Uncle Jan and his garlic

I reckon that my Uncle Jan grows the best garlic in Australia. So it’s good to see his hard work – and bio-dynamic farming really is labour intensive. Try clearing 250 acres of weeds and rocks by hand! – being recognised and celebrated in this short doco on his gorgeous Barrington River Organic Farm.

Climate Change: More than an Environmental Issue

Sergey Ponomare, The New York Times

A guest post by Byron Smith

Why is climate change so often treated as ‘merely’ an environmental issue? Why are the true nature and scale of its implications for public health, water stress, food security, mass migration, global stability, conflict and ecological collapse so rarely spelled out in public? Whose interests are served by keeping this as an issue for tree huggers, bushwalkers and other nature lovers? And why do we keep getting told to recycle or change our lightbulbs when it only takes a few moments to realise that far, far more is needed?

Make no mistake: the scale of the climate crisis is so large as to threaten life as we know it. This includes placing into doubt the ongoing existence of global industrial society in its current form. Our climate-disrupting carbon pollution (mainly from burning coal, oil and gas) is the largest experiment we’ve ever conducted and though we might not yet know all the details, that the net outcome is likely to overwhelmingly, even catastrophically, negative is not in serious doubt. When you actually explore the fairly middle of the road likely impacts from continuing on a fossil-fuelled trajectory for a few more decades, it pretty quickly becomes apparent that we’re not just talking about things getting a little rougher at the margins. We’re looking at whole ecosystems (like the Great Barrier Reef) collapsing, agricultural production being smashed, trillions of dollars of infrastructure threatened, tens or hundreds of millions of people being displaced and all the consequent implications for global stability these imply.

To depart from such a trajectory onto a path where the societal damages might be merely substantial or staggering (rather than potentially fatal) requires the almost complete transformation of a number of the most powerful and profitable industries on the planet. This can be done, from a technological and economic point of view, and would even bring a whole range of co-benefits (such as avoiding most of the seven million annual deaths currently resulting from air pollution), but the losses in such a transition would be concentrated in many of the most powerful organisations on the planet. The losers would be all the companies (and shareholders) heavily reliant upon keeping dirty energy dirt cheap, but also those nations with the largest fossil fuel reserves.

Thus, for some time it has been in the interests of a lot of powerful people and organisations *not* to articulate clearly and repeatedly what is at stake. Most major corporations, corporate media and almost all governments know that outright denial is no longer tenable in the face of such an overwhelming consensus of data and experts. Yet many of these groups also recognise the hugely disruptive implications of directly acknowledging the scope of our predicament. Doing so would require huge changes to the status quo, the situation from which they currently benefit the most.

So, as a more or less deliberate way of keeping such explosive knowledge from affecting the population too drastically, the problem gets pegged as an ‘environmental’ issue. This stalling tactic ensures that it stays somewhere down the list of priorities; we’ll get to it at some point in the distant future and/or take a few symbolic greenwashing actions to create give an impression of being in control. While not directly embracing denial outright, this enables the proposal of various half and quarter measures that give the appearance of action without rocking the boat too much.

As an added bonus, the nature of climate science helps in this effort. Although the core of the science (enough to realise that serious action in required) can be well understood in a few minutes by anyone who completed primary school science, the details get incredibly complex. This provides countless opportunities for a deliberate misinformation campaign to throw plenty of dust into the air. Furthermore, the fact that the problem is cumulative and unfolds over decades helps to reduce the chance it was gain the same level of political urgency as a recession (or even the latest celebrity scandal).

But this isn’t just a story about nefarious entities keeping an innocent public in the dark. By and large, the public simply don’t want to know. Awakening to the scale of our predicament is deeply unsettling for most of us, and challenges basic cultural narratives by which we orient our lives (and for Christians, even some cherished theological assumptions). Since few of us like to have our identity upended, it suits most of us to keep the issue at arm’s length as well, embracing denial, or not looking too closely, or taking the word of political elites that their half-baked schemes will do the trick, or if a glimpse of the horror slips though then quickly putting it in the ‘too-hard-and-what-can-I-do-anyway’ basket.

Now there are in fact many experts, professional groups and advocacy groups who do articulate the climate issue through all its various implications, rather than treating it as ‘just’ an ‘environmental’ one. But they rarely get featured prominently or repeatedly in mainstream media. (By the way, this is one of the reasons why relying on corporate media to tell you which stories matter is a recipe for rarely/never hearing about stories that challenge the rule of the corporations.) And political leaders whose parties are funded and supported by fossil interests are unlikely to make more than superficial or very gradual changes. It is telling that in most political contexts, the parties that embrace actions more commensurate with the scale of the challenge are generally those that refuse support from corporations. Yet in Australia, this basically means the Greens, whose climate policies (while certainly not perfect) have been a couple of decades ahead of the majors. Ironically, however, this just reinforces for most people the idea that caring about climate is something basically reserved for ‘greenies’. Another win for the minimising ‘environmental’ framing.

Nonetheless, there are signs this may be gradually changing. For instance, President Obama has used the national security framework more than a couple of times (and has been relentlessly hounded by Republicans and corporate media pundits for doing so), as have a few other international leaders. But even then, the choice of framing remains primarily a vehicle for reinforcing the status quo (or a slightly modified form of it). For the US president to talk about national security functions first and foremost to imply not ‘let’s transform our dirty energy system and the dirty politics it helps engender’ so much as ‘let’s increase military/security spending some more’.

In this context, one of the most radical acts possible for an ordinary citizen is to open oneself to the full implications of climate science, to seek to understand why the status quo has failed to deal with this, to embrace the very uncomfortable emotional experiences this typically generates, and then to start thinking through what is actually necessary for a sane and just response (rather than merely what is deemed possible under assumptions acceptable to those currently in power).

And my hunch is that this is going to involve not just lots more clean energy while rapidly phasing out dirty energy, but also confronting the dirty politics that upholds the latter far past its use by date.

[Image: Sergey Ponomarev, The New York Times]

Goroncys doing garlic

I’m very proud of my hard-working uncle Jan, and I love (and share) his passions – for life, for good food, for honest music, for healthy animals, and for incomparably good garlic. His Barrington River Organic Farm is not only an absolutely gorgeous and highly productive space, it’s also an inspiring place to be (with the one exception of when he gets onto your back about pulling out the dreaded fireweed). Yesterday, Prime TV ran a wee story on him and the Gloucester Bucketts of Garlic Festival, and I wanted to share it:

A prayer for refreshed sensibilities

‘O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true folk – to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve thee as though hast blessed us – with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine’. – Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (Garden City: Doubleday, 1969), 278.

2010: ‘It was the best of times …’

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only’. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Best books

Theology

Biography

Ministry

History

Cooking

Poetry

Best albums

1. Officium Novum by Jan Garbarek & The Hilliard Ensemble.
2. The Age of Miracles by Mary-Chapin Carpenter.
3. Foundling by David Gray.
4. Scratch My Back by Peter Gabriel.
5. Sacrificium by Cecilia Bartoli.
6. Women and Country by Jakob Dylan.
7. 100 Miles From Memphis by Sheryl Crow.
8. Great and Small by Butterflyfish.
9. Downtown Church by Patty Griffin.
10. No Better Than This by John Mellencamp.

Honorable mentions: All Delighted People by Sufjan Stevens; The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens; Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant; Go by Jónsi; April Uprising by The John Butler Trio; The Promise by Bruce Springsteen; The Astounding Eyes of Rita by Anouar Brahem; American VI: Aint No Grave by Johnny Cash; San Patricio by The Chieftains & Ry Cooder; In Person & On Stage by John Prine; How I Learned to See in the Dark by Chris Pureka.

Best films

1. How I Ended This Summer
2. Winter’s Bone
3. Abandoned
4. The Infidel
5. Shutter Island
6. Boy

Overrated films

Worst films

Best TV shows

1. An Idiot Abroad (Series 1)
2. Rev

Some Personal Highlights

Main Course: felis domesticus

There is surprisingly little online advice about how to prepare a cat for human consumption. But here’s an edit of what I could pull together by way of some basic preparation and simple recipes.

Preparation

1. Get a large cutting board and lay out your cat. Lop off the head, the tail and the feet with a sharp butcher’s knife. These parts of the cat contain little usable meat, so give them to the dog.

2. Make a longitudinal incision on the cat’s abdomen. Reach your hand into the body cavity, and remove all of the internal organs. Discard them – especially the liver. It may look tasty, but the liver of a felis domesticus is frequently too toxic for human consumption.

3. Time to skin. As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to do it, but the basic advice is to use a sharp knife to trim off the skin, and pull it back, snipping away at the muscle tissue. Alternatively, grab some loose skin near the head stump and, using a pair of pliers, peel it back off the carcass like a banana or like how you’d skin an eel, rolling it off the body.

4. Wash the meat of stray gristle and hairs.

5. Pour yourself a drink.

Recipes

Here too you have some options:

Microwaved Cat

Place your prepared a cat in a high powered magnetron microwave for 10 minutes. This will denature the proteins and caramelise the sugars. Unfortunately, it will taste like a microwaved burger. Just as well there are other options.

Beer Roasted Cat

Ingredients

  • 1 cat cut into roast
  • 1 can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 1 cube of beef bouillon
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 Fine Irish Stout

Directions

Cover and soak cat roast in salt water for 24 hours. Drain water and then cover and soak in beer for 6 hours. Drain and place in crock pot with your cans of soup. Add a clove of garlic, and a cube of beef bouillon. If you start to slow cook your cat in the morning with your George Foreman Cooker (or it’s ilk), you’ll have finely cooked feline in time for supper.

If a slow cooker is not available, a cat can be baked at 170 degrees for 2–3 hours in a conventional oven and still come out pretty good. Beer Roasted Cat is fantastic served with mashed potatoes, collard greens, and fresh, homemade egg rolls. When planning a full meal just remember – cat is a course best served hot!

Cat may not be the most glamorous, or tastiest of game meats, but with a little thought and preparation, Baked Cat can make the belly of the persnicketiest diner glow with home baked goodness.

You could also try a modified version of this: Instead of using Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, try using 1 chili and 2 tablespoons of grated ginger.

Cat Braisé

Ingredients

  • 1 cat cut in serving-sized pieces dusted in flour with salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 artichokes
  • thick slices of slab bacon, diced
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 small tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2–4 cup homemade chicken broth
  • 4 flat parsley stems, 6 leafy thyme branches, 1 bay leaf tied up with kitchen twine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Directions

1. Snap the leaves off the artichokes until only the tender inner leaves remain. Snap off the stem. Trim the remaining green bits from the bottom of the artichoke, and cut off the inner leaves in a bunch at the point where they are very tender. Pare the tough green outer layer off the remaining stem, pairing the stem into a point. Now cut the artichoke bottom into quarters and remove the choke with a sharp knife from each quarter. Rinse to remove any traces of foin and drop them into a bowl of water acidulated with the juice of half a lemon.

2. Heat 2 tablesoons of olive oil in a large heavy casserole or Dutch oven. Dredge the cat pieces in seasoned flour, shaking off excess. Brown over medium heat, turning regularly, until golden on all sides. Remove cat pieces to a plate and dump any oil remaining in the pan. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil and the bacon dice. Sauté until cooked but not crisp. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the onion and carrot. Saute for 5 minutes, then add the artichoke quarters and the garlic, stir one minute, and add the tomatoes and the white wine. Turn up the heat and reduce until syrupy, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Lay the parsely, thyme and bayleaf garnish on top of the vegetables. Arrange the cat pieces on top, together with any juice accumulated in the plate.

3. Pour in enough broth to come halfway up the sides of the cat pieces. Cover and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer over very low heat about 1 hour or cook in the oven at 170 degrees for the same amount of time. The cat should be just tender and part readily from the bone. Don’t overcook or it will become dry. Check the liquid level frequently and add more broth if necessary. Turn the cat pieces once.

4. When done, remove the cat pieces to a warm platter and arrange the vegetables, removed with a slotted spoon, around them. Cover and keep warm. Strain the remaining pan juices into a smaller saucepan and reduce over high heat, skimming frequently, until reduced by 1/3. Pour over the platter and serve immediately. Sprinkle with finely chopped flat-leaf parsley if you like.

5. Serve with the best bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that you can source.

Cat Tamales

1. Toss one pot of bone-free cat strips right into the frying pan.

2. Add 1 cup of Mexican-style chili sauce, 2 cloves of garlic, and 1 tablespoon of crushed cumin seeds. Add chili powder, and salt and pepper, to taste.

3. Fry at a medium-high temperature in a little cooking oil, stirring occasionally. After ten or fifteen minutes, add 1 cup of water, reduce heat, and simmer.

4. Meanwhile, place 3 cups of cornmeal in a mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup of butter, 1/4 cup of lard, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. Mix well. To this, add one and a half cups of chicken or cat broth. Beat until you have a light, soft dough.

5. Now take a small ball of your dough mixture, and spread it out on a corn husk. Remember to pre-soak your corn husks for an hour or two, so they will be soft and easy to roll. If you don’t have any corn husks, you can use aluminum foil, in 4×4 inch squares.

6. Spread at least a tablespoon full of your filling down the center of your dough. Then roll the whole thing up, tucking in the ends of the corn husk, so it stays together.

7. When you have 12 to 18 tamales ready to cook, steam them over boiling water, for about two hours.

8. Garnish with a little lettuce, spread a little salsa over the top, and they’re ready to serve!

9. Enjoy with a pilsner.

Cat Au Gratin

Ingredients

  • 1 cat – skinned and diced
  • 1 medium onion – chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese – shredded
  • 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • paprika

Directions

1. Cut skinned cat pieces into dices.

2. Cook and stir onion in butter in a large saucepan until onion is tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper.

3. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is bubbly; remove from heat.

4. Stir in milk and 1–1/2 cups of the cheese. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute.

5. Place cat in ungreased casserole dish and pour on the cheese sauce.

6. Cook uncovered in 165 C degree oven 1 hour 20 minutes.

7. Mix remaining cheese and the bread crumbs; sprinkle over cat. Sprinkle with paprika. Cook uncovered until top is brown and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Dinner Music: ‘Nobody’s Moggy Now’, by Eric Bogle

Somebody’s moggy by the side of the road
Somebody’s moggy who forgot his highway code
Someone’s favourite feline who ran clean out of luck
When he ran onto the road and tried to argue with a truck

Yesterday he burled and played in his pussy paradise
Decapitating tweety birds and masticating mice
Now he’s just six pounds of raw minced meat
That don’t smell very nice

He’s nobody’s moggy now.

You who love your pussy, be sure to keep him in
Don’t let him argue with a truck, the truck is bound to win
And upon a busy road, don’t let him play or frolic
If you do, I’m warning you, it could be cat-astrophic
If he tries to play on the roadway I’m afraid that will be that
There will be one last despairing meouw and a sort of squelchy splat
And your pussy will be slightly dead and very very flat
He’s nobody’s moggy, just red and squashed and soggy,

He’s nobody’s moggy nooow, hoummmmm…

NB. This post was inspired by my deep hurt at watching a local cat attack my ducks yesterday. In Kübler-Ross lingo, I’m still at Stage Two – anger. Stage Two is probably not the best stage to be blogging in. Clearly, I never got the whole St Francis thing.

July bests …

From the reading chair:

Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas; White on Black by Ruben Gallego; Les Murray: A Life in Progress by Peter F. Alexander; Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka; The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the “Fram” 1910–1912 by Roald Amundsen; On Human Worth: A Christian Vindication of Equality by Duncan B. Forrester; God’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth by Eberhard Jüngel; Prayers Plainly Spoken by Stanley Hauerwas.

Through the iPod:

Life in Slow Motion by David Gray; Sunshine on Leith by The Proclaimers; Telling Stories by Tracy Chapman; Masterpieces by Bob Dylan; Complete Recordings by Robert Johnson; In Person & On Stage by John Prine; The Age of Miracles by Mary-Chapin Carpenter; I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers; Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus; 11:11 by Rodrigo y Gabriela; Open Sesame by Freddie Hubbard; 100 Miles From Memphis by Sheryl Crow; Songs From The Heart by Celtic Woman; The Imagine Project by Herbie Hancock; Sweet and Wild by Jewel; Heart and Soul by Kenny G; Need You Now by Lady Antebellum; Revolution by Miranda Lambert; Journey to the One by Pharoah Sanders; Fearless by Taylor Swift; Monk’s Dream by Thelonious Monk; Backatown by Trombone Shorty; Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons; Go by Dexter Gordon; April Uprising by The John Butler Trio; Intriguer by Crowded House.

On the screen:

The Road [2009]. (BTW: The worst flick I saw this month was The Lovely Bones [2010])

Eating Out:

Catlins Café: The best lunch I’ve had out in many moons. Remember those burgers we used to eat in the seventies? I found them again here. Soooo good. The food in this wee Owaka café was brilliant, the coffee was very nice, and the new hosts – Aileen & Steve Clarke – are delightful … friendly, but not ‘in-ya-face’ kind of friendly. If you’re in the Catlins, you ought consider popping in for a feed. They also run some accommodation. And just in case you’re wondering, I’m not getting paid for this wee plug. And if you do visit the area, make sure you get along to Nugget Point, one of my favourite bits of coastline in the world.