Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Butz Redux

The sun is brilliant this morning, the thermometer is hovering at about +6° and it’s so beautiful I might even have to take a frigid walk as soon as  I can tear myself away from these seed catalogs. Seeds of Change, I’ve got here, from out west; and Pinetree Garden Seeds out of Maine, and Cook’s Garden from Manchester.

Everyone should have a garden, don’t you think? To keep us grounded, aware of what food is and how it gets here. We need to get those little dirt microbes under our fingernails and let them find a complementary home in our guts. They make us happy and healthy. We need the breath of trees, and their hugs, too.  Oh my goodness, I think I might be breaking out into a little sweat of exaltation here. What plethora. What bounty!

Well, it’s a good thing we can take pleasure in the simple things, because there’s enough to worry us on the larger front. There’s a little diffuse, niggling, gnawing ruffle of worry around my rosy satisfaction with the Farm to Plate Initiative, Vermont’s own ability to take care of its own self in the continuing food emergency, our ability to move forward agilely while the ship of state turns clumsily in a new direction, even as I dream of spring and eat up the pictures in the seed catalogs. Red Streaked Mizuna, anyone? A spinach called Indian Summer?

This unease comes from many directions. For example, a man named Atul Gawande, a prolific and intelligent thinker and writer about the nation’s health-care system, has begun to propound the idea that our future health care system should follow the pattern of the so-called “Green Revolution”. That, you will remember, was the child of Earl Butz, whom Nixon appointed in the ‘70s to design a food system. He was the guy who said to farmers, as Michael Pollan puts it so succinctly, “get bigger or get out, plant fence row to fence row, move toward monocultures, just crank out that corn and soy; and then he redesigned the structure of subsidies to encourage that whole program.”

Somehow Atul Gawande thinks that was a success. And it did bring down prices – we have unrealistically cheap (supermarket) food. Unfortunately it’s food that causes a variety of “Western Syndrome” diseases – obesity and diabetes, for instance. Those diseases cost us, oh, maybe around $250 billion a year. Not only that but we’ve put small and diversified farms out of business all over the country.  The environmental costs are stymieing.

Are you picking up on the irony here?

Thank goodness for those seed catalogs. Next spring I’ll plant hops to run up the utility poles, and white clover in my garden pathways.

But that reminds me that the federal government has deregulated Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready alfalfa. Not only does there not seem to be any good reason for this – alfalfa grows perfectly well on its own – but this stuff will almost surely cross-pollinate conventional and organic alfalfa. In the meantime, weeds have been adapting to be able to survive Round-Up, creating a whole other set of problems. And do you know how much of earth’s surface is covered with alfalfa? Do we need to make it all Monsanto’s? Remember – every time we humans screw around with Mother Nature we live to regret it.

Well, enough of this. I think I’ll have some breakfast. I like my breakfast about eleven o’clock in the morning, and I like it to be my lunch, too. I like it after I’ve read the paper and drunk 2 mugs of coffee, done all those personal morning things, worked a little bit, maybe taken a walk. I like maybe an egg, maybe some yogurt, perhaps some oatmeal. But, I simply can’t get out of bed and immediately sit down to  eat after having done nothing all night.

Tsk, tsk, my friends say. Don’t you know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?

Well, Yeah, but ... can’t it be brunch, too?

Imagine my immense satisfaction at the new headline that said “Studies prove... (Never mind that studies can prove just about anything!)... that a big breakfast just adds calories to your daily total. Now I don’t care about calories but my friends do.

I might even have a banana for my brunch/breakfast. Which reminds me, if you’re a banana person you’d better eat ‘em while they’re still available. Because I’ll bet you’ve heard of the banana pest that’s killing the banana palms and threatening the entire industry. You see, banana palms are genetically modified – they cannot be grown from seed but must be cloned. Civilization’s favorite source of potassium is a vast monoculture, and if it falls ill we’re back to square one, as far as bananas go.

Okay, enough of the headlines. Back to the seed catalogs and the hope – nay, trust – that yet another spring will arrive in its own good time.

Let’s have brunch!

Ruth Reichl says this is the best waffle in the world!

Fannie Farmer's Yeast-Raised Waffles
Sprinkle 1 package of dry yeast (or ½ teaspoon bulk yeast) over a half cup of warm water in a large bowl and wait for it to dissolve.
Meanwhile melt a stick of butter, add 2 cups of milk and allow it to just gently warm up. Add it to the yeast mixture.
Mix a teaspoon each of salt and sugar into 2 cups of flour. Add this to the liquid and beat until smooth.
Cover the bowl and let it stand overnight at room temperature. In the morning beat in 2 eggs and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, stirring well. Cook on a very hot waffle iron until crisp on each side.
This makes about 8 waffles, and will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

And now, let’s celebrate bananas while we may:

James Beard’s Black Bananas
Take a hand of bananas (1 for each eater) and put them into a 350° oven for 15 or 20 minutes, until the skins turn black and the insides are soft.
For each person, slit the inside curve of the banana, and scrunch it open. The banana should be soft and fragrant. Top each with at least 1 teaspoon of butter, 2 teaspoons of maple syrup or brown sugar, 2 or 3 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lime juice, and a plentiful drizzle of dark rum. Serve hot.

Happy gardening!

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