Thursday, September 8, 2011

People on My Gulch: A Barter Network

Aside from bringing people in to live with me and help out with my farming, another idea I've had is the establishment of a private barter network. This would involve people outside of my farm, where I would establish intimate connections and form agreements as to what we would do during bad times. My idea differs from today's barter societies and those that may prop up in the future in that it would be more private: It would involve a limited group of people aware and desirous to trade for particular people's products, rather than offering them to the public at large, though the two selling fronts aren't exclusive.

Now I not only know that I'll have to give some things up to live this farm lifestyle that I envision -- like tropical produce (e.g. cacao, bananas, coconuts), free time, and maybe even internet and electricity -- but that I'll also be unable to produce everything I want. For instance, I don't have any sort of fish incorporated into my plans, so unless I bring aboard a fisher or fish rancher that's a culinary thing I might have to give up. However, what if I can convince the right people to connect with me and trade me fish during dire times when the market could have it unavailable?

In more stable times what I could do, along with my Gulch participants, is contact people with those desirable goods such as fish, talk to them about the farm and why it exists, and see if a private contact can be established so that we can agree to trade our goods once the market does become hostile. Successful agreements would mean that me and my employees would have access to even more good and services than the economy would otherwise allow, and that in bad times we'd have to give up even fewer values, all without necessarily integrating any more people in the farm. The people within this barter network would remain distinct and separate, so the purpose would be to create a web of contacts who would agree to trade goods on the basis of material products, not money, once it becomes either too difficult or impossible to obtain them in the market. Beyond securing a supply of certain products, it could also be a good mode of activism in spreading ideas regarding the objective estimate of the culture, the wall our economy will likely hit, and how we need to prepare to survive for a future worth waiting for.

I envision this network having two facets: a web of communications that's pooled together for the viewing of the whole network, and an additional tier in which the producer(s) only agree to make their information available to my farm in particular. In the former, the goal would be to establish a private kind of society where each member may or may not have communicated with each other in particular, but would have contributed their information to be visible to all those who join in this network, so a game meat producer and fish rancher may become aware of each other's willingness in the future to trade on the basis of goods despite never having communicated with each other. In the latter, a producer could opt to keep his information exclusive to my farm solely, which would both give people more options for levels of privacy and grant my farm a more exclusive access to a set of goods, and I anticipate some people desiring that option since I want my farm to be extremely varied and broad in what food offerings it provides, allowing a completely sufficient nutritional regiment all on its own.

What I think would make this idea easier to accept amongst local producers is that it would be an emergency backup plan by default, meaning there'd be almost nothing in the way of required action except regular communication to keep clear sincere interest. In better times, that's all we'd do: Talk. We'd continue producing as usual and using the market as usual, not interacting with each other in any way except through private contact and updating the list of open traders. Only once things get difficult, for some of us individually or everyone, would we actually make use of our agreements and begin bartering, negotiating what goods we'll accept for ours.

Aside from securing goods, it could also help me and my Gulch participants have an easier time remaining productive within their loved trades, since my project is about pursuing happiness and growing one's abilities after all. Each member could engage in the establishment of the barter network in his own way. For instance, I could set my focus on securing food goods, such as game meat from a group of hunters or fish from a rancher, while a carpenter could consult with a tree farmer for timber to fell. I can't think of many examples, but you get the idea. I could not only achieve a self-sufficient farm, but an even larger self-sufficient group of people. The barter network wouldn't be necessary, but it'd be a huge addition of value if my participants and I pull it off.

The economy may be geared for an eventual downfall, but the more and more I think about it I find there are plenty of ways to not only survive, but to also protect and cultivate your happiness as well. You just need to think, make the appropriate actions, and make peace with what difficulties you'll have to face and what values you'll have to give up. Tough decisions will have to be made and hard work will be required, but you'll be all the better off for it.

For my final planned article in the series explaining my various ideas about my farm, I'll make an efforts to construct a coherent, lengthy, and persuasive advertisement about my project to explain the nuances of the mechanics and call for people to join up with me. Given my other life interests and finickiness about time spent, these recent articles have just been dashed off to hurry and make note of something, so next time I'll exert more effort to integrate the information and elaborate on specifics, as well as attempt to persuade the heroes among us that my endeavor will be conductive to their happiness and worth joining in.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

People on my Gulch: Farming Talent

Alright, now I mentioned in my last post that I've decided to pursue bringing other people into my Galt's Gulch venture with me, so that I'll have help on my farm. Originally I planned on doing it alone, but all my ambitions would make it either extremely hard or nearly impossible to achieve in their ideal state, so rather than compromise I'd like to bring people aboard. Among other things, they would help with planting, dairy, harvesting, animal husbandry, livestock slaughter, and other things, but in thinking more about Atlas Shrugged I realized there's potential for something greater than that.

In short, on top of bringing bringing in people to help me complete certain tasks either difficult or impossible to do alone, I want to seek out and bring out other people skilled and talented at things beyond farming and use my farm as a way for them to cultivate their skills. In return for food, shelter, and other things, they'll trade me their own goods and services. Aside from being practical, this would also further contribute to the protection of my and others' happiness in economic crisis, as we'd be forced to give up fewer values than the economy would otherwise force us to.

What would motivate people to join me is the same motivation I have in doing this project to begin with: To protect, secure, and cultivate my happiness during economic collapse. To restate some points, my project has always mainly been concerned with happiness and the growth of talent rather than with mere survival. Sure, cultivating my own produce and livestock is practical from a survivalist perspective, but since I want to become a culinarian my ultimate aim is to grow the ingredients with which I'll use to foster my culinary practice and education. Most importantly, during any time in which supermarket shelves become bare and stories of people starving become prevalent, my own health and spirit will be virtually immune to the disaster, as with my preparations I'll still be able to roast red peppers from the garden, grill my home-slaughtered and butchered steak, spread my own crafted butters, and so on. I won't be able to cultivate everything, such as coconuts or ostriches, and will certainly have to give up some major values, such as chocolate, but the essentials will be there. At the worst of times I'd still be able to nurture my talent, expand my knowledge, and maintain, maybe enhance my physical well-being, albeit with a less conventional, more difficult and laborious lifestyle. The important thing is that if I achieve the farm the way I envision it, the worst of economic times won't stop me from pursuing and gaining my happiness.

This is what I view as what could be the main appeal for those not exactly interested in farming. If the economy goes to pot, then everyone in every trade is going to be affected in some way, and trying to depend on a failing economy could very well hurt or destroy their ability to pursue their trade. When the value of the dollar finally goes under the hair stylist will have empty chairs, the seamstress with no materials to sew, and so on. In other trades outside of my culinary interests, a failing economy means those people in love with their career will be hindered in their pursuit of happiness, if not totally stopped.

I propose my farm as the remedy. Everyone would have to step out of their boundaries somewhat, as I am in cultivating my own food rather than depending on cooking pre-made stuff (e.g. vegetables and beef from other farmers), but if they too exert their minds and efforts they'll be able to find ways to continue practicing their trade on my farm and use the other workers as their clients; the only difference is that they'll have to find new methods, work with different materials, cultivate their tools, and so on. For instance, a seamstress could tend to the feeding and maintenance of fiber animals, such as sheep and goats, and maybe cotton, and then collect those materials to create garments, clothes, blankets, and more, which could be given to other farm members or barter partners in trade of other goods. A hair stylist, given a large enough staff, could tend to the hair cuts and shaving needs of the staff, for which we receive free service in exchange for allowing them to experiment on us with new styles and techniques. A carpenter could see to the maintenance and creation of the home(s?) and structures. Even an inventor could have a place, such as by being the innovator who could help figure out practical solutions within limited means, such as generating self-sufficient energy.

So at a time in which a failing economy would prevent these people from using their skills to trade with a broader group of people, I can provide them with a means to keep at their jobs to continue developing their skills and talents, with the insignificant caveat of trading with a greatly reduced selection of people. (An insignificant caveat given the alternative is not being able to work at all, plus maybe being out in the street and starving.) Consequently, my aim in bringing other people aboard is not merely to get assistance in the muscle work, but to find people who connect their happiness to their trade and would like nothing more than to continue being engaged in it whether the economy prospers or fails. By searching for these people accordingly I could not only keep and protect values I wouldn't be able to otherwise, such as haircuts, I would also gain a highly self-motivated staff that would find it easier to find contentment in their security of shelter and food, and the ability to practice their trade when I'll likely be unable to pay them anything else, though I think I could figure something out.

Oddly enough, this does mean the aim in my project is starting to look more like what was seen in Atlas Shrugged, where the striking producers created a self-sufficient, small-scale society within the mountains. I have no intention in making my farm so large as to, ha, support a small society or to become so self-sufficient as to have its own grocery store, but I do want to strive to bring together a number of life-loving producers who could live a meaningful, happiness-serving, and mutually beneficial life together, with the only difference that we'd be trading our goods instead of relying on monetary payments.

This, I think, is a great way to enhance the scope of my project, progressing from mere bodily survival to the nourishment of my trade, to protecting values even further beyond. I don't know how I would go about seeking those people, but since the project is mainly in its research and capital gathering phase that doesn't matter much right now.

I even already have system in mind as to how I could introduce people to the farm, mainly depending on the conditions of their life. In short, I could offer them options everywhere from allowing them to move-in and establish themselves immediately, travel to the farm intermittently to get themselves used to the setting and duties, and keeping the farm only as an emergency backup plan.

Immediate move-in: Not much needs to be said about this option. This would be for people who would be ready to give it their all immediately once it becomes available to them. This I would want to be chosen by those who would be contributing at least partway to food production, such as a gardener for the produce and muscular men for the livestock. I myself intend to dedicate myself to the farm once I do establish myself sufficiently, as the farm itself changes my life's plans significantly, and I wouldn't want to be forced to it such as by witnessing the deterioration of my local economy and getting laid off.

Intermittent travel: This would be for those who want to continue maintaining their current lifestyles, but at the same time get themselves used to the new settings and lifestyle, whether it be spending the night every few weeks or visiting every few days. This could be for less-essential, though still important persons, such as those who would tend to the dairy animals. It is of question, however, as to how I could fulfill their duties with their temporary absence. These people would move in fully either when forced to (e.g. lay offs) or when they finally choose to fully commit.

Emergency backup: This would primarily be for people who want to continue fully their own lifestyles without really being concerned with the farm until they need it. This would be mainly for less direly important people or people we could do without until things get really difficult. For instance, take a hair stylist and carpenter. In good times the staff would be able to afford their hair tending needs while the stylist would still have costumers, but in failing times, once the chairs are empty and no more costumers are coming in, the hair stylist can then proceed to move to the farm, virtually the same time the staff won't be able to purchase hair services anymore. As for the carpenter, in good times the farm might be able to afford bringing an outside builder to perform or job or we could else rest easy with what we have, but once things go to pot the carpenter, lacking worthwhile finances and costumers, would move in to help with the maintenance and farm expansion at a time the farm staff would have to direct their attention elsewhere.

This option would allow the security of knowing that an important person with an important skill will be moving to the farm once we do need them, only that they'll be received at a later date. With this option I'll have to be cautious, for I would need to know that a person's interest in eventually committing will remain sincere no matter how much times passes, and that there will be a backup plan for the farm itself if it should happen that the person chooses to protect themselves in a manner that rules out the farm. I'm not so sure about the backup plan safeguard, but one requirement I could think to employ is to contract with the person to maintain weekly contact to keep clear his interest, and to move onto other options and plans if the person should lapse in communication and fail to be contacted.

* * * * *

As my thinking progresses this project becomes more and more exciting and ambitious. As stated before, my current concentrations are to research and gather capital, and to gets hands-on practice with slaughtering and butchering, skills I think would be important to have before jumping into the farm.

If you're actually interested in joining up with me, then send me an e-mail or like communication to indicate your interest and tell me what you have to offer and will contribute. At the very least I'll be able to take note of your interest and keep you more up-to-date on a regular basis with my progress, considering I'm not updating this blog as frequently anymore. The only warning I'd like to issue is that I haven't settled on where I plan on moving, as I'm thinking of leaving the dry conditions of Texas into a place with a favorable rainfall and climate, to maximize my produce and pasture potential (particularly for grazing livestock).

For my next article I intend on elaborating on another great idea for the farm, a barter network, which would also be a practical measure for those with even far lesser ambitions. Additionally, I'll also work at crafting an appeal to advertise my farm better to other people, to gain some backers and participants.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thoughts on the Gulch: Progress and Ideas

Alright, so I'll grant you an update on my Galt's Gulch Project. Rather than consuming my time fruitlessly with the writing, it might be a benefit in that could spur some people to provide their own suggestions or maybe even get involved, so I'll talk in hopes of reaching the right people.

To date it's been so far so good, but I'm still making only intellectual advancements rather than material progress. My reading, research, and interviewing has considerably molded my plans and have let me figure out what the next steps I need to take are. I've just recently finished a spree of snooping around my local farmers markets to network and get contact information, and while I consider the snooping officially finished I'll still make visits as I judge beneficial. Ongoing throughout all of this is my reading, and I've just recently finished browsing The Backyard Homestead, a probable purchase, and intend to move next to Mini-farming and Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game, and The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals whenever I can get it.

(Go ahead and keep track of my Amazon Wish Lists if you want to see what areas I'm checking out for my project. Truthfully, virtually every single thing is relevant to my project, whether it be making jerky or learning knife skills. Even the entertainment/fulfillment section is concerned with maintaining spiritual satisfaction during economic crisis. I haven't read all these books and do not necessarily plan on purchasing them; I'm just using Amazon to help me keep track of them.)

Right now I'm not really hunkering down to do any serious study, but I do have a research and career next-action:

On the former, I need to sort out my produce wish list more rationally and intelligibly. Since I don't know where I'm ultimately settling, though I know not a tropical place, I'm simply documenting every single thing I'd like to cultivate, from passion fruit to spinach, with really no sensible organization. On top of documenting everything I like, I need to conduct research and reorganize my lists so I can make sense of what conditions a crop needs, note the season to plant it and when to harvest, and so on. That way once I do start putting things to practice I'll know how to time and prepare things, and whether I can cultivate something in a particular zone.

On the latter, I'm going to begin striving a job in slaughtering and butchering. Out of all the plans I have, I think butchery and carpentry may be the most complex and in dire need of experience before I jump into a farm. I might get by alright starting my first garden with nothing but book learning, but I figure that's a big no-no when it comes time to kill the cow. I've networked and got some contact information, and now's the time to inquire and submit applications. I want to get into a place that does the widest range of animals possible -- from rabbits to pigs to cows, and maybe horses! -- and has as much hands-on involvement as possible, though I know I'll have to compromise somewhere. Likely what I could do is concentrate on size in slaughtery and seek diverse butchery experience elsewhere. As for carpentry, right now I intend to skim some books and maybe even take a class, though I hope I'll be able to bring a carpenter aboard to take care of those matters.

As things go on I'll of course find new actions and research to take to, but this for now seems to be the most important.

In other considerations I've also been getting some really good ideas which I think would enhance my project significantly.

For one, I've decided to pursue bringing other people into my farm. Originally I thought about doing it alone -- and it is possible to do it alone -- but I've concluded that's simply too strenuous given my ambitious plans. I could scale things down significantly to my barest survival needs, but this project is about protecting my happiness in economic crisis, not maintaining mere survival, so I'd like to bring in other people to make my ambitions more practical. It'd help immensely with things like large animal slaughter, livestock husbandry, dairy maintenance, and so on. I'd like to do a separate article on what people I'd like to recruit, how I'll approach them beforehand, how I'll keep them satisfied, and so on, but for now I'll say I want to seek out people in love with their trade and present my farm as a means for them to practice their skills and continue chasing their dreams when the economy otherwise won't allow them. A good example would be a hairstylist, a client dependent person. In a hyperinflation scenario their chairs will be empty and their scissors idle, but on my farm they'd have my hair and others to employ their vision on, for which in return I would feed and shelter them. Another example could be a seamstress. At a time when fabric stores have nothing on their shelves they could cultivate fiber animals and cotton on my farm and create clothes out of them, a benefit to my staff and a good barter item.

The other idea I had is that once I actually establish a physical farm and begin the processes I could reach out to other farmers and form a barter network to secure goods my farm doesn't produce. In good times we'll merely maintain regular communication, but once things go under we'll have each other contact information and agreement, and can begin trading good for good. For example, I don't have any sort of fish in my plans, so if it ends up that I don't incorporate fish at all I could seek out a fish rancher, connect with him, and establish it so that I could trade some of my goods for his fish. Five pounds of salmon for my bacon, eggs, and lavender? Deal. Aside from it's survivalistic practicality, this would go even further in protecting my and my staff's happiness in collapse because this means we'd wouldn't have to give up as many values as the economy would otherwise force us to.

Of these two ideas I think I can at least start employing partway the first one, though my project being in the research phase means I'll just be collecting names in a hat for now.

All in all, things are going good. Seeds of thought are always being planted, and hopefully I'll be harvesting a farm at the end of it all. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Chocolate Website: Capital Bean

I've launched my new website! I'm no web professional, so it's very simple, yet will suit my needs perfectly. It's called Capital Bean and you ought to check it out right now. It'll primarily showcase my chocolate reviews, but I'll also do other things such as discuss politics affecting the chocolate industry, note new products, talk about companies, and so on. The first post is a recycled review I know, but I've got to have something to get it going, and there will be new reviews on Wednesday and Friday.

From now on this is where I'm going to do most of my writing. Musing Aloud is still technically alive, but by and large I'm going to concentrate on my Galt's Gulch project and Capital Bean. I'm doing a much better job isolating my essential values and changing my habits around them.

Hope you'll follow my new location. There's an RSS feed you could use to subscribe in a feed reader or even e-mail, a Facebook application, and my Twitter.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Final Weekly Summary: Ceasing the Blog

You read that right: I intend to make this my final weekly summary, and in addition to that I also plan on ceasing this blog. I won't say "quit" outright because I'm not sure it's that; rather, I'm just breaking myself from the regular commitment to blogging seven days a week or even on a regular basis, and I believe that in time will lead to me ceasing writing here altogether. The reason why I'm doing this is because I'm absolutely in love with my Galt's Gulch project and have realized that it'll require such serious effort and energy that I need to change my habits drastically in order to give it my best dedication. And one such thing I'm giving up is this blog.

I've always said that I did this writing for my own intellectual benefit given how good for the mind writing is, but after evaluating my efforts I see now that I'm not going about it in the most constructive manner possible, which is leading to massive time sinks, struggles, and wasted efforts. My trial to keep this blog updated seven days a week, for instance, is what I see now has been holding back my reading habits, as the writing swallows up my time and reduces my desire to continue productivity thereafter. After making this decision -- which is why I didn't publish an article yesterday -- I felt a weight lift off my mind that led to me reading a humongous amount from my books with near unfettered concentration and a complete absence of guilt.

Galt's Gulch not only demands more of my energy and time than I should be dedicating to blogging, it also provides a very helpful focal point which has given immense clarity to how I should be acting in all areas of my life. Ever since I completed the Project I have been very aimless in my efforts, setting hodge podge goals and acting in every which direction, without any real integrated end in mind. I've probably been stumbling due to my stretching myself in so many ways, and have felt nearly omnipresent discomfort in the prospect that I'm not developing my character for some ultimate goal in mind. Well, Galt's Gulch offers that point to concentrate my routines around, and it provides that ultimate goal to which I'll cultivate my character for. I can't be spending so many hours blogging aimlessly on here when there's so much work and learning to do.

However, I am not abandoning you altogether. I want to keep writing . . . but more about chocolate. The chocolate reviews are by far the most enjoyable pieces I write here, and I probably don't get good views here since the audience is way mismatched. Since my articles by and large aren't about chocolate, it should be a given that my audience by and large isn't here for the chocolate stuff. What a sore injustice I do to my writing. As such, I've purchased a domain and am going to continue blogging more frequently on chocolate at my own website, which will hopefully generate enough income to at least fund a sustaining queue of chocolate to review, which will be my minimum financial goal. Also, I might keep blogging on here, but only as I'm moved: This seven days a week stuff is a real chore! I have one last article in mind, so I can at least promise you that.

I feel a lot better since making this decision since I feel like I'm being rationally productive now. This farm project adds more clarity to what I want to do with my whole life, and in that realization I know better as to what I should be doing to get there. In fact, this project may shape the direction of my life in a way I didn't expect it to, causing me to already begin contemplating 10-20 year plans.

My spirit is aflame with vigor and joy. I don't think I've ever been this excited for anything in my life, and I've never felt aspiration as I do now. When I picked up my first homesteading book I read a huge amount of it with possibly the longest lasting session of intense concentration I have ever held. My mind feels absorbing and all-powerful. In order to pay true justice to this new love of mine, I must readjust myself in a way that keeps my nose on the goal, even if it means making myself scarce to you.

I hope you won't miss me, and that you'll find enjoyment in my upcoming chocolate blog. Heck, I might choose to blog on my project's progress regularly here, but still our company will be less frequent.

After a long delay, here's the list of goals I tackled this week, since this is a weekly summary after all:

1.) Skim Beyond Brawn, I'm Just Here for More Food, and two special books: The two special books in question are The Backyard Homestead and Mini Farming, which I kept secret since I didn't reveal the project then. I browsed everything except I'm Just Here for More Food, and actually got quite a bit of reading done. Having this project seems to have improved my mental powers somehow, as I read better than I ever had since moving to Texas. Maybe the vigor of my spirit is enhancing my intellect?

2.) Read at least one chapter of Culinary Artistry : Yep, and I really enjoyed it. What with all the books I have to read I'm not sure if I'll finish it before it's due, but as preparation I might buy it anyways to have it on hand.

3.) Sketch and brainstorm plans for project: Done. Super fun. I brainstormed things such as what I need to learn, what livestock I want, what produce is appealing to me, what I need to do, and more. I need to order up the chaos a little bit, however.

4.) Go to farmers market: Done, but I have yet to go to the one coming up tomorrow. I didn't get much in the way of talking, but it was still a valuable visit in that I got a lot of fruit samples that helped me consider produce possibilities. I'll go back on a busier day to see if I can talk up someone. There's a guy there who sells pasture-raised meat and raw milk cheese.

5.) Conduct two chocolate tastings and review: Done, and yes, I want to make it a permanent practice. It made me realize just how much I enjoy writing chocolate reviews, so from now on I want to be doing this more often. I'm frightened at the prospect of depleting my queue in a hurry, but I guess that's just a risk I'll have to take to see if I can get some business value out of it.

* * * * *

Since this is the final weekly summary I'm not going to bother sketching new goals out for you to read, though to be sure I will keep up the habit of setting weekly goals for myself, witnesses or not.

Until next time: See you later.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Next Major Endeavor: The Galt's Gulch Project

I won't bother to delay you with an introduction: The major project noted in my last weekly summary is that of a small-scale, self-sustaining farm. I either want to be the head of one or involved intricately in one (I'll pursue the former first most and with the most energy, and settle for the latter if time proves too short. Given whatever climate and soil I settle upon -- I may or may not stay in Texas for it -- I want to establish myself in a way so that I'm producing and feeding myself my own produce, dairy, and livestock, and, heck, even cultivating some ornamental horticulture for comfort. This I consider this to be my next major endeavor beyond the past Project that brought me to Texas, and I'd consider it my five to ten year plan, though I want to make progress on it as rapidly as possible. The prospect is very exciting to me, as I consider it extremely educational and healthy, and, most importantly, relevant to my culinary central purpose in life.

Why do I want to do this? Well, a little back story on my life in Texas to make things clearer:

Ever since I moved to Texas I have to admit that I've transitioned to being depressed about the state of the world, and of course I hid it from everyone, including you Emotionally I have been totally consistent like this, for intermixed would be themes of energetic contentment for the good present and positive future, but sore moods have been frequent still. The Project -- you know, with the uppercase P -- solved the longest-lasting, most deleterious set of problems I've had to face in my life, and in getting out of that situation I've been severely disappointed that in finally being set free from one problem I had to face the unfairness of transitioning into another: The collapse of the economy and the decline of the world. As I say often around here I'm optimistic about the future, that America can eventually come through, but, like I mentioned in yesterday's post, the storm on the way there seem far too daunting, severe, and long-term to be endurable, so I've spent the last few months in trying to build strength to face that prospect. The intensity of the contentment I've received from surmounting such difficult problems as the ones I faced a few months ago were enough to convince me that life is worth living and that even higher rewards are achievable in life, so even with a troublesomely low spirit I've been pressing on to steel and repair myself, and figure out how to deal with matters.

The most difficult coping point has been with my career. However fuzzily thought-out it may be for now, you and I know that I want to be in the culinary field, and the transition there means building up my knowledge and skills in the hot kitchens of restaurants. Gotta cook to learn to cook and be a cook. The severity of the economic storm to befall our heads, I fear, will put a significant amount of restaurants out of business and deal a severe blow to the food supply. Given that I've just started, it's a scary prospect as to what might happen to someone as low on the ladder as I, and it's further worrisome to think of what practice I'll be deprived of by a restricted and expensive food supply, which would make it more difficult for me to actually cultivate cooking skills. Sure, I know that life is so well worth living that even if I have to start in my thirties or forties it'll be worth waiting for, but how much potential would be involuntarily sacrificed? How lesser will my accomplishments be? Will my growth stagnate and retrogress? Largely I've been focusing on the here and now to get my mind off matters, for it's not helpful or constructive to fret about matters constantly, and a significant portion of my contemplation has been directed towards just what I can do to protect myself -- spirit, wealth, and body -- from this storm that approaches. I am of scant means financially, so most of my time has been spent in just thinking about strategies rather than implementing them.

One day I made a rather intriguing discovery while on break from work. I work in a shopping conglomerate, so as a ritual pleasure and means to mental refreshment I tend to take a walk during my breaks after I lunch, and routinely I'll enter the bookstore to browse the shelves. As you might guess, I tend to like the cooking aisle best, and visit it on most regular occasion in opposition to the others. One day I noticed near the end of the aisle they had this book, turned face out, called Homesteading. It was intensely interesting to me, moving me to at least want to make a note of it, but it didn't give me very many ideas at the time or emotionally register deeply. Still: It planted a unique seed of thought in my mind, and for reasons unknown to me I kept revisiting this "homesteading" idea sort of thing. It kept lingering in my mind, and in some vague form or another I kept remembering my interest in that book, though at the time I don't think I had the foresight to document its title and editor.

Just a short few days ago during a walk the puzzle pieces fell together. Somehow or another I was contemplating my longing for my old favorite cooking show, Good Eats. In specific I thought about the episodes where Alton Brown robbed a tomato farmer during tomato season, and then another in which Mr. Brown was overwhelmed by endless cucumbers from the same farmer. It may have been the single image in my mind of seeing the farmer push a wheelbarrow of cucumbers that ignited my thought process. I then revisited memories in my childhood where I remembered comments from my elders about how abundant some relatives' gardens were: How when the vegetables came to ripeness and season they were overwhelmed by their number and had the annoying difficulty of trying to dispose of them and give them away. I then remembered the word "homesteading" and everything came together: Given my central purpose in life and the position of the economy, it would be unbelievably practical and spiritually fulfilling to establish and nurture a small-scale, self-sustaining farm. My mind started reeling with ideas, causing me to prolong the walk and continue the rest of it in heightened spirits and a near-smile. Whatever angle I looked at it, I cannot see a single thing that would be objectionable to me in it: I wouldn't mind the hard labor, the learning, the frequent upkeep, the variety of skills to learn, or anything.

Look at it in the light of my central purpose in life and career ambitions: In a time where the economy is about to go to pot and the food supply possible kaput, would it not be practical to nurture a style of living where I could produce more food than I could possibly consume and have a large scale of raw materials to practice cooking with? In the end, this would allow me to not only stay fed and physically healthy during bad times, but to also continue moving forward in gaining my desired knowledge, skills, and abilities regardless of whether or not there's a business climate to cater to it. For example, instead of being disappointed in how difficult it is to afford red peppers at Walmart, I could grow a whole smorgasbord of them and have all the soup, pickles, sauces, and whatever else I want. It's an irritation to, say, goof up on cutting what few bell peppers I might obtain, but in growing them the waste in error is minimized and the opportunity for practice is maximized.

To make things easier, why don't I put it all in list format?

1.) It's relevant to my purpose in life: Honestly, I'm not sure where I stand in regards to culinary creativity. I don't often go about daydreaming new dishes and the like, though still enjoy the process of it nonetheless. More interesting to me is the scientific aspect: Why foods are the way they are, how they react to heat and cooling, how they respond to certain methods of cooking . . . how they're produced and manufactured. This farming endeavor wouldn't at all be a sidetrack to my central purpose in life, but in actuality a relevant pursuit beneficial to it. My emotional reaction to this project has been so strongly positive that I'm wondering if there's something deeper in meaning here, for I almost think that I'd take this endeavor on even if it were economically prosperous times.

Aside from all the learning and unique skills I'd obtain, I would also be given an immense amount of resources for culinary practice. I already had the desire to learn how to slaughter and butcher livestock months before I conceived of this project, so it wouldn't inconvenience me in the least to take on such learning as part of a lifestyle change. And hey, out of it I'd get to practice such dishes as leg of lamb, headcheese, roasted tenderloin, crown roast, and more, all the fruits of my labor.

And who knows? Maybe in my learning and skill nurturing I could come up with some unique innovations to advance my efforts and perhaps profit from in more prosperous times. And maybe even more basic heating methods, like wood fires instead of electrical appliances, could cultivate better skills just like how one's mathematical intellect can be improved in forgoing a calculator. (I don't want to give up electricity and live Amish, but I'll prepare for that case scenario if I'm forced into it.)

2.) It's practical: In this day and age we're largely depending on other people to make our food for us. Even if we're cooking from scratch, we're often at least depending on a farmer to raise the meat or grow the produce. In the worst of times their ability to produce goods for the economy could be severely undermined, if not halted, and starvation could become a real threat in our country. But as mentioned earlier, even a tiny little garden is more than sufficient for producing more produce than one can consume . . . so aside from being applicable to my ultimate happiness, this project would also be good for keeping me fed and healthy, as while stores are depleted my own labors for my own consumption can be abundant.

3.) It's Paleo: A minor consideration in the grand scheme of things, but one still important and worthwhile, and something contributing to my excitement about the project. Not only would I keep a sustaining diet, I'd also be able to continue living on the standards of Paleo nutrition: fresh fruits and vegetables, pasture raised meat and eggs, full-fat and raw dairy, and so on. If anything, I think I would actually get healthier than I am now living this way, for my dependency on other producers right now, tight finances, and limited options keeps me living on a sub-optimal diet, such as by eating minimal beef, having grain-fed and pasteurized butter and cream, and so on. I've been living on the Paleo diet for a long time now, but I don't think I've gotten all the health benefits I can out of it yet.

4.) It would help me retain my physique: Another point of concern is what could happen to my body during bad times. Bodybuilding is one of my hobbies: I love going to the gym, working out, and growing my strength and muscles. I love how it makes me look and feel, and how it makes everyday functions get easier and easier, such as the heavy lifting at work or running up stairs. And according to my understanding, weight lifting is the most practical form of exercise, as using only your body (e.g. pushups, situps, etc.) severely restricts how intensely you can work it -- you can increase your intensity faster and more beneficially with heavy iron than with earth's gravity and your weight. It could also actually be harmful by way of releasing destructive hormones through the increased repetitions your body will need in order to have an adaptive response and build muscle (e.g. more and more situps as your abs develop). Losing access to weights, could my muscles not wear away, due to both lack of proper intensity and undernourishment?

Well, some hard farm work ought to fix that right up. Now right now my plan is to be small-scale and for private use only, so I might be more apt. to use manual, basic tools over electrical and large-scale ones, especially as the future of electricity and fuel prices/availability is questionable. Given the reward of the effort, I wouldn't mind all the work involved in such a process, especially at it would allow me to maintain a muscular physique and perhaps even add to it. However, if I still somehow had gym access and a reasonable means to traveling there and paying for it, I'd probably still do formal exercise too to ensure muscle balance and all-around development. I'll do more exercise research since it is my hobby after all, but I think I could find some ways to endure the stress, such as cold showers to eliminate soreness, overheating, and fatigue. I've already adapted to the point that intense workouts hardly make me sore now and don't interfere with my labors at my current job.

5.) It would put me in a position to barter: One thing someone mentioned about economic collapses in the past in that some people have had to resort to bartering again in order to bypass worthless currency, and a point I've heard about the US is that we're not involved enough in the manufacture of basic necessities in order to be able to engage in bartering like this. And iPod for your flat screen, sir?

I will surely desire goods outside of my garden, so when approached with the opportunity I would have the means for trade. Taking for granted an abundance stored at home (I'll probably have farmhands for security), I would have the means to barter with other people, hopefully farmers who have what I don't. Steak for your avocados? How about this bacon for your olive oil and pecans?

A nice, secondary protection.

6.) I'd be a part of the economic solution: Another aspect I've heard that's fueling our economic ills is that we're based too much in the consumption of goods rather than production. While my plans are to grow and raise for private consumption and bartering, I would nonetheless be a part of the base solution by joining in the manufacturing industry, producing rather than being in service.

And for some strange reason I have to admit the prospect of becoming a producer is adding to my excitement. I've been thinking about the book Atlas Shrugged lately and don't think I've been doing a very good job producing values, so this project also appeals to my philosophical appreciation of the virtue of production.

7.) In better times, it'd help me retain a competitive advantage: I may be optimistic for the future, but a future beyond this project is fuzzy for me at the moment, so I can imagine anything. Vaguely at least I can imagine leaving my farm at some point -- unless I integrated a restaurant into it somehow (ooh!) -- and reentering the professional food service industry. At that point I may not have worked in a restaurant for some years, maybe a decade or more (the future is uncertain when left to a politician's whim), but at the end of it all I'd still be able to put on my resume the fantastic dishes I made with my own homemade stuff, the knife skills I nurtured by cutting endless vegetables, how I butchered my own animals and ate them nose-to-tail (throw away nothing!), how I created and thickened sauces with my own herbs and starches, and so on. I might not be actively involved in the restaurant industry for some time, but that time spent away would not be wasted: I'd still be building up a repertoire of knowledge and skills that should unfailingly impress any employer given their nature.

8.) It would be a spiritual comfort: This actually builds on point number one in being relevant to my happiness, but it emphasizes the more negative aspect. This project is not totally idyllic: There's still going to be a lot of stress, discomfort, and pain involved in it, not in its actual exertions but in knowing what's happening to the world in general. I'll take security measures, but I'll certainly worried about being robbed or murdered if the atmosphere becomes dangerous. I'll also worry about America's disastrous foreign policy, whether or not America will actually be subject to foreign invasion. And hey, I'll definitely worry about whether or not America will actually pull through in the end: I believe in strongly that we can win, but also know that we can lose. Worries, worries, worries . . . and, of course, I'll still be involved in activism too, not just idly worrying. 

This project would be soothing by keeping me in contact with my most essential values: Cooking, learning, self-improvement, Paleo living, body building, and more. I might have to give up some big values like chocolate, as chocolate is imported, but the stuff listed above is what's really important. After a hard day in the garden, performing maintenance, studying, cooking, and engaging in whatever activism I can, it'd be soothing to the soul to settle down to a grass-fed steak covered in grass-fed butter, accompanied by homegrown mashed sweet potatoes and homemade raw milk cheese, and to go to bed reading a book I bartered for, before sleep alongside an aromatic pot of lavender. Economically I would be in poverty, but spiritually it could be high-living.

* * * * *

Like all great ideas, it's one I wish I had a long time ago, especially as I've spent so long picking my brain as to what I should do to protect myself from such a disaster. Man, I could have been working on this months ago! But now is as good a time as any other to get started, and as I've already mentioned in my weekly summary I'm doing research this week by visiting a Farmers Market. I'll be doing even more, such as by taking a tour of a dairy farm and interviewing farmers, and who knows what else? I got some homesteading books from the library, and will be renting those quite frequently. I have an immense amount to learn. As for capital ($$$), I'll certainly take to saving more from my current job, which is quite an opportune time given that I'm getting more hours and am actually going to move up the ladder soon. But let us not forget that it's highly probable, if not absolutely certain, that I'll be bringing other people into this, so that's more help to my endeavor and another source of capital. Maybe I could even find, or convince, people that think the same way in regards to economical outlook, and unite us together for this purpose. Oh, I've got so much research and planning to do.

My last project was called "Project" as a shorthand reference, but since this project doesn't need to be kept a secret I've been brainstorming titles and have decided on one: The Galt's Gulch Project. I didn't think of it this way at first, but after examining the details of my plan and why I'm acting this way I found that a more appropriate name can't be found. While I intend to be involved in society in some way -- I'll certainly still be in the United States that's for sure -- it's still a withdrawing and isolation in a way, for I'll be depending largely on myself and some select individuals for those basic goods and services to keep me alive and content. I'll also be growing in my abilities and intellect all in the meanwhile, and statists will not be benefiting from the use of my mind. Furthermore, this project is largely a response to the oncoming economic collapse, just like how Galt's Gulch in Atlas Shrugged was designed to protect producers from the collapse and dictatorship of America; I'll be shrugging you could say, though that's not really my intention. Again, the withdrawing from society and the likes were not points in mind when I conceptualized this project, but you can see how "Galt Gulch" is a serendipitous title, no? Hell, if I have the authority I might even call the farm that.

This is a very ambitious undertaking, one that may be a long-shot. There may not be enough time before the collapse for me to implement it, but the way I see it it's do or die, so instead of contemplating the difficulties and wondering awe-eyed at politics it's time to start garnering knowledge, jumping hurdles, networking, surmounting obstacles, and making progress. I've got to research, interview, talk to people and spread the news, gather capital, search for land, and more. Ultimately, I see that whether I abstain from this endeavor or fail at it, the consequence is the same: I suffer just like everyone else in America when things go down. However, if I succeed, then the reward is immense and priceless. The best of my judgment urges me forward on this.

I'm so ecstatic to have come up with this idea, for it's not only a great endeavor, it also adds purpose and integration to my life in even the barest short-term. Ever since completing the Project I've actually been slightly disappointed, for a pursuit of such magnitude was fulfilling and engaging, and gave me a central point to help me decide which goals to set and chase. Since its ending, I've felt rather aimless, not sure what to do with my time or how to tie everything together. I've been productively occupied for sure, but it doesn't all seem to add together: The weekly goals I set seem unintegrated and hodge-podge, and my daily routine feels too devoid of chance for achievement. Now this new endeavor gives me a focal point to drive my energy at and arrange a multitude of pursuits and learning around, bringing integration into my life that feels more harmonious and like my time is well spent.

Hungry, hard-working shruggers are, of course, welcome, but for the most part I only plan on this being for the benefit of a rather small group, for labor help, physical safety, and security. Nonetheless, the soul of an entrepreneur and leader has been fired within me, so I can't wait to get started.

I hope you can find happiness in a disaster protection plan as I'm striving for.Life is worth living, and it doesn't look like the government can deprive me of that enjoyment even now.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Don't Be So Depressing

I've spoken of negativity before. Times are getting bad in the world and the U.S. certainly, but what I've been most surprised and disappointed in is witnessing Objectivists overemphasize the negativity around this degradation, almost seemingly oblivious to the objective sunny side. It's important to recognize how bad things are in order to recognize that there is, indeed, a problem actually there to fight, but the way people engage in such acknowledgements places all the focus on how bad things there are, totally ignoring what ways there are to fight them and that there are chances of succeeding. This isn't just irritating and depressing, but demotivating, which is why I make an effort on my own part to point out the good, however small, in any bad situation. Too few people, if any at all, do it.

The crux of my concern is what such negative emphasis will do to the willpower of those who have taken to fighting bad ideas, whether it be by writing letters for publication, talking to a neighbor, or even just e-mailing a politician. Even with my optimism for the future I have to admit that I am sometimes tempted to crawl under a rock what with how bleak everyone paints the picture. It doesn't erode my view of a sunny horizon intellectually, but emotionally -- spiritually -- it makes the storm on the way there feel more daunting and unbearable. I can still recognize in my mind there's a good chance of a future looking forward to . . . but in my heart my endurance is chipped away at by witnessing such focus on the negative. I managed to personally overcome this barrier by making it a mental habit to call into mind both the good and bad aspects of a situation, so that my emotional estimates don't become imbalanced in favor of the bad, but I'd like to call for everyone to try to do the same.

Think of it this way: Right now America is in an ideological war, a war fought not with weapons, but with ideas and thinking. For all purposes, however, go ahead and visualize physical combat. Now, let's say you've got your troops pulled aside for rest and are having sort of a pep rally. What are you going to say? How bad everything is, how terribly outnumbered you are, how powerful the enemy is, and how depressed you are? What kind of effect do you think that would have on your troops, who need moral resolve to keep fighting? You're either going to lose respect as a leader (too depressing to listen to), get overthrown by someone more inspiring, or, most likely, lose the war. No one in an actual war would be stupid enough to talk to their soldiers like that.

Instead, you concentrate on how you can outsmart the enemy despite their greater numbers, how mind and muscle equal more might than the enemy's pure  bodily exertions, how you only lose when you give up, and so on. Train yourself so that when disaster strikes all you see is opportunity, that when the enemy gets more powerful the bigger your triumph will be, and that life is always worth living.

To give a concrete example, take this article about the FCC exercising more dictatorial power over cable companies, violating their property rights by forbidding them from taking stations off the air during contract disputes. You could see this as another upsetting, irrational use of force by the government, further eroding respect of our rights -- or you could see this as an opportunity to reach out to those businessmen. Given their anger, is this not a golden opportunity to gain their ears and explain why they're being treated like this, why they're morally in the right, and what they should do about it? As bad as things may be, odds are this is the best time ever to engage in activism, because now bad ideas are becoming less "abstract" to the public given their horrible consequences are now becoming reality. Seize the opportunity: Sadly, our disasters may have been necessary for people to take ideas more seriously, for in good times evil and tragedy seem too much like immaterial ghosts.

Or how about the debt ceiling debacle? Maybe our economic crisis has been postponed, but now it's going to be even worse once it does arrive, which it inevitably will. Depressing sure, but there are ways to bear it. The good? The public seems to be largely upset with what the politicians did -- though, of course, mixed cultural premises forced politicians into this corner -- and it is yet another opportunity to take advantage of public outrage to explain what ideas are leading to these bad consequences, what virtuous alternatives should be adopted, and how to implement them. We may still have a reckoning to endure, but the way I see it: The politicians are acting so explicitly statist that they're virtually naked ideologically, and in terms of ideological might it's giving Objectivists and other helpful allies more opportunities for activism, more interested listeners, and a stronger intellectual case.

So, in summary, try to balance out your negative news with positive aspects, such as how public outrage might indicate the public isn't willing palate idly what their politicians force on them. There's a sliver of hope, I think, in just about every scenario.

Now, again, I know things are bad and that they must be recognized as such, but can't you see the good as well? The opportunity? The various, even if just small, advantages? Now more than ever moral resolve is going to be needed, because as things get worse we'll need to keep the spirits of our persevering heroes -- the intellectuals for freedom, the *good* politicians, objective journalists -- fueled to keep fighting the good fight, to have a limitless capacity for endurance. Don't chip away at their motivation by whining how terrible things are. In an ideological war, this is not the way to keep the troops inspired.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Music: Metric's *Dead Disco*

I consider the bands The Bird and the Bee and Metric to be two sides of one coin in my musical tastes. When in a quiet and romantically longing mood, I enjoy Inara George's sweet and affectionate voice, and the face that matches it, but in my more energetic and flirtatious mindsets, Emily Haines' spiciness and rambunctious singing is the key. This video may be slightly naughty, but surely you're mature enough for it. I love the sharp yet smooth tones in Haines' high-pitched voice, and how the lyrics just make you want to dance to utter exhaustion.

On a note of personal beauty, I must admit that, judging only on surface aesthetics, I find Emily Haines (photo) to be one of the most attractive women I've ever seen. Her slightly mussed up hair and dominant lips screams high-powered beauty. Inara George (photo), on another key, I find to be very delicate and soothing to the eye, and her brushed red cheeks all too cute and innocent. (*Sigh*)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Mistake About That Hitchcock Show

I could publish a more substantial post, but since it's not my day off and probably is yours, I'd figure I'd leave you with something a little more satisfying for your time for a richer weekend. It turned out I made a mistake in my last music post: I said it wouldn't be worth linking to the Hitchcock television series since it was about to be taken offline, but it turned out they extended the deadline to August 31st. In retrospect, I have to wonder if this is a tactic: Put out an artificial deadline to draw viewers in, believing their time with the content finite, and then extend the deadline in short intervals. Whatever the case, we have more time to enjoy these great works, so take some time out to indulge in Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Unless I'm mistaken, the episodes are available for free and to all users, and the entire series is online.

Most of the episodes are surprisingly masterful and have garnered a deep appreciation in me for Hitchcock's amazing talent. I don't enjoy every episode, but most are worth watching. To throw out a few suggestions:

Premonition: Really confusing, with a really strong finish.

Salvage: Devious planning.

Breakdown: Edge-of-your-seat tension.

There Was An Old Woman: Really bizarre.

The Older Sister: A sad, though unique twist on the Helen Keller case.

You Got to Have Luck: Comically surprising.

Good evening.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Weekly Summary # 42

A weird week. I've had mixed results with my goals, tackling some, finding it best to drop others, and seeing better pursuits that pushed out still others. The worst thing that happened is that I strangely lost all inspiration to blog, struggling to bring you what pieces I did, though am still uber excited about the chocolate review. Altogether I'm very happy with how this week has gone, as emotionally I feel stronger and stronger in spirit and have been doing extremely well in those essential pursuits, which is what truly matters in the end. I'm still struggling with my reading, but I'm starting the cultivate the bedtime habit of reading by the lamp before sleep instead of browsing the internet or watching shows on Hulu, which has been uniquely comforting.

Most importantly, however, I got a big idea. A big, life-altering idea, the kind that would establish a project to replace the major endeavor that brought me to Texas to begin with. It came to me when thinking about how to achieve my culinary aspirations in such a difficult economic climate as this, and I think I've come across an idea that would be immensely spiritually satisfying and stupendously practical, but I don't want to tell you until I take time to detail it in a single article. If my Project (uppercase P) be a one-year plan, then I'd rate this new endeavor a five to ten year plan. It has me really charged up and excited, so I've got to be working on it soon.

The list:

1.) Study menu for work: Done. To my surprise, it was extremely fun to look at the menu in such intensive detail like this, looking up Wikipedia articles and envisioning myself explaining the dishes to other people. It was so fun that it actually taxed my brain slightly. I still have yet to understand all the terminology, but I've got the gist of it down, though didn't take to remembering it photographically.

2.) Read The Chocolate Tree: Done, but I couldn't finish another full chapter. This book is not only dry, but way out of line in my interests of what I'd like to learn about chocolate. Come to think of it, what IS it that I want to learn about chocolate? Perhaps I should think more intensively as to what I want before I go stumbling around with another book, lest I waste my time with a treatise I can hardly maintain my concentration on.

3.) Read The Science of Chocolate: Failed, but perhaps its current irrelevancy may not make it the best read right now. I don't know.

4.) Research/contemplate ways to constantly try new recipes, techniques, and meal plans: Procrastinated on, but I got an epiphany on this matter as part of that major project I'm envisioning, so I can't really speak my thoughts now.

5.) Perform five conceptual exercises everyday: Yes, but I cheated a little. I did a lot of concepts from my work menu, more than the required five per day, but then I continued my exercises by repeating the exercises with the same concepts to see if I remembered and understood them. Again, the biggest barrier in my keeping up with this habit is having smooth and uncumbersome way to document concepts.

6.) Research how to create RSS feed for chocolate reviews only: Tried and gave up. I seem totally unfit for technological matters. I can recognize how practical and desirable some function might be, but then I'll be overwhelmed with boredom within five minutes of research in trying to learn how to do it on my own. My major hangup probably has to do with the fact I see no long-term application for such knowledge: I'm only trying to learn it for one-time use. Consequently, I'm very emotionally resistant to doing what I view as a lot of work for very little output. I'll either keep contemplating solutions, lazily wait for someone to create a layman application, or give up on it.

* * * * *

As to my reading, I think I may have finally figured out how to accomplish my new year's resolution of reading twenty books on time. My major problem, as I've said before, is that only books I've read cover to cover count towards my goal, but by and large I've learned that most of nonfiction books are more practically read by skimming or only consulting sections of interest, so that's been really holding me back. However, the amazing Sherlock Holmes television series has made me yearn for the book series, so I've been rereading my Holmes novels, though not the anthologies. Since I'm reading those cover to cover, they count towards my goal. As such, I think I can content myself with reading good and pleasurable fiction to satisfy my new year's resolution, while I rely on skimming and isolated reading to make my educated reading more efficient. I'll try it that way, at least.

This week I'd like to dedicate to doing a little research on the requirements of my next big project, but since I want to keep the project a secret until I write about it at length, I also want to keep my goals about it a secret too. Don't worry: All will be told sometime next week, hopefully early on, and you'll know the goals by next weekly summary.

1.) Skim Beyond Brawn, I'm Just Here for More Food, and two special books: The two special books are related to my project, so they're a secret for now. Bodybuilding is another one of my hobbies, so I want to see what Beyond Brawn has to offer in terms of advice; currently Body by Science dictates my thinking and exercise routines. As for I'm Just Here for More Food, I was pleasantly surprised to see an Alton Brown book at my library and picked it up on whim. I miss Good Eats. 

2.) Read at least one chapter of Culinary Artistry : Becoming a Chef was awesome, so I think I should read this sequel too.

3.) Sketch and brainstorm plans for project: Secrets!

4.) Go to farmers market: I'll tell you more later, so more secrets. I'm writing this quite hastily however, so there's the distinct possibility that there may not be any farmers market this week for me to go to, though I know of a good one next Saturday.

5.) Conduct two chocolate tastings and review: An experiment, so don't expect it on a consistent basis. I want to see how you guys would react if I did more of such writing, instead of so infrequently as once a week.

That's all for now. Oh that project has me all a-tingle!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thoughts on Chocolate

Oooh I'm terribly excited for tomorrow's chocolate review. The photographs I took really do a significant job in enhancing the text, though it calls for a major readjustment of my habits, such as the residing temptation to verbally describe something even though the picture is sufficient. It'll be awkward for a while, but at the very least I'm going to be changing my review layout very significantly. For one, I'll take to being more conservative on the Amazon links within the text, instead saving them for the bottom of the review after all has been read. Additionally, I'll also be posting links to my Flickr account to the specific set the specific chocolate photos are gathered, giving access to a few more angles and closeups, and more commentary on the aesthetics.

I'm happy and proud of myself in where I've taken this hobby. First it was merely me incoherently posting my views on my Facebook profile as to what I thought about the chocolates I was eating, and now it's come to this where I'm taking photos like a semi-professional. Perhaps it might soon come to the case that I'll receive samples from companies for review? That I would consider the next stage of achievement.

I have to wonder, though, if I should do chocolate reviews more than once a week to call more attention to them and gather more readers. What do you think? On this point, I'm at least considering a trial, perhaps by doing three chocolate reviews next week. Would you like that? On one hand, it might bring in a greater audience and attention, and perhaps begin establishing a stream of income sufficient to make the hobby self-sustaining. On the other, it'll make me go through my chocolate stocks a lot faster, and with my current finances it would be difficult to keep my stocks full given my current finances. I'll do more thinking, but I guess I've got to take a risk to see what benefit it might have, no?

Be sure to be here tomorrow for the review!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another New Year's Resolution Down

I may not talk about them much, but I'm still tackling my 2011 new year's resolutions with good energy, just as when I formulated them way back in 2010. During my weekly review (not to be confused with my weekly summaries here) I always check my list of new year's resolutions, so they're never ever forgotten, explaining how I'm so well keeping on them. Recently I've had the pleasure of getting another one down: cooking and eating an entirely grass-fed steak. Well, for cost purposes I compromised with ground beef, but still it's pretty much the same thing given it's muscle meat -- steak -- ground up.

It was delicious. I just went with a simple salt and pepper setup in my patties, and was surprised at how different the meat was. Way more succulent and juicy than conventional grain-fed counterparts, and rather than having a savory meaty taste it was actually quite sweet, had a little tang to it, and was almost buttery. I liked it. I liked it a lot and yearn for more. Hopefully in the future I can get to affording a nice grass-fed pot roast or the likes. If you haven't tried grass-fed, then give it a shot!

I've already had free-range chicken. Though while it wasn't pasture-raised, it did have a very small amount of grain in its diet. However, I have yet to try anything in the realm of pasture pork. If I ever do make myself wealthy I'd like to make this the only meat I eat. Heck, given my culinary aspirations I'd like a giant meat cooler to stock to the brim. But patience and work are needed before that happens.

Also, as you might already know, another new year's resolution has been completed by my purchasing a digital camera to practice food photography with. I regret waiting so long now, as I'm impressed with what satisfying results I'm still able to obtain with my cheap equipment and frugal setup; I thought it'd be much more expensive. In truth, I probably could have gotten a camera near the beginning of this year, as I certainly had the savings set aside for it, but I misjudge the expenses, waited too long, and redirected my savings towards moving to Texas. Oh well: It's here now.

From here in my resolutions, I have yet to try sous vide cooking and one more kind of salt. For the former, I've been intrigued for a while with the concept of precision cooking, but never tried it. When the SousVide Supreme came out some Objectivist friends raved at how wonderful it is, so it's a culinary delight I'm missing out on. For the latter, I made the goal of trying three different kinds of salt and have so far tried two so far, though I don't want to name them right now since one was included in a chocolate bar I have yet to review.

The two goals I'm stumbling on, however, are reading 20 books and writing activism-oriented articles. The former has been difficult in completing since I've not only been having trouble getting to my books, I've also learned it's best to read some books just for isolated, valuable sections, which makes their reading not count towards my goal. However, I think I may have a new strategy: Skim through non-fiction books for valuable parts, for my education, and rely on entertainment books such as great literature to satisfy my cover-to-cover requirements. As for the activism, I'm not sure yet whether I'd say I've failed this goal, because I am being more diligent in posting political articles with my commentary on my social networking profiles and have hardly been keeping quiet about my views. In this case, I'm having trouble with my value hierarchy, as I just don't want to dedicate the amount of time it takes to continuously write long activist articles for newspapers and the like. So far I think I'm doing well.

It might be difficult to make that last push to get all my goals completed before the year is up, but I think most of them can be done. The only one I'm skeptical about is the sous vide cooking, as I don't think it'd be possible for me to arrange a setup given my current cook top access, though maybe I might be able to attend a demonstration or something. We'll see.

I'm proud of myself for sticking to my goals like this, and am already contemplating 2012 plans.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Here It Is!

I got to toy with my camera. Some samples, with yours truly as a model:

Straight On


I still need to work on getting the most quality I can out of my shootings, but for now I'm pleased with myself. The camera is a Canon PowerShot A3100 IS with 12.1 megapixels. If you click the photos they'll take you to my Flickr account, which will become increasingly more active over the weeks, or you could click/bookmark/whatever this URL:

And one last photo. You know what's inside of it. After that incident with the mouse this is how I store my confections to protect them. What security it is to have it full and hard to lift.


I've already taken some photos for this week's chocolate review, and I have to admit I'm very pleased with the results given my frugal setup. I feel one step closer to making this a professional hobby. Hopefully you're looking as forward to this week's review as I am.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The War on Walnuts

Incredible. Apparently the FDA has recently threatened Diamond Foods for making health claims about its walnuts, calling them (medical) drugs and warning of seizure. I don't know what kind of response Diamond has taken, but this single case is sufficient to show just how much arbitrary power the government has. Here a company is in danger of being harmed all because its free speech doesn't conform to what the FDA considers acceptable, and a basic, found-in-nature food product is being treated as a dangerous pharmaceutical. 

Regardless of whether or not the FDA has objectively defined standards for operating, it has no right to do this. The government has no business dictating what we may and may not hear advertised by food companies, and what we may and may not purchase for our own "good." Given the arbitrary nature of this dictate, and how blatantly ridiculous it is, it shows, in principle, how nothing is truly safe in the food economy. Similar or like rulings could be made for cashews, macadamias, almonds, and so on, and can extend to other food sections such as dairy and meat. Raw milk, for instance, is virtually outlawed nationally, forcing producers to either sell them under licenses, as "pet food," or to even establish a black market.  Only ten states have raw milk legalized completely.

Little dictators at their finest.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Music: *Funeral March of a Marionette*

Most all of you have probably already heard this theme. It's one of those pieces that becomes so famous that it gets absorbed seamlessly into the culture, and you can go many years hearing it an endless amount of times without ever knowing or hearing its title. But it's unmistakable: It's the Alfred Hitchcock theme. I wanted to tease you by withholding the information to force you to find out through the music itself, but the video uploader has ruined my plan with Hitchcock's photo.

In truth, I'm not much inspired by this piece, but it nonetheless becomes noteworthy in how it gets stuck in my consciousness. I've been enjoying Hitchcock's television shows as of late, and at periods in my day I sometimes get a tinge of pleasure when this theme randomly sneaks into the audio of my mind. It's devious, yet gentle. I associate it with army marches and parades, rather than death.

It's not saying much given my lack of thinking on directors, but I've been amazed by how masterful Hitchcock is. I've come across Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Hulu and have become instantly attached to it, becoming motivated to seek out his whole line of works, excepting maybe his silent films, as I couldn't bear to finish The Farmer's Wife. I'd link you to the Hulu location that hosts his television show, but they're taking the series down promptly tomrow, so I won't borother constructing a link so soon to expire. At the very least, I give a hearty endorsement to Strangers on a Train.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

More on My Food Photography

As mentioned in my weekly summary, I finally managed to purchase a camera, which will soon satisfy part of my new year's resolution to practice food photography. I'm pleased by the writing skills I've developed in writing my chocolate reviews, but I've always thought it a severe disadvantage that I haven't been able to post photos of the products. Furthermore, the lack of photos actually hold back the writing itself, as I absurdly have to resort to word descriptions where pictures would be better, and am prevented from using ideal wording by not being able to commentate on a graphical presentation. There's all sorts of other obstacles too, such as awkwardly commenting on the packaging when the linked product either has a different picture or no picture at all. As such, it's high time that I arrive at this point.

The camera is still shipping, but I do at least anticipate being able to use it by next Friday's review, hopefully. Aside from the photos I post on here, I'll also begin establishing a Flickr photostream, where I'll likely maintain a greater variety of photos of a product than presented in the article alone. You'll get links when the time comes.

Of course, my first few weeks might be pretty awkward. I have no experience with photography and have never handled a camera of this caliber. (I'll note the camera type in my About My Chocolate Reviews page when I start using it.) I've been unfruitful in finding a good educational source on photography, particularly for food. The only one on food that I could find assumed entirely a thorough knowledge of photography and instead concentrated on preparing the food. For now, I'm going for trial and error. I'm going to shoot the product atop a white satin pillow case for contrast and adjust my lighting with my OTT-Lite lamp. It might not be the best of practices, but we'll have to wait and see. Besides, I'm not in the sturdiest of finances right now, so I'll work my way up.

Additionally, I'm also considering rereviewing some chocolates I've done in the past. I want to do this not only because the photography ought to enhance them greatly, but also because I want to correct some amateurish mistakes I made in my early days when I wasn't all that skilled in both my tasting and review writing. Some chocolates, I think, are worth revisiting given more trained abilities.

I'm not sure if I'll post any other kind of photography, but I might. For now, my concentration is entirely on my chocolate reviews, though I plan on branching out to photographing my meal preparations as well, once I get to more serious culinary practice.

I'm glad to have reached this point. For a while I was afraid I might never be able to afford to go through with this new year's resolution, but good luck and a good price has helped me see it through. Better still, I've managed to restore my stocks of review fodder, so now I have several months worth of material to keep things steady, whereas I was just down to my last two bars a week ago.

My start may be sloppy, but I'm looking forward to getting to it. Hopefully you find that it makes my chocolate reviews more worthwhile than ever before.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chocolate Review: Ghirardelli's 60% Espresso Escape

It always bothers me as a connoisseur to see a chocolate taken off the store shelf permanently. Some of the best chocolates I've ever been introduced to were often nearing the end of their store presence, and within a week or two my cravings for them could no longer be satisfied. It's dissatisfying since they often aren't replaced by anything finer, making the selection become yet more run-of-the-mill. Are fine chocolate tastes rare? Or are consumers not being adventurous enough to go out and try these great things? I never forgave that one Walmart for introducing me to New Tree chocolates, especially after it made me attached to that lovely ginger bar and took it away within the month. It seems that my local Target is victimizing its own worthwhile chocolates, as I picked up Ghirardelli's 60% cacao Espresso Escape bar in the clearance bin, now vanished.

I don't drink coffee. In fact, I dedicate myself almost solely to water, excepting fruit smoothies and coconut juice as rare treats, though I like raw milk too. But coffee is dandy in chocolate, and that's just where I like it. How could I neglect this given the euphoric experience I had with Green & Black's own 67% espresso?

Overall, it's plenty satisfying. The cardboard sleeve has an excellent eye-catching design and color scheme, and from a technical advertising perspective I am appreciative of their economical usage and variety of information, with precisely separated sections on the back and no wasted space. Beyond the lovely silver foil -- I'm always so tempted to collect it, perhaps make a giant ball like Pee Wee Herman's foil ball -- appears an expertly designed bar with a wonderful, full-textured Ghirardelli emblem on each square, a great aesthetic touch. It's glossy, though not shiny, and has a quiet, crisp snap. The aroma comes out with a trio of chocolate, coffee, and maybe a hint of nuts. Seizing upon the eating, the flavor complex consisted of powered dairy -- though not texturally -- sugar, coffee, and a chocolately tone permeating the background throughout. In contradiction to the tasting notes, I did not sense any sort of spiciness or cherry-like fruitiness. The chocolate melts goodly, but unevenly and with lumps.

To my fortune I do not seem sensitive to caffeine, for even the consumption of this entire bar did not put me on a high or set me up for a crash, so maybe I have a helpful immunity in sampling a great quantity of coffee things. All in all, I'm pleased, but just cannot say it's superior to Green & Black's, and I nearly cannot list any advantage the competitor has except that the flavors are just higher quality and more intense. That, and I just like the better, more gooey and smooth mouthfeel that the thicker bars G&B's provide. Nutritionally, the lower cacao content of the Ghirardelli bar may be more preferable to those sensitive to caffeine, as the lower content might mean less caffeine, though it doesn't escape me that the G&B's bar contains cocoa instead of cacao, which makes things more difficult to judge.

In the end, I have to say it was pleasurable, but it just doesn't seem to match the quality of G&B's. I'd recommend this if it's all you have access to or can include in your budget, or if you have nutritional reasons for consuming it (e.g. possibly lower caffeine, different nature of cacao from cocoa), but otherwise my coffee chocolate preference lies with Green & Black's.