December 28, 2005

Meg's Americanized Enchiladas

I originally got the idea for these enchiladas from the More-With-Less Cookbook, but they've probably morphed quite a bit from that by now. (I don't really know because I haven't looked back at the recipe in probably 15 years.)

- 1 jar of your favorite salsa. (i usually use Frontera's Jalapeno Cilantro Salsa.)
- 1 package whole wheat flour tortillas (note: wheat flour tortillas and whole wheat flour tortillas are different entities.)
- 1 can beans (refried or whole, it doesn't matter. black or pinto also doesn't matter. i always use black (i think they're tastier.) but will use refried or whole based on what i have on hand.)
- meat is optional. i sometimes fry up chunks of chicken and toss that in for the kids' and rob's benefit.
- cilantro is optional. i love the flavor, but i don't always have any one hand.
- onions are optional.
- lots of cheddar cheese. (i like to really heap it on top so the size of your container will determine the amount of cheese you need.)

Pour a little (maybe 1/4 cup) of the salsa into the bottom of your pan. I usually use a brownie pan to make my enchiladas in. Wiggle the pan until the salsa has covered every bit of the bottom. This should keep your enchiladas from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

If you're going to add meat and/or onions, cook them up in advance. I don't think I've ever put beef in, but I don't see why you couldn't. If I add meat it's usually diced cubes of chicken that I've fried up in a bit of oil. When I add onion, I usually chop up one medium sized onion and fry that in a bit of oil.

To make the enchilada, hold a tortilla in one hand and slop some beans into it with the other hand. If you want to add meat, tofu, cilantro or onions (or even cheese) you can do that now. When I make these, I often just put the beans inside (because I've forgotten to fry up the onions in advance) then I throw any other extras on top of the rolled up tortillas later. Roll up the tortilla until you have a long tube and smash it into one end of your pan. (I say smash because often the ends of the tortilla are longer than the width of the pan. You don't want those ends sticking up because they'll dry out so try to mush them down in. Also make sure they get well covered with salsa and cheese later.)

Once you've filled the pan with filled and rolled tortillas, throw any other extras on top that you might have forgotten to stick inside. Then dump the rest of the salsa on top of the enchiladas and make sure to spread it everywhere. Anything not salsa covered will most likely dry out in the oven and be kinda yucky.

Next, cover the top with cheese. When I used to make these, I'd take the time to grate the cheese and pour that on top. Now I'm too lazy, so I just pull out the cheese slicer, make several slices and use that to cover the top.

Everything currently inside your enchilada pan is either pre-cooked at this point, or can be eaten without having been cooked. So your goal isn't really to cook everything up as much as to warm it through and melt the cheese. I usually put these in the oven (at 350) for about 20 or 25 minutes. Once the cheese is starting to brown I know they're ready.

You'll notice that in the picture I've dug in from two sides. The closer side has chicken, for the kids. The farther side is where my veggie version was located. :-)

December 22, 2005

Pirogi / Pedaheh

Even though the little forms we used did the edge crimping for us, I still liked to pinch a bit more just to be sure the pirog was completely closed up. Otherwise we'd lose most of the filling during the boiling later.

My dad's family is Ukrainian (his grandparents came over in the early 1900's). One Ukrainian (Byzantine Catholic) tradition that we try to keep when eating with my grandmother is to avoid meat on Christmas Eve. So for this Christmas Eve we are going to have homemade pirogi (I use this name for them because more people seem to be familiar with it, but I believe that is the Polish term. My great aunt has fits every time I say pirogi. It should be pedaheh.) and hopefully a Salmon Wrapped in Pastry dish that my dad used to make. (But he can't really help us with it any more. So it might all depend on whether we can find his old recipe.)

Though my great granny (the one off the boat) used to make pedaheh for us, my grandmother (the next generation down) never made it. And my mom is (mostly) Irish, so she sure couldn't teach me. Therefore, though I'm using someone else's recipe (I can't even remember whose at this point.) the whole procedure that I go through is pretty much my own. I'm sure it's pretty similar to what other pedaheh makers go through. But then again, what do I know? I've never made pedaheh before with anyone else that knew what they were doing.

So without further ado - Pirogi making by Meg and company, recipe included.

The recipe has been lost in the transition as Picasa doesn't have the means of posting a lot of text along with each separate photo. But you can still get the main idea here. I'll try to add ingredients at some point.

December 19, 2005

What IS the reason for the season?

A new phrase became popular (in some Christian circles, at least) about a decade ago: "Jesus is the reason for the season." I started seeing this plastered across shopping bags (from Christian stores that were capitalizing on the commercialism of Christmas) and this year I've heard my daughters singing a song by that title that they apparently
learned in Sunday School. But is Jesus really the reason for the season?

The holiday currently referred to as Christmas actually began long before the Christ was born for whom the mass is said. The winter solstice has long been a cause for celebration, not only because it marks the beginning of longer days, but it was also the time when many farm animals were slaughtered and their meat preserved for the winter (as it was far more cost effective to turn them into meat than to try to feed them through a long, hard winter).

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the end of December until the beginning of January. The men would find the largest logs they could and, after hauling them back to the village, would set
them ablaze. The citizens would then party for as long as the log burned, sometimes for as long as 12 days (hence the 12 days of Christmas).

In Germany, many believed that the god Oden would fly overhead at night determining who would prosper and who would perish in the coming year ("gonna find out who's naughty and nice").

The Romans celebrated for an entire month each winter, honoring the god Saturn in a festival called Saturnalia. During that time food and drink was plentiful, the poor were treated as royalty with the rich waiting on them, and gifts were given.

Many upper class Romans also celebrated the birth of Mithras, god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25th. This was often considered to be the most important holiday of the year. The emperor
Constantine was said to be a follower of Mithra before his supposed conversion to Christianity.

There is no where in the Bible that states what day Jesus was born, nor that it should be celebrated by his followers. Though Jesus commanded his disciples to remember his death and resurrection (which takes place every Easter (Btw, Easter is the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess.) as well as with every serving of communion), he never spoke of his birth as an item of note.

The first evidence of a Christian feast of the Nativity (which is what Christmas was called before it was called Christmas) is found in 200 AD in Egypt, and was celebrated in spring (at times in either March, April or May). In time, Christians were celebrating the Nativity on many different days, most on the same day as the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. But in the 380's AD, Chrysostom gave a
sermon in which he argued that December 25th was the most appropriate day for the celebration and apparently the church fathers agreed. Christmas wasn't called by that name until some time in the middle ages (some say as late as 1810) when Christ Mass was contracted.

In the early 17th century, the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans led to an abrupt about face concerning the celebration of the Nativity. Generally a time of raucous debauchery, the Puritans
outlawed it entirely. The pilgrims brought this attitude with them when they came to the Americas and from 1659 to 1681, Christmas was outlawed in Boston. Even in other parts of the country, Christmas
was seen as an English holiday and not celebrating Christmas was a sign of independence. Eventually that mindset eased and on June 26, 1870, Christmas was declared to be a national holiday.

Over the next 135 years, Christmas has continued to morph and change, keeping the gift giving it inherited from Saturnalia, as well as the holly and mistletoe from pagan fertility rituals, but adding on a
distinctly American component as well -- Santa Claus as we know him today, a rolly polly man in fluffy red and white vestments. The Christmas that most Americans celebrate today is a well blended series of pagan rituals with a dab of "Christian meaning" tossed in.

That's certainly not to say that Christmas can't still be a meaningful time for Christians. Recognizing that God would be willing to take on human flesh for mankind's sake is definitely a cause for
celebration. But at the same time, for Christians to get in a huff that some stores would hang signs saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" is akin to early Romans who might have
complained that their celebration of Mithra was being co-opted by some odd group of monotheists (also referred to as atheists since they had no pantheon of gods).

So go out and find the largest log you can and throw it on the fire. Kill the fatted calf and pour the ale. Hang the mistletoe and string the evergreens about the house. Give gifts and make merry, for tomorrow is SaturnaliaJuvenalia, Yule, the birth of Mithra, the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas!!!

December 8, 2005

oooh, cool! now i can have the kids make their own snowflakes without having to clean up a bunch of teeny little pieces of paper all over the floor.

June 15, 2005

Double Chocolate Pound Cake

Rob's dad gave us a Kitchen Aid for our wedding. It came with a cook book which has a great Chocolate Pound Cake recipe in it. I haven't made this since we were first married because I forgot which book the recipe was in. But I'm clearing out my cookbook shelf and found one page in this book that's covered with stains, a sure sign that it contains a good recipe.

3 cups sifted cake flour (i haven't sifted flour in about... 25 years)
3 cups sugar (wow! i'd forgotten how much sugar it calls for!)
1 cup cocoa
3 T baking powder
1 t salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups milk
3 t vanilla
3 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the canter and add softened butter, milk and vanilla. Attach bowl and flat beater (on your Kitchen Aid). Turn to Stir Speed for 1 minute or until mixed. Stop and scrape bowl, turn to Speed 6 and beat 5 minutes. Stop and scrape bowl.

Turn to Stir Speed and add eggs, one at a time, beating 15 seconds after each addition. Add cream and beat 15 seconds. Turn to Speed 4 and beat for 15 seconds.

Pour batter into a greased 10-inch tube pan and bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour 40 minutes or until pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake completely before removing from pan. Do not invert pan.

(I'll add a pic next time I make this.)

Kicked Out of the Adult Day Care Center

My dad was kicked out of one of the city's adult day care centers today -- one that was opened specifically for him.

My dad was diagnosed with Picks Disease about 6 years ago and he's been attending Elderhaus once a week for the past five years. About six months ago the center decided to open up another branch specifically for people like my dad who are still very active, despite their mental decline. (My dad walks anywhere from 2 to 6 hours a day. He particularly likes to walk through parking lots where he can search for coins.)

My mom has been reluctant to take my dad to the new center because the few times she's gone there, the people seemed somewhat upset that my dad was going to be there for the day. And yet when I would pick my dad up from the old center the director would ask me repeatedly why my mom wasn't making use of the new center more often.

But today when my mom went to take my dad to the new center (which she's been trying to use more ever since i got on her case about it -- mostly because the director was getting on my case about it) she was told that dad had been barred from their program because they can't watch him well enough. (They hadn't even had the decency to call in advance and let mom know that dad couldn't come. She'd already made plans for the day and then found out this morning that they wouldn't take him.)

People ask me how my dad is doing and if there's any change in the situation and usually there's not much to report. But within the last year my dad has become much harder to care for and my mom is
definitely in far more need of support now than when we first moved here four years ago to help her out. I may be moving back to San Francisco in a year (so that Rob will no longer have to commute 2000 miles to get to work) and I was counting on my mom using more of the city's services to help her survive.

Now it looks like that will be out of the question.

This picture of my dad was taken a few days ago. My sister has laminated a card and had pinned it on to him. It says, "My name is Les Kool. I have dementia. I like to look for coins in parking lots. If this is
a problem please call" and then it lists her number, my mom's number and my number. People have called the police on him once before because they were creeped out that this older man was wandering around their apartment parking lot and my mom has overheard people in other locations talking about my dad and how he makes them feel uncomfortable. My dad wouldn't hurt a fly. He's just... weird, thanks to Picks disease. This is a man with a PhD in Economics from Temple University. Thankfully he is completely oblivious to all that has happened to him. If he knew, it would break his heart.

June 9, 2005

Hail Storm - June 9th

I could tell that a storm was coming because I could hear the rumble of thunder from aways off. So I brought in bike helmets and toys that had been left outside. If I had known it was going to hail (coming down as hard as bullets) I would have at least brought the potted plants against the house. The rhubarb is completely shredded, two tomato plants are quite unhappy and my purple pepper plant pretty much has no leaves left on it whatsoever.

June 2, 2005

Bread Pudding

Barb recently posted her Bread and Butter Pudding recipe and we've since gone back and forth about whether this is essentially the same as bread pudding or not.

So, in an effort to finally know for myself what, exactly, the difference is, I have made both my version of bread pudding (which is really Betty Crocker's version) and Barb's version of bread and butter pudding.

When I make bread pudding, I usually use leftover bread that I've set out to harden. Today's version included half whole wheat bread rinds (We always called them "keenchicks" in our family. I've always assumed that was Ukrainian, but I don't really know.) and half cinnamon buns (which are white bread rolls with cinnamon chips in them that we get from the local bakery).

To be completely fair, I used the same ratio and types of bread in both recipes.

2 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 t. ground cinnamon or nutmeg (i always use cinnamon)
1/4 t. salt
6 cups dry bread cubes (8 slices of bread)
1/2 cup raisins, if desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat milk and margarine over medium heat until margarine is melted and milk is hot. Mix eggs, sugar, cinnamon and salt in 4-quart bowl. Stir in bread cubes and raisins. Stir in milk mixture. Pour into ungreased 1 1/2 quart casserole. Place casserole in pan on oven rack. Pour very hot water into pan until 1 inch deep.

Bake uncovered 40 to 45 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. serve warm and, if desired, with cream. (which i think is a bit over the top if you ask me.)

May 30, 2005

Forbidden Rice Flour Crepes with Seafood Sauce

I recently bought some Forbidden Black Rice Flour (because it was on sale and I couldn't pass it up for 59 cents a bag). I decided to try out one of the recipes on the back of the bag for "Sizzling Rice Crepes." The crepes were delicious, but they were crying out for something to go on top of them. So I tried making them again today and asked my husband what he thought. I was thinking that a shrimp sauce (like the shrimp sauce at Ti Couz in San Francisco) would be perfect, but I didn't have any shrimp on hand. So Rob recommended a salmon sauce.

So I include here the recipe for the crepes and the salmon sauce and I'll add the shrimp sauce when I give it a go.

1 c. Forbidden Rice Flour
2 T. cornstarch
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. coconut milk
3/4 c. water (i used milk instead)

Salmon Sauce:
1 c. chicken or veggie bouillion (i used veggie with no salt added)
1/4 c. flour (i used ground hard red wheat)
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 t. curry powder
1 t. salt (or more)
about 1/4 c. tomato paste
1/2 c. milk (to thin it out a tad)
1 can wild salmon (farmed salmon is bad for other salmon and for the earth)

Mix together all of the ingredients and cook over medium heat on a buttered skillet. Cook about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute or so on the other.

I just mixed everything together over medium heat then spooned it over finished crepes.

Adjustments that I'm hoping to make in the future:
I'd like to replace the salmon with shrimp. I also want to have a fresh salsa to toss on top -- probably just tomatoes and green onions -- to give it another texture.

May 26, 2005

Cappuccino Chocolate Muffins

I got this recipe from a friend and LOVE it!!!

2 c flour (500 ML ?)
3/4 c sugar
2 1/2 t baking powder
1 T instant coffee
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1 c milk
1/2 c butter, melted
1 egg
1 t vanilla
3/4 c chocolate chips

In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, coffee, salt, and cinnamon. In another bowl, blend milk, butter, egg and vanilla. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; add milk mixture and stir just to combine. Stir in chips. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins and bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes. Remove muffins; finish cooling on rack.

Meg's Substitutions:
Instead of 1 T. instant coffe and 1 c. milk i used 1/3 c. coffee and added milk until i had 1 cup of liquid total.
Instead of white flour I used recently ground hard red wheat flour.
Instead of 3/4 c. sugar I used 1/2 c. sucanut. (if you like really sweet muffins, stick with using 3/4 c. of whichever. my muffins came out just perfect for me, but i know other people are more used to sweet than i am.)

April 26, 2005

Blueberry Pie

Blueberries are number one among fruits and veggies in antioxidants.

This blueberry pie is incredibly easy to make (at least, the way I make it with two serious short cuts).

This recipe is taken from Betty Crocker's 40th anniversary edition but has been modified by me.

pie crust -- i buy Mother Nature's Goodies Whole Wheat Pie Shells which have no trans fats, no preservatives, and have none of that pasty white flour. i've seen other healthy premade whole wheat pie crusts in stores, these are just the ones i'm able to find locally.

1/2 c. sucanut (Betty calls for 3/4 c. of sugar)
1/2 c. freshly ground red wheat berries (Betty calls for 1/2 c. of that white pasty flour that's been sitting on the store shelves for months before you bought it)
1/2 t. cinnamon (i think this makes a nice addition and is the reason why Betty's recipes is my favorite.)
3 cans Wyman's wild blueberries (Betty calls for 6 c. fresh blueberries. But by using the canned variety, I can eat these pies all year round. yum!)
a dash of lemon juice (Betty says 1 T.)
(and Betty sticks 1 T. butter on top of the pie. i generally skip this not because i'm trying to cut out fat but because i'm lazy and would rather skip that step.)

Mix everything together except the pie crust. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and if you want a top slap the second pie crust that came in the package on top of the first one. (Hey, like I said, I'm lazy. If you want to get fancy but still use store bought dough, you can take the pie dough from the second pan and roll it out all pretty like and then put it on top.)

Cook the pie at 425 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes. (Or cook it at 350 like I do (because everything is supposed to be cooked at 350, right?) for 50 minutes or until the pie crust looks done.)

April 24, 2005

In Sam We Trust : The Untold Story of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart, the World's Most Powerful Retailer

Genre: Nonfiction
Author:Bob Ortega

About a year ago a woman at church mentioned that she likes to shop at Wal-Mart not just because it’s cheap but because she feels like she’s supporting a Christian business seeing as Sam Walton (the founder of Wal-Mart) was a Christian. I knew enough about Wal-Mart at the time that warning bells were sounding loud and clear in my head, but I didn’t really know enough about Sam to respond very well. So I decided then and there that I needed to do some research.

The barista at my favorite cafe suggested that I start with source material. Rather than reading what others say about Wal-Mart, perhaps I should start with what Sam himself has said. So that’s what I did. (Sometimes barista’s give great advice.) I read Sam Walton’s autobiography, Made in America: My Story -- an ironic title given that there was a huge controversy over Wal-Mart’s "Made in America" program and that the focus of the book is in many ways more on Wal-Mart than on Sam.

I came to the following conclusions as I read the book:

1) Sam Walton may have called himself a Christian, but the reality was that he bowed at the alter of Commerce. Though he paid God lip service (He loved to start out his stock holder meetings by singing the national anthem then praying.) he very clearly worshiped retail. (For more on this, please read my review of his autobiography.)

2) Sam Walton was a real people person. He could make the lowliest clerk, who was being overworked and underpaid, feel like she was one of the most important cogs in the great machine called Wal-Mart. This personality trait was probably one of the most important characteristics in terms of building an identity for Wal-Mart as a corporation.

3) Sam Walton was a man driven to be the best at whatever he did and he was willing to do whatever it took to make sure he wound up on top.

Having an opinion on Sam was a start. But Sam was not Wal-Mart, much as the two of them are intimately linked in the minds of many Americans even today. So I pulled two more books off the shelves of our local library:

1) How Wal-Mart is Destroying America and The World and What You Can Do About It by Bill Quinn, and
2) In Sam We Trust : The Untold Story of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart, the World's Most Powerful Retailer by Bob Ortega.

After glancing through Bill Quinn’s book, I immediately tossed it. The book may be entirely true for all I know, but it was written in a clearly biased manner and didn’t appear to me to have very good documentation. My goal was not to slam Wal-Mart just because I wanted to slam Wal-Mart. I wanted to approach my inquiry fairly and I wanted to base my conclusions on facts and figures, not emotion.

So then I turned to Bob Ortega’s book. I was pleasantly surprised not only by it’s impeccable documentation, but by his fairness and thoroughness as well. In many cases he talked directly with the people involved in Wal-Mart, from executives to workers. Though he may have had an agenda in writing the book (just as I had an agenda in doing my own research) I still feel that he tried his very best to fairly address the whole of Wal-Mart’s activities -- pointing out the smart business decisions as well as the ethically suspect ones.

The Content of Ortega’s Book

Over half of In Sam We Trust is the history of Wal-Mart, its predecessors or its competition. Ortega is seriously thorough in approaching this subject. As a person
who is not very interested in business dealings in general, I have to admit that I plodded through parts of this book. At the same time, I appreciated Ortega’s thoroughness because I knew that there was no way I would have investigated the topic so thoroughly on my own, and I’d rather read someone else’s synopsis than have to personally plod through the source material.

Ortega begins his book with a brief review of Sam Walton’s life, his personal history, and his activities that lead to the creation of Wal-Mart. Much of this was simply a synopsis of Sam’s autobiography, which I had just finished reading. But I was encouraged by the fact that Ortega came to many of the same conclusions that I did in reading Made in America. His impression of Sam’s spiritual life was identical to mine as was his reactions to Sam’s strengths as a people person and his drive to being the absolute best at whatever he put his hand to.

Ortega then backed up all the way to the mid-1800’s and briefly surveyed the history of retailing in America. He traced trends and innovations within, and the men and companies that drove, the retail industry. He pulled out threads that would later bear heavily upon the success of Wal-Mart. And he showed very clearly that many of Sam Walton’s winning ideas had come from other retailers who either failed to implement them well, or who had the ideas but were thwarted by their superiors within their respective corporations.

In Wal-Mart’s early days it had very little competition. The first store was opened in 1962, the same year that both Target and K-mart got their start. But Wal-Mart was located in rural areas of middle-America and grew very slowly at first, staying safely away from the competition which was based primarily in large urban areas to the east. But as retailers expanded their reach, they slowly began to encroach on each other’s territory. As Ortega gets to this part of his story, he stops to look extensively (considering this is a book on Wal-Mart) at the chief competition, K-mart.

K-mart, unlike Wal-Mart, had been slow to integrate computer technology which slowed not only its operations within stores, but which hampered its ability to track goods and restock efficiently. Sam Walton, on the other hand, liked to keep his finger on operations at all of his stores, something he could initially do by visiting each store regularly thanks to a beat up old airplane he purchased and flew himself. However, as his operations grew, he recognized that personal visits would no longer be feasible, so he invested heavily in computers and computer tracking. From Wal-Mart headquarters, Sam was able to track sales not only by store, but by product or even by sale type (cash/credit) in real time. (In fact, it is this detailed use of technology that enabled Wal-Mart, in 2004, to change direction on a dime as sales were slow the day after Thanksgiving. Within a day a new sales strategy was devised and within two days it had been fully implemented in all of Wal-Mart’s American stores.)

K-mart also had a policy of recruiting from within it’s own ranks. Executive positions were always filled from within. So problems within the company were often reinforced, rather than eradicated. Sam Walton, on the other hand, had a policy of hiring only the best in a given area. If it meant hiring someone straight from the competition, that’s what he would do. In fact, Sam regularly searched for employees (from managers to executives) among the competition. He not only ended up with a topnotch employee, but the competition ended up with one less. And he got the extra benefit of bringing in fresh ideas straight from these other retailers. Sam had no qualms about stealing ideas from others and was often found in the stores of other retailers with a mini-recorder in hand, even when the store had a posted policy against that very thing. (And he would get away with it as he explains in his autobiography.)

About two thirds of the way into the book, however, Ortega starts to look directly at some specific company practices such as union-busting, employee policies that were unfairly enforced, and contracts that Wal-Mart had with sweatshops -- most specifically with their Kathie Lee Gifford line of clothing -- and their subsequent policies regarding such sweatshop merchandise. He details how, after Sam Walton’s death, the upper management became even more obsessed with the bottom line and how, when Sam’s brother, Bud, spoke out in favor of the Wal-Mart employees during a stockholders meeting, the executives unambiguously ignored him. Sam Walton had been obsessive in making Wal-Mart a great retailing chain. The executives he left behind took up his mantle with strict orthodoxy.

The Dark Side of Wal-Mart

“You won't hear anything negative from most people. If Wal-Mart takes something the wrong way, it's like Saddam Hussein. You just don't want to piss them off.” -- Paul Kelly, founder of Silvermine Consulting Group, a company that helps businesses work more effectively with retailers

Wal-Mart clearly has a dark side and Bob Ortega was meticulous is going straight to the source as much as possible when documenting it. He contacted suppliers in Central America and Asia that do business with Wal-Mart. He poured through court documents and he met with former Wal-Mart employees to get their stories directly. He also met with organizers who were trying to stop Wal-Mart from moving into their communities and he documented the results for those municipalities that failed.

You really should read the book if you want to know more about Wal-Mart’s dark side, but I’ll summarize some of Ortega’s findings here.

Employee Relations:

Employee conditions were rough during Sam Walton’s time. In his autobiography he admits to paying his employees less than all other retailers. His autobiography also attests to the long hours managers were expected to put in (without overtime pay). But after Sam died, things only got worse. (Which is why Bud tried to stand up for the employees in that stockholder meeting I mentioned earlier in which he was stoutly ignored.)

Employees were fired or punished for issues that managers were allowed to get away with. Wal-Mart was found guilty on more than one occasion of racial discrimination. And, as Ortega said, “What’s more interesting about these cases is the behavior of higher-ups at Wal-Mart once they became aware of the situations--how they often ignored the complaints, how they often acted not to correct the problems, not to oust these troublesome managers and restore the aggrieved employees, but rather to cover up and defend fundamentally indefensible actions, to claim the workers were fired or had left for other reasons, claims that courts and commissions found time and again simply were not credible.”

Employees also tried to organize on several occasions and each time they were met with threats and direct punishments. When Wal-Mart’s butchers tried to organize, Wal-Mart responded by removing their positions from Wal-Mart entirely. Wal-Mart now has a central meat packing plant and they ship their meat across the US. When truckers tried to organize, they were met with threats from Sam Walton himself. (And recently (Fall 2004/Winter 2005) a Canadian Wal-Mart that did manage to organize, was shut down within a matter of months.)

Sweatshop Labor:

Ortega focused on a specific line of clothing that Wal-Mart developed to combat a popular line put out by K-mart. The Kathie Lee Gifford clothing line boasted that a percentage from each sale would “go toward helping AIDS and crack addicted children in New York.” (quote from Kathie Lee Gifford in testimony before The U.S. House Subcommittee On International Organizations And Human Rights) Unfortunately, a reporter trying to uncover labor abuses in clothing lines for another company, instead found children who were making clothes for the Kathie Lee Gifford line.

Ortega uses this example not simply to document that Wal-Mart was selling clothing made by children, but to highlight Wal-Mart’s response to the discovery. It is one thing to unknowingly purchase clothes made by children. It is another thing entirely to continue the practice once the situation has come to light. And worse yet, Wal-Mart failed to take a proactive or positive stance in dealing with the issue (something which other companies who were caught in the same position did manage to do.)

Ortega went so far as to contact U.S. Customs officials in Hong Kong who “confirmed in interviews for this book that, for more than two years, they repeatedly warned Wal-Mart buyers and visiting company executives about the quota-busting problems--even giving them documentary evidence--and were ignored. One customs inspector said that the third time he personally told Wal-Mart’s head buyer in Hong Kong about the problem, “he said to me, ‘I’ve told the people in Bentonville about this, and told them I share your concern. All they told me was not to worry about it, that we’re not the importer of record.’” In other words, Wal-Mart didn’t care if illegal practices were taking place in their supply chain as long as no one could pin anything on them.

Harry Wu, a human rights activist, approached Wal-Mart concerning their purchases of jeans made in China by prison labor. He asked, and was allowed, to speak at a stock holders meeting. After he spoke, there was no discussion and the issue was never addressed throughout the rest of the gathering. Ortega writes, “Leaving the meeting, a somber Wu (former Chinese political prisoner) told Harbrant and Fiedler that he hadn’t seen a meeting like that since the last Communist rally he’d been forced to attend in China.”

Deceit as standard corporate policy:

There were three examples of Wal-Mart behavior that particularly struck me as being deceitful. The first has to do with Wal-Mart’s response to municipalities that try to block a Wal-Mart from moving in. The second was in Wal-Mart’s response to a campaign against it that pointed out it’s “Buy American” program was largely a sham. And the third had to do with unscrupulous advertising techniques.

When a group formed that tried to block Wal-Mart from moving into their community, one of Wal-Mart’s responses was to pour money into an organization known as “National Grassroots” which would then purport to advocate for citizens who did want the Wal-Mart. However, “National Grassroots specialized in fighting grassroots efforts through what have come to be known as ‘AstroTurf’ operations: creating the appearance of grassroots support for a project, irrespective of whether any exists or not, and then cultivating local community leaders to come on board.”

In 1992, Dateline aired an investigation into Wal-Mart’s “Made in America” campaign. In addition to showing footage of children working in Bangladesh to make clothes for Wal-Mart, the show also included hidden camera footage of “Made in America” signs hung up over imported goods. Wal-Mart’s response was to “strongly encourage” their suppliers to run ads in support of Wal-Mart. Bob Ortega describes the corporation’s response this way, “To fight back in public, executives decided to draft others to defend Wal-Mart, in what would be made to look like a spontaneous outburst of support. Wal-Mart’s public relations people designed newspaper ads for the company’s vendors to sponsor, defending the Buy American program. Suppliers were given sample ads with phrases such as “Thanks, Wal-Mart” and “We Support Wal-Mart’s BUY AMERICA program” in huge print. Wal-Mart buyers were to ask vendors to use their own words, to make the ads seem their own. Wal-Mart “recommended” that vendors, depending on their size, either buy full-page ads in national newspapers such as USA Today (for $65,810) and the Wall Street Journal (for $110,629) or buy ads in local newspapers. Wal-Mart helpfully included a list of newspapers, phone numbers, and names of whom to contact, and what the rates for a full-page ad would be ($2,790 at the Biloxi Sun-Herald, for example). Vendors were supposed to say the ads were their idea and were warned not to run them before Wednesday morning, the day after the broadcast.”

Another investigative report found that Wal-Mart was mislabeling competitors prices on shelves, or comparing Wal-Mart prices to other store’s prices -- but for a larger sized version of the product (without indicating that the comparison was not for the same sized product). Many Wal-Mart stores also had a marketing ploy in which they would fill two shopping carts with items; one shopping cart held only items from Wal-Mart with a label indicating how much those items would cost in total and the other held similar items from a leading competitor with the competitor’s total cost shown. But the shopping carts were so heavily wrapped in cellophane that it was hard to see that the Wal-Mart products were often of smaller sized versions of the product than the competitors cart held or were products of a cheaper quality (a $5 wind up watch from Wal-Mart compared to a $15 battery operated watch from Target).

So What’s to Be Done?

As Ortega concludes his book, he points out that there’s really only one way to affect change in a company in which the bottom line is the be all and end all. The wallet of the American consumer can speak volumes to the Wal-Mart executives. It’s up to us to tell Wal-Mart that we don’t approve of their employment practices, their continuing push to squeeze every penny out of manufacturers (thereby pushing jobs overseas), and their deceitful business practices.

Ortega is by no means calling for an end to Wal-Mart. But he does want Wal-Mart to take responsibility for its actions (without having to first be dragged to court and forced to take responsibility as has been the historical path for this company). He wants Wal-Mart to use its size and clout to achieve some good (as McDonalds has done for the chicken industry and against genetically modified potatoes, and as the Gap has done for workers in third world countries).

I highly recommend that you read this book. It would be an excellent book for book groups -- a great springboard for discussion. And I suspect that even people well versed in the workings of Wal-Mart will find some eye-openers between these pages. Certainly not everything that Ortega says is negative. As I pointed out before, the author is very good at giving credit where credit is due and Sam Walton’s genius is clearly laid out as Ortega delineates the history of Wal-Mart. I really feel that this is the kind of book where people on both sides of the Wal-Mart debate can come together and start to sort through the issues, seek the truth, and find the higher ground.

April 23, 2005

Wal-Mart exec may have used as much as $500,000 to pay for anti-union activities.

"Thomas Coughlin, who was vice chairman of Wal-Mart's board and formerly held the title of president of Wal-Mart Stores, resigned from the world's largest retailer in March after Wal-Mart found what it said was a pattern of expense-account abuses and the use of false invoices to obtain reimbursements.

"Following his resignation, accusations emerged that Coughlin may have
used undocumented expense payments of as much as $500,000 to pay for anti-union activities."

-- see CNN's entire article here or see more on Wal-Mart's union practices in another CNN article here.

April 20, 2005

Full page ad against Wal-Mart in todays NYT

A group called Wal-Mart Watch put a full page ad in today's New York Times. (If you haven't seen the ad, you can see a pdf version here.)

Highlights from the ad:
"Year after year, Wal-Mart's low pay and meager employee benefits force tens of thousands of employees to resort to Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance. Call it the "Wal-Mart Tax." And it costs you $1.5 billion in federal tax dollars every year."

"The $1.5 billion Wal-Mart tax doesn't even include state tax dollars spent on Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance. And it doesn't include the millions of dollars that communities pay every year to provide new roads, electricity, sewer, and water lines for Wal-Mart stores. The company has a $10 billion annual profit, but won't even build the driveways to its stores."

And here's some of the info. they post on their website about Wal-Mart:
* California spends an estimated $89 million annually providing public assistance to Wal-Mart’s employees.
* In Georgia, over 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are on state-funded healthcare.
* Wal-Mart spends $1,300 less per employees on healthcare than average retailers and $2,100 less than average U.S. companies (according to a recent Harvard Business School study)
They have a great research library that lists journal articles, book titles and television and radio programs that address the problem of Wal-Mart. They also list primary sources for the facts that they have posted on their ad (and on the site).
I wonder if they're going to start addressing the union issues, use of illegal immigrant issues, and use of child and slave labor overseas issues next.

April 14, 2005

Faking It

Do you "fake it" on your cell phone?

Yes, frequently.

No, never.

I've done it a few times but I don't make a habit of it.

I don't have a cell phone.

It's 7:50 and Rob just called me from the airport in San Francisco. He
usually calls at 8 every night so that he can say goodnight to the kids
as I'm putting them to sleep. But his call was ten minutes early so I
knew something was up. (Yes, we tend to be that precise.) I was
beginning to worry that his plane was delayed but all he said was, "I'm
just letting you know that I'll call at 8."

so Rob can be a bit odd at times, but this was just stupid-odd. Then he
explained, "I'm walking past the information guy and I hate talking to

There you have it. Rob was faking it. Though technically,
to be a true faker, there shouldn't have been a live person on the
other line. (Rob confessed later that he used to speak (his very bad
version of) French when he'd walk by these guys. But then he started
feeling bad about that. So he tried the cell phone approach instead. I
don't know why he can't just do what I do -- ignore those guys.

The New York Times had an article today about faking it. (I'll post the article below.)

curious. How many of you fake it? How often? Do you call a weather
service or some other non-human so that it seems like there's really
someone on the other end of the line? (I'd ask this as a poll but that
ability either seems to have been taken away, or I it's not an option
while I'm using this old clunker computer of mine, seeing as the newer
one is in the shop.)

Reach Out and Touch No One

Published: April 14, 2005

cashier had already rung up Keri Wooster's items when Ms. Wooster
realized she didn't have her wallet. She dashed to her car and returned
empty-handed to face the line of fidgeting customers she had kept
waiting, a cellphone pressed to her ear. "Jordan, did you take my
wallet out of my purse?" she asked in parental exasperation, as she
made her way back to the checkout counter. "I'm holding up this line!
You need to put things back where you find them."

Ms. Wooster,
who has no children, was not actually talking to a Jordan, or indeed to
anyone at all. But her monologue served its purpose, eliciting
sympathetic looks from the frustrated crowd at her local Wal-Mart.

"My instincts just took over," Ms Wooster, 28, who lives in Houston, said later. "Everyone was like, 'Oh, kids.' "

Wooster is by no means alone in the practice of cellphone subterfuge.
As cellular phone conversations have permeated public space, so, it
seems, have fake cellular phone conversations.

How many? It is
hard to say. But James E. Katz, a professor of communication at Rutgers
University, says his classroom research suggests that plenty of the
people talking on the phone around you are really faking it. In one
survey Dr. Katz conducted, more than a quarter of his students said
they made fake calls. He found the number hard to believe. Then in
another class 27 of 29 students said they did it.

"People are
turning the technology on its head," Dr. Katz said. "They are taking a
device that was designed to talk to people who are far away and using
it to communicate with people who are directly around them."

Call them cellphonies.

stage calls to avoid contact, whether with neighbors or panhandlers,
co-workers or supervisors, Greenpeace canvassers or Girl Scouts. Some
do it to impress those within earshot, others so they don't look
lonely. Men talk to their handsets while they're checking out women.
Women converse with the air to avert unwanted approaches by men.

phone shutterbugs fake being on the phone so they can get a good angle
without looking suspicious. And certain cellular vigilantes fake for
the benefit of real callers who are oblivious to the rules of common

"I fake phone talk to get a point across," said Ty
Hammond, of Pullman, Wash., who once forced an apology from a woman
spewing excessively personal details into her cellphone in an elevator
by shouting (made-up) escapades of his own into his (powered-off)
phone. "People need to know phone etiquette and fake phone calling is a
great tool for showing them."

The fake phone call has an
etiquette, or at least a technique, all its own. Inexperienced
cellphonies risk exposure with their limited repertoire of "uh-huhs."
Sophisticated simulators achieve authenticity by re-enacting their side
of an actual dialogue. Or they call voice-activated phone trees, so it
sounds like someone is talking on the other end.

"I'll take a
previous experience and pretend like I'm talking to somebody about it
so I'm not just making up something off the top of my head," said John
Wilcox, a phone salesman in Albany who often appears to be on his
cellphone when a problem customer walks in. "Maybe it's a snowboarding
move: 'Remember that back flip with the twist and the somersault?' "

Wilcox used the technique as he waited for the right moment to approach
a woman he saw in a store at the mall recently. "I couldn't just stand
there looking like an idiot," he said.

For Micheal K. Meyer, the key is the look on your face when you "answer."

grimace a little bit, act really interested in what you're not really
hearing on the other end," said Mr. Meyer, an aircraft mechanic in Lake
City, Fla., who has feigned hundreds of calls. "You've got to sell it."

lawyer in San Francisco said she frequently pretends to be finishing up
a conference call that she took on the road so her colleagues don't
give her a hard time about walking in late.

"Pretending is very
flexible," noted the lawyer, 37, who insisted on anonymity to protect
her ability to continue using the ruse. "You can end the conversation
whenever you want."

On many handsets, pressing the speakerphone
button makes a ringing sound that fakers can pretend is a call coming
in. But pros counsel to turn the phone off to prevent your cover from
being blown. Or at least set it to vibrate.

That is a lesson
Scott Spector, 15, learned the hard way, when his phone started
blasting his "American Idol Theme" ringtone as he was pretending to
talk into it in the hall at school last month.

"I felt like such a dork," said Scott, of Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Katz of Rutgers said the practice first drew his attention when
students in focus groups he had organized to study a wide range of
cellphone use began mentioning it, unprompted.

The habit, Dr.
Katz said, is the latest technological twist in a culture that has long
embraced various forms of dissembling in the name of image, from
designer knockoff handbags to plastic surgery. Some fakers admit to
programming their phones to call them at a certain time to show off
their ring tones; others wrap up make-believe Hollywood deals in front
of people they want to impress.

And phantom callers are often
simply trying to cope with social anxiety by showing that they have
someone to call, even if they don't. One of Dr. Katz's students said
she pretended to use her cellphone when she was out with a group of
other college-age women who were all on theirs. Another did it to
escape from a fancy boutique where the prices were beyond her means
without speaking to a salesperson.

In that sense fake callers
are may not be so different from a lot of real callers, who are always
partly performing for others even as they as they appear to withdraw
into their own private space in public.

"The cellphone allows
people to show strangers that they belong, that they are part of a
community somewhere," said Christine Rosen, who studies the social
impact of technology at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in
Washington. "Whether or not it's a fictional call, on some level that's
why we're doing it."

But the surfeit of counterfeit calls
underscores the lengths to which people feel compelled to go to project
an image for others. Sometimes the impulse is almost subconscious.

Konchar, a network administrator in Canton, Ohio, had just hung up
after sitting in his parked car behind a strip mall talking to a friend
one afternoon, when he saw people emerging from the employee's entrance
to one of the stores. Quickly, he put the phone back up to his ear and
pretended to talk.

"I guess I thought people might wonder why
you're sitting out there in your car; it might look strange," said Mr.
Konchar, 33. "It's one of those things where after the situation
happens you're wondering, 'Why did I do that?' "

Many women rely
on fake cell phone calls when they fear for their physical safety.
Yessenia Morales, 21, said she recently called a non-existent friend
while being followed by a group of men on a train platform.

"I'll see you in a few minutes," she promised the ether.

fake calls are often made by people trying to preserve a more
psychological remove. Mike Lupiani uses his impersonation of someone on
the phone to ignore his chatty next-door neighbors. "They ask how your
day is going and stuff," said Mr. Lupiani, of Rochester. "I don't
really have time for it."

Christina Rohall, 29, said she
pretends to use the phone to avoid getting hit on. "I feel awkward just
rejecting people," said Ms. Rohall, of San Francisco.

How well
the fake call works is one of its most appealing qualities , and a
testament to how much respect people automatically grant to a cellphone
force field. Bartosz Sitarski, 24, said he once pretended to be on a
cellphone call for a full 15 minutes when someone he didn't want to
speak to was waiting to talk to him at a Milwaukee coffee shop. The
other person finally left rather than interrupt the "call."

security guards seem to respect the cellphone buffer, said Michael
McEachern, 16, of San Diego, who has found the fake call a useful way
to get to the club level at a Padres game when he doesn't have a pass.
Some frequent fakers worry that the wireless charade will be harder to
pull off once more people begin to suspect it.

But that will not
deter Adam Hecht, a radiologist in Berkeley Heights, N.J., whose wife
said she is often mortified by his cellphone humor. Mr. Hecht, 40,
reserves his fake phoning for places with no reception, like the
Tiffany's at the Short Hills, N.J., mall, where cellphones have
apparently been rendered unusable to preserve the ambiance: "I usually
go through a long medical scenario," he said, "that doesn't exist."
Attachment: favicon.ico

April 2, 2005

They pulled the plug.

During the same minute that Terri Schiavo died, complete with full
media coverage, 11 children under the age of 5 also died of starvation,
though with much less public notice.

700 children under the age of 5 died of starvation during the same hour
that Terri died, and over 15,000 children under the age of 5 died of
starvation on the same day that Terri died.

Unlike Terri Schiavo, none of these children were stuck in a bed,
unable to feed themselves.  There was no disagreement over whether
their brains functioned or not.  There was no disagreement about
whether they smiled at their mom because they were glad to see her or
whether it was only some sort of reflexive action.

Though we can't help all of the tens of millions of kids that will die
this year alone due to poverty, we can help one.  We can do
something for at least one child that will make a difference to them
and their family.

You can build a relationship with that kid, or just send the dough and never look back.

We support a few kids through Compassion
.  We've built relationships with them and
with a few of the kids who have graduated from the program, we still
keep in touch.  This organization is audited every year by an
outside organization (which doesn't just check the books, but sends
auditors out to the programs to make sure that when Compassion says
"Jane Doe" in Kenya is receiving $x.xx from Compassion, they can
actually verify that Jane Doe really does exist and that she is indeed
receiving that amount of money (in the form of food, education, etc.)).
But Compassion is a Christian program and for those of you who want to
help the starving without proselytizing, there are many other
organizations to choose from.

appears to be a secular organization (either
that or they're embarrassed about the fact that they're associated with
a religious group.  Nothing was posted about it on their "about
us" page that I could see.).

Other organizations that help kids (some with sponsorships programs and
some without - some that are Christian and some that are not):


World Vision

Save the Children

Heifer International

March 29, 2005

Thick Vegetable Soup

A hearty soup that's fairly easy to make and yummy to eat. Feel free to adjust ingredients and herbs to taste (or based on what you happen to have lying around).

3 medium sized russet potatoes (never use waxy potatoes in soup -- it makes the soup gummy)
3 - 5 carrots
1 medium - large onion
1 - 5 cloves of garlic (the more the merrier, i think. but add as little or much as you want)
2 vegetable bouillon cubes (i usually use one with salt and one without. that way i can add more salt to taste without the soup getting too salty.)
salt, pepper and marjoram (or other favorite herb) to taste
1 c. mushrooms (any kind you want)
1 c. corn (frozen works fine)
1 c. whipping cream or half and half (or milk)

cut up the potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic into large chunks. (1 inch or so across). toss them all into a large soup pot and add enough water to rise an inch or two above the items in the pot. (i'm very imprecise when it comes to adding water. if the soup seems too thick later you can always add more. at a minimum you want enough to cover everything in the pot.)

add the two bouillon cubes and boil over medium high heat until a knife (or fork) run easily through both carrots and potatoes. turn off the heat.

put everything through the blender. (i usually do a bit at a time and put the blended stuff into a bowl until the soup pot is empty and i can pour iti back in there.) if you're using waxy potatoes (red, yukon, etc.) this is where they'll start to get gummy and you'll realize your mistake.

if you want, you can stop right here and you'll basically have a creamy potato/carrot soup. (you may still want to add the cream/milk, but i've made this many a time with none at all.)

add the mushrooms, corn, salt, pepper and marjoram (or thyme or sage or ...) and heat on low until the shrooms and corn are no longer frozen/cold. add the cream/milk last.

you could probably just as happily add broccoli, cauliflower or any other vegetable that you'd prefer. i like to add corn because my kids love it and it sweetens up the soup a bit.

March 22, 2005

One Minute with Picks Disease

(Reprinted from my newsletter - Spring '04)

People occasionally ask me how my dad is doing. I generally don't know how to answer that question, not because I'm not around my dad enough to know, but because its not really the right question to be asking. My dad is pretty much the same from day to day and month to month. He doesn't know what has befallen him so there's no sense of "how is he doing in dealing with his disease." He doesn't deal with it. He doesn't realize it. To him, there is nothing wrong. He doesn't remember that he doesn't remember. He has no emotions about it.

The better question to ask might be, "How is your mom doing?" She's the one who is most often frustrated by dad's constant flow of questions (the same questions, over and over and over and over...). She is the one is who has to deal with dad at the check out counter when he says (rather loudly and in great alarm), "Fifty two dollars for groceries?! That's too much!" She is the one who has to plan her events around whether or not one of her daughters can watch her husband.

So, I thought that, in order to give my readers a better sense of this disease, I'd give you a peek at one minute with my dad. A typical minute together would go something (if not exactly) like this: (You may want to read this outloud for full effect. And feel free to pause a few seconds between questions. That's about how long Dad waits.)

Les: Did Mom tell you what her schedule is today?
Meg: She'll be here at 5:15 to pick you up.
Les: Did she say what she's going to do before that?
Meg: She's at work all day until 5 o'clock.
Les: Do you remember what day this is?
Meg: Wednesday.
Les: Wednesday. (Pulls out daytimer and looks it up.) That's right. The day Mom works.
Meg: Yep.
Les: So you want me to fold the laundry that's in the dryer? (He says as he reads the list I made for him that says exactly that.)
Meg: Yep.
Les: Let's see. Do you remember what day this is?
Meg: Wednesday.
Les: (Pulls out daytimer and looks it up.) Yeah. The day Mom works.
Meg: Yep.
Les: Do you know if she's coming to get me after that?
Meg: Yep.
Les: She is? What time?
Meg: 5:15
Les: Oh, 5:15. (pause) So you want me to fold the laundry that's in the dryer?
Meg: Yes, dad.
Les: Hmmmm. Did Mom tell you what her schedule is today?
Meg: She's at work, Dad.
Les: Do you know if she's going to pick me up?
Meg: Yep.
Les: When?
Meg: 5:15
Les: Oh. So maybe I'll go fold the laundry that's in the dryer.
Meg: Yes Dad, why don't you do that.
Les: Do you remember what day this is today?
Eventually Dad will go and fold the laundry, but not until there's been several minutes worth of the above discussion. Now imagine being with him all day....

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

of course, that was a year ago. he's much worse now. here's a quick example of a recent conversation with my dad.

Les: I'd like to take your dog for a walk.
Meg: She's got 7 stitches in her foot, Dad. She can't go for a walk today.
Les: (looks down at dog. notices bandage.) Oh. yeah. Well, I'd like to take your dog for a walk.
Meg: She can't go for a walk dad. She's injured.
Les: (glances down at dog) Oh. Well, I'd like to take her for a walk.
(it goes on like this until i finally distract him by encouraging him to work on a puzzle. or until i remove the dog from sight in hopes that he might forget about her.)

March 21, 2005

Ukrainian Genocide Famine Foundation

Ten million Ukrainians died during a purge by Stalin in 1932-33. Nearly 1 in 4 rural Ukrainians perished and, at the height of the genocide, Ukrainians were dying at a rate of 25,000 per day.

The famine was induced, in large part, to rid the Soviet Union of the capitalist Ukrainians (in other words, to force the farmers to give up their land). Though the farmers were able to produce plenty of grain to feed themselves, the government siezed most of what had been harvested.

My great grandparents all left before this time, though most of their relatives stayed behind. Some were sent to Siberia and barely survived. (They had to join the Communist Party or remain outcast.)

Thanks to Katya for the link.

Hmmm, while looking for the photo I also found this page on the famine.

March 19, 2005

Linguini and Clams Marinara

This is my friend Rick's recipe but he didn't want to post it for me, so he dictated it to me instead.

Edit: I've changed the recipe a bit after trying it out on my own. No pics yet. We ate it all up too fast. Maybe next time.

1/3 c. olive oil
1 bell pepper (preferrably red)
1 c. mushrooms
4 or 5 cloves of garlic
1 can baby clams
1 can of crushed or diced tomatoes
keep some tomato puree on hand in case you decide you need it
1/3 bunch parsley (chopped fine)
salt and pepper (duh!)
cooking sherry
1/2 shot amaretto

Pour about a 1/4 cup olive oil into a frying pan. Add chopped bell pepper (preferrably red) and sliced mushrooms. In a separate frying pan, sautee crushed (or chopped) garlic (4 or 5 cloves) in the rest of the olive oil.

Chop up parsley (about 1/2 of a bunch of curly, American parsley) while the peppers, shrooms and garlic are cooking. Don't add the parsley to the pan just yet, though.

Open can of baby clams, drain (save the water), and add the clams to the peppers and mushrooms (after they have cooked for at least 10 - 12 minutes). While the clams are cooking, you can add pepper but not salt. (Adding salt will make the clams harden.)

After you've browned the garlic to a light golden brown (no more or it will dry out) add it to the clams and vegetables.

(After the clams have cooked for about 5 minutes, then...) Add 1 can of diced or crushed tomatoes. (If you use diced, then add some puree in with it.)

Now you can add some salt, parsley, a little cooking sherry, and a 1/2 shot of amaretto (and some of the clam water).

Cook the pasta al dente (in furiously boiling water). (Put some salt and oilve oil in the water so that the pasta doesn't get sticky.)

Mix everything together (after having first rinsed the pasta off with hot tap water) and serve.

Eat with some pecorino romano cheese.

Back yard of the San Francisco house

"Aerial" view of the back yard. It might not look like much, but check out the next pic to see what it used to look like when we bought the place. (This was the text under the first photo in the album... back when it was on Multiply.)

We removed lots of junk as well as about 200 square feet of cement.

Lots of new plants will be going in soon.

When we first moved into this house, the backyard was pretty trashed. The people that lived here before us (renters who we knew) said they'd already done a great deal to improve the yard.

Once we were moved in, we threw away the miscellaneous dryer, the rotting gazebo, and lots of junk. Then we broke up most of the cement and planted a vegetable garden, an herb garden and some random flowers.

Unfortunately, once I had the twins I couldn't do much of anything back there and the yard fell back into disrepair.

Since we moved away, a friend of ours, Brett, has been hauling away more trash, laying grass, and preparing plant beds.

February 8, 2005

Dan Rather quotes

This month's issue of the Atlantic (hmmm, didn't it used to be the Atlantic Monthly?) includes a list of some classic Dan Ratherisms. I don't watch television news, so I don't really have any opinion on the man, but some of these quotes are hilarious.

"Well, we've said it many times--if a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a handgun." (uh, what?!!)

"Are your fingernails beginning to sweat?"

"Let's hit these biscuits with a dab of gravy."

"I know that you'd rather walk through a furnace in a gasoline suit than consider the possibility that John Kerry would lose Ohio."

"This [race] is as tight as the rusted lug nuts on a '55 Fort."

"'s Spandex tight."

"... closer than Lassie and Timmy." (this is classic!)

"... shakier than cafeteria Jell-O."

"This race is as hot and tight as a too-small bathing suit on a too-long car ride home from the beach." (love it!)

"Frankly, we don't know whether to run, to watch, or to bark at the moon."

"Turn the lights down -- the party just got wilder."

"He swept through the South like a tornado through a trailer park."

"When the going gets weird, anchormen punt."

January 5, 2005

Only when we take human existence upon ourselves...

The Romero quote that I posted in the Christmas Thoughts thread sparked such great discussion that I thought I'd toss this one out and see what we come up with.

I'm not sure what I think of the quote yet. My initial reaction was to think that he's off his rocker. But Eberhard was a good guy and very thoughtful (I believe his dissertation was on Nietsze), so my second thought was that I shouldn't blow him off so quickly. Here's the quote:

"Only when we take human existence upon ourselves in its starkest and most humiliating misery--a misery in which nothing has meaning--can we win through to the only possible way to live. Only when we taste the lot of all, when we become involved deeply in world suffering, one in heart with the need of humanity, can we win through to our true vocation. Only when the conscience becomes active, only when love is born out of suffering, only when hardship leads to liberating action, is victory near." -- Eberhard Arnold

(I should add that Eberhard was around in the early 1900's. He was forced out of Germany by the Nazis during the second world war. He started a community called the Bruderhof that was an attemp to get back to anabaptist roots (away from the Lutheranism that ruled Germany at the time). The Bruderhof still exists. I've met people from it though I haven't been to one. Whether Eberhard would agree with where the Bruderhof is today would probably be fodder for another discussion.)