Friday, January 31, 2014

A Turn In The Market


Photo courtesy Flickr

Now that we no longer own an automobile, Saturday morning visits to the Market feel like hitching up the buckboard and going into town for supplies. I have never hitched up a real buckboard, but I’ve done my share of remote weekly shopping with a VW Bug.

It’s fun rediscovering vintage downtown. On foot, I can enjoy a substantial breakfast and a historic view, provision us for the week from first-rate sources, pick up housekeeping odds and ends, check the art museum and library, and take in a real movie with real popcorn before hiking or bussing home. A rolling backpack fitted with a soft-sided cooler, if necessary, does the hauling.

The Market is at its best before they throw the first fish. Vendors are rested.  Buying food is buying food instead of a freak show. The Market has its dignity early in the day. 

When basic tasks are finished, we can stroll north. The area offers a fine gallery of Northwest native art, boutique storefronts, and a First Avenue lumber salvage operation that turns noble local timber into tables for the board room, so to speak.

In the early Seventies, architect Victor Steinbrueck and the three friends who founded Mermaid Coffee fought successfully to save the Market from development. One of the Mermaid crew said his vision was to copy Milo Minderbinder’s Gimme Eat Corp from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. He wanted the best of every comestible to be available on Pike Place. We’re close and getting closer.

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More after the jump.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Seating


Photo courtesy Flickr

Vashon’s own Galen Cranz wrote Chair, the definitive guide to seating. She says it’s not good to sit on anything for more than twenty minutes. That advice saved me thousands of dollars in super-duper-ergonomic office thrones.

Grade school teachers used to start penmanship practice with “sit up straight and put your feet flat on the floor”. I took them at their word and maneuvered relentlessly for a desk that let me perch comfortably in a good writing position. Fussing about seating is a lazy person’s road to heaven. There is no virtue in working against one’s anatomy.

If you’re stuck with seating that tilts the pelvis back toward the spine, perch on the edge of the seat. Back in the day, young women of privilege were trained to sit so that their back never touched the back of the chair. This is throne posture and was not fashionable during the twentieth century. Sit with balance and authority and you’ll work with balance and authority.

Sitting is athlete’s work. A flat-seated chair or stool serves best. Find a seat that allows you to perch on the sitzt bones of the pelvis with your knees at a low angle that opens the abdomen so you can breathe. Arrange an adjoining work surface low enough to allow free movement of the shoulders and arms-consider the height of the worktop relative to the height of your elbow. Set an alarm to interrupt your seated task with a mobile one to keep the mind and body fresh and competitive. 

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Managing Records


Photo courtesy Flickr

A three-year struggle armed with scanner and shredder has produced a paper archive an inch and a half thick. I secure big bucks paper documentation that would be lost in an electromagnetic pulse were it digitized. Recently I spent a full week entering a fistful of notes into various computer files. I’m keeping up now, thanks to deciding that many details aren’t worth recording.

Koberg and Bagnall ask a useful design question in their formative “Universal Traveler”: what’s the worst thing that can happen if I decide not to do...whatever? When I first began to slash administrative procedures, $25 worth of inconvenience seemed bearable. I’ve upped the ante considerably since then, and have lost not a cent from simplifying trivial records, like monthly utility bills.

High-tech data storage is ephemeral and should be refreshed at intervals, with digital file formats kept current so the information stays accessible.

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Beatnik Beef


Photo courtesy Flickr

This simple recipe evolved from a few lines in one of Gary Snyder’s poems about life in the field. Working from memories of Snyder’s list of ingredients, I have stewed beef shanks now and then over the years. Compose the stew according to any recipe. The marrow in the shanks lends a delicious luxury to the sauce. When concerns about the meat supply surfaced, I forgot about this recipe, which is excellent enriched with browned ox tails. 

A little careful late-winter time in the kitchen pays off in improved vitality and morale. A fifty-fifty mix of shank and chuck yields a flavorful dish that’s simple to prepare and needs no added salt. Pike Place Market butchers offer trustworthy beef now, and a procurement run produced a gorgeously marbled hunk of chuck, the tender third of which I squirreled away for stir-fries. The butcher sells shank and marrow bones as separate cuts now, and the shank was a complex double-handful of muscle bundles.

I spent more time cutting the meat than cooking it, but the trouble was worthwhile. Chef Thomas Keller recommends removing what he calls the silver skin (connective tissue) from meat, as it is bitter. I rubbed the stewing pieces with cayenne, let them sit at room temperature while I cut up onion, shallot, and carrots, and browned the floured meat hot and fast in canola oil. The works went into an electronic pressure cooker with water, vegan bouillon cubes, bay, a hefty slice of local bacon diced and rendered, two fierce green chiles, and pesto sauce. Half an hour under high pressure and a lengthy glide path on warm produced a delectable stew, aka several days of fast food.

When it’s time to eat, I’ll correct the seasoning, make salad and toast, pour a couple of red beers (any tomato juice, any beer, and classic hot sauce), and call it Good.

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More after the jump.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rearranging Plants


Photo courtesy Flickr

The neighborhood is developing at warp speed. Construction reconfigured patterns of sun and shade that had been constant for a hundred years. Fortunately, the lot is in good shape, decently groomed for late January, and laid out for minimal maintenance. It’s time for watchful waiting.

A thuja hedge along the north boundary had to go. It asked too much of the soil in the kitchen garden and was too ready to conceal prowlers at the back door. New construction will provide dozens of eyes to survey that entrance. I’m hoping to return the favor by presenting a little floral relief from the immediate city-scape.

Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, Terence Conran’s House Book, and Tim Beddow’s work about the historic houses of old Damascus opened my eyes to the value of a south-facing courtyard. Construction next door has created that courtyard, though south does not mean what it used to. The new micro-climate is fascinating. Native plants dominate the yard, and damp shade is a boon to them. I should not be surprised by this, but surprise it is. The garden appears to be richer than ever, and it may be that the 1890 clear-cut that generated this building site was in reality an exercise in creating desert.

Western art has a traditional millefiore pattern that beguiles and amuses. Classic Swiss Christmas candy uses the technique to produce an edible version. English garden writer Vita Sackville-West mentioned millefiore. As I recall, she said that medieval castle courtyards were planted with low blooming herbs. When I moved into this  neighborhood of mixed single family structures and low-rise apartments, I realized that many of the neighbors had a bird’s eye view of my small landscape. I began to consider the overview when laying out the garden. I’ll extrapolate for that perspective when I  tune the lot for its new circumstances.

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More after the jump.