Friday, November 02, 2007

Future of Food

Move over Brangelina. The bigger news about who is in bed with whom concerns Monsanto and the U.S. government. You can get the gritty details in the documentary "The Future of Food," an eye-opening, not-to-be-missed expose on genetically-engineered agriculture and government subsidies on par with, if not more in depth than, a Michael Moore film. Saw it last night at Facets Multimedia during the Chicago Humanities Festival on The Climate of Concern. The Future of Food ran double feature with an excellent German film with no dialogue called "Our Daily Bread," a behind-the-scenes look into the modern means by which we get our beef, chicken, pork, olives, salt, and greenhouse vegetables, a film which some have compared with "Koyannasquatsi." It was one of the most dramatic, thought-provoking evenings I have spent in recent history. I highly recommend both films, particularly the former.

The Future of Food film cites that 75 percent of farmers of the world use seed from the previous harvest for next season's planting. According to Monsanto, farmers that do the same with its patented corn, wheat, soy, canola or cotton face stiff fees and civil suits. Even if the gene gets accidentially cross-bred with a farmer's standard crops, the farmer is liable. Mexicans are terrified of finding their diverse array of native corn species fiddled with and their culture destroyed through the threat of a mono-crop Franken-species. Will the family farmer soon be in debt to do serfdom to the chemical lord of their estate? Is this the 21st or the 13th Century?

What does the future hold? Technology is in the works to perfect so-called "suicide seeds" that produce one crop and do not reproduce. Also on the horizon, seeds that do not geminate unless you buy and spray them with a chemical from the same manufacturer who sold you the seeds. So much for solving world hunger through bio-technology.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The web is a place for journal writers to dive in and make creative connections. You might like to check out Wordswimmer, a blog by Bruce Black, who uses water and swimming analogies in his posts about the writing process to inform and amuse web surfers. When there, also discover links to myriad other writing sites, writers and editors blogging, book blogs and author websites.

Check out the post called "Surfing on the Edge" which gives a nod to this site. ◦

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Online Journal Writing Resources

Besides Journal Writing Tips with a Twist, discover other excellent websites and blogs floating out there in the cyperspace blogosphere.

Check out websites such as Annette Lamb's The Topic: Journal Writing and Journal for You, or blogs such as Heather Goldsmith's A Creative Journal.

These sites underscore the great notion that journaling and creative writing ideas can come from everywhere -- unusual visuals -- lists -- overheard conversations -- letters that either can't be answered or are unlikely to be delivered -- life's questions -- wishes, lies and dreams.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Journal Writing at the Poetry Farm

I had my work cut out for me at the Poetry Farm. And I loved it! However, between rising early, hoeing grape vines, helping with dinner and clean-up and, of course, devoting a good block of time to writing poetry, that left only tiny windows of opportunity to note experiences in a journal.

The Poetry Farm is a writers' colony and organic fruit and vegetable farm located in southeast Wisconsin where I spent an unforgettable two-week residency in September.

Back to journaling. Never fear. The list is here. Not laundry lists of errands or things to do, but a bullet-point rundown of memories and prompts to fuel future journal entries and blog posts.

I listed what types of organic produce was grown on the farm. Such as Red Swenson grapes. What books I read. Never realized that Twelfth Night was one of Shakespeare's best and funniest comedies. Which places I visited and people I met. Found Seattle transplants in a hip, little coffee house in Evansville, Wis., and chatted up Australian and New Yorker artists during a local fall open house arts tour featuring four or five towns in the area, including Stoughton, Wis. I kept notes, random images and approaches for food poems, later written and tweaked. And at the end of the day, the night sky replaced Chicago TV, billboards, radio and electronic media, with both my refractor telescope and journal scribblings noting the elegant movements of Mars, Venus and the moon. ◦

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Travel Journals "On Tour" on YouTube

On YouTube, some journal writers who create visual art and travel journals present them in video form without the chatter, simply showing pages of homemade creations through words and images. This reminds me of the old computer game Myst, which showed pages turning before your eyes in a strange, swimming fashion.

An art journal might contain words and pictures that connect ones thoughts and experiences, while a travel journal which also includes art will chart a trip in a memorable, visual fashion using words to fortify the mix. Actually, both YouTube examples I provided links for exemplify art journaling as well as travel journaling.

Can anyone recommend more YouTube videos on art journals or travel journals? If anyone has a special way of incorporating art, maps or photos with words in a journal, I'd like to hear from you. ◦

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stone Soup Meals at the Poetry Farm

Dinner meals were a collective, creative effort at the Poetry Farm, a writer's colony and organic fruit and vegetable farm in Orfordville, Wis, at which I was a resident for two weeks.

Both residents and full-time farmer Henry would trade off cooking, assisting and clean-up duties. It almost became a game to try to come up with elegant meals using mostly what was on hand, fresh from the farm.

In one version of the children's story Stone Soup, a traveler came to a woman's door with a stone and added it to a pot of water she placed on the hearth. He kept telling the woman the soup was good just as is but if she just added a bit of carrot, then butter, turnip and one thing after the other, it would taste so much better. In the end, it was a full, delicious soup.

Being mid-September, pears and many vegetables were in profusion, and the hens had reached a stage of maturity to begin laying eggs on a regular basis.

Resident Ariana (pictured above) created a simple, though luscious fresh pear salad, dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and gorgonzola cheese. Henry graced us twice with a gratin, one vegetarian, one not, using home-grown onions, garlic, carrots, Russian kale, tomatoes and red pepper over penne pasta. I tried whipping up a tomato egg curry from the Moosewood Cookbook, handily available on the kitchen shelf. It included fresh tomatoes, red pepper, garlic and eggs from the farm, with a curry sauce made from a combination of pantry items and served over brown rice.

A taco buffet included many fresh chopped vegetables and a stone soup contained no stone, but used chicken broth as a base continuously heaped with whatever available items we could chop and throw into the pot, including carrots, bell peppers, fresh thyme and basil, onion, garlic, small cut potatoes, shucked corn, a can of black beans and the secret seasonings of white wine, olive oil and butter.

It was particularly fun to make stuffed bell peppers, to find the largest ones from the gardens, clean and blanche them in boiling water for a minute, then see how many layers of ingredients could fit in before each overflowed. I managed to place a small slice of tomato on the floor of each pepper and then continue with sections devoted to brown rice, grated parmesan cheese, and ground beef loaded with chopped onion, garlic, and fresh rosemary and basil. On the larger peppers, I tried to slip a peeled soft-cooked egg in the midst of the beef without breaking.

On the last night, Henry also churned up some homemade ice cream, flavoring with grape syrup made from vineyard grapes which had been previously boiled down and cooled. I never had grape ice cream before. The wine of ice creams!

Although I had brought along an assortment of snacks from home -- goji berries, almonds and cherry pie Larabars -- in case I was hungry, I rarely ate them since the meals were so hearty and satisfying, even when doing four hours of farm work everyday. ◦

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hoeing My Row at the Poetry Farm

Fall is probably my favorite time to write and has turned out to be my annual favorite time to get away from Chicago to do so. I was fortunate enough to spend two productive and rewarding, if not unusual, weeks at a writers' retreat that is beyond comparison with any other. It is the Poetry Farm in Ordfordville, Wis.

Poets Lisa Fishman and Rick Meier, and full-time farmer Henry Morren are your hosts on the 12-acre organic fruit and vegetable farm, set on a rolling hill. I had decided on the Poetry Farm for a number of reasons. I found out about it through a link on the Poetry Foundation website, it is only a 100-mile drive from Chicago, and I wanted to learn more about organic farming and the plants themselves for a manuscript of poems about food which I'm currently working on.

During my stay, I worked four hours each morning alongside Henry and another two-week resident like myself, Ariana Kelly, from Seattle. If we weren't hoeing strawberry rows in preparation for next spring, we were clearing weeds from underneath each apple tree and de-grubbing the lower trunks. And if we weren't hoeing vineyards, I was helping Henry place a new, higher wire along a two-block stretch of one, and training and tying vines onto it. The four-hour Monday through Saturday stints are in exchange for cabin accommodations and includes all meals, if not wine and occasional homemade ice cream.

My "pod" was the cabin in the photo, a type of modular space featured in magazines such as Dwell and one that homeowners might put in their backyards or decks as a studio or office space. Henry and Rick wisely placed four open and close screened windows and a screen door on the "pod," correcting a design flaw on typical models that feature one picture window sheet of glass or plexi in front, which offers a seamless view, but one that could likely roast the occupant on a warm, sunny day. The cabin is furnished with a duvet-covered futon (with extra blankets, comforter and pillows), a large finished wood desk and chair and a small cabinet where I stored candles and snacks.

On a typical day after morning farm duty, I grabbed lunch and a shower in the farm house and made my way back up the hill to an afternoon of writing in the pod. There is neither electricity nor running water in the pod, nor in the "coop" on the other side of the farm or the "loft" in a small barn-like structure behind the farm house. With complete southern exposure, the pod offers tremendous natural light to read and write. With my laptop charged the night before in the farmhouse, I was able to also use that when I was ready to capture or tweak previously handwritten poems.

Nights were more tricky. While one small "nightlight" type lantern is provided, the combination of three candles and a wind-up lantern I brought along with me was sufficient for evening reads. The September air often took on a chill after 9 p.m., so I layered my clothes until it was time to retire. On the more mild nights, I would climb under sheets and a lightweight sleeping bag I opened up as a comforter. On the colder nights, and frost hit on September 15, I zipped up an alternate sleeping bag, my trusty old arctic goosedown mummy, which kept me utterly warm and comfortable. ◦

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Natural summer first-aid kit on the go

Last weekend marked the first summer camp-out for friends and family. Our destination? Central Wisconsin for the annual Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. When camping, I try to pack light, but certain key items that went into my kit definitely came in handy to prevent and soothe a few summery maladies over the weekend.

I brought along a non-Deet natural insect repellent that actually worked out very well. Once each morning and evening, we sprayed down ankles and legs, arms and the back of our necks with a mixture of citronella, bay, cedarwood, lavender, vetivert, patchouli, juniper, tea tree, lemon peel, tansy and goldenseal oils. The only place some critter landed a sizeable bite was on my pinky finger, probably because I washed my hands a lot and rinsed off the repellent.

My son wasn't as lucky. A spider nabbed him on the back of his thigh during the night in his tent. Never fear. A small tube of homeopathic sting gel was at the ready. He applied it to his leg with much relief. As small as the bite on my pinky finger was, it seemed to cry out like a banshee for attention on the way home. All was calm, however, after the application of the water-based gel that contains homeopathic doses of echinacea, ledum and urtica.

I also brought along aloe vera gel in case anyone wasn't liberal enough with sunscreen, got burned and needed treatment. Fortunately, little damage was rendered. In addition, rich melanine reinforcements were also on duty in the complexions of my Mexican husband and Mexo-European son.

It's often hard to sleep in strange surroundings, so I brought along Valerian herb caps in case someone couldn't sleep. But after a long day which started with an early rise, a propane stove prepared breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and tea, a full schedule of lectures to attend under the myriad tents of the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, and an evening of cooking, dining, cleaning and fun events like a drum circle and a little stargazing, we were out like lights for the most part.

I awoke with a headache and stiff neck one morning -- sleeping bags aren't always blissful on the bone structure. I had brought along aspirin, but my husband first wanted to try smoothing Bach's Rescue Remedy cream onto the back of my neck. The pain drifted off immediately. I could almost picture the pain's phantom rise off my shoulders. Strange, and beautifully blissful. ◦

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Solar Energy for Foodies

The sun shines on the just and the unjust, the foodie and those who masticate the unpalatable. Thus, solar energy is there for the taking for all of us, if we only make good use of it, for example, to cut down on our reliance on fossil fuels.

I just returned from the annual Midwest Renewable Energy Fair near Stevens Point, Wis. and focused my attention mainly on food, its preservation and preparation. A remarkable woman, Larisa Walk, actually lives year-round without a refrigerator.

She made two presentations I attended, one which included the use of solar energy to dry food and the other on root cellaring. Using simple items like corrugated steel roofing and window screens, Walk demonstrated how to create your own easy, breezy solar dehydration system. Nearly any fruit or vegetable can be dried using this contraption, which includes a black shield (be it cloth or painted metal) that prevents the food from being bleached and/or cooked instead of dried. Dried kale and spinach comes out crispy and can be reconstituted in soups in stews. Fruits end up more leathery than dried. Everything keeps for about a year if kept in glass jars.

At the root cellaring program, Walk presented the interesting notion that coolers ordinarily used for cookouts and camping can convert to mini root cellars come fall and winter. Carrots supposedly keep very well in coolers. I'm personally looking forward to using it myself as I have a patch of purple carrots now growing in my backyard. Butternut squash is a good long-term keeper that requires 50-60 degree conditions in a cool, dry place -- versus acorn squash which tends to spoil much faster.

Luckily, I attended part of a children's workshop on solar ovens, which gave me the remedial level info I needed to get started. The shiny, multi-sided solar oven catches sunlight and directs it to the uncooked food placed in the center of the contraption. Best bet is to use an aluminum pie plate to hold the food then tuck it into a plastic bag or cooking bag to speed cooking time and retain moisture, if necessary. Once home, I combed the web for a beginner-style solar oven -- and nabbed one for $40 or so from Edmund Scientific, a company I used to buy my chemistry-set chemicals from when I was science nerd back in elementary school days. I figured if they were still in business after all these years, I owed them my repeat business. Looking forward to seeing how the solar oven works out on my very hot and sunny deck located on the southwest corner of my house. ◦

Monday, May 14, 2007

I Never Saw a Purple Carrot

I had never heard of purple carrots until I visited a site based in the UK called the Carrot Museum. These carrots are purple on the outside and orange in the middle. Much to my surprise, it turns out that the original, wild carrots are, in fact, purple. The Dutch had bred carrots to be completely orange to complement the House of Orange, whatever that institution was.

I found seeds for purple carrots at Jung Seeds, a Wisconsin-based mail order company which specializes in organic plant materials. So not only did I order purple carrot seeds, but also white (Edelweiss), red (Swenson Red) and purple (Fredonia) grape plants for the newly built grape arbor in my backyard. After I saw ready-made arbors for $1,000-plus, I decided to jerry-rig my own using two assemble-it-yourself Tuesday Morning $39.95 on-sale trellises and roof them with a spare piece of raw lattice. Voila! Supposedly, grapes take about three years to go into full production. Here goes nothing!

Read my poem about Volcanic Vegetables: Carrots at the Carrot Museum! ◦

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

When You Run into an Old Friend

Suppose you run into an old friend. I mean someone whom you haven't seen for five, 10, 15 or more years. Where do you begin? Beyond filling in your friend on the details of your marital status, number of children and current job, what else would you tell this once-upon-a-time special person? Suppose you were able to have lunch together and really catch up. What would you talk about?

This is an excellent journal writing tool. Besides running through your list of current hobbies, volunteer work or the blow-by-blow fate of those whom you both know, what would you tell this person about your accomplishments, failures, wishes, dreams? What has happened to you or has changed you since you last met? What are you doing now that the other person would never have dreamed you'd be doing, for better or for worse? What was common behavior back when that is totally not you anymore?

By writing down this imaginary meeting, you will actually be able to catch up with yourself. Those dreams and wishes you hope to pursue may become within reach now that you have them down on paper. While we think we live in the present moment, many of us can dwell on the past or the future. A meeting with an "old friend" can give you a much clearer picture of where you stand today. ◦

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Greatest Dancers of 21st Century

Both my husband, Carlos, and I have had strong exposure to dance and are big fans of a variety of dance -- whether classical, popular, tribal or ethnic. I have been fortunate to have attended seven years of ballet and tap class as a girl, and taken subsequent lessons in modern, Irish stepdancing, Brazilian dance and soon -- bellydancing. I was also managing editor for an independent dance magazine for awhile, Salome, and was able to attend countless dance performances, to see many emerging dance as well as world famous dance companies. Carlos worked in a public relations and office management capacity at the MoMing Dance Company in Chicago for a couple of years, and also has attended many performances. But we don't always agree on everything.

I was somewhat crestfallen that I had been born too late to have seen the great Vaslav Nijinsky dance. Instead, I have probably read five or six books on his life, his biography, was one-time owner of the fabulous coffee table book "Nijinsky Dancing," (which I regretfully sold when I was hard up for cash) and have written a poem about his life that appears in my chapbook "Private, On Purpose." Nijinsky was considered by many to be the greatest dancer of the 20th century.

I tried to attend the performances of other ballet dancers who might have reached his equivalent. I saw Rudolph Nureyev perform "Afternoon of a Faun" -- a Nijinsky classic, as well as other pieces. He was wonderful, but Nureyev was close to the end of his career and could no longer do the great leaps which I heard he could accomplish in his youth.

Later, I was able to see Mikhail Baryshnikov perform classic as well as modern ballet, i.e. Twyla Tharp's "Push Comes to Shove" and was astounded by his abilities. Perhaps he may not have had the style and emotion of Nijinsky, he certainly had the tremendous leaps, strength and finesse that Nijinsky was known for. So I have placed Baryshnikov on my list of best dancers of the 20th century.

Another 20th century favorite is Michael Flatley of Riverdance fame, who put Irish stepdancing and nearly the country of Ireland back on the map again. His jawdropping talent always kept me spellbound.

Sadly, both Baryshnikov and Flatley are at the end of their careers. Too bad dancers don't have the artistic span of painters or poets!

Now, on to the best dancers of the 21st century! I actually saw them in off-the-beat-path Chicago neighborhood venues, which are sometimes where the best entertainment and art in the area can be found. You may not have heard of either of the dancers I will mention, but you will -- or you should!

Both my husband Carlos and I agree on this! Juan Ogalla, flamenco dancer from Spain is attractive, richly talented, with every move perfect and wrought with emotion. He lives the music and you just know he lives to dance. I couldn't believe I was actually watching his performance at Northeastern Illinois University.

I know my list so far is strictly male. Can I help it if I am partial to male dancers? But a female now enters the list. For my birthday, my husband not only gave me the bellydancing lessons I was hoping for, but surprised me by taking me to a bellydancing revue of about 15 dancers from the Midwest and beyond, staged at the unlikely venue of the Northside College Prep High School auditorium.

The star of the show was San Francisco-based Rachel Brice -- who actually moves as sinuously as a snake, as if she had no hard or angular joints in her body whatsoever. Carlos and I and the other couple we were with could not take our eyes off her. Instead of a snake charmer charming the snake, the snake-like Brice charmed and mesmerized the entire audience of 500. She, like Ogalla, seems to truly live her dance and is likely the most flexible, rhythmic, and at one-with-the-music dancer I have ever seen.

Dance world -- with Ogalla and Brice around, you have a lot of catching up to do! And Carlos actually agrees with me! ◦

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Spiritual Bathing

It's hard to imagine that such a peaceful, reflective New Year's Day started with gunfire in the alley at midnight. But that's life in Chicago for you. My husband and I slept as late as we could, which turned out to be only around 8:45 in the morning. I padded downstairs to discover two of my son's friends spread out sleeping on our living room couches, with the my son in the guest room. After attending their assortment of New Year's Eve parties around town, the boys met up and ended their evening at our house, keeping fairly quiet eating samosas and watching a dvd until daybreak.

I started the year making a four-fruit smoothie, cleaning out the refrigerator of fruit -- banana, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, along with rice milk, flax seed and lecithin. Ah, good. Carlos drank the glassful of juice in the fridge which I had created in the juicer the night before -- beets, carrots, celery and red pepper. Breakfast done, we ran off to another good start of the year, a visit to the gym. Carlos did an hour of various cardio machines and I took a yoga class. When we got back the boys were up, huddled around the computer, watching random you-tube clips. A ZZ-Top look-a-like wino sang "Like a Rhinestone Cowboy" on the streets of an undisclosed Arkansas city.

The afternoon brought "spiritual baths" for Carlos and me. We both had read the book, "Spiritual Bathing" which inspired Carlos to make a little ritual for ourselves. We used the homemade evergreen bath salts of a neighbor woman and a CD of chakra chants we bought the other day at the cool "Chakra Shop" on Lincoln Avenue, run by the friendly, welcoming Blanche Blacke. Blanche is a woman we met last summer at the medieval puppet show she put on in a local park.

Carlos and I each, in succession, filled the tub with hot water, tossed in handfuls of the salts, lit candles, sipped ginger tea and lemon water and listened to and reflected on the chants that marked each of the seven chakras. Carlos also segued his experience into Eric Satie piano music.

As a result of our recent visit to the Chakra Shop and discussions with Ms. Blacke, Carlos looked to the first chakra for grounding, and I at the fifth chakra for verbal expression and my throat, which tends t get a little raspy from allergies. At the yogas class earlier today and in my spiritual bath, I reflected on the new year, where I might want it to go and what I feel God expects of me. I want to be more outgoing and friendly, and to let my next creative effort flow in its own best direction, according to God's leading. Sometimes, I can get so focused on writing and projects, I don't often take enough time to just chit-chat and get to know others better. When I'm on vacation, I have no problem doing this. But back in the city, I feel time is of the essence. It is, but don't we all have lots of it to make precious and full? ◦