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Growing up in an organic world

Growing up in an organic world

By Sujata C

The November sunlight feels so good. It has the right amount of warmth to counter the hint of cold that lingers in the air. It’s a great time to spend outdoors with your family and you are tempted to spend hours just lazing and soaking in the sun. It’s Children’s day, and instead of rushing off to the mall or catching the new movie at the multiplex, try something that’s real quality time. How about familiarising your children with the organic way of life?

You can begin right in the garden or your balcony. Get your children some basic gardening tools like a hand rake or a trowel to turn the soil over and gardening gloves if they are prone to skin allergies. This will build up the excitement. Being outside, they will get a healthy dose of sunlight and some physical exercise as well.

Since organic way of life is too large a universe to get all at once, you can introduce it in small but specific topics like pest control, for instance. Where there is a garden there are pests, we know that too well. So how about getting rid of garden pests in an eco friendly way without upsetting the delicate living system of soil?

As you work you can explain a bit about the soil system and its nature and take the children’s help in gathering ingredients. Climbing tree to pluck leaves off a neem tree would be a real fun thing to do for children. For children such activities help build a connect with nature and they will grow up with a higher environment quotient. Keep the conversation going and tell them why you are not opting for chemical sprays and liquids, explain how they harm the soil and leave residues.

Experts at Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad suggest many simple ways to make home based natural pesticides. Here are some natural remedies they advocate:

For insects in soil:

Two tbsp of red chilli powder, two tbsp of garlic paste. Mix it in one litre of water. Add a little of the mixture to the soil in each pot. The severe burning sensation caused by the chilli kills the pests.

For leaf spray:

Ingredients:

  • Black tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) leaves: 50gms
  • Two glasses of water
  • Half tsp of detergent powder

Method:

Boil tulsi leaves in water for 30 minutes

Let it cool. Add detergent powder to it. Stir well. Let the kids fill a spray can or bottle with the mixture and spray on plants.

Well known agricultural expert Hari Shankar Panwar known for chronicling the traditional farm practices of farmers recommends this neem leaf decoction for pests like aphids, grasshoppers, white fly and caterpillars.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg leaves of neem (Azadirachta indica) 
  • 1 litre water
  • ½ tsp of detergent powder

Method:

Grind the neem leaves to a smooth paste. Mix it in water along with the detergent powder. Stir the mixture well. Spray it on plants.

Researchers are also recommending pomegranate peel decoction as an effective way to keep bugs off the plants.

Try out these eco friendly ideas in your garden. Not only will your garden be pest free, you would have instilled an appreciation for the organic way of life in your children.

Where did the plant come from?

Where did the plant come from?

If you pushed some seeds from a tomato pulp into a pot of soil; kept it in the Sun and lightly watered it everyday; soon enough, a tomato plant would start growing.

Where did the plant come from? How did the stem, branches, leaves, fruits get build? To build anything, you need raw material. Where does the plant get its raw material?

First Guess: The soil became the plant.
You can see if this is true. Keep weighing the pot everyday. If the soil is becoming the plant, then the weight of the potted plant should remain the same. However, the potted plant keeps getting heavier as the plant keeps getting bigger, it must be sucking the mass from somewhere else. Besides, farms never lose soil after repeated harvests. Wrong Answer.

Second Guess: The water became the plant.
Two problems with this. First, the plant, like all life forms, is carbon based. There is no carbon in the water. Second, it doesn’t absorb as much water as the plant weights. You can confirm this if you are carefully measure the amount of water you give to the plant. Wrong answer.

Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
– Sherlock Holmes

The Correct Answer : The air became the plant. The air has carbon dioxide. The plant absorbs carbon dioxide, uses the energy from the Sun to release oxygen back into the atmosphere and builds itself up into a larger plant.

Let that sink in, it is really a fascinating phenomenon. A seed, sown in the soil, starts sucking carbon from the air and using the sunlight, starts to build itself into any and every tasty fruit and vegetable that you have ever eaten. Your Alphonso mango, the french grapes, the avocado from Chile. They were all built from thin air.

– Farhan

Daana Blog is produced by Daana Network to promote understanding about Naturally grown, organic food. Support us by buying your grains, oils and staples from our farmers through Amazon, Bigbasket or directly from Daana.in.

Cosmetics: Toxic chemicals on your body

Cosmetics: Toxic chemicals on your body

The cosmetics industry is all of a hundred years old, and is worth about 11 Lakh Crore Rupees annually.

People have used things to beautify themselves since ancient times, but not to the extent that we do now, with multiple products being used every day.

Cosmetics are products that are chemical cocktails, with several of them known to be poisonous and harmful.

Watch this video to find out more:

Do leave us comments and tips on how you have moved away from chemical cosmetics, and what replacements you are using. We would love to hear from you. We will do a follow up article on this a month from now, and will include several of the tips we receive from our readers.

Women and the fight against poverty

Women and the fight against poverty

Barefoot College is an organization based in Rajasthan, India whose goal is to empower and equip rural illiterate women so that they may drive change and improvement in their families and societies.

Requirement to join Barefoot college is really simple:

  1. You need to be illiterate
  2. You need to take your learnings and skills back to your village and invest your time and energy there.

The premise is even simpler:

  1. Women are more invested in the long term in their neighborhoods, and are willing to put in work to see results much further down the line
  2. Men on the other hand, when they pick up skills, tend to want to move to better lifestyles which means that they tend to not invest their time and energy in their villages for long periods of time.

We are not being some sort of reverse sexists here. While outliers always exist, both the above statements are corroborated by data gathered from multiple communities in the world.

How does Barefoot achieve this? Watch the trailer of the movie “Solar Mamas”, made by TED prizewinning filmmaker Jehane Noujaim that documents the work and the impact of Barefoot College.

And then go watch the full movie here

Local, Seasonal, Organic: A Must Have for Debt-free and Chemical-free farming

Local, Seasonal, Organic: A Must Have for Debt-free and Chemical-free farming

Climate change is making it difficult to continue farming just a single crop with huge doses of fertilizers, genetically modified seeds and pesticides.

The tribal women in India rediscovering growing multiple crops together such that they need less water, and without and without any dangerous and expensive fertilizers, pesticides. It keeps the soil healthy, keeps them debt free.

tuljamma (1)

What is their secret sauce?

  • Multicropping (growing multiple varieties of plants one after the other),
  • Intercropping (growing multiple varieties of plants together at the same time),
  • Using traditional seeds that have stood the test of time.
  • Growing hardy varieties that are disease and drought resistant.

Here is an article that talks about how tribal women in India are leading the way:

http://www.lifegate.com/people/lifestyle/tribal-women-organic-agriculture-india

**  Daana works with several such farmers and networks to bring their produce directly to online consumers across India. Support theses practices by buying their produce from Daana Network, Amazon or BigBasket.

 

Brown Rice Modak / Kozhakattai

Brown Rice Modak / Kozhakattai

Tomorrow we celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi. Ganesha is considered the remover of obstacles and is typically prostrated to / worshipped first before any other task is taken upon (and that includes the pooja or worshipping of other deities as well.)

The archetype of Ganesha features a young plump lad, with an elephants head. He is unhurried in his gait, relaxed in his nature, and loves to eat all sorts of food. His favourite food (esp in the south of India) is a sweet steamed rice dumpling called the Kozhakattai in Tamil (Modak in Marathi).

kozhakattai2

The recipe below is a healthier version of the already healthy dish. This recipe uses brown rice flour.

To make the brown rice flour:

  1. Soak brown rice (2 cups) in warm water for a few hours until it is well soaked
  2. Drain all the water out and let it dry outside (but not under direct sun) for a few hours till all the surface dampness is gone.
  3. Dry grind the rice in a blender to yield a fine powder.

To make the kozhakattai:

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup fine brown rice flour
  2. 1 tsp sesame oil
  3. Salt
  4. 1/2 cup grated coconut
  5. 1/2 cup grated jaggery
  6. A pinch of cardamom powder

Method:

  1. In a thick bottomed skillet, add the grated jaggery and coconut, stir on a low flame till they are incorporated into a nice gooey mixture. Turn off the flame, and add the pinch of cardamom powder to it and mix well. Set aside to cool
  2. In another skillet, pour 1 cup water, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil and let the water boil. When it begins to boil, turn it off, pour the brown rice flour into it as a heap, and close it with a lid.
  3. Few minutes later, open the lid, the flour must have nicely absorbed the warm water into it and must be pliable like dough.
  4. Grease your fingertips with some oil and make a small ball of dough, start flattening it from the tips till you have formed a nice wide cup with the dough.
  5. Fill a teaspoon of the coconut jaggery filling (called the poornam). You can see a video of how to do it in this link: Kozhakattai Dumpling
  6. Make the whole lot of it and place it in a steamer and steam the dumplings for 5 to 7 minutes. (You will get an amazing fragrance of steamed rice)
  7. Cool and serve.

As always, would love to hear from you. Do try it out and let me know how it came. Wish you and your loved ones a very happy Ganesha Chaturthi.

Home cooked Dal Makhni

Home cooked Dal Makhni

When I eat at a restaurant, I oftentimes wonder if I can replicate the same dish at home: keep the richness of the flavour, but cut out that cloyingly heavy feeling you get by eating that cream-and-butter-laden restaurant dish.

If you’re like me, you will like this recipe for Dal Makhani, which I made yesterday. “Makhan” refers to homemade white butter. This recipe contains no butter, but tastes just as good.

dalmakhni

Ingredients: (all measurements are approximate. Feel free to add or subtract to suit your discretion)

  • One cup whole masoor dal (also known as whole red lentil. If you live outside the Indian subcontinent, you will find it in any Indian or middle eastern grocery store)
  • Half cup rajma (red kidney bean)
  • One onion, finely chopped
  • Few garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 green chillies, sliced lengthwise
  • 3 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • One fistful of cashew nuts
  • Spices: Salt, dhania (Coriander) powder, jeera (Cumin) powder, haldi (turmeric) powder and optionally some pounded cinnamon, elaichi (cardamom). If you want it light on spices, skip the cinnamon and elaichi.

Method: 

  • Soak the rajma in warm water for a hour. Soak the cashews in warm water separately for an hour.
  • Cook the masoor dal and rajma in a cooker and ensure they are well cooked, but not too gooey. Mash them with a hand masher so you can still see pieces of the lentil, but they’re soft and mixed together
  • In a kadai (wide saute pan), heat some groundnut oil, add the onions, garlic, green chillies. Saute until the onions are lightly brown, then add the tomatoes; reduce the flame, put a lid on and cook until the tomatoes turn soft
  • Now add the mashed dal, salt and other spices and let it simmer a few minutes. (I prefer to add the spices at this time, and not while sauteing the onions as this preserves their flavour and aroma)
  • Grind the soaked cashews into a fine, slightly runny paste. Add most of it into the dal and mix it up.
  • Pour into a bowl to serve, drizzle the rest of the cashew paste on top, add a few sprigs of coriander leaves to garnish.
  • Eat with hot rotis

This is an amazing comfort food during the rainy season. If there is any of it left over, just warm it up and eat it as a snack. Do try it out and let me know how it was.

Know Your Oils

Find out all about oils to decide which ones are better.

Know Your Oils

coldpressedoil

There is so much information about oils these days. Which oils are better, which ones are “healthier”, which ones to avoid etc etc. The hope of this article is to provide some simple clarity on oils.

What are oils? what sort of oils should we consume, and what should we avoid?
Oils are the fatty part of vegetables, seeds or nuts. Sunflower Oil, Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Groundnut Oil etc. Oils are concentrated fat and hence must be used sparingly. Even if the plant source is extremely nutritious (eg: mustard), its oil must still be used sparingly.

Refined Oils: Ignore the use of words that make a product sound cool. Refined oils are hardly “suave and sophisticated”.

  • They are made by heating the seeds or nuts to very high temperatures to extract the oil. Oil molecules when heated to very high temperatures begin to break down into other compounds, some of which are carcinogenic in nature (ie cancer causing). High temperature extraction is used in the industry because it extracts a much higher percentage of oil from the base.
  • Commercial solvents such as hexane are used to extract more oils from the base. Exposure to hexane by inhalation is detrimental to health. This hexane isn’t affecting you directly, but it certainly does impact the workers who work in the oil refineries. Something to think about.
  • Commercial refined oils in the supermarket come with a combination of oils that aren’t listed in the ingredients. The most common of them being cottonseed oil. Cottonseed oil is a by product of the cotton industry. Remember, more than 90% of cotton grown in India is GMO cotton. You are essentially consuming GMO without your knowledge.
  • To keep the oil looking transparent and uniform and have a longer shelf life, a lot of other solvents and emulsifiers are used. More chemicals in your body that you don’t need.

Organic Cold Pressed Oils: The better and healthy oils. Why Organic? Simple. No toxic chemicals in our food, body, soils, groundwater and air. Healthy and safe for everyone. What is Cold Pressed?

  • The oil is extracted by placing it in a mortar, and ground by pressing it with a rotating pestle. This keeps the temperature of extraction low (under 49C) and the oil that comes out has never been heated before.
  • No solvents are used to extract more oil.
  • Cold pressing is done in “ghanis” in villages in India. The leftover base, called the oil cake is fed to cattle as fodder. It is a rural small scale industry that supplements farmers income from agriculture.
  • No emulsifiers or other chemicals are used to make it look pretty or increase its shelf life
  • Cold pressed oils have a lesser shelf life (about 3-4 months)
  • They are much more tasty because they have not been overheated, and the pressing method preserves taste and nutrients. Cold pressed groundnut oil has an amazing aroma and taste of groundnuts.

Other oil facts: There is no one oil that is better than another. Coconut, Sesame, Groundnut, Mustard, Safflower, all of them are just as good for cooking. In fact, optimal health is when there is variety. Use these oils in rotation, and don’t stick to just one oil alone.

New kids on the block: How about Rice Bran oil, Olive Oil, Soybean Oil etc? 10 years ago, these products weren’t even found in our supermarkets. Many of these are being “pushed” thanks to advertising, and demands are being “created”. If you eat unpolished/brown rice, you will get way more nutrition from rice bran, than you will by consuming rice bran oil, which is its concentrated fat extract. Olives are not native to India. Olive Oil is imported. It is expensive and isn’t of a singularly superlative health quality, that you should spend the money and effort trying to get it. Same with soybean oil. Simple rule: stick to oils that your grandmother used to get, and don’t worry about new “trends”.