Sunday, April 9, 2017

Arsenic and Old Rice

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that most of my readers are old enough to get that joke. Cary Grant movies never go out of style, do they?

Arsenic and Old Lace - 1944

Anyhow, between my gluten free experiments, and stockpiling of food in case of who knows what, rice seems to have taken on a much more prominent role in my life than it used to have.

So... where to begin...

I've long been a lover of brown rice, and when I decided to try to cut out gluten for a while to see if it helped my digestive troubles, good old brown rice was one of the first things I turned to.

Similarly, when CatMan and I first started talking about stockpiling some food supplies, our first thought was to check the local chef's supply store to see what sort of a price we could get on an enormous bag of brown rice.

Now, before we begin on this little rice odyssey, perhaps we need a little lesson in rice anatomy. Basically, like any other grain, rice has an inedible outer hull, under which is a layer known as the bran. The job of the bran is to protect the germ, which is nestled within the bran layer. The germ is essentially the "embryo" of the grain - or the part that germinates (hence the name) into a new plant. The inner part (the white part) is called the endosperm, which provides energy (carbohydrates) for the germ to use as it grows.

So, brown rice is rice which has had only the hull removed, leaving both the bran and the germ intact. It provides many more nutrients than white rice, which has had both the germ and the bran removed.

But here's the deal. The super nutritious germ and bran are also super prone to spoiling. Along with lots of nutrients, they also contain oils, which go rancid after a while. The long and short of it is (ha ha... get it? long & short like long & short grain rice?) Well anyhow, brown rice only has a shelf life of about 6 months to a year, depending on how you store it.

Soooo... there went the plan of stocking up on brown rice for the apocalypse!

White rice, on the other hand, has a significantly longer shelf life. I even bought some from the Mormon church (which has a long tradition of self-reliance and preparedness) that is stored in giant sealed cans and has a shelf life of 30 years. Now, that's some old rice!

OK... so now on to the arsenic part.

Not sure if you've heard the hullabaloo or not, but the news has recently been filed with reports of arsenic in rice. It's not that there are little old ladies wandering through the store aisles lacing rice with arsenic or anything like that, it's that rice absorbs arsenic from the soil in which it grows. Basically, arsenic is easily soluble in water, and since rice grows in wet swamps or paddies, it tends to absorb more environmental arsenic than other grains do.

And, the rice seems to concentrate the arsenic in the bran and the germ, meaning that brown rice contains a much higher concentration of the stuff than does white rice. Another strike against my beloved brown rice!

So, where does this leave us? Umm.... that's a little bit unclear.

First of all, arsenic levels in white rice can be reduced significantly (up to 90% or so) by soaking, rinsing, and cooking the rice in lots of water and draining off the excess rather than measuring the water proportionally and allowing it all to absorb. Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for brown rice since the arsenic is bound up in the bran and germ.

Secondly, arsenic levels vary tremendously with both the type of rice, and the location in which it was grown. Aromatic rice like Jasmine and Basmati tend to absorb less arsenic. And rice grown in the US south tends to have higher levels because the soils there tend to have much higher concentrations of arsenic.

So I'm not entirely sure where that leaves me. I've been experimenting with different varieties of white rice. I've never actually cooked white rice before, so this is a new and exciting culinary adventure. I've become a huge fan of Jasmine rice - the smell is just wonderful! I think it must be that variety that's used in Chinese cuisine, because it smells just like a Chinese restaurant!

And, if you soak it overnight, it only takes about 10 minutes to cook! Amazing! I know it's not as nutritious as my beloved brown rice, but I do feel good knowing that it's not poisoning me.

Next on my list are Basmati (used in Indian cuisine) and parboiled rice. Parboiled is interesting because it's made by partially boiling the rice in the husk, before drying and removing the husk, bran and germ. This process apparently infuses some of the nutrients from the bran and germ into the rice grain, so in theory it's the best of both worlds. However, the bag says not to rinse or soak it because you will remove much of the nutrition. And the only variety I've been able to find so far was grown in Texas, which is in the arsenic belt... Hmmm...

My general conclusion with this entire topic is that when it comes to rice, the more nutritious it is, the more arsenic it contains. And I'm not really sure what that means in terms of diet and food storage. For the moment, my plan is to experiment with a variety of kinds of rice, stocking up only on the white, and parboiled. But it seems clear to me, that in order to ensure that one's nutritional needs are being met without poisoning oneself, it's a good idea not to rely on rice alone when it comes to consumption of grains.

To that end, I've also been experimenting with millet, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth - all of which are gluten free, and don't present the same sort of arsenic dilemma. Not sure about how viable any of those grains are for long term storage, but I guess the first step is to figure out how to prepare them and if I like them. I see another post in my future...

So that's my little rice odyssey. Are you a rice fan? Does the news about arsenic in rice concern you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this whole topic!

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this. The interwebs seem to be full of pictures of cats in "sushi costumes" I don't know what it means...

Friday, March 31, 2017

Still Here...

Okey dokey folks. Well, once again, here I am with a pile of half finished posts in my drafts folder. I just can't seem to get over the hump in terms of writing something meaningful.

Soooo... I guess I'll just give you the condensed version.

First of all, I FINALLY got my new web server up and running. There was great rejoicing!

Well, there was great rejoicing until the thing went down inexplicably for 6 hours.

I'm not ready to give up yet, but it is a tad bit disconcerting. I think it encountered a problem with a routine update to the operating system, but I'm not entirely sure. Anyhow, when it's functioning my websites are running much better and faster.

And apparently my home computer was feeling left out because it decided that if the server was gonna get replaced, it wanted in on the action.

This has been something I've been avoiding for years, since my computer was over 10 years old and had been upgraded to its limits. But when it started making a noise that sounded like a rocket ship taking off, and sporadically refusing to boot...

... well, I decided the time had come.

Actually, the nail was in the coffin was when it took me 30 minutes to rename a file.

So, I'm writing to you from my brand spanking new Windows 10 machine. In general I'm liking this new PC - it's significantly faster than my old one, and it's very nice not to have the thing hang up every time I try to do anything.

There is a bit of a learning curve though (NO! I do NOT want to store all 100 gigabytes of old photos on the cloud, thank you very much - that's why I bought a terabyte disk drive!) but I'm getting it figured out.

And apparently, the only folks using desktops these days aside from programmers and graphic designers are... wait for it... gamers! So yes, the new computer came complete with colorful led lights giving my office the slight vibe of a 1970's discotech. Groovy. (She says without the slightest hint of sarcasm.)

The experience of having to set everything up again is a big daunting though... Oh... and it's been complicated by the fact that one of my credit card numbers got stolen - the one that has everything automatically charged to it. GRRRR!!!! I must say that I'm really looking forward to the day when technology can authenticate our existence without the need for a zillion passwords!

In other news, our wacky weather continues. After an incredibly warm and dry February and first part of March, the pattern has changed and now it's cool and rainy. And now they're saying we're gonna get 3-6 inches of snow overnight! With the crazy heat I went ahead and planted the spinach and peas in early March, and they're about an inch tall now. I'm also experimenting with growing radishes (another cool weather crop) and they're just starting to sprout. So everything's nestled in under a layer of frost cloth.

The green onions and garlic think it's mid-summer already though. I've been harvesting onions for weeks now, and the garlic looks lush and healthy. Hopefully it will survive the snow.

CatMan & I have been taking advantage of the weather to get lots of biking miles in. With the combination of the mild winter and the fact that I beefed up my winter riding wardrobe, we didn't have any long breaks from riding this year, so we seem to be heading into the spring in the best shape ever.

Seriously, we did 55 miles yesterday and it didn't seem like a particularly long ride. So assuming we don't get flooded out this year, we're hoping to conquer a few longer rides this summer- we've got a 65 miler with lots of hills, and a fairly flat 75 mile route in our sights.

Here's a photo from a recent ride with some cool iridescent clouds. Not quite as impressive on the photo as in person, but the colors you see next to the sun aren't an artefact from the camera, the clouds really were that color.

Of course, before any of that can happen, I have to get brave enough to replace my chain. Apparently bike chains actually stretch and need to be replaced every 5000 miles or so. Who knew? I'm hoping that it won't be as difficult as it sounds!

And... of course, I did heave an enormous sigh of relief when the Republican "health care" bill went down in flames.

I'm sure the battle is far from over, but I do feel like there's a bit of a reprieve. (FYI- I would absolutely agree that the system needs some changes, but asking self-employed folks ages 50-64 to pony up $15K per person per year, just for the premium payments on a high deductible plan, does not exactly seem like a fair proposal to me.)

I do have to say that I find it just a tad bit ironic that the reason the plan failed was not because it would kick so many people off of health care, but because it wasn't "conservative" enough. Well, any port in a storm, as they say... at least as long as it's not port 25 - because for reasons that are still a mystery to me, the new server refuses to recognize unencrypted SMTP... oh wait, I shifted gears again there didn't I.

OK, well on that note...

How are things in your little corner of the universe?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Not Dead... Just Whelmed

Well, it appears a few of you have noticed my absence, so I decided perhaps I should write and let you all know that I'm alive and well. I'm fine... really. Just in a funk of sorts. I keep trying to write posts, but I can't seem to get beyond the first few sentences before I give up. Not sure what's up with that.

So perhaps instead if trying to craft something coherent, I'll just blather incoherently about what's on my mind and what I've been up to.

First off... a dear friend of mine from college died suddenly. Apparently he was diagnosed with some sort of horrible aggressive cancer a few months back, and went downhill really quickly. He kept it quiet so it came as a total shock when FaceBook suddenly erupted with RIP messages.

So that sorta threw me for a loop, but it did put me back in touch with some old friends, and I've been busy catching up and reminiscing.

Then there's the tummy stuff. This is a really long story that I tried to write a post about. Basically, I'd been having all sorts of problems with heartburn and acid reflux. I'm doing much better now, and I'm a bit unsure about how I got there.

I tried all of the normal stuff - cutting out foods that are supposed to trigger attacks, smaller meals, no food before bedtime... and honestly, nothing seemed to help much. But along the way I kept running into testimonials about people treating heartburn with apple cider vinegar.

I know, I know... it sounds completely ridiculous, but one night when I couldn't sleep because of the reflux I decided that I really didn't have that much to lose. I figured if it made it lots worse I could always just take more Tums. So I got out the ACV, mixed a spoonful in a glass of water and to my complete and utter amazement, before I'd even downed half of the glass the heartburn and reflux disappeared.

At first I thought it must just be a coincidence, but each time I'd get the heartburn I tried it again, and each time it worked.

Long story short, my working theory is that the tummy troubles were being caused by some sort of imbalance in intestinal flora, which the ACV apparently helps to rectify. I've been using both the ACV and also some oil of oregano, along with eating enormous quantities of yogurt & kefir, and the tummy troubles are almost completely gone.

As a bonus, my chronically stuffy sinuses have also cleared up - I'm even off of my nasal steroid!

So I dunno.

It's completely plausible that my problems were all psychosomatic to begin with and what I'm experiencing is nothing more than the placebo effect, but even if that's all it is, I'm quite pleased with the results.

Speaking of pleased. We've had incredibly warm weather here in the Mile High City - seriously, we're talking 60s, 70s, and even one day when we hit 80 degrees (around 27C) - in FEBRUARY! So this has meant that I've spent a lot of time on my bike, which is great...

It's also meant that I've been freaking out just a tad bit about climate change. I know, I know... weather is not climate, but still. This is NOT NORMAL.

And speaking of not normal... well, I'm still having a bit of a hard time adjusting to the new political reality here. My 77 year old stepmother has become a protesting & rallying queen - seriously, she's attending several per week. She's quite an inspiration to me, but for some reason I haven't been able to get up the gumption to join in. I've been more focused on my own survival...

Which has meant that I'm trying to bump up my income in case my health care costs skyrocket (which seems inevitable.) It hasn't exactly been going smoothly - I've destroyed 4 virtual servers in my efforts to cut my business costs... I really HATE Linux.

But I think I'm finally... almost... maybe there... this time for reals. Just a few more tests before I can switch the DNS and move to a server that will cost $10/month rather than $110.

In other news, I've gone completely off the deep end.

I know this all is gonna sound absolutely, totally, 100 percent nuts, but I really feel like with the political situation here, anything could happen. I'm not entirely sure what "anything" would look like - war? revolution? death camps? Russian invasion? totalitarian rule? Honestly, every day you turn on the news and it's sorta like getting hit in the face with a bunch of barbed wire.

So I decided that instead of just worrying myself into oblivion I'd try to at least get a few ducks in a row.

So I am now the proud owner of a new passport, and I've pretty much memorized which countries you can travel to without a visa and how long you can stay.

And I've also decided that it would be prudent to have some emergency food on hand just in case. In case of what, I don't really know - but with both the climate and the country in crisis it doesn't seem beyond the scope of possibility that we could see disruptions in the food supply sometime in the next who knows how many years.

But since I've been down this road before with spectacularly horrible results, I decided that I needed to do it in a more organized fashion this time. So I've basically re-organized (and expanded) my entire pantry - creating a system to more effectively rotate my stock. I've also bought some "long-term" stuff that's designed to be stored for 20-30 years. CatMan thinks we should have enough food for a year... which is a LOT of food! I'm not anywhere close yet, but I'm working up to it and have spent lots of free time researching shelf lives of various products. Perhaps I'm just channeling my Mormon ancestors.

And... I've also decided to try some new things gardening-wise. I've pretty much given up on growing greens because they always just get hopelessly infested with bugs, so I'm trying something new and I'm gonna see if I can grow them indoors. I bought some really cheap LED grow lights that only use about 12 watts, and I'm giving it a go. We shall see...

OK! So that's about all of the news from the funny farm. If you didn't think I was crazy before, you surely do now!

But hey, you should always go with your strengths, right?

So there you have it... long, rambling, incoherent and... well, at least you know I'm not dead!

So how are things in your neck of the woods?