Tuesday, March 29, 2011

iPhone Diaries #346: "Exploring shadows"

Images taken on the stretch of Elm between University and Elizabeth. March 29th.

The Learning Passport

"I don't understand why anybody (any student*) who refuses to vote (Liberal*)... it's a no-brainer... a thousand bucks a year, every year for four years... read the fine print... because there is no fine print... it's like there's no strings attached."
 - Overheard at a bus stop: a U of Guelph student telling two fellow students the merits of the  Learning Passport .
 * my words.

iPhone Diaries #345: "Shadows and Lights"

Elm Street. March 29th.

iPhone Diaries #344: "The lights at the new Salad King on Yonge"

Vintage  Salad King reopens ! March 29th.

Good Science Leads to Better Patient Care.

Photography by Diogenes Montesa Baena
 Special Issue  Healthcare Quarterly

Harper's campaign of misinformation... this Globe and Mail Editorial says it all!

from The Globe & Mail, March 29th.
If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. // If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. // If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. // If you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes truth. // If you repeat a lie many times, people are bound to start believing it.
and, from Josef Goebbels, 9 Jan 1928 (Wikiquotes):
"Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

iPhone Diaries #343: "Breakfast Loaf with Sesame Seeds and Raisins"

0.75 cup_spring water
1 tsp_dry yeast
0.75 cup_20% bran wheat flour
0.5 cup_whole wheat flour
0.5 cup_sesame seeds
2.25 cups_spring water
0.5 tsp_dry yeast
2 cups_dried cranberries
2.5 cups_organic all-purpose flour
4 cups_20% bran wheat flour
1 tbsp_fine sea salt
Sweet and nutty, crunchy, and a hint of sour, scented by the cranberries and the toasted sesame seeds. March 27th.

iPhone Diaries #342: "Classic Hearth Loaf"

0.5 cup_spring water
1 tsp_dry yeast
0.75 cup_20% bran wheat flour
2.50 cups_spring water
0.5 tsp_dry yeast
3_large egg yolks
2.5 cups_organic all-purpose flour
6 cups_20% bran wheat flour
1 tbsp_fine sea salt

This is what's called a learning recipe: a large rustic, wheaty loaf with a ruggd crust that's both crisp and hearty.  The crumb is both airy and full-bodied at the same time, thanks to the use of poolish (see the blog entry below). It is a solid, unpretentious loaf that is good by itself with butter and/or honey or for sopping up gravy. The use of poolish in a two-rise fermentation results in a bread with excellent keeping qualities.
Note that this bread would go well with a German beer; like the beer, this bread uses only the bare ingredients for making bread: water, yeast, flour, and salt. March 27th.

iPhone Diaries #341: "3 Poolish, all in a row"

Poolish, or pre-ferment starters, for traditional artisanal bread. Left-to-right: Classic Hearth Loaf, Honey Brioche, Breakfast Loaf with Sesame Seeds and Cranberries.
pre-ferment is a fermentation starter used in bread making, and is referred to as an indirect method. It may also be called mother dough.
A pre-ferment and a longer fermentation in the bread-making process have several benefits: there is more time for yeast, enzyme and, if sourdough, bacterial actions on the starch and proteins in the dough; this in turn improves the keeping time of the baked bread, and it creates greater complexities of flavor. Though pre-ferments have declined in popularity as direct additions of yeast in bread recipes have streamlined the process on a commercial level, pre-ferments of various forms are widely used in artisanal bread recipes and formulas.
Classic Hearth Loaf (round), Honey Brioche (dark-brown in the middle of photo, Breakfast Loaf with Sesame Seeds and Cranberries (speckled with burnt cranberries).

iPhone Diaries #340: "Honey Brioche"

1.5 tsp_dry yeast
1 cup_milk
1.5 cups_organic all-purpose white flour
0.25 cup_honey (preferably wildflower)
3_large eggs
3_large egg yolks
2.5 cups_organic all-purpose flour
1.25 tsp_fine sea salt
8 tbsp_unsalted butter

Total preparation and baking time, including the poolish: 7.5 hours. Well worth the time! Has the texture of Easter bread or paska, only more creamy and gooey. No artificial ingredients. It is best to make a batch (or 3) of another kind of bread, to make full use of the time. Makes two 8x4-inch loaves. March 26th.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Moonshadow Stills.

Tree shadows by the full moon on fresh snow, after midnight, in the Albion Hills, 2007. Canon 5D, 28-70f2.8, tripod, time exposure.

Moonshadow: a short, short video.

 Music by Cat Stevens.

"The Road Not Taken" - Robert Frost (1920)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Ben & Tomas in the mid-1990's, somewhere above the Forks of the Credit in Caledon, Ontario. Nikon FM2, 28f3.5.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

SIMP Alert #5: "Nobody wants an election"

Steve (sic) Harper keeps saying it, and his patented phrase "nobody wants an election" is the most  often used sound bite in the last 3 years. Who is this nobody? What time and resources  is taken out of the average Canadian when it's time to vote? 5 minutes to get into a polling booth? 30 minutes more if you procrastinate and have to line up on the last day? I've seen longer lineups at any of the Tim's location.
(Holding elections cost the taxpayer money; like it or not, democracy comes with a price tag)

Harper and company is hoping that we don't want to be distracted from our "reality" shows, playoff games, and Farmville activities. He's hoping that as a backlash, we will punish the opposition parties for disturbing "our" routine.

In exchange for voting, we nourish our democratic values that is the envy of most of the world. Voting, of course, requires an active participation in the political discourse of the day. We have the best system in the world (better than the United States... but that's for another blog entry) but it will only stay that way if and when people participate.

SIMP Alert #5: "90% sold out, buy before it's gone"

If it's almost sold out, and by inference, selling like crazy, why keep on taking out expensive advertisement?

SIMP Alert #4: "Earning" loyalty points

That we have ads extolling the virtues of "loyalty" points such as air miles, canadian tire money, petro-points, etc. We don't "earn" them, we buy them. Earning denotes gaining something for the performance of work, labour, or service. Buying gas doesn't "earn" you points. You are BUYING the points!

iPhone Diaries #338: "Unpretentious Zucchini Bread"

500mL_all-purpose flour
10mL_baking powder
175mL_light brown sugar
2mL_baking soda
375mL_coarsely graded zucchini
125mL_vegetable oil
125mL_chopped walnuts
grated rind of lemon

1.25 hour from start to finish, for 2 loaves! Typical quick bread texture. Best eaten after cooling down. Getting tired of quick breads. In my mind, they're not technically bread... more like cookies or scones. I'll concentrate more on yeast breads in the future. March 23nd.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cooking from scratch...

... is  not only supremely economical; it is also majorly nutritious! Who among us is not getting squeezed by the rising cost of food, gas, and utilities? An article in today's Globe inspired me to remind people of the benefits of home-cooking from scratch. There are numerous sources of information out there and it's just a matter of looking them up. 
In households where time is at a premium, planning is the key to enjoying home-cooking. 
Plan your meals ahead of time, make a list of the items required, and shop accordingly. 
Invest in a set of practical cooking utensils; cooking is a job to enjoy... you wouldn't expect a tradesman to enjoy his trade with sub-par tools, would you? 
A crock pot is essential, indispensable really, for getting a meal started in the morning for consumption in the evening. Just make sure you brown the meat... don't use browning mixtures.
If rice is your thing, get a rice cooker for cooking consistency. A rice cooker allows you to avail of the rice that comes in big bags in ethnic stores (and increasingly available in mainstream supermarkets). Rice doesn't go bad for months. Avoid Uncle Ben's; it is just so expensive (you're paying for the convenience). Use Basmati rice; it's a bit more expensive than Milagrosa but well worth it.
If you prefer bread, make your own! See the two blog entries below, as well as on future blogs.
I will be blogging on complete meals-from-scratch, including materials' cost and preparation.
There are various sources of info on cooking from scratch... just google it. Bookstores selling used books  carry a lot of cook books... go for the ones that aren't too precise and fussy on measuring out the meal ingredients. A pinch-of-this and a-dollop-of-that is preferred to 15-mL and 1.5_tbsp.
Cooking from scratch is not rocket science. It's just a matter of doing it, and doing it often. You'll be glad you do.
One more source of useful information on all things about saving money:

note: I am not a cook, and I prefer not to cook; however, if and when  I do have to cook, I prefer to save money and be nourished properly. Almost all the ideas on this entry, as novel as they seem to me, have come from my wife, who has always been a natural cook.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

iPhone Diaries #337: "Ridiculously Easy Cheese Bread"

500mL_all-purpose flour
20mL_baking powder
15mL_granulated sugar
2mL_dry mustard powder
300mL_shredded Old Cheddar
15mL_vegetable oil
1.25 hour from start to finish, for 2 loaves! Quick breads are easy to make since there is no rise time required; however, the texture is closer to that of cake, without the sweetness. March 22nd.

iPhone Diaries #336: "Awesome Egg Challah"

1 liter_all-purpose flour
22mL_quick-rise instant yeast
50mL_granulated sugar
250mL_hot water
125mL_vegetable oil
2.5 hours from start to finish includes first rise, punching, second rise, and baking. Yeast breads take more time to prepare than quick breads since the yeast takes time to ferment and rise. Yeast breads have a glutinous texture. March 22nd.

ya talkin' to me?

2 Canadians talking about the weather (warm enough fer ya?) on the Speed. March 19th. Canon 40D.

Graffiti on the Heffernan Foot Bridge

The Heffernan Foot Bridge spans the Speed River, north of Macdonell. March 16th. Canon 40D.

Moon over Guelph... Luna Techies rejoice!

3 days before the full moon, when the moon by then would be  at its closest to the earth in 18 years. March 16th. Canon 40D

Monday, March 21, 2011

iPhone Diaries #335: "Travel Agency"

On Wyndham Street. March 20th.

Children's birthday parties - a paradigm shift

When it comes to hosting a birthday party for your child (4-11 or so), how about requesting the invitees that in lieu of a gift toy, instead bring a donation (of an equivalent dollar amount) to either the food bank or to the humane society.
You'd think that the fulfillment of this request would be a no-brainer? Well, you'd be surprised at the parents who either bring a toy or bring both a toy AND a donation. Parents mean well, i.e., they can't believe that a child willfully agrees to foregoing a toy for a donation that will go somewhere else. 
It's quite common for a child to be invited to a birthday party 3-10 times a year, depending on how sociable he/she is. The routine is as follows: 
 - invitee parent goes to a toy store to buy a reasonably-priced gift, the cost of which should be equivalent to the cost of the food, entertainment, and loot bag: $20-$30
 - not knowing the birthday child that well, invitee parent opts for a reasonably-priced gift that is gender appropriate. 
The problem with this scenario is that in this price category, the toy selection is limited; toys are of limited interest to the birthday child and will shortly thereafter be discarded. Not only is a less-than-useful toy a poor use of disposable income, disposing of this toy adds to the strain on landfill space. It should also be noted that in buying this toy (likely made overseas, probably in China), we have exported the pollution involved in its manufacturer. And guess what? Pollution in China affects us all!
So if you're a parent hosting a birthday party, firmly insist on a donation. The invitee parents who go this route almost always donate the money ahead of time to the food bank/humane society of their choice and insert the receipt/certificate  in the birthday card. It offers a chance to instill in the children not only the spirit of giving but in going without in the process of giving.
It goes without saying that the birthday child should be a very willing participant in this process.
The warm inner glow from this exercise in giving/sharing will last far more than a plastic toy in a landfill.
Or maybe not.

One would be amazed how infrequent this arrangement is... I should know... my wife and I  have 3 boys.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

iPhone Diaries #334: "A rock viewed differently... or should I be looking at the pond beyond this rock?"

Viewing life, understanding it, and accepting it, is all a matter of perspective (I think). Victoria Road south of Stone. March 20th.
(captured while on a slow run today... really jogs the mind ;-)

Window and peeling paint

Guelph. March 19th.

Y? Why?

That existential question. Or an application of the Rule of Thirds. Seen on the side of a barn. March 19th. Canon 40D.


A bat on the driveway. March 17th.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

How to read a poem (in 2 parts)

iPhone Diaries #332: "Green"

March 18th.

iPhone Diaries #331: "You ain't seen big ass until..."

you've been to the ROM (or to Africa). March 15th.

iPhone Diaries #330: "Guess the carbon footprint"

- grown in California and Ohio (with its attendant use of migrant labour and industrial use of "growth accelerants and enablers")
- individually-packaged tablespoon-sized servings (glass, aluminum, steel)
- shipped (flown, trucked) to a resort in Mexico for the consumption of mostly North American visitors
- brought home on a plane by a Canadian tourist for a quick spread on a slice of bread.
What's a dollop-sized serving worth to you? Less than a dollar?

Book Review: "Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world's most seductive sweet" by Carol Off

"Low prices are what consumers consider fair,
even if their affordable goods create injustice elsewhere."

If, after reading this book, you're still either not turned off by chocolate or you don't  hesitate before you bite into that chocolate bar or cake, then you're either very short on empathy, you don't care, or you are in denial about the plight of your fellow humans... which makes you human after all, unfortunately.
Bitter Chocolate begins by retracing the history of cocoa (referred to as chocolate soon after Europeans,  during the Industrial Revolution, devised methods for removing the cocoa butter from the beans and adulterating what was left with milk and sweeteners) from Mayan and Aztec lore, to Hernan Cortes' conquest of Montezuma II and to the subsequent introduction of cocoa to Europe. The book moves on to the introduction of cocoa to the ideal growing environment of equatorial Central Western Africa (Ivory Coast, Ghana). All throughout this time, up to the present time, racial inequalities, social exploitation, and environmental degradation have been part of the cocoa bean's journey from being inside a pod on the cocoa tree to a tin-foil-wrapped goodie for Easter. It is a history of avarice and greed, first by European nations, then by multinationals abetted by their mother countries.
The trade in cocoa is both a catalyst and a cause for human suffering and death: the mass extermination of Mayan and Aztec populations, slavery.  The bittersweet story of cocoa/chocolate is an ongoing story.

I was unaware of the truth behind chocolate... I feel duty bound to spread what I've learned. Herewith are the book's revelations:
 - the Aztecs valued cocoa more than they valued gold; they hoarded their cocoa, but they gave away their gold.
 - since the mid-1500's, cocoa was deemed a currency, its value going up as precious metals went down. Huge swaths of the New World, along with its native labourers, were needed to feed Europe's taste for chocolate. Millions of people died along the way, decimating up to ninety percent of populations in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
 - when European demand overwhelmed the production capacity of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, plantations were started in neighbouring countries and the Caribbean, necessitating and exacerbating the existing slave trade in Africans. These plantations included sugar cane plantations, sugar being as necessary to a chocolate bar as cocoa is.
 - with the full knowledge of the chocolate barons, e.g., Cadburys, and Europe, the Portuguese were employing slave labour on the West African islands of Sao Tome and Principe, up to  the early 1900's, decades after the formal abolition of slavery(1840's) in the U.S. 
 - to this day, a huge, untold number of people grow cocoa under virtual slave conditions in West Africa and elsewhere. Slavery in other forms continued with the "indentured servants" or coolies imported to the Caribbean from Asia (a half-million East Indians to Trinidad and Jamaica, a million from China), Angolans and Chinese were imported into the Transvaal area of South Africa (to work the diamond mines).
 - the price of a supermarket-bought chocolate bar, circa 2005, is $1.00 Canadian, roughly equivalent to 500 West African francs, a staggering amount for such a small treat - enough to buy a fat chicken or an entire bag of rice... it represents the value of one boy's work over three days, assuming this boy is paid at all. Even the elders in some villages in Africa have never tasted chocolate as we know it. All they know is that the beans go to Europe and America.
 - indentured labour, slavery by another name, is the state of child workers in the Ivory Coast, some as young as nine. In the pursuit of ever lower labour cost, "slavery" is the last resort. Brutal work conditions, maltreatment, and the absence of safe labour practices are the norm.
 - the farmer who hires child labour, is just as exploited as the little people who work under him. Cocoa riches go to the middlemen, government officials, and the multinationals.
 - the world's best-known chocolatiers were family-run enterprises such as Van Houten (Dutch), Cadbury and Rowntree (English), Hershey and Mars (American), and Nestle (Swiss), all have had, and continue to be involved in the procurement of cocoa with the full knowledge of how cocoa is obtained. 
 - the chocolate business "has shifted from family-run enterprises to corporations and multinational conglomerates". "The dirty work of buying and selling cocoa beans has become the domain of giant s such as Cargill and Archer Daniel Midlands."
 - "Cargill's multi-billion dollar turnover rivals the GDP of all of the poorest sub-Saharan countries put together. Like al transnationals in agriculture, Cargill has helped to persuade countries to abandon food production in favour of export crops, with help from World Bank liberalization schemes that strong arm developing countries into importing food, principally from transnationals. Cargill's trade in coffee alone is greater than the aggregate GDP of the countries where it buys the coffee. It is one of the world's biggest players in genetically modified foods, and it is fighting strenously to open African farmland to its scientifically-produced seed stock".
 - "Archie Daniels Midland (ADM)... is second only to Cargill in Ivorian cocoa trading. ADM is the largest processor of cocoa beans in the world, manufacturing much or the raw material that becomes the brand name chocolate confections we eat. What ADM does best, though, is play politics. This publicly traded company has been one of the largest recipient of corporate welfare in the U.S., much of it through personal suasion in the corridors of power. Fortune magazine once called agribusiness the most manipulated industry in the planet, and few play the game better than ADM".
 - the problems in present day Ivory Coast, as well as it's neighbours in Central Africa can be traced directly to the applications of European decisions on Africans. Ivory Coast had the French and colonizers will invariably pursue its own selfish interests, never mind the dire consequences to the locals. The unseen hand of the French puppeteers, in synchrony with the multinationals and sympathetic or otherwise naive media, create an atmosphere where the goods (cocoa, oil) must be obtained at the lowest price for sale at whatever the market will bear.
 - Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, whose Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement profitted U.S. companies such as Archie Daniels Midland (ADM), sits on the company's board of directors.
 - the current Ivorian presidential stalemate, the child soldiers, the civil war, and the corruption can ALL be linked to the manipulation of  local issues by the "internationals'.

The current awareness and interest in organic and sustainable agricultural practices has led to a resurgent interest in growing cocoa in its Mayan birthplace with mixed results. Local and well-meaning foreigners have started co-ops employing small plots, organic-certified produce, and an economic infrastructure to shield it from the speculators who deal in commodities and "futures".

Here's a cautionary tale when the selfish interests of the multinationals collide (bowl-over) the local interests.
The Mayans have grown cocoa for thousands of years; they know a thing or two about how to do it. Unfortunately for the consumers of this world, they employed slowpoke farming methods, limited to local consumption, the trees growing in harmony with its environment. So here's what American corporations (Hershey) convinced the Belize government to do:
The "experts" convinced the Mayans that their centuries-old growing practices could be improved by science. Hershey supplied a hybrid tree to be grown in a monoculture with the trees close to each other (no shade trees and other symbiotic organisms). The "vigor" of these trees depend wholly on the "vigorous" application of fertilizers and pesticides. Prices of cocoa were high and the local farmers were encouraged to listen to Hershey; to "invest" in their future.
But the locals (Mayans) have no money; they didn't even own the their land as the Mayans have always practiced communal ownership. The Belizean government solved this by allowing ownership of the land. With financial incentices from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an admitted "instrument of political and economic influence wherever U.S. interests lie", Belizean farmers were encouraged to borrow huge amounts of money to "invest" in growing cocoa. This "apparent corporate and government commitment to Belizean farmers" guaranteed to pay the market price for the cocoa beans, this at a time when worldwide demand for chocolate was at an all-time high.
(But nobody told the farmers that pricing based on the natural law of supply-and-demand don't apply to cocoa; the market is extremely manipulated to benefit the multinationals)
In return for this promised "bonanza" here is what the farmers had to do:
  - borrow-a lot!
 - offer as collateral their recently "purchased" land (that they have always communally-owned anyways),
  - take out "crop loans" using as collateral and security their other collective farming operations, such as rice,
  - borrow more money to "invest" in more land to grow cocoa,
(All these for a staggering twelve percent interest; but apparently consistent with international lending rates :-()
In order to  accelerate cocoa production, toxic herbicides such as Paraquat and Roundup, to mention just two, were employed. Soil and waterways were polluted with pesticides and nitrates from fertilizers.
And then the market price fell!
It made no sense for the farmers to even harvest the crops... but they still owed money to the banks and the multinationals (USAID had since walked away). The Maya left the land in search for work, picking citrus or sugar cane, to finance their debts
note: this is not a new story... replace cocoa/Mayans with rice/Burmese, or coffee/Brazil, and the result is the same.

There have been heroic crusaders for fairness and justice in the industry but there is a wall of injustice  that cannot be breached: "the ethical insensitivity of the marketplace". 

"The greatest impediment of all
is the moral ambiguity 
of a consuming public that
has always been quick to decry injustice,
but determined to enjoy the fruits of the earth
at the lowest price possible"

All quotes are directly from the book.
All the information presented have been gleaned from her book.
If you only read 20 books in your lifetime, this book should be in this list of 20.

Another note-worthy read:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

iPhone Diaries - a description

A back-to-basics, less-is-more, photographic project. As photographers, we are inundated (and jaded) by the plethora of digital devices, the latest ones promising (but not delivering the goods) more megapixels and the latest super-ultra-extreme-XLT processor to (potentially) allow everyone to be the best photographer that they could be.

The most popular camera used by Flickr uploaders is the cameraphone (the Canon Rebel Series comes in second). For me, using my cameraphone is an exercise in purging the mind of clutter, as well as in actually shooting on a regular basis, as opposed to "binge" shooting (1600+ clicks on a typical wedding). The limitations imposed by the cameraphone (low resolution, fixed lens, severely reduced dynamic range) forces me to work within these parameters. For example, I have to use my feet to compose the image; I don't have a zoom lens. I am now a slave to how the camera thinks; I can't adjust the exposure to suit my needs. This is the digital Polaroid.

The best camera in the world is the camera that you have with you and that you actually use. The best advise for the "artist" is to practice their craft on a consistent basis. Sketch if you're a painter, sculpt if you're a sculptor, shoot if you're a photographer.

So I leave the 21MP FF Canon with the L lenses at home; I use my iPhone whenever I can.

iPhone Diaries #329: "Liam"

First try at using PSMobile app for all the (in-camera) photo manipulations (brightness, contrast, blur effects, framing, etc). March 17th.

iPhone Diaries #328: "Japan"

After the catastrophies, both natural and man-made, that has befallen Japan, this is my impression of the Japanese flag, that iconic emblem of the rising sun. Doubtless, over time, as they always have, the Japanese people will overcome the misfortunes of the events of this past week. March 17th.