Friday, February 22, 2013

We're back!

For those of you still following this blog, thanks for hanging in there. It's been crazydoings in the real world and I'm glad to be back.

The Urban Luddite is now blogging at our very own URL,

I won't be posting here anymore, so be sure you subscribe to the new site - there are a lot of changes and adventures ahead!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New Pet?

Whew. I took some time off blogging while I did several weeks of movie work, which is now winding down. And a good thing, because clearly my little farm needs more attention...

Roommate Anne went to collect eggs today and instead she found a bizarre little hatchling. This poor guy showed up yesterday, apparently motherless and alone. Keith and the hens chased him away together.

Last night I took extra care to make sure I didn't lock him in with the hens - an opossum will kill a chicken, though I think the opossum needs to be a bit bigger to do that. He wasn't in the henhouse then and he wasn't there when Keith let the hens out this morning. But I guess our henhouse was an irresistible spot to hide out for the day... at least, until our hens beat him up and chased him away.

Poor little orphaned opossum. He just wants a safe place to sleep. And maybe a fresh egg to eat.

I hope he doesn't come back. I might have to adopt him. Wonder what the cats would think?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Live Here!

Well hot diggity, I'm famous.

Today I'm featured on I Live Here: PDX, a neat website that draws a portrait of Portland by featuring different residents in their neighborhoods. Click that link and go check it out!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sick Day Hot Toddy

I haven't been sick enough to miss work since coming down with norovirus in 2006. Since easing myself onto a natural, organic diet some years ago, I've not been sick at all, and I have to admit I've taken a smug pride in the fact that I never get sick.

Pride goeth before the fall.

I write this near 7 pm on a Wednesday, after spending the entire day in bed - and a shame too, it looked like such a pretty day out. When I realized I was in no shape to go to work, due to this debilitating chest cold I picked up (after, mind you, eating processed foods at work again), I thought I'd get some writing done and maybe straighten up the house. HA. I haven't been able to stay vertical for more than five minutes at a time, and I've spent the vast majority of the day sleeping.

It's working though. I'm still not feeling great, but I feel a bit better than I did this morning. So I thought I'd share the best chest-cold remedy I know: the spiced brandy toddy. It'll help you get better in a hurry, and without a lot of scary drugs with all their side effects. Take one before you go to bed and you'll feel a little better, so you can go to sleep and let your body do the work of healing.


½ a fresh lemon
1 oz brandy, bourbon, or rum
1 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp raw honey
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Simmering water

Squeeze all the juice out of the lemon half into a large mug. Drop a chunk of the rind in, if you like. Add the liquor, ACV, honey, cinnamon, and pepper. Top off with simmering water and stir until honey is melted and contents are evenly blended. Sip immediately while it's still quite hot.

Here's why it works:

The hot water soothes your throat, and also helps to raise your body temperature so your immune system doesn't have to work as hard to kill the infection. (Remember that we get fevers because heat kills off certain infections.) It's also psychologically soothing.

Honey coats your throat a bit, easing the pain and raspy feeling. It's also a powerful antimicrobial - you can treat minor eye infections with raw honey - which also helps to fight the infection. And it sweetens the taste of the other flavors, which might not be so enjoyable together otherwise.

Lemon is loaded with vitamin C, which we all know is a powerful immune-booster. The acid in the lemon juice and ACV also works to break up phlegm and clear your throat.

You can skip the raw apple cider vinegar if you really want, but its health benefits are many and it really does work. If you don't want to drink it, you can put some on a cotton ball and rub it on your chest, under your nose, and on your forehead. It works a bit like Vick's, but in my opinion it smells better and it's better for you. It doesn't taste bad in the toddy, either - it blends right in with the lemon.

Cinnamon tastes nice too, and it also has antimicrobial properties. The cayenne can also be skipped, but its flavor is unobtrusive and it helps if you're having sinus problems; we all know how spice can clear your head. I also find that a bit of cayenne helps to numb a sore throat.

And that brandy/bourbon/rum? It's soothing and helps you go to sleep, so that your body can work harder on fighting off the infection. If you don't buy it, remember that alcohol is also a key ingredient in NyQuil - but a nice hot toddy tastes a lot better.

And now I'm going back to bed. Wish someone was here to bring me some chicken soup.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Blackeyed Peas, Demystified

The back page of each issue of Organic Gardening magazine is given to an article by the magazine's editor, Maria Rodale. Her grandfather J. I. Rodale is widely considered to be the founder of the modern organic gardening movement; gardening and produce are still, after publishing, the family business. Presumably, Maria grew up around a wide variety of vegetables. So I was stunned to read this article, in which she described a vacation to a B&B near Nashville, where she was treated to "something they called peas." These weird little beans didn't resemble any peas she'd ever heard of, so she inquired and got an education on field peas - including the most famous of field peas, the symbol of the South, the blackeyed pea.

The article reminded me of a time two years ago when a friend from New York was visiting us and checked out the pantry as I made dinner. "What's this?" she asked, picking up a jar. "These funny little beans with the spot that looks like an A?"

Until then, I'd assumed that blackeyed peas were on a level with cornbread and ham. Sure, they're Southern, but everyone knows about them, right? Wrong, it turns out! I mentioned them on Twitter not too long ago when someone asked about a healthy standard weeknight supper, and I was asked repeatedly to explain blackeyed peas and how to cook them.

So here it is. Blackeyed peas are pretty hard to screw up, but with a rich, smoky molasses they can be so much more delicious than their humble nature implies. They're packed with protein, calcium, folate, and vitamin A, among other benefits. They're dirt-cheap and store for a very long time, so you can stock up and always have plenty on hand. They bring you luck when eaten on New Year's Day. They don't even need to be pre-soaked. And don't be fooled by Southern stereotypes - blackeyed peas do NOT need pork, or even any meat at all.

And the best part: They're at their best when left alone in a crockpot all day while you go to work. For an easy and nutritious weeknight supper, throw blackeyed peas in the crockpot before you leave in the morning, and then whip up a quick honey cornbread (here's my recipe) when you get home. Collard greens and copper pennies, as in the pic above, are nice but optional!


1 cup dried blackeye peas
4 cups chicken/vegetable broth, water, or a combo
2 cloves minced garlic
¼ cup molasses
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil (see note)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp hot sauce
½ tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp dried savory or parsley (optional)
¼ tsp ground black pepper

Chopped green onion, to taste

Note: You can use olive oil, but if you have toasted sesame oil, definitely use it here.

Rinse off the blackeyed peas in a strainer. If you see any shriveled-looking or darkened peas (or little pebbles, sometimes it happens), toss them.

Combine everything but the green onion in the crockpot and switch it on. The measurements don't need to be exact. Forget about it for 8-10 hours. Come home and give it a stir, and when the cornbread is ready, dish up those peas and sprinkle green onion on top.

If you're not making any other dishes and this is just a simple blackeyed-peas-and-cornbread dinner, try a pickle and/or some sliced radishes on the side. Raw veggies really sing with this, or sometimes I go the other way and have a few cubes of cheese. Just keep it simple!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Upsetting the Applecart

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead

There aren't a lot of pictures of Tarek el-Tayyib Mohamed Ben Bouazizi. In most of the pictures that do exist, he's not recognizeable. Hell, he's not recognizeable to most Americans even in the picture above. But his short life, and the way he left it, has completely changed the face of global politics.

Different versions of Mohamed's story conflict with each other; some say he had a computer science degree, others that he never made it through high school. What is known is that he was 26 years old and living in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, with his widowed mother and six sisters. Unable to find employment, he worked for most of his life (from age 10 onward) as a street vendor, selling fruits and vegetables from a cart. Despite police harassment, theft, and a tendency to give away free food to those even poorer than himself, Mohamed was able to provide for his family and send his sisters to school; he was even putting one sister through university, and was saving up for a truck to expand his business.

Enter the police, stage left.

Stories conflict here too. We do know that a police officer named Faida Hamdi stopped him on the morning of December 17, 2010. Some say she demanded a bribe, others say she demanded a permit (which authorities in Sidi Bouzid agree that he didn't actually need), many say she overturned his cart and confiscated his property. Mohamed's family claims that she insulted his deceased father, spit at him, and slapped him in the face. For a young man victimized by corrupt officials throughout most of his life, it was the last straw. He appealed to his government officials, who ignored him until he doused himself with either gasoline or paint thinner and set himself on fire. Eighteen days later, he died of his burns.

This is why the Arab world is under revolution now. It began in Tunisia, where thousands of Mohamed's peers took to the streets in his name to fight for change. Corrupt government, high inflation, high unemployment, widespread poverty - it all came to a head when Mohamed couldn't take anymore, and his peers decided they didn't have to, either. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled his office a short time later.

This inspired similar revolt in Egypt, but also in Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain and Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Mauritania, Syria, Morocco, and now Libya. Even Saudi Arabia is getting into the act. Civil unrest appears to be spreading into Europe too, after a Moroccan street vendor with a story remarkably like Mohamed Bouazizi's torched himself in Sicily, sparking protests across Italy as well as Greece and Albania.

Bizarrely, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been getting a lot of credit for his network's part in the revolution; a man in Egypt even named his newborn daughter "Facebook". Though the mayor of Paris plans to name a park after Mohamed Bouazizi, his memory seems to be fading in favor of the rich and powerful, as tends to happen.

Me, I'm sitting here wondering when we're going to follow suit. Corrupt government, high inflation, high unemployment, and widespread poverty all sounds pretty familiar to me. Sure, there's the protests in Wisconsin - but come on, y'all, union benefits? Seriously? We have Morningland Dairy and Estrella Family Creamery playing the part of our own Mohamed Bouazizi, with the FDA in Faida Hamdi's role; Wisconsin even had an Amish farmer, Emanuel Miller, tormented by the USDA in violation of his First Amendment rights exactly two years to the day before Mohamed lost his business. Why weren't we marching then?

And why aren't we marching against our own federal government, who spends almost 700 BILLION of our dollars against our will to maintain unwanted occupation of about 160 foreign nations after our elected president promised - and failed to deliver - "change"? Or our USDA, which once served farmers but now works to subjugate them to oppressive corporations like Monsanto? Or our own Congress, which takes a pimp's approach to demanding an ever-increasing share of the little we have while slapping us with more and more restrictions on our Constitutional rights?

All across North Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, people are fed up and working for change, all because one guy pushing a fruit cart decided enough was enough. I hope an American fruit farmer doesn't have to set himself on fire before we decide we've had enough, too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Can't Help Falling in Love

Wise men say
Only fools rush in,
But I can't help...

...licking every last crumb off the plate after sampling this Elvis Pie.

No kidding, y'all, this is hands down the best pie I've ever made in my life. And I completely made it up as I went along (thankfully I wrote it down as I went, so I can duplicate it later). Charcutepalooza is changing my entire outlook on food here; I've never been a huge meat eater (I was a strict vegetarian for 12 years, from age 11-23) and I've never liked pork, but I cannot get enough of this homemade bacon.

I have a friend here in Portland who is also not too big on meat, but she and I have been experimenting with old-school meat production the way some people (ahem, certainly not us) have experimented with recreational drugs. Last summer we slaughtered five unfortunate chickens who'd been hatched in my garage and raised in my backyard, where they also met their end. At Christmas she hesitantly volunteered to try my maple bacon cream pie (look up to your right at the Kickstarter link, there's a picture); she loved it.

So when I was making my own bacon for Charcutepalooza, she was interested, and her husband owned a little meat smoker. So I borrowed their smoker with the promise of sharing the bacon once it was finished. I did bring them some bacon tonight, but they let me keep the smoker awhile longer, so to thank them I took the opportunity to try out an idea I'd been kicking around for awhile: Elvis Pie.

The only thing it needs is a bit more bacon. Otherwise, it's perfect. I was inspired by the sandwiches that famously killed the King - peanut butter, banana, and bacon, sandwiched between slices of white bread and fried crisp in butter and bacon fat. According to legend, Elvis ate two of these every night. Sure explains how this...

...becomes this.

So just don't eat two of these a day. You still gotta splurge sometimes!

For this pie, I made a graham cracker crust with vanilla sugar, butter, and bacon fat (of course using the fat from cooking my homemade bacon, cured in maple and brown sugar with a touch of cloves). Then I layered in a peanut butter cream filling sweetened with brown sugar and honey. I topped that with a layer of fresh sliced bananas - here's where I'll also add more bacon when I make this again - and then I poured a lovely vanilla custard over it all and let it chill until firm.

Just before serving, I whipped cream with confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and a little more bacon fat. I spread that over the top, then sprinkled it with graham cracker crumbs, chopped chocolate, and finally... that beautiful thick-cut home-cured sweet bacon.

A pie fit for the King! But, except for the one slice I sampled here, I gave it to my friends. Because they're awesome, and because one thing I've learned about meat production and preservation is that it tends to be a community endeavor. And that's why it goes so well with pie.