Torture & Injustice: Here and Abroad

I feel that I must respond to the recent news. I am utterly disheartened by the failure of the respective grand juries to indict either the officer who shot Michael Brown or the one who strangled Eric Garner. And, although I am hardly surprised, I am still appalled by the atrocities perpetrated by the CIA against so-called “terrorists.” It is all sickening. Much has already been said about these and other injustices. However, I am saddened that I have heard no one in my acquaintance even mention any of this unless I bring it up first. Is everyone oblivious? Too caught up in the holiday frenzy? Afraid? I just don’t know. But when I allow myself to think how I would feel if it was my child that was being tortured by our government (whether it is by cops or military), it makes me ill. And every one of those individuals is someone’s child.

A white man I know who lives in El Paso, who speaks Spanish fluently and strives to treat everyone equally, nevertheless understands that it is just about impossible not to be racist if one is white in America. If you are white and want to understand “white privilege” better, this video is well worth the time: Understanding White Privilege

 

An excellent book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. It explains in brutal detail what happened to African-Americans after the Civil War. If you think “yeah yeah there has been racism, but why haven’t more blacks pulled themselves up by their bootstraps?” this will answer that question (and many more). If you don’t have time to read the book, than perhaps you can take the time to watch the documentary based upon it: Slavery By Another Name documentary

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How Many Kids Have to Die?

I know I am not the only one. Not the only one who is tired of hearing about another shooting: in a school, in someone’s home, in someone’s workplace. I know I am not the only one who draws a blank when, every now and then, someone mentions a town where a shooting occurred. There have been so many that, after a while, they start to blend together.

Do you remember when the NRA actually helped pass federal laws restricting gun use? (okay, I don’t remember either, but it was in the 20th c.). Do you remember when Columbine shocked us? But before that, there was a mass shooting in 1984 where 21 people died at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, CA. And before that, in 1966, there was a fellow in Austin TX who shot 43 people (13 died). Two years after Columbine, 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School children were slaughtered in Newtown, CT. And that’s just the “highlights.” What have we come to?

Well, we have come to a point where children must practice lockdown drills in elementary schools. If anyone thinks the children don’t know why, well just ask one of them. My son’s 4th grade teacher has told me that her students express fear of mass shootings and serial killers. I’m not one for raising my son in a bubble, but this is ridiculous. How is it acceptable that our children are growing up fearing for their lives? I would not find this surprising if we were in Iraq (not that it is acceptable for those children to live in fear for their lives either), but there is no war occurring on our soil.

But then again, perhaps there is. It is a war of different cultures. And, to show my bias, I will frame it this way: one side believes that their right to live in safety is more important. The other side believes their right to kill is more important.

So, I guess I’ve become a Right-To-Lifer…sorta. I believe that life-after-birth truly matters. If live is truly sacred, then surely we have an obligation to keep our children safe. And not just our own. Other people’s children too. Grown children (they are someone’s son or daughter too). People we don’t like (umm, that’s why that whole love-thy-enemy thing is tough. It’s easy to love someone you like). People we don’t understand. People who look different. People who make us angry.

So, what can we do? First, I urge you to watch this short (less than 4 minute), powerful video made by a mom in California. Not One More  Then, support gun legislation that makes it harder for people to obtain a gun. Do not patronize businesses that sell guns or ammo. Tell them you won’t shop there anymore. Tell businesses that welcome open carry customers that you won’t shop there because you don’t want to risk being shot and killed. Call whoever is running in this upcoming election and tell them you won’t vote for them if they won’t help keep you and your family alive and support stricter gun legislation.

We must put an end to this madness.

A Study in Contrasts

Part I:
Lately, I’ve had contrasting dining experiences and I think they highlight very different perspectives on America. First, my husband wanted to try the Olive Garden. He had been there decades ago and, although he recalled that the food was rather ordinary, he had liked the all-you-can-eat salad and since he often finds he doesn’t otherwise get enough to eat when we dine out, that was a big plus. I’ll admit, I was a little curious too. I had eaten only at an Olive Garden once and also recalled the salads fondly. Usually, we shun chain restaurants, so it was an opportunity to sample how many Americans eat when they go out. A cultural experience, for us, you could say.

So, recently after an afternoon spent in big box store hell, we decided to give the Olive Garden a try. The restaurant was crowded, mostly with Canadians as they like to come down and buy our cheap stuff, then eat before heading back to the border. Basically, Bellingham is, in some respects, a bit of a third-world border town where middle-class foreigners come to shop—like Tijuana used to be for Americans.

The hostess and waiter were friendly and the décor faux Tuscan. I ordered the Chicken Abruzzi from the “Lighter Italian Fare” menu, my husband the Eggplant Parmesan with additional meatballs, and our son the kid’s pepperoni pizza. The salad came and was refilled as often as we wanted but, truth be told, it was lackluster. I have become used to greens with more “oomph,” so pale Romaine lettuce, insipid tomatoes, grated carrots, and California Olives (even my son avoids them because they’re nothing compared to Greek olives) lacked much interest. The dressing was the same–insipid.

The breadsticks almost looked appetizing, but when you bit into them they just sort of squished. They could easily have been gummed, if necessary. It reminded me of the time when I was a kid and I went to a birthday party at a friend’s house. We were playing hide-and-seek and, as I was racing through the kitchen looking for a hiding place, I spotted a loaf of Wonder bread sitting — with the bag open–on the counter. I had never had white bread. My parents were old hippies, Co-op members before it was cool, and only served whole wheat bread that crumbled when you tried to make a sandwich from it and “natural” peanut butter. White bread was verboten, and, therefore, utterly desirable to me. I grabbed a slice and hid behind the tire of a car parked in the street. I tried to gobble down my white holy grail, but it turned into a horrible doughy ball in my mouth. I ended up spitting it out in the gutter never tantalized by its white loveliness again.

Anyway, the main dishes we ordered were even more bland than the salad. Our son’s pizza was certainly kid’s sized. It was mostly crust with a little sauce and a few slices of pepperoni. My chicken was tasteless no matter how much salt and pepper I tried to season it with. My husband’s eggplant was the same. And, instead of many, or even some, meatballs, it came with but one. One sad meatball balanced atop the utterly uniform slices of breaded and fried eggplant.

The next day my husband called the manager and said the service was perfectly good, etc., but if they are going to offer additional “meatballs” on the menu, more than one should be served. If it is going to be just one, than the menu ought to read “meatball.” The manager was quite solicitous and, without being asked, offered to send a gift card. We expected one for $5 or something in that order. Instead, it was for $50. So, with reduced expectations, we again visited the Olive Garden.

Sad to say, it was no better. The salad, of course, was the same. Our son’s pizza was a little better this time as we ordered him a full-sized one and it had 4 toppings which helped. Also, the sauce-to-crust ratio was improved. However, my Baked Tilapia with Shrimp was flavorless (this time I tried red pepper flakes but no luck, it didn’t help). My husband’s Chicken Alfredo might have been better called Piece o’ Protein on Pile of Carbs with Gooey Non-descript Fat Drizzled on Top. It was filling, but that would be its only recommendation.

This is, I suspect, how most Americans dine. In this case, the décor and descriptions are Italian, but the actual food is a pale shadow of what it ought to be. Real Italian cuisine bursts with flavor and freshness. It is not even American-Italian like our two local restaurants Mambo Italiano and D’Anna’s where I can at least find a couple of entrées that are interesting and flavorful without simply relying on salt and fat. I realized that Olive Garden is like when we went to the ClubMed in Tahiti for our honeymoon (planning a wedding and a honeymoon was just too much for us)—that is what I call Faux Foreign. You are provided the illusion that you are experiencing a different culture or cuisine, but you are not. You are experiencing a watered down imitation of the original so that it no longer resembles the original except in form.

Also, I believe the quality of ingredients is so poor it is impossible to make anything flavorful with them. They may use olive oil and kale, but they are tasteless so how could they have anything to offer? It reminded me of when I prepared and ate my first free-range chicken. I thought, “oh, this is what chicken tastes like.” I had almost forgotten how delicious chicken could taste because I had become so accustomed to boneless skinless chicken breasts that were merely pieces of protein. When I first had locally raised and butchered ground beef it actually tasted gamey to me. It had been so long since I had eaten real beef that it reminded me of venison or bear meat. I quickly realized I could eat far less of it to be satisfied as it was so much more flavorful.

Part II:
Recently I went out dinner with some friends at one of the several micro-breweries that have popped up around town. I chose Wander Brewing because that was where the food truck StrEat Food was going to be and I wanted to try their food. I used to drink beer on occasion years ago back when I lived in Wisconsin where it’s practically mandatory. After I moved to California, I switched to wine. Nowadays, I don’t drink often at all as I am so afraid it will mess up my sleeping cycles and I have had enough trouble with insomnia that I don’t even want to go there.

What some of our local breweries are doing is, instead of having their own kitchen, they invite one food truck per day or evening to set up with their offerings. Food trucks don’t generally offer long menus, but hey, that just makes it easier to choose—well maybe. I ordered a gyro and it was fabulous. The meat (a lamb-beef combo) was delicious—flavorful without being greasy. It included a generous amount of onions and tomato without overwhelming the meat. The yogurt sauce drizzled over the top kept everything moist. One of my friends had the same and the other had the Veggie Burger and proclaimed it delicious as well. The server explained that they make their own Veggie Burgers and that the ingredients change regularly.

I also ordered the beer sampler. Of their eight offerings, I could choose five and receive a few ounces of each. I didn’t know what kinds to choose, so I just said I didn’t like bitter flavors and let the experts take it from there. The sampler came in a wooden holder with a card that had the names of each kind of beer that I had. They were all terrific! What fun to sample a variety. I had forgotten how good beer can be (and perhaps it has improved over the years).

Also, I must admit I found the atmosphere more interesting than the one I encountered at the Olive Garden. Wander has a bit of an industrial feel to it; however, it did not come across as an act. I think it really is an old industrial building and, hey, they make beer there! Also, the benches and tables were made of this really cool heavily varnished wood. It was beautiful just to look at. They had inside and outside seating. We had ended up inside only because that was the only table available and we had to do a little “table-stalking” to even get that one.

What a difference this was from the meals at the Olive Garden! There, dinner felt as if it had been carefully crafted in order to avoid offending anyone’s palate. The net result was that it failed to excite one’s taste buds. I am sure that if I ordered the same thing at any Olive Garden across the country it would have been exactly the same. Its predictability would be assured. And so, I realized that Olive Garden, and all restaurants of its ilk (this post is not meant to be just a slam of OG. It is a criticism of aiming for the lowest common denominator in order to appeal to as many as possible that has become so pervasive in America), are probably popular partly because they are “safe.”

While I was at Wander Brewery, I could have allowed myself to feel a little out of place: I think my table-mates and I were the only ones in the place free of ink (besides babes in arms). Instead I enjoyed the more youthful vibe. And, I’m actually looking forward to returning.

Bacon Makes Everything Better

It is warming up here in the Pacific Northwest and everything looks beautiful. One of the things I cook a lot throughout the year is soup. About a month ago I created a two-for-one meal that is super easy and features soup. Now, it probably makes a little more sense to prepare these when it is colder, but as a veteran of the Pacific Northwest, I already know that the warm and wonderful weather we are experiencing right now could flee at the drop of a hat and we could go back to cool and dreary until July 5th (people who have lived here a long time say you can’t rely on good weather until after the 4th of July—and sometimes not even then!). These meals can be vegetarian, or even vegan come to think of it, but because I love bacon they aren’t in my house.

Roasted Squash served with Rosemary-Scented White Beans and a BLT Salad with Bacon-Infused Croutons

2 butternut squash
1 T. brown sugar
½ t. ground ginger
Salt and pepper

4 c. canned white beans of your choice (navy, cannellini)
3 stalks fresh rosemary
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

Lettuce
Tomatoes
4 slices bacon
Stale bread
Salad Dressing (I usually use a basic oil and vinegar, but a mayonnaise one would probably be good)

Night One:
Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice squash lengthwise and place it cut side down in a large baking pan. Fill pan with water to a depth of about ½“. Place in oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, drain out water, and place squash cut side up in pan. Combine brown sugar and ginger and sprinkle on top of the squash. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on them too. Return to oven and roast till almost squishy.

Meanwhile, rinse beans and place in a large saucepan. Add water to cover, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste and bring to a gentle simmer.

Cube your stale bread and, if it is soft, place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for a few minutes (you don’t need 2 ovens. Use the same one that has the squash in it). Remove bread and place bacon on baking sheet. Return to oven and let bacon roast for 10 minutes. Depending upon the thickness of your bacon, it may be done. If it is a thicker cut, it may require more time to crisp up. Drain bacon on paper towels, let cool, and then break into small-ish pieces.

Meanwhile, place bread cubes on baking sheet and toss with the bacon fat. Taste and add salt if you think it needs it (I use garlic salt which is probably un-cool, but I like it). Place baking sheet in oven and toast up the bread cubes for about 5 minutes.

Wash lettuce and place in a salad bowl. Slice tomatoes and add them. Sprinkle with bacon pieces and bacon-infused bread croutons.  If you don’t eat meat, then I guess you’d better make a different salad.  I always like one with dried cranberries, chevre, and toasted pecans.  Or sliced pear, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts.

Drain beans and remove rosemary and garlic. Slice squash into 1” wide crescents. Serve the beans and squash with the salad.Bacon Croutons

Night Two:

Spicy Coconut Milk Squash Soup

Hopefully you have leftover squash and beans. For my family of three I would definitely have leftovers. You may need to adjust the amounts of the first night dinner when you are preparing it so that you do have leftovers.

Cooked butternut squash
White beans
Coconut-Almond milk beverage (or the more common light coconut milk in a can)
Green vegetable of your choice (I would probably do another salad)
Crusty bread (I make the famous no-knead bread that Jim Lahey invented and Mark Bittman published in the New York Times. If you haven’t made it, I highly recommend it. It is the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever seen and the best—how often does that happen?)

Peel squash and cut into chunks. Place squash, about 1 cup beans and 1 cup coconut milk beverage in a blender. Whirl until smooth. I like spiciness so I would also add a sprinkle of cayenne, but others may want to omit it. Add more coconut milk or vegetable broth to get a soupy consistency. Heat gently and serve with your vegetable and crusty bread.

Note on the Coconut-Almond Milk: Most of the time I use Almond Breeze.  However, I have tried Califia’s Coconut-Almond Milk and it is tastier.  I don’t buy it on a regular basis as it is pricier and not available in the shelf-stable boxes.  But it really is divine and is superior for making things like caramel sauce (yes, it is possible and it tastes great!)

Note: I have started cooking my own beans these days instead of using canned ones. I do this for a few reasons. First, because I am trying to avoid the BPAs used in most canning processes (some organic canned or boxed beans are BPA-free but they are dreadfully expensive). Second, I can control the consistency of the beans that way. Sometimes I want them firm, sometimes I want them squishy. Third, I can add flavor while cooking them and reduce the presence of the sugar in beans (oroligosaccharides) that causes gas. If you would like to try doing the same, see below:

Rinse dry beans in water and then set to soak in a pot with a couple of inches of water to cover. Let sit overnight. Drain and rinse beans. Return to pot, cover with water by a couple of inches, and add any seasonings you might like (e.g. rosemary sprigs, cloves of garlic) and a pinch of epazote (this is your magic herb that reduces gas!). Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so it simmers. Different beans take different lengths of time to cook. If they are older they will take longer. Usually 1 hour is a good bet. Drain, discard epazote, and the beans are ready to be served or used in some other recipe.

Note on epazote: I had a dickens of a time getting a hold of this. Once, my friend Katherine Kagel who owns Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe was coming to visit and she asked what she could bring. So I asked her if she could get me some epazote. She delivered! I thought she might be able to since she lives in bean-cooking country and she is a goddess. Now I know that you can get it at Spicely and probably lots of other places if you look on the internet, but I wanted to be sure to get the real deal as I wasn’t looking for it just for taste purposes, but also for its special “carminative” properties. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Experiencing Climate Change

If you’ve being following my blog, you may have thought I’d fallen off a cliff. Luckily, that has not occurred! Instead, I spent a week in Duluth, MN, then returned home to host two sets of lovely house-guests, and I am only now catching up on “life.”

You might wonder why anyone would go to Duluth at the end of April. Good question. However, I wasn’t there for the weather. I was helping my mom post-shoulder surgery. Normally, I would visit during the summer. Spring is always iffy, but this year that was especially true because the Midwest has endured a winter from hell. NOAA declared it one of the coldest winters on record going back to 1895.

It is way past time for climate deniers to pull their heads out of their collective butts and confront reality. Climate change is not some far-flung theory about what might happen in the future; it’s a lot more serious than simply bringing everyone warmer weather (I wish). It is already happening in the here and now with devastating results. More regions of the U.S. are experiencing severe winters. In California, right now, heat waves and drought. have resulted in raging wildfires.  This is likely to be seen across the Southwest.  Florida is witnessing massive floods from too much rain (more than 2 feet in 24 hrs!) falling at one time. In the Northeast, more torrential rains and repeats of the flooding seen during Hurricane Sandy are anticipated.

Deniers claim we can’t afford to adopt reforms. Hello? I’d say it is already too expensive not to drastically change our behavior. More fires, more flooding, more snow, more cold, more heat waves cost us money, big money. And who is footing the bill? Taxpayers – and we all know that corporations are rarely good taxpayers.

When insurance companies are taking the threat of climate change seriously, it’s time for us to pay attention and demand that our politicians deal with this problem.  Even Jon Huntsman, a 2008 GOP presidential contender, gets it now and urges Republicans to become involved in addressing the problem.

So, what can regular citizens do?  There are a host of ways we can effect change.  College students are demanding that their schools divest from the fossil fuel industry: support them!  As voters, we can choose to vote only for candidates who take climate change seriously. Write politicians demanding that they address this problem. When they call you up or email you asking for money or your vote, ask what they are doing to slow down climate change. Contact companies that are especially bad polluters and/or deny climate change and demand that they change their ways or you won’t patronize them anymore (even if you no longer do or never did! They’re not going to check up on you.) Change some of your own habits and mention it to friends and family (buy fewer things like clothes that use lots of energy to produce, travel less, eat less meat, switch to energy efficient products). You don’t have to be preachy about it, just matter-of-fact.

I care about a lot of issues: GMO food, who we’re warring against, Women’s rights, etc. But climate change tops the heap. It would be futile to eat healthy foods, enjoy peace, and equality if our planet has become unlivable. It’s all happening so freakin’ fast. I have a child and I want to know that he will come of age on a planet worth living on. Surely you must feel the same way.

U.S. Climate Change

 

Rising Temperatures

1991-2012 average temperature compared with 1901-1960 average

 

No Death, But Plenty of Taxes

I am glad to say that of the two certain things that will happen in life, happily only one befell my family this month: Taxes. Does anyone enjoy paying taxes? Even if you harbor fond thoughts when you pay them, be sure not to “like” them just in case the IRS institutes the same rule as General Mills Foods so that you essentially forfeit your right to sue if you like them and/or download a coupon.Taxtime-300x221

I’m actually not opposed to paying taxes broadly speaking. All of us use a lot of services that the government provides. I’m all in favor of good schools, well-maintained roads, Social Security, etc. I understand that, since I live in a democracy and different people may have different priorities, I may not concur with all of my government’s spending decisions.

However, that’s not how it works anymore (if it ever did). Now more than ever, because of the Citizens United ruling, corporations are determining how our tax dollars are spent. Now, maybe you agree with the Supreme Court regarding Citizens United that corporations are “persons” too and should therefore have the right to make donations up the wazoo to politicians. Hey, they make more money consequently they presumably pay more taxes, right? So maybe they should get a greater say (never mind the whole one person=one vote thingy). But the funny thing is corporations – especially the richest of them – often pay little or no income taxes.

For the first time, my son has had to pay income tax. Nevermind that he isn’t even in the double-digits age-wise. We invested in a modest college fund for him which generated a small paper profit last year. So, for 2013, he had to pay more income tax than the Boeing Corporation has since he was born! That’s right, a child with a dinky little college fund is paying more taxes than a company that rakes in billions in profits every year.

Is that fair? I sure don’t think so. So what can we do? For a start, sign the petitions for I-1329 that are going around that seek to overturn Citizens United by Constitutional Amendment. It is a long process, but well-worthwhile. My husband has been passing it here in Washington; similar efforts are underway in many other states. It is vitally important that we get corporations out of our government and people back in.

If you want to know more, here is Robert Reich’s short video about how unequal our current tax code is. Don’t worry, it is easier to understand than the tax code.  Is Our Tax System Fair?

And here is an excellent 6 minute video on the mal-distribution of wealth in our country. What you think is reality, really isn’t.  Wealth Inequailty in America

The Joys of Hang-Drying Laundry

Today we had a beautiful sunny day which made me think: time to do laundry! Isn’t that what everyone thinks when there are blue skies outside? For about 8 years I’ve been hang-drying almost all of our laundry. The exceptions I make are sheets and towels (because sheets are too big and I like my towels soft). Otherwise, on the drying racks they go! I started partly because my husband already owned a drying rack or two as his home lacked a dryer (but had a washing machine). Additionally, my son, who was a toddler at the time, thought it was great fun to “help” me. Also, because dryers are the appliance that most suck electricity, it seemed a great way to reduce our energy consumption.

Although we do not live in a climate that is warm all-year round, we are able to hang-dry our clothes all year. This is because we use drying racks instead of a clothes-line. The clothes take a little longer to dry in the winter, but I place them over heat vents and that speeds up the process. Also, I like to think that I enjoy the bonus of adding moisture to the air this way (forced air heat really dries out the air and my skin starts to resemble a crocodile’s). Then, in the summer, I can put the racks out on the deck and the clothes end up smelling great from all that fresh air.  2014_0407Laundry

I also like to think that the sun’s UV rays can kill some germs, but I haven’t seen any evidence that really backs this up. But hey, it’s 64°F today which is pretty toasty for the Pacific Northwest in April. And it is not raining, thank you very much, so I’m not complaining!

Another bonus is that clothes that otherwise might require ironing, often don’t: score! We hang button down shirts and the like on clothes hangers and hang them wherever it suits us and they dry with fewer wrinkles. Ditto with our cloth napkins and placemats. I actually like ironing, but I am usually short on time so I’m willing to give it up (aren’t I the martyr?).

So, I suggest that you start doing the same. You don’t have to commit to hang-drying every load, just do what you can! We all need to do what we can to reduce our energy consumption so we don’t have so many mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, monsoons, earthquakes, etc. You know what I’m talking about here.

On a cheerier note, today I made my short-cut Mexican Soup. I love the real thing, but I don’t always have time to make it. Also, I often have a jar of half-eaten salsa in the fridge and I have learned that it doesn’t keep forever, like many other condiments, and I hate to waste food. So, here is my cheater’s recipe.

Short-Cut Mexican Soup
Salsa (at least one cup to make one serving)
Vegie broth
Assorted add-ins like:
Black beans
Frozen corn
Cheese, shredded or just sliced thinly
Avocado, diced
Cilantro, stemmed and chopped if you care
Broken tortilla chips from the bottom of a bag
Scallion, sliced

Heat the salsa, broth, beans, and corn (if using) until it reaches the temperature you want. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients on top and eat.