way to reduce stress and boost serotonin is by getting exercise.  Though the ideal way to get exercise would be to go to the gym regularly or to go out for a jog, the reality for most people is that it is hard to get enough motivation to keep up with most exercise plans.  So though an exercise plan is advised, before you make a plan, it is best to look for ways to naturally incorporate exercise into your daily life.  If you live close enough to walk to a place, consider walking instead of driving.  If you are used to taking an elevator, consider using the stairs instead.  Of course working exercise into our lives will mean working the time into our schedule.  Walking or cycling to school or work will certainly take longer than driving.  However, eliminating some of the rushing around is not a bad thing at all.  In addition to giving you more exercise in the day, eliminating some of the rushing from place to place will also help to eliminate stress.  Furthermore, if you have a busy and fast paced life, remember that time spent exercising can also be time to listen to a book on your iPod or Kindle.  Multitasking will not take away from the benefits you'll receive from getting a little bit of exercise each day.

Adequate Sleep:
A lot of time we have so much to do that we end up sacrificing our sleep in order to accomplish all that we have to do in a day.  However, not getting adequate sleep will start us off on the wrong foot when we wake up the next day.  In addition to your serotonin levels being low, getting inadequate sleep will most likely drive you to caffeine.  The intake of caffeine will mean that the day's serotonin production will be on a cycle of temporary stimulation and crash.  Furthermore, if you have depleted serotonin levels in the end of the day, you are likely to have trouble sleeping since serotonin is converted into melatonin at bed time.  If you do not have adequate serotonin, you may not be tired enough to sleep and may have another inadequate night of sleep.  For the purposes of serotonin production, getting six hours of sleep is enough for most people to be rested and not crave caffeine due to lack of sleep.  Adequate exercise will also help sleep habits since exercise will make you tired and make you sleep deeper.

Not everyone has access to adequate sunlight and not everyone who does takes advantage of it.  If you are someone who lives in a sunny place, be sure to get out in the sun at least once a day.  If you are not able to get into the sunlight each day, taking vitamin D may help.  Though the sun provides essential vitamins, it also has a direct effect on serotonin.  This is why we think of sunlight and equate it with happiness whereas rain, and overcast skies are equated with sadness.  Some people may also suffer from depression due to lack of sunlight.  If this is the case, you may also benefit from lamps that are made to emulate sunshine.  Click for more info on sunlight exposure and vitamin D.

Avoid Sugar & Temporary Fixes
Last but not least, if you want to boost your serotonin levels and by doing so eliminate cravings, you should also make a conscious effort to eliminate serotonin producing temporary fixes.  You may be doing everything right but if you choose to go for some caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or sugar, the effect will be a crash in your serotonin levels.  Since many of these substances are worked into our lives in one way or another, quitting them may not be so easy.  Even though you will notice a decrease in cravings for these stimulants, you may end up turning to them because it is what you are used to doing.
I know that I can go without coffee if I am well rested and am following serotonin boosting habits. However, I love my coffee and would be sad to go without it.  If you are like me in this respect, try cutting back instead of quitting.  Then if you decide to quit all together, you will find that it will be much easier since the craving for that substance will not be driving you to continue using it.  Plus, your level of physical addition to the substance will be diminished as well.  As for sugar, I consider myself a chocoholic but the good news is that 70% dark chocolate actually stimulates serotonin.  So dark chocolate, which has a low amount of sugar can be a safe sugar fix if used in moderation.  Having a drink at night or social drinking may also be something people will not want to go without.  Though this may be the case, keep in mind that alcohol has tons of sugar.  If you are dieting, you may want to consider cutting back alcohol intake.  If alcohol is a craving, boosting serotonin should help with this craving as well. 

Though I am confident you will benefit from this information on how to eliminate cravings by boosting serotonin, this article is only a quick summary on the topic.  I encourage you to read further on the benefits of serotonin including further information on the best foods you can eat to boost serotonin production.

You may also be interested in:

Who can benefit from Increasing Serotonin Levels
Ten Foods that Increase Serotonin Levels
Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression
Examining Eating Habits - Adult ADD/ADHD
Serotonin and its uses

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Black Beans and Rice

  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste
Prepare black beans ahead of time. Cover beans with cold water and soak in the refrigerator for 6-10 hours. (longer soaking time makes softer beans). Rinse beans and discard the water. (water contains chemicals that causes flatulence). Place beans in a pan and cover with water. Add salt and olive oil and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Rinse and drain beans.

  • 2 cups Basmatti rice
  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (light in flavor)
  • cooked black beans
  • 4 cups water
Warm oil, salt and pepper on medium-low in a large see-through pot. Add onions and saute until onions are limp and slightly browned. Rinse and drain rice. Add rice to the pot and stir to soak up oil. Immediately add beans to the rice and let soak in the oil for approximately one minute. Stir in water, raise temperature to high, and cover. Lower heat to medium-low once the water starts to boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and leave the cover on for an additional 10 minutes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Benefits of Increasing Serotonin

Since low levels of serotonin can be caused by the weather or lifestyle choices and not just genetically inherited, many people may benefit from increasing levels of serotonin.  Some of the signs of having low serotonin levels are craving sugar, caffeine, nicotine or alcohol, tiredness, anxiety, moodiness, trouble sleeping, hyperactivity, or trouble with concentration.  Some of the disorders that are linked to low levels of serotonin are Mood disorders, eating disorders, alcoholism, ADD, ADHD, OCD, ASD and sleep orders.

What is Serotonin:
Since serotonin sends a message to the brain to make happy, it is known as the "feel good" hormone.  Eating the right foods and getting adequate sunlight, sleep and exercise can all help boost serotonin levels.  Those who have low levels of serotonin may crave quick fixes such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or nicotine in order to send a temporary boost of serotonin to the brain.  The problem with these quick fixes is that they last for a short period of time and then cause the overall level of serotonin to crash.  After the crash, the cravings for a quick fix will return.  This continued spike and crash of serotonin will result a cycle of overuse of stimulants and possibly to dependency.  This quick fix roller coaster also can lead to sleep problems since serotonin turns into melatonin at night which is a chemical in the brain that helps you fall asleep.  
If your serotonin level is constantly spiking and crashing, the chances are you will not have enough serotonin to make melatonin at night.  People with serotonin deficiencies are likely to suffer from a variety of disorders.  Low levels of serotonin can lead to anxiety, doubt and depression which are linked to OCD and mood disorders.  Low serotonin levels are also linked to inattention and hyperactivity.  

Benefits of Correcting Serotonin Levels:
  1. Improve Mood (counter mood disorders): A lot of people who live in areas with limited sunlight suffer from depression and mood disorders.  Those diagnosed with ADD and ADHD may also have issues with moodiness.  Since moodiness and depression can be tied to low levels of serotonin, boosting serotonin can significantly reduce depression and moodiness.
  2. Eliminate Cravings for Stimulants (counter eating disorders & alcoholism): Our bodies often tell us when we are lacking something by making us crave what we are lacking.  In the case of serotonin deficiency, you are likely to crave sugar, caffeine or alcohol since these are all substances that can give you a quick fix of serotonin.  However, since it is only a temporary fix, it does not solve low serotonin levels and may actually deplete them even further.  Eating the right foods, exercising, getting sunlight and plenty of sleep can bring serotonin levels back to normal and significantly reduce cravings.  Reducing or eliminating the quick fix cravings can work toward countering eating disorders, obesity and alcoholism.  Incidentally overeating and alcoholism are often tied to depression.    
  3. Decrease Doubt and Anxiety (counter OCD):  OCD is caused by feelings of fear, doubt and anxiety.  These feelings of doubt are directly tied to a lack of serotonin going to the brain.  If you or your kids are obsessive compulsive about certain things or about many things, you may benefit from increasing your level of serotonin.  Since drugs like Prozac put serotonin directly into the body, people who suffer from severe OCD are sometimes prescribed Prozac.  However, diet, exercise, sunlight and adequate sleep can help the body create serotonin independently without having to take any scary drugs.
  4. Decrease Hyperactivity (counter ADHD): Increasing serotonin levels in those diagnosed with ADD and ADHD has been shown to greatly decrease hyperactivity.  Ritalin is a narcotic drug that is often prescribed to kids with ADHD.  Ritalin works by introducing the hormone dopamine, which in turn increases serotonin.  Since it is more likely that this boost in serotonin through taking Ritalin is what helps a kid calm down and stay focused, then ADHD kids can likewise benefit from increasing serotonin naturally through diet and exercise instead of having to take strong narcotic drugs. 
  5. Improve Concentration (counter ADD): A lack of serotonin can lead to anxiety and anxiety can be a factor which leads to inattention and with problems concentrating.  If serotonin deficiency is addressed in kids or adults with ADD, this will result in an increase in ability to concentrate and stay focused.
  6. Aid in production of Melatonin (counter sleep disorders): People who suffer from insomnia are often prescribed sleep aid drugs which contain melatonin.  Since serotonin turns into melatonin when the lights go out, those who suffer from sleep disorders can produce melatonin naturally  just by increasing serotonin levels.
  7. Quiting smoking: In addition to the many benefits to increasing serotonin, increasing levels of serotonin may also help people quick smoking.  Since nicotine is a stimulant that increases serotonin to the brain just like sugar and caffeine, a diet which increases serotonin can naturally eliminate the craving for such a stimulant.  If the stimulant craving is gone, one is left with nicotine addiction, which would should be easier to address than both nicotine addiction and cravings for a stimulant to regulate serotonin levels. Additionally, nicotine and caffeine are known to be appetite depressors.  This is likely due to their ability to increase serotonin levels, which can lead to a significant elimination of other quick fix cravings such as cravings for sugar and carbohydrates.  Since many people worry that stopping smoking will make one gain weight, increasing serotonin levels naturally as a precursor to quitting will eliminate quick fix cravings across the board and quitting smoking will therefore not result in weight gain.

In addition to diet, exercise, sunlight and proper sleep, serotonin levels can be increased through laughter and through increasing other hormones such as dopamine which can increase through feelings of love and affection and through kind words or hugs.  Likewise, serotonin levels can decrease from high levels of stress.

Since this article is just a quick run down of the many benefits of boosting serotonin, here are some links to additional and more in depth reading on the subject:

Ten Foods that Increase Serotonin Levels

Serotonin and its uses

Serotonin may be better target for ADD treatment
Dopamine-Serotonin ineractions in ADHD
ADD & ADHD - The amino acid, tryptophan, is key to the body producing Serotonin

Conquering Anxiety with Neurotransmitters
Examining Eating Habits - Adult ADD/ADHD
Obsessive Compulsive Disrorder
Sleep Disorders and Serotonin Deficiency
Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression
Serotonin Producing Amino Acid 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cinnamon Basics

All cinnamon contains a certain percentage of coumarin, which is a substance that can lead to temporary liver and kidney damage.  Though this damage usually occurs during the holiday season when we tend to eat a lot of cinnamon, some people like to cook with cinnamon on a regular basis.  If this is the case, it is definitely a good idea to understand the different types of cinnamon since not all types of cinnamon contain large amounts of couramin.

Cassia vs Ceylon
The two main types of cinnamon are cassia and ceylon.  Cassia cinnamon, which is from China and Vietnam, generally contains a large amount of couramin whereas, ceylon cinnamon, from Sri Lanka, has a minimal amount.  Unfortunately, there are no laws in the U.S. which require companies to make the distinction between the two types of cinnamon in product labels.  In fact, since cassia cinnamon is generally a lot less expensive, this represents the majority of cinnamon available on the market in the U.S.  

Where to Find Ceylon Cinnamon 
Finding ceylon cinnamon in regular grocery stores may not always be possible; however, your local coop or health food store may have it and you can always find ceylon cinnamon on-line.
Cinnamon Sticks: If you are looking for ceylon cinnamon, you can generally find the ceylon cinnamon sticks on-line or in the bulk spices section at Whole Foods.  
Ground Cinnamon: The ground ceylon cinnamon can be purchased on-line at a variety of sites including Olive Nation.  If you have any trouble finding ground cinnamon or you need it right away, you can always make it on your own.  Just take a couple of ceylon cinnamon sticks and put them in a coffee bean blender.  Blend until the sticks turn into a fine cinnamon powder.  If you use this method, I recommend storing the ground cinnamon in the refrigerator in order to preserve the flavor.
Cinnamon Extract:  I have not yet found a cinnamon extract that is specifically labeled ceylon cinnamon.  However, it's been a while since, I've looked so it is worth googling it to see if anything new has come up.  However, if you are like me, you may consider making your own extract.  This process is quite easy.  The only drawback is that it takes a few months before the extract is ready.  

Ceylon Cinnamon Extract Recipe

How to tell the difference between cassia and ceylon?
Cassia is darker in color and has a fuzzy texture.
Ceylon cinnamon is a light brown color and has a dry paper like texture. Ground cinnamon can generally be distinguished by the shade of brown.  Cassia is a dark red-ish color and ceylon is a lighter brown or orange-ish color.

Link to very informative article on the benefits and dangers of cinnamon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flavor Extracts

There are many options when it comes to using flavor extracts, so we're not exactly limited to what we can find at the grocery store.  At the grocery store, you will find either real extracts or artificial.  Since the artificial flavors are made from chemicals, I will focus on natural extracts.  The options for natural extracts are to find an actual natural extract or to make your own.  Though making your own extract is extremely easy, it takes a few months at the least for the extract to be ready.  So you may want to get some flavors started and then track down some natural extracts to use in the mean time.

Finding Natural Flavor Extracts:

If you want to find a natural flavor extract, the first step is knowing what you are looking for.  Look for extracts that have the ingredients listed to assure that no artificial colors or flavors are added.  If it says caramel color, then this is a chemical.  Make sure also that you are getting extracts and not oils.  Oils are mostly used for flavoring chocolates whereas extracts can be used for sugar based candies.

Where to find Extracts:
  1. Grocery Store: Yes, check out the flavor extracts in the baking section of your grocery store and be sure to read the ingredients.  Some may be free of artificial substances.  Just a note on vanilla, make sure you are buying vanilla that is an amber color and not a murky brown or a colorless liquid since neither are real vanilla.
  2. Whole Foods or Health Food Store: I check Whole Foods first but I did not find a large variety of flavors.  I did find some good ones at my local co-op store though.  This is the best type of physical location for finding natural flavors extracts.
  3. On-line Stores: Though you may find a couple of flavors in stores, I guarantee it will not be a large variety.  So for better variety, do a search on-line for natural extracts and see what you find.  Just assure that you are only buying something that shows the ingredients since anyone can say "natural" but it doesn't mean that it actually is.  If you're going to go to the trouble of ordering flavor extracts on-line, it makes sense to assure you are getting something good.  So be sure to look at the reviews for the company or product before making a purchase to assure you are not going to get a bum product.
Here are some brands and companies that I researched:
  1. Olive Nation: Olive Nation had great reviews so I ordered a few flavor extracts from them.  So far, it seems like they are not as strong as the extracts you find in the store, so you just need to use more than what is asked for in the recipe when making hard candy.  I have not yet tried in other recipes.
  2. Nature's Flavors: Another company that looks too good to be true and when you read the reviews, it seems that this is the case.  Based on the negative reviews to include negative reports with the Better Business Bureau, I would avoid Nature's Flavors.  They have a great variety of flavors, but people say the flavors do not taste like they should and they also report horrible customer service and unreliable shipping.  Before I read the reviews, I e-mailed the company to inquire on the ingredients in some of their products.  I never heard back from them.
  3. Faeries Finest: This company lists natural flavor extracts but does not list ingredients. I haven't tried contacting this company for clarification, but you may want to do so if you are interested in their large variety of flavors.
Making Extracts:
As I mentioned before, making flavor extracts is extremely simple.  For whole dried spices use a ratio of 5 to 1 of vodka and the dried ingredient.  If you are using fresh ingredients, use 3 to 1 vodka to ingredient.  Place the ingredient and vodka in a jar with an air tight lid and place it in a cool dark place for 3-4 weeks.  This can be longer for different recipes.  Some recipes will require that you shake or swirl the contents of the jar either daily or every 3 to 4 days.  Once the extract is ready, you will strain the extract to assure that nothing but liquid is in the extract and then store it in a dark color of glass container.  Since this is a quick run down on how to make extracts, be sure do a search for the particular type of extract you wish to make.  There may be particular instructions for making fruit extracts as apposed to making vanilla or cinnamon.

Here are some recipes you may be interested in:
My homemade extract trials:
- Flavor Extracts #1 - 19 Jul 2011

    Caramels #1

    First attempt at caramels did not turn out right.  I tried a vanilla caramels recipe.  Next time, I'll try a plain caramel recipe.  this recipe called for vanilla paste but allowed you to substitute vanilla extract which is what I did.  After the batch cooled and was set, I cut into it to find out that it had crystallized.  It still tasted good but the texture is quite annoying and definitely not how a caramel should be. 

    Caramel Research  

    After flopping on my first attempt, I researched the reasons and realized the recipe I had made terrible suggestions.  Here is the list of dos and don'ts for caramels.
    1. Pot Size: Use a larger pot than you use when cooking hard candy.  When adding milk products such as cream or half and half to sugar, it will almost double in volume.
    2. Crystallization: The same principals of crystallization apply to making caramels.  this includes putting the cover on when it comes to a boil to remove splattered sugar from the sides and protect against crystallization.  This also includes NOT stirring after it starts to boil.  The agitation will lead to crystallization as well.
    3. Spoons: Clean the spoon every time you test the mixture.  This will assure you do not insert crystals which may form on the spoon while it sits out.

    Gelatin #2

    I tried another gelatin candy last night.  This time I tried juice gummies.  I don't know that I did the recipe right and I wonder if I would have liked it better had I done it right.  However the result is a little rubbery.  Plus, the sugar doesn't stay stuck to it since they tend to melt if left out of the refrigerator.  This is a bit strange since this didn't happen making gum drops.  So I have to refrigerate them.  They taste great, but I'm not crazy about the texture.  There isn't tons of sugar in them, so I'll just let the kids eat them like jello and then try again.

    Gelatin Notes:

    1. Gum Drops: Made gum drops but they were softer than what I am used to.  I haven't found a lot of variation in gum drop recipes.  I'll try it again when I find another recipe which uses more gelatin.
    2. Jello: Just figured out why my watermelon jello didn't turn out.  Next time, I'll strain the juice and it should turn out great.  The fruit particles sank to the bottom when I tried a coconut pineapple juice.  I'll strain the next batch of that to test my theory.
    3. Gummy bears: If jello and jigglers can be caffeinated, can you do the same thing with gummy bears?  If so, you can make your own vitamin gummy bears.  I'll have to look into this.

    Rock Candy #1

    The recipe I used could have been better since it did not provide cooking times and temperatures.  I'll look for a better one.  However, it's kind of a waste of sugar.  One jar of syrup equals one rock candy.  We did two jars with two different colors and flavors.  Neither started to crystalise within 24 hours.  I decided to put one of them back on the stove and bring it to the same candy stage as is used in syrup. (soft ball, I think). I put it all back together and it started to crystalize.  However, it went crazy and the crystals connected with the bottom of the jar.  We had to chop it out.  It was a nice piece of candy and Nolan had fun with it, but its a lot of craziness for not a lot of results.  As for the other jar, I may take that one out and put it on the stove again.  However, we're using a chop stick for that one which may not hold the sugar on it as well as the wooden stick made for rock candy.  So, if I try it again, I'll ditch the chop stick.

    Notes: If we try it again, we will use a larger jar and maybe I'll research the candy stage needed for making rock candy rather than following my original recipe. 

    Candy Making

    Rock Candy
    Gelatin Candy
    Cotton Candy (need a machine first)

    Hard Candy #4

    Made fourth batch of hard candy last night.  Candy turned out fine without caramelization but it was the first time I used molds.  I'll need to remember to oil molds better next time and crack only after completely cooled.
    Note made on 9/11/2011: I recently noticed that this batch of candies has caramelized and the candy is now crumbly.  The only two differences in this batch are that I used lolly pop molds and I used a different brand of food coloring.  I guess another difference is that I used a different brand of flavoring as well.  I will have to test the cookie molds in the next batch using the Indian tree coloring as in the first batches and the store bought flavorings.  I'll keep my fingers crossed that the flavoring is not the culprit. Another thing that may have caused this problem is that I melted crystallized cane syrup for the recipe.  I don't remember if I did this in this recipe or another one. oops.
    *Another thing I thought of was that I used a type of shortening to oil the molds whereas I used a vegetable oil to grease the sheet when I made broken glass candy.  I'll have to change that factor back to the vegetable type oil instead of the shortening.

    Previous Trials:
    1. Used corn syrup as called for in recipe.  Nothing went wrong.
    2. Substituted with sugar cane syrup - no crystallization.  Sugar cooked to quickly and caramelized.  
    3. Made and used sugar can syrup - melted from crystallized state.  Used too small  of a pot so sugar cooked too quickly and reached caramelization stage.  Thermometer did not register correct temperature.
    Return to Hard Candy Making Page

    Hard Candy Making Recipe and Tips

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Natural Sodas

    Now matter how hard we try to eat right, soda aka pop, is one of those foods that is one of the hardest to leave behind.  Whether it is the carbonation, the caffeine or just the whole sugary package, once we've tasted it, we tend to crave it.  Sadly, soda that is free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives is hard to come by.  Even harder is finding a soda brand that does not include high fructose corn syrup.  Additionally, if you are looking for low calorie soda, the problem becomes even worse.  Our most readily available low or zero calorie sodas are chemically sweetened with the infamous aspartame as well as Splenda, which is derived from chlorine molecules. Yum!

    So, it just about sounds like we're forced to give up soda if we want to avoid chemicals and major poundage.  However, this is not the case since there are alternatives to the major soda brands that we may have never considered.  In fact, in addition to a variety of chemical free sodas and naturally sweetened low calorie sodas, there are also many different ways to make your own soda.  So if you're looking for natural soda, here are some soda brands and soda making methods that may be of interest.

    Natural Soda Brands:  
    Most brands can be found at health food stores, local food coops, Whole Foods, and on  All brands listed below are free of artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. 
    1. Sierra Mist Natural: (can be found in your local grocery store) Uses real sugar and cane sugar instead of corn syrup.
    2. Blue Sky: Uses real sugar and mostly cane sugar but some flavors use corn syrup.
    3. Blue Sky Organic: Uses real sugar and cane sugar instead of corn syrup.
    4. Hansen's: Uses real sugar and cane sugar instead of corn syrup.
    5. 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods Brand): Uses real sugar and cane sugar instead of corn syrup.
    6. Blue Sky Free: (a low calorie soda) Sweetened naturally with Stevia.
    7. Zevia: (a low calorie soda) Sweetened naturally with Stevia. 
    These are just some of the big ones and there may be other smaller labels.  If you don't find these brands in your local health food store, look at the ingredients on the brands that you do have.

    Making your own Soda: 
    There are three different methods you can use to make soda at home.
    1. Club Soda Method: The easiest method for making soda at home is to use club soda (not tonic), sugar cane syrup, liquid Stevia and natural flavors or extracts.  Assure that the club soda you purchase has nothing but carbonated water. Example: Homemade Lemon-Lime Soda.   
    2. Yeast Method: The second easiest method is to use yeast, sugar, and a flavor extract.  Once preparing a bottle of soda, it must sit 3-4 days to ferment before it is ready.  Though there is a very minuscule amount of alcohol, the flavor may remind one of alcohol since it will have a hint of fermentation in the fragrance.  Example: Homemade Root beer.  
    3. Soda Siphon or Soda Machine: This method may be easy; however, it will require an initial investment to buy the siphon or the soda machine which could be expensive.  Both devices are used to carbonate water.  After carbonating the water the remaining recipe is much like the club soda method.

    Rice Snacks

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Root Beer Extracts

    I found a great homemade recipe for root beer and discovered that it was a common practice in my grandmother's day to make gallons and gallons of homemade root beer.  After using the recipe to make a bottle of cream soda, I decided to look for root beer extract recipes so I could make it free of artificial colors and additives.

    However, what I discovered was a bit of an upset.  I found the traditional recipe for root beer but it was somewhat complicated due to having many different types of roots and spices that I've never seen or heard of.  To complicate the issue, one of the original ingredients in root beer was a root called sassafras.  Since sassafras has a dangerous oil in it called safrole, which is a carcinogen, it has been removed from most brands of root beer.  Root beer listing sassafras as an ingredient should have a "no safrole-oil" disclaimer.

    So if you are motivated enough to find all the ingredients to make your own extract, here is a good link to a traditional root beer extract recipe.  As for me, I have given up on making my own extract for the present time and have started looking into commercially available root beer extracts. 
    Unfortunately, after searching extensively, I found many different brands that did not list ingredients and gave no indication of whether their products were natural or filled with chemicals.  Finally, I discovered a company which appears to use 100% natural flavors. 

    Homemad Soda Company:

    This company provides three different root beer flavor extracts as well as root beer making kits and several other soda extracts.


    Though most cheese is not artificially colored, flavored or preserved, making homemade cheese can be quite tasty and when it comes to some of the more advanced types of cheeses it can be economical as well. 

    Here is a great source for learning how to make cheese:

    Frankhouser's Cheese Page:

    This cheese making instructional course starts with how to make yogurt, and then progresses to soft spreadable cheese, basic white cheese, American Mozzarella, and then blue cheese.  There are other types of cheeses included on this site as well but he tries to walk you through from easy to more difficult cheeses.

    What you'll Need to Get Started

    Except for the soft spreadable cheese called Labneh, most cheeses require the addition of Rennet and sometimes Calcium Chloride. Additionally, you will need cheese cloth or plain cotton (non-terrycloth) kitchen towels in order to strain the whey from the cheese.

    Rennet: This is an enzyme which is needed to make cheese.  It can be found in tablets called Junket and also in refrigerated bottles.  Organic vegetarian Rennet can also be found on-line.  Sometimes the Junket brand of Rennet can be found in grocery stores for much less than it is on-line.  To find it you should look where the jello, gelatin, and custards are located.  Though Rennet is possible to find locally, you may have to check several stores before you find it.

    Calcium Chloride: This substance may be needed in some recipes in order to firm the cheese.  Calcium Chloride is mostly needed when making cheese with pasteurized milk since pasteurization depletes some of the natural calcium in raw milk.  Calcium Chloride can be found on-line as well as in the vitamin section of most stores.

    Cheese Cloth: This can be found in the painting section at Wal-Mart or Target.  However, if you want something that can be washed and used over and over, plain cotton kitchen towels are also very effective for straining cheese.

    Cheese Making Trials:
    Labneh/ Cream Cheese #1 - 3 Aug 2011

    Olive Oil

    Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    The highest quality and least processed olive oil is extra virgin olive oil.  Olive oil is considered a good oil for high cholesterol diets.  Extra virgin olive oil is considered a good fat for the purpose of weight loss regimes since it is a fat that will help you burn fat instead of just adding to stored fat.  Olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, and real butter are rated among the top healthiest oils for weight loss.  For low cholesterol diets, olive oil can be mixed with butter when cooking to make a healthy margarine.

    Light in Flavor Olive Oil
    Since extra virgin olive oil is the strongest tasting variety of olive oil, light in flavor olive oil can be used when a strong taste of olive oil is not desired.  Though light in flavor olive oil is refined more than extra virgin olive oil, it is still a much healthier alternative to vegetable oils and canola.  In fact, I use this type of olive oil as a substitute for every recipe that calls for vegetable or canola oils since it is better with respect to fat and cholesterol.  Though olive oil is not recommended for cooking on high heat, I have successfully used olive oil to bake fries and chips at just over 400 F.

    Some good sources for Olive Oil Information: 

    Making Sugar Cane Syrup (substitute for corn syrup)

    Though many candy recipes call for corn syrup, you are not stuck with using corn syrup in your recipes.  If you are new to candy making, you should use corn syrup at least once to get an idea of how the recipe works with all of the exact ingredients.  Once you've got the hang of making candy, you can easily switch to sugar cane syrup by making cane syrup on your own.  However, be aware that due to it's tendency to crystallize, cane syrup is a little bit harder to handle and store.  So this is why you are not likely to find it for purchase at your local grocery.  However, once you get used to making it, the benefits are great since you can make candy that is natural and free of corn syrup.

    So what's wrong with Corn Syrup?
    Many people believe that corn syrup is just corn syrup and that it is different from the infamous high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  However, what people often don't realize is that the labeling laws in the U.S. do not require manufacturers to list the ingredients of processed foods that are listed in the ingredients of the product being sold.  So most of the time your average corn syrup will have "corn syrup" listed as an ingredient.  That company is not required to list what is inside the ingredient they list as "corn syrup."  Pretty tricky right?  Well, the biggest concern about this is that the dreaded HFCS is used in the corn syrup that we believe is free of HFCS since we do not see it in on the ingredients label.  

    Why Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup

    If you are not already aware of reasons to avoid HFCS, here are a few. 
    1. Straight to Fat: First of all, HFCS is used in a large variety of foods since it is a cheap alternative to sugar and actually much more sweet.  However, unlike sugar, HFCS does not metabolize so that we can burn it of.  Instead, HFCS turns directly into fat. Furthermore, studies show a correlation between the increase in use of HFCS in our food and an increase in the obesity rates in America.
    2. Hyperactivity: So, we're talking about making candy which is almost pure sugar and of course we're planning on giving it to kids when we're done making it.  So, should we be concerned about a little fat on our kids if they have crazy metabolize anyway?  Well another thing that HFCS can do is to cause extreme hyperactivity in children.  So if you are trying to make natural candy (free of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives) then you may still end up with a hyperactive kid after feeding him candy with HFCS.  The sugar alone should be fine as long as he's not eating it on an empty stomach.
    3. GMO and Irradiation: Since Corn is one of the biggest crops using genetically modified organisms and since it is likely to be irradiated, there's a good chance you're ingesting GMO and Irradiated produce when using corn syrup.  Both practices are questionable since they cause changes in the molecular make-up of the food.

    Quick Link to Cane Syrup Recipe:  Additional tips for success are added below as well as the halved version of this recipe.

    Sugar Cane Syrup 
    (Borrowed from

    First of all, I cut this recipe in half is because cane syrup is extremely hard to store and you are better off making it just prior to the recipe you are making rather than being upset with a jar full of hard crystallized sugar.  However, if it does crystallize, you can heat it in the microwave and it will be usable once again.

    Makes about 2 cups
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 lb + 5 ounces (2 1/2 + 1/6 cup) granulated cane sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
    • 1/2 pinch of salt

    2-quart sauce pan - one step larger or smaller should be ok
    a candy thermometer that can clip to the side of the pan
    stainless steel or silicone spoon - not wood
    pastry brush

    1. Combine all of the ingredients in the saucepan and stir until the sugar is completely moistened. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pan and set the pan over high heat. Do not stir the sugar after this point.
    2. As the sugar comes to a boil, dip the pastry brush in a dish of water and brush down the sides.  Once the syrup comes to a full boil, you don’t need to brush the sides anymore. You can also cover the pan with a lid for two minutes just as the sugar comes to a boil.  (This will keep sugar crystals from forming on the side of the pan and causing the whole syrup to crystallize.)
    3. Boil the syrup without stirring until it just barely reaches a temperature of 240° F (in other words, its better to be a few degrees under than a few degrees over).  High altitude: Subtract 2 degrees for every 1k feet over sea level.
    4. Immediately turn off the heat, remove the candy thermometer, and carefully move the pan to a cool spot on the stove or a cooling rack. Allow the syrup to sit undisturbed until it has cooled completely, at least an hour.
    5. (if saving for later) Gently pour the cooled syrup into clean glass jars, seal with the lids, and store in the cupboard. Store them where they won’t be jostled too much, as this can cause the syrup to crystallize. It will keep for at least two months, but we’ve stored it for longer without any changes to the syrup.

    Tips for success: 
    1. Use very very clean pot and utensils to prevent crystallization.
    2. Use the right pot size. A little to small or too large will effect how the sugar cooks and may cause it to cook to quickly or too slowly.
    3. Test to assure your candy thermometer is working correctly.  Depending on the thermometer, it may have to stick into the syrup so far in order to get an accurate reading and should not be touching the bottom of the pan. 
    4. brush down sides of pan or put the lid on for 2 minutes right as it turns to a boil. This will wash away splashing on the side of the pan which can form crystals in the syrup.
    5. Use a clean spoon every time you test the syrup since earlier stages of the syrup that are stuck to the spoon may effect the later stages.  Plus, the spoon sitting in the air may already be forming crystals which will then be introduced to the syrup.
    6. Never stir after the syrup begins to boil.
    7. Keep heat level from medium to medium-high and watch closely.  
    8. Prepare all ingredients you will need ahead of time so you can watch the syrup.  Do not try to multi-task.  Sugar syrup may rise in temperature quicker than you expect so you'll want to have your eyes on it so you can remove it from the heat when it gets to the right temperature.
    9. Do not trust your thermometer completely. Be familiar with the candy stages and have an ice-cold pan of water to test your mixture. This will also help you to learn what the different candy stages should look like and you are less likely to let the syrup go higher than the right temperature.

    Fruit you can Smell and Taste

    I had the good fortune of growing up with two different types of apple trees, a pear tree, a cherry tree, a plumb tree and raspberry bushes all in my back yard.  Since our trees were not sprayed, we were always warned against eating the fruit (for fear of bugs) but of course we ate it anyway and it was delicious.  Though I counted myself fortunate to have all that readily available fresh fruit, it has become a curse.

    Now that I live in a part of the country where it is impossible to grow the types of trees and berries I enjoyed while growing up, I must buy fruit at my local grocery store.  Of course the fruit at the store tastes nothing like the fruit I grew up with so I am eternally unhappy with it.  Instead of my fingers sinking into the pear as I eat it, I must bite into a hard piece of fruit. The apples are not as juicy and flavorful and raspberries and cherries never taste as sweet.  Though I didn't have peaches and strawberries in my back yard, the orchards and fields were close enough that we picked our own frequently.  So for years, I've had only the memory of the smell and taste of fresh strawberries and peaches. 

    In fact, I had given up on finding this delicious fruit that I grew up with and have grown to accept that I would have to settle with this tasteless distant cousin of real fruit. However, on a recent trip to my hometown, I stopped by a field for some fresh strawberries.  I was so transformed by this experience that I now find I can no longer accept hard tasteless fruit.  So I decided to research the issue to find out why grocery store fruit was tasteless and where I could find real fruit that you can taste.

    Where to Find Juicy and Flavorful Fruit
    1. If you are like me and live in a climate which is not great for growing fruit, you may not have any luck finding fresh fruit at your local farmers market or health food store.  However you may have some kind of fields or orchards that are in driving distance. Check out to look up your state or Google it and you may be surprised.  Going to you-pick farms is good if you plan to buy a lot of fruit for jelly or to freeze or can.  Freezing and canning will not remove the flavor from the fruit.
    2. If you want to just grab some fruit like you would at the grocery store, look for a larger health food store chain like Whole Foods.  The reason to find a larger health store chain is since this type of store will more likely have fruit and vegetables trucked in from other states.  Strangely, the fruit sold at such stores as Whole Foods taste and smell much better than the grocery store fruit even if the fruit is not organic.
    Why Grocery Store Fruit is Tasteless
    Of course the first thing I researched in order to find good tasting fruit was the question of "why" grocery store fruit was tasteless.  The following are some of the reasons people attribute to the lack of taste in grocery store fruit.
    1. Crops Selected for Color and Looks and not taste: Many people attribute this factor as the number one factor to why grocery fruit (and vegetables) tend to be tasteless. Evidently there are regulations that farmers must follow that stipulate the size, color, and outward appearance of their fruit and vegetables.  Over time, these features become favored over flavor.  As a result, the flavor quality gets progressively worse.
    2. Irradiation of Fruit: Most grocery stores sell produce which has been irradiated in order to briefly bring it to a temperature which kills bacterias micro-organisms both good and bad.  Since the molecular make up of the produce is slightly altered, many people attribute loss of flavor to these radiation treatments.  Whole Foods states on their website that they do not sell irradiated produce.
    3. Pesticides: Some people believe that pesticides may play a role in flavor reduction.  However, this may be something you may want to test.  I rarely have organic fruits at my grocery store so I cannot make a comparison.  However, I find both organic and non-organic fruits from Whole Foods to be equally aromatic and flavorful.
    4. Picking Fruit before Ripe: Some people believe that the picking fruit early is a factor in why grocery store fruit is tasteless.  However, most people disagree with this idea.  I too am inclined to disagree with this since I've picked less than ripe fruit in an orchard and let it ripen at home.  I found that the flavor of the ripe fruit equaled the flavor of the fruit I let ripen.
    5. GMO: I am not sure what crops are genetically modified or whether or not this would effect flavor.  However, a lot of the health food chains like Whole Foods are not likely to sell produce from genetically modified crops. 
    So overall, your best bet for finding great fruit is to pick it at a nearby orchard of field or to find a store that does not get their fruit from the mass production produce market and that does not irradiate their produce.  Though you may have to research a good place and possibly drive a little further to find fruit you can taste, I guarantee you will find the extra mile well worth it and you're sure to cringe at the thought of buying fruit from your local grocery again.

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Stoping Hands from Burning after Cutting Chilies

    The first answer one always encounters when searching for ways to stop the burning hand pain after cutting chilies, is to wear gloves.  Of course, those who make the mistake of cutting chilies without gloves will definitely not make the same mistake twice.  However, this answer does nothing to relieve the desperate predicament of someone who has made this mistake and now has to find a way to fix it.  Since I speak from experience, I will provide my own experience as well as advice from on-line forums on this topic.
    The substances which can help relieve the pain or eliminate it all together are listed in order of their degree of effectiveness.  The two types of substances are separated into coatings and washes. Coatings are meant to be left on your hands and washes are generally for soaking and then should be washed off.  Though washes should be used first, I have listed coatings first since these are the final miracle substances which can completely eliminate the burning pain.


    1. Peppermint Extract: Pour a small amount of extract in your hand and rub all over your fingers. Repeat this process until all burning areas are coated with peppermint.  Depending on the strength of pepper, the peppermint extract can completely eliminate the burning.  However, be sure not to touch any water, ice or condensation or the extract will come off and your hands will burn again.  If this method does not work completely, wash your hands and try another wash method first.  Then coat your fingers once more with peppermint extract.
    2. Vegetable Oil: Another type of coating which can eliminate the burning is vegetable oil.  I read about vegetable oil on-line but did not try it on purpose.  I discovered how nicely it worked later on in the day while eating french fries, which greased up my fingers.  So just as with the peppermint, coat your hands and fingers with the oil and then dry them with a paper towel.  Do not wash off the oil.  This is most effective if using a wash method first.  
    3. Sour Cream: Though I did not try this method, many people reported that putting sour cream on your hands significantly reduces the pain and burning.  I did not try this since you will not be able to use you hands if you have sour cream on them.  This method can also be used as a wash to reduce pain and then vegetable oil or peppermint extract can be added as a coating.
    4. Aloe vera: Aloe vera is effective for several minutes depending on the degree of burning in your hands. This should only be applied as a coat after using an initial wash method to reduce the burning.  This is also much less effective than the methods above so only use aloe vera if you have nothing else.
    1. Lime Juice: The most effective wash to reduce burning pain in your hands is lime juice.  So squeeze a lime or two over a bowl and dip your hands and fingers in the juice. Wash your hands and then apply a coat of peppermint or vegetable oil.
    2. Rubbing Alcohol: Pour rubbing alcohol in a glass, soak your hands in the alcohol, and then wash your hands.  After drying your hands apply a coating substance.  If the burning subsides significantly, do not wash your hands and the alcohol may be tried as a coat as well.  I found that rubbing alcohol was significantly less effective than lime.
    3. Bleach and water: Though bleach and water (1:5 ratio mix) is slightly more effective than rubbing alcohol, I have listed it last since it is the most toxic method.  If you decide to try bleach, assure you have a low ratio of bleach to water and then dip your hands into the mixture.  Do not soak since this could chemically burn your hands.  Immediately wash your hands until all of the bleach is off your hands.  This may take some time since since the bleach will be oily and will cling to your hands.  After your hands are completely clean, apply a coat of peppermint oil.  Beside peppermint being the most effective coating, it will also mask the strong smell of bleach on your hands which will linger for some time. 
    So, if you are reading this since you were unfortunate enough to cut chilies without gloves, I hope this guide will help to solve your predicament.  However, if you have not yet made this mistake, you now know that the easiest way to solve this problem is to never have it. Wear gloves when cutting chilies! :)

    Vanilla Research - The Basics

    How to know what is safe, what is real, and what is good.

    My most important discovery about vanilla is the FDA warning against Mexican vanilla extract, which is often not real vanilla and contains a toxic ingredient called coumarin.  Coumarin is dangerous for some since it is a blood thinner and considered toxic since it is a common ingredient in rat poison.  Though the FDA has banned the import of Mexican vanilla extract, it is more often finding its way into U.S. stores and restaurants.  Since this is only one of many ways vanilla extract is misrepresented as being real vanilla, a lot of people find it best to make their own vanilla extract from vanilla beans.

    Vanilla Bean Retail Reviews:
    The best type of vanilla bean:  There is still much more to learn but so far it seems that the best type of vanilla bean is an organic planifolia bean.  The location should be listed and it is also nice to see "coumarin free" on the packaging.

    Vanilla bean appearance, smell and texture: Should smell good (different for each type of bean), should be flexible and oily.  Dry, crackly, and mildewy beans are old and no good.

    Extract Facts: When buying extract it is good to know that real vanilla will never be clear.  It should have an amber color. If it has a dark murky color, then it is not made with vanilla and may get its color from toxic materials or artificial colors.  Anything labeled "vanillin" is an artificial vanilla flavor made from chemicals.

    Price: Shop around, but be wary of cheap vanilla since it may not be real. Rule of thumb is you get what you pay for. Furthermore, you are always better off buying beans and making your own extract.  Like other flavor extracts, the recipe is quite easy.  Take a look at this one: