Friday, September 25, 2015

Bread, Butter, and Bacon


One August day during the formative year of The Gigantic Mermaid Coffee Company, two of the three original partners were nattering about development threats to the Pike Place Market. Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 was still fresh enough to influence casual expressions. One of the guys lobbed out the notion of “Gimmee Eat Corp”, using a phrase of Heller’s character Milo Minderbinder, scrounge extraordiaire. Gary’s dream was of a market that would provide the best the world of food could offer, and the guys went on to advocate for historic preservation.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a routine run to the Market and found the dream is real. The best bread, dairy, and smoked pork are all within steps of each other. 

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More after the jump.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Hay Box


I spent a Sixties’ summer living in a cabin that had no electricity. One week-end a visitor arrived bearing a hay box. While most of us gathered around wondering what a hay box might be, several elders explained that it was a device that cooked food without a heat source.

The thing was a wooden crate roughly two and a half feet in every dimension. As I recall, the top latched into place. It was bulky as could be, but slipped conveniently under the open snack bar in the kitchen. The interior held a layer of hay about eight inches deep. On top of that sat a round soapstone slab about two inches thick that was surrounded by a nest of hay the dimension of a cast iron dutch oven. There was additional hay to cover the cooking pot.

Someone fired up the wood stove, started a stew, heated the soapstone, buried the stewpot in the box, and latched the lid. A thermometer on the front of the box indicated the interior temperature. About six hours later, we had stew.

Around 1997, a high-tech version appeared, marketed as a thermal container for main dishes. I didn’t pick one up, and regretted it, later unsuccessfully trying to improvise a hay box with a picnic cooler. I asked my friendly local physicist what he would use to replicate a hay box, and he said, “Fill a box with hay.”

I never quite got to the pet store to buy bunny chow for insulation, but eventually I did visit the Great Big Hiking Co-op. That was last month, and the Go To Old Line American Thermos Company had the latest iteration of a hay box on the shelf. A few dollars later, I have learned that, pre-heated with boiling water, the super-thermos keeps a hiker’s dinner mix at a safe temperature for six hours, even with one opening for lunch.

The vacuum container is a promising gadget, a slow cooker without a cord. At the least, it’s a sanitary tote for potlucks or a relatively inelegant serving vessel. With luck, I can cut my electricity bill by a few watts and count on the container to expand the cooking capacity of the kitchen. It seals well, so I can add extra insulation by bagging it in plastic and stuffing it into a sleeping bag.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Stress-free Domicile


The community that considers the disabled has a list of givens that make an interior user-friendly. Public disability accommodations make it possible for me to live easily and efficiently without a personal motor vehicle. One disability potential should be designed into every building that has more than one story: a well-founded potential elevator shaft, perhaps a stack of closets, that can be activated with minimal expense and disruption.

One area of disability has not been addressed: temporary brain fade. As stupidity insurance, all sources of running water should be stacked and secured in a way that will protect the structure in case of overflow. I do not appreciate siting a toilet over the kitchen sink, and it seems irrational not to have a protective drained structure under a bath. A washing machine that can overflow peacefully above a cement floor with a sump pump is a happy washing machine. Were I to commission a house, I’d seriously consider sacrificing a little luxury in favor of built-in stupidity (and earthquake) insurance.  

A separate cooking room, that can be very small, will protect the main body of the house from fumes and airborne grease. I’d take the time to cost out a chemist’s laboratory hood as an alternative and check out a self-stirring hot plate while I’m at it.

Storage areas that can be locked are worth reviving. Any subtle improvement in home security eases the stress of having outside help. A delivery locker is an old amenity worth reviving. Securing inventory from the support staff explains the key escutcheons on old furniture. My preference is to simplify and do it myself, but there are times when caregivers are a necessity.

The old-fashioned cold closet deserves a second look. Every kitchen used to have a cupboard with slatted shelves that was located on an outer wall. The cupboard had an open vent and was an ideal place to store the many items, like pickles, that don’t quite need refrigeration but benefit from a cool atmosphere. 

In a perfect world, the refrigerator is no larger than necessary to support the household. It would make sense to have two small units, one for raw ingredients that carry a risk of bacterial contamination, and one for things that are ready to eat. A glass-doored deli unit would be fun. 

In an even more perfect world, the refrigerator would have its back to a cut-out wall in a laundry area, so the waste heat from the cooling unit could be used to dry clothing.


A personal care area that combines mud room, locker room, dressing, laundry, and sewing would shorten the turn around time on many basic functions. 

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More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Counter-productive Convenience


Many of the so-called comforts of home militate against physical health. Sitting, they say, is the new smoking. The same Pilates trainer who pointed out that current opinion commented that one’s life span can be predicted by how difficult it is to get oneself up off the floor.

I lived for a couple of years with no conventional furniture except a drawing table, high stool, and area rug. Sleeping on a clean rug was very good for my back, as was sitting on the floor in various traditional postures. A yoga workout was a natural extension of an ordinary day. 

Prosperity brought upholstered seating, a dining set-up, and a bedstead. All of them, not to mention driving, fostered rigid posture and weakened core strength. Not long ago, I decided to make the most of the heating system by setting up one upstairs “chamber”, as the architect called the rooms, with an area rug underlain by a heated floor mat

It will be interesting to go into the cold months with a basking area at our disposal. My experience with the set-up so far has been that to lie on it is to uncoil.

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More after the jump.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Read The Manual


Domestic cross-training thrives on standard practice.

The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping is the operating manual for the stately homes that are Britain’s living museums. It defines good practice for daily maintenance of any interior and will protect the future of your furnishings.

Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts covers day to day operations.

Consult Emily Post for behaviors.

Find a late Sixties copy of Amy Vanderbilt to enjoy Andy Warhol’s unforgettable drawings of how to set a table.

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More after the jump.