Saturday, April 26, 2008
On the seder plate:
--Parsley and lettuce from our garden for the karpas and chazeret, symbols partly of spring
--Charoset made from local apples, walnuts, honey, and a little leftover sweet local wine. Since we could not source local raisins, we just left them out of the recipe and everything turned out just fine.
--Local horseradish for the maror.
--a local egg from our Amish dealer--beitzah
--a non-local beet to stand in the place of the z'roa, or shankbone.
* * *
For our all-local dinner, we had a gorgeous leg of lamb rubbed with garlic and rosemary. Many Ashkenazic Jews do not eat lamb on Passover, and many Sephardic Jews define it as the food of choice during Passover. We, like many American Jews, don't typically serve it the first night but enjoy it later in the holiday.
We also had baked potatoes with fresh sour cream as well as a stir-fried medley of onions, mushrooms, and rapini. (I've always called rapini by its other name, broccoli raab--but my father-in-law does not eat broccoli so it seemed the name switch was in order.)
For dessert: chocolate ice-cream from our Amish dairy supplier made with his milk, cream, and eggs, a neighbor's maple syrup, and non-local chocolate. What a sweet finish!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Unfortunately, I cannot share information or pictures because this knitting project is intended to be a winter holiday present for a dear friend who lives in Wisconsin (who I think reads this blog--hi there!--and would have her surprise ruined if she saw).
If you're set up on Ravelry, take a look--and cast on for yourself (especially if you live in a cold climate). If you are not signed up for Ravelry and you want to know what I am talking about, email me.
This knit is really interesting and entertaining to watch come off the needles!
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
We had a salad made of mache, pea shoots, sorrel, arugula, and radish tops--topped with slivers of French Breakfast radishes:
The main course, gobbled down before we could get a picture, was chicken breasts cooked with cream, ramps, and morels. On the side: the season's first asparagus!
These are the tastes of warmth of Spring.
* * *
I've also produced some warmth to provide for a young friend--a little more quickly than I planned, since I need the needles for another project.
I finished the last few rows of the Heartland Lace Shawl (designed by Evelyn Clark and published in the amazing magazine Wild Fibers) at tonight's knitting group--and will block it next week after David's parents leave. Although the lace was designed for luxurious Buffalo yarn, I used two skeins of ultra-cheap Knitpicks....
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
At the beginning of each hour, an announcer comes on saying, "Major funding for the great depression was provided by ... the annual support of viewers like you."
Hm. Guess we didn't help enough then. Makes me want to give a little more....
Monday, April 21, 2008
* * *
Perhaps the most famous photograph of the Depression era was taken by Dorothea Lange.
This photograph shows Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California. Lange was concluding a month of photographing migratory farm labor for the Resettlement Administration (part of FDR's New Deal). In 1960, the photographer recalled her experience:
I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).
There are a handful of other portraits of this "Migrant Mother," including this one, one of my favorites. Here, the mother seems so self-reliant:
You can learn more about Florence Owens Thompson and her family at this site.
* * *
Lange took many other very powerful photographs during the depression. Her work, paid for by the federal government, helped those who held political office see what was happening to the nation.
* * *
I recently read a wonderful introduction to the Great Depression: Victoria Sherrow's Hardship and Hope, written for readers in the seventh grade and up. It is a great place to start even if you're an adult, if you want a very succinct readable account.
In some ways following in the footsteps of such giants as Agee, Walker, and Lange, the author of this short book seeks to show that the survivors of the tragedy of the Depression years were strong and dignified.
She also points out some positive aspects of the lean years: families and communities had to rely on each other and on their own creativity. People relied on telling stories, singing songs, playing sports themselves, or playing cards. Children created rolling toys from scrap lumber and discarded roller-skate wheels or dolls from cardboard and old cut-up magazines. A few marbles, a dime, or an orange could be an appreciated birthday gift. How many children would be satisfied that way today?
The book ends on a relatively happy note suggesting that much of what caused the Great Depression would be unlikely to happen today. One of her concluding remarks is that "the distribution of wealth has changed in America although there are still enormous gaps between rich and poor. No longer is 40 percent of the nation's wealth held by only 5 percent of all Americans."
* * *
Her confident statement surprised me. After an improvement in the wealth distribution numbers after World War II, the country had a fairly sharp increase in wealth inequality dating back to 1975 or 1976.
The top one percent owned 38 percent of all wealth.
The top five percent owned 59 percent,
and the top 20% owned 80% of the country's wealth.
And in 1997, ONE MAN (Bill Gates) was worth more alone than the combined assets of the bottom 40 million Americans (roughly the bottom 15% at the time).
In other words, there is substantially more inequality now (or at least in 1998) than there was at the time of the Great Depression.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Although David and I are very shy people who always stammer through meeting new folks, they were all quick to make us feel at home. Spending some time chatting together as well getting to go through their interesting haggadah made for a lovely evening. Thanks, Carol!
* * *
Before we went to the seder, we did a little cooking and cleaning in order to prepare for the holiday and for the guests who are scheduled to arrive in a couple of days. One job we intended to do on this beautifully day was some laundry. I had intended to pull our little line out to the sunshine and observe National Hanging Out Day. While some think of "solar clothes drying" as an inconvenient chore, I enjoy the rhythm of pinning clothes on the cord and I love the smell of the spring breeze in my clothes. But yesterday in our busyness, we forgot to get things started. I thought to myself that we might try today--but we woke up to a long soaking rain and some fairly ominous-looking clouds. Oh well.
* * *
So instead, we just hung out together and made a leisurely almost-all-local classic passover breakfast: matzah brei.
First, we sauteed some farmers market apples in some Amish butter.
While it was caramelizing, we soaked some not-local matzot in apple juice (from Pennsylvania) which we had warmed up. After they were soft, we drained them and crumbled the matzah into local beaten eggs. We added a sprinkling of farmers market maple sugar, then added the egg-and-matzah mixture to the sauteeing apples and cooked it as if we were scrambling eggs.
This is one of my favorite Passover breakfasts, and getting to spend a long Sunday morning enjoying the matzah brei together with my family made it doubly sweet.
* * *
“We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The author suggests using a hexagonal template to help space crops. We cut them out of an old pizza box to the proper sizes for the particular veggies we were planting, then moved them along the bed as we poked our finger into the dirt at all the corners. Then we poked into the centers, dropped in the seeds, and watered them down.
What we did not do is cover the seedbeds with any kind of mesh--meaning I woke up this morning to see squirrels digging out our hard work.
Gardening lesson number one.
* * *
Those gardening layouts really got to me:
I dreamed of being an artist, a quilter, obsessed with laying out hexagons.
Check out this knitted hexagon quilt on the cover of this book:
* * *
A perfect post-garden dinner:
Local baby arugula salad topped with Keswick Creamery feta cheese...
...served with local (and uber-sweet) Catoctin Mer de Glace wine.
Friday, April 18, 2008
In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.
"It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt," said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. "It makes your stomach quiet down."
* * *
In the sprawling slum of Haiti’s Cité Soleil, Placide Simone, 29, offered one of her five offspring to a stranger. "Take one," she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. "You pick. Just feed them."
I found these quotes, taken from an amazing New York Times article, on Little Blog in the Big Woods. His post today lays out some of the root problems and also what we must do.
It presents an angle that isn't always talked about. As Greenpa says, " Many of the causes of the world food crisis are beyond our immediate reach; we can't fix global warming this morning. But one cause is NOT beyond reach. It's HUGE-- and virtually UNRECOGNIZED." He's talking about the role of food speculation. Read his post for more details about what you can do.
continued from yesterday
In the comments yesterday, JulieB from Australia pointed out that there are many factors to the grain shortage--including severe drought in important grain-growing regions.
On top of that, a larger population is by itself a difficulty, and when many in that population are eating high on the food chain (meat rather than plant), it taxes the system further.
It is not a simple picture.
Lola pointed out the effect of biofuels in the comments yesterday. So today I thought I would elaborate a little on the role of biofuel in the hunger crises.
Lester Brown, author of Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, spoke in Takoma Park on Wednesday evening.
One of the things he pointed out is that while the food economy and the energy economy have until now always been independent, they are now utterly linked due to the growth of biofuels. We've had food crises before--but they have been much more event related. We could see the end of them.
Things have changed.
It is not an inexpensive proposition to turn agricultural products into energy. If the price of oil is under about $70 a barrel, it just isn't a profitable switch. But when energy prices are high (and right now oil is just about at its record high of $115 a barrel), the price of grains go up because there is increased demand.
In our industrial food system, high grain prices mean high prices for dairy products and beef as well. (Under a traditional system, cows eat only grass and are pastured on land that is not particularly usable for other agriculture.)
Chickens, accustomed to foraging on a mix of foods including lots of garden bugs, are now fed "vegetarian" feed which is predominantly grain. We even feed the fish we eat grain these days. So the price of chicken and fish also rises.
And even agricultural products that are totally unconnected to ethanol production wind up going up in price as farmers sacrifice planting other crops in order to grow more food for fuel.
The corollary is that non-food crops grown for fuel can force food crops off of good agricultural land.
So, as the price of fuel goes up, the price of food goes up.
The price of oil seems unlikely to drop substantially. But let's imagine what would happen if it did: grain prices would suddenly plummet because of the oversupply as oil companies turned away from biofuels. Many starving people would be able to afford to eat immediately, but almost as quickly, local farmers would loose their livelihoods.
Disturbingly, this is exactly the pattern that can occur when wealthy countries dump subsidized grain as food aid on poor countries. Grain from abroad floods local markets, removing the ability for many farmers to support themselves. They move to cities in an effort to find some sort of work. When they lose their farms, they then cannot feed the local community and the people of their country.
And the cycle of need just starts over.
* * *
from Britain's Telegraph:
We drive, they starve. The mass diversion of the North American grain harvest into ethanol plants for fuel is reaching its political and moral limits.The article is continued here.
"The reality is that people are dying already," said Jacques Diouf, of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "Naturally people won't be sitting dying of starvation, they will react," he said.
The UN says it takes 232kg of corn to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol. That is enough to feed a child for a year. Last week, the UN predicted "massacres" unless the biofuel policy is halted.
We are all part of this drama whether we fill up with petrol or ethanol. The substitution effect across global markets makes the two morally identical.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.
* * *
In the last few months, a lot of us have been worrying about how we're going to afford to fill our gas tanks.
During this same period, increasing numbers of people are worrying how they are going to afford to fill their stomachs.
"The rapidly escalating crisis of food availability around the world has reached emergency proportions," the director of the U.N. World Food Program (the world's largest humanitarian agency) said recently. World Vision Australia head Tim Costello called the situation desperate and chronic: "It is an apocalyptic warning."
World Bank President Robert Zoellick holds up a bag of rice at the opening press conference of the World Bank-IMF spring meeting. (Photo courtesy of the World Bank)
International Monetary Fund managing director Dominic Strauss-Kahn says if food prices continue to rise there will be dire consequences. "Hundreds of thousands of people will be starving," he said.
* * *
In the United States there has been a 41 percent surge in prices for wheat, corn, rice and other cereals over the past six months.
Any increase in food costs sets up a simple equation: give something else up to pay for food. "I was talking to people who make $9 an hour, talking about how they might save $5 a week," said Kathleen DiChiara, president and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. For some, that means adding an extra cup of water to their soup, watering down their milk, or giving their children soda because it's cheaper than milk.
It is even harder in much of the rest of the world.
In Bangladesh, a 2-kilogram bag of rice now consumes about half of the daily income of a poor family. Poor people in Yemen are now spending more than a quarter of their income just on bread. The price of wheat has jumped 120 percent in the past year, meaning that the price of a loaf of bread has more than doubled in many places. It is typical that the poor spend as much as 75 percent of their income on food.
* * *
Food riots have erupted in Ivory Coast, Senegal, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and the Philippines. There have been tortilla riots in Mexico, protesting the rising price of corn. In Indonesia, ten thousand people demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Jakarta after soy bean prices rose more than 50% in a month and more than 125% over the past year. There was a general strike in Burkina Faso after the government promised to control the price of food but failed. Thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan and Thailand to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour.
In Egypt, rioters have burned cars and destroyed windows of numerous buildings as police in riot gear have tried to quell protests. At least seven people have died there in fights, or of exhaustion queuing for subsidized bread. In Cameroon, at least 24 people killed and 1,600 people arrested in February in food riots. Haiti's prime minister was ousted over the weekend following food riots there where at least four were killed and twenty wounded.
* * *
Do you remember when the Department of Agriculture came out with its annual hunger statistics in 1999, showing that Texas was near the top?
George W. Bush, then running for president for the first time, responded defensively: "I saw the report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where?" he demanded. "No children are going to go hungry in this state. You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas."
(You would think so, wouldn't you?)
Are we--those of us with high-speed internet connections and the leisure to read and write blogs--living in the same kind of dream world? Do those who are suffering realize how little the privileged (to whatever degree) even know about what is happening in this world, even in our own countries?
* * *
As I think about these issues, I keep getting stuck on metaphors of abundance directly related to nourishment: I am fed up. I have had enough.
As Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says, "We've had 10 major sets of food riots across the world. So if you want something which should be close to our global agenda... [it is] how do we contribute to better food security around the world." The idea of a politics of the fork never seemed so important.
But this time, it is a lot less clear what we can or should do. Assisting starving people in the short term is not nearly as complicated as confronting the root causes of world hunger and poverty.
* * *
Richmond Bread Riot, 1860s
* * *
UPDATE: Also check out this insightful post .
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
After the cooking consult, Amy informed me that the origins of this kind of cake--Victory Cake--are from the World War I and World War II eras when butter, eggs, wheat, and sugar were in short supply. (Well, this one certainly uses plenty of its share of sugar and wheat.) Cool!
I remember making the wells in cakes when I baked with my grandmother, who easily could have started doing it during the war. The recipe I put up was one I riffed off from a crumpled recipe for a similar cake made from white flour and the like.
Given that I am currently obsessed with home activity during the Great Depression and World War II, I am absolutely thrilled to learn the history of this cake. Thanks, Amy!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
Although many of us spend way too much money on yarn and fiber, fundamentally knitting is an anti-consumerist activity. Even if we hang out on Ravelry, read numerous knitting magazines and blogs, and go to every local yarn store in every place we visit, we are not constantly being marketed to by huge corporations whose advertising budgets partly go to psychologists who can tell them the best way to brainwash consumers. Far more often, our money goes to local businesses or small companies with very few advertising dollars. This is an economy that is much more sustainable than buying products made by child laborers in developing countries and sold for cheap at big-box stores.
On top of that, the money we spend actually winds up not seeming like a lot (even when we buy luxury yarn) when we consider that we get, as Reidy says, "multiple sources of pleasure" from each of our fiber purchases. Instead of paying for some entertainment or other, we get to do the planning and knitting of what we are to make. And then, afterwards, we have the thing itself. A sweater to keep us warm (and allow us to keep the heat down)? A lace shawl to show friends and relations how much we treasure them? (A felted tote bag to carry our way-too-much yarn and way-too-many books?)
Fundamentally, knitting is not about buying STUFF to bring us instant (and fleeting) fulfillment, or the "convenience" of no work. Instead, knitting teaches us to be patient, to work hard and to work creatively, to appreciate these handmade items because we spent hours (or days or months) of our own time in their making and stitched ourselves into each one, to expect something different from cookie-cutter perfection when we look for beauty in the world.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Easy Healthy Wholesome Vegan Chocolate Cake
(a total winner of a recipe that we may have a bit too regularly)
1.5 cups whole wheat flour (or barley flour or millet or whatever)
3 TB of cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sucanat or other sugar (we put in a bit less and it was still plenty sweet)
0.5 tsp salt
5 TB olive oil (or canola or whatever. I want to try coconut oil.)
1 TB vinegar (we use raw apple cider vinegar but plain white should work just fine)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cold leftover coffee (but it is great with just plain water too)
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the dry ingredients, with a whisk so you can avoid sifting everything. (You can keep this dry mix in a jar in the pantry if you feel the need to be ready tout-suite for cake emergencies.)
Make three indentations in the dry mixture. In one, pour the oil. Another gets the vinegar, and the third gets the vanilla. (This is mostly to entertain your 8yo sous chef.) Then pour the coffee or water all over the top and mix everything together.
Pour into an 8x8 or 9x9 cake pan (which can be greased but doesn't absolutely require it).
Slip it in the oven and bake for half an hour.
See here for a recipe update and some history of this cake.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
First, the obligatory fiber pics. Son got to card the wool of sheep that live on the farm. Here he is, figuring out how to share the experience with the most adorable little fiber convert I've seen:
Then they took the fiber they carded to women who showed them how to make yarn with drop spindles. Many of the kids in our group have done a lot of spinning a home, and I think the volunteer spinners were totally taken off guard by the knowledge of these youngsters.
But alas, work on a farm is not all about fiber.
So we dipped candles:
And then we headed off to grind corn. Here is Son's friend at work. (Incidentally, she shares both my first and middle name, both very old-fashioned names.)
Then off for some play.
Playing hoops, Colonial style:
Throwing corn cobs with feathers stuck in them through hanging hoops:
Friday, April 04, 2008
See my works, how fine and excellent they are!
All that I have created, I have created for you.
Think upon this and do not corrupt and desolate My World,
For if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you.
--Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28
Melinda over at Elements in Time, realizing how wonderful Earth Hour was for so many of us, has suggested we schedule it weekly. What an inspired idea!
For many years, my family celebrated Shabbat very regularly. We made our own challah, had a nice dinner, drank wine, said blessings over candles and over each other, and spent the evening enjoying one another's company. In some years, we carried our celebration of Shabbat into Saturday (which is, of course, the norm--Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, more or less)--but sometimes we just emphasized Friday evening.
This year, we've been trying to reconcile our connection to our Jewish heritage with our fundamentally secular beliefs about God. Taking the traditional blessings and making them meaningful in an egalitarian and non-religious way is not at all difficult--but at this point, the words don't yet have years of repetition to make us feel connected.
We have still been lighting candles on a lot of Friday evenings and we've been trying out various Humanist-Jewish "prayers," but it is kind of astonishing to me how many Fridays we haven't celebrated at all, in any way. It is something I miss tremendously--not only because of the cultural ritual, but because Shabbat is a time of intense recognition of our relationships with each other and with friends, a recognition that gets enacted at the altar of the table, every week.
When I read Melinda's proposal for the weekly Hour for the Planet, I realized that combining our environmental politics, our desire for authentic connection with others, and our Shabbat traditions could be exactly what we need.
So the lights will stay out, as they did for Earth Hour, from the time we light the candles until we go to bed. We'll turn off the computer. The table is set, dinner is made--including a really healthy vegan chocolate cake (whose recipe is forthcoming if it the cake is any good), and the candles are ready.
May this be a night of peace.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
I just signed up for Buy Nothing Month. This is the kind of challenge I've been thinking of doing since I heard about Buy Nothing Day and then read the fabulous book by Judith Levine, Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. A day seemed too short--but a year seemed to long. But here in the Buy Nothing month, as the clever Miss Crunchy says, we have sort of a "sub-Compact".
I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the amount of advertising that surrounds us. On my recent flight to a conference and book signing, I put my shoes through security in a plastic tub with an advertisement in the bottom. After we took off, I lowered my tray table to find yet another advertisement. Neither of these places are particularly heinous places for advertisements--not like ads on a school bus or something-- but it certainly does add to my feeling that I am constantly under siege by the corporate world.
This challenge is just a little way of fighting back, of resisting.
* * *
On the other hand:
I spent a little time Sunday at a yarn party in my neighborhood. There were about a dozen local completely independent vendors there, selling hand-spun yarn, hand-dyed fiber, hand-sewn knitting bags, and self-designed patterns. I don't want to stop buying things that support the makers. The yarn party is the fiber world's equivalent of the farmers market. THIS is the way I want commerce to be.
But sometimes, we need a little kick to get us to reset our priorities and help us see things from a different view. So I've signed up for this month--a month, I might add, which is conveniently situated smack dab between the yarn party and Maryland Sheep and Wool.
* * *
Buying nothing means:
* No new clothes
* No new gadgets
* No new furniture or housewares
* No salon services
* No makeup
* No tools
* No whatever the hell else people buy
There are exemptions for edibles, supplies for vegetable gardens, household necessities (like toilet paper for visitors), necessary fuel, and anything else we need for our survival. And if participants must absolutely acquire something else, we must try to borrow, barter, or buy it used. Preplanned (or emergency) home repair is also exempt, as is anything already ordered.
April is the month of the both my son's birthday and my own. I've already ordered special presents (ones that are sort of relevant, in their own ways), so I think this first barrier will be easy enough to get past.
April is also the month of Passover--and therefore my in-laws will be visiting for a week. The visit might be a harder challenge than the birthdays, since shopping is something my in-laws enjoy and therefore we do more when they are visiting than we do otherwise.
Of course, you can always set any caveats in advance that make one of Crunchy Chicken's challenges more appropriate for you. In this case, mine is that at the yarn party, I told one of my favorite fiber pushers that I wanted to order a particular color and would contact her soon. So that, I think, is my exception.
And Crunchy Chicken does give an option for the weak among us: "If you end up buying something new that is non-essential, I'll be hosting a weekly Sunday Confessional for you to justify your purchase. So, just think about having to confess to the world what you couldn't hold off on buying."
* * *
Of course, I am not signing up my partner or son for this adventure. Perhaps they'll join me--but perhaps not. Son has his cat-sitting money burning a hole in his pocket--but even if he spends it, it is likely to be at the charity-supporting thrift store.
But I'm here to recruit all you readers to join me in whatever way feels right to you. Let me know what you think!