Friday, February 13, 2009

It's getting harder to be a carnivore

New Caledonian crow
(Left-Click to enlarge)

We, as human beings, stand above the rest of the animal kindgom in that we recognize what Ernest Becker calls our "symbolic" self. Still, I think we are animals, and as such should have some empathy with our cousins with whom we share this planet.

Don't get me wrong, I have not given up meat, though I certainly eat much less than I used to. I am finding it increasingly difficult to do so without my conscience twinging a bit. Peter Singer in his "Practical Ethics" (perhaps the best introduction to the field of "ethics") does not state (as some claim) that it is necessarily unethical to eat meat, but he does feel that it is not ethical to abuse animals in the process of raising and slaughtering them. This pretty much eliminates all factory-type animal raising/processing, which is 99+% of what is available in the grocery stores.
If you want to know more about your food, try reading Mark Bittman's Food Matters and/or Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.

I think we are only recently beginning to learn how complex some animal thoughts can be. I have read that planning ahead is unique to humans. I was always suspicious of this concept. It seemed to me that a dog hiding food (e.g. burying a bone) for later retrieval was as easily explained as planning for the future as by some type of instinctual behavior.

At the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Edward Wasserman from the U of Iowa spoke at a symposium on "Animal Smarts." There is now sophisticated scientific evidence that is quite convincing for animals having the ability for complex planning for the future.

General animal intelligence seems also to be markedly underestimated. New Caledonian crows have been shown to not just use tools, but to make their own by twisting and bending pieces of wire to fish food from places they couldn't reach otherwise. (See above picture.) They will then store and hide excess food for retrieval the next day.

Few of us would abuse our domesticated dog or cat. Why not extend that courtesy to all animals, including those raised for our food?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dark, then Light

( Left-Click on Picture to Enlarge )

After three days of clouds and intermittent rain, we have emerged into the light of the southwestern desert in winter. During the time it was raining on the desert floor, it was snowing on Mt San Jacento, so when we awoke this morning with the sun, the snow line made a wonderful contrast with the color of Palm Springs.

The picture above, taken yesterday morning, is overlooking one of the water features on the course here at Outdoor Resorts Palm Springs, a gated condominium RV resort with 1225 lots/owners, and all the politics that entails.

As most of you know by now, Barbara's dad fell and broke his hip in Albuquerque 5 days ago. She is there with him; it it still uncertain if he will make it or not. We talk several times daily . . . cell phones are a great invention. I still have 10 or 11 days before I have to return to work, so have been doing some continuing medical education online and reading (a collection of H.D. Thoreau's letters, re-reading Becker's Denial of Death, and late at night enjoying In a Dry Season, a British police detective story by a new (to me) writer Peter Robinson).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Berries; my favorite desert

One thing I like about shopping at Sam's or Costco for groceries is that they have all those lovely berries; blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, and they are so much more inexpensive than they are at the grocery stores! Very occasionally, I find them in the countryside. Last year on my way back from doing radiology in Guttenberg, Iowa, I passed a sign at an Amish farm for raspberries. I wound up taking home 2 quarts for $3; bugs and all.

I usually use berries generously on my cereal in the mornings, but like them also as a desert. It is hard to beat a big bowl of lightly sugared berries with some vanilla ice cream.

Occasionally I try to contribute something to a dinner; just Barbara and I or a dinner with friends. I try to be impressive, some times with not good results. I can fall back on a simple berry cobbler that supposedly can be put together in less than 5 minutes, though somehow I manage to make an entire afternoon project of it.

Unlike my efforts for pie (make dough, roll out, start over, give up on rolling and make do with a few relatively flat pieces, assemble pieces Picasso-like on the berries, swear at bit and make mental note to buy pie dough from grocery store next time, bake, let cool, slice), the cobbler is made with 'drop' biscuits which are roughly formed by dropping from a spoon onto the awaiting berries. No rolling pins, no flour all over the kitchen and me. This is particularly advantageous when you are in a motorhome.

You can probably use any combination of berries that you want. I like blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

If ambitious, you could make an egg wash by lightly beating an egg and brushing it over the biscuits prior to baking. This should give them a shiny brown texture, ready for a picture.

Here is the list, with modification after my first batch which I thought was a bit short on berry and a tad long on dough:

Berry Cobbler

6 servings


6 cups berries (any combination of raspberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries, blueberries, boysenberries, etc.)

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

optional: a splash of kirsch or lemon juice

Cobbler dough:

1 1/4cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, chilled

1 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a 10- to 12-inch glass pie plate (or 2 quart baking dish), mix together the berries, sugar, flour and the kirsch or lemon juice, if using.

3. Bake the berries in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring once during baking (At this point you can taste the cooked berries for sweetness before adding the biscuits and you can mix in a bit more sugar if the berries need it.)

4. After 30 minutes, remove the berries from the oven and make the biscuits.

5. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the mixture either with a food processor, a mixer or by hand (If you are a klutz like me, using the large holes of a cheese grater is a short-cut that works).

6. Stir in the buttermilk just until the dry mixture is thoroughly moistened. With a big soup spoon, drop six large mounds of the dough over the fruit in various places. Brush with egg wash, if desired.

7. Bake for 20 minutes.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.


Accept acknowledgement of your extraordinary effort for the dinner (you after all are just a man - or even a husband, of whom not much beyond opening the wine is expected ). Had you been a woman of course, it would not have been considered all that extraordinary, and the praises less effusive even though you probably prepared the appetizers, salad, entree, side dishes, and coffee and have already started the clean-up.