31 January 2011

27 January 2011

Taming the wild yeast

I've got a new creature in the kitchen that I'm caring for these days. It's a sourdough that I cultivated from the naturally occurring yeasts which are found on organic wheat berries. I've tried a few different starters over the years, but they either failed to start or I neglected them beyond all recovery. Not long ago, I found an article about starting a wild yeast sourdough using pineapple juice. It just so happened that in the fridge I had a jar of pineapple juice from a can of pineapple pieces I'd used for something else and of course, I always have fresh-ground organic hard wheat available (thanks to this). Apparently, the acidity of the juice causes the pH to be just right for the wild yeasts to grow without being overrun by bacteria. It works.

Since my sourdough is only a baby yet, I've been making bread with unbleached flour. My starter is 100% whole wheat so the loaves are 25% whole wheat/75% white. I use a recipe I found here, and it is wonderful. It is a no-knead/ dutch oven recipe and it has an interesting twist to the dutch oven technique. Instead of preheating the pot and then putting the proofed dough in, it suggests proofing the dough in the pot and placing it in a cold oven with no preheating. The next time I try that (when I recover from the clean-up of my first attempt) I will use shortening and cornmeal, rather than just some flour as I have always done. Meanwhile, until I acquire some Crisco (I never thought I'd ever say that) I will continue braving the hot oven and pot technique that has always worked so well. 

When I work up the courage, I will try baking Desem bread, from the Laurel's Bread Book, which I  attempted a long time ago and hadn't thought I'd try again, until I read this post. First though, I'm going to let my sourdough grow up.

24 January 2011

Monday forest photo: January 24, 2011

10:00am -25C cloudy
I waited to go out this morning until it had warmed up some - and it was lovely outside. There was no wind and the chickadees were singing their hearts out. Last night was the coldest I can remember in a long time. It got down to -34C here, which doesn't happen very often.

19 January 2011

Documentary Review: The Economics of Happiness

The Economics of Happiness is a new documentary by Helena Norberg-Hodge that offers a simple, though not easy, solution to our current environmental, economic and social malaise. It features the voices of many familiar names: Richard Heinberg, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibbon and Rob Hopkins to name a few. The film starts off by showing us Ladakh, a remote Himalayan region of India where the people have long experienced a high quality of life and wellbeing until the past several decades when the forces of globalization have resulted in a loss of connection to the land and community. We see the rural Ladakhis living in idyllic, harmonious environments, with huge smiles, while the urbanites suffer from unemployment, inequality and pollution.

The Economics of Happiness lays out a very clear case that globalization is a major cause of much environmental, economic and personal distress and a relocalization of our lives and economies is the solution. We've been brainwashed into believing that globalization is the cure for poverty in less developed countries and that economic growth is the cure for everything in developed countries. Of course, all of this globalizing and growing is just large corporations taking advantage of our insatiable appetites for more and better to strip us of our private and common wealth and concentrate it in fewer and fewer hands. Governments and corporations are in cahoots to keep us striving for more money, more stuff, and more security. As long as we're striving, we're spending and working. And we're willing to work more and in poorer conditions. Perhaps the higher-minded of us can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that at least some poor person in the global south has had their life improved by having our old job. Sadly, the working and living conditions forced on the new corporate employee hasn't made up for the loss of her land to unfair subsidies or outright theft by multinationals. Corporations have hijacked the business of governments so that trade agreements are drafted and regulations eliminated in order that the largest companies in the world can pursue their money making agendas unhindered.

One point that I found particularly interesting was how inefficient globalization actually is. We've been told that we've reached the pinnacle of efficiency by offshoring and outsourcing, but there is astonishing waste in a system that routinely transports goods thousands of miles, sometimes multiple times for the same item. Fish caught in Canada is shipped to China for processing and back to Canada for sale. Many food items that are routinely imported are also exported in similar quantities. It is a bit ironic that an apple that has traveled from South Africa to Canada can cost less than one grown within an hour's drive. All of this transportation represents vast resource consumption and pollution that could all be eliminated by producing goods for local markets.

The Economics of Happiness challenges the notion that globalization has benefitted the third world. Instead it demonstrates that globalization concentrates wealth in the hands of the rich at the expense of poorer people who are forced to resettle in urban slums with little job security, while being bombarded with the message that they are inadequate and their cultures are backward. Of course, these messages of inadequacy are ubiquitous in the developed world as well, causing many people to frantically pursue more and bigger and better.

Normally, I'm cynical about the hopeful ending of documentaries which so often feel like they've been tacked onto the end so the viewers don't kill themselves after watching the first three quarters. This film has a very clear message though: globalization is bad for everyone and everything except corporate profits and localization is good. Local food, local culture and local business all contribute to greater connections with nature and community which results in greater happiness. The “what you can do” part of the film doesn't seem like an add-on so much as the logical conclusion. Whether the message gets through to enough people to make any difference is another thing (and perhaps a more important one). Transition towns, eco-villages and peasant movements are all mentioned.

I agreed with almost everything said in the film, which made me suspicious that I enjoyed it as much as I did because of my own confirmation bias. I did feel that although the filmmakers are proposing a huge change in the way we live, they really haven't gone far enough. I completely agree that industrial globalization has accelerated the destruction of the planet as well as making a lot of the world pretty unhappy, and I completely agree that relocalizing our daily lives is necessary and inevitable, but I don't see how it will happen in any significant way before it is forced on us by peak oil and economic collapse. The status quo is being tenaciously defended by politicians, business people, educators and the mainstream media so meaningful change may not happen until some crisis or other reveals the horrible mistake we make by trusting our children's future to large corporations. As long as folks in the rich world refuse to relinquish their sense of entitlement to consume as much of the planet's resources as they can afford, I'd say the relocalization movement will stay on the fringe. We can only hope that those who have decided to go down that road now will be willing to guide the rest of us when the time comes.

I was lucky enough to see a review copy of the documentary, but you can check The Economics of Happiness website for information on screenings near you. Be warned - you'll be thinking about this movie for a long time and you'll never hear another political speech or trade agreement the same way again.

17 January 2011

Monday forest photo: January 17, 2011

8:00 am -30C clear
So there was a little bit of snow last week and it's pretty darned cold out, but so far this has been a really easy winter. All the storms and wild weather have completely missed us so far, but as a good Canadian I know we'll pay for this.

10 January 2011

Monday forest photo: January 10, 2011

11:00am -10C cloudy
Finally, some snow. Meg, as usual is with me in the forest. Our little puppy is growing up - she turned 2 yesterday.

03 January 2011

Monday forest photo: January 3, 2011

11:30am -2C cloudy
Still waiting for winter to settle in. We had a pretty dramatic late December thaw that didn't include the rain that usually accompanies winter warm spells around here. Most of the snow is toast, but the forest trails, which were heavily compacted, have refrozen and are icy.


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