Friday, April 17, 2015


Photo courtesy Flickr user coolmikeol
Lately, I have been finding that it’s easiest and most healthful to prepare and store ready-to-eat basic ingredients rather than elaborate dishes. The system depends on shallow, lidded storage dishes from the old-line American manufacturer of glass kitchen ware. The small versions aren’t very different from in-flight presentation dishes.

We’re eating a lot of salad greens these days. Being able to add salami, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, fruit ready to eat, and the odd leftover is an efficient way to customize a serving without complicating family food preps

More after the jump.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Photo courtesy Flickr user only_point_five
Now and then I snag a new piece of kitchen gear without quite knowing why. A couple of years ago I bought a cheap enameled iron tea kettle to use on the induction hot plate that replaced the stove. The kettle turned out to be visually appealing and vile in function. I cheerfully threw it away and chalked up the price to tuition.

Feeling feeble and hopeful last fall, I ran across a similar design from the dominant French manufacturer at the Market’s kitchen boutique. I paid the price but didn’t really deploy the kettle until last week, when I discovered that it hath a hidden virtue. Apparently, the coffee-making community of Japan is as careful in its pours as the Seattle lab glassware crowd was in the early Seventies. The new French kettle pours a perfect little stream of sub-boiling water through its whistle to get the most out of every ounce of ground beans. 

The process is like making a non-violent espresso: dampen fresh grounds and let them sit for a minute to absorb the water. Then slowly drip water, keeping it level with the top of the beans. The bother is worth the trouble. This is the process an early Seventies hostess used to make coffee for the gathering of friends who decided it would be a good idea to open a coffee store. Years later, she confessed how glad she was not to have served warmed-over percolator brew.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Photo courtesy Flickr user Ese-emon
In the late Seventies, I discovered the joys of inexpensive janitorial cleaning supplies along with the nerve-shattering reality of the Material Safety Data Sheet that accompanied a gallon of commercial-grade disinfectant. I used the stuff for a while until I read Don Aslett’s definitive comment: it is meant to kill things. Kill indeed, but it produced a very good-smelling house. 

I temporized with other products. Recently I realized I can use the same alcohol that de-greases the kitchen to sanitize faucet handles and porcelain fixtures. No doubt it is relatively kind to the fish in Elliott Bay as well. My other strategy is to keep worktops and fixtures dry. 


More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Power Play

Photo courtesy Flickr userGene 1138
After a superb bakery opened a couple of blocks away, we decided to pass along the herky mixer to a younger household. This was not exactly an act of charity: it’s an upgrade to simplify a collection and empty a storage area. I had also passed along a set of stainless flatware designed on the best 1890 lines. I replaced it with a set of cheaper stuff designed for party buffets that beats plastic forks. I had overlooked the value of older design that accommodates the hand. English designer David Pye describes the period as the high point of craft, one in which a workman would routinely line up the slots of a set of fasteners.

Late nineteenth century domestic design appreciates the human body as a source of muscle power. It respects the fine motor skills necessary to maintain children and wardrobe. Using one of the new forks yesterday, I mashed an avocado and realized that I was working four times as hard as I would have with one of the other designs. The stamped edges of the handle were subliminally painful, and the rough inner edges of the tines require special attention when it's time to wash dishes. I’ll have to rethink things. Cheap machine production brutalizes the hand.

More after the jump.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Painter's Eye

Photo courtesy Flickr users Darren and Brad
Some years ago, the young arts graduate who was coating the outside of the house commented that the interior would benefit from lighter, brighter colors. The moment reminded me of a number of occasions when I could not comprehend why my martyred aunt did not evict me as her houseguest. I am not a patient elder now, but I do know the bases of my color choices.

What they are doesn’t matter. Had I comprehended that the house is essentially eighteenth rather than nineteenth century in form, and had I known that eighteenth century colors have been described as “the stony colors of Palladio”, I would have managed the paint scheme differently. The last place I look for color advice is the world of fashion. I find that the graver and simpler the palette here, the faster and easier the place lives.

It is not possible for me to fault the preferences of a woman who could cut in a clean edge at arm’s length from five feet away. Not long after Millie’s critique, she brought a friend by, and he, too, remarked on the value of light, clear colors. His comment reminded me of a metaphysical presentation local watercolorist Perry Acker gave to a hard-eyed 1974 commercial art class. Apparently, the message got across, eventually. 

South of the house are five new stories of pods. I had my doubts about living in deep shade for the foreseeable future, but the change in solar orientation has been fascinating. Another new block of housing reflects daylight onto the north side of the house. North and south light has, in effect, been flipped. Recent experiments with shades made from shoji paper have transformed the daylighting. The new shades amplify natural light, scattering it around each room. I’m still surrounded by warm earth colors, but bit by bit I’m adding highlights in the spirit of 1812.

As I understand these things, an ambitious Anglo room of the 1700s would be painted in bright “Adam” colors, light green, blue, and pink, not too different from the preferences of Marie Antoinette. Leftover paint from the principal rooms would have been mixed to produce a drab for the service areas. How that relates to the stony colors of Palladio I do not know. Perhaps Palladian style is earlier. I do find that shifting warm earth-toned walls slightly toward cooler greys settles the atmosphere in these rooms. In 2015, I can get Adam colors from the screen and look out a clean window when I want the gently translucent realities of a Northwest landscape.

NB: The photo is of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. As far as I know, the furnishings are African-American.

More after the jump.