Thursday, November 10, 2011

A New Take on Pastry

Photo courtesy Flickr

Since combat is odious, I’m not sure war and hero belong in the same phrase, but I deeply admire Peggy J, who was an Army nurse.

On D-Day Normandy, she landed with the second wave, a hot apple pie down the front of her shirt “for her boys”.
She went on to follow General Patton through Europe, sharing a tent with Ernie Pyle. One evening, she told us about liberating a major city in Germany, Heidelberg, perhaps. She was part of an advance party that went into the city two days before the main body of the troops. Their job was to destroy the wine reserve, to preserve order during the occupation.

Peggy said her group broke open barrel after huge barrel and waded seven miles through the sewers of the city knee deep in wine. One might read wade as stagger, but I don’t know for certain.

Only recently did I begin to wonder about that pie and the cook who produced it. Certainly it kept Peggy warm during the landing, and I worried about her having a sticky shirt on the beach. On further consideration, it seems safe to assume that the pie pan offered a bit of armor on a bad day, and the crust had not been engineered to be light and flaky.

That pie is one of the few things about World War Two that I really dig. Peggy built an A frame for herself just north of the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal, and every time I visit the island I think of her as the boat approaches the dock.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ask the Right Question

Inuit sled photo courtesy Flickr.

Everybody carries a purse these days, although some call theirs a side bag. Several years ago I found a model that suited me well enough that I wore one out. The replacement arrived Friday, and I settled in Saturday morning to change bags, ordinarily no small task.

The question is, “How long does it take to change side bags?” Yesterday, I finally, truly realized that the side bag is the headwater of the household. In the spirit of the local outdoor community, I edit the contents of my bag often, to make sure, as a pedestrian, that I carry not one gram more than I have to. Grams add up fast.

I have read that Navy seals modify their field packs by excising internal pockets, so they can build packs quickly for specific missions. The first time I chopped a pack, I had my heart in my mouth. Now I reach for a fresh Exacto blade as soon as I pick up a new piece of gear.

The new bag came with an elaborately evolved set of internal pouches, pen holders, and card slots. I turned it inside out and cut away the innards, leaving a shell with a couple of inescapable zippered pockets. When I change purses, I simply remove the self-cleaning zippered black nylon case that holds little things, fish out the emergency gear, and I’m good to go, wherever. I don’t carry the full kit on every outing, but it’s with me every week day, since this is earthquake country.

Yesterday I realized I could trim the stout wrapping on the mylar blanket and secure its loose edges with gaffer’s tape, that will then be available if I want some when I’m away from the studio. Taping the little package that holds the blanket produced a thick, resilient air tight pad, and I realized that it and the flimsy poncho managed the same way will make life extra comfortable for the laptop I sometimes slip onto the bag.

Eviscerating the bag doubled its capacity and eliminated the bother of having to hunt for small items, since they’re always in the same place in their movable pouch.

Technology and a hiker’s appreciation of burden have produced a personal kit that weighs a fraction of previous gear and takes up almost no space. The bag makes a good pillow for the odd nap and is easy to hang securely at my side in any situation. It holds the ten essentials of outdoor survival, a radio, phone of course, camera, computer, personal defense gear, a small art studio, and gym clothes in a shell no larger than a four-inch thick legal pad.

Back in the day, even the smallest radio was the size of a shoe box, a computer took up a dedicated room and countless watts, survival blankets were measured in bales, and the phone was often wall-mounted, hand-cranked, and shared among ten families.

If you can hold on to your shell and shrink the contents, you have effectively gained more turf to use as you wish. An acquaintance advised me, when I bought my first little house, to leave room for people. Chopping the side bag and using kits leaves room for me.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wash Day

Photo courtesy Flickr

The history of American laundry is not ordinarily a riveting topic, and it may not be riveting today. I ran across an interesting paragraph in Mildred Maddocks Bently’s 1925 Good Housekeeping’s Book on The Business of Housekeeping. Bently wrote for a middle-class reader who could afford to hire help. When the book was published, it was still not unheard of to ask a laundry worker to carry water to the tubs, powered or otherwise. Bently costs out the purchase of a washing machine according to whether it’s a cost effective way to keep hired help busy when they’re on the clock.

Viewing a washing machine as a means of keeping hired labor busy is the key to understanding current domestic systems. Technology accelerates processes, but sometimes a slow one serves quite well. If one is master, or mistress, of one’s own household, slow low-tech methods lower utility bills, conserve fabric, economize on space, shorten turnaround time, and produce elegant results. Seattle supported a “French hand laundry” well into the Seventies.

I once chatted housekeeping with an aunt who was using a sad iron as a doorstop. As I recalled my days in off the grid housing. I mentioned that the old ways seemed easier. Aunt Bea snorted and said, “That’s because we stayed home!” She spoke as a woman who had wrangled four children and their friends summer after summer in a cottage with a wood stove and kerosene lamps. It took me years to realize she was agreeing.

However much time one spends at home, it’s worth considering low tech solutions to getting clothes clean. Factor in the time one spends working for hire to earn the cost of equipment, space to house it, and the accelerated wear on fabrics.

I’ve been picking away at laundry systems most of my life, experimenting with alternatives to the methods that are assumed to be best and most efficient. As a toddler I learned that smoothing a piece of linen onto a sun-warmed piece of glass dries it quickly and leaves it nearly as smooth as an iron. Photographers use similar drying plates for prints. Simply laying something out to dry flat with the grain squared off will produce a more elegant result than throwing it into a dryer, and it will last far longer. A heated towel rail makes short work of drying a small load of wash, hand or otherwise. The classic hardwood drying rack is classic for a reason. Plastic clothes hangers eliminate several steps between getting clothes out of the hamper and back into the closet again.

The key to happy co-existence with hand laundry is the wringer. Wringing clothing is ruinous to the hands, stressing joints and eroding fine motor skills. I’ve used a hand-operated wringer mounted on the side of a double laundry tub, and I’ve used a power wringer mounted on one of the early electric washers. Wringers are just fine, although they menace some buttons and are less than safe around children and the inattentive.

Laundromats used to offer heavy-duty centrifuges as a last stage between the automatics and the dryer. A centrifuge leaves clothing nearly dry enough to wear, and it does not subtract buttons. My twin-tub portable washer has a centrifuge, and I’ve been experimenting with washing some laundry by hand and spinning it dry. Bathing suit spin dryers are available on line.

An old and righteous kitchen practice is to wash the dish towels after a meal. Doing so takes seconds with hot running water and modern detergent. A quick spin leaves towels ready to dry right on their kitchen rack, in place for the next meal.

Analyze laundry practice by looking at turn-around time for the cycle and at the total amount of hands-on time a process requires. For one person, it often makes more sense to work by hand than to wrangle a machine. It’s there for back-up when a crunch happens, and the laundromat down the street is there for dire overloads.

A quick bout of hand laundry, I find, is a good way to work the laptop kinks out of my back after I’m through with the keyboard. An unseen, but not unnoticed, benefit of real-time laundry is the fresh atmosphere of a house free from stale clothing.

PS Spring 2015. The small one-pound load automatic washer on the market displaces this advice if you have access to electricity.

More after the jump.