In the Apple Grove

Home Apple

Homegrown Apple

After a shift at the warehouse, I stopped at the orchard to get Honeycrisp apples. Contrary to what one sees in the mega market, they are seasonal, and the season is short. We hadn’t had enough.

The orchard staff was busy with a tour group, so I went straight to the display near the cooler in the sales barn. Sad remainders, absent of value besides pressing into cider, I ventured into the orchard wearing my white shirt, black slacks and blue shoes from the warehouse.

I had directed hundreds of people to the Honeycrisp groves the last two Saturdays. It was uncertain whether any could be found, but following my own advice, I looked near the trunk of the trees and was not disappointed. I picked eight pounds from two trees in a few minutes.

As I headed back, past the pumpkin patch, across the creek and up the hill, it was invigorating to be out in the orchard where ideas meet reality and bear fruit.

Fall Arrived Unawares

Harkin Steak FryLAKE MACBRIDE— The chill in the air is undeniable as summer activities wrap up— ready or not.

The last share from the CSA picks up tonight, and Tuesday is to be a full day of outdoor activities, with Wednesday the rain date. It is time to harvest and prepare the yard and garden for the apple harvest and winter. The neglect of this summer may or may not be overcome with a single day’s work, but that is the time I can afford.

Yesterday I arrived home from the warehouse in time to hear Hillary and Bill Clinton’s speeches at the Harkin Steak Fry telecast on C-SPAN. The finality of this last annual event is one more reason Senator Tom Harkin will be missed. The 2006 steak fry is where I met Barack Obama in the rope line. The full video is archived on C-SPAN and readers can listen and decide the meaning for themselves if interested.

Despite the abundance of food in our house, the amount of cooking has declined over the summer. Sandwiches, soups, stews and other stored fare have lingered in the fridge, and make quick heat and serve meals. Tomorrow is expected to bring in most of the tomatoes, peppers, celery and kale, all of which will require some processing. The Red Delicious apples look quite good this year. Tomorrow will be the first taste test before an onslaught of apple dishes. What food we have prepared has been seasonally fresh and tasty. What more could a person ask?

Braised Eggplant with Potatoes

Eggplant Nutrition Data

Eggplant Nutrition Data

LAKE MACBRIDE— What to do with all of the eggplant?

The image in this post is a bit of a protest because despite their colorful variation, eggplant is a vegetable that could be absent from life and few would notice. The fact is they are abundant, easy to grow and cheap at the market. Despite their limited nutritional value, they provide interest when they are in season. A saving grace in the deluge of summer abundance.

My repertory of eggplant dishes includes a recipe for eggplant Parmesan, ratatouille, a layered casserole using tomato sauce, zucchini, onions and other seasonal fare, and now braised eggplant with potatoes. Here’s the recipe that produced savory results.

Braised Eggplant with Potatoes


One pound of eggplant, cut into one inch chunks with the skin on
Two pounds small potatoes, halved
3-4 medium onions, medium dice
Quarter cup dried parsley (fresh if you have it)
One cup fresh basil, chiffonade
1-1/2 pounds seeded and chopped tomatoes (slicers or plum)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-1/4 cups water plus 1/4 cup water
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons flour


Soak the eggplant in water for 30 minutes

In a Dutch oven, combine the onion, tomatoes, parsley, 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1-14 cups water and salt. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Add the potatoes and the rest of the water, and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, or about 20 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, drain the eggplant and season it with salt to taste. Heat the 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over high heat. Dredge the eggplant cubes in flour and fry until golden brown on all sides. When finished, place the cubes in a strainer so excess oil will run off.

Add the eggplant to the potatoes and sauce, stir, cover and cook another ten minutes or so. Turn off the heat and leave the pot on the stove until ready to serve or store.

The dish serves well hot, warm or at room temperature.

Turning on the Television

LAKE MACBRIDE— It took a bit to remember how to operate the remote controls for our old-school tube television last night. I was loathe to hear President Obama’s plan “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.” Information about the speech had been leaked during the day, and there was plenty of commentary in social media about what Obama would say. It is always best to hear bad news directly from the president.

There is little to say, except view or read the speech for yourself. Although the following comment is more significant than its introductory nature indicates:

As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.

Because of the work of government officials, there is an unprecedented level of security in the U.S. People feel secure from external terrorists, if not from the occasional gun-toting sociopath who opens fire in public places. There is a price for this security, and it is not only monetary.

The U.S. is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the world despite our substantial footprint in almost every country in the form of diplomatic workers, non-governmental organizations, businesses and tourists. It is as if by creating the homeland defense security bubble we have built the equivalent of the Great Wall of China. It serves to protect, but also to isolate us. The latter is an unintended consequence.

American tolerance for an intrusive government is high. While the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation keep an eye on us, that doesn’t seem to bother most people. It is accepted as a price of freedom and we are free to do what we will in society, more than in most other countries.

There is another price. The isolation created by a strong homeland security gives us a false sense of comfort— that we can avoid political discussions and participate in a consumer culture without regard for externalized costs like CO2 emissions and exploited workers. In an increasingly connected world, where we can receive reports about what is going on all across the globe without leaving home, this is ironic.

Maybe people just don’t want to think about the rest of the world. There are plenty of personal struggles that can eclipse external affairs, but consider this: if we don’t engage in a global society it will leave important matters to politicians, our government and the military. We all know the regard in which we hold those institutions presently.

I’m glad to have a television, and a connection to some channels. I’m also glad most of my time is spent in the real world, talking to and working with people, trying to make a difference in something bigger than myself. It’s also why I don’t turn on the television very often.

A Humanitarian Campaign

Iowa City Nuclear Free SignThis is the first in a series of new posts about the humanitarian campaign to abolish nuclear weapons.

“Since the end of the Cold War we have acted as though the problem of nuclear war has gone away. Unfortunately it hasn’t.” ~International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)

“I am very worried that people don’t think there is a real danger that nuclear weapons will be used. I hope you will read these materials in order to truly understand how bad a nuclear exchange of any kind will really be. Nuclear weapons are a real and present danger. A nuclear detonation can happen, and in fact will happen, if we don’t get rid of the weapons.” ~Rotarian Action Group for Peace

“Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time, and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations, and indeed to the survival of humanity.” ~International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies

“The willingness of the world as a whole to move forward in a constructive manner to eliminate nuclear weapons has never been more evident.  Yet a very small number of States stand in the way, trying to block progress and to find a comprehensive solution to the problem that goes on year after year in paralysis and obfuscation.” ~The Holy See

Here is a brief video framing the discussion, narrated by Ira Helfand, co-president of IPPNW:

To read more about the international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, click here.

News from the Lake

East Wall of George's Buffet

East Wall of George’s Buffet – People’s Climate March Advertisements

LAKE MACBRIDE— A steady rain fell and continued through the night, providing respite for the weary and sound sleep. Having thought I would retreat from society on a day mostly off work, it proved to be impossible, beginning with the trip into town to vote.

Two measures were on the ballot yesterday. Voters approved a $25.5 million bond issue to build a new middle school, a performing arts center to replace the one at the current middle school, and a special education classroom in a 698-294 vote. Voters also approved renewal of the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy of $1.34 per $1,000 in assessed value when the current levy expires on June 30, 2017.

To Change EverythingThe City of Solon was platted in 1840 and named for the Athenian statesman and poet. Ironically, the school district mascot is the Spartans, and the rivalry between Athenians and the Spartans has played out in the community ever since we moved here. Relevant to yesterday’s vote, debate has been about improvement of the auditorium facilities for use between the performing arts departments, and sports enthusiasts. Sports boosters defeated performing arts in the first battles and now we have a ginormous sporting complex in the city. Engaged residents of the district have decided it is time to invest in the performing arts. A ground breaking is expected in 2015.

In addition to passing through the city, I visited the county seat to pay property taxes. I also spent some time in the auditor’s office to see where my tax dollars go. My sense was that county government workers aren’t used to a lot of questions, but I received the answers I wanted.

Poster on the Unitarian Church

Poster on the Unitarian Universalist Society Building

Advertisements for the People’s Climate March on Sept. 21 in New York City have appeared in a couple of locations in downtown Iowa City. I have been engaged to speak for five minutes about the humanitarian campaign against nuclear weapons at a supporting rally in the Iowa City pedestrian mall. That is, assuming I can get off early enough from work at the warehouse.

September and the start of school is always prime time for social movement initiatives, and a lot is at stake with regard to mitigating the causes of global warming. As the saying goes, “to change everything, it takes everyone,” and we are a very long way from engaging everyone in addressing the climate crisis.

The other piece of September news is that every freaking politician I know is doing some kind of event. Between the frequent text messages, email invitations, snail mail and telephone calls, it is impossible to miss the fact that an election is coming, and a lot is at stake. My ability to contribute in kind and financially is limited this cycle, but it is good to know politicians are working. That in itself is a form of news.

Low Wages and Maria Fernandes’ Fatal Nap

Photo Credit: Dunkin' Donuts

Photo Credit: Dunkin’ Donuts

LAKE MACBRIDE— What working person hasn’t taken a nap in their vehicle? Part time and temporary workers with multiple jobs are unlikely to get enough rest, so why not set the alarm clock and snooze after arriving early for a shift, or during a 30-minute lunch break? At the meat packing plant where I worked during summer breaks from college, there was competition for the prime snoozing spots before clocking in the regulation six minutes before starting a shift. One’s vehicle provides a level of security and privacy— it’s also convenient.

The story of Maria Fernandes, who died in her automobile while sleeping between part time jobs at three New Jersey and New York Dunkin’ Donut shops, hit the corporate media in full force last week, and they were atwitter. The best coverage I found was in RT, the Russian 24/7 news channel:

A New Jersey woman who worked four jobs, who sometimes “wouldn’t sleep for five days,” according to a co-worker, died Monday while napping between shifts in her car on the side of the road.

Maria Fernandes died in her 2001 Kia Sportage after inhaling carbon monoxide and fumes from an overturned gas container she kept in the car, according to the New York Daily News.

The 32-year-old Newark woman pulled into a WAWA convenience store lot in Elizabeth, New Jersey for a nap early Monday. She left the car running. The carbon monoxide and gasoline fumes were the likely cause of death, authorities said.

Fernandes was found dead in the car around eight hours later when EMTs responded to a 911 call of a woman found in a vehicle with closed windows and doors. Emergency workers sensed a strong chemical odor upon entering the vehicle, authorities said.

What will the story of Fernandes mean to broader society? Regretfully, not much once the news cycle is finished. Hers is one more sad story in the life of working people.

There is media discussion of Fernandes becoming emblematic for low wage workers, and some connect her death to the current political discussion about the need for an increase in the minimum wage. Advocates will likely use her story to make a case for unionization and other favored topics. But something is missing. Let’s follow the RT story down the rabbit hole:

About 7.5 million Americans are working more than one job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those jobs often leave people short on income compared to full-time work, said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

“These are folks who would like to work full-time but they can’t find the jobs,” Van Horn said. “They wind up in these circumstances in which they are exhausted. More commonly it creates just an enormous amount of stress.”

Workers in the United States are earning an average of 23 percent less than earnings from jobs that were lost during the economic recession that began in 2008, according to a recent report, as wealth inequality in the U.S. has shot to record highs, according to various indicators. Many long-term unemployed are considering abandoning their job search following years of stagnant economic growth.

Maria Fernandes is not a victim of her own choices, except maybe the one to leave her car running while she slept in it. Closer to the truth is that many companies want part time or temporary workers to avoid paying benefits, and this runs contrary to the expectations built for those of us in the baby boom generation. The movement to part time and temporary work is an inexorable march toward stripping costs from business operations— something few in the corporate media have covered as it relates to Fernandes.

That she could work in three locations with the same corporate brand and wear the same uniform in each, yet not work for the same company, gets to a core issue. By its structure, Dunkin’ Donuts and companies like it, are designed to distance themselves from workers, and create gross margin and related profits that flow to the richest one percent of the population. In this case to the parent company, Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: DNKN), led by Nigel Travis. There are layers of distancing from the company, presumably related to the goal of avoiding the costs and troubles of lowly paid workers.

The circumstances around Maria Fernandes’ death captivated attention for a news cycle. One must ask the question what will we do about it, and hope there will be an answer.