GMO, Larry, and Curly (by Piraro)

Dan Piraro is a funny man, and an intelligent one. He falls squarely on the liberal side of the political spectrum, and while I don’t always agree with his philosophies, I love his daily Bizarro strips. Recently he published this one…

… which points out the dangers inherent in Genetically Modified Organisms, commonly labelled “Frankenfoods.”

I’ve always been nervous about eating things whose genes have been tweaked – for example, corn that produces its own pesticide – because the deleterious effects of such things might not show up for generations. But Mr. Piraro then took a public journey of self-education which I found most enlightening. After he published this cartoon, he received a veritable Niagara Falls (slowly I turn!) of information from his readership, and apparently it was sufficient to get him to do a thorough examination of the issue within the boundaries of the time he could carve out of his life.

His summary of the experience is recorded over at his blog – and it’s well worth the read. The executive summary:

  1. Peer-reviewed science is generally reliable, although there are always some nuts among the berries.
  2. Humans have been genetically modifying foods for a long time (through natural breeding and selection processes) without giving us all third eyes.
  3. Everyone hates Monsanto – but not always for the right reasons.
  4. Do your own research, because the issue is not at all clear-cut.

As a matter of fact, I’d recommend you work backward to the original post of the cartoon, and then read his following posts: Schooled!, More GMO, and his conclusions. And then go read some more.

I appreciate the effort that Mr. Piraro has gone to in presenting his findings to his readership – the links contained in his blog posts are a good place to start a serious study of the issue.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

A Hidden Gem of a Film

If you’re ever hankering for a movie that will make you feel good, and give you hope for humanity, see if you can find a copy of Saving Grace somewhere. It took me years to find an old VHS copy which I have now ripped to DVD, but it was worth the hunt.

Edit: Now, thanks to the Internet, the film in its entirety (with ads, sadly, but better than nothing) is available at YouTube here.

Cardinal Bellini (Tom Conti) has been elected Pope, but he has a problem – he hates his job. All day it’s “Yes, your Holiness, ” “No, your Holiness,” and a schedule filled with meaningless bureaucracy and ceremonial visits. When he inadvertently locks himself out of the Vatican in gardening clothes, with no money and no identification, it’s the beginning of a charming adventure that helps him get back in touch with the people he was called to serve.

The story is heartwarming, and Conti and his supporting cast are brilliant throughout. This is not a multi-million-dollar production, but it easily remains my favorite movie of all time, just edging out “The Princess Bride” by a hair.

“What do the high-level depositors get… a sainthood?”

“Isabella, I will help your village find a priest.”

Pope in mufti.

It’s a great shame that the studios will copy a dog like “Batwoman” to DVD, but leave a treasure like this languishing in a vault somewhere.

Wish I could get the attention of someone at Columbia and have this properly remastered and burned to DVD.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Payson needs a “Blue Sky” program

This sig appeared on someone’s emails back around 1992, and I used for a long time.

O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O

When I lived in Salt Lake, I was able to sign up for the “Blue Sky” program: “When a customer commits to buying one or more blocks of renewable energy under the program, the utility promises a similar quantity of electricity generated from wind farms or other renewable resources will be put onto the regional distribution grid.”

At that point I was able to change my Livejournal signature to:

This journal entry brought to you by 100% clean renewable wind power.

Unfortunately, Payson, Utah has its own power generation system; while they do use natural gas, which is cleaner than coal, it’s still not the same – I’m still burning carbon in the atmosphere.

I wish there were a way I could get back to renewable power.

The Old Wolf is Sad.

Memories of Vienna

In a recent post, I referenced The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire by Time/Life. This picture always made me smile.

The caption reads, “Even in Vienna, the simplest food often tastes best. Witness this cabbie downing his sausage and beer with quiet satisfaction while waiting for a fare in front of St. Stephan’s Cathedral.”

If I know the Viennese, this guy was anything but quietly satisfied, and was probably griping to himself about the tourists, the government, the church tax, the weather, the beer, life, the universe, and everything. No, seriously – I love the Austrian people with all my heart, but the caption on the photo just doesn’t do reality justice.

But my goodness, that Würstel mit Senf (sausage with mustard) looks good. Hope he has a pile of Kren (fresh shredded horseradish) under his slice of bread… I can’t count how many times I’ve stopped at a sausage stand on the streets and snagged just what he’s having, or perhaps a Leberkäsesemmel – the Austrian version of a bologna sandwich, only 10 times better.

So many memories… I’ve shared a couple of them before, here and here, but there are so many it’s hard to choose from among them. I lived in Austria from February 1975 to December of 1976, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. So here are some of the more significant ones for me, in no particular chronological order.


Hallowe’en in Austria is a holy day, not one of ghosts and goblins. The evening before November 1, All Hallows Day, people make a pilgrimage to the cemetery and light candles for the souls of the dead. This was taken in Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) on October 31, 1976.

And the following morning:

I love Beethoven’s music more than any other, and I was honored to be able to honor his memory at so many different sites.

The Beethoven Monument in Vienna

Vienna, of course, is the home of many famous musicians:

The Strauss Memorial in Vienna’s City Park

Hot chestnuts for sale beneath the old Stadtbahn (City Elevated Train) tracks. A wonderful thing, these… I remember them at Christmas time on the streets of New York in the 50’s. 12 chestnuts for about 60¢ – the exchange rate was about 15 Austrian Schillings to the dollar at the time.

One of the old Stadtbahn trains.

Tichy Ice Cream parlor on Reumannplatz 13 in the 11th Bezirk

Still there, still famous. Here you get gelato, not American style ice cream, in a whole symphony of flavors.

I laughed hard the first time I saw a police beetle. I didn’t laugh at all the first time one of them pulled in front of me flashing a sign, “Bitte Folgen” (please follow) and I collected a speeding ticket.

Stefansdom – St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Sachertorte is the quintessential Austrian pastry. A sponge cake covered with apricot jam and chocolate, this cake is designed to be taken with schlagobers (whipped cream) and plenty of water. There are more Austrian pastries than you can shake a stick at, and you may like some of them more than this one – but it remains my favorite to this day.

I could go on. In fact, I will go on in another post. But now I want some Sachertorte, and I don’t have any. So I shall sit in the middle of the floor and cry.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

WOSML: Wrong on So Many Levels

Having recently posted about cigarette advertising, some of my readers pointed out that cigarettes were routinely hawked by doctors as being harmless at best, and actually good for you at worst. Here are some of the choicer examples, of which there are hundreds:

Even with all this historical nonsense, my head did a Linda Blair when I saw this picture over at Frog Blog:

I immediately went back to this Dilbert cartoon (click the link for the full-size version):

By the dessicated skull of Mogg’s grandmother – it’s like recommending arsenic to treat the symptoms of poisoning; apparently Dr. Batty (no offense intended to my dear friend in Dubbo) thinks the image of a 7-year-old puffing away on his death sticks would be fine. (“You don’t want to sell me death sticks. You want to go home and rethink your life.”)

Advertisements like this seem impossible in today’s world, but gullibility comes in many different forms. In the olden days, people believed just about anything they saw in print; authority and social validation are still powerful persuasion factors which can elicit the “click-whirr” response in a consumer’s brain. If you’re intersted in how marketers get your money, I recommend reading Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.)

Depending on a person’s level of awareness, however, the concept of “If you see it in the Weekly World News, it must be true” persists.

The parody issue of “The Irrational Inquirer,” published in 1983 by Larry Durocher and Tony Hendra, illustrates perfectly that most thinking people look at the supermarket tabloids with rolling eyes and shaking heads, but there is a segment of the population who buy these rags and actually believe what they contain, simply because it’s in print. “Alien Psychic Boondoggle Cripples Human Scum” is the best headline ever!

Pathetic… yet Americans alone are wasting billions of dollars annualy on bogus cures, nostrums, worthless weight loss products and other remedies, just because they find the information on the Internet.

The number of web pages like this which are out there number in the millions – because there’s money to be made from gullible people. Many of these deceptive ads claim that their products have been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz or others (again, using authority and social validation as marketing hooks) – but just like the snake-oil of old, it’s nothing but bald-face lies. For further reading, you might want to check out my previous post about the Açaí Berry.

Don’t get me wrong – there are countless products out there that do a body good – but my beef is with the deceptive marketing practices and false claims, particularly for products or systems (like tobacco) which science has shown to be harmful.

In closing, I recommend the following strategy for anyone who wishes to make wise purchasing decisions:

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Acorn Bread, and other meditations

(Posted in its original form on Sep. 22nd, 2009 at my Livejournal)

For the longest time I’ve been fascinated with the concept of acorns for food.

The seed (haha!) must have been planted in my mind when I was very young; my cousins who lived in the country – I was a New York City boy – had this lumbering black dustmop named Puffy who would devour acorns that he was given. I thought this terribly funny, since they were so bitter (naturally, being kids, we tried them!) And of course, the archetypical squirrel is always burying acorns.

Years later, having become a gastronome of sorts, the advent of the internet revived my curiosity, and I determined to find some acorn flour at some online store and try making bread or pancakes or what not. Guess what? You can’t find acorn flour for sale. Acorn starch, yes – but that’s different. There is, however, no dearth of information out there on how the native Americans used to process acorns, and so I archived off a few pages and determined to make the experiment at some point.

In 2009, while on one of my rambles up in the foothills north of Salt Lake, I stumbled across several groves of scrub oak that were replete with ripe, brown acorns, and managed to gather about 3 pounds of them.

The trick when gathering acorns is to get them when they’re brown enough to be ripe, but before the acorn weevils have gotten into them. As a result, it’s recommended to gather about ⅓ more acorns than you think you’re going to need. So if you see an acorn that looks like this:

you know it’s already occupied, and you don’t want to bother cracking it. Unless, of course, you’re interested in what goes on in an acorn after it falls – there is a fascinating article in the June, 1989 issue of National Geographic entitled “Life in a Nutshell”, which I recommend to all budding entomologists. If, however, that’s not your bag, the normal reaction is going to be “Eww”. Just be aware that some acorns which look sound are going to be compromised anyway:

Depending on the damage, part of the nut can often be salvaged.

So get yourself a nutcracker [1] and go about shelling your acorns. Like chestnuts, acorns have an interior brown skin which sometimes must be scraped off, but most of the time it just pops off with the husk. Certain varieties – I gathered nuts from a number of different groves – have the membrane in between the two halves of the kernel, so that will have to be removed as well.

When you’re done, you’ll have a nice bunch of acorns to work with.

I would have had a few more, but I ended up hucking out about ⅕ of what I had gathered… I just got so tired of shelling them, and all I had left were the smaller ones (see Note 1 below).

Be aware that like apples, acorns will go brown in the air quickly, so you may look in your bowl and think that a lot of them were bad to start with. However, if you were careful, the brown spots are not bug damage but simple oxidation. And if you missed a spot or two, hey – extra protein.

The next step is leaching out the tannin. According to Peggy Spring, an education coordinator with the San Antonio Natural Area Parks, “the Texas oaks reported to have the sweetest taste include Emory oak (Q. emoryi), which is so mild it can be used without processing, white oak (Q. alba), plateau live oak (Q. fusiformis), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), and chinkapin oak (Q. mulenbergii). The acorns of each of these oaks (mostly white oaks) mature in one year, which may account for their lower tannic acid content. Red oak acorns (like Texas Red Oak) take two years to mature.” How bitter are your acorns? Only one way to find out – taste ’em. Odds are, they’ll need to be leached. High concentrations of tannin can cause G.I. upset, kidney damage and cirrhosis of the liver, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

There are many ways to leach out tannin, some more practical than others. The natives would often put their shelled nuts in a basket and let a swift-flowing river take care of the job for a couple of days. To me, this seems the most logical, but clean, swift-flowing rivers are hard to find for most people. Others suggest simply allowing the acorns to soak and replacing the water when it goes brown, until the acorns are no longer bitter.

I chose the 3-hour boil method. After the first boiling of 15 minutes, the water looked like this:

Pour off the water, refill, and continue.

After about 12 boilings, the water started to look not quite so muddy, so at that point I was done. The acorns tasted at this point like an artichoke heart, nutty with a sweet aftertaste.

Next, dry the acorns in a 200° oven for an hour. In they go:

And out they come.

At this point they’re no longer soggy, but still not totally dry. So I popped them into my food processor on pulse setting just until the acorns were crumbled, and put them back in the oven for another hour and a half.

Now what I had was dried acorn meal. Run this through my Magic Mill III:

… and the end result is about 2 cups of acorn flour, which you can use in your favorite recipe – for bread, or pancakes, or biscuits, or whatever floats your boat.

I chose a bread recipe that uses about 6½ cups of flour, resulting in a bread that was only partly acorns, but which still had a very nice flavor.

Here’s the recipe:

Acorn Bread

Scald:  1 C Milk


1 C Water
1 T Shortening or Lard
1 T Butter
2 T Sugar
1 T Salt

In a separate bowl, combine:

¼ C 105°-115° (F) Water
1 package active dry yeast

and let dissolve 3-5 minutes. Add the lukewarm milk mixture to the dissolved yeast.

Have ready:

6½ C Flour (white flour and acorn flour to taste)

Stir in 3 cups flour (use the acorn flour first), then work in remaining flour by kneading on a floured surface until smooth and elastic.

Place dough in greased bowl and cover, allow to rise in a warm place until double, at least 1 hour. Punch down, and if time permits, allow to double again. Turn out, divide into 2 loaves and let rest 5 minutes. Place in pans and again allow to rise until almost double in bulk.

Preheat oven to 450°. Bake loaves 10 minutes – reduce heat to 350° and bake 30 minutes longer. Test for doneness by turning out a loaf and thumping the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it’s done. If not, put it back in for a few more minutes. Remove loaves from pans at once and allow to cool on rack before storing.

Now, if I were to go about this again, I would do the following things differently:

  • Find bigger acorns. Scrub oak tasted fine, but the shelling took forever.
  • Use a pecan sheller, as mentioned in the note below.
  • Gather more acorns to start with, so I could get a decent amount of flour, some to use, and some to keep.
  • Use a different leaching method, probably just letting the nuts sit in cold water and changing it every now and then. It might take longer, but I think the nuts would retain more of their nutrition.
  • Use less acorn flour. It’s heavier than wheat flour, and has no gluten, so it can’t be used alone – there’s nothing to bind the bread.

Further thoughts

Besides the bread, a lot of benefits accrued to me during this exercise. The entire time that I was harvesting, shelling, leaching, grinding and making bread, I turned my mind to the original occupants of this continent. This was a labor-intensive process. If you were going to use acorns as a major food source for a community, you’d pretty much have to put the entire female population to work on the process. Given that 3 lbs of acorns resulted in about 8 ounces of flour, you’d need a lot of acorns, and a lot of hands to do the necessary work. Granted, these folks spent a good part of their day working on food production anyway, but it left me with a huge sense of respect for what was necessary.

The exercise also made me think about the history of our nation in general, with no small amount of sadness. A few weeks ago, prior to my Acorn Escapade, I re-watched “Dances with Wolves.” I recalled the Gary Larson cartoon on the subject:

So I hopped over to Rotten to see if there was really anyone who didn’t like the film. To my surprise, it only got a 78% positive rating. One review, which was pretty representative of the opposition, said: “The political correctness is so politically correct and sappy and sucky and conscience-appeasing and politically-pacifying and just generally brain-numbing…”. Well, all I can say is that after 400 years of being raped by the white man, the autochthones of this continent are entitled to a little political correctness. The attitude of our nation toward the native has been and continues to be, “Bohica!” [2]. Don’t believe me? Just take a drive through the four corners area and down into the Res, and you’ll see the results of the white man’s benevolence. And, I haven’t the slightest idea of how to go about making it right.

These thoughts brought to you by the humble Acorn.


The Old Wolf has spoken.

1Acorns are soft-shell nuts. I recommend using a pecan sheller rather than a regular nutcracker.

These are available online at any number of places.

2 “Bend over, here it comes again”

My First National Geographic

Besides Variety and the New Yorker (and a few other magazines,) National Geographic was a constant guest in our home.

This is the first issue I ever remember reading, at what would have been the age of 9. The article about Port Royal particularly intrigued me. I was recently reminded of it again as a result of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, (Arr!) which made reference to the town several times (although most of the shots were taken on St. Vincent and not in Jamaica.)

Painting by Robert W. Nicholson. Click to enlarge.

Port Royal was a latter day Sodom and Gomorrah, and I remember reading this article over and over again, marveling at the force of nature that destroyed almost the entire peninsula, and in awe of the artifacts that were dredged up during excavations.

As the pink area on the map key above shows, not much of the then-existing Port Royal survived the devastating earthquake.

I used to have hundreds of Geo’s, but they’re heavy, and moving them was a pain. I have trimmed my collection down to the 30 or so which contained my favorite articles, but this one (another copy of which I recently acquired) I consider the foundation of my National Geographic experience. To this day it remains my periodical of choice.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Fall Color in Utah

My trip up Payson Canyon caught some beautiful colors, but a fellow resident of my state did even better, as he was able to get up into the mountains before the brightest colors had begun to fade.

Copyright ©2012 Eric Erlenbusch, posted by permission

For some additional and truly stunning photos of the mountains around Park City, Utah, visit his blog at Eric E Photo.

The Old Wolf is jealous.