Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mary Oliver

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another Thanksgiving recipe

Sweet Potato Biscuits, adapted from several recipes I found online

Because you can eat these with butter, straight out of the oven. Or you can dip them in your first-course soup. Or you can slice and slip in a bit of cheese. Or save for the next day, with all of the turkey leftovers. Because they are addictively delicious.

3 c. all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
10 Tbs. butter
2 c. mashed sweet potato (about two large potatoes roasted and mashed, with peels discarded)
1/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients and sift together. Cut in butter to make a coarse meal. Stir in sweet potatoes. Add milk and stir until sticky. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and roll to one-half inch thick. Cut with a small cookie cutter or a round glass and put on a greased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart (or: drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheet if you’re pressed for time, like me).

Bake 12-15 minutes until very lightly browned.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fall, Spice and all Things Nice

This was a lazy cloudy, gray Sunday in Seattle. From 8 this morning until 4:30 this afternoon, the sky was the same color, same hue, same temperature, same .... gray. Monotonous clouds. It can be a cozy blanket for a lazy Sunday, no high noon sun calling, or falling dusk to make you fell anxious for the coming Monday.
Around 11, I stepped off the porch for a run, with gloves and a head warmer. Preparing for the cold. It ended up being a comfortable 50 degrees once I got my body temperature up. Down the Burke Gillman, the Montlake Cut was shrouded in gray fog, as I ran across sidewalks covered in fallen orange, yellow and red leaves. Ravenna bungalows have lingering halloween decorations, with eclectic pumpkins sitting on front porches. I am getting ready for a half marathon in February in SF and trying to fit in two of these longer runs a week. Something has morphed about my running patterns, and I find it hard to cut a run shorter than 45 min. I'm afraid my loping, comfortable pace has set in for sure. I need to work in some shorter, faster tempo runs to keep the energy up. After running through campus, past the College Inn, Allen Library, HUB remodel Thomson Hall (the old international studies stomping grounds), past McMahon Hall and the old house on 20th, I crossed the bridge at Ravenna, peering down from the upper branches of the green bridge across Ravenna park. Few bright yellow leaves clung to their perch among gray spindly branches.

An hour and a half run, a warm shower, and the couch welcomed me back.

A steaming, fall supper was in order. And I created a beautiful, petite fall package with a
Stuffed Kabocha Squash with Arabic Lamb Stew
Stuffed Squash with Spiced Brown Rice Stuffing

Brown basmati rice steamed with plenty of sea salt and a splash of turkey broth after all the water cooked off.

A stuffed kabucha squash, hollowed of seeds and goup, brushed with olive oil, salt, and black pepper, holes pricked in the top for steam, and put in the oven (350 degrees) with a large splash of turkey broth to soften the center with steam.

In a sturdy saute pan, three cloves of garlic in olive oil, with half a yellow onion and three stalks of celery. Sautéed and then one large turnip added. Cook down with lid on for 3-5 min. Add turkey broth, black pepper, salt, tumeric, coriander, and cumin. More black pepper (for me :) ) Add chopped Italian parsley (lots). Simmer for 15 min.

Remove squash from oven (should have been in oven for ~ 30 - 40 min). Fill center with brown rice and celery/turnip mixture. Return to oven for another twenty minutes or until squash is soft and easily pierced with a fork.

Removed from the oven, this little package was a steaming, warm salty, spiced with the vibrant sweet orange of the squash. I plan to make this for Thanksgiving weekend for the family, perhaps in place of the acorn squash. I will definitely add mushrooms for the next one. I'm thinking of creating a sweet version (brown rice, or maybe bread crumbs, brown sugar, cranberries, cardamom, cinnamon)

Other things I like recently:

Junip (@ Nuemos on Wednesday!!)
Over the Rhine @ The Triple Door
Looking forward to Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown and Christmas movies
Nordstroms Men's Shoes Department on a busy Sunday afternoon
This group of pictures: figs and cute, homey bakeries.

These designers for clothes to come (x-mas list??!) EMERSON MADE!


A Le Creuset miniature cast iron (.. like a dutch oven)
on sale:

The book I'm reading: Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (perfect for reconsidering Thanksgiving tradition.. Howard Zin's American History is next!)
Toasted Pecans and Maple Syrup
Mulled Wine cut with Apple Cider
Impromptu Apple Crisp for one
Cheese Balls and Four Loco ;)
Pumpkin Donuts and Americano with cinnamon @ Top Pot

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Figgie Pudding, or something like it

Here is a link to a beautiful fig cake. Figs are in season and I am reminded what a gorgeous fruit they are. Trader Joes had a large box of figs, so I needed to put all these fruits to use. We had a day of baking fall treats recently and used caramelized figs in an almond cake. We made our own almond paste and cut the flour with almond meal. Two sticks of butter and six eggs later, we had a delicious marzipan-ish cake that the figs coupled perfectly.

Hoping to make some dense bran muffins soon for breakfasts on the go:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Backpack Cooking

I may be a freak, but I enjoy the thrill of cooking on my Meser Lite Backpacking stove: the excitement of getting the thing lit, the purr of the invisible blue flame, the fact that it can boil a pot of water in t minus three min. Most of all, I appreciate the ability to cook up some warm food when I'm in the middle of nowhere. Most recently, the high reaches of the Sierras and the desolate Oregon coast. For me, it is difficult to beat simultaneously enjoying a cooked meal and a breathtaking view in the some desolate corner of the wilderness. That, and anything tastes delicious after a day of eating nuts and power bars while hiking for 6 + hours. Trust me. The first time I ate canned tuna (the smell, texture, idea of it usually disgusts me) was at 14,000 ft elevation at the base camp to Peru's volcano, El Misti. Mixed in with spaghetti, I thought it was the most delectable thing I'd ever eaten. To this day I've never eaten it since.

This summer, I had several chances to use my nifty stove. 1) Frog Dog's in Brooking's, OR on the first night of the road trip down to Menlo Park from Seattle. Will tried to catch some surf perch with his travel rod, while I toasted the Macrina Bakery seeded baguette purchased in Seattle that morning and grilled up the chicken apple sausages. The fish werent bitting (i'm unsure if Will even had a successful cast) so, unfortunately, we did not enjoy a fried fish that night. Bummer.
My camp stove skills are basic, I actually haven't used it that much. May dad is the real master. Top Chef for sure when it comes to backpacking meals. Dinner is one of my favorite things about backpacking, huddling in boulder notches with a view of a glacier lake, backdrop of granite peaks and a setting sun. This summer's backpacking trip was an absolute triumph. One of the most vivid, dramatic sunsets I have ever seen. With the threat of a thunderstorm gathering over the mountain range north of us, my dad whipped up some couscous with plump morels, chopped jalapenos from his garden and that last of his zucchini harvest from this summer. With the quarter -half stick of butter (its always hard to tell with my father's cooking flair), the mug of couscous with summer veggies was absolutely divine. As I scarfed the hot meal (all backpack eating is scarfing, man v his element, no savoring in survival mode), the Herculean cumulous clouds morphed overhead against the glowing pink/orange sun. We have backpacked in this section of the North Sierra Nevadas ever since I was kid. My dad says its the best place to watch a sunset.. the smog from Sacramento/San Fernando valley makes for an unnaturally vibrant, red/orangish haze as the sun sets. Breathtaking.

The thunderstorm was blown north that night, we were not as lucky the following night. But that is a whole other story entirely. I'll leave it at that, but just say that we did not enjoy a hot meal the second night. It was salami hunks and chedder cheese on fred's bred in the parking lot with the post-pack celebratory beer. Soaking wet and shivering cold, we were just happy to be alive. Lightening storms in the Sierras are scary things.

Mount. Price, Islands Lake, Desolation Wilderness. August, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Reads: Omnivore's Dilemma

In reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, I am more fascinated by the convoluting, economically nonsensical and environmentally disastrous policy of industrial farm supports. Yes, that is an opinionated statement. And a sound policy-debate does not start off with such accusations. I understand--all policies are viewed, and defensible, through a perspective. From the industrialist perspective or the US superpower perspective, farm supports uphold a billion dollar food industry. Food security is a good thing, right? But from my perspective, that holds many of the same viewpoints as Pollan’s, farm supports uphold little more than massive corporate profits for a select few at the cost of the small and middle size family farm.

During college, a combination of classes sparked my interest in American farm policy and its effect on agrarian communities internationally. First, there is the economic consideration of property rights and the positive correlation between legally-enforceable land ownership and farm output. This principal is significant in global south development, making the argument for improved legal systems to empower rural farmers, decrease poverty levels. Secondly, enforceable property rights systems include the recognition of indigenous land ownership to prevent squatting, deforestation and environmental degradation. In economic courses, I also studied the effect of farm size on productivity levels. In some cases, such as Vietnam and parts of Northern Africa, communal land plots increase output levels and policymakers argue to recognize these larger cooperative holdings rather than individual land plots when designing a property rights system. Contrastingly, in much of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, small farms and single-owner land titles are more productive than communal plots. The factors distinguishing these productivity levels are complex and lie in social, historical, and environmental influences.

Pollan makes the argument that, when measured by amount of food produced per acre, small-scale farming can actually be more productive per acre than big farms (161). If Pollan is only considering the US, I do not dismiss this argument after reading about the massive environmental costs of our industrial food system and the amount of tax payer money that supports it. Vendana Shiva contributes a refreshingly simple expose to the American food systems measure of productivity, revealing it is quite embarrassingly unproductive when considering all costs. But the question of productivity, all inputs and costs included, is key in designing a functioning and enforceable property rights systems in this market-driven world.

“The industrial values of specialization, economies of scale, and mechanization wind up crowding out ecological values such as diversity, complexity, and symbiosis” p. 161 “ Joel believes transparency is a more powerful disinfectant than any regulation or technology. It is a compelling idea.” P. 235 I believe that these critiques of our food system have such profound application to issues confronting our society at large, and the sacrifices that a globalized, high-speed, highly-integrated, market-driven system must make in the way of locality, environmental consciousness economic equality. In a capitalist world, there is no such thing as a free lunch. On a well managed farm, there is such a thing as a free lunch… and breakfast, and dinner.

Other IPE classes, including one focusing on the WTO, sparked my interest in the weight of the industrial food industry in the NAFTA Agreement—and the windfall of the agreement in crippling rural Mexican corn farms due to the wave of cheap, subsidized American corn. Passed in 2000, the NAFTA trade flows of subsidized corn from the US have forced Mexican farmers to migrate to urban centers ripe with crime, drugs and little opportunity. The economic disparity faced by many of these populations has exacerbated the drug wars currently devastating the Juarez region of Mexico. ** Source**

While the NAFTA agreement has been screwing over Mexican farmers since the 2000, Pollan argues that the farm support policies have similarly deteriorated the economic well-being of the American farming communities since the late 1970s, though at a more slower and economically convoluted pace.** For a historical account of US farm policies, see Omnivore’s Dilemma page 44-55.

Farming families are often portrayed as the principal beneficiaries of farm subsidies. Attacking farm subsidies has become politically un-American, synonymous to attacking the people that heroically harvest those amber waves of grain. Pollan introduces an alternative viewpoint; that the farm supports negatively convolute the market for corn by forcing prices lower and production levels higher. In effect, exploiting the farmer by systemically cheapening his commodity. ‘Deficiency payments’ handed out to farmers encourage them to produce as much corn as they can, driving the price of corn in the market even lower. Although the price for corn is plummeting, the only possible way for the farmer to retain the same income level is to grow more corn, flooding the market with more surplus. The margin of profit receivable to the farmer decreases, despite the additional subsidy payments from the government, while the corn coffers of some of the world’s largest food buyers (ADM and Cargill, Cargill=the biggest privately held corporation in the world) are flush with tradable commodities. The American farmer is exploited by these policies, not supported.

In writing this, I feel somewhat guilty of ranting like a conspiracy theorist. How can the story be that simple? Big capitalist took growing food from Farm Belt, turned it into a massive industry that is single handedly responsible for the Mexican Drug Wars, America’s obesity problem, global warming, and complacency and corporate money in politics. Pollan’s book sheds light on another deleterious side of the farm supports previously unknown to me—its screwing over of American farmers for corporate profit.

“But since the hey day of corn prices in the early seventies, farm income has steadily declined along with corn prices, forcing millions of farmers deeper into debt and thousands of them into bankruptcy every week.” P. 53

Quote from an Iowan corn farmer, George Naylor, interviewed by Pollan, “The market is telling me to grow corn and soybeans, period.” As is the government, which calculated his various subsidy payments based on the yield of corn.

This economic policy of paying American corn farmers deficiency payments has created this massive ‘mountain of cheap corn” and economy, society and the environment have adjusted to consume it. P. 62

“Taken together these federal payments account for nearly half the income of the average Iowa corn farmer and represent roughly a quarter of the 19$ billion U.S. tax payers spend each year on payments to farmers.” P. 61

** Here, a point should be made about complacency over time, and its centrality in numbing human aversion to change. Pollan has a great section on this point regarding the slaughter of chickens (p.233). This same notion can be used to describe the reason many of us continue to eat factory-farmed beef. Over time, and when everyone is doing it, the system is habituated and accepted as routine. The usurpation of the American food system to an industrial-complex requires this complacency of the public.

“I wasn’t at it long enough for slaughtering chickens to become routine, but the work did begin to feel mechanical, and that feeling, perhaps more than any other, was disconcerting: how quickly you can get used to anything, especially when the people around you think nothing of it. In a way, the most troubling thing about killing chickens is that after a while it is no longer troubling.”

To be honest, this is why our society will never enact an impactful Climate Change Bill and global warming will be cause the end of humanity on earth. Sorry, dismal. Guess I’m a realist.

In light of Pollan’s account of historical Farm Belt politics, the geographic regionalization of partisan politics today becomes even more transparent. Historically, the Farm Belt of America was the most Republican, most traditional, rural populist core of the country. At the turn of the century, the adversary to the small-scale American farmer was Wall Street, who attempted to drive market efficiency and increase production at the expense of the number of family farms the land could support. As documented by Pollan, Wall Street and the policies of Earl Butz in the post Nixon era succeeded in driving up production levels and forcing farmers off their land. Agribusiness became the new method of production and the American small-scale farmer all but disappeared. This demographic shift cannot be ignored when we consider poverty rates in this country, declining middle class and increasing disparities between the rich and poor. The white, previously middle class farmer has undergone an external systemic shock that has curtailed his ability to produce without massive capital investments in large fertilizers, machinery and acreage. According to Naylor, the farm supports policy since the 1970s has stripped American farm families from their source of income. Whole communities have left the Farm Belt for the big city, office jobs, and economic opportunity. High School counselors advise students with good grades to work hard to get a college education, their ticket out of the economically depressed regions. This leaves only the unmotivated, dim-witted children behind to manage the farm. The miny brain drain oscillating right there within the Mid-West. Motivation for Tea Party activism anyone? And why Tea Party activist come across as so dumb-sounding to left-wing liberals.. because it is all the farmers still stuck in the rural, devote Republican regions of the country that did not succeed in leaving over these past thirty years? P.51

Summer Salads!

Summer is cold La Croix, iced coffee, reading books in the sun and lemon popsicles. With this frequency of sedentary sun exposure, heavy meals are not welcome. Tomatoes are luscious and in season and my healthy basil plant is soaking up the summer sun. All the ingredients for Caprese Salads, quickly becoming my lunch time favorite. I bought two, ripe heirlooms a few days back, one a deep golden yellow, one a maroon-ish, green. Simple mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, olive oil, balsamic, and black pepper and a rainbow salad, presto!

Trying to get more leafy greens in my diet, I branched away from the caprese to create the best salad I have ever made. Hands down. I am so proud of this salad, and can’t wait to serve it/eat it again! During a recent trip to Bainbridge Island, I purchased a loaf of Whole Wheat Oat Bread from the Blackbird Bakery. It’s a dense sandwich loaf great for morning toast with a light spread. Even better than that, it’s ideal for homemade croutons. Tossed in olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper, I put one inch cubes of the loaf into the oven on broil for eight min. In the meantime, I cut an apricot and avocado, tossed spinach with olive oil, sprinkled toasted pecans and grated fresh asiago over the salad. Then tossed the hot croutons into the salad (crisp, salty on the outside, soft, chewy on the inside). Finally, I poached an egg and nestled it on the top. The egg yolk added warm richness to the spinach and melded the creamy avocado with the sweet-tart apricot beautifully.

Absolutely, a great salad.

Summer Spinach Salad

One apricot sliced in cubes
Half an avocado, sliced in cubes
Grated Asiago
Toasted Pecans
Homemade Croutons
Poached Egg
Olive oil
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper