Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Call The Butterball Hotline

I’m not the greatest cook.  Hell, I’m not even a good cook.  I get by in the kitchen, but when it comes to making dinner, I make reservations.  So I’m glad to see there’s a support group for people like me when the going gets tough.

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — The internet should have killed the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line years ago, but all the Google searches, YouTube videos and turkey tweets in the world can’t match the small-bore magic that happens here on the fifth floor of a suburban office building 34 miles southwest of Chicago.

Each year from Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve, 50 Butterball experts ease more than 100,000 nervous cooks through their Thanksgiving meal, either over the phone or, more recently, through text, email or live chat sessions.

The talk line started 38 years ago as a marketing gimmick, and has grown into a seasonal slice of Americana as sturdy and reassuring as a Midwestern grandmother with a degree in home economics, which many of the experts are.

“People can be just paralyzed with fear,” said Phyllis Kramer, who first took the seasonal job 17 years ago after retiring as a home economist. “All they usually need is someone who takes the time to be personal and sympathetic.”

Ms. Kramer embraces the talk-line ethos, which requires a cheery, solution-oriented and nonjudgmental demeanor. But who doesn’t love a good kitchen disaster story? It doesn’t take much to coax the experts into spilling some tea on America’s turkey illiteracy.

Their version of comedy gold often centers on thawing, the most common topic among callers. People ask if they can thaw a turkey in the dishwasher, under an electric blanket or in the backyard pool. One man threw a wrapped turkey in the bath water with his two children.

Here’s a classic: A man called in, worried about whether his bird would thaw in time. “What state is your turkey in?” the expert asked, trying to do a little culinary detective work. “Florida,” he answered.

Then there was the woman who wanted to know if she could check the turkey temperature with a fever thermometer, another who used dish soap to wash the turkey and the newlywed who called from a closet, fearful that her mother-in-law would discover she didn’t know how to roast a turkey.

Ms. Kramer’s favorite call came five years ago, when a group she suspects was fueled by a few holiday cocktails complained that the 21-pound turkey they had just pulled from the oven had barely any meat. She was puzzled, but then had a moment of what she called divine inspiration. “Turn the turkey over,” she suggested. They had cooked it breast-side down.

“The internet isn’t going to tell them that,” Ms. Kramer said.

Even the leader of the free world can avail himself of it.

Failing that, I’ve come up with a foolproof way of making sure I can just enjoy someone else’s hard work.

Don’t worry; I’m bringing a pumpkin pie from Publix.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Integrity of the Trump Impeachment Inquiry — Steven Coll in The New Yorker.

Many features of Trumpism—the cynical populism, the brazen readiness to profit from high office, the racist and nativist taunts—have antecedents in American politics. But Donald Trump’s open willingness to ask foreign governments to dig up dirt on political opponents has been an idiosyncratic aspect of his rise to power. At a press conference in July, 2016, when he was the presumptive Republican nominee for President, he invited Russia to get hold of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and leak them to the press. This past June, George Stephanopoulos asked him what he thought his campaign should do now “if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else,” offered information on his political opponents—accept it or call the F.B.I.?

Trump allowed that he might do both, adding, “If somebody called from a country—Norway—‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” (When the interview was released, Ellen L. Weintraub, the chair of the Federal Election Commission, felt obliged to point out that “it is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”) We now know that, as Trump spoke to Stephanopoulos, he and Rudolph Giuliani, his personal lawyer, were deep in a vigorous effort to persuade the government of Ukraine to conduct investigations that might rake up some muck about Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

Two bombshell documents made public this week—a record of a telephone conversation between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s President, and a whistle-blower’s complaint about that call—fully justify House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision, announced on Tuesday, to open an official impeachment inquiry. The documents describe a breach of Trump’s constitutional duties that is exceptional even in light of his record to date. During the telephone call, made on July 25th, he leveraged the vast disparity of wealth and power in the alliance between the United States and Ukraine to ask Zelensky to, in effect, aid his reëlection bid. The complaint, filed on August 12th, by a person whom the Times has described as an intelligence officer, further recounts how U.S. national-security and foreign-policy officials who worked on issues concerning Ukraine became entangled in Trump’s scheme, and how this distorted and undermined their work on behalf of American interests. According to the complaint, once it became clear how damaging the record of the call might be, Administration officials participated in a coverup, moving the memorandum of conversation—the contemporaneous documentation of the call—to a highly restricted computer system not intended for such materials.

The whistle-blower’s complaint is one of the great artifacts to enter Washington’s sizable archive of political malfeasance. In the second paragraph, its author distills Trump’s offense with bracing clarity: “I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The author goes on to provide a revelatory narrative about the underlying facts of the case, one that complements investigative reporting previously published by the Washington Post, the Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and other outlets.

The complaint’s lucidity and detail may help House investigators defend the integrity of their inquiry against the torrent of spin and lies that will surely continue to issue from Trump and his allies. When Washington scandals involving foreign affairs become politically contested, a timeworn tactic by those accused of wrongdoing is to befuddle the public; the unfamiliar names, tangled chronologies, and ambiguous meetings offer a way to distract non-obsessives from the heart of the matter. Already, Trump and Giuliani, on Twitter and Fox News, have fogged the record by repeating falsehoods and conspiracy theories. The story we can discern so far, however, retains a certain straightforwardness, thanks to Trump’s lack of subtlety.

Ukraine is enmeshed in a low-grade but persistent war with Russia, which began in February, 2014, after a popular revolution in Kiev that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, a corrupt ally of Moscow. He fled to Russia, and Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine. They seized Crimea, which Russia then annexed. Putin’s motive was the reassertion of Russian power; the United States and Europe, stunned by his audacity, imposed sanctions and tried to shore up the post-revolutionary government in Kiev. In search of accountability, the new Ukrainian regime opened corruption investigations into the previous political order.

That April, Joe Biden’s son Hunter, a lawyer, accepted a lucrative seat on the board of one of Ukraine’s largest private gas companies, Burisma Holdings, which is controlled by a Ukrainian oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky. Burisma became a subject of Kiev’s investigations, although the extent, seriousness, and focus of the inquiry are unclear. Hunter Biden’s decision to accept the board seat when his father was the Vice-President and Ukraine’s crises were of international importance showed questionable judgment. Since 2014, the Kiev government has been a ward of America and Europe; the potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest should have been apparent to both Bidens. Still, according to Ukrainian officials, no evidence of wrongdoing by either Hunter Biden or Zlochevsky has been found.

In 2015, the United States and some of its European allies sought to oust Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, because they believed that he had gone soft on corruption. That September, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, denounced Shokin’s failure “to successfully fight internal corruption.” In December, Joe Biden went to Kiev and told Ukraine’s leaders that the U.S. would withhold loan guarantees if they didn’t get rid of Shokin; he was ousted the following March. One of Giuliani’s aims has been to encourage Ukraine to examine whether Shokin was pushed out to protect Burisma—and, by extension, Hunter Biden—from a corruption probe. But the record indicates that Shokin was removed because he wasn’t doing enough about Ukrainian corruption. Vitaliy Kasko, a Ukrainian former prosecutor, recently told Bloomberg, “There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky.” He added that the Burisma case “was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”

As it turned out, the American politician first affected by Ukraine’s emboldened investigators was Donald Trump. Yanukovych had been a client of Paul Manafort, who became Trump’s campaign chairman in May, 2016. That August, a Ukrainian law-enforcement unit released records showing that Manafort had received $12.7 million in payments from the Yanukovych regime, and he resigned from the campaign. Trump apparently concluded that Ukraine was conspiring with Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to try to defeat him. For reasons that are not easy to fathom, he also came to endorse a conspiracy theory holding that Ukraine harbors a computer server used by the Democratic National Committee in 2016. “They’re terrible people,” Trump said privately of the Ukrainians as recently as May, according to the Times. “They’re all corrupt and they tried to take me down.”

This did not stop Trump and Giuliani from attempting to use the Ukrainians against Joe Biden. At the start of this year, they got wind of provocative allegations made by Ukraine’s then prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko. Ukraine was in the midst of its own raucous Presidential election, and Lutsenko, in the course of attacking his opponents in Ukrainian politics, alleged that Shokin had, indeed, been fired in order to protect Burisma. (Later, Lutsenko told Bloomberg that he had no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.)

In April, Trump told Fox News that Lutsenko’s allegations were “big” and “incredible,” and that he thought Attorney General William Barr would find them interesting. That same month, Zelensky, a former television comic, won Ukraine’s election in a landslide. In May, Giuliani announced that he would go to Kiev to urge the new government to investigate, among other subjects, the Bidens and alleged links between Ukraine and the Democrats. He would do so, he told the Times, “because that information will be very, very helpful to my client.” Soon after the story was published, Giuliani cancelled his trip.

It was a few days later that the whistle-blower, according to the complaint, “heard from multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned” that Giuliani was doing an end run around proper national-security decision-making, and opening a back channel between Kiev and Trump. Ukraine’s leaders were also apparently worried that Trump’s willingness to meet or talk with Zelensky, whose government cannot afford to lose American backing, “would depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball.’ ”

Around mid-July, according to the Washington Post, Trump ordered his chief of staff to hold back four hundred million dollars in military aid for Ukraine that had been approved by Congress. Then, on July 25th, Trump had the phone call with Zelensky that all the world can now review. According to the memorandum of conversation released by the White House (it is a cross between a transcript and a summary, and its completeness is uncertain), Trump began by mentioning how generous the U.S. is to Ukraine. “We do a lot,” he said, and then noted, twice, that “the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.” Finally, he got to the point. “I would like you to do us a favor though,” he said, and went on to ask Zelensky to speak with Giuliani and Barr about conducting investigations. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that,” Trump said. After the call, Giuliani flew to Madrid and met an aide to Zelensky. As Giuliani later told the Post, he said to the aide, “Your country owes it to us and to your country to find out what really happened.”

This week, the President and his allies made much of the fact that, during the call, Trump did not mention the suspended military aid or link its resumption to Zelensky’s participation in the President’s incipient dirty-tricks operation. (The aid was released this month, after bipartisan pressure from Congress.) Yet, according to the record of the call, Trump immediately followed a fulsome account of America’s support for Ukraine with a request for investigations of Democrats. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s technique “a classic Mafia-like shakedown.”

Historically, impeachment processes have been treacherous, tumultuous, and unpredictable; with Trump involved, this one can hardly be otherwise. Opinion polls suggest that, currently, Americans are about evenly divided on the question of impeachment, a complication for Democrats. Even if the House does eventually impeach Trump, it will require a two-thirds vote by the Republican-controlled Senate to remove him from office, and the Grand Old Party continues to lash itself to the President. The unlikelihood of Trump’s removal means that the impeachment inquiry may become a part of the political arguments during the primary and general-election campaigns of 2020. The President may not welcome the prospect of being impeached, but he is already using the battle to defame Joe Biden, and to reprise his “witch hunt” mantra in rage-inflected ad-libs, while his reëlection campaign is citing the inquiry in fund-raising solicitations. He and his allies are also testing their defenses and counterattacks, among them the contention that, if Trump is to be investigated over his conduct involving Ukraine, Joe Biden should be, too.

The Democrats swept the House in 2018 in large part by running a disciplined campaign emphasizing health care and the need to address economic insecurity among working and middle-class households—and by avoiding baiting the President. Pelosi’s launch of a formal inquiry followed a surge in support for impeachment among moderate Democrats, some of them military and intelligence veterans, who said that they were shocked by the Ukraine revelations. Their change of mind is notable for its lack of obvious political reward.

During the summer of 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, delegates designed impeachment as a political process entrusted to Congress. The record of their debate shows they hoped that Presidents who were merely incompetent would be thrown out of office at election time, by the voters. Yet they also assumed that, occasionally, Presidents might be so corrupt and so ruthless that it would be damaging to the republic to wait for the next election. William Davie, a delegate from North Carolina, raised an alarming scenario: if a rogue with no conscience gained the Presidency, he might “spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself reëlected.” In 1972, Richard Nixon proved his point. So, now, has Donald Trump.

Here, Fishy Fishy — Maya Kosoff in the New York Times on the little fish that could.

Consider the anchovy. That’s what Nick Perkins, a chef and the owner of Hart’s in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, would like you to do should you visit his restaurant and desire a burger. The only item on the menu that does not change with the season or the day of the week, it is a lamb patty served on a bun with fennel, aioli and an unusual optional upgrade: a row of marinated anchovies.

“We get a lot of people who are like, ‘Really? Is it really good?’” Mr. Perkins said. “And we always say, ‘We’ll buy your burger if you don’t like it.’ But it just never happens. People really like it.”

Mr. Perkins is allergic to dairy and always looking for foods to fill the cheese-shaped void in his heart. He found that tinned fish could act as a nondairy stand-in. “For me, learning about anchovies — my mom’s Italian, I spent a lot of time in Italy growing up — they do the exciting umami work that Parmesan does, for example,” he said.

The anchovy may have once been a punch-line and an item of derision, especially among the cartoon turtles of the late 1980s. And more recently, a 2016 Harris Poll surveying 2,193 American adults about their favorite pizza toppings found that anchovies were the least liked. But anchovies are slowly being adopted by an American public that is more open-minded to the small fish than they once were.

According to the most recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 3 percent of fish caught in the United States in 2017 was used as canned human food — including anchovies and other small fish, like herring or sardines (an increase from 2 percent the year before). But to understand why, one must understand where the anchovies we eat today come from, and what an anchovy is.

The anchovy is a small, 3-inch fish raised in seawater. There are about half a dozen species of the anchovy in the world, and each of them can be eaten. You can buy and eat fresh anchovies if you happen to be in the vicinity of where they’re caught, but most often anchovies are jarred and tinned, or pulverized to use as a paste in sauces or salad dressings. American chefs are foisting small fish on diners in an attempt to make the fish palatable to trusting audiences.

In her 2017 cookbook “Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes,” Alison Roman, a writer and columnist for The New York Times Food section, offers readers recipes for roasted tomato and anchovy bucatini and a whole chicken rubbed in anchovy butter and then roasted. She has been a tiny-fish evangelist for years; her readers have taken a while to come around.

“I’m not trying to use ingredients to be cool or contrarian or bold. I use them because I think they’re going to make you enjoy the food more and they’re going to make you a better cook,” she said. “I feel like I had to work for a really long time to get people to trust me in the anchovy spirit.”

Anna Harrington, a baker who runs a cookie-shipment service called the Rounds, includes one unorthodox flavor combination on her online menu: anchovy scallion.

“I really wanted to include anchovies because I feel like there aren’t a lot of crackers out there with fish in them,” she said. “Anchovies are really decadent and delicious and have an incredible richness and go really well with butter. My cookies have tons of butter. Really, they’re mostly butter. It felt like a natural pairing to me.”

Ms. Harrington acknowledges that the fish cookies don’t sell as well as her other flavors, but she has no plans to take them off the menu. “The people who like the anchovy cookies are obsessed with it,” she said. “It’s their favorite thing.”

Katie Parla, a food-and-beverage educator and culinary writer living in Rome, published a book this year about the land of the anchovy: the Italian South. Ms. Parla eats her fair share of tinned fish there and says that if you’re looking for the real deal, you should source your anchovies from the waters off the coast of Italy. “The cold waters of the Cantabrian Sea produce incredible, meaty anchovies, and even Italian connoisseurs place them above those of the west coast of Italy,” she said in an email.

Anchovies are caught in nets and are not typically farmed. In the U.S., they’re caught using a purse seine, a large wall of netting that captures many fish simultaneously. In one town on the Campanian coast, Pisciotta, fishers use something called a menaica net, which is said to date back to Ancient Greece, according to Ms. Parla. Menaica nets are more sustainable; the way the nets are designed guarantees that only anchovies past reproductive age are caught, which helps to ensure the survival of the species. When small Italian producers catch anchovies, the fish are quickly processed — their heads and guts are removed — then the fillets are layered with coarse sea salt and ultimately tinned, with or without olive oil.

Alberto Recca, of the popular Sicilian anchovy namesake brand, said that anchovies originally initially infiltrated the U.S. because they were popular among south Mediterranean immigrants living here. “The Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, French and Greeks who enjoyed this delicacy in their home countries introduced it to their American neighbors,” he said in an email. “The present growing popularity of anchovies in the U.S. can be attributed to Americans who have tried them in trattorias and beachfront restaurants in their travel to the Mediterranean basin, especially Italy and Spain.”

“It’s not that anchovies are more or less sustainable than other fish species — it’s that they’re really deeply connected to the rest of the food web,” said Phil Levin, a professor of practice at the University of Washington and the lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy in Washington. “So fishing them has consequences that propagate.”

Overfishing anchovies, a crucial part of ocean food webs, could have consequences down the line, in terms of the food resources available to birds, mammals and big fish. But in terms of how fishers catch anchovies, Mr. Levin said their methods make them a sustainable food choice.

From a carbon footprint point of view, he said, purse seine, the method used to fish anchovies, “is pretty good,” Mr. Levin said. “If you think about the total environmental impact of these small fisheries, they’re really quite a good fishery.” And, he added, the nutrient density in anchovies is high because they contain good oils and micronutrients. Other fish scientists say that consuming fewer of the bigger fish at the top of the food chain and more of their prey is a good way to rebalance the marine ecosystem.

In a 2011 study, Villy Christensen, a professor at the University of British Columbia specializing in ecosystem modeling, found that fish at the top of the food chain had been wiped out; over the past century, populations of these fish have shrunk by about two-thirds.

Dr. Christensen urged diners to consume more forage fish, including anchovies and sardines, and reduce their intake of bigger fish to help rebalance the fish species in the ocean. Plus, he said in a phone call, “small fish like anchovies are nutritious, affordable and have lots of nutrients and healthy fats and protein. It’s much more healthy to eat that than things like whitefish or tilapia. They don’t compare at all to the nutritious value of anchovies.”

Mr. Perkins said that Hart’s is still working to win over the hearts, minds and stomachs of some skeptical diners. “I think people are less scared of little fish,” he said.

Doonesbury — Base hit.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Reading

100 Days — Margaret Doris on the road ahead for Hillary Clinton.

PHILADELPHIA—Ain’t nobody gonna rain on her parade.

Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to celebrate the launch of her fall campaign outdoors on Friday afternoon, with Independence Mall providing a historic backdrop to a massive rally. Instead, when the forecast called for thunderstorms, organizers scaled back and moved the rally indoors, to an old gymnasium best remembered as the home of the inaugural 1938 NIT champion Temple University Owls.

It didn’t make no nevermind to the candidate.

“I don’t know about you, but I stayed up really late last night. It was just hard to go to sleep,” an ebullient HRC told the crowd of several thousand supporters gathered just hours after she formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. “When I woke up this morning, and Bill and I started drinking our coffee—or asking that it be administered with an IV—we suddenly looked at each other and we realized as of tomorrow, we have 100 days to make our case to America.”

The kick-off event, the prelude to a three-day bus trip reprising the Bill Clinton/Al Gore 1992 post-convention swing, served as a formal introduction to the themes and images that will define the campaign in the weeks to come.

The Democratic Party has now taken back the flag. Red, white, and blue bunting festooned the balconies and railings in McGonigle Hall, and the campaign handed out American flags to the celebratory crowd. Unfortunately, the convention did not inspire a new campaign slogan. The Clinton/Kaine ticket is apparently sticking with “Stronger Together.”

Donald Trump has travelled far on “Make America Great Again.” Bernie Sanders’ “A Future to Believe In” inspired over 13 million voters. Rolled out in late May, “Stronger Together” is by some counts the seventh slogan HRC has employed in the course of her campaign and sounds sadly like something the second string at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce came up with to promote a new compound laundry detergent.

On Friday, massive Bernie Blue “Stronger Together” banners and signs flanked the left side of the podium (on the right, large stenciled lettering on the walls suggested campaign tactics: GYMNASTICS. FENCING.) The candidate herself is on week two of her wedding dance song, entering and exiting with Tim Kaine to the strains of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (two points for going with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell over Diana Ross).

“Donald Trump painted a picture, a negative, dark, divisive picture of a country in decline,” she said Friday. “He insisted that America is weak, and he told us all, after laying out this very dark picture, that ‘I alone can fix it.’

“Now, as I watched and heard that, it set off alarm bells, because just think about what happened here 240 years ago,” she continued. “Think about our founders, coming together. A Declaration of Independence, writing a Constitution. They set up our form of government, the longest-lasting democracy in the history of the world. And you know they did it because they knew they didn’t want one person, one man, to have all the power, like a king,” she said. “I don’t know any founder, no matter how strong they were, no matter how smart they were, that believed only one person could solve our problems.”

As if on cue, a protester starting yelling “Hillary is a war criminal!” As he was escorted out, HRC seamlessly ad-libbed, “And I’ll tell you something else—they also expected a kind of raucous debate in America. But at the end of the debate we have to come together and get things done.”

She can expect to encounter protesters almost every day from here on in. Her ability to keep her cool, to handle protesters with grace and wit, will say much about the condition of the campaign.

Jody Sturgill, 43, travelled to Philadelphia from east Kentucky to volunteer with the Philadelphia Host Committee. Back home, he juggles the challenges of promoting tourism in Kentucky’s impoverished coal region, advocating for LGBTQ causes, and supporting Hillary Clinton.

“I’ve been working for her since 2007,” Sturgill explained at the conclusion of the rally, watching from a balcony as Bill Clinton worked to leave no hand unshaken. “I’ve met her in person like four times. She’s a genuine person.”

He continued, “What you see on TV seems more fake or projected. [In person] she seems more like an aunt or a grandmother.” That’s why he hopes the campaign puts Kentucky in play. “Everybody…thinks they’re forgotten. She needs to come, let her voice be heard.”

Drew Wicas, a rising senior at Franklin Marshall, and her sister-in-law, Erica Wong Wicas, a workers’ comp litigator, got in line at 9 a.m. to secure a spot at the rally. Drew Wicas, a Sanders supporter, found the whole event “magical.”

“Talk about someone that doggedly goes after something,” she said, impressed.

“She just had this big convention, and she’s ready to get going.”

“I’m going to donate a buck or two” to the Clinton campaign, she said, taking a page from the Bernie Sanders playbook. “Everybody’s got a buck or two. You’re a college student, donate a buck or two.”

The thunder held off, and the rains never came. The “bus” outside was really two “Stronger Together” buses, several charters, a couple of black SUVs, and a fleet of police escorts.

Finally, after a long and grueling primary season, the campaign was on the road again.

Forty Years Later — Remembering the Big Thompson flood in Colorado.  I was there when it happened.

A year’s worth of rain fell in 70 minutes.

Clouds piled 12 miles into the mountain sky unleashed a deluge on July 31, 1976, setting off the most powerful flood since glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago.

The chaos along an otherwise trickling Big Thompson River killed 144 people, five of whom were never found, and carved out a chapter in the history books as Colorado’s deadliest natural disaster.

It was the eve of the state’s 100th birthday, part of a three-day shebang that drew weekend warriors and outdoor enthusiasts to the mountains of Larimer County. An estimated 3,500 people were camping, fishing and relaxing in the canyon that night.

A thunderstorm parked near Estes Park and turned the sky a daunting black late that afternoon.

Some residents recall fishing in Loveland and looking to the west, curious about the strange storm pattern that didn’t jibe with late-summer monsoon flows. Others remember the peculiarity of water filling wheel barrows in a matter of seconds or nature’s brilliant light show after the sun set.

Even the 2013 disaster in the same spot paled in comparison both in body count and sheer brutality, largely because people were caught flat-footed some 40 years ago. A foot of rain fell during a few hours in a stretch of land between the tourist hub of Estes Park and the quaint mountain communities of Drake and Glen Haven.

With nowhere to go, that deluge sped down the rocky hillsides.

It took everything in its path.

“I’m stuck. I’m right in the middle of it. I can’t get out…” said Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Willis Hugh Purdy in his last radio transmission before being swept away, killed by the water. He’s credited with saving hundreds of lives by issuing evacuations lower in the canyon.

Propane tanks burst. Water buoyed homes. Babies were snatched from their families.

The river even moved a 275-ton boulder the size of a small house.

All told, the pressure washer of water that tore through the Big Thompson Canyon caused more than $35 million in damage to 418 homes and businesses — nearly $150 million by 2016 standards. More than 400 vehicles, many loaded with tourists or residents trying outrun the water, were swept off roads and sent crashing down the steep and craggy mountain canyon.

Bodies were pulled from debris piles and muck from high in the canyon to areas near Interstate 25. It wasn’t until the death toll surpassed the 100 people that many realized just how bad this storm had been.

There were at least 250 reported injuries, and more than 800 people were helicoptered out when day broke and the sun shined the following Sunday morning, Aug. 1. The stories of survival, near death and loss made national headlines. Flood waters were replaced by a flood of people — rescuers, family members and journalists, their own stories making headlines about covering the mayhem in a time before cellphones, the internet and camera ubiquity.

“For days, it was a race from one stop to the next, then to the nearest phone or back to Fort Collins to make the deadline for the afternoon paper,” wrote Jake Henshaw, the lead Coloradoan reporter who covered disaster, in a column marking the 10th anniversary. “…[W]hat strikes me most is not how quickly the flood and the rescue were over but how long the clean-up took and how deeply the scars cut.”

Families gathered at the old Loveland Memorial Hospital, anxious to hear the latest identity of the figures tucked in body bags, which were laid out in refrigerated trucks in the parking lot — there were too many for the morgue to handle. The bodies of five flood victims were never located.

Signs now dot U.S. Highway 34 — and canyons across Colorado — warning people to climb to safety in the event of flooding. That was a lesson from 1976. Flood plains were re-drawn. Some homes were rebuilt. Many weren’t.

Each year, residents, friends, family, and survivors gather at the Big Thompson Canyon Association and Memorial Site, about one mile below Drake, 13 miles west of the Kmart on U.S. Highway 34 in Loveland. Sometimes there’s singing. Other times just speeches. Scholarships to children have become part of the ceremony.

But there’s always a somber note that hangs in the air, one that remembers the deadliest natural disaster in Colorado history.

¿Qué está cocinando? — Maddie Oatman at Mother Jones tells us that you have never actually eaten Mexican food.

When white people think of Mexican food, visions of nachos coated in orange melted cheese and jalapeños, or burritos bursting with grilled chicken come to mind. Even in US cities where “authentic” Mexican taco trucks line the streets, fried meat and sour cream feature prominently. Sure, these dishes might make you salivate, but they’re just one layer of the country’s complex cuisine—and a pretty unhealthy layer at that.

Hiding behind these modern dishes is a legacy of foods from the indigenous people who inhabited Mexico before the Spanish arrived. For their new cookbook Decolonize Your Diet, authors Luz Calvo and Catrióna Rueda Esquibel dug up that history and displayed it in all its glory. Their task: To “decolonize” their diets and show readers how eating foods native to North America led them to healthier lives.

As the authors informed us on our latest episode of Bite, indigenous Mexicans feasted on corn, beans, potatoes, wild greens, cactus, squashes, other plant-based dishes, and meat prepared in a wide variety of sauces. This diet kept them relatively healthy: Historians have found that at the time of the Spanish Conquest, the Aztecs in Mexico lived, on average, 10 years longer than Spaniards.

But, as Esquibel told us, “the Spaniards really tried to change the way indigenous people grew food and prepared food. They wanted to replace their foods with European foods, particularly wheat.” Indigenous grains were thought to be inferior, and some of them, like amaranth and chia, were even outlawed because they were used in religious ceremonies and associated with paganism.

In other words, the very foods that have come to characterize contemporary Mexican-American fare—cheese, flour tortillas, beef, cane sugar—didn’t exist in America before the Europeans. And unfortunately those foods are linked to the obesity, diabetes, and cancer epidemics plaguing Mexican-American communities today.

As Calvo and Esquibel found, revisiting pre-Hispanic cuisine meant unearthing ancient ingredients and recipes that can help counter those diet-related maladies. But for the couple, it’s about more than physical health: “We’re trying to push people towards a radical rethinking of the way food is both grown and distributed and consumed,” Calvo said.

They left us with a recipe ripe for mid-summer produce: A rich vegetarian soup showcasing creamy corn and delicate blossoms from a squash plant. “You can really put whatever you happen to have growing in the garden into the soup as well,” Calvo noted.

Sopa de Milpa
*Milpa is a sustainable crop-growing system used throughout Mesoamerica.

Adapted from Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing, by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel

15 squash blossoms
2 fresh poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, and seeded
½ medium white onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced
6 cups corn stock (made by bringing 8 cups water with 6 corn cobs, 1 quartered onion, 4 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, and any fresh herb sprigs to a boil and then simmering for 1-2 hours. Strain solids and use broth in the soup recipe) or vegetable broth.
2 medium zucchinis, sliced into bite-sized quarter-rounds
2-3 ears of corn, to make 2 cups kernels
2 tablespoons chopped epazote or cilantro
½ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 avocados, peeled, seeded, and cubed
6 ounces queso fresco, cubed (optional)

Prepare squash blossoms: If there is a long pistil in center of blossom, remove and discard. Rinse flowers gently under cool water. Gently tear squash blossoms in half.

Roast the poblanos: Rub with oil and place under broiler until they turn black and blister. Place in a bag or under glass container and steam for 30 minutes. Carefully remove charred skin from chile. Tear chiles into strips about ¼-in wide and cut each strip 3-4 inches long.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, sauté onions in oil about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Add garlic and stir until fragrance is released, about 30 seconds. Add corn stock, chiles, zucchini, corn, and epazote/cilantro and bring to a light boil. Simmer 20 minutes. Add squash blossom pieces and cook 5-10 minutes, or until zucchini is crisp-tender. Add salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Ladle soup into blows and serve topped with avocado cubes and queso fresco.

Doonesbury — Teachable moment.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Eat A Bug

Via Andrew Sullivan, Joseph Stromberg at Vox makes the case for eating insects.

Put simply, our increasing reliance on factory-farmed meat is killing the planet.

Growing grain and then feeding it to animals so we can eat them — the way the majority of meat is produced nowadays — is incredibly inefficient. Between the carbon dioxide emitted as a result of growing grain and the methane burps emitted by cows as they digest it, it’s estimated that raising livestock generates about 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Studies have found that raising insects like mealworms and crickets for food, on the other hand, is much more environmentally friendly, because we don’t need to clear nearly as much land to raise them, they’re cold-blooded — so require less feed per unit of body weight to sustain themselves — and we can consume their entire bodies, wasting little flesh.


It turns out that pound for pound, eating insects like crickets and mealworms (larvae that later turn into beetles) provides similar levels of fat and protein to conventional meats like beef, chicken, and fish.


Your first reaction to this article was probably a sense of revulsion. For many readers, there’s something intrinsically gross about the idea of eating insects.

But there’s nothing innate about that disgust. For one, billions of people already eat insects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America every day. More generally, the animals considered to be fit for consumption vary widely from culture to culture for arbitrary reasons.

Most Americans consider the idea of eating horses or dogs repugnant, even though there’s nothing substantial that differentiates horses from cows. Meanwhile, in India, eating cows is taboo, while eating goat is common.

These random variations are the results of cultural beliefs that crystallize over generations, until it begins to seem like a natural truth that eating insects is gross. (io9 has a fascinating history of how that came to happen in European and American culture.) We’re all subject to it: the times I’ve eaten insects, I’ve battled a sense of disgust while objectively enjoying the taste of a crispy fried cricket.

Luckily, these arbitrary taboos can be defeated over time. There was a time when raw fish — served as sushi — was seen as repugnant in mainstream US culture. Now it’s ubiquitous.

With luck, insects — like crickets, for instance, which are closely related to shrimp — may come to seem like elegant hors d’oeuvres.

How about it?  Would you consider adding insects to your diet?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Short Takes

Crackdown — The mullahs mean business in Iran.

Details, details…. The Democrats’ health care reform plan is thin on them.

Sotomayor is an “activist”? — Really? And Ken Starr likes her.

No dough — Nestle recalls its Toll House cookie dough.

10.2 million — the new unemployment figures in Florida.

Marco Rubio is the “GOP’s Barack Obama.” Okay, if you say so.

Tigers beat Milwaukee in rain-shortened game.

Saturday Video: Nat King Cole and those lazy hazy crazy days.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Short Takes

Down — The stock market did not like having Obama in the drivers seat.

Over Budget — The Pentagon overspent on 70% of its weapons-buying program.

Give Me Land, Lotsa Land — The president sets aside 2 million more acres of wilderness.

Not So Daily — Detroit’s daily newspapers cut back to three days a week delivery.

Bad Nuts — Stay away from the pistachios.

North Korea will put two journalists who wandered over their border on trial. I predict a non-apology apology and cash payment forthcoming.

R.I.P. Maurice Jarre — The composer who filled the movie theatres with swelling themes and signature tunes died at the age of 84.

Tigers win close one — 3-2 — against the Nationals. 6 days….

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hot Holiday Snack

It may come as a surprise to some people, but I actually can cook, and I have been known to do so. And while I’m no Paul Prudhomme or Wolfgang Puck, the state has not required that I register my stove as a lethal weapon, either. When my ex and I were together we loved to come up with things for Christmas, especially things that you wouldn’t necessarily think are Christmas-y. Since he was a professionally-trained cook, AJP would make the complicated stuff while I would do the simple things. I especially like hot stuff, like New Mexico posolé and chiles rellenos with “Christmas” chile sauce, so named because it’s an even mix of red and green. (“Red or green?” is the official State Question of New Mexico. I’m not kidding.)

Here’s a recipe for something I loved to make at Christmas, but it’s good any time of the year. It’s called “The Devil’s Own Peanuts” from the Fancy Pantry.

– 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
– 2 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 cloves garlic (peeled & sliced)
– 1 tsp salt (more for sprinkling if desired)
– 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
– 1/4 tsp ground cumin
– 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
– 2 dashes Tabasco sauce (optional & depending on taste)
– 2 egg whites
– 1 jar (16.5 ounces, about 3 cups) dry-roasted UNSALTED peanuts (or substitute unsalted nuts of your choice)

Combine first 8 ingredients (all but egg whites & nuts) in blender and blend until garlic is pureed. Add egg whites and run just until the ingredients are blended. Place nuts in a bowl and pour mixture over them. Let the nuts stand for 30 to 60 minutes stirring several times. Preheat oven to 250F and put nuts into colander set over a bowl to drain and reserve the liquid. Divide the nuts onto 2 baking sheets that have been lightly oiled or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (Pam). Bake nuts on 2 shelves until they have dried slightly (about 10 minutes). Stir the nuts to break up any clumps and drizzle reserved liquid over them. Stir well and spread evenly again. Return nuts to oven, exchanging shelf positions, and bake until glaze is dry (about 15 minutes). Turn off oven and leave the nuts in it with the door ajar until nuts have cooled.

Baking times may need to be extended slightly to compensate for humidity and altitude.

I always end up making a much larger batch because I cannot stop eating them.