Thursday, August 27, 2009

Last goggle at google settlement

The Google Book Settlement opting-0ut deadline is upon us: by September 4 you must decide whether you're in or out. Staying in means allowing Google to digitize and own (for distribution purposes) your copyrighted works, for which you will be compensated (via a registry and your publishers) what remains of the approximately $60 per book after any fees or percentages have been deducted.

The dissenting voices in the Writers Union of Canada (TWUC) have offered the following view, relevant bits excerpted:
Google controls all the information and, there is no auditing system in place to prove their numbers.

It would be a minimum of five years before any money is received.

By opting in (or doing nothing), writers give Google non-exclusive rights to copyrighted material.

There are other electronic options [besides] Google [--and these might better compensate copyright holders].

To opt out... access Google online but no proof of receipt is generated from this. ...a registered letter should also be mailed to Google. As an additional safeguard ...a separate letter should also be written to Google, telling them that they do not have the rights to digitize your material without your express permission.

For future contracts... an “out of print” clause should be added to protect copyrighted material.
Some internal discussion points out that the settlement addresses past wrongs (the unauthorized digitization of copyrighted works) but frees Google to sail ahead unrestricted in future, which seems hardly fair to the people who've worked so hard to create those works. And that other electronic options besides Google may afford the possibility of earning more than the pittance Google offers.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Green development: Elkington Forest

Went on a field trip on the weekend, with the BC Sustainable Energy Association, to see the Elkington Forest development site, way up on Malahat Mountain.

The site is not the easiest place to get to - steep windy roads which would be pretty much inaccessible when it's foggy or icy, and the developers intend to keep the roads between the development clusters as narrow as possible, to intrude less on the landscape.

On our way up, we passed acre after acre of clear-cuts, with 'for sale' signs stuck on a number of the lots, which are divided into 5-25 acre parcels. It is this kind of development that the Living Forest Communities is trying to counter. The problem with hacking forest land into parcels is that the developers can't resist cutting down the trees (great profit in that) before selling them off. When you do that on a large scale in a watershed area, you're looking at creating erosion, destroying ecosystems and contaminating water supplies.

Have a look at the deforestation story told by these aerial photographs - covering just the last eight years. Precious little forest remains on the mountain, and the damage is only just starting to be visible on the Malahat Drive where heavy equipment, "for sale" signs and clear-cutting are intruding on what used to be a pristine forest drive.

Pristine in my lifetime anyway. The Elkington family bought the property as a summer retreat, after it had been clear-cut in the 1920s, and let the forest regrow. It has been logged since, but not clear cut, so there is still a lot of actual forest left.

The developers hope that by clustering the houses that are built - and all to strict environmental standards, including state of the art sewage treatment - more forest will be left, preventing erosion, protecting habitat and allowing sustainable enjoyment of the area for years to come. The Trans-Canada Trail will cross the property at the first of three housing clusters, in fact.

There is land set aside for agro-forestry purposes, which include a community garden for all the residents. There will be an eco-lodge, and several thousand square feet of commercial property, but the population will be too small, the developers think, to sustain much in the way of shops or services, and the commute not really feasible. So the site is intended for families who can live and work independently: they hope for artisans and telecommuters. Local businesses have expressed interest in supplying the residents with food and services, and there is a train line which - should it survive its latest round of critical assessment - could conceivably serve the community.

It was a nice hike on a beautiful day, anyway, and when we finally stopped at the top for lunch,

we were ready to sit down and drink in the view for a while.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Many apples

I have a quantity - indeed quantities - of yellow transparent apples to work with, so it has been apple everything of late.

These apples are tart and soft in the cooking, and so sometimes give the illusion there's been lemon at work. I use them while they're still green but even when fully ripe they are sharp and puckery. I stew some with blackberries and freeze that; I juice some, using carrots for sweetener and freeze that; and I make a bit of applesauce. I might try dehydrating some, but they are awfully tart. For the rest, I peel, chop and freeze in ziplock bags and leave a few in the veg bin in the fridge. They don't last as well as some apples, they shrink and wrinkle, but will endure for some months - in fact I made a cake from some 2008 vintage ones I found malingering in the fridge back in April. And they can be chopped and added to everything from soup to curry to dog food (if you make your own!).

Some of the best things I've made include Apple Crème Brulée; Dan Lepard's Apple, Walnut & Custard pudding; Apple Raisin Cake; my enduring favourite, Delia Smith's Caramelised Apple Flan (cheat's Tarte Tatin);

the recently remarked Blackberry-Apple Clafoutis; and a variation on German Apple Cake. Recipes yet to be attempted might include an Apple Soufflé, and one day when I am feeling ambitious enough to marshal the ingredients: Delia's Prune, Apple & Armagnac Cake with Almond Streusel Topping.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Picks & preservation

Lots of fruit to pick these days. I've been blackberrying, of course

and then Judy connected me with the owner of a fig tree which was laden with green figs

and I joined my first pick with the Fruit Tree Project, where I obtained a quantity of yellow plums.

LifeCycles organizes this project in Victoria, which makes use of what would be otherwise wasted urban fruit. Owners register their trees with the project and then LifeCycles sends a team of volunteers equipped with picking aprons and orchard ladders who strip the tree, clean up and distribute the fruit - a share to the owner, a share to the pickers and the rest to LifeCycles which distributes or processes the fruit. Contemporary gleaning I suppose. The tree on Sunday looked like this when we began

and two hours later looked like this

because the tree was absolutely laden and we were short-handed, but more importantly short-fruit-boxed. We filled all these cartons

and departed, promising the owner a second pick one evening.

Come time to deal with all this bounty, I recommend The National Center for Home Preservation which covers most things extremely well-- but a laptop in my kitchen is a dangerous thing... for weeks, my counter has been a massive sprawl of books, print-outs, jars, sugar, tongs, lemons, cutting boards. And the omnipresent fruit flies who are watching proceedings with interest.

I've done jams

and cans

and dehydrations

and even a little baking (happy revival of the Lightning Cake!)

And now I must can the rest of the plums. For the tomatoes are starting to ripen.

Thinking of jam making, which has been documented well and poetically by the likes of Maxine Kumin, I came across this snotty poem which claims to know whose history is more-important-with-a-capital-I. Preserving does seem to be one of the last barriers between the genders: although I know men who can vegetables and pickles and fish, I know precious few who make jam (though plenty who eat it). As a public experiment, may I suggest you attend a preserving workshop sometime and count the number of men in the class and interrogate them for their views on this. It is puzzling that more men appear to be willing and interested to learn how to grow things than to to preserve the fruits of their labour. Whence cometh this jam stigma?

Friday, August 14, 2009

"SmartStax" GM Corn

They've really done it this time. A new GM corn variety has been approved for planting in Canada by CFIA without being subjected to any safety testing.

CBAN's campaign asks us to let our government know this is not ok, and they have an email form you can send to Canada's minister of health, Leona Aglukkaq, right this minute, while you're thinking about it. Or you can send your message through Health Canada's contact form.

This is what Health Canada's own website promises, regarding the introduction of GE and other "novel" foods:
Health Canada assesses the safety of all genetically-modified and other novel foods proposed for sale in Canada. Companies are required to submit detailed scientific data for review and approval by Health Canada, before such foods can be sold.
The Globe & Mail did a good piece on the new variety that's been approved without testing. This bit pretty much nails the problem:
The health agency said in response to questions from The Globe and Mail that it didn't have to [assess the seeds for safety], because it is relying on the two companies making the seeds, agriculture giants Monsanto Co. and Dow AgroSciences LLC, to flag any safety concerns. But the companies haven't tested the seeds either, because they say they aren't required to.
Elsewhere this unbelievably careless approach to public safety is correctly but inadequately likened to putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Indeed.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Definitely not sour grapes

I was by coincidence invited along to the last ever Grapevine event last Thursday.

The Grapevine was started five years ago by a group of entrepreneurial women who thought the best thing they could do for small businesses in Victoria was to bring them customers. They selected from among the best new small businesses in town and organized "grapings", where a bunch of people from their 400-strong mailing list - usually numbering around 20-25 - would meet at a nearby location and walk to the graping point. They used all means licit and illicit to trick the owners into being their for their visit, so that they could have a chance to meet some consumers and tell them a bit about their business. The idea was that those who came to the graping would let their friends and colleagues know about it, and the organizers posted articles and photos on the website to spread the word. Simple, beautiful and now over, sadly, 5 years and 42 grapings later.

This last one was at a place I'd wanted to visit anyway: Village Family Marketplace is Victoria's latest local food emporium. Seven young partners have pooled their resources and talents to start a grocery store downtown, where it might be difficult for locals to make it to farm shops or find good local produce. Two of the partners, Dustin and Justine, walk us through the history

and explain that everything they sell is either grown or produced locally. They've only been open for three weeks so the shelves are not yet as full as they will be. The professional kitchen in the back is geared to produce deli items, ready meals, condiments and treats to fill the display case. They have frozen goods including local organic meats, as well as dairy and produce,

a few items you won't find everywhere, like purslane and lemon cucumbers and kelp

and a few dry goods. The group has dolled up a standard shipping container

and equipped it with coolers to add capacity; there are play stations for children; and they've build picnic tables so that one day there can be a place to relax out back. The interior makes use of reclaimed timber.. for example in the handsome front counter with its arbutus inlay.

So.. a happy morning spent poking round the shop and I'll be making a return visit before too long. Not difficult since one of my other favourite food shops, the spectacularly well-stocked Mediterranean deli Blair Mart, is just about next door - and its courtly owner the Village's landlord.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Easier than pie

The blackberries have been calling me and I have been answering by the bucketful. These are, as I have said before, Himalayan blackberries, and they are the ones everyone thinks of when you say 'blackberry'. They're big, fat and in season from August through September.

The native blackberries, smaller and trailing, are now finished. They ripen in June and July and are very much worth the hunt. It might take three or four times the picking time to fill a pail, compared with Himalayans, but theirs is a different, more intense flavour.

Himalyans are not native to BC; they were brought to North America by Luther Burbank and have spread throughout the land with joy and vigour. The plant is highly invasive, and you need to practice extreme caution about putting any part of it into your compost. Moreover, as I saw happen during this spring's ground-clearning at Haliburton, new plants can and will sprout from chopped stems. Perhaps if you decompose them for a while in black plastic bags, or make sure they are completely dried out they'd be safe, but they're nasty and prickly any way you look at them so I think send them wherever you send other pernicious weeds. And don't put berries into the compost either (birds and gravity put enough of them around).

Anton finds picking days Very Boring. He is like any 13 year old: if he could speak, his first words would be, Can we go now?

One excellent use you can put this booty to is a clafoutis (or clafouti), which I maintain is the righteous ancestor of the food known as impossible pie. Both these dishes are a kind of starched custard that creates its own base while enfolding the main ingredient in a soft eggy filling. They appear in both savoury and sweet versions; the savouries make good quick quiches, while the well-known coconut pie is an excellent dessert. Last night we had a blackberry and apple clafoutis which was exceptionally good. This recipe - which uses apricots and raspberries - is a good one to base it on. Serve it warm, but it's not bad cold.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

St David of Suzuki

A second chance this morning to listen to the listenable David Suzuki, whose one hour special The Last Call is, happily, available on podcast. He took a look at our illusions about the immutability of the consumer economy and its effect on the planet's limited resources.

Along the way he spoke to the Canadian CEO of Wal-Mart, trying to get him to answer whether he thought infinite growth of a consumer-based business was realistic (got the usual hoo-ha about how Wal-Mart is only serving the wishes of a buying public and what a wonderful thing the company is doing for people who can't afford to pay more) (maybe someone should send this guy a copy of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture?).

And to the wonderful Annie Leonard, whose The Story of Stuff is an excellent use of any spare 20 minutes you might have, and who clarified mr. Wal-Mart's delusions about the real cost - to the environment and communities who produce and sell them - of cheap goods. And she remained, like Suzuki, stubbornly optimistic that we can change the way we live, but not by simply altering our consumerism (what can I buy to make things better) but by enlisting the power of community. With the ultimate goal of living happier and more convivial lives.

Not so optimistic is James Lovelock, father of The Gaia Theory, which proposed reasons for the interrelatedness of our ecosystem, and who holds that politics gets in the way of the possibility of any real positive change in our destructive use of the planet; put simply, politicians cannot take the measures needed and get re-elected, because so much drastic change in our ways of life is needed at this point. So his interests are more focused on how to survive the consequences of our environmental irresponsibility. (His latest book is The Vanishing Face of Gaia.)

Al Gore, of course, is on the positive side of the argument that salvation is possible, and has more faith than most in the political system's ability to produce sudden radical change in times of need. Let us hope he is right.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Water babies and bottles and Berkeys

Water is always an interesting issue. Take bottles of water for example. For ages tap water got a bad press: but it seems like a great many of the stories came from vested interests: sellers of bottled water, water machines or water filters. Now there are movements against bottled water, which may have only made the manufacturers work extra hard to sell in a shrinking market.

If you haven't seen the Evian rollerbabies, check them out on Youtube. As is often the case, the 'making of' clip is almost better. The interview is good too.

But -- bottled water still a no-go area, for so many reasons: its use of plastics, its transportation waste and its plain expense. Here's a 20/20 program from last year which held one of those taste tests that are so satisfying in their unpredictability...

Let us not forget that Dasani is, after all, tap water. And any water in plastic bottles is suspect - whether tap or branded - and likely to contain Bisphenol A, particularly if it's exposed to heat, so keep using those metal water bottles. But it seems that consumers are turning away from bottled water, whether because they can't afford it or because that wave is ending. Let's hope it's the latter.

Even if it is, the sharks are circling as the dwindling reserves of good drinking water start to create scarcity. And where there is scarcity, there is opportunism, and unsustainable solutions to shortages.

The Current did a great series on water last year, called Watershed, which they've been repeating this summer. One of the programs I caught talked about desalination plants in Israel, which sound like a great idea until the cons were enumerated: the energy required for the process; the unknown effects on the ocean of pumping highly salinated residue back into it; the introduction into the ocean of byproducts of the process. And the speakers questioned the point of going through all that in order to irrigate desert greenhouses so that this parched nation could export its precious water in the form of fruits, flowers and vegetables.

Much more to think about on this subject. But friends and neighbours are aquiring Berkey water filters in the meantime, partly for health reasons and partly in the interests of water security (living on an island as we do makes one think about many things, as almost everything is ferried or flown over here, including chemicals for treating the water supply). As one of them said: please buy one - I don't want to be the only one who has one!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Copyright, pesticides, mercury, sunscreen and rocket fuel

A mixed bag today. One important item for writers is the Canadian government's Copyright Consultations: the public is invited to participate in guiding the government's moves to reform copyright legislation. If you are a writer and would like to be paid for what you create, put your oar in between July 20 and September 13, or forever hold your peace.

The Environmental Working Group has many useful guides on its website, including the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which I've mentioned before - it shows which fruits and vegetables are high in pesticide residues, and which, if you can't afford everything organic, are relatively low if farmed conventionally. The missing piece of the puzzle is the relative nutritional value of the organic vs industrial products, as organic (especially small scale) is generally better in that regard.

I hadn't seen the EWG's guide to safe tuna consumption though. It makes the point that albacore - the more sustainable choice from a fishery point of view (if line-caught) - is actually higher in mercury than the other type they mention (light - which according to this is probably skipjack) and the recommended consumption of albacore is less than half that of light. While you're packing your wallet with sustainability guides, here's another one that lists mercury content in fish.

The sunscreen guide (offered through the EWG's Skin Deep - cosmetic safety site) is also very useful, as it's bewildering to choose from all the brands on offer these days; and there's so much weird information circulating about sunscreen. Now that there are rumours of cancers being linked to sunscreen use, it's worth a look. This piece, from the EWG's discussion of the research, caught my eye:
Controlled studies comparing sunscreen users with non-users indicate that sunscreen can reduce the risk of squamous-cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer. There is little substantial evidence, however, that sunscreen reduces the risk of the other common types of skin cancer, basal-cell carcinoma and melanoma.
In other words, as we've been hearing for ages, no matter what and how much you slather on, you still have to cover up, wear a hat, and limit exposure.

EWG has many other tools and tips on the website but I liked this Everyday Pollution Solutions, which offers suggestions to simplify and detoxify your life. Though its mention of rocket fuel (perchlorate) contamination of drinking water gives one more thing to worry about.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Long Beach, Fanny Bay

Just back from a meander up-island, starting with Long Beach

where we enjoyed a side trip to Tofino and stumbled upon SoBo for supper. Some lovely food, including a smoked fish appetizer

grilled oyster with miso-mayo

mushroom enchilada

beet, goat cheese and walnut salad

and enormous scallops with a risotto cake

Walked a trail where local berries were ripe for picking: salmonberries, salal berries, huckleberries and thimbleberries.

On to Fanny Bay where supper featured some magnificent grilled spot prawns (from the Fanny Bay Oysters Fish Shop at Buckley Bay).