Friday, January 30, 2009

Tone deaf?

The impact of President Obama at this, the beginning of his term, makes me optimistic about what's in store for the future. After all, he just signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, and, with Vice President Biden, is taking steps to strengthen organized labor, which has been badly battered as of late (and, as a consequence, also battered are the salaries of ordinary Americans).

The economic stimulus package has passed the House is more good news, but it may have a tougher time in the Senate, as Republicans are still jabbering about only cutting taxes, but are still clueless that this moribund economy needs the jolt provided by getting funds in the hands of the non-wealthy, via jobs and such.

So, the Republicans' response to Obama's proposals is akin to....

...even if the Republican National Committee has selected Michael Steele as its new chair.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mmm, good (cornbread to go with beans)...

There's nothing better than hearty comfort food in cold wintry weather. Last night's edition included black-eyed peas (pre-soaked) and cooked with kale, which took less than an hour to cook (and that's using a regular saucepot, not a pressure cooker).

Making the beans stick to your ribs is easy when eating them with their natural sidekick, cornbread. The cornbread was particularly good last night, as I modified a recipe that I use often, the all corn cornbread from Bryanna Clark Grogan; I modified the order of preparation, not the ingredients. As it does not use flour, it's acceptable for gluten-free diets, and is delicious to boot, light in texture, with an intense corn flavor.

Vegan All-Corn Cornbread
makes a 9" square panful

1 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stoneground)

2 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. (8 tsp.) sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 Tbs. ground flax seed

another 2/3 cup (stoneground) cornmeal

2/3 cup boiling water

1 Tbs. lemon juice, plus

soymilk or nut milk to make 2 cups

2 Tbs. melted Earth Balance spread

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. (Spread the baking pan with extra Earth Spread, then a little cornmeal, and shake the cornmeal around the pan. Set pan aside.)

Mix together the first cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flax seed in a medium bowl.

In another bowl, mix together the 2/3 cup cornmeal and the boiling water and mix well (preferably with a whisk). Stir in the melted Earth Spread, also with the whisk, then the lemon juice/soymilk mixture, with the same whisk.

Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet, then add the batter into the prepared 9" pan. Bake for 25 minutes. When done, the top should have cracks, and the tines of a fork stuck in its center should come up clean.

* * *

Just like cornbread itself, this song by Louis Jordan, Beans and Cornbread, is an oldie but goodie.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Everything is beautiful, on a snow day

OK, so this is not some whopper of a snow squall--just some steady fluffy stuff coming down today, which is fine by me. Not so great will be tomorrow's mess, that nasty precip mix of sleet, freezing rain, etc. The sooner that stuff turns to rain (and the sooner the rain stops before freezing over) the better.

Nonetheless, today is to enjoy as much as possible, before and after you're done driving through it.

snow covered holly and evergreen

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cell phone use while riding a bike? What in the ***?

There are some things you hope never to see. Like today, I had to swerve to avoid hitting a guy on his bike when I turned into a parking lot, because he was chatting on his cell phone while riding!

cops talking on cell phones while riding bikesAt least the guys in the photo above had the sense to wear a helmet, unlike today's doofus. However, it's scary that these are cops blabbing on cell phones while riding!

I haven't heard of a jurisdiction banning cell phone use while riding a bike (which you'd think was challenging enough without that distraction), but if anyone on the Prince George's County Council would like to propose one, that would be a very good thing. Let's hope it doesn't take someone being killed or seriously injured before such a bill is put before a legislative body (but I'm not holding my breath).

Some inauguration week highlights (with dog blogging)

Will wonders never cease? The city was packed from last Sunday through Wednesday. My miracle story: on a packed train Sunday, a young boy and his mother were traveling, and the little guy offered me a seat--I could have fainted from the shock. So, I wasn't so surprised to hear that there were no arrests on the Mall Tuesday--meaning that there weren't incidents serious enough for the police to bother getting micro-bureaucratic with the public.

Later that Sunday, the 1st Baptist Church of Glenarden had a regular Sunday evening service, with a few songs from Kirk Franklin, so the place was packed. Of course, we all assumed that he would blow in, do a couple of songs, then blow out. Ha! It turned out to be a two-hour+ concert (I left before he was completely done!), and, of course, Kirk knows how to put on a show!

Other surprises included a white/multiracial "go-go" band (for want of a better term, as their musical skills sounded basic, but they were enthusiastic) playing on the sidewalk outside the Verizon Center Wednesday night.

I knew go-go music was popular with Washingtonians of all stripes, but never witnessed nonblack folk playing any. You go guys!

The New York Times reports that some social scientists (don't laugh just yet-perhaps bigger studies are in the pipeline) have noted an Obama effect on some black youngsters taking tests, showing that near the election showed less anxiety while taking tests, doing as well as whites. Let's hope the results can be replicated, and the effects are not temporary.

* * *
Woo hoo! Good to see that President Obama is serious about undoing some of Shrub's damage, by signing an Executive Order to shut down Guatanamo Bay and secret prisons on his first day in office.

The details of that decision, laudable as it is, will naturally take time, as will other policies. Trouble is rearing its ugly head in the form of opposition to the nominee for Secretary of Labor, Rep. Hilda Solis, and the continuing mess over the peanut butter recall (it's unclear what other type of federal action will need to take place to sort that out).

Meanwhile, you're unlikely to see many scenes like this at home in the near future, because of the peanut scare:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Food, American style (inauguration edition)

strata a savory bread pudding being prepared
The following recipe is for a delicious appetizer, a strata (pictured above, being prepared). It's a good dish to bring to a gathering when, like me, you have an aversion to transporting cooked food (and the resultant sloshing of food inside your car or on the subway), which does not need to be reheated, and is not a dessert.

It's best made the night before an event, so that it can "set" completely, making it easy to cut into squares. Like inauguration week, this dish is colorful, packed with flavor, and easygoing.

Vegetarian strata (savory bread pudding)

11 ounces day-old bread, torn into bite-size pieces (I used most of a sesame semolina loaf from Firehook Bakery, but any crusty bread will work)
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon dried porcini
1/2 cup whole flax seeds
1 cup water
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons canola or other vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy milk (oat or rice milk are good substitutes)
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper to taste
1 or 2 green onions, finely chopped (white and green parts)
1 sprig fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 package veggie shrimp, thawed, OR 2 links veggie chorizo, finely chopped*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, pour the boiling water over the dried porcini and let soak.

In a small saucepan, add the flax seeds and one cup water, bring to a simmer, and let simmer for five minutes. While flax mixture is simmering, in a small frypan, heat the oil over a medium flame, then add the red bell pepper and cook for two or three minutes, until softened.

After five minutes, strain the flax seeds and let the liquid drip into a small bowl. (The liquid should be clear yet thickened, akin to raw eggs in texture.) Add the soy milk, porcini water (use the leftover mushrooms in another dish), salt, and pepper. Gently mix.

Place the torn bread pieces into a casserole dish, then pour the flax seed/milk mixture over the bread and combine thoroughly. Mash mixture around with either a fork or a potato masher, so that the bread becomes mushy. Add all remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly in the casserole dish.

Cover casserole dish with foil, then bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. After removing the strata from the oven, let cool, then refrigerate overnight.

To serve, cut into squares. (The pieces are easiest to pick up, after cutting, with toothpicks.) Yum!

*The veggie shrimp is available at area health food stores and co-ops, as is the veggie chorizo, which is also available at supermarkets and Whole Foods.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History, Continued

History continues to be made, today, with the inauguration of Barack Obama as President. As he's being sworn in, this beautiful song by Deniece Williams will be on my mind:

(The image at top is from

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Jr.--A man of, and before, his time

There's always something new, even in history. As we've been reminded today how rhetoric can inspire and uplift by listening to Martin Luther King Jr.'s most reknowned oration, I Have a Dream, the BBC has unearthed a 1964 video of Dr. King in which he predicted that in less than 40 years, a Negro would become President of the United States. (He actually said that it could happen in 25 years.) Optimism, confidence, and ability to take the long view are what made King a visionary.

(Full-length video of Dr. King giving his speech, I Have a Dream.)

King believed that the struggle for racial justice in the United States was related to other struggles worldwide, and correctly noted that apartheid would end when Western nations decided to stop economic relations with South Africa. (Text via the ANC's site, although I originally read it years ago from the excellent compilation of Dr. King's speeches and writings, A Testament of Hope.)

Dreamer that he was, King knew that dreams take hard work to become reality. Let the work continue.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Good Day...(Friday fun, with dog[s])

It's turned out to be a good day, a good week even. Yesterday's crash landing in the Hudson sent chills down my spine, for I was afraid that one of the passengers, though rescued, might freeze to death or drown before being rescued, so a sigh of relief went up when all were found and everyone was OK. Initially, reports of the crash brought back bad memories of a previous one, of the Air Florida crash years ago, and the people that needed to be rescued from those frigid waters.

For some reason, remembering that tragedy makes me think of the CBS affiliate Channel 9, and John Goldsmith's reporting. It also reminds me, gladly and sadly, of the late, great Glenn Brenner, sportscaster par excellence (and I'm not even a big sports fan). Good times...

* * *

Didn't bother to listen to Bush's farewell speech, because I knew it would be about as exciting as watching paint dry. The mere thought of Bush talking about himself and his "legacy" strikes me as utterly ridiculous, so much noise and posturing...

Find more videos like this on

* * *

If still undecided (like me!) on what to do for Dr. King's birthday, National Service Day, suggestions can be found at the Obama inauguration committee website.

Which means--time to work and party!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Zzzzz fight disease?

Yuck, it's that time of year, when, even if you've gotten a flu shot, you can still come down with a cold, the most common of the upper respiratory diseases.

Of course, there are scads of folk remedies, and even prescribed medicines, such as cough medicines, often don't do much for cold symptoms. (Although a UK physician with the International Society for the Study of Cough admits that "alcohol in the form of spirits has been demonstrated to effectively suppress the cough reflex. In adult patients this can be particularly successful for nocturnal cough suppression." In this paper, he also mentions that although dextromethorphan is an effective cough suppressant, the amount used in most over-the-counter preparations is inadequate to relieve symptoms.)

However, there's been little research on the prevention front concerning this common aggravation, until recently. A study to be published in an upcoming Archives of Internal Medicine 2009; 169 (1):8, "Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold," in which subjects were monitored for 14 days--during which they were administered a rhinovirus (cold virus).

The results were striking--study participants who slept less than seven hours were 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold than those who had eight or more hours of sleep. Ouch! According to the study authors, "These relationships could not be explained by differences in prechallenge virus-specific antibody titers, demographics, season of the year, body mass, socioeconomic status, psychological variables, or health practices." They concluded, "Poorer sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding exposure to a rhinovirus were associated with lower resistance to illness."

* * *

More than neti pots...

If you think you might be coming down with a cold anyway, in addition to getting more sleep, what to do? Consider nasal irrigation--which is starting to be taken seriously as a treatment for sinonasal conditions such as rhinitis. In their medical review, "Nasal irrigations: good or bad?," researchers Christopher L. Brown and Scott M. Graham conclude, "Nasal irrigations should no longer be considered merely adjunctive measures in managing sinosal conditions. They are effective and underutilized. Some of the persisting unanswered questions will only be answered by further research."

Seconding that opinion include researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, which released a video on the benefits of nasal irrigation, mentioned as a cheap and easy way for the millions of people who suffer with spring allergies and nasal congestion to get relief for their symptoms.

(The video is called Spring Cleaning...for your nose, which may be unfortunate in that nasal irrigation may prove helpful year round.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

More Crazy (aka dogblogging)

Will the Sarah saga ever end? Now Sarah Palin's whining about being exploited by the media, Katie Couric, Tina Fey, ad nauseum. Um, she wanted to be Vice President, and was parodied and interviewed for precisely that reason. Politics ain't pretty--not even for a pitbull in lipstick. (Funny how she's not complaining that she was exploited by the Republican party, which offered her the VP nomination in the first place, solely because she is female. Hmmm...)

So, Ms. Palin, who can dish it out (e.g., referring to the President-Elect as someone who was "palling around with terrorists") but can't take it only makes herself laughable. Sadly, she's not being ridiculous in an adorable manner such as this...

Find more videos like this on

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Out with the old....

This dreary day is perfect for taking down the holiday decorations; the tiny tree will be chopped up tomorrow and scattered around for mulch, fertilizer, etc., and the soil and pot saved--more soil to be added, to start more container gardening nonsense...

One thing potentially made easier is throwing out the trash, as a few weeks ago the county provided new, gigantic recycling bins. These are to be used for the improved recycling process, known as single-stream recycling. Basically, this means you can recycle almost anything you're likely to throw out in the course of a week, except for food or items that have touched food (that is, items which could be composted).

(The above video from the Science Channel is of a manufacturing plant that uses a single stream recycling process.)

That's right, newspapers, paper, (rinsed out and dried) cans and bottles, torn up cardboard boxes, magazines, you name it, you can toss it into the recycling bin. Yippee! Makes life easier.
I'm keeping the old bin, however, as a recycling way station, and transferring stuff from it to the colossus on recycling day.

The one thing that could mess up this scheme is the lack of communication by the county regarding the new process. One day, guys just showed up bringing the bins, which had a couple of pamphlets attached to them with instructions, etc. No letters preceeded this rollout, no appearances were scheduled by county leaders to discuss the benefits, etc.

* * *

Finally, corporations are starting to reduce waste. Perhaps it's no coincidence that one of the few retailers this season to have something resembling a profit, Amazon, has also introduced a process to reduce customers' "wrap rage,"; they call it Frustration-Free Packaging. I wish I'd known about this when I had to purchase a Verizon cell phone earlier this year, and a Timex watch; it took some ten minutes to release the $30 watch from its package. Sheesh!

Smaller companies are joining the reduced waste bandwagon, as well. Two manufacturers of my favorite ginger candies, Ting Ting Jahe and Reed's Ginger Brew, have changed the paper that wraps the individual candies to edible rice paper wraps! This doesn't affect the taste of the candies, as far as I'm concerned. So, the only thing that has to be thrown away when done downing all the chews is the bag that they came in. Nice!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Rocking' the new year with good eats!

Great stuff, vegan edition!

Lightlife Gimme Lean sausage flavor--moist, meaty, without all the fat. Season and pat out a few patties, nuke them, then panfry in a bit of oil, and you have a weekend breakfast taste treat without worries! Widely available in grocery stores.

Earth Balance spread--buttery in taste and texture, with fewer calories (but it's NOT a lowfat food, by any means), and great for baking! The local Giant Food even had them, at a dollar less than a nearby health food store; of course, it's priced lowest at Whole Foods. (Whole Foods even had giant tubs of the stuff recently, for $8, in time for holiday baking.)

The Wizard's vegan worchestershire sauce--a dead ringer in taste for Lea & Perrins, without the anchovies, and available in health food stores. (It's much better than the Annie's brand of this type of sauce, which is surprising, as Annie's usually makes great dressings and sauces.)

Vegenaise vegan mayonnaise--this could give Hellman's a run for its money. Seriously. Creamy, smooth, and rich tasting as all get out, with much less fat. Even my gotta-have-meat relatives happily use this to make tuna sandwiches. Oh, and the lowfat mayonnaise you find in the supermarket, please. Leave that stuff alone--it'll kill 'ya.

Another Lightlife product, this time the veggie pepperoni. It's good, spicy fun, with much less fat (aka grease) than regular pepperoni, and available at Whole Foods.

The old supermarket reliable, Silk soymilk. Widely available in supermarkets, and even Target (where it's much cheaper than even Shopper's Food Warehouse), where it was on sale this past week. The flavors to try are the plain, chocolate, and (during the holiday season), nog, as well as the creamer, if you like that sort of thing. Stay far away from the vanilla and unsweetened varieties, however, as they don't taste right; the vanilla is too sweet, and the unsweetened, not sweet enough. (Dairy milk, although thought of as being a protein product, also contains natural sugar, lactose, which contributes to its taste, so any soymilk totally lacking in sweetener will also be lacking in flavor.)

Another Silk brand product, yogurt. It's smooth, creamy, and the flavored varieties, such as blueberry and strawberry, are fantastic. There are also large tubs of the unflavored variety, which are great for cooking, etc. Widely available in health food stores.

Two Gardenburger products merit special mention--the BBQ riblets, and the herb crusted cutlets. The riblets have a great meaty texture and flavor, and come a sauce that's sweet enough for most folks' liking. (Add a few shakes of hot sauce if the sweetness is over the top for your taste.) The cutlets are a nice change of pace, and are best prepared in two steps: first, nuke them for 60 or so seconds, then finish up in a (preheated) toaster oven at 400 degrees, for 5-7 minutes. Moist, crispy, and tasty all at once.

What, no toaster oven? This is a great, inexpensive, environmentally friendly kitchen appliance to acquire, as it saves mucho energy when cooking for a small household. Why heat up a giant oven when you can heat a smaller one (and in less time)?

A good vegan cheese, you ask--what's that? They exist, but are expensive and tricky to find. My favorite is Sheese, made on a remote Scottish island. I like the smoked cheddar flavor, as well as its texture. Good thing that it's easy to slice into thin slices, and melts. However, I've only been able to procure it locally from Pangea in Rockville, but other online stores sell it as well, so it's an extremely occasional treat.

The vegan cheese from Follow Your Heart (the makers of Vegenaise) is merely OK; it will at least melt for pizza, but easily becomes moldy, as it remains inexplicably moist on the outside. (Perhaps the pack should be frozen after opening, but it's not good enough to bother doing so.) I was even more disappointed with the new, trendy Dr. Cow tree nut cheese. Not only is it pricey, but comes in a tiny container, and tastes like (and has the texture of) a hard miso, if there is such a thing.

I've created my own easy, tasty vegan cheese in a pinch, great for sprinkling over spaghetti, eggplant "parmesan," etc. I simply take a couple handfuls of pine nuts, toast them in a cast iron skillet for a minute, and grind them in a nut grinder. The ground nuts must be stored in the refrigerator, of course, but are tasty enough so that they doesn't last long enough to spoil.

Whole Foods keeps popping up because, although wags often refer to it as Whole Paycheck, its prices on vegetarian foodstuffs is often much cheaper than independent health food stores, and often comparable to prices at food coops, such as Glut. Shocking but true.

* * *

Anyone needing motivation and reason to consider vegetarianism must check out the latest from Audubon magazine, such as the article from local environmental activist Mike Tidwell, The Low-Carbon Diet, and another article in that issue, on the history of vegetarianism.

* * *

More food for thought, in the form of a classic, yet timely song from the Isley Brothers, Harvest for the World.

New (but not improved!)

It's that time, when you're willing to try new things, anything in fact, to start the year off right. Of course, this can be as insignificant as trying a new product, a new food, whatever.

So, when I spied a new Morningstar product, their veggie Italian sausages, I had to try them.

package of Morningstar brand Italian sausage
Unfortunately, the picture on the box is the best that those "sausages" look--so brown and tempting. Taking them out of the package and nuking them led to big disappointment. They contain egg whites, yet when I was done microwaving them, they were crumbly and looked kinda gray--what?!? Not too appealing. Oh, and they don't have much flavor, either.

Much tastier are the veggie Italian "sausages" that I usually buy, such as the Boca brand, widely available in grocery stores. However, my favorite faux Italian sausage comes from the makers of the Tofurkey! Its "sausage" is flavored with sundried tomatoes, is moist, and slightly spicy. Oddly enough, the Tofurkey [Turtle Island brand] products that I've tried, particularly its "deli meats"(the hickory smoked and the peppered slices, in particular) and the sweet Italian "sausage" are extremely delicious, unlike its flagship product, the Tofurkey. What gives?

Perhaps the Tofurkey itself needs a retooling for the new year!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New Year (dogblog edition)

We can only hope that 2009 turns out better than 2008--after all (if you have any funds left), there may be reason to party more, during Obama's inauguration, with the hope that he can inspire cooperation among all sectors of America.

Who knows, perhaps the public's confidence in the President-Elect may lead to the beginning of the easing of the current economic meltdown. Currently, however, the behavior of financial institutions doesn't give cause for optimism. A large local bank [which has had problems with subprime lending] yanked the credit card line of a family friend who has been dutifully paying down the balance, from a large one to a much more manageable size! If banks are denying credit to creditworthy customers, how is the economic crisis supposed to stop? Wasn't the bailout of the financial institutions based on the assumption that they would responsibly loosen credit restrictions, where appropriate?

How is such crazy behavior unlike the following?