Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pinching Salt

Recently, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. My doctor prescribed low-dose diuretics, exercise, and a low-sodium diet. Normally, I avoid prescription medicines, but the diuretics – and the exercise – were a must. Only two weeks after that initial appointment, results of implementing just these two recommendations were apparent in significantly reduced blood pressure.

The only remaining challenge – other than finding the early morning motivation to rise and exercise – was in figuring out how to decrease sodium intake. For years now, we've been altering the foods we eat to serve this and other healthful purposes: buying far fewer (if any) pre-packaged foods, mixes, sauces, stock, etc.; quitting soda consumption altogether; and very seldom buying junk foods (potato chips, fast foods, etc.) Most of what we eat is made "from scratch" and we often make recipe substitutions (or alterations) to reduce sodium, trans- and hydrolyzed-vegetable fats and sugar. There are few components of our diet that we haven't tweaked to make healthier. Even boiling water for pasta is much less saline than it once was.

So, where hadn't we adjusted sodium intake? After thoroughly examining our diet, I found the one area we hadn't touched: the salt shaker. And its use makes actual intake so much harder to gauge. Just how much salt is sprinkled to pre-season meat? Just how much is added on the dinner plate?

Hoping to consume less sodium, I considered switching to a commercial brand of seasoning salt. However, when I researched the available products, I became discouraged. Each brand contained some ingredient we avoid. One label seemed misleading, too. A popular brand contains sugar but, rather than list that carbohydrate on the nutritional label, it omits that category altogether.

Instead, I decided to make our own, and found a very tasty recipe online ( Seasoned Salt recipe). The recipe suggests garlic and celery salts, but I used garlic powder and celery seeds. Even with these adjustments, the mixture is still 75% sodium. However, that's 25% less than regular table salt and, since we're now measuring the use of this substitute, we're consuming much less added sodium than ever before. Each "smidgen" (1/32 teaspoon) contains approximately 55 mg of sodium. General recommendations for daily sodium intake are between 2 and 3 grams (2000-3000 mg), so each smidgen is equivalent to 2.75% of the lower suggested amount. I went a step further and halved the amount of salt used in the recipe, effectively decreasing those percentages while still delivering a delicious flavour profile.

Flavour is, after all, the reason the salt shaker was being used. This mixture (even the 37.5% sodium blend) packs a huge flavour-punch! Wherever possible, it now replaces regular salt in daily cooking and makes sodium-reduced meals unusually delectable. Better yet, unlike commercial brands, this home-made seasoned salt contains: no MSG; no sugar; no flavour- or colour-enhancers; no fillers (like corn starch), no hydrolyzed vegetable protein, no lecithin (of which hubby is very sensitive), and, no anti-clumping chemicals (such as tricalcium sulphate.) Another benefit of preparing home-made seasonings isn't, perhaps, immediately apparent. The recent, massive recall of pre-packaged spice blends was stark illustration of other possible and uncontrollable health risks in consuming commercial blends. None of the whole and powdered spices we use in this concoction were involved in that recall.

Now that I've tried this mixture, I'm (almost) happy for the diagnosis that prompted its discovery. It tastes so good that hubby is now using it, too. A startling result as he once used the salt shaker with abandon. This seasoning, though intended only for my welfare, is also reducing hubby's sodium nagging required!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Adventures in Geo-Caching

Last weekend, hubby and I set out upon our very first geo-caching adventure. What a blast! A Sunday drive and hike has never been so much fun...even though it meant rising pre-dawn so we could get our trekking done before the worst heat of the day.

We had been looking for some other purpose for our hikes aside from foraging. Then we discovered geo-caching in this region. If you haven't heard of this activity before, it's a treasure hunt. Cache boxes are hidden in various places and it's up to you, the hiker/mountain-biker/adventurer, to find them. GPS navigation is most often used, but some regions offer traditional positioning clues – directions to the location providing compass headings and pace measurements. Once the cache is found, you sign the cache log book and take a site-sticker for your record of sites visited. While you're at it, check out some of the other people who were there before you. Geo-caching is a global activity, so you may discover entries by visiting hikers from faraway lands. The cache-boxes contain nothing of any substantial value, but inside you'll likely find trinkets left behind by other hikers. You can take one IF you leave a trinket of your own in its place. No food, though, as it attracts animals.

By far, the greatest reward is quality time spent with loved ones. But there are other intangible treasures: the discovery of new places, the nuggets of learning gleaned from local legends, and a bounty of exercise in exploration. Bring a picnic lunch and your prize can include some much-coveted relaxation gilded by a dazzling vista.

A day away from holding down the couch couldn't be better spent! And, it's FREE! The only cost is fuel and, depending how far your chosen cache sites are, that is relatively inexpensive compared to other activities. A field guide is sold locally, but we downloaded and printed relevant pages, free of charge, off the Internet site.

Here in "Gold Country" caches are distributed widely and near sites of interest. Our local field guide (Gold Country Geo-Tourism) not only supplies GPS co-ordinates and "letterbox clues" to each location, it also provides interesting synopses, providing historical and anecdotal information for each site. The sites themselves are divided into various categories: Pioneers & Early Settlers; Gravesites & Mystical Places; Geological Wonders; Historic Churches; and, Views & Vistas. Some sites are clustered in close proximity to each other, while others are singularly placed and take you farther afield. Once stickers for twenty-four sites are collected, we can send away for a souvenir-prize pin. Who knows? Some day it might just end up traded in a geo-cache in some other part of the world.

On our first expedition, we hunted for two caches. We don't own a GPS, so we followed the "letterbox clues" and thought it was very entertaining. The first cache, up Scottie Creek road, we found with relative ease. The second one, at Downing Lake Park, eluded us. But the hike wasn't wasted. Our circuitous route took us to new and beautiful places, and we took every opportunity to forage a little as we hiked through those newly discovered territories. Hubby also scouted promising hunting areas which he'll likely return to in the fall. As the blistering summer sun climbed the sky, we meandered back via a lonely country back road, arriving home thoroughly sated – body mind, and spirit – with 84 pictures of stunning natural beauty as proof of our first journey.

Most geo-cache guides are posted on the Internet so, if you're looking for inexpensive adventures, quests which guide you in a more intimate exploration of your region, check out local geo-caching opportunities. You're sure to discover your own priceless treasures!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Update: Odour Takes a Powder

Back in January I posted a blog about an easy home-made deodorant. At the end of that post, I mentioned I was working to find a comparable liquid form for summer. After some research and a few test trials, those results are now ready to share.

The first concoction I researched was another simple recipe consisting of one tablespoon of alum dissolved in one cup of warm water and (optionally) scented with a drop or spritz of a favourite perfume or cologne. Ammonium alum is available at most compound pharmacies, and is intended for topical use. Its price was reasonable: $4.49 (Can) for 125 grams, which is enough for eight (nearly nine) preparations, each supplying eight ounces of liquid deodorant. It seemed a great option until I began researching the ammonium alum. This double sulfate, also known as ammonium aluminum sulphate, is made from aluminum hydroxide, sulfuric acid, and ammonium sulfate. Though this chemical is said to be non-toxic, I was concerned when I read the words "aluminum hydroxide." That mineral is used in the production of aluminum chloride, a common ingredient in commercial deodorants and the one which has been linked to Alzheimer's, breast cancer and respiratory problems. I'm certainly no chemist, but I was reluctant to use this fluid for the same reason I avoid commercial brands.

Next I checked out a cream deodorant. It involves a little more processing, but it's still a relatively simple recipe using common ingredients. To prepare it, mix equal parts of baking soda, petroleum jelly and talcum powder (I substituted corn starch) in a double-boiler and dissolve the mixture over low heat, stirring frequently until a smooth cream develops. Put the preparation in a container – preferably glass – with a tight-fitting lid. This cream is applied by hand so, to avoid its contamination, I prepared small batches. The cream works effectively; however its greatest drawback was the oily residue it left on clothing. This stain proved resistant to laundering and, for this reason, I don't recommend it. Why ruin clothes with oil stains? There's no frugality in that.

In continuing my research for a home-made liquid deodorant, I performed experiments with water and baking soda. The usual bicarbonate effect happened though, and when the bubbling activity subsided, all that was left was an insoluble mass of soda sunk to the bottom of the water. Subsequently, I tried a mixture of equal parts baking soda and glycerine. This resulted in a loose cream which could be applied by hand but, while it worked effectively, the skin felt too sticky for comfort.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing formula I discovered was a deodorant tea, which works from the inside out. The recipe calls for a mix of equal quantities of sage leaves, parsley, alfalfa, and melilot (also known as sweet clover.) This herbaceous mixture will deteriorate in light and so should be made in small quantities and then stored in an opaque container. To prepare the tea, brew ½ to 2 teaspoons of the mix in ½ cup hot water and steep a few minutes. The instructions did not specify ingesting daily, only "regularly." I presume its use is dependent on one's personal need.

The tea got me thinking, though. If these herbs and plants can have a deodorizing effect, then the reverse must also be true: some foods, drinks and spices must contribute to body odour. From personal experience, I can attest that consuming certain foods – beef, fried foods, alcoholic beverages, and spices and herbs such as curry or garlic – does indeed produce unsavoury body odours. Even the strongest commercial deodorants only mask their (often foul) emanations. So, I have begun to take note of various foods which produce those unpleasant results, and now eat them only occasionally.

Ultimately, I ended up back at the beginning. The original powder formula – equal parts baking soda and corn starch – remains my favourite. And, I needn't have been concerned about "powdery armpits." This deodorant, it turns out, disappears very quickly after application, to become as invisible as any commercial brand. Unlike those store-bought deodorants, however, this powder, if it ends up on clothing, is easily brushed off or laundered out. Its cost – only pennies per bi-weekly batch – also makes it a thrifty choice for budget-conscious households.

So, with all the experimentation behind me, I'm back to using the original powder preparation and am pleased to report my underarms are tank-top friendly.

Have you got a home-preparation I haven't tried? If so, I'd like to hear about it. Please leave a comment to share your formula and observations.