Archive for November, 2009

“The Logo Board Game”

November 9, 2009

Somewhere I read that children are able to recognize a huge number of logos even before they learn to read. They can not recognize varieties of wild plants or birds or clouds by name (unless we teach them) but they can distinguish between entertainment companies, fast-food restaurants, cars. Well, this just indicates a lot about our world, and how much we have ceded to the people selling us things, how much knowledge we are losing, what we’ve allowed our priorities to become– let alone how open, for better and for worse, the young human brain really is.

Someone brought a Sunday newspaper yesterday, and this morning I was sorting through it, putting the glossy stuff in recycling, the sports section in the fire-starting basket, and from the pile emerged a John Lewis Christmas catalog. For all my addiction to second-hand I have a kind of dark desire (unfulfilled year after year) for modern white tableware, and thought I’d have a look. And I did, and yes in some other reality I would love Santa to bring me a set of those clean, elegant, stackable bowls.

Flicked through to the children’s pages. Disgusted to find “The Logo Board Game.” “We’re surrounded by logos, ” the text reads. “TV, advertising, even t-shirts. How many logos can you remember? This game tests your knowldege with questions and picture clues. Age 12plus.” There is absolutely no reality in which I want Santa to bring this game into my household. It represents a kind of solopsistic nightmare– how brainwashed are people going to let themselves get??? Actually paying to be advertised to. It’s like inviting a virus to lodge in your brain. If you’ve googled this game, I hope you land on my blog and choose not to buy the thing!

Meanwhile… my daughter’s Y3 choir is rehearsing their Christmas repertoire. There’s a song they are doing celebrating Xmas shopping :

Come on everybody, there’s a whole lot of shopping going on
Gotta get a movin’. there’s a pickin’ and a choosin’ to be done
We’re going crazy! We can’t be lazy!
There’s only days we have left, the rush has begun…

I am just appalled (well, a little bit amused too). If I went and taught that group of kids a song about not shopping, I would be labelled an extremist, and a kill-joy. A friend suggests I complain– his recommendation was on the grounds of the credit crunch and how many pupils’ families can ill-afford holiday excess– but I’m always complaining– about the parking on the pedestrian path, about the junk food. Of course I’m sure there is a world of Christians who loathe the commercialism of it all. But I can’t argue from that place; my worries relate to how consumerism is going to be the death of us all. Yet I am tempted to let this one go, not to complain. Would you?


Consume, Reproduce, Obey

November 9, 2009

Consume, Reproduce, Obey. I used to have a little poster that said that, when I was a teenager. It came to mind but it’s not exactly what I am writing about… though not unrelated….

Seems like more and more people I know in the climate-aware world are taking the climate change future as a factor in the decision whether or not to have children.

For some it’s a matter of “footprint,” knowing that no matter how in the rich world we struggle to reduce it, our kids (especially because we can’t fully control them) are going to consume and grow up to consume and possibly reproduce… Part of the question is whether we have children for our own needs and vanity, and if so, then they are tagged onto our footprint…

Other friends are questioning what kind of world we would be bringing children to grow up into. Past generations have asked this as well, but somehow the future as we see it now seems magnified in its dire multiplications of what can go wrong.

At least four friends have expressed these dilemmas to me in various ways, and I wonder if it is out there at large as a personal question certain people are asking. Of course there’s still plenty of reproduction, including among friends, a surprising number of whom have had three children, which seems a true act of faith as it’s more than the replacement of parents in numbers (in the nuclear family context).

When friends ask I have no answers, only questions. I wouldn’t have any more kids but I don’t want any more– though I would open our family to other children if the situation were right somehow (but not just yet). I am trying to raise the kids I have relatively low-consumption but of course my daughter fantasizes about Primark and I know they will want to travel, want things life in the rich world brings…

It sends shivers down me when they talk, as ordinary children do, of growing up to be parents themselves, to have children, because it’s precisely that time frame, twenty years hence say, when the shit might really hit the fan. I don’t assume I will have grandchildren. I do assume the question of whether to have kids will be incredibly alive for my own children.

There’s a preciousness to babies and children, to new and young life and its innocence and purity and its lack of responsibility. One so wants everything beautiful and perfect for one’s children, for all children. And it’s just upsetting and dark, knowing they are not going to get that, or sure get a lot less of it than might have been…

PS — Am going to start a little, easy practice– copying down climate disaster headline on days when I blog. Yes, yes, I know, no single weather event can be attributed to the changing climate, and yes yes there have always been deadly floods, etc. But at some point (and SOON) we need to stop being cautious and start telling it like it is. If this were a war, casualty headlines would be heeded, and this does feel like a war, just one we just probably cannot win– “At least 124 now confirmed dead in floods in El Salvador.”

Something from Nothing East End Jewish Style

November 6, 2009

I work part time in an organic vegetable shop, which is run as a sort of community enterprise to ensure the availabliity of organics locally, and to be an outlet for the produce of local growers. Last week another clerk really made me laugh, labelling truly delicious satsuma with mottled, darkened rind: “Beauty is only skin-deep.” They were the sweetest I’d ever tasted.

Yesterday, a customer came in. Standing over a box of beetroot, he chatted about his mother, an old-timey East End of London Jewish lady, and how she made her borscht simply with boiled beetroot and citric acid, then beat in a raw egg and maybe some sour cream to make it pink.

A few months ago I did some experiments fermenting beetroot with carrots and garlic and a hunk of sourdough bread. An incredible tart sweet flavour and a kind of viscous texture for a cold soup. Heated would be lovely, thinned or with beef stock might have been traditional. I can’t imagine many people eat this way anymore.

Peter told me another incredible story. His grandmother would always ask the butcher for the head of the chicken. (Everyone it seems was happy for the feet, to scrape them down and use in stock, along with various of the gizzard bits.) But the head was useful for the neck, which would be stuffed with a mixture of flour and chicken fat, melded together with fingers like pastry dough. Then it would be cooked, in broth, and become like a sausage, an incredible delicious savory confection. Something from nothing, Peter said. All that love, preparing something for your family.

Somebody Misses Me! (But Not Someone Who Would Be Especially Interested in this Little Discourse on Meat Eating)

November 3, 2009

A friend wrote to me with concern that I might have stopped blogging. It felt nice to be missed. In fact, my computer charger was broken and my children have been with me 25 hours a day since half-term holiday. I liked being off-line, compelled as I ever am towards the internet. I was reminded that I could do different things with my down-time than facebook or idle www reading. For one I’ve rediscovered my love of making tarts, and for Halloween with the flesh from the squash George and Ned carved I made a really nice pie: a modified Martha Stewart recipe, with honey and cream and ginger, and really nice pastry with a new combination that was 1 part whole wheat spelt to four parts white flour– I am always trying to figure out really tasty ratios that are healthful but not overwhelmed or made leaden by whole-grainness. This one worked.

I also took out my Fuchsia Dunlop books, on Sichuan and Hunan cooking, to make a list of ingredients to ask some friends who are visiting from Oxford next weekend to bring. She is an inspiring cookery writer, and I have chosen her for my guide. I am determined to become a passable cook of yummy Chinese dishes with all our local produce and meat. Condiments and specialist ingredients to come from the kind of cavernous shops that fill me with ecstatic glee. The nearest good Chinese is Birmingham, and that’s too far for my terrible cravings.

(Oh yes, at the Fairtrade shop on Cornmarket in Oxford, they sell a really first rate bottle of pickled chillis from Eswatini Swazi Kitchen, would like to link but their server seems down, must remember to put this on the list for Helen…)

Meat: It’s so clear to me that livestock rearing in a big big problem and we as a family must eat lower on the foodchain. We try in so many ways, in fact most ways, to have our lifestyle meet our values, and in this way we could do better. My husband really likes his meat, and so does my daughter. My son and I have more of a cheese tooth, and dairy is a problem too, though perhaps not quite as much of one (something to investigate actually).

Eating meat– the animals command food resources, the issues that Diet for a Small Planet began to get at years ago… and skew the global market, and prices, and create hunger. And of course the belching digestive methane of ruminants, a potent and immediate warming gas. Let alone the unbearable cruelty of industrial animal rearing. I truly respect vegans, and could be one, but I don’t think my family would participate and as the primary cook and an inveterate nibbler and taster I don’t see how I could remain one. My determination is to cook better (meaning more with less), as below, and when outside the home and given a choice, to choose whatever is impact lowest (local, vegetable, NOT global soya, etc.)

But: it is possible to get extremely local, free range and often organic lamb and pork/bacon and chicken around here. It’s more expensive, obviously, but I’d rather barely eat meat at all and pay more than eat lower quality stuff more often. This kind of meat is truly delicious. Last spring I bought a cut of beef brisket from a farmer up the road and made a very memorable Vietnamese Pho (a noodle soup with warm spices) with the stock. Last night we had chicken wings and because they were from organically raised birds I saved and rendered the fat from the stock from the tips. I will use this fat somehow, not sure yet. But then at least from that purchase of the wings comes four uses: the grilled meat itself, the stock from the tips which I used to simmer some kasza, the chicken fat from that stock to sautee something sometime, and the stock from the bones of the wings…

There’s also the idea simply to bulk meat out, to extend the meat experience as in loaves and meatballs. I have made lamb meatballs (really local meat, minced) verily expanded with leftover bread or rice, onions, cinnamon, baked, then put in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, bay, cinnamon, ginger– tastes uncannily eerily similar to Swanson’s TV dinner Meatloaf Meal that was a true excitement of my American youth.

I think as I start to cook more Chinese I’ll also find more ways to be resourceful (ie resource careful) with meat… I also think of Asian cuisines as using meat as a condiment rather than a focus– the scent of bacon or shrimp, a moment not an hour… Seems like for meat eaters learning to make these shifts would go a long way towards improving things…

One last food thought: with the leftover kasza (tasty buckwheat groats) I’d like to sautee (hey! in the chicken fat!) a chopped leek and some nice mushrooms, maybe some parsley from the pot on the windowsill and roll in a nice crepe made from buckwheat flour and wheat and the eggs from my friend Michelle’s chickens. This is the kind of cooking that is really inspired by Rebecca Wood’s The Splendid Grain, another book I am loving these days.

Nicola my dear, if you would happen upon my doorstep in time for this Ladies Luncheon I’d make you a vegetarian version with the Fairtrade Extra Virgin Palestinian Olive Oil for sale in our local cooperative organic veg shop! LOL!

(But, OMG, there’s an incredible story to why a jar of those Palestinian black olives have to cost over £5– so much travail, turmoil, suffering and sadness in that one small jar. Someday I will write up the story. It’s a horrendous tale.)