my happy kitchen life (i still love my instant pot -- but it is not a good slow-cooker)

Don't get rid of your slow-cooker!
Since moving to a remote region with very limited food choices, I've upped my cook-ahead game to levels I never thought possible. I'm really enjoying it. Here's my routine.

My happy kitchen life

1. I order a box from truLOCAL -- locally sourced, humanely raised, healthy meat and seafood. Vast selection, super high quality food, brilliant customer service. They. Are. Awesome.

2. I spend a half-day cooking -- skillet, Instapot (yes, I know, I just like calling it that), and oven. I usually make four dishes, sometimes five, each good for 3 or 4 dinners. 

3. I put all the food into my ever-growing collection of Pyrex, and pop it all in the freezer. 

4. One box from truLOCAL gives me at least two, sometimes three, cooking sessions of this size. 

This gives us dinner for the four nights that my partner works on his day-job, and we don't eat dinner together. On the other three days, Allan makes dinner one night, and two nights we go out or get takeout. 

In short, Instapot + truLOCAL + Pyrex = my happy kitchen life.

In the summer, I'll order an additional truLOCAL box, usually the small size, just for grilling. Steak, burgers, salmon, bone-in chicken breasts, beef sausages -- anything and everything for the grill.

[In case you don't know me, this is not stealth marketing and I'm not using affiliate links. truLOCAL subscribers can earn points for referrals, but you'd need my name and code for that, and I'm not offering it in this post.]

The Instant Pot is a crappy slow-cooker

There's only one aspect of the Instapot that I don't like: it is not a good slow-cooker. It simply does not get hot enough. 

Several online sources confirm this observation, such as here, here, here, and here.

Some folks mention a possible workaround of adjusting the temperature of the slow-cook setting. On the model I have, the Ultra, you can adjust the temperature slightly, but it makes no appreciable difference. No matter how many hours the food cooks, it never gets hot enough to truly break down ingredients and blend flavours.

When I bought my Instapot, I gave away my slow-cooker. Now I'm buying a new one. 

What I'm cooking

Here's what I've been making using my truLOCAL box. All are cooked in the Instapot unless otherwise noted. All are cooked ahead and frozen, unless noted "day-of".

-- chicken and rice, using boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Why did I ever cook chicken breasts? Thighs are so much better.)

-- turkey sausage and bean stew, with canned tomatoes, white beans, and black beans

-- turkey sausage, white bean, and kale stew

-- linguini with meat sauce, using ground bison (incredibly quick and easy)

-- "mexican" style penne, using ground bison, salsa, black beans, and corn (another super easy one -- I will usually make one of these very fast and easy pasta dishes per cooking session)

-- cheeseburger casserole, quick and easy pasta #3

-- pork tenderloin in honey-garlic; skillet and oven

-- faux fried rice, made with brown rice, ground turkey, snow peas, and shredded carrots; skillet; rice in instant pot, then added to skillet

-- beef stir fry, similar to above but with sliced steak

-- meatballs, made with ground bison

-- old-fashioned pot roast with root vegetables

-- duck legs, this recipe cooked ahead, then served with basmati rice made day-of

-- pork chops, this recipe cooked ahead, then served with little potatoes boiled or roasted, made day-of

-- split pea soup with bacon (incredible bacon from truLOCAL!)

-- lentil soup with ham

-- minestrone soup with turkey sausage

-- beef, barley, mushroom casserole

-- roast beef, served with roast potatoes made day-of

-- chicken noodle soup, noodles cooked separately in advance, then added when re-heating

-- wild salmon fillets in butter and garlic; skillet, day-of

-- wild-caught scallops in butter and garlic; skillet, day-of

-- chicken broth -- I make this for myself, not for cooking, but for a warm, caffeine-free hot drink

... and probably several more that I've tried once and forgotten. 


what i'm reading: say nothing: a true story of murder and memory in northern ireland

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland is without a doubt one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read. 

I'm in awe of Patrick Radden Keefe's ability to weave together so many disparate and often contradictory sources to re-create a story that is incredibly detailed and complex, yet fashion it into an addictive page-turner. 

The book is loaded with vivid details and surprising revelations -- until the very end. A blend of true-crime, spy thriller, history, and incisive feature journalism, Say Nothing is a tour de force of narrative nonfiction.

Keefe uses a brutal and tragic incident that took place in Belfast in 1972 as a focal point to unpack and examine the Troubles. The Troubles is a euphemistically quaint and minimizing name for a complex and prolonged undeclared war. It was a war of violence and politics, language and identity, public relations and extreme secrecy.

I was obsessed with Ireland and Irish history for about 10 years. It started with this book in 1989 and was finally capped with our trip to Ireland in 2001.* But you don't need any particular interest in or knowledge of Ireland to follow Say Nothing. The bare facts will be adequate.**

Two elements of this book were especially compelling for me. 

Say Nothing raises many questions about the use of violence in independence and liberation movements. It's easy to label a group that employs violence as terrorists. But what of the state government that employs the same methods, on a much larger scale? Can independence be won without violence? Has that ever happened? Modern western thought pretends that violence is never justified (except by states, for anything labelled national security) -- a view largely held by people privileged to never need it.

Another theme running through Say Nothing is the shapeshifting presence of Gerry Adams. How many people have been a high-ranking leader of a group labelled a terrorist organization, a peace broker, and a successful politician in the modern arena? One of the very few is Nelson Mandela. There are many parallels, and I suspect if one read a true account of the ANC, their work and methods were not all that different than the IRA's. Yet Mandela is revered as a freedom fighter and Gerry Adams -- well, it depends what side you're on. A terrorist, a politician, a great leader, a lying scumbag? I highly doubt readers of Say Nothing will come away with an impression of Adams as a Mandela-like figure. But he is undoubtedly a fascinating figure.

Don't worry about any of these things. Just read this book. If you enjoy great nonfiction, you will love this.

I've now put Patrick Radden Keefe's most recent book, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, on my to-read list.


* When I was planning our trip to Ireland, and especially while we were there, people constantly asked if I have Irish ancestry. I do not. I've never been asked this regarding any other travel, including to countries that have seen substantial emigration to the United States, such as Italy. It's as if people don't conceive of Ireland as a place folks might just want to visit, without a motive. 

It's a beautiful country, and we had an awesome trip. We saw natural wonders, history, Neolithic passage tombs and stone circles. We heard traditional music every night in beautiful small-town pubs, where folks would sometimes erupt in spontaneous song. From the ruins of a ring fort, we watched a border collie herd cows. In Dublin we saw a Brian Friel play and hung out with James Joyce's nephew. I fell in love with Murphy's. History was everywhere. Also rainbows.

** Here's more than you need to know.

150 years of struggle for independence culminates in the Revolutionary Period (1912-1922), most famously including the Easter Rising of 1916.

1919-1922 Irish War of Independence, Irish Civil War: Irish Republic Army (IRA) vs Britain Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) (called something else at first, but this is the name normally used). This maps roughly as Catholic vs. Protestant, but only roughly, as some key Irish independence leaders were also Protestant.

The war ended with the hated partition of Ireland into two separate countries.

The Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, or simply Ireland, is most of the island, to the south.

North Ireland comprises the six northern counties, and is part of the United Kingdom -- i.e. part of Britain. It is majority Protestant. There was a long history of discrimination and persecution of the Catholic minority.

People who fight for a united Ireland are known as republicans. They are largely, although not exclusively, Catholics.

People who want Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain are known as loyalists or unionists. They are largely Protestants.

Republicans fought a guerrilla war to attempt to expel the occupying British from Northern Ireland. Loyalists, British Army, and the police force sought to eradicate them. This period, known as the Troubles, lasted from the late 1960s until 1998.

That's it, you're good to go.


what i'm reading: the turning point: 1851: a year that changed charles dickens and the world

The Turning Point: 1851 -- A Year That Changed Charles Dickens and the World was written for me.

I love Dickens. He's among the core writers whose work mean the most to me (along with Orwell and Steinbeck).

Bleak House is my favourite of all Dickens. I wrote a mini-thesis on it in university.

1851 is "my year". This is the period and the year that I've read and watched the most about, and been most fascinated by. 

I'm a close reader. When I studied literature in university, my thing was the close read -- noticing and analyzing the smallest details -- and I've been that kind of reader ever since. For me the details reveal the deeper meanings, the beauty and wonder of great writing. In The Turning Point, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst gives one year in the life of Charles Dickens the close read.

Given all that, I was primed to read and enjoy this book! And I did enjoy it, very much. 

A close read of Dickens in 1851 brings in so many elements. There is the Great Exhibition ("Crystal Palace"), the steel-and-glass building that gives the exhibition its name, and reaction to it; the industrial revolution, and the treatment of workers and the poor. Dickens' relationships with his wife, family, friends; his editing and publishing work; his charity and reform work; his theatre pursuits; his politics. Out in the larger world, there is the American abolition movement. Frederick Douglass makes an appearance -- yet more interest for me

...from April 1852 to December 1853, Bleak House was reprinted in its entirety by Frederick Douglass's Paper in Rochester, New York -- a decision based on the fact that Dickens's novel, despite the clear British focus of its plot, had a broader social mission that was no respecter of national boundaries. Even the scene in which we are told that children like Jo are "dying thus around us every day" was enlisted in the "Literary Notices" section of the paper to remind Douglass's readers that "us" included them.

There is the women's movement and clothing reformers; the aftermath of the revolutions that swept Europe a few years earlier; and of course, colonialism and imperialism. This is Victorian England, after all. 

Although the book is rich in detail, as a close read must be, it never gets bogged down or tedious. The writing is very accessible and lively; it moves right along, returning to the main themes without belabouring them. 

As much as I enjoyed this book, I don't think The Turning Point would be particularly interesting, or even make much sense, unless the reader knows Bleak House fairly well. Douglas-Fairhurst alludes, without explanation, to many elements from Dickens' life that appear in BH. For example, it is mentioned in passing that Dickens carried a huge key ring that held a giant jumble of keys. In BH, Esther carries such a key ring. Knowing that Esther was partly a stand-in for Dickens -- especially given that Dickens is often criticized for his portrayal of women -- is very interesting, if you love Dickens and BH. But if you don't, would you care? Indeed, you might wonder why the author thought you should care about Dickens' keys.

There is also a honking huge spoiler that reveals the answer to one of the mysteries central to the plot of BH (which of course I will not repeat here).  

Bucket's emergence as a central figure has led to Bleak House being viewed as one of the earliest detective novels: a whodunnit that includes a murder mystery and ends with the revelation that almost every character is part of tangled web of secrets and lies.

I wouldn't want to read BH for the first time knowing the answer to a central question.

The Turning Point is a lovely book -- if it's a book for you. 


we can stand with ukraine but i cannot stand the hypocrisy

Every day brings new images of war crimes and atrocities, destruction and suffering in Ukraine.

Every day brings new declarations of love and solidarity for the Ukrainian people.

And every day I shake my head and seethe over the hypocrisy of the US, US media, and of many Americans, wondering: Does any of this look familiar to you?

What is currently happening in Ukraine has happened in every single US-led invasion and occupation. Mass graves. Torture. Rape. Hospitals destroyed. Apartment buildings, schools and houses of worship bombed. The wholesale slaughter of civilians (sometimes referred to as "insurgents"). The US has done it all -- and not in the distant past. The US has spent the last two decades committing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The list of US invasions is very long, especially if you count the ones that supposedly didn't happen.

I am not suggesting that Ukrainians are not suffering. Nor am I rationalizing or excusing Putin's actions. That should be clear. These are war crimes -- horrific, heinous, unforgiveable.

And so it was when the perpetrator was the US.

If you stand with Ukraine, you should have stood with Iraq.

If you condemn Putin, you should have condemned Bush, Cheney, and Blair. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama bombed seven countries. Biden continues the tradition, condemning Putin while dropping bombs on Syria.

Americans were given rationalizations. First Iraq invaded Kuwait. Like Americans cared about Kuwait, or knew it existed? 

Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- so said the only country to use weapons of mass destruction -- twice, and on civilians. Later, oops, turns out Iraq didn't have them after all. Of course the US knew that all along.

These excuses have a long, long history. Gulf of Tonkin. Remember the Maine. Get them over there before they get us over here. And don't forget good old humanitarian reasons. Hundreds of millions around the globe have been killed, maimed, displaced, and traumatized in the name of US's humanitarianism.

US media -- much of it owned by the corporations that benefit from endless war -- performed its usual sleight-of-hand, branding any dissent as unpatriotic, mindlessly parroting "support the troops", inviting former US military commanders to offer "analysis" while providing no serious discussion of alternatives, and ignoring the very existence of the peace movement.

And now, irony of ironies, the US media mocks how Russians are seeing the war portrayed in their state-run media. Here's a headline for you: U.S. says Russia trying to create pretext for imminent invasion. Do tell.

* * * * *

Note: the following was written in late February, shortly after news broke about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

No US troops. No Canadian troops. No troops.

Some Canadians are calling on the government for military intervention in Ukraine. Naturally the spokespeople for Canadian Forces want that. That's their job.

The situation is mind-boggling and horrendous beyond description. Why would we want to add to the killing?

Perhaps it's easier for me to see this clearly, because it is usually my country of origin doing the invading and killing.

My friend WGH asked for some tips about how to talk about this, especially to a young person in their life who is in the military and eager to join the fray. I don't know if I have any sage advice, but here are my thoughts.

First and most importantly: we must question whether other countries getting involved militarily can actually help -- or whether that will only increase the risk of a much more widespread, prolonged, and possibly global war with Russia. In my view, the latter is much more likely.

We must ask, will killing Russian soldiers change Putin's directives? Does Putin care if Russian soldiers die? It would appear not. Killing a bunch of Russian military will only amount to more people dying.

Canadians like to believe that Canadian soldiers are deployed to protect civilians. In reality, the military is used to advance political agendas. If the war in Ukraine escalates and spreads, it will not be about Ukraine. It will be about global power -- and many, many, many more people will die.

The people who send troops to war are not the people who die in those wars. Our duty is to protect young people and not let them be sacrificed for goals that may not be achievable.

I'm greatly heartened and incredibly impressed by the anti-war protests in Russia. I know exactly how those people feel, watching helplessly as their own country commits war crimes. But Russians protest at much greater risk than I ever did.

This story from Vox outlines a number of ways the US (and, by extension, Canada) could help Ukraine without escalating the war.

Right now it seems the most important things to do are to tell the federal government that we do not want Americans and Canadians to intervene militarily -- but we do want our government to do everything we can to help Ukrainian refugees. And we can help refugees ourselves, by donating, by advocating for them, and by being a welcoming presence in our communities.


how to fight and win: five things i've learned (thoughts while waiting for the results of a ratification vote)

Story about the strike here
Our bargaining unit has reached a tentative agreement and we have returned to work while we await the results of a ratification vote. 

We didn't get everything we wanted, of course, but we moved the employer a long way, far more than we would have gotten without taking job action. Perhaps more importantly in the long run, we demonstrated our willingness to push back and our ability to stand together to make the fightback successful.

I'm hoping that by not naming the employer in this post, I'll be able to record some general thoughts without getting hauled in front of a verbal firing squad -- especially since the organization is supposedly undergoing a culture shift.

I've now been directly involved with two successful rounds of bargaining and striking. Here are some things I've learned.

1. Building a successful strike takes years.

The seeds of both strikes were planted two years earlier. Both successes were the result of two full years of internal organizing. 

In Mississauga, a group of like-minded library workers, fed up with a weak union that was practically an arm of management, planned a democratic takeover. We were elected into positions of union leadership and began re-building the union from the ground up. 

This meant becoming much more responsive to members' needs -- fighting for members' concerns and being willing to grieve whenever necessary. It meant always making time for members, and if we couldn't resolve their issue, at least listening, empathizing, and educating. It meant hugely increasing communication, democracy, and transparency. 

In those days we called this "building member engagement".

2. Unhappy workers complain. Unhappy workers who are organized fight back.

In my more recent experience, member engagement gave way to "internal organizing," and became more methodical.

The previous bargaining committee knew there was internal work to do. They weren't happy with the outcome of bargaining, but they also knew that members would accept it -- that there was no appetite to do otherwise. This was before my time with this employer, but I understand they got to work immediately after ratification. 

In 2020, a group of librarians from the bargaining unit attended a week-long labour education event, part of the CLC Winter School. The BCGEU called the course Organizing Academy, and it was based on the work Jane McAlevey. Along with several other GEU bargaining units, we learned a step-by-step process to build worker power.

Since that time, we have remained in close touch about workplace issues -- for mutual support, guidance, feedback, planning, griping, building. Together, we attended Skills To Win, a virtual course sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley, Labor Center, taught by McAlevey herself, and attended by more than 500 activists all over North America. With that, we added a few more member to our core team.

Over two years, we engaged in internal organizing, using the methods we learned, plus our own understanding of our context. 

This is what built our strike.

3. Striking is transformative. The wins gained in the collective agreement are only the beginning.

It's very satisfying to win a better wage increase or language that improves working conditions. But I believe the most important takeaway from a successful strike is workers learning that they can do this. We don't have to say yes to whatever crumbs the employer offers. Striking is scary, but it doesn't kill you, and it can lead to great things. Workers learn the particular joy of solidarity, of walking the picket line together. (An unsuccessful strike, one that drags on and ends in defeat -- that's a different story, and I can't attest to what that leads to.)

Both of these strikes were firsts for the bargaining units. In both cases, the employer thought our members would never vote to strike, then that we'd never actually walk out, and again that we wouldn't be able to hold out for a better offer. Wrong on all counts! Presumably, then, the employers learned, too -- and that knowledge will exist on both sides of the table during future rounds of bargaining.

Striking is also personally transformative. Many members attested to the lasting impact of striking on their own confidence and worldview.

4. Bargaining and job action are a crucible for leadership.

I learned more about how to lead -- about my own strengths, and especially my own challenges and weaknesses -- during bargainng and striking than from any other experience in my life. Both filled me with pride and joy, and also brought painful lessons and some lasting regrets. Leaders must have the courage to get their ass kicked, learn, move on, and get it kicked some more.

5. If your union discourages you from job action, you need a new rep, new leadership, or a different union.

Support from the larger parent union is crucial for success. Strike pay is only the beginning. Logistical support, media and publicity, reaching out to the house of labour for picket line support, organizing solidarity events -- this is vital to a successful job action. Everyone wants to avoid striking if at all possible, but a strong union isn't afraid to take job action, and knows how to support members who are willing to walk.