Monday, December 28, 2009

The Stock Market

There is a new way to separate you from your money and lessen the quality of your life, and that is the new stock in a box appearing in your food market. Better than the instant bouillon cube which is no more than salt in foil, the new box is an apparent step up from Swanson's broth in a can. These products allow you to fool yourself into believing they are as good as homemade. They aren't.
I am old school and still believe that the simpler my food the better. For me nothing beats a golden broth consommé with maybe a tiny bit of veg floating on the surface. Nobody made it better than Jean Louis Palladin and when I asked him how it was that his was so much better than the competition he produced a tiny brown bottle. "My mother sends me this essence of burnt onion juice." he told me. "A few drops will flavor a quart of stock."

You can do this; make your own stock, and it is virtually free. Every time you peel and trim an onion, toss those peels and ends in the plastic bag you have ready in the freezer. So too the carrot peels, the lettuce trim, the fennel bottoms, the parsley stems, and the wing tips and back bones or whole carcass from your chicken. It is also a great idea to crush egg shells and save them in the bag. When making the stock the shells will form what is called a raft which will capture the scum on the surface.

(a parsley trick: trim off the stems, rinse the leafy bunch in water, place one or more bunches in your blender, pour in a cup or two of water, pulse. Strain the now green water (add to stock), place the now finely chopped parsley in a freezer bag, flatten, freeze, break off what you need when you need it.)

Brown the onion and chicken parts in the bottom of a stock pot, add quarts of water, a bay leaf or two, other herb, a clove, some pepper. Don't add salt yet. When you make your final soup you will be able to judge how much salt to add to taste. Bring to slow boil, reduce heat to simmer, forget it for an hour or more. Remove raft with a slotted spoon or simply pour stock through a strainer and save. Purists will want to remove the fat from the surface once it chills and sets. You can refine the stock more by straining again through a paper towel or simply leave the last inch of stock on the bottom of the pot where the unstrained solids will have collected. Store stock in pint or quart containers and freeze till needed.

To get the chicken parts for the stock will require a very sharp knife. I hope you got a sharpener for Christmas. If not get one. You can spend more money but this one does a great job.

Start with a good knife, you will need three in your life, a boning, a paring, an 8inch chef's.

This video will show you the basics of how to bone a chicken.

You could stop short of the whole boning process by just removing the wing tips, cutting out the back on two sides, and using these bones for stock. Or by making a small incision at the wish bone, inserting your fingers and pulling the breast away, you can bone the breast out of the chicken without a knife. The thighs will break off with a twist and tear. Another trick is to turn the separated leg over, skin side down and notice there is a whitish line where the thigh and drum might meet. It is exactly where they meet and if you slice atop that line you will separate them perfectly. Most of the time you will want to keep the bones within the legs and thighs for your recipes.
A starter soup might have you poach (20 minutes will do) the large pieces of chicken as you make the stock, and remove them to cool. Cook off some rice or noodles, dice a carrot, get a cup of frozen peas, shred some chicken. Place all in a pot, add stock, a bit of white wine, simmer, add a pinch of nutmeg, sprinkle with grated parmesan. Ahhhhh.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Gang in Town

I began my career in rural Appalachia struggling to help the working poor earn a living wage. Employers exploited workers, keeping them in line by using fear and intimidation. Community organizing was an obvious response. By coming together in an organization that approximated a gang, workers had a better chance to appeal for fairness.

The widely circulated AP story "Jobless professionals vie for holiday sales work" By CHRISTOPHER LEONARD and MAE ANDERSON, AP Business Writers put a face on the current unemployment crisis.
AP – In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, Mara Proctor arranges merchandise at Sticks boutique in Kansas

Mara, and the 6 million former professionals like her, are terribly alone. Having done everything the society asked of her, she finds herself discarded. Despite having ample cause for fury, her survival strategy is to get to work, any work will do.

I have a suggestion for Mara, form a gang. Not one of those groups who grope around trying to create a better resume or network, hoping against hope to find a way back into the system that just failed them. No, a real gang that pools their resources and begins with the premise that they do not want to get back to business as usual.

The first principle of the gang they should form is that society has failed them. They signed the social contract, but they got no security. They will take it as a truth that if you locate a problem that one person has, ten thousand others have the same problem. In some basic way, society has failed the majority of its citizens. The gang's job will be to identify and rectify those failures. This is Mara's opportunity. Mara should assess a set of needs that are common in her locale, and begin to solve those needs.

Let's get the ball rolling with a short list based on areas of opportunity that are fairly common, one of which Mara might want to exploit.
Programs are beginning to assist seniors in their transport needs.
Mara starts a car service, contracting with seniors, parents, and commuters.

Persons are struggling to eat right. Home chefs are but one new start-up.
Mara could do that or assist persons in their homes to rid their lives of junk food and teach the basics of healthy food prep to the entire family.

Schools are failing to provide the skill sets that Mara and her peers need to survive. Mara could tailor teaching sessions to the job skills required by specific corporations. Different then job training that is rarely specific, this concept begins with the employer and moves the training off site. States are starting to experiment with funded models that she might want to explore.

Mara might find a commercial building suffering a lack of tenants. This problem is only going to get worse. At the same time her state, and others, are going to suffer drastic budget cuts and education will not be immune. Mara proposes to the building owners and the existing tenants that what she wants to develop is a charter school, the organizing basis of which is that it is geared to provide real world office experience to its students.

This list is just suggestive. To develop any project Mara is going to need help. Enter the gang. For any of these suggestions to become a reality will require enormous amounts of energy. But it has to start with Mara and her gang, getting off their knees.

Who knows what she and her pals will come up with. The important thing is for her to form an alliance with a small group who share her motivation.
Maybe after a successful launch, her most ambitious project will be to replicate this process. "New Starts" might be their logo.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Salad Spinner

Grand baby West is 4 today!

Last Friday, in the middle of his play day, he marched into the kitchen and asked if he could have the salad spinner. His dad passed it to him, West retired to the living room, and we could hear the whir of the spinner as it wound up and down. A peek around the corner revealed the little guy poised over the tool, head bent to see the interior. A minute later he returns to the kitchen, and places the spinner on the table around which we are seated. He can now see the spinner at eye level. So can we. What West has done is place his three favorite "Match-Box" cars in the spinner, locked down the lid, and pumped them up into a fair simulation of the Metrodrome, Wall of Death. We are mightily impressed.

Another little guy getting ready:

I ask West if he has a paddle ball. He rummages around the toy chest and produces one. I hold the rubber band 4 inches or so above the ball and ask him to watch closely. I slowly start to spin the ball and sure enough the ball rises to orbit around my finger. "Now look at my mouth West. Say centrifugal force." He does and runs to repeat to his father, "centrifugal force".

West will start kindergarten next September. When he does he will be locked into a space with a bunch of other 4 year olds, and one adult. Where did that madness come from? Bonnie Moen in her excellent paper; "Multi-age Education -- Time for a Change" sets out the history. Horace Mann imported the concept from Prussia in the 1840's and it has been the norm ever since. This practice interrupted thousands of years of successful multi-age education.

Later that day West was drawing on the side walk. We asked him what he was drawing. "The Planets" he said.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cut the Crap

It is the holiday season and the whole world watches to see if the American consumer will rise to her obligation to shop till she drops. Tapped out, frightened that she will lose her job, busted from the market crash and the loss of value of her home, she probably is going to spend less. This probability provoked a spate of articles on the subject. The NYT ran a blog debate in September; "Saving the World Without US Consumers"
Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Within the above is yet another article that suggests that the measures that we use to determine human and planetary well being are misguided. In other words there is more to the well being of the people of the world than just what they consume. The GNP or rate of growth as just a number belies the costs of the consequences of that activity.

James Surowiecki brings economic issues to the masses with his weekly column in NewYorker. This week his interest is the disparity between Chinese manufacturing and the relatively light consumption of the Chinese people. He makes an argument that they, and the rest of the world, would be a better place if they would just start buying more of what they produce.

He is not alone.The McKinsey Quarterly has published a series of articles on the subject that you can access here.

Neither of these articles address the impacts of increased consumption on the part of the Chinese. They are simply looked upon as a market.

Questions regarding the ethics of counting the economic activity of consumption without consideration of the consequences are not discussed.

Hazel Henderson has been writing about the horror of a system that would calculate the "value added" of say an earthquake from the perspective of the building activity that will follow as opposed to the negative impacts on the people who suffered from the disaster. What she and others want is a true cost accounting of economic activity. If you produce a hybrid car battery for a new Prius then someone is going to pay the cost of cleaning up the pollution created in the manufacturing process. That cost ought to be considered when we "value" the car.

The cost of environmental consequences is never on the books. Nor is the reality of the Limits to Growth.

You have probably read some form of 'how many planets it would take if everyone lived like we do". For balance read the following counter argument.

Behold there is another concept starting to gain some traction. Some economists are indeed considering the limits to unbridled economic activity and call for a Steady State.

It should be obvious that we can't achieve a steady state if we raise the standard of living of some people of the world without a balanced reduction by others. This is where the right has a hissy-fit. "That means we have less", they argue. And right they are.

Here's where Will begins. I want to name the crap we can do without. Stuff on which there is something like a consensus of its valuelessness. I am willing to trade my low value stuff for others ability to have more. I'll start my list with corn sugar. Less for me, more corn for tortillas where they are a staple. I will add fewer clothing garments, wearing what I own longer. I will eat less meat, eschew bottled water, and drop chips. I will not buy my grandson anything in a primary color this season, nor will I replace the aging Big Wheel. That's a start. It has implications for jobs. This is but a topics list of what should be a very long national discussion.