How to make a really good homemade salad spinner
August 16, 2014, 4:00 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, fitness, simple living.

One of the more curious effects of my ongoing health kick has been an unhealthy obsession with salad spinners. Since I have been eating a lot of greens, I wash a lot of greens.  Greens that come straight from the farmer, like spinach, tend to come with a lot of dirt on them, and really need to be washed.  And those boxed salads from the grocery store have already been washed and dried, but the leaves tend to get too dry.  You don’t need to eat them that way. Washing and drying the greens again, which is easiest in a salad spinner, can really liven those boxed salads up.

Now the problem is, salad spinners are generally pretty crappy gadgets. They tend to be made of 100% plastic, which means they tend to build up flavors and stains, and when their spinning mechanism (which is generally in the lid) breaks, it’s basically unfixable, which makes me furious. I’ve had the OXO salad spinner a few times, and broken the mechanism each time.

Ergo I went in search of an all-metal, unbreakable salad spinner, and found nothing. A few extremely expensive spinners had metal bowls, but the mechanisms were still plastic. Along the way I found a discussion on Chowhound about plastic-free salad spinning that suggested to me there really was no good “product” to buy.  Thus I had to return to first principles and design my own.  And who else to demonstrate first principles better than Julia Child?

(This video should start around the 10:55 mark.  If it doesn’t, go there.)

The “French” salad spinner that Julia uses has only two basic elements:

- one, a porous mesh, colander, or filter which holds the greens that have been washed yet allows the water to pass through.

- two, something that uses physical action to encourage the separation of water and salad through centrifugal force.

Every other part is optional.  Julia’s “French” salad spinner has no bowl, because the sink catches the thrown-off water.  And it has no lid, because, well, I guess she’s not planning on storing anything after the meal. Julia’s salad is going to be so good there won’t be any left. :)

Personally I prefer a spinner to have a bowl and a lid, so that it’s possible to serve and store with the same bowl you used to wash the salad (why waste time washing extra dishes?)

For the record, here is a general diagram of a salad spinner:

diagram showing essential elements of any salad spinner

(props to johnny_automatic and voyag3r at openclipart.org for the salad and hand elements of this drawing)

Once you understand that this is the design of every salad spinner in existence, you can make a salad spinner out of  stuff you have around the house. It can be metal, plastic, fiber, whatever material you want.  And since it will not have a complex mechanism, it will be nearly unbreakable. For example:

- you can put your washed salad in a pillowcase or other porous cloth bag and whip it around your head, like this blogger. The salad stays in the bag, the water flies out.   The pillowcase is working as both the filtering element and the spinning element. This works surprisingly well — except you will get water all over the walls.  (Of course you can go outside to do it, but that’s not my favorite method in the middle of a rainy winter.)

- you can do the same thing with big kitchen towels. I understand this is an old-timey method favored by many good cooks. Same results — nice salad, but splattered walls.

- a more sophisticated variation would be to put the salad-laden pillowcase or kitchen towels into a waterproof bag, then whip that around your head.  In this case the towel or pillowcase is still the filtering element, but the waterproof bag acts as the “bowl” or water trap. That way the tossed-off water would won’t go on your walls.

- my preferred method is to put the greens in a stainless steel colander and use that for washing.  Then I put salad that colander inside a larger bowl, and then put the whole combination down into a sturdy cloth bag, then whip that around for about 30 seconds.  The colander is the filtering element, the bowl is the water trap, and the cloth bag is the thing that allows the bowl and colander to be “spun”.

Won’t the salad fall out without a lid? you say.  No, it won’t, the centrifugal force keeps the open “top” of the bowl lined up the right way.  After 30 seconds, stop whipping the bowl around, remove the colander, and dump the trapped water out of the bowl.  You can then use the bowl for serving.  If the bowl has a lid, then you can apply the lid if that suits your needs.

If all that verbiage was too much for you, check out the demonstration on Youtube:

The video shows that I tested two such homemade methods, and found they removed nearly as much water from a washed salad as the famous, and quite breakable Oxo spinner.

So basically, you never need to pay $25-$100 for a clunky and quite breakable salad spinner. There are lots of ways to wash and dry  salad that are nearly free and practically unbreakable.

Just remember one thing.  Salad spinning should be a vigorous part of the cooking process — not an attack with a medieval flail.  So leave plenty of room when you’re swinging that thing around your head.  :)

à votre santé !



Grown-up cookies: or why paleo tastes good but makes no ecological sense
December 7, 2013, 4:48 pm by bottleman. Filed under: diy, fitness, holidays, kids.

Is this blog jumping the shark?  Over the years it has descended from serious issues through miscellaneous fads to, finally, today:  a recipe requested by my sister-in-law (Hi Lynette!).

paleo chocolate-chip cookies by flickr user Chris and Jenni, used under Creative Commons
[photo by Chris & Jenni, Creative Commons]

But hey, these cookies are wheat-free, and feature a delightful clash of chunks of bitter chocolate and coarse sea salt, which give them a decidedly grown-up flavor.  That’s why I call them Grown-Up Cookies.  Unlike most advice on this blog, you can actually apply this material and receive some enjoyment now. :)

Call it my holiday gift to the Internet.

That clash of flavors and textures is my small innovation, and I’m kind of proud of it.  Otherwise these cookies are largely similar in ingredients to other “paleo” chocolate chip cookie recipes out there — there are dozens.

One of those recipes, Jenni’s,  had a cookie picture that was fantastic, and infinitely better than any picture I could take.  And yet, the cookies looked quite similar to the cookies I make.  I used it as the visual reference above. Thanks Jenni!

The “paleo” diet is fashionable in the Crossfit world, and it fits well with the kind of food I like to eat anyway, so I’ve been eating an easy, non-radicalized version of paleo lately.

The basic notion — that it makes sense to eat foods that fit with one’s evolutionary history — seems quite logical on the surface of it.  White sugar, for example, was not widely available until the 19th century, so it’s no surprise our bodies seem to suffer from an excess of it.

But after such examples, the logic and practice of the paleo theory gets harder and harder to support.

The paleo movement basically makes two claims.  First, that this diet is more “authentic” or “natural” given human history.  And second, that there are health benefits to eating this way.

I actually believe the health benefits part. There is persuasive evidence about the role of high-starch and -sugar diets in the chronic problems that trouble us in the modern world.  The low-fat diets that have been encouraged since the 70’s have been a failure. Etc.

But the authentic part is what I’m beginning to question.

Real paleo diets were likely to be extremely irregular, for one thing.  Anyone who’s ever read accounts of life among hunter-gatherers will recognize that these diets can be, above all, inconsistent.  Kill a big animal and everyone feasts.  But then game may disappear for weeks.   There aren’t that many calories in berries.  Starvation was a real possibility.

Real paleo diets were also extremely local, and potentially limited.  A prehistoric person in, say, the Great Lakes region might have plenty of deer to eat, but no avocados or coconuts.  Meanwhile someone in Mexico would be in the opposite situation.

So there certainly wasn’t one prehistoric diet.  People ate what they could from the local environment, not from all over the world.  If available food was the engine behind the evolution of diet, then the genes and diets of different human groups would have been pulled different ways… until groups of humans interbred and everything got mixed up.  That doesn’t seem like a formula for a meat-centric, a plant-centric, or an anything-centric diet.

Fast forward to today.  A tame, but probably healthful, version of paleo might go like this: “don’t eat anything that wasn’t available in the prehistoric environment.”  So that would rule out things like wheat flour and cane sugar — substances which in a chemical sense are natural but which require laborious agricultural and/or industrial processes to purify and make consumable.

To apply this rule when making cookies, the typical response would be to use non-cane sugar — for example coconut sugar.  Yes, it’s got a lower glycemic index and you can make a health case for it on that basis.  But it’s still a concentrated product of agriculture and industry.  There weren’t any cavemen walking around eating that stuff, or other concentrated products such as 70% cacao chocolate chips. For that matter, there weren’t any cavemen walking around eating the kind of almonds, spinach, etc that “paleo” dieters eat today — because crops like those have been relentlessly bred over thousands of years to make them more edible.   Eating a few wild almonds could, sadly enough, kill a cave man.

So come on — if you want to spear a deer and eat it with some huckleberries, that’s paleo for sure. And it sounds pretty tasty to me.   But beyond that the thing we know as the paleo diet is just as artificial as, well, most other diets. :)

Grown-Up Chocolate-Chip Cookies (with bitter chocolate and sea salt)

preheat oven to 350F

2 squares  (2 oz.) UNSWEETENED baking chocolate (unsweetened is key)

1/3 cup butter, softened, or corn oil (canola oil may also be substituted but cookies will be flat)
1/3 cup sugar — white, brown, coconut, whatever
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey

1 and 1/2 cups almond flour
2 tbsp corn meal
2 tbsp flax meal
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp COARSE sea salt (coarse is key)

the fun part: put chocolate squares in a sturdy plastic or paper bag, and go outside on a rock or concrete and break the chocolate squares apart with a hammer, until you get chunks and shards of various sizes.  The bigger the pieces are, the more bitter they will feel in the finished cookie.  I make the biggest pieces about the width of a pea.  Put the bag aside until later.

In a mixing bowl, mix well the butter (or oil), egg, sugar, vanilla, and honey.  In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients — the almond flour, corn meal, flax meal, baking soda, and coarse sea salt.

Combine the dry ingredients with the wet, but DON’T MIX TOO MUCH.   Just get everything evenly distributed.

Put in the chocolate chunks.  Mix, but again, don’t do too much.

Now you will have very sticky and delicious sludge.  Form into 9-12 ping-pong sized balls and place on parchment paper (another thing cave men didn’t have :) ) on a cookie sheet.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes.  They won’t quite look done but take them out anyway.

Let cool if you can.

Devour.  I like them with milk, just like Santa.

Happy holidays!



My tiny house, finally furnished right
September 28, 2013, 10:21 am by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, my tiny house project, tiny houses.

When my tiny house was finished six and a half years ago, my mother-in-law needed to move in immediately, and our budget was spent.  So we never really furnished it the way in a way that did justice to the architect’s design.  No more!

After 6 years of wonderful support for my spouse and child, my MIL has moved back East to take care of another grandchild, and we finally have dressed up the place for its new life as a furnished rental. I got help from interior designer Ann Reed at Redu.

Here’s a tour.  (All photos by ElleMPhotography and Martin Brown, used by permission).

Over the patio and through the door:

…more



A barefoot climb of Mt. St. Helens
September 16, 2013, 12:46 pm by bottleman. Filed under: explosions, fall, fitness, love those goofy b*st*rds, photography, summer, trails.

climbing Monitor Ridge barefoot

Barefoot hiking has never caused the kind of controversy and acrimony that barefoot running has. Perhaps it’s because hiking doesn’t come so overloaded with notions about proper form and “performance.” People generally go hiking for recreation and sightseeing — any exercise or positive health effects hikers get are side benefits. Most runners participate in races of some kind, but hiking is less competitive — unless you get two diehard “peak baggers” on the same trail. (Count me out, man, I’d rather stop and smell the flowers.)

So barefoot hiking should be a lot like barefoot trail running — not so much about performance as about the experience. I thought I’d give it a try when my friend Ron Krull invited me to climb Mt. St. Helens late in the summer. The photos are by him unless otherwise noted. And a special note: FWIW here barefoot means actually barefoot.  There is nothing wrong with minimal shoes — or any shoes you want — but, dude, it’s not the same thing.

I’ve done Mt. St. Helens before, so I knew what I was getting into. …more



Crossfit and barefoot running, part 2: the saga of the beer keg
November 15, 2012, 11:41 am by bottleman. Filed under: fitness.

Like I wrote in my last post, my fitness activity this year has mostly been Crossfit.  And no question, Crossfit has been doing something.  My pants are looser, and I have a much clearer idea of my strength and how to apply it, at least to rudimentary tasks. Recently at a party, I helped the hostess by picking up a nearly full beer keg (about 150 pounds) and moving it where she wanted — with no worries whatsoever that I was going to hurt myself.

photo by twothirstycats (creative commons)

[photo by twothirstycats (Flickr, Creative Commons)]

But at the same time I’ve been chucking beer kegs, I’ve been developing a nagging set of doubts about Crossfit, and thinking back wistfully on last year’s fitness quest (running 500 miles and 9 trail races barefoot), the way one might pine after a long-gone girlfriend.   I miss that time alone on the trails, sometimes literally in the dark, feeling my way through the trees.

(Special note: when I say barefoot running, I mean actual barefoot running.  Running in minimal shoes may be a fine thing, but it is not the same.  Just take off your minimal shoes and you’ll see. ;)  )

Crossfit criticisms and apologetics

Stay with that beer keg because it will reappear  later.  But for now know that my mixed feelings didn’t fit neatly into the most common critiques of Crossfit.  …more



Crossfit and barefoot running, part 1: interview with TJ Murphy
November 15, 2012, 9:14 am by bottleman. Filed under: fitness, interviews, reviews.

(Excuse the long intro — those dying for the interview please skip to the bottom of the post!)

I haven’t been doing much running lately, because in January I joined a gym.  I thought I’d focus on Jiu-Jitsu, but I’ve ended up going mostly to Crossfit classes.

It’s a big change because Crossfit is so goal-oriented.  Little could be less goal-oriented than the  barefoot trail running I did last year.  While yes, I did have goals for mileage and races completed, performance in minutes/mile was not really part of it.  Barefoot running isn’t about acing races, it’s about the experience of  running — feeling every grain of earth, hearing every bird, letting your body adapt itself to the environment.

This video captures the spirit of it. (And just in case you were wondering, it’s exactly what I would look like if I lost a few pounds, gained a few inches height, and went in for a full-body waxing. :) )

Meanwhile Crossfit is all about overwhelming numerical barriers.  These girls are racing each other to finish this killer workout (check in on the struggles at about 7 minutes in):

There’s no question that the high-intensity workouts in Crossfit have been doing something for me — my pants are looser for sure.

It’s also one of the biggest trends in fitness.  …more



Fitness victory for the year: 500 plus barefoot running miles
December 30, 2011, 10:05 am by bottleman. Filed under: off-topic, trails.

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest years ago, I’ve become a kind of slacker athlete.   I don’t want to become a complete couch potato (or these days it’s more like “laptop easy chair potato”), so I usually sign up for some sort of exercise or martial arts class and basically “show up.” That is, I just can’t or won’t get competitive.   But it does help to have a goal that is at least a little bit scary.

In 2011 that goal was running 500 trail miles barefoot (note this means actually barefoot, not with minimal shoes, which aren’t the same for me), and doing every race in the X-Dog trail series barefoot.  At 510 miles and 9 out of 12 races completed, I’m declaring victory.

running to finish line at McCubbins Gulch run 2011

[photos by Thaddeus Duhme]

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t concerned at all about the 500 miles part.  That’s only about 10 miles a week, and for me at least, barefoot running is easier on my body and more fun.  It was the surfaces and terrain of the X-Dog trail races, for instance this one on Mt. Hood that had me concerned.  Going through all that mud and rocks and snow wasn’t going to be a quick dash across the golf course.

The X-Dog running season started on a pretty easy note, with a muddy run around Hagg Lake.  But the second event, the Havoc at the Hideout [where I was joined by some other, better :) barefoot runners], was punishing.  Miles of hilly dirt road turned into incredibly deep sucking mud, with buried (and therefore invisible) pieces of sharp gravel. When I got to the end I was sure my feet would be mincemeat…

…But I think I had just one small cut, on the top of my foot not the bottom… and I actually felt really good otherwise.  No limping around or sore muscles like other people have.  I was totally comfortable in the beer line.  This is the great benefit of barefoot running for me: though there is a bit of discomfort as you get used to the sensations, you learn how to treat your body better.

After the Havoc I was on my guard, and always carried an emergency set of minimal shoes in my pockets–but I found I never wanted to use them.  It turns out you can run barefoot down a boulder-strewn mountainside, and it’s totally fun.  But you can’t crash your way down it, like you might if you had shoes and the focus was on winning.  And the bigger lesson is that your body can do so much more than you think it can, if you just give it a chance.  Other than two or three cuts on the top of the foot from not picking my feet up enough on surfaces like this…

[photo by paraganek]

I had absolutely no running injuries this year.  Well, I did tweak my calf muscle in December, running on smooth pavement, which I guess was just too consistent a surface for my trail-running brain to adjust to, but I was back running like normal a few days later.  “No lost training days”– pretty good for a whole year of running.

Now I need a new goal for 2012.  Suggestions?  It doesn’t need to be running related.



A new web site about ADU’s: AccessoryDwellings.org
November 16, 2011, 4:39 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, ecological footprints, energy, making a difference, simple living, tiny houses.

This blog gets a lot of visitors curious about the tiny house I made by converting my garage.

photo by flickr user Lance McCord, thanks!

That place (just a wee bit bigger than the one in the picture above) has three main virtues:

1. it’s smallness makes it very green, given that size is the primary determinant of a dwelling’s environmental footprint;
2. it’s nice, making it possible to live small without feeling like you are living in poverty; and
3. it’s very close to, but still quite separate from, the main house, meaning I can live a few feet from my mother-in-law and still think it’s a good thing. :)

In short, those are the virtues of the modern accessory dwelling unit, also known as a granny flat, backyard cottage, ADU, etc. Given that the nation will need to build millions of dwellings for aging 1- and 2-person households over the next 30 years, I think they are a really interesting option both socially and environmentally.

Now I’m one of the editors of a new site that’s all about accessory dwelling units — what they look like, how to build them, what regulations are, etc. It’s called AccessoryDwellings.org.

AccessoryDwellings.org banner, based on a graphic by PasteInPlace

Please come check it and consider becoming a contributor. Thanks!!



The yogurt crime scene, or, why spending $70 for a lunch box no longer seems insane [Review of the PlanetBox]
November 8, 2011, 12:46 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, kids, reviews.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I hate it when consumer products are designed to fail.

For me there is a certain quiet pleasure in having well-made things in my everyday life.  You know, things that work well for their purpose, feel right in my hands, and are worthy and capable of being repaired, rather than just cast into the landfill.  And so when I encounter things that don’t have those qualities–are badly made, badly designed for their purpose, and incapable of being repaired, I start to sputter with anger.  Is it right that I feel personally insulted by poorly done products?

Probably not; my condition probably has a code in the DSM V.  In any case it flared up this year when confronted with the subject of lunchboxes.  Before my kid went to school I had no idea how revolting lunchboxes could be.  I had visions of him traipsing along with one of those classy stackable things like in Eat Drink Man Woman (go to 1:55 in the video below).

Of course that wasn’t going to happen.  Little kids want pictures, colors, logos, characters.   So last year (kindergarten) we tried two kinds of lunch boxes that ended up raising my hackles. …more



Building ADUs by the book: a review of In-laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats by Michael Litchfield
August 29, 2011, 3:57 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, reviews, tiny houses.

When people see the granny cottage I built, a lot of them ask, “I’ve been thinking of doing something like that on my property – how do I get started?”

There haven’t been many good sources I can refer to, and though I try to be friendly I haven’t been that encouraging. Developing that cottage was actually quite a struggle, even in the supposed progressive city of Portland.  When you create a second dwelling in or around your house, like this one photographed by radworld

photo by flickr user radworld, licensed under Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kworth30/2276499256/in/photostream/

… you are essentially becoming a mini real estate developer, where you take on a lot of risks and responsibilities before you get—you hope—to the rewards.

A solid one-stop source of good information was sorely needed about how to develop a second dwelling on your property, whether you call it an in-law unit, a basement apartment, a backyard cottage, a garden suite, a secondary unit, or (to use the term favored by planners) an “accessory dwelling unit” or ADU.

Of course architects and contractors will offer …more



Installing and using Arke Karina alternating tread stairs: a review
June 27, 2011, 12:00 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, tiny houses.

As a fan of alternating tread stairs, and the owner of a rare city-permitted custom made set of them in the granny cottage I built, I’ve always been curious about one staircase option I did not use: the Arke Karina stair kit.

My own alternating tread device, like most I see around on the internet, was custom made out of wood by a carpenter, and is straight.  However the Arke kit uses a modular metal unit as its spine, giving it a lighter appearance, and giving it the ability to curve.  The Arke kit isn’t cheap ($1600 minimum, plus >$200 extra if you want a second handrail), though custom carpentry isn’t either.   Neither a custom made wood alternating tread stair, nor the Arke kit, meets most residential codes in the US so it’s a wash in that respect.  What’s the better choice for someone building or modding a small house?

I finally got a chance to see an Arke Karina kit in action, …more



Don’t think, feel (review of The Barefoot Running Book by Jason Robillard)
June 8, 2010, 1:48 pm by bottleman. Filed under: reviews, simple living.

One of the biggest hills to climb for any human being is actually noticing what is happening around you.

photo by flickr user paperskye, used under creative commons, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/paperkim/4209542881/

It’s not an easy task.  People are deeply, instinctively attracted to theories and legends and plans.  They want to be part of a story that makes their existence meaningful. And no matter how deep or shallow that identity is–from being part of a 5000-year old religion to following the latest, greatest version of the grapefruit diet– the ideology tends to occlude as much as it explains.  It makes us ignore the experience of our senses.  And occasionally it makes us insufferable new converts, robotically parroting the party line, immune to any new input, whether we’re born again Christians or diehard Apple or Linux users.  (Is anyone a diehard Microsoft user?)

That’s why I was so pleased with a new book about the hot-button topic of the day: barefoot running.   Barefoot running has been lighting up flame wars on fitness blogs and the Runner’s World forums for the last year (where I admit I’ve been spending way too much time).   The main topic of contention is ostensibly which form of running (barefoot or “shod”) is more natural or suited to our existence today, and less likely …more