Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In the news: We (Europeans) are all one family

DNA research is so interesting! Here's an article that ties us together much more recently than we'd guess - than I guessed.

First, here's an excerpt from the article:

The researchers found that the extent to which two people are related tends to be smaller the farther apart they live, as one might expect. However, even two individuals as far apart as the UK and Turkey are still likely to share all of each other's ancestors from only a thousand years ago.
"What's remarkable about this is how closely everyone is related to each other," said Graham Coop, Professor of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis. "On a genealogical level, everyone in Europe traces back to nearly the same set of ancestors within a thousand years. This was predicted by theory over a decade ago, and we now have concrete evidence from DNA data." Although the data was from Europeans, the same pattern is likely to apply to the rest of the world as well, he added.
Citation: Ralph P, Coop G (2013) The Geography of Recent Genetic Ancestry across Europe. PLoS Biol 11(5): e1001555. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001555

So it says that even an individual in England and another in Turkey "share all each other's ancestors" if we go back 1000 years.

Now here's why I find this so remarkable personally. I have worked really hard to find my ancestors. I have found lines in England that go back to the mid 1500s. I also know about ancestors who came to Massachusetts Bay Colony soon after the first pilgrims in 1620, and these folks were adults when they came. In other words they were born in the late 1500s. 

And that means these ancestors whose names I know and who are connected systematically down to my parents, me, and my kids, were born as much as 600 years ago. And all of them were born in England. 

So that leaves 400 years back to our common ancestor, yours and mine (if you're 100% European). 

Four hundred years is about 12 generations, maybe 16. 

Going back 1000 years, we all have 2 to the 30the power ancestors. Or more likely the 40th power. That's about 1000000000000 ancestors. But in reality there were only about 30 million Europeans, so clearly we were descended from the same couples over and over again - or at least from the same individuals.

There's no way we are going to know for our own family lines how many duplicates there were. Of the 3 or 4 couples I know about from about 1600, I have about 66000 ancestors in 1000AD - but many of those are going to be duplicates.

Somewhere back there our attempt to know all our ancestors loses all meaning! In 1000AD, there were 30 million Europeans. Even though any family could have known the names of some of their lines, the task even over a few hundred years becomes impossible to track. Here is the number of ancestors that you have back just till the American Revolution, a mere 240 years ago, assuming 4 generations per hundred years. (With reproductive age beginning at 16, it could easily have been more generations per hundred years.)

1 - 2   (meaning, 1 generation ago you had 2 ancestors, namely your parents)
2 - 4
3 - 8
4 - 16  (this is how many you had about 100 years ago, or in about 1900. Do you know their names?)
5 - 32
6 - 64
7 - 128
8 - 256 (this is how many ancestors you had about 200 years ago, or in about 1800)
9 - 512 (this is how many ancestors you had who were alive at the time of the American Revolution)

Of course it depends on when you were born and the details of what age they were when they had kids and so on.

But of those 512 ancestors, how many are there whose names you know? How many duplicates were there? Most of us don't know these things going back just 200 years, maybe not even in 100 years.

Now take it back to 1700. That's 2^12 ancestors, or about 4100 ancestors - 3500 more than a century later!

And of these certainly some were duplicates. 

How far did your ancestors travel to find mates? How often did they marry cousins? 

Actually we have some clues about these things. People - unless they were male Vikings - didn't travel far. And they married cousins a lot, most of the time without knowing it.

For our families, though, it's impossible to know these things from the historical record, from any existing written record.

And that's where the DNA record comes in. According to the article mentioned earlier, the same long unvarying strands of DNA - which implies close relationship - occurred in every European (2000 in all) whose DNA was tested!

Bottom line, from the UK to Turkey, we all drew from the same pool of ancestors in 1000AD. The DNA says so.

We're not going to know their names. They're cousins, of that we are now certain. Or I should say we're cousins. WE are. 

(I'm really sorry we can't know the details, I have to say. I really would like to know where I've been all these generations!)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Whole-chicken and garden soup

We've eaten this soup all winter. This is a small variation on Creamy Chicken Soup because when I got home with the cream I found it spoiled. Improvise! (I am not going to make an 8-mile 40-minute round trip for cream.) This soup takes days but very little labor.

Put the whole chicken into the crockpot, cover (or almost cover) with water, set the pot on low, cover with the lid, and plan something else for dinner for the next few days.

When the chicken is thoroughly cooked, after 24-30 hours more or less, lift out pieces of meat for immediate use or freeze them. Discard the skin. Leave the bones and more of the meat in the pot for this recipe. Cook them for one more day.

On the third day, discard the bones and skin. Return any meat to the pot. Add veggies, such as:

  • leftover baked squash
  • dried summer squash pieces
  • dried mushrooms, or fresh
  • leftover mashed potatoes
  • roasted veggies (potatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, etc) - or they can be raw
  • chopped celery, or freeze-dried celery
  • fresh chopped onion
  • good salt to taste
Add water to the rim and return the lid to the crockpot. Let everything cook on high until heated, or on low overnight if the veggies are fresh and need more cooking. 

Using a Vita-Mix, food processor, or wand, homogenize everything that's in the pot.

Serve steaming hot. Add cream (half cup?) just before serving, or at the table.

Serving idea: Heat up some red pepper flakes in a little dish of olive oil in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. Using a teaspoon, drizzle this mixture over the soup in pleasing patterns. Don't mix it in - the variations in taste of hot soup, cold cream, and spicy oil make a nice little culinary adventure.  Serves about 8.

This soup can be the basis of many meals in the days to come, or can be frozen for eating at home or on the road.

No-fry refried beans

This week's Anasazi beans had a wonderful flavor that got better every day. I thought I'd make something similar to be the basis of several meals this week.

I'm out of Anasazi beans but I have plenty of pintos.

Since we're traveling soon, I want to freeze a couple of servings to heat up along the way. A quart of the Southwest Baked Beans are already frozen for the road.

Homemade refries next week means starting the beans now. We won't be able to eat them till at least Day 4. Here's how I make refries that are smooth, creamy, and full of flavor without frying even once!

Day 1 (today, 3 pm) - Measure out the beans (3 cups), rinse them, pick out the broken ones, then cover them with cold water in a big bowl. They're going to grow so they need space.

Day 2 (tomorrow afternoon sometime) - Pour off this water, add fresh, and make sure the beans are covered.

Day 3 (Monday afternoon sometime) - Check the beans to make sure they're beginning to ferment (little bubbles are forming). If not, let them go a while longer. Or if you want, let them go till the next day after rinsing them and making sure they're covered.

Let's say I'll find them fermenting on Monday afternoon and I have time for the next step. Then I'll go ahead and....

Cook them. Pour off the water, put them into a pot, cover them barely with fresh water and cook on low. Don't set the lid down on the pot, but you can tilt it to help keep the heat in.


Cook them in a crock pot the same way, except that you will want to cover them completely.

Cook for about an hour. Check for softness. How quickly they cook will depend on how old the beans are, among other things. You want the cooked beans be creamy. (Some beans never soften that much, but pinto beans as well as others do.)

My old beans cooked for over 4 hours before they looked like good candidates for creamy refries.

Those are the basics. But what I'm going to do is add the same veggies I did with my wonderful Southwestern Baked Bean concoction. These included an onion, several cloves of garlic, and chopped chili peppers. This time I'm using ones I roasted earlier today. You can also add finely chopped carrot - but don't add celery: then you would have savory refried beans, which haven't been invented yet. The veggies should all be added when you begin cooking the beans.

Once the beans (and veggies) are soft and creamy, take the pot off the heat and let the mixture cool a little. Then mash it all up or run it through a food processor or use a wand mixer to homogenize the mixture. Then salt to taste w/ good salt. I used a wand mixer and in about 5 mess-free minutes I had delightfully creamy 'refried' pintos.

Variation: add side pork to the pot of beans when it starts to cook. The amount is up to you, maybe 1/4-1/2 cup, chopped. Or maybe more.

Serve these refries alone, or with cheese, on tacos or burritos or in a bowl with a spoon. 3 cups dry beans makes a lot of refries! You can cut the recipe in half but these are easy to freeze, so why not make enough for planned-overs?

PS - The fresh chilies I bought for this recipe were wimps. I could have used 5 or 6 instead of the two that should have given the beans a decided zest.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Southwest Baked Beans

I wanted to do something with my aging Anasazi beans. They're so beautiful, and have looked great in a special jar I display them in, but they needed to be used before they wouldn't cook up tender anymore.

So I looked up recipes online, and kept running into baked beans. I love baked beans!

But these are Anasazi beans and deserve a Southwestern presentation. So last night I adapted a baked bean recipe to Anasazis. The result is something that is clearly a cousin to Boston Baked Beans, but is also distinctively Southwestern.

Southwestern Baked Beans

2 cups beans - I used Anasazi, but other beans that stay firm would do. Rinse then cover the beans in water. Soak for 24-48 hours, then cook on low in a crockpot for another half-day or day or so. I used the same water so I wouldn't lose nutrients.

3-4 strips good quality thick bacon or side pork.

Line the bottom of a large glass brownie pan (9x13 works) with the bacon, then pour the beans, including liquid, over it.

1 large onion, 5 cloves garlic, 1/2-1 cup medium-heat chilies (roasted or canned or freeze-dried), carrots (optional)

Chop a large onion into dime-sized pieces, dice the garlic fine or smash, chop the chilies fine, grate the carrots if you want to use them.

Add all these veggies to the top of the baking dish. Don't stir yet.

1 - 1 1/2 cups tomatoes: Use canned crushed, diced fresh, or sauce. Pour the tomatoes over everything else.

Salt is optional. I use a good quality salt called Real Salt. Sprinkle on whatever your taste suggests.

Now stir. Be careful not to disturb the bacon. You want the veggies underwater (or under tomato sauce). You don't need to make it uniform - a light top-stirring will do.

Put in a 275 degree oven - no need to preheat. Check it after 2-3 hours, and if the top is drying out, top-stir to moisten everything. If the liquid is thick at this point, add water.

Continue cooking until a deep and pleasant aroma escapes the oven next time you look. You want the onions to be cooked well and the sauce to be somewhat thick. (It won't thicken all the way till it cools off.) Remove it from the oven. Total cooking time is perhaps 4 hours. Resist eating until mealtime despite the amazing vapors. Or go ahead and try some. Hmmm!

When you serve it, stir in the bacon, breaking up the pieces as needed. If you love bacon, you can also top the whole panful after adding the tomatoes and let it cook right on top. This first time I used side pork, which was rather chunky, so it's blended throughout the beans now.

I'm packaging half of it for the freezer. Serves about 4-6, and makes a meal if you've added the carrots.