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It is now ratatouille season, and for the rest of the summer

Summer time means gardens.

Summer gardens here in urban and suburban America mean tons, literally, of zucchini and tomatoes.

Some gardeners can their success. Using Mason jars, they boil, steam, stew, blanch and otherwise prepare their hard-won vegetables for the long pantry sleep or freezer burn.

Not I. Oh, I like to eat, especially fresh vegetables.

So my thing is to give away some extra garden produce and eat like a king every day, lunch and dinner.

Probably the easiest and most wholesome meal possible out of the basic garden is ratatouille. If this word has too many syllables for you, like it does for me, and it makes you think of fancy French men in white chef’s hats, take heart. It is this easy to make: some diced zucchini sauteed in olive oil. About 3/4 of the way to done, fresh tomatoes are thrown in the skillet and simmered down amidst the sautee action. Maybe an onion, if you like onions. More olive oil (we use California Olive Ranch) can only make things taste even better. Then some home-grown herbs (no, not that), like basil, rosemary, dill, garlic.

Keep simmering and sauteeing. Low flame.

When it is all becoming a big mush, sprinkle it with cheese. Don’t mix it in. A blend of grated hard cheese like wine goat or parmesan, with some decent Vermont cheddar, and let the skillet lid sit over a very low flame for about three to five minutes.

Turn off the heat, and let the skillet sit there on the burner for a couple minutes, with the skillet lid still on. Magic is happening in there. Don’t lift the lid to peek, or you will let the magic slip out and away.

Serve yourself first, because everyone else around you will dive in on the ratatouille and it’ll be gone in a minute.

Why are there syllables in my bread?

The other day I made the mistake of looking at the the ingredients label on the bag containing a loaf of sliced bread I brought home from the Giant store on Linglestown Road.

Can you believe the chemicals and additives and preservatives that are in that loaf of bread, according to the label? These are seriously long, serious-sounding, polysyllabic words that I have trouble pronouncing, no matter how long I have to spell them out slowly.

Words this long do not belong in the human body.

It made me wonder, Why are all these syllables in my bread?

Shouldn’t bread just be something like flour, water, salt, sugar, eggs, baking powder, maybe some fresh yeast, plus fire? For the past five thousand years, bread has been successfully made with slight variations on this theme of basic ingredients.

One of my kids has a health issue, and for most of her life it was treated with scary chemicals.

One by one, the chemicals stopped working. We were left with few options.

Then a researcher in Israel began a study, where kids with this health issue would go on a basic diet: No processed food, no canned food, no frozen food except what you freeze yourself. Everything fresh. No soda, no powdered drink mixes. Etc.

Guess what? She went into remission. It was attributable solely to the lack of processed food and the attendant polysyllabic chemicals she was otherwise ingesting when she ate “food.”

Today our friend Roberta came over, delivering Girl Scout cookies that only our boy can eat (well, I could easily eat them, but my body needs no extra calories or fat). We caught up in the kitchen over fresh coffee. Turns out she has changed her diet, and is feeling a lot better than before, plus she is lean and feeling energized.

What is her diet? No processed food.

Seeing that bread label got me thinking. Seeing my beloved child get better from a serious health issue got me thinking. Talking with our family friend of nearly twenty years got me thinking. Here is what I am thinking:

Syllables and food do not go together, unless it’s Italian. Certainly not in English.

Chemicals and food should not go together.

Chemicals are not food.

Chemicals and body health probably do not go together, except as a treatment for a serious health issue.

I just ate a pile of fresh carrot sticks. They were not nearly as satisfying to me, as they don’t taste great, as something processed. But it’s the beginning of something good. And it reminds me to start preparing seeds for the summer garden.

And one more thing: Giant also sells freshly baked bread. This bread lacks the preservatives of the bagged bread. It’s my new go-to bread, and as I do most of the food shopping for our family, it is what we are going to have going forward.

Are Alien Invasives Driving You Nuts, Too?

“Alien invasives” is an ecological term or phrase for plants and animals that have parasitically invaded a favorable host environment, where they are unchecked by natural predators or forces. Examples exist in the Florida Everglades, where monitor lizards and giant pythons are rapidly becoming the dominant predators, in the Great Lakes, where round gobies and Asian carp are displacing walleyes, bass, salmon, and trout, and along the East Coast, where Asian mosquitoes are now fully entrenched.

It is this last species that really aggravates me, although the 15-20 million invasive non-native tax money-hungry and public services-gobbling humans presently here also bother me, too.

Asian mosquitoes come in several Latin names, which I won’t bother Dear Reader with here, but suffice it to say that they are the Samurai warrior in the world of mosquitoes. Where our native brown mosquitoes are relatively slow, lumbering, hovering, whining, nocturnal wall-hugging louts, the Asian mosquitoes are surreptitious, incredibly fast and dextrous, ankle-biting, and active 24/7, even in bright sunlight. If you swat at one, it won’t fly away and hide, it will Judo-fast avoid your hand, and immediately counter-attack.

One Asian mosquito is called the “tiger mosquito” because it has long camouflaging stripes which render it nearly invisible to the human eye, even up close. Almost like a shape-shifter, the tiger mosquito dodges your swat, and deftly, fearlessly moves in for the kill.

Asian mosquitoes have taken up residence in our back yard over the past five years. Each year they get worse, more dense, more aggressive, far beyond pesky. They have rendered our entire property nearly unusable during the months best suited to being outside. Gardening is now a run through a mine field, a gantlet that must be mastered quickly with a return to home base before too many painful bites are felt.

One fine Saturday in early August, in a shady spot in our back yard, reclining on a comfy chaise-lounge chair next to my wife and daughter, I soon discovered a black cloud horde of Asian mosquitoes around me. Welts were rising all over every area of exposed skin. I went and got the fly swatter and a can of bug spray, and returned to my reclining position, but with the swatter ready for action. After twenty minutes of battle and little reading, I had covered every part of my body with so much toxic bug dope that it began to make me feel ill. And yet the mosquitoes still found places they could land for the brief one or two seconds they require to extract my blood.

Unable to withstand the assault any more, I went inside and sat at the big picture window, watching my wife and child swat at the insects, the humans determined to enjoy the outdoors and the insects determined to suck blood.

Although my political nature dominates my writing, I really intend no metaphor here. This is really just waving the flag, an SOS, a warning, that America has become a breeding ground for alien invasives that are ruining our outdoor lifestyle. Now that the Ebola and Zika viruses have arrived with Obama’s foreign minions, more and more Americans are becoming aware of the costs of these invasive insects. It is not just about a little discomfort anymore, like with our friendly old native mosquito, but rather any time outdoors could cost you your health, even your life.

And what is the cost of lost happiness over twelve weekends, for tens of millions of people?

Garden as metaphor #8

As usual, I planted a garden this Spring.

Chicken wire and wire cloth mesh walls 24 inches high are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence that hurts.

I am not fancy, so it is the usual basics- cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, an assortment of herbs. Keeping it simple is usually a recipe for solid output. Again, it is usually nothing that will feed the family for the year, but enough to keep us eating variations of ratatouille for the summer. It is healthy and tasty.

However, this summer was tough.

A dry, record-heat summer resulted in a lot of poorly developed desirable plants. But the weeds flourished. Having weeded the garden in late July, we went away for ten days, and returned to a jungle inside the fence. But the good plants did not have enough water.

The potatoes were dying, if you can believe that. Usually they are the last to go.

The basil had hardly budged. Most of the tomato plants looked sickly. Even the zucchini, which started strong, dried up and died a hideous public death. Somehow ISIS infiltrated the garden of Eden.

As a metaphor, this garden demonstrates the need for constant vigilance. If you leave it to itself, the good plants quickly get crowded out by the professional space-hogs, the weeds. And you can successfully remove a crop of weeds, and then a week later turn around and see a whole new crop blasting to the surface.

Similarly, a Republic like America cannot be left to itself. Its citizens – you, me, US – must stay on top of our government at all times. Or else the professional politicians, the career politicians, will get wedged in their spots and turn the purpose of government from serving We the People, to them, the weeds.

Garden as metaphor, Part 3…or 4

Can anyone think of a better metaphor for life as a human than a garden?

All the planning, selecting, planting, nurturing, stoking, prodding, coaxing, frustration, re-planting, and finally, after all the work and with some luck, the harvesting of fresh food…this is all just like the bigger things in our lives.

Lately it has been difficult to ignore some generational changes afoot that simply cannot bode well for our nation, now or in the future.

Where debate historically involved logic, facts, and reasoning, a great deal of what is represented as debate is simple ridicule, mockery, dismissiveness.

Few things demonstrate the weakness of an argument more than the use of ridicule and mockery, or name-calling. Yet the Internet is full of this waste of time. Because of my own passion for and involvement in tough policy issues, I am really interested to hear separate points of view from people, and spirited debate, give-and-take, is part of that process. This process is what makes Western Civilization so unique and so precious.

Dismissiveness assumes all will be well, no matter what, irrespective of actions or behaviors across the landscape.

In my observation, the younger generations are much more inclined to forgo logic and facts, and are more inclined to leap into name calling and ridicule in their online debates. This just cannot bode well for American democracy, which is based on the use of logic, reason, and facts. How our citizens expect to hold on to their Constitutional rights and liberties, and yet allow debate to be dominated by juvenile behavior is not wild speculation. Already we have witnessed the erosion of individual liberties at the hands of judges who don’t care what the US Constitution says, or what their particular state constitution says; their basis for decisions making is purely personal, or political.

So go grow a garden, fellow citizens. Tending even a small garden helps us work physical and mental muscles that atrophy easily. It builds small but important personal traits that are needed on a much bigger scale. Tending, cultivating, and nurturing all build basic skills necessary for us to function well as individuals and for our civilization to succeed on the whole.

The alternative – relying on everyone else for everything else we need, and ridiculing the rest – is a recipe for disaster.

Life’s natural rhythms

Hunting and gathering have provided 95% of the sustenance for humans on Planet Earth, for most of our time as modern humans. These activities are a natural, seasonal rhythm outside of the equatorial region.

Usually more gathering is done during the summer months in temperate climates, when fruits, vegetables, and nuts would be ripening.  Hunting typically occurs all year ’round, but picks up in the Fall and Winter.

Our garden produced a constant supply of non-sprayed, healthy, fresh, naturally ripened food this summer.  As usual, some plants did really well, while others eventually failed long before their time.  Nevertheless, the garden produced more than we could keep up with, and is now coming to a close.  It was a pleasurable way to eat – walk into the back yard, pick some fresh vegetables, make a salad or sandwich inside, and then taste the sunlight.

Now, hunting and trapping seasons are upon us, and it’s as if a hidden switch was flicked ON in my body.  I suppose a hundred thousand years of hunting and gathering cannot be easily scrubbed from our DNA and body’s natural inclinations, although some people pretend they can (and should).

In a country awash in cheap, easily accessible food, growing a successful garden and harvesting wild meat for the table may seem silly, but the truth is these are skills being honed.  Anyone who thinks the food, electricity, water, and heat which define American life will always be easily available is fooling themselves.  Anything could happen to disrupt those supplies.  Could be something small, or something big, or something cataclysmic.  Either way, oscillating with nature’s natural rhythms is both, well, natural, and also healthy.  Ignoring those natural rhythms is like double-dog-daring something bad to happen to you, and it will, because in human history, change is the constant.

Enjoy the colorful Central Pennsylvania Fall, and Go Lions!

Politics…? Nah, let’s talk gardening

Everyone needs a light moment, a break from the heavy stuff of politics.  Me, too.

So let’s talk about gardening, something I really enjoy in the spring and summer.

First, the basil and peppers planted back in early May have not yet sprouted.  I “cheated,” and bought started peppers last night, after procrastinating for weeks, in the hope the seeds would erupt into a profusion of colored peppers, like last year.

Second, the garden is exploding with volunteer tomato plants, from seeds scattered by the kitchen compost we throw into the garden all Fall and Winter.  Maybe forget about the basil and peppers, and just focus on what is working now.  Everyone ready for me dropping off extra tomatoes on your porch?

Third, the heavy-gauge tomato cones really do work, but I am sticking with the re-bar and string construction Patricia encouraged me to try back in April.  The cones exist within the string…

Fourth, as rodents decrease in number, so the targeted garden plants grow.  Never saw chipmunks eat zucchini and cucumber plants before, but they were eating every little shoot and leaf.  Until….

Fifth, the electric fence kind of works.  Once the squirrels learned how to jump up onto the heavy gauge wire and perch there, they only risked me catching them, and a lot of rodent damage was done to the garden, until…..

Gardening can be a metaphor for so many things: Our daily job and work, a career, a relationship, a political effort or campaign…life…yeah, I will bet that Siddhartha was a gardener.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the first day of Summer and the Summer Solstice tomorrow!

 

Appeasement is evil, because it allows evil to triumph, and other reflections of the past week

This has been both a rewarding and tough week for me.

Like many, I believe more in ideas than party allegiance.  America stands for something, and the ideas at its foundation are a form of religious belief for me and many others; no surprise there, as America’s Judeo-Christian Biblical roots are well established.  So, my loyalties lie with people who stand for something good, and I am opposed to people in public office who either stand for money alone, or for fluff.  An elected official who will not roll up his sleeves and fight like a demon for my beliefs, for traditional American values, is not someone who is going to get my support.

The Eric Cantor self-destruction story in Virginia is all about this same thinking.  It is what permeates the “Tea Party” movement.  It is a basic gut-check of what is simply right, and what is obviously wrong.  Politicians like Cantor do not have that same gut-check ability, or they long ago lost it.  They then lost me and a lot of others, too.  As painful as Cantor’s loss is, it is also very rewarding: The American People are not asleep, and David Brat’s win is hopefully the beginning of a grass-roots effort to establish control over American borders.

Obama has clearly abandoned border protection, and he is using fake, officially invited refugees to make the case for open borders, the dilution and end of American democracy, and the end of American capitalism.  No elected Republicans seem capable of standing up to him.

On the foreign front, Appeasing evil people is aiding and abetting evil people.  Thus, appeasement is evil.

Failing to confront evil, especially an evil that has its eye on you, is either due to mental disability, or to a self-hypnosis masquerading as superiority.  Self-sacrifice trumps survival to appeasers, who casually disregard that many other people are then taken over the cliff, too.

Contemplating what drives Obama and his supporters has been dishearteneing, because I cannot fathom it, despite growing up surrounded by far-left liberals.  His supporters are not asleep, and they also cannot explain to me what about him and his actions they like, on balance with those they dislike. When we discuss issues, liberals immediately fly into a rage, have fits, and if it is a Facebook debate, they “unfriend” someone they’ve known for thirty five years, a phenomenon I hear repeated by others.  This is not a good sign.

For example, ObamaCare is overwhelmingly unpopular to Americans and it is failing across the board, but that hasn’t stopped his supporters from promoting it.

The Veterans Affairs scandal is an incredible indictment of the administration, but his supporters cannot concede on it.

The Benghazi cover-up is just a “political charade.”  But Americans were abandoned to violently die there, while their cell phones and radio pleas for help were listened to by indifferent administration officials.  In any nation this is either criminal or incompetent, and yet…no concessions.

The world is on fire, with Syria, Iraq, Russia, Ukraine, and large parts of Africa falling apart after huge, decades-long Western and American investments of money and dead.  Or, in the alternative, these places are now re-assembling into sources of evil that we will eventually have to confront once again, under circumstances that at that time are disadvantageous and more costly to us.

Obama’s foreign policy, his “re-set,” is so obviously a catastrophe, that it makes one wonder if he really secretly wants this destruction.  After all, the boundaries of the modern Middle Eastern and African nations were established by European powers, and we know how much hate Obama has for those Western democracies aka “colonial powers.”

Obama seems to be at war with America and Western civilization, and his supporters are either under some odd messianic spell, or they are in cognitive agreement with him.

Is America headed for a civil war over these differences?  The current state of debate is not encouraging, where liberals espousing an all-controlling, all-knowing, all-seeing Big Brother Orwellian society seem to relish IRS and NSA abuses against fellow citizens.  They do not realize or accept that to most Americans, this is a form of slavery, and no, they will not live under slavery.

I think I am going to go have a nice cold beer and work in the garden.  In the rain.  The David Brat win / Cantor loss is going to have to buoy my spirits for the coming days.  Have a great weekend!

The garden as metaphor, part deux

Basil is erupting by the bushel. Four types. The pesto I made for my wife today had all kinds of exotic tastes she worked hard to identify, and it was all good.

Tomatoes are laggards, every one of them. Green, small, looking nothing like what Giant provides, they are just takin’ their sweet time.

Where did that dill weed come from? Well do I recall planting a wee sprig. Now it is about to flower, so it must be harvested in order to regenerate.

Showy zucchinis, with their big nodding leaves, they are a bunch of braggarts, with nothing to show underneath. Lots of colorful flowers, sure, but nothing edible or useful. Intrigued by the nipped flowers. Are chipmunks running amok again? Only recently did I trap the last one out of the house. Hopefully the garden isn’t inviting them back….

Not one of the peppers has produced, either, although clearly something has ‘et them but good, leaving bullet holes zooming through all of the young fruits. My pocket is picked!

Finally, the cucumbers are lazily snaking their way into the other plants’ areas, and showing nothing for it. Like the zucchinis, they are all about showmanship. But fellas, we don’t see anything to support your territorialism.

And that run-down right there is the world in a nutshell, with yet another edition of Garden as Metaphor (C)…..

Garden as metaphor

Gardens are the summertime happy hunting grounds of Americans everywhere. My own is coming along nicely. Maybe it’s time to plant a 1940-s style Victory Garden?