Friday, February 19, 2016

Getting A Grip

A spot in the kitchen has evolved into a minor war wall, the device used by Google and others to map out behaviors. My wall is a simple row of sticky notes with the days of the Saturday to Saturday week noted in red.

As the week progresses, I post other notes with individual tasks. The layout becomes a bar graph as postings accumulate.

I keep a cyclist's safety light in reserve to pin over a particularly urgent message.



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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Upholster In Seconds

The seat on the garden bench I use indoors is padded with a self-inflating air mattress from The Great Big Hiking Co-op. With the dining table cleared, it took about a hundred and twenty seconds to set the pad on a well-designed heavy cotton blanket, wrap it like a gift, and secured the cover with generous strips of gaffer's tape. The tape is formulated not to leave residue on surfaces. A dry cleaner can solve any problems the tape may leave behind when I pull the cover off to have it cleaned.

The bench and blanket were not cheap. They'll look just as good, if not better, in a hundred years when lesser furnishings will be nasty and not rotting in a land fill. The blanket was so apt for my purposes that I bought a second one for back-up. As the blankets wear, I can eventually trim them into cushion covers and/or quilt sections.

I pegged the bench together without glue so it can be knocked down for compact storage and/or shipping should that ever be necessary. 


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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Nimble House

Once I realized that horizontal work surfaces are for work rather than storage, the turnaround time on tasks shrank drastically. I set up the week's production (paper work, minor fabrication) over the week-end as part of cleaning the place. The best part of cleaning is chucking things into recycling and thrift bins. With none but necessary furnishings in the working rooms of the house, I can reconfigure a space in minutes or seconds where I used to spend hours or days.  

Some years ago an apparently scholarly writer commented that the traditional Japanese house is managed as theater where the typical European dwelling is museum. Once I isolated museum functions outside of main traffic patterns, the house began to support vitality rather than sapping it. Japan comprehends that a paper house is not a secure area. They compensate with the little-known kura, a massive fireproof storage building set behind a main traditional dwelling. Valuables are stored chock-a-block in the kura, which explains the culture's layers of elegant packaging.

Folding chairs, epoxy-coated wire storage racks on industrial castors, and standardized storage bins are the keys to speed. 


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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Notes On Nutrition

I claim no expertise except that of someone who has been eating for quite a few decades. I happened to live in Berkeley shortly after Frances Moore Lappe's Diet For A Small Planet was published. The city was the center of influential research in nutrition, and their legendary food co-op was still in business. Each item on the shelves of the old supermarket had a hand-written educational note posted over the price and the cost per ounce (a new practice).

From the co-op I learned that bacon costs more per gram of usable protein than the finest steak. I love bacon, buy the best I can find by the chunk, and let it live in the freezer to cook with eggs or beans when I want a fast feed at home. In Berkeley, I also learned from a network broadcast that the cardboard packaging of breakfast cereal, eaten with milk, was nearly as nutritious as the contents. Things may have changed. The co-op is gone, but Berkeley enjoys a super-duper market, formerly a bowling alley, that buys from local farmers. The carrot section is as big as my pantry.

Living on my own with a tight food budget in the early Seventies, I unwittingly improvised a cutting-edge diet thanks to the influence of Lappe' and of the traditional Lenten dishes of the Mediterranean. As late as the Sixties, nutritional wisdom of the mass culture held that one should eat animal protein at every meal. My mother, however, had learned about the Heart Association's concerns about cholesterol and sodium when the reports were still academic. She ran her kitchen with minimal prepared and synthetic food, even though she worked full time outside the home. Mercifully, her decisions were simply good sense rather than a cultural agenda. I recommend Adele Davis' Let's Eat Right To Keep Fit for its presentation without spin. Luigi Carnacina's Great Italian Cooking is a gold mine.

A few days ago I attended a meeting of a support group for a dread disease. Fortunately I am healthy, but the gathering has become my congregation. It was sad to hear members recount their struggles to avoid the foods that feed their tumors. Here are some suggestions for gradually shifting one's menu toward the sustainable.

Minimize salt and sugar simply by taking a few grains less each time you serve yourself. In my experience, salt and sugar traumatize the palate, overwhelming the subtleties of flavor present in good quality unprocessed ingredients. It takes some time for the body to adapt. Sea salt does justice to organic food like beans, but keep an eye on your iodine intake. Some is necessary.

Alcohol has never been a problem for me, but I found eliminating strong drink altogether makes it easier to stay aware of my eating patterns. The gut is lined with brain cells.

Eat a tablespoon of flax seed every day. The seed eases the passage of food through the innards and nourishes like salmon. I have oatmeal every morning and top it with honey and flax. East Indian medicine, the ayurvedic tradition, pays attention to the quality of the paste that passes through the gut, just like my great-aunt Bea, who trained as a practical nurse around 1900. The flax pays for itself in reduced tissue bills.

I think of food the way I think of firewood. Different woods burn in different ways: cedar hot and fast, oak slow and hot, fir hot and sparky, fir bark hot and sustained, hemlock cool and fast. Far too slowly I have come to appreciate the ways different foods temper my metabolism. I can almost control it now. Sugar burns hot and fast, wheat hot and slowly, protein is oak. Having recently learned that eating seeds, as in grass seed, was an ancient response to famine, I now minimize the amount of wheat I ingest, because it slows me down. Sometimes I slow down deliberately.

I have learned to assess food by the aftertaste it leaves in my mouth. Things like nuts and lettuce that leave a neutral taste are more likely to benefit my metabolism than sweets, that leave a sour legacy. Avoid sugar for a week or two and then eat a slice of cake. You'll know the difference. So will your washing machine. 

Sugar has been called the cocaine of the eighteenth century. I drink cane sugar ginger ale when I have a virus. The fizzy seems to fill a nutritional pothole. There are tiny cookies on the market, and I serve just one along with fruit for dessert. The old custom of presenting fruit and nuts as a last course is a good way of rounding out a meal. If I'm binging on sugar, I know something else is missing, usually animal protein.

I sanitize produce with sprays or rinses of hydrogen peroxide followed by white vinegar. Expensive fresh things last longer when cleaned and make reasonable simple snacks. Drug store spray bottle mechanisms fit small peroxide and vinegar containers.

The key to my system is to buy unsalted butter. A buddy pointed out in 1965 that only the best butter can be sold unsalted. Salt masks off flavors. I use the best oils that I can find, mostly olive oil. Quality fats are my highest shopping priority. 

Current thinking in the highly competitive field of corporate athletic training advises eating six small meals a day for optimal fitness. Experts point out that diet for heavy manual labor is radically different from that needed for knowledge work. Fluoride and electricity have freed both diner and cook from three squares. When circumstances are benign, I think of hunger as a gift that lets me navigate the cupboard and gives me the energy to prepare a meal for myself.

There's an agricultural term, "light keeper", that transforms thinking about obesity. A light keeper is a creature that requires little feed to fulfill its role. That's not pathology, that's good economy.

One last comment-I say this cautiously with a reminder to consult a physician. My doc approved my decision to omit a daily vitamin supplement in the spirit of no longer generating expensive urine. My perception is that the supplement distorted my appetite. It's far easier to manage my food choices now that my hungers are genuine, and my menu has morphed back into the ideal one of the early Seventies.

There are unexpected benefits to the change. I save money on pills and basic food. I no longer crave restaurant food, the principle source of budgetary hemorrhage. I eat pretty much what I want to. If a few days of light, simple food leaves me feeling hollow, I pick up a Greek pastry at the Market to keep body and soul together before I go home prepare a good cut of meat and some stir fry.


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