Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Scandalously Close" Relationships

I was listening to the radio yesterday and I heard Obama decry the "scandalously close relationship" between the oil companies and the regulators who were supposed to be keeping them in check. Apparently (surprise, surprise) the inspectors and other regulators enjoyed the gifts and other perks of a happier relationship with those companies, so instead of scrutinizing their activity and preventing risk, they rubber-stamped whatever the companies asked them to and looked the other way so that Big Oil could sell out all of our health and safety for a buck.

I was not the least bit surprised to hear this, but apparently the American public is scandalized. Good! We should be. And let's not limit it to Big Oil. Who else do you think enjoys a similar relationship with regulators and inspectors? Big Pharm, perhaps? Big Agriculture? You think the FDA and the USDA might have a similar pattern of greenlighting whatever they do with a wink and a nod?

Turns out, they do. Drugs with very serious side effects go through the FDA based on half-assed research funded by the drug company itself. It didn't end with Thalidomide. The USDA was itself promoting the practice of cannibalism in cows - that's right, feeding the guts, fat, and other waste of cattle to OTHER CATTLE as cheap filler in feedlots. Did they promote this practice because it's good agriculture? Of course not, it just made a bit more money for the corporations behind the feedlots. Of course, it turned out to cause Crutzfeld-Jakob disease, a very nasty and incurable brain disorder that causes a horrible death in humans who eat the infected meat. But what the hell, money is money.

Did you know that if you switch a corn-fed cow to a grass diet for a mere two weeks before slaughter, you completely remove all traces of E. coli from its system? But over 20,000 people are infected with E. coli every year in this country, and every year several (including many children) suffer death or paralysis from it. The USDA doesn't require a grass diet for cattle, or even finishing on grass, because Big Ag turns a better profit on corn feedlots. Hell, the USDA even prohibits farmers from testing more than 10% of their herd for bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow disease") or E. coli O157:H7 (the deadly strain) - that's right, a farmer who wants to market his meat as safe after testing 100% of his herd was prohibited from doing so by the USDA, because large corporate feedlots couldn't afford the expense of doing same, and it would've been "unfair" competition.

So when you hear the USDA or the FDA carrying on about "safety," think of the oil companies. Think of nice gifts for federal inspectors, the bonuses, the cuddly relationship between our government safety officials and the profit-at-any-human-cost pigs they're supposed to be protecting us from. Think about that murderous gusher pumping thousands of gallons of oil into an ecosystem that may never recover, and livelihood destroyed, and human lives lost because safety officials looked the other way for money. Then think very hard about who you trust to protect you.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Killing time in L.A.

So I'm all rested from the show now, and ready to go home to Portland. We have to wait though; no point fighting Memorial Day traffic along I-5 after the misery we suffered last Thanksgiving (I-5 was a parking lot all the way through Sacramento). So I'm stuck here in Los Angeles a bit longer.

Could be worse, though. Yesterday we went to a lovely little farmers' market on the beach in Redondo. Everyone was sampling out fresh strawberries, and we bought some of those, as well as fresh cherries, lots of veggies, and twelve little vegetable starts that were a steal at $11 for the dozen. The weather was chill and drizzly, but I got a nice cup of fresh coffee so I was fine, and fresh cherries will brighten any day whatever the weather.

After the market, Keith and I grabbed a bite of leftover cabbage rolls from the night before, and then we each went to unwind in our own way - he spent the day at the movies, and I spent it at my Korean spa. Soaking, steaming, scrubbing, relaxing, until I was all limp and light... bliss. This spa is the reason I come to L.A.

Keith and I made a very nice dinner when we got back. He fired up the grill for a London broil I'd marinated all day, and he also grilled some fresh sweet corn and asparagus from the market, while I whipped up a salad with arugula and strawberries with fried shallots and a wine-balsamic vinaigrette. We opened an incredible pinot noir to go with it. Dinner was delicious, if filling - so filling that I fell asleep on the couch shortly after dinner, so quickly that I honestly don't remember what movie we were just about to watch. This is an embarrassing habit I'm developing here; every time Keith's dad puts in a movie after dinner, I pass out on it. I feel bad but I can't help it.

Today we took a drive out to see Keith's grandparents a couple hours outside of town, then went out for Mexican food. I'm now curled up with a little splash of Bombay Sapphire while Keith and his dad sip a very fine tequila, watching a British reality show that combines cars and travel with British humor to hilarious effect. I know tomorrow we're seeing friends in Hollywood, and we'll find something to occupy us for the next few days... but I'm ready for Wednesday and the drive back. I'm ready to go home again to my chickens and planting. I miss my life!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Muffin Pie!

Still in L.A. Back in Redondo now, after a week of staying at our friend's place in Silverlake. The show is wrapped, so now we're resting up and getting ready to spend a little time with friends while we figure out what Keith's next move is. In a few days, either I'll hop a train back up to Portland, or we'll drive back up together (hello, Rogue Creamery)!

In the meantime I made a fun discovery the other day that I want to share. I had a day off when we were at our friend's place, and I felt like cooking. I dug around in the kitchen, found a muffin tin and rolling pin, and thought, "Wouldn't it be neat to have individual serving size pot pies in the freezer?" So I made up some buttery flaky pie crust, lined the muffin cups with it, and filled them with a nice little homemade tuna pot pie filling before topping them off with a top crust and baking them up. They were really tasty!

I liked the concept so much I went on to make several more little muffin-pies with tofu-veggie filling in a white wine herb gravy. Keith and I ate a couple of them, and were pleased to discover that they go straight from freezer to microwave and are hot and delicious after four minutes. We don't usually microwave food as we don't have a microwave ourselves, but homemade convenience food is always a plus!

Each little muffin pie is exactly the size to make a good little dinner with a salad or a cup of soup. And they look so cute! I was thinking these would be awesome for kids' lunch boxes (they're tasty at room temperature, too, just heat and then wrap 'em up) or even taking on a hike. They'll definitely be good to bring on the train. I can't wait to make some more little muffin pot pies!

Friday, May 21, 2010

They grow up so fast...

Our awesome friends are watching the house, cats, and chickens while we're gone, and they just sent me pics of the baby chicks. They're not babies anymore! LOOK at how they've grown and they're only a month old!

Can you believe it?!

Teenager chickens!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Still in LA-LA-Land.

Just an update since I've been working ridiculous hours and haven't posted in awhile. We're still in L.A., working hard, enjoying the work and definitely enjoying the job - this is the friendliest crew and the most mannerly group of actors I've worked with in a long while. The weather is hot and sunny after a few days of clouds and what Los Angeles considers rain.

I hear my baby chicks are not so much baby chicks anymore, and I hear Lana is back to laying eggs already! Our friends who are taking care of the cats and chooks collected two Lana eggs yesterday - I am so impressed! I thought she'd wait until the babies were grown. But nope, only a month into motherhood and she's back to work. What a trooper.

Our friends said they'd take pictures of the chicks so I could see how big they're getting. Apparently I guessed right, we have a frizzle! How fun to have a frizzle hen with wild curly messy feathers. Still not sure whether the Australorp is a boy or a girl, but I guess we'll see when we get back. By then they should be full-on chickens (if small ones) and Lana will start rejecting them, pecking and squawking for them to move out, get a job.

When I see pics, I'll share them here. But I sure am missing my little farm today! I can't wait to get back and do my summer planting finally!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The need for real food, underscored.

I'm in L.A. for three weeks, doing film work. One thing about working on set is the 14-hour days (often longer), plus the commute each way in L.A. traffic (and we're staying in the South Bay, across town from everything), and the set food. Urrp. That set food...

Catering and craft service on a film set are designed to keep people as full as possible for as cheaply as possible. There's nothing wrong with this, except that the people involved are often not actually invested in food or cooking, so they often rely on prepackaged ingredients to assemble for the crew. After a week of returning to an on-set diet after a full year of cooking my own, I've noticed headaches, sluggishness, and skin problems. We've both noticed our sense of general well-being is not what it is when we cook food from natural, organic ingredients. Add to that the fact that even the water in L.A. is loaded with toxins and poisons - your choices are filthy, foul-tasting tap water or water that has sat in a plastic bottle leaching chemicals - and it's no wonder health problems are so rampant in this town.

Another interesting thing I noticed: A lunch based on white flour and non-organic, nutritionally deficient ingredients leads to relentless snacking all day. The body craves all the nutrients it didn't get with the meal, so you wind up stopping by the craft service table every time you walk past it and grabbing whatever you can. But that's more junk food, so by the end of the day you've consumed thousands of calories and you still haven't been nourished. This is why we, as a society, are fat.

The sad thing is that most people living on a packaged diet are completely unaware of the trouble it causes. Keith and I lived this way for years and never noticed, but once we moved to Oregon and started cooking real food with real organic ingredients, Keith noticed he didn't feel good whenever he went back to set work. Now I'm here and I can definitely confirm it.

I'm not complaining about the food on this one particular show, you understand. This is an industry-wide problem that merely reflects our national misconceptions about food. Too often we assume that assembling packaged products is a fine substitute for cooking, and the end result is just as good as food. Experience shows that it most decidedly isn't.

Imagine the things we could accomplish with a well-nourished society! One thing's for sure, we'd probably spend a lot less on healthcare. It even makes you wonder if the crime rate would drop when people felt better. We'll never know unless we try, but it's going to have to happen one home at a time. If you're eating with labels every day, try cutting it out for awhile and see how much more alive you feel.

And then send me some of that nourishing, organic, real-live FOOD. I miss it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Joel Salatin on the Revolution

I just had to share this article - actually an excerpt from Joel Salatin's foreword to The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights. If you don't know Joel Salatin yet, you should - and if you know me, then you know him, because I admit to devoted fellowship in the First Church of Salatin, Farmer. I know I talk about him a lot. Have been ever since seeing him in Food, Inc. and reading his groundbreaking, revolutionary book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal.

It's not just his farming technique, it's his worldview, his classically American belief in liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Joel Salatin is at the forefront of a movement which recognizes that a corporate-controlled government oligarchy is NOT equipped to decide what we should eat, how we should conduct free enterprise among neighbors, or how we should nourish our families. I'll raise a glass of my grey-market, life-affirming raw milk to that philosophy - especially as Congress moves forward on current legislation which would effectively ban organic farming and farmers' markets (yes, really).

So anyway, the article. I can't repost the whole thing here, so click the link to read it.

I drink raw milk (sold illegally on the underground market)
by Joel Salatin

Isn't it curious that at this juncture in our culture's evolution, we collectively believe Twinkies, Lucky Charms, and Coca-Cola are safe foods, but compost-grown tomatoes and raw milk are not? With legislation moving through Congress demanding that all agricultural practices be "science-based," I believe our food system is at Wounded Knee. I do not believe that is an overstatement...

Indeed, what good is the freedom to own guns, worship, or assemble if we don't have the freedom to eat the proper fuel to energize us to shoot, pray, and preach? Is not freedom to choose our food at least as fundamental a right as the freedom to worship?

Is it not, indeed. Jackbooted government thugs are harassing Amish farmers like Daniel Allgyer and Emmanuel Miller while Monsanto contaminates our groundwater and other corporations infect our children with E. coli and diabetes. And Congress, predictably, comes down on the side of its corporate sponsors.

Joel Salatin is right, we are absolutely at Wounded Knee. Voting out the incumbents and casting real votes for freedom this November, that's not just about taxes or Obamacare or who looks better on TV. This election is about our very survival, our fundamental right to choose nourishing, life-sustaining foods. There's nothing more basic, or more important, than that.

Bleu-Green Salad

O happy day! At long last, I have learned to love avocado.

I hated it for years. Hated the texture mostly, but the flavor didn't much do it for me either. I could tolerate avocados once I moved to the west coast, where they are fresh and abundant, but I still didn't really care for them. I don't even like guacamole.

They're so good for you though. And recently I've been deliberately trying to cultivate a taste for avocado. It's pretty good smashed up and spread on a vegetable sandwich with hummus, and it's good tossed into a salad with a lot of other textures. Finally I discovered that the secret to a delicious avocado: citrus and vinegar. Together. Something about that acid really brings a nice rich flavor out of all that creamy green.

So for lunch today, I made the greenest salad ever, and based it on avocado. I started with this recipe and just ran with it, using up the farmers' market goodness that I had on hand, enjoying the first local asparagus of the season. This salad was perfect. Next time someone asks me what spring in Oregon tastes like, I will serve him this salad. I'm just sorry that Keith missed out on it, because he would've absolutely loved it. I'll have to make it for him next week when I get down to L.A.

(And what a nutritional punch in this salad! Look at all that iron, those good healthy fats, a little protein, plenty of fiber... just perfect!)


1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and halved
2 avocados, peeled and cubed
Fresh, quality lettuce
Fresh baby spinach
Fresh sorrel
* Rogue Creamery Smokey Bleu Cheese
Sunflower seeds
Fresh mint

** 1 wedge salted Meyer lemon, minced, plus 1 Tbsp juice
1 small clove minced raw garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 small dollop honey
Fresh parsley, chopped
Pepper to taste

* Okay, you can use any bleu cheese here. But I really, really recommend the smoked bleu cheese for this if you can get it. It does the loveliest things with all the sweet crisp greens and creamy avocado... just incredible.

** Use the zest and juice of a lemon plus some salt if you haven't made salted Meyer lemons. But you should try those salted lemons sometime. They go with everything; I'm constantly finding new things to put them in, and that salted lemon juice is the best thing that ever happened to salad dressing.

So anyway, bring a pot of water to boil, then blanch the asparagus for a minute or two until it turns brilliant green. Meanwhile, whisk up the dressing ingredients with a fork and set aside. Drain the blanched asparagus in a colander and rinse under cold water until it's cool to the touch. Throw the asparagus and avocado together in a big bowl, pour the dressing over it, and mix it up.

Arrange the lettuce, spinach, and sorrel on a plate and dump half the avocado-asparagus mix on top. (Make two plates of greens to serve two people, or save the other half of the a-a mix for later.) Sprinkle with the bleu cheese, sunflower seeds, and mint. Try not to stuff it all in your face at once - it is that good!

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Pleasant Little Mini-Break (but first: Pie!)

I'm cross-posting today because I'm so proud of myself for finally hitting upon the PERFECT pie crust recipe. Came up with it myself! I figured I'd try and develop another gluten-free recipe to see if it would work, and it really did. There's a how-to, with the recipe, over at Nothing But An Apron (the homemaking blog I cowrite with my friend).

It was ridiculously easy to work with, too. Sometimes pie crust can be a real pain in the ass. This crust was smooth, perfectly malleable, and delicious. You can't overwork it, after all - it's gluten-free, and not going to glutenize like wheat does! And it was a lot more forgiving with the water; it didn't get all sticky like pie crust sometimes does. Seriously, anyone can make this pie crust, it was so easy. I'm really proud of it.

EDIT: I hadn't realized I already posted about the pie a couple days before I posted this. Haha. Oops. I guess you can tell I really was proud. This is me, blushing. Anyway...

Had a nice weekend, if a bit rushed. We went to the farmers' market on Saturday and got myself some groceries for the week; the strawberries are finally in and OHHHHH MAN, are they delicious. We ate the whole pint (okay, I ate about ¾ of it) on the way down to Ashland on Saturday afternoon. It was a gorgeous day for a road trip, sunny but not too hot, and we stopped on the way at the Rogue Creamery and Lillie Belle Farms for incredible bleu cheese sampling and chocolate truffles.

Once in Ashland, we visited my favorite sushi place in the whole wide world - yes, I, She Who Will Not Eat Raw Fish, have a favorite sushi place. It's called Kobe, and it's got a beautiful patio overlooking a wooded stream running through downtown Ashland, and it's my favorite sushi place because they have incredible beef tataki. It's so hard to find beef tataki, but I absolutely love it - steak marinated in ginger and miso, very lightly seared but left mostly raw, sliced thin and served over a bed of watercress. Keith got his raw fish on, so we were both happy, and after dinner we walked up the street and shared a cup of all-natural handmade ginger ice cream with chunks of candied ginger all throughout. It was the perfect dessert to complement the sushi.

At this point Keith had a speaking engagement, so we went to that, and even though he was sick he was on point with his trademark sharp wit. Afterwards we joined some of his associates at a local wine bar for a lovely glass of vino, and then he and I had to get some sleep.

We were up at 2:45 a.m. to head into California. It was right at 3 a.m. when we turned onto Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland's main drag, and had to brake for two unusual pedestrians: a pair of deer, both does, strolling across the crosswalk just like they were shopping downtown! (Jaywalking, however. Though in the crosswalk, they were crossing against the green light. Tsk, tsk.)

It was still dark when we pulled into Dunsmuir, California, a tiny town hidden so deep in the woods that you can't see it from the expressway even though it's right there. We only had to wait for a few minutes; the train pulled up right on time, so I kissed Keith goodbye and boarded while he continued on to L.A. I left Dunsmuir promptly at 5:04 a.m. and got myself settled comfortably in the lounge car to watch the sunrise. It came as we crossed the state line back into Oregon. The train tracks are way back in the mountains there, with no other visible signs of civilization, so the view was so incredible I don't even have a word for it. Deep wooded valleys, sharp mountains dolloped with snow, and every shade of orange and pink in that sunrise. I dozed off watching that and napped for awhile.

Spent the rest of the day on Amtrak enjoying the view and writing. I took a break for lunch in the dining car, where a vegetarian chipotle bean burger actually impressed me with how good it was. After lunch I went back to the lounge car for a cayenne pepper caramel truffle from Lillie Belle Farms, and about 3:30 p.m. we were back in Portland. I caught the light rail across town to the bus that took me home, and I was back in the house by 4:45 to feed the chickens and cats.

None too soon for the chicks in the garage - they are growing like government and eating us out of house and home! I filled their feeder yesterday about 5 p.m. and when I got up this morning at 8 it was empty again. I should get some pictures today; their wings have feathered out and they've reached that awkward in-between stage when they look all gangly and fuzzy. Later this week I think I'll be moving them outside. It wouldn't be warm enough for them if they didn't have Lana, but they do, and it'll be good for them to have access to grass and bugs so they won't eat so much feed. They've been in the garage long enough that the sunshine and outdoors will be good for them.

In the meantime today I'll be doing some gardening. We bought more strawberry starts at the farmers' market, and a friend gave me two more blueberry bushes, and another friend gave me a young bay leaf tree and a green tea tree. Off to do the planting in between the sporadic rain showers we've been getting today...