Friday, July 27, 2012

Hold the Mayo

Photo courtesy Flickr

Staring stupidly at a jar of commercial mayonnaise one day long ago, I tried to pronounce the preservatives and realized even then that there might be little wisdom in eating a raw egg product that keeps for months. Later, I studied painting in egg tempera with Bill Cumming, who told us never to reuse the jar of a medium that had turned.
That did it for me. I had already worked my way through Julia Child’s mayonnaise yoga, and I decided I wouldn’t ever have to make room for a jar of sandwich spread in my very small refrigerator.
If I can be said to have a forte in my cuisine, it’s probably utility-grade mom chow, although no one turns down the gumbo. Over time, I’ve realized that deconstructing mayonnaise and omitting the dangerous component, egg, is efficient, healthy, and convenient. Dressing potato salad, for example, I add vinegar to the warm tubers, dust with dry mustard, and dress gently with olive oil. The same routine holds for every other preparation that calls for mayonnaise in the mix. It’s not unreasonable to substitute mashed hard-boiled egg yolk in a dish, if an egg is on hand.
Rarely, I make my own mayonnaise to spoon over a salad or dress crustaceans or poultry. I can finesse the seasoning and whisk my own sauce just as easily as I can store and customize the lower-quality commercial product.
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Thursday, July 26, 2012

All-Purpose Rooms

Photo courtesy Flickr

A recent issue of my favorite glossy shelter World of Interiors, that seems to have good scholarship, presented an interesting apartment of privilege in an Italian palace. The tenant brought up seventeenth-century French practice: to maintain an on-site furniture repository and bring out items as needed. She said she lacked the staff carry things here and there and so had set up her bedroom as a multi-purpose sitting, study, and sleeping area.
It was lovely, historic, cluttered, obviously a bear to maintain, and thanks to the laptop computer, about half obsolete. To live like that is a service to one’s culture, but decent contemporary design makes the old “garde-meuble” competitive again. Every dwelling I’ve ever used has had one room that’s the darkest, smallest, and least appealing. Filled with high-tech furniture that knocks down, rolls, or folds away, and supplemented with first-rate textiles, a furniture storage room would offer an elegant, efficient advantage to someone who finds it convenient to maintain relatively small quarters-ideally in a lovely location.
In 2012, it makes little sense to pay for, furnish, and maintain blimp-ware spread all over a mediocre lot when a small footprint and room to romp outdoors combine to produce a good investment that’s easy to keep in good condition and flexible to use.
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More after the jump.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Real Estate

Photo courtesy Flickr

I write this as a barnacle that’s been glued to the same piling since 1980. For all I know, the comments that follow are wildly out of touch with current market realities.
In the early Eighties, a squeeze in real estate generated an explosion of alternative housing styles. In southern California, in particular, prices had risen steeply (I did say out of touch.) just as loan rates hit double digits. The crunch produced new homeowners who sank every dime into their lot and structure and began to furnish with collectibles and flea market treasures. The process broke open dominant uni-style and liberated a rollicking free for all of heirlooms, kitsch, junk, and conventional workhorse furnishings.
Should I house hunt again, I’d catch up on my market reading and hope the following strategy would be rational: I’d enjoy finding a small house in original condition, reasonably sound and in a convenient neighborhood. I’d get the place into good working order with fresh paint and ask an informed landscaper to lay out a sustainable food garden. It would be worth the money and it would be a deductible basis improvement. I’d buy less house to be able to have the cash to put things in good working order right away.
Then I’d find primo fixtures in keeping with the period and style of the place and get them up and running. The right faucet handles, switch plates, sinks, and doorknobs will elevate an ordinary building as they literally enrich the hands-on experience of living in a place. A little house is often upgraded by ambitious owners. At resale time, the fixtures can be replaced or salvaged depending on the circumstances of the sale, or they can be left in place to enrich the next owner. Even a rental is worth good faucet handles and switch plates. Appliances are secondary.
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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Christmas

Photo courtesy Flickr

I am descended on one side from a long line of hard core Swedish Christmas maniacs, although my version of the celebration is a little more rational. Nonetheless, starting around March, I begin to pick up stocking stuffers and neat gifts as I run across them. They pile up in a dedicated drawer so I always have a minor giftie on hand should I need one.
Last year, I was mortified to realize I had miscalculated the ages of my niece’s children. I awaited wooden thank-you notes, but it turns out the plastic finger tentacles I used in lieu of bows on the packages were a hit. 
The local outlet of a national drug store chain carries bandannas in varied colors that make good reusable wrapping. Google “furoshiki” to learn how to use a square of cloth to best advantage. Some years I buy squares of foolish yardage to use as wrap. Sometimes scarves are good value. Not seldom the wrap costs more than the contents.
Traditional Christmas baking happens best in late summer. I think those highly-spiced recipes are a low-tech way of preserving summer’s abundant butter and fruit. Early on, I sent my niece a hiker’s bear vault to use as a cookie jar when the kids were little.
It’s getting boring around here, and we will probably mush out to lunch at McMerica and breathe the ferocious vinyl fumes of Seattle’s Plaidie Novelty Store. The place is worth a long browse: just be sure to show up sober.
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More after the jump.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Winter Workhorses, Summer Friends

Photo courtesy Flickr
I have torn myself away from Keith Richards’ autobiography in response to his English quip, “What day will summer be on this year?” Composing on the twenty-second of July, I lounge under four inches of down wearing my new best friend, a down sweater from Deep South America. The windows are wide open and a delicious foggy breeze is blowing in off the bay as the local crows entertain themselves.
This is the time of year when I consider whether to shovel dollar bills into the furnace come November. Feeding vanity rather than offshore coffers is an attractive alternative, especially during the week when the Local Northern European Fashion Chain is having its great big sale of the latest. Usually I buy most of my clothing at the Great Big Hiking Co-op, though. They are routinely two or three years ahead of the pantyhose crowd, and my lifestyle lets me get away with flat shoes and street-legal field clothing. The secret to wearing clothing instead of oil is to understand that conventionally formal fabrics like velvet and cashmere are aces in bitter weather.
A couple of petty appliances are so apt at dispelling chill that they support leaving the furnace off unless the pipes threaten to freeze. One is an under the carpet heat mat, Underwriter’s Laboratory rated, that puts quiet warmth where it will do the most good. The mat supports basking like a lizard even in the pits of winter. The other prize is a heated towel rack that keeps bath linens sweet and the air in a misty room circulating. Each of these gadgets paid for itself in a couple of months.
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