032 Grist and Toll, an urban flour mill

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In episode 32 of the Root Simple Podcast I talk with Nan Kohler, owner and miller at Grist & Toll, a mill in Pasadena, California–and the first mill to operate in the L.A. area in the last one hundred years. We discuss varieties of wheat, the health benefits of whole grains, how to work with them and why flavor is important. Kelly is not on this episode but will return to the podcast next week.

Links
Ruth Reichl visits baker Richard Bertinet in England

Joaquin Oro wheat

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf

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.

Is it safe to use cinder blocks or red bricks in stoves and ovens?

As how-to book and blog authors we face many questions that begin, “Is it safe to . . . ?” And, for some reason, any post of ours involving rocket stoves sets off a firestorm of incoming Google hits.

An old blog post on a “Redneck Rocket Stove” made out of cinder blocks prompted many to suggest that the cinder blocks would explode due to heat. Leon, of the blog Survival Common Sense, does a good job of refuting this notion in a blog post, “Build a brick rocket stove: Is it safe to use concrete blocks?” The short answer is that those concrete blocks are not going to explode. But if you want something permanent you should use fire bricks and fire clay as mortar so it won’t crack.

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Related to this issue is our use of regular bricks in the hearth of our adobe oven. Most sources suggest using fire bricks or kiln bricks. Kurt Gardella, the adobe master who led the workshop where we built our adobe oven, is a fan of recycling materials and saving money. We happened to have a pile of ordinary red bricks and he said it would be fine to use them for the oven floor. He was right. We have fired the oven many times and none of the floor bricks have cracked. If I had not had the red bricks on hand and I was at the brick yard buying materials for an oven, I probably would have bought fire bricks. But having just paid for sand and straw gives me cheapskate bragging rights.

Opinions? Have you faced this issue?

Saturday Tweets: Toilet Hacks, Egg Laying Charts and Food Porn

031 New Year’s Resolutions

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On the last podcast of the year, we review our 2014 New Year’s resolutions (Erik’s and Kelly’s)–what worked and what didn’t. Then we look at the goals we’d like to achieve in 2015. Lastly, we head out into the backyard to see the secret project Erik has been working on while Kelly was away for Christmas.

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.

2014: The Year in Review

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Randy Fritz and a new crop of Angelino shoe makers.

In many ways it was a challenging year for us. I have not spoken about this on the blog, but my elderly mom faced a significant health crisis in the early months of 2014. She is doing better, thankfully. Through these months we were able to keep the blog going, a measure of how important it is to both of us. We were even able to, after two false starts, launch a podcast and put out 30 episodes. Blogging is a lonely activity, and I’ve enjoyed the reminder, through the podcast, that there are indeed other people in this world.

Kelly is away with her family this week, so we’ll have to wait for her perspective on 2014, but here are some of our posts I considered significant:

January
Analysis Paralysis
Kelly and I struggle with garden design. It’s actually a significant source of marital strife, largely when I fail to listen to her. She is the one with the degree in art, after all. In January we were still pondering the shape of our backyard. And we still are. We did manage to build some nice looking, hexagonal raised beds. Unfortunately, a series of possum and skunk raids, documented on a wildlife camera I got for my birthday, took out almost all the vegetables. I think I have the critter problem solved. Then again, I thought that before. Right now, why Kelly is away, I’m working on a secret landscaping project. Let’s see if she notices . . .

February
Advantages and Disadvantages of Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening
After a successful straw bale garden in the summer of 2013, I finally got around to building new raised beds to replace some that we had taken out. Our lead and zinc contaminated soil necessitates this, but I wish I didn’t have to use raised beds for reasons I outlined in this post.

March
Is Ham Radio Useful?
The jury is still out on this question, to be honest. I got my license late in 2013 (I’m KK6HUF, in case you’re one of the tribe). I have have a handheld 2 meter/70 centimeter radio and a rooftop antenna, but I haven’t used it much other than to check in on a local net a few times. I may have to table my amateur radio activities in 2015 in order to focus on other, more pressing, projects.

April
Easter Lessons
Kelly wrote about a troubled project involving dyeing eggs with natural materials. Natural dyes are a subject that interests us both, and I suspect we’ll revisit this topic in 2015.

May
On the Documentary Fed Up and Giving up Sugar and the Debut of our Podcast
We went to a screening of Fed Up and immediately gave up sugar. Or, should I say, Kelly gave up sugar and I cheated. As I write this I’m snacking on Christmas chocolates, so I can’t say I’ve stuck with the program. I have, however, greatly reduced my sugar intake overall and I’m more conscious of sugar when making decisions at the grocery store (it’s in everything!). Personally, I plan on revisiting the sugar issue. My new fresh, homemade muesli habit (thanks to the Komo FlicFloc) has allowed me to completely eliminate sugar for breakfast.

June
Hipster Compost and How to Make Stock
In June I pondered local sources for compostable materials (but did not compost hipsters, as some people thought I was proposing). Unfortunately, I did not solve the problem of where to put a large compost pile at our small house. I’ve got one tucked, unsatisfactorily, beneath the fig tree just outside our bedroom window. Later in the month Kelly “killed it” with a useful post on how to make stock.

July
Have You Ever Wanted a Uniform?
Kelly pondered a kind of house uniform and has made significant progress towards that goal this year. She now owns a functioning sewing machine and has taken classes. So far she’s made some very professional looking pillows and a few other projects. My money is on a uniform by mid 2015. I’m hoping she doesn’t impose a “cultural revolution” along with it, however.

August
Wild Food Lab: Foraging Taken to the Next Level
We took a number of amazing foraging classes with Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich. The most revelatory class for me was Pascal and Mia proving that you can find food in hottest and driest month of the year during a apocalyptic drought. There’s a lot of people who forage, but fewer who know what to do with the wild foods they gather. Pascal and Mia are working on a book that I predict will be the foraging book.

September
Stoicism Today
In a very unlikely turn of events, an essay we wrote was included in a book on stoicism. I tried not to let it puff my ego up too much.

October
I Made Shoes
In October we hosted an intense three day turnshoe making workshop with Randy Fritz. This was one of the more commented upon things we did this year. I ran into Randy over the holidays and he promised to return for another workshop in 2015.

November
Compostible Holiday Decor
Kelly did an amazing job decorating the house for Christmas this year. No more cheap plastic crap!

December
Who Killed the Non-Electric Toaster
One highlight of this month, for me, was a conversation I had with the inventor of the non-electric, stove top DeltaToast. Finding an alternative to the modern toaster is one of those seemingly absurd and quixotic issues, until you actually disassemble an electric toaster and look at it. Then your whole paradigm shifts. Who would have guessed that my most significant “road to Damascus” moment in 2014 would involve toast?

One significant thing that I didn’t blog about was the completion of my “man cave” aka garage workshop. Now, after nearly 16 years living in this run down bungalow, I finally know where all my tools are and I have a workbench. Why didn’t I do this project first?

How did your year go? What significant things did you discover or make?

Picture Sundays: Joaquin Oro Wheat Loaf

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This is a 100% whole wheat loaf I baked this week using locally grown Joaquin Oro wheat, a high protein, hard red spring variety. It was fermented with a sourdough starter (100% hydration for the bread geeks out there).

And thank you to Michael Pollan for inventing the somewhat crass #crumbshot hashtag. Look for more #crumbshots and a whole wheat bread baking e-book on Root Simple in the coming year.

Saturday Tweets: Peppercorns, Fig Trees and Your Inner Cleveland

2014, a Year in Comments: Plant Thievery, Loquats, Breakfast Cerial and the Apocalypse

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Scene of the crime. Our missing cactus.

One of the reasons I prefer blogging to writing books is feedback in the form of comments. The subject matter we write about attracts thoughtful and compassionate people interested in making the world a better place. And I appreciate discussion and constructive criticism (We’re thankful too, that no trolls live under the Root Simple bridge). As an only child prone to ex cathedra statements, it’s good to have accountability in the form of reader feedback. With this in mind, I thought I’d review the most commented upon posts in 2015.

One curious phenomenon is that the number of comments a particular blog post gets is often inversely proportional to the amount of time it took to write. Kelly and I will sometimes spend hours agonizing over a blog post that gets just a few comments. Other times, a post dashed off in ten minutes will touch off a spirited discussion. This is not to say that a post that gets comments is any better or more popular than one that does not. Some posts, I suppose, are just more worthy of commenting. And we’re aware that many people read and never comment.

Here’s the five most commented upon Root Simple posts of 2015:

1. Plant Thievery. Back in April three barrel cacti disappeared from our front yard. It was a thorny, premeditated crime that prompted many readers to share their loss of plants. Later in the year I heard about two women who stole a lawn in England. And in local plant thievery news, a Los Angeles bakery lost most of its outdoor patio plants and the Episcopal Cathedral had an entire orange tree disappear. I like to think of these crimes from the plant’s perspective. Assuming they survive, the plant probably enjoys being able to travel and spread genetic material. Many plants, after all, evolve ingenious ways of, for instance, getting birds to eat seeds and poop them out over the landscape. Appealing to our lesser instincts could be yet another devious genetic strategy on the part of team plant.

2. Loquat Season is Here. Second to ways to avoid traffic, one of the great questions of life in Los Angeles is what to do with all those damn loquats. As the loquat is not frost tolerant, this is not a question for folks in the antipodal extremes.  And there’s great variation in loquat quality. Some taste, well, almost as good as an apricot (I know this sounds like faint praise). Others are just a thin, watery pulp surrounding huge, inedible seeds. I suspect part of Kelly’s motivation for writing this post was her skepticism of my loquat fruit leather recipe. I considered it the equivalent of discovering the loquat northwest passage. Despite Kelly’s brave stab at understanding the loquat, I don’t think we have a definitive answer on the subject. Perhaps we need to construct a kind of loquat Hadron Collider to solve this problem. Hey, that sounds like our first Kickstarter!

3. A Year After the Age of Limits: 5 Responses to the End Times. While Kelly may not have nailed the lid on the loquat coffin, she did write an eloquent essay on the pitfalls of apocalyptic thinking that was prompted by our attendance to the 2013 Age of Limits Conference. It took us and our friend John, who went with us, an entire year to process this disturbing weekend. Kelly and I recorded a long interview for our podcast with John about his experience that we never used. It’s well past time for me to revisit that recording. Thanks to KMO’s always excellent C-Realm Podcast, I heard that this year’s conference was different, perhaps due to the absence of the near term extinction crowd.

4. The Hugelkultur Question. Popularized by Sepp Holzer and many other permaculturalists, this practice of mounding logs in a hill of organic matter has been making the rounds of the avant-horticulture scene for the past few years. Like many 21st century radical home ec practices, evaluating Hugelkultur takes us to the messy collision point of systems theory and reductionism. This is not to even get into the problem of climate, which I pondered in another much commented upon post, Hugelkultur in Dry Climates. One thing to come out of researching the issue was discovering the Garden Professor’s Facebook page, wherein brainy horticulture types engage in a dialog on newfangled ideas. Use the search function on that page to find the subject you’re interested in. Who would have guessed that Facebook is useful for more than sharing cat photos and speculating about caftans?

5. Non-GMO Versions of Grape Nuts and Cheerios Less Nutritious Than GMO Versions. This may seem to be a post about the GMO debate (I’m not a fan of GMOs in most cases), but it’s really a stealthy realization that my Grape Nuts habit needed to end. Thankfully I discovered the Higgs bosen of breakfast cereals thanks to the KoMo FlicFloc. Which, to cram way too many physics metaphors in one blog post, really is the Hadron Collider of kitchen gadgets.

What controversial and comment worthy subjects would you like us to take up in 2015?