Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Few More Things That Mother Never Told Me

Foundry photo courtesy Flickr

Do not split a bottle of wine with your sister-in-law before she colors your hair.

Keep Himalaya blackberry seeds out of the compost.

Legal does not necessarily equal wise.

If you win a revolution, it might not be a good idea to ask a foundry in the capital of the previous government to cast your national bell.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mama Never Said

Photo courtesy Flickr

You never know who’s going to save your life.

You never know whose life you’re going to save.

There’s no telling who will say something so profound that it will change the way you see the world and make decisions.

If things go wrong, and you live through it, they haven’t gone that wrong.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Junk Food Is the Hard Way Out

Photo courtesy Flickr

Before Col. Chicken, women, let’s face it, it was women, kept an emergency pantry. They stocked canned soup, crackers, canned vegetables (still a staple at the time), grated dry cheese (better in a chunk, we know now), and various other things like canned smoked oysters, Spam (the food product), and instant rice.

Any mid-century cookbook will have a section on how to use pantry foods to turn out a meal in minutes. The pantry was necessary because not all families had two cars. During my school years, I ate lunch in a restaurant once that I can recall. When we were away from home at mid-day, we often ate from a super-deluxe vacuum flask picnic kit filled with sandwiches on store bread, home-made cookies, and, a treat for me, coffee. There were little fruit and veggie sides, too.

There was no kitchen in my school, so all lunches were carried in.

If you factor in the cost of a fast-food meal, of transportation, of earning the money to buy it, and the health and cognitive consequences, it is way foolish to indulge in one for anything but sport. You’d do yourself a favor to buy grapes, little pre-fab hunks of cheese, and some crackers. Or keep some cans of juice around.

The pantry will serve you well stocked with no salt corn chips, low or no sodium canned soup and vegetables, whole wheat pasta, olive oil, hard cheese for grating, canned and dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, honey, and whatever else tickles your fancy that stores well. Choose things that keep without electricity to back up your emergency kit.

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More after the jump.

Stemware

Wikipedia photo of bronze plaque outside the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C.

I visited Tacoma’s Museum of Glass the other day, finding the hot shop crew blowing multiple copies of decanters for their tenth anniversary celebration. The sound system was playing classical music. On a table close to the elevated seats was set a group of enchanting stemmed glasses, thistle-shaped, far taller and more slender than ordinary, surprisingly quiet and commanding for their size and transparency.

The gift shop offers these glasses for sale. One of my companions mentioned that Waterford recently closed its factory, and we talked briefly about the cut glass technology that pre-dates electricity. In the presence of flickering candles, cut glass puts on a light show.

Beatrice Warde was an influential critic of twentieth century typography. Her classic 1930 lecture on the crystal goblet theory of design re-formed the graphic sensibility of a culture dripping in excess. The essence of her message is that the container should enhance rather than dominate the contents. To the best of my knowledge, Sweden’s Orrefors stemware most closely approaches Warde’s ideal. The essay was originally published under the name Paul Beaujon, because Warde assumed a male name would be more credible. I recommend her essay to anyone shopping for glasses or who explores type on a personal computer.

Watching the crew at work, I realized that the purity of the materials they use is irresistible. Quality glass captures jeweled moments. The decanters in production are intended to hold the museum’s custom vodka. The small fluted cup topping a long glass stem would decently embellish a clear liquid under electric light, and it would stand in easy reach of the waiter’s hand.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

How to Survive a Seattle Winter

Photo courtesy Flickr

A few days ago, light rain began rehydrating the soil. Such a rain is like false labor-tuning up for the real thing that will be along shortly. The first gentle rains prepare the soil to accept the usual deluges of mid-October that would otherwise cause problems with run-off.

In Alaska, a person who has not spent a full winter in residence is called a “cheechako”. A cheechako lacks the necessary skills and experience to make the most of the local climate. Western Washington could use a similar term. Expect drenching rains in October, a hard slug-killing freeze early in November, a blooming rose or two around Christmas, pneumonia weather in February when sun fakes out the unwary, and the odd late winter drought of March that kills many a shrub.

The real risk of a Seattle winter is light deprivation and depression at the end of February. To dodge that bullet, keep the windows sparkling clean. Keep your glasses clean. Keep your windshield clean. Keep the light bulbs clean. Build a fire and spend time looking at it in the evening. Lacking a hearth, polish a brass tray, set tea lights into glass holders, and look at them.

Make sure your clothing is in good condition and adequate to ward off the damp chill of our essentially Baltic climate. Wool, cashmere, quilted fiberfill jackets, and fleece are essential and good value. Dress like an outdoors person to displace artificial heat. Wear real weatherproof shoes and carry the fashion statements. Wear a hat.

I find that a deep personal chill sets in around four o’clock of a winter’s day, just at the time a rowdy flock of small birds shows up to snack on bugs in the orchard. I snack then, too, and take a cup of tea. The table’s a welcome sight when my partner comes home dripping from the bus.

The nutrition community is beginning to recognize the value of eating numerous small meals a day rather than three thudding squares. Knowledge work makes different demands on the metabolism than heavy labor. Break for ten minutes out of the hour. Eat carefully and consciously.

Stay mobile to keep circulation flowing.

The ordinary graces of housekeeping, flowers at the table, a cloth and considered but unpretentious setting, reassure the family, and warm the chill as surely as a hug or turning up the heat. None of this advice depends on income or architecture: it’s as valid and effective in a tent or a squat as it is in fine quarters.

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