Chicken-Rice Soup With Leek

Preparations:

In preparing this soup I go to the Farmer’s Market and buy three large leeks, and a dozen or more medium to large size Roma tomatoes. Alternatively, it’s toward the end of the growing season and I have plenty of fresh leeks and Roma tomatoes coming out of the garden. I also need garlic, a small red onion, celery stalks, small carrots, the beans from at least two small packages of edamame (soy beans), and fresh or dried spices (tarragon, basil and parsley), and a tsp pf dry caraway seeds. Perhaps some of these ingredients will come fresh from the garden as well.

You will also need 3-4 cups of chicken stock and about a half pound or more of cut-up and previously cooked chicken. You can buy the stock and one or two chicken breasts and go from there. Alternatively, you can make the chicken stock and the chicken from scratch by buying and roasting a chicken. If you do that, buy a chicken from a local farmer or one at least that has not been factory-farm-raised with hormonal, antibiotic additives — one that tastes like chickens used to taste, and may yet taste that way again. I do that and have a good meal from the roasted chicken and then cut off the remaining meat and use the bones to make 3-4 cups of stock for the soup while saving some of the chicken for addition to the soup later:

Chicken Stock:

Add the chicken bones to 4-5 cups of water and boil slowly uncovered for about an hour. You can add about 8-10 peppercorns a stalk of celery and a few baby carrots, and later discard the bones and these additives after filtering or decanting the stock from them. Set aside the stock and prepare the stewed tomatoes from about a dozen fresh Roma tomatoes:

Stewed Tomatoes:

First, quarter a dozen Roma tomatoes. Remove the seeds and skins with a sharp knife and collect the tomatoes in a sauce pan. Add a tsp of salt, cover and heat slowly under low-medium heat. Separately, finely cut and dice a large celery stalk, five to six cloves of garlic (use more if cloves are small), and about a third of a large red onion. Mix these ingredients and saute them lightly in a little olive oil and add the mixture to the smoothly boiling tomatoes, stirring in the sauteed mixture initially and then occasionally stirring several times over the next half hour while continuing to cook the tomatoes.

The Soup:

Add a large handful of wild rice to the chicken stock and boil under low heat covered for about half an hour. Then, add about half of the stewed tomatoes to the chicken stock-rice mix and freeze the remaining half of the stewed tomatoes for use later with another dish.

To the soup add the following mixture of cut vegetables: the white, blanched ends of three large leeks cut into small slices; a dozen small carrots and 3-4 celery stalks both cut into small slices; and about a cup of freshly steamed edamame (soy) beans shucked from their pods. Boil the rice-stewed-tomatoes-vegetable mix for another 15-20 minutes to finish cooking the rice and added vegetables. About 5-10 minutes before the end add about 1/2 to 3/4 pound of cut-up, previously cooked chicken cut in small pieces but not finely chopped. Stop the boiling and add at least a tsp each of dried basil, parsley and tarragon. If these spices are fresh, cut them up finely and add but in larger amounts (about doubling). Add also a tsp of dry caraway seeds. Stop heating, cover and stir occasionally the let the spice/herb flavors blend into the soup.

Dish up, add salt and pepper to taste (minimal as the spices will carry the flavor, and some salt you will note has been added along the way). Serve with toasted whole grain bread.

Resuming the Blog

I’ve just taken a couple of months vacation from this blog and now is perhaps a good time to resume writing. I’m not certain I will write every day as I did before my vacation, but I do feel as though my batteries have been regenerated. I will try to write 2-3 times a week at least. As before, the posts may have little to do with what is going on in the world. While what is happening currently is certainly important, most of us frankly need a rest from the madness.

While I was away I invested in a “fitbit” device and, as advertised, it is helping me to stay focused on my exercise routines generally and also has helped me keep track of what I’ve been doing to stay fit. I’ve also kept regular readers in mind and I have more to say. I’ve done a bit of reading and thinking and I’ll say more about that as we go along.

Where Has Recovery From The Financial Crisis Of 2008 Brought Us?

While it may have been a mistake to fix or try to fix the banking system in 2007-8 with federal government (AKA public) funds, that’s what we did and now we must live with the consequences. Housing markets also failed as millions of homes were purchased earlier at prices that were no longer anywhere near what they could sell for in 2008-9 or even later. Indeed, the whole market effectively tanked as most houses could not be sold at any price. So much was owed to banks or other mortgage holders that sales could not occur unless banks were willing to write off what was still owed once a price was agreed upon — and banks or holders of bundled derivative mortgages at that point were not willing to write off those kinds of losses. The losses would have been in the multi-trillion dollar range. The prospect that grim was frankly to complex and scary to face. Further, it’s fair to say, no one in the financial community could figure out how to do it without possibly creating a full scale panic. Housing markets were effectively not open for business. Few loans were granted and few houses were sold.

The Federal Reserve Bank effectively went about the business of getting the banks up and running again. However, the banks were not totally up for the process. Even as the TARP program got underway, many failed so-called “stress tests” that may have been watered down a bit at the beginning. There was talk of nationalizing the banks, but nothing even came to it as most of the banks with the additional help of overnight loans from the Federal Reserve slowly began making a profit again and helping to reestablish business as usual (or close to business as usual).

In the early days of the crisis equities to a serious dive, dropping to perhaps half their original value. This deep loss in equity value was further driven by stockholders who took trillions out of markets and by rapidly failing businesses that could not sustain themselves with out cash loans. Many small banks failed, but the FDIC was able make good on all deposits. Thus, while there was a lot of fear that focused on the long run future of the financial system, the Federal Reserve Bank and Treasury managed to hold things together, while and insufficient federal government financial stimulus promised to restore order in the financial system and get people back to work. Unemployment quickly grew and before long exceeded 10 percent. In some regions of the country unemployment was much greater while much less in others.

Equity losses assured a large drop in IRAs and other retirement funds and those close to retirement simply put everything on hold while stock prices have slowly recovered (and thus IRAs have recovered as well). Unemployment has again diminished to near pre-financial crisis numbers. So, where are we?

Debt is still everywhere and the banks are still hiding their real losses, but there are signs that they may be divesting many of the bad investments made prior to 2008, and that will result in some recovery with much of it still written off. The financial system is more stable and safer than it was in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 crisis, but it is hard to argue that the nation is not broke. We have nearly a $20 trillion national debt, which may be about to be paid off in the short term with hyper-inflated dollars. The Federal Reserve Bank has effectively allowed Treasury to print 5-6 trillion or more to fund it’s Quantitative Easing (QE) policy (buying government treasuries and thus effectively pushing down the interest the government has to pay to borrow money to finance the debt).

QE also drove up the cost of commodities and the apparent value of equities, which now appear artificially overvalued. As QE fades the overvalued equities market is likely to drop as well. Yet at the same time with trillions more in the system and large national debt looming many argue that hyperinflation is a threat. Indeed, we may be able to pay of many debts with this increased money supply, but our creditors are no idiots and when the real value of their payments are understood, we run the risk of future sales of goods, both food and oil for example, being elevated to the real value of the dollar, or of sales being cut off completely unless we pay in some currency other than dollars. Dollars may be just fine within the country, but not outside the country.

Too Much Money At The Top

Salaries and benefits for those members of the workforce who are presumably at the top of their game have become increasingly excessive. Some of these individuals are to be sure very good at what they do and and thus paid accordingly. CEOs and others in the business world or in other professional pursuits such as professional athletics, high levels of government, or banking and finance have been able to market their skills effectively and, in fact, have become overpaid.

Those who are paid in the millions or in stock options or using other financial strategies sometimes think they are doing what they love to do, but watch them move around from company to company or team to team if the financial package is not right. It seems that some work early in life to develop that 100 million dollar IRA and don’t stop there. Indeed, well before the money is lodged away, those who come up to even a far more modest level have, as the saying goes, more money than they know what to do with — especially if their real day to day needs are modest.

Even at the relatively low end of those whose compensation is in the multimillion dollar range the money one is paid is almost self propagating. Even if you have the paltry sum of a million in “extra money” that you don’t need for day to day expenses, wise investment is likely to get you something on the order of 10 percent, even half that is a decent sum when accumulated with compound interest over 30 years. And so, many invest the money partly in very safe, low return investments and partly in higher return investments that may have some additional risk.

Thus, at a rather modest level of accumulation salaries that are increasingly well in excess of minimal can effectively be self-propagating. Indeed, after accumulating a few million, there is no reason to work. One can get by just managing investments. Yet, that seems not to be the game. The game may be either to accumulate money and manage it for some interesting purposes, alternatively one may enormously enjoy the work that just happens to be doing something that is highly valued. Perhaps some of these people don’t pay any attention to their salaries unless they are too low relative to what they perceive to be their self worth. So, things can get complicated, but what is certain is that compensation levels for perhaps 10 percent of the population of this country is at such a level that they do not worry much about survival in the sense that someone might if they were making at or near minimum wage.

In the present strategy for bringing the economy back to life after the near death experience of 2008, the regeneration of the financial capacity of large banks and the Federal Reserve Bank’s quantitative easing program favor those with most of the country’s money. That to be sure also has a trickle down effect, but what it means is that fairly modest IRAs are partially rebuilt while the big investors cash in, and so the rich get richer, salaries and wages for those at the bottom to middle ranges stay more or less the same as prices for essential commodities climb, causing the numbers of poor and disenfranchised to expand.

Economy With Weakened Consumption Still Threatens Collapse

Since the development of the financial collapse of 2008, the government has concentrated on rebuilding the financial system, and with good reason. Businesses rapidly failed because they could not borrow funds to finance the costs of doing business. Many banks and especially small businesses failed, others hunkered down, let people go and were this able to divert thinly spread operating capital from multiple products to those that were most profitable. This game many the edge they needed to build capital reserves and stay I’m business. It had suddenly become hard, if not impossible, to borrow large sums of money for operating capital from either small or large banks. Federal government programs and parallel actions by the Federal Reserve Bank were able to improve the money supply. The actions of the Congress were however so tepid and austere in nature as to substantially weaken the recovery. Nevertheless, the combined actions of the Congress and the Federal Reserve Bank led to a slow, partial recovery of the economy which did not really begin to take hold until 2010-11.

Subsequently, the Federal Reserve Bank expanded efforts through the quantitative easing program in which it would buy very month billions of dollars in government bonds. This led to a reduction of interest offered on bonds and as a result, which lowered also the cost for the government to borrow money to finance the debt and also the an increase in the value of securities and stocks as well as commodities. It also led to small but steady increases in employment and thus to reduction in unemployment. Overall though, the recovery continued at only a modest level as new jobs were often at modest to low salary levels. In addition, many people were forced to take several part time jobs to make ends meet, earning enough to be no longer considered unemployed but still not making enough to buy many of the necessities and certainly only few if any luxury items. Indeed, many common items had increased in price as a result of quantitative easing — producing a modest inflation on basic necessities.

Modest inflation was part of the plan since government unwillingness to create a stimulus sufficient to begin to push the economy back from the brink and well as the perhaps excessive caution from the banks in making capital loans, pushed the economy toward deflation. The cost of goods began to decline as people had less money for purchases. Merchants made efforts to increase sales. They reduced prices on selected items, created attractive terms such as one year, twelve easy payments, same as cash. Many of these deals still linger and did have a useful effect in increasing consumption. Overall, quantitative easing countered the deflation we saw early on, but overall unemployment has declined considerably and the economy remains quite fragile as the Federal Reserve now begins to decline the levels of the quantitative easing program. The problem is that while many are back to work, their purchasing power has declined significantly and as a result the recovery remains tepid and the recovery could still decline and the economy yet collapse from a threat that could yet arise.

What To Do Until The Collapse Comes

I’m imagining that we can move slowly toward a collapse the details of which may be impossible to define, but we can certainly foresee it in broad terms as I have tried to show in recent blog posts. We can see it coming to individuals and even to groups. They gradually lose jobs or are always moved down the scale to lower and lower paying jobs, but none of those jobs provide a way to stay out of poverty. Of course, we can think ourselves too smart and wake up one morning in the midst of the collapse we knew was coming, but failed to see it until it was upon us.

In view of the possibility that the forthcoming collapse may not be wide spread enough to include me for years yet, I decided to get ready for it — especially because I might be wrong and the collapse might be closer than I think. Also, I thinking it may start and then things will become more difficult gradually. I won’t wake up some morning having gone from comfortable to destitute overnight. It may be upon me over a period of months or more.

I’m assuming it will be hard to move around unless one has a bicycle or something that moves on battery power that I can charge using my own solar system. I don’t know much about solar, but it appears to can build your own systems for about 10 percent the cost of a commercial system. I’ve built my own solar oven, but I need to improve on the design, or learn to eat food that doesn’t need to be cooked. I’ll also need some good water filtration systems for water to drink or cook with. Of course, I’ll use natural gas until it becomes too expensive. I expect the price to go up 10-100 fold so I’ll have to use far less of it that I do currently.

In general, it doesn’t cost too much to either cool or warm the house. I’ve been insulating and buying a little extra warm clothing. I need enough solar to run things minimally. The house is well designed with the bedrooms on the far ends. They can be closed off on cold days, but it’s not as cold even in winter as it used to be.

Initially, the living quarters should be adequate. I’ll have to adjust if natural gas costs increase as much as I think they will. Also, hang drying washed clothes may become important.

In general, the living space will be adequate with diminished heating and cooling and electricity needs diminished appropriately.

To get around, I have a bike which I keep in good working order. It will be useful for going off to get provisions as needed — Ana as long as they are available.

I’ve been doing a lot of gardening in past years and I’ll need to increase that and get used to both freezing crops, storing in some in root cellar of canning. I suspect it will be mostly freezing and root cellar storage of crops from the expanded garden.

I’m increasing my tool supply, especially old time and some nice modern tools for building and repairing items with non-power tools. As some stage electricity needs won’t be able to handle critical needs if I have too many power tools.

Avoiding The Peak Oil Problem And The Absence of Oil From International Trade

While the domestic oil supply peaked in America in the 1970s, America has always been able to import oil from other countries subsequent to the OPEC embargo for the right price. Some nevertheless argue that given the considerable increase in debt America has experienced since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2007-8, that the value of the dollar will be threatened, perhaps to the point where it may no longer be accepted as the valuable international currency that it has been, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, for America to import oil from foreign sources. Our one and only response may be to change immediately our strategy on the development and use of our current and developing national energy sources.

In general, we had planned on a decline in coal plants, as they could be extremely difficult to retrofit to clean burning. Indeed, even new coal plants are not clean and no useful, universal strategy has evolved to deal with coal ash, which has been slowly destroying a sizable fraction of America’s environment. Some of the more modern coal plants could be made clean will all of the flu gases trapped and the coal ash processed into useful products, but in the long run this could prove more expensive than it is worth. Certainly many of the older plants will be converted over the next several years to burning natural gas primarily. In the long run much of the nation’s coal will increasingly be left in the ground.

If we are unable to continue to import a net seven billion gallons of foreign oil each day, we can’t make it up in the long run by shifting that burden to the domestic supply. Thus, we will have to make up the shortfall in other ways. Increasingly, autos and trucks will need to shift to natural gas as well as battery rechargeable electric power, but to this point neither infrastructure is in place. If we start having to use domestic supplies of oil only to generate gasoline, costs will be driven up considerably. Many autos and trucks will be parked as they will become too expensive to drive. The cost of natural gas, currently very cheap will also go up considerably as demand will also increase. Hydrogen, which is not currently economical as a fuel may become so, and some vehicles may be converted to burning either hydrogen or natural gas.

At the present time the generation of electricity from solar power is still in it’s infancy, but still most promising for the long term. Wind and geothermal are still very promising and useful, but not generated easily everywhere — certainly not as universal as solar, which some observers anticipate to double within the next 15 years. Such a rate of development of renewables is not currently on the horizon, although it could be done.

The Congress is meeting these energy independence challenges it thinks, but if supplies of international oil suddenly become unavailable at the level that could occur, the nation will have a sudden shock that could make the OPEC embargo of the mid-1970s look like a picnic in retrospect.

Most of the people in America would suddenly be frozen in place as supplies of gasoline would suddenly dry up. Commerce would effectively come to a halt unless most of the commercial trucks are retrofitted to burning natural gas and the option of burning a refill every few hundred miles becomes widely available. Just a few percent of the cars are electrics, and a hybrid may keep you on the road just a little longer than a gas guzzler without a battery.

While over the last 30-40 years we have made considerable progress in improving the use of energy sources through conservation, by expanding and improving the acquisition of solar energy and other renewable strategies, our goal should be to improve these strategies so that we can eventually replace fossil fuels as well as nuclear strategies. We are on our way but hardly on the pace necessary if sudden shocks occur in the international markets for fossil fuels, and in particular, for oil.