All posts by Smruti Shankar_Nutritionist

Sankranti: Reaping the Health Benefits of the Harvest

Sankranti? Then it’s time for sesame sweets and kite flying. This harvest festival is celebrated across the different regions in different ways as – Makara Sankranti, Suggi, Lohri, Maghi, Pongal, Magh/Bhogali Bihu, Uttarayan, Magha Saaji, Kicheri and so on.

The significance lies in the delicacies prepared to mark the occasion. Let’s have a look at what Sankranti brings to the table for us. Down south, this festival is celebrated by cooking pongal and sharing ellu-bella and sugarcane.

Elite Ellu-bella

Courtesy: Sizzling Tastebuds
Courtesy: Sizzling Tastebuds

It is a blend of white sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, dried coconut, jaggery and roasted Bengal gram. No doubt it’s a nutrient treasure trove. Take a look

  • Dried coconut, peanuts and sesame seeds provide the much need fats essential to combat the dry, cold winter.
  • While sesame seeds provide zinc, copper and vitamin E-like compounds, coconut provides lauric acid that keeps illness at bay by making the immunity strong and mighty.
  • Sesame seeds and peanuts are winter harvests that keep the body warm. Winters are the time of heart trouble and these two foods do their part by promoting heart health as well.
  • Jaggery gives the much-needed energy boost and the Bengal gram adds the protein power.

Maybe not exactly as ellu-bella, but across all the regions, sesame and jaggery are feasted on during this time and now we know why.

Sweet Benefits of Sugarcane

Munching on sugarcane naturally cleanses the teeth, strengthens gums and gets rid of bad breath. Apart from the extra energy you need to keep the body temperatures up and going, sugarcane is rich in flavonoids that have antioxidant action (attack and destroy chemicals that harm our body). It is also a superfood that protects the liver!

Courtesy: Cook with Smile
Courtesy: Cook with Smile

Sugarcane is the bumper harvest of this festival. Since it cannot be stored for long, it is preserved as jaggery and sakkare achchu (sugar figures).

Promising Pongal

Another popular delicacy of this festival is pongal or kichadi which is a blend of rice, dal and ghee. This nourishes the body with ample amount of energy, protein and good fats. The sweet version of Pongal is made by adding jaggery.

As Sankranti is a harvest festival, each region celebrates by cooking, sharing and eating the local harvest. Local and seasonal foods are always healthy. As a matter of fact, you will notice that all the delicacies prepared for this festival are perfect for the winter – to keep your energy levels high, body warm and immunity at its best.

New Year Resolutions for Parents to Raise Healthier and Happier Kids

New-year? Time for resolutions. We all think of starting the year fresh, develop new healthy habits or exercise more. And if you’re a parent, you’re sure to think of how to make your child more active or how to improve your child’s general health. Here are some resolutions that can help you to take charge of your child’s health.

Let the little ones grab enough ZZZZs

Sleep plays a critical role in a child’s growth and development. Moreover, sleep deprivation may lead to reduced concentration, difficulty learning and retaining new information, and may make the child hyper or moody. Make sure to set a strict bedtime to develop a healthy sleep pattern.

Breakfast is the only way to start the day the right way

A hearty nutritious breakfast is the much-needed fuel to restart the engine of the car after a night’s halt-over hence the name ‘break-fast’. It kick-starts the body’s metabolism and refuels the body’s glucose stores. Studies have shown that breakfast improves kids’ attention span, concentration, and memory. It prevents irritability, fatigue, and restlessness.

Be a role model for right eating habits

Eating together as a family is how children learn to make healthy food choices. It also gives you a chance to set an example as children mimic and learn from their parents. When all family members follow a healthy meal pattern (3 meals and 2 snacks) with appropriate meal timings, the child adopts the same.

Make nutrition a part of their life

Children are more open to trying new foods when involved in the cooking process. Give them more ownership – take them with you to the grocery store and let them pick out. It is an opportunity to educate how to differentiate between good and bad food items and to read nutrition labels. You can even ask them to help stock the refrigerator with healthy options.

Have your kids play a role in prepping foods and ask them to choose recipes for meals. Make them in charge of choosing the veggies or fruits based on their favourite colours. Let them know why their choice of food is good for health. How about a kitchen garden? Include the children in planting and maintaining the garden. They will love to learn about the foods grown by them.

Eating in the right way

Eating doesn’t mean gobbling down food nor is it okay for children to push food around their plate. Make sure mealtimes are a family affair. Screen time (like TV, mobile use, video games) during meals must be avoided as they do not concentrate on the food and may end up binge eating. Unplug and create a device-free zone or time where all family members set aside their respective devices.

Sweat it along with the little ninjas

Last but not the least, don’t forget that food and exercise go hand in hand. Encourage more activity by getting the entire family involved. Activity doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym, it can be a game of football, running and catching, or how about some fun family contests?

Christmas Special: Drinks for Kids

Tis the season to be jolly and why not. Here are two winter special drinks that are perfect to whip up for the little elves to enjoy at the Christmas party.

SPICED APPLE CIDER

shutterstock_475134241

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

4 – 5 medium-sized Apples

½ liter Water

1 small-sized Orange

1 (3/4-inch) piece Fresh Ginger

2 (2-inch) Cinnamon Sticks

½ tsp Cloves

Orange slices (for serving, optional)

Method

  • In a pressure cooker, add the water and sliced apples and cook for 4 – 5 whistles. Cool and blend well.
  • Pour this juice into a vessel.
  • Cut the orange into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and the ginger into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Add both to the juice.
  • Add the cinnamon sticks and cloves. (To make it easier to serve, place the cloves in a muslin cloth and tie it up with kitchen twine).
  • Simmer over low flame for an hour. Remove the ginger and orange slices and spices.
  • Keep warm and serve in mugs garnished with orange slices.

 

PUMPKIN PIE LATTE

shutterstock_714132208

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

For pumpkin pie spice:

1 tbsp Ground Cinnamon

2 tsp Ground Ginger

1/2 tsp Ground Cloves

1 tsp Ground Nutmeg

1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper

 

For latte:

1/2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice

2 tbsp Pumpkin Puree

2 tbsp Honey

1 ½ cups Milk

2 tbsp Vanilla Extract

Whipped cream for serving (optional)

Method

  • To a small saucepan add the spice, pumpkin puree and honey. Cook over medium heat, while constantly stirring until it starts to simmer (approx. 45 seconds).
  • Add the milk and vanilla extract and bring to a slight simmer while constantly stirring.
  • Using a blender/mixer blend until frothy.
  • Divide the mixture between two glasses. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of the spice mix.

Foods for a Warmer Winter

As the little ones sniffle, sneeze and shiver this ice-kissed winter, we’d like to offer some warmth apart from those itchy woollen sweaters, monkey-caps and hand warmers. We share some foods that keep them warm this winter. However, the relationship between food and winter goes beyond keeping us warm.

Winter – Food – Our Body

Winter is the time our hunger shifts into high gear. And this is justified because as the temperatures drop, our metabolism slows down and consequently our body temperature goes down. Eating helps kick-up the metabolism, generate heat to keep you warm and also nourish the body.

While nothing can completely stop a cold in the killing, a healthy immune system can help you battle the germs that cause cold and flu. But if you still have bad luck and end up catching a cold, a healthy immune system helps reduce the duration and severity of the cold.

Foods for Warmth and Strength

Foods that pack a punch of energy and/or protein are the right kind of fuel to combat the cold temperature. Whole grains such as maize (makkai) and millets (bajra, ragi, jowar etc) are warming and energizing. Don’t miss out on having makkai roti, or the Gujarati winter delicacy – Ponkh (tender jowar). Another source of energy is roots and tubers such as carrot, potatoes, sweet potato, and yam. Radish, beets, turnips, onion and garlic additionally provide phytochemicals and strong flavours that pep up the taste of food.

Protein-packed pulses, lentils, beans and nuts like pigeon pea, broad beans, green peas, and groundnuts are winter specialities. Groundnuts offer good fats as well! Speaking of fats, ghee is not only high-energy but a source of essential fats that nourish the skin. Sweets are a good for winter as they are rich in energy, fat, and protein (if it is dal based). Gajar ka halwa, moong dal halwa, besan ladoos are popular.

Coming to fruits and vegetables. Papaya and pineapple are the warmth providing fruits. Hearty winter greens like methi (fenugreek leaves), palak (spinach leaves), sarsoon (mustard leaves), amaranth, mint, and radish greens are high in vitamins A, C and minerals like iron and calcium. These vitamins are antioxidants that amp up immunity.

In this context, a special mention goes to Amla, one of the richest sources of vitamin C. No wonder amla juice and amla muraba are plentiful during winter. Tulsi, turmeric, and ginger are the other immunity boosters which not only have anti-microbial properties but also keep the body warm.

Spices provide warmth and immunity apart from flavouring food. Hot liquids like herbal teas or soups with spices, ginger, and the like are perfect to combat the winter. Last but not the least dates and sesame seeds are warm in nature and are highly recommended in the winter months due to their energy, fat, and micronutrient content. Indulge in dry fruit ladoos, dates burfis or til chikkis guilt free. All said and done, remember moderation is the cornerstone of eating right.

Yin and Yang of Tea

It All Starts With Camellia Sinensis

An ancient health brew, tea is a decoction of the Camellia sinensis leaves. If you’re wondering what decoctions or hot water infusions of herbs or any plant material such as flowers, fruits, roots or twigs are, then the term is “herbal tea”. This article will focus on the true Camellia sinensis teas.

Here’s a quick look at the types of tea and their caffeine content.

tea-01

 

The Wonders of Tea

Lay your hands on health magazine today, you’d most probably end up reading an article about the health benefits of tea. People around the globe have embraced this beverage since paramount research backs up its impressive health benefits.

Polyphenols are the powerhouse in tea that contribute to taste and health. Taste of the drink through tannins and health through a class of flavonoid called catechins (EGCG, Epigallocatechin gallate-3) that counteracts reactions which cause cell damage and subsequent disease.

Tea improves blood pressure and blood vessels functioning thereby reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Green tea is beneficial for weight loss through increased energy expenditure, fat oxidation, and reduced calorie intake (substituting tea with soft drinks). Research highlights bone building benefits as well, by improving the formation of new bone as well as by decreasing the degradation of existing bone. Catechins and theanine in tea boost immune function.

For ages, tea has earned a spot for cognitive benefits like mental clarity and concentration. Tea was used by early monks to aid in their meditation practice as it prevented them from falling asleep. These benefits are attributed to tea components – caffeine and theanine.

Are You Reading The Tea Leaves Right?

Although tea may offer a wide array of benefits none of us has thought whether it’s the same for children. Recent Indian-based studies highlighted that caffeine consumption has been constantly growing in India especially among children and adolescents. In fact, the researchers pointed out a probability of higher caffeine intake in urban Indian adolescents compared to the worldwide data!

Interestingly, tea/coffee contributed to more than 50% of the caffeine intake while cola beverages, chocolates, and energy drinks contributed to the remaining. The most common reasons for consumption were to keep more alert and to combat drowsiness. If you have been allowing your kids to drink tea or coffee to kick-start their day, then you might want to stop this right away.

Proper sleep is quintessential during childhood and adolescence since it is a period of rapid growth and brain development. But get this – the vicious cycle of caffeine – used to disrupt sleep – leads to fatigue – caffeine is used again to counteract the fatigue. This perpetuates poor sleep patterns and heightened caffeine consumption.

Some animal research suggests that caffeine can potentiate drug addiction. Studies show moderate to high doses of caffeine (approx. 100 – 400 mg) results in increased incidence of nervousness, jitteriness, fidgetiness, and less incidence of sluggishness in children and adolescents.

In a nutshell, effects of caffeine on children and adolescents are different from those seen in adults. Excessive caffeine intake has an adverse impact on health in terms of optimal sleep, overall growth and development, and the risk for engaging in risky behaviours.

Deworming: Worm-free Children, Healthy Children

Worm infection in school children is more common than you think, as a matter of fact, they typically have the highest burden of worm infection than other age-group. Infection is caused by soil-transmitted helminths. The main types of parasitic worms that infect humans are:

1  ‘Ascaris’ the assassin (Roundworm)

2   ‘Trichuris’ the terrorist (Whipworm)

3  Noxious ‘Necator’ (Hookworm)

 

How do the worms wriggle their way into the body?

These parasitic worms make their way into our bodies as eggs, which are passed in the stools/faeces of infected people. Once in the gut (intestine), the eggs hatch to grow into adult worms where they produce thousands of eggs each day. In areas that lack adequate sanitation, these eggs contaminate the soil and in turn infect humans. This can happen in several ways:

5Contaminated vegetables and fruits that are not carefully  cooked, washed or peeled

7 Contaminated water sources and vessels washed with this water

6Ingestion of eggs by children who play in the contaminated soil and then put their hands in their mouths without washing them

Speaking of soil, hookworm eggs hatch in the soil, the mature larvae can actively penetrate the skin. Therefore, hookworm infection is primarily by walking barefoot on the contaminated soil. There is no direct person-to-person transmission, or infection from fresh faeces because eggs passed in faeces need about 3 weeks to mature in the soil before they become infective.

 Let’s dig deep and look at how these worms affect the body……

Worm infection has an adverse impact on the child’s nutritional status in multiple ways. Take a look –

  • Worms feed on host tissues, including blood leading to a loss of iron and protein.
  • Moreover, hookworms cause chronic blood loss in the gut that can result in anaemia.
  • Not only do worms increase malabsorption of nutrients but roundworms specifically compete for vitamin A in the gut.
  • Some worms cause loss of appetite and, therefore, a reduction of nutritional intake and physical fitness.
  • Few parasitic worms can even cause diarrhoea and dysentery.

On the whole, worm infections can result in anaemia, malnourishment, impaired mental (cognitive) and physical development (growth). Thus it can pose a serious threat to children’s health, education (like reduced school attendance and performance) and productivity.

Also, take a look at the symptoms of worm infection in kids.

 symptoms-of-worm-infestation-in-kids_poster

Quick tips on how to prevent & control worm infection…

Children need to be educated to wash hands with soap especially before and after using the toilet and eating; keep nails short and clean; wear shoes/slippers; drink clean water; keep their surroundings clean and not defecate in the open. Bear in mind that fruits and vegetables need to be washed well, in clean water and to always keep food covered.

It is very important in to make sure your child is dewormed regularly. Do contact your child’s paediatrician or physician for the same.

Disclaimer: The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and/or diet.

 

Juice Is Better Than Soda

Let’s squeeze the truth out of this juice myth.

With soda being damned for its high sugar content and ill-effects on health, juices started gaining more popularity. Well, you can’t blame people because terms like ‘100% fruit’, ‘natural’, ‘no preservatives’, ‘no added sugar’ etc were used to deceive them.

The fact is the fruit juices found on the shelves are also loaded with sugar. A small amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants do not compensate for the high sugar content and lack of fiber.

Did you know…..?

The juice after being extracted from the fruit is massively oxygenated and undergo loads of processing before they are packaged. If they claim not to add preservatives, this is thanks to tetra-packing. But then again this requires the juice to undergo pasteurization or an equivalent process to ensure it does not spoil.

As a matter of fact, a loss in flavor and colour due to processing is compensated by the addition of sugar, ‘permitted’ artificial flavours and colours.

Learn from the labels

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Notice a few details:

  • Including natural fruit sugars (not only natural fruit sugars, so there is added sugar – check the ingredients!)
  • Presence of additives like – acidity regulator, stabilizer, colour and flavor
  • Natural colour 160a (i) translated to While 160(a) is carotenes, the (i) beside it is assigned to ‘Carotenes, beta-, synthetic’
  • Nature identical flavouring substances are still not natural

Bittersweet truth

Fruits contain sugar, without a doubt. However, it also contains loads of fiber. This is beneficial in two ways – fiber fills your stomach so there is no question of overeating, and second is that the fiber ensures that the sugar is gradually used by the body.

On the other hand, juices lack fiber and it’s easy to consume large amounts of these ‘liquid sugars’. Long-term consumption of large amounts of sugar, artificial flavours and colours, and preservatives definitely takes a toll on the body and directly or indirectly lead to lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart problems and the like. Don’t forget caries that accompany sugar!

Now what….

If you’re thinking that the way out is to make juices at home, stop right there. Most of us still sieve the pulp out, add heaps of sugar and chug it down in the name of fresh fruit juice. We have been hardwired that juices are sweet so most of us cannot do without it.

Instead of juice, enjoy fruit whole. That way, you also get all the fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found naturally in the fruit. Then again if some of us are willing to juice the fruit, retain the pulp and leave out the sugar then go ahead. Otherwise, juices can be savoured occasionally, and you definitely can’t add a health halo to it.

Eat, Drink And Be Thankful

After Halloween and pumpkins, we couldn’t resist talking about Thanksgiving because they are after all the three musketeers. Thanksgiving (Day), is a public holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States.

A Day To Be Grateful: What’s That About?

Thanksgiving is a holiday feast that we can track back to November 1621. History says that first Thanksgiving was an autumn harvest celebration by Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians who had newly colonized in Plymouth.

Thanksgiving Feast: Then & Now

Since it was a harvest celebration, locally grown grains, fruits and vegetables along with the bounty of hunting made their way to the first Thanksgiving feast. Today, the famous banquet includes roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. But these didn’t earn a place at the table until later in the holiday’s 400-year history.

Surprise surprise, Turkey was not the centrepiece of the meal! The colonists ate wildfowls such as ducks, geese, and swans; and the wild turkey was one such fowl. Also, instead of bread-based stuffing, herbs, onions and/or nuts were part of the recipe to make the birds extra flavorful.

Fun Food Fact: It seems that turkey was the victim of a common complaint ‘feeling drowsy after Thanksgiving meal’ as it contains tryptophan, an amino acid with a somnolent effect. But research highlighted that carbohydrate-rich sides and desserts are the ones that aid tryptophan to make way for the brain.

Speaking of meat, culinary historians believe that hunting also included deer and venison which were used to whip up a hearty stew. The colonists and Wampanoag also probably ate seafood like lobster, bass, clams, and mussels.

Local vegetables such as onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and peas were used. The bumper crop was corn, consumed as cornmeal or porridge. Indigenous fruits were berries and plums, no wonder the Native Americans ate and used cranberries as a natural dye. However it wasn’t eaten as a sauce, this tradition started about 50 years later.

Potatoes of any kind, in any form, were not part of the meal. But pumpkins and quashes were definitely on the indigenous list. Of course, the colonists definitely lacked butter and wheat flour required to bake pies! Besides the settlers hadn’t yet constructed an oven for baking. So custards were more probable.

So how did the modern Thanksgiving banquet turn out to be this way? Here’s the final tit-bit on the Thanksgiving front. Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of the famous nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” started campaigning (in the 1800s) to establish Thanksgiving as an annual event. As a part of her campaign, Hale circulated Thanksgiving recipes and menus which make up today’s feast! Ironically lamb was not on the menu 😉

Start Them Young: Right Eating Habits

Childhood is the period of habit formation and learning, so it is important to ensure our children develop the right eating habits during the early years. Here’s a quick guide on do’s and don’ts to help inculcate healthy eating habits in children.

GO AHEAD

Hand washing: Encourage your children to wash hands before meals to prevent infections (read more about this at http://blog.monkeybox.in/2017/10/14/scrub-em-clean-clean-hands-are-safe-hands/).

Family Meals: Eating together as a family is how children learn to make healthy food choices. It also gives you a chance to set an example as children mimic and learn from their parents.

Meal pattern & timings: When all family members follow a healthy meal pattern (3 meals and 2 snacks) with appropriate meal timings, the child adopts the same.

Balanced meals: Apart from rice, chapathi, noodles or pasta (carbohydrates), make sure to include some form of protein (pulses, lentils, dairy, soy, lean meats or egg) and a rainbow of veggies and fruits as a part of every main meal.

Hydration: Most children guzzle down large amounts of water just before/after meals or after their play-time. Teach children to sip water throughout the day. During meals, if children have a tendency to fill up on water, restrict the amount of water they are allowed to sip during the meal.

Dunk the junk: Once they are back from school, children rampage the house for food. This is when they are most likely to pick up junk food. But remember kids choose from what they have access to. So if they have healthy snack options (hung curds, vegetable fingers with hummus, fruit bowl) within their reach, you can wean them off junk food.

Pre-sport snack: It’s important to boost children with some ‘good’ carbs and protein before their play and sports. This ensures a constant supply of energy throughout their sport and enhances their performances and endurance (get more insight at http://blog.monkeybox.in/2017/08/29/make-sure-your-budding-athlete-eats-like-a-champion/).

 

STOP RIGHT THERE

Clean the plate rule: Most of us were brought up with this rule. But let children stop eating when they feel full. They must listen to their own bodies and acknowledge the feelings of fullness to prevent over-eating. Teach them correct portion-size and portion control as most restaurants and packed foods have led to portion distortion.

Screen-time during meals: Watching TV, using the mobile or playing video games while eating has shown to contribute to obesity. Since children are not seeing what they eat, not only do they not enjoy what they eat but also lose track of how much they eat.

Food as love: Never use food to show affection or reward children. This can lead to an unhealthy attitude towards food and children may resort to food during stressful periods. Also, do not restrict any food items (like chocolates and sweets) but teach children how to eat in moderation.

Apart from these tips and tricks, ensure your child is dewormed. Otherwise eating well would equate to filling bottomless pit since the worms feed on the food and children may end up with deficiencies.

Oh My Gourd: The Pumpkin

This winter squash is more than just a vegetable to carve out Jack-‘o-lanterns. Post-Halloween we are still hung up on pumpkins and why not? Find out why.

The Healthy Orange All-Rounder

Hailing from the family of cucumbers and melons, pumpkin is technically a fruit since it contains seeds. However, in terms of nutrition, it’s more like a vegetable! Pumpkin’s health benefits are thanks to its micronutrient content and the fact that it’s a fiber-filled, low-carb fruit.

Pumpkin provides a hefty dose of beta-carotene. Apart from that antioxidant it also contains vitamins C and E. It is a good source of B-complex vitamins and minerals like copper and potassium. Pumpkin seeds are tiny packets of nutrient power-house. They are rich in protein, fiber, zinc, and magnesium.

Its nutritional make-up makes pumpkin beneficial for immunity, skin and eye health and can help combat health issues like heart-diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and obesity.

More Than Just Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin isn’t the hero of just pumpkin pies or pumpkin spice. Traditionally, our Indian dishes incorporate white and orange pumpkin as a part of sambars, subzis, sweets and more. This veggie is so versatile that it goes well with traditional cooking as well as for global cuisines.

Get a load of these dishes across the various states:

  • Mangalorean Style Kuvalyacho Pollav (Yellow Pumpkin Curry)
  • Odiya Style Chana Dal With Potato & Pumpkin Curry
  • Goan Pumpkin Sabzi
  • Manjal Poosanikai Sambar (Yellow Pumpkin in Toor Dal)
  • Kerala Pumpkin Pachadi (Parangikai Pachadi)
  • Kerala Kootu Curry (Pumpkin with Desi Channa or Black Eyed Beans in Spicy Coconut)
  • Kumror/Kaddu Posto (Spiced Pumpkin with Poppy Seeds and Tomatoes )
  • Lahsuni Dal Tadka (Moong Dal with Pumpkin)
  • Parangikai Payasam

On the international front pumpkin can be used to make hummus, soups, ravioli, risotto, and ice cream. We can even get creative to use it in making flourless pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie protein no-bake bites.

And if you have bowled the gourd clean, you’re sure to end up with power-packed seeds. Here’s how you can incorporate them into your diet:

  • Roast them to the perfect crunch and toss with some spices like cayenne pepper
  • Top your salad with pumpkin seeds for the crunch in every bite
  • Chomp on some pumpkin seeds brittles (chikkis)
  • Make a unique salad dressing with pumpkin seeds, garlic, parsley, coriander, olive oil and lime juice!

So what are you waiting for, grab that gourd and enjoy.