Project Update: The Carbonator

cats inspecting carbonator

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.

De-Cluttering the Garden

Kelly pruning the Pomegranate

At the risk of becoming a de-cluttering blog, I’ve got to point out that there’s a place for de-cluttering in the garden. I know, because I’m the gardening equivalent of a hoarder.

I cling to plants that need to head to the compost pile. I interfere with Kelly’s much more advanced pruning skills. I resist the periodic and necessary need to swap plants out. Gardens are, by definition, a mediation on impermanence. As Hereclitus says, “Everything changes and nothing remains still . . . you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Heed Hereclitus’ enigmatic saying and you’ve got the essence of gardening and nature: periods of equilibrium punctuated by change, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. De-cluttering our tended gardens is to work in imitation of and in concert with nature.

So what would be some de-culuttering steps in the garden that welcome and work with change?

  • First would be getting rid of junk such as construction debris and those failed projects Kelly alluded to in her last post. We’re pretty good about this, but the backyard has accumulated a few items that need to go.
  • Replacing under-performing plants. Particularly in small spaces like ours there is no room for plants that are sickly or just don’t look attractive. Ditto for fruit trees that have never produced. I’m with Piet Ouldolf on this: if possible, plants in our tended spaces need to look good year round (even when dormant) and they need to provide wildlife habitat.
  • Rethinking the garden. Even the best gardener has to rethink and renew a garden periodically. Many perennials become gangly, trees shade out other plants and things just generally change. Sometimes you have to mimic nature’s floods and fires and make a radical shift.
  • Weeding and thinning. We got behind on this and we’re paying the price. This is a matter of poor scheduling, subject matter for an upcoming series of posts (if I can ever schedule time to write those scheduling posts). Let’s just say there was some cursing while pulling out a robust and thorny Opuntia yesterday that would have been much easier to remove two years ago.
  • Pruning. This is a source of considerable marital discord. Kelly is much better at it than I am, and yet I end up micromanaging and mansplaining. The fact is that many fruit trees, particularly peaches, need to be hacked back dramatically when dormant. With the exception of avocados, everything else needs to be kept small for ease of harvest and to fit more trees in a small space.

What gardening de-cluttering steps did I leave out? When do you more northerly gardeners do your garden de-cluttering?

And a note on the photo which shows Kelly pruning our pomegranate tree. To her right is a cardoon and, at the bottom of the slope is a huge prickly pear cactus. Something all these plants have in common? Wicked thorns. This makes deferred de-cluttering even more curse-worthy.

Mrs. Homegrown chimes in:

Erik spoke of some topics of marital discord in the garden, and yet none of those hold a candle to our perpetual debate about installing some kind of garden shed or storage system in our back yard. It’s shocking, really, that we don’t have such a thing, but he is very resistant to the idea, for reasons of time, effort, money and aesthetics.

All good objections! But honestly, how can one post about clutter in the garden and point to the poor plants when the real problem with clutter in our garden comes in the form of empty pots, bags of soil and amendments with no home, gloves housing spiders, tools leaning here, there and everywhere, never where you need them. Our climate alone allows us to (mostly) get away with this behavior. Elsewhere it would all rust or rot if left out like this.

I know it’s not the KonMari way to add storage space or devices to deal with clutter, but this is more like having a car with no garage, and then wondering why the driveway is always crowded.

So…um…if any artisanal shack manufacturer would like to send us a small shed for review, we’re open to proposals!

De-Cluttering for DIYers, Homesteaders, Artists, Preppers, etc.

Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist. David Teniers II. Oil on canvas, 17th Century

Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist, David Teniers the Younger, 1610-1690, Eddleman Collection, CHF, Philadelphia

We are a special people and we need special exemptions, yes?

Our posts on de-cluttering seem to have hit a nerve, judging by the amount of feedback we’ve had, on the blog, on social media and on the street. We’re really happy if we’ve helped anyone at all streamline their lives a bit. But one protest, or exception, or question which comes up a lot is, “What about my [specialized materials] for my [craft, hobby, preparedness lifestyle]?”

I figure anyone who reads this blog–anyone who is more of a producer than a consumer–will have collected tools and materials for production. These tools and materials don’t fit neatly into the KonMari scheme. The KonMari method, as well as other types of de-cluttering programs, including techno-minimalism, seem to assume our homes are places where we simply relax, surrounded by our well-pruned and curated items.

In a DIY household, there is always something messy going on. For us, relaxation is tinkering and making and cooking and repairing, not reclining on our immaculate sofa, quietly tapping on our iPad.

Continue reading…

Ghee for the skin

baby Krishna stealing ghee

Baby Krishna stealing ghee

Ghee, a form of clarified butter, is a well known cooking fat. What is less known in the West is that it is also used for skin care and as medicine in Ayurveda. In fact, it’s basically a panacea in Ayurveda. I’m no expert in Ayurveda, but it is interesting to know that it has such a long track record in India as a topical treatment.

What I have discovered so far is pretty neat. It is in the nature of ghee to sink into the skin rather than sit on the surface. This makes it a really excellent moisturizer. It is not the type of moisturizer which seals in moisture, or protects you from the elements, but it immediately soothes dry and chapped skin.

For instance, during my last head cold, I used it on my much-abused nose. The ghee saved my nose and my lips from a terrible case of chapping. I always keep my lips and nose balmed-up during a cold, but the ghee worked better than anything else I’ve ever used, in terms of absorption, relieving discomfort and quick healing.

Since then, I’ve been using it on my face and hands to fend off the dry, itchy skin of winter. Since it sinks in so fast, it helps to use it in conjunction with another moisturizer, one which stays on the surface of the skin, to seal everything in.

Color me totally fascinated with ghee. There’s much research to be done on it here at Root Simple.

Here’s an interesting fact: ghee doesn’t go bad. Ever. In Ayurveda, aged ghee is particularly treasured.

See, butter becomes ghee when you remove the sugars and proteins and water, leaving only fat. Without that other stuff in it, the fat alone can’t go bad. Ghee’s only enemy is water–which is true of all fat-based foods and cosmetics. Water sets up conditions for bacteria to breed. So keep your ghee dry.  In fact, you should never store it in the refrigerator, because this may cause condensation inside the jar, which will lead to spoilage. Just keep it on the shelf, and scoop it out with a dry spoon, and it will keep until it’s all gone.

That’s all I have to say on ghee, so far. I don’t know much yet, but I like the way it feels. More will follow, I am sure. I’m going to experiment with making body butter and lip balm with it.

Do any of you use ghee for medicine or skin care?

(Also, I’ll be making my own ghee soon, and will post on that, but in the meantime, there are loads of recipes for it out there. It’s basically just boiled butter–anybody can make it. You can also find it ghee in many “regular” super markets these days, as well as in health food stores and of course, Indian markets.)

An indispensible urban tool: the titanium spork

titanium spork

One of my best allies in my effort to cut down on my use of disposables is a titanium spork. It’s strong, pleasant to use, and weighs virtually nothing. I bought it many years ago in preparation for a long hiking trip, but it soon proved its utility in the urban environment. It’s always in my bag, a permanent part of my “everyday carry”, and I use when I’m eating food from home as well as in situations where I’d otherwise be forced to use plastic flatware.

I love its simplicity and utility. The prongs of the spork are substantial enough to work as a fork, but aren’t hard on the mouth when it’s used as a spoon. I have another so-called spork, not a true spork, if you ask me, but a Frankenstein’s monster with a spoon on one end and a fork on the other. Do not be tempted by the promise of having a full fork and spoon in one utensil–it just doesn’t work. When one end is in your mouth, the utensil on the opposite end threatens your nose and eyes, not so much literally, but psychologically. That’s disturbing, so it remains with the camping gear. (KonMari will want me to set it free soon.)

My true spork, the REI Ti Ware spork, is a perfect blend of form and function. While I bought this spork many years ago, REI is still selling a version of it which looks identical, except for having a more prominent logo.  REI no longer carries this particular spork, though it carries other titanium sporks. There’s also a very similar looking titanium spork over at Amazon, produced by Toaks.

Some of you may wonder whether I need a knife, and the answer is I don’t need one in most situations. I usually carry a pocket knife, and I can bring that out if I need to slice something like bread or cheese, but 95% of the time the spork alone is sufficient. Also, it’s sturdy and thin edged, so the side of the spoon can cut through softer foods.

I’ve heard that back in the day people did not expect to be provided with eating utensils in public establishments, so travelers carried their utensils with them. Today this might seem crazy, but to me, if anything is crazy it’s the idea that we have the God-given right to be provided with a set of plastic flatware which we will use once and only once, for the approximately ten minutes it takes us to down a combo platter, and then consign that set of plastic utensils to an immortal afterlife in a landfill. Meanwhile, I imagine that I’ll request that my spork be buried with me, along with the rest of my grave goods.

 Addendum: I just found a cool titanium spork, the Apocalyspork, which is more expensive than mine, but is handcrafted in the US out of aerospace scrap. In addition, the handle is tricked up with a bottle opener, a hex key and who knows what else.