Leek and Potato Soup

Canned Soup Stock

Canned Soup Stock

LAKE MACBRIDE— Leeks at the grocery store looked particularly good so I bought one to make leek and potato soup. Leeks make incredible soup stock, so I always look forward to this once or twice a year meal.

The ingredients for leek and potato soup are simple:


One large onion
Half cup diced celery (garden grown if you have it)
Three carrots peeled and cut into large chunks
Top of one leek rough chopped. Cut it just below where the leaves start to fan out. Be sure to get the dirt out from between the leaves.
Two bay leaves
Salt to taste
Eight cups of water


Aforementioned stock
One lunch bag full of potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
Remaining leek halved lengthwise and cut into thin ribbons and cleaned
Two celery stalks, medium dice
Two cups frozen cut corn

Partly this list is a lie. Some would skip the stock, boil the potatoes separately, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid. Saute the celery and leeks in a Dutch oven and add the cooked potatoes, corn, potato water and milk (evaporated, cream, or whatever) to cover. Heat slowly until fully warmed, but don’t scald the milk. Serve with freshly baked biscuits.

There is another way. Place the soup stock ingredients in a Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until it’s soup. Strain the vegetables out, and put the stock back into the Dutch oven. Add the potatoes and leeks and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender and add the corn. Re-season. Bring the pot to temperature and serve with oyster crackers or freshly baked biscuits.

There are other ways to make this soup. The point of the story and recipe is that the leeks at the store looked good. I did something about that.

We have gotten too far from the natural instinct of creating from our found environment. Yes, the leeks may not have been grown in Iowa. The soup I made from them was, and that makes it local food.

A meal that was filling and tasty by any definition, cooked once or twice a year when the leeks look good in the store is culture that escapes us too often. Life is too short to let that happen.

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Meeting at the Cemetery

Rural Cemetery

Rural Cemetery

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP— There was trouble last night at the cemetery, the first such trouble since I was elected township trustee.

It had to do with who could be buried in whose plot, and the trustee who coordinates plot sales and burials wanted to discuss the issue. The funeral is Friday, so no time for dalliance. We are meeting at 8:30 a.m.

Two years into my term, being a township trustee has provided a steady stream of learning about our community. There has been time to consider things, and almost no controversy—just repeated expression of wills about what should get done and how. Any conflicts that surfaced were quickly resolved.

I’m confident we will figure this one out.

Yesterday it was shown that Mary Landrieu did have 59 votes to proceed on Keystone XL, and that’s all she had. The bill overriding the executive process on evaluation and approval of the project now goes into the dustbin of the 113th Congress. It likely will be back next congress.

I spent part of the last two days transcribing testimony to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide particularly.

“I began my career as a summer intern at EPA 42 years ago under what has euphemistically become known as Russell House One,” Dianne Dillon Ridgely said. “I was a 19-year old kid. And what is most dramatic is much of what we addressed that summer—in terms of air pollution, in terms of the public’s engagement on power production—are exactly the same things, particularly in terms of coal, that we are still addressing and fighting 42 years later, and to me that is really a sad commentary.”

Ridgley is a 42-year veteran of governmental action (or inaction) on clean air and clean water, having been appointed by Presidents Clinton, Bush 41 and Bush 43 to international delegations to address environmental issues. We’re still addressing them. There is hope the EPA’s actions won’t be blocked by the 114th Congress, something the presumed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated is high on his to-do list. Time will tell, but I believe we are on the right side of history regardless of what the Congress does.

My last workday at the local paper was Sunday. It will feel a little weird to be able to focus on my writing on the weekends instead of proof reading the paper. The bucket of part time paid jobs is down to three, and one of those is finished the second week in December. When the number surged to eight last summer, it was too much to juggle. Having found a bottom, the goal for next year is to keep what remains, and use it as a base. In addition, I will seek paid writing jobs and temporary positions and opportunities that can add a few C-notes to the treasury each month. What remains is that I work to support my ability to write.

Hope against hope, I want to get out in the yard and mulch the leaves, and shorten the grass. For that to happen, the snow needs to melt, the yard dry out, and half a day of warmer temperatures roll in. In these days of crazy weather, that is possible, however improbable. That’s where this Wednesday finds me.

Posted in Work Life, Writing | Tagged , , , ,

Snow Came

Snow Cover

Snow Cover

LAKE MACBRIDE— The first snowfall precipitates the innate idiocy of people who forget, or refuse to recall that it gets slippery when snow falls on the roadway. Coming across Mehaffey Bridge Road after a shift at the warehouse, a long lineup of cars was stopped with headlights on. Two cars were in the ditch with the sheriff nearby. I hope no one was hurt.

A snowplow came in the oncoming lane dropping sand and salt, so three of us jumped over and drove around the obstruction. If nothing else, I am a confident winter driver, having weathered all kinds of conditions in the U.S. and in Germany.

Crops are still in the field, but other than that, we needed the moisture. It’s still snowing.

The kale in the garden looks green from the house, but this may be the end of it. Part of tomorrow will be checking it for edibility. There are also vegetables going bad in the fridge, and those will go to compost when I check the kale. The growing season may officially be over.

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Keystone XL — Bright Shiny Object

Dave Loebsack

Dave Loebsack Voted for Keystone XL

LAKE MACBRIDE— Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill directing the federal government to move forward on the Keystone XL pipeline on a 252-161 vote. It was less than the number of votes needed to override a presidential veto, but Barack Obama has been holding his cards close to the chest on Keystone. What he would do if a bill reached his desk is uncertain.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. Senate scheduled a vote on the bill for Tuesday, and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) believes there are already 59 of 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster when the vote comes up. If the senate can get past a filibuster, the bill’s passage is assured, although getting 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto is less certain than it is in the the house. It’s all political theater.

Our Representative Dave Loebsack voted for the bill, reversing his last vote on Keystone XL. He sent social media atwitter with shock and disappointment framed in terms that appeared to help the authors vent frustration more than say anything coherent. I am disappointed with the vote, but what politician ever consistently voted my way?

I know a couple of things.

When people talk about “environmentalists” I no longer have a clue to whom they refer. Is a farmer who plants a buffer zone based on a government grant an environmentalist? Is a non-governmental organization’s local staff member—overly dependent upon funding sources—an environmentalist? Is a Washington lobbyist for a large NGO an environmentalist? What about members of the defense department working toward a lower carbon footprint for the military? What about my neighbors who protest building a subdivision near Lake Macbride? There aren’t real answers to these questions, and that’s the problem with vague references to “environmentalists.” There is no club to which they all belong, and fewer common denominators. The idea is actually a right wing talking point, and the frame “environmentalists” is used to demonize advocates for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and against production of electricity using coal, natural gas and nuclear fuels. Keystone XL is not a common denominator among environmentalists.

The failure of environmentalists was targeting the pipeline at all, instead of the tar sands. The tar sands is a bigger problem because of humanity’s inexhaustible thirst for oil and natural gas. This is the same problem for the Bakken, West Texas and Eagle Ford formations. Because oil and gas are in demand, there is direct financial return, subsidized by our government, in exploiting these resources. The environmental communities have been unable to adequately articulate the unrecognized costs in terms of human health of these exploration, discovery and production operations—even if a small number of people are working on it. Successful efforts have taken a targeted, NIMBY approach, like the fight against frac sand mining in Allamakee County. By targeting Keystone XL, environmentalists set themselves up for failure. As a friend wrote me last night, “there are hundreds of pipelines in this country already—what’s one or two more?”

I also know unions favor building pipelines. Ken Sagar and Bill Gerhard laid out their position in a Dec. 11 opinion piece in the Des Moines Register. Only a cynic would say that Loebsack’s vote on Keystone XL was quid pro quo for union financial and canvassing support during the 2014 midterms. It is likely more complicated than that, but it had to have been a factor. Part of being Democratic is the fact that Democrats don’t always agree. Keystone XL and Iowa’s proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline are a prime examples of that. Loebsack’s framing of the explanation for his vote makes his sympathies for the union’s legislative priority clear.

“I was skeptical of side stepping the normal processes, but the jobs attached to building the Keystone Pipeline are too important and can no longer be tied to D.C. gridlock,” Loebsack said, according to Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times.

What I also know is October 2014 was the hottest month recorded on the planet since record-keeping began, according to the Washington Post. Yes, you skeptics, the world’s temperatures may have been higher or much colder in some prehistoric era. But what matters more is our civilization, and the changes produced by the industrial revolution are at risk. The underpinnings of basic facts about our lives, when the first frost comes, the amount of rainfall in a region, how we produce electricity, how we sequester carbon in the land, water sourcing, and others are all being undone.

It will take more than one vote in one governmental body to address these broader challenges. What I know is that is unlikely to happen in my lifetime unless we stop focusing on bright and shiny objects like Keystone XL.

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Friday in Big Grove

Garden in Late Autumn

Garden in Late Autumn

This week mine has been the life of a writer.

Every possible moment was spent producing copy. It is what I hoped for for so many years. A side-effect was the displacement of blog writing as I scurried to make deadlines and accommodate demands for my time. It’s good work if you can get it, and life-changing.

Whether paid work will persist is uncertain, but I felt confident enough to part ways with our local newspaper where I proofread stories and wrote articles about the school board, city council, and a couple of other topics. 39,100 words were filed in 44 stories since January with compensation of $2,125, or less than the amount of our property tax for the period. I’ll finish my last work there this weekend.

What’s next is freelancing for the Iowa City Press Citizen and a slate of business development activities to identify additional paid writing opportunities. I’d get that organized if it weren’t so busy writing.

There is the slate of work that is not writing also begging for my time. For now, that work pays the bills and flows into the well of experience from which I draw for writing. For now, it is enough.

What it has meant is less time to write here. I hope to return to regular blog writing soon. It is uncertain when that will be.

Posted in Work Life | Tagged ,

U.S. to Attend Vienna Nuclear Abolition Conference

Iowa City Nuclear Free SignIn a carefully worded press release, the U.S. State Department indicated it would attend the Dec. 8-9 conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Vienna. (The full release appears below).

What that means is uncertain, but the press release language indicates inherent skepticism about potential outcomes of the conference, and that the U.S. won’t be distracted from it’s own nuclear agenda.

The conference could easily have come and gone without U.S. participation, and no one here except a select group of NGOs would have noticed, even if the rest of the world would.

Despite the large number of countries participating in the two previous conferences, the idea of nuclear abolition, for any reason, has not penetrated American society with any depth.

On Friday I attended a local Rotary Club meeting. When asked what brought me there, I pointed to the Rotarian Action Group for Peace‘s recent embrace of the humanitarian campaign, saying I wanted to be a part of it. The response was “I hadn’t heard of that.” There is a lot of work to do to raise awareness of the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons in the U.S.

At the same time, the fact that we are sending an official delegation is a small step in a positive direction. For if we don’t discuss the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, and what we as a society should do to abolish them, we will linger on in a twilight between fear and uncertainty.

Here’s hoping this news will lead to something more positive.

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
November 7, 2014

The United States will attend the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons this December. Following a careful review of the agenda, as well as discussions with the conference host Austria, the United States concluded there were real prospects for constructively engagement with conference participants.

The United States fully understands the serious consequences of nuclear weapons use and gives the highest priority to avoiding their use.

The United States is committed to seeking the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. As we have said previously, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the focus of our efforts on disarmament, as well as on nonproliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. However, this conference is not the appropriate venue for disarmament negotiations or pre-negotiation discussions and the United States will not engage in efforts of that kind in Vienna.

We look forward to presenting the U.S. perspective at the Vienna Conference. This event will be a useful opportunity to highlight the significant progress the United States has made and the resources it devotes to create conditions under which nuclear weapons are never again used.

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Big Grove News – Midterms Close to Home

After the Midterms

After the Midterms

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP— Completing this year’s election ballot took more time than usual, partly because I was torn in a couple of the races when I arrived at the auditor’s office to cast my vote.

I began by flipping it over to write in DeWayne Klouda as township trustee.

Klouda had been discussing his re-election for a couple of board meetings, so I called him after the sample ballot was released without his name. His paperwork had not arrived in the auditor’s office by the filing deadline.

Running a write-in campaign where there is no candidate is straightforward. I wrote and issued a press release saying he was running, and once that was in the paper, and through word of mouth, we got enough people to write him in to be elected. Sigh of relief, because he possesses the institutional knowledge of our board. Our clerk was on the ballot uncontested, so he won re-election as well.

The last item I voted was the state house race between incumbent Republican Bobby Kaufmann and Democrat David Johnson.

Early this cycle, the Cedar County Democrats chair called and asked me to stay out of the race. He wanted the effort to be directed from Cedar County. Since our effort failed in 2012, I had had my chance, and felt obligated to step aside, and did. When there was a competitive Democratic primary, I answered questions for both candidates, and interviewed them for the Solon Economist, but campaigned for neither one over the other. Our 2012 campaign had defeated Johnson in the primary, and if he wanted to run again, I wasn’t going to stand in the way this time.

After the election, Iowa City blogger John Deeth commented about the race on his Facebook page, and I responded:

The most positive aspect of this state-house election was that it defined the Democratic base as 32 percent (for the entire district), which, not surprisingly, equals the active Democratic registrations at 31.9 percent. I know there were defections back and forth among party-registered voters, but the base turnout number will help future candidates know that their campaign should focus almost exclusively on building a coalition to get to 50 percent plus one using no preference voters, new voters and Republicans. IMHO, this is the new normal.

What I’m saying is that every candidate has a plan to win, and in that plan, the Democratic base is a solid number. We now know what that is in HD73. Winning elections is about bringing voters into a coalition, and the Democratic base is not enough to win. In my precinct, there were 136 straight ticket D voters among 957 votes cast. Take them and the 174 straight ticket Rs out and you have 647 or 68 percent of the electorate to work with.

Kaufmann won our precinct 611-323 (65.4%-34.6%). For perspective, in 2012, a presidential election year and the first election for the newly minted House District 73, Democrat Dick Schwab won the precinct 559-525 (51.6%-48.4%). What happened? It’s not about party registrations.

After winning in 2012, Kaufmann built a reputation as an energetic and responsive state representative who worked with constituents regardless of party. During the campaign, he door knocked our house at least three times and was constantly in the local newspaper doing something to serve constituent interests. Some argue that yard signs don’t win elections, but the fact that Kaufmann’s name was plastered everywhere built name recognition, and like any advertising, it takes a number of impressions to make a sale. He had that.

It turned out that Kaufmann’s more controversial votes in the legislature did not matter as much to most constituents, as his high level of energy and willingness to talk about any issue and produce results.

For Johnson’s part, I wasn’t privy to what his campaign was doing, but I received a couple of mailers asking for donations, along with one from an outside group criticizing Kaufmann. My only human contact with Johnson, after I wrote the articles for the primary, was at public events, mostly outside the district. He wasn’t an active presence in the precinct. I did not see him one time in our precinct, although to be fair the precinct is geographically large, and I might have missed him.

In October I receive a call from the Cedar County Democrats chair who asked about Johnson’s prospects. I responded he would carry the base, which is what he did. The trouble was he didn’t build on the base.

By winning back-to-back elections, Kaufmann made it more difficult for Democrats to beat him during the three elections remaining before the 2020 U.S. Census and re-districting.

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