Friday, April 15, 2011

Coming Attractions

Photo courtesy Flickr

Wandering around the net last week I ran across a thrilling concept: a four by eight foot sticker designed to be applied to a sheet of plywood and used like a sewing pattern to cut out DIY furniture. It’s promised for soon and is bound to make the local condo handy-shop very happy.

A few days later the Dutch design giant sent a message announcing a mid-April design conference about downloadable design. I anticipate a harmonic convergence of DIY culture and digital communications.

Craft is dead-end for its own sake, but dead cool when it can accomplish a given task faster, greener, easier, and cheaper than market alternatives.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

I picked up some politically correct grass fed chuck steak from the local food co-op last week and, on an impulse, also grabbed a package of rib bones. We have a band to feed once a week. The group practices here after work, and I like to offer them a bowl of something to cover their blood sugar until they can get home to dinner.

The electronic pressure cooker makes it trivial to entertain at this level. The day before practice, I trimmed the silver skin off the chuck as I cut it into deliberately varied pieces, removed most of the fat, and put the bones into the pot along with a small slug of wine vinegar, a bay leaf, a couple of vegan bouillon cubes, some dried onion flakes, a couple of teaspoons of leftover green taco sauce, and the pieces of a monster shallot.

I decided to cook the meat to death, so I gave it fifty minutes on high pressure, and the result was delicious, thanks to the rib bones. A little vinegar leaches calcium. My partner usually finishes what I start, and he pulled the meat off the ribs and mixed it with the rest of the stew. The cooker does amazing things with bones and broth, producing a result as rich as that of a Pennsylvania Dutch country kitchen.

For band night, I just threw the stew into the pot with leftover barley I had made in the automatic rice cooker the night before, adding enough water and some micro-carrots to call it Scotch broth. I think the water is the Scotch part.

We had a total of nine meals from those two small packages of meat.
One great virtue of the cooker is that I can set it up on the back porch and avoid using the kitchen fan.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chopping the Vac

Photo courtesy Flickr

One of the last individual vacuum cleaner dealers in the city does business a few blocks south of the house. The owner bought his section of a commercial building decades ago, and the late Sixties interior is a living museum of local boxing memorabilia.

Recently I realized the folly of having bought a cheap hand-held vacuum that can’t be fitted with HEPA filters. I stopped by the shop to pick up a new piece of gear after realizing it would be a labor cost. I might as well not vacuum at all as vacuum without an effective filter.

The owner shared his delight that the countless new residents of the countless new condos that now surround his vintage building really dig his operation. He’s quite a craftsman, and once we got the boring process of the sale out of the way, he shared a wealth of technical insight about his tools.

When I got the new gear home, I realized that I had clung to the ineffective unit because it has a dynamite hose, elegant and flexible. The new machine came with one that’s three times as long, stiffly plastic, and likely to menace wood finishes and small furnishings.

Himself had treated me to a description of hacking one set of accessories onto the working body of a machine one of his janitorial clients uses, so, muttering “It’s only money. He can just laugh if I blow this and have to go back for a part,” I chopped the new hose with a shop knife and wire cutters, grafting the old one onto the stub with gaffer’s tape and a couple of zip ties small enough to lash into the grooves. Works fine, and I left my partner a note not to be surprised by what he found. I would probably not have done this if we hadn’t moved the rolling tool cabinet into the kitchen corner just off the maple work top.

Now I have the best of both machines. The graft’s a little cobby, but I recited Picasso’s comment about the ones who make it pretty coming afterwards, rounded the edges of the zips with flame, and covered their latches with tape. I could get into this, and will probably detail the motor housing of the old upright with Simichrome and spend a moment or two deciding not to pinstripe it.

In a perfect universe, I would cover the body of the new machine with suede to protect surfaces and apply gaffer tape to the outer surfaces of the accessories-proper bristle brushes on them all.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

Over the years, quite a sheaf of trays have come my way, and I’ve kept them all except for a thrift find that had far too much lead in the brass and far too little skill in the ornament. All the trays in inventory have survived biennial purges simply because they’re thin, round, and classic. I added a dozen cafeteria-style melamine trays from the Great Big Northern European home resource, and that set accelerated daily life. Serving an ordinary meal from the kitchen’s a snap with trays. Portable table service makes it easy to dine anywhere that’s convenient for given weather, company, and broadcast offerings.

In eighteenth century French chateaus there was no dedicated dining area: the staff simply set up a table wherever it was convenient to take a meal. Home practice is so conservative that knowing precedent is liberating. During the Middle Ages in England, the table, aka board and trestle, was mounted for a meal and then taken down so the space could be used for other activities.

The daily trays take the curse off the inherent formality of 1890 architecture. I can set a tray with a bleached white place mat and coarse linen napkins, and present an old-time spooner (tall, footed tumbler) of flatware and a coherent collection of glasses and plates. Regular visitors relax when they can help themselves.

At one time, I could feed fifty people from the thrift shop contents of the china cupboard. When the nest emptied, I kept the classic set of six (plus a few back-up units) that I chose far back in the day. For bashes, I fill in with disposables and use the round trays to serve anything on the menu that is solid.

Trays turn the china cupboard into an accordion. They are even more valuable in small space than in generous quarters.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

It’s not quite spring but late enough in winter to be able to look back and evaluate cold-weather wardrobe. Coming in from a garden session yesterday, I realized that wool is the hands’ down champion fiber in this climate.

Like a radiator or cast-iron stove, wool’s a heat sink, slow to warm, slow to cool. It buys time in the infinitely varied temperatures of a local day. This is a rare and nutso climate, only Japan and England share its characteristics. A couple of sets of mountains and other factors I’m not up on create what’s called the Puget Sound convergence zone. Weather reporting is fairly accurate, but within the predictions lies an infinite range of minor change that can shift the chill factor of a damp day from comfortable to dangerous in under a minute.

Wool is the upside that keeps hypothermia at bay. It’s not as clammy as synthetics, is more durable at fireside, is simple to wash and fast to dry on a rack, far faster than cotton.

I believe advances in the breeding of sheep are responsible for the pleasant quality of current wool. There’s not a moment’s itch. The Oregon Rodeo Mill’s plaid classics are my partner’s three season workhorse shirts, cheaper than cotton flannel figured at cost per use, just as durable if not more so, and responding well to gentle home laundry.

The big lesson I learn every spring is not to fear high-end fibers. Silk, wool, and cashmere make great, cost-effective everyday garments. Back in the day, people had small wardrobes consisting of daily wear, old things, and new ones waiting in reserve. That’s a good way to manage a small set of classics-four of each would not be too few.

-30- More after the jump.