5 Very Hip Mason Jar Hacks

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Institute of Domestic Technology El Jefe Joseph Shuldiner (full disclosure: I teach bread classes at the IDT) wrote a very cool column for the Los Angeles Times describing 5 mason jar hacks: an adult sippy cup, soap dispenser, tea infuser, twine dispenser and a pour-spout pantry container. No need to launch yet another Mason jar Kickstarter as these are hacks you can do yourself.

On Homesteading Burnout and the Need to Focus

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At book tour appearances we often said that, while we do a lot of projects as research for our books, readers should not try to do everything. Our message has always been that this movement is not an “all of the above” proposition; you don’t have to raise chickens, brew beer, sew, keep bees, make pickles etc.; you can go with your strengths and make friends with people who do what you’re not good at.

But do I follow my own advice? Not so much. I’ve been thinking lately about trying to focus on the things I’m good at and go KonMari on the stuff I’ve accumulated to do the things I’m not so good at. This is hard for me. By nature I’m a generalist not a specialist. But two potent memento moris showed up in my mailbox this week: my first AARP card along with an ad for the Disneyland of cemeteries, Forest Lawn. In the years I have left I’ll need to focus a bit more.

So what are the activities I can jettison?

Beer Brewing
The brutal truth is that I’m just not that good at it. I ruined the last three batches due to sanitation problems. I’ve never made beer better or cheaper than I can buy. The equipment takes up valuable workshop space. And then there’s the temptation of having five gallons of beer sitting around. Once I conquer the plantar fasciitis I’ll need to squeeze back into an unforgiving and unflattering fencing uniform. If I worked at it I could probably make some decent beer. But, again, I just don’t need that much beer sitting around the house. And to take the hobby to the next level I’d really need to start using kegs and that would mean more equipment.

Ham Radio
I’ve put this activity on hold. I probably should spend some time acquainting myself with my 2 meter handheld and checking in with some of the local nets so that I can use the radio in an emergency. But I don’t need to go any deeper than that right now. Maybe someday when I’m a little older and have activated my AARP card.

That I could only come up with two activities shows how much of a serial generalist I am. Not that there is anything wrong with being a generalist. In fact, the world might be better off if we were all a little less specialized. But there’s still a need to edit the list periodically.

How about you? Do you have some interests you have already or are thinking of ditching? Of your homesteady interests, which have been the most rewarding?

044 Daniel Kent: Cabin Dweller’s Textbook

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Our guest this week is Daniel Kent, creator of the Cabin Textbook Dweller’s Textbook and Dean of Beverages at the Institute of Domestic Technology. In our first outdoor podcast (recorded in the mountains near a creek) Kelly, Daniel and I discuss:

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.

A ceramic oil lamp

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There is not an ember burning on the table top! It just looks that way.

This is to report that I’ve accomplished one of my New Year’s resolutions: I made a ceramic oil lamp.

Regular readers will know that I’m a little obsessed with lamps that burn cooking oil instead of kerosene.

I like them so much, I made a little seashell oil lamp the very first project in our book Making It. As a child of the electric age it continuously amazes me that I can make light so easily with cooking oil. Also, in reproducing these lights, I feel a connection to history. I’ve no doubt that my ancestors gathered around fish oil lamps in the north and olive oil lamps in the south.

To add to their charms, they aren’t based on petroleum–as paraffin tea candles are, for example–and they’re non-toxic. They’re relatively safe, compared to kerosene, in that vegetable oil has such a high flash point. And finally, in their list of virtues, they’re cheap. They can be improvised out things like jar lids and Altoids tins, and I use rancid and otherwise questionable oils to fuel them — oils which I would otherwise throw out.

This ceramic lamp more fancy than the little lamps I’ve made previously. It’s based on the standard-model Mediterranean oil lamp which was ubiquitous throughout the ancient world. Ancient Romans had cheap terra cotta lamps in this shape which were stamped with the names of popular gladiators–the ancient equivalent of a 7-Eleven superhero cup. Nowadays I believe these lamps are standard stock in the Holy Land tourist trade.

At any rate, I’ve always wanted one, so I built one. Next I want to make more of them in more complex forms–designs with two and four flame outlets.

The workings of the lamp are quite simple. Inside is the oil reservoir. There’s a fill hole on the top, which I capped with a little leaf to keep the cats from sampling the oil. The top is convex, the slope leading to the fill hole, so it’s easy to top off without spilling oil. I fished a piece of cotton rag up through the “nose” to serve as a wick. The wick is long enough that it extends into the main body of the lamp. All ancient lamps are low-slung like this. The fuel seems to draw better when the wick is almost horizontal.

The lamp is smaller than you might think from the picture–it fits in the palm of my hand. Due to its size, and the fact that the walls are thick because I’m still pretty clumsy at the clay work, the reservoir only holds about 2 tablespoons of oil. Nonetheless, that much oil gives a strong bright flame for 4 1/2 hours.

Project Update: The Carbonator

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A year ago on Valentine’s Day, Erik gave me a homebrew carbonator so that we could sparkle our own water at home. It’s a wonderfully industrial looking item, and sturdy as all heck. I’m pleased to say after a year of hard use, it’s still doing going strong and has become an indispensable part of our life.

It has saved the use of…gosh…I don’t know…at least 100 San Pellegrino/Gerolsteiner bottles over the course of the year. Back in the day, I bought a couple of bottles of mineral water on every shopping trip. That’s a two-fold savings: bottles kept out of the waste stream (recycled, yes, but still) and enough in cash savings to reimburse us for the carbonator–which cost around $150 in parts.

The best thing is that the CO2 tank lasted for 11 months of constant use (sparkling maybe two gallons a week) before needing a refill. And when we did refill it–down at the local homebrew shop–it cost all of twenty bucks. Twenty bucks, my friends. That is our sparkling water budget for the next year.

Happy as I am with the device itself, we could be doing better exploring its possibilities. We could be experimenting with adding minerals to the water to imitate famous mineral waters–there are recipes out there. We could also be experimenting with force carbonating other types of drinks, but for the most part we’ve been pretty content just drinking the water straight with a twist of lemon, or a splash of shrub. Maybe this year we’ll step up to the plate and get more experimental.

Erik’s how-to post about how to put one of these things together, and how to use it.

•  My initial post, in which I bubble over with excitement.