Monday, December 28, 2009

The Stock Market

There is a new way to separate you from your money and lessen the quality of your life, and that is the new stock in a box appearing in your food market. Better than the instant bouillon cube which is no more than salt in foil, the new box is an apparent step up from Swanson's broth in a can. These products allow you to fool yourself into believing they are as good as homemade. They aren't.
I am old school and still believe that the simpler my food the better. For me nothing beats a golden broth consommé with maybe a tiny bit of veg floating on the surface. Nobody made it better than Jean Louis Palladin and when I asked him how it was that his was so much better than the competition he produced a tiny brown bottle. "My mother sends me this essence of burnt onion juice." he told me. "A few drops will flavor a quart of stock."

You can do this; make your own stock, and it is virtually free. Every time you peel and trim an onion, toss those peels and ends in the plastic bag you have ready in the freezer. So too the carrot peels, the lettuce trim, the fennel bottoms, the parsley stems, and the wing tips and back bones or whole carcass from your chicken. It is also a great idea to crush egg shells and save them in the bag. When making the stock the shells will form what is called a raft which will capture the scum on the surface.

(a parsley trick: trim off the stems, rinse the leafy bunch in water, place one or more bunches in your blender, pour in a cup or two of water, pulse. Strain the now green water (add to stock), place the now finely chopped parsley in a freezer bag, flatten, freeze, break off what you need when you need it.)

Brown the onion and chicken parts in the bottom of a stock pot, add quarts of water, a bay leaf or two, other herb, a clove, some pepper. Don't add salt yet. When you make your final soup you will be able to judge how much salt to add to taste. Bring to slow boil, reduce heat to simmer, forget it for an hour or more. Remove raft with a slotted spoon or simply pour stock through a strainer and save. Purists will want to remove the fat from the surface once it chills and sets. You can refine the stock more by straining again through a paper towel or simply leave the last inch of stock on the bottom of the pot where the unstrained solids will have collected. Store stock in pint or quart containers and freeze till needed.

To get the chicken parts for the stock will require a very sharp knife. I hope you got a sharpener for Christmas. If not get one. You can spend more money but this one does a great job.

Start with a good knife, you will need three in your life, a boning, a paring, an 8inch chef's.

This video will show you the basics of how to bone a chicken.

You could stop short of the whole boning process by just removing the wing tips, cutting out the back on two sides, and using these bones for stock. Or by making a small incision at the wish bone, inserting your fingers and pulling the breast away, you can bone the breast out of the chicken without a knife. The thighs will break off with a twist and tear. Another trick is to turn the separated leg over, skin side down and notice there is a whitish line where the thigh and drum might meet. It is exactly where they meet and if you slice atop that line you will separate them perfectly. Most of the time you will want to keep the bones within the legs and thighs for your recipes.
A starter soup might have you poach (20 minutes will do) the large pieces of chicken as you make the stock, and remove them to cool. Cook off some rice or noodles, dice a carrot, get a cup of frozen peas, shred some chicken. Place all in a pot, add stock, a bit of white wine, simmer, add a pinch of nutmeg, sprinkle with grated parmesan. Ahhhhh.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Gang in Town

I began my career in rural Appalachia struggling to help the working poor earn a living wage. Employers exploited workers, keeping them in line by using fear and intimidation. Community organizing was an obvious response. By coming together in an organization that approximated a gang, workers had a better chance to appeal for fairness.

The widely circulated AP story "Jobless professionals vie for holiday sales work" By CHRISTOPHER LEONARD and MAE ANDERSON, AP Business Writers put a face on the current unemployment crisis.
AP – In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, Mara Proctor arranges merchandise at Sticks boutique in Kansas

Mara, and the 6 million former professionals like her, are terribly alone. Having done everything the society asked of her, she finds herself discarded. Despite having ample cause for fury, her survival strategy is to get to work, any work will do.

I have a suggestion for Mara, form a gang. Not one of those groups who grope around trying to create a better resume or network, hoping against hope to find a way back into the system that just failed them. No, a real gang that pools their resources and begins with the premise that they do not want to get back to business as usual.

The first principle of the gang they should form is that society has failed them. They signed the social contract, but they got no security. They will take it as a truth that if you locate a problem that one person has, ten thousand others have the same problem. In some basic way, society has failed the majority of its citizens. The gang's job will be to identify and rectify those failures. This is Mara's opportunity. Mara should assess a set of needs that are common in her locale, and begin to solve those needs.

Let's get the ball rolling with a short list based on areas of opportunity that are fairly common, one of which Mara might want to exploit.
Programs are beginning to assist seniors in their transport needs.
Mara starts a car service, contracting with seniors, parents, and commuters.

Persons are struggling to eat right. Home chefs are but one new start-up.
Mara could do that or assist persons in their homes to rid their lives of junk food and teach the basics of healthy food prep to the entire family.

Schools are failing to provide the skill sets that Mara and her peers need to survive. Mara could tailor teaching sessions to the job skills required by specific corporations. Different then job training that is rarely specific, this concept begins with the employer and moves the training off site. States are starting to experiment with funded models that she might want to explore.

Mara might find a commercial building suffering a lack of tenants. This problem is only going to get worse. At the same time her state, and others, are going to suffer drastic budget cuts and education will not be immune. Mara proposes to the building owners and the existing tenants that what she wants to develop is a charter school, the organizing basis of which is that it is geared to provide real world office experience to its students.

This list is just suggestive. To develop any project Mara is going to need help. Enter the gang. For any of these suggestions to become a reality will require enormous amounts of energy. But it has to start with Mara and her gang, getting off their knees.

Who knows what she and her pals will come up with. The important thing is for her to form an alliance with a small group who share her motivation.
Maybe after a successful launch, her most ambitious project will be to replicate this process. "New Starts" might be their logo.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Salad Spinner

Grand baby West is 4 today!

Last Friday, in the middle of his play day, he marched into the kitchen and asked if he could have the salad spinner. His dad passed it to him, West retired to the living room, and we could hear the whir of the spinner as it wound up and down. A peek around the corner revealed the little guy poised over the tool, head bent to see the interior. A minute later he returns to the kitchen, and places the spinner on the table around which we are seated. He can now see the spinner at eye level. So can we. What West has done is place his three favorite "Match-Box" cars in the spinner, locked down the lid, and pumped them up into a fair simulation of the Metrodrome, Wall of Death. We are mightily impressed.

Another little guy getting ready:

I ask West if he has a paddle ball. He rummages around the toy chest and produces one. I hold the rubber band 4 inches or so above the ball and ask him to watch closely. I slowly start to spin the ball and sure enough the ball rises to orbit around my finger. "Now look at my mouth West. Say centrifugal force." He does and runs to repeat to his father, "centrifugal force".

West will start kindergarten next September. When he does he will be locked into a space with a bunch of other 4 year olds, and one adult. Where did that madness come from? Bonnie Moen in her excellent paper; "Multi-age Education -- Time for a Change" sets out the history. Horace Mann imported the concept from Prussia in the 1840's and it has been the norm ever since. This practice interrupted thousands of years of successful multi-age education.

Later that day West was drawing on the side walk. We asked him what he was drawing. "The Planets" he said.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cut the Crap

It is the holiday season and the whole world watches to see if the American consumer will rise to her obligation to shop till she drops. Tapped out, frightened that she will lose her job, busted from the market crash and the loss of value of her home, she probably is going to spend less. This probability provoked a spate of articles on the subject. The NYT ran a blog debate in September; "Saving the World Without US Consumers"
Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Within the above is yet another article that suggests that the measures that we use to determine human and planetary well being are misguided. In other words there is more to the well being of the people of the world than just what they consume. The GNP or rate of growth as just a number belies the costs of the consequences of that activity.

James Surowiecki brings economic issues to the masses with his weekly column in NewYorker. This week his interest is the disparity between Chinese manufacturing and the relatively light consumption of the Chinese people. He makes an argument that they, and the rest of the world, would be a better place if they would just start buying more of what they produce.

He is not alone.The McKinsey Quarterly has published a series of articles on the subject that you can access here.

Neither of these articles address the impacts of increased consumption on the part of the Chinese. They are simply looked upon as a market.

Questions regarding the ethics of counting the economic activity of consumption without consideration of the consequences are not discussed.

Hazel Henderson has been writing about the horror of a system that would calculate the "value added" of say an earthquake from the perspective of the building activity that will follow as opposed to the negative impacts on the people who suffered from the disaster. What she and others want is a true cost accounting of economic activity. If you produce a hybrid car battery for a new Prius then someone is going to pay the cost of cleaning up the pollution created in the manufacturing process. That cost ought to be considered when we "value" the car.

The cost of environmental consequences is never on the books. Nor is the reality of the Limits to Growth.

You have probably read some form of 'how many planets it would take if everyone lived like we do". For balance read the following counter argument.

Behold there is another concept starting to gain some traction. Some economists are indeed considering the limits to unbridled economic activity and call for a Steady State.

It should be obvious that we can't achieve a steady state if we raise the standard of living of some people of the world without a balanced reduction by others. This is where the right has a hissy-fit. "That means we have less", they argue. And right they are.

Here's where Will begins. I want to name the crap we can do without. Stuff on which there is something like a consensus of its valuelessness. I am willing to trade my low value stuff for others ability to have more. I'll start my list with corn sugar. Less for me, more corn for tortillas where they are a staple. I will add fewer clothing garments, wearing what I own longer. I will eat less meat, eschew bottled water, and drop chips. I will not buy my grandson anything in a primary color this season, nor will I replace the aging Big Wheel. That's a start. It has implications for jobs. This is but a topics list of what should be a very long national discussion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An idea whose time keeps coming, and coming

This spring the Volvo Round the World maxi boat race sailed into Boston harbor. Their arrival was preceded by the Puma pop up store that was erected on the pier in a day.

Thousands of us clambered aboard, bought gear, partied, and became impressed with the possibilities of container architecture.

I had seen "Positions"the art installation village consisting of "galleries" assembled from around the world and then transported in containers, lined up along the beach, and forming an instant art's district on Miami Beach, but this project moved the possibility from art to reality.

LOT-EK has been experimenting with containers for some time. An earlier example of a project was their

container home.

Bob Vila's web site featured a story on home creation utilizing containers and concluded: "Perhaps the biggest barrier to increased production of container homes is the stigma that is attached to the ugly metal boxes left abandoned in urban shipping yards. Transformative thinking and a willingness to move outside of the box can bring this technology to the forefront of urban planning agendas everywhere."
Text by Mark Fuller

A Seattle based architecture firm Hybrid Seattle coined the term "cargotecture" to describe their development and their first structure has landed.
I also know that when talking to the principals of the firm they are at work on an infill concept that is so smart it is a wonder that it hasn't been implemented yet. They view dorment development plots, builders waiting for financing might be a reason for a plot to lay fallow, as sites for temporary villages of container homes. The portability of the containers would allow them to have a temporary location until such time as the underlying project was green lighted, and then would move to the next site. A much better use than surface parking or weed patches.

The AIA, and the City of Newark sponsored a world wide competition for a container based development for their city. The results are amazing.

The beat goes on. LOT-EK won a competition to build a new shopping mall on a NYC pier, an Italian firm built a jewel box and slowly the concept is winning acceptance. It is important to take away the reality that zoning and planning board rules that might inhibit creative housing solutions are responsive to political will. If you have the will, there is a way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Maximizing the built environment

A scenario:
Barbara is a single mom who got herself behind the eight ball. Her husband died from a sudden heart attack while jogging. They had no life insurance. To help her with cash flow she refinanced her modest three bedroom, two car garage home in middle America using an adjustable rate mortgage. The way it was explained to her, "when the affordable rate is about to adjust, we will refinance again, and the monthly payments will remain the same". The problem is that when the adjustable rate reset, there was no bank ready to refi her loan and now she was saddled with a mortgage that was breaking her.

Barbara works in human resources at a mid-sized utility company. After her debt service she barely has money left to feed her two kids, 3 and 5 years old.. She was very close to foreclosure when a group of three approached her office with a concept for a new small business (house retrofitting for conservation) that they imagined was allied with the utility, and that the utility might want to fund. This was beyond her pay grade and she pushed the proposal up the chain but kept the cover sheet of the proposal in her desk. Weeks later she called one of the principals out of curiosity. No the utility hadn't funded the venture but the group had secured some start up money and was plunging ahead. They were looking for space.

No one can ever trace the sparks that trigger creative energy. What Barbara blurted out was, "would you consider renting my house from me during the working day?" Meetings were had, problems discussed, and the resolution worked as follows: They split the debt service and utilities. For the start-up this was far cheaper than the office options they had explored and far more comfortable. The living room, dining room, kitchen, and one bedroom would be shared by the business while Barbara was at work. Barbara and the kids each maintained a private bedroom. The key to the success of the concept was the separation of stuff in the shared space. Barbara contacted the head of the architecture dept. of a nearby university and posted a want-ad for a design project. A short description was included and of course a student responded within days. In addition to a little money beyond materials what the student needed was a practicum for credit. For that the student required they document the process. No problem.

Barbara suggested the student set up shop in the garage. He did. And what he fabricated was a set of three modular storage cubes on wheels. During the work day they opened to include the work surfaces, and communication storage areas that were needed, and at the end of the day, were secured and rolled against a wall, out of Barbara and the kids' way.

The kicker was that when the project was finished, the student suggested that he could retrofit the garage and create an apartment for himself in the space. He did. You will be pleased to know that Barbara is secure in the house, the start-up has positive cash flow, and the city certified the garage as a legal ancillary space.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

They're Back

They're back:
From the gang that brought you the economic collapse of 2008.

The building and allied trades, has been the most successful economic enterprise in human history. They formed a perfect alliance with government at all levels, becoming the largest donor in most campaigns. The result has been the pairing of interests so that government revenue is tied to developer success in bringing tax generating projects to ground.

The fact is that to develop, the building industry needs land. In the past they supported planning and development boards that ripped out entire neighborhoods in all of our major metropolises, giving them the space they needed to construct new projects. They created language,"highest and best use", that sanctified the process. They determined what the half life of a building was and if creative destruction wasn't rapid enough, they destabilized entire neighborhoods by red-lining, lax policing, or finding some other incentive (removal of politically weak minorities). In one of the more amazing acts of political manipulation the building industry got tax payers to foot the bill for the Impacts, (costs of schools, water treatment, public safety) of their developments.

They supported "white flight" and built the suburbs that sprawled across the countryside. When the price of gas rose, and it appeared there might be advantages to inner city living, they stimulated gentrification and created new "workforce" housing near the plants that hired the former inner city resident they displaced. They got highways and ramps built to facilitate access to their projects again at tax payer expense.

This kind of manipulation is not easy and they need the appearance of independent thinkers to rationalize their behavior. For example, when an argument is needed to support the myth that more building will create a bigger tax base, it helps to have a think tank to create the story.

To that end the industry created the Urban Land Institute (ULI). This group includes every major mortgage bank, builder, developer, real estate sales firm, and even many government agencies send representatives as members. They publish, hold conferences, train youth, and steer development by creating trend analysis.

Some of their hits include urging the FED to support the idea that everyone deserves to own a home, and deregulating the banking practices that stood in the way of loans for people who couldn't afford them. They got the right of eminent domain to include taking private land for the benefit of private developers. They made it illegal to have more than one head of household in a residence, and saw to it that there was a strict separation of work and living spaces. They define what space is, what building material can be used to create it, and who can build the space, all in an attempt to suggest a shortage of available space, creating the opportunity for yet more building.

Every effective monopoly overreaches and in this case they created a doozy. In the wake of the disaster of their overbuilding, over leveraging, and over lending, they have created the greatest economic debacle in the history of mankind.

They have an enormous problem. After transferring the blame for the collapse on the hapless home owner, they have to concoct another scheme to keep their engine going. They count for over half of the national economy. Talk about "too big to fail". They use other people's money and even the average citizen is starting to get the fact that if they fail, we pick up the tab.

Opportunities are being created as I write this. They are creating new wastelands,
taking down structures they couldn't sell and turning their backs on the suburbs they created.
The effect of this on the individual is to wipe out a lifetime of saving, belie the myth the real estate is a good investment, and that home ownership, as defined by the industry, is a noble objective. The industry needs a new set of suckers, and it is setting about creating them.

The ULI concluded their annual conference in San Francisco last week and their proceedings are fascinating. Here are some highlights:
ULI "Icons" have advice they share with attendees.

Emerging Trends in Real Estate®, released this week at ULI’s Annual Fall Meeting in San Francisco.
Emerging Trends predicts that investment and development will start to pick up steam in a couple of years. In the meantime, those who are in a position to do so should buy or hold multifamily; buy hotels; buy distressed condos and second homes; buy land; buy or hold industrial; hold office; and apply a "triage" approach to retail.
Looking past the recession, "The future is about green development, infill, and transit-oriented development."

The panel discussed two main demographic groups that will drive the next decade’s housing market: Generation Y and their parents (the aging baby boomers). Looking past the recession, "The future is about green development, infill, and transit-oriented development."

In other words: If they play their cards right, they can get a whole new generation of people with no experience to buy the idea that they are going to build them the green future we demand. As for their parents, who they just wiped out, and the brown and black immigrants who barely speak the language, they will validate new multiple family dwellings.

And they concluded: "The bad news is that it is unlikely that enough new housing can be built in urban areas to meet this growing demand. The result is likely to be rising urban housing costs--good for developers and owners and bad for homebuyers and renters with limited funds."

Let me tell you what that means in plain english. When a developer applies to the commission of a "built out" city for permission to build yet more, higher, denser property for which he is not willing to contribute additional costs of operating the services that are necessary to sustain it, and is requesting public money and tax forgiveness, he will use the argument that the new young workers need these places if they are to move here, and it will increase the tax base.

The city will fall deeper in debt, the tax burden will increase, and a new class of home buyers will suffer the ravages of the second wave of housing destruction.

The reality as reported by Fortune Magazine is more realistic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


We read the
NYT story on the destruction of bikes in the Paris share program with sadness. The French sociological perspective is that the program is troubled by the inequality of persons who are acting out a salvo of class warfare. Could be.

I lived through the Provo white bike program in Amsterdam and witnessed the same destruction 35 years ago. That failure and evidence that humans seemingly won't maintain that in which they have no personal stake, motivated the antipathy of The Tragedy of the Commons thesis of Garrett Hardin. He was wrong then and those who snicker are wrong now. But not nearly as wrong as the silly but well intentioned civil servants in Paris, and their followers, constructing complex multi million dollar bike rental programs complete with corporate sponsors. (In the day, you went to a bike rental store and borrowed a bike).

I think the most important contributing factor in the Paris Debikel is the fact that the bow ties who designed this program had NO street smarts! I am afraid that they represent the legions of sustainable opportunists who believe that the answer to our environmental problems will be to build our way out, create green jobs, and be the next cool thing in the process.

Smart city dwellers know that their commuter, around town bike, is likely to be stolen. They buy them by the thousands for tens of dollars. They scrounge the millions of summer rentals that are blown out at the end of a season. They reclaim the bikes of the graduating college kids who leave them as they move on. They buy them at yard sales from people who are moving up or out of the sport. They know that police auctions are a great place to buy a bike on the cheap. Millions of bikes are retrofitted every year by smart riders looking for a set of wheels. Some of these recycled bikes are the stuff of legend.

Smart cities are adapting programs that begin with biker's needs. Bike stations are becoming more widespread The problems of commuting to work are being addressed and are discussed at length here.

That is not to say that bike sharing is doomed. Three days before the Paris story ran the Times featured a group ride to a Princeton based program.

There's hope. It just might be class warfare.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Suit Becomes You

The Bar Mitzvah boy's lessons also include getting his first suit. My dad had a high school friend who grew up and became a manufacturer so it was an obvious choice to drive to NY to visit him in the factory in the garment district for the purchase. It came with a lecture. "You should always have a blue suit in your wardrobe. You never know what might come up when you will need one and so it's there for whatever."  He then proceeded to take me around the shop, pointing out the stations where the suits are assembled and explaining to me the basics of what makes a quality suit. There was no mention of price point, or brand. There was a demonstration of the grades of suits and how each successive grade included more hand elements. That is to say that at each level of quality there was a justification of price based on an inherent value.

In the above excerpt from the annual report of the Philips Van Huesen Company, the largest distributor of men's clothes in America, you can see their corporate strategy is entirely based on price points and brand options.

The recent announcement of DJ AM's death included this image: The man had style. In an attempt to look as good we are going to need expert guidance. It exists. Every man has a dad in the name of the "style guru".   Here is a basic guide to choosing a suit.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Our Money

It really is our money.

Big numbers like a 14 trillion dollar national debt, ( David Walker, Comptroller of the Currency under Bush, suggests the implied debt is really 65 trillion) are disregarded because none of us can conceive of them. Nonetheless these figures will be a factor in all our lives as we have to pay this obligation off, or suffer the ravages of bankruptcy if we don't. This debt was created by government spending more than they took in revenues. The way this debt is retired is our payment of taxes. The government could sell off land holdings, oil leases, federal buildings, but the bulk of the debt will be paid through our taxes. Our collective obligation to pay.

This is the funny season when tax attorneys and estate planners sharpen their pencils and begin to design the ways and means that their clients can avoid taxes. As the time gets nearer and the rhetoric on tax and debt issues gets louder, you are going to hear some tired arguments. The most common is that the poor, or 47% of citizens will pay no taxes, and that the rich pay the disproportionate share of all taxes. The latter is true as far as it goes. The issue here is are they paying what they MIGHT owe, and if not who is responsible for their share?

By example. Lets say ten of us agree to buy a $10,000 plot of land on which to grow veggies. We borrow the money. To keep it simple we have an interest only loan at 5% principle due in 20 years. We owe $500 interest a year per share. If for any reason, one of us doesn't or can't make their payment, the loan isn't reduced, it is redistributed among the remaining payers. We each have to kick in 10% more. We might penalize the non payer and deny him his share of the veggies. When it comes to government goods and services there is no take back of services from those who don't pay.

So taxes that are not collected from one of us, are made up for by the rest of us.

This is the time of the year when Forbes publishes its list of the richest persons in America. It is also a convenient time for many of those on the list to trot out their charitable activities. These charities are created by diverting money that would otherwise be paid in taxes into a variety of instruments, lets summarize and call them foundations.
The Wealth Management Exchange is just one of thousands of organizations that can help you create a foundation.

Here is a quick summary of benefits:
Private Foundations At A Glance
• Immediate income tax deductions for amounts donated to foundation
• Reduce income taxes by up to 30% per year
• Exempt from Estate and gift tax
• Long-term build up of foundation assets free of income tax
• Complete legal control of foundation during life of founder
• The ability to make the world a better place through a sustained long-term program of well planned and executed charitable giving
• A unique opportunity to share value and vision with children and grandchildren
• Build a permanent legacy
• After founder passes, foundation may stay under family control

The last entry means that heirs, who did nothing but get lucky choosing a parent, carry on the family business, and they too pay no taxes.

When Ted Turner announced his enormous gift to the U.N. he was also generous about how the system works for him. A USA Today story characterized the gift as follows:

Turner’s gift, it turns out, is not as generous as described in media reports. An amount of up to $1 billion will be donated in the form of Time-Warner stock in ten annual installments. The cost to Turner could be significantly less than $1 billion if he takes advantage of tax write-offs, tax deductions and ways to avoid estate taxes. Amazingly, USA Today claims "Turner, or at least his heirs, could end up $100 million richer because he’s giving a billion away."

So just to hammer home the point, the tax advantages that accrue to the rich, will be made up for by the rest of us, with our money, and the charities they create are funded with our money. When you read of the good work that is being done be sure to stand up and declare it is in your name, with your money.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ribs and Wings

When the market place goes topsy that doesn't mean you have to. Take spare ribs.
Spare ribs are what is left over when the butcher is finished taking off the prime cuts of the pork carcass. Prime cuts include chops, and roasts, You can recognize a prime cut, they have meat on them. In the day, when true value was not market driven, spare ribs were the cheapest cut in the meat case. Now that demand has outstripped supply you have a situation where baby back ribs (from the loin area) cost two to three times what the boneless loin costs. And on a yield basis, how much meat you get, the factor may be ten fold.

Lets be honest. The rib is really just a sauce delivery vehicle. (For some bone suckin, crunchin, freaks of which I am one, the bone is an important part of the experience. To you I say, save the bones from the next order of ribs you eat, clean and store them, and have them on the plate for dipping the next time you BBQ some loin.)

Buy a loin roast. Halve it longways. Rub in your favorite rub. Sloooow roast at 250 for 4 hours or till internal temp reads 140, check every hour or so, bathe in sauce for last 20 minutes. Let rest. Slice in half inch strips, dip in yet more sauce. Forget about ribs.

Chicken wings now cost more then breast meat for the same reason. Supply has outstripped demand. Buy a good heavy chefs knife. Learn to use it.

Buy chicken thighs (which are inherently juicier than wings). Chop them in half. Cook as for wings but a bit longer to compensate for the added meat on the bone.

And when all of the cuts are boned out of the respective animal, the scrapes, the leftovers are turned into sausage. Some sausage is now more expensive then any cut of the animal, particularly chicken. Making your own is so simple and so healthy by comparison there is no reason not to do it. You do not have to stuff sausage into intestines. Make patties formed from fresh meat and spices or crumble and use in your favorite recipe.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Built-Ins are Bankable

Built-ins are Bankable:

You enter the dwelling space and you immediately sense that the owners have overreached. It isn't a matter of the size or the cost of the housing. The sparse furnishings suggest that the owners simply haven't the money to fit out their new digs.
The fact is that the cost of furnishing a new home is rarely factored into the total cost of housing. Typically new starts begin with a hand me down or two, play out a shabby chic style, or worse, go into more debt, at outrageous interest costs, to furnish a space. "Rent to own", credit cards, or furniture store credit is usually exorbitant.
If we are to develop affordable housing options we have to be mindful of the total livability cost of any space. So here are a couple of thoughts and strategies we might employ.

When I say that "built-ins are bankable" what I mean is that if the builder has included the banquette pictured at the top for example, it is included in the cost of the house and is wrapped into the mortgage. It is financed at the same time as the home and at the same interest rate as the structure. It is part of the structure and therefore considered "real estate". In today's market that means the cost of the money for the kitchen seating group was 5%. As long as we continue to provide tax reductions for interest payments on real estate, the interest is deductible.
Strategy number one has us influencing builders to include as many built-ins as we can imagine.. The pic above is from a book currently on Google Books. The cover itself is filled with possibilities.

Strategy number two involves people about to buy a new space and before they agree to purchase they develop plans for additional built-ins that they want included in their new home. If the builder is still on site it is probable he will welcome the opportunity to increase his return on the structure. If the original builder is not available then the buyer can contact an aftermarket retro-fitter and work out a building plan that is formalized and thus can be brought to the table with their lender. This movie shows a typical retrofit.

A third strategy has a person in their space and considering a refinance, or executing a part of a home equity loan. In both cases a set of plans and contracts for built-ins will be accepted as a bankable home improvement. At times like these, "cheap money" suggests the time is right to increase your "relatively cheap" home line of credit rather than getting killed by your credit card rates. So consider beds, closets, book cases, entertainment centers, cupboards, storage chests, shop benches, the list goes on. Built-ins are also the key to maximizing small spaces and making them functional. THINK BOAT.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Antiques, the new Green

Ikea has become synonymous with new house formations. Students in large numbers and "starters" finding themselves in need of furnishing and pinched for cash opt for the affordable, stylish solution. In the process IKEA has become the world's third largest consumer of wood and though IKEA suggests they are responsible, their consumption patterns are hard to discern. In Ellen Ruppel Shell's new book "Cheap: The High Cost Of Discount Culture" Ikea is taken on as the new WAL-MART.

There is an alternative that may be a little hard to get your mind around at first. A Brit with the fabulous name Nigel Worboy has formed an organization, "Antiques are Green". In the following interview he makes his case for collecting antiques being the oldest form of recycling.

There is a great variance in what constitutes an antique. I don't think one has to learn the trade to begin the process of furnishing your life with sturdy pieces that you can use for a lifetime, pass on, or sell for a profit when you no longer need them. Parents wanting to do their kids a favor might consider off loading to them a piece or two when they need it most. The three pictured items might be good places to begin. The cupboard is named a Hoosier for the company that made them and serves as a kitchen utility area for those short on cabinets. An armoire is a closet that can be moved and comes in many configurations. The farm table could become the multipurpose center of your space. Each of these pieces is guaranteed to appreciate in value and afford you the most bang for the buck in the long run.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

To Market To market to

Buy a pound of potatoes

As the farmers' market season winds down here in Maine, I thought to give it one last shot and came away empty handed again. The Farmers' Market is a beautiful gathering. It is filled with beautiful people mingling among the beautiful offerings of farm product.
It is not however a "market". Free markets are places where goods compete for customers based on a complex set of values. Once these values are established, externalities calculated (in the case of food, supply and demand are large factors), prices are set. In this, and my travels suggest, many farmers markets, it appears that truly outrageous prices are being assigned to foodstuff on the basis of regionalism, small farm product, and in some cases, organics. Here are real examples of prices as of last Saturday: onions $1 a piece, potatoes (maine white round) 2.50 a pound, spinach $9 a pound, scallions $2 a small bunch, Maine wild blueberries $7 pint, ground beef $8 a pound, and the cruelest cut of all; lamb shanks $10 pound. Spinach is not worth 9 bucks simply because you produce so little of it.

What is missing is any consideration of seasonality, i.e. blueberries are in and therefore plentiful and thus cheaper as farmers must move more product. The true market price as reflected by the same berries being for sale in supermarkets is more like 3.50 a pound and that is after all of the additional markups. Also missing is competition among the purveyors as there is a striking similarity of price. Maybe most importantly what is missing is the push back from intelligent consumers who know when they are being ripped.

The point was brought home to me the other night at dinner when our guest, a thirty something teacher, foodie, and triathlete, asked; "What is a fair price to pay for chevre at the farmers market?" Fair question. She had no standard by which to judge, i.e. had not bought goat cheese before, and had nothing to compare it to. She had paid at the rate of $32 a pound. She liked the cheese and felt good about supporting a local maker. The making of cheese is such a fine art, the taste variances are so subtle, that to try to place an absolute value on one or another cheese isn't possible. I did suggest to her that she was at the top end of the price range, particularly for a fresh cheese which has a high moisture content and promised to share with her a variety of other cheeses to broaden her taste. To gain some perspective it will be important for her to know that there are at least 20 similar cheeses for sale from France that retail for a third less. They are small farm, hand made cheeses, whose producers are making a living. These cheese makers have paid the freight, customs, and brokers fees, and whose retailers put on another markup.

By now we know that certified organic food costs more to produce, and if you want it you should expect to pay more for the effort. But how much more is becoming a big issue. The prices in the market would be hard to justify on the basis of farming practice. What does appear to be a factor, and one that I am not willing to support, is the idea that small scale "farmers" are entitled to make a living. If the Joneses want to sell their garden product off their two acre patch they can't begin by arguing that they work harder, incorporate no labor sharing or saving mechanism, and need to make X in order to survive. They have created a bubble, a small one, but a bubble and it is going to burst.

In June, Pete Wells writing in the NYT, went on about $35 chicken, and $14 gallons of milk. He was cutting back. The farmers had priced him out of their market.

Many articles are written re. how the local farmer is only recovering his/her cost of healthy production and usually in the same article a shot is taken at industrial food. In a recent discussion in the local paper it was stated that the reason the industry can produce cheap food is that "they exploit illegal labor, despoil the land, and spread disease".

When you make that statement in Maine, you are indirectly attacking the single largest farm crop in the state, the Maine Potato. The Maine potato is in season right now, and this highly respected food source is on sale in most supermarkets for 40 cents a pound. Clearly something else is going on here.

In the same article John Harker, a development agent for the Maine Department of Agriculture, said "research shows that the current market for direct-to-consumer sales from small farms in Maine is confined to the pool of consumers with higher incomes and higher levels of education". John had best be careful. I have run into a hail of criticism for suggesting there is anything wrong in the farmers "market".

The critical points have to be made. If persons intended to set up a food boutique, selling custom made product to richies who choose to pay for the privilege so-be-it. But that is not the ambition of the persons promoting the locovore/organic movement. A recent conference was entitled "Can Maine Feed Itself". That is all Mainers. That includes women in the WIC program, a federally funding program trying to improve the nutritional intake of new moms. They have just included "farmers markets" as eligible for vouchers from WIC participants. WIC women can now buy $10 worth of product at a certified farmers market, A MONTH. In our market that would be one lamb shank.

John Harker has called on farmers to form co-ops to increase their footprint. He hopes for more processing plants, and he calls for consumers to form buying co-ops. He also hopes to curtail the false promise of organics as in the following article.

I have a local farmer who eschews the Portland market. He sets up a stand on the campus of our local university on Fridays. He has the same beautiful product, grown locally, at half the price of his competition. He's got my business.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Granny Flats and why you want them

The best definition of an ADU comes from an issue of New Urban News, Dec 2001:

"Granny flats add flexibility and affordability. 
In several new urban communities, accessory dwelling units are strong sellers and offer benefits to both home owners and developers.
Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) appear under many aliases — granny flats, garage apartments, carriage houses, ancillary units — and they almost invariably show up on a checklist of what sets new urban communities apart from conventional subdivisions. They are by no means ubiquitous, but developers from diverse projects report that granny flats have become a popular amenity and an important selling point.
For some home owners, the most attractive aspect of ADUs is the potential for extra income from renting out the unit. Other home owners view the extra space as a flexible addition that can be used as a home office, as lodging for teenage children or elderly family members, or as a guest room with great privacy.
From a developer’s perspective, ADUs provide an extra tier of housing options — affordable units that can attract people from diverse age and income groups. Another benefit is safer and more lively alleys. With more “eyes on the street,” children and adults are more likely to use the alley for play and socialization".

The article goes on to discuss great examples of win-win opportunities where the concept is implemented, and though describing new housing, it establishes the concept. It could be applied to existing stock through smart adaptation. Some companies are starting to build portable structures to be moved into back yards as needed.

This idea however is very controversial. One story jumped out at me, This from Binghamton NY:
Profs use Facebook info to evict BU students
Originally Published 2007-12-07
By Erika Neddenien
Six Binghamton University students face eviction after their neighbors — two BU professors — used Facebook to determine that they were in violation of the West Side’s R-1 zoning law, Binghamton’s Mayor Matt Ryan said.

The R-1 zoning law, which restricts a chunk of Binghamton’s West Side to “factual and functional families,” is typically only enforced when reports are made about a violation. The issue made headlines in 2000 when two dozen students were evicted from their homes.

To try to get a grip on this "problem" The city commissioned "A Report of the Mayor’s Commission on Housing and Home Ownership"
The result was to suggest the creation of an "overlay district" in which "student housing" was encouraged.
BUT: Within their summary the planners identified the following strategy to limit:"Rebuttable presumption / presumptive limit approach: This approach is a somewhat complex concept. What it amounts to is setting a numerical occupancy limit, which can be waived under specified circumstances, based on the number of unrelated tenants who can live together in a dwelling unit. The limit is waived if the landlord (or tenants) can demonstrate that the tenants are the “functional equivalent” of a traditional family—based on criteria set forth in the Zoning Code. (Most municipalities throughout the U.S. employ this functional family equivalent approach, as a result of Constitutional rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the highest courts of most states.) The presumptive limit approach is further complicated by the need to decide whether to apply the same presumptive limit to dwelling units in R-1, R-2, and R-3 districts- -and, if not, how to draw principled distinctions. It also creates endless debates about the rationality of applying the same presumptive limit to large versus small houses, and to houses with many versus few bedrooms " Students considered this a ghetto that limited their choices.
The city in an attempt to quell student outrage at what they conceive of as restrictive zoning addressed them with respect citing they were only interested in their safety. Too many persons in a home is a fire hazard.

There you have it. This isn't the first time the issue of non traditional families living together caused a ruckus. "Exclusionary rules" have been challenged around the country with varying degrees of success. The Fair Housing Act is a response to handicapped persons wanting to live together and having been rebuked. Same sex marriage prohibitions run right into this issue of what constitutes a family or the "head of a household".

In 1985 the following abstract appeared:
MARSHA RITZDORF Iowa State University
Copyright 1985 Urban Affairs Association

Although not often included in the literature devoted to exclusionary zoning practices, an examination of the use and abuse of family definitions in American municipal zoning ordinances is important to those who are concerned with the revitalization of American cities and suburbs. Many of the ideas suggested for innovative reuse of existing housing are linked to the family definition. Accessory units in single-family dwellings and shared housing are two examples. This paper briefly examines the history of family definitions in municipal zoning ordinances, reviews the major court decisions concerning their use and discusses the relevance of the continued use of family definitions when current demographic changes are taken into consideration.

Since then the issue keeps bubbling up. New Urbanists, trying to increase density and walkability in their planned communities meet resistance. Whereas the article at the top sites eyes on the street as a positive. The following article in Reason Magazine argues against it:
"Crime-Friendly Neighborhoods
How "New Urbanist" planners sacrifice safety in the name of "openness" and "accessibility"

ADUs marketed with seniors in mind are doing better. ECHO is a program that is gaining traction. In some cases it pays to be old.

Here are other examples of places struggling with the concept. Denver,
Boston, Provo, and here is a great story from Santa Cruz.

For our purposes it is safe to say that those of us looking for creative ways to solve the housing crisis the idea of ADUs makes sense. Were this to be a widely adopted housing pattern, you can imagine a set of dwellings which enhance "family values". Owners could shift the footprint of their homes as their family composition changes without having to uproot. Homes could expand and contract as needs determined. New homeowners offset mortgage costs. If their family grows they move into the ancillary spaces. When family members move on, the now empty nester has space to rent again. This is an idea whose time has come. Be vigilant and attend those dull zoning hearings. Your life depends on it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Off the Grid

What's the meaning of this? More than the rather obvious concept of removing oneself from the big guys who supply power, the more insidious consequence is that persons who actually do move off the grid, do so as a form of insulation from the rest of us, in community. In and of itself, this movement wouldn't concern me. There is nothing new here. What does concern me is that the leading proponents of environmental reform, including a MacArthur genius grantee, have moved themselves off the grid, and model a totally irrelevant mode of existence. They also give ammo to those who argue against eco reform by exploiting the hypocrisy of those who don't "do as they say".

My personal top four include Bill McKibben whose home was featured in the Sierra Club magazine.

Mr. McKibben has actually argued for strengthening community. Consider the title of a book published about the same time he was finishing his house: "Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future." Community isn't driving to the farmers market. Community is a network of goods and services that supply ones daily life with the riches that far surpass what one could or should assemble on their own. And what does he model? A free standing single family home in the countryside. So if we extrapolate. Even if the billions of the rest of us could afford this "style" of life, can we imagine what the planet would look like with billions of homes sprawled across the earth.

A quote from the Rocky Mountain Institute website reads: For many supporters and visitors, Rocky Mountain Institute® is synonymous with Amory's private residence in Old Snowmass, Colorado. Completed in 1984 and upgraded continually since then, the facility remains a state-of-the-art showcase of efficiency ideas. Amory Lovins' house was just featured in a WSJ article which they point to on their website. In the article it is demonstrated that the current set of retrofits to the 4000 plus square foot house in which Mr. Lovins grows bananas, are really not affordable, yet they demonstrate the possibility of the retrofits we might attempt to our existing housing stock. Well the guy in Houston who tried it rejected most of the technology, and again one has to wonder what are we modeling here? Oh to be rich and afford a home in which I can grow my own bananas.

The staff of the institute has been moved to a nearby preserve and the best I could discover was that the nearest food coop was 19 miles away.

When we visited Paolo Soleri at Arcosanti and arranged a lunch the attendant acolytes were so nervous they literally surrounded the great man and answered my questions for him. Questions such as why is there a question mark on the web page "an Urban Laboratory?" Is the idea to be self sufficient, living as they are, in the desert, 65 miles north of Phoenix? There was a lot of mumbling.

When on the web site click on the Solare project and realize that what Soleri has always had in mind is a rejection of the current fact of life of the cities we now occupy and instead dreamed the possibility of what his vision of the future might look like. But Arcosanti exists in the here and now. What are we to make of the tension between the guy who is trying to grow food on his small plot at Arcosanti, fighting the folks who budget concrete building material in front of his need for water? True story. People cycle thru here. People don't ask the tough questions and are being diverted from the hard work of repairing their own lives.

Another project that gets a lot of ink is Earthship.

Drive 15 miles out of Taos, into the desert, and come upon the early adopters of rammed earth, funky, alternative structures. One of the ironies is that most of them are for sale, aftermarket sale. They range in price from the low 160s to 500K and boy are they off the grid. Again so what's the biggee? Desert rats have been doing this for years. But if you polled an average population of persons plugged into eco-friendly design- build concepts, processes liked rammed earth and recycled tires would come up a lot. The Financial Times did a piece on the build your own movement and if you visit these sites you will see groups of young people rediscovering the quality crafts of post and beam construction, rammed earth, cob walls, and hay bales construction. Great for them. And some of them are looking for plots of land as I write this. They also have interesting bedfellows. I am sure that both groups cringe at the thought they are moving in the same direction.

But, the facts of life as we live them are that now most of us reside in cities.
And these numbers are growing.

David Owen is releasing a new book; Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability
that expands his original New Yorker article on NYC being the greenest city.

Living within one of our built existing environments of course places us squarely on the grid. Would that the champions of rebuilding these places got as much attention in the pop culture as did their back to the earth cousins.

Click on the image of Majora Carter and be taken to her TED talk

Monday, September 7, 2009

Thou Art

Best Products stores shattered the easy distinction between a building as functional, or as an object of art. These early big box stores were designed by the firm "SITE | architecture, art & design" ( Sculpture in the Environment ). A pictorial review of these stores is here.

The fusion of structure as art and design was shocking. I remember near wrecks as people driving by, slowed to view the structure standing near a parkway in Richmond, VA. But the firm had a serious purpose which drives them to this day: To break new ground.

As this project was winding down the firm created a book "Highrise of Homes" which was published in 1982. The following is a slide show of some of the images from that book, forwarded to me from the firm:

As I was preparing this blog I wrote to Jim Wines, now professor of Architecture at Pa State and told him of my intent to revisit this concept. He replied:

Dear Will,
I received your inquiry concerning the Highrise of Homes project. I am delighted that you are pursuing its translation into reality. SITE actually had a client in Japan who was ready to build a version of the idea around 1985, but the negotiations never quite worked out.

As you may know, the project has been getting quite a bit of attention over the past couple of years; so the prospect for serious consideration seems to be growing. In fact, I will be a keynote speaker at the Sarkozy sponsored conference on green design for Paris at the Pompidou Center in October, where HoH will be featured. Also, the project will be on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for their big Post-modern exhibit in 2011. So the timing of your interest is probably pretty good....

Thanks again for your interest.
Best regards,
James Wines

The text of the book included criticisms of the project, responses, a lot of architecture speak, and an epilogue that I quote from here:

"The Highrise of Homes is a far from perfect solution, yet it functions as a viable response to an imperfect world--a world of too many people trying to occupy too little land surface. The project is a condition of experimentation which accounts for and tries to deal with the conflicting desires of city dwellers to enjoy the cultural advantages of urban life, without forfeiting the sense of independence and identity associated with the house and garden. In an era when the mansion on the hill and the cottage in the country are becoming increasingly less attainable--and, indeed, less sociologically justifiable--the Highrise of Homes may represent the new "democratic skin" of multi-level habitat. It is architecture as the collective biography of its inhabitants. It is architecture as a chronicler of pluralism and a celebration of choice. It is architecture as the negation of the "master builder" concept that has dominated this century. It is architecture as a form of spontaneous urban theatre. It is architecture that is, at once, visionary and very traditional."

I can't be sure but I have a hunch that at least one member of the team had a tongue placed deeply in their cheek. At the least the sense of having given in to a cultural imperative is expressed in this concept: If the western pattern of dwelling is so fixed in the minds of the consumer then lets give it to them in a way that works us out of some of the attendant problems of sprawl, and at the same time incorporates an adaptive reuse of the existing infrastructure.

Anthropologists will tell you that the modern "fireplace" is a vestigial manifestation of a primitive need to gather around the warming hearth. Builders concerned with the consequences of heat loss, build in inserts, insulating screens, and finally the ultimate ventless fireplaces.

These adaptations respect the fact of the reluctance to change while adapting the dwelling to the demands of modern conservation. In the case of Highrise of Homes, SITE has retained the core concepts of cluster efficiency while suggesting to those who resist the loss of their identity, they can have it all. That's not Art. That is an artful solution to a practical problem.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Real World, Part Two

Students are constantly exhorted that the point of their education is to prepare them for work in the "real world". The college experience is understood to be a transition in that process and doesn't count as a real world experience. But as the following will evidence, it may be that an important set of lessons is being learned in the informal curriculum.

As students return to their respective colleges this month it is interesting to observe how the dwelling space has evolved. featured a photo essay of where we have been and where we might be going.

Their take of new slick dorms features the for profit examples built by American Campus Communities. These campuses have realized that marketing quality of dorm life is a key element in recruitment.

Simpler, more environmentally responsible projects are gaining momentum as revealed in this article; "Sustainable dorms" By Marcia Passos Duffy, featuring students at Sarah Lawrence and American U.

The Sarah Lawrence students conceive of their space as a living laboratory.

Casey Roe, an environmental studies major at American U says: College students are the ideal population to encourage sustainability on both a personal and a community level, Roe says, adding that American University opened its first environmentally friendly dorm this year. "College is a good place to breed this kind of behavior," Roe says. "If one person starts, it can spread pretty quickly to all areas of the college."

And to other colleges as this summary demonstrates.

A great example is the Graduate Housing recently built at Harvard. Top designers are now building LEED certified dormitory structures.

Students are also plugging into conceptions of their future. An award winning design expressed some of the greenest dwelling space as a dorm.

Respecting the environment while at college leads to habits that continue after graduation, says Yevgeniy "Gene" Gutsalo, who graduated in May from Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York, with a degree in economics.
"I wasn't even aware of the movement until I got to college," says Gutsalo, 21, who lives in New York City. While at college, he participated in competitions among dorms to decrease energy usage and increase recycling. "I don't know if there was a winner, or if anyone cared if there was one, but everyone did their part, and it made an impact on me."

The experience probably left him ecologically minded for life, Gutsalo says. "I decided not to buy a car, I bring my own mug to work, I still turn off electric appliances, I still recycle and reuse," he says. Rather than feeling like a weighty responsibility or a sacrifice, "it's become second nature."

And that is really the point of teaching sustainability, Sarah Lawrence's Justin Butler says. "The beauty of it is that none of this requires moving back to the Stone Age. It does require a lot of dedication on changing everyday behavior," he says. "But it is hopeful because, after a while, it becomes so easy."

More important than the structures that contain them is the fact that students are living communally, sharing a wealth of resources, and learning lessons about how to live in the "real world" they will eventually inhabit.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Real World, Part One

A student returning to college asked the readers of the Blog 101 Cookbooks to suggest ways he might overcome the horrors of dorm food and required meal plans. After 392 comments the host interrupted the process.

It is difficult to make generalizations about the state of food on campus. For every food service that is diversifying and including more healthy options, there is a campus that has been optioned by fast food chains.

I believe that every college ought to offer classes in food; nutrition, shopping, preparation, and presentation. Refined Home Ec ought to be a required part of every gen ed curriculum and should begin with food. I'll begin with the following:
The cruise through the supermarket.
As has been mentioned in this space the number of MREs for civilians now being offered in every major supermarket grows and grows. They are intended for working persons who simply don't have the time or inclination to cook. Salad bars, rotisserie spits, precooked entrees and sides abound. One pays for that convenience. Students can learn to roll their own. The lettuce that is 6 bucks a pound in the salad bar, is 1.50 in the produce case. Even here the price for convenience has one paying a premium for the bagged "salad". Anyone can shred a head of lettuce, slice a cuke, peel a carrot, top a radish. The temptation is to select one of the hundreds of dressing that line an entire aisle of most stores. The reason there are so many is that they are cheap to produce and yield high profit. Good for them Bad for us. Note the presence of things you either can't pronounce or know by now aren't good for you. The number of offerings suggest that something as simple as the most basic dressing is as foreign to most of us as its name, vinaigrette. One part vinegar, three parts oil, salt, pepper, whisk with fork, pour. Add herbs, flavored vinegars, mustard, go nuts, have fun.

Fruits aren't as easy as you might suspect. A tasty apple is a slam dunk but unless you live near where they grow them you aren't going to taste a ripe peach. Ripening fruit is a problem. Some solutions are easy. A pear needs time to develop and placing them in paper bags and waiting a day or two will work. Off gases from bananas will ripen pears, papayas, and mangos so placing them together in a paper bag will ripen all of the fruit. Here's a fundamental truth: Fruit goes on sale when it is in season, ripe, and abundant. Knowing the cycle of ripening is a help. Here is an example from Michigan You will need a local resource.

So we will cruise through the store and note fresh and available options; nuts flood the market around the winter holidays, Florida citrus comes in after the new year, potatoes and all manner of the onion group are harvested in the fall.

We have mentioned cans of salmon and beans. Canned tomatoes are their own special treat. Watch for the sodium content when choosing a brand. You don't need the extra jolt of salt. In most cases I prefer food packed in jars to cans. There are fewer negative surprises. Roasted peppers and new lines of vegetable (eggplant, olive, artichoke, chickpea) spreads are becoming common.

This naturally leads one to bread. Most supermarkets are buying in bread from local artisan bakers and if you don't have access to a decent loaf, move.

What's your criteria for a good life? That loaf, torn, dipped in olive oil, rubbed with a clove of garlic, topped with a slice of a hundred options in the cheese or deli cases, a tomato crushed in the hand, smeared with hummus, tapenade, or creamed cheese. And we haven't cooked anything yet.

The revolution is upon us, the kinks are still being worked out, but induction cooking is a fact of life. I would guess that food is being kept warm in your cafeteria on an induction hot-plate. They are not of uniform quality and reviews vary. I bought one from

It has never failed me. The investment is well worth it. It does not spread noxious fumes, is cool to the touch, and is portable. It requires cookware that responds to a magnet. Luckily, the one pot you need, a spun steel wok with a flat bottom, works. Don't get caught up in the asian names and uses for a wok. It is the most versatile pan in the kitchen. You can scramble an egg, cook soup, make spaghetti, and of course you can stir fry veggies. It will also serve as a mixing bowl. The key is never to use soap once it has been seasoned, (heated with a film of oil to smoking and allowed to cool).

People need to learn about tools, and their care and maintenance. None more-so than a knife. There are really only two knives any cook ever needs, but I will forego the 8 inch chef's knife for our purposes and stick with the knife that can do it all. My choice is a "trout knife" from LLBean.

You can peel. core, filet, scrape, bone, chop, and then use it to eat with. It fits neatly in all hands, takes a great edge, and comes with a sheath. Buy a fork, tea and soup and ladle spoons, a high temperature tolerant spatula, a soup bowl with a flared edge so that you can grip it when you use it as a mixing bowl, a flexible cutting board that can be rolled up, a set of rigid plastic plates that can be wiped clean and a can opener.

Applying all of the above thoughts let's make our first dish. Gather an eggplant (firm, small button on end) a smallish onion, a head of garlic, a green pepper, a zucchini if they are in season, a 14-oz can of diced tomatoes, a handful of pitted olives, a bottle of good vinegar (apple cider works fine), a 16-oz bottle of good olive oil, a fresh herb (basil, parsley) if available, and a packet of dried oregano, salt and pepper (they now pack pepper in grinders ready to go).

Peel and chop, onion in dice, chop pepper (take off top, break with your hands, press skin side down so your knife won't slip, slice lengthwise , and then chop) peel and cube eggplant, break out a couple of cloves of garlic (trim skin off), wash and trim ends off zuke and then slice in thick chunks. Open tomatoes.

Pour several tablespoons of oil in wok, heat to full blast and saute onion, pepper and eggplant together, stirring and turning often with wok tool. Five minutes will do. The eggplant will absorb the oil like a sponge so add sparingly as needed. Add chopped garlic and turn just to brown lightly and then add tomatoes and the liquid from the can. It will bubble, add a bit of water if it appears dry, it should be wet on the edges. A teaspoon of salt, grindings of pepper, a palmful of oregano, a quarter cup of vinegar (count to two when pouring), a handful of olives and a packet of sugar stirred in complete the ingredients. Turn the heat down to simmer, and cover. Five minutes later turn the contents over to avoid sticking or scorching. Repeat once or twice. You don't want a mush. The eggplant should appear to have some shape. Let cool to room temp. Rip bread, top with 'caponata", chase with "a simple chianti".

I will suggest recipes from time to time.