New Slow City

NewSlowCity-cvr

This Wednesday’s Root Simple Podcast will feature our interview of author William Powers. We just finished recording his interview a few minutes ago, and it’s a good one.

Some of you may have read Bill’s previous book, Twelve by Twelve, in which he chronicles his time in a small off-grid cabin. In New Slow City, he and his wife move to a micro-apartment in Manhattan, and, by slowing down consciously, finds he can work less and find connection with others and nature–even in the heart of the world’s “fastest” city.  It’s a beautifully written book, and covers more ground than the previous sentence even begins to suggest. Read it.

Bill is in the middle of a book tour right now, so I wanted to put up his schedule so you can catch him if he comes to your town. He’s an engaging speaker, so do get out and see him if you can.

See his events page for details on each event.

  • Wednesday, Sept 30 – SAN FRANCISCO
  • Friday, Oct 2  – CLAREMONT
  • Saturday, Oct 3 – LOS ANGELES
  • Tuesday, Oct 6 – ASHLAND
  • Wednesday, Oct 7 – CHICAGO
  • Thursday, Oct 8 – CHICAGO
  • Sunday, Oct 11  – ALBUQUERQUE
  • Thursday, Oct 15  – SANTA FE
  • Wednesday, Nov 4 – NEW YORK
  • Thursday, Nov 17 – LA PAZ (BOLIVIA)
  • Tuesday, Dec 1 – SANTA CRUZ (BOLIVIA)

That Sugar Film

Sugar has replaced fat on the ever rotating roster of demonized ingredients. But unlike fat, which we actually need, sugar fully deserves its villainous status. We could eliminate processed sugar from our diets entirely and be much healthier.

A new documentary, That Sugar Film is a Morgan Spurlokian spin on the anti-sugar crusade. It continues where last year’s Fed Up left off. At the center of the film is a stunt: Australian actor Damon Gameau’s goes on a supposedly healthy diet consisting of things like fruit juices, low-fat processed foods, yogurt and granola bars. Of course, all of these highly processed foods are made palatable with copious amounts of sugar. It’s the well documented Snackwell cookie syndrome: large food corporations have removed fat and replaced it with sugar to better keep us addicted to their products. During the course of the film we watch Gameau’s health decline precipitously.

A disclaimer: personally, when it comes to documentaries, I prefer a vérité approach and am not a fan of Spurlock-type hijinks or hyperactive animation, both of which this film has in abundance. Show me don’t tell me is a film making mantra seared into my brain during the brief period I took classes and edited with Jean-Pierre Gorin (Full disclosure: my inner Gorin drives Kelly crazy and makes me a grumpy, no-fun movie going companion.)

That said, what won me over to That Sugar Film is that its heart is decidedly in the right place. The strongest scenes were during visits to two disadvantaged communities, an Aboriginal town in the Australian outback and a poor community in rural Appalachia. You won’t ever forget the early graves of the Aboriginal graveyard and the tragic dental problems of one of the Appalachian protagonists. In these miserable communities, Gameau shows that our addiction to sugar is not a matter of personal choice, but instead a result of predatory capitalism. Large corporations are, to use a Luddite sentiment, engaged in actions “injurious to commonality.” Our solutions to the sugar problem are going to need to address the commons. And, like climate change, there are no easy answers to these larger societal problems. At best we can, like the dentist in That Sugar Film who donates his services in Appalachia, do what we can with whatever means we have. We can also press our cowardly political leaders about their relationships and patronage of the large corporations that rot our teeth give us obesity and diabetes.

But That Sugar Film also tells a personal story. Sugar has crept back into my diet after a period of abstinence following a screening of Fed Up and a brief period of Lenten virtuousness. On a personal level it might be a good idea to periodically ponder Gameau’s expanding gut and declining heath. That Sugar Film might just be the perfect film to bum out the family with or think about when reaching for that slice of cake. Our health may depend on periodic, scary reminders.

In the U.S., that Sugar Film is available on-demand an in theaters on July 31.

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.

The Jerusalem Cookbook

jerusalem

We are late to the Jerusalem party–it came out in 2012 to much acclaim. But maybe you are perpetually out of the loop, like we are. If so please know that we are in mad, passionate love with this cookbook. The authors are Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamim, London restauranteurs and the authors of Plenty and Plenty More. In Jerusalem, they explore the dynamic flavors and cross-cultural influences of their home city. Despite our de-cluttering efforts, this one is a keeper. I’m going to buy a copy when the library pries this copy out of my hands.

Our friend, Kazi, introduced us to Jerusalem. She hosted a wonderful dinner party last week and cooked all of the courses from this book. Now, Kazi is an expert cook, so I’m sure she doesn’t really need a book to put on an good spread, but she assured us that she was experimenting on us: she’d never tried any of the recipes before, and was cooking them straight out of the book as written. The meal was astounding. Of course, her beautiful presentation and the excellent company had much to do with it, but the recipes were consistently fresh and bright and complex without being fussy.

I find that I need a good cookbook every once in a while to inspire me in the kitchen–otherwise I fall into a morass of laziness and we end up eating burritos and “stuff on toast” night after night.  This one is doing the trick. I’m currently fantasizing about what I’ll cook next.

My highest compliment to this book is that I can honestly say I trust it 100%. I fiddle around with most recipes, doubling the spice, halving the sugar, questioning the baking time, etc. These I don’t. This book is well thought out and  tested. The recipes work. I’d highly recommend following them exactly as written.

Jerusalem covers all the bases, from appetizers to dessert. It has lots of meat and fish recipes, but it also has plenty of salad, vegetable, bean and grain recipes, so it’s friendly to both vegetarians and meat eaters. We’re mostly vegetarian, and we feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of the meatless offerings so far. Though there are a lot of veg recipes which use eggs, yogurt and cheese, there are also good vegan-friendly offerings.

To give you a feel for the book, these are the recipes we’ve enjoyed so far. All are excellent:

  • Swiss chard fritters (with feta and nutmeg)
  • Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad
  • Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar
  • Acharuli khachapuri (pastry boats filled with soft cheese, topped with a baked egg)
  • Baby spinach salad with dates and almonds (…and fried pita! Erik declares this his new favorite salad ever)
  • Couscous with tomato and onion (cooked to have a crispy bottom)
  • Semolina, coconut and marmalade cake

Enjoy!

Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities

CTsample3Neither Al Gore nor the US Government invented the internet. The team behind the Whole Earth Catalog, published between 1968 and 1998 are the true inventors of our electro-global village. The Whole Earth Catalog was a thick book of crowd sourced reviews that, in terms of its content, felt a lot like a print version of what we used to call the World Wide Web.

Catalog editors included NoCal luminaries Stuart Brand, Kevin Kelly and Lloyd Kahn among many others. In addition to inventing the interwebs, they also managed to define the eclectic topics contained within the urban homesteading movement. A confession here: when it came time to write our two books, Kelly and I leafed through our old copy of the Whole Earth Catalog to make sure that we didn’t leave any topic out.

Kevin Kelly kept the Whole Earth Catalog ethos alive through his Cool Tools review website. That website has morphed back into print in the form of Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. This new book is just as addictive as the Whole Earth Catalog.

The gadgets, books, websites and ideas that qualify as Cool Tools are carefully chosen, useful and often inexpensive or free. Some things I picked up from thumbing through this book for just a week:

With both Cool Tools and the Whole Earth Catalog, there’s also a lot of stuff that fits into the fantasy category: fun to read about but I’ll probably never do. I’d include igloo making, boat living and camouflage here. But you never know . . .

And, thanks to Cool Tools editors Elon Shoenholz and Mark Frauenfelder, you’ll find a few Root Simple reviews tucked into Cool Tool’s 463 pages. And, yes, one of the first items mentioned in Cool Tools is a book on decuttering, perhaps as a caution to use Cool Tools as a guide to what is useful, not an invitation to collect stuff.

How many of you spent the 90s (or an earlier decade!) like I did, thumbing through an old copy of The Whole Earth Catalog?