029 Toasters, a Pledge and a Compostable Christmas

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On the holiday edition of the Root Simple Podcast, Kelly and I discuss non-electric toasters, Kelly takes a pledge and we conclude with a conversation about compostable Christmas decor. During the podcast we mention:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Who Killed the Non-Electric Toaster?

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I don’t regret my unsuccessful attempt this Sunday to fix our broken toaster. It made me remember designer Thomas Thwaites’ attempt to build a toaster from scratch and how well that project showed the complex, interconnecting supply chain involved in manufacturing even the simplest electronic device.

The failure of our toaster was caused by a break in the heating wire. Following these instructions, I attempted to mend the break, but it was in an awkward location and, like most objects these days, the toaster was not built to be fixed.

Disassembling the toaster laid bare the flaws in the design of all toasters. The heating wire (called nichrome wire–short for nickel-chromium) is fragile and extremely vulnerable to an errant bread crust.

I vowed to find an alternative and remembered seeing non-electric toasters that people used to use back in the 1920s when our house was built. These types of toasters have not died out entirely. Most non-electric toaster designs look like the one above. Some Googling  also led us to an innovative looking non-electric toaster called the DeltaToast.

Counter-intuitively, all of these simple stove top toasters coast about twice as much as electric toaster, at least in the US. This leads me to my question for you, our dear readers. Have you used a non-electric toaster? How do they compare to electric toasters?

Note from Kelly:

I noticed that the stove-top or pyramid toaster seems to live on in Australia and New Zealand, judging by the number of businesses I found selling them there. The toasters were also much more reasonably priced than they are here– but shipping to the US was crazy expensive, scudding that possibility entirely. So I’m particularly interested in responses from readers in these countries. Who is buying and using them?

Also, there are many antique stove-top toasters available on Etsy for about ten to twelve bucks, but they’re all rusty and worse for wear.

Saturday Tweets: Air Plants, Nutrition and Empathy

028 Radical Homemaker Shannon Hayes

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Our guest this week on the Root Simple Podcast is Shannon Hayes. Shannon is the author of many books including Radical Homemakers, Long Way on a Little and The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook.

She has a new book of essays called Homespun Mom Comes Unraveled, a smart, funny, moving account of the challenges and joys of living the DIY life. Shannon also raises grassfed livestock on her family’s Sap Bush Hollow Farm. You can find her books (in both hard copy and ebook formats) and farm products on her website, theradicalhomemaker.net. During the podcast we discuss:

  • Grass fed beef
  • Radical Homemakers
  • Gender roles
  • Her new book Homespun Mom Comes Unraveled
  • Messes
  • Making relationships work
  • Perfectionism
  • Home schooling
  • Higher education
  • Student debt
  • Occupy Wall Street
  • Reclaiming the holiday season
  • Shannon’s sock knitting machine

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Saturday Tweets: Barbra Streisand, Urban Farm Troubles and Thoughtful Plants

Pizza Dough in a Pan Recipe

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Renaissance flatbread (this skillet method dates back!). Via pizzanapoletanismo.com.

I’m spending the month of December developing some classes for the Meetup group I co-founded, the Los Angeles Bread Bakers. I’m going to put the recipes on the blog starting with this pizza dough, which is based on Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread recipe. If you try this recipe, please send me some feedback.

A note on flours
My favorite flour for pizza is the Italian 00. This will give you a Neapolitan style thin and crispy crust. If you want a Chicago style pizza with a bread-like texture, go with a high gluten bread flour. You can add a small amount of whole wheat flour but I would not exceed 10%. Pizza is not a health food. It’s a special occasion food and I think it tastes better with white flour.

A note on sourdough starter

This recipe requires sourdough starter. If you’d like to make one, check out our how-to video.

Tools
Digital scale (always use a scale!)
11-inch cast iron skillet or other oven proof skillet
Thermometer

Pizza Dough Recipe

Makes four small pizzas

  • 100 grams sourdough starter
  • 500 grams Double 00 or high gluten bread flour
  • 375 grams 80° F water
  • 10 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) sea salt

1. In lidded plastic container, stir the starter into the 80 degree water until dissolved. Mix all the ingredients with your hands or a dough scraper until water and flour are incorporated. There is no need to knead, just combine the water and flour. Put the lid on the container.

2. Bulk fermentation: 4 to 5 hours. Let the dough sit in your covered container at room temperature. Each hour, stretch and fold the dough pulling the right edge to meet the left and then pulling the left side to meet the right. You can do this stretch and fold without removing the dough from your container.

3. At this point you have a choice. You can divide the dough into 220 gram sections, shape them into balls and then use them to make pizza in another hour or two. I prefer to shape the dough into balls and put them in the the refrigerator, in a sealed container, and use it the next day or even the day after that. A longer, slower fermentation will give you a nice sour taste. Dough can come straight out of the fridge and be shaped into pizzas. You do not need to let it come up to room temperature.

4. Stretching your dough: you can do this by hand, but I prefer to cheat. If you want to do it by hand Peter Reinhart has video here. It’s heresy to admit this, but I use a rolling pin. Stretching by hand is better but using a rolling pin is easier. Your choice.

5. Preheat a frying pan on high heat. Add a teaspoon of oil to your pan. Stretch your dough and put the dough in the frying pan. You have a generous three minutes to add your toppings while the bottom of the crust cooks in the pan. A note on toppings: do not use too much sauce and toppings! Around two tablespoons of sauce will be enough. Too much sauce results in soggy crusts! Start by brushing on some olive oil and then add your toppings. Finish with some salt and/or pepper.

6. After three minutes put the pizza under the broiler until done, probably an additional three minutes. Watch for burning. Remove and place on a rack for a minute or so to cool, then slice and enjoy.

Suggested toppings:

  • Classic Margarita: tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil.
  • Crème fraîche and caramelized onions
  • Feta, figs (dried or fresh), olive oil
  • Pistachio pesto: pistachios, garlic, Manchego cheese, ground in a food processor
  • Eggs: crack two eggs and top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, salt and pepper.

How to Make Great Pizza in a Home Oven

Breakfast pizza with eggs and zaatar.

Breakfast pizza with eggs and za’atar.

Our cob oven makes great pizzas. Why? High temperatures. You just can’t make good pizza in a home oven.

Or so I used to think. This weekend I invited some friends over for an outdoor pizza party but much needed rain put a wrinkle in those plans. I remembered that Josey Baker had some instructions in his book on how to make pizza in a home oven, so I decided to give it a try. I’m happy to report that it works so well that I’m beginning to doubt why I should bother to spend three hours tending a fire to prep the outdoor oven.

Baker attributes this home oven technique to San Francisco street pizza maverick The PizzaHacker. It’s simple. Here’s what you do. Heat an oven safe skillet (we use cast iron) over high heat on a burner. Stretch out your dough, put a little oil in the skillet and put the dough in the skillet. Top your pizza while it cooks in the skillet for around three minutes. Then, stick it under the broiler for three more minutes. That’s it. It works much better than trying to bake pizza on a pizza stone.

Is pizza out of a wood fired oven better? Perhaps, but not by much.

I’ll share my pizza dough recipe in a future post.

027 Michael Wittman on Biochar

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My guest on episode 27 of the Root Simple Podcast is Michael Wittman, CEO of Blue Sky Biochar. We discuss:

And thanks to Root Simple Podcast listener Max Morgan for connecting me with Michael.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Return of the Caftan?

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A hasty blog post on Sunday about a 1970s caftan pattern provoked a passionate response. Craig of Winnetka Farms called and joked that since we’ve already hosted a shoe making workshop we might as well host a caftan making class. That, I said, would make us fodder for Portlandia parody.

Reaction to the caftan post fell into two camps. Baby Boomers chastised my Generation X cynicism and noted that caftans are comfortable and practical. Others thought the idea is as ridiculous as, well, hosting a shoe making workshop and grinding your own flour. In Facebook, someone posted the picture above of Yves Saint Laurent rocking a caftan and “mandals”.

The caftan is from the Middle East and is still part of the the day to day and clerical garb of Abrahamic cultures. It’s a garment that makes a lot of sense in a hot, dry Mediterranean or desert climate. It functions as a kind of natural air conditioning. With each step you get a breeze, a real bonus for a coming era of anthropegenic fashion change.

Its last appearance was during the 1960s. When will caftans return to the fashion-forward Silver Lake Trader Joes?