Saturday, December 31, 2005

We flip for rock 'n roll

According to the ultrasound, one of the babies is currently head-down, and one is head up. They say that the babies will turn towards sound, so we applied some Neil Young.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Carless in Seattle

I'm having myself a little thought experiement. Could we live without a car?

Of course, really the question is "could my wife + 3 kids live without a car, in Seattle". It requires a great deal of tact to explain to someone why you are taking away their car, and why they'll like it. And I don't have a lot of tact...

We live in the suburbs now, but suppose we lived in the city? My understanding of city life is that things are easier to walk to than to drive to. And that buses in Seattle are very good.

Remember that we're talking about TWO newborns and a very active 4 year old.

Anyone reading this that has lived carless in the US with a family? Any advice?

The growing family

A bit of news for my readers: our family is growing. New baby coming, and all that. Should be arriving in a month or so.

As part of this, I've been trying to figure out some logistics.

For example, we have one car, and like it that way. Can we fit 4 of in a Saturn SL2? I like taking the bus to work. I'm slightly more likely to walk or bicycle places, and I certainly could use the exercise. When my son & I ride the bus to a museum or something, the bus ride is part of the adventure. I never have to pay for parking in the city. I'm reducing my contribution to traffic, fossil fuel consumption, noise, and air polution. I don't have the stress of negotiating rush-hour. I can read on the bus.

Living in suburbs makes the no-car thing a bit harder. There are fewer busses that pass my home. Everything is a little further away, as you have to walk past homes with yards & cross wide streets to get to it.

We just got some news this past week. We're having twins. I'm still feeling a little stunned. We'll be a family of 5! Suddenly I have to repeat all the logisitcal planning...

5 of us certainly won't fit in the car we have, if you remember that 2 of the passengers will be in rear-facing infant carseats for 18 months. In fact, there aren't a lot of cars that will fit all of us. We'll be trying out some station wagons, but it may be too tight. Could get a crown vic and own the road. :-) Otherwise, it's minivan time.

Friday, December 23, 2005

An attempt at spelt pita

My son may have a wheat sensitivity, so we've been trying to keep wheat out of his diet. Good pita bread is an food for me - something I grew up eating. So I decided to try my hand at a spelt pita.

I asked my arabic grandmother to help me make some. She was used to refined wheat flour, and we were using a strange oven, so I'm not surprised it came out a bit odd. I did get a picture.

Old paint

While doing work around the house, I found myself in the middle of another task.

One thing we've managed to collect in this house is old paint.

When you paint a room, you think "I'll save one can of this extra paint, for touch-ups". I don't know how realistic that is - I can't think of a time when we've touched up a room, at least beyond the first week after painting it.

Anyway, the collection was quite... extensive.

Some of the paint was clearly in bad shape, and that I'll get rid of.

However, there are many cans of paint in various colors that might be useful, just not to me. Perhaps you want to paint a wooden box to be a play prop for a kid. Or you are in a theater group, and want to paint props there.

If you have an interest in taking this paint off my hands, let me know.

What I mean by 'debt'

I mentioned the idea of 'debt' in my previous post.

I picked up this idea from the Agile software community, where they call it "Technical Debt". Let me attempt a definition:

- When an activity creates an unmet need, that need is a 'debt'. As long as that need is unmet ("the debt remains unpaid"), you continue to incur increased cost ("interest").

Here's a simple example. I cook breakfast for my family. After we eat, there are some dirty dishes. I could wash them now, or leave them until later. If I leave them, the food will dry on, and it will be harder to wash them later. If I try to cook something else in the kitchen, I have to work around all the dirty dishes in my way, which makes the new task more expensive, too.

Just as with financial debt, it sometimes makes sense to pay it off now, and sometimes to wait and pay later (with interest). For example, if I need to get to work early, then it may be worth it to leave the dishes.

With my finances, I don't live with debt. I don't have a car loan, or an ongoing credit card balance, or unpaid student loans. Partly this is because I am fortunate enough to make a good income, but many of my coworkers spend all their money & more, and end up in permanent debt.

BTW, the one debt I do carry is a mortgage. I think this is a wise debt to carry. We were already paying a rent before buying a house, so the majority of the monthly obligation is not new. The value for that money is high (large house + land vs. apartment). A very small portion of each payment goes to the principle, so it's not lost. The tax breaks from owning a home are very good. Most importantly, the value of the home has increased substantially, causing a major growth in equity.

Working at home

I took 2 weeks off for vacation at the end of the year, and decided to use one of them to work on the house. I asked my wife to make a list of all the things she'd like me to do - painting, hauling, electrical, whatever. We'd prioritize, and then I'd spend a full 40 hour week doing it. The second week I planned to relax.

Obviously, part of the goal is to pay off some of the accumulated debt in the house. (Not a financial debt, but a need that I created at some point.) The other part of the goal is to see how it feels. How much of this work can I really expect to do myself? What can I learn to do, and do successfully? Will I be able to stay motivated enough to do this work? Will I always need to pay an expert?

I've been doing that work all this week. It has gone well. The biggest surprise is how each task generates more tasks.

For example, there was "seal the grout around the tile in the downstairs bath". While doing it, I noticed some tiles that were really loose. They came off with 2 fingers. Underneath, I found that the drywall had rotted away some time ago, and someone had filled in the gap with some kind of cement, which also came out with my fingers. The drywall is quite mobile here, so to fix it, I'd want to pull out more & look in to bracing it better. Time to call a professional.

So, this means that the downstairs bath is not available for bathing, so I took a look at the upstairs shower. The water flow was always a bit low, even when we moved in 8 years ago. But both it and the adjacent sink had gotten *really* slow for hot water recently. We have steel intake pipes, which are about 45 years old (they won't last much longer).

I disassembled the shower head and cleaned it out. While it was off, I turned on the shower, and the water flow was high. And brown. Rust was pouring out in the water. Once it turned clear, I jiggled the faucet, and more brown came out. Kept doing this until it stayed clear.

Reassembled the shower head, and now the shower has acceptable flow.

However, with all that water coming out so fast, now the drain doesn't do it's think fast enough, and the shower fills with water.

As I was removing the drain cover, I dropped one of the screws down it. Now I need to go buy the exact right screw to fix it.

Cleaned out the gunk from the drain that I could see, but it still doesn't drain fast enough. Next step is to grab the plunger.

Figured I should clear the downstairs bath drain as well, so I opened it up. Could see gunk, but couldn't really reach it. Regular pliers couldn't, either. I knew I had needle-nose pliers, but couldn't find them.

Pulled all my tools out of my tool area and sorted them. Spent a few hours figuring out how to arrange tools. I don't want duplicates of everything, and I'm not very good at keeping things organized as I use them. In the end, the overflowing shelves of tools became neat & clean, with some shelves empty. It was amazing how much trash I pulled out of there.

The biggest collection in my tools working on electrical stuff. I have face places, 120V receptacles, Ethernet jacks, an insulated staple gun, fish tape, etc. I think electrical (both high & low voltage) is the kind of home work I enjoy the most.

Finally at the end of the day, I had pulled the gunk out with the needle-nose pliers.

However, the drains still don't work. That's for today.

Oh, and the TODO list is bigger today than when I started on Monday.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Power on

In a continuation of yesterday's power adventures, today I did a some more outlets.

I made the 2-prong outlet properly grounded, as I mentioned.

I replaced 2 switches. The new ones are higher quality, so I'm feeling good about that, too.

I went to do the last outlet, and ran in to trouble. When I went to screw in the new outlet, I couldn't get one of the screws to take. The box was plastic, and the screw hole had stripped. Also, while working on it, I had cracked the box on the side, which didn't seem like a good thing.

I wanted to replace it, but it was securely fastened to a stud (good!). Actually, it was rivetted to a metal bracket which was nailed to a stud. I was able to get behind a wall in another part of the house to get an idea of what I was dealing with.

I basically demolished the box with random tools, pulling out the peices as I went. Then I used a prybar to pull the nails out, which was a HUGE PAIN IN THE ASS.

Once that was done, and my ass had recovered, I installed the new box, new outlet, etc. All good. I also stopped to praise my choice to buy some extra gang boxes yesterday.

Other interesting notes from the experience:

- 2 of the walls in the kithen had wallpaper, which was painted over. Bad. Some of it tore while I worked, and now there's a white blemish next to a light switch. Need to touch that up.

- While working on the plug that I didn't get along with, my 4-year-old flipped some breakers. Scary.

- I actually did manage to give myself a little jolt. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't exactly painful.

Time to pause being an electrician. Tomorrow I go back to moonlighting as a software developer.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

power corrupted

(This is a bit of a departure, topic-wise, for my regular readers. It'll be interested to see if it resonates with anyone.)

As part of my work in the kitchen today, I replaced two power outlets. We had already decided to freshen them up, to make them all white & matching. These two were quite an experience, though.

First, they appear to each be on a dedicated circuit.

One has relatively modern 2 conductor + ground, 12ga wire. What's odd is that the breaker is 30 amps! If I could convince myself that it really was a dedicated circuit, I'd replace the outlet with a 20 amp one, which might be nice to have.

The other one has the same wiring as the rest of the house: It's all 12 ga, with cloth insulation. The ground wires never go in to the gang box in the whole house. That seems weird to me, but maybe that was how they did things back in 1959. (yeah, my house is ancient!) In this one case, however, the ground wire was screwed in to the back of the gang box, which was metal, so the outlet could be grounded. Everywhere else the gang box is plastic, and the outlet is 2-prong.

On top of this, the gang boxes were just screwed in to the drywall with wood screws! Not even with a drywall anchor. So as I starter my work, the screws pulled out of the wall. Uggh.

Off to the hardware store to buy some old work gang boxes. Had to cut out the wall a bit to fit the boxes just right. In the end it all went back together fine, and looks good.

Tomorrow I replace the other two outlets in the kitchen. One is 2-prong, even though the gang box is grounded (I tested). So it'll be going to 3-prong.

Weird wiring in this house. And I'm still trying to make sense of the 30A breaker on the 12ga wire...

back in the salad again

While in the Far East, we had some work done on the house. In the kitchen we had the cabinets refaced, a new countertop, a new cooktop, and a new floor.

So before we left, we had to pack up everything and empty the kitchen completely. This, at the same time as packing for a trip. (We also had to empty the family room, but that's for another blog.)

When we came back, the kitchen wasn't quite done (as expected). We were able to use it, but we couldn't stock it yet.

Finally on Thursday the work was done. We cleaned up after the work (mostly sawdust), and now the kitchen is ready for the stuff to come back.

However, we're trying to reduce how much stuff we have. One of the techniques I've used a couple times is to take away a bunch of stuff, and then see what comes back. Whatever's left after a certain time period goes to the thrift store. So instead of unpacking all our stuff back in to the cabinets, the kitchen is full of boxes of as-yet-unused stuff.

To make things more interesting, we decided not to bring the microwave back in to the kitchen. Furthermore, we found out that the dishwasher is kaput, and the new one is still on the way.

This means that all heating of food is on the stove, and all washing is by hand. Is it possible to live in the suburbs in 2005 with neither a dishwasher nor a microwave? Well, we'll find out.

Today was a big day. I got the ginger soda starter & kefir going again. I started a batch of yogurt with a starter I brought from my grandmother. I set up an oatmeal ferment for breakfast tomorrow. And I replaced two power outlets.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Where in the world is Jay Bazuzi?

In the United States, yesterday was Thanksgiving Day. If you're feeling cynical (I usually am), this is the day when Americans:

While I live in Seattle, WA, my dad's family has gotten in the habit of meeting in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. That's where I am now*.

It's a nice opportuntity to see all these people (16 in all). We rent an enormous house. Each couple cooks for one day (breakfast, lunch, dinner). The food is quite varied, and gets more interesting each year.

There are some aspects of this trip that are particularly challenging for me. I'm not looking for sympathy, though.

  • The long plane trip (I'm pretty big and don't fit well; I'm traveling with a small child)
  • Squeezing the 3 of us in to a bed that fits 2
  • The TV. We don't have TV at home, and these people seem to watch it all day.
  • Loads of chemical-ridden, low-nutrient, high-sugar & white flour foods

The worst TV was certainly the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It's so false: the singers are clearly lip-syncing, there is little talent on display, it's supposedly a parade but really it's a TV specimercial. The "reporters" are totally idoitic. People insist on keeping this thing on the TV for the entire length of the program.

To balance out the bitching, there is some stuff I've really enjoyed:

  • The variety of food
  • Rest & relaxation
  • Talking with my family
  • swimming in the very cold ocean
  • watching the wind, weather, and waves change
  • seeing my son have a blast playing with my younger cousins

Tomorrow morning we pack up our stuff & head out. First it's back to Virginia to see more family for a couple days, and then I return home to Seattle. Shortly after I get back I'll return to fermentation. Ginger soda, here I come!

*Satellite imagery on MSN Virtual Earth was much better than Google Maps

Monday, October 31, 2005

It's alive!

Note: I wrote this some time ago, but never posted it. It's not finished, but I'm posting it now anyway.

Good news: my new ginger starter is bubbling.

I'm keeping it in the oven with just the light on, to encourage it to grow a little faster.

Sunday morning I arrived in the kitchen to make breakfast. Took a peek at the jar and saw a ring of tiny bubbles around the edge.

Late Sunday afternoon I checked again and found that the entire surface was covered in bubbles. Yes!

Now that the starter is ready, I'm realizing that I'm not ready.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Lots of food made today

Note: I wrote this soem time ago, but never posted it. Here it is for your enjoyment.

1. Fermented oatmeal and fried eggs for breakfast

I picked up some steel-cut oats yesterday. It's quite different than the quick/rolled oats I'm used to. It takes 40 minutes (instead of 5) to cook, so it's certainly not as convenient. You can't even leave it - it needs regular stirring.

2. Sourdough bread

It's baking right now. Contains only water, spelt flour, and a pinch of sea salt.

3. Sauerkraut

Picked up a head of organic cabbage yesterday. Fresh cabbage really works better than week-old. (I have a bad habit of buying ingredients and then letting them sit in the fridge for a week.)

4. Ginger soda starter.

Took the sediment from a very good bottle of ginger soda and combined with sugar, fresh organic grated ginger, and water. Not bubbling yet, but I'm hopeful. I keep it in the oven with the light on and the door cracked, to create a warmer environment. (I keep my house at 64deg F, and a lot of stuff grows pretty slowly at that temp.)

5. Kombucha

My last batch of kombucha seems weird - it grew very slowly. At 2 weeks the new babies were very thin. Even at 4 weeks they're not very substantial. But it sure is sour!

6. Failed chicken stock

I had a chicken stock going for two days. Cracked the lid open to get it to reduce faster. It all boiled away, leaving only a scum at the bottom. Damn. At least I was able to get the pot clean.

As you can see, I've been busy!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

How to undermine the entire establishment

Want to be part of the antidisestablishmentarianism movement? Too bad, I don't know what that means.

My brother mentioned the idea of becoming "corporate". He got himself a regular haircut & took out some peircings, etc.

Here's my off-the-cuff reply:

You're not really corporate. Realize that the idea that how you look defines who you are is a huge marketing ploy, mostly from the folks who want to sell you clothes & makeup. The broader ploy is that buying product A vs. product B defines who you are. They even sell anti-corporate values. Want to reducing the impact of logging? Buy recycled paper. Want to reduce polution from cars? Buy a hybrid car.

In actuality, the only way you can truly disarm corporate power is to not buy from them at all. When they stop getting money, they lose power.

One way to reduce how much you spend is to reduce how much you earn. Earning less has other implications, so then the challenge becomes "discover happyness without money".

Another way is to only buy from non-corporations. It's hard to find people doing things that aren't big money for someone. When I do, I try to jump at the opportunity. My son and I saw a street musician on Sunday. He wasn't very good, but we gave him $5 anyway. I know that 100% of that went to the musician, not the RIAA. We buy milk and butter directly from the farmer (actually we own part of the herd!).

Saturday, September 24, 2005

In search of the perfect breakfast

My wife says that it's a sign of extreme vanity to tell people what you had for breakfast. Same with blogging. So, here goes.

fermented porrige

1 cup organic, large-cut oatmeal. Purchased in bulk so there's less packaging. Not sure if "large cut" is the right term, but it's not as processed, so it's more nutritious

1 cup filtered water, warm. Filtered to remove the floride they put in our water.

a couple tablespoons of kefir. As an innoculant (a supply of bacteria & yeast that I want to grow). The kefir is homemade, and not sweetened in any way. It was made in raw, organic milk from my herd share, which means I'm supporting a particular type of economy: the local, independent craftsman.

Mix and let sit for 24 hours.

In the morning, bring 1 more cup filtered water to a boil. Add the water-oatmeal-kefir mixture. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Split between 2 bowls. Add 2 tablespoons of raw, organic, handmade butter to each (from the same guy that brings me milk), and a teaspoon of raw, unfiltered honey. Mix and eat.

It's a little different tasting than I'm used to, because it's a bit sour from the overnight fermentation. That fermentation is supposed to improve the nutrition value of the food, by removing some unwanted substances, and making the vitamins more accessible.


Eggs have a lot of different nutrients in them: enzymes, antioxidants, protien, fats. To get the most of these nutrients, eggs should probably be eaten raw. I'm not yet used to that idea. Also, our eggs are farmed by people who assume they will be cooked. Otherwise they would probably have some extra steps to make eating raw eggs safer.

We buy eggs from two sources: Whole Foods Market (aka "Whole Paycheck"), and the farmer who brings us our milk. He trades milk with another farmer for eggs. I like the fact that these eggs are a mix of colors and sizes.

My favorite way to eat eggs is fried, with the yokes runny. This is apparently a good way to get the nutrition from the eggs, as heating up the yokes destroys the enzymes, and scrambling them destroys the antioxidants.

I also try to use plenty of butter in the cooking (from the milkman, as mentioned above). I know that this butter is particularly nutrient rich, and supports the kind of economy I want, so I don't hold back.

1 tablespoon butter in a stainless steel pan. I'm trying to get away from teflon. Medium-low heat to gently melt the butter without burning it. I bought the pan from the thrift store for only 5 bucks. At that price, I can abuse it and not worry about wasting money or the resources that go in to producing a new pan.

Once it's melted, gently add 3 eggs to the pan. Gently so the butter stays between the eggs & pan, so it won't stick.

Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the eggs. I do it early so the salt grains get in to the eggs, instead of sitting on top, which seems to be good for flavor.

Cover with a plate. The pan didn't come with a lid. This also warms the plate, so the food will stay warm while I eat it. Eggs taste better warm.

Because I keep it on such low heat, it takes a little while to cook. During this time I'll clean the kitchen or prepare a glass of kefir.

Once it's done, I slip the eggs on to the plate, and fill the pan with water.

Typically there's a little bit of egg that sticks to the pan. Sometimes it's a lot, and my eggs get all messed up. I can avoid that by using 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 butter. If things get burned on really badly, I will use steel wool to remove it. I've read that steel wool will scratch the surface, making it easier for things to burn in the future. That's a little annoying, but at least I don't have to worry about damaging some expensive, fancy pan.


To drink, I'll often prepare a glass of kefir. As mentioned above, the kefir is made with raw milk from the herd share. It's the most nutrious milk I know of, and it supports that economy I like.

1 pint kefir in a large glass.

5-7 drops of stevia leaf extract. This stuff is a very powerful sweetener. I don't want to use a lot of it, because I really want to get out of the habit of eating sweets. But stevia sure makes kefir enjoyable. At 7 drops it's like a milkshake.

1 large drop of organic vanilla extract, in a non-alcohol solution (I think it's glycerin).

Cod liver oil

When I remember, I take a tablespoon of cod liver oil. Since I'm eating plenty of butter with this breakfast, it's a good time for the oil.


Here's where the breakfast needs work, still. Sometimes I have a banana or other piece of fruit. I really need to find a good vegetable to include. (see previous post). Any suggestions?

Cod liver oil

I try to take a tablespoon of cod liver oil regularly.

I keep a bottle in the fridge. I pour it in to a spoon and take it straight. Most people can't stand the flavor, and need to hide it in a drink, or take it in capsule form. I don't like the taste, but it doesn't bother me much.

I worry most about the capsule form. Capsules are medicine-like, and I know that both capsules of code liver oil and medicines are the result of a massive industry, which does a lot of harm. I think of Merck's effective lobbying campaigns. Also, the capsules are pretty expensive, so you end up sending lots of money to the makers, encouraging them to make more. Still, I know that it can be tough for people who don't like the taste of the straight stuff to get the nutrition their bodies need.

Speaking of which, what is the nutrition that I'm looking for? Mostly, it's vitamin A. From what I've read, the vitamin A in cod liver oil is very dense, and relatively easy to assimilate. Weston Price found that the ability to use this vitamin depended on the "Price Factor" in carefully prepared dairy, so I try to take it near the use of butter at breakfast.

I recommend daily cod liver oil for people who plan on making a baby in the next 6 months, and for pregnant and nursing women. It's great for the baby. (Yes, even dad's nutrition before making the baby matters a lot.)

Vegetables and Fruit

For most of my life, I rarely ate vegetables, and didn't each much fruit. I'm now eating mostly organic produce, and I eat it more often, and I strive for the "local and in season" model for produce.

But I still have a lot of room for improvement.

I'll often have a banana, because they're yummy, convenient, and easy to eat. We get them from Pioneer Organics, which delivers a box of organic produce every week. I am careful to select local produce whenever possible, but bananas are never local to WA state. Also, they only ever have the Cavendish variety, which is at risk. I'd like to find a way to support biodiversty, by not eating so many Cavendish bananas. However, other types are not often available. Also, bananas are never local and in season in WA state, so I would do well to eat other fruits instead. I remind myself that monocultures are good for multinational corporations and diseases, and diversity is good for the little guy.

Fruits have quite a lot of sugar in them, but at least it's unrefined. My body recognizes that sugar as a sign that these are good to eat, and sure enough, they are full of nutrients. Especially because I am pretty strict about eating only organic fruit. Non-organic fruit is worse in a lot of ways (poisons affect the farmers, the fields, and me; fertilizers allow overfarming, resulting in produce that lacks nutrients and spoils more quickly; organic produce must sell on taste, because it cannot sell on appearance, so it tastes better). However, as we head in to autumn, there are fewer and fewer local and in season fruits.

I would like to find a variety of real vegetables that I like to eat. I say "real" because so many of the foods we think of as vegetables are really fruits: zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers. We like them because they're sweet; they're sweet because they're fruit. They still have nutrients, but the sugar:nutrient ratio is going to be better in, say, spinach than, say, cucumber.

Some thoughts on salt

I don't know a whole lot about table salt, but there are a few things that I keep seeing. If the topic is interesting to you, I suggest you do some more reading.

Refined salt contains only NaCl (and iodine in a form that may be toxic, and an anti-caking agent that could be bad, too). You do need NaCl in your diet, but you also need dozens of other minerals, some in trace quantities.

Unrefined sources of salt that our ancestors used (bone broths, sea salt, etc.) had a complex mix of minerals. The refined stuff triggers the "I want" reaction in your mouth, but without delivering the other minerals that evolution has taught us we should find there.

A certain type of economy

I've started considering this in a lot of my buying decisions. How can I support a local, indepdent craftsman, and avoid supporting a large, multi-national corporation?

The local guy does this work because he cares about it a great deal. He is motivated to optimize for quality & pride over profit.

There's a great article by Charles Eisenstein that I love. In fact, I really enjoy just about everything that guy writes. Here he talks about a model for groups of about 20 to do food production on their own and share the results.

I also like a related article by Sally Fallon, although there's some stuff that I like to ignore (comments on global warming, drugs, and deforestation). The part I do like is the idea that by doing local, small-scale farming & food making, you create a richness in the local economy. The richness manifests itself in a strong community, a reliable safety net, and an outpouring of creativity.

Friday, July 29, 2005

El Toro Polo

An El Toro is an 8 foot sailboat. There's not a lot of room in there. I'm pretty big. Really, it's like being in a bathtub.

I took my son out on Wednesday for "El Toro Polo". There was ostensibly a game involved, with a ball & goals & stuff, but mostly we just sailed in around & tried not to capsize.

He took over the tiller, as usual. It was a relief, since I had to reach behind me to grab the tiller.

They seem to tolerate bumps pretty well. I guess it's because they're so light. I let him dock (with instructions), and he was telling everyone he saw about it for the rest of the day.

Here are some pics. (You can also see my new haircut.) I'm trying blogger's new image hosting service:

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

a model for selecting food

As I mentioned before, I like to eat meat. I enjoy the taste of animal fat. I don't shy away from it.

Why not?

Shouldn't I be afraid of high cholesterol? Of heart disease?

Maybe, but I'm using a different approach to diet than the ones recommended by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the United States Department of Agriculture.

(I have some complaints. For example, the FDA's recommendations on avoiding food-borne illness in schools don't mention reducing sugar in your diet. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria & weakens your immune system so you can't fight it off easily.)

Here's the model:

I trust my body's food instincts in inverse proportion to how processed the food is.

That is, the less processed it is, the more I trust my instinct. Let's try some examples:

I'm hungry & in a 7-11. I spy a Hostess Twinkie. "mmm, looks yummy". I should ignore that instinct, as a Twinkie is one of the most processed "foods" I can think of.

I'm hungry & in my backyard. I spy the carrots growing in the garden. "mmm, looks yummy". I pull one out of the ground, wipe off some dirt, and eat the whole thing, including the tops. (Cutting off the tops is processing.)

I'm hungry & in my kitchen. A glass of raw milk has been sitting on the counter for a while, but I'm not sure how long. I wonder if it has gone bad. I smell it. If it smells fine, I'll drink it. Same if it seems a little sour but still tasty. Otherwise, throw it out. Human sense of smell is very good at detecting certain substances in trace amounts, including the results of spoilage. I trust my nose.

However, if it is ultrapasteurized milk from a cow that received antibiotics, I don't trust my nose. Pasteurized milk hasn't been around long enough for humans to evolve instincts to detect if it's safe to drink.

Raw sugar is extremely processed (90% of the cane is removed!), so it makes sense that my body's instincts throw me off. I really like the taste of candy, chocolate, cakes, cookies, etc. But I can't trust my body to tell me if I need those things or not, because they are so processed. Compare to some organic, local, in-season fruit. If I take one bite of a peach and suddenly want to eat a dozen peaches, then I should just do it. My body knows what fruit is about.

So, to eat well:
1. Select unprocessed foods
2. Eat whatever you want

hot meat!

I'm sitting here at my desk eating some chicken thighs for my lunch. I just pulled them out of the microwave down the hall. They're good.

Thighs have more fat than, say, breasts, which is yummy. This I understand.

There's a little salt on them from when they were cooked a few days ago. Salt is yummy. This I understand.

But there's something else. The very fact that the meat is piping hot makes them taste better.

Why is that? I'm not sure, but I have two theories:

1. The fat melts in the heat, allowing it to flow out of the meat & into my taste buds. As I mentioned, I like the taste of animal fat.

2. Humans have evolved to eat fresh meat. Fresh = the beast's heart is still pounding out its last beats. Just before its eyes fade, it sees you take a bite of freshly-carved meat, its blood dripping down your chin. Meat tastes best at body temperature.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sailing with inlaws

My inlaws got in to town yesterday. It was a beautiful day & it was a good day for me to skip out on work. We headed to CWB & rented a Blanchard Jr. Took it around the lake for a while & had a good time. For a while we sailed close to the houseboats on the east side. Residents were out on the porches enjoying the afternoon sun. Pretty cool.

After we docked I put away the boat while my son went to play with the Pirate models in the model pond. (The pond is a part of the lake surrounded on 4 sides by docks.) I arrived 15 minutes later to see him sitting in his grandma's lap sobbing. Then realized he was soaking wet. Found out that he had fallen in the pond, having lost his balance. He was not injured in any way.

I know it was very scary for him. I also know that chances are we will all end up in the lake if we sail often enough. I'm glad it happened on a nice day, with a live vest on, with people nearby, on the docks instead of in the middle of the lake, and that we had a change of clothes for him already.

It's important to explore the possible emergencies so you can prepare for them. Now I know that the life vest works. He knows that falling in is a real possibily and is really un-fun.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Sailing with the son

Saturday I decided to take my 3.5 year old sailing. He needed to get out of the house, and his mom was feeling ill & needed rest. So we grabbed our gear & drove downtown. Of course I had forgotten that the SR-520 bridge was closed, and had to take a long detour along with the rest of the normal 520 bridge traffic.

We got there eventually & rented a Blanchard Jr. Knockabout. Reid came out to the bow to help me rig the jib, which he was pretty excited about. Then I sailed us in to the lake & gave him the tiller. He steered most of the time, until it was time to come in. We had an argument about who would dock! I was surprised just how sure he is that he can dock. No fear, I guess.

It was a real blast for both of us.

Sunday I went back. Taught a class in the morning (didn't touch a line or tiller the whole time!), and crewed on the Nautilus II in the afternoon (neat boat, but not much for me to do).

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

4th July boats

Over the 4th of July weekend we visited the Tacoma Tall Ships Festival. I was pretty excited to see the Mexican Navy's 270 foot (LOA) wooden ship, Cuauhtemoc. But the crowds were enormous, and transportation painful. Literally. Plantar fascitis is plaguing my foot. I never got on a boat.

We also went to the Center for Wooden Boats for the Wooden Boat Festival. I volunteered to work selling merchandise early in the morning, so I could spend time with my family the rest of the day. I woke up at 6:30am on 4th July! There was no traffic; it was surreal. However, by 4pm we were way to tired, and want home to crash. We saw a few sparkling lights through the trees, but not much else.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


We have way more raw milk than we are using, so I'm looking for other interesting things to do with it.

Yesterday I tried curdling it with vinegar. Warm it up, pour in vinegar, wait a few minutes for it to curdle, strain. The result was like ricotta, but really, really yummy. The whole process took about 20 minutes. I can tell I'm going to do this again.

The only raw milk cheese you can buy in the US is aged 60 days. No soft, raw cheese for you! Unless you make it yourself...

If I'm careful not to overheat the milk, the active cultures remain, so it's even better for you.

I call it "rawcotta".

Saturday, June 11, 2005

raw milk in Seattle

What is Real Milk?: "The source of most commercial milk is the modern Holstein, bred to produce huge quantities of milk three times as much as the old-fashioned cow. She needs special feed and antibiotics to keep her well. Her milk contains high levels of growth hormone from her pituitary gland, even when she is spared the indignities of genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone to push her to the udder limits of milk production."

Real milk:

- is from cows that eat grass, not grain
- is processed cleanly, instead of using pasteurization to make up for the filth
- in not homogonized
- is high in butterfat (yum)

Rules vary by state, but it's hard to get raw milk in most places.

One way to get it is to own your own cow. Most people don't want to be farmers, so you can hire someone else to care for your cow. As the cow owner, you are entitled to the milk from the cow.

We own 2/1000ths of a herd ("2 herd shares"), which entitles us to 2 gallons of raw milk / week.

If we don't drink it all, I make yogurt, which keeps a long time.

It's a bit more expensive than organic milk, but that makes sense. I'm paying a farmer to work even harder to keep my milk clean. Also, it's a small operation, and the farmer is local, so the economy of scale doesn't factor in.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Want to try some?

I want my reader(s) to know that I'd like to share what I make.

If you are in my area (Bellevue, WA), and see anything mentioned here that you're curious about, let me know & I'll set aside a pint jar for you.

My stock changes quickly, but right now I have plenty of:

All that I ask is that you bring the jar + lid back.

hard cider (I hope)

Wild Fermentation has a simple recipie for hard cider.
  • Get a 1gal jug of organic apple cider.
  • Take off the lid.
  • Let it sit at room temperature for 2 weeks.
We had a leftover 1/2gal of organic apple juice, so I thought I'd try to use that. After a few days mold was growing, so I tossed it. (The jug went to the ginger beer.)

I got a fresh jug, opened it, and added 1Tbs of live whey as an innoculant. Just a little something to give it a better chance of turning out well.

I have seen a few bubbles appear on the top, but I'm not sure if much is happening. I'll try it soon.

the ginger beer experiement

I've been trying to get a ginger bug going for a while. I finally got one going & made a batch of natural, fermented ginger soda. I had a 1gal glass apple juice jug to use as a fermentation vessel. I went to mix up ingredients, and on a whim decided to double it.

Yes, I made 2 gallons of ginger soda.

It scaled well. The only part that was really a lot of work was juice lemons. I did it by hand, with only a fork to help me. 5 is my limit. I'll try to find a basic juicer, so that lemons scale, too.

Ingredients: ginger bug (ginger, water, sugar, 1Tbs whey), ginger, lemon, sugar, water.

After putting the mix into the vessels, I put the lids on, but left them loose. As it ferments it generates carbon dioxide. Loose lids lets excess CO2 escape, and also lets it displace the O2 at the top. After a few days I tightend the lids. As the pressure builds, this disolves CO2 in the liquid, making it fizzy.

Tonight I decided to try some. It was fizzy, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, and very gingery. (Note to self: use less ginger for wider appeal). I like it, and I bet ginger lovers will like it, too.

What I've made here is basically soda, but it's good for you (organic ingredients, ginger, lactobaccilus) unlike commercial soda (corn syrup, high glycemic index, carmel color, processed flavors, caffine, and no nutrients of any kind).

kombucha after mold

After the kombucha mold issue, I did some research to see what I could do about that.

It turns out that trying to keep things really clean (or even sterile!) isn't going to help much. There's a lot of mold spores everywhere, all the time. Not much chance of keeping it away.

However, you can do a lot to make things unfriendly for molds. They don't grow on really acidic stuff. So the trick with kombucha is to drop the pH as quickly as possible.

Remember that when you make kombucha, it goes like this:
1. Brew strong, sweet tea
2. Cool to body temperature
3. Add a peice of a kombucha "mushroom" and 10-20% fresh kombucha from a previous batch.

The "mushroom" (pancake, sponge, SCOBY, whatever) has the most cultures in it. The previous kombucha is primarily to lower the pH.

I like my kombucha a little sweet. After 5 days, I find it very yummy. I am trying to limit my sugar intake, so I'm more sensitive to sugar than most people (who drink a lot of cola). That also means I want to let it go a little longer, so the culture removes more sugar. I aim for about 7 days.

(I really should taste it every day until it reaches the tartness I like.)

Anyway, one of the tricks for preventing mold is to use a very acidic starter. Let a batch brew for 15 days and it will be very acidic. Hard for most people to drink, but a good substitue for vinegar on a salad.

So I started up 2 batches:
  • A large batch (3qts of kombucha in a 4qt bowl). Used distilled vinegar to help lower the pH. After 7 days, drank it & started a new batch.
  • A small batch (1qt in a 2qt bowl). Let it go a long time to lower the pH. Will use this for starters only, not for drinking.
Last night I harvested the 2nd batch from the large bowl, and was getting ready to use the small bowl to start a new large batch. All was going according to my sinister plan, until the hot water cracked the bowl. It was ruined.

Hopefully I'll find a replacement at the thrifts store. Even better, I'll find 2-3 good bowls, and be able to make enough kombucha to share with friends.

lots of yogurt

Yogurt. I make it every couple days. We're not drinking all the milk, and I hate to see it sour. Yogurt keeps well (one my best batches I finished after a month, and it was still great). You can eat it plain, put it on savory foods (soup, meat, etc.), or add jam for a desert.

I have a bad habit of eating an unhealthy snack (muffin, cookie, danish, etc.) mid-afternoon. I'm too hungry to make good eating choices, and there aren't any healthy options around. So I've started taking some yogurt w/ jam to work to be that afternoon snack.

One of the neat things about these homemade ferments is that they scale so well. I typically make 1/2 gal of yogurt at a time. If you buy one of those little yogurts in the store, it's probably 1/2 cup. That means I make 16 servings at a time.

The last batch was really thick. I don't know why it was thick, and the others are drinkable. I won't use pectin or powdered milk; just milk + a Tbs of yogurt as a starter.

Still learning.

beet kvass results

beet kvass. This was interesting. It was quite salty, a bit sour, and very beet-y. The rest of the family didn't like it, but I thought it was OK.

I have finished the first batch (2 quarts), and the second batch is sitting in the fridge. It should keep well.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A new ferment

Today I started a new ferment: beet kvass.

It's a simple one:
3 organic beets
- washed
- peeled
- corsely chopped
1 Tbs salt
1/2c of active whey (as an innoculant)
2 qt water

Put it in a jar. Mix. Wait 2 days.

After it's fermented, you can strain out the beets, add more water, and ferment for 2 more days.

Beet kvass is supposed to be a great detoxifier.

I started a 3rd attempt at a ginger bug. This time I added a little whey to help it get going. We'll see if it worked later this week.

Finally, some bad fermentation news. The 3qt batch of kombucha I started last week wasn't souring quickly. Today I noticed a spot of mold. Dumped the whole thing in my compost bin.

I would have liked to start a new batch, but I was out of tea. Hopefully I'll pick up more soon.

Note to self: don't skimp on the starter (a bit of fresh kombucha that lowers the pH of the batch).

Saturday, May 21, 2005

continuing the CWB trip

I was going to CWB for two reasons:

1. To volunteer. I like CWB and wanted to give back. This day they were having a "work party", so I figured I could get a lot of volunteer hours in.

2. To take the Sail the Museum Pieces class.

On the 3rd & final bus, on walked Vern, the everpresent desk personality at CWB. He had his CWB hat on, and I my CWB shirt. We chatted on the way there, and he said he was short on sailing instructors for the day's lessons.

So, instead of working in the boat shop to clean it up, and then paying for sailing, I volunteered as a sailing instructor all day!

Vern had been pushing me to become an instructor for a year, but I always figured there would be some training, evaluation, advice, practice, etc. But instead I was thrown right in to it. Well, it's a good way to learn.

It was awesome. I ended up spending a lot more time on the water than I would have if just renting. I got to practice all my nautical vocabulary ("tiller to port to head up. trim the jib", etc.), and show off my docking-under-sail skills.

I figure I learned as much as my students - from refining my sailing skills to figuring out how to teach it. And I racked up a bunch of volunteer hours.

Turns out that the Museum Pieces class was canceled anyway. I'll take it next month.

I hope I didn't too much damage to my students!

A novice bus rider.

Woke up early, packed warm clothes & food for the day (including homemade yogurt!), and caught the bus. It takes 3 to get to CWB from my home.

At the transfer to the second bus, there was a young woman waiting, and she seemed a little apprehensive. She said it was her first time using the bus, and she wanted to make sure her route would work. I looked over her tripplanner printout and confirmed that it made sense. After chatting idly for a bit, we realized that her itinerary was from a Friday, and we were traveling on a Saturday. Saturday schedules are a little different than weekday, and her plan was to transfer at the Evergreen Point stop, which is actually on the highway (SR-520), right before the bridge. It seemed like an uncomfortable place to be waiting for an hour if her intinerary wasn't going to work out.

I offered to use my Pocket PC Phone (with web browser & GPRS) to help her figure out the right route. Unfortunately, as the bus sped along the highway I couldn't get a good signal & load the web pages.

She decided to take her chances at Evergreen Point. However, she didn't ring the bell. She walked up to the front of the bus and surprised the driver just as he was about to accelerate away from the stop.

I hadn't occured to me that anyone wouldn't know how to signal for a stop. I guess it really was her first bus trip.

If you haven't taken a bus before, here's the info: either pull the string or push the yellow strip. It will light up a sign that says "STOP" or "STOP REQUESTED". Or just talk to the driver about where you want to go.

Anyway, I hope she got where she wanted to go, and without too much hassle.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A small trip to CWB

Center for Wooden Boats has a "3rd Friday speaker" program. Today the speaker was talking about a member of his family who was a sailor in the Age of Sail.

I took the bus to CWB from the Factoria area. There were 7 of us at the bus stop. When the bus arrived, I could see that it was packed full. After 4 of us got on, the driver said he couldn't take any more, and closed the door. The other 3 were left behind! I've never seen that happen before.

It turns out they were all going to see the Mariners play. When we got to the stop for Safeco Field, the everyone got off and suddenly the bus seemed empty. 10 passengers?

I finally got to the lecture about 10 minutes after it started. The speaker's relative was crew on the barque Queen Margret (265ft, 4 masts) a century ago. It was an interesting talk.

The talk ended a few minutes early, and I started to work on figuring out the bus ride home. I realized I wouldn't get home until at least 9:30pm (having left at 5:30pm). A 4 hour excursion for 45 minutes of speaking? It hardly seemed worth it.

After talking to my wife, decided not to catch the bus home. Instead ate dinner at a restaurant alone (with a book, imaging that I live alone with a cat).

Passed out shortly after returning home, exhausted.

online registry - for all occasions!

Just saw this headline: U.S. to launch sex offender registry Web site. This is the opportunity to buy the perfect gift for the sex offender in your life. No more guessing wrong & buying junk they don't need.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005


As you know, I'm trying to do more of my own food preparation. I hope to make food that is better for us. That has spread to gardening. We now have strawberries & carrots growning, and just bought two tomato plants. This morning I got a mail from my wife that a friend of hers has two egg-laying chickens that she wants to give away. Should we take them? I don't know anything about chickens, and I don't know if I balance the responsibility of caring for chickens, caring for my family, caring for myself, and work. But it means very fresh, known-good eggs for the family. And it would probably be a good experience for my son.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

thrift store / kombucha

Sunday I picked up some stuff at the thrift store. A pair of blue jeans. Some odd T-shirts (the one I'm wearing now says "GO VIKINGS - inglemoor high school fight song - Pep Club"). A few small mason jars ($.29 / ea). And a 4 quart glass bowl.

Last night I tried to boil 3 quarts of water in the microwave. This is going to take getting used to. I figured that 1 cup of water for tea takes 3 minutes to boil. 3 quarts = 6 pints = 12 cups * 3 minutes = 36 minutes. We didn't feel right about leaving the microwave on for a 1/2 hour, so we started with 15 minutes. When I came to look at it, the water was steaming & I thought the bottom of the microwave was wet from boiling over. So I took it out & put in the 5 tea bags. Then I added 1 cup of sugar. The tea brewed pretty slowly. (The water had not boiled at all; the sugar cooled it down more.)

Finally I decided it was ready and added the mushroom + started from the last batch. Then I remembered to actually check the water temprature and it seemed a little too warm. I was able to hold my finger in for 10 seconds, but moving it around was a little uncomfortable.

Anyway, now it's sitting on the dining room table, and we'll see what happens.

The last batch was good. The mushroom was thick & white. I cut it in 3 peices which I will share with friends if the new batch goes OK (if I didn't totally screw it up).

This morning I enjoyed a large glass of kombucha before coming to work.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Quiet here?

Something has happened in my life that is too personal, and too tragic for me to share to the anonymous blog-reading public.

I'm feeling so sad about it that it's hard to think about blogging.

Then I think about the other people in the world who have been through something similar, or something worse, and I think that they may find comfort in this story.

I'll think about it...

gift economies

I found an interesting blog post:
I've been thinking about how ... much more valuable is the relationship between me and my neighbor than between me and my

Right on! I think when I make my next kitchen creation, I will deliberately make too much, and share the extra.

For most ferments (beer, sauerkraut, kombucha), the cost of ingredients is low, but the work is significant. However, you can do anywhere between 1 quart and 30 gallons for about the same amount of work. So I can just double the recipie and make the rest a gift.

If you see any foods mentioned here that you'd like to try, and you are willing to come get it, let me know ahead of time & I'll set some aside for you.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


Kombucha is a sour, fizzy drink. Imagine a cranberry soda.

Here's how you make it:

  1. Beg, nag, and spam for a starter. They're a bit hard to come by.
  2. boil water (1qt)
  3. steep a few tea bags to make very strong tea (2 bags)
  4. add sugar (1/4c)
  5. cool to body temperature
  6. add kombucha "mushroom"
  7. add kombucha from a previous batch (1/2c)
  8. wait a week

The "mushroom" is an odd structure that kombucha creates. It's also called a "sponge" or "pancake", but it's none of these things. Some call it a "S.C.O.B.Y." (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts), which really just means that we don't know what it is.

From what I've read, kombucha is a bit delicate. Weed organisms may take hold, making it go "off". The 1/2c of kombucha from the previous batch helps set the pH so that kombucha will dominate.

I put it in a wide bowl, put a few long strips of tape over the top, and draped a cheesecloth over it. The cloth allows air to flow in, but keeps out bugs which like the sugar.

Instructions say to keep it somewhere it won't get disturbed, so I used the guest bedroom. They say to start tasting it at 5 days, but I figured the guest room was cooler than the rest of my already cool house, so I let it go a full 10 days.

Today I tasted it (slipped a straw under the edge) and it was really, really sour. 10 days was perhaps a bit much. It was also very tasty.

So I decanted it & started up a new batch.

At first, my 3.5 year old refused to try it based on smell, but eventually decided to take a taste. My wife liked it from the beginning. I think it's delicious.

I'm making the above recipie at 1.5x the stated measurements. Making 1.5qt of kombucha / week just isn't going to cut it for a family of 3, I suspect. I will try to find a bigger bowl, and maybe get two batches going at once (1/2 week apart from each other, perhaps).

You can also put the kombucha in bottles & let them continue to ferment, which becomes more bubbly. I picked up some Grolsch bottles on ebay which I intend to do this in.

I used some good quality green tea, since I don't want caffeine. You can also use black tea & oolong tea. You can't use herbal tea, as kombucha wants to grow on real tea.

The starter you get comes in two parts: a mushroom and a small amount of fresh kombucha. It's possible to get started with just one if you don't have the other, but it's a bit risky. I'd be happy to share my kombucha with anyone who wants to come pick it up. I live near Microsoft in Bellevue, WA. You can also look for sources of Kombucha online

See also the Original Kombucha Yahoo! Group.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Hi Jessica

Jessica-the-receptionist for my building is reading this right now. Everyone say "hi"!

Sharing nourishment

Since being introduced to Nourishing Traditions in December, I've been doing a lot of experimetation.

My fridge now has a gallon of chicken stock, 1/2 gallon of kimchi, 1/2 gallon of sauerkraut, and a quart of fermented marmalade. I make a quart of kefir / day.

I am just getting in to Kombucha, sourdough, and ginger beer. Miso, beer, wine, and vinegar are on the todo list.

I'm always on the lookout for sales on organic vegetables at the natural grocery store.

The fridge is looking pretty full.

It would only take a little bit of effort to double all my recipies. It takes lot more effort to add a new food to the menu than to make more of something that's already on the list. I really enjoy providing these foods to my family, but I have to balance the time with my job.

I found a kindred spirit in this article: I'm starting to think about how to engage other families to share our resources.

- I could try to find a neighbor that something to share. Even if we only trade one food weekly, it could be a big win.

- I could move out of the suburbs to somewhere I can farm. I'd have to quit my job to make this work. Would be good to share this with some other families so that we can specialize & share.

- I could make everything 2x and try to sell the extra. However, I'm not really looking for a second job. Money isn't a problem; time is.

- Suppose I put a fridge in my carport and put extra food in there. Well-labeled. At your convenience, probably weekly, you drop by with a couple gallons of whatever you have just made, and help yourself to whatever is in there.

Anyone in the Bellevue/Redmond, WA, USA area want to share? Drop me a line.

Monday, April 18, 2005

FermentaWeekend - Pancakes with yogurt

Made pancakes for breakfast. Instead of syrup I put homemade yogurt on the pancake. Homemade yogurt from good milk tastes amazing. Last time I put cardamom and nutmeg on them, which was good, but this time I just forgot.

I'm trying to reduce how much sugar I eat, and using yogurt on pancakes is one way to do it.

The yogurt was from the week before. However, I read a note that yogurt tastes best the day after you make it. I am asking myself what it would take to make yogurt in small batches nightly. Is there a way I could optimize it so that it wouldn’t be a big burden?

Suppose I skipped the step of sterilizing by heating it to 180 degrees:

- Turn on oven light to preheat
- Put 1qt of milk + 1T of yogurt in a containter. Mix.
- Put it in the oven, leave it overnight.
- Move it to the fridge.

Maybe I'll try this when I get raw milk in a couple weeks. Raw milk does a little better if you leave it at room temperature - it sours instead of rotting to putridity. Perhaps that means that this minimal approach to yogurt can work for raw milk.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

FermentaWeekend - Friday

Wow, what a big weekend of fermentation.

Friday night my son fell asleep early, the my wife & I worked on cleaning the kitchen. We had fallen behind, and it needed the work.

We ate a chicken at dinner, and had the carcess all cleaned. We also had a bunch of bones in the freezer that we bought at Whole Foods. Chicken feet, turkey backs, and a turkey neck. All went in to a big pot of water, with a little carrot, celery, and onion (in big pieces). Brought to a boil, and then lowered to Low to simmer for a while.

Strained the kefir and combined with flour (1c of each). Covered & let sit next to the pot, where it would keep warm. This predigests the flour, making nutrients easier to absorb.

Left this going overnight.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

In the cabbage patch

I had two heads of cabbage sitting around that I was meaning to make in to sauerkraut, but didn't have time.

One of the reasons I didn't have time is that on Thursday night I went to see a speaker on parenting issues. In particular, power struggles. One of the main lessons for me was that getting enough sleep is important for family harmony. And one way to encourage that to happen is to turn off the TV & computers after dinner.

So Saturday night we did just that. Now I needed something to do. So I invited my 3 1/2 year old to join me for making sauerkraut.

I figured it would include some of his favorite things:

- Hitting. Cabbage instead of people
- Salt. Lots of it.
- Time with Dad.

So I cleaned the counter, and started slicing cabbage. His job was to grind coarse sea salt on to the cabbage, load it in to the crock, and then grind some more salt.

He would step every minute or so to take apart the salt grinder, or to eat salt off the counter. He knew I was watching, so he would try to hid behind his hand or turn away. Heh.

Finally we got all the cabbage loaded in to the crock, and I put the plate on top. It was too tight a fit, snagging on the sides of the crock. Then I remembered Sandorkraut's advice to put some of the previous batch on top to help it get going. I added enough to hold the plate up & stop it from binding.

The new batch is now fermenting away, and the previous batch is packed in to jars in the fridge. I had some with dinner last night. Yum.

I also started a sourdough starter last night. Combine flour & water. Stir daily. Feed it every 3 days or so. In a week you'll have "naturally leavened" dough, ready to go. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A crock of...

Last week

Nice weather last week, and I celebrated by walking to/from work, instead of taking the bus. I haven't really done any exercise since the weather turned wet in the fall, so my body needs this.

I stopped at the Uwajimaya to look at fermenting stuff. What a find. They have all kinds of asian vegetables that will be great for fermenting. Kimchi goes on the todo list.

They also have raw fish for making sashimi. I bought a 1oz strip of tuna (only $26 / pound!) and ate it on the walk home. It feels really odd to be gnawing on a strip of raw flesh while walking in the suburbs. I’m sure I’ll get used to it…

There’s always a small risk of getting sick from eating raw food. If it’s clean, fresh, and carefully prepared, and your body is health, the risk is pretty small. Just to be on the safe side, I drank a tall glass of Kefir when I got home. (The good bacteria in the Kefir will compete with any bad bacteria elsewhere.)


Saturday we went to a super-thrift-store. It's an odd beast, the cross between a Walmart and a flea market. You never know what you'll find, and it will take a couple hours to really browse the whole store.

Since I got in to fermenting, I've been looking for ceramic crocks. I prefer to keep live foods in ceramic or glass, avoiding plastic and metal. But I hadn't found a real crock until now. Most of what google finds are small and decorative, not for cooking. I did find that the Harsch fermenting crock starts at only $110!

So I was excited to see crocks at the thrift store. They had at least 8, for under $10 each. Jackpot! I bought 3. They didn't even charge for all the dust that had collected in them!

I also picked up a set of 4 glass plates to use as lids, a meat pounder, and an old-fashioned hand blender.

We then went to the local gourmet natural grocery store. It's expensive, but because of St. Patrick's Day they had organic cabbage on sale for $0.79 / pound. I bought 4 cabbages to supplement that cabbage that was already in the fridge.

At home, I thoroughly washed all the new stuff & cleaned the kitchen. Then I cut up 3 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut. I salted as I went, loaded it into a crock a bit at a time, and beat the crap out of it. The idea is to pack it down enough that the juices come out of the cabbage & cover it. This will keep mold and aerobic bacteria from growing on the cabbage. (The salt also helps, keeping the bad bacteria from growing, only allowing Lactobacillus to grow).

While pushing down pretty hard with my fist, some cabbage slipped & I twisted my wrist. It hurt, but wasn’t strained. 10 minutes later I did it again. (2 days later, one of the muscles in my forearm is sore, but I’m ok.) I did break the crock, however. A crack down one side & across the bottom. Oh, well. For $6, I can let it go.

We had been low on milk for a while, so I paused the kefir production by putting it in the fridge. We bought 5 bottles of milk (1/2 gallon each) at the store. This milk is really tasty, and non-homogenized.

I used 1 quart to start a new batch of yogurt. Left it sitting in the oven with the light on overnight.

Kefir grains go dormant if they sit in the fridge too long, so I brought out all of my grains, even the backup grains I was keeping. I used them to start 5 batches of Kefir in various jars. I figured I had run up a “kefir debt”, and needed to pay it off.

The kefir I strained that night was mixed with flour for fermented pancakes. Combine 1 cup flour & 1 cup kefir. Let sit 7-24 hours, to predigest the wheat. Use in your regular pancake recipe.

I finished at 1:30am, too tired to make the other 2 heads of cabbage in to anything.


Sunday afternoon we stopped at Uwajimaya to get dinner. I bought supplies for miso (a tub of raw miso, koji, soy beans). I also picked up two 8oz strips of raw tuna. One I cut up and dipped in soy sauce to eat. Yum! The whole family liked it.

I brought out some of the just-decanted sauerkraut from last week. My wife says she likes it, which is wonderful. My son isn’t so interested, however.

I took a bunch of the freshly-made yogurt & hung it up to drain. I had a few false starts, where it just poured straight through the cheesecloth. Ended up using a linen napkin. The result could be called cream cheese, but we call it lebne. It’s awesome spread on bread.

After dinner I prepared 8 tomatoes for salsa. We also had a box of cherry tomatoes that I halved. Add to that 8 or so sweet chilis – the flavor of red, yellow, and green bell peppers, but they look more like a hot chili pepper. Then 4 small hot chilis. Ideally I would blanch, peel, seed, and dice them all. But I just didn’t have the energy, so I just diced them. I split into two batches – the hot chilis + 1 head of garlic, diced went into only one batch, since my son doesn’t like spicy food. Add whey from the lebne, salt, oregano, and lime juice. (Wanted to add onion, but didn’t have any). This is packed in to a jar & is currently sitting on the counter. My instructions say 3 days, but I’m tempted to go longer.


Work day today, not as much time or energy to ferment stuff. Walked home and picked up a strip of yellowtail from Uwajimaya. Wasn’t as nice to eat as the other fishes. Salmon was my favorite, but they add artificial color.

Came up with a big list of things to make tonight. There’s 2 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut, kefir to strain, the other strip of tuna from last night (to ferment), Arabic bread to go with the lebne, a “ginger bug”, a wild sourdough starter. Not enough time for all of it.

I found that the koji had been sitting unrefrigerated. I’m thinking that 24 hours isn’t a problem. But since my miso will probably take 18 months, I don’t want to take any chances.

The kitchen was a mess (which is fine) but the dishwasher was full of dirty dishes. Can’t do much with that. Started it up, but it takes so long that I can’t reload tonight.

Found that the yeast in the fridge was 3 months past the “use by” date. There’s a way to test the yeast for activity, but I’ll need to look that up first.

The series of disappointments put my in a crappy mood, so I did the minimum & got out of there. Kefir & fish. Chilling out in front of the PC with a fresh kefir in hand.

It’s 1am now. Should I go back to the kitchen, or call it a night?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Saurkraut and other ferments

We continue to do daily kefir. We use 2 1qt jars. There’s some space for air, some kefir lost on various surfaces, and I put a bit of the fresh kefir back in the next batch to help it get started. The upshot is that I actually get 1qt of fresh kefir out of each batch.

The amount we drink varies each day. I try to keep about a quart of fresh kefir in the fridge to give us some flexibility.

I have backup grains in the fridge that I will share with anyone who wants. I try to pull these out about once/week & run a batch of kefir with it. This gives me a little extra to store in the fridge, and wakes up the grains so they don’t go into a deep sleep.

For breakfast yesterday I made pancakes. Whole wheat flour, kefir, butter, salt, baking soda, bananas. Ideally I’d mix the kefir & flour the day before, to culture the wheat a bit. I’ve read that makes it easier to digest.

Saturday night I started another batch of yogurt. The first batch, from last week, was really good. Some of the credit goes to the very good milk we use. This week’s batch was much more sour, but still good. I plan to make Lebne with it, and use the whey that comes out to help get some other ferments going.

My darling wife brought me a gift of a head of cabbage. Last night I chopped it up, covered it in salt, and jammed it in to a jar. I pushed down with various kitchen utensils until it looked well packed. The juices did come out enough to cover the top. A heavy glass filled with brine sits on top to maintain pressure. This will be sauerkraut (I hope).

My friend John Bain brought me some of his grandmother’s kimchi, which he says is the best. I’m no kimch connoisseur, but it was very good. German sauerkraut is a cultural transplant of kimchi & other Asian fermented cabbages. I intend to make kimchi in the future.

With St. Patrick’s day coming up, cabbage has gone on sale at the grocery store. We think of corned beef and cabbage as being very Irish, but we’ve forgotten that traditionally it was a fermented foot. Both the corned beef & cabbage were fermented.

Capt. Cook’s exploration of the Pacific was supported by sauerkraut. At the time, sailors would get sick a lot due to poor nutrition. Cook’s crew was unusually healthy, thanks to the 600 lbs of sauerkraut that he carried. Well, so I’ve read.

I’m going to take advantage of the sales & make a bit of extra sauerkraut over the next couple weeks. It will keep well :-)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Next fermentations

Sunday evenings seem to be a good time to get something started, and tonight I got a little crazy.

Ginger beer. Grated ginger, lime juice, water, salt, whey, sugar. Will let it sit on the counter for 2 days. It's suppsoed to be really good for quenching thirst after hard outdoor labor in the sun. I'll drink it anyway.

Potato cheese. Mashed potatoes, kefir. Will let it sit for 2 days, then strain through a cloth. We have a lot of potatoes, but don't really eat them often, so I figure this was a good choice. If we don't like it & throw it out, it won't be any worse than letting them sit on the fridge & grow something else...

Yogurt. It's an easy one, so I'm going for it. Heat milk gently on the stove. Add live yogurt as a starter. Let sit in the oven with the light on overnight. Move to fridge. Will use for:

Lebne. Strain yogurt through a cheesecloth. Spread on bread. I grew up eating this stuff.

I've asked my wife to buy a bunch of whatever organic vegetables are on sale. I'll ferment them, which means I'm preserving them to use over the next month.

Oh, and the other day we walked by a yardsale where they had a huge box of glass jars. $1 for the whole thing. Deal! Gonna need it....

Did I mention the kefir juice? Someone left a pint of juice here, and we don't drink much of the stuff (too much sugar). So I tossed a few kefir grains in & let it sit for the week. It has become more tart. Not sure how much longer to leave it until it's "good"...

Traditional Salsa

I've been reading up a bit on fermented & cultured foods. One of the things that I find fascinating is that these foods have been part of just about every traditional diet. Saurkraut, kimchi, tzatziki, and kvass were all traditionally prepared with active cultures.

Americans today eat very little live food.

One of the other commonalities I've found is that many of these foods are made in almost the same way:

- Cut/shred a vegetable
- add salt
- add whey or more salt
- add some ingredients for flavor (e.g., garlic, herbs)

Mix & press down into a jar. Add salt water ("brine") until it covers the veggies. Put a weighted cover on to hold the veggies under the brine. Wait 2 days - 1 week.

I tried this once to make ginger carrots. We had 2 bags of baby carrots, and I grated them all. Bad idea. Next time I'll use full-size carrots! I let if ferment for a week, but decided I wasn't ready for the unusual taste & threw it in the compost.

Next I tried kefirkraut. It's saurkraut made with kefir grains to get it going. I let it ferment for a week, tasted a tiny bit, and threw it out.

30 years of a diet without fermented foods. It's going to take me some time to get used to it.

Next attempt was salsa, with a recipie from Nourishing Traditions. Tomatoes, onions (didn't have any, so I skipped it), chilis (didn't have any, so I used a yellow bell pepper), garlic, oregano, salt, whey, water. Fermented for 2 days. Tasted it, and it was delicious. Let it sit an extra 1/2 day to get a bit more pungent. Moved to the fridge.

I used a spoonful or two with every dinner until it was gone.

Success at last.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Including my family

A reader asked:

Not to be nosy, but what does your wife and child think of your living
simply quest?

There have been a lot of 'I' and 'My/Mine' in the posts...

Good question.

My child is young, but he did tell me he wants me to work less & be
home with him more

Most of my ideas would make life for my family less convenient, a fact that has not been lost on my wife. I don't want to be taking away the facilities that they depend on every day. For example, when I propose moving to a smaller home, I am taking away the generous indoor playspace they have today.

At the same time, my wife & I agree that we want to consume less energy, produce less waste, spend more time together, make our work more meaninful, and improve our health. We also agree that we are overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we own. We are reminded of this fact every time we clean for guests or before the maid service comes. (Yes, we clean the house so that we can pay other people to clean the house!)

So as long as I remember to be senstive to the needs of my family, they are interested and involved in the plan.

The two threads.

If you look over my posts about how to live, you may see some conflicting ideas. That's because there's really two different things going on:

1. Live simply. Don't let the stuff I own own me. Give up stuff I don't need + some stuff I do like to free up time. For example, I have removed 4 computers from my home, which means I don't have to spend time maintaining them. I give up the power of those PCs to gain the time.

2. Live frugally. Don't buy as much stuff, reduce my dependency on civilization, waste disposal, energy sources, and my job. Do more for myself instead of paying someone else. Cook my own meal instead of eating out.

Sometimes these ideas work together: moving from a suburban house to a cheap city condominium means I save money on the mortgage, don't have to pay anyone to mow a lawn, can get rid of a car & walk instead.

Sometimes they work against each other.

If I want to start cooking all my own meals, instead of eating out, I would like a well-equipped kitchen to make it more convenient. But that means having a large enough kitchen to keep all the appliances accessible. I'd want a nice set of knives, which need to be in a knife block on the counter, instead of in a drawer.

If I want to grow my own vegetables, then I'll need land (not a condo), and various gardening implements.

Man, simplicity is complicated!

Living simply in the kitchen

What's the minimum you need in the kitchen?

I have a microwave, a conventional oven, a stovetop, a Foreman Grill, a waffle maker, a toaster over, a coffee maker, a rice cooker, a slow cooker, and a bread maker. All except the microwave pushes electricity through coils to make heat to cook food.

If I were living on a small boat in the middle of the ocean, could I get by with a small oil-burning stove?

I have a blender, a food processor, a wisk, and a bunch of plastic & wooden spoons. (I don't have a mixer, but most people do.) Could I get by with just 1 spoon?

Knives seem to be a critical part of a kitchen. When cooking, I really enjoy the feel of a good knife. A sharp blade, heavy, well balanced, a gentle curve to the blade, and a wide edge on the non-cutting side (to push with my other hand). Could I get by with just 1 or 2, if I take really good care of them? I think I'd like to learn to make a knife myself...

I'd need a small and a large bowl, a skillet, a large pot, and a cutting board.

One thing I'm overwhelmed by today is those little plastic food storage containers. They have to be carefully nested to store and carefully matched with lids to seal. They stain with tomatoes, scratch with knives, and maybe leach nasty chemicals if microwaved.

200 years ago, waht did they do with leftovers?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Living without heat

A while back I heard an article on NPR about a writer who lived & worked in her home without heat, even in the dead of winter. She talked about how she wore many layers, but that she still was pretty cold in her office, which was on the north side of the house. She also talked about how it helped her connect with the many people in the world who don't have a choice: they live without heat, clean water, medicine, etc., and suffer for it.

I live in great comfort, but I find myself questioning it at every turn.

If anyone can point me to a transcript of the article, or to internet resources about this person, or other people making similar choices, I'd be greatful.

Vacation Kefir

We are visiting my inlaws, and have been here for 2 weeks now. All told I'm away from work for 3 weeks this time; the longest since I started at Microsoft 8 1/2 years ago. But I haven't been completely disconnected, instead spending a lot of time on the laptop playing with C#.

This week the weather was great, and we've spent a lot of time outdoors (and barefoot!). I'll miss that when we return to Seattle.

My mother-in-law makes a drink called Kefir. Humans have been drinking it for 12,000 years, so there's a lot of variation on how it is prepared & consumed across various cultures (pun!). She makes it by simply putting Kefir "grains" in to a jar of raw milk, and letting it sit on the counter for 24 hours. She then strains it & it's ready to drink. They mix some sweetener in, but I've been enjoying mine plain. It's slightly tart, and slighly effervescent.

One of the interesting things about Kefir to me is that it represents an about-face in my relationship with microorganisms. The conventional wisdom is to strike them out - wash hands, disinfect utensils, pasteurize, refrigerate, etc. With Kefir, you instead cultivate more microorganisms, the kind you like, and they overpower the bad kind. Consider: the "grains" are used continiously for months, never referigerated, and constantly immersed in raw milk. It never goes bad!

If you see someone with a cold, do you think "stay away, I don't want to get sick"? Or do you think "I am taking good care of my body, so I know I'm not likely to get sick". I'd like the latter.

I've also been reading about other related brewed/fermented concoctions, like traditional salsa or saurkraut. It looks like every culture has a history of using these with meals. It preserves food without refridgeration, predigests so you can more easily absorb nutrients, and adds more nutrients to what you eat. Good deal.

Could I live in 2004 without refridgeration in my home?

If I sail around the world, not having a fridge or icebox (or just having a very small one) would sure make things simpler.

Must keep exploring...
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