Cheers for Swiss Chard

Share
Classic green chard seedlings.

In many kitchens, Swiss chard is rather like comedian Rodney Dangerfield – it don’t get no respect. As usual, I’m marching to my own drummer on this one. I’ve mentioned before that I’m interested in productive veggies that taste good. If they’re also easy to grow, so much the better. Chard meets all my requirements.

While you might not think it to look at them, chard and beets are closely related. The similarity between the leaves is the give-away. In fact, chard is also called silver beet, beet spinach, seakale beet (the leaves do look a lot like kale), leaf beet and beet spinach. No one seems to know where the Swiss part of the name came from; the plant actually originated in Sicily. The standard chard is exemplified by Lucullus and Fordhook Giant – white stems, light to dark green leaves and about three feet tall. Both are heirloom varieties and at least 100 years old. Rainbow chard has colored stems. Bright Lights is the most well-known. I think the plain green ones taste better. The leaves of Swiss chard may be slightly crinkled or deeply ribbed, more like kale. The ribbed leaves tend to hide bits of dirt and insects, so they take a little more time to wash.

Chard has to be one of the easiest plants to grow. Pretty much any soil type suits these plants. It grows in full sun (which makes the leaves a darker green) or part shade. Occasionally nibbled on by insects or small birds. It tolerates both heat and cold quite well. In my garden it overwinters and will produce greens well ahead of anything I plant in the spring. The plants that overwinter will also produce “flowers” and seed stalks for next year’s crop.

This vegetable is quick-growing, with maturity rates around 55 to 60 days. You can often steal a few leaves from each plant even earlier. For the plants I’m going to feed to the critters, I just whack the whole thing off about three to six inches above the ground. Chard does just fine with cut-and-come-again harvesting. If you get behind in the harvesting, it will continue to grow huge leaves that you can wash, slice finely and freeze for winter minestrone. And you can keep on harvesting for months – literally – in my garden I can harvest chard from May to at least November.

Summer chard, with parsley in the foreground.

I grow a lot more chard than we actually need or can eat because it’s a great source of greens for pigs and chickens. I give it about 12 square inches per plant. If your soil is really fertile, you can give it 8 to 10 inches. I like the extra space because I’m less likely to knock off stalks in the harvesting process and it’s easier to weed. At 12-inch spacing, I can get 16 chard plants in four square feet. Since one chard plant will give you about 2 pounds of food, that’s 32 pounds of leaves and stalks.

Like some leafy greens, chard is quick-cooking. The stalks are best sauteed or baked (add onions and garlic), while the leaves can be chopped or shredded and cooked like spinach. Swiss chard takes well to a gratin of Parmesan, Jack and/or mozzarella cheese. It can be layered with home-made ricotta filling (just use your favorite lasagna filling recipe) and baked. It’s the quintessential green for minestrone. Chard leaves make good wrappers for fillings like sausage, rice, chopped veggies, cooked chickpeas and combinations thereof. It’s a classic paired with cannellini beans, olive oil and garlic. For extra flavor, I cook the beans in chicken broth rather than plain water.

Minestrone

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 large or 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • Salt (skip if using a ham bone)
  • 1/2 small head green or savoy cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
  • 6 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 quarts water or chicken broth (or cook a ham bone/smoked ham hocks in two quarts water the night before; let cool, then taste to make sure the broth isn’t too salty. If it is, cut with some more water. Dice the meat and add it with the pasta)
  • 2 boiling potatoes, diced
  • 1 (14-ounce) can tomatoes, with liquid, seeded and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 (2 1/2 x 1 1/2-inch) piece Parmesan rind
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • Few sprigs each thyme and parsley
  • 2 cups cooked cannellini or Great Northern beans (cook your own, don’t use the canned stuff)
  • 1/4 pound Swiss chard, stemmed, washed well and chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup pasta, such as elbow macaroni, small shells or broken spaghetti
  • 1/2 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1 pound fresh shelled beans
  • 1 cup fresh peas or thawed frozen peas
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onions. Cook, stirring, until they begin to soften. Add the leeks. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and a generous pinch of salt, and continue to cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the cabbage and the garlic, add a little more salt, and cook until the cabbage has wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the water, potatoes, canned tomatoes with liquid and oregano. Bring to a boil. Tie the Parmesan rind, bay leaf, thyme and parsley sprigs together with kitchen string, or tie in cheesecloth, and add to the pot. Add salt to taste (at least 2 teaspoons), reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Stir the cooked beans into the soup, then add the greens and the pasta. Five minutes later, add the peas, shell beans and green beans. Simmer until the pasta is cooked al dente, about five minutes more. Remove the Parmesan rind bundle, stir in the chopped parsley and remove from the heat. Serve in wide soup bowls, with a tablespoon of Parmesan sprinkled over the top.

Share
Posted in Farms, Food, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

IANS – COVID-19 Part 2

Share

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 200 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS). It’s the second of a two-parter, because there is a lot of ground to cover.

Now here’s a topic that provides fertile ground for an IANS blog. The amount of misinformation, disinformation and downright lies spreading about the coronavirus pandemic is mind-boggling. It’s not surprising.

We’re having to study this thing as we go along, which means theories about what it does and how it works are constantly coming and going. It’s politicized to the hilt – in a badly divided country that means people will take positions based on party preference rather than science, facts or common sense. People are scared and willing to grasp at the outlandish if it means not having to jettison long-held beliefs. There’s money to be made from vaccines and treatments – enter Big Pharma. On the other end of the scale, the economic damage is huge. Having said all that, here are what I consider to be some IANS issues. Warning: my position on these could change in the future as more information comes in.

You’re More at Risk if You…

Smoke, do/don’t take vitamin D, drink/don’t drink alcohol, are old/young, are male/female – you name it. The one thing we can say is that people who are obese seem more likely to require hospitalization and have a higher mortality rate. Now, that might be partly because obese people also tend to have problems like diabetes and heart disease, which affect your immune system function. They may have diminished lung function to begin with; obesity hampers lung expansion. It could be because obesity and widespread inflammation in the body go hand-in-hand. I suspect that anything which has a negative effect on the immune system or the lungs increases your risk of contracting the disease and of developing complications. Eating a lot of sugar, smoking, vaping or going chronically short of sleep probably all raise your risk.

You’re Less at Risk if You…

Have a certain blood type, are younger, take certain supplements or vitamin D/C (or the rest of the alphabet). Remember this is still early days, but there are some indications that:

  • People with blood type O seem less susceptible to coronavirus than those with blood type A. The primary study on this originated in China and may not be applicable to people in other countries or those of different ethnic backgrounds.
  • Vitamin D deficiency may be a factor in whether people die from the disease. Mortality rates in terms of total population in Africa are much lower when compared to those in countries below the equator or between the equator and the 37th parallel. Vitamin D deficiency may also explain why those of African heritage who live in more northerly/temperate countries get sicker and have higher mortality rates.
  • Taking extra Vitamin C can make a difference. Vitamin C supplementation resulted in better outcomes in the early stages of the China pandemic. No, it’s not a controlled research study, but the real world isn’t a controlled research study, either. There’s at least one US study that showed fewer hospitalizations and decreased mortality with high-dose vitamin C, plus vitamin D and other alternative therapies. By the way, the FTC made Dr. Brownstein remove his paper from his website – it wasn’t “scientific.” In our current situation, we need to pay close attention to what those clinical experts on the front lines are seeing – we can’t wait for time-consuming peer-reviewed research.
  • Other vitamins, minerals and supplements may be of benefit. Zinc supplementation has amassed good data when it comes to beating back similar coronaviruses like the common cold. Elderberry syrup is anti-viral, as are garlic, oregano and sage. Animal research shows the mineral selenium provides an extra defense against influenza, another virus.

Masks Don’t Work

Actually, masks accomplish several things.

  • First, if you breath, cough or sneeze, it cuts down on the droplets sprayed into the surrounding air. This protects the people around you.
  • Second, wearing a mask does decrease what you inhale (i.e. those droplets from other people talking, sneezing and coughing).
  • Third, any kind of facial barrier decreases the potential infective viral load – how many virus particles you inhale in one whack. A lower viral load improves your chances. Your immune system may be able to handle a few hundred virus particles. Ramp that up to several thousand or a few million and your odds have just tanked, because the virus can replicate faster than your immune system can keep up.
  • Fourth, wearing a mask is a constant reminder to perform all those other protective rituals like distancing and hand washing. We humans are creatures of habit. But we are not used to the habits that can protect us from COVID-19, so reminders are helpful.

We Just Need to Reach Herd Immunity, so Let’s Have a Coronavirus Party!

The idea behind herd immunity is that if enough people contract a disease and become immune to it, the risk is much less for those who are not immune. Some problems with this one:

  • We don’t know if you can become permanently immune to COVID-19. Humans have yet to achieve immunity to the common cold – also a coronavirus (or rather a number of viruses).
  • Viruses mutate – in fact, mutating is something a virus is really good at. Each time someone becomes infected, the chance of a mutation increases as the virus interacts with the person’s DNA. So, sure, let’s have a COVID party. It will give the virus lots of opportunities to mutate into something nastier or more easily tranmissible. In the process of getting to herd immunity, people will die. Frankly, I would rather not be one of them. I would rather my family, friends and patients not be among them, either.
  • Spending more time with someone who is infected increases the risk. Having a five-minute conversation with someone you meet while walking outdoors is much less likely to cause illness than spending several hours in a closed environment where someone is infected and no one is wearing a mask. In one Georgia summer camp, all attendees provided negative test proof. About half came down with coronavirus in the first week of camp. That little unplanned “experiment” makes it pretty clear that opening schools for in-person instruction this fall will be an excellent way to spread the virus.
  • Sweden has taken heat for not locking down like its neighboring countries, in order to achieve herd immunity sooner. They deserve it. Compared to neighboring countries, Sweden’s death rate is more than twice as high as Denmark’s and five times higher than Norway’s. In fact, Sweden has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world. Ninety percent of those who died were over the age of 70. And the sad thing is that we don’t know if getting infected confers immunity; the whole idea of herd immunity for COVID-19 may be a complete myth. So skip the party.

Stupid Coronavirus Myths

Anyone with half a brain should be able to figure out that eating Chinese food is not going to infect you with coronavirus. Equally obviously, drinking bleach is not a cure. Ditto that the pandemic is “nothing but a hoax.” Tell that to the nurses and doctors watching their patients die. And, yes, it’s a lot worse than the flu, which has a mortality rate of about .01%. COVID’s rate seems to be running around 1% (ten times higher). As to the one about whether it’s lab-grown or a natural mutation, I see no possible way of sorting it out. It’s too much of a political hot potato. There are certainly researchers out there working on bioweapons – maybe this is one of them? Who knows? This one ranks right up there with the arguments about Jeffery Epstein’s death.

The Sky is Falling/It’s the End of Civilization as We Know It

We are currently dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, severe economic woes and a deeply divided nation. It’s enough to make all of us a little crazy. The post-COVID world (assuming we ever get there) is undoubtedly going to look different than the pre-COVID world.

I suspect we are going to have a coronavirus season of some sort pretty much forever, just as we have an annual flu season. Unfortunately, this virus doesn’t seem to be influenced by weather in the same way flu viruses are. If there is a link between vitamin D levels and COVID-19, I would expect the season to occur at the time levels are lowest – late winter. We may get to the point where the virus is always with us but outbreaks occur during certain times of the year or if you get run down. Shingles, caused by the chickenpox virus, lives in your system for years. It causes outbreaks when you get older because your immune system function naturally diminishes with aging, allowing the virus to get ahead of your body’s natural defensive mechanisms. COVID may work the same way.

Climate change is here to stay. Even if we immediately quit using all forms of fossil fuels, the damage is so great that it will be thousands if not millions of years before the earth recovers. And recovery may not look anything like what we consider “normal.”

The only reason the economy is still chugging is that central banks have dumped trillions upon trillions of non-existent money into the financial system. Basic common sense should tell you that you can’t create money out of thin air. This problem has been a long time coming. COVID very quickly made it worse, but it would have happened eventually, anyway.

The divisions in our nation have also been many years coming and are not going to go away overnight. It’s clear that we have a long way to go in such matters as racism, misogyny and sexual harassment, which are much more deeply ingrained in our country than people wanted to believe. The ubiquity of cell phones has meant that abuses of power are now front and center for anyone who cares to watch a video. Our President and Congress are fanning the flames of divisiveness in America and with other countries rather than helping us come together and heal.

Yes, it looks bleak. But at the same time, I see people working to make things better. People are helping each other – going the extra mile for those who are hungry, dispossessed or sick. I see communities working together and individuals putting the welfare of others ahead of their own comfort. There are many people helping to build rather than tear down. I believe the human heart, spirit and mind are capable of great things, and that love is the key. I leave you with two songs that say it much better than I can.

Take a Missouri Approach

Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum is credited as the person who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. In fact, there’s no evidence that he did say it; however, there is some evidence that it was said about Barnum’s tactics, by a banker named David Hannum. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

Share
Posted in Health | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

IANS – COVID-19

Share

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 200 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS). It’s a two-parter, because there is a lot of ground to cover.

Now here’s a topic that provides fertile ground for an IANS blog. The amount of misinformation, disinformation and downright lies spreading about the coronavirus pandemic is mind-boggling. It’s not surprising. We’re having to study this thing as we go along, which means theories about what it does and how it works are constantly coming and going. It’s politicized to the hilt – in a badly divided country that means people will take positions based on party preference rather than science, facts or common sense. People are scared and willing to grasp at the outlandish if it means not having to jettison long-held beliefs. There’s money to be made from vaccines and treatments – enter Big Pharma. On the other end of the scale, the economic damage is huge. Having said all that, here are what I consider to be some IANS issues. Warning: my position on these could change in the future as more information comes in.

Getting COVID-19 is No Big Deal

Think so? Spend some time with a few patients or listen to what the healthcare workers on the front lines are telling you. Some people are getting very, very sick – and there’s no good way to tell ahead of time who those people will be. Even the young and healthy can die from this stuff: children, teens, young adults. Yes, it does look as though the elderly and immune-compromised are more likely to die. But in California, for example, the fastest-growing group of positive COVID tests is coming from the 18 to 49 year-old group. And some seniors in their 90s or over 100 have survived.

You Get Sick, But You’re Fine After You Recover

You wish. There is increasing evidence, both anecdotal and from case studies and research, that COVID-19 can cause significant damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain. There are also reports of neurological damage and syndromes similar to polio. I haven’t seen anything specific about liver damage, but I’d say odds are high. We don’t know enough to say yet whether this damage is permanent. Recovery can take months and many people suffer relapses.

Kids and Teens Don’t Have to Worry About COVID-19

Kids (including newborns) can catch this virus, as can teens. While it looks as though most don’t get very sick and recover quickly, a few develop a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) or pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS). These kids get very sick indeed. Kids with conditions like asthma (about 7.5% of the pediatric population) are more likely to have complications. And kids especially can be asymptomatic carriers, increasing the risk of everyone around them. There are some indications that younger people, who have stronger immune systems than the elderly, may be more likely to develop deadly cytokine storms. Cytokine storms in young, healthy adults are thought to be the reason why the mortality rate of the 1918 flu pandemic was so high, especially in the military.

COVID Tests Are Accurate

It depends. There are a number of different tests out there, but they basically fall into one of two groups. The first is the PCR, or polymerase chain reaction test. It can identify the actual RNA of coronavirus. If the test says it’s positive, odds are pretty high it’s accurate. A negative test, however, is not nearly so conclusive. First, the timing of collection matters. Getting tested in the first three days of infection nearly always results in a negative. Testing between five and eight days after symptoms appear seems to be more accurate. Second, the technique of the person doing the collection matters, as is true for nearly all human-collected specimens. The reported false negative rate is about 30-40%, meaning of every three tests, one is a false negative.

The second kind of test is a blood test, which looks for antibodies to the coronavirus. Timing is critically important with this one, as the test won’t pick up antibodies unless you are fully recovered, which is usually several weeks, at minimum, after symptoms appear. I could find only one independent study of the various tests out there to see which are the most accurate (there are a number on the market). Second, the antibody tests are not necessarily specific to coronavirus. They may show positive results because you have antibodies to the common cold (also a coronavirus) circulating in your blood stream. Third, no one knows whether these tests have any value, because we don’t know if immunity wanes or even if it protects you from another infection. Which leads me to…

My Test is Negative, So Everything’s Fine

If you are one of the 30-40% with a false negative test, you are spreading coronavirus hither, thither and yon. Not to mention that a negative test now does not mean you can’t catch it in the future. A negative test does not give you license to ignore prevention strategies that protect both you and others. By the way, at least in our area, the private labs are so overwhelmed that test results are not coming back for 10 to 13 days. So while you’re waiting, please self-isolate, especially if you have symptoms. By the time your results arrive, you could have infected dozens of other people.

Tests Help in Treating Coronavirus

Not really. Here are the problems:

  • The high false negative rate means that in too many cases, people whose symptoms clearly indicate they have COVID are sent home or untreated because the test is “negative.” I’ve mentioned the case I personally experienced in which the patient’s symptoms were overwhelmingly positive but the test was negative. The ER doctor dismissed the symptoms and the chest CT that showed the ground-glass opacity typical of a COVID infection. My granddaughter’s case was similar, although she was thankfully not nearly as sick.
  • Turnaround time for tests is so long (13 days in most cases for my area right now) that by the time you get results you’re well past the quarantine period. In many cases, you’re also well into the period when treatment is needed.
  • Treatment for COVID is mostly based on symptoms. If your oxygen level is low, for example, we use supplementary oxygen. Whether your test is positive or negative is pretty much a moot point. We don’t have any kind of a magic bullet – antibiotics don’t work unless the patient has a secondary bacterial infection. Medications like Remdesivir and Acyclovir may or may not be helpful – not enough information. The water is very muddy because of the potential money to be made and the intertwined political issues, which is skewing the data on which remedies are effective.
  • We don’t know what antibody tests mean. Does a high antibody level mean your body has successfully beaten back the disease or just that your immune system is still trying to combat the infection? If your antibody test is positive, do you have any kind of lasting immunity? If your antibody test is low, will it climb higher over time? Is a positive test truly a reflection of your response to COVID, or does it show a previous response to another coronavirus (like the common cold)?
  • Tests don’t tell us anything about your long-term prospects. I’ve seen a couple of reports that some experts believe a COVID infection confers short-term immunity – say six months. I don’t see any good, solid data to back that up. And since we’re just now getting to the six- to eight-month mark in this pandemic, I don’t see how anyone can make that kind of statement with any degree of certainty.
  • So what are tests good for? Well, they are useful for epidemiologists who are trying to study the pandemic. With enough testing, you can make some educated guesses about the overall infection rate and the rate at which the disease is spreading. Tests on people who die can help confirm the actual mortality rate. Testing can help to pinpoint the best times to collect specimens. To some extent, they may be useful for convincing the doubters that yes, Virginia, there really is a pandemic. Since positive test results are more accurate than negatives, they can help us catch the people who do have COVID but don’t have symptoms.

You Can Only Catch COVID Once

We don’t know for sure. Some people seem to develop a second infection weeks or months later. Many of these people test positive, but we don’t know if that’s because they still have the virus from the first time they got sick. And viruses mutate at the drop of the proverbial hat; it could be a mutation causing the second illness. Jury’s definitely still out on this one.

Take a Missouri Approach

Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum is credited as the person who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. In fact, there’s no evidence that he did say it; however, there is some evidence that it was said about Barnum’s tactics, by a banker named David Hannum. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so. (See Part II next week!)

Share
Posted in Health | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment