It’s not an igloo, okay

What is this abominable snowball?   It’s a quinzhee, or a snow shelter made by hollowing out piled snow.  Yesterday we made an 6′ x 6′ (height/rad.) pile of snow in our back yard, and over the night the snow hardened.  This morning we collected sticks and broke them into 14” sections and inserted them randomly all over the quinzhee.  Then the fun part, we borrowed a camp shovel from a friend and started hollowing out the quinzhee, careful to stop when we hit the tip of the sticks poking into the pile.  Using this approach guaranteed that the wall would be ~14” thick.  We made 3 air vents, and a bench the rings the inside.  The whole excavation process took about 2 hrs. Viola.  We are going to have a quinzhee party to celebrate, so come by some night soon before it melts.


carrot juice

Here is a homemade hangover remedy that really helped with my ‘dark-and-stormy’ night of rum drinking.  Anybody have other remedies for hangovers?

  • grate 2 carrots
  • grate 1 apple
  • grate 2 tsp ginger
  • add 1 c water
  • add 1 Tbsp agave nectar
  • blend in blender, then strain through cheese cloth
  • chase with 2 ibuprofen

What’s the magic in Dr. Bronner’s soap?

“We are ALL-ONE or NONE!  ALL-ONE!  ALL-ONE!” chants Dr. Bronner into a cassette recorder, over-top of a Strauss waltz, pounding his palm on a wooden desk to the syncopated beat of his saying… “ALL-ONE, ALL-ONE, ALL-ONE.”

Slightly crazy, blind and charismatic, Dr. Bronner, a 7-th generation soap-maker and German Jewish immigrant produced one amazing product and used that product to advertise his moral imperative to millions of people.  If you’ve every used Dr. Bronner’s soap, you’d recognize the overzealous 8-font type that lines each bottle.   His main slogan, “All-One,” is borrowed from the Shema Yisrael, a Torah passage that reads, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”   My interpretation is that we all live in the world together, and have the opportunity to love and respect all people and animals and microbes!

Tonight we watched a documentary film about his life, his soap, and his family, which is a complete whirl-wind adventure into the mind of an outsider artist in the highest degree.   A very entertaining film that will probably keep us buying this soap for years to come.  They have a 5:1 salary cap for all vested employees, donate 75% of net, post-production revenue to charities, and are  probably the first  company to produce 100% organic, fair-trade cosmetics.  I found it impressive that they buy fair-trade olive oil from  Palestinians, Jewish Israelis, and Christian Israelis all living in a 10 mi radius of each other– as an example of the commonality and aspirations all people share.

Sometimes the idea of corporate responsibility scares me, because it implies that if not said explicitly that corporations are free to act irresponsibly.  In Dr. Bronner’s case, his life-work and the common thread of their company is living responsibly with the world, which a worthy cause to support.

Baltimore Food Makers potluck

On the recommendation of a friend, I had to good fortune to attended the Baltimore Food Makers monthly potluck this Saturday to share home-grown, home-preserved and home-made food with a group of ~30 Food Makers.  Before eating we all gathered around the spread of food and each maker discussed with zeal his or her dish– giving plenty of time for the smallest details about prep, food sourcing, and even questions from others.   As the discussion of each dish drew to a close I felt a collective gasp or sigh at the embodied time and love poured into the food.  I eagerly watched as cured duck and beef, bison jerky, bbq tempeh, pickled watermelon rind, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and other delicious dishes were uncovered the large dining room table.  My plate, below, was full of tasty bites in no time.

The Baltimore Food Makers is a >1 yr old group that provides a forum for sharing skills and resources about cooking, eating and farming for those in Baltimore.  They have a great list of local food sources, and an active google group with >100 members.   Everybody that I talked to was so friendly and open.  Conversation  about our favorite recipes for fermented drinks was washed down with homemade sweet and dry cider, ginger beer, and kombucha. We inhaled vegan dark chocolate cake and flan, while learning about curing meat in a make-shift basement drying rack.

We didn’t shy away from discussing the risks of curing and canning either, as some discussed methods for preserving food through fermentation and canning in a high salt and low pH environment.  One disease that home canners are at more risk for is botulism, a paralytic illness, caused by the toxin produced from a rod-shaped, anaerobic bacteria, Clostridium botulinum.  Botulism  can be deadly for infants eating home-canned baby food (Armada, Love, et al., 2003).   Ways to inhibit C. botulinum while home-canning food is by controlling pH (pH <4.5) and heat pasteurizing food  to >250 deg F in a pressure cooker for 20 min (CDC).   Store-bought canned food that bulges, is dented, or has rust holes should be discarded.

I’m looking forward to the next Food Maker potluck, and sharing some of my own safely-canned spicy green beans, kimche (spicy fermented cabbage), and idli (steamed, fermented dal cakes).   I’m excited to learn more from others who have many more years experience farming and cooking.   Eating delicious food is easy, but with the right mix of local ingredients, healthful foods, and community, sharing a meal is an incredible way to re-build our food systems from the ground up.

Guest Health Blogger: Lloyd Conover, Ph.D

Letters to the Editor,  submitted to The New York Times, January 19, 2010

My exposure to European universal health care systems began in 1971 when I became Director of Research and Development, in the UK, for an American pharmaceutical company.  In that position I had frequent contact with European  physicians associated with teaching hospitals.  Also,  as an American resident in the UK for many  years,  I always received prompt, modern care from the  UK National Health Service.  Excellent as I think that organization  is, its performance isn’t directly relevant to the current US health care reform debate because  no such truly “socialized” single payer system is being considered for this country.

However, I believe that  the  insurance-based  universal health care systems operating in  western continental  European countries,   do provide us with highly relevant models from which we cdan benefit.  Hoping to be able to contribute constructively to the ongoing debate, I undertook several months ago to learn more about the systems in Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and France.   I have come away with the following  conclusions.

  1. Any initially-created US system will inevitably  be changed over time. Based upon the European history of continuing refinement, amendment and occasional drastic overhaul,  it would be a mistake to make the controversial   “Public Option”),  an “all or nothing” issue now.  The  essential goal should be to establish  a workable and affordable system  which embodies the principle of universal coverage.  Once this is in place, any serious shortcomings in the initially created system will become evident and  subject to correction.
  2. Most of those now opposing establishment of a universal health care system will become its supporters because  once it is in operation it will gain overwhelming public support.  This has repeatedly happened in Europe and it happened after the establishment of Medicare. .
  3. The “Public Option” need not be an insurance company run by government bureaucrats.  The French government-created “Assurance Maladie”  is divided into five autonomous, but regulated, insurance  funds. Their supervisory boards are made up of representatives of  health care providers, labor unions, employers and private insurance companies.
  4. Contrary to the assertions of zealous advocates of  the Public Option, non-profit insurance companies can  provide effective premium-cost competition for for-profit insurers. Also,  premium costs can be controlled by regulation.
  5. A risk equalization mechanism is a crucial component of the Dutch and Swiss systems.  In the Netherlands all insurers who have provided participants with the government-mandated basic health insurance package receive payments from a special government-supervised fund.  The amounts of these payments are determined by an analysis of the demographics of the policy-holding populations served by each insurer. The more high-risk policy holders a company has insured, the higher the risk-equalization payments it receives.  These payments have         overcome the traditional aversion of insurers to covering high risk individuals.
  6. Administrative costs can be minimized by mandating a  basic health insurance coverage that is identical for everyone and under which the  same approved reimbursement amounts   apply to all patients and providers.
  7. In these European countries, for- profit insurance companies compete vigorously in the selling of popular supplementary “top up” policies. Having this opportunity, they accept strict regulation of the costs of the mandated basic health insurance policies.
  8. Improvement in the availability and effectiveness of preventive care and primary diagnosis and treatment have been  basic thrusts of the European systems. In France a network of thousands of neighborhood clinics has been created.  Primarily in poor areas, these provide pre- and post partum examinations and care for mothers and regular exams and needed care for infants and children.  The care provided by these clinics  may well be a primary reason that infant mortality in France is 11th best in the world while that in the US is 33d.  In The Netherlands, neighborhood clinics actively help people adopt  healthy, disease- preventing  lifestyles (e.g. to stop smoking). They provide convenient access to the services of a GP, treat minor illnesses and accidents  and are open evenings.  Their services reduce the need for more expensive E.R.and specialist  visits, and hospitalizations.
  9. The U.N.’s 2006 “league table” of life expectancies at birth for years 2005-2010 says to me that the lifetime health care provided  the populations of the four European countries is superior to that now provided in the USA. The figures are: Switzerland 81.7 years, 4th in world; France 80.7, 10th; Netherlands 79.8, 17th;  Germany 79.4, 23d; USA 78.2, 38th. (Japan ranks 1st in the world with 82.6 years life expectancy at birth)..
  10. Costs for a medical education are generally government-paid in the four European countries;   doctors in these countries do not start their careers heavily in debt.  We need to subsidize the cost of medical school for students who commit to go into primary care practice.
  11. Costs of malpractice insurance and lawsuits are not serious issues in these countries. We need tort reform.

– Lloyd H. Conover,  Ph.D.   St. Petersburg, FL

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Retro-futura vs hipster prank

James, a friend from San Francisco, forwarded me this photo as a reaction to the previous post.   Wow what a minimalist approach.  Retro and futuristic at the same time. The seat looks like those of early walking machines, and the pedals attached to the hub is reminiscent of a boneshaker.  The pedals for boneshakers where on the front hub and not the rear.  I wonder how it rides?  For more, here is a timeline of the history of bike design.

image from Lennard’s PICASA Gallery

Which reminds me a lot of a photograph by urban prankster artist Mark Jenkins, as seen on

all rounder bike


A gallery of historic and (re)new(ed) all ’round bikes


Where are all the down-to-earth, un-branded, handmade bikes to fill the widening gap between inexpensive mass-produced name-brand bikes and very expensive boutique handmade bikes.

Modular Bike Style

Use the same steel frame, cranks, BB, seatpost, and brakes
•    wide spot in chainstay for fat tires
•    650B or 32x700c
•    cantilever breaks or long caliper brakes
•    quill with adjustable height
•    long wheelbase for pannier-heel clearance
•    simple brushed metal with clear coat or earth tone powder coat
•    gearing: 5-speed or 8-speed freewheel
•    bike sizes: 50, 53, 56, 59, 62 cm

Variations on a theme

Fast all ’rounder
•    standard fork
•    randonnee or standard handlebars
•    Shimano tiagra road bike levers
•    Down tube shifters
•    Road bike saddle
•    No clipless pedals

Sturdy all ‘rounder
•    Less trail and shallower fork angle than normal (but still in the “safety” range)
•    Very short stem for old-timey feel
•    old Raleigh or porteur handlebars
•    Tektro mtb break levers (cheap but good)
•    Flat top leather saddle
•    BMX platform pedals