Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Reminder

Hospitality professionals change all the light bulbs at the end of the year.

Deft is on hiatus until January 4. Thanks for visiting the site.


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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Vise Grips

Local weather patterns and the surreal micro-climate that development brought to this particular property generated a bumper crop of avocado trees on the compost heap. Other tree seedlings have appeared here and there on the lot.

Sometimes I decide to let something grow to see what happens, but when it's time to edit, I hunt up the mechanic's vise grips. They're usually slightly greasy and buried in a kit of road emergency supplies. Vise grips are the tool of choice for extracting a tough-stemmed seedling with deep roots. Wear sticky-palmed work gloves to make the most of your efforts.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

True Grits

Cook grits in an automatic rice cooker, leaving the lid off and stirring now and then. Leave the device on warm until the consistency of the grits is to your liking.


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Monday, December 21, 2015

Notes On Christmas

Menu planning: if it makes me sick and fat, it might not be a treat. The corner deli at Pike Place Market stocks small, individually wrapped confections that round out a course of fresh fruit and a good cup of coffee. Just down the street is an elegant local chocolatier.

Custom: it's easy to plan holidays when the behaviors are repeated year after year.

The calendar: technically, Advent, the four weeks preceding the twenty-fifth, is a miniature Lent, a period of self-denial that makes it easy to prepare for the splurges to come. Winter solstice is a reminder of the wisdom of celebrating light and good living in the face of dark days. Christmas Eve opens a period of celebration that ends on Twelfth Night but continues as Carnival until Ash Wednesday, aka Hangover Day. 


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Friday, December 18, 2015

Shower Curtain X-1, X-2, X-cetera

When we moved into this house thirty years ago, there was no shower in the 1890 bathroom.  Once the plumbing was fitted, I asked a merchant of interiors to make up a ceiling-mounted hospital track and mount it over the clawfoot tub. The ceiling is too high for a standard shower curtain, so the vendor made up a white nylon curtain that transformed an ordinary facility into elegant space. White nylon transmits beautiful light, and the curtain sufficed to cover the window in the bath as well. At night, an opaque roller shade blocked shadow play.

After a few years and numerous rounds of washing and bleach, mildew took its toll. I replaced the curtain with a pair of queen-sized polyester sheets, doubling the larger hems and fitting them with brass grommets. The sheets were surprisingly durable. Polyester is an archival quality fabric, but it, too, is vulnerable to mildew. 

I cut off the bottom hems of a second set of polyester curtains to improve drying time. When that set grew shabby, I replaced them with a white plastic tarp reinforced with coarsely woven threads. It transmitted the most beautiful light of all but was too boardly for convenient use.

I tried a flimsier tarp, one of non-woven fabric bonded to thin plastic. It cost $6 as opposed to the original nylon's $120 and served well for most of a year. The next iteration was a textured translucent plastic drop cloth that cost all of $5 and, so far, is just fine.

I might fool around with silicon-impregnated nylon from an outdoor fabric specialist next time around.


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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Broken Color

Jocastes Innes' Paint Magic was the answer to my vintage walls' numberless layers of paper. Since this is a development property, I was reluctant to sink major time and capital into gnat's eyelash restoration.

I spent a year observing the effects of day and lamp light on the varnished woodwork and floor coverings, finally choosing a scheme of one foundation paint color to be highlighted by several others applied with a natural sea sponge. 

It took four times as long to paint the rooms as it would have to roll on two coats of something or other. I have not felt the urge to repaint in thirty years, although young friends have trouble resisting commenting on my preferred palette. When a wall accumulates dings, I simply trot out the original sponge and spice jars of touch-up color. Ten minutes' fiddling restores the integrity of a wall. Should I decide to shift the color emphasis of a surface, i can sponge on the change in a few minutes.

Sponging the walls greatly simplified my version of interior decoration, since the walls themselves present a  quietly satisfying visual experience. Sponged walls displaced several pick-up loads of redundant furnishings. Minimal, or essentialist, furnishings are far easier to maintain.

The key to this mint is the decision to use the highest quality paint I could lay my hands on when I started the job. Capitol Hill has a paint resource that has been in business under one name or another since 1926. The current incarnation is on the north shoulder of the Hill's busiest north-south arterial not far from a Pilates studio. There's a colorist on the staff, and their recommendations and craft standards are rigorous.


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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Right Good Snack

Buy a well-aged baking potato. When it's at room temperature, bake it at 350 for forty minutes. Let it cool in the oven.

Buy some first quality sausage. I found fresh Italian links at the manufacturer's outlet in the Market. Bake the room temperature sausages at 350 for forty minutes, pricking them well and turning them once.

At your convenience, set up a skillet with a little too much butter and a slug of olive oil. Peel the potato and cut irregular flakes off the tuber. When the fat is as hot as it can safely get, grind a generous amount of black pepper into the pan and set the potato sections in it. Cover with a spatter screen, and keep a close eye on the browning. When the potato is golden, turn the sections gently one time.

With a very sharp knife, cut a sausage into medallions. Turn the potato into a wide noodle bowl, top with sausage, and add minced Italian parsley and hot sauce to taste.

Ordinarily, recipes for fried potatoes call for boiling varieties like Yukon Gold. The starchiness of a baking potato tends to turn to mush. However, frying a baked potato in a minor excess of oil produces wonderfully crisp brown edges on pieces of irregular thickness. This preparation is frankly greasy, but I like to concentrate the day's fat in one dish.


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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Clean Your Room" Is A Meaningless Message

Store things where you use them first.

When you finish handling something, leave it where you will use it next.

Following these principles produces an interior littered with half-completed projects. When it's time to close out a space, finish the projects, throw them away, or consider the wisdom of having so many things going at the same time. 

This approach is the foundation of flow in domestic labor. It's based on fundamental principles of industrial production, and it's an efficient way to take advantage of the wait times built into kitchen production and customer service calls. One ends up with an organized interior, home-cooked meals, and fewer administrative swords of Damocles hanging over the desk. A speaker phone reduces stress.

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More after the jump.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Criteria

Browsing Christmas for a foodie, I searched Calvin Trillin. One site posted his standard inquiry when looking for a meal in an unfamiliar town: "[Don't take me to the] place you took your parents on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, [but] the place you went the night you came home after fourteen months in Korea."

A few days later, I ran across Mildred Howard's comment that "Whenever you see the owner of a restaurant cooking, you know things are right."




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Friday, December 11, 2015

Fried Chicken

A long stretch of low-fat meals left me hungry for fat and savory. Half-remembering Dooky Chase's legendary fried chicken from her Seventies cook book, I dry rubbed several bone-in thighs with cayenne, powdered garlic, and thyme. While the meat got up to room temperature, I beat an egg and set out a bowl of flour for breading. Granulated flour was what was on hand. 

The egg looked insufficient, and remembering Chase's cream, I substituted sour cream. It beat into a thick gel that clung to the raw meat and held the flour well.

I heated a generous depth of olive oil in a small enameled cast iron saucepan, frying two thighs one at a time hot and fast, setting them into a medium oven to coast to a finish. A third thigh I browned and set aside for the next day.

The leftover oil made a good base for a Paul Prudhomme-style fast roux. I heated the oil, added enough granulated flour to thicken it, let the mixture brown, and then seared half an onion, a long stalk of celery, and one of the largest green peppers that is not green pepper ordinaire, all diced, in what Prudhomme calls Cajun napalm. When the vegetables were nearly soft, I added boxed low-sodium chicken stock by the quarter cup, letting the stock reduce between additions. The technique is Prudhomme's way to accelerate the cooking of the vegetables. 

I added the half-cooked chicken thigh, cut up into pieces the size of a walnut, and threw in the bone and another cup of stock for good measure. Twenty minute's simmer was all it took to generate a workday gumbo served over leftover rice.

The egg-sour cream and granulated flour breading produced an unprecedented crust. It was thick, flaky, and held up well in the oven. I topped both the first meal and the next day's with minced scallions.


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Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Upgrade


Someone commented that green pepper ordinaire is just too ordinaire. I've been experimenting with substituting peppers with more ooomph, and the payoff is substantial. Wear disposable gloves and remember to stay away from your eyes.


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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Morgue

I learned this term from an old-school print journalist. It means a file of material that is no longer immediately relevant. Most of my digital files include a morgue of  contacts and discussions.

Nearly any category of possession benefits from having a morgue. Housekeeping is much easier when dead inventory doesn't clog things in constant use. A fast or slow moving tote for thrift shop donations is as good a morgue as any, especially when it lives close to the exit.


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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Bread Is Convenience Food

Bratwurst is convenience food, too, as is canned sauerkraut. Put the three together with some choice mustard, and by the time the sausage is heated, you have a fine, simple lunch for a fraction of the time and money that junk would cost.


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Monday, December 7, 2015

Redneck Design

A music documentary included a memorable shot of the bed of a pickup truck. Mounted on a vertical two by four just behind the driver's door was a heavy duty zinc-coated cola opener.


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Friday, December 4, 2015

Urban Wilderness

A bout with the current virus gave me ample time at home. Such is the pace of life these days that ignoring coffee and digital and electronic everything produces an atmosphere nearly identical to that of a cabin at the beach. This is a surprisingly quiet neighborhood for its density.


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Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Christmas Pear

I love a good pear, the fruit that rewards thinking ahead. Pear and chocolate are a combination made in heaven and also a very simple dessert.

After Christmas beef, I like to serve half of the best pear I can field on the best dessert plate I can find. A first-rate local chocolate sauce fills the cavity in the fruit, and a good small biscuit on the side is enough to finish the meal, accompanied by a small cup of strong coffee.


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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Nomenclature

I missed the memo when "problem" morphed into "issue". Although I have grown to appreciate the cooler term, it does not come naturally to my mode of expression. "Puzzle" seems to be a good substitute. The term helps me focus.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Cowpaths

A visit to a Northern California cattle ranch taught me the meandering reality of Bossie's comfortable amble back to the barn. Coastal Maryland's incomprehensible maze of wagon trails showed me the evolution of the highway system.

Seattle has its own vestigial routes that provide an easy second gear alternative to the freeway. When I threw the car away nearly twenty years ago, boarding a bus was like traveling back in time. The low-number bus routes were established in the early twentieth century.

My shopping footprint is small and getting smaller. Errands center on old-fashioned downtown. I am discovering that the essentials have changed little since the retail core left First Avenue for Fifth.

The Thanksgiving run to the Market started with forgetting an errand I usually knock off in a different urban village. I was delighted to discover that an historic branch of the same outfit is mere steps from the several busses that offer an easy trip up the hill to the house.


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Monday, November 30, 2015

Theology, Furniture, And Architecture

PBS's series Closer To Truth features a roving theologian who visits colleagues to discuss the nature of the deity. I can't resist the show's privileged glimpses into the many faculty lounges in which conversations are filmed. The November 29 episode is especially rich in contrast between high privilege and sturdy practicality.


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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tin Cup Revisited

The Great Big Hiking Co-op offers a line of enameled steel dinner ware in several colors. A couple of red cups caught my eye and purse the other day. Progress has wrapped the lip of the old cup format with a stainless rim that isolates the raw edge. I was pleased to discover that I can set a cup on the induction hot plate and heat tea water directly in the drinking vessel.

The Co-op's cups have not a rough spot on the enameling, a subtle but significant improvement in quality. 


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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ETA

The hors d'oeurve was developed in Russia as a way to fortify guests when they arrived by horse. Small snacks made it easy to accommodate scattered arrivals before the main meal was served.

That's not a bad way to greet a family member who has survived a commute. It's also a splendid strategy for using up dabs of leftover food. A hot pot of tea and small plate of this and that accompanied by cheese, crackers, and perhaps a nut or olive fosters the will to live.


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Monday, November 23, 2015

A Wise Man

Waiting with a friend in a high-end jewelry chain, I overheard a man discussing Christmas gifts for his four daughter-in-law. He told the clerk that whatever he chose, he would buy four of the same thing.


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Friday, November 20, 2015

No Salt, No Sugar

I use one tablespoon of salt a year in my home cooking. I use no sugar. The practice is not a big ideological or medical deal, it just seems prudent and reasonable. 

Avoiding the two additives has improved the cooking. Flavor comes from carefully selected and handled ingredients. Vegan bouillon cubes, a dried vegetable flake mix from the spice shop at the Market, dried onion and garlic, and first quality olive oil supplement the spice rack.


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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Kitchen Stand-bys

Apples are bred for good keeping qualities. Oranges aren't bad, either, nor are onions and garlic. Root vegetables and cabbage are good for a month or two in the refrigerator.

Deli staples like olive oil, canned fish, various pickled things, pasta, and hard tack supplement rice and beans. 

Canned fruits and vegetables and dried mixes earn their keep as well when they're available to supplement whatever fresh goodies are in the refrigerator.

These old-school allies make short work of a shopping trip, not to mention putting dinner together. I don't use them for every main meal, but they make it easy to relax as the dinner hour approaches and I consider the menu.


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Attention To Detail

The essence of Deft thinking is to gain the most effect or the most utility with the least time and labor. Most of the strategies in this blog are half-forgotten old ones dating back to the turn of the twentieth century or earlier.

The secret ingredients in Deft are attention and fine motor skill. Simple, elegant housekeeping strategies collapse into squalor when haste or overload speed up basic processes like hanging towels on the rack, folding napkins, or setting an entry hall to rights. A room furnished with no more than the essentials depends on careful staging and maintenance to present itself to best advantage. That said, such a room is also a cinch to clean and a supportive joy to live in.


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Home Grown

So-called potato chip technology has transformed more than the way we read the list of ingredients. A mylar bag puffed tight with nitrogen pads a parcel every bit as well as bubble wrap. 

I secured a shipment to my kid's office with my his favorite local junk food and some mailing tape. He said the staff fell upon the packing material. As the holidays approach, consider.


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Monday, November 16, 2015

Washday Food

When mamma had to chop the wood to boil the water to cook the linen on Monday, she was unlikely to serve beef Wellington for dinner. New Orleans' answer was to set a pot of red beans and ham hocks on the back of the laundry stove. I haven't boiled a pot of napkins in quite a few years, but it's always good to have an excuse to cook simply. Red beans are selling so well around here that I had to stop cooking them ahead of time on Sunday, because they were nearly gone on Monday afternoon. The secret is in the hock. 

Pizza, too, as I recall, was a convenience food for the housekeeper. It may have been a bake day answer to the heavy labor of producing bread. The original Neapolitan pizza is a simple round of dough oiled and covered with slices of garlic and pieces of tomato pulp. That's my favorite format, easily rationalized as low-calorie.


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Friday, November 13, 2015

Nice Work

If memory serves me accurately, it was filmmaker Louis B. Mayer  who recommended spending an hour every morning simply thinking. It's a good way to navigate.


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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Roses

Two strains of wild nootkana proved so vigorous in the garden I had to pull them up in self-defense. It's a pity-they attracted wild canaries and the leaves smelled of apples and honey when it rained. Should I attempt another planting, I'll set them in galvanized stock troughs and hope they don't escape.

In spite of being neglected during the drought, a hybrid by the back gate grew frisky in the new growing conditions generated by development. All it took was a couple of weeks' kitchen compost to bring it burgeoning back to life. I'll stow the next few rounds of cigarette butts in the root zone, and that should take care of the aphids. Taking care of the aphids should prevent black spot on the leaves, since aphids spread that virus.

Now in deep shade is a rose that is Old Hill. It's a highly doubled thornless lavender cabbage rose that I think was bred in the nineteenth century to produce petals for potpourri. I can divide it into many starts to try in several locations in the garden. Will probably leave a few in the neighborhood pea patch, too.

A 1980s neighbor living in the house in which she was born muttered her way around her garden with a can of something lethal, waving it in the air and making vague noises about "doing something" about her Peace roses. I pointed out that if one doesn't follow the label's program exactly, one gains all the harm and none of the benefit. Sarah broke a huge smile, set the can aside, and moseyed into the kitchen for a beer.

This house came with a collection of roses, of which two survive. For me, garden does not equal flower. I decided that if I couldn't see a rose flaw from five feet away, I wasn't going to worry about it. The decision has served me well. 

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Saves

Petty housekeeping supplies are hugely effective force multipliers. German chrome polish (find it at motorcycle shops) removes metal marks that implements sometimes leaves on light colored paint. Try the polish in an inconspicuous place before going after the main target.

0000 steel wool cleans the uncleanable. Test it carefully-sometimes it leaves grey traces on the surface it's abrading. That said, 0000 gets indelible urban breath off glass, unconquerable gookie out of woodwork grooves, and stubborn spots off the floor. Use a light hand.

When a toothbrush retires, use it to detail the joins between plumbing fixtures and sinks. It's like flossing, and makes a remarkable difference in the visual.

Janitorial neutral pH cleaner makes the most of your housekeeping efforts. HEPA filtration vacuum bags and/or furnace filters prevent housecleaning in the first place.

The Great Big Northern European Home Furnishing Store sells washcloths with attached hanging loops. They're the best I've found for bathing, using as napkins, and finally retiring to the cleaning cupboard.

Best of all, disposable vinyl gloves mean being able to keep cleaning at a distance.


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Monday, November 9, 2015

Simple Grace

An early week-end visit to Great Big Hiking Co-op flagship store, aka urban forest, brought a holiday surprise. Several of the mature vine maples had been strung with pinpoint white incandescent lights, the kind that are nearly a year-round staple.

The combination of the lights and the gently curved trunks and branches of the trees is perfect. I have not seen these lights used to better effect ever, anywhere. In their commercial context, the lights are a justifiable use of electricity, since they illuminate dark areas of the property.


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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hats And Furs

The first thing I learned when I threw the car away eighteen years ago was that the clothing I remembered from Seattle trolleys in 1954 was good weather protection. It was also a heck of a lot of fun to wear, although not for the mink.

Recent BBC live crack of dawn coverage of a state visit included an elaborate horse escort and London dignitaries in their traditional costumes. Herself presided, and the headgear on display outdid the last royal wedding. Now that I have seen a black tricorn edged with ostrich, life will never be the same. I am very glad to have invested in high-definition television.

Current retail is offering fake fur, at least I hope it's fake, that resembles vintage that has been badly stored. The stuff looks moth-eaten, crumpled, and like food for thought.


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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Little Frig', Little Deli, Little Waste

Choice deli staples like peppers and olives come in little glass jars just the right size to store on the top door shelf of my small refrigerator. Nothing else fits. I wince when I buy these things, but they bring staples like beans and canned tuna roaring to life. An electronic pressure cooker makes short work of the beans. It takes just half an hour to turn edible pebbles into back-of-the-stove contest winners. 

A small refrigerator lacks the capacity to compost leftovers. As long as the appliance is within walking distance of a grocery, it's convenient and frees visual space in a kitchen. A two-bit foam cooler fills in for parties.


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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Cooking From Stores

Now that it's cool and damp, it's time to eat from the emergency stash in the pantry, just to rotate stock. One of the Sixties' prominent cooks observed that a fresh garden pea and a canned one are different vegetables. That's a helpful point of view. In my experience, any version of any ingredient serves perfectly well, depending on circumstances.

A can of peas can easily be transformed into a manageable batch of soup with a vegan bouillon cube, some onion powder, a few shreds of smoked pork or dry sausage, and a pinch of corn starch dissolved in a little cold water. Frozen peas are good, too, and either canned or frozen replaces the dried peas called for in standard cookbooks. Whatever the pea, bind the soup with a little corn starch, arrowroot, or white flour to keep the texture smooth.

The can of chicken breast sitting on the kitchen counter became a delicious congee (see October 29). It could just have well been the filling in a chicken salad sandwich or the protein in creamed chicken over rice.

The canned staples it's so easy to disregard were miracle provender before electricity and automotive transportation. 


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Monday, November 2, 2015

Short Cut

Trader What's His Name sells packets of dried apricots that resemble gnarly spring-flowering bulbs. Side-stepping the no-stick lining of the rice cooker, I put a handful of the fruit into a small stainless bowl, covered them with water, and set the bowl into the rice cooker, adding enough water just to float the contents.

I put the cooker through a cycle and found that the apricots were delicious. Their subtle perfume was more than enough seasoning on its own.


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Friday, October 30, 2015

A Simple Confection

I prepped a storage tray of apple slices, intending to use them over a complex salad, cutting the ends off several Fujis, peeled them with a small knife, and sliced faceted flakes off the fruit as I rotated it in my hand. The idea was to produce pieces that are easy to pick up with chopsticks, my current favorite implement for eating salad.

There was no lemon in the house, so I used sour cream to dress the fruit to prevent browning. It was good over the salad, but spectacular the next day. The fruit apparently absorbed the acidic component of the cream, leaving it covered with what tasted like a thin coat of whipped cream.

This would make a good old-fashioned dessert served with short bread and chicory coffee. 


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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Congee

I know this slow-cooked rice slurry from a Chinese cookbook, but have been experimenting using Western seasonings. Doing so simplifies the pantry and speeds preparation.

The weather turned autumnal. I decided it would be good for morale to have a hot pot of something ready in the late afternoon. Slow-cooked anything is a cinch to prepare and recreates nineteenth century back of the stove coasting, when the main meal was at noon. 

I checked proportions-a quart of liquid to a cup of rice-and opted for a box of chicken stock and long grain brown. I opened a can of chicken breast pieces and converted a double handful of chanterelles from its intended destination over a steak, gave them a quick wash and slice, and that, as I recall, was it.

I set the electronic pressure cooker on ten minutes of high and forgot about it for the afternoon. The combination of ingredients was synergistic, producing a gently savory first course that took the curse off the arsenic hour. 


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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Quick Fix

Seattle's Japanese boutiques use straightforward panels of fabric to modify their ordinary early twentieth century commercial spaces. I envy the sophistication with which traditional fabrics are deployed to transform stolid plaster into a kind of elegant infinity.

My first experience working in this genre was to discover the noren a friend had placed between his kitchen and dining space. Only a foot or so long, the noren trapped cooking fumes and diffused the overhead kitchen light that glared into the dining area. Not much more than a scarf, the carefully designed speck of fabric had major architectural impact.

A classic bohemian ploy of the American Fifties was to use burlap to curtain or panel the walls of a room. The entry of my 1890 house has a double-height stair hall that draws every bit of heat from the main floor. Two spring-loaded curtain rods and a fifty-foot roll of landscaping burlap made short work of stopping the drafts. I simply cut double lengths of fabric and hung them over the rods. A few extra inches of fabric extending old-style onto the floor block air flow.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the burlap has a supple hand. The open weave drapes like a first-quality scarf, and it filters urban light into welcome rustic irregularity. After a few years, the burlap will grow shabby, and I'll simply roll it up and leave it in the nearest pea patch for recycling. At fifty cents a yard, it's the best buy around. I'll have to check for toxicity-there's a strong, though diminishing, scent of weatherproofing, but I'm glad I took a chance.


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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Meeting The Master

NPR's car guys Click and Clack claimed that if one disassembles a Volkswagen bug and puts it back together again often enough, eventually one will generate enough parts to make two of them. Experience has proved the validity of this assertion, at least domestically. Time and furniture arranging disorder have generated enough surplus home furnishings to fill several rent-a-vans.  

Studying dive-quality zip lock plastic bags, I ran across Maximum Expedition's awe-inspiring pocket tool kit. Over the decades I've minimized my puttering kit and generated several square yards of empty space in the process-on a street where an eight by ten foot view rental now commands $55 a square foot. The new resource will make a good morning's study once the grim rains of November appear.


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Monday, October 26, 2015

The Two Dollar Assistant

A fresh blade in a utility knife halves the time it takes to finish a project.

Roll down the top of a paper garden recycling bag and stand it up to one's right (or left if a southpaw) to make a waste bag equal to the bulkiest trimmings. Being able to discard and collect waste in one swift movement keeps production running fast.


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Friday, October 23, 2015

Best Rug Yet

Every few years I replace the indoor-outdoor carpet on the back porch. The first installation tripled the intervals between house cleanings as the nap on the carpet captured debris and street dust. Once I cut the first pattern for the porch floor, installation was a simple a matter of wrestling the rug into place and securing the threshold with a length of aluminum.

A few days ago I unrolled the latest length of matting and was delighted to find that it is as supple as an antique hand-knotted camel hair rug. The value is incredible and the color good as well. Even better, thin flat carpeting is period for this 1890 house.


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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Crow Chow

The other morning I watched a crow eat breakfast. Relaxed and very much at home, the bird made its way around a narrow parking strip pecking at bits of commercial food. The last course was excavated from sods and leaves at the base of a utility pole. Presumably the bird finished the meal with healthful organic protein  grown on the spot.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A New Kind Of Potluck

A minor project like hanging a picture can generate an hour's trip to spend four dollars on twenty small parts to get the one that is needed. A group of friends could save time and money by gathering to share the contents of single packages of hardware staples like screw eyes, zip ties, and finishing nails.

A lidded metal box that held skate bearings is a convenient format to store the few long aluminum push pins, roofing nails, florist pins, paper clips, fasteners, and safety pins that I am likely to need in the ordinary course of puttering around the house.

Round out the collection with gaffer's tape, narrow mounting and double-sticky tapes, bookbinder's linen tape, navy blue and cream thread, a small glue gun and hottest melt glue. You'll be set for a lifetime of Saturday morning projects worth hundreds of dollars each.


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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hardware Trumps Home Improvement

The market is chock a block with minor accessories that are at the minimum worth ten times their price in improved function and aesthetics. Edison base high intensity spots turn ordinary pendant shop lights into beautifully focussed pools of work light.
A five foot Doug fir two by four fitted with hooks at five inch intervals and suspended from the ceiling with steel chain makes a convenient pot rack that accelerates cooking procedures. Magical sliding castors protect furniture joints and housekeeper's backs.

Surge-protective extension cords in varying lengths relieve stress, as do ordinary extension cords. Dimming accessories amplify the range of illumination one bulb can provide. Spring-loaded curtain rods turn an afternoon's fiddling into one swift gesture. A free-standing heated towel rack dries laundry, heats a room, and doubles the interval between washings.

It's worth investing an hour or two to cruise offerings in a hardware store or big box specialty  boutique.


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Monday, October 19, 2015

One Less Variable

The old-line American manufacturer of glass kitchen ware offers bake and store vessels with snap-on plastic lids. I find that the smallest rectangular ones rationalize food storage. 

The units stack, and I can tell the state of the larder simply by glancing at the shelf to see how many are sitting in reserve. 

I can cook, serve, and even eat from one. They are shallow so that hot food cools safely and fast.

A meal of many leftovers looks like a formal smorgasbord when the dishes are set out shoulder to shoulder. 


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Friday, October 16, 2015

Where To Hang The Picture

The ideal spot for a work of art is out of direct sunlight on an inside wall with no slamming door. These details are from The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, the operating manual for the stately homes that are England's living museums.

An exterior wall mount can be finessed with bumpers that hold the work proud of the surface so that humidity does not pool behind the frame and condense, causing the mold disorder known as foxing. It's worth reading the book to collect other fine points. I use push pins behind the frame of a work I deem worth the risk.

Current atmospheric changes have accelerated the rate at which sunlight fades pigments and damages fabric, so it's worth the trouble to keep the shades drawn if the room is not in use. Very conservative custodians hang curtains in front of a work. 

Use a light hand when dusting a frame, particularly one that is gilded. The manual advises dusting only when you are calm and well-rested, since most damage to inventory happens during maintenance. These procedures come out of a culture that is willing to require a housekeeper to repay damage, ie, a year's wages for damaging a work worth that much. Dust gilding with a soft artist's brush, like squirrel hair. Set the piece on a horizontal surface covered with a clean towel, and dust against the direction the dust settled. Use a dedicated brush and cover the metal ferrule with adhesive or gaffer's tape to protect from nicks. I'd work close to an operating air filter or vacuum opening. Knock dust out of the brush by tapping it against your wrist or the edge of a table.

Take off your rings and touch the surface of the piece not at all. Think of it as an open eye, and leave maintenance to a restorer.

Wear flat shoes and transport a valuable piece in a basket padded with a clean towel, ideally by setting it on a wheeled utility cart. If you transport valuables in a motor vehicle, bring a second person along in case of a breakdown.


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More after the jump.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wardrobe Dollars

In my experience, the following are true:

it's cheaper to spend four times as much on a basic item in a first-rate neutral fabric than on the same thing in a skimpier cut and lesser fabric three seasons later

dime-store scarves and tank tops can outperform the best the market has to offer

the best raincoats come from England or Maine

high-tech clothing, like leather gloves that work with touch screens, amplifies personal energy and saves space

the garment that's always in the laundry pipeline is the foundation of your personal uniform

you are not a Christmas tree

all clothing is work clothing

the Great Big Hiking Co-op is two seasons ahead of ordinary retail outlets

time spent slapping the racks at a favorite store is time well-invested

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More after the jump.