Friday, April 29, 2011

Party statements about issues affecting writers, in advance of Monday's Canadian election

Interesting to see the party that didn't respond to pre-election questions posed by The Writers’ Union of Canada...

Party Responses to TWUC Election Questions-1

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

High security meals & some curious uses for oregano

The Clink is an interesting restaurant in Britain which is run by inmates of HM Prison High Down (this article about it by an expert in prison food is worth reading too). Envisioned by its Michelin-starred chef-founder as a way to train chefs and restaurant staff, it took seven years to get off the ground, but now produces both good food and employable inmates. It's not open to all diners - you have to have a good reason for going there and/or be employed by a government or prison office, or with a nonprofit (presumably one with compatible aims to the program which is also a registered charity). I suspect the project may have taken some inspiration from another such ristorante in Italia: the maximum security prison at Volterra in Tuscany.

Another odd and slightly Italian-flavoured item that has crossed my inbox is news of this study that's found another use for oregano: when cows eat it, it keeps them from burping methane (apparently it is burps rather than farts which emit the greenhouse gas) and ups their milk yields. The study doesn't say whether the milk picks up any flavour from the herb - but if it does, it might make for some interesting cheeses. And perhaps offer some other health benefits for humans. I have been plied with oregano oil at various points in recent years, by persons neither belching nor lactating, who swear by its curative powers, particularly for preventing colds. Definitely something to plant in my garden this year.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Watery weather

Before I return to grey, damp Victoria as it is just now, I want to say thanks to the prairie sun gods who have smiled so warmly on my visit to Saskatchewan.

Not quite the prayer that the people of Saskatchewan are saying I'm sure, as the fine weather brings with it more snowmelt, into the saturated fields -- in fact, some folks are still looking for their driveways....

-- and the overburdened waterways, like Regina's Wascana Creek

which at present runs through rather than past Rotary Park

from Wascana Lake.. which is bigger than it used to be.

It gives the redwing blackbird something to sing about.

Anyway, it's been a fine day for an Easter stroll, as I prepare for tonight's reading at The Chimney Restaurant and Lounge here in Regina, with Betty Jane Hegerat and Steven Ross Smith.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Big sky readings

Saskatchewan, the beautiful.

It's been quite a spring for some farmers here; signs suggest they won't be suffering from drought this year... So sayeth the cows in a field near Muenster:

I had a very pleasant afternoon yesterday with the creative writing students at Humboldt Collegiate, who garnished our discussions of food poems with cookies and jello.

A display of my oeuvre at Humboldt's Reid Thompson Public Library:

Returned to Saskatoon in fair weather indeed:

Hopeful signs abound, including rhubarb buds in Mari-Lou's garden:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Springtime in Saskatchewan

Well, nearly. A delayed springtime. I missed the one they had last weekend, but on the other hand I also missed the snowfall that left this behind,

though the ground is mostly bare and the sun comes out every so often, even as a powdery sprinkling comes and goes that I am trying to pass off as pollen, while I prepare for tomorrow's food poetry workshop, followed by my reading at TiP.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mushrooms & poets

It sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn't it? When is a poet like a mushroom..? If I had been to more meetings of the South Vancouver Island Mycological Society, I'm sure I'd be able to fill in a punchline. We'll have to come back to that another time I think.

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to join a mushroom foray with SVIMS' evening speaker Robert Rogers, from Edmonton, who was in town to talk about the medicinal uses of mushrooms. He described himself as a herbalist rather than a mycologist, but was pretty quick off the mark when it came to talking up the medicinal benefits of what we found in Francis King Park.

First up was a Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) on the park gate.

Better specimens found later on. Robert says it is the most important medicinal mushroom in Japan; the healthcare system there spends around $2.5bn a year providing it in extract form to post-operative cancer patients. In one study the placebo group had a 4.6 yr survival rate, while those taking a daily supplement survived 10.6 yrs post-op. He said it was an immune modulator and an important mycoremediator: its mycilium masses can convert PCBs and petrochemicals into CO2 and water. And it's edible - just - a sort of mushroom chewing gum.

Many were the Polypores. Here a Ganoderma tsugae, one of the Reishi mushrooms. The Reishi is said to be the most studied mushroom of all time. It's easily collected; best to work with when younger and spongier, as it's easier to slice before processing. To prepare it you need to get polysaccharides and other matter out first, and through a series of soakings and decantings make it into a tincture that can be taken for various conditions. It modulates the immune system (perks it up when depressed, damps it down when over-active, as in the case of rhumatoid inflammation, lupus etc.) as well as reducing inflammation (and it is inflammation after all that kills us). It's a great anti-cancer agent because it interrupts the cycle of cancer cells (via Apotosis 53: a point in self-cycled growth where cells are dividing) so can help prevent cancer formation. Chinese medicine uses it for esophageal carcinoma and indigestion.

Mushroom hunters use all their senses in identification.

Dacrymyces palmatus (Witch's Butter)

Inocybe sp.
-- is this the LBJ of mushrooming?

Spring in the rainforest: skunk cabbage and trilliums:

That evening at the meeting Robert went into more detail about a selection of mushrooms. But first we took a look at a Black Morel (Morchella elata), and observed the way the cap is integral to the stem, which is the way to distinguish a true Morel from a false one. It is of course an excellent eating mushroom, but one that can cause some diners upset, particularly if consumed with alcohol.

Then we heard about the beneficial properties of common edible mushrooms like Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) which a San Francisco hospital apparently found to be as good as any of its existing retroviral drugs); and it's a cardiovascular regulator, preventing “hardening” of arteries, coronary embolisms, varicose veins, and helping with cholesterol problems.

Enoki (Flammulina velutipes) cultivar is the only mushroom that Robert recommends eating raw; it is a cancer-preventive food, and one of the few to have undergone trials on breast and ovarian cancers.

Even the button/crimini/portobello mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) got mention: don't eat them raw, he says: some compounds may be toxic. But they are aromatase inhibitors (as are nettle leaves) preventing replication of hormone-sensitive cancers (prostate, breast). Regular consumption can act as good prophylactic. Reduction in breast cancer through eating these was found to be 67% but when combined with green tea, raised the reduction rate to 97% .

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus populinus; P. ostreatus) is a cholesterol reducer, containing lovastatin. Mitochondrial cell efficiency is affected by statin drugs (this inhibits Q10) but not by eating mushrooms. Two meals a week, he says, are as effective as statin drugs. They prevent build-up of placque in arterial walls, and are protease inhibitors: when the liver starts to shut down, cholesterol levels rise, but oyster mushrooms prevent both, and are antiviral as well. And an important mycoremidator – oyster mushroom mycillium can help clean up environmental messes (an idea Paul Stamets explains in his TED Talk).

There were many more besides.. described in fascinating detail in Robert's book, The Fungal Pharmacy - Medicinal Mushrooms of Western Canada.

And on Friday, I was one of a multitude attending a book launch for new collections by two grande dames of Canadian poetry: Susan Musgrave (Origami Dove) and Lorna Crozier (Small Mechanics).

A stylish and hilarious evening, fuelled by quantities of sushi from the restaurant next door.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Communicating with our tax dollars

This Open letter to Canadian Journalists should really be read by readers of Canadian media as well, as it affects all of us, and our right to know what our government is doing in our name and with our tax money:
Civil servants – scientists, doctors, regulators, auditors and policy experts, those who draft public policy and can explain it best to the population — cannot speak to the media. Instead, reporters have to deal with an armada of press officers who know very little or nothing at all about a reporter’s topic and who answer tough questions with vague talking points vetted by layers of political staff and delivered by email only.
Politicians should not get to decide what information is released. This information belongs to Canadians, the taxpayers who paid for its production. Its release should be based on public interest, not political expediency.

This breeds contempt and suspicion of government. How can people know the maternal-health initiative has been well thought out or that the monitoring of aboriginal bands has been done properly if all Canadians hear is: “Trust us”?
-- Canadian Association of Journalists, April 2011

A question to ask your Conservative - and other visitants - during the current election campaign is:
  • What will your party do to repair what Stephen Harper has done to the taxpayer's ability to know how the government is spending our money?
(Perhaps you'll get an answer from the Conservatives by email from the election's public affairs staff...?)