Friday, November 27, 2009

Fun With Butter

Today would have been mi abuela’s 100th birthday. She didn’t quite make it and passed away a couple months shy of 98. I still miss her, but at the risk of sounding trite, she’s still with me in a very real way and I’m working to see that the wisdom she passed down to me is passed down to my children as well.

Although she had very little formal education, my grandmother was a smart woman who could not only think on her feet, but had no problem arguing with conventional wisdom. One of the things she credited her long life to was butter. Yes, I said butter. Butter is good for you, she insisted, much better than any margarine, oleo, or other butter substitute. If you’re worried about fat, she insisted, don’t use so much.

Although she didn’t approve, I grew up to become a competent cook. (Grandma didn’t like men in her kitchen. I was thirty before I was allowed to even open the refrigerator at her house). Many cooks will tell you that their secret ingredient is love. Not me, mine is butter. I’m not sure I believe in butter as health-food, but I use it anyway for no other reason than that it tastes better. It turns out though, that she might have been at least partially right.

As I contemplate and strategize to achieve a simpler life, one of the stumbling blocks I came upon was dairy. I know how to make butter and cheese, but it’s unlikely that I’m ever going to own a cow and without raw ingredients, that knowledge is academic. Of course, it’s possible that I might be able to barter for dairy, but then there’s the matter of preservation. So I did some research and this is what I found:


Ghee is clarified butter. It’s made by simmering unsalted butter in a large pot until all of the water has been boiled off and the milk solids have settled to the bottom. The clear-yellow liquid is your clarified butter and is spooned off to avoid disturbing the sediment at the bottom of the pot. You now have ghee which can be stored without refrigeration so long as you keep it in an airtight container and free of moisture. Ghee can be canned, and if you visit a Middle Eastern grocer, you can find pre-canned ghee on the shelves. I haven’t canned any myself, so I don’t know the details yet. I’ll find out though and post the results.

Ghee is composed entirely of saturated fat and some studies have shown that ghee reduces serum cholesterol (LDL). Clarified butter consists of short-chain fatty acids that are metabolized very quickly by the human body. It also has a higher smoke point than regular butter, making it useful for sautéing.

The Fun Part

Ghee, although it may not be called Ghee is used around the world in interesting ways. Niter Kibbeh is a variation used in Ethiopian cuisine. It differs from ordinary ghee in that during the simmering stage, spice like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, or nutmeg are added. The herbs themselves are not included in the finished project. This adds interesting flavors and scents to what might otherwise be a boring dish. There are endless variations and combinations of spices that can be used. I’ve experimented with some and the results have been amazing. It’s even more satisfying when you’ve cut the herbs from your garden just before you add them to the simmering butter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I’m a Luddite and I’m OK

Why would a self-identified Luddite create a blog? That’s a good question and the answer is that I’m not the sort of Luddite that’s opposed to technology simply for the sake of opposing technology. I don’t think that the original Luddites were either. What they and I oppose is technology for the sake of technology at the expense of human beings and their quality of life.

The champions of technology will claim that industrialization and its accoutrements have brought freedom to the common man, allowing him to pursue more noble endeavors. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in most cases that this is their actual intention – or part of it at least, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the collection of profits, but their vision falls as short as state communism when it comes to dealing with people made of flesh and blood. What it’s actually done is reduce an entire species to dependence on the abstraction that is money by making them wage slaves and systematically eliminated their ability and even the knowledge that it is possible to actually sustain their own lives.

Industrialization is built on the precept that human labor is an evil that must be eliminated through the use of machines of, failing that, reduced to a mind-numbing triviality that would be considered abusive were it imposed on monkeys. Why is human labor evil? Because humans expect their labor to fulfill their physical, emotional, and mental needs. This deprives industry of the capital it feels entitled to, and the more proficient human labor is, the more industry relies on these proficiencies, the more capital it is deprived of.

When King Ludd started on his rampage back in the 1800’s, it wasn’t because he didn’t like machines. It was because the people who owned the machines – mechanical looms to begin with – destroyed the value of craft and with it a craftsman’s ability to earn a living. The lifetime a master weaver had spent perfecting his skills and craft was made obsolete, replaced by a machine that was minded by a person without even the skills of an apprentice.

It was argued then and continues to be argued now against those of my ilk that the Master and Journeyman weavers were acting selfishly, solely to protect their own interest and that the benefits – that thousands of unemployable people now had access to jobs that previously didn’t exist and finished goods once available only to the wealthy were now available to everyone. There’s a certain legitimacy to that argument, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Part of the untold story is that it made the common man dependent on money. Where previously subsistence had been possible, if not altogether comfortable, without cash, it has increasingly become an absolute necessity. People who had once produced the bulk of their diet directly were now dependent on wages and deprived of the means of production. The amount of labor required for the common man and his family did not decrease under industrialization, but increased.

The fact of the matter is that not only are human beings supposed to work, but it’s unavoidable. The only question is what kind of work are they going to do: Are they going to work at some trivial task for the sole aim of earning sufficient cash to maintain themselves and their families, or are they going to do work that is meaningful, and that contributes directly to their well being? My position and one that I intend to develop in subsequent postings is that by choosing how we work and what we work on, we can free ourselves from the bonds of money and industrialism.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Beginning

Should anyone ever read this, welcome to my blog. I've created this virtual home on the web hoping to meet and discuss with other intelligent persons matters important to me. What are those matters? Food, sustainability, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, ecology, and technology. That's a pretty wide spectrum, I realize, and maybe too much to bite off at one time, but we'll see how it goes.