Saturday, April 28, 2007

Eating Locally

Not everyone agrees with me, but I do think of North Idaho as a bit of food heaven. I know, having lived in both places, that cities like New York and Los Angeles offer a more vast and greater variety of food, some of it as organic as what I have in North Idaho. I guess the biggest difference here is that I'm so close to the origins of my food. Now, I certainly could not go long without spices, chocolate, cheeses, etc., from faraway places, unlike those mavericks of eating locally, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, who, having read that the ingredients of the North American's typical meal came from 1500 miles away, decided to eat only food grown within a 100 mile range of their home in Vancouver, Canada. I could do the occasional 100-mile dinner or 100-mile day, and I do try to eat locally produced food: Scottish Highland Beef, Yak, game, pigs and lambs raised by friends, eggs, fish, produce and veggies. So, at the height of spring planting, I think about local food, although lacking grain mills, exotic cheeses, and ocean fish, I still stretch beyond my 100 mile limit. But that may change....

Reading last week about all the problems we are currently experiencing with our global food supply, I have become even more concerned about what agribusiness is doing to the global food chain and more convinced than ever that a renewed emphasis on a local and sustainable food supply is not only necessary but attainable as well.

First we discover that the FDA knew for years about the possibility of, and complaints about e-coli in spinach and salmonella in peanut butter. Add that to the terrible situation with tainted pet foods: foods containing melamine which, until the pet food caused kidney failure in pets, was thought to be okay in low quantities. So much for the corporate quality of research for pet food. However, now it turns out that the FDA still thinks melamine in low quantities is not a contaminant for people....but oh, wait, it turns out that it may be, as 6,000 hogs, and perhaps some chickens from China have become "contaminated" by melamine and cyanuric acid. So the hogs will be killed but no word on the chickens....and especially no word on what consumption of these hogs and chickens would mean for people.

Hungry yet?

It turns out that China has been experiencing food contamination problems for some time, and the U.S. is just another case of what happens with poor quality control and product regulation. China's food problems should be worrisome to American consumers, especially those who shop at Wal-Mart, where one can now buy good old American, as well as organic food, imported from China. Thanks to overgrown, huge corporate monopolies, it appears that many of our food products may not only carry the potential to be contaminated, but are not even the product companies say they are! So much for organic!

Finally, I read about how bisphenol A (BPA) leaches from its polycarbonate baby bottle into the milk inside. The FDA knows this and has for years, but has not yet determined if that's bad for people. Right. We all now have BPA in us and many scientists have demonstrated that the chemicals leached from plastic disrupt our endocrine system, as so well-described and documented in first the book, and now the website, Our Stolen Future.

You know, eating locally is beginning to look more and more like something feasible and sensible. I hope that Idaho Democrats absolutely, and all other Idahoans as well, realize how valuable our natural resources, like our agriculture, water, air, forests and more, contribute to Idaho's ability to be a bit of heaven on earth.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day, My Birthday

Most of my friends think it appropriate that I share my birthday with Earth Day. That's because they see me as someone with her feet firmly planted on the ground. And, of course, since this entire conservative town seems to know me as one of the token (that means I'm not afraid to speak up) environmentalists, that contributes to the appropriateness of sharing the day. I also have a good friend whose son has known me for nigh unto 30yrs., who, haven't not seen me for awhile, asked his mother if I was still an "earth mother." No, I don't walk around in long flowered skirts with graying child-flower hair, but I guess having brought him donuts on a regular basis when his mom and I were in graduate school together, somehow made me an earth mother. But the best part about sharing my birthday is that it imparts in me a sense of peacefulness that comes, I think, from my belief that the environment, or Mother Nature, if you will, always carries with it the cycle of life which endures in time. Of course the environment changes, and can change even more because of the human carbon footprint (I think that's a nice euphemism for obsession with economics), but I'm not sure that the result of human activity will destroy the earth; rather, it will destroy human life on earth. That's just a thought, and one which I'll put away for now because I rather enjoy my birthday and I don't allow negative karma to intrude on my day.

No blog for several days because we were at a book sale in Seattle. I think we should have stayed another day because even though the books in our area of specialization were not great, I did feel that I was honing in on the good ones and I could have filled my coffers even more with an extra day. Alas, our plans did not allow the extra day so we flew home yesterday, much to the happiness of our cats and kits.

I did come across a decent first edition of Gregory Bateson's Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. I think that Bateson was probably one of the most brilliant thinkers of this past century, and just hasn't been "found" yet by a greater public audience. Although known in some circles as the man who wooed Margaret Mead while she was in the field in with her husband, Reo Fortune, with the result of Mead leaving Fortune and marrying Bateson, his writings and his intellect are the true trademarks of a thoughtful, innovative and far-sighted career. I just love being able to sell his books.

I also found some other noteworthy firsts: Braudel's two volume set of The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; Levi-Strauss' The Origin of Table Manners; Fawn Brodie's authorized biography of Tolkien (that's for my son); Lewis' The Ship Would Not Travel Due West (couldn't resist because of my years as a sailor); a Fine copy of Cornelisen's Women of the Shadows; and several others. And I bought up several copies of Kenneth Read's The High Valley, a classic as well as a beautifully well-written ethnography of New Guinea. All in all, a good book buying spree.

I finished off my birthday celebration with a delicious dinner: baby lettuce salad with feta cheese, avocado and a sherry vinaigrette; Scottish Highland chuck roast braised in a provencal sauce and served over roasted garlic mashed potatoes; and to accompany, a delicious Argentinian merlot from the Mendoza region. No dessert, however, because while in Seattle I ate way too much of the most ethereal lemon tart from 60th Street Desserts and Delicatessen.
It was so good, that I'm even making lemon/almond tartlets for Monday lunch tomorrow.

Happy Birthday Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Elusive, Perfect Bread Loaf

Monday lunch was pretty good yesterday. I made Navy Bean soup with ham (yup, finally used up the end of the Easter ham), and I thought it was delicious, although I haven't heard back from any of my customers. I must be part Tuscan because I could eat beans almost everyday.... For the before, or after, depending on one's dining pleasure, I also made a green salad with cucumber, sweet onion, Blood Orange, feta cheese and a sherry vinaigrate. Then everyone received a wonderful bread, thanks to A Hunger Artist, made into individual rolls. And for dessert, after much deliberation (more like an incompetent Iron Chef wringing her hands while asking herself what should I make, oh what should I make?), a trifle with chocolate-orange pound cake, triple sec (on the cake), blood orange zabaglione, and whipped cream sweetened with blood orange zest. I could have eaten all that zabablione by myself in one sitting so I gave the extra away. What will power!

About the bread, however. It still didn't have the air pockets, holes, open crumb, or whatever you call it that I want in a bread. It was tasty. And one of my friends said she preferred the white rolls because this bread was a bit chewy. I took that as a great compliment because I've been trying to get some more "chew" in the bread. Everyone else seemed to like it fine, although one person said they couldn't tell the difference. Oh well, we all have our specialities. Anyway, I now have become a bit more obsessive about making the perfect loaf, well, a perfect loaf for my likes, so I turned to some of my cookbooks in an attempt to discover the "hole" problem.

Elizabeth David, one of my favorite food writers (even her cookbooks make delightful reading), proved disappointing only because I couldn't figure out the key word she used for "crumb, holes, or whatever she calls it." This key word bit frustrated me immensely. I must confess that I didn't re-read all of English Bread and Yeast Cookery in my search for air pockets so I imagine that the answer may be in there somewhere. Thus, I somewhat failed myself.

Turning to Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads, I found some descriptions that mentioned those unattainable holes, but, alas, I again found no specific direction. Finally, I picked up Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible, and after finally figuring out that, to her anyway, my air holes are referred to as the "crumb," I did find some suggestions and information on why I didn't have the crumb I sought, and how to get it.

With appropriate bibliographic details (Beranbaum, Rose Levy. 2003. The Bread Bible. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 303), I quote the information:

"One of the great challenges of making rustic loaves is producing the type that boasts big holes, such as the baguette, ciabatta, and pugliese. I have found that what produces this desirable crumb is:

> An acid dough (use of a dough starter and long cool rising)
> Underdeveloped gluten (from less mixing time)
> A high water percentage, to create a very wet dough
> A slow rise
> Gentle shaping
> An overnight rise of the shaped dough in the refrigerator."

Well, I have failed in the acid, mixing time, and gentle shaping categories. I think I can correct all of those, but the gentle shaping will be tough. For me, kneading bread dough is rather meditative. Oh well, sometimes change is good. I was especially encouraged by her suggestions when I read that it took her nine tries before she finally achieved the big holes necessary in ciabatta. Okay, I love to eat bread, so nine tries is actually promising....

The Bread Bible is a very good cookbook, but I will be the first to admit that I am daunted by recipes that go by weight. I don't have a great scale, and, I just cannot see those old Italian grandmothers actually weighing their ingredients. It's somehow anomalous to have to weigh ingredients for something that has been successfully made, without written recipes, for hundreds of years. But maybe, just maybe, since I don't have an old Italian grandmother standing over my shoulder, I'll just have to weigh in order to achieve the perfect loaf. I'll let you know what happens when I try again....

Monday, April 16, 2007

With Deepest Sympathy

Today I am so devastated by the tragic massacre at Virginia Tech, that I can only begin by saying my thoughts, my sympathies, and my heart are with all those who tragically suffered, lost loved ones, and feel lost, themselves, in all attempts to try and come to grips with how, and why, this unbelievable massacre occurred.

I thought, of course, of Columbine, and I cried too after hearing the interview with the father who lost his son in the Columbine shooting, who said it felt like having his heart ripped out. I cried when I heard about a meeting tomorrow "in order to begin the healing process." I doubt that anyone really heals because every emotion returns when another tragedy occurs. I think of all the people looking for answers, and I know that there are both too few and too many lines of reasoning.

And I thought of the kind of world in which we live, where violence has become so pervasive that we stop thinking about it. I am sickened by the animal abuse reported today at The Mountain Goat Report. What kind of person would perform such a sick and evil act? I am sickened by our President, who, after lying in order to start the war in Iraq, called the bombing of one of the oldest cultures, city, and people, "shock and awe." That's right up there with Nazi's putting up the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (work makes you free, or makes freedom), at the entrance to a number of concentration camps. Or the molestation, murder and kidnapping that occurred with the Groene family in Kootenai County. And the ruling that no flag-laden coffins of our fallen soldiers should be shown in any public place. And I could go on and on, and so could so many.

Today I wanted to write about a staple of life, my bread baking activities. Instead, I find myself writing about the loss of life, in a world, that at the moment, seems completely mad.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

North Idaho Democracy Dinner

Last night four Boundary County Democrats (that's me, too) attended the North Idaho Democracy Dinner, which is a yearly Kootenai County Democrat fundraiser. Held at the Coeur d'Alene Casino in Worley, it included a wonderful buffet dinner, an opportunity to chat with a variety of northern Idaho Democrats, and a chance to bid on baskets of treats, donated by individual northern counties with the proceeds going back to the respective county. Now how cool is that!

It was emceed by Councilman Mike Kennedy who brought some humor to the sad state of political affairs in the U.S. today. Mr. Cliffored SiJohn, of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, gave a warm, thoughtful, and inspirational Invocation. The wonderful friendship between the tribe and the Democrats should be an example for counties who do not share a similar relationship. Idaho Democratic Party Chair, Richard Stallings, provided an informative and personable introduction to the main speaker, Jim Hansen. Jim delivered a thought-provoking and motivational speech that spoke to the grassroots. Using his personal background and his recent campaign for Idaho's 2nd District Congressional race, he spoke about the necessity to form grassroots' relationships in every town in Idaho, with as many people as possible. His position, which also forms the philosophical foundation upon which United Vision for Idaho is built, bases itself not on big money hoopla and rich-folk donations, but on whatever it is that individuals can give in order to build a movement and a political way of thinking that begins with people, people at the grassroots. Of course money is also important, as Hillary Clinton has so blatantly pointed out. But I think the U.S. populace is changing, and individuals have become more important than money, just like they should be more important than corporations. Paul Wellstone and Howard Dean, and groups like Moveon, have made this abundantly clear. Grassroots Idaho will turn Idaho blue!

The evening ended with Kootenai Country Chair, Bev Moss, announcing the winners of the 2007 Art Manley Lifetime Achievement Award, Bob and Eileen Riddle, who have, without a doubt, given so much, so often, to the Idaho Democratic Party. Bev also announced the winners of the silent auction baskets. I enjoyed myself and it's always nice to be able to speak with the folks in the party, the potential and announced candidates for upcoming elections, and just other north Idaho Democrats. Given the driving distances amongst the counties, the price of gas, and just about everybody's work schedule, I think the regional communication that has begun amongst the counties will be a real asset for future elections.

I cannot finish without a special thank you to Shelley Landry, the Northern Field Organizer, whose creative thinking provides a new framework in which to voice our Democratic concerns (who else, upon learning that someone is a Republican, would then ask, "But are you a happy Republican?"), the energy enough to constantly touch base with all the counties in District 1 (which runs the length of the state), and, on top of that, get us to begin working not just as individuals, or individual counties, but as a cohesive whole. (Has she been teaching Jim or has he been teaching her????) You go, girl!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An Almost Perfect Bread

Yesterday was Monday Lunch day and I finally had the opportunity to make a terrific loaf of bread from a recipe I originally found at Michael Ruhlman's blog, as posted by guest chef Bob del Grosso. The original recipe, with photos, left me with some questions, so that's what my comments contained. Well, Bob was considerate enough to email me his response, and I'm so happy he did because the bread was very, very tasty. It's still not exactly like the artisan breads I can buy elsewhere, but I'm getting there. Now if I can only learn how to achieve those great air pockets inside the loaf, I'll be very happy.

Anyway, I used the bread to make sandwiches, yes, leftover Easter ham, Swiss cheese, homemade Dijon mayonnaise, and lettuce, served with one of my home-canned dill pickles. Oh, that wasn't the end of lunch. I also made winter squash soup with chipotle pepper. Actually it was a beautiful golden Hubbard squash, that I had bought last fall at the Farmer's Market from my friend, Marsha. I am very impressed that it kept so well, for this long, in my root cellar! I began with a mirepoix, added garlic and a chopped, canned chipotle in adobe sauce, mixed in some flour, then added homemade chicken stock and the pre-cooked squash. Before serving, I mixed in some creme fraiche. I loved it. I hope my customers did too.

Dessert this week was simple: some chewy oatmeal raisin cookies as well as some chocolate chippers. My son had come home from university for Easter and I had to make some of his favorites....

Soon it will be my birthday and I'm finally going to get a digital camera! Once that happens, perhaps I'll also be able to figure out how to add photos to this blog. In the meantime, if you want to see how the bread looks, you'll have to visit Bob's blog, A Hunger Artist. And if you love cooking like I do, check out Ruhlman's blog which receives numerous comments, hosts guests (like Bob del Grosso as well as Anthony Bourdain), and lists his books, all of which I highly recommend. For that matter, I like Bourdain's books as well.

As you can see, cooking is one of my favorite activities so I really like Monday Lunch day....

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Second Civil War

Idaho is rocking with all sorts of political intrigue....

I absolutely cannot believe that after mentioning a RUMOR about a Vandersloot/Larry Craig/Wasden connection, that 43rd State Blues received a "take-down" order from Vandersloot (Melealeuca). Since when are bloggers not allowed to post rumors? What happened to the First Amendment? Does that mean we are not allowed to mention that most of Idaho government knows, and has known for years, about the rumor of Senator Craig's homosexuality? I know our governor has always opposed much, if not all, of the Patriot Act, but when did our first amendment rights disappear? Could someone from the ACLU give me a clue? This sounds more like a science fiction movie, or perhaps even an Orwell novel....

Then, it sounds as if Larry Craig might run, Larry Craig may not run, is some kind of Republican game. Well, it's true that one never knows what sort of mischief Karl Rove has in his Pandora's box.... First we learn over at The Mountain Goat Report that Larry Craig only has $270,000 cash at hand (information from Open Secrets) and that his primary opponent is Robert Vasquez. Other bloggers and news announcements also mention this in articles about former Congressman Larry LaRocco's announcement as a candidate in the upcoming senatorial race for Craig's seat. Then we learn that Craig may actually be considering running for re-election. And finally, we hear about his defense of a guestworker program even though Americans for Better Immigration give him a C- for his immigration voting record. His stance on immigration is more clearly described, vote-by-vote, here. So what will Larry Craig be doing about the 2008 election?

I think we can be more fully informed about Idaho, immigration, and perhaps even Craig's political role in all this, if we take a look at the prescient HBO movie, The Second Civil War. In order to appreciate even more the foresight of the movie, we must also remember the recent Idaho legislation making English Idaho's official language. So much for Idaho's Indian tribes who are having a difficult enough time as it is retaining their native tongues, and so much for our Hispanic communities, and so much for all the other immigrants we have brought into the state. But, as I said, HBO's movie is prescient. Although the plot summary doesn't exactly match current events, the behavior of the governor and the president seem especially apt, and Craig's yes/no stances on immigration fit right in with the movie's plot and its character motivation. Finally, the portrayal of the media couldn't be more appropriate. In short, the US president (Phil Hartman) announces that Pakistani orphans are going to live in Idaho. The Idaho governor (Beau Bridges) says no, and when the orphans arrive, Idaho declares war on the US. The News Media sensationalizes the entire ordeal. This is a comedy, and the writer, Martyn Burke, seemed (to me, anyway), to pick the right state as the setting for this satire. We all need a good laugh once in a while, and this will certainly get you laughing at Idaho's rocking politics....

Thursday, April 5, 2007

How To Cook A Wolf

I'm still catching up on work put aside for a week, but I just had to post a blog today in order to share the wonderful experience I had this morning watching the video posted at IdaBlue. For a good chuckle to lift the spirits, I strongly recommend checking it out.

Moving from one wingnut leader to another (have you watched the video yet?), we have Gov. Otter promising to bid for the first tag to shoot a wolf in Idaho since IDFG lowered the fee to less than $10.00, as well as vetoing a bill to provide any relief from the Idaho grocery tax. Maybe we should just eat wolves in Idaho instead of buying beef at the grocery store.... Desperate times call for desperate measures, and M.F.K. Fisher, writing in 1942 when war shortages were at their worst, took up this task by writing How To Cook A Wolf (also available in a collection titled The Art of Eating). Basically, she demonstrated how to get the most nutrition out of the least amount of food. Perhaps Otter could distribute that book around the state in order for those of us who do not live with his bank account, to at least be able to stretch the foods we can afford into really nutritious albeit scant meals.... Either that, or give us a break on the grocery tax! Indeed, since 29 states do not tax groceries, why not eliminate the grocery tax completely? Oh, perhaps if that happened Idaho would not have enough money to give IACI their regular big tax breaks, and with this administration (take your pick, national or state), big business rules and the individual pays taxes....

Actually, I should be more fair to the citizens of Idaho, because many of them are quite good about stretching their food dollars by supplementing with hunting and gardening. Indeed, I have a neighbor who only eats beef at restaurants: the rest of the year it's game meat. Frankly, I think the game meat is probably much healthier and overrides the worry about mad cow disease and the e coli in store-bought Spinach packages.

One of the many things I love about north Idaho, as those of you have heard several times in this blog, is the availability of great food here. I am impressed by how local people swarm the summer time Farmers' Markets, how much of their own food they raise, and how efficient they are with hunting their own food. In our little town, we only have two Fast Food places, and neither of them is a MacDonald's. I think that's impressive. Of course, I am a big fan of the Slow Food movement. But that's another blog....

Ending on a happier note than wolves and grocery tax slavery, I'd like to steer everyone over to Red State Rebels who observes that the Northwest Progressive Institute bestowed regional awards on our own Idaho bloggers: Grassroots for Grant, IdaBlue, and honorary mention 43rd State Blues. Good job and congratulations! My day will end on the same happy note with which it began!

Monday, April 2, 2007

America's Corporate Mercenaries

Yes, the blog has been empty for the past week because my best friend of 40+ yrs. came to visit me and although I thought I would still write, the time with my friend was too precious to give away. She had never seen north Idaho, or the Canadian Rockies before, so you can imagine how difficult it was to pick and choose the places to visit and how the time was to be spent. In short, we had a fabulous time together and I showed her enough that she definitely wants to return. She also would like me to visit her in Arizona, but, I'm just not one of those desert people. Even in winter the heat would kill me. However, best friends aren't that if there's no reciprocity....

Before my break, my friend, Jo, in southern Idaho, asked that I print some comments she made after reading the previous blog entry on how Mike Simpson feels about supporting our troops. She reminded me that the US is actually supporting two sets of troops in Iraq: our military troops, and the privatized mercenaries working for big, government funded corporations like Blackwater.

Jo says, "One angle of this issue is: who are the troops we are supposed to support with our billions of taxpayer funds? I personally do not support these privatized actors in our Iraq war, and see them as a means for continuing the war. The Dems in Congress are now dealing with Bush's Iraq budget with nary a reservation about mercenaries. They should force Bush to provide an itemized budget instead of the vague junk he sends them that they are reviewing right now! In that case they could cut the funding for mercenaries and up the funding for the US military!"

Much of her information comes from a blog by GDAEman, who writes (and note, an article containing a bibliography just in case someone is in doubt) about these privatized mercenaries. It is an article well worth reading. Jo has highlighted some of the important points in the article and I'll include them here (but please read the article in whole).

GDAEman reports, "...Currently in Iraq, more than 40 percent of the total occupying force comprises private contractors. For President Bush and his political allies, war has become just another industry to be outsourced, with contractors providing a backdoor means of expanding the occupation through the deployment of private armies.In his State of the Union address in last month, Bush mentioned a major new initiative in the U.S. disaster response/reconstruction/war machine: a Civilian Reserve Corps. Bush said: 'Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them.' But this is precisely what the administration has already done, largely behind the backs of the American people and with little congressional input. Private contractors constitute the second-largest force in Iraq, about 100,000 strong, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

...The problem is that firms such as Blackwater rely primarily on large, taxpayer-funded U.S. government contracts to stay in business, not on the business of private sector customers or clients. Blackwater has a $300-million, no-bid contract (from 2003) with the State Department to guard diplomats in Iraq. Thus, tax dollars are used first to pay to train the troops, then to pay them a lot more to do basically the same job with a private contracting firm, and finally to pay hefty profits to the contracting firm.

...Many of the 48,000 U.S.-funded mercenaries in Iraq are not Americans, and their deaths are not tracked by the Labor Department. Blackwater and other U.S.-based military contractors have created a private military melting pot by hiring not only Americans, but also mercenaries from Bosnia, Chile, Colombia, the Filipeans, and South Africa. Many of these soldiers-for-hire are veterans of repressive military regimes, including that of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and South Africa’s former apartheid government. Other recruits are impoverished former military personnel desperate for a paying job (Blackwater has a recruitment center in the Philippines)."

So, think about this. We have Rep. Simpson voting not to provide for our troops, yet he consistently votes the Republican party line when it comes to giving money to big corporations, like all those US corporations in Iraq with their private mercenaries. Now if that isn't an indication that something is very, very wrong with our government, then I don't know what is. And the most annoying part is that so many Democrats are in the pockets of those same, let me now invite all Progressives to move to Idaho....