“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Old dogs and swine flu

My sister recently learned that her dog, Cerebus, who had been sick for awhile, had multiple tumors. There was nothing that could be done to cure him. She was very sad to have him euthanised. He was a very lucky dog; he lived a good life. This is the problem with dogs- they get old and sick and die. It's so sad. But we can give them the privilege of euthenasia, which is denied to people. Below is a photo of Cerebus with Barb, on his last day with her. Though I wasn't really in the mood for a party, I couldn't miss my friend's Swine Flu party. Yes, these are painting masks, but this is New Zealand- we make do with what we can find. Fortunately, Roberta and her partner travel a bit, and find premium tequilas in the duty-free shops. They are also excellent cooks and prepared a delicious Mexican pork stew. Darin and I were pretty hungry when we got to the party, because we'd been up to Maungaturoto and back that afternoon. We took advantage of the sunny clear day to spray pesticide on all the thistle we were unable to eliminate with our machete. The land was pretty pugged up from the cows and sheep that were recently grazing there. We had fun slogging around in the muddy areas, trying to facilitate the drainage.
My sweet puppy Ruby waited a month to come into her heat cycle, just before we take a two week holiday to the US. If we had booked the dogs into the usual kennel, they would tell us we can't bring her if she's in season, which would leave us in a real bind. Fortunately we have a housesitter to look after our house and animals while we're away. If there are challenges, my sister lives just 5 minutes away so they should get it sorted. I better remind Darin to check the fire alarm batteries, just in case.
I finished reading Garlic and Sapphires and really enjoyed it. Of the three foodie books I read recently, this one was the best. I would definitely read more of her writing. The Man Who Ate Everything was a bit tiring and old, but I enjoyed The Man Who Ate the World, which is a modern update on the former title. I am up to chapter 14 in Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, and it is due tomorrow. I tried to renew it, but can't because other people have placed holds on it. This may be the best, because it is a very sad story. The main character has crazy family issues, and I'm about to go back to Fargo and see my family. I need to be in a good place, mentally, for this trip, and Wally Lamb's book is not going to assist this. So I might come back to the story of Dolores Price at some point. For the travel, I might take Freakonomics, a nice lightweight paperback that my brother-in-law passed to me. The library came through for me again, and bought a brand new book I requested: The Ten-Cent Plague: The great comic book scare and how it changed America. I have this now, and might take it along instead.

Now for some art. Check out this most excellent street artist, Banksy: It says "I must not copy what I see on the Simpsons". Check out more of his stuff here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Notes on chicken butchery

Yum, homemade pizza!
I used the Penzey's Italian Sausage seasoning and made pork sausage some time ago. It is really delicious on pizza.
We made Chicken Apple Sausage today, using the recipe in the Aidells Sausage Book that I brought with me from the US. The recipe calls for 3.5 pounds of thigh meat and skin. I had to adapt the recipe, because we had two freshly killed roosters to use. Since plucking feathers is a huge pain in the ass, Darin pulls off the skin and feathers, leaving the meaty carcass behind. So, I needed a whole chicken with skin to make the recipe complete. I bought a free-range, corn fed Turks chicken at the supermarket.
First, let me say that I am glad to have the choice to buy a free-range chicken at all. They are typically more expensive, but I think it is worth the cost because I think the factory farming conditions are horrific. There is a recent article about the cost of fresh chicken (factory vs free range vs organic) in the NZ Herald (link here including stupid pun). I bought a "size 16" chicken, which says it weighs a minimum of 1.5 kg. Cost was about $14 or 15 NZ Dollars. Even your factory farmed whole chicken will cost about $8-10 here, which was a real shock. I used to buy whole chickens for about $.50 per pound in San Diego, or about $3-4/bird. And turkeys, they would just give them away at Thanksgiving time if you spent enough money at the supermarket. When I moved to NZ, I stopped eating as much poultry as I used to because of the cost and the realization of the sad reality of factory farms. I like chickens, not just for eating. Which reminds me: vegetarians and vegans, stop using factory farming/animal cruelty as an argument to join your ranks. Factory farming is a reason to seek out and buy free-range meat.
The increased cost in NZ vs the US is not because they raise the chickens longer in NZ. The standards seem to be pretty much equivelant; the chickens are killed at just 6 weeks. To my knowledge, the same variety of fast growing bird is used for factory and free range farming. Our roosters, in contrast, were Barred Rocks age about 6 months.
So, getting past the cost, what else are the differences? Have a look at the photos below.
Above is the meat from one of our roosters, and below is the store-bought chicken.The commercially produced chicken is much lighter, paler in color than our chicken meat. Like the store-bought chicken, the chickens were bled out after killing. When I mentioned the color difference to my coworker who used to own a chicken farm in the Phillipines, she said the chickens get washed in an antibacterial wash. This makes sense, because the chickens need to stay "fresh" on the grocery shelf until purchase or use.
The texture is also very different. I found our chickens much more firm and resistant to the knife. The tendons were tough, and I spent some time teasing out the tendons from the legs. In contrast, the commercially produced chicken was soft throughout. The meat was mushy by comparison, and I found my knife slipping repeatedly into the bones. I don't enjoy cutting up chickens. It's a bit like doing a disection, and I've done plenty of those in my scientist past. But with chicken you get to eat the results and it doesn't smell so bad. I am not easily grossed out, but that third chicken, which was the free range store bought chicken, was looking pretty gross. It just didn't look or feel anything like our backyard chickens. It was weird. I am sure I would have found it completely normal if I hadn't had experience cutting up our chickens.
Since we ground them all together, the relative toughness vs tenderness and flavor of the meat couldn't be determined. Sausage making is much more fun when done as a team, but it takes a good 2-3 hours. We have a hand-crank grinder which is slow, but very user-friendly. Darin really likes to crank it. Or maybe he just likes to see me handling the sausages.We used dried apples that we made using our apple peeler/corer tool and food dephydrator. They are way more delicious than the store bought ones. I was surprised that the amount of dried apple the recipe called for was the equivelant of about 4 or 5 apples, that filled our entire dryer and took about 12-14 hours. The apples are in season now, and I am a huge fan of the Jazz apple. This is a NZ variety that costs a bit more due to the royalties that get paid to the developers. I would love to plant one of the trees but they are not available except to commercial growers. Drat!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"cursed" woman killed by her family in NZ

The photo above of 22 year old Janet Moses is the only one circulating the news. She doesn't LOOK posessed by demons. But then, what do I know about demons? I'm an atheist.

Here's a story you don't hear every day. What's interesting to me is that the nine family members on trial for killing her (basically, she was tortured) have been granted temporary name supression. They'll lift it tomorrow for most of them except the ones accused of nearly blinding a 14 year old girl also present and thought posessed. I can't find a single news article that explains WHY they get name supression. Probably due to "cultural respect" or some such BS. This is a HORRIBLE CRIME, it's pretty clear what happened, so WHYgive name supression? And here's the other interesting, and tragic, thing- she was a mother of two.

Here's the current story, below, from the nzherald.co.nz

10:44AM Tuesday May 05, 2009
Name suppression will be lifted tomorrow for the Lower Hutt family charged over the death of a young woman during an alleged makutu, or curse-lifting ceremony.
Six women and three men have pleaded not guilty in the High Court at Wellington to the manslaughter of 22-year-old Janet Moses.
One of the accused and another man have also denied ill-treating a 14-year-old girl, causing her unnecessary harm.
The 10 accused applied to Justice Simon France yesterday for continued name suppression.
But Justice France announced this morning that name suppression would be lifted at midday tomorrow for those charged with manslaughter.
Those charged with ill-treatment would continue to have their names suppressed.
Crown prosecutor Kate Feltham, in her opening address to the jury of five men and seven women yesterday, said Ms Moses drowned during an apparent cleansing ceremony or makutu at her grandparents' home in Wainuiomata in October 2007.
The family believed Ms Moses was possessed, Ms Feltham said.
During the ceremony, which lasted several days, Ms Moses was restrained, while family members formed a circle around her, poured water into her eyes and down her throat.
A post mortem found that Ms Moses died from drowning.
On behalf of the 10 accused and their lawyers, defence lawyer Mike Antunovic said the family believed they were trying to help Ms Moses.
The family believed Ms Moses was actually possessed, Mr Antunovic said.
None of the accused were acting with any criminal intent, he said.
The trial is set down for four to six weeks.
What do you think of my bruise? It's a couple days old now. Still very painful. There are two of them, see below.There's another on my elbow, but that wasn't going to fit neatly in the picture. I fell on the steps to from the garage, and landed on my back (obviously). The steps were wet with rain. It really, really hurt, and it still hurts. I am grateful, however, that I didn't break any bones, or hit my head. It didn't even merit any time off work, damn it.
If you're wondering where my waist went, I will remind you that I like good food, and I think my cooking is good. Tonight I made a big pan of ratatouille, then two loaves of feijoa loaf. I checked the US customs website, and they will allow me to bring baked goods and preserves into the country, so I'll bring some when we return for a visit to the midwest at the end of this month.

Monday, May 04, 2009

H1N1 in New Zealand

(Picture above taken from Terrierman's Daily Dose)
News of the "swine flu" broke in Auckland last Sunday, with wild speculation about some sick students who recently returned from Mexico. Monday morning, I rode the train into the city to work, as usual. The train was more packed than usual. As I stood up to get off at my stop, I heard a woman standing in front of me yell "oh my god!" but the rest of the train was quiet. Then someone said "did he get you too?" The crowd isn't moving now, so I push through and see what initially apears to be spilled coffee on the carpet of the train. I get off the train, and realize this isn't coffee. There's a man standing against the fence with drool hanging out of his mouth, red nose, pale face, vomit down his shirt, pants and shoes. I think, "oh that poor guy, he looks terrible" and at the same time "what a dumbass! He could have infected the whole train! Even if he's just hung over, why the hell is he getting on a train packed with people when he's feeling bad?"
This is the day that I go to get my flu vaccination from the hospital, which is free for employees. Oddly, this is not a requirement for hospital staff. Fortunately, I have been feeling fine so far. The hospital's response to the new flu has been to tell staff that if you are feeling unwell, but have not been to Mexico recently, follow the usual protocols- stay home, cover your mouth when you sneeze, throw your snotty tissues in the trash, and wash your hands a lot (that goes for everyone, even if you're feeling well).
As it turned out, there were three of the 11 students who were infected with H1N1, but none were reported to have more than mild symptoms. I really appreciate that New Zealanders are willing and eager world travellers, and that New Zealand is such an excellent tourist destination, but at the same time, this does put our relatively small population at risk. I suppose if this flu were actually a real threat, Darin and I could pack up our pets and flee to our land in Maungaturoto until it was safe to return to the cities. We were up there this past weekend and found that the recent rains had filled our new water tank completely. We also saw a large group of turkeys cruising around, so we would have water and meat. Hey, can you blame me for being paranoid? The train is a serious risk these days, with so many people in close proximity.
Sometimes I have to agree with Sartre: "Hell is other people".
This idea was repeated in a book about searching for the perfect meal, in The Man Who Ate The World by Jay Rayner. This book is relatively new, and was very entertaining. The title and subject is very similar to a 1997 book, The Man Who Ate Everything. The latter is a bit more intellectual, both practical and philosophical, and a lot less shallow. Both entertaining, but I'm only a few chapters into the ...Everything book. My most recent food fun has been to make chicken apple sausage from Bruce Adells Complete Sausage Book. We used a free range chicken from the grocery and one of our backyard chickens who turned out to be a rooster. It is delicious! We'll have to make it again soon, because there's another rooster out there (at least one). Sad though, because they have names: 5 Toe and Elvis. I guess their name will soon change to Sausage.