Thursday, November 20, 2014

Philosophy


Entropy is a powerful force pulling everything apart, from the big bang to energy radiating away from stars to your kitchen exploding from a crimped gas line. Creativity is an even more powerful force that brings things together in new way, bonding energy into the swirling galaxies and whirling dervishes, inspiring us to sing and paint in diverse contrapuntal rhythms. I don't pretend to understand the mathematical proofs of physicists, but my personal sniff test says every force in the universe boils down to one of these, creative power to build or entropic force to destroy.
As we move through the process from the lusty union of sperm with egg to the final decay of buried bones, we see these two forces wrap around each other like the fractal yin yang, each force dependent upon the other, entropy opening opportunity for creative direction of explosive force blasting out the resources to build a new form. As much as we pretend to serve only creativity, we utilize entropy to obtain that from which we build. Spinning through life, blasting and building, we wonder how our scores will balance. On which side of Shiva do we stand?

Life is creative force, binding together energy into ever more complex and diverse organized patterns. The green leaves gather energy from the sun, storing it in carbohydrates shared into the micro-rhizomes of the living soil. Complex cultures of diverse cellular structures collaborate symbiotically to shuffle all the earth's elements into the complex protein chains of DNA that allow your mind to understand the meaning of these contrasting squiggles on the page.

Death is part of the dance, allowing room for rebirth, for all that is to become more than it was. Even the apparent entropy of decay can be harvested by that living soil to serve the creation of new life. Constant evolution spins unique communities each with local color, from the fungus that thrives on the broken containment walls of Chernobyl to the springtails that lurk in the world's deepest caverns.

Does human society serve the force of creativity or that of entropy? Does our war mongering toxicity serve our desire to expand the symbiosis of life? Does the compulsion to control the creative process lead us toward species extinction? Do we flatter ourselves to think we might know?

Monday, November 03, 2014

Bread

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This article is about baking the ultimate non-white bread, a sprouted sourdough that is very healthful as a daily staple. Accompanied by a salad, sometimes a soup, of fresh, local, organically grown vegetables, mushrooms, and a little seasonal fruit, it will keep you healthy enough to pedal your bicycle everywhere you need to go.
I’m going to give you a simple fifteen-step recipe for the bread, which you can easily adapt to your own situation. But I want to talk about the cultural considerations that go into perfecting bread, so I’m going to explore each of the six major processes involved in creating it. First, let’s talk about designing your home to bake bread.
It is not unreasonable to plan one’s home around the baking of daily bread. In cold climes, there is a great case to be made for putting a masonry oven – stone, brick, or ceramic – near the low center of the home as a heat sink. In hot places, you would want to move the cooking operations away from the core, perhaps even convert to a raw vegan diet, which is easier in the tropics.
If you plan to enjoy daily bread, you will want to consider your sources, as well as means of delivery, of the fundamental raw materials:
·      Seeds, whole and raw from a local, organic grower (you might even grow them yourself);
·      Water, pure and clean (absolutely essential and to be used sparingly); and
·      Heat, ideally from the sun, perhaps through an intermediary such as wood.
Balanced salts and cooking oil can also be nice, but are not absolutely essential.
Your home will need appropriate spaces for each of several processes, listed below in order of temperature. Besides determining how you will generate heat, think about how you will utilize it in varying intensity as it rises from the source.
·      40°F – Starter must be refrigerated for storage. If you cease daily baking for a time, you may want to freeze it (30°F). [Note refrigerating an interior space generally involves heating an exterior space. Use that heat!]
·      55°F – Storage of seeds should be cool and dry, while sprouting will be cool and moist. Both processes are better in relative darkness. [This is the mean temperature of the earth’s crust below frost line.]
·      75°F – There is flexibility in the range for sourdough to work, but this is the ideal average. Apparently some bakers prefer longer, cooler processes, while others speed it up with more heat.
·      85°F – Starter and water should be preheated to facilitate yeast growth.
·      350°F – Baking bread will require a hot oven for about an hour each time.
You are going to need quite a few tools for the process of making your daily bread. Each will need to be stored somewhere while not in use. Plan ahead for comfortable processes. Necessary tools include:
·      Appropriate containers for gathering and storing seeds;
·      At least five sprouting jars, one gallon is ideal, but at least ½ gallon, fitted with screen lids for easy draining;
·      A three cup water container (quart jar with a line marked will work);
·      A big catch basin for water, at least one gallon, bigger is better;
·      A grinder/mixer, ideally capable of course grinding cereals and kneading bread (you will make up for its inadequacies with physical labor);
·      A large breadboard for kneading & shaping dough;
·      Four large, steep sided, mixing bowls, five quart ideal, but at least ¾ gallon, with cloth covers (built in elastic is luxurious);
·      Two-cup starter containers with cloth covers and optional tight lid for freezing (if you plan to suspend operations for more than a few weeks);
·      Two or more bread pans;
·      Racks, one mounted in the center of the oven, one outside the oven for cooling cooked loaves;
·      A good slicing knife and a toaster are optional, but nice;
·      A breadbox made of tin with small perforations for air;
·      Means of cleaning everything regularly. While sterility is an impossible notion, we want to encourage symbiotic cultures and discourage intruding pathogens. Be alert to the culture of your kitchen.
MIX – The first process in making the ultimate non-white bread is selecting the whole, raw (preferably grown with organic techniques on a local farm) seeds. It’s good to change up this mix regularly, as long as you follow the main principles. I cannot overstress that the seeds must be alive, never roasted, rolled, cracked, or ground, or even too old or over-treated to sprout.
About three quarters of the seeds must be glutinous cereal grains, in order to allow the bread to rise properly. If you are intolerant of gluten, it may be because you’ve never had it prepared properly, but please don’t risk your health. Others know how to make gluten-free bread. This is not. 75% of your seeds should be:
·      barley;
·      kamut;
·      oats;
·      rye;
·      spelt;
·      triticale; or
·      wheat (I’m particularly fond of hard, red wheat).
The other quarter of your seed mix should mostly provide complementary proteins to the cereals. These could come from either of two groups.
·      Pulses: alfalfa, clover, fenugreek, lentil, pea, chickpea, mung bean and soybean (non-GMO).
·      Oilseeds: sesame, sunflower, almond, hazelnut, flax (linseed), peanut.
The oilseeds, except flax, increase the hassle factor because they have shells that must be removed, however, they also provide essential oils, which can be tough to get in a vegan diet. Plus they taste great! Make sure they are live, not roasted or salted, if you want to include them in your daily bread. Alternately, they can be roasted and made into a spread to be applied after baking.
There are several other varieties of seeds that add nutrition and flavor to your bread, but should be used in smaller amounts, because they are not as essential. These include the following groups. Play with different combinations!
  • Non-glutinous cereals: maize (corn), rice, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat (these last three are used as cereal even if botanically they are not). In the case of rice, the husk of the paddy will be removed before sprouting. The brown rice is widely using for germination (GBR - Germinated Brown Rice) in Japan and other countries.
  • Brassica: broccoli, cabbage, watercress, mustard, mizuna, radish, daikon (kaiware sprouts), rocket (arugula), tatsoi, or turnip.
  • Umbelliferous vegetables: carrot, celery, fennel, or parsley.
  • Allium: onion, leek, or green onion (me-negi).
  • Other vegetables and herbs: spinach, lettuce, milk thistle, or lemon grass.
SPROUT – The second major process in making the ultimate non-white bread is to soak and rinse the seeds to allow them to begin the growth process. This will bring out natural sugars and begin the process of breaking down the basic nutrients so they will be more available to your body upon eating.

Sprouting imitates the natural process that a seed follows when planted, but without that messy dirt. Generally we begin by soaking the seeds for 24 hours in cool (55°F), pure water. Then we drain the seeds for three days in the same cool, moist, dark space, rinsing with fresh, cool water daily. The seeds should begin to grow, but not produce much green. A little won’t hurt anything, but white stalks are easier for the next process.

You could just eat these sprouts now and forget the bread. That’s what a raw vegan would do, although she might first give the sprouts a day of sunshine to green them up and put them into a salad. You could add them to soup. If you get adventurous, you could grind them with more water and culture them with anaerobic yeast in a sealed container to make beer. But I’m presuming you still want bread.

GRIND – The third process of making the ultimate non-white bread is to chew (not with your mouth, yet) all the sprouted ingredients into tiny bits and mix them thoroughly with warm (85°F) water and culture, and optionally a little salt, to make bread dough. Use about three cups of water for a half-gallon of ground sprouts and two cups of starter. Use not more than 1 ½ T salts.

This grinding becomes a vigorous kneading process, which brings out the gluten web that will hold the little bubbles of carbon dioxide created by the yeasts in the culture. Dough must have the right texture to make edible bread. You may use a modern food processor with a bread hook or do it by hand on a breadboard dusted with cornmeal.

Once you get started, you will save a bit of the dough from each day to start the next day’s batch, thus preserving the diverse, symbiotic culture of yeasts and bacteria that make truly great sourdough. For the first time, you could make your starter from commercially available yeast with a dash of kombucha, or you could get some from a baker who makes particularly delicious bread.
As long as you bake bread, you want to maintain this healthy culture. Never let it get contaminated. If you suspend operations, it can be frozen. Any time it isn’t actively working, it should be refrigerated. Watch for opportunities to enhance your culture by trading and combining successful cultures with other healthy households.

Please let me share a bit of understanding about salt, an optional ingredient. People have an ideal combination of electrolytic salts in our bodies. We lose these, mostly through sweat, and must replace them in our diet. While all of these minerals are found in a healthful blend of vegetables, the standard American diet tends toward too much sodium and too little potassium and magnesium. I use this blend in place of table salt as much as I’m able.
Balanced Electrolyte Blend
30%  Chloride           20% Sodium
10 % Phosphate        20% Potassium
10% Bicarbonate         7% Calcium
                                      3% Magnesium

CULTURE - The fourth process of making the ultimate non-white bread is the most important and least demanding. Let it sit completely still in a warm place (70°-90°F) for three days. This will allow the microbes in your culture to spread throughout the dough. The yeast will digest the simple sugars and the bacteria will digest the alcohol the yeast produces. Acids and enzymes will break down nutrients to make them more digestible. Applied with appropriate timing, this culture makes good bread into great bread.

It is important not to shake or disturb this process. The gas bubbles caught in the gluten web are fragile. The microbes in the culture are sensitive. Put a label onto each bowl daily so you know how long the culture has been working, but don’t move the bowls around. Don’t let dust (mold spores) contaminate your culture.

You will remove about 10% of each batch of dough to start the next batch. Theoretically, you could have three different cultures going at the same time. This provides some protection in case a batch gets contaminated. It also gives you room to experiment with improvements in your culture. Play with it!

BAKE - The fifth process of making the ultimate non-white bread is to shape the dough into baking pans and set them in an evenly hot (350°F) oven for about an hour. Some combinations of ingredients will cook a bit differently, so test the loaves with a toothpick before turning them out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

It can be a good idea to coat the baking pans as well as the mixing bowls with oil. Any oil that imparts a good taste without smoking will do. I find avocado oil the ultimate cooking oil. Peanut or sesame oil each has a strong, but not unpleasant taste. Flax (linseed) or hemp oil is also fine. Be sure any oil you use is food grade. Olive oil is wonderful for salads, but often smokes when used for cooking.

EAT - The final process of making the ultimate non-white bread is to consume it. You may want to slice it and maybe toast it. You could spread it with berry preserves or nut butters or make a sandwich with both.

If it doesn’t all get eaten immediately, bread is best stored in a clean tin with tiny perforations for air. Observe how much gets eaten, how hungry people are, and adjust the amount of bread you bake each day to accommodate.

Okay, as promised, here is the step-by-step recipe for baking the ultimate non-white healthful daily bread.
1.     Check the breadbox to see how much is left from the last baking. Adjust quantities to match consumption.
2.     Remove sourdough starter from refrigeration and preheat to 85°F for an hour before mixing dough. Preheat oven to 350°F.
3.     Select seeds (¾ glutinous cereals) into a clean gallon jar with screen lid. Fill with pure water to soak for 24 hours in a cool (55°F), dark place.
4.     Pour off and keep water soaking seeds from yesterday, Set upside down in a cool, dark area to drain.
5.     Preheat 3 cups of water from sprouts to 85°F. Preheat oven to 350°F.
6.     Reuse remaining water to rinse middle two jars of sprouts, leaving them upside down to drain. Pour excess water onto a thirsty plant.
7.     Dump a gallon of grown sprouts, after 3 days rinsing, into grinder with 1 ½ T salts (optional).
8.     Grind to an even, course consistency, add preheated starter & water, and vigorously mix to doughy consistency. Hand knead if necessary.
9.     Oil 5 qt. bowl and put dough into it. Cover with a clean cloth to sit undisturbed for 3 days.
10.  Move #1 label to fresh bowl, #2 label to #1 bowl, and #3 label to #2 bowl without disturbing the working cultures. Remove finished dough from #3 bowl to breadboard with minimal disturbance.
11.  Wash empty gallon jar, #3 bowl, starter container, and bread pans thoroughly with a dash of Dr. Bronner's soap, preserving water for irrigation.
12.  Extract 2 cups of fresh dough for starter, cover with clean cloth, and refrigerate until tomorrow.
13.  Shape dough from breadboard into oiled bread pans.
14.  Bake ~1 hr. @ 350°F until done. Test with a toothpick
15.  Turn loaves onto a rack to cool. Set pans to soak overnight.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Resilient Neighborhoods

The best hope for long term human survival appears to lie in the development of resilient communities. By applying local resources at a sustainable rate to meet genuine local needs, resilient neighborhoods fit into the natural order, rather than attempting continuous growth based on exploitation.

To locate the boundaries of your neighborhood, it is easiest to map your watershed. Where does the rainwater flow to and from your home? Divisions between watersheds are ridge lines, like a small scale of the continental divide. Watersheds divide into tributaries upstream and combine into larger streams all the way to the ocean, or occasionally terminate in a landlocked lake. It's generally easiest to walk about within a watershed.

Traditional healthy human communities tend to bunch in villages of roughly five hundred members. Our brains seem developed to deal with communications at this scale. What portion of your watershed would include you and your five hundred closest neighbors? For the purposes of this article, I'm defining that as your neighborhood. If it isn't already defined as a political district, such as a precinct or ward, you might approach your elected leaders about rearranging political maps to match natural bioregions.

Maybe you don't like your neighbors. Maybe they don't like you. But in a really serious emergency, you'd have to rely upon each other. You share a natural water system, which enforces your interdependence. Humans are social creatures. Modern mobility has fractured our natural family and tribal relationships, but that modern system is fragile. What would you do if the complex transportation and communication systems suddenly failed?

I'm not predicting a sudden failure. I think it will happen more gradually, but change is inevitable. Our economic system relies upon continual expansion of consumption of a limited resource base. How long can that last? At what point will it become too expensive to acquire necessities? What qualifies as a necessity? Perhaps you want to have a conversation with your neighbors about this. Like it or not, you're in this mess together.

Where does your tap water come from? How much energy is consumed getting it to you? How reliable is the source of that power? If the power went out, how would you and your neighbors get enough water to survive? How much precipitation will fall and at what time of year? What systems could you develop to make your neighborhood water more secure?

What about food? How much food is grown in your neighborhood now, compared to the amount consumed? Could local growing provide a balanced diet for everybody? Could you produce enough to share with climate refugees? Upon what imports is your food production reliant? Do you have secure sources of heritage seeds or do you buy hybrids and GMOs from corporations that may not care about your needs? Is your soil healthy, recycling the nutrients upon which people depend?

How much energy goes into the production and transportation of the goods you and your neighbors regularly consume? How much goes into carrying away your waste? Where does that energy come from? How much damage is done to the environment by these processes? What alternatives are available? How much of that crap could you live without?

You'd have to be living in a bubble to believe that our economy and ecology are secure. You and your neighbors may have different ways of describing the threats, but few of us feel really safe. Outside of our neighborhood, upon whom can we rely? Will the politicians in DC or Brussels save us? Do state or local officials have the key to solutions? Are corporate CEOs going to bail us out? Can we count on the innovation of somebody we haven't ever met?

Maybe it's time to host a discussion in your home or some gathering place within walking distance. Invite as many of your closest neighbors as will fit. Tell them you want to discuss the potential for making your neighborhood more resilient. Conversation will be easier over food, so maybe you want to make it a potluck. If your neighborhood is ahead of the curve, host a local food potluck.

Please try not to waste energy debating your different world views or rehashing old conflicts. Keep the focus on the future of your neighborhood. Inventory particular needs and strengths. Does anybody have the ability to fabricate tools? What skills can your neighbors apply toward meeting your common needs?

As your culture evolves, you will find opportunities to sing and dance together, develop rituals for births, deaths, and significant events, like harvest. You may learn rites of passage to initiate youth into adulthood. These are common human behaviors that have been diminished in our homogenized culture, but we can take them back!

It all starts with talking to your neighbors.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Solving Intractable Problems

President Eisenhower warned us about the Military Industrial Complex (his term), but neither he nor any of his predecessors did anything to solve this problem.  Even after more than six decades of unnecessary and tragic wars, the political risk of shutting down the Pentagon has been too high for more than a few brave politicians to discuss. Those brave few have been effectively eliminated. At least since the fall of the USSR, a primary objective of US foreign policy has been to generate enough enemies to justify obscene military budgets. The emperor is parading through the streets naked, and all the children are pointing it out, but the tailors have not yet been called to task. The peace movement desperately tries to revive efforts that have repeatedly failed.

Perhaps it is time to try a new tack. You see, while the military has been creating nails to use its hammer on, a genuine threat has reared its head. If people, especially those in the USA, don't reign in our rapid use of fossil fuels, this planet may become uninhabitable for our progeny. This threat makes the WWII Axis powers and every other enemy since, combined, look puny. We're talking about the survival of the human species, and several others. It is too late to prevent serious consequences, but it's never too late to do anything we can.

So here is the plan. The Congress and POTUS must instruct the Pentagon to forget about blowing things up and killing people. Granted, that is all that militaries have ever focused upon, but it is an obsolete approach at problem solving that never really worked. Nobody is going to attack us if we do the right thing. Forget about that and let's get busy solving the real problem. Raise the debt ceiling and borrow as much as you need to save humanity from itself. We've got to quickly build the infrastructure of extreme conservation.

Envision a high speed train down the center of every Interstate Highway, powered by sun, wind, and tide. Local committees could plan to meet genuine local needs by sustainable use of local resources. Civil defense programs could teach patriots to get around by walking and bicycling, grow and share food in victory gardens, and give birth to fewer babies, but take better care of those already born. The military knows how to apply resources to emergent problems without wasting time. We don't have time left. We've got to move with all expediency toward a survivable planet.

Do you agree this is a great plan? Perhaps, like me, you've noticed that the Congress and POTUS aren't leaping to do the will of the people. It seems the ship of state is flying on autopilot into a wall. Having played the role of citizen lobbyist for five decades now, I can't muster much hope for the US government to suddenly do the right thing. It's as difficult to imagine government breaking the thrall of big capital as it is to imagine capitalists growing consciences. I guess the only sensible thing is to find an armchair from which to view Armageddon.

Not ready to lay down and die? Perhaps there is a sliver of hope. Since much of the change must happen at the local level, maybe our communities can begin to do the right thing without waiting for the feds, or even state government to catch on. What would happen if everybody who disagrees with the federal budget refused taxes and gave the money instead to deserving but underfunded programs? What if we refused to work for, invest in, or buy from corporations that exploit?

Each of us can learn to grow our own food, pedal our own bike, and care for our neighbors. Any one can speak truth as we see it and live as an example to all. All I really can control is my own behavior. That's challenge enough.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Climate Lobby

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Please look carefully at the chart above. What is the biggest contributor to climate change? It’s not the red sector, but the blue one, transportation. See the numbers? Why is this chart skewed to hide the complicity of our cars?

Of all oil consumed in the U.S., 83% fuels transportation. Within transportation, cars and light trucks burn three-fifths of the oil. The quickest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to go car-free.

Government Investment in Transportation

Transportation Budget
Per Capita
Transit + Rail
Per Capita

USDOT
$90,900,000,000
$289.58
$22,274,000,000
$70.96
25%
ODOT
$4,136,000,000
$1,060.78
$145,000,000
$37.19
4%
Benton County
$15,806,640
$182.88
$2,319,898
$26.84
15%
Corvallis
$7,900,861
$143.66
$2,948,750
$53.62
37%
Total
$95,059,707,501
$1,676.91
$22,424,268,648
$188.60
24%

Politicians are positioning themselves as actively fighting climate change, but when we follow the money, it becomes obvious how hypocritical they are.

Consider the infrastructure installed by our government at every level to support personal automobiles. The U.S., with its 214 million motor vehicles, has paved 3.9 million miles of roads, enough to circle the earth at the equator 157 times. In addition to roads, cars require parking space. Imagine a parking lot for 214 million cars and trucks. If that is too difficult, try visualizing a parking lot for 1,000 cars and then imagine what 214,000 of these would look like. Satellite imagery might help.

However we visualize it, the U.S. area devoted to roads and parking lots covers an estimated 61,000 square miles or 39,040,000 acres. If you study any one of these paved areas, you will discover a microclimate approaching a barren desert. Plants are eliminated, soil compressed, hydrological systems disrupted and polluted, and animals become road kill. Multiply that microclimate to a global scale and you begin to realize the impact of pavement.

Our challenge is to move every level of government away from doing the bidding of the asphalt lobby and toward using traffic demand management to make it easier for everybody to use the most efficient, practical modes of transportation – walking, cycling, rail, bus, and jitney. Our opponents include big oil and the automotive industry, some very powerful corporations.

The focal point of this struggle is the state Department of Transportation. The Oregon Department of Transportation issued ODOT’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Report in April of 2012. To paraphrase, it says ”burning fossil fuels has caused the climate to change, so we’ll have to work very hard to keep the highways open so people can keep burning fossil fuels.”

ODOT issues permits for megaloads of tar sands mining equipment and refuses to hear any public opinion. Can we get our legislators to listen to our opinion of the $4B ODOT spends each year destroying our climate?