Friday, July 31, 2009

Another Rice Cooker Idea

Building on Char's rice cooker ideas, I made potatoes in mine the other day.
  • I peeled and diced about 15 small potatoes that were starting to grow. (The eye root part, that is, not the green fuzzy stuff!)
  • While I was doing that, I melted about 1/3 of a cube of butter in the rice cooker. Just plugged it in and the warmer feature that is always on melted it.
  • I sent my kids out to pick a few fresh herbs: thyme, lemon thyme, and parsley.
  • I minced the parsley and about half of a white onion. The thyme I left whole. Elsie had gathered just some leaves and small stems. If I have larger stems, sometimes I will dice it, sometimes I lay the stalks across the top of whatever I'm cooking.
  • I gently stirred together the above ingredients and poured some fresh cream over everything. Yes, as in farm fresh, skimmed from the top of the organic raw milk we get from LauraD. I love it, it is so good!
  • Then I turned on the rice cooker and prepared the rest of my meal.
  • I think actually Joe did pork chops on the grill. And Louisa did a fancy vegetable mix. (She things my steamed vegies with butter are boring.) Louisa used a bag of frozen green and yellow peas and baby carrots. She simmered them in a small amount of liquid and then added some sort of oil and pecans. I think she said it called for dried cherries, but since we didn't have any, she added a few teaspoons of maraschino cherry juice from the fridge. It was wonderful, Louisa.
All in all a very nice combo.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Speaking of Camp Cookery

Char has recently extensively used her rice cooker on a camping trip. Please note, Char is a tent camper. They just made sure to get a site with electricity. Cool ideas, Char.

Breakfast Flambeau

When Joe was in seminary, before the days of parenthood, we camped in Minneopa State Park with some buddies. One of the meals we planned, bacon and eggs cooked over the fire in a paper bag. I remembered having done this in grade school at a Lutheran Girl Pioneers campout.

Everyone mocked me. "It can't be done, Mary."

But I knew it could. I had seen it done.

Of course, it had been a few years, but how hard could it be?

This was before the days of the world wide web. It was there, but not like today. I don't even know if we had a dial up modem in our apartment at that time. Probably not. I did look at the library to see if I could find any directions on cooking bacon and eggs in a paper bag over an open fire, but to no avail.

But really, how hard could it be?

Everyone laughed as I broke the eggs into the bags. They all laughed as we debated whether the bacon should be on top or underneath.

They all laughed as the bag caught fire and our breakfast landed in the flames. We managed to rescue a few strips of bacon and twist them around sticks to cook. Mmmm. Big breakfast.

Everyone laughed. All weekend.

But now we live in the age of the internet in every home. Blogs. Wikipedia. Now I can get instructions. And guess what, Tony? It can be done.

I can even watch a video.

In fact, there is even a downloadable Paper Bag Cookbook for all your campfire cooking needs.

I'll have to start asking for paper bags in the grocery store. Imagine eleven individual lunch bags for a meal...Uh, uh. Not gonna happen.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Professional Thoughts

Remember during the campaign last year when it seemed like there were constant comments from certain quarters that were insulting to us "regular guys". Comments about how people were bitterly clinging to their guns and religion. That one sticks in my head, but I know there were others.

Later the regular guy thing became popular among other circles, think "Joe six-pack" or "Joe the Plummer".

Recently I was reminded of what some among the elite media types think of people like myself. I am, one might say, a "Josie the Homemaker," while my husband is quite literally, "Joe the Pastor".

The other evening I was trying to read the new Sarah Palin Op Ed piece in the Washington Post, I found out I had to register for a free menbership in order to read the articles. OK, I can do that as long as it's free.

As part of the sign in page, I had to answer some demographic feeler type questions. I suppose it is so they can keep a handle on who their readership is. But as you will see, I guess they already have quite firm ideas about who might be reading.

Why do I say that? These questions were really different. These were not the usual profession, age, household income, do-you-own-or-rent type questions. Instead these were only profession related and quite obviously they expected only professional wage earners to register. And further, only certain types of professional wage earners.

On the second page of the sign up form, among the mandatory fields were: Job title, Job industry, Primary responsibility, and Company size. And they didn't have any choices related to being a home maker. No mother, teacher, housekeeper,... I could have chosen "not employed," but that didn't seem quite right either. There were not really any service related careers at all. There was a choice for the medical field under the the industry and a choice for animal care under the primary responsibility. No child care even. Nothing farm related. I could list other obviously missing professions.

Since I am a stay-at-home mom, homemaker, and home educator, I had a hard time figuring out which options to use. Besides those occupations mentioned in the previous sentence, I had lots of ideas I could have chosen, as anyone who is a mom (stay at home or otherwise) knows. House cleaner, cook, nurse, psychologist, ...

Perhaps you've seen those lists that calculate the monetary worth of an average mother? Someone has put together a calculator that women can use to figure their own monetary worth if they desire.

Alas, I digress... Getting back to the Washington post...

Here are the best matches I could find: Job title-Other management level title, Job industry- education, Primary responsibility-teaching/educating, and Company size- 1-45.

But I guess even Joe would not have been able to choose anything about his career as pastor. He, at least could have chosen Salaried professional for the title. And perhaps consulting or education for the industry section.

Even the way they divided the sections was somewhat unusual. I mean is Salaried professional more of a Job title than, say, Physician? But Physician shows up under Primary responsibility.

I guess they don't expect us lowly homemakers or pastors to read the Washington Post. Maybe they assume we can't even read. I guess we're too busy bitterly clinging to our guns and religion. The guns and religion part works for us, but I don't think the bitter part does.

There are some days, however.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thoughts on Supreme Court Nominee Confirmation Hearings

JB at Balkanization wrote a thoughtful piece on the whole process of the Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominees.

A Good Book

Little Pink House is the story of Susette Kelo of New London, CT, and her neighbors in their attempt to hold on to their properties against the New London Development Corporation's use of eminent domain to develop the area into privately owned facilities that would generate higher property tax.

Mr. Benedict does an excellent job telling the story from several sides. If a person reads the book without a strong belief in the importance of personal property rights, he or she could almost side with any of the various entities in this battle.

When Joe and I lived In Madison, WI, during our college years, we were blessed to have the friendship of the State Business Director, Rolf Wegenke. Through that friendship, I was introduced to the idea that communities need thriving businesses to flourish. And I understand that a state has a certain interest in helping communities developing local businesses. Also, the state sometimes has more resources to help match up a given community with a potential incoming business. So also, I can understand that the state of Connecticut had a genuine interest in helping the depressed community of New London to find incoming business. I can understand that.

I can also understand that the city of New London, having lost much of their industry and also having an inordinate proportion of non-profit and other tax free entities in their community, would willingly accept any financial and brainstorming help the state could give. I can understand that. They were kind of over a barrel.

I can also understand that concerned citizens with connections might join together in a non-profit organization in order to promote and help finance development ideas. See this is all good, right.

Wrong. In Kelo v. City of New London, there were two major areas in which this case diverged from previously held legal precedent.
  1. The US Supreme Court ruled that even in an area that is not blighted, a municipality may use eminent domain to condemn private property.
  2. A municipality need not require development from the recipients of such condemned property.
Interestingly, this case has been in the news again this week because of President Obama Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. In discussing her take on this precedent setting case, Judge Sotomayor misrepresents both of these important aspects of the case. The bloggers at Volokh Conspiracy have been writing about this decision in the context of the confirmation hearings.

Legal and constitutional aspects of this case aside, after I read Little Pink House, the necessity of constitutionally protected private property became much more emotionally apparent. The facts of this case are so sad. Ms Kelo has recently purchased the home of her dreams, a little pink house with a view of the water. She invests time and money and emotion into historically sensitive remodelling. Before her undertaking is even complete, her home gets ripped away from her in a process that takes years.

The stories of the other homeowners who filed along with Ms Kelo are all compelling. These are regular people. The homes were cared for. The neighborhood was intact.

And guess what. Now, after four years the properties still sit vacant. The buildings have been razed. The rubble still sits. The site is overgrown. Now it is an eyesore. And now, no one will touch it because of the negative publicity generated by this property grab.

Interesting Internet Destinations

I stumbled upon this kind of cool video last night while looking for a gluten free shoo-fly pie recipe.

While trying to find who put the video together, I discovered James Lileks. He is apparently an original blogger. Kind of a father of the whole blogging thing. His blog, The Bleat, has been going since 1997. He has several interesting things he does, links to which can be found at his homepage. There are a few additional links at the bottom of the above linked Wikipedia biography.

I am always amazed at what one can find on the internet. I didn't take much time to explore the James Lilek stuff, but it just looked like something I'd enjoy if I ever get the time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Speaking of Government Involvement

Yet another power grab.

This time it's school food. Let's dictate to local schools what the kids must be fed.

I wonder what they'll do with someone like Chef Ann Cooper, who has made a career out of coaching local school on more healthful food choices and preparation methods, and also how to save money doing it. "Sorry, Chef Ann, that Grilled Lemon Herb Chicken is not on today's national school lunch menu."

Sustainability and Government Involvement

This is a continuation of my last post. Like many of my thoughts, the original post became long and rambling.

There's much talk these days about making things sustainable: agriculture, healthcare, economy, growth, fuel... It seems to be a very popular concept.

My first conscious run-in with sustainability occurred when I lived In Madison, WI. Joe was attending grad school at the University and working almost full time trying to make ends meet. I was home with the, at that time, five kids trying to keep the peace. In the name of maternal sanity, my friend, Beth, and I had a tradition of attending the Dane County Farmer's Market most Saturdays. We'd start our Saturday with a cup of coffee from Starbucks. Then we'd mosey our way around the Capitol Square, examining the wares, and visiting, and solving all the problems in our personal lives and throughout the world. It was great fun!

Many weeks there were other things going on around or near the Capitol, various festivals and promotions and demonstrations and rallies. On one Saturday, the first block of Wisconsin Avenue was cordoned off due to some sort of sustainability display. Beth and I walked through looking at the information and all the while feeling somewhat out of place. We discussed the fact that among people who consider themselves politically conservative, there is no voice for conservation or sustainability. We finally got around to acknowledging that by nature, the goal of most political movements is some sort of governmental involvement; and increased government involvement is anathema to the smaller government ideals of thoughtful conservatives.

Now fast forward to last winter, early 2008, that is. I don't think I ever got a blog post done on this, but I read a book by a Rod Dreher called, Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or At Least the Republican Party). Yeah, it's quite a title. That's what drew me to it originally. I really still have to chuckle every time I read the title.

I really had high hopes for the book. Finally, a voice for conservation minded people within conservatism. And much of what Mr. Dreher said, I applauded. But, alas, what I heard loudest throughout the book, was an underlying idea that the driving principle of conservative thought is the financial bottom line.

I don't want to be distracted into a big review of Dreher's book. Read it yourself if your interested. I also heard Mr Dreher once on public radio, on Speaking of Faith, I think. And the same idea was insidious. "Anyone who espouses the conservatism that is prevalent today is selfish and greedy and only thinking about money and getting ahead." Surprisingly enough, I have a real problem with that notion.

So what is it about the green or crunchy or sustainable idea do I like? What would I like to see? Here's where I really start to ramble. It's hard to frame so many various ideas succinctly. Let me try. And realize that some of these are pipe dreams, not reality.
  • I'd like to grow my own food. Without chemicals. Although this constant battle with quackgrass is really making me want to just spray it with something.
  • I'd like to be able to purchase locally those food items available locally that I can't grow or raise myself.
  • It is hard to understand overproduction in agriculture, which leads to lower prices which leads producers to strive to produce more yet again. Don't get me wrong, I understand the producer's need to break even. I just don't understand the politics and policies that encourage this catch-22 situation.
  • I like green spaces: National, State and Local parks, forests, forest preserves, wildlife refuges. I like the idea of these things, as long as the land was acquired ethically.
  • I like the idea of renewable energy. I don't know whether I ever posted this, but when I was in Denver last summer, my good friend John, who works at the National Renewable Energy Lab, had just found out his team set a new world record for solar cell efficiency. Also there was a somewhat local man just recently written up in the Thief River Falls Northern Watch for inventing a mini wind turbine that he's trying to market to individuals and small businesses. I can't find a link to anything about him, sorry.
  • I am really into re-use. I just don't see the need to buy something new that I can find second-hand.
  • Reduce is good, too. Why do we need to fill a five gallon bucket with junk mail each week. And individually packaged anything drives me nuts. Think 10 separate packages of whatever. I think you get my drift.
  • I hate the consumerism that leads to the demand for constantly new stuff which encourages producers to produce junk.
  • I like the idea of slow foods. I have no proof, but it just makes sense that all the convenience, pre-packaged, artificially colored and artificially flavored and artificially nutrientized foods we eat can't be as healthful as the meals our grandmothers used to cook.
  • I'd like it if the health industry could provide more natural advice instead of so much dependence upon pills. Am I thankful for the medical advances God has allowed mankind to make? Absolutely. But better yet encourage individual and societal choices that discourage chronic disease.
So does all that make me green? I don't think so. And yes, I know many conservative people who desire similar things. So are we all Crunchy Cons? Not if that term implies I think all Republicans or mainstream conservatives are greedy and evil. And certainly not if I expect the government to provide any or all of these desires.

In many cases the government involvement is the problem. Take the food supply for instance. Because of government regulations, it is increasingly difficult for local producers to sell their wares to their neighbors. It's mostly in the name of food safety, I understand. But if I'd prefer to risk my health buying my chicken, for instance, from a neighbor than from the grocery store where the chicken has sat for several days after irradiated to enhance freshness and being shipped in for a few days from some farm somewhere at which I have no idea the conditions under which it was grown or handled, if I choose to make that selection, shouldn't that be allowed to. Ooh, run-on sentence, sorry.

Or fresh milk. I was forwarded this article recently. It is written in a somewhat humorous style, but well points out the frustration of which I am speaking.

Again, I could go on and on. And do I have a point? A summary comment? That one morsel of meaning I want a reader to take with him or her?

Sustainability is not the enemy. But government enforced sustainability is. Freedom will inevitable bring better solutions than bureaucracy can provide.

Seeds and Government Involvement

Yesterday I was reading, Seed Sowing and Saving, by Carole B. Turner. I like the idea of saving seeds. I'm not much good at it. Mostly because of the adult ADD thing I laugh about suffering from. I save any number of seeds each fall from my garden or the gardens of friends. But each year, come spring I have no idea where any of them are. Each time I deep-clean an area of my house, I am sure to find an envelope or zip-lock bag of seeds. But sure enough, by the time I need them, they have all disappeared into the morass of my clutter again .

Here is a quote from the above mentioned book that gave me pause. This is from a definition of and explanation for heirloom seeds.
Since the issue of seed saving has been a low priority for most of our elected officials, seed exchanges were set up as a grass-roots effort to preserve plants that have played an important roll in our heritage and may even end up feeding us in the future.
OK, I have just so many responses to this. I suppose, for any Three Amigos fans, one could say that I have a plethora of thoughts in response to this sentence. Here are a few that come to mind straight away.
  1. Good, one area in which the government has shown restraint. I didn't know there was any such area.
  2. So what the author is showing is that if a need or desire for something exists and the government does nothing, that need or desire can still be met. Creative people, getting together, pooling their resources, can get the job done.
  3. And, alas, the book was written in 1997, before the Millennium Seed Bank was established.
This last point deserves additional explanation. The Millennium Seed Bank is an international organization dedicated to collecting the seeds of all plant varieties around the world and preserving them. Depending upon from which site you garner your information there is a bit of variation on that mission. Some places I read state that the goal is to collect seeds of endangered plant varieties for research and native plantings. Another site I read listed as the goal the collection of seeds from all plant varieties in order to provide a necessary restart to nutritional foods in case of a world-wide disaster.

I have nothing against any of this. If I stretch, I can even imagine an argument for the necessity of this as a matter of national interest. Ie, in case of a nuclear disaster, the gov't could then provide untarnished seeds for replanting uncontaminated ground.

So what's my problem? This same goal can be accomplished without government interference. The United States official affiliate with the Millennium Seed Bank, Seeds of Success, is managed through the Bureau of Land Management. There are many independent organizations from around the world involved. From the Seeds of Success website:
The initial partnership between BLM and MSB quickly grew to include many additional partners, such as botanic gardens, arboreta, zoos, and municipalities.
Again, there are always non-government groups and individuals pulling things together and filling needs. And usually it works better that way.

Let's go, for a moment, with the argument that a national seed bank is important for national sustenance in case of some major disaster. I did a quick species search on the SOS website. That would be the very extensive list of seed samples they have in the collection. I searched for Zea mays, or corn. Nothing. The seeds are filed by ecoregions. I searched many regions. I even did a little research on the history of corn, since I know it to be a native plant. After reviewing what I thought to be the original ecoregion for corn, I searched a few more regions. Nowhere in this expansive data base could I find a record of a corn seed having been saved. Lots of prairie flowers and noxious weeds and hardwood trees. No record of this staple of American diet.

I didn't check wheat since I figured it would not be considered native to our area. I think it's of Middle Eastern origin.

I guess there goes my hope that if the government is spending our hard earned tax dollars, that they could at least have a valid national security concern at heart.

And I guess I did not have a plethora of responses to the above quote after all. I think three would only be considered a few or several. But definitely not a plethora. It seemed like more when they were all colliding in my brain.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Favorite Books

When Amy commented on my previous book post, she asked, "What that you have read on that list are your top 5?" I've been thinking about that.

My initial instinct is that few of the listed books would make my top 5. Which led to long meandering musings about what are my favorite books.

Which led to further flights of thought about favorites in general and how many different kinds of favorites there are. Pure pleasure, candy type favorites. Things that elicit a good laugh. Or good cry. Or favorites that challenge spiritually, emotionally, socially, or academically.

I'd have to start with Jane Austen, any of them; I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite. The Secret Garden, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, both the listed books by the Bronte sisters would definitely make my top five. Oops, I guess thats more than five already. There is also Treasure Island by Stevenson, Tale of Two Cities by Dickens and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien.

Others I'd add to the list: The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fennimore Cooper, My Antonia by Willa Cather, Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, Silas Marner by George Eliot, A Room With a View by E.M. Forster, and a just about anything by Mark Twain. And I know it's not politically correct, but I really like Uncle Tom's Cabin. I suppose I ought to include an A. C. Doyle and an Agatha Christie title, but choosing just one would be difficult.

I enjoyed the Red River of the North series by Laurraine Snelling, the Mitford books by Jan Karon, and the Cat Who ... mysteries. I recently discovered Raymond Chandler's, detective, Philip Marlowe. And I've gotten hooked on these Vince Flynn books. Of course, much to my constant embarrassment, I love the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. I also really like Lisa Lutz's Spellman books.

There are also some great children's books that I'd include. I almost wouldn't know where to start. The list included several by Roald Dahl, but missed my favorite of his, The Giraffe, the Pelly, and Me. There are the Little House books, of course. Ralph Moody wrote a similar series based on his childhood, beginning with Little Britches. Where the Red Fern Grows is definitely in my top five. I have yet to read them all, but they are definitely among my favorites. The Ranger's Apprentice series would be right up there.

Jean Fritz has written many, many great children's books; start with The Cabin Faced West. Erik C. Haugaard's Samurai's Tale. Katherine Paterson has several; my favorite might be Master Puppeteer. Linda Sue Park has written several great ones; my favorite of hers is probably A Single Shard.

The Mildred Taylor books are great. Sad and hard to read, but wonderful. Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt and Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith. Not really in the same category, but the Mandie books by Lois Gladys Leppard are a fun series.

Mary Ray has written historical novels a slew of historical novels set in ancient times and up to early middle ages. I liked Beyond the Desert Gate and the Ides of April. I liked The Broken Blade and Wintering by William Durbin. I liked Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin and Seven Sons for Seven Daughters by Barbara Cohen and Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken and All of a Kind Family by Sidney Taylor. An obscure one I picked up used and really like is Marin's Little Owl by Finn Havrevold.

I also really liked the Jean Craighead George books, My Side of the Mountain, On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful's Mountain. The Pye and Moffat books by Eleanor Estes are great. And I've liked nearly everything I've read by Lois Lenski. Also Elizabeth Enright's books. And Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen. Anything by Jim Kjelgaard and Walt Morey and Marguerite Henry.

Then there's picture books. My favorite's have got to be anything by Tomie dePaula, but especially Tom and Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, and Now One Foot Now the Other. The Billy and Blaze Books by C. W.. Anderson. The Snip, Snap and Snurr and Flicka, Ricka and Dicka books by Maj Lindman. The Sneeches and Fox in Socks by D. Seuss. And I love Mary Azarian's woodcut illustrations. There are so many great picture books. Some are beautiful just to look at.

I could go on and on. Bet you can't tell. I haven't even touched non-fiction.

Are you sorry you asked, Amy?