Friday, January 8, 2010

Pedestrian Love

Photo courtesy Flickr

Yesterday afternoon’s ride on the Number 43 bus was like being carried home on a warm current of neighborliness. After the flock that boarded at the main stop downtown had settled in for a couple of blocks, people in the back started chirping about the 43 and how much they loved it. The route runs along a crooked spine of the city, from downtown through the University district and on to the glorious watering holes of Ballard.

It is truly heavenly to walk or bus home from live music.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Loophole

Photo courtesy Flickr
Knowing the origins of domestic practice is liberating: the most formal customs are the most ancient. Sometimes a contemporary problem disappears in a puff of history.

Recently, a hostess was discomforted to discover that the chicken was done and the vegetables had not even gone into the oven.

Ordinarily another round of drinks would take care of the problem, but we had chosen a temperate menu. Fortunately, moi was able to volunteer that the great country houses of the English eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were known for their cold food, because the kitchens were hundreds of feet from the dining rooms.

I forgot to add that spending a year in Salt Lake City taught me that the LDS prefer food that is neither very hot nor very cold. The environmental wisdom of that policy makes itself apparent over time, and there is culinary wisdom, too. Good food tastes just as good cold as hot.

Congenial company in a private house is far more important than sophisticated table service.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Little Giant

Photo courtesy Flickr

Last winter’s experiment with leaving the heat off unless the pipes threatened to freeze taught me that bath towels are an ideal medium for cultivating mildew. Last August, I Googled the towel racks I remembered from a particularly pretentious mail order catalogue and discovered that the heated towel rack is an idea whose time has come.

Eighty dollars and one visit to a big box home furnishings store later, I can keep the chill off the bathroom, de-humidify it, fend off mold, and dry myself with something cozy in one swoop. For eighty more dollars and another hour, I cut the number of kitchen towels that find their way into the laundry to a quarter of what I had been using.

At seventy-five watts each, these featherweight racks take the chill off a room and circulate air even more elegantly than a single incandescent light bulb. The racks do more with less and do it better.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Heart of Stone

Photo courtesy Flickr

A few days ago, I mentioned securing most of the edges of a shard of glass with tape and using one exposed face as a cutting edge. I would not prepare food with this tool, but it would do for another job. Breaking a piece of something brittle to generate an edge is a stone age tool-making technique. You can whack any two beach rocks together in a diagonal strike to improvise a knife. Turn your head to protect your eyes, and make sure the kids don’t step on the fragments.

The culture of consumer protection can blind one to the advantages inherent in some safety problems. Sharp is bad for babies and very good for people with fine motor skills. Where a cutting edge is concerned, sharp is safe.

In your wanderings, keep an eye out for Washita sharpening stones (Wash’-ee-ta). They come from Arkansas and are the finest tools in the world for honing an edge on metal. We still use stone tools, and the ones that make other tools are some of the most interesting things in a workshop.

Washita stone is white, grey, or a mottled mixture of those colors that looks like halvah. The best stone was mined out in the Seventies. It was dressed into rectangular blocks of varying size. The little ink-stained stone I use to sharpen pens is not much larger than a stick of gum and looked enticingly like one when it was new.

Sharpening stones are passed from generation to generation in the crafts. Old ones are sometimes found in their original boxes. A stone will be set into a hollow in a solid wood base and left standing proud of its surround. The cover will be wood also, possibly the same piece of wood, and fitted to enclose the stone in a simple rectangle. A fine container might have a small brass plate fixed to the cover. Small stones sometimes have leather sleeves. Sometimes a small stone will be dressed into a teardrop shape for sharpening inside curves.

Venerable stones look grubby and are sometimes found in basement shadows tucked into recesses of a wall or overhead. Look around the windows. Look all the places you’d rather not bother looking. Stones are used either with water or neat’s foot oil, keeping separate stones for each material. Saliva is a good portable water-based lubricant. Its slight acidity dissolves the oil that coats new pen points and inhibits ink flow.

It’s better to improvise a stone than risk working with a dull edge. The unglazed base of a ceramic dish is fine-grained and adequate for a kitchen sharpening job. You can get a crude edge for a garden tool off a cement curb.

-30- More after the jump.