Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Bunch of Lemongrass Lip Balms

A finished container.
I've started gathering stuff together for me to start selling body products and magickal tools, which is pretty exciting.  I don't know how far I'll get as I've tried this before without a whole lot of success (not to mention I also give most of my recipes out for free on this blog).  I'll be starting with facial hair products, balms, and oils with a couple natural remedies.  I accidentally got particularly tiny labels, but they'll work.

I started by making a bunch of lip balms flavored/scented with lemongrass, menthol, and eucalyptus.

A Bunch of Lemongrass Lip Balms

  • 1/3 cup beeswax pellets
  • 3 tablespoons shea butter
  • 1 tablespoon emu oil
  • 1 tablespoon jojoba oil
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 10 drops menthol, spearmint, or peppermint essential oil
  • 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 10 drops lemongrass essential oil
Melt down all ingredients except the essential oils in a double boiler (take a heat-safe bowl and put it in a saucepan with about an inch of water and put it over the oven; melt the ingredients in the bowl).  Take it off the heat and, when the mix is slightly cooler but not at the point of hardening, add the essential oils.  This particular mix is lemony with a pleasing coolness... you can add more menthol if you wish for more tingling on the lips.  Pour into containers the size you wish (I use 1/4 ounce metal tins).

This is a slightly hard mix.  If it's too hard for you you can either add more liquid oils (emu and jojoba) or reduce the amount of beeswax.

A quick note... the menthol/mint and eucalyptus are controversial ingredients.  I like them because they make my lips feel good when they already are in pain, but they can irritate some people and can even dry your lips if you use too much.  The menthol-induced cooling isn't indicative of a better or more effective product, so feel free to just use lemongrass or even come up with your own mix of foodsafe essential oils.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Kefir Experiment and Garden Plans

First a sad update: I went to the doctor today for a med check.  For context, I tried for about ten years to stay off blood pressure meds using diet and exercise before realizing it just wasn't working (I've had hypertension since I was 17).  After a few years of transgender hormone therapy (and with the help of having health insurance for the first time in a decade), what was a borderline-high blood pressure skyrocketed and I finally buckled down and got on blood pressure medication.  I went through two that made me extremely ill before we settled on metoprolol.  I was on the lowest dose, which brought it back down to non-life-threatening levels, but it's crept back up due to stress eating, general lack of activity in winter, and having a job that's almost 100% sitting at a desk.  Luckily with the weather changing my activity is starting to increase again, which reduces the stress, and I'm looking for options regarding my constant sitting at work... but I would rather avoid dying at 31 from a heart attack than try pushing it with natural alternatives, and besides, I've tried that already.  Anyway, to conclude that story, my dose was bumped up.  So far it's already working, so I'll at least have the threat of immediate death reduced while I try working on my abysmal suburban professional diet.

I started making water kefir and kombucha again, which has lead to--of course--a serious excess in the amount of each I have.  I found a product online in which somebody allegedly made "probiotic bar soap" using kombucha.  I'll be honest: I have no idea how this could possibly retain any probiotics.  Traditional bar soap uses a pretty hardcore chemical process as well as heating.  But I was still inspired by the idea.  I have skin problems (namely acne and itching) that I've been treating with 10% sulfur bar soap (along with Pagan chants about brimstone of course).  This helps, especially with the itching, but I'm curious to see if changing the bacterial balance of my skin is possible and if it would improve my skin even more.

I looked into it and all I could find on the subject--outside of the regrettable bar soap--were people using the actual kefir grains in a sugar scrub.  I think that's a good idea, but I worry about killing the grains that way, so instead I just started a jar of kefir on my bathroom counter and put a cobalt glass spray bottle next to it.  I fill the bottle with kefir, put it in warm water while I shower (to make sure it's not super cold), and when I'm out of the shower I spray myself with it and pat dry.  Since it's plain kefir it doesn't seem to leave a scent, although I imagine adding a couple drops essential oil could make a nice probiotic cologne.   I don't have any updates on how well it works, though, merely because I just started.

I've been shopping around for berry plants.  Like I said in my Ostara post, some of my strawberries returned.  I want a good balance between price and efficacy, though, so I've been mentally calculating how I'll edibly landscape the rest of the property.  I'd love for the beds surrounding the house--currently dominated by lilacs, roses, and yew--to be spotted with berry bushes in addition to the purely ornamental plants planted by the previous owners of the house.  While out and about today I found some nice established blueberry and blackberry bushes being sold for $10 each.  I also found established strawberry plants for about $5 each, as well as bare roots--basically just sticks that will turn into plants--for very inexpensive, like 8 for $2.50, including strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.  I'm iffy about the bare root plants, but on the other hand when I was young we created a formidable patch of raspberries in my childhood home using those, so I guess I shouldn't worry too much.  They also sold grapes, which I may get if I can figure out where to put them.  I would like something very interesting, too, like a goji berry bush.

I love fruit trees, but they're a very big investment that could take a long time to come to fruition (literally) and I'm not sure how long I'll be living here.  My roommate/landlord wasn't happy when the neighbors cut down a bunch of trees, so maybe planting fruit trees along the property line would make him happy, but that'd be something we'd have to talk about as a household.  For now as far as fruit trees go I'm mostly considering ones that live well in pots.

Anyway, it's about time for me to go to bed as I do work tomorrow and want to get another spritz of kefir on me before I go to bed.

Happy Trails,
-- Jackson

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Blessed Ostara!

Today (depending on when I finish actually writing this, it's a bit late) was Ostara, one of the equinox sabbats in the Wiccanate/Pagan calendar.  It's typically one of the easier sabbats to remember, being that it aligns so closely with Christian Easter.  It's not one of my favorite holidays, but this year there was the factor that today was utterly gorgeous and I wound up having a lot of motivation to do things.

I spent a large chunk of the day outside.  I started by filling the bird feeder and then went around the property looking for new growth, especially perennial plants I planted last year.  I found a couple of early-blooming flowers, first.  These are plants that were already in place when we moved into the house:

Then I went to see how the aforementioned perennials were faring, and plenty of them are peeking through.  It's still very early so there's still hope for the ones that haven't popped up yet:

Strawberry plants I planted last year poking up through the wood chips.
Chives. I didn't plant these but I appreciate them.
Spearmint I planted. There should be several mints here.
Garden sage.
Rhubarb, which it turns out is terrifying when first growing.
The small-but-bountiful apple tree is budding, too.

I had a very productive day, like I said.  I pulled some weeds (I'm planning on starting a compost pile), filled the bird feeders, and did a lot of household cleaning I've been putting off.  I also made some Ostara food and had a nice personal chant-and-sing session around the fire pit during which I blessed my cauldron by trial (meaning it was exposed to all the elements).  It was partially buried (Earth), surrounded by burning wood (Fire), had scented herbs piled on it to burn (Air), and was filled with water (Water).  I used it to make Ostara eggs, which aren't quite hard cooked but they're still pretty tasty.  I also made a steak that wound up being very delightfully smoked (it was like eating a steak-textured bacon or jerky) as well as some stick-roasted romaine lettuce (I'm obsessed with cooking romaine, which is better than it sounds) and zucchini.

My cauldron over the fire after the lid was removed, revealing the eggs.
I would like to learn to make bread in a Dutch oven over an open fire, but for today's Ostara bread I made it in my oven like I normally do.  This one uses bolted einkorn flour.  It rose fairly nicely but it wasn't fermented long enough to make it sour.  It also has a lovely pentacle on it, which both increases the sacredness factor and makes it easy to break into portions.

Einkorn naturally leavened bread with pentacle cuts.
After I ate I got back inside to deal with my ferments.  I've been feeding my bread starter regularly, but somehow I haven't been able to muster up the motivation to keep refreshing my water kefir.  The kombucha has really been neglected for a long time, meaning my jars are pretty much dominated by scoby.

I did refresh the kefir and bottle a bunch of it (I flavored some with Mandarin oranges which was just delightful).  I also made the tea for the kombucha; the jars are on the counter to remind me to finish this task tomorrow (which I'm sure will just thrill my roommate when he gets home!).  I may package some of the scoby to give to others, but I think I'll just reduce my operation to one gallon jar of continuous kombucha instead of two.

I would like to try replicating some flavors of the kombucha I buy, because although it's a delicious and local brand, the iconography used is extremely appropriative, not to mention it's expensive (as all store-bought kombucha is).

Oh, I learned that you can extract lye from roasted banana peels.  One day when I work up the nerve I would love to try making soap, possibly using the same argan-emu-jojoba oil mix I prefer in my body products. 

Finally, I'm gathering supplies to make some of the body care products (moustache and beard products, especially) and magickal tools I make so I can possibly sell them on Etsy.  It's not so much that I want to make money as it is I love the idea of things I make and mixes I develop going to other people.  That's something that'll be a long time coming, though, likely.

Happy Trails,
-- Setkheni-itw

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Einkorn Natural Sourdough Bread

I gave up the paleo diet (which does not allow grain or dairy) for mostly spiritual reasons.  I'd been trying to do things like, for example, work within a religious framework that was attuned to hunting and gathering seasons rather than agricultural seasons, with the occasional nut flour bread used as an offering, but unfortunately this was not very fulfilling for me.

I started eating wheat bread again with a focus on homemade, naturally fermented sourdough bread made with ancient wheat varieties like khorasan, spelt, and--my personal favorite--einkorn, which is the earliest known cultivated type of wheat still around today.  If you do research on the subject you'll find a lot of people praising einkorn by going into differences between it and modern wheat and what that means for human health.  But like most nutrition-related things, I take a magickal rather than nutrition science based approach (detailed somewhat here), and in this case rather than worry about stuff like chromosome counts and gluten, I simply go for what has sustained human health for a very long time, and that's ancient wheat bread leavened in a natural way rather than modern wheat ground and heavily refined.

I started with bolted/high extraction einkorn flour from Jovial (probably the most well known company selling einkorn).  Bolted flour behaves somewhat similar to refined white flour... it's not bad, but I wanted to try something even less processed, so I got some einkorn that is merely ground up through Breadtopia.  Jovial is sold around here, but it's also very expensive compared to Breadtopia, so I may start getting bolted flour from the latter as well.

It all started with a starter.  I made and maintained this starter with a minimum of measurements...roughly a quarter cup of bolted einkorn flour with enough water to make a thick paste.  I keep it in a two quart glass jar on my counter and added about another quarter cup flour and some water daily until it became a bubbling, almost overflowing mass.  After this I add less flour daily, just enough to keep it going:

You can start using this after about five days, but it won't give you a very fluffy loaf.  Once you start getting around the two week mark you'll get some decent bread.

Einkorn Natural Sourdough Bread
  • Ingredients:
    • For the Pre-Ferment
      • 2 tablespoons sourdough starter
      • 1 cup flour
      • 1/2 cup water
    • For the bread
      • Pre-ferment from above
      • 5 cups flour (I've used both bolted and unbolted einkorn flour)
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 1 cup water
      • extra flour for coating banneton or bowl
Make the pre-ferment by mixing all the pre-ferment ingredients and letting it sit at room temperature for 8-12 hours.  If it's cold in your area, you can keep it in the oven with the pilot light on (without turning the oven on).

To make the dough, mix together everything except the extra coating flour.   Einkorn doesn't need to be kneaded a whole lot, just fold it a few times, let it sit a half hour, fold it again a few times, let it sit for another half hour, until you've folded it three or four times.

It is here that I should mention that I've often heard the difference between baking and cooking being described as "science vs. art."  Cooking a steak you need to "eyeball it" a lot, there's a lot of leeway there, but allegedly this isn't the same with baking.  Bread, especially, is often really specifically measured out.  I don't really roll that way and have still been able to make some damn good bread.

Allow the dough to sit, covered, for 3-8 hours.  My last loaf I actually left for around 12-14 hours (I'm not sure) and it was just overwhelmingly sour, like eating a loaf of beer.  This was a mistake in time management.  Just as an aside, it was fantastic with some Jarlsberg cheese.

Divide into two different loaves, fold another couple times, and put each in a linen-lined or well-flour-coated basket or bowl (OK, don't put it in a basket without a liner).  I usually let them rise in this for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to around 410 degrees Fahrenheit.  I think the original recipe I used had us up to like 420 or even 450 and I wound up with a dark brown rock (The recipe reassured me multiple times that it was supposed to be dark and it would result in a "great crumb" and etcetera etceterca.  There are some oven differences and starter differences, mostly I was just disappointed.).

Tip the bowls or bannetons so that the dough blobs flip upside-down onto a baking implement.  Score it to make sure it breaks in an appropriate place (you could wind up with a weird mushroom shape if you don't do this).  I like to score it in a pentacle shape, which doesn't necessary create perfect pentacle bread but sometimes it gets close (all of the loaves I've pictured here have pentacle shaped scoring).

Here's a part where I have opinions.  You can get a pretty good loaf by using either a cast iron skillet or a pizza stone.  I use a small 2 quart Dutch oven.  Which you use will change the cooking style somewhat.  If using a stone or skillet, bake the bread for 45 minutes.  If using a Dutch oven, leave the lid on for about fifteen minutes, take the lid off, and then continue the bake for another half hour.

Allow this to cool, take it out, and cut it.  If you don't like what you see, you can adjust the cooking time and temperature.  Too dark?  Turn the heat down.  Too light or not quite cooked in the middle?  Turn it up (although the not-quite-cooked issue may also be starter that's not quite good yet).

So that's the bread recipe that I use both for personal consumption as well as ritual breadmaking use.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Psychic Isn't Science And Your Gut is a Massive Bigot

I mentioned in a diary entry recently that I went to a Pagan/New Age event on Saturday, including a couple of workshops that left me feeling more than a little sad about the community.  One of those involved somebody completely disconnected from the Earth, but the other is a little more insidious.  It had two main points that I take issue with.  The first--and the title subject of the workshop--is the notion that psychic power is scientific.  The second is the idea that your gut feeling is always right.

Let's talk about that psychic science thing first.  I very thickly implied in my last post (Cultivating Magickal Food Perspectives) the point I'm about to make here:  Magickal concepts do not have to be justified with science.  Science is important.  Science has saved thousands of lives and will continue to do so.  Science has piqued and assuaged curiosities about subjects that that a couple hundred years ago were solidly demonized.  But we as a species lived for millions of years without knowing a lot of the things we know now.  Our magickal backgrounds, the roots of knowledge about psychic phenomena, our traditional medicines, these things developed entirely outside our current view of science, and all attempts at creating parallels between them wind up being so absurdly unscientific that it's best we just acknowledge that they will always be irrevocably different.  And that's OK.

In this presenter's case, the way she tried arguing that psychic "is science" was by explaining that the human body (and all matter, for that matter) is mostly empty space between atoms, and that at our most basic we run by electricity.  These are true, but there is also no evidence that these are connected in any way to psychic activity.  They are merely justifications made by the presenter to try fitting a square peg into a round hole.  The worst part is that she doesn't have to do this.  We have nothing to gain by using bad understandings of science to try converting skeptics.  If you really want to convert minds, use that energy to convert global climate change deniers or fracking apologists or some other genuine expression of Very Bad Science that is going to get people poisoned and/or killed.  If your aim is to teach a group of people--who, being attendees at a Psychic and Pagan Fair, are already likely to be receptive to what you're saying--how to trust your gut, you can do that without pretending it's science.

This is, unfortunately, the more minor of the two problems.  And it's a shame, because there are some great concepts here, largely when it comes to the way we teach our kids.  The presenter's main argument is that by teaching kids to always avoid strangers, we are taking away their ability to trust their gut feelings about people, manufacturing an inappropriate level of distrust, and all manner of unfortunate side effects.  This is not a terrible idea, all things considered.  Most kids who are abused are not abused by strangers.

But let's talk about this whole gut feeling thing, because there's just a winding labyrinth of issues with it.  The reality is that when people trust their gut, they often don't take into account that due to their socio-cultural training their "gut" is telling them some pretty monstrous things.

Think about the wave of anti-transgender legislation being pushed through right now.  These laws attack trans youth and especially trans women, intending to force us to use restrooms that don't align with our daily lived genders.  Why?  Because of peoples' gut feelings.  There are no statistics at play here.  Trans women are more likely to be attacked in a restroom than attack another woman in one by a staggering degree.  People get away with writing these laws because people have a hunch... a gut feeling... that trans women are dangerous to cis women.  This gut feeling doesn't come from the universe, it comes from notions they learned from toxic cultural attitudes.  Their gut feelings are wrong.

Cops use deadly force against unarmed black people at a staggeringly high rate compared to white people.  White civilians then trust that those cops probably had a good reason.  Both of these are also gut feelings.  A cop who shoots somebody has a gut feeling their life is in danger, and the amount of danger they perceive themselves in is based on learned racist attitudes.  Supporters of killer cops similarly are running on gut feelings.  They just have a hunch that these cops probably had a reason that Black Lives Matter and other activists aren't seeing.  And they are, quite frankly, dead wrong.

There are examples of this for every aspect of oppression.  Gut feelings have meant black women get less painkillers, gays and lesbians are viewed as poor parents, atheists are viewed as less moral.

So listen to your gut, but pay attention to what it says, too.  Is your gut a massive bigot?  If you just trust it without ever questioning why you feel that way, you'll never know and you'll go on oppressing others.  That's not something I want to teach society's kids.

Cultivating a Magickal Perspective on Food

When I was in college studying Anthropology, I took a course on flintknapping.  Before we began banging rocks together we watched an instructional series in which a master flinknapper explained quite confidently that flintknapping is about creating a "cone of force" that would break the rocks in just the right place.  Just picture where the edge of this imaginary cone would be, and you could hit the rock in the right place.

"Does that sound good to you?" our professor asked.

"Yes," we all said, "It seems reasonable."

"Well, it's entirely wrong," he replied.  The cone-of-force theory of flintknapping did not withstand rigorous scientific testing, and the predominating theory (unless it has changed since then) is that you're actually pulling the rock beyond its elastic limit, flaking pieces off, not creating a cone of force that chips off triangular-shaped pieces.  That's not something I expect you to actually care about.  What I expect you to care about came next.

"The moral of the story is this:  You do not need to know how or why something works to be a master at it."

That stuck with me, because it describes so much of both toolmaking and food preparation.  I started a batch of mead the other day (which is going great, by the way).  I did this knowing full well that what I was doing was culturing yeast and bacteria naturally found in the air, honey, and fruit I used.  Today I also made sourdough bread, fully aware that the rising of the dough was due to bacteria I had cultured in the flour starter I made weeks ago.  I know how fermentation works in yogurt, cheesemaking, making pickles and sauerkraut.  I also have a reasonably good idea of what foods contain what nutrients, I know how sugar and fat work in the body and I know what a calorie is.

Our ancestors knew none of these.  When things worked, it seemed like magick to them.  And it was magick.  For me, understanding microbiological processes, whether by microorganisms or by the cells within our bodies, is like a study in the underlying process of magick.  I understand it, but I don't stress myself out thinking about it.  In fact, the deeper I get into using food for magick and ritual, the more likely I am to actively avoid thinking about those underlying natural processes in a literal manner at all.

I don't think of them as yeast and bacteria.  I think of them as magickal processes transforming food.  I don't think of food as a matrix of protein, carbs, and fat with vitamins and minerals.  I think of nutrition as a transfer of life force.

Obviously it's not bad if you choose to geek out over such things, and they're certainly fascinating and helpful for nutritionists and biologists.  But there are some hazards to it, as well, especially when capitalism is added to the mix.  We've become in a way too smart for our own good, reducing the amount of processing done to raw ingredients in order to make the end product cheaper for manufacturers.  When this results in nutritional deficiencies or poor taste--as it has on multiple occasions--the knee-jerk reaction isn't to go back to traditional processing methods, but to try balancing it out with even more non-traditional processing methods.

Bread is a great example of that.  It started with the discovery of yeast, meaning bread is now usually made with one strain of intentionally cultivated yeast rather than facilitating local colonies of yeast and bacteria.  This made it possible to make bread very quickly without actually fermenting it, compromising its digestibility and tolerability.  Then flour processing changed, which made bread super-palatable and appealing, but stripped out valuable nutrients, causing nutritional deficiency.  Rather than go back, they started adding synthesized vitamins and minerals to the flour instead.

Although this is better than nothing, it's important to recognize that none of this is done for optimum nutrition, it's done to keep food cheap to produce and increase the profits of food manufacturers.  Adding synthesized vitamins and minerals allows manufacturers to use more fillers while boasting the same or "better" nutrition.  That's the issue with cellulose--often colloquially called "wood pulp"--in food.  Is it dangerous?  No.  But it's cheap.  It tricks your body into thinking you're getting something nutritious and whole when you are not.

A similar thing happened with maize (corn) flour, something that was traditionally treated with lime by indigenous people in the Americas in order to make dough.  When this step was eliminated by people who figured out how to merely grind dry maize into flour, it resulted in major outbreaks of pellagra.  They didn't know it at the time, but the lime treatment was what made niacin in the maize bioavailable.  Thousands of years of food processing knowledge had prevented a nutritional deficiency even without knowledge of what vitamins even are!  (On an aside, most maize flour I find is treated with lime rather than enriched, so in this case I guess people learned their lesson).

Tinkering with the macronutrient content is another classic way your food is modified, particularly when we're dealing with whatever the latest macronutrient demon is.  In the 1990s, when people were freaking out about eating fat, manufacturers found ways to remove the fat.  But since this also makes food absolutely disgusting, they added carbohydrates--usually sugar--and salt just to make it palatable.  Low-carb food similarly involves taking out the carbs and replacing them with fillers and artificial sweeteners.  Food like this is based on the idea that you can separate macronutrients as well as micronutrients from food, recombine them, and have something that sustains human health.  It's a very futuristic-sci-fi concept that sounds reasonable but ignores that we just don't know everything about how food sustains us.  This is why you shouldn't try living off things like Soylent (or any other meal replacer for that matter).

New breakthroughs in food science seem like lifesavers that will feed a hungry planet until they reveal some health deficit that was being prevented by traditional food preparation methods.  And they all seem perfectly fine per common sense until we discover them.  Nobody could have possibly recognized that giving up nixtamalization of maize would give people pellagra, for instance.  But this mistake killed thousands of people.

Furthermore, feeding a hungry planet was never the goal anyway.  There are enough resources to go around if people just share, but instead corporations throw away tons and tons of perfectly good food as "waste" because they overproduced it, decided it was too ugly to sell, or refuse to give anything for free to the hungry.  The idea that GMOs, skipping production steps, synthesizing new ingredients in labs, or otherwise making major changes to the food system will end world hunger presumes that the problem is not enough food, which has never been the problem.  We make more than enough.  It just doesn't go where it should.  Feeding the hungry isn't why they do this, profit is.  Creating addiction (which is great for profit) is.

I cultivate a magickal perspective on food because of this.  It doesn't matter if this is really the way it works, or if magick is real at all.  Viewing food in a magickal way, believing that it should be as traditional and natural as possible, will automatically put you in a better place nutritionally than all the calorie and nutrient counting in the world will.  It also--when you make as much effort as you can to produce your own food or create a local network of food producers--helps reduce the amount of profit going to companies that are getting rich off peoples' health.

Am I saying you shouldn't gain an understanding of nutrition?  Or look into what known vitamins and minerals you might be deficient in?  Absolutely not.  But you should always use that knowledge to gain a different perspective on real foods, not to compensate with fortified or enriched foods or synthesized vitamins.  There's more to food than we already know.

-- ☥ Setkheni-itw

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Climate Change and Lemurian Nonsense

I got my first real grounding in a long time today as I set foot in the mild March air.  The snow has mostly melted, with a mounds here and there and several puddles of water.  I went to the backyard to mentally plan out the garden I'll be planting.  I did plant an herb garden and tomatoes last year, but didn't go much further.  My dad will be bringing the rototiller up when the weather is appropriate, and we'll be expanding the small garden area in back to about three times its current size depending on how much my roommate/landlord will tolerate (he pretty much lets me plant what I want wherever I want, but as it's not my property of course I'll be conferring with him before ripping up too much of his lawn).  Having lived here over a year now I'm pretty aware of what resources are already on the property.  There's an apple tree, a cherry tree (the cherries pretty much go to the birds), a bush of raspberries, and some strawberry plants.  I grew sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and multiple types of mint that will likely come back.

I've been thinking a lot about climate since Saturday, as I went to an event put on by a local Pagan organization that's honestly more New Age than Pagan.  One such New Ager ran a workshop I attended that was overall not what I'd hoped it'd be, but one part in particular stuck out.  After a lengthy lecture in which the presenter brought up Lemuria and Atlantis, he mentioned on an aside that the mild winters of the past few years can be credited to an energy modifying device he created with influence spreading out a hundred miles.

Later I talked to my brother, jokingly saying "I've found the man single-handedly responsible for global climate change!"

"Did... did you stop him?!" he replied.

If I did believe that he was single-handedly responsible for the mild winters in the area, I feel like it would have been my personal duty to destroy whatever copper coil device he had lurking in his basement, but luckily the reality is this:  He didn't do jack shit to change the weather, he's just so disconnected from the Earth that he thinks he did.

How can I tell?  Because he thinks that the weather changes are a good thing.  Which they absolutely are not.

It's not that I don't like the occasional mild winter, and living in Wisconsin I certainly prefer driving when the roads aren't a massive hazard.  But when it comes to anything beyond human inconvenience, continuing mild winters are a serious problem.  Not very long ago friends of mine were posting pictures of trees in their yards whose branches had started budding due to a warm spot, something that can kill the tree.  As a birder, I can see the change in when birds migrate, what birds are observable in the area.  As a deer hunter, I've noticed that the way we hunt has to change... it used to be the snow made deer easier to see and hear, and it gave you a couple of days to a week before you had to actually butcher anything you killed.  Nowdays you're hunting in puddles of water, the deer don't move as much, and we must immediately transfer the deer from the truck to the butchering table.

There are hundreds of examples of little things like this--things people who have at least some connection to the Earth and her cycles will notice--disrupting animals, plants, and minerals alike.  If he'd really changed the weather, it would not be something he should be proud of.

Every time it snowed this year, I thanked the Gods, thanked the Earth, and breathed a hesitant sigh of relief.  I know the climate is getting worse and not better, but at least the cycles are still coming.

-- ☥ Setkheni-itw

Monday, March 7, 2016

Our Packaging Problem Goes Way Beyond Pre-Peeled Yuppie Oranges

Recently somebody posted a tweet in which they mocked the way Whole Foods pre-peels Sumo Mandarin oranges and then encased them in a casket of hard plastic:
Predictably, while most people agreed that the packaging issue here is really bad, a few people came out of the woodwork to complain that these are actually accessibility tools, that not everybody can peel an orange and therefore anybody criticizing this is just being ableist.  This sentiment wound up being picked by NPR and will likely wind up being rehashed again and again by people who strive to be the kind of social justice activist who never questions anything a marginalized person says ever.

When I read that people were starting to rag on the whole pre-peeled orange thing, honestly my first thought was this:  These are Sumo Mandarin oranges.  They are bred to be easy to peel, it practically falls off the orange.  Furthermore, there is no way in hell Whole Foods is selling these things to be accessible to disabled people.  Whole Foods' entire business model is based on being not accessible.  They are a right-libertarian hellhole run by a right-libertarian asshole.  I would not be surprised if not even one of these oranges ever went to a disabled person.

I will make it very clear right now that I do not believe there is a planet in this universe in which peeling an orange and then putting it in a hard plastic container is appropriate... but on both the pro-peel side and anti-peel side there are things that are being entirely ignored, both about accessibility and about waste.  People are making this into an either-or situation.  Either you're being wasteful or you're being inaccessible.  Either you're being accessible or you're destroying the planet.

Here's an idea:  How about we change what packaging we use instead of worrying about what's inside and whether or not it's sufficiently difficult to justify it?

We rag on the oranges because they already have peels.  But the same stores have assortments of pre-cut melons and pineapples, berries, and salads all in the exact same containers, all of which could have been cut up reasonably easily by an able-bodied person with even mediocre knife skills.  We all have choices to either get things in bulk--perhaps even bringing our own bags, which are becoming readily available--or getting the plastic-wrapped version and sparing us such simple things as merely weighing the goods.  I'm as guilty as anyone.  I've gotten oranges pre-sorted into plastic bags before when I absolutely should have brought my cloth bags in from the car.  I used to regularly get pre-cut watermelon and pineapple, things I could have cut up myself to put in reusable containers.

Is this any better than an orange?  No, it's not.  And it goes even deeper than that.  Most of our meat, for instance, is packaged in single-servings or single-meals when they shouldn't have to be, usually on Styrofoam, one of the most difficult to recycle materials when it comes to finding a place willing to take the damn stuff.  Organic vegetables in conventional supermarkets are the worst with this... I'm always even more hesitant to buy organic at my usual supermarket versus a dedicated health food store because not only are the vegetables exorbitantly priced, they're all individually wrapped in plastic, probably to prevent people from pretending they're conventional to get a discount.  Supermarkets increasingly have the option to get reusable glass deposit bottles for milk like they used to, but most people still buy it in plastic jugs.

Why can't we do the same thing for pre-cut and pre-peeled fruit?  We have the technology to make containers that can be reused, surrendered back to the company to be re-filled.  We choose not to do this because our culture is immensely based on throw-away consumerism.  But this in combination with some very strong incentives for actually returning these things would solve both these issues... there would be less packaging waste going to the landfill, and those who are disabled, lazy, overworked, or who otherwise just want it could still have our pre-cut and pre-peeled fruit.

End consumer packaging waste is just the tip of the packaging waste iceberg (with restaurants, packaging companies, and most other large businesses disposing of tons and tons of waste every day, and not always by recycling).  It is a serious problem, though, to pretend that individual choices have no impact at all, especially when considering how easy it is for a culpable business to push that decision onto a capitalism-drained populace as if everything about it is their fault.

We--disabled or not--have a responsibility to advocate for a real balance between accessibility/convenience and environmental awareness, and that's not something that will happen if we just dismiss everything as either a valid accessibility tool as-is or a singular odd example of a company overpackaging an item.

-- ☥ Setkheni-itw

Friday, March 4, 2016

Mead in the Carboy!

Greatly inspired by the Netflix series "Cooked" (during which it dawned on me "people didn't always add packaged yeast to things," which I knew but didn't really think much about before) I've been  making more fermented food products the more natural way, meaning by using the natural yeast and bacteria within the foods being fermented and throughout the air.  I've made a couple lackluster sourdough loaves (this is not surprising as the starter is very new), as well as a gallon batch of mead.

Mead is a special alcoholic drink.  It's very popular among Pagans due to its association with Norse Gods and it's very accessible to make.  You just need raw honey and water (or regular honey, water, and champagne yeast), maybe some fruit if you want it.  It's also the very first alcohol I drank, when I was a few months over 21 (yes, really, the only alcohol I "drank" before this point was a sip of beer I spat out when I accidentally dipped the straw for my Orange Crush into it).

I'm making a sweet mead with four cups of honey.  I could not for the life of me find really raw Wisconsin honey this time of year, so I used half local Wisconsin honey and half a super-raw organic variety from Brazil.  When honey season comes around I'll probably make more using local super-raw honey (maybe even honeycombs when they start getting less exorbitantly expensive).  I also threw in some particularly yeasty looking blueberries, and half a blood orange.  The activity was not as high as it was supposed to be, so three days later I added a couple prunes and about half a cup more raw honey.  I stirred it up really good and put it in the oven with the pilot light on to make up for the fact that it's March and rather cold outside.

In about total five days it looked like this:

If you make kombucha at all it's best to think of the scummy top as almost a scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast).  One of the differences between naturally fermenting a food and using packaged yeast is that when you use just yeast you get just yeast, and the yeast overpowers everything else.  When you naturally ferment without messing with the already-present colonies, what you are doing is nurturing a whole micro-ecosystem.  So you get yeast, but you get varieties of beneficial bacteria as well.

Today when I saw that I knew it was time to put it in the carboy, which I did:

Soon it should start releasing carbon dioxide through the airlock on top.  My intent is to bottle it shortly before Pagan Spirit Gathering so I have something to share with any non-teetotaling friends I meet there, as well as something to drink other than the wapatui if that's what they're serving at Pan's Ball again (I had some very questionable experiences at Pan's Ball I'd like to avoid).

If the activity in this batch looks good I may acquire another gallon carboy and start another batch so I have a rolling supply of mead.  The original container, by the way, is a 2.5 gallon glass crock, and I'd only need one of those to keep making more batches.  The carboys and airlocks are not particularly expensive, so if I start one batch a month I'd only need three carboys.  But that's something I'll decide when we see how this one is moving along.

 -- ☥ Setkheni-itw