Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Another awesome design - Fiskars Momentum Lawnmower

OK, I'm still stupidly ill, so this is going to be a short one.

I found out about the Fiskars Momentum lawnmower today from this article on Grist. Now, this is an amazing piece of design to me for a couple of reasons. It recognises that old tech can work just as well, if not better than new, but it also takes the old design and completely eliminates all the problems, and it makes sure that the user is comfortable while doing it.

Some quick points that make this different than old fashioned reel grass cutters: the blades never touch, so they rarely need sharpening; the width of the blades is the same as the width of the wheels, so there's no three-inch gap where it won't cut on each side; the height is adjustable so you can mow grass to different levels; it has a weighted flywheel to make pushing it easier and to deal with any sticks it may run across; and it has an ergonomic handle that makes pushing both easier than traditional reel mowers and more comfortable. Of course, these are its advantages over traditional reel mowers; it also has advantages over gas powered mowers like a gas powered mower in one year produces the same emissions as 43 cars each driving 12,000 miles - and you're right behind the exhaust.

It almost makes me wish I had a lawn to mow.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

When you can't think of anything to post about

Yeah, that's me today. I must be at an intellectual low; I've not been able to come up with anything for a blog entry for a couple days now. So what do I type about? Well, how about some random stuff on my mind.

Well, I just got a book in the mail, Gaia's Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture. I'm really interested to read this and see how I can apply it to apartment living. I've got an idea for a window garden, watered with the extra water left from washing vegetables, on an automatic timer so I can't kill it by forgetting to water it... but I'll read the book and see.

I've got another book on order, The Transition Handbook, about how to help get your local area from oil dependence to local resiliency (economic and energy resiliency). I've started reading Transition US's Primer, and am thinking about setting up at least a mulling group. I think that we really COULD change how Merrill works, save our local agriculture and economy, and make Merrill a friendlier place to live.

Last but not least, I've been thinking about the Mustard Seed. Its no secret that the current owner wants to sell, and we've got a ton of ideas of what could be done with it (partnership with a local meat processor and local farmers to get more local groceries in to start). So, someone who has a lot more free time, please buy it and I'll gladly give you the ideas.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Excellent overview of climate change arguments

I was planning on going to a meeting to meet a local candidate for state assembly, but I'm feeling bloody awful, so I'm going to skip out. I really hate to do that, as I have some really important questions to ask, but frankly, I don't want to get more ill.

And I'm feeling bloody awful and I'm not feeling up to doing a proper blog entry, so I'm just going to link to this amazing presentation. Christopher Monckton is one of the leading climate change deniers. John Abraham is an associate professor in the School of Engineering at the University of St Thomas in Minnesota. John spent many months tracking down all the references in one of Christopher Monckton's speeches. Please, whether you believe in climate change or not, watch this presentation, and understand what the science is.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

No car challenge

I know I missed yesterday; it was the day of the pancake breakfast at our CSA, Stoney Acres Farm. The pancakes -- and the rest of the food -- were awesome. Great thanks to Kat & Tony (and their family, friends, and workers who were helping out) for the wonderful time.

I don't know if you've heard of Adam Greenfield. He decided that for one year he would live entirely without cars. No taxis, motorcycles, rides from friends. Adam was able to do it, and I've heard of others that are doing it too. But... they live in very urban areas -- in Adam's case, San Francisco. I've decided I'm going to take a week and try it out myself, but I'm going to allow myself to ride in cars, just not drive them. The absolutely no cars thing is awesome, but is strictly impossible when you live in a rural area and have kids to tote around.

When I start my experiment.. I'm not sure when. The real trick will be getting the CSA share. I'm going to have to get my bike into town and figure out how to haul stuff around with it. Should prove interesting! Once I have that figured out I'm going start my experiment. Should be in the next week or two, I'll keep everyone updated.

Friday, June 25, 2010

More ideas for Merrill

Really, this is energy fair pt. 2. But it encompasses much more than that. I've talked before about how Merrill could benefit from diversifying its small business manufacturing base, and touched on saving the remaining historical assets, and how the future will reward towns that follow small and local thinking. Here are a couple more ways that Merrill can get ahead and stay ahead of the game.

First, there's the Complete Streets initiative. I know its too late to effect the construction of the new 64 corridor thru Merrill, but it'd be awesome if Merrill took things like bike lanes into consideration in new construction. This goes hand in hand with mixed-use development, where commercial, residential, and small industry are mixed together -- like Merrill's downtown. In Japan, for instance, there are many shopfronts that were also small manufacturing workshops, where the potter sits at his wheel in the back half of the shop while her wares are being sold in the front half. Merrill's downtown and riverfront area -- and the terribly neglected 6th Ward -- would be ideally suited to this kind of development, where people could walk or bike to their jobs (even in... ugh, winter.)

Then there's the Transition Towns movement, which aims to address this question: "For all those aspects of life that our community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (in response to peak oil), drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change) and greatly strengthen our local economy (in response to economic instability)?" (If you don't believe in climate change, then... there's not a whole lot I can do for you, other than say, well, is it a good thing we're pumping tons of carbon into the air, and would we be worse off without it?)

The really nice thing about transition towns, as it applies to Merrill, is the resiliency it offers local economies. It offers a way away from foreign oil (oil at all, really), helps build up local businesses, farmers, etc, and actually helps people save money. Check out the link for a 101 about Transition Towns. Maybe something we could get going here?

So, for my peeps in Merrill, how can we get the ball rolling on these, without stretching the already stretched Merrill budget? I'm imagining that the Historical Society would be of invaluable help not only in preserving our remaining historical resources, but also with information about how people lived in Merrill before the energy boom times. Do you have any other ideas about how to make Merrill a more vibrant, livable, planned community?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Our "bucket list" of places to visit

We've got a nice list going of places that we'd really like to visit. We're especially trying to hit at least one country on every continent; then there's several that are between continents or not on continents or are sub continents. And of course, we'll be buying carbon offsets for our plane trips. They really are inexpensive and worth the peace of mind. We're hoping to hit a new country every year!

  • North America -- ok, sorta a gimme, but Canada! Its like Wisconsin, only further north, they use funny looking money, and say aboot.
  • Asia -- Japan. Nerd heaven, great food, awesome culture.
  • Europe pt.1 -- Turkey, Greece, Italy. Foundations of so much of western civilization are in these places. And awesome food.
  • South America -- Argentina. Wine, friendly people, inexpensive, nature, wine, and food.
  • Africa -- Zambia. Safe, stable, friendly, amazing wildlife, Victoria Falls, inexpensive, food.
  • Australia -- Australia. Kangaroos, Koalas, desert, great white sharks and box jellies, G'day mate and... food.
  • Asia pt. 2 -- China. Shanghai, Hong Kong, and seriously holy cow the food.
  • Europe pt. 2 -- Ireland, England, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, all the other tiny little countries. For art, culture, beer, beer, and food.
  • Other -- New Zealand, Egypt, India, Costa Rica - All beautiful and interesting and FOOD.
  • USA! USA! -- heh. New Orleans, Boston, Disneyland, Orlando, Hawaii, Alaska, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Jellystone. Beauty, culture, and you guessed it... food.
  • Antarctica --Antarctica. This'll pretty much have to be last on the list. Cheap Antarctic cruises are 20K a person. And no food. Unless you really want to club a baby penguin (ok, there's food on the ship, but no native Antarctic delicacies. Maybe snow cones....)

Can I be an environmentalist without turning into a sanctimonious twit?

I love the environment. I have been known to both talk to and hug trees. I have looked at the data, read analyses, and done heavy thinking about where the world is headed. I understand - at least deep enough that I can say some things with confidence - global warming and climate change, peak oil, the dangers of drilling natural gas, the ramifications of a factory food system, the as yet unfulfilled but amazing promises of alternative energy sources, the impact of our chemical society on our bodies. But...

Man, the environmentalist movement is filled with self-righteous, sanctimonious twits. I'm talking zealots of the first degree, who believe anything that they read that supports their world view without doing any further research.

Really, they aren't that much different than many Fox News viewers.

For instance, I have been reading about a great debate that is splitting the environmental movement. Can you be a good environmentalist and still eat meat? While many think that you can, there is a very vocal minority that disagree.

Never mind that that vocal minority mostly chose not to eat meat for their own moral reasons (and like good zealots they want to force their morals on you). Never mind that their argument that land that is used to raise animals would be better used to raise crops doesn't apply in many places that cannot be usefully converted to human-edible crop production. Never mind that a true closed system of food production includes animals for many reasons, including aeration of the soil and manure production, much less the high-quality protein production that humans are evolved to eat. Addendum: most importantly, never mind that meat-eaters actually have a smaller carbon footprint.

Of course, then there's the very obnoxious animal rights movement (as opposed to the animal welfare movement, that actually recognises that a cow is a cow and a pig is a pig and neither is a human being). Yes, this really is beyond the scope of what I'm writing about, but it is an area that overlaps a great deal with the environment movement and is filled with self-satisfied zealots.

So, I believe in protecting the environment, because we as humans cannot survive without it. I also believe that pollution, etc, is infringing on our individual rights -- I have a right to breathe air that hasn't been fouled, drink water that isn't swimming with pharmaceuticals, eat food that is free from horrible substances that cause cancer, birth defects, and endocrine disruption. I should not have any of this forced upon me.

But how can I tell people about all these things, that are very important to all of our lives, without coming across like the sanctimonious twits above? I understand that people aren't making enough money right now to shop at the places that I'd prefer. I understand that people don't have time to cook a homemade meal of organic food every night. So how can I help others understand whats at stake, and help the world be a better place, without forcing what I believe on them?

Maybe if I keep asking myself, always, "Am I being a tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood? Am telling other people that they MUST believe something, when I should just be encouraging them to investigate the matter and make up their own minds?" Maybe that'll help me from being such a delusional, holier-than-thou airhead.

Then again, I'm right. ;)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Merrill REALLY has something going for it

Have you ever heard of WalkScore? It rates an address based on how walkable it is to shops, services, goods, etc. Turns out where we live is one of the most walkable places in the nation. Literally, the very spot where we live is rated as a 94/100; a walkers paradise. Yes, its not perfect; the 51 Truck Stop is listed as being on Main St., and many of the parks are totally unlisted. Still, it is awesome how much is here.

Many places in Merrill proper have a very high WalkScore. Merrill should use this to our advantage - we're a superbly designed neighborhood for really living, not just sleeping at. We should look at where we're concentrating our development dollars, and realize that the heart of the town could be vibrant and a huge asset to maintaining and even growing our community.

More and more people are looking to drive less (with peak oil it'll get even more dramatic -- yeah, I'll write more on that some other time), and Merrill is perfectly suited to take advantage of this. If business owners could extend their hours - until 7 or 8 ideally - people could come home from work and take their time to walk to local businesses and do their shopping.

Of course, I'd like to see Merrill do even more to encourage walking and biking - bike lanes on our major roads, widening the sidewalks and narrowing the streets to make them more pedestrian friendly (and encourage the shop/restaraunt owners to expand their offerings onto the sidewalk... and maybe stay open longer especially on those beautiful summer nights...)

Now if we could just do something about winter. Hmm.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Energy Fair pt. 1

We hit the Midwest Energy Fair this weekend, and it was awesome. There's so much information that I got that I'm still digesting. Some of the coolest organizations were Midwest Permaculture and Family Farm Defenders. I'll be writing more about them, and the whole experience, starting tomorrow. Today I'm feeling really ill again so for now just enjoy the pics.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fear of change, the new, the different, the future

Please, someone prove me wrong on this one.

Why do people have so much fear of change, new things, things that are different? Recently I commented on a Daily Herald online story about pets in the city of Weston. It said that it understood the ban on bees and farm animals among other, more dangerous, less useful animals. I pointed out that many people are keeping both farm animals and bees on small plots of land in urban areas - the idea is called Urban Homesteading - and that if done responsibly I didn't understand why people had a problem with it. I even linked to a site that talked about Urban Homesteading and the benefits people can enjoy.

And EXPLOSION. "Move to the country!" "Chickens would cost you more in feed than you'd get, keep them out of the city!" etc. The only rational objection based on any kind of experience or research was that Wausau already is unable to deal with animal control, and this would be an added burden (tho no one commented on my idea for a permit system...) Most people were just absolutely HORRIFIED by the IDEA that people would LIVE that way and wanted it kept away from them.

This goes for sooo many things. Any new idea, someone who looks different or acts different by choice or by birth or by luck, any new thing, heck, any new VEGETABLE seems to be looked upon with fear and disgust by much of the population. Why are so many people so afraid to try new things, or failing that, why are so many people frightened that other people might try new things?

The future is going to be more diverse than anyone can possibly imagine in every way. You can either embrace that and learn to accept and even try the new and different, or you can reject it and be left behind. I'd encourage everyone to try something new this week - even if it is just trying to accept someone who lives a different way than you do.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

E-paper, e-ink, and the future

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

Ohhhh, I love e-paper and e-ink. If you haven't seen a Kindle in real life, you owe it to yourself to seek one out. It looks just like printed paper, but when you refresh its nearly magical how the paper changes -- the page blinks black, an poof, there's the new text; but it doesn't look like a computer screen, it looks like it was printed there.

This simple technology - tiny tiny dots filled with black liquid and white particles, with a charge applied to make the white particles float to the top or bottom - makes me insanely excited. Especially in light of new approaches to color versions of the same thing. This is a technology that uses almost no power - particles just have to be charged once and then they stay that way until another charge is applied. And then there are the possible uses.

The picture that I mocked up at the top (yeah, its some quick and dirty photoshop work, live with it) shows one of the simpler uses of a color version of this technology. The first three wallpapers would almost be feasable today, if you could afford a piece of e-paper that large. The fourth, turning your wallpaper into a giant tv (no backlighting tho, you'll have to light it from the front like any other piece of paper), will be feasible when refresh times improve in the future. And when you're done with the tv - just turn your wallpaper back on. Its a giant computer screen that is indistingishable from wallpaper. Decide to redecorate? Just download a new pattern. Poof, new wallpaper (you'll still have to clean off the crayon when the kiddos get at it tho).

Now imagine other uses. E-ink used for clothes - if you're a web designer, imagine drafting css for a piece of clothing. Sleaves one color, position a graphic just there, put a pattern on the back... the possibilities for a single piece of clothing are unlimited (except for the cut of the dress).

We will be living in a Harry Potter world. Pictures could move at any time. Newspapers will have video embedded (it'll look like a newspaper, but it'll be a web browser, book reader....). "Paintings" could come to life. And none of this will be on glowing rectangles. Eventually, you won't be able to tell e-ink merchandise from any other surface treatment.

Right now you can get a Kindle, e-ink watches, even soon a mobile phone. These are just initial, clumsy uses of the technology. Where will it go next?

So what will you want made with e-ink?

Friday, June 18, 2010

CSA goodness

And tastiness! We got a CSA this year from Stoney Acres Farm over in Athens. Once a week, on thursday, we get to go pick up a beautiful and bountiful cornucopia of vegtabley goodness.

A CSA works by paying the farm, before the season starts, an up front fee. A Stoney Acres share costs 460 for 20 weeks of vegetables - which comes out to twenty three bucks a week, and boy, do you get your money's worth of gorgeous, delicious organic food. The up front fee means that you share in both the rewards (in the form of aformentioned gorgeous delicious food), and the risks (the risk that some of the almost-gorgeous crops fail). Still, its worth it in every way.

Just to show what an average week looks like, I took pictures as I was un-packing this week's box. Let the drooling and nommage begin. (Yeah, some of the pics could be less motion blurred. :P)
Here's the box in its original, unopened glory.

I opened it and the chinese cabbage popped right out to say hello. There were three of these bad boys in this weeks box.

OK, I know, blurry. But this was the box after the cabbages were removed. This is the only pic I got the radishes, but aren't they pretty?

Garlic scapes - looking forward to chicken sauteed with these.

Another nice blurry one. But look how nice that brocolli is!

And a really nice big bunch of carrots...


And last but not least a cute little bag of peas. OM NOM NOM NOM.

So that's an example week of a CSA share from Stoney Acres Farm. I can't recommend it enough!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Desperate for non-homogenized milk

Yeah, its comes to this.

Homogenized milk has been implicated in high cholesterol, hormonal imbalances, and a myriad of other health issues. Worse, unlike pasteurization (which does kill any harmful bacteria as well as having some other effects, but on the whole I don't think is that bad), homogenization is done for no good reason. It was started just because people didn't like having to shake their milk when the cream naturally separated from it and floated to the top. So they decided to force the milk, with its cream, through a very, very tiny screen. This made it into an emulsion where the fat was too small to float to the top.

And that's it. Now all I can find in the store is homogenized milk; even all the organic milk available in the area has been homogenized. So, its come down to this.

I'm thinking of buying skim milk (no cream left) and cream... taking a cup of the skim out, pouring the cream in, and shaking the bottle.


Update: a local store, To Your Health Market, now carries this, and it is wonderful.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Livetwittering the Fire Dept. meeting & strategic plan

Here's my livetwittering record from the fire department meeting. I also got a full copy of the fire department's plan, and it makes for some good reading. My general take is, we should absoultely keep our paid firefighting force (random aside: I note that most of the people who are saying we should switch over to an all-volunteer force still would like to get paid to do their jobs. Huh, how about that.) Volunteers could be a valuable addition to the force however, especially in times of critical need. Check out the action plan, look up stats, decide for yourselves.

  • At the fire dept meeting and online! Wooo! 5:53 PM Jun 14th

  • Starting with the overview of the Merrill fire departments services 6:08 PM Jun 14th

  • 23 professional firefighters/rescue workers/paramedics Monday, June 14, 2010 6:10:04 PM

  • They really do it all for us Monday, June 14, 2010 6:12:01 PM

  • The tanker at station 1 is old, & depended on by surrounding area as well. Monday, June 14, 2010 6:17:03 PM

  • 1976 pumper is the backup rural pumper. Pretty but... Yikes Monday, June 14, 2010 6:20:00 PM

  • Getting rid of it might negatively effect the iso number tho Monday, June 14, 2010 6:21:13 PM

  • Iso is insurance rating for the area. Bad iso means higher insurance for everyone Monday, June 14, 2010 6:22:25 PM

  • Right now manpower is the biggest problem with our iso. We are at a 3, danger of falling to a 4 Monday, June 14, 2010 6:23:47 PM

  • Our 6 wheeler was purchased by fundraising by the fd only Monday, June 14, 2010 6:24:43 PM

  • Merrill fd is fd, rescue, ems, rural fire. 6 man crew doing all that. Covers Merrill and three townships Monday, June 14, 2010 6:26:43 PM

  • 3emts 3firefighters at a given time, but any could do either job at any time Monday, June 14, 2010 6:28:03 PM

  • They are also our hazmat team. O_o Monday, June 14, 2010 6:28:52 PM

  • And... Water rescue. Man, our firefighters are hard core and awesome. Monday, June 14, 2010 6:30:31 PM

  • Other: carbon monoxide response, remote rescue, accident response, high level rescue, confined space rescue, odor investigations, (cont) Monday, June 14, 2010 6:34:45 PM

  • Wildland firefighting. Ems covers Merrill, townships of birch, corning, Harding, Merrill, pine river, rock falls, Monday, June 14, 2010 6:36:48 PM

  • Dnr fire fighting unit critical for wildland firefighting Monday, June 14, 2010 6:37:28 PM

  • Townships cont Russell schley part of Harrison Monday, June 14, 2010 6:38:10 PM

  • Non-emergent services: fire inspections, fire prevention, home inspections, smoke detector, blood pressure, CPR classes, Monday, June 14, 2010 6:40:28 PM

  • Cont christmas party for pine crest :), mock DUI, adopt a highway Monday, June 14, 2010 6:41:36 PM

  • Advantages of a full time dept: response times & reliability, daily training, cross trained personnel, equipment maintenence Monday, June 14, 2010 6:50:21 PM

  • Prevention and education services, rescue services Monday, June 14, 2010 6:51:08 PM

  • Question: we have hazerdous waste coming thru merrill? Ans: yes, sulphourous compounds Monday, June 14, 2010 6:52:33 PM

  • Question: beehives. Won't bother writing the answer. Monday, June 14, 2010 6:54:10 PM

  • Q: do surrounding communities equipment and personal affect our iso (asked by the mayor) a: no Monday, June 14, 2010 6:55:24 PM

  • Strategic plan time! Monday, June 14, 2010 6:56:51 PM

  • This is not going to be a fast process. Budgeting is the last step. Monday, June 14, 2010 6:58:45 PM

  • Wish I had actually gotten a copy of the strategic plan. Unfortunetly I don't see any extra copies around. Monday, June 14, 2010 7:02:28 PM

  • Yay, i can get a copy of the slides. I'll post that on facebook, Twitter, and my blog of this. Monday, June 14, 2010 7:05:05 PM

  • Someone trying to make a point about private sector taking transfer revenue Monday, June 14, 2010 7:11:01 PM

  • A lot of hatin' for ministry health goin on. Monday, June 14, 2010 7:17:13 PM

  • Going thru the goals, right talking about paid on call, right now we've got the minimum going on. Now a question of compensation. Monday, June 14, 2010 7:26:17 PM

  • 70-80k? Fine by me. They are highly trained pros. I want someone who really knows what they are doing. Monday, June 14, 2010 7:27:34 PM

  • Why do people hate taxes so much, even when it's an essential service like this? Arg. Render unto caeser!?! Monday, June 14, 2010 7:30:36 PM

  • No capitol funds for fd at all. Hmm. Mayor behind me: there used to be. Man across: there wasn't any money anymore Monday, June 14, 2010 7:33:40 PM

  • indicators of sucess... All look achived... More hmmm Monday, June 14, 2010 7:34:41 PM

  • I really need an actual copy of this plan. Monday, June 14, 2010 7:36:52 PM

  • Done. I'll be posting any materials later. Monday, June 14, 2010 7:43:15 PM

Then, after responding to the Daily Herald article about the meeting and being misconstrued, lambasted, and generally beat up over my support for our paid firefighters, I tweeted this:

  • it feels like we are slowly dismantling our most important public services in the name of lower taxes & fiscal responsibility about 21 hours ago via web

Vocabulary as exclusionary vs precise. Or, happy sexy fun vocabulary time wooo!

Yeah, some people are going to find this one pretty dry.

A long, long time ago, during my college years, I took a cultural anthropology course. Funny enough, it is one of the college courses that really stuck with me. Our teacher was a really wonderful, feisty, and truly interesting Iranian woman, who was not indoctrinated with the culture that we have in the U.S. (one very memorable conversation in that class was over her assertion that the Simpsons were hideously ugly and not to be considered great art.)

One of the lessons in that class was about how small groups use vocabulary to become exclusive. Doctors were one example given, with the scientific names they give diseases, as opposed to the ones in common use. I see examples all the time; mostly people attempting to sound intelligent, arcane, or eccentric.

Still, I sometimes find myself using words that might not be in common vocabulary. Usually it's when I need a word that means something very specific. So the question comes up in my mind, where is the line between using language to be specific and using language to exclude?

I honestly don't have an answer to this question. I know that when I read Dan Simmons that there's quite a bit of vocabulary going on, but it doesn't ever feel like he's trying to write above someone's head. I have read some other very lauded authors that use language like a smoke screen, throwing in large words where smaller ones would have been clearer.

So, where is the line? Do you have any other examples either way? Let me know.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My favorite bit of design

Seriously, I love the toilet lid sink. This is possibly my favorite bit of design ever (well, other than the old Milwaukee Brewers logo.) It combines everything that a great design should be... its innovative, it breaks conventional boundries, its sustainable, and it encourages its users to better their lives.

Seriously, this is brilliant. Normally, toilet tank water is a waste of perfectly good, potable water. With the simple replacement of a toilet tank lid (fits most tanks), the clean water is used for washing hands before it goes into the tank. Its beautiful because you don't need to replace your entire toilet to take advantage of it - just the lid.

Even better, it really encourages hand washing. As soon as you flush the faucet runs, so its impossible to miss the cue to wash -- especially handy if you've got kids around. In every way, this is an amazing piece of design.

Want one? Here's the least expensive one around, and its from a shop that's cool in a lot of other ways too.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rhubarb chicken risotto

I was watching Lydia's Italy, and there were some wonderful risotto recipes... so I took some ideas from and riffed on it and... AMAZING. And here it is:

2-4 stalks rhubarb (I had huge stalks so I used two, but if yours are smaller use up to four)
2-4 carrots (my carrots were small so I used about four)
2 medium shallots, peeled
5-6 ramps, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 chicken breasts, cut into about 1 inch pieces
4 1/2 cups chicken broth/stock
2 cups short/medium grain rice (Arborio is preferable, but I used generic medium grain rice and it worked perfectly)
2/3 cup white wine (I used champagne, but any dry white will work)
1 cup grated parmesan
A little olive oil

Put rhubarb, carrots, and shallots in the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Start broth heating in another pan. Put olive oil in a heavy large saucepan or smaller stockpot. Heat olive oil on medium until hot enough, and add chopped garlic and ramps. Cook over medium heat until garlic and ramps begin to caramelize, then add the rhubarb/shallot/carrot mixture. Continue cooking on medium heat for another 5-7 minutes, until rhubarb is pale. Push the vegetables to the side, and add the chicken. Continue cooking on medium heat, stirring regularly, until you notice browning on the bottom of the pan. Add white wine to deglaze. Once the bottom of the pan is clean, add the rice, and stir until most of the white wine has evaporated. Add about one cup of the heated broth to the rice, and stir constantly until it is absorbed (when you stir the rice you will be able to see the bottom of the pot.) Continue adding the broth a cup at a time until it is all absorbed, stirring constantly, about 30 minutes. When done, the rice should be al dente, but not crunchy. If necessary, heat a small amount of water to complete the cooking. Once risotto is done, take off the heat and stir in the parmesan. Serve!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In praise of turnips

I've really been enjoying our CSA shares from Stoney Acres Farm. Already we're eating more vegetables, a larger variety of vegetables, and less meat than ever before - and this is only the second week. We've gotten to try ramps (ok, we've had these before, and LOVE 'EM), Kohlrabi, bok choy, beets, and other things I wouldn't have picked up at the market. I've learned that in almost every case if the root is edible, the greens are too - kohlrabi greens are wonderful, as are beet greens.

This week there was a large bundle of turnips in the CSA box. I've never eaten turnips, much less cooked them -- my largest experience with them was reading about them in the Richard Scary version for "Three little pigs." Doing research online made me more nervous - many talked about how turnips could turn bitter and awful when cooked wrong.

Finally I decided to just roast 'em. I washed 'em, cut off the tops and roots, put some olive oil, pepper, and salt on 'em, and put them in at 375 for about 45 minutes. In the meantime, I washed and very corsely chopped the greens, then pan-fried them in a little duck fat and garlic. When the turnips came out they were lightly browned on the outside.. and then we tasted them. Wonderful. Describing the flavor is a little difficult... its something ike a cauliflower stem, but.. not. The greens were nice too, something like a more-bitter spinich. But the roots were the stars, and really wonderful.

So I can't recommend enough that you go to get some turnips and roast 'em up. Now if I can just figure out what to do with the radishes....

Friday, June 11, 2010

The future is small and local

I just finished reading a fascinating piece on GOOD, Can Walmart Compete with Whole Foods? What really got me about this particular article was not so much the Walmart/Whole Foods competition (seriously, the green movement needs to stop thinking everyone lives in big cities with access to stores like Whole Foods), but the fact that Walmart is buying and selling locally farmed produce, from small and medium farmers.

I've written a lot lately on small manufacturing, buying local, local systems of distribution, etc. This article kind of crystallized these thoughts. The future really is local. Looking back at the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, we went from a system where most people got most of their goods locally, to one where everyone could get everything from everywhere, so they did. I believe the next step is a system where people will begin to get what they can locally, and look to imports only when local is not available.

In the system that is still mostly in place for most things, large companies buy goods in bulk from other large companies elsewhere in the world. They can get these things cheaply because of a deep bulk discount, the low wages paid to workers elsewhere, and the lack of environmental standards. However, as more of the world becomes richer and expects higher wages and a better standard of living, the cost of importing goods en-masse no longer will keep up with shipping prices (and oil for isn't getting any cheaper either.) Meanwhile, because of technology and other advances small companies and individuals can provide goods (be it manufactured items, food, or other comestibles) at a price that begins to be competitive because of their much lower shipping costs (not to mention the relative quality of the goods).

Places can now begin to re-discover the flavor that makes them unique. Traditional arts and crafts can thrive in an environment like this. Varieties of produce available to the consumer will increase as farmers can really plant what grows well locally. Tourism will benefit as not all places will feel the same; each will have more local specialities available.

Admittedly, I don't feel this will happen overnight, and I don't think that the conversion will be total. The assembly line will still end up producing some goods that people want en-masse (I don't see artisanal toilet paper for instance). Hopefully tho local will return in many areas, and people will be able to connect to their communities again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Random thoughts about... stuff.

I have a feeling this post is going to ramble. I have a bunch of stuff rattling around in my noggin, and its starting to connect up, make a pattern, but the pattern isn't quite clear yet.

It all relates to sustainability, design, planning, and systems. Living in Merrill I see very clearly the effects of the small and large decisions of many systems - government, school, business large and small, even the local social community. What I see less of is real design in these systems. There is some planning - but far to often that planning seems to start and end with the short term; there doesn't seem to be an overall design. There are so many types of design that need to happen, both macro and micro, and so many things that need to be considered....

For instance, I know lots of people want to tear down the Lincoln House. The building has been abused, but I look at it and see a building that could be renovated - admittedly the renovation might cost more than the building is actually worth, but there are also the intangible values of history and character at stake, and I don't think Merrill can afford to let any more of its history and character go. I look at M&I bank and want to cry - it was once a beautiful building, and is now a 70's monstrosity.

All this has made me think more broadly about design in general, about how a small design (say, of a registration form on a website) fits into a larger system, and how to have a design for that system that fulfills the overall goals. The registration form needs to communicate the value of registering clearly, and it also needs to meet the system goal of introducing the user into the functioning and aesthetics of the site.

For community design, it seems to me that all the components of a vital community need to be looked at. Agriculture, food processing and delivery that can be community supported. Local manufacturers and small business that can provide for the material needs of the community. It seems to me that the more we localize our commercial base, the more we will thrive as a community and the more interesting our community will be to visitors.

Anyway, these are all things that are rattling around in my head, looking for a place to fit it. Where does design end and planning begin, and vice-versa? Is the only good design sustainable design? And most of all, is there any area of life that design cannot be applied to? Hmm.