The Elf and Ethics

The Elf is a kind of aerodynamic, electric assist tricycle with solar panels to charge the batteries. It’s a type of vehicle, somewhere between a bike and a car, that a number of inventors have tinkered with over the years.

Good arguments exist for and against this type of transportation. On the one hand it uses far fewer resources than an automobile. But one could also argue, as does the owner of a bike shop in this video, that we’d all be better off with a far simpler and less expensive bicycle. I can see both sides of the argument. Perhaps younger folks should take to bicycles and older people or those with disabilities or heavy cargo could use something like an Elf. Plus the Elf would be better in bad weather.

One issue not brought up in this video are safety concerns during a theoretical transition period from hulking Hummers to lightweight human and battery powered vehicles. Is the greater risk I’m taking (by choosing a lightweight vehicle over an SUV) worth the ethical/ecological benefit? If everyone else is driving a big heavy vehicle don’t I need one too?

Separating bikes and cars partially solves this conundrum to some extent, but not for transitional vehicles like the Elf. I would not want to see an Elf on a bike path and I’d not also not want to be in an Elf vs. auto collision.

I think there’s a future for vehicles like the Elf. But we’ll have some ethical, as well as technological issues, to sort out.

Saturday Linkages: Of Gut Microbes and Hyperbolic Bronnerianism

The Futura House: a prefab tiny house from the tks.

The Futura House: a prefab tiny house from the 1960s.

It’s time to bring back the #futurahousehttp://www.thefuturohouse.com/ 

The Surprising Gut Microbes of African Hunter-Gatherers http://www.wired.com/2014/04/hadza-hunter-gatherer-gut-microbiome/ …

FDA says, keep lilies away from your cats http://barfblog.com/2014/04/fda-says-keep-lilies-away-from-your-cats/ …

Sophisticated sundial clock in Medellín, Colombia http://blog.ounodesign.com/2014/04/12/sundial-clock-medellin-colombia/ …

Grand Theft Seafood: Popular Farmers’ Market Fish Vendor Arrested on Multiple Charges http://www.kcet.org/living/food/the-nosh/grand-theft-seafood-popular-farmers-market-fish-vendor-arrested-on-multiple-charges.html …

‘The Complete Modern Blacksmith’ by Alexander Weygers: http://boingboing.net/2014/04/17/the-complete-modern-blacksmi.html …

Is there a better name for cross-contamination: kitchen cutting boards remain a source of multidrug-resistant bact… http://barfblog.com/2014/04/is-there-a-better-name-for-cross-contamination-kitchen-cutting-boards-remain-a-source-of-multidrug-resistant-bacteria-after-use/ …

Lloyd Kahn’s Chicken Coop In the Spring http://lloydkahn-ongoing.blogspot.com/2014/04/chicken-coop-in-spring.html#.U0_9zC0aWeg.twitter …

First Person: Carlos Morales brings bicycling culture to east LA http://www.scpr.org/programs/first-person/2014/04/17/36891/first-person-carlos-morales-brings-bicycling-cultu/ …

Adding Value and Building a Strong Town: Lancaster Blvd. http://feedly.com/e/utyzx_rS 

Observation hive extraordinaire http://www.honeybeesuite.com/observation-hive-extraordinaire/ …

Make a notebook from a brown paper bag: http://boingboing.net/2014/04/15/make-a-notebook-from-a-brown-p.html …

Feel the burn… winter burn on conifers: http://feedly.com/e/lYCTSgqL 

Hyperbolic Bronnerianism in Graphic Design – Boing Boing http://boingboing.net/2009/04/13/hyperbolic-bronneria.html …

Alamogordo Landfill: Buried in the New Mexico sands are believed to be millions of copies of Atari’s E.T. video game http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/alamogordo-landfill …

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

On the Back Porch of America

I rag on Hollywood a lot. But today, for a change, I get to point to something positive. Root Simple pal and LA bike revolutionary, Ben Guzman and his business partner Angela Wood produce videos, through their company Small Medium Large, that readers of this blog will love.

Small Medium Large’s series, The Back Porch of America, is like the Foxfire books come to life. You can watch a couple of episodes here. This is what television would look like if we dispensed with false reality show drama and treated subjects with respect. Four more episodes will come out later this year.

Small Medium Large also did a piece on Root Simple pal Doug Tiano. Doug’s been making a whole army of soft sculpture copies of himself. Watch if you dare as Doug reveals his own underbelly shadow!

Small Medium Large has a bunch of other great videos on their website. Who needs Netflix?

Dry Climate Vegetables

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Here in Arrakis, I mean California, we’re in the midst of a terrible drought. And unfortunately, most of the seeds we buy for our vegetable gardens are adapted to require lots of water. One solution is to find veggies that have reseeded accidentally without supplemental irrigation. Here’s a short list of reseeding rogue veggies from our garden that have thrived with just the small burst of rain we got last month.

Continue reading…

Plant Thievery

jackedcactus copy

Arrow points to missing barrel cactus. Will the cactus on the right be next?

I know I’m supposed to be Mr. Groovy Permaculuture Dude, but it’s hard not to get angry when a barrel cactus gets jacked out of the front yard. The irony is that I planted this cactus to keep people from stealing the nectaplums higher up the front slope. Clearly I need to either let go of it all and accept the free exchange of the universe thing or plant a giant man-eating Venus fly trap to protect the barrel cactus.

Have you experienced plant thievery? Comments!

Picture Sundays: The Backyard in Spring

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Thank you Mrs. Homegrown for the amazing planting in our reworked backyard. Version 4.0 of the garden in 16 years? This afternoon I sat down in one of those red chairs and admired the view. We really need to get around to profiling a few of the plants Mrs. H selected. In the meantime here’s a closeup:

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Now I need to get around to building the garden shed . . .

Saturday Linkages: Solar Projects, John Cage and Cat Litter

Build-It-Solar Blog: Four Interesting New Projects from Around the Web http://www.builditsolarblog.com/2014/04/new-and-interesting-solar-projects.html?spref=tw …

John Cage: Mushroom Hunter http://hyperallergic.com/118615/john-cage-mushroom-hunter/ …

The lasting legacy of the Dobson telescope http://www.scpr.org/programs/brand-martinez/2012/09/12/28381/amateur-astronomers-stars-john-dobson-telescope/ …

The most epic Ikea hack ever–stool turned into child’s Draisienne – the Frosta bicycle – IKEA Hackers http://po.st/6gp9HM 

Urban date foraging: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=13259 …

No Men Allowed! Women Build Own Backyard Sheds http://lloydkahn-ongoing.blogspot.com/2014/04/no-men-allowed-women-build-own-backyard.html#.U0N9ikb3-YY.twitter …

Semi-Underground House in Austin, Texas http://lloydkahn-ongoing.blogspot.com/2014/04/semi-underground-house-in-austin-texas.html#.U0MXrljYTKo.twitter …

Cat litter with microcontrolled motion detection and LED counter – IKEA Hackers http://po.st/TQBVbQ 

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

Lila Downs Video Showing Tortilla Making in Oaxaca

Gloria En la Huerta from the Los Angeles Bread Bakers sent me a link to this music video that shows tortilla making in Oaxaca. The song is “Palomo Del Comalito” (Dove of the Comalito) by Lila Downs. Note the huge corn tortillas, proof of the regional diversity of Mexican cuisine (and one of the many details I got wrong in my tortilla press post–thanks for the corrections Gloria).

Lyrics in English after the jump.

Continue reading…

Edible Gardening Lecture at the Descanso Gardens

peaches-rootsimple

Please join us on tax day, April 15th at 2:00 pm for a lecture on edible gardening at the Descanso Gardens. Here’s the description:

Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, authors of “The Urban Homestead” and the blog rootsimple.com, discuss creating a garden that is not only beautiful but delicious! Part of “Get Dirty: A Garden Series by Descanso” on Third Tuesdays. Public admission to the Gardens and the lecture is free of charge the third Tuesday of the month.

Hope to see some blog readers there–perhaps we can walk around the garden after the lecture.

For more information on the Descanso Gardens please see descansogardens.org.

Choosing the Perfect Tortilla Press

81oH3xJUE3L._SL1500_When we moved into our house back in 1998, we used to frequent a neighborhood Mexican restaurant down the street. The decor in this place had accrued like barnacles over the many years it was in business: dusty paper flags, Dia de los Muertos trinkets, waiters with pompadours wearing toreador outfits, and mirrors, lots and lots of mirrors. When you had their stiff margaritas (the strongest in town) the room would spin. Combined with those mirrors, the effect was unintentionally psychedelic. The food? A commentator on a local blog that covered the restaurant’s recent closing described it as, “like ‘Taco Tuesday’ at an elementary school in Kansas.”

One of the many reasons the food at this place was substandard was the store bought tortillas they used. For some reasons, few Mexican restaurants here make their own tortillas. Tired of substandard Mexican fare, I resolved to make my own tortillas. Thus began Root Simple’s “Taco Tuesday.”

The first step was to find a tortilla press. I got a great tip from a library cookbook: get a cast iron tortilla press. Unlike the flimsy ones I found at our local market, a cast iron press will last several lifetimes. And their heft helps when it comes time to press the masa into discs. And I opted for the smaller, 6 1/2 inch press as small tortillas are used in authentic Mexican street food.

Making corn tortillas is much simpler than I expected. All you do is get masa harina (a limed corn flour), mix it roughly 50/50 with water and let the dough rest for a half hour to an hour. Next, you roll the masa into little 2 inch balls and press them between a plastic bag inserted into the tortilla press. The last step is to heat them on the stove for one minute on each side.

Making your own masa from scratch is much harder (I tried it once for tamales and found that it’s a job best outsourced). But you can bet I’ve bought my last supermarket corn tortilla. From now on they’ll be made in our own cast iron press.

Update: One of the members of the LA Bread Bakers, Gloria, put her vote in for the traditional wood press. Cooks Illustrated Magazine also recommends a wood press. Gloria also sent along the following video which shows how you can make your own wood tortilla press:

In the next edition of Taco Tuesday, I’ll describe what we’ve been serving in our tacos.