Friday, March 18, 2011

Fakin' Bacon

Photo courtesy Flickr

Here’s a vegan alternative to one of my favorite flavors. I developed it after it became important to minimize sodium at the table. Vegan dishes keep better than ones containing animal protein, so I make most soups and bean dishes with vegan bouillon.

A bean without a bacon is sadly incomplete, though, and a copy of a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook yielded a smokehouse recipe for curing pork. Casual experiments with adding everything but the pig and the salt to a pot of beans have paid off. Bacon is cured with sugar, sweet spices, and pepper, so I add judicious amounts of those seasonings, a careful drop or two of smoke seasoning, and extra fat, usually olive oil with perhaps a bit of butter if I want a really down home feeling. A dab of peanut butter reminds the palette of Virginia ham.

Sometimes I use chopped pork shoulder seasoned with the basics in a dish of greens, and I have found that chicken thighs brined in sugar rather than salt and seasoned as if they were bacon or ham approach the real thing on the barbeque.

More after the jump.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Look High Maintenance, Live Low Maintenance

Classic round table, good in small spaces. Photo courtesy Flickr

Traditional luxury goods often conceal high-performance behind beautiful surfaces. Cashmere is light weight, easy to wash, quick to dry, and very durable. Sterling silver makes good cookware that saves energy and stores wealth. Linen is durable, kind to the environment, and a good source of artist’s oil and edible, nutritious seed. Beeswax candles burn clean, smell fragrant, and are a by-product of the hives that pollinate our food crops and supply honey.

There are hidden benefits to goods that are apparently more expensive than similar ones on the market. Durable items are cheaper to acquire, because one need only shop one time. Consequently, inventory is predictable and harmonious. One well-designed basic item, like the right black skirt, will outperform a closet full of half-smart cheap alternatives.

A durable item costs less, if you divide the price by the number of times you can use it. Consequently, a durable item is greener. My great-grandmother splurged on a nickel-steel frying pan for her log homestead cabin. It looks like a regular cast-iron pan, but is lighter and easier on the hands. It’s been in daily use for a hundred and twenty years. I pulled a top quality Canadian wool kilt off a sale rack and wore it two hundred days a year for sixteen years until maternity made it too small.

Good design saves expensive cubic inches of storage space. Good design is flexible, often lightweight, and can be sold for decent money. Good design is worth insuring and tracking in inventory.

Good design is not an end in itself, but the means to get the most out of one’s time and attention.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Revised Murphy's Laws

A not stupid idea: training a rat to pull computer wires through classroom walls. Photo courtesy Flickr.

Around 1978 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an interview with an Army guy who had codified soldier-humor. Several of his ideas have turned out to be very useful around the house.

You are not a superman.

If it’s stupid, but it works, it’s not stupid.

The important things are always simple.

The simple things are always hard.
[Hard to learn sometimes, hard to identify quite often, hard to keep in mind in the face of overload.]

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fifty Feels Balmy

Photo courtesy Flickr

The weather is no kinder than it was in January, but the sun’s a little higher in the sky and the house is soaking up gain even though it’s soggy outside. This is the fourth winter in a row I’ve been conserving heat, keeping the small study comfortable for sedentary activities and letting the rest of the place take care of itself, as long as the pipes don’t threaten to freeze.

Four months of housekeeping in very cool rooms and very warm clothing (except when guests are on the way) leave me with a healthy head of hair and shocked at how comfortable it is to fix breakfast in a fifty-degree kitchen. The mild warmth of early spring is a well-earned reward for the minor efforts of winter’s conservation.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

Short version: keep heavy shoes, work gloves, and the evacuation kit where you sleep. I’m told that the first thing that goes when things get sticky are the streetlights, so consider adding night vision goggles to your kit. Also add change-of-address forms. Previous posts about emergency gear and the pantry follow this one.

Recent news stories out of Japan are deeply saddening. They bring to mind remarks I heard from a man who runs think-tank training courses for high-level military staff: repeatedly he emphasized the importance of households being resilient.

It’s helpful to think about life support rather than a secure hideaway. The little castle’s a bonus. The real trick is to design for mobile security.

Living to reduce the carbon footprint of the household automatically prepares the family for disruption. The hiker’s classic ten essentials (“Ten Commandments of the Field” following this post) satisfy basic needs, and living at least sometimes under the roof as if one were outdoors is a reassuring way to rehearse for disruption. The idea is to reduce demands on emergency services.

It’s interesting that the most formal ways to sleep and eat are off-grid and the lowest-tech. A four-poster bed with hangings conserves heat and privacy. A free-standing tent is an exact equivalent and would be a godsend in an emergency shelter that had room to set it up. A dining table set with candles and a chafing dish is no different from the clunky picnic table found in every campground.

Before automobiles and electricity, every well-managed household had a pantry with some depth in the stores. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting meals together from the emergency stock to use it up before it goes out of date. I was experimenting with recreating low-tech cuisine to see how it felt to eat that way late in winter. It feels very good, as it happens, to make innard-friendly meals of soul food when the weather is at its most trying.

When the earthquake hit Japan, I just happened to know in real time what living off stores would taste like and what it is like to cook them, how it would feel to use a tent and sleeping pad, and how it would feel to walk every step in field shoes designed specifically for female bones. Preparedness can be chore number eighty-seven on a small-print list of urgent projects, or it can be an ordinary course of life that’s far healthier, easier, and less expensive than hollow pretense.

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has reliable on-line references for emergency management. Deft Home’s index is full of material for managing life support with minimal energy.


The Ten Commandments of the Field

Fernando Stankuns photo courtesy Flickr
Climbers organize their lives around an emergency kit known as the ten essentials. My outdoor experience is limited, but I accompanied climbers to base camps on my first hikes. Those early days in the field formed my sense of household, and the climbers’ core collection remains the heart of inventory.

Gear falls under one of ten categories: tool, fire, water, food, clothing, shelter, medical, navigation, communication, and transportation. Do not underestimate the value of these headings: they are the key to thinking straight about what to own and what to buy.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I joined a friend at our favorite dive to drink breakfast and pray for the city. Katie, who had lived there twelve years, said that the people of New Orleans had no field skills and no place to learn them. For that morning, my friend put aside her running joke about how every native Seattle woman has her own chain saw.

Specific items for the field change with technology and the mission. The following is a list of featherweight accessories to carry any time you’re beyond walking distance of home base. They are very good for morale.

Tool: a Swiss Army penknife with tweezers. Airport security makes this expendable. You can improvise a cutting tool by breaking a glass bottle and taping one edge for a handle. Use your head-play safe. Wrap a length of gaffer’s or duct tape around a butane lighter.

Fire: a half-empty butane lighter and a birthday candle.

Water: the bottle is now ubiquitous. Add a small bottle of water purification tablets.

Food: an energy bar or any little something, even a sugar packet or a cellophane packet of crackers.

Clothing: a disposable plastic poncho or plastic garbage bag. Improvise a jacket by cutting arm and neck holes in the bag. Line shoes with produce bags if you get caught in foul weather.

Shelter: a mylar survival blanket, sunscreen, and dark glasses. Carry cash, traveler’s checks, credit card, and spare batteries to use as currency.

Medical: hand sanitizer, a couple of bandages, a needle, pocket tissues, and extra meds.

Navigation: a pinch light with extra battery, spare glasses, and local map.

Communication: a whistle painfully loud in sound and color, a one-inch length of black wax lumber crayon, change for a pay phone with out-of-state contact numbers taped to the back of your principal ID. Lie down to wave at a plane.

Transportation: first-rate foot gear with good insoles and socks for the weather plus the right side bag for daily necessities.



Junk Food Is the Hard Way Out

Photo courtesy Flickr
Before Col. Chicken, women, let’s face it, it was women, kept an emergency pantry. They stocked canned soup, crackers, canned vegetables (still a staple at the time), grated dry cheese (better in a chunk, we know now), and various other things like canned smoked oysters, Spam (the food product), and instant rice.

Any mid-century cookbook will have a section on how to use pantry foods to turn out a meal in minutes. The pantry was necessary because not all families had two cars. During my school years, I ate lunch in a restaurant once that I can recall. When we were away from home at mid-day, we often ate from a super-deluxe vacuum flask picnic kit filled with sandwiches on store bread, home-made cookies, and, a treat for me, coffee. There were little fruit and veggie sides, too.

There was no kitchen in my school, so all lunches were carried in.

If you factor in the cost of a fast-food meal, of transportation, of earning the money to buy it, and the health and cognitive consequences, it is way foolish to indulge in one for anything but sport. You’d do yourself a favor to buy grapes, little pre-fab hunks of cheese, and some crackers. Or keep some cans of juice around.

The pantry will serve you well stocked with no salt corn chips, low or no sodium canned soup and vegetables, whole wheat pasta, olive oil, hard cheese for grating, canned and dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, honey, and whatever else tickles your fancy that stores well. Choose things that keep without electricity to back up your emergency kit.

More after the jump.

More after the jump.