DIY Portable Pizza Oven

I just spoke with Eric Rochow of GardenFork.TV .(He’ll be our guest on the next podcast.) If you don’t know Gardenfork, you should. Eric has put together a lot of cool videos and podcasts. One of my favorite is this portable pizza oven. I’m thinking of building one for local events. For more info on Eric’s pizza oven check out his pizza oven page.

Root Simple Busted: Drying Racks, Clothes Lines and Cheese Puffs


For many years I’ve wanted to have one of our writer friends do a John Stossel style exposé on us. We’d have them drop in unexpectedly and witness some of the environmental transgressions that take place at the Root Simple compound such as hidden cheese puff stashes and the weekly, patrician moment when my fencing uniform goes through the, gasp, dryer.

Joanne Poyourow, founder of Environmental Changemakers and a guest on Episode 033 of our podcast, called me out (in a very nice way) on the dryer issue yesterday when I admitted to using it. She noted how much energy dryers use and how she ditched hers many years ago and has never looked back. We have a gas dryer which means that, while we use less energy than an electric dryer, we’re still complicit in the use of fossil fuels. In short, fracking is supporting my attempts to parry, riposte and flèche.

The truth is that we had a clothes line for several years when we first moved into our house. But like many clothes lines, it was low quality and eventually broke. I never replaced it. Joanne mentioned going through several flimsy clothes drying racks before settling on a higher quality drying rack that can be used both outside and inside.

My question of the week for you, our dear readers, is what kind of drying rack do you like best? Do you use a line? Do you prefer one to the other? Do you have a favorite, non-flimsy rack or clothes line?

The Return of the Monocle?

Joseph Chamberlain, monocle enthusiast.

Joseph Chamberlain, monocle enthusiast.

While Mr. Peanut still sports one, I thought the monocle would die out with the passing of eccentric British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore. But, apparently, we’re in the midst of a monocle revival.

I had planned to write about the monocle for years, but the New York Times out-scooped me on this story. The article notes that rappers and hipsters have brought back the monocle as a fashion accessory. There’s even an online monocle dealer based in San Francisco.

But what about the monocle as appropriate technology? It’s pretty much the same, after all, as wearing one contact. I have decent distance vision, so I could wear a monocle for closeup vision in my non-dominant eye. If you use glasses try looking through them with just your non-dominant eye to understand how a monocle would allow you to see both close up and distance at the same time. Monocles weren’t an affectation in the old days. I’m sure it would take some time to adjust to, but wouldn’t it be better than having to remember to carry around the hideous reading drug store glasses I currently use?

Kelly considers a monocle grounds for divorce and, I have to admit, she has a point. It’s hard to pull off a monocle these days without also donning a top hat and spats. Contemporary monocle use puts you in the same eccentric sartorial territory as the Monopoly Man and the aforementioned, Mr. Peanut (both of whom, it should be noted, are cartoon characters).

Then again, aren’t we all engaged in unintentional cosplay? Despite getting called “cowboy,” I like the broad brimmed cowboy hat that shades me from the blazing Los Angeles sun. Perhaps tweed and a monocle will become my winter blogging uniform . . .

Return of the Walkman?

broken walkman

Spotted on Figueroa  street last month: a smashed Sony Walkman (Sport WM-FS397, to be exact).  Here’s an “exploded” view:


The BBC, back in 2010, gave a 13 year-old a Walkman to review. Here’s what the kid said:

It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.

Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn’t is “shuffle”, where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature simply by holding down “rewind” and releasing it randomly – effective, if a little laboured.

Any holdouts amongst you, our dear readers? Some of us still seem to have dial phones, so I thought I’d ask. I gave my portable cassette player up long ago and the household now has no cassette tape capabilities. Kelly can no longer listen to her 80s mix tapes!

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.

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?