Monday, June 29, 2009

Turn the Health Care Argument Around

Everywhere you turn you are hearing another GOPer talking about the problems with offering a public option for health insurance. Even some Dems are saying it. They are insisting that offering a public insurance option to the American people will put the health insurance industry out of business and that is unfair. They are insisting that the market, as it stands, is competetive and interferring in it would be a disaster.

The trouble is that everyone that says it knows its a lie. The insurance companies are lobbying against a public option in order to protect their monopoly. The folks that are telling you they want the market status quo to protect choice and competition are actually defending less choice and competition.

Zachary Roth has a very good piece today pointing to a HCAN report documenting the fact that most Americans don't enjoy "anything like a competitive marketplace for health care."

The report, released by Health Care for America Now (HCAN), uses data compiled by the American Medical Association to show that 94 percent of the country's insurance markets are defined as "highly concentrated," according to Justice Department guidelines. Predictably, that's led to skyrocketing costs for patients, and monster profits for the big health insurers. Premiums have gone up over the past six years by more than 87 percent, on average, while profits at ten of the largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007.

Far from healthy market competition, HCAN describes the situation as "a market failure where a small number of large companies use their concentrated power to control premium levels, benefit packages, and provider payments in the markets they dominate."

So extreme is the level of consolidation, in fact, that one former top Federal Trade Commission official working with HCAN has sent a letter to the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, asking for an investigation into the health insurance marketplace.

The Justice Department considers a marketplace "highly concentrated"(just a fancy term for monopolistic) if a company's market share tops 42%. HCAN found 10 states in which one or two companies control 80% or more of the market. In Alabama, home to Sen. Richard Shelby (R), one of the strongest opponents of reform, Blue Cross Blue Shield controls 83% of the statewide market.

The insurance companies are enjoying practical monopolies in many parts of the country and the result is high prices, high profits, and consumers in the corner. It's no wonder the insurance companies see the public option as such a serious threat -- it would introduce at least some competition, and offer consumers some choices.

The next time someone tries to tell you that we need to protect the competiveness and competition in the health insurance industry just laugh and tell them to look at Alabama, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Alaska, Vermont, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, Arkansas and Iowa. These are all states where the two largest health insurers control at least 80 percent of the market.

Things Growing

It has been a few days since I posted any pictures from the garden so I thought it was time to share more vegetable miracles.

The first ear of corn appears.

A brand new baby acorn squash.

A new baby butternut squash.

One of 8 garlic ropes created from the harvest.

Very Good Ciabatta

Jim DeRosa asked for the recipe for ciabatta that I mentioned the other day. This is really a pretty foolproof recipe but it is a little scary for first time bakers or bakers that only make traditional bread which is not nearly as wet as this dough. I've made this quite a few times and its never failed to produce nice loaves. It makes a bread with very large bubbles and a nice golden crust. It is also a pretty fast recipe considering the quality of the resulting bread. It should only take about 4-5 hours start to finish. It is also a lot of fun once you get past your fear of really, really wet dough. You really need a Kitchen Aid type mixer for this dough as it is so wet that trying to mix/knead it by hand would be a huge job especially for a novice baker.

Ciabatta (I understand this means 'slipper' in Italian)

You'll notice I give the measurements for the flour and water in grams here. If you don't have a kitchen scale then get one. The water flour ratio by weight is critical in this recipe and weighing the ingredients is the only way to get it right. The same holds true for many artisanal bread recipes and if you really are serious about baking good bread then you just have to have a kitchen scale....they really aren't that expensive.

500 g bread flour (don't try it with all purpose flour there is just not enough gluten, you must use bread flour and I recommend King Arthur)
475 g water ( I always use filtered(Brita) water to give my yeast a break from the chlorine but you can use regular tap water)
2 tsp. yeast ( use regular dry active yeast not the rapid rise kind)
15 g kosher or sea salt (about 2 Tsp)

In Kitchen Aid style mixer: Dump in all the ingredients except the salt and mix it roughly until just all the flour is moist and cover the mixing bowl with a towel. Let it rest for 20 minutes. This is also known as autolyzing and it just lets the flour get fully hydrated. Don't skip this resting bit or you will have trouble getting the dough to come together later.
  1. Add the salt. With the dough hook and the mixer set on 6 (pretty fast) knead the batter for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. It starts out like pancake batter but eventually it will set up and work like a very sticky dough. It may start to climb the hook and if so just stop the mixer and pull it down. (On my mixer you can lower the bowl and this will cause the dough to drop as well.) It will seem like you are mixing forever but eventually it will start to separates from the side of the bowl and 'clean' the sides of the bowl. You shouldn't leave your mixer at this point and be ready to hold it down because once the dough forms up it will try and vibrate your mixer off the counter. Once the dough has pretty well cleaned the sides of the bowl and is coming up off the bottom you are done. If for some reason, after about 30 - 40 minutes of mixing the dough is still not 'cleaning' or coming away from the sides and bottom of the bowl you can add a small amount of additional flour one tablespoon at a time until it does come together.
  2. With lightly oiled hands(and maybe a scraper fight the dough into a well oiled container, cover and let it triple in size. Don't rush this as it really must triple in size. Depending on the room temperature this can take up to 2.5 to 3 hours but faster in a warm kitchen.
  3. Dump the dough onto a floured counter (you might have to scrape it out). It will really spread out as this is a very wet dough, just let it go. Cut into 4 equal pieces and then with well floured hands pull and stretch the pieces into oblong loaf shapes about 10 inches long and 4 inches wide. Try and work the dough as little as possible as you don't want to destroy the bubbly structure from the rise. The loaves will be flat and 'squishy' and look very little like proper bread. Don't worry. I put each 'loaf' on its own little half sheet of floured parchment paper and dust them with a little more flour. Cover them with a light cloth (tea towel) and let them rest for about 45 minutes. While they are resting you can turn on your oven to 500 F. If you have a bread or pizza stone for the oven use it.
  4. Using a peel or a ridgeless cookie sheet slide 2 of the loaves onto your baking stone which should be in the center of the oven BTW and bake at 500F for about 15 - 20 minutes. If you have an instant read thermometer they should read 200F in the center. If you have a huge oven and baking stone you can bake all four at once but I do it in two batches. These things will look pretty pitiful when you put them in the oven but you'll be amazed at what happens in the oven...they will pop up to triple their original height. There is some serious oven spring.
  5. Let them cool on a rack for at least an hour. When they first come out of the oven the crust is going to be very hard but after they have thorougly cooled some of the moisture in the center will soften the crust a bit. Don't try and cut them hot or you will lose this crust softening and the breads will stay to 'crusty'. If everything is right then you should have a traditional ciabatta that is chewy with large holes and a firm but resilient crust. They make a perfect sandwich.
These are best fresh but they freeze fine. BTW with this hot an oven the edges of your parchment will likely burn a bit...don't worry the stuff under the bread won't and your bread won't taste burnt. However, depending on the sensitivity of your smoke detectors you could get beeped.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Not Your Regular Beef Recall

I haven't posted on this particular beef recall yet, in part because it was quite bad. It seems on June 28 Swift expanded the recall from 40,000 pounds of "assorted beef primals" by another 380,000 pounds of "assorted beef primals". The thing is that this beef was processed back on April 21st and it is "primals" not your regular ground beef recall. Primals are those things you see in the market wrapped in plastic...whole beef tenderloins or ribs. These things are rarely sold to consumers intact but are cut down into steaks and roasts. A restaurant may buy a whole primal, but again, it is broken down before the consumer sees it.
The important thing here is that all of the identification information is attached to the primal and not to the individual "pieces parts" that may be created from it. Wrapped primals keep for a while in the cooler and are unwrapped and cut, sometimes a month or more after they are processed and wrapped at the abatoir. The luscious rib steak you bought today may have been processed months ago.
Ground beef is the usual cuplrit in these recalls and it is fairly easy to trace but a primal is a whole different beast(excuse). If you buy meat from a grocery or butcher you need to ask him about the source of the primal it came from. People are getting sick in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin and it is probable that it is from this lot of beef.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I Win!

I got the first tomato! I'm not counting the few cherry tomatoes I ate in the garden this morning. I'm talking the very large Italian Heirloom tomato that has been slowly ripening and which I didn't pick yesterday as it was not perfectly ripe. Tonight it shared center stage with freshly dug fingerling potatoes and a perfectly ripe avocado for dinner. I must say that while very simple and only vegetable the dinner was close to perfection. The small fingerling potatoes(Austrian Crescent) that were unearthed this afternoon were steamed until just barely tender. The FIRST tomato was thinly sliced and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and kissed with just a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt and a brief whisper of freshly ground pepper. The avocado was halved and sliced with a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Nothing fancy but damn fine victuals and a memorable first tomato/first potato celebration.

I did actually get some work done today before I reveled in the FIRST tomato. Somehow I underestimated the vigor of some of the tomato plants and spent a lot of time adding extensions to the stakes. Some of the tomato plants are now over 8 feet tall which presents a real problem when I used 6 foot stakes and tomato cages. That will teach me to be a little penurious with the horse manure when I prepare the tomato beds.

The first major harvest of green beans today as well and I spent part of the very hot afternoon freezing 6 quarts of beans. That is the first preservation from this year's garden except for a couple of small packages of snow peas. We are on our way. The beans are just starting to produce so there will be many more packages of beans frozen and I planted more beans a coupe of weeks ago.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Panda Blogging

This is Xi Lan the 9 month old Panda cub at Zoo Atlanta that I caught napping last week and she is demonstrating how I feel today. Not much energy for anything. Just spent a few minutes in the garden this morning and made a trip to Tractor Supply for bird seed. That's about it.

I do have one tomato ripening that I almost picked this morning but there was just a tinge of green at the stem so I decided to wait and give it another day. We'll see if the raccoons, squirrels, deer, chipmunks or whoever allows me to have it. Tomorrow it should be perfect so tonight is when it is most subject to wildlife harvest.

Since I appear to be pretty much useless for doing anything else today I decided to bake something other than my regular bread(which I did yesterday) and since I need to feed the sourdough starter I decided to experiment with a sourdough version of ciabatta. I have good luck with a regular yeast version and thought it would be worth a try. It's really a funny bread in that the basic dough is 95% hydrated (meaning there is almost as much water in it as flour. Makes for a very tricky dough and one that you have to knead forever to form the gluten bonds so that it will rise. Typically I have to knead it in the Kitchen Aid for about 30 minutes which is about 4 times as long as a regular bread dough. It barely holds its shape when you manage to stretch it into loaf shapes and you think it will never rise but after 45 minutes to an hour of rest and a very hot oven it springs into a beutiful loaf full of large holes and chewy crust. Makes a sandwich something special. Other than the fact that it is a very, very wet dough and hard to work with, it really is a forgiving bread and usually rewards even beginning bakers with a nice loaf...though sometimes not too pretty.
So anyhow I am going to adapt my yeast recipe to a sourdough one and see what happens. Even though the regular recipe produces a flavorful loaf I think sourdough will make it even better. I might also try retarding half the recipe in the fridge overnight to see what happens flavorwise. An overnight rise in the fridge is what makes all the difference in the world in flavor with the French baguette so it might help here as well since the yeast ciabatta recipe is 4-5 hours start to finish and there is not a long flavor developing rest. Between a sourdough starter and a retarded rise we might get an even better flavored bread.
If anyone wants to try their hand at ciabatta let me know in comments and I will post a recipe. BTW the dough makes a great pizza crust as well.

P.S. you can make a ciabatta loaf without a big fancy Kitchen Aid using the traditional "pull and slam" method of kneading but it is 20 -30 minutes of very hard work

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not A Day Like Any Other

This is not a day like any other. Today two icons left the building. Both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died today and both had a significant impact on society as it is today. RIP to both. You can argue all day about who was more important but the reality is that they are two different icons. I doubt there is a man my age(60 plus or minus 5 or 10 years) that didn't pause before the famous poster of Farrah. Likewise, there are few who would argue that Michael Jackson didn't change pop music for all time. "Thriller" was the largest selling album of all time and it did make a difference. I was never a fan but I respect the changes he brought to the music world.

She Strikes Again

Michele Bachmann is just plain dangerous , she is really more dangerous that Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh in that she is actually an elected official. She actually said this...

BACHMANN: If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the census bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations, at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps. I’m not saying that’s what the Administration is planning to do. But I am saying that private, personal information that was given to the census bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up.
If I were a census taker I might be just a little worried about the mad witch from Minnesota whipping up the fringe. I won't be surprised to hear of a census worker being shot or shot at.
I hope the good people of Minnesota are happy with their choice.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Squash Time

As any Southern gardener knows, the end of June and early July is squash time in the South. The yellow crookneck usually come first followed closely by the zucchini. I'm in the yellow zone right now and picking 3 or 4 a day. We managed to eat 4 last night but there are a dozen in the queue and more coming. I might have to freeze a few. The zucchini are a week away. I plant less every year but I still seem to plant too do have to allow for losses due to bugs and mildew so you can't just rely on one or two plants, but if all goes well you are always overrun for a few weeks.

I did try something new with the squash last night. Halved them lengthwise and scooped out the seeds then stuffed them with a crimini mushroom duxelle and a little Parmesan cheese. Not bad, and I managed to use up the shrooms before they went bad. They were purchased for the house guests and not used since neither eats them.

Going to try and get an early start in the garden today as it is supposed to be another scorcher...if this is any hint as to July and August we are in for a sizzling summer. I'll be back later when the sun is high and I need to escape into the air conditioning. So far we have been doing OK with the thermostat on 80F. The new A/C seems to be able maintain the temperature during the hottest part of the day so we don't need to get a head start by cooling the place way down early which is a good thing for the electric bill.

See you guys in a few hours.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All Gone

Our guests have packed up and returned to Merry Olde so it is back to normal around here. I have sorely neglected all but the most essential gardening jobs and it shows. I did pick more yellow squash and beans yesterday as well as the first chilies(serrano). Trouble is the heat index (temp+humidity) has been in the triple digits for the last few days, and is today as well, and that makes it mighty hard to get any productive work done outside.

Way behind in my net reading and have only managed to hit the high spots today. I will do better.

Here is a picture from the zoo trip the other day. Good looking young fellow.

Now I have to try and get something done outside but I am betting I won't get far. Maybe get blueberries picked and a few tomatoes tied up(their close!) but that is all. Wicked hot.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Slaves to Health Care

Glenn W. Smith has a good post up at Firedoglake comparing the lack of health care by 50 million Americans to sounds like a stretch but he really is not far off the mark.

A startling fact is that it is estimated that 18,000 Americans die each year due to a lack of health care. That's a pretty ugly number. These are people that would be alive today if they had money.

Summer for Real

In spite of the title of my last is actually the first day of summer. It's already 82 at 10am here in Atlanta so it will be a very summery day. It was very hot for the outing to the zoo yesterday(99F) and most of the animals were resting in the shade and not very active. I did get some good pics and I will share some of them in the coming days. Our guests leave tomorrow so things will get back to normal around here. I am actually going to work in the garden a bit this morning while things are quiet and no excursions are planned other than a trip to Bloomingdale's which I am not required for. The warm weather has encouraged the beans I planted after the garlic came up to soar and they are ready for support. The hard work of setting poles is done but I need to string the wire and string as they are looking for some support. Shouldn't be too strenuous even in the heat.
Burgers are on the menu for tonight as you just have to have one cookout whilst visiting the U.S. though I have had grilled chicken and ribs so far.

For all you Dad's out there...Happy Father's Day.

Updated: I added a picture of the meerkat lookout from yesterday.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hello Summer

It's just barely noon here and it has just hit 90F. Officially summer now. I worked in the garden some yesterday morning but by 1pm it was just too hot and even with by wide brimmed hat, which was soaked, I couldn't keep the sweat out of my eyes or off my glasses so I just gave up and shifted to the cool basement and worked on daughter's screen door. Some final adjustments to the tongue I cut on the door bottom and a little more gluing and it will be finished. That's the plan for this afternoon.

Our visitors did the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca Cola yesterday and all that is left is Stone Mountain and the Laser show tonight and the zoo tomorrow. Madam has them on the historic tour today of the local antebellum houses and all that.

The laser show doesn't start until dark which is 9:30pm so it will be a late night. We've got a picnic planned so we'll head down early and find a nice place on the lawn and try and keep cool few a few least by that time the sun will be low and not boiling down. It's really not a bad deal since the show is included in the 8$ per car park entry fee. It's just sort of a pain to drive all the way to Stone Mountain from way up here in the north and then battle the post show traffic and the late night drive home. I haven't seen the show in years and it is supposed to be 45 minutes of nonstop oohs and ahhs. We'll see.

BTW We had our first green beans and squash from the garden last night and it was worth all the work. No tomatoes yet but they are close...2 weeks tops. I also had fresh picked blueberries with my yogurt this morning...only a couple of dozen have ripened so far but there will be a couple of quarts before all is done. The bird netting has worked so far!

Health Care Reform on Life Support

The potential for meaningful reform is in intensive care:

A Senate source just passed me the latest outline of the Senate Finance Committee's health reform proposal. This is the post-CBO revision. Apparently, after the committee staff received the scores, they dug deep and quickly developed this proposal to circulate among members and then send back to CBO. It was presented to earlier today at a closed-door meeting.

Sources say that it's a major scale-back of the outline they had before. Specifically, subsidies have dropped from 400 percent of the poverty line to 300 percent. Medicaid eligibility has been tightened to 133 percent of poverty for children and pregnant women and 100 percent of poverty for parents and childless adults. The plans being offered in the exchange have seen their actuarial values sharply lowered.

Beyond the changes, this is also the clearest look we've had at the specific policies being considered. There's a fairly strong individual mandate, albeit with exemptions for those beneath the poverty line, those who would have to spend more than 15 percent of income for a plan, and undocumented workers. There are a variety of options for an employer mandate, or the absence of one. Sen. Kent Conrad's co-op idea is up for discussion. There's no public plan mentioned anywhere in the document.

In so many words this is just what the health insurance industry wanted. Mandated insurance enforced by the government which forces people to buy your product with no real competition from anybody but your criminal cohorts in the industry. We are so screwed.

Digby has the details on industry executive compensation if you don't mind getting really, really angry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Problem with Health Care Reform

Scarecrow says it best at Firedoglake. And also here. Not good news!

Who could have predicted that if you set out to reform America's health care system, but accepted the constraint that you have to preserve its most flawed features -- like the private insurance system that leaves millions uncovered, costs way too much and provides lower quality care than other nations without those features -- that every one of the leading "reform" proposals in Congress would wind up leaving millions of people uncovered, cost way too much, and likely not improve the overall quality of care in America?

Well, our WH and Congress never saw that coming. Which leads TNR's Jonathan Cohn to say it's time to worry that we can't pull this off. No kidding.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mountains Today

Our guests have expressed a desire to make a run to the mountains today so that is where we are headed. Take in Dahlonega and all the gold rush stuff and then to Cleveland and Baby Land General (arrgh!). If we have time we will stop in at Clarksville and the Mark of the Potter and then on the daughters house in Gainesville for dinner. Supposed to hit the mid 90's today but maybe the mountains will spot us a few degrees.

See you guys a bit later.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No Real Change in Health Care

The more I watch the back and forth on the health care debate the more it dawns on me that we are probably not going to get something meaningful. The real debate has shifted from single payer and universal coverage to government sponsored health insurance to compete with the current insurance scam. An alternative to the expensive health insurance options at lower cost will surely benefit a lot of people. Those of us currently and likely to be unemployed for the foreseeable future are still going to be left with nothing. We won't even be able to afford a cheap insurance option.

The more and more I read the more and more I realize that we won't have a single payer health system in this country during my lifetime...the insurance and pharmaceutical companies are just too powerful and have too many politicians in their pockets. Of course, the politicians have their government run health plan so the rest of us can't just do the best we can.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Can't Win

The recoil spring on the Honda mower broke yesterday and therefore you couldn't get the rope to retract and hence no starting. I took it apart and went this morning to get a new spring for the mechanism. I figured $5 at the most. To my surprise you have to buy the whole mechanism and you can't buy just a replacement spring. So I am out $16. What a waste and just because they know they have you over a barrel. So no matter how handy you are you just have to take what's offered. I understand the concept of FRU's (field replaceable units) but this is a little overboard.

Now I am off to Lowe's to get a screen for the daughter. Her opening is 36x84 and they only make stock screen doors 80 inches tall. She has called on Pop to add three inches to a stock door. Not a big problem...just rout a tongue on the existing door and a groove in a 4 inch board...a little glue and some trimming.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday Stuff

Same old thing going on here at Monk Manor. The garden and the continuous maintenance required. I mentioned that I had harvested garlic so the area where it was growing is now planted with Mountain Half Runner beans and Christmas Limas. Both of those require support so I spent the day building same. The bamboo I saved from the dumpster a few months back is coming in real handy.

I've got pictures to post but I am too sleepy to do it tonight.

Son in law went fishing this morning in the North Georgia mountains and as a result I was gifted with two twelve inch rainbow trout. Salt, pepper and a good dose of EVOO and a visit to a hot grill produced a wonderful dinner. Snow peas from the garden and a little whole wheat couscous rounded out the meal. It was very nice. Yes, I know the couscous wasn't local but I didn't have the time to make my own though I have and will again.

I think my experience with the baguettes and the technique with a very wet dough and long, long fermentation has given me the clues necessary to make a pure whole wheat sourdough bread. Years ago I tried and failed to produce a very memorable bread...edible but not memorable. I started the first phase tonight and we shall see. My goal is to produce a loaf of bread as light and flavorful as the whole wheat bread the monks at Tassajara did. That bread and the loaf from Poilane in Paris are my two ideals when it comes to bread. I can get in the ballpark on the Poilane loaf but I will never come close. No hard wood fired oven burning French oak and no basement bakery with seveal hundred years of yeast spore floating in the air. We won't even mention the French flours. I do have the recipe from Tassajara for the daily loaf but I am missing something. Maybe a few hundred more loaves will be the answer. Then again it could be the question. The object is to make a bread with all whole wheat flour and not cheating by adding gluten or regular all purpose or bread flour. My results have always been tasty but a little dense and not great structure. I don't expect a bread like the regular bread I make each week but I want it to rise and keep its shape. I'll settle for a loaf just half the crumb of my regular bread.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Garlic and More Garlic

OK. I harvested all of the garlic yesterday and it is now curing in the basement. In order to get enough space to lay it all out with the tops still attached I had to put my 14ft extension ladder on saw horses. A couple of hundred plants I estimate. One downside is the odor. I am a big fan of garlic but curing that much garlic in your basement permeates the house with the point of making your eyes water at times. Definitely need to rethink the curing part of the game. This is going to take about 3 weeks and hopefully the smell will diminish over time.

On the upside...I don't have to worry about vampires for the next couple of weeks...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Killing You Slowly

Full disclosure. I was born in West Virginia and still have a lot of relatives there. In spite of being called a "hillbilly" and a "ridge runner" and a few other choice names I am still proud of my "Mountain Mama" heritage.

However, I might have to rethink this whole "Take Me Home Country Roads" thing in light of the latest brilliance from the West Virginia DEP. This is really stupid but believe it or not, these folks have decided that it is OK for West Virginia waters to have higher levels of mercury in them than is recommended by the EPA because, get this... "West Virginians eat less fish than the average American".

The DEP's study shows that West Virginians consume less fish than the national average, and the agency is using the results to say mercury levels in West Virginia's waterways can be higher than the federal EPA recommends.

The Clean Water Act recommends that mercury not exceed 0.3 micrograms per gram of fish tissue.

West Virginia's standards are less stringent-0.5 micrograms per gram.

But that's okay, the DEP says, because a study conducted in November showed that West Virginians actually eat less fish than the national average.

Mike Arcuri is an environmental resources analyst with DEP's water quality standards program.

"The more fish people consume in a given area, the lower that number has to be in order to keep the public safe, if that makes any sense," he said. "And then if people are consuming lower numbers of fish, that number in the fish tissue can be a little bit higher because they're not taking as much in."

I don't want to even think where this kind of logic will take you. Just ignore the fact that mercury accumulates in the body.

Finally! A Win for Tradition

Over the years we have seen tradition after tradition fall to the false gods of profit and efficiency. While it is not much, the European Union has reversed itself on allowing blends of red and white wines to be labeled rosé. Rosé traditionally is made as wine by itself by leaving the skins of the grapes with the juice for just a short time in order to give the wine its characteristic rose color. I don't drink a lot of rosé but it has its place and is an especially nice wine for summer with all the lighter dishes we normally prepare. Thank goodness the EU has seen the light and will preserve the traditional method. It may look like a rosé. There may be hope after all in Brussels.
The European Union, bowing to an outcry from traditional vintners, has reversed itself and decreed that the cut-rate technique of mixing red wine with white does not make an authentic rosé and thus cannot be used by Europe's winemakers.

The decision, announced Monday at the union's headquarters in Brussels, represented a victory for French winemakers who had risen up against plans by the E.U. agriculture commission to end its ban on mixing as a way to compete with down-market rosés concocted by producers in such countries as Australia and South Africa. More broadly, it was a rare retreat by the forces of globalization and profit margins in the face of resistance from traditional artisans.

"It's important that we listen to our producers when they are concerned about changes to the regulations," the union's agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, said in a communique. "It's become clear over recent weeks that a majority in our wine sector believe that ending the ban on blending could undermine the image of traditional rosé."
h/t to Chris at AmericaBlog

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back to Normal

Our young visitors are off to Florida for a few days so it is back the routine around here. Lots to do and the morning cool is slipping away fast. The garlic is signaling that it is time to be harvested so that looks like the big chore for the day. Still not sure what I am going to do with all of it. It needs to hang and dry out of the weather for a week or two but I am not sure where that will be. I need a barn.

The first summer squash made its appearance overnight. It is about two inches long but it will be ready in just a few days. Once they start it is continuous and the zucchini will not be far behind.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

More Shopping

Madam has to work today so I have shopping duty today and we are to do a mall crawl. Not my favorite pastime as I am not a good shopper. I get in and get out. Hopefully we will find all the required items in short order. Evidently the prices here are much better than in the UK especially for things like upscale clothes (Abercrombie and Fitch, etc.).

Most of my gardening is caught up so I can afford to be the good host. Our quests are off on their own to Florida tomorrow for a few days so it will be the normal routine tomorrow and for a few days before we have to get back to touristing.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Being the Good Host

We got our young couple from the UK all settled in last night and they are off shopping with Madam today. As usual I am preparing dinner. Tonight we are going Southern. I've got some pork spare ribs smoking out back right now (got a great deal at Whole Foods yesterday as they were only $2.99 a pound!). I got an even better deal today at the market when the fresh corn was only 25 cents an ear and it looks pretty nice. It's from Florida, of course, so it isn't actually local...but close. It will be grilled in the husk and will be a nice complement to the ribs.

I broke down and bought a pineapple from Puerto Rico to throw on the grill as well. Again, not local but we don't grow much pineapple in Georgia. A nice salad from the garden and some homemade bread and we are good.

That's a LOT of Money

Blue Texan at FDL has some absolutely disgusting numbers for us to peruse...

Of all the wasted money spent on the defense around the world last year we Americans accounted for a whopping 42% of the total tab. In spite of that horrible fact we still hear

endless concern trolling about how Obama's destroying the military.

The U.S. is, as expected, by far the world's biggest arms spender, according to the think tank. It represented almost 42% of the 2008 total, more than the 14 other top countries combined in what SIPRI described as a legacy from former presidentGeorge W. Bush.

Since 1999, U.S. defense spending has soared 67% in real terms to $607 billion last year.

As a comparison, the non-tax cut portion of the Porkulus Generational Theft Stimulus Bill that so outraged the Teabaggers was a mere $499B. And yet, for some of those very same Teabaggers, $607 billion just isn't cutting it.

"Reducing Alaska's defense readiness in these perilous times is a show of weakness, it is not a sign of strength," Palin said during a celebration in upstate New York honoring native son William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska in 1867 as Secretary of State.

In light of the fact that the US only spent more than four times what Russia and China committed to defense -- combined -- it's easy to see why Palin's so concerned.

Is it just me or does anyone else think that maybe we ought to rethink this whole military thing or at least move the spending into the ballpark with the rest of the world. I understand the need for a strong military given our position in the world but really!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Baguette Redux

I got a little grief from commenter Gasho for not posting a picture of my own baguettes. I made another batch today and here are the results.

I just checked on our inbound guests and their flight is now in the air but was 30 minutes late leaving Heathrow(not unusual). That is going to put them in here at sometime after 7 pm and by the time they make it through the hassles at immigration and customs then catch the train to the Northern burbs it will easily be 930 pm before we can pick them up at the North Springs station. I was planning to have a light supper of roast chicken with salad and fresh bread but I might have to rethink it. They may be to "cream crackered" to do anything but hit the sack. Both are young though and they may surprise us. We shall see. I may still roast the chicken and just plan on a cold supper.

As always if you want to see a bigger pic just click on it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

David Carradine RIP

CNN and others are reporting that David Carradine has been found dead in his Bangkok hotel room. Unconfirmed reports are that it was a suicide.

This is very strange news for me. In the early seventies David's character on the TV series "Kung Fu" had a pretty profound effect on my spirit and somehow the thought of suicide doesn't connect. I know was well as the next person that David Carradine was not Kwai Chang Caine just like I know Leonard Nimoy was not Spock but somehow the mental connection with the actor and character just presents some irreconncilable issues. I think I will just remember the David Carradine who made an impression on a struggling psyche and not the David Carradine who was so troubled that he considered taking his own life.

Peace be with you Grasshopper.

Do You Need More Evidence?

A new report by Harvard University and Ohio University underlines the fact, that most of us already know, that the U.S. health care system is fundamentally broken. Sixty two percent of all bankruptcies are attributable to illness in the family and even a more telling figure is that of those, 78% did have medical insurance! Anyone who questions the need for radical reform of the health insurance industry or the need for a national single payer system is an idiot. What's even worse is that that is a 50% increase from just 8 years ago!

Medical bills or illness contributed to more than 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in 2007, a new study says, showing a nearly 50 percent increase from 2001 and not even reflecting the growing number of people who are losing their jobs and insurance in the recession.

The national study by researchers at Harvard University and Ohio University follows their five-state 2005 study that found medical problems contributed to at least 46.2 percent of bankruptcies in 2001. When identical definitions are applied, the share of bankruptcies involving medical issues has risen 49.6 percent since then.

“The U.S. health care financing system is broken, and not only for the poor and uninsured,” said the new report, which will appear in the August issue of the American Journal of Medicine and online today. “Middle class families frequently collapse under the strain of a health care system that treats physical wounds, but often inflicts fiscal ones.”

Medical bankruptcies will total an estimated 866,000 this year and involve 2.3 million Americans, based on the current bankruptcy filing rate, the report says.

[...] “Private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain,” said lead author Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard. “Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.”

How Long Will It Take?

President Obama's speech in Cairo is getting rave reviews both from the Muslim world and from sane people in the West. From MJ Rosenburg at TPM we have a summary of the eight major themes of the speech. I am just wondering how long it is going to take before the leaders of the wingbut brigade take exception to all or part of the message because in the speech Obama makes a direct hit on some of the unhinged right's most beloved untruths especially with respect to the place Islam has in our country. The president made a special point of equating the fundamental truths of the Bible, Talmud and Koran which is sure to horrify the nutso crowd of "christians" who think they are the only true religion and that everyone else is going to fry in hell. It will be interesting to see what really flames the whackos off the most and who their annointed spokesperson or persons will be. I'm sure we'll here a "rebuttal" today sometime.

The President conveyed eight distinct messages.

1) It's a new day. Not only is Barack Obama not Bush, he isn't any of the other 43 Presidents either. And he explained exactly how different he is. America is a great country, not least because it elected a half-Muslim, half-African. We are not who you may think we are. We are still America.

2)Islam is part of the American fabric and always has been.He knows Islam and honors it, like the other great faiths -- but with his special connection. We oppose the violent extremism of a segment of Islam but understand that the vast majority of Muslims reject that path.

3)9/11 was a crime against America and humanity. We are at war with its perpetrators -- Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Iraq was a "war of choice" and we are getting out as soon as we can.

4)We oppose violent extremism by anyone.

5)We are committed to Israel and to Palestine. Both peoples have a right to a safe secure state. Palestinian terror must stop. So must settlements. He will work to end this conflict. The language here was utterly evenhanded and emotional. He cares deeply about this issue. And, although he intends to push Israel hard on settlements, etc, he understands and shares the feeling Jews have about the country created in response to the slaughter of six million Jews. He will not do anything that endangers Israel's real security but, at the same time, "America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."

6)We will keep talking to Iran about a resolution of the nuclear issue. It is entitled to have peaceful nuclear power. His goal is to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region.

7)Freedom of expression, democracy, and full rights for women are essential in the Muslim and Arab world just as in the west.

8)We intend to work with Muslims to remake the world. They are not our enemies.


"It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples - a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Lard is Back

It seems as if you wait long enough everything seems to fix itself. I don't know for how many years we have have been told that lard is poison. Yeah, the stuff you find in grocery stores nowadays is mostly hydrogenated for shelf life but real lard is finally making a comeback. I've said for years, and proven on more than one occasion, that you can't make a decent buttermilk biscuit without lard and any good Mexican cook will prove the same about any number of classic Mexican dishes.

We were forced to take lard out of our kitchen arsenal and replace it with Crisco. Tales of cardiac woe and other horror stories did their job but what we got has turned out to be worse for us than the lard that was replaced.

Michael Pollan has it right. Go for the minimally processes food and if it was OK for your Granny it is OK for you. Now if I could just find some real lard but failing that I know how to make it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Summer's Here

June first brought summer with it. Hit 90 at my house yesterday and I relented and turned on the air conditioner in the afternoon but not until it got near 90 in the house. All of the additional insulation I put in the attic last fall slowed the climb to uncomfortable until about 4pm and the new A/C quickly brought the temp back down to 80. It didn't help that I was baking bread and had the oven rocking at 450 for about an hour. I might have been able to resist turning on the cool if I hadn't heated the kitchen with the oven. We'll see today what happens as we are expecting a repeat and I won't be doing any baking today. Rain and cooler temps are due for the last of the week so maybe the A/C can go back to standby. Once you turn on the A/C for the summer it makes it really hard to get outside and get your work done.

I had to quit my gardening chores early as well. The heat wasn't that bad but for some reason the flies were murder and I just gave up.

Some good/bad news on the missing Air France plane this morning. They believe they have the wreckage spotted but from what I can tell from the rather sparse reports the two areas of suspected wreckage are some 60 miles apart. If that is the case then it appears the plane broke up at a fairly high altitude. It was last reported at 31 thousand feet. If, in fact, the weather caused a catastrophic failure of systems and eventual destruction then it must have been quite a storm. Those aircraft can take quite a bit of rough air without trouble.

On a more positive note, I have been finding quite a few new ways to use all the peas from the garden. The English peas, snow peas and mange tout (sugar snaps) are all ripening at the same time. Yesterday I cleaned out one of my raised beds where I put all of the extra onion plants in the spring. They were crowded and stayed very small but were perfect in a saute with the sugar snaps. Regardless, there are only so many days you can eat peas in a row so it looks like some blanching and freezing are in order.

Other than the garden it is pretty quiet here at Monk Manor and before it gets too much hotter I am off for a few more garden chores. Nothing heavy today though...tie up a few tomato plants and pull a few weeds. We have the son of some of our English friends and his new bride coming in this weekend and I need to make sure the garden is pristine. This is the couple who's wedding we attended last spring in the U.K. and this is Charlotte's first trip to the colonies. We'll show them around Atlanta and North Georgia and they have a short side trip to Florida planned as well. She'll at least get a taste of the South.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Monday Morning Stuff

A nice weekend here in Atlanta but it was a pretty sour weekend for news. The murder of Dr. Tiller was a serious tragedy and to make it worse the radical right to lifers are saying it wasn't murder but justifiable homicide. Sick, sick people. They are terrorists no different than Osama and should be treated as such.

An Air France A330-200 is missing over the Atlantic. Flight 447 enroute to Paris from Rio disappeared from radar last night. A search is underway. Automated systems on the aircraft radioed information about equipment failure and the pilot reported electrical problems after the plane hit turbulence on it's initial outbound climb out of Rio. Like all of the Airbus places the A330-200 is a "fly-by-wire" aircraft and a catastrophic electrical problem can make the plane virtually impossible to fly. The plane and the GE engines have a spotless safety record. Let's hope for the best but it doesn't look promising.

GM is filing for bankruptcy as I's something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Let's hope the bet that Obama is making...that a stronger company can a good one.