Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In the Garden with Grandpa

I just got back from an amazing extended weekend at my five year Middlebury College reunion bookended by time with my young-acting grandfather in upstate New York.  By the way he behaves you wouldn’t know he’s 84 years old.  He’s jubilant and astoundingly healthy—he doesn’t even take any pills.

The most wonderful thing he’s done in the past five years with his partner, Gail, is plant a particularly large organic garden on the back lot of his old house.  Together, they have composted, seeded, tilled, planted, pruned and picked an incredible variety of fruits and vegetables.  Gail told me that although they had tomato blight last summer two years ago they donated over 300 pounds of tomatoes to the food bank.  That’s a lot of manual labor for two people expected by society to be blankly staring at a TV screen somewhere, frail and unable to productively contribute to the community.

I feel incredibly lucky to have such a great model of aging right in my family.  If I am blessed to make it that far in life, I can only hope I have half the energy and half of the good health that my grandfather does.  In fact, I think he might have more energy and be in better physical shape than I am at a ripe age of 26.   My grandfather proves that aging, although often categorized as a disease, might slow you down, but it can’t stop you just because you walk a bit slower, see a little worse, are deafer than a goldfish, or have weaker bones or sorer joints. 

Obviously, there is no fountain of youth, but five hours a day with a shovel can definitely slow down the clock.  One study of over 1200 aging Swedish men showed that intense gardening and other leisure activity is correlated with decreased mortality.  These findings positively support that intense physical activity is good at keeping us alive [1].

Yesterday, I was spoiled by a morning of planting, weeding and plucking up young beets, scapes and rhubarb that we crafted into a delicious feast including my favorite beet recipe.  I spent all weekend eating fresh kale from the garden which was sublime and quickly morphed into a delicious raw salad.   Even though I ate this salad two or three times, I couldn’t get enough, and made my own spin on it in my Dallas kitchen by crafting it into a pasta dish.  By simply adding a bit of hot pasta water and the hot pasta, the kale wilted just ever so slightly.  Dinner came together in 15 minutes and I ate it on the porch with a fascinating book, some bossa nova and a couple of glasses of white wine. 

Linguine with wilted kale

4-5 leaves kale chopped into edible pieces
2 cloves raw garlic minced
¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp salt
¼ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup pasta water
½ lb whole wheat linguine

Mix all ingredients expect pasta in large bowl.  Cook pasta as directed.  When done add hot pasta water to kale and then add pasta.  Stir, add extra grated parmesan, salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

Neda Agahi and Marti G. Parker.  Leisure Activities and Mortality: Does Gender Matter? J Aging Health 2008; 20; 855


  1. Wow! Two thumbs up for your Grandpa!
    Hope I can age the same way-

  2. Very nice. Sent you a tweet asking for your input on how I can work on being an awesome grandpa to my first, a six month old granddaughter. I would love to meet yours. He seems, through your eyes, to be a really neat man!

  3. Yay, a new post from Dr. Elizabeth! I hope to be as energetic as your grandfather when I am his age.

  4. Your gramps and his partner sound awesome. And I totally love scapes.