138 Erics Gone Wild


On episode 138 of the Root Simple podcast we brain dump with Eric Rochow, a.k.a. “East Coast Eric” of Garden Fork TV about concrete work, bears in the garden, plywood boat building and storm windows. Eric has been a frequent guest on the Root Simple Podcast and is back to fill us in on what he’s been up to under quarantine. During the show we discuss:

You can also find Eric on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

If you’d like 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. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Saturday Linkages: Quarantine Movie Suggestions

Rather than the normal links this morning I thought I’d post a few quarantine movie suggestions from Connor Kilpatrick’s movie list in the most recent issue of the Jacobin (behind a paywall but worth the price of admission). We’ve been making our way through Kilpatrick’s golden-age of Hollywood sub-list. So far we’ve watched:

Scarface (the 1932 version)
The Big Sleep (Don’t worry about the plot it makes no sense at all–just enjoy the scenery)
His Girl Friday (You can watch this one for free on the YouTubes)
The Sea Wolf (This one is kinda like a relentless, brutal film noir at sea and, remember, the sea is dope)
I Walked With a Zombie (Way better than you’d think given the lurid title)
Out of the Past (One of the best movies ever made)

Happy viewing.

The New Homemade Kitchen

I have many fond memories of teaching bread baking classes for the late Joseph Shuldiner’s cheekily named Institute of Domestic Technology. Joseph had a unique formula for the curriculum of the IDT. I’d summarize as “stuff that you’d never think of doing from scratch but once you find out how easy it is your life will be transformed.” In addition to the aforementioned bread baking, the IDT offered classes in mustard, cheese making, jam making, coffee roasting, cocktail crating and much more.

Joseph gathered the recipes and collected wisdom of these classes into his posthumously published book The New Homemade Kitchen: 250 Recipes and Ideas for Reinventing the Art of Preserving, Canning, Fermenting, Dehydrating, and More just released this month by Chronicle. The section on cocktails is a good example of the IDT’s methods. Yes, you get a Martini recipe. But you’ll also be making your own vermouth and it will be easier than you think.

Then there’s the life changing chapter on coffee roasting. One of the perks of teaching at the IDT was getting to sit in on the other classes. This was how I learned to roast my own coffee in a Whirley-Pop roaster. Like a lot of IDT obsessions, roasting your own coffee simultaneously up-scales and bomb proofs your pantry. Green coffee can sit around for a long time and knowing how to roast it is a useful skill in our current crappening. In short, this book is very quarantine friendly both in the sense of having skills handy when supply chains are broken and having something more productive to do than binging Netflix.

In addition to coffee you’ll find chapters on pickles and preserves, baking, dairy, meat and fish, cocktails, fermentation and dehydration. You’ll also learn how to make your own mustard, ketchup, harissa, sriracha, preserved lemons, vanilla extract and much more.

Joseph was a gifted artist, designer, activist and photographer and the book reflects his ability to represent and explain, in clear language, information that can seem intimidating. I learned a lot about how to teach from working for Joseph. Many of the classes took place at the Altadena home of Gloria Putnam and Stephen Rudicel. They tended to be day long affairs with a lunch served to students and an after-party for the instructors. At the end of the day, over glasses of wine, we would review the classes we taught and figure out ways to make information clearer. Joseph was a team player with a thoughtful leadership style. I can still hear his laugh and miss him greatly. This book, for me, is a kind of time capsule of those happy days teaching at the IDT that felt more like attending a lively party than work. And I have this book to remember Joseph’s joyous spirit and knowledge.

There she goes, my beautiful world

Root Simple reader Mary H left a nice comment on my Monday post about the muses,

A long time ago I heard “When times are good, make art. When times are bad, make more art.” Also, Neil Gaiman said, ” When things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art… Make it on the good days, too.”

In that spirit, in the midst of the quarantine/curfew I spent some time organizing my garage workshop so that I can continue to make furniture for the house. I took on the much delayed and deadly dull tasks of organizing the disorganized hardware storage bins and improving dust collection. Life is easier when the workshop is clean and the tools are sharp and in their place. Speaking of sharp, I also spent time setting up a dedicated sharpening station so that I won’t be tempted to put off this essential task when in the midst of working.

It’s important to have a pleasant space to work in. So amidst the tools are a few tchotchkes, images of cats and Bernie Sanders signs to remind me of happy before-times. Spending time in this space does not completely allay a foreboding sense of anxiety about the world but it’s certainly better than sitting in the house doom scrolling Twitter.

One of those Sanders signs says, “Fight the Power” a kind of pun in that I’ve, unintentionally, managed to assemble a work practice that blends power tools and hand tools. While I enjoy the convenience of a table saw and band saw I much prefer “fighting the power” with an over 100 year old hand plane that works as well as the day it was made. I’ve slowly begun to shift to using hand tools more often. They are safer, produce less dust and, while taking some practice to get used to, are just as precise if not more so and lead to fewer catastrophic mistakes. Lastly, I can’t minimize how important it is to have a proper workbench. Other crafts such as sewing, metal work, electronics etc. are greatly facilitated by a proper and dedicated work surface as well.

While expensive to set up, the workshop has paid for itself many times over. I’ve used it to make reproductions of furniture that would cost tens of thousand of dollars as well as make molding for the house and install wood floors.

I often think of the Nick Cave anthem “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” when I find myself slipping into a pity party. The song reminds us that creative types of the past managed to work under much more horrible conditions.

John Willmot penned his poetry
riddled with the pox
Nabakov wrote on index cards,
at a lectern, in his socks
St. John of the Cross did his best stuff
imprisoned in a box
And Johnny Thunders was half alive
when he wrote Chinese Rocks . . .

So if you got a trumpet, get on your feet,
brother, and blow it
If you’ve got a field, that don’t yield,
well get up and hoe it

The Sound is Forced, the Notes are Few

The Sacred Grove, Beloved of the Arts and Muses by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Me and the muses are having a toxic relationship meltdown during these weeks under quarantine/curfew. Amber A’Lee Frost gave voice to why this relationship has been so fraught in an essay she wrote for Damage

There has of course emerged a predictable cottage industry of self-help articles on how to “be” under quarantine, many of which paint it as an “opportunity.” And they’re not wrong; it is an opportunity—for them to write articles for a bunch of anxious and directionless people who really do want some instruction on how to become your optimal you (while also protecting yourself and others from a potentially deadly disease that is killing people all over the world).

Big tech cannot hide their delight; finally, a truly captive user base! Facebook insists that “We’re never lost if we can find each other,” which might feel grossly insensitive, but only until you see the glee in the Apple ad: “Now, more than ever, we’re inspired by people in every corner of the world finding new ways to share their creativity, ingenuity, humanity and hope.” Totally. We can all just use this time to learn watercolors (while also protecting yourself and others from a potentially deadly disease that is killing people all over the world).

As a urban homesteading/DIY blogger and author I’ve attempted a few of those how to “be” under quarantine hot takes and I’ve even spent part of my time making bad watercolors. I even wrote a post about that later effort (part of a longer post about learning old school architectural drawing) but never hit the publish button because it just didn’t feel right. A large part of that bad feeling comes from the realization that while I’m upping my drawing skills in quarantine, underpaid grocery clerks are risking the Covid to keep my pantry stocked with Cheeze-Its and La Croix.

Ironically, many of the skills I’ve written about and worked on over the years have proven useful in this crapular period. I’m happy to have the bread making, coffee roasting, carpentry and other skills to fall back on. I guess I’ll have to do some negotiations with the muses on how to write about those skills.

At the same time there’s an alternate history universe in which Kelly and I are more lacking in morals and better at the business side of things. In that universe we would have capitalized on the success of our first book to either peddle herbal supplements or start our own cult or some combination of the two. As Cornell West likes to say there’s a bit of a gangster in all of us. So if I start dispensing compost pile advice in white robes it’s probably time to hit the unsubscribe button. If I don’t go that route beware, other grifters are at the door . . .