Now It’s Drone Bees

I recently read a news report that Walmart is investigating the use of drones in pollinating agricultural crops.[1] That just about knocked me out of my chair, but then, on reflection, I saw the Walmart dream: total control of our food supply.

Granted, the bee die-offs are a serious problem for farmers, a result—according to most experts—of our love affair with poisoning our food. You see, spraying herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides on our crops to kill off pests like, well, anything that hurts the crop, also kills off the bees. Without pollination that bees perform so expertly, we’ll have no food.

How clever of Walmart to attempt some redress of this terrible problem! Their concept is to enlist drones with “sticky material or bristles” to spread pollen as they move from plant to plant.  Of course the elephant in the room is the obvious question: if poisons used in agriculture are killing the bees, what are they doing to us?

Already we’ve heard—and mostly ignored—reports that frogs and other amphibians are experiencing reproductive deformities[2] due to environmental pollutants like Round-up’s glyphosate, now banned in Europe, and atrazine which is applied to tens of millions of acres of corn grown in the United States, making it one of the world’s most widely used agricultural chemicals. A powerful, low-cost herbicide, atrazine is also the subject of persistent controversy.[3]

“Atrazine demasculinizes male gonads producing testicular lesions associated with reduced germ cell numbers in teleost fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, and induces partial and/or complete feminization in fish, amphibians, and reptiles,” according to years of study by scientist Tyrone Hayes whose reports on his research are the target of relentless attacks by atrazine’s primary manufacturer, Syngenta.[4]

Atrazine is just one of many chemicals in wide use across the United States known as endocrine disrupters, “shown to disrupt reproductive and sexual development, and these effects seem to depend on several factors, including gender, age, diet, and occupation… Human fetuses, infants and children show greater susceptibility than adults… in diseases such as cancer, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive disorders.”[5]

Then there are the hundreds of other chemical cocktails we are forced to routinely ingest not only in our food but also in our drinking water. Tens of thousands of chemicals are released into the environment in products ranging from shampoo to toilet bowl cleaner, few if any of which have been tested for potential harmful effects on human health and which, at last count, only a handful are tested for or removed from drinking water supplies. Not that anyone has any idea how to remove them from the water. This is part of the don’t ask, don’t tell philosophy of the chemical industry which is not required by law to test human health effects unless and until some harm is proven.

Europe, more intelligently, requires testing to prove no harm before new chemicals can be used. What a concept.

It’s such a downer to the chemical and agricultural corporations that someone might want to avoid cancer, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive disorders. What a hero Walmart will be for its clever solution to the bee die-off, allowing for continuing and possibly increasing chemical poisoning of our food supply through the use of drones! According to the report, its grocery business will be “aided by farm-related drones, which could be used to pollinate crops, monitor fields for pests, and spray pesticides.”

If we could believe for one second that Walmart’s concern is the nourishment of Americans, we might also be sold a bridge somewhere in Manhattan. We already know from years of experience with this corporation that its objective, at least since ole Sam Walton died and left the biz to his greedy kids, is only the bottom line. Squeeze producers to make the cheapest possible product. Eliminate warehousers and trucking firms. Pay employees wages so low they qualify for food stamps. Pocket the difference, a method that propels these money grubbers to the top of the wealth lists and gives them extra spending money to proclaim their ‘generosity’ with projects like Crystal Bridges.

They care nothing about American jobs. Sam was eager to advertise that his products were made in American. His body had hardly cooled when the kids were over there making deals in China. It’s hard to find any product in Walmart today that’s made in America.

Or customer service. They can’t work fast enough to eliminate those damn middle management jobs like department supervisors. If the computer models show that a particular inventory item isn’t the very best selling product, the motto is to shit-can the damn thing. It doesn’t matter if people have been purchasing that product at Walmart for the last twenty years. Thus was the case last week when I rushed in to purchase a battery for my camera, already late for a photo-shoot appointment for a book I’m working on, only to discover that Walmart has eliminated its camera department.

Then there’s the Williams seasoning mixes we’ve relied on for chili, tacos, and spaghetti, now swept from the shelves because Walmart is rolling out its store brand seasoning mixes. Okay, now if you really want to set my hair on fire, this is the right topic. How many times have you or I visited Walmart for a particular brand-name product that we especially enjoy only to discover its shelf area filled with Walmart’s Great Value brand. I wrote the corporate CEO: “First, let me say that I’d rather live the rest of my life without chili than to buy a brand I’m being coerced to buy.”

Do I have to tell you there was no response? Oh, and by the way, there’s no online email complaint method and in order to get the snail-mail address for the CEO, you have to spend an hour dodging through multiple departments who are trained, probably on threat of death, to take your complaint and “deliver the message.” Or to direct you to the store where you encountered your problem…

Then there’s the total incompetence of Walmart’s grocery buyers who don’t know the difference between a sliced almond and a slivered almond. Since last October, Walmart stores have had only sliced almonds. Big fat bags of sliced almonds. Great Value brand, of course.

The point is, if Walmart has no idea what it’s doing with almond inventory and no sense of patriotism about supporting American industry and no honor or reliability in customer service, then what will they do to our food supply? Already we can see a hint of how that will go with their careful bait and switch methods in supplanting traditional brands with their store brands. Once they’ve got their thumb in the pie from crops on up to the shelves, we’ll be completely at their mercy.

Yes, I’ve shopped other stores. But so many of us haven’t that the other stores have one by one folded up shop and drifted into shadow. There’s no local stationery store, unless you want to call Office Depot by that name. Which they’re not. They’re as bad or worse than Walmart. No nice little note cards on thick vellum paper. Now even the standard four-squares per inch graph pads have been supplanted by the smaller five per inch, no doubt some efficiency expert’s idea of customer service. Where is McRoy-McNair with their dusty basement of old colored paper and clasp envelopes in every conceivable size?

For years I’ve made it a point to buy everything I can from anyone but Walmart. This year I’ll be especially interested in farmers’ markets in the area where I live in order to support local farmers doing things the old fashioned way. I’ll be growing my own tomatoes, peppers, squash, and niceties like dill, thyme, sage, and basil. I live in the woods where there’s still a modest bee population, and I’m planting more bee-friendly flowers like lavender, rhododendron, California Lilac, and for my cats and the bees late into autumn, catnip.[6]

It’s dangerously late in this game when they start using drones to replace bees.

~~~

[1] “Walmart imagines drone-aided farming,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sunday Mar 25, 2018. 1G

[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2002/12/pesticide-cocktail-amplifies-frog-deformities

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137807/

[4] https://www.sott.net/article/317851-Biologist-targeted-for-exposing-the-gender-bending-pesticide-Atrazine-poisoning-America

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138025/

[6] Big list at http://beefriendly.ca/25-plants-for-bees-in-your-garden/

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What About Cherry Pie?

I love cherry pie. Baking cherry pie as a must-have part of family tradition goes back at least as far as my maternal grandmother and the early 20th century. For the last few years, I’ve skipped the cherry pie not out of intent but out of convenience. With the kids grown and my waistline growing, baking for the holidays has become a questionable activity.

This year I really wanted a cherry pie. So I looked for cherries. Not the fat sweet fruit that can be found canned, frozen, or in the fresh fruit department, but those tart cherries that produce such a fabulous flavor when paired with delicate pastry crust. Yum!

After searching my regular grocery stores, I realized there must be a cherry Grinch out there. Not only were there no tart cherries frozen, canned, or otherwise, there weren’t any empty places on the shelves where they might have been. What is going on?

[For the record, canned cherry ‘pie filling’ is so far off the mark that I refuse to take it into consideration. Mostly sugar and cornstarch, these fillings are no substitute for the real thing.]

I searched online and discovered that for a mere $76.60, I can order five pounds of frozen tart cherries. That’s right—a staggering $15.32 per pound. Plus shipping. Other sources offered slightly better deals. Organic tart cherries, 4.5 pounds for $69.89. Three 24-ounce jars of cherries for $51.95. Or my old standby brand of canned tart cherries, Oregon, only $4.31 per 14.5 ounce can. Plus $8 shipping.

That brings a nine-inch pie, which requires a minimum of two cans, coming in at a cost of $16.60 for the cherries alone.

I’m priced out of my pie!

More research starts to reveal some basic truths. A few years ago, some genius discovered that tart cherries offer all kinds of health benefits including the big headliner, antioxidant effects. A plethora of publications heralded the news, such as an article in Men’s Health citing a study published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In the study, mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms were fed cherry extract, fish oil, and emu oil. Mice running on tart cherry extract performed better on cognitive tests like object recognition than did the control group.[1]

The kicker bit of that study revealed that tart cherry juice performed better in reducing high blood pressure than expensive medications!

No wonder the price of cherries has gone through the roof. They’re in demand as a juice (32 ounces of organic juice for $18.99 from one source) as well as a nutritional supplement (200 capsules of tart cherry 4:1 extract from 300 milligrams and mixed with rice powder—for $11.21).

What is the curious tree at the center of this health versus culinary pleasures conflict?

Prunus cerasus (sour cherry, tart cherry, or dwarf cherry) is a species of Prunus in the subgenus Cerasus (cherries), native to much of Europe and southwest Asia. It is closely related to the sweet cherry (Prunus avium), but has a fruit that is more acidic.

The tree is smaller than the sweet cherry (growing to a height of 4–10 m), has twiggy branches, and its crimson-to-near-black cherries are borne upon shorter stalks. There are several varieties of the sour cherry: the dark-red morello cherry and the lighter-red varieties including the amarelle cherry, and the popular Montmorency cherry. The Montmorency cherry is the most popular type of sour cherry. The reason for its popularity is its use in baking and recipe creation including cherry pies, cherry desserts and other cherry-based recipes.

Well, maybe not so much anymore, now that the harvest is almost entirely devoted to diversions like cherry juice and cherry nutritional supplements.

The fruit’s discovery and popularity dates back to the Romans:

The history of the ‘Montmorency’ tart cherry extends back to ancient Rome. The Romans are credited with discovering this tiny red fruit along the Black Sea in Asia Minor. After Roman legionnaires discovered the tart cherries, they carried them with them and introduced them to the rest of Roman territory. They planted cherry trees alongside Roman roads and soldiers used the fruit for food and the wood to build weapons and repair equipment.[2]

Seems the Romans knew a good thing when they saw it.

The problem isn’t just that newly discovered health benefits have cornered the cherry market. The sour cherry tree likes cooler climates, so much of the domestic crop in the United States grows across the upper regions of the country. And that, according to one farmer’s account as stated in a 2017 report on National Public Radio, is key to my lack of a cherry pie.

The tree is “very cold hardy” in the dead of winter, he says, and grows well in the state. But it is susceptible to damage from spring frost, making it very sensitive to the extreme weather shifts made more likely by climate change… In 2002 and 2012, freezing spring temperatures wiped out almost the entire tart cherry crop here [in Michigan].[3]

Farmers faced with this problem point to efforts underway since the 1980s to produce a new strain of sour cherry tree that would be more forgiving of weather anomalies, but such developments take a long term of trial and error. The farmer quoted in this article questions whether the Montmorency will still be around in fifty years.

Also suffering the effects of climate change, bee populations needed for cherry tree pollination have plunged, forcing many cherry farmers to make extreme efforts to sustain their own bee colonies.

Sadly, many farmers refuse to consider climate change as a factor in their troubles with sour cherry production and thus a potentially powerful lobbying voice is not yet making enough noise for the government to pay attention.

Even if the government turned massive attention and resources to this issue, it’s questionable whether anything can be done. At best estimates, the current rate of climate change won’t be changed any time soon. But there is hope, although I wonder if it will come in time for sour cherries.

We emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide when we burn fossil fuels like coal—or when the cattle that get turned into burgers fart. When those emissions enter the atmosphere, they trap the sun’s heat, warming the planet. It’s basic physics. The increased heat can become catastrophic by melting the polar ice caps, raising sea levels, and creating weather patterns that are less predictable, more volatile, and more dangerous. Because we’ve been warming the planet this way since the early days of the industrial revolution, we can’t completely avoid the effects of climate change. But by lowering our emissions now, we can avoid the worst effects.[4]

The article goes on to describe a few key changes individuals can make in life choices that will strongly impact climate change including having fewer children and cutting way back on meat consumption. Uh huh.

At my age, I won’t live long enough to see the worst of climate change or the ultimate fate of my beloved tart cherries. That’s just one of many regrets facing me and everyone else as we grow older. But I may experiment with dried cherries to see if rehydrating produces a decent pie. The least expensive source I’ve found offers a one-pound bag for $11.99.[5]

Here’s a recipe I’m going to try, assuming I can afford the shipping:

  • 3 c. dried cherries
  • 3 c. boiling water – some recipes suggest cherry juice instead of water
  • ¼ c. cornstarch
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. almond extract or ⅛ tsp. lemon juice (alternatively, try brandy or Amaretto)

Cover cherries with boiling water, cover and let soak for 30 minutes. Turn burner on medium, simmer and add sugar and flour to thicken. Remove from heat, add almond extract. Pour into prepared pie crust and add top crust. Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.[6]

I’ll let you know if it’s worth the effort.

~~~

[1] https://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/what-to-eat/5-health-benefits-tart-cherries

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montmorency_cherry

[3] https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/04/07/523004370/michigans-tart-cherry-orchards-struggle-to-cope-with-erratic-spring-weather

[4] Excellent article “How You Can Actually Help Stop Climate Change” by Kendra Pierre-Louis, published July 12, 2017, in Popular Science magazine. https://www.popsci.com/how-to-stop-climate-change

[5] https://nuts.com/driedfruit/cherries/sour-tart.html

[6] Adapted from https://www.justapinch.com/recipes/dessert/pie/homemade-cherry-pie-filling.html

Humbug Fancy Food

Personal secret: I’m a purist when it comes to food. Simple basic food, unlike the horror I saw recently where someone wanted to dress up avocado with a coating. For god’s sake, people. Avocado needs nothing but salt!

Take green beans. People go to a lot of trouble to serve green beans—green bean casserole, stir-fry green beans, battered and fried green beans. Well, what’s wrong with just plain green beans? A little salt, cook them tender, voila! Yum.

Then there’s the simple chicken breast. Recipes abound for chicken breast stuffed with cheese, or sausage, or breading. Or for chicken breast coated in this or that, or draped in creamy sauces. What is wrong with a simple chicken breast? Buy it with skin and bone, set it in a baking dish skin side up, sprinkle with seasoning (I prefer Nature’s Seasons by Morton), cover with foil and bake at 425 degrees until completely tender (two hours). The skin comes out crisp, the meat flaky and savory. Delicious.

I have no patience with fancy setups where a tiny portion of something is stacked on top of another tiny portion of something, then some puree on top with a sprig of something else on top of that. It’s like gilding the lily.

And why go to all the trouble for scalloped potatoes–slice potatoes, cut onions, heat milk, and carefully position all that into a baking dish you’ll have to scrub later–when you can just wrap a baking potato in foil, pop it in the oven, and have a wonderful baked potato in less time?

Even with soup, I keep to the basics – vegetable soup is celery, carrot, and onion sautéed then a bit of garlic, canned tomatoes, and water. An hour later, potatoes. That’s it except for salt and pepper, and yes, you can add more if you absolutely will freak out if you don’t make it more complicated, but really, it’s about the heart-warming broth that develops over the two-plus hours of slow cook time.

Want beef? Chuck roast is the perfect choice. Grab that slab of meat, sear both sides, add water, onion, garlic, and a bay leaf, then walk away for a few hours. That’s food for several hungry friends or your entire week.

Holidays are no exception to my ‘keep it simple’ rule. Gotta have turkey? Don’t bother with stuffing. Make some cornbread. When cooled, crumble it into a large bowl and set aside. Saute celery and onion, add some garlic, sage, and poultry seasoning then pour in a couple of cups of chicken broth. Simmer until celery is tender, then pour over crumbled cornbread, stir in an egg or two, and bake covered. Tastes fantastic with the turkey.

I get that for a lot of people, cooking is a therapeutic process and the more steps involved, the more therapeutic. For me, the more steps involved, the LESS therapeutic. What is therapeutic for me is ending my hunger, which is the purpose of food, and I find no pleasure in making it take longer or cost more than necessary.

Before I go further, let me confess that this piece of writing is about all the reasons you should rush out and buy my book of recipes. Good quality food doesn’t need sauce to make it tasty. Basic food is good, cheap, easy, and we should eat more of it. That was the idea behind my three-year adventure in operating a café and the subsequent book Recipes of Trailside Café and Tea Room. Yes, there are a few somewhat complicated recipes in there, like the Ribs ‘n’ Kraut. Like Chicken & Dumplings. And don’t get me wrong—the flavors of these specials will knock you off your feet.

But those are kind of special occasion meals, not your fundamental keep-from-starving approach to daily food. Even my peach cobbler recipe I offer with mixed feelings, because WHY MESS UP A GOOD PEACH? I excuse myself by pointing out that most of the year, fresh peaches aren’t available and in that case, it’s permissible to use frozen peaches to create this mouth-watering treat. 

And tea sandwiches—what is a better mid-afternoon snack than a tiny sandwich trimmed of its crust? Take the basic boiled egg, smash it with a bit of mayo, add salt and pepper, then spread on some GOOD QUALITY white bread that’s been lightly buttered. My book has an entire chapter devoted to quick, easy tea sandwiches.

I wanted to share my Humbug Fancy Food opinion because, like life, food doesn’t have to be complicated. You can thank me right after I finish my morning cup of first flush Darjeeling tea. No sugar. No milk. No lemon.

~~~

For all my books, visit my Amazon author page or, if you live near Fayetteville, Arkansas, stop by Nightbird Books on Dickson Street.

Books Make Easy, Long-Lasting Gifts


Shameless self promotion can’t be avoided when authors have books to sell. While you’ve still got time to receive an Amazon order — or for that matter, time to order through your local bookstore and give them a piece of the pie, here are a few for your consideration.

Shown above: The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys

Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley. Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, aims his Spencer rifle, and sends Bud to a well-earned grave.

The death of Bud surely grieved his father. But before the curtains closed on these descendants of J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland in 1890, two other sons and a grandson would die a violent death while yet another grandson serves hard time for murder.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and bad luck.

Paperback https://www.amazon.com/dp/1977779379

~~~

Serving everything from pita to peach cobbler, Trailside Café and Tea Room became a favorite destination for the few years of its existence. Plate lunches of Pot Roast or Ribs ‘n’ Kraut became overnight hits. Now with a new section on Sandwiches, and a greatly expanded last chapter including many more family recipes sure to be a hit in anyone’s kitchen, Recipes of Trailside Café and Tea Room offers the ‘how-to’ for delicious soups like Split Pea or Potato Leek, hearty salads including Wilted Lettuce, and scrumptious desserts like Lime Pie and the famous Brown Butter Cookies. Over 200 recipes for easy, down home food.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1492137405

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/371323

~~~

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along

its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair. A thorough compendium of the county’s 19th century years.

Paperback only  https://www.amazon.com/dp/154427663X

 

Food for the Holidays!

cake

A holiday treat might include a big slab of delicious cake with that hot cup of tea. Here’s an easy recipe that’s become one of my family favorites!

Applesauce Cake

2 ½ cups flour
1 ¾ cups sugar, or 1 cup sugar and ¾ cup honey
1 ½ teaspoon soda
1 ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon allspice
1 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce
½ cup hot water (⅓ c if using honey)
½ cup shortening
2 eggs at room temperature
Optional: 1 cup raisins and ½ cup chopped English walnuts

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour baking pan, either 13x9x2 or 2 round layers 8 or 9 x1½ inches.
Measure wet ingredients into bowl and mix thoroughly. If eggs or water are cold, the shortening won’t blend well. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed until well blended, then increase mixer speed and beat three minutes. Pour into pans.
Bake oblong 60-65 minutes, layers 50-55 minutes, until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
When cake has cooled, frost with Penuche Icing.

Penuche Icing

½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup milk
2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Stir in brown sugar. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir over low heat 2 minutes. Stir in milk. Heat to boiling, then remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Stir in confectioners’ sugar then beat with mixer until fully smooth and of spreading consistency. If frosting becomes too stiff, heat slightly while stirring.

For this and many more wonderful recipes, check out my cookbook “Recipes of Trailside Cafe and Tea Room”

Available at AMAZON and SMASHWORDS (all formats)