Monday, July 23, 2012


There’s something happening here
What is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time to stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

For What It’s Worth by Stephen Stills

            It’s not good.  

            Media’s unrelenting onslaught of “reality” TV programming and the fascination du jour with vampires, zombies, comic-book superheroes, and bow-wielding young ladies—they’re all bad enough. Throw in the insularity caused by machine-filtered quotidian human interactions, the NRA’s rantings that what this country really needs is a citizenry armed to the teeth and prepared to stand its ground (can you say “George Zimmerman”?), and a baleful sense of one’s rightful place at the center of the universe being denied, and what do you get? Mayhem. This time at a movie theatre.

            A character in an episode of the BBC series “Lewis” says, “All fantasy is infantile until it turns sinister, which it does if you don’t outgrow it. Arrested development is a dangerous thing. Nasty and dangerous.”

Even Al Franken—not someone I usually turn to for bon mots of wisdom—said, “When anything goes, everything goes.”

The Right Honourable Edmund Burke
            Edmund Burke tells us, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” He also notes that "Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites." And chew on this, you NRA types: “The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again.” Too bad Burke’s not required reading, especially for politicos and firearms aficionados.  

A student of history, I have long maintained that the United States is but the latest in a long line of reruns of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. The demise of integrity in our leaders; the overweening thirst for money and power at the uppermost echelons; the contracting of the middle class; and the mob's slack-jawed, insatiable, prurient hunger for spectacle echoes that of ancient Rome around 385 AD. “Barbarians” overran the citadel in 421. Right about now, I can’t wait for our comeuppance: in fact, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to learn some rudimentary Chinese.

For what it’s worth, it took us several hundred years less to blow through our nation’s time at the global center stage than Rome did. Let’s hear it for the lickety-split lifestyle.


No, I haven’t moved into a survivalist camp yet. It wouldn’t be a good fit anyway because I’m afraid of guns, and the people who love them. What did ol’ Charlton Heston say? “Guns don’t kill people; people do”? Yeah, that may be so, but I imagine it’s a lot harder to kill somebody with a knife or Aunt Millie’s brass candlestick or your bare hands than with a bullet. Seems like the former methods require some thought, however skewed. Not to mention that up-close-and-personal contact. Sorry, cowboys.

(Click on picture to read caption)

 It can’t be denied that we live in a worrisome era. Last night, PBS started promoting Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “The Dust Bowl” (airing in September on your local PBS station: talk about must-see TV!). What with so much of the country’s farmland suffering severe drought, all those acres of genetically modified crops sown in chemical-drenched soils withering away, I wonder if we aren’t setting up for another one.

Really, it’s not good.

Tomatoes galore!
In reaction to this spate of scary news, I turn to my garden for solace. Nothing unusual with that, of course. Toadflax Farm is producing away—no home-grown tomato shortage chez Fitz this year! I spend so much time cosseting the front yard, the remodeling of the rear garden has received short shrift. The plants wait in their pots on the south side for me to get around to putting them in the ground. I’ve taken to using the north side to traverse between front and back to avoid the guilt pangs the sight of them engenders. Between the heat and other projects, time is at such a premium these days.

It’s those “other projects” that are the actual subject of this post, now that I’ve vented (some of) my spleen.

Water-bath canner & equipment
People who know me express astonishment at the latest bizarre turn my personality is manifesting. Long famous for avoiding kitchen-related activities of any sort, I am currently obsessively turning out canned and frozen jams, salsas, pickles and sauces. I scour the grocery ads for locally grown produce and haul bags of it home to process with my new water-bath canner and Victorio food strainer. I’m also baking bread again, after a 30-year hiatus. Merciful heavens, what happened?
I think it may a control thing. I don’t want to ingest genetically modified organisms any more. Monsanto and the industrial-ag boys’ lobby has pressed long and hard to not have their Frankenfood ingredients labeled as such on the processed things they predominate in. What? You didn’t know that for the past decade or so your breakfast cereal contains GMO corn and that the sweetness in your sodas and cookies comes from genetically engineered high fructose corn syrup? And if that four-pound bag of sugar doesn’t say “pure cane sugar” prominently on the package, it’s likely from GMO beets? Even your tofu’s not safe—commercial soybeans have been GMO for a long while now. (Need to know more? Go to LabelGMO’s website, linked here, and click on “Just the Science” on the left menu.)

Homemade freezer jams
 Anyway, I’m taking active steps to reduce my exposure. Preserving food, I’ve learned, doesn’t have to be the horrible ordeal I remember from childhood. (See “Raising Cain… and Beds.”) Jams can be made by stirring together crushed fruit, sugar and instant pectin for three minutes, decanting into jars and popping in the freezer. Who knew? Small-batch water-bath canning isn’t such an ordeal either, I’ve learned: Having the right tools (especially air-conditioning) makes all the difference.

Pickles, pickles, pickles!

There’s a picture of my home-grown salsa above, and here are the bread-and-butter pickles I put up yesterday afternoon.

 Ball's instant pectin & mixes

These endeavors were streamlined by the Ball Company’s line of salsa and pickle mixes, which I don't consider cheating. (But then, I wouldn't.)

The labor-saving Victorio strainer

Today—maybe tomorrow—will see the inaugural run of the strainer as I teach myself how to put up spaghetti sauce without the necessity of first peeling, coring and seeding 30 pounds of tomatoes. I am soooo psyched.

Kitchen DIY guides
 Intrigued? Check out these books: Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving, edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine; and Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. The latter was a real eye-opener for one who invested the time and energy of youth baking her own breads for a year or so, back in the day before children and regular gainful employment put the kibosh on lazy days spent proofing yeast and kneading. I plan to suggest to Tim we make the six-hour drive to the Asheville Food and Wine Fest in late August for the sole purpose of obtaining a stash of locally sourced and milled Carolina Grown flours. 

In case you’re interested just how far I plan to immerse myself in self-sufficiency, I’ve also signed up for weaving lessons. I want to learn how to make my own denim. It’s gonna be a trip.

Oh, and I’m seriously considering returning to weekly yoga classes too. It’s like a very healthy sickness.

Thanks for dropping by. Ommm…