Friday, May 19, 2017


A song on the local independent rock station reminded me of the woes of trying to eat right when time, resources, and skills are in short supply. I can't presume to know the limitations of living in a food desert, but I can offer brief comments about how my contemporaries dealt with life support in the mid-Sixties, before food stamps and government student loans.

I managed my own East Bay household on a grocery budget of nine dollars a week for two. Fortunately, the Berkeley Food Co-op was a short walk away. The informational price labels on its limited inventory noted the cost per pound of usable protein. This was back in the day when animal protein was a big issue.

Analyzed in those terms, bacon costs more than steak. At the time, the cardboard packaging of a box of dry cereal was said to be as nutritious as the contents, so the Co-op recommended oatmeal. Berkeley was a center of nutrition research, and Frances Moore Lappe' had just published her priceless Diet for a Small Planet. The traditional ethnic food combinations she defined, wheat, soy, and sesame and rice, beans, and corn, contained all the essential amino acids of animal protein in forms that are less expensive and easier to store in the absence of electricity or a nearby supermarket. Put simply, those foods are greener. Add flax seed to that oatmeal.

Everyone I knew had their grandmother's recipe file of vegetarian dishes, and LDS students had the advantage of their tradition of food management.

Long experience with the pantry suggests that buying staples in bulk is an effective way to cushion the vicissitudes of daily life. Getting a leg up can be hard. At first, bulk might mean a half a pound of dry beans rather than a can. Storage might mean a glass jar scavenged from a recycling bin. Store in bug-proof containers that no one can gnaw through. You will thank yourself. Add powdered milk to the collection for the most accessible animal protein. Tropical island families of privilege used powdered milk in my day, because shipping fresh was prohibitive.  For the same reason, cabbage replaced lettuce.

Traditional dry stores come to life with an herb or two, some olive oil, and some cheese. Coming up with the scratch for those amenities is an achievement, but a fast food meal is so counter-productive that it might be worth a day on peanut butter to fund the oil. Cook in a thrift shop rice cooker or, ideally, heavy cast iron pot and lid that are coated with enamel. Sharpen the knife on the porous bottom of a mug.

Back in the day, young adults started housekeeping with a full kit. Give yourself a kitchen shower if you're not prepared. The pay-off is immediate -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Feeding Habits

The current recommended meal schedule for knowledge workers, six small ones a day, parallels what the son of Charles Lindbergh observed about the feeding habits of a group of captive monkeys. The animals preferred to take one bite out of the perfectly ripe section of a piece of fruit and then move on to the next resource. In the Smithsonian magazine story that covered his research, Lindbergh said the grocery bills were breaking him.

I'm more than OK with eating like that. Doing so keeps me as sharp as I am able to be over the longest stretch of daytime productivity. Control costs by shopping carefully for good ingredients (not necessarily the most expensive ones) and cooking in conscious quantity. Experience with keeping house without electricity taught me to keep food headed toward the innards in a timely way. Fresh is best, dried a second choice -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Building Blocks

The annual run for bath tissue approaches. Low inventory reminds me of one of the pleasures of child-rearing. When it was time to hump the year's supply up to the storage area, my kid and his buddy used it to build forts -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Berries And Carrots

Early in my tenure on the Hill, enthusiastic and ill-informed attempts at home gardening left me convinced that I was somehow deficient in getting blueberries to set fruit or carrots to gain any size at all. I assumed the slugs got every wild strawberry.

I learned the other day that my kid and his friends had seen to the harvest, berry by berry and root by root as things ripened to perfection. The sheer entertainment value of foraging  is worth the trouble of setting in a few plants and shrubs. Make sure that edibles are in a clearly defined area of the property. If you landscape with edibles, make sure there are no tempting poisonous berries and roots, like nightshade, growing inside your boundaries -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, May 15, 2017


Victor Papanek's Nomadic Furniture defined expedient for my generation. He designed for the United Nations and moved frequently all over the globe. The bulk and weight of his domestic inventory was a critical issue. Many of his innovations can now be found in the aisles of the nearest Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain.

Papanek rented utilitarian quarters and set up a two by four frame in a room with sad walls. I'd consider using an eight-foot dome tent. He valued folding director's chairs, maintained one large token heirloom, and deployed a set of seven angle-arm reading lights in a series of mounting holes drilled into the interior framework of his rooms. Books were housed in the long, narrow shipping crates that transported them.

The digital revolution has displaced some of Papanek's innovations, but his point of view is eternal. I recently ordered a set of three featherweight folding office tables in a standard size to support a project, and they have outperformed my highest expectations. They've already paid for themselves in time saved. Setting the tables in place has effectively quadrupled the utility of the rooms they occupy. They'll support future feasts indoors or out, be easy to sell, and can be melted down when they are no longer useful. 

If I want a standing work surface, I'll set plastic bed risers under the feet of one table. If I want elegance, I'll drape one with a plain king-sized bedspread or brown paper drop cloth set under a smaller top cloth. If I want a medieval dressing table, I'll drape one to the floor with the best textile I can field, top it with something smaller and washable, and set out candlesticks, mirror, tray, and accoutrements. Luggage, storage bins, dogs, and toddlers can live under the thing.

It's righteous to scrounge and inherit home furnishings. It also makes sense to set up like an inn keeper with multiples of the same things so that a space is flexible and rationalized. Add white utility china, putty-colored cotton drop cloths, clamp-on shop lights, and you're in business -30- More after the jump.