OMG! Zucchini Crepes

Too much zucchini? There’s no such thing. Here’s yet another recipe that makes the most of this highly nutritious and versatile veggie, the humble summer squash. Check out its amazing nutrition and health benefits here.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Total Ingredients Cost: < $1/serving
Yields: 6-8 medium sized (6″ diameter) crepes

Ingredients
1 ½-2 cups fresh zucchini, shredded, skin on
1 t sea salt
1 T minced garlic
1 T minced onion
1 t each of sea salt and ground black peppercorns
½ cup sharp white cheddar, shredded (you can substitute vegan cheese, parmesan, or omit)
2 medium size eggs, beaten
½ cup light flour
½ cup heavy cream, sour cream, or Greek yoghurt (or use milk alternatives)
2 T olive oil, as needed to oil skillet

Method
You’ll need approximately 1-1 ½ lbs of zucchini, washed but not peeled. Shred it into a colander or sieve placed over a bowl. Add 1 tsp salt and distribute throughout the shredded zucchini. Allow to drain into bowl for 10 minutes, then gently press excess liquid through colander or squeeze with your hands to remove all moisture. Reserve zucchini liquid to use in smoothies, sauces or for veggie broth.

Transfer zucchini to medium size mixing bowl. Sprinkle in minced garlic and onion. Sprinkle in approximately ½-1 tsp each of salt and pepper, or to taste. May also add fresh chopped dill or basil leaves, onion greens and/or chives, or substitute onion with shallots. Mix together gently.

Stir in cheese. Blend together. Add approximately ⅓ of beaten eggs, then add approximately ⅓ of the flour. Alternate between flour and eggs, blending well after each addition. After all eggs and flour have been incorporated into mixture, add ½ cup cream or yoghurt. Mixture should be semi-liquid. If it feels too thick, add a touch of the reserved zucchini juice or a tad more cream, and mix in. Mixture should be almost thin enough to pour.

Heat approximately 1 T olive oil to medium in skillet. When it starts to bubble, spoon in approximately 2 T of the crepe dough mixture and spread out thinly to cover the bottom of the pan, or to your desired size. Cover pan and allow to cook at low-medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until bottom begins to form toasty bubbles, then flip and cook other side until similarly toasted. Remove, fold crepe into a heating bowl, and cover. Repeat until all mixture has been used, adding oil as needed to keep crepes from sticking to pan.

Garnish with your choice of topping. Sour cream, yoghurt, green bean puree, tomato slices or wedges, chopped parsley, basil leaves or pesto, guacamole or salsa all work very well with this flavour profile.

© L.D’anna 2017

Brekkie

There really are very few meals more tasty and satisfying than garlic-browned spuds with fried free range eggs. Great for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Total Ingredients Cost: < $1/serving
Serves: Cook’s Choice

Ingredients
Fresh Raw Potatoes
Garlic
Onion, Chives or Shallot
Olive Oil
Free-Range Eggs
Sea Salt
Peppercorns

Method
Mince a few cloves garlic and onion or shallot to taste. Splash olive oil (about 1 Tablespoon for each potato) into fry pan or wok, and sprinkle with sea salt and cracked or ground pepper. Set on medium heat. Add minced garlic and onion/shallot to oil and saute till slightly browned.

Peel and cube raw potato – the general rule is 1 medium size potato per person. Cubes can be large, medium or small – small cubes take less time to cook. Stir lightly so potato is coated with oil mixture, and garlic and onion don’t stick to the pan and burn. Set to medium-high heat. Season potato to taste with salt and cracked or ground pepper. Toss to brown on all sides, then reduce heat and cover pan. Let cook, turning every few minutes, till potato is soft when pierced with a fork – about 10 minutes. You may need to splash in a bit more oil as potato cooks, if the pan seems dry. Alternatively, splash in a bit of cold water instead of oil.

Pile potato to one side to make space, crack in eggs and cover pan. When whites are cooked, they can be flipped easy-over if desired. Then transfer all from pan to serving plate. Salsa or steamed asparagus are perfect sides to this dish, as is freshly sliced lightly seasoned tomato and sliced fresh avocado.

Note: Peeling the spuds is optional. I peel in winter because winter skin is tough and relatively tasteless. In summer, simply scrape dirt from skin with a knife or kitchen brush, and cook with skin for added nutrients. The length of time to cook potatoes varies, depending on the altitude and type of potato. I prefer red skinned spuds; white skinned tend to be more dry and less porous with a crumbly texture. Like many cooking related choices, it’sa matter of personal taste. Also in summer, whole fresh baby spuds are wonderful.

 

Copyright © L.D’anna 2017

Dreamy Organic Carrot Soup

This low-cost, low-ingredient soup costs pennies per serving but tastes like gold, especially when carrots are in season. The recipe can be halved or doubled or tripled without sacrificing taste, and it freezes very well. As with most soups, the work-intensive parts of making it are prep and finishing. Cooking time is minimal. Allow about 1 hour to make it from beginning to end.

Ingredients
1-3 medium size garlic cloves, chopped fine
¼ cup minced onion or shallot
olive oil, approx 1-3 tablespoons
4 cups sliced or chopped organic carrots
1-2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
black peppercorns, coarsely ground, approx 1 tablespoon
4-8 cups filtered water, or your choice of light stock

Optional
1 tablespoon butter or butter substitute
1-2 tablespoons Canadian maple syrup, to taste (1-2 tablespoons dark brown organic sugar can substitute)
Note You may use potato or other stock instead of water. If only potato stock is used, the soup will be thick and starchy, so use it sparingly in a ratio no higher than 1 part potato liquid to 6-8 parts water. It will detract from the purity of the carrot flavour. For that reason, either a very light veggie stock (in winter) or plain filtered water is recommended. As well, potato stock is starchy and will thicken the broth while interfering with its taste profile. Our goal is to shine the light on the exquisite flavour of organic carrots, which is delicate and easily overwhelmed by other, heavier flavours such as potatoes or celery or even the seasonings in pre-made or packaged broth. In summer and autumn, when carrots are fresh, only use water.

Method
Brown onion or shallot, garlic, and sprinkle with seasonings to taste in approximately one to three tablespoons of olive oil – enough to generously coat the bottom of a heavy-bottom soup pot – in the pot, over medium heat. When browned, stir in carrots, flipping gently with spatula to coat lightly with oil. Sauté together over medium heat, stirring occasionally till carrots are just cooked but still firm.

In winter, or with less flavourful carrots, add butter and maple syrup or dark brown organic sugar to carrots, and stir to mix in. Add 4-8 cups cold filtered water to soup pot, or enough water plus 1-2 inches, to cover carrots. How much liquid you use is a matter of personal taste. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally. When boiling, turn heat down to medium-low, cover pot and allow to cook together, stirring occasionally, adding liquid if soup seems too thick, for approximately 15-20 minutes.

Remove cover from pot, stir gently, and allow the soup to cool slightly. When less hot, transfer soup to blender, 1-2 cups at a time, making sure there are nearly equal parts of liquid and solid in each portion. Blend the soup in portions at ‘blend’ or ‘liquify’ speeds, depending on your blender and your personal taste. If using a hand-held blender, you can whiz the soup directly in the pot after allowing it to cool slightly to avoid hot splatter.

Return blended portions to pot. When all the soup is blended, sprinkle in coarsely ground peppercorns and sea salt to taste. Be sure to taste the broth before and while adding salt, so as not to overwhelm the carrot flavour. Stir soup together and heat gently. When heated through, transfer to soup bowls to serve.

This soup can be frozen in single-serve portions, or in whatever amounts are suitable to your needs.

Carol Shields: Canada’s Jane Austen

I had the great pleasure of interviewing distinguished Canadian author Carol Shields in 1993 when she was promoting her newly published novel, The Stone Diaries, after receiving word of having been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Here’s a copy of that interview, as it appeared in my books column in Winnipeg’s fabulous indie arts and entertainment monthly, Interchange.


What to Wear to accept The Booker

carol-shields-1If you’re Carol Shields, and you’ve just been short-listed for the Booker Prize, and you’re going to an October 26th Awards gala in London, what’s the first thing you think about? What to wear, of course.

“It’s the first thing I thought about,” Shields laughs. “It’s pretty glamorous. They don’t tell you what to wear, but I’ve got the outfit. The pants, they’re kind of long, black, silky and, for the top, I’ve got a pretty kind of red silk tunic thing. I’ve never worn anything like this – I’ll probably feel like a clown.”

It’s the Academy Awards of writing. The prize is worth more than forty grand, with a jury headed by a Lord (Gowrie). It’s a BIG DEAL. And it sells books.

Shields says there isn’t much chance for interference with the jury. “There are no leaks. The decision is made that day. They’re in a locked room,” she says. And how politically motivated their final decision is, if at all, is anybody’s guess. Bookies take bets on it in England. “In the betting shops, the two-to-one favourtie is Roddy Doyle. I’m second. Third is David Malouf, the Australian.  I think Roddy is going to get it; he’s been nominated before.”

stonediariescdaShields is not in need of public funding. With fifteen books to her credit, with London and Canadian publishers and a large European readership, she does much of her writing in a summer home in the south of France. She’s an Associate Professor of English at the University of Manitoba where husband Don is a Professor of Engineering. She has what Winnipeg-based writer Armin Wiebe, who shared the October 8th West End Cultural Centre stage with her, calls ‘an enviable position for a writer.’ It’s serious writers like Wiebe who recognize better than most the time, resources, and intense discipline it takes to produce a Shields portfolio.

Permission To Write

And Shields herself credits a half-century of Canada Council support to writers for our increased international profile, and calls this funding a good investment. “These things have put Canada right in the center. When I was in the UK, a lot of people asked me about the sudden promise of Canadian writers, how did I explain it? They’re very aware of it. I don’t for one minute think that throwing money at the arts creates an artistic community, but it does create a kind of permission, and I think it has paid off for this country to fund writers,” she says.

srepublicofloveukBorn on the 2nd of June in 1935, Shields is a Gemini who calls herself a ‘total skeptic’ about astrology. As to what music she listens to, she says there’s always something playing in the background in her home, usually Bach, but she says she’s tone-deaf and pays little attention to music. But she likes Bruce Springsteen. “I like his voice,” she says.

Shields is now public property, and our own public network occupies much of the hectic two days she spends here before leaving for Toronto. Documentary cameras record her every move, even while she’s taping radio interviews. And later, some of her Words On Stage audience gets its turn with the cameras too. Ah, the price of fame.

It’s tough for the two of us to talk with all the attention she’s getting from the who’s-who in the CBC lobby. “It was an honour and privilege to be sitting in the studio while the TV cameras were on you,” quips CBC Arts Encounters host Jacqui Good. “You think with radio you don’t have to bother to put your lipstick on,” Shields retorts.

CANADA’S JANE AUSTEN

carol-shields-film-strip-1This woman has a genteel sort of calm about her; she seems humble. It’s not grating transparently false humility but instead, it’s a lack of pretension; a solid earthbound realism which is reflected in her work. Jacqui Good calls her ‘Canada’s Jane Austen.’ This is someone you’d ‘take tea’ with, someone you’d try hard not to say the f-word to. Not because she’s a prude, or hasn’t heard it before, but because you’d hate to jar her. You have the sense she’d find it off-putting.

Shields rejects the parallels so often drawn between her own writing and that of her favourite author, Alice Munro. “British critics think that, just because we’re both Canadian women,” she says. “If I were American, they wouldn’t make those comparisons.”

Although she says a writer should write a different book each time, she agrees there has to be some familiarity for a reader to return to a particular author time and again, as her readers do. She finds common themes running through her work, even though she doesn’t deliberately choose them.

The UnKnowability of People

Redemption, for one – what she calls “documenting lives otherwise lost. And the ‘unknowability’ of people.” The Stone Diaries, the book responsible for this nomination, is decidedly such a reclamation. “But as far as consistency, other kinds of consistency, it’s interest in language. When I read, that’s what I read for,” says Shields. “If writers can’t do interesting sentences, I just don’t want to read them.”

Shields premiered those silky black Booker pants for her Winnipeg Words on Stage audience at the West End Cultural Centre, but she’s saving the red tunic for London.

Judging from the audience response, Shields has what it takes to hold on to her readers. Waves of laughter wash through the SRO crowd when she reads a list of endless admonitions from a man’s mother to her daughter-in-law-to-be on how to ‘wife’ properly, ending with, “Once Harold was eating a handful of popcorn and began to choke. I always keep a close eye on him when we have a popcorn evening. From the moment the marriage vows are exchanged at the altar, a woman’s husband becomes her sacred trust.”

This jet-setting writer returned briefly from Greece to Winnipeg at the end of September, then travelled to Berkeley California, where husband Don is teaching this year, then back to Winnipeg for a performance and book launch. Then it’s off to Toronto for her daughter’s wedding and a Harbourfront reading before the Booker ceremony in London.

Writers need comfort

sunlesscdaSo she’s not writing much these days. “You need a certain amount of order in your life to write. People say travel stimulates but writers need the opposite. They need comfort, their books around them, to know where their paper is. That’s what lulls you into the comfort so you can write. It’s what I need.”

Shields won’t be teaching this year. She’s working on some short stories, a first for her, and another play for Prairie Theatre Exhange, this time in collaboration with her daughter Catherine. “We’ve already done the whole set-up together. We just sit and talk about it. My two older daughters always read everything I write before it goes to the editor. They have excellent eyes.”

By the time you read this, the 1993 Booker Prize Award will be history, yesterday’s news, bird-cage liner. But, come what may, Shields will keep on writing books, and her fans are sure to keep reading them.

~

Shields was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1993 for her novel The Stone Diaries, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. Her novel Unless was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2002. In addition to her novels, she wrote two collections of short stories and a biography of Jane Austen. She won the Orange Prize in 1998 for Larry’s Party. Carol Shields died in 2003 at the age of 68.

To order books by Carol Shields, please visit the Carol Shields Literary Trust.

© L.D’anna 2017

This piece was first published in Interchange in 1993. Photos © L.D’anna: Carol Shields, West End Cultural Centre, Winnipeg Canada, Words On Stage 1993.

 

Organic Black Bean Bread+Garlic Hummus

Organic Black Bean Bread

This recipe makes a beautifully moist, dense but light bread that is absolutely perfect for cutting into paper-thin slices, with a texture very similar to a dark rye bread. You might expect a bean bread to be heavy but the beans just add moisture and flavour while retaining all the familiar qualities of a yeast-raised bread – it’s nothing like a soy loaf, it’s bread. If you choose to freeze it, you can pre-slice the loaf first, and take out single slices to thaw quickly and use as needed. This recipe yields 1 medium sized loaf.

Ingredients
1 cup drained organic black beans
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp cane sugar
½ cup warm water
1 ½-2 cup organic flour (your choice of brand and type)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Optional
2-4 medium size cloves garlic
2-3 tbsp minced onion or shallots
½ tblsp olive oil

Dissolve
1 tsp cane sugar
½ cup warm water
Sprinkle over
1 tsp active dry yeast
Set aside yeast mixture to activate.

Optional: In saucepan, sauté minced onion or shallot, garlic and a sprinkle of sea salt gently in approximately ½ tbsp olive oil until lightly toasted.

Place black beans in blender. Add sautéd garlic and onion (optional). Blend together until beans resemble paste.

Method
Transfer bean paste to mixing bowl.
Gently stir in activated yeast mixture.
Add 1 tsp sea salt.
Stir in ½ cup flour.
Sprinkle on 1 tbsp olive oil.
Stir together.
Add another 1/2 cup flour.
Mix.
Add another ¼ cup flour.
Mix.
Turn dough onto surface sprinkled with ¼ cup flour.
Knead together, adding more flour as required to make an elastic dough.
Knead till smooth.
Form dough into ball and set in oiled bowl. Cover with clean cloth.
Let rise till doubled in size.
Shape into loaf, and place in oiled loaf pan, turning to make sure all of loaf surface is oiled. Cover and let rise again till doubled in bulk. Brush top lightly with tepid water, using your fingers or pastry brush.

Pre-heat oven to 400. When heated, place loaf on middle shelf in oven to ensure equal baking top and bottom. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then turn down oven heat to 375 and continue to bake for 25-30 minutes.

Remove from oven. Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Organic Garlic Hummus

Method
Place in blender
1.5 cups (398ml can) drained organic chickpeas, reserve liquid
1-3 medium size garlic cloves, chopped (optional)

Blend at medium speed until chickpeas are smooth, adding reserved liquid in very small amounts as required by blender. When smooth, add the following ingredients to blender, adding only a portion of each at a time. Blend well after each addition. Keep adding reserved chickpea liquid as needed to move the blender blades, but add only very small portions (1 tbsp maximum) at a time to avoid making the mixture too watery. Be sure to taste as you go!

¼ cup olive oil
½ cup tahini paste
1 tsp sea salt, according to taste
2-3 tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed or preserved, according to taste
⅛-1 tsp cumin, according to your taste

As you blend, taste, and add more salt, lemon juice and/or cumin if you like.

When hummus is smooth and well mixed, transfer into sealable container. Smooth the top surface, and sprinkle it lightly with olive oil. Over the oil, sprinkle paprika.

Cover and refrigerate or serve immediately.

Note: Hummus can be frozen with no ill effect. To use frozen hummus, remove from freezer and let thaw in fridge before serving.

 

© L.D’anna 2017

The Corporate Bag Affair

I originally published this article in 2010. It’s disheartening to note that very little has changed since then, except that the policy of selling store-branded plastic bags to shoppers at the cash register has become ubiquitous among Canadian chain retailers. Not one of the cents we pay retailers is ear-marked for anything other than corporate profit.

Pay-per-Bag

In 2010, Shoppers Drug Mart Canada in British Columbia implemented a pay-per-bag policy, at a cost of five cents for each plastic bag used at checkout. Like most retailers, Shoppers also sells reusable branded bags and, like most retailers, charges between $2 and $10 per bag. It’s a trend which, in theory, sounds laudable. In theory, consumers will be reluctant to fork over cash for new bags and thus, in theory, they will consume fewer new bags.

Retailers are relying on consumer guilt to justify this cash-grab. We are meant to feel guilty – or at least we’re meant to know that we should feel guilty – for contributing to environmental clutter, so we will happily hand over those extra coins to ease our conscience. Keep in mind, these nickels and dimes we pay are not an ‘environmental levy.’ In fact, not one cent paid for plastic shopping bags is spent on cleaning the environment or recycling bags. The only thing retailers are doing is selling us more of their branded products for their own profit.

We’re also being encouraged to assuage our enviro-guilt by buying into their reusable bags scam. I say scam because, well, take a closer look at those bags. Made of non-woven polypropylene, a plastic polymer which, like all plastic, is a petroleum-based product. It turns out that producing polypropylene is actually more harmful to the environment than producing those regular plastic bags they’re intended to replace as an eco-friendly option. According to prlog.org, it takes about twenty-eight times more energy to produce a sack made with NWPP than it does to make a standard plastic shopping bag. NWPP bags are also prone to puncture, which means they get tossed quickly and they can’t be recycled, so they end up in landfills where they will “languish for hundreds of years.”

FOOD SAFETY CAUTION

A joint food safety report issued by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that reusable NWPP bags can serve as a breeding ground for dangerous food-borne bacteria, posing a serious health risk to consumers. “Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half the bags sampled,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D. University of Arizona environmental microbiology professor, and study co-author. So, if you’re concerned about bacteria, you’ll want to launder those bags, right? If you’ve ever been brave enough to try, you already know that they tend to disintegrate in the washer. If they make it through, don’t you dare put them into the dryer – they melt, and they can also start fires!

Many people think that reusable means more than just that you can shlep it around until it falls apart. It does not. All it means is that a thing can be reused. It doesn’t mean it can be recycled. It doesn’t mean it’s made from eco-friendly fabric, nor that it is biodegradable.

Concern or greed?

But how much are these business practices based on actual concern for our ecosystem and how much on sheer greed? How much is simply corporations seizing another opportunity to cash in on consumers’ very real concern? Ask any millionaire who started out with a paper route , those nickels and dimes add up. Imagine how much one retailer like Shoppers has banked just from plastic bag sales since 2010 in Canada. While you’re doing that math, hop on over to Loblaws website and click on their ‘Green’ page and have a little chuckle. FYI, Loblaws owns Shoppers.

Eco-friendly Options

If retailers are serious about the environment, why sell oil-based bags at all? Why not sell branded reusables made from eco-friendly fabrics? And why don’t they voluntarily invest their plastic bag revenue in clean-up projects or environmental research or in any number of things to help the environment? They could provide an in-store recycling program, give refunds or rebates to customers who return the plastic bags they’ve purchased, or give incentives to those who bring their own eco-bags.

Next time you’re in a store that charges customers for plastic bags at checkout, watch the customers in line. You might be astonished by how casually Canadian consumers pay the extra fee for plastic bags without any hesitation, without asking a single question like, for example, what are you using this money for? Take a look around at the store, and note the number of plastic-wrapped items they sell. Look at all the over-packaged items, at the sickening amount of plastic wrapped around plastic wrapped around plastic, and then you can start to guess just how serious any given retailer really is about ecology and the environment.


When I wrote this article in 2010, it had a fairly optimistic last graph in which I waxed eloquent about things like global bans etcetera. But all I can say now is please, buy or make your own eco-friendly bags and use them, because no one is going to save our asses but us.

© L D’anna 2017

Sources
Grist New York Times Amazon.com Biodegrable Supplies Food Safety NewsBags On The Run Red Flag Deals Shoppers Forum PRLog

I Am A Nigerian Prince Or …

How to Avoid Cons & Scams Online

Educate Yourself

More North Americans than ever are buying stuff online. While the number of purchases is increasing, so is consumer awareness of online fraud. And although awareness is growing, a lot of consumers seem to think they’re either immune or helpless to protect themselves against being scammed. Neither is completely true.

The good news is that there’s nothing new under the sun. That means we can learn from the past. People with money have been scammed by people who want to get their hands on that money since forever. The first and by far the most important thing a shopper can bring to any interaction is their common sense. This includes never ignoring a gut-feeling, and treating every financial transaction as though you were physically standing in a shop, talking with its owner.

StaySafeOnline.org provides an excellent guideline of specific ways in which you can guard your personal privacy and protect yourself against online purchasing blunders. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has also provided this handy guide, Online shopping fraud: from a buyer or seller’s point of view.

I’m going to take this learning journey one step further. Everyone should watch a few David Mamet films. To start, try either House of Games or Glengarry Glen Ross. First off, I promise you’ll have way more fun with a Mamet film than you’ll ever have reading advice bullets. And second, watching a Mamet film is guaranteed to enlighten you on the timeless craft of the short and long confidence game. It will show you how a person becomes a mark or target – and therefore how to avoid becoming one yourself – and exactly how con-artists ply their craft of deception. If you apply what you learn from watching these films to your daily life, you’re much more likely to stay safe in any situation.

Be a Credible Seller

As a professional copywriter, I often tell clients that correct spelling, punctuation, and proper grammar are some of the most important elements of their website. These may seem like insignificant details to some people — but it’s little things like these that help give an online business its credibility. As it turns out, RCMP Corporal John Montgomery agrees. He says that one of the first and most obvious indicators of a fraudulent website can be found just by carefully reading through the content, looking for red flags which, he says, are spelling mistakes and clumsy language that reads like an awkward or amateur translation.

A website riddled with language errors can alert a buyer to a get-rich-quick scam – something that was hastily and sloppily constructed that can just as hastily be taken down and replaced by a 404 page. A website is the public face of a business. if its owners can’t be bothered to pay attention to details like spelling or grammar, what other corners will they cut? By the same token, would you buy a cake from a filthy bakery?

While large corporations hire copywriters and proofreaders to ensure their sites look professional, smaller businesses that need such legitimacy more because they are unknown are much less likely to do so. They tend to make do and reuse old copy from past marketing materials, without revision, updating or proofing. A best defence against having a website that looks shady to consumers is to use the services of a professional copywriter, copyeditor and/or proofreader. The rest is then, of course, up to you. Establish a solid online customer base by being reliable, and delivering a quality product at the promised price and date.

Don’t Be A Mark

Over the past few decades I’ve interviewed scores of people while wearing my various hats: journalist, public relations specialist, performing arts promotor, season ticket seller, and market researcher. Consistently I am astonished, incredulous and appalled by how much personal private data ordinary people are perfectly willing to give up on the phone to a complete stranger because they ‘trust your voice.’

It’s a cliche but sadly true: seniors are absolutely the most vulnerable population. It breaks my heart when I hear about them being hoodwinked by unscrupulous con-artists who take advantage of their kindness, loneliness, isolation, and trusting natures. When seniors with fixed incomes end up losing their pensions and savings to scammers, it’s untenable. But what really gets under my skin are the nickel-and-dime cons, like cable companies that convince seniors that, in order to be able to watch their one can’t-miss television show, they have to sign long-term contracts for expensive plans for digital products they’ll never use, don’t understand, and don’t know even know how to set up or make function. It should be illegal — but it’s not, and it’s done every day.

In my experience, people of any age and gender are much too easily persuaded by a friendly, empathetic voice. I’ve made countless calls that began with the subject declaring “I’m not telling you anything,” and ended with them pouring out much more detail than I ever asked for or needed. Quite often, those who protest the most vehemently at the onset of a call are the ones who end up spilling their life stories. A seasoned interviewer can actually sense the exact moment in which the bond of ‘confessor’ is formed; it’s that moment the con-artist builds toward. After that, they’re just taking candy from a baby.

Never tell anyone more about yourself than they need to know. That’s not being suspicious or rude, it’s using common sense and protecting yourself.

People want to trust each other. People want to help. People want to be liked. People want to believe something incredibly great can happen to them. These are the ways in which each of us is vulnerable. And exploiting these ‘weaknesses’ or foibles of human nature is what the con-artist does. This is why narratives about how ordinary, decent, honest people have been scammed by the unscrupulous never ever surprise me.

It’s critical to realize that although the tools used to deliver the message may change over time – be it email, website, mobile phone, land-line telephone, in a store, or at your front door – the psychology of the con doesn’t. Much as trusting people hate to think it, there are others who’ve made it their business to study human vulnerabilities. Some work their scams on a small scale with people around them – the acquaintance who keeps borrowing and never repays, the coworker who finds creative ways to shift money around to hide what’s gone into their own pocket – while others prey on people on a larger scale by whatever means they have a their disposal.

All of which brings me to the Nigerian Prince Letter, aka the 419 Scam. In his article Spanish Prisoners And Confidence Games, Robert Whitaker shows when and how such cons first originated, supported by copies of old letters that are almost verbatim the quintessential email scam letter of today. He dates the earliest such letter back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. And here they are again. Or still.

Because, here’s the thing: they work.

© L D’anna 2017. For reprinting and other permissions, please contact the author.

Resources Nigerian Prince email scam actually 200 years old | Beauty Isn’t Everything | Online shopping fraud: from a buyer or seller’s point of view | StaySafeOnline.org | 419 by Will Ferguson | YouTube Chain Letter Promising Kids Magic iPads

Yes, Snowden is Right. Our Devices Are Watching Us

Many of us first became familiar with Edward Snowden’s story through Laura Poitras’ Academy Award-winning documentary Citizenfour (2015), which exposes not only the events that led to NSA whistleblower Snowden fleeing America and being placed on the FBI’s most wanted list, but also reveal the extent to which ordinary citizens are increasingly being spied on by governments, law enforcement agencies, private corporations, and yes, by cybercreeps, all of whom gain access to our computers, laptops, and persocitizenfournal devices by finding their vulnerabilities, and hacking into them.

Our tech devices make us vulnerable to any number of exposures. Every time we turn one on, we risk losing more of our privacy. None of this is new, of course. What is new is the sheer volume of internet users, unprecedented in history.

The public has been warned about webcam surveillance since the early 2000s. Even earlier, back in the 1990s, internet users were aware of software that gave access to personal computers via webcams.

Today the risk is greatly magnified by the huge increase in the number of people, governments, and corporations connected around the world. More of us are using connected devices to control our vehicles, household security and even our appliances, and for work and play, making us more exposed than we have ever been.creepware

Ironically though, fewer people are taking practical steps to protect themselves online. And while the majority of us may think that’s okay because we have ‘nothing to hide,’ spy tools – software commonly referred to as creepware – are most often used for nefarious purposes by cybercriminals, extortionists, and other cybercreeps. And, if you’re a woman, read this: Meet the Men Who Spy On Women Through Their Webcams.

Whether they want to watch us for their own amusement, or check out the contents of our homes to rob us, or share videos of us engaged in private activities, or take our computers hostage to blackmail us, or gain access to our data to sell it, cybercreeps are just plain creepy.

RATs Among Us

ratIt’s painfully true that, with easy to buy, easy to use, inexpensive software – known as Remote Access Tools (RATs) – anyone can gain access to your laptop, computer, phone, notebook, or any other connected device. After they’ve infected your system with RATware, hackers can use its camera, audio jack, and the dongle for any wireless device, like your remote control, keyboard or mouse, to spy on you.

What many of us might not know is that hackers can activate our webcams without the indicator light turning on, which means there’s literally no visible sign that we’re being watched. They can spy on us even after we’ve turned off our laptop or device. The only way to be completely sure we will be unobserved is by unplugging our devices, removing their batteries, and turning off and unplugging our home wifi modems.

In a pivotal scene in Stone’s biopic, Snowden, his character ‘glances nervously’ at his exposed laptop webcam. In Citizenfour, the real Snowden goes further, turning off and unplugging his laptop, using a pen and paper as his tool for communication, and shredding the paper immediately after the message has been read. There’s photographic evidence that Mark Zuckerberg uses both mic jack and webcam covers. FBI Director James Comey has stated publicly that there’s tape over his webcam. Snowden himself has recommended webcam covers for years. It’s doubtful that anyone is more familiar with the implications of illicit surveillance than these three men.

Protect Your CyberPrivacy

spy-1An external webcam can be covered or simply unplugged when not in use. For built-in webcams, using a webcam cover is the only guaranteed way to effectively block someone from watching us without our knowledge or consent.

A good webcam cover

– is thin, so you can still easily close your laptop,
– doesn’t slip or slide around when you close your laptop,
– leaves no sticky residue behind on your device,
– can be easily opened when you want to use your webcam, and closed when you don’t.

Some online sources for webcam covers:

CreepBlocker *Bold Edition*
Frontier Foundation
Etsy Webcam Covers

There are other ways to help protect your cybersecurity. Using an anti-virus or anti-malware program is one. Never click on any email attachments sent by someone you don’t know, or even any sent by someone you do know if you’re not expecting it, because their computer maybe have been infected by malware that has accessed their contacts. If you want to verify an email you’ve been sent, enter the address in your browser bar to go to the website instead of clicking on a link within an email. It’s an extra step, but it’s worth the time.

Creepware can be attached to photos, music files, documents or video that invite you to click on them. That’s how hackers gain access to your system’s hard drive, and then to its video and audio ports. Don’t reply to any ‘forgot my password’ email unless you’re sure you have requested it yourself.

Most importantly, always keep yourself informed and current, and never, ever assume that any one of these actions is the only security solution you’ll ever need.

© Lynnette D’anna 2017. To reprint, or  for other permissions, please contact SisterPress.

Sources: WIRED: How to Keep the NSA From Syping Through Your Webcam Financial Review: It’s not paranoia: Hackers can use your webcam to spy on you Prezi: Creepware How-To Geek: How to Disable Your Webcam (and Why You Should) KABELMAST Yes, You should tape over your webcam (and Snowden Stuff) GIZMODO: Wow, Mark Zuckerberg Is Paranoid As Fuck The Guardian: Mark Zuckerberg tapes over his webcam. Should you? The Guardian: Snowden the movie: Ewen MacAskill watches the NSA super-leak come back to life The Guardian: Edward Snowden makes ‘moral’ case for presidential pardon

Nuts in the Family?

You’re not alone!

My Uncle Johann was a lunatic. His lunacy wasn’t the sort that can be hidden, since he persisted in venturing out into the regular world at whim. Whenever fancy struck him, he came trudging into town where everyone could see him, much to my chagrin.

Clara Bow

Growing up in a small town, I felt the universe was watching me – my every move noted and recorded by prying eyes. This was not solely due to normal adolescent paranoia – because the whole town was watching. My father taught high school English; he was the head of the drama department, the choir, the poetry and music festival and, never one to miss a leadership opportunity, he was also church deacon, choir director, and Sunday school superintendent. To say he was omnipresent is not an overstatement. The hierarchy was evident: first was God, and then there was my father.

Fact was, my illustrious father had a wacko elder brother – and the whole world did know. Most families can claim a few nuts dangling from the branches of their trees. My Uncle Johann was the real thing, the genuine article. Rumour was that in his rebellious youth, Johann ran away to Hollywood to try his luck at acting. He managed, according to scuttlebutt, to score only one role – as an extra. Johann’s stab at stardom rested solely on his command performance chasing a cow across a set. But fame eluded him, and he returned to his parents’ dairy farm in Manitoba a changed man. By that time, he was crazy, I guess, because they tossed him in the loony bin for a few years.

When he was released, he was born-again. And he began to eschew all things ‘wordly’ – you know, things that normal people had, like electricity, photography, motor vehicles, haircuts, plumbing – and taking on a simple Godly life of prayer.

I’d like to say prayer and work but there is no evidence that he ever actually worked. I doubt he could have held down a job because he was, as I’ve already said, crazy. I suppose he may have helped my Grandma with the dairy farm but in my minds’ eye, I see only Grandma in her work boots and barn clothes. You could, however, find my uncle trudging the fifteen miles from farm to town, alongside the highway, hunched over, long straggly white hair and beard, with ankle-length coat flapping, in clothing from the turn of the century which was somehow more ‘Godly’ than anything manufactured in his lifetime.

Everyone in town knew him as the crazy guy who wouldn’t ride in cars, walked everywhere, never bathed nor cut his hair. And let me add, my mother, a fastidious woman, found that fact distasteful to the nth degree. Eventually Johann moved into a shack his brothers built for him out in the woods, with no mod-cons. Running water, septic system, electricity – all sinful. Uncle Johann would come a-walking to our house in town where he would be fed by Mom, and he would ‘pray for us,’ angrily reciting scripture and heatedly debating the finer points of sin with Dad. Head bowed to avoid eye-contact when a female was present since, by virtue of our gender, we embodied the very sin he devoted his life to eschewing. This was an impossible concept for my 12-year-old brain to grasp but I did understand he was serious about it. But the worst – absolute worst – thing was that he refused to use our indoor bathroom and did his business out in our back yard for all the world to see.

In contemporary back-to-basics terms, one might think my crackpot uncle ahead of his time. Certainly he wrote the book on ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ – and, if it weren’t for the religious zealotry with which he carried out his mission, they might have a point. But his attempts to ‘save’ the rest of us from damnation, with all the smug superiority of the uber-holy, and an overabundance of self-righteous piety, made anything he claimed as truth ring hollow.

Many years later I learned that Uncle Johann, in his attempt to carry out the Word of God as he perceived it, destroyed many precious family archives, especially from the ‘old country,’ irreplaceable, and now lost forever. I’ve also been told that he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and that he terrorized my grandmother to the point of abuse, especially in her senior years, refusing to allow her to use the electricity and other conveniences her adult children had installed in her farmhouse to make her life in her old age easier.

Having a wacko uncle taught me many things. A healthy suspicion of anyone claiming to know the one true path to any given end – be it heaven or justice or the best recipe for something. It also taught me that family is family – and you don’t turn your back on family, no matter how psychotic they are. You tolerate them, and you help them if they’ll let you.  It taught me that every single human on earth, from homeless hobo to mass murderer, is most probably a nut from someone’s family tree. They are our brothers, uncles, fathers, mothers, daughters, and our sons. And, surely most importantly, it taught me this: There, but for grace, go I.

© L.D’anna 2017. All rights reserved. To reproduce or distribute, please contact the author.

Speaking “Deaf”

Deaf Culture 101

When I first started working with hard-of-hearing and late-deafened adult communities, Deaf Culture was a mystery to me. So I did was most journalists do – asked someone within it to explain. This is part of what I learned.

A Linguistic and Cultural Minority

Deaf Culture is not based on a country of origin or family ties but has its own language and values, and an internal support system made up of Deaf and Sign-fluent persons. In a nutshell, Capital-D Deaf persons consider themselves to be a linguistic and cultural minority while lower-case-d deaf do not. Most culturally Deaf persons were taught Sign language since birth and consider it their mother tongue.

“It’s an oppressed group trying to be recognized as a cultural minority. The perception of being deaf is that it’s a disability, but Deaf people do not believe that. They function as well as anyone else. The only thing that differentiates them is linguistic differences and their need for interpreting.” ~ Bohdan Ladashevska

Cultural Genocide

Interpreter Ladashevska compares Deaf Culture to Gay Culture, noting there’s a similar political pride in both. He is himself reluctant to discuss Deaf politics. “It’s like asking someone white to comment on black issues – I’m still a hearing person.” Because institutions are where Deaf persons develop their cultural identity, and learn and practise their language, Deaf Culture considers the mainstreaming of Deaf children to be cultural genocide.

According to Ladashevska, this matter can put interpreters between a rock and a hard place. While the Deaf community doesn’t want qualified interpreters to work in public schools, interpreters say underqualified interpreters are working in the mainstream, leading children to develop substandard language skills. Interpreters want to improve the quality of education, to make employers aware, to make sure all Deaf children have skilled language models.

Medicalizing Deafness

You may also have read or heard of some of the controversy about Cochlear Implants and, if you are a hearing person, perhaps you have difficulty understanding why every single person wouldn’t want to hear if they had the opportunity. Nothing is that simple. Deaf Culture is extremely wary of ‘medicalizing’ deafness, where being deaf is treated as a defect that must be corrected. The loss of Deaf culture is, to them, a genuine and very real concern.

For more comprehensive information about Deaf culture, please visit Canadian Association of the Deaf Deaf Culture vs. Medicalization.

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There Is No ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

Everyone should know something about hearing loss. Most of us will, at some point in our lives, know someone experiencing it. Moreover, most of us will likely experience hearing loss ourselves. So here are some very basic tips to help us to better understand the range of communications that are used within what’s known as the deaf community, keeping in mind that very few people are actually completely deaf.

Glossary
  • If you’ve been late-deafened, chances are you lip-read in the oral language(s) you already understand. Anyone can, at any time in their life, become deaf. If you were to lose your hearing today, you would have no use nor need for Sign language because you wouldn’t understand it. The majority of late-deafened persons are adults, many in their advanced years. For more information and resources, see Hearing Speech and Deafness Center.
  • If you’re deafblind, you rely on an intricate series of touches called two-hand or tactile communications using the Deafblind Manual Alphabet. In many instances, deafblind persons have been so since birth but deafblindness is also acquired from disorders such as Usher Syndrome and Rubella. Red and white canes are used as a symbol of deafblindness. For much more comprehensive info, check out this unique website created by deafblind James Gallagher: A-Z to Deafblindness.
  • If you’re hard of hearing, you speak orally and need amplified sound. Some hard of hearing individuals have lost the ability to hear certain tones over time. While many of us think only older people are affected by hearing loss, the reality is that the age range of persons affected is wide. Some infants are born hard of hearing, and medical conditions can bring about hearing loss at any age. Organizations and support groups exist for this community including Hard of Hearing Young People Foundation and the Hearing Loss Association of America. For more information and resources, Northern Virginia Resource Center is a good place to begin.
  • If you’re oral deaf, you learned speech as your first language and were mainstreamed. An oral deaf person who can both Sign and speak orally may be considered deaf if he/she is accepted as such by other deaf persons and uses Sign within the deaf community. Oral deaf individuals are often mainstreamed. For much more detailed information, Canadian Association of the Deaf is an excellent resource.

For more comprehensive information about Deaf culture, please visit Canadian Association of the Deaf Deaf Culture vs. Medicalization.

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@ Lynnette D’anna 2017. All rights reserved. A portion of this article with the accompanying photographs first published by Interchange. D’anna worked for more than a decade as a Graphic Interpreter within the hard-of-hearing and late-deafened adult communities.