Sunday, September 15, 2013

Basil bashing and bacteria

I wrote about the emerging science of gut bacteria about a month ago, and since that time, the reports have continued to accumulate.  Yesterday The Economist published a succinct overview aptly titled "Wider understanding:  How the bacteria in your gut may be shaping your waistline".  Notable findings:  "...those with more diverse microbiota in their gut showed fewer signs of metabolic syndrome, including obesity and insulin resistance.  ...those [study participants who were put on a high-fiber diet and] who began with fewer [gut] bacterial species saw an increase in bacterial diversity and an improvement in metabolic indicators."

Many different investigations are pointing toward the same stunning conclusion:  Your health is profoundly impacted by what you eat.  The genius of this deduction cannot be overstated.  It's better than rocket science. 

I thought of this yesterday as I was surveying my latest basil crop, which is a good candidate for small-scale gardening encouragement, because it doesn't get any easier than this.  Here's how to grow your own, so to speak:
Buy a couple of sweet basil starts at a big box store (a couple so that they will cross-pollinate).  You can usually get them for two or three bucks apiece.

Stick them in soil, ANY soil.  If you don't have a garden, plant them in a mulch bed or a big flower pot.  They'll look pretty.

Water the plants daily or every other day while they are young.  Once established, they don't care as much about supplemental water.  They are perfectly suited for life in greater Houston's searing summer heat (there aren't many things that fit that definition, so you might as well take advantage of those few that do). 

You might want to trim off some of the growing portions of the plant to eat, but allow a portion of each to flower, as shown above. 
Don't trim off the seed sprigs until they are totally brown. 

Then when you do cut them, simply bash them on the ground in a new location where you'd like to grow more basil.  As in, smack, smack, smack.  That's all it takes to knock off some of the seeds.  It doesn't matter how many or where they land, because this will invariably be the result:  
Many baby basils.  You don't have to do anything special - just leave that bashed area alone, other than giving it water (but not too much - basil likes to be fairly dry.  Water the new plants only if you see them begin to wilt).  You don't have to worry about planting the seeds or otherwise caring for them.  The seeds will largely take care of themselves. 
That sweet basil shown above is extra valuable for cooking precisely because it's so young.  On this particular point, it doesn't matter whether you journey 28 miles one way to your nearest Whole Foods or not - you can't buy the likes of that stuff in any grocery store.  And young basil has a very different taste.
Tap to expand.  Gourmet pesto is a remarkable thing. 

Screengrabbed from this post
Of course, pesto isn't the only option for using this stuff.  We use basil in spaghetti sauce, in lasagna, in salads, as a garnish, and I even throw some into an omelette now and again. 

In sum, sweet basil is a tasty crop that the unskilled would have no trouble growing en masse.  Even if you grow nothing else, you could grow sweet basil with virtually no effort.  And it would be expected to contribute positively to your gut bacterial profile.
Well, that's not basil, it's actually sage, but it's another cool picture of reptilian hide-and-seek.  Yet another anole crapping on my edibles, helping to create a healthy bacterial bonanza. 

I use sage primarily in quiches, poultry stuffings, and meatloaf. 
Speaking of bacteria and healthy diet, yes I did participate in the Waugh Whole Foods Clear Lake "flash mob" yesterday morning. 
I'm a sucker for a good cause.  Some private citizen takes time out of their busy day to make a personal effort to bring about a positive result, and I just feel compelled to support them.

That's a copy of the shirt stickers that participants were wearing.   
It is indeed a 56-mile round trip from my house to the Waugh Whole Foods.  I measured it.  Not only does that represent at least nine dollars worth of gas, it's 56 miles over a nasty freeway, part of which is currently undergoing $200 million worth of major construction (which is not expected to end until 2016, by the way... ugh, why did they let it go for so long such that it got so bad?!).  It's a miserable freeway where jams and delays are a daily reality. 
No sh*t, Sherlock.

Screengrabbed from this KTRK article
Every time I step into Whole Foods, what I feel most strongly is dejection.  I look around at all the products for sale, particularly the high-quality vegetables which stand in such stark contrast to the tasteless factory-farmed junk typically offered by mainstream grocery stores, and I see all the potential therein for improving the quality of what I feed my family, but it's simply out of reach for the time being.  I do go to Whole Foods about once every four to six weeks, but given the rest of the demands on my time, I simply cannot consume the better part of a half day getting to and from the place any more frequently than that.  And without consistent access, there's only so much I can do to improve our meal plans. 
Here's a portion of my lunch from yesterday, a sampling of four different vegetarian dishes chock full of vegetables and legumes, with very little in the way of carbs, these being self-served from one of the store's prepared foods bars. 

And it was all *awesome* - all four of them were recipes I'd like to replicate at home.  But if I don't have ready access to quality ingredients, there's no point.  The reason why Americans emphatically don't eat vegetables is that vegetables have to be of the proper quality to taste good in prepared dishes.  Mass-produced vegetables taste like bitter pieces of cardboard no matter how good your dressings, spices, and marinades may be.   
We might get some relief when the Fresh Market opens.  Until that time, those of us concerned with nutrition will continue babying our bacteria as best we are able. 
50-year-old bacterial babes cannot live by basil and homegrown organic cauliflower alone.  We need access to a full range of top-quality groceries.

Pic from this post

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