Revolutionary Rusks

Today Root Simple is proud to present a contribution (and amazing photo!) from photographer, velolutionary, and Culver-Town homesteader Elon Schoenholz:

Rusks are sturdy biscuits of Dutch South African origin, slightly sweetened and heartily nonperishable. Like biscotti, they’re double-baked, dry and crunchy; unlike the chocolate-dipped and plastic-wrapped crap on the counter at Starbucks, however, homemade rusks are practical, nourishing and inexpensive. The version we prefer, with chopped almonds, is subtly delicious. Stored in an airtight container, rusks are good to eat for 2-3 weeks. We enjoy dipping them in our coffee. Also, they’re great cycling snacks because you can throw them in a jersey pocket; they’re good all day without refrigeration; and they provide a quick simple-carb fix, as well as protein and complex carbs.

The recipe we use is from the “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes From the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant

To make the most of your time and maximize energy efficiency, bake two batches and stack them all up together for the 12-hour dry-a-thon following the initial 25-minute bake. You’ll end up with about 20 pieces from a single batch, and they go pretty fast. While rusks historically were created as hot-weather food, baking them during the winter is more pleasant because you end up having the oven on all day or night.

Recipe:
Dry ingredients
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour (the recipe calls for coarsely ground whole wheat flour but we use all-purpose whole wheat flour and then add 2 tablespoons wheat germ and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed)
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped almonds

Wet ingredients
½ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
2 teaspoons pure almond extract

preheat oven to 400º
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients
In another mixing bowl, mix the wet ingredients
Pour the wet into the dry and stir until you have a soft dough
Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll or pat it to a ½-inch thickness
Cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles
Bake about an inch and half to 2 inches apart on buttered (parchment paper will work, too) baking sheets for 25 minutes
After you’re finished baking the rusks, pile them up pyramid-style on a baking sheet, throw them in the oven, turn the dial to 200º and come back in 12 hours

Pointers for first-time bakers:

  • Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then mix them together.
  • Make sure to mix the wet and dry ingredients well, but once you combine wet and dry, don’t overmix or the dough can become tough.
  • Pour the vanilla and almond extracts into the butter first and then add the butter to the rest of the wet ingredients, as the fat will encase and preserve the flavor.
  • When rolling out the dough, use flour on the rolling pin and on the dough to prevent sticking.

Airing Our Dirty Laundry

Let’s face it folks, clothes dryers suck and even Martha Stewart agrees with SurviveLA that the way to go is the old-fashioned clothes line. SurviveLA put a retractable line up in the back yard this week to replace our hated Kenmore dryer. May the bastards at Sears suffer Pharaoh’s plagues sprinkled with Job’s scabies for designing this ugly, awkward and inelegant machine. Besides, with the blazing hot sun of Los Angeles, it makes perfect sense to use our region’s free solar power.

So why air dry? Let’s do the math. Assuming our (gas powered) dryer uses an average of .22 therms of natural gas per load at our gas company Sempra Energy’s August rate of 59 cents per therm, by using our clothes line we achieve the admittedly not too impressive savings of 17 cents per load. If we had an electric dryer we figure that the cost would be about 44 cents per load if the dryer consumed four kilowatts for a 45 minute spin. And remember that when you use electricity in Los Angeles, thanks to the Department of Water and Power, you are burning coal in Utah.

Now we would continue with the math, but that would involve amortizing the cost of the dryer and math is a shaky subject for us. Suffice to say, that gas is not the only cost. We think the greatest savings over time may be that air drying is simply better for our clothes. Besides, it’s another excuse to get outside and get in touch with the natural world i.e. the weather.

For those folks pressed for time and unable to enjoy the blessed idleness that pervades the SurviveLA compound, another drying alternative exists — the Spin X dryer. Made by the Krauts, this thing is sort of like those small spinning machines you stick your bathing suit into at the swimming pool. The Spin X spins at 3,300 rpm, and according to the manufacturer will remove 50% of the moisture of a ten pound load in three minutes. You will still need to air dry your clothes after they come out of this thing. The Spin X might be a good option for apartment homesteaders as it just hooks up to a regular 110 outlet and does not need a drain line. Water from the clothes is sent out the front of the unit into a small container that you must empty. A Spin X will set you back $469.

No discussion of dryers would be complete without mentioning the recent scandal in Britain wherein three bored firemen nearly lost their jobs for filming a member of their department taking a ride in a dryer. A hearing ensued and the firemen involved in the incident had to issue an apology, “We recognize that our behaviour was totally irresponsible and we are genuinely ashamed and would stress that no one should try to copy the stupid act.” For the idle out there you can watch the video here. Just don’t try this stunt in the Spin X, as the manufacturer also promises “1,340 G forces”.

Ridin’ On

SurviveLA was stunned into silence late Tuesday night upon hearing about cyclist Jen Diamond’s horrific accident which occurred early Sunday morning. Apparently a driver deliberately ran her down and fled the scene. To add insult to injury, the LAPD dragged its feet on the investigation until calls to Eric Garcetti’s office got the councilman to intervene and get the LAPD to take this crime seriously. Thankfully, Jen is recovering at home and pledging to return to her bike as soon as possible. Read her diary here.

So why do we bring this up on a blog devoted to urban homesteading? SurviveLA believes that the bicycle is the most elegant of all human inventions, and is the single greatest solution to our nation’s transportation mess. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Unlike the automobile, it does not alienate us from each other nor from our environment. As J.B. Jackson put it, “The bicycle had, and still has, a humane, almost classical moderation in the kind of pleasure it offers. It is the kind of machine that a Hellenistic Greek might have invented and ridden. It does no violence to our normal reactions: It does not pretend to free us from our normal environment.”

A bicycle is a great way to save money and true self-sufficiency entails being as economically prudent as possible. We can recommend compact fluorescent bulbs, hand washing clothes and a myriad of other energy saving ideas that will lesson our impact on the environment but at most save a typical household maybe a few hundred dollars a year. On the other hand, getting rid of a car and replacing it with a bike, which we were able to do, can save the typical household an average of between $8,000 and $12,000 a year. We realize that not everyone can get by without a car, and between the two of us here at the SurviveLA compound we still have our junky Sentra, but even if you just replace a few trips with a bike ride, at least you’re getting some exercise and connecting with what it feels like to be a kid again.

So why aren’t more people ditching the car keys? What’s the biggest objection to riding a bike in Los Angeles, and for that matter any big city in America? Overwhelmingly, what we hear from people is that they are afraid to ride in traffic. It’s fear, and frankly hearing of Jen’s ordeal made us want to do what most folks in LA do with their bikes — stash them in the back of the garage and let them collect dust. But Jen, in her weblog about the incident, says

As soon as I am physically capable I will be back on my bike. I can’t wait to feel the wind on my skin and through my hair as I descend through gorgeous Griffith Park. Riding isn’t that dangerous. I just happened to have a twist of fate that intersected me & a maniac. Ride as safely as you can, walk as safely as you can, drive as safely as you can. You can’t stay inside hiding. In my home town a woman was actually run over by a truck in her own house. It drove right through and hit her.
Ride safe, ride strong.

Robert Hurst, author of The Art of Urban Cycling, calculates that driving is twice as deadly per hour of exposure as riding a bike. Still, the risk of injury on a bike is higher, though mostly due to simple falls, not car/bike collisions. But it’s still hard for most people to overcome the fear. To banish those fears we need to force our cities and police departments to make cycling safer. It’s an urban homesteader’s duty to be involved with our communities and a big part of that duty is making our cities more bikable. What a tragedy it is to see people who drive to a gym so that they can ride a stationary bicycle!

Unfortunately, the City of Los Angeles does not take cycling seriously. Senator Barbara Boxer speaking at the Mobility 21 summit in Los Angeles last month said,

. . . we should do far more to get people out of their cars.

Complete streets are one example. This means including bike paths, sidewalks, and ramps for the disabled at the beginning of the planning process not treating them as an afterthought.

Let’s face it: This is not just about the future of our roads, but also about the future of our children, who are suffering most from the obesity epidemic in America.

Not so long ago, more than two thirds of children traveled to school by foot or on bicycle. Now it’s less than 10 percent.If we make walking and biking a more practical choice for all ages, we can combat congestion, improve air quality, and promote better health all at the same time.

For too long the LA Department of Transportation has treated cycling and walking as an afterthought, if they thought about them at all. We urge everyone to call, write, fax, or email LA DOT bicycle program coordinator Michelle Mowery to tell her that the deaths and accidents cyclists have suffered in the past few months are unacceptable and that we want complete streets and respect for cyclists and pedestrians. Tell her that we want bike lanes that don’t put us in the door zone and that don’t end before reaching useful destinations. Tell her that we want bicycle boulevards and traffic calming measures to make our trips safer. Tell her that we want bike routes free of dangerous potholes and debris. Tell her that we want the transportation engineers responsible for the bicycle infrastructure to actually ride the things they design not drive them. In short, tell her that we want the things that other more enlightened cities around the country and the world already have. Let’s make LA a great city to live in. Let’s ride.

Michelle Mowery
Bicycle Program Coordinator
City of Los Angeles
Department of Transportation
100 S. Main St., 9th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Telephone: 213-972-4962
Fax: 213-972-4919
[email protected]

Hexayurt

SurviveLA reader jbjhill, responding to our rant about designing for a world dominated by 4 x 8 building materials, sent a link to this unique yurt-shaped emergency shelter which can be built out of 4 x 8 sheets of nearly anything (the globe shaped thing on the right is an inflatable satellite dish). Designed by software engineer Vinay Gupta, who is working on this project full time, the “Hexayurt” costs somewhere between $200 and $500 to build, and requires only six cuts for each unit. The Hexayurt stacks flat for easy deployment in emergencies.

Gupta has a suggested “Infrastructure Package” which includes heat, lights, water purification, and a composting toilet bringing the cost up somewhat, but still much less than FEMA’s $30,000 trailers.

While not the most thrilling video (at least as compared to this), thanks to the wonders of youtube you can watch Gupta assemble an 8 foot Hexayurt:

Street Signs and Solar Ovens

If SurviveLA put together a museum show it would, pretty much, look like an exhibit currently at the Craft and Folk Art Museum entitled “Street Signs and Solar Ovens: Socialcraft in Los Angeles” which is on view until December 31st. Curated by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, this timely show focuses on objects that demonstrate creative, low-tech solutions to the environmental and political mess we find ourselves in.

We were particularly struck by the display case full of soda cans transformed by LA survivalist Christopher Nyerges into a variety of uses including lamps and stoves (see SurviveLA’s earlier post on creating a Pepsi can stove). Nyerges also contributed two improvised solar ovens, one made out of a discarded pizza box.

Other highlights include a functioning still by Alison Wiese, the stunning knitted clothing of Lisa Auerbach, items from the Path to Freedom urban homestead and contributions from the fine folks at C.I.C.L.E.

So, get on your bike, head down to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and see this provocative show!

Craft and Folk Art Museum Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 11am – 5pm
Thursday 11am – 7pm
Saturday-Sunday 12pm – 6pm

Museum Admissions:
$5.00 adults
$3.00 students/seniors
Free for children 12 and under
Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.

Location:
5814 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Kent’s Composting Tips and Secret Weapon

Today in our continuing dialog on composting, a guest post from Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition board member, Kent Strumpell who we met up with at this week’s inspiring LACBC awards gala:

I’m sure there are more correct procedures, but this is what I’ve found works.

I use a compost bin that has direct soil contact. I think this allows the introduction of soil organisms and serves to drain the pile if it gets too wet. I’ve done this same process with free standing piles as well.

I start with a small pile of dry leaves and add a load of kitchen scraps. I also add a couple shovels-full of rich soil to get things started, particularly with some worms and bugs to propagate the new pile. I’m not fastidious about what goes in, so the occasional fish and chicken scraps and leftover cat food gets into the mix, even oily stuff, but mostly it’s the usual veggies, fruits, paper napkins, etc. Though experts say no fats should go in, I’ve yet to see (or smell) a problem.

Each time I add new kitchen scraps, I add 1-2 shovels-full of dry leaves and some water if needed, turning and mixing the old and new stuff with a cultivator or shovel to aerate the pile. The proportion of dry to wet material is important. There should be enough dry leaves so the compost is kinda’ fluffy and moist, not soggy, but the dry material shouldn’t overwhelm the wet either.

Now the secret. I cut a piece of black 6 mil vinyl to approximately cover the pile and lay this directly on top of the compost (anything similar will work). I’ve found this helps keep the pile moist when I’m not able to check on it (sometimes for a week or two) and the bugs and worms seem to thrive underneath this membrane. I got the idea after noticing that I’d find rich bug habitat under boards, etc. laying around my yard. My compost piles teem with worms, sow bugs and other critters, all working hard for me. If you do a free standing compost pile, cut the plastic big enough to cover to the ground and hold it in place with rocks or bricks.

I add my scraps about once or twice a week. I don’t use the pile to consume large quantities of leaves, I just add enough of them to keep things in balance. It easily keeps up with my kitchen scrap production and gives me a rich, dark compost about like coffee grounds when it is done. I draw finished stuff off at the bottom occasionally. Or, if I want to use the whole batch, I stop adding to it for a few weeks so it can digest everything.

Build Your Own Furniture

We live in a 4 by 8 world. This is why we can’t get all that excited about things like geodesic domes, straw bale and rammed earth houses. All of these innovative architectural ideas may have great potential, but when it comes time to buy supplies at the lumber yard, the overly creative builder will soon realize the difficulty of utopian designs in a world of 4 by 8 sheets of plywood and drywall. That geodesic shape is hip, but what do you do with the rest of the plywood sheet once you cut it out?

The same limitation applies to making furniture. Thankfully a generation of designers back in the 60s and 70s left a few highly useful and groovy how-to books on making your own suburban-workshop-modernist furniture with a humble 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. The amazing art/architecture collective Simparch tipped us off to the world of plywood modernism how-to books and we at Homegrown Evolution recommend the stunning Sunset Magazine produced Furniture You Can Build, which is sadly way out of print and very expensive on Amazon, but available at the L.A. Public Library. Most of the designs in this book would work well with found materials and scraps. What we appreciate most about this book and others like it, that we will discuss in future posts, is the economical use of common materials.

A good example of this efficiency are these handsome stools — one sheet of plywood will make eight stools. Here are the instructions from the Sunset book:

Simple, versatile, and inexpensive — that’s the quickest way to summarize the virtues of these handy plywood stools, They could hardly be easier to build and are surprisingly inexpensive. Except for the nails and glue, every part of the eight stools shown in the picture at the top left came from one standard 4 by 8-foot panel of 1/2-inch plywood, the same as the panel shown behind them. As the cutting pattern shows, a 2-foot square of plywood yields one stool, and only the shaded areas are wasted.

Each stool is 17 inches square and stands approximately 10 1/2 inches high. If you wish to use a cushion, you can glue and nail a 1/2 by 1-inch hardwood frame around the top’s edges, which will give a 1/2-inch high rim to keep the cushion in place.

To start, draw the cutting pattern carefully on heavy paper and transfer it to each 2-foot plywood square with carbon paper or pin pricks. If making several stools, you can have the lumber yard cut your plywood to uniform 2-foot squares. Cut the legs and top from each square with a saw.

As the underside view shows, each leg abuts on and is nailed to the inner end of the next leg. Assemble with glue and just two 4-penny nails in each leg. Before the glue dries, turn the assembled legs right side up on a smooth surface and attach the top, As you glue and nail on the top (use 6-penny finishing nails), the legs will level themselves evenly. Finish the stools as you prefer: with paint, varnish, or stain wax.

Bitter Greens

Today we continued our winter planting in our illegal parkway garden adding arugula, a green that America has suddenly discovered after last month’s factory farming spinach nightmare. We also added a tough and bitter leaf chicory from our friends at Grow Italian. Hopefully, by succession planting we should have a winter and spring full of green, if somewhat bitter vegetables.

How do we prepare these bitter greens around the compound? Very simply — in a pan with garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Sometimes we add some Parmigiano Reggiano. Fresh, strong tasting vegetables don’t need much else.

Getting Out

Walking back from our run this morning, we noticed a black mushroom cloud spreading out above our neighborhood, causing SurviveLA to briefly ponder the possibility that we might have to get the hell out of our beloved hometown. It turned out to be just your average hay truck fire on the 101 freeway, meaning there was no need to saddle up the Xtracycle for a long distance human powered escape.

Thankfully, if we did have to get the hell out we now have a handy guidebook. The fine folks at Process Media, publishers of Preparedness Now have just released a sequel for those who choose to run rather than prepare called Getting Out, Your Guide to Leaving America. We completely understand the sentiment of wanting to get the hell out of this proto-fascist banana republic we live in and we endorse this book for those who don’t want to hunker down and do the homestead thing. SurviveLA even has a former colleague in Chanai India who got out of the US several years ago and now has an interesting job and his own ultra low-cost homestead.

Despite the allure of more exotic places, Survive LA has decided to stay put and it’s time to get to work!

The Boy Scouts Suck


SurviveLA did not get a wink of sleep last night while staying in the Joshua Tree National Park campground due to a bunch of Boy Scout dads who stayed up talking and laughing until 2:30 am in spite of the presence of dozens of other nearby campers. Thanks Boy Scout dads for setting a nice example for your kids, some of whom also stayed up until 2:30 engaged in a loud multi-player game boy tournament while others chased desert mice, and a special thanks to the Scout who accidentally kicked out the supports of our tent at midnight causing it to collapse upon us.

While we applaud the dads for getting the kids out in the wilderness for the weekend, we at SurviveLA just can’t get behind the vile and outdated Boy Scouts, whose ongoing attempts at being more relevant backfire so pitiably and whose founder, Robert Baden-Powell, was an anti-semitic, fascist, pedophile.

If we had kids around the SurviveLA compound, in keeping with our self-sufficiency goals, we’d form our own SuriviveLA Scout troop. Here’s how the SurviveLA Scouts would differ from the Boys Scouts:

1. SurviveLA Scouts are coed. Men and women have gotta learn to work together and you might as well start early. As Barbara Ehrenreich once said, “Men alone in groups are bad company”. It’s also no fair that the girls have got to whore themselves selling cookies.

2. Let’s teach our kids to make the world a better place without the Norman Rockwell fascist veneer.

3. Hipper uniforms. We suggest something like this.

4. An urban cycling merit badge.

5. All activities are outdoors. Lots of nature experiences. No computer merit badges and certainly no copyright merit badges.

6. Lastly, the SurviveLA Scout mission statement, borrowed from Edward Abbey:

One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.