Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Dealer's Daughter

Photo courtesy Flickr

One side of the family is infested with antique collectors. A cousin is planning a garage sale and begged us at a recent gathering not to tell her aging father. “He’ll just buy the things he gave me and give them back to me again.”

I don’t quite know why this is funny, but over the years I’ve run into a few pieces of homing junk myself, and it is truly strange how some artifacts have a life and a history of their own.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sit Six Hours a Day and Die

Photo courtesy Flickr

Glancing at an Internet story, I picked up the info-nugget above. Someone else can worry about the science details, but Galen Cranz’s book on the chair reinforces the message. It’s an interesting and simple one: it’s not good for the body to sit more than twenty minutes on anything.

Cranz was teaching architecture at Berkeley when she was assigned an unfinished lecture hall: the desks had not been installed. She and her classes discovered that lounging on carpeted terraces worked better than grinding out notes on the wide arm of a chair. Picking my way through the details of her book led me to conclude that for productive work, any flat-seated stool or chair high enough to allow me to perch on the edge of the seat with knees a little lower than the pelvis (to open breathing) is just fine. I can forget about the infinite elaborations of office furniture and just set a timer.

I like to switch back and forth between working standing and working from a chair. My favorite seating is from dining halls: two surplus Navy stools offer fast-on, fast-off perches, and a pair of cafe chairs salvaged from local coffee shops allow me to recreate the ambiance in which I’m most productive.

A vintage wooden ironing board stripped of its pad, the maple chopping cart in the kitchen, and the pantry’s ancient counter offer alternative standing work areas. With the sound system going, churning out a day’s work is more like folk dancing than clerical labor.

Staying in motion through a work day protects cognition and fitness.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Food Comes First

Photo courtesy Flickr

Yesterday’s post about kitchen clutter got me thinking about design. It would make sense to decide what and how one is going to eat before selecting equipment to support the menu.

The Navy Seals have a principle: do not let the hardware determine the mission. Following that simple rule keeps the physical household from driving me nuts. As excess makes itself apparent, it’s trivial to displace it to liberate work space.

I no longer compete with restaurants to serve complex, sophisticated meals. I leave that to the experts and focus my home efforts on fresh produce and herbivorous meat. The real asset in a home kitchen is the home itself and the privilege of dining in privacy.

A good-sized enameled cast-iron wok, rice cooker, electronic pressure cooker, and copper core stainless saute pan plus a few baking dishes will execute everything I care to fuss with in the kitchen.

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More after the jump.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Whole Multi-Plex on One Screen

Photo courtesy Flickr

Looking for a Flickr photo last week, I ran across an image of a tiny, monstrously cluttered Tokyo apartment kitchen. Later in the day, I met a childhood playmate for coffee, and we spent some time discussing our mother’s kitchens. They had been good friends, and enough time has passed for Sandra and I to have experienced independently the same process of inheritance.

Each of us has been on the receiving end of the best Seattle culture has had to offer the home chef, over and over, as our elders have passed on, downsized, and upgraded. It was a hoot to talk pots and pans with someone who understands references like “the full Keeg’s” or “1958 Bellevue”. The topic lends itself to wine with lunch, although we were abstaining.

When I moved in with my partner, we had four full kitchens worth of gear. He cooked Chinese, Japanese, East Indian (Native American, too, if you count the fry bread), and Mid-Western. I was cooking early Julia Child, Swedish, Berkeley, SF, and proto-soul. My mother’s gear and my grandmother’s, some of which came from an honest-to-goodness log homestead cabin, added to the mix.

My mother was gone by the time Larry and I realized we had to sort inventory. Consolidating kitchens was a serious moment of commitment. It helped that I did not have a female elder second-guessing my decisions. We shipped surplus to a suburban consignment store and plowed the profits into a first class set of enameled French cast-iron cookware.

Sandra is still on the receiving end of a steady trickle of quality hand-me-downs, and she wrestles with inventory as we all do. It helps to remember that problems of abundance are not really problems, and that problems with intra-family decision-making are, at heart, civil rights issues of self-determination. Elders are right to treat things as stores of wealth, and stores of the spirit of the family as well. We are right to treat our attention, time, and personal energy as wealth in themselves.

The best advice about thing management I ever heard was to get rid of something if I hadn’t used it in three days. I’ll never manage so drastically, but that’s a no-nonsense way to keep things in their place.

-30- More after the jump.

Busting Umpteen


Photo courtesy Flickr

I’ve shopped on foot in this neighborhood for years. There are two major supermarkets within ten minutes walk of the house, and over the, egad, decades, I’ve used each of them in turn, a few years at one, then a few years at the other, for no particular reason.

A couple of years ago one chain was sold to a big national outfit, and the transition was not pretty. The local outlet had always led its group in sales per square foot. One of the produce guys said it was known as “the little giant” at headquarters. The new management seemed clumsy for a while, with the staff in transition, robot checkers in the works, and unfamiliar house brands that were not tempting.

Last month I tiptoed in on a routine errand and discovered a tiny miracle of store design. The place is close to a fast-moving, hard-working neighborhood of homes that are far from cheap, and it appears that the space and inventory are modeled after a typical densely urban convenience store, like the one downstairs from my nephew’s apartment in San Francisco. I have to sidle down the aisles in that place, it’s hardly glossy, and there’s little range of choice in the stock. The service is personal, though, and the social atmosphere is healthy. It’s like shopping in a phone booth, if anyone remembers what that is.

The new, improved neighborhood chain outlet has been reconfigured like an upscale version of City Grits. The aisles are narrower, the carts small, the lighting sophisticated, and surprisingly best of all, the stock is focussed on a few alternatives in each category, one excellent, one ordinary, one bargain, and maybe an organic variant, with heavy emphasis on local sources. The produce is as good as I have seen in a chain.

With mind-boggling range of choice under control (the Other Store has what seems like a fifty-foot aisle of dry cereal, and ours is not its largest outlet), I can whip through a shopping list in a third of the time, even before I’m completely familiar with the inventory. The prices compare, and even if they were a tad higher, it would be worth it to shop in a building I can traverse in less than a minute. I swear it’s a quarter mile from one side of the other place to the far end, and lumping through the aisles at the end of a long day is far from rewarding.

The reinvented grocery’s a good example of what economist Paul Hawken calls building more intelligence into a product, or in this case, operation. The Other Store carries most of the same inventory, but every time I reach for something there, a hunk of chaff gets between my fingers.

-30- More after the jump.