Pine Nuts

Are Pignolias really from a Pine Tree? I was curious what the seeds were from that were labeled “Pignolias” and marked on the bag that they came from China. I learned that they do indeed come from some kind of pine trees. Many species of pine can be used to harvest the seeds. The pine cones make a little seed pod containing one or two pine nuts held in place by each woody bract of its pine cone. The bigger pine cones make bigger seeds so although any pine species CAN make pine nuts, the ones you usually buy are from 2 or 3 species of large coned pine.

If you buy pine nuts that come from Europe, you will probably get seeds from the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea). However, most pine nuts I have seen for sale are not this species from Europe, but rather from China. In China, the most common types of pines used are the Korean Pine (Pinus koraiensis) and Chilgoza Pine (Pinus gerardiana). The Korean pine nuts are more egg shaped, while the Stone pine seeds are more slender. There are several minor species that are used as well, but they are unusual gourmet types.

Pine nuts are most commonly used in pesto and as garnishes. They are nutritionally high in calories and full of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. An ounces of nuts (167 kernels) contains 191 calories, 4 g of protein, 19 g of fat, 1 g of fiber and 3.71 carbohydrate. They are called “nuts” in cooking circles but they are actually the seeds of the pine cone.

I learned about a risk in eating pine nuts from China. Some people have reported a metallic taste in their mouth 2-3 days after consuming them. It seems to be a passing thing that slowly goes away. The cause of this is unknown. It may be that the seeds have been treated with an unknown substance to keep the fats stable.

Whatever you call them, Pignolias or Pine nuts, they are delicious.

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Book Review: The Dark Tide 2/5 *

The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross takes place in modern-day USA.  A hedge fund manager is mixed up with a mysterious conspiracy involving disappearance of millions of dollars into offshore accounts.  It is kind of cool story about how these financial types ripped off some customers and virtually disappeared with the money.  There is a heart of gold cop and a jilted wife, for those readers who must have a romance, too.   I thought the story was pretty good  but the writing was not great.  Much of the writing was conversation, so it was a little like reading a screenplay.  I would put this in the beach read category.  Pretty easy to follow and reads fast.

Volcanic Activity

This off-topic post is in the category of trivia.  I do not really have a geology category because this is a Botany blog.  However, it is also a blog of whatever I am interested in at the time, so I am sharing some things about volcanoes

I was curious about the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull. ( I do not know how to pronounce that).  I wondered how large a volcano this was compared to other volcanoes.  In an article by Elizabeth Cottrell, geologist at the National Museum of History, I learned that volcanoes are ranked by a bunch of different criteria, but the main one I was interested in is the Volcanic Explosivity Index.  This index goes from 1 to 8 and each number increase is 10 times bigger than the one before.  This is called logarithmic.  So, a 3 volcano is ten times bigger than a 2 volcano.  If you are comparing two volcanoes they are ten times bigger for every number they are apart.  So if you are comparing a couple of volcanoes and they are three numbers apart, then they are ten times bigger for each number, or 10 x 10 x 10 or 1000 times different in size.    On this scale, then,  Eyjafjallajokull started out at a 1 and is now about a 4.  In comparison, Mt. Pinatubo in the Phillipines was a 6.  So that was 100 times bigger than Eyjafjallajokull.

Of course, Eyjafjallajokull is getting a lot of press due to its location and the fact that the ash cloud disrupts air travel for much of Europe.  A similar sized volcano would not rate much of a mention in an isolated area. 

I was also wondering about that ash cloud and why it is so bad to fly in an ash cloud.  I learned that jet engines draw in a tremendous amount of air and so little particles like ash can be very abrasive on the engines.  Not good for jet engines at all.  The reason you cannot fly under the ash cloud, it that the heavier particles are constantly falling down to earth under the clouds.  You may be able to see under the ash cloud, but there is still plenty of gritty ash falling down that would get into the jet engines. 

I also wondered if the ash would block the sun and reduce global warming or make crops fail in the ash plume area.  The answer is no and yes.  It won’t really reduce global warming but in areas shaded by the volcanic ash cloud plume there have been occurences of crop failures.

The year without a summer, was 1816 and it was caused by a big volcano erupting and shading the earth with ash along with a reduction of light from the sun (the Dalton Minimum).  It was actually a series of several big volcanoes from 1812 through 1814, four of which had VEI of at least 4.  Then, with the atmosphere primed with dust from these volcanoes, Mount Tambora erupted in 1815 with a VEI of 7.  People reported seeing red snow, sunsets and a persistent fog.  Crops failed or were damaged by frost in the summer of 1815 causing localized famines, disease outbreaks and rainy weather in the northern temperate climates.  Areas of the earth that are tropical reported frosts and crop failures.  So, in comparison, the Icelandic activity taking place is pretty minor.  Interesting reading about both topics in the links below.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/91838474.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo 4.5/5 *

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Steig Larsson was a very enjoyable book.  Larsson does a great job adapting the closed room mystery novel to modern prose.  A CRM is one of those whodunnits where the cast of suspects are somehow isolated.  Agatha Christie usually had them in a spooky manor house during an impenetrable snowstorm or something.  The murderer is always one of those called into the drawing room at the end of the book for the big reveal. 

In this case, the murder was 50 years in the past.  It occurred on an island during an internal when the only bridge to the island was blocked by an accident.  There was no way in and no way out. 

Combine the CRM with a wonderful investigative team and you have a winner.  The girl from the title is one of the investigators and is fantastic psychopathic fun when unleashed on bad guys.  If you are not squeamish about yucky crime scenes, I would recommend this book. But remember, when the girl with the dragon tatoo takes a dislike to you, you should run away.  Fast.  Someday, sometime, somehow you will regret it.  A good read and a movie in theaters now.

Ti Plant

The colorful foliage plant pictured here is called by the common name, Ti Plant, pronounced “TEE”.  It is actually a member of the Lily family, not in any way the kind of Tea you make in a teapot.  Its Latin name is Cordyline fruticosa.  It comes in many horticultural varieties respesenting many pretty colors and textures. 

The colorful Ti plant

 Tea that you brew and drink, is Camellia sinensis.  People get these two plants confused because of the common name Ti and Tea are phonetically pronounced the same, but are not related botanically, or in appearance.  This is what tea looks like.

File:Koeh-025.jpgSee?  They are really not the same at all.

Book Review: An Irish Country Doctor 4/5 *

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor reminds me of the James Herriot book All Creatures Great and Small.  This book takes place in rural Northern Ireland just after World War II, In the little village of Ballybucklebo.  A young inexperienced doctor comes to the village and takes a position as assistant to an established General Practitioner.  Of course the folks in this village are as quirky as the village name.  The experienced Doctor has one nut case after another.  He has various mechanisms to deal with his customers.  Lots of laughs, charming anecdotes, and Irish customs.  Lots of tea.  The book is relatively short and a quick read.  It includes a hardly needed glossary in the back of Irish vocabulary for those unused to using context clues.  Very enjoyable.

Book Review: Beekeeper’s Apprentice 3/5 *

A nice easy read, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King, starts a series of books about Mary Russell.  We start off with the recently retired Sherlock Holmes who has moved to his English countryhouse.  Holmes continued his scientific interest in all things “detective” plus beekeeping.  His character is supposed to be an eccentric genius.  Many experiments on blood types, finger prints, handwriting analysis, etc. go on at his country home. 

Coincidentally, his neighbor, Mary Russell, is an equally eccentric genius.  Mary,however, is a young girl.  They meet while hiking out on the moors.  The meeting is kind of predictable since this is the whole point of the book.  They strike up a conversation and friendship.  They begin to work on detective cases together with Mary as Holmes’ assistant.  The book is an interesting series of situations, and a fun read.

House Plants Outdoors?

Sometimes it is tempting to drag your houseplants outside for the summer.  You think that the sun will be good for them or the rain will make them happy.  I would not recommend it.  There are a few reasons why this may do more harm than good. 

The most important reason houseplants may be damaged outside is that the leaves that have grown inside have just the right amount of chlorophyll, waxy outer layer and toughness to live inside your house.  The leaves grown inside are usually large, soft and not too covered with outer wax.  They have set up the proper amount of chlorophyll or other pigments to protect themselves from UV rays in the house.  They have not been subjected to wind and drying.

If you move them outside, those leaves do not have much chance against UV rays and lots of sun.  They are not robust enough to withstand the tossing wind and elements.  Most of the existing leaves will be damaged or fall off.  Then the plant will have to force out new growth.  That new growth is acclimated to outside conditions and will do well for the short term during summer.  Of course it usually takes about two months or more to go through the loss of the old leaves, being bare and messed up, and then growing some new sprouts of properly conditioned leaves.  About that time, some bug or pest will find them and start messing them up again.  If the leaves do survive to this point, you might think, wow, my plants are looking like they are coming back nicely. Not so fast.  Now the summer dwindles down into early autumn and you have to bring them back inside before frost. 

Once inside again, they have the same acclimation problem in reverse.  Those leaves that have been conditioned outside to receive increased amounts of lights will not be happy inside.  Some species of plants like a Weeping Fig, will even drop most of their leaves on the floor in response to a changed environment.  The existing leaves cannot deal with the low levels of light inside, so they think they will go dormant and wait for spring.  They have to sprout out more leaves that are used to the inside shade. 

So, the best thing to do is to leave them in their normal positions inside the house.  Just keep them as houseplants.  They will do better if they do not have to go through all that leaf damage and shedding.  No outdoor pests will get on them and travel back inside with them in the fall.  The watering will be more even and the temperatures will keep them nice all year round.

New Advances in Cilantro

Here is a good article about why some people do not like cilantro.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/dining/14curious.html?src=me&ref=homepage