Thursday, 30 October 2008

Ecological "Credit Crunch" gets a mention at last

This afternoon I came across this article on the CBC website. I was a bit startled to see it at first - I've become so used to environmental things being ignored that it surprises me when anything related to environmental sustainability actually gets published in the mainstream media.

The article talks about things that readers of this blog are likely quite familiar with: that we are increasingly outstripping the carrying capacity of our planet, and that we in the the 'western' world are the worst debtors of all in this regard.

A quick internet search revealed that September 23rd was this year's Ecological Debt Day - the day that the people of the earth had already used up the planet's capacity to generate resources and absorb waste for that year. In 2008 we will consume and excrete 140% of what the earth can give and take. According to the Global Footprint Network, humans first exceeded the earth's biocapacity in 1986, and each year we exceed it earlier and earlier.

This 'financial crisis' we're going through in the world now really pales in comparison. When we're cannibalizing our planet and poisoning it at the same time, it seems pointless to get too worried about some numbers on a scale that go up and down each each day, representing some kind of abstract derivative financial 'product'. How is it that the surreal and abstract became so important and the real and concrete faded into invisibility? Paradoxes like these always stretch my brain.

The Tao Te Ching is full of paradoxes too - maybe that's why I like is so much. I came across a modern interpretation of this text a short while ago. Here are a couple quotes to ponder from that version - I've bolded some of the lines that seem to get to the crux of the matter for me:

Chapter 19:
Get rid of sanctity.
People will understand the truth
and be happier.

Get rid of morality.
People will respect each other
and do what's right.

Get rid of value and profit.
People will not steal
if they do not desire.

If that's not possible, go to Plan B:
Be simple. Be real.
Do your work as best you can. Don't think about what you get for it. Stay focused. Get rid of all your crap.
And from Chapter 24:
Keep your feet firmly planted
unless you want to fall on your face.
Learn how to pace yourself
if you want to get anywhere.
Don't call attention to yourself
if you want people to notice your work.

Nobody respects people
who always have excuses.
Nobody gives credit to people who always take it.
People who hype themselves
have nothing else to offer.

Think of being in touch with Tao
like eating at a buffet:
Take only what you need.
Save some for everybody else
It's way past time we stopped gorging ourselves at a buffet that was meant for everyone, for all generations, and rediscovered joyful moderation. And, of course, it's time I took my own advice and stepped up what I can do to only use my fair share.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Thanks! I heart you too!

Last month Jennifer at Veg*n Cooking kindly included me in her list of blogs that she 'hearts.' I've been wanting to pass on her award to blogs that I 'heart' too, and today's the day!

The 'rules' of this award are simple: pass it on to seven other blogs. I decided I would focus on blogs I have discovered more recently, and ones I haven't passed on an award to already. As I mention in my blog policies, I've decided I can break the rules of memes if I want to, so I've chosen just four blogs this time. Here we go, in no particular order:

First, I have to send some love back to Jennifer. She has all sorts of delicious recipes on her blog that really inspire a new vegetarian like me! This weekend I tried her baked sweet potato wedges and they were a delicious combo of sweet and salty tastes - a really nice change from the way I normally prepare sweet potatoes, and so so easy too!

My second pick is the Unstuffed blog. This fellow Canadian's blog is an accounting of her year of not buying anything new, as well as an exploration of our relationship with our 'stuff' and our consumptiveness - very thought provoking and lots of good links to follow too.

Next is Gord over at It Strikes Me Funny. Gord has a way of distilling things down right to the point, and he also has a talent for drawing witty cartoons! He is embracing a lower energy, less consumptive lifestyle and brings these ideas up in his London, Ontario newspaper column as well.

My fourth pick is Heather's Simple-Green-Frugal blog. Sometimes I think she could be my long lost Texan sister! Heather writes about her everyday challenges and accomplishments in a way that encourages people to try right along with her. She is enthusiastic and realistic at the same time - just the right combo to keep me motivated without approaching burn-out.

Thanks to all of you, for being part of my life on a pretty-much-daily basis!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Yogurt --> Tzatsiki

A couple of people who commented on my previous post about my unexpectedly successful yogurt-making also mentioned their fondness for the Green cucumber dip made with yogurt called tzatsiki. I've been making this stuff for years - usually on a Friday night when it doesn't matter if I smell a bit garlicky for a day or two. I got the recipe from a Frugal Gourmet cookbook, but I have modified it somewhat since then, so I don't think I'm breaking copyright if I post my version:
  • 1 cup thick plain yogurt - (called "Baltic Style" here)
  • 1/2 cucumber, grated (I use the largest grating surface on my cheese grater), with the liquid squeezed out. ( I just drink the squeezed out cucumber juice - it's refreshing!)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (approximately - sometimes I add a bit more)
  • 1 clove garlic - finely grated or squeezed through a garlic press
  • 1/2 lemon's worth of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (bottled is also fine, but fresh is more tasty)
  • 1/4 tsp salt, or you can leave it out entirely.
Mix all these things together and taste. You may wish to adjust a few things to your liking, but I'd hold off on adding any more garlic right away, because the flavor intensifies with time. I find that this recipe gives me enough flavor to be tasty immediately, but doesn't become too much when I eat the second half the next day. Serve with pita bread wedges that have been brushed lightly with olive oil and grilled to your liking. Mmm!

Be sure anyone you plan to kiss in the next couple of days doesn't have a garlic aversion!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Against all odds, I made yogurt!

Ever since I tried my hand at lactofermentation by making some kimchi, I've been wanting to try making yogurt. The yogurt I buy in the store just doesn't taste the same as I remember when I was younger: it has a shallow taste, it's not very creamy, and it seems frothed or whipped or something.

I know other people have made yogurt, but the instructions I've read all make it seem like such an ordeal. I mentioned this to one of my colleages at work, and she said that her mother used to just let the mixture of the milk and starter yogurt sit on the counter overnight - this sounded more like my kind of method!

So, last night I added my little plastic container of plain starter yogurt to about two cups of milk. I put the mixture in my little stainless steel kettle (that I bought for 50 cents at a garage sale!), set it on the counter, and went to bed.

This morning, the mixture was, well...a mixture of milk and yogurt. Time to go to Plan B. First I had to find a Plan B though. Eventually, after doing some internet searching I found what seemed like a relatively easy method. And then I modified it - a little on purpose and a little by accident.

I heated the mixture up on the stove top until it was 43C/109F. Later, I read in the instructions a little further down that it should have been heated to 200F first. But I didn't read that until I had already put the container into the pre-heated oven to let it incubate, as per "Method A" in the instructions. Apparently one is supposed to keep track of the oven temperature and keep it at 100F by turning the oven on and off as necessary. But, when I went looking for my oven thermometre I couldn't find it. So I just turned the oven on and off as I saw fit.

After about an hour of this I wanted to see what was happening. I tried taking the lid off of the container and the glass and metal lid insert promptly came apart and fell into the pre-yogurt! I fished it out of there with a fork, put some tin foil on lid instead, and put the whole thing back in the oven. The mixture was thickening nicely, so dropping the lid parts in there was kind of disappointing.

After another hour, I decided that the yogurt was not likely to be fit for human consumption, and also I wanted to bake some bran muffins, and I needed the oven for that. So in a moment of creativity, or desperation or something I heated up my two wheat-filled heating pads in the microwave and nestled the little kettle full of pre-yogurt in between them, right in the microwave itself. And I let it sit like that for another two hours.

Then the moment arrived: I took the tin foil-covered lid off without further incident, and lo and behold, there was yogurt! There was also some liquid whey or something, but I just poured that off since I wanted thicker yogurt anyway. I tasted the yogurt and it was good! A little tart but not too much. And then I made my favorite thing with the yogurt -- tzatziki! And in a little while, I will enjoy a delicious dinner of tzatsiki and pita bread. Mmm...that all turned out ok.

(And for anyone wondering about the kimchi - after two weeks it smells and tastes quite spicy and pungent, but it is still very, very salty. I'm not quite sure how it is supposed to taste, so for now I'm just leaving it ferment for a while longer....)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Radio Quotes

I was listening to the CBC this morning, while getting ready for work. During one of the stories they were covering, people in Edmonton were being interviewed and two of the quotes from the people went like this:

"We need it, desperately" and, "It will be a godsend."

What might these people have been talking about? What is the "it" that is so longed for, to the extent that receiving it will seem like a gift from God? Is it affordable housing? Is it public water fountains so people can get a healthy drink when they need it? Extra funding for the food bank? Cancellation of extra school fees so that public education is actually free like it's supposed to be? Nope, it was none of these things.

Well then, how about an extension to the public transit system? A tuition freeze maybe? A halt to the urban development that is eating up prime agricultural land in Edmonton's northeast? Nope, none of these things either.

Instead, it was this: a plan to 'fast track' the building of seven (!) overpasses on a segment of Anthony Henday drive, so that people don't have to wait at traffic lights any more. Yes, by 2015, the Henday will be a 'freeway' at last - a veritable gift from God to the automobile commuter, via the responsible stewardship of the Alberta government. Who could ask for anything more?

And how much might these 'freeway' improvements cost? Well, according to the CBC story, the government won't even estimate the price until they receive some bids for the job. But considering that one overpass in south Edmonton was estimated to cost at least a quarter billion dollars when construction started last year (and has since gone over budget), I guess seven bridges could run in the neighborhood of 1.75 billion.

Millions, billions -- who cares, right? It's not like the money is needed for other things.

Sorry, my cynicism is showing.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Why I like Tai Chi

This weekend Gord and I went to a Taoist Tai Chi "Dual Cultivation" Seminar. We have been going to tai chi classes together for just over two years now, and I have learned a lot. There are so many things to learn from tai chi, and this weekend's workshop was a good example of the range of this good stuff.

First of all, there's the satisfaction I get from being able to do something physical that I enjoy. It's strenuous enough to work up a sweat, but slow enough that I don't feel like I'm going to drop dead. It's complicated enough to keep my mind busy, but simple enough that I can just 'go with the flow' and not think at all. And, it's a graceful thing. I'm not particularly gifted in terms of physical activity, so feeling graceful while I'm doing something is a real pleasure for me.

Next, there's the tea and cookies. There are always two pots of green tea on the go during class, and a tin of donated cookies as well. People donate money to the tea fund, or just bring the cookies and tea themselves. Either way, there are always enough tea and cookies for everyone, including any guests or observers that may come by.

Then, there's all the nice people. People bring tea and cookies, but are also just polite and kind to each other. Tai chi seems to bring out the best in everyone. There is never any pressure to do more than you can or want to - everyone is just welcomed.

And, there's the whole idea of "dual cultivation" which we learned more about in this weekend's seminar. This means that tai chi is designed to cultivate health in both the body and the mind. Some martial arts or other sports activities focus on physical activity/prowess as the top priority, but in tai chi both mind and body are recognized as interrelated. Our instructor this weekend emphasized this duality a great deal. He spoke specifically about the fourth aim of the Taoist Tai Chi society, which is to selflessly help others. This is elaborated on in the Taoist Tai Chi website, which says,

The foundation of Taoist Tai Chi Society® internal arts and methods is compassion. Our underlying charitable orientation is in keeping with the Taoist values of selflessness and service to others.

Our inspiration is the example set by our founder, Master Moy Lin-shin, who dedicated his life to helping others without seeking personal gain. For this reason, all our instructors are volunteers, and all our branches operate on a non-profit basis. We also perform other services within the community, and assist other charities whenever possible.

After a good day of vigorous tai chi practice, our instructor ended the seminar by saying that helping others is just as much a part of tai chi as the physical exercises are, and that by getting better at the physical part and the mental part, we are in a better position to do the helping part. And, the helping part puts us in a better frame of mind to learn and practice the physical and mental parts.

And that's the main reason that I really like tai chi: because it not only talks about the interconnection of all things, it actually is a way to live out that interconnection.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

40th General Election in Canada - Update II

Just a quick reminder that today is the Federal Election in Canada. If you've already voted - that's terrific!

If you haven't voted yet and aren't sure who to vote for, check out for information on where the close ridings are, if you want to vote strategically.

If you have decided not to vote, please reconsider! Remember: we are more than just consumers, we are citizens! And as citizens we have both the democratic right and responsibility to vote. Today is the day that each of our individual actions add up to a collective decision, so get out there and vote!

10 p.m. MDT - Conservative minority government elected. Thanks Stephen Harper, for spending 300 million dollars so we end up with the same kind of government as we had 5 weeks ago, before you broke your own law and called an early election. Do enjoy your next leadership review.

8 a.m. Oct 15, 2008: A small consolation: NDP candidate Linda Duncan took the riding of Edmonton Strathcona in a very close race, preventing the Cons from yet another complete sweep of Alberta.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Nothing or Something?

This weekend Gord and went 'out' and did three different things in one night: we went to a movie at the cheap theatre (and saw Wall-E), we went for snacks afterward at a nearby restaurant and then went to see a live comedy show (Gord had been given free tickets). This kind of "going out" is a rarity for us - we talk about going out for dinner and a movie but we never seem to actually go. I'd say we do get out for a movie about once a year, maybe.

We had a great time doing all these things this weekend - the movie was adorable and the comedy hilarious! The snacks were just passable, making me appreciate home-cooked things even more than I already do. The evening's events got me thinking, though:

How often when someone asks what you've been doing do you say, "oh, nothing much." It occurred to me that if someone asked me what I did this weekend I would have three whole things to talk about for a change, instead of saying, "oh, nothing."

But I always feel vaguely uneasy saying I did "nothing much," because my weekends are usually full of all sorts of stuff, like cooking or baking, gardening, reading books, having tea, sitting on the porch, blogging, doing laundry, doing yardwork, cleaning the guinea pigs' cage, playing with the guinea pigs, making supper, doing dishes, visiting family, reading blogs, thinking about stuff and talking to Gord about it, etc. Is this nothing? Or is it something? And if it is indeed 'something,' then why don't I talk about it like I would talk about having gone to dinner and a movie?

I've just finished reading Sharon Astyk's book, Depletion and Abundance. In it, she talks about the "home front" and how really important things happen at home. For example, the growing and preparing of food, the working together as a couple or a family, the learning of self-sufficient tasks and teaching these to others, the taking care of each other in everyday, simple ways. This stuff might not make headlines, but it sure doesn't sound like 'nothing.'

Chapter 4 of the Tao Te Ching also has something to say about the paradoxical fullness of nothing:
The Tao is empty
When utilized, it is not filled up
So deep! It seems to be the source of all things

It blunts the sharpness
Unravels the knots
Dims the glare
Mixes the dusts

So indistinct! It seems to exist
I do not know whose offspring it is
Its image is the predecessor of the Emperor

I don't pretend to know exactly what this chapter all means, but I do know that the kind of things that could be considered doing nothing, are the exact things I need to keep me going and to feel contentment and gratitude. Indeed, my weekends of 'nothing' can certainly become "the source of all things" that keeps me going throughout the week.

So the next time someone asks me what I've been up to, maybe I'll say with an enigmatic smile, "nothing, and everything."

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Kimchi - Day 2

The adventures in lactofermentation continue!

After letting the salted cabbage sit overnight, this morning I drained the brine solution and reserved it. Then, I added what I thought were reasonable amounts of crushed chiles, fresh ginger and fresh garlic (also from the CSA farm) and some sugar. Then I poured the brine back over the cabbage, just to cover it in the jars. From one cabbage I got two 500 ml jars of what I hope will be kimchi in a week or so from now.

I've followed Sharon's instructions and put the lids on the canning jars loosely, so as to let the gas from the fermentation process escape. The two jars now sit in the basement, next to my pickled beans. It's fairly cool down there - about 14 degrees C/58F. I tasted the cabbage mixture before putting it in the jars and who-ee! It's salty! I'm assuming this will mellow over time as the lactofermentation works its magic.

If this works, I will definitely be doing it again. It's a really low-engery-input process, just letting salt and time do all the work!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

My first try at lactofermentation...

So I've had two heads of cabbage in the bottom of my fridge for some time - a big one and a small one. The small one had been in there for many months, and when I took it out with the hopes of making some kimchi with it today, it was too far gone. So it was chopped up to be added to the compost. But, the big cabbage that I got from the organic CSA farm this summer was still good except for a few outer leaves, and so I decided to tackle my kimchi project after all.

I first read about lacto-fermentation and making kimchi at Sharon Astyk's site - no surprise there! I also did some more searching around the internet and found what seemed like another easy kimchi method. I decided to combine the two methods, taking heart from Sharon's reassurances that lactofermentation was a fairly forgiving process.

I chopped up the cabbage into thin strips and salted it down with pickling salt (purchased to make pickled beans a few months ago). I added a little bit of water so the whole mixture was dampish. It didn't take long for the cabbage to start becoming soft and compressing even as I was still just mixing it with my hands.

I put a clean plate on top of the mixture, put a clean bag around the bowl and the plate, and weighted the whole thing down with my sugar cannister. Now it has to sit overnight. Then I'll put it in canning jars and add some more brine, along with chile peppers, garlic and some ginger and sugar. And then I'll see what happens next! If this works out, I may even get up the courage to try making yogurt.

Has anyone else tried any new recipes or food preservation techniques lately?

Thursday, 9 October 2008

I am not alone!

Today I found out that there is more of my kind in the neighborhood!

While driving home from work this afternoon, I saw someone else with a Green Party sign in their driveway. At last, I am not the only one! Being in rural Alberta, this is quite the sight: two Green Party lawn signs within a half-kilometre of each other. I was so excited I forgot to stop at the mailbox and pick up the mail.

His sign was one of the new ones - mine is still the older one that I've re-used from our provincial election that was held in the Spring. The party volunteer that brought me the sign at that time said I could keep it, since even then there was the potential for a federal election any time.

It's nice knowing I'm not alone, even here in the bastion of Conservative support that is rural Alberta.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Stand up and Vote for the Environment!

There is just one week to go before Canadians head to the polls in what could be the most important Federal election ever. Yes, ever.

In this election Canadians must decide whether they want to go forward and make the changes necessary to keep our planet hospitable to life, or whether they want to stay the course and let corporate greed and consumerism continue suck the lifeblood from our humanity and our planet.

Think I'm overstating things a bit? I don't. Simply put, without a human-friendly planet to live on, all manner of economic activity will utterly cease. There is no separating the environment from the economy. We can no longer labor under the delusion that the two are separate entities. We either stop killing the planet now, or eventually (and eventually is sooner all the time) the conditions on the planet will kill us, period. Gaia will have her revenge; Nature will bat last. Of these things I am absolutely certain.

So, when it comes time to vote, we must ensure that Conservative leader Stephen Harper does NOT win a majority government. If he wins, the environment loses. If the environment loses, we lose and will have firmly set ourselves, our children, and our children's children on a path to destruction. Do I sound paranoid and apocalyptic? Sure I do. I'm afraid, very afraid. I try and conceal these fears and moderate my statements when I talk to people, but fundamentally, this is what I believe: We are killing ourselves with our greed and it has to stop.

Today, Canada's top climate scientists have banded togther and sent an open letter to Canadians urging them to vote for the environment. The scientists agree that people just don't seem to understand how urgent the issue of climate change is. These are scientists who depend on federal funding for their work but are taking a stand and speaking out anyway. We must all speak out in kind. We must all find our voice, go to our local polling station and vote for the candidate with the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate. The folks at have made it easy to find out which candidate to vote for - people in Edmonton-Strathcona and Edmonton-Centre please take note! Your ridings are the only two in Alberta with a chance to defeat the Conservative incumbents. These ridings are hotly contested and in the past as few as three votes has made a difference!

Don't let this opportunity of a lifetime (yours and your children's lifetime) slip away. Vote for the Environment on October 14th.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Canadian 2008 Election Debate (English)

Tonight's English language election debate was the best I've ever seen! The round-table format worked well and the the firm but fair moderator really moved the process along, giving each candidate lots of opportunities to speak without many interruptions.

But the best part of the night was seeing Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May really shine! She was articulate and backed up her comments with facts and not just empty rhetoric. She took Stephen Harper to task on many topics, leaving him virtually speechless at times. She really showed what the Green Party is all about, and demonstrated that the party's platform is wide-ranging and practical. May really deserves to win a seat in Parliament, and I'm sure tonight's debate will help her well along the way to acheiving that goal.

I was kind of crushed after our most recent provincial election, and I've been trying not to get my hopes up about this one, but this debate has rekindled my hope that maybe, just maybe change is possible.... Get out and vote Canada!

Picture courtesy the CBC