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

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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.

As Above, So Below

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Inspired by the response to my post on the need to keep our gardens dark, I decided to reclaim my childhood telescope from my mom’s garage and get it working again. It occurred to me that I haven’t looked up at the night sky in a long time. What a shame. This past week I’ve been thinking about how important it is to look up at the stars–just as important, I think, as staying in touch with the plants, insects and animals that make this earth a paradise.

The design of this telescope is called a Dobsonian, after its inventor John Dobson, who passed away earlier this year. Dobson’s life took an unusual trajectory. He went from being a self described “belligerent atheist” to a monk in the Vendanta society to co-founding the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers.  Most of his life was spent bringing the night sky to people around the world and teaching people how to make their own low-cost telescopes.

As a monk, Dobson could not afford expensive materials. He kept the design inexpensive by using a simple mount and cheap materials: wood and cardboard. My Dobsonian was made by the now defunct Coulter Optical Company out of particle board and a cardboard concrete form. Its large 13.1 inch mirror makes it perfect for looking at nebulas, galaxies and star clusters even in light polluted urban areas.

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Primitive astrophotography. I held my camera up to the eyepiece to get this photo of the moon last night.

I have to thank, in particular, Rob J of the San Jose Astronomical Association who sent some links about how to host a star party, how to host a school star party and inspired me to get the telescope out again.

Here’s some Dobson related resources:

Sidewalk Astronomers “We take telescopes TO the public – on street corners, public parks, in front of bookstores -wherever there are crowds of people.”

How to build a Dobsonian Telescope.

Have Telescopes Will Travel–a short film about John Dobson.

Ten Uses for Palm Fronds

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Like the sound of one hand clapping, one of the great unanswerable Zen koans of life in Los Angeles is, “what the hell do I do with all these palm fronds?” Those outside the few places on the earth these monsters grow will be amused to hear that great masses of the fronds drop (80 to 100 feet) in the slightest breeze. Disposing of them is a constant chore but, thankfully, there are a few things you can do with them.

Continue reading…

Saturday Linkages:

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The Japanese art of Furoshiki–a way of making packages with a reusable cloth. Via No Tech Magazine.

Zero waste shopping in Japan with Furoshiki: http://www.notechmagazine.com/2014/04/furoshiki-zero-waste-shopping-in-japan.html …

A solar powered grain grinder: http://www.notechmagazine.com/2014/04/solar-powered-grain-mill.html …

Bee Friendly Gardening In The Pacific Northwest http://www.nwedible.com/2014/04/bee-friendly-gardening.html …

Nesting for a baby with a small (carbon) footprint http://wp.me/p2SaWz-us 

GR takes on shade gardening: Full sun to part shade. Really? | Garden Rant http://gardenrant.com/2014/03/full-sun-to-part-shade-really.html …

How To Make and Freeze Guacamole http://www.nwedible.com/2014/03/make-freeze-guacamole.html …

Sleek Angle On a Community Garden Shed http://lloydkahn-ongoing.blogspot.com/2014/03/sleek-angle-on-community-garden-shed.html#.UzuV0Idkuj0.twitter …

Pop-Up Plaza Enhances Art Walk, Hints at What Could Be in Leimert http://la.streetsblog.org/2014/04/01/pop-up-plaza-enhances-art-walk-hints-at-what-could-be-in-leimert/#.UzuT7Zz9t1A.twitter …

The terminal stage of oil addiction: http://www.thenation.com/article/179113/we-are-now-terminal-stage-our-fossil-fuel-addiction …

Opting Out: An Introduction – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society http://www.psmag.com/navigation/nature-and-technology/opting-introduction-77049/#.Uzs9IwgcJoo.twitter …

How to host a star party: https://sites.google.com/site/aancsite/articles/host-a-starparty …

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

A New Reality

handshake

We received an email from a casting agency searching for talent for a reality show where the participants will live on a remote farm, grow their own food and come up with their own method of governance.  The series will make use of the usual reality show plot device of having participants vote each other off the show. The agency wanted us to put out a casting call.

We won’t do that. I’m tired of stories that sow discord and hold up our lifestyle as something impossible to accomplish. The underlying message? Stay on that couch, don’t try to change the world, just buy the crap our advertisers sell. These type of realty shows are also a rigged version of the prisoner’s dilemma in which the cooperative option (what most people tend to choose in stressful situations) is not allowed.

We need to tell a different story. Bloggers in the urban homesteading movement can join together to cross-promote each other’s efforts. We can continue to offer an alternative through our writing, video, live webinars and, of course, face to face meetings.

I need to step up to the plate too. Years ago I worked as a video editor and cameraman at a university television station and at a PBS affiliate. I need to put everything aside and shoot some video! We don’t need the big networks and the “reality” they churn out. We can tell our own stories. Our narrative will be about people cooperating and sharing knowledge in order to make the world a better place.

If you blog and/or make videos about similar topics please leave a link in the comments.

And for some inspiration take a look at the videos in Kirsten Dirksen’s YouTube channel.

Food Preservation Disasters

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It’s ain’t 24/7 kittens and rainbows at the Root Simple compound. We do have our homesteading disasters. I was reminded of this after I emptied a box full of failed home preservation projects and contemplated a stinky trash can filled with a slurry of bad pickles and too-loose jams.

Of course you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet and, in the interest of learning from mistakes, I thought I’d review two lessons learned.

Not Using Tested Recipes
I vow to use tested recipes from trusted sources. Both for food safety reasons and culinary reasons, it’s a good idea to use trusted sources for home preservation projects. Some of the recipes I tried were from unfamiliar books and dubious websites. Some sources I’ve come to trust:

Between those two sources I’ve got just about all the recipes I need.

lidoff

One Ring to rule them all
When you’re done processing jars and they’ve cooled down, remove the screw bands. Why?

  • So you can clean underneath the band to prevent spoilage and bugs.
  • The screw band can create a false seal.
  • Leaving the screw bands on can cause corrosion.

That’s advice from our own blog and yet I failed, for some reason, to remove the bands on many of the jars I emptied. I found all three of the above problems as a result.

Have you had any epic food preservation disasters?