Drinking A Bit of Dilbit


Wining About Dilbit

A post on CBC tells of a trattoria in Fort MacMurray that won’t serve BC wine because of Horgan’s rejection of KM’s TM dilbit expansion. Here is a comment I left on FB reacting to said boycott:

Fine. I won’t patronize THAT restaurant! (Little chance of being in Alberta at all in any foreseeable future). However, I don’t like the implication that we wouldn’t have any gasoline without KM, and various other whoppers being told by a plethora of politicians, some of whom (Nenshi and Notley, notably) I thought might be beyond that sort of thing. We get all our distilled petroleum product from the United States. There is no refinery for dilbit, or even for sweet crude, in BC, nor in Alberta (could be dead wrong here) whose specialty seems to be digging up the stuff and moving it elsewhere. KM sends the stuff offshore. They are, however, along with their digging friends, kind enough to leave us with the tailings ponds, sour gas and downstream pollution in several river systems. Has Rachel stashed away enough loot to deal with all that? History tells us that as soon as the profits are gone, the KM tentacles will withdraw to Houston with all the loot they’ve accumulated and disappear into a name change (Accenture comes to mind, as well as whatever Blackwater has transmogrified into). Instead of preparing a swift and just transition to renewable energy, Notley and Trudeau continue to back sunset technologies that will doom life on Earth within the lifetimes of their children, and pretending that KM went through any approval that was anything other than a sham and a rubber stamp would be laughable were it not so brazenly false and damaging. Now can someone invoke a divine presence to turn all that dilbit into wine? I think Ernest and Julio might still have a few tankers kickin’ about.



Food, Life, Profit

In an earlier post, the topic was the usurpation of control and decision-making via the magic of gadgetry, a phenomenon which, for many of us constitutes a step backward in the development of humanity and society. Often of late, so much of the vaunted innovation appears to be for the sake of innovation without a clear set of guiding principles regarding benefits and the recipients of those benefits. We do things because we can, often in the process neglecting more difficult and more pressing challenges, often those requiring sustained and/or concerted effort and little prospect of immediate profit.

The broad strokes of the division between those who would have mankind control all aspects of life on Earth and those who tend to work with and within the forces of Nature is summed up to a point in the following excerpt from an article in Quartz:

The modern food movement has brought us to a fork in the road. On one path are people who say it is enough to eat the fresh fruits and vegetables that spring from the earth, the milk from our cows, and the meat from farmed animals. Simplicity is the path to fulfillment, and sticking close to nature and whole foods is the safest bet for achieving nourishment.
The other vision prescribes that the best diet is one that is predetermined for us, collected by farmers and tinkered with by scientists to help us attain our maximum health and eventually prevent chronic illness. It is more obscure and decidedly high tech.
The argument on both sides of the dichotomy seems almost anodyne and relates to the quest for the ultimate scheme for human nourishment, and perhaps there are points to be made on both sides of the question, but it all falls apart when the underlying notion of the execution of the plan for measured, targeted and controlled nutrition turns out to be more in the interest of a small group than for the betterment of the lot of the majority of living creatures. At the root of the MTC clan is Nestlé, a corporation with a long track record of doing what is profitable, even when the profit is the only benefit and where the source of the profit may be deleterious to society as a whole, thinking of “interesting” recipes for baby formula, the promotion of sugary products and recent pronouncements, backed up by corporate actions, tending to reserve potable water use for the exclusive rights to bottle and sell by none other than Nestlé.
Whatever benefits are outlined in the Nestlé plan tend to induce some head-scratching simply because of the notion that something that might perhaps be for the overall benefit of society might be withheld from those unable to fill the coffers of Nestlé shareholders. It reminds me of a conversation I had with an acquaintance who returned from a retreat with an EST group, a person quite fired up about plumbing the depths and breadths of human consciousness and the attainment of enlightenment. These are laudable enough goals and it all sounded good until the question of “tuition” arose and it became clear that any achieved wisdom would be attained at the cost of a severely depleted bank account, and the sums in question were of a nature beyond keeping the enlighteners in reasonable comfort, and the whole issue sounded as though the enlightened were less concerned about the propagation of wisdom than they were about the accumulation of wealth. Such seems to be mostly the case with the “wisdom” of Nestlé, as well as other purveyors of exclusionary benefits.
It would seem especially and increasingly important that wisdom be shared freely as we approach the apocalyptic consequences of population and consumption overshoot and that we cease to allow the benefits generated by human endeavour to accumulate in the accounts of those who already benefit in outsize proportion to the contributions they make to the future of civilization.

The Right Message



There is much in this cartoon from Graeme Mackay about how politics is practised in most jurisdictions with much room for commentary on how we should govern ourselves, what with politics having pretty much divorced itself from governance. The context for the cartoon could very well be explained in the blog post I read this morning from the Disaffected Liberal:

1.5 C by 2030. 2.0 C by 2050. Let’s Go Out and Get an Electric Car


I know people in our local community who’ve been working on the whole climate change file for a couple of decades already, and have made little in the way of inroads into the general consciousness. The sad fact is that even some of the staunchest proponents of reduction of atmospheric greenhouse gasses are still living a life that produces a healthy dose of said gasses, and no end in sight. In part, this could be attributed to the possibility of a complete loss of credibility in the eyes of Everyman in appearing to be too far out on the fringe, but I also suspect that some of it is just personal and societal inertia.

The Disaffected Lib’s words are important in that they are a warning and a reinforcement of the warnings of Bill McKibben, James Lovelace, James Hansen and the like that a crash is on the way, that we’re making the consequences worse as we fritter away time in political squabbles within an obsolete framework and shirk responsibility or just delay as we wait for the other guy to go first, or for some leader to step up and move the process forward with the expeditiousness appropriate to the situation.

This thought follows on the heels of a conversation I had with a certain local councillor that was more an exploration than a dialectic about the rôle that elected officials ought to play in society, a rôle that has a couple of channels. The first is to to get educated, and then to educate. Our adversarial system often leads officials  to work from a pre-set party platform, often the result of being beholden to a certain group of people in society, sometimes motivated by attempting to right the wrongs of previous groups of the elected, and, facts be damned, to work inside that administrative bubble that allows us to carry on with a dynamic balance that brooks no accounting for crises on the horizon, however close in that horizon might be.

Living as if there were no tomorrow, we are converting a carefree metaphor into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  
—John Whiting
Our own Christy Clark is a perfect example of an elected official who runs her show according to predetermined guidelines as set by her Liberal Party donor list and who wilfully ignores the evidence that cries out that her whole program is not only creating hardship for the majority of her constituents but is also hastening the onset of catastrophe, this in aid of keeping her in the limelight for another term. My sense is that she is at least somewhat aware of the hazardous path on which she has set her administration but that she is unwilling to acknowledge or act upon what she knows, indicating that her need to educate herself is more in the affective domain, in her need to develop empathy and a sense of general justice, than it is in factual scientific learning. Rachel Notley is another who seems more focused on staying in the driver’s seat than on doing what it will take for us to make the needed contribution from our little corner of the world. A clearer vision would see her educating her electorate in the benefits of a shift both immediate and radical to renewable energy and pipelines be damned. Not happening: it’s a daunting task in any jurisdiction, an eminently steeper climb in bitumen-soaked Alberta, especially given the nature of the fossil fuel business and its propensity to concentrate both profit and power outside Alberta. I don’t know if Brad Wall needs to learn the sad facts of physics or whether he is another who wilfully shuns knowdge in pursuit of long-term political power, and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister has, to the best of my knowledge, kept his head down somewhat, but with his party affiliation, it would be easy to plunk him squarely in the Brad Wall camp. Wynne and Couillard have opted for cap and trade schemes, a good idea, perhaps, but easily gamed. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have a lot of skin in the petroleum game and are likely to be somewhat recalcitrant in coming to the table when it comes to climate disruption.
Sadly, even when there is the best of intentions on the part of those who govern to educate their constituents about the do-or-die circumstances in which we find ourselves, the electorate itself has proven to be resistant to stepping up to accept the new reality. We’ve allowed ourselves to take the path of least resistance, to be lulled into indifference by the press whose stories have, by and large, downplayed any sense of urgency with respect to climate action, and, apart some exceptions, we are either too busy trying to scratch out a living from our current economic mess or just too comfortable to make the effort to readjust our expectations and our willingness to be active participants in what looks to be a monumental and painful march to sanity.
We can all draw our own conclusions. However, possible future generations will not look kindly on the sort of mess we seem on course to leave to those who survive whatever period of readjustment befalls us.

Pater Noster

qui es in caelis.(RIP, February 8, 1998)


And there is almost the whole rotten hockey-sock full of us, camping at Mt. Lassen in 1958. Maggie is off somewhere tending to the latest, baby Gabrielle. I got on well with my Dad, though I occasionally got into a tempestuous funk when he called bullshit on some of my out of bounds forays. Retrospect, even the shortest and most immediate, drove me to apologize and acknowledge that he was likely right about everything he said, and ultimately, it was that schooling that helped me to be a reasonably constructive being (of course, I also had the benefit of a mother who tempered whatever hard-nosedness I perceived on Dad’s part, so equal participation in whatever good I might have done).

This all came to mind when the house filled up with the perfume of black currants last evening, part of the cycle of things ripening in the yard and coming indoors to be eaten or to be processed for later reference. Black currants make wonderful syrup (Crème de Cassis) or jam/jelly. Dijon is famous for its currants, as is another spot somewhat to the North and West, Bar-le-Duc, which was the source for a blackcurrant jelly that Dad particularly liked.



So, after enjoying the perfume of the blossoms, I watched as Erica pulled the fruit off the bushes while I did some grunt work close by.







Then they went into the steam juicer and into the Maslan Pan.

















Eventually, they look like this. There was even a partial jar so that we could toast some of Erica’s whole-wheat bread and slather it with our own home made jelly.


I have no children of my own, but I worked at being a decent mentor for my stepson and have been pretty present in the lives of his kids. The young man in question asked me long ago why I never seemed to get upset and I explained to him that first of all, I had two grandfathers who didn’t really want to deal with children and whose gruff manner was enough to ensure that there would be no attempts at intimacy, and that, as well, he never seemed to do anything worthy of anger (true statement).

When he was over on Thursday, we snacked and cobbled together a home-made periscope, something that arose in a book his mother had given him.



The book also had material on spiders, on bruises and cuts, on sea urchins and a wealth of other topics. most of which the little man wanted to share. His mother’s parents live in town as well, so he and his sister are surrounded by care, love and coaching at many levels.


As much as to say that life in our little circle is pretty darn wonderful. The sad part is how quickly the picture degrades as we move away from that centre of friends and family, a wider world that seems to have forgotten the value of integrity, truthfulness, mutual aid and caring.

It is somewhat comforting to think that there are myriad other little islets of family and friends, of integrity, truthfulness and caring, though the network is spotty and we aren’t all connected, and that there might be a possibility that cooperation, collaboration and mutual aid might emerge as a dominant way of directing our actions. The alternative is too ugly to contemplate.



Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind

Monsanto's Time Is Nye?

Monsanto’s Time Is Nye?


Bill Nye may be the Science Guy, but we have to wonder about the science of GMO when he appears to have reversed field following a visit to Monsanto, as outlined in an article on EcoWatch. He hasn’t published, that I know of, the changes he intends to make in his writings on the subject, but a lot of what he had previously written was pretty damning, as has been much of the literature written by those not sponsored by the gene-splicers. I have to admit to having and not-totally-open mind on the subject and I suspect it will take some serious convincing to get me to accept that what Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and the like have done is in the general interest of the public, that it contributes to the greater good without doing irreparable damage. First consideration has to be the stubbornness with which these folks cloak their doings in secret and gain legal approval through the purchase of political levers rather than convincing the public that they are acting in the interest of anything other than profit and, as it seems likely, the ability to choke and control much of the food supply. Their unwillingness to abide even labelling of their product speaks to a group that has something to hide. Second consideration is that, other than being able to drench landscapes in pesticides/herbicides, I don’t think that a convincing argument has been made for the necessity, or even utility of these genetic modifications. I’ve seen little evidence that more food is produced using large-scale agricultural methods with major inputs of chemical soil amendments and pest controls. Monsanto, in particular, seems to have done a woeful job of keeping their organisms under control in nature and may be doing a tremendous amount of harm through simple lack of oversight. I wonder how frank Bill Nye will be about his change of heart, and how much of a change of heart will he have had? Could be another icon of rectitude down the rectitube, so eyes and ears open seems to be the watchword.


A Taste In My Mouth



This is a time of year when the garlic gets a little easier to peel. This is the beginning of a casserole that will feature some Great Northern beans that I soaked all last night, a head of garlic, some of Pete’s chorizo, probably some onions, some of our bottled tomatoes and some greens scavenged from under the tents in the garden. I get to make this up as I go along. It’s a lovely change from the ruminations of yesterday, full of angst and murder. Angst and murder are always there, but this is what will fill the kitchen with aromas this afternoon, allowing for a little lightening of the general mood.

In Praise of..

…the old, the full-sized, the connected.



I pulled all the quinces off our tree this morning. We tried through several nurseries over several years to find a full-sized quince without any luck. Finally, we found one in a nursery on our way out to Vesuvius to get a ferry home from a visit to my mother who was recuperating at the time from a fall that had severely curtailed her mobility. The quince in question was a pretty sad specimen, and the nurserywoman refused to sell it to us, but asked if we knew anyone who had a named variety, a situation that would allow us to take cuttings to start. So back we went to my mother’s place and snipped a dozen cuttings from her quince, wrapped them in moistened paper towel and went for the ferry. That was ten years ago, and the tree isn’t forty feet tall because we keep it pruned pretty strictly lest it become impossible to pick. Starting the third year, it gave us a couple of dozen quinces, increasing quickly to a hundred or so, and this morning I picked a full wheelbarrow full of fuzzy yellow fruit that are sized somewhere between a baseball and a softball and hard as rocks. A couple that were split I winnowed out, trimmed up and made into quince paste this morning.


Few people seem to be familiar with the fruits and it unlikely that they would appear in a market. We like to rub the fuzz off them, quarter them and roast them in the pan with pork or chicken and quartered onions. They are really tart, but a nice foil for the onions and the meat. We have also juiced them and made quince jelly: they are loaded with pectin and will jell easily, producing the loveliest pink transparent jelly that goes as well with yogurt as it does with toast. The leavings from the juice get put through a Victoria Strainer and sweetened to make something like applesauce. If you have a food dehydrator, it also makes delicious fruit leather, or it could be made into something like turkish delight, or quince newtons or who knows what else.


My mother is no longer with us, so the tree is something of a living memorial in the yard, along with the bay laurel that we got as a wedding present from Dad’s father, via her and Dad (been in the back yard for 32 years as of Thursday). I like carrying all this lore around with me as I reach deeper and deeper into old age, and the bay leaves and quinces liven the culinary happenings in a way that stirs up lots of fond memories without venturing into maudlin nostalgia. The lore makes for a nice counterpoint to all the fury out there.




This somewhat ugly-looking concoction is eggs florentine in the making, with spinach harvested this morning and some of the lovely eggs we get from our hens. While I usually tend toward nuts and berries, this came to mine when Erica left a couple of egg yolks in the fridge from putting meringue on lemon pies for the local soup kitchen, and I noticed that a late planting of spinach was about to bolt. Rescue for rescue, it was delicious. She who is mistress of all things just whipped up a batch of pie-by-the-mile, the mennonite version of stöllen, complete with sour cherries. Yummy stuff. The other lovely aspect of this morning’s breakfast was that it was consumed al fresco, under the grape arbor on the sun deck, and there in the corner was this:



It’s a gardenia, an uncertain proposition, it seems, and particularly as a delayed action Valentine’s gift. The perfume from these blossoms is exquisite, but they seem to be finicky, particularly about conditions indoors, to the trick is to nurse them until they can go out on the sun deck.

I hate to spoil this with a sour note, but I see where people all over the world are calling attention to the centenary of the outbreak of World War I., just as official Ottawa decided that we should celebrate the War of 1812 a couple of years back. The sad part is that, looking around, we have learned nothing, and that “the war to end all wars” was more a blueprint for larger scale and more industrial destruction. With the annual breast-beating that is the Hiroshima commemoration, in which we suage our conscience and then go about our business for another year, sleepwalking toward oblivion.




What did I tell you?



Lovely Surprises



We have a Bay Laurel in our yard that we got for a wedding gift from my grandfather. A curmudgeonly sort, I suspect, with no disrespect intended, that he sent money to my folks and asked them to get us something appropriate, so they got this tree, and gave us a healthy cheque to go with it. They also bought one of the trees themselves for their place on Old Scott Road, the Miniment. We planted it out the first spring we had it and it wintered over pretty well, something of a surprise for our climate, which is hardly Mediterranean: these things like to grow in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, the South of France and similar mild climes. The next winter, we were horrified to see it die right back to the ground and conversely were overjoyed when we saw little sprouts ringing the part of the “trunk” that still stuck out of the ground.  Following that incident, it grew like crazy for twenty years until, about eight years ago, it got some snow stuck on it, followed by a hard freeze. At this point it was over twelve meters tall and beyond any shelter we could give it. It essentially died back to the ground and we whacked away the deadwood with a power saw. What a joy it was to see the little sprouts coming from both the ground and the stumps. We’ve covered it ever since and been fussy about who gets a branch from it: the leaves are a culinary delight, sweeter and more pungent than what you can buy in the store and we used to have a huge volume to spread around to friends and acquaintances, but wanted to ensure that the tree could flourish without being pillaged for leaves. I walked by this thing the other day on the way back from the chicken coop and got a whiff of something reminiscent of vanilla, cinnamon and mocha, but subtle in its sweet spiciness: the bay had bloomed again.



It has unprepossessing little flowers, and if you stick your nose right in them, there isn’t much to discover, but back away a meter or two, and there is this lovely perfume floating in the air, an enchanting reminder of the season and of the previous generations who bestowed the tree on us. It’s a real source of joy, reflection and reminiscence.


Silence Like A Cancer Grows

Much ado in broadcast media about the doubling of the price of Dungeness crab in local markets (haven’t been down to the Codfather to ask Max about it) and the fact that we’ve entered into the era of the $50 crab, shell on, live and kicking. The explanation comes from a booming export market in China. In a roundabout way, oil exports finance inflationary pressures on local food wherein we send dilbit to China, they use it for fuel and to manufacture CPSFC* that we all run to WalMart to stock up on and the Chinese entrepreneurial class use the proceeds from all this to buy up crabs (they apparently call them golden crab, ironically enough) and they have so much money that they can pay prices that take local food right off the menu for the rest of us. It’s a true manifestation of what a global market system can do for us. We have to hope that, even if it is the Chinese entrepreneurial class that’s chowing down on the crabs, the fishery is being managed for long-term survival, or maybe that doesn’t matter, given that the “perpetuation” of this way of doing things will kill itself and all of us with it. It occurs to me that crab shells are made from the same stuff as scallop shells, and might therefore be subject to the same environmental perils as local scallops who can’t make enough shell because of ocean acidification that might be tied to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that might, in turn, be tied to the manufacture of CPSFC* linked to petroleum and its uses.

As is often the case, this reminds me of a song I first heard on a Mose Allison record long ago, but penned by Charles Brown. The reference is to the days three decades ago when, of a Friday, a pickup truck would roll up to the parking lot of the school where I was working (or, alternatively,  the school where my wife was working: they were close and on the route of said pickup truck) and fresh, live Dungeness crabs would be dispensed to buyers at the princely sum of $2.00 each. Home to cook, clean, and ice the beasts, toss a salad, whip up some home made mayonnaise or aioli, crack a chilled bottle of Muscadet and tear hunks off a loaf of crusty bread.


Life was good for some of us. It still is, for some of us, but the great leveller (somewhat selective) is progressively removing an increasing number of these pleasurable and nourishing experiences from our domain.

*CPSCF=Cheap Plastic Shit From China, a term I first saw on Northwest Edible. It’s really a generic term that applies to disposable goods of any material from any jurisdiction. Nobody would be too offended if Stuff were to be substituted for Shit.