Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cast Iron Skillet Woes

I've posted in the past about cast iron skillets as "nature's teflon" (am I the only one who thinks that's clever?  I think that's pretty darn clever) and others have commented on how much they prefer cast iron skillets over non-stick pans.  The main criticism about cast iron skillets is that you have to use grease but my belief is that, if you've seasoned your pans well, you don't even need to use any oil or  butter in your cooking.  Here is a great primer on seasoning your pans from Chowhound (there must be a lot of folks with this problem because Chowhound's post has been googlebomed to #1 in the "reseasoning cast iron skillet" search).  The 1870's farm, incidentally, has probably THE BEST seasoned cast iron skillets on the eastern seaboard - nothing, absolutely nothing, sticks to those pans.

My problem, of course, if I've never seasoned my pans well enough.  My babybear skillet is the one that I have the most problems with; it's also the one I've had the longest.  I'm taking off the patina each time I have to scrub it - part of the problem is that I'm using steel wool to scrub it, which Chowhound says you should do to get rust spots off, but a soapless scrubby to keep it clean.  The thing I'm worried about, probably needlessly, is that once I've scratched off some of the seasoning that it creates a sort of cascade of misery where even reseasoning it won't give you a smooth, non-stick surface, because you're reseasoning the old coating along with the new seasoning, creating an uneven cooking surface.

Like I said, I'm probably worrying about nothing, but thought I'd update on my cast iron cookware and see if anyone has any thoughts on this.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Loofah is growing like crazy!

 The photo of the little loofah that I posted a mere four days ago has grown sooo much!  Look at this monster!  And here is a photo of the kind of beautiful flowers that have been blossoming all over the vines.  Will I get another loofah squash?  Who knows?  Color this late in the summer really makes me happy, though.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reel Mower (squeaky video)

Went out to mow the lawn today and wanted to demonstrate in some way the satisfaction of using a reel mower.  My mower is squeaky and loud, but I can still listen to my iPod while mowing and look!  There is nothing more satisfying than watching blades of grass flip out of the reel as it gets cut.  My lawn (what there is of one) is not showplace-grade, but it's short enough so the neighbors don't stare balefully at me as I wave past them.  I can also mow the yard wearing my hippie Birkies and don't have to worry about getting a toe taken off.

Wainwright Dairy

Excuse any dirty kitchen displayed in the photo
My friend Bren just stopped by to deliver two half-gallons of non-homogenized, pasteurized milk from Wainwright Dairy, located in Live Oak.  This is part of her buying club and the thing that sold me on this milk was not only the taste, which is delicious, but it's local (65 miles) AND the half-gallons come in glass containers!  Glass!  When was the last time you saw any milk in a glass bottle?  Me?  Never. 

Sierra Club's Cool Schools 2011: How'd University of Florida do???

Hey, Sierra Club Magazine's doing their annual Cool Schools, a list of the top ten and "best of the rest" who are on the cutting edge of energy conservation and environmental protection.  I reported on this in 2008, because Gainesville's own University of Florida made #7 which is pretty impressive!  Reported on it again in 2009 where UF had dropped to #15 - not great, but not bad still being in the top 20 Cool Schools, right?

Well, Sierra Club's Cool Schools kind of dropped off my radar last year, as most things often do when I get bored with them, but how did UF stack up in 2010?  Number 84! WOOT!  How did they stack up this year?!  Don't know!  They apparently didn't even return the questionnaire, so the 118 schools who did were ranked accordingly (162 schools apparently replied to the 2010 questionnaire). 

Now, as close compadres know, I am a true orange-and-blue patriot of the Gator Nation, but not even making an attempt at a showing for the Sierra Club's annual Cool Schools Survey when UF has a very active Office of Sustainability is kind of ridiculous, even if the numbers are skewed because of number of schools who submit their surveys each year.  I fully intend on writing a stern note to director Anna Prizzia of said office and see what she says.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Energy Widget - Holy Cr*p

Ouch - I feel so second world
Have you checked the energy widget at the bottom of the AE front page?  I posted a couple of months ago about how for the first time China has surpassed the US in oil consumption.  But China is going nuts!  They've totally left the USA in the dust.  C'mon, citizen consumers of the US!  Start using more oil!!!  We must beat China in this foolish race to the bottom!

I'm Good, not Great

I'm referring to GRU's report card or whatever it is - wait, let me put up the scan I took of a past report from about May or June, right before the dog days of summer started cracking down.  Oh, wait a second, got to erase my info, first.  Dang, SumoPaint isn't working, so I put this festive USA America flag over my name and address info.  Anyway, if you click on the photo to embiggen it you can see that our family's energy usage within a 100-neighbor sample is in between the most efficient and least efficient households.  I like how they don't refer to the least efficient as such, but rather "All Neighbors," which is very diplomatic of GRU.  So, it breaks down that we used 27% more energy than our efficient neighbors between 5/3/11 and 06/1/11 and 9% more over a 12-month period.  I think one of the Home Energy Reports for us was a "Great" once, but it was probably during the winter months when we don't run the heat that much and layer our clothing.  Looking forward to seeing how we're doing by the end of the summer because that'll be a hoot.


Already posted this on Facebook but thought I'd highlight it here, as well.  Looking forward to seeing if this plant actually gets big enough to harvest for a new loofah sponge.  Haven't used loofahs since I was a kid and Farmer John at Ward's puts loofah plants up for sale each summer.  The first small loofah fell off before it could mature (not sure what happened); even if none of the plants end up producing anything, they still have beautiful, green, vining foliage and pretty yellow blossoms.  And, yes, as one commenter on FB asked, they are a type of squash.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ecology for Beginners

Remember when introductory manuals on a subject were referred to as "for beginners?"  The ...For Beginners books were published by Pantheon Books in the late 70's/early 80's (I think it ended with Zen for Beginners, but - oh, here's a Wikipedia link to the series).  Now they're all "Dummy" this and "Idiot" that.  Where's the love?
/end old lady crank

I have Marx for Beginners and within the past couple of years have found a copy of Ecology for Beginners, by Stephen Croall & William Rankin.  After skimming it today, the question that comes up is whether there is anyone left on the earth who does not have some level of ecological awareness by this point?  Of course, some will have more eco-consciousness than others, but is there anyone who can say, "I know absolutely nothing about ecology or ecosystems and how they work."  I think even the most brazen anti-environmentalist has some understanding, even if they get the facts wrong or misused, like in the argument that CO2 in the atmosphere is not harmful.

It's sweeping in its historical coverage and has a good grounding in the basics of ecology, but the thing I took away from Ecology for Beginners is the section at the end of the book, "Three Radicals to Read."  They are Rudolph Bahro, The Alternative: toward a critique of real, existing socialism; Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality, The Right to Useful Employment and its Professional Enemies, and Shadow Work; and André Gorz, Ecology as Politics.  They have at least one of them in the stacks, so I'll browse for it the next time I'm at Library West (saying "browsing" is a lot less committal than "borrow and read it.")

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Accidentally Environmental Thing: Scrappin'

Junk Art Fish made with...junk
Explanatory plaque for Junk Art Fish
A friend of the family's, DD, has started on a new enterprise, hunting for scrap metal to sell for recycling.  So far he has been relatively successful; will have some pictures at some point (but please enjoy this Junk Art Fish from Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum in St. Augustine) but we went on a couple of scrap hunting and scrap selling missions, and it's labor intensive, let me tell you.  Remember seeing some fellow driving down your street in a pick-up, the truck bed filled to brimming with seemingly useless bits of broken items like bird cages and chicken wire and such?  That was most likely a scrapper, looking at your garbage piles for more bits of broken metal items to add to his collection, before taking the whole mess to the recycling center.  From the point of view of someone who was tangentially and vaguely aware that this sort of enterprise takes place every day, it's pretty fascinating.  I do know that my sweet, elderly neighbor has been collecting aluminum cans before recycling/trash pick-up days since she moved to our street almost 10 years ago.  She is retired and besides whatever she spent to buy her house, she is on Social Security and Medicare so collecting cans might help supplement stuff  And so it is with other forms of metal scrapping.  It's time-consuming, labor-intensive work but it helps people make extra money and inadvertently helps the environment by moving perfectly good scrap metal to the recycling plant rather than the landfill.

Like I said, I'll have some pictures at some point, but wanted to take some time to talk a little bit about metal scrapping and scrappers.

Note: As it has been pointed out to me, repurposing junk into art objects is not the same as scrappin', though.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

First Look: Big Belly Solar Compactor (whatever that is)

 Took pictures of this new, strange contraption across the street from campus, near the corner of 15th Street and University Avenue.  Waste Management owns the thing, it looks like a garbage can but it says, "solar compactor."  Does this mean it Harnesses the Power of the Sun™ to tamp down garbage thrown into it, eventually spitting out a small, super-compressed cube of burrito wrappers and day-old french fries?  Is this Wal-E writ large?  So many questions; will have to investigate further.
 Oh wait, that's exactly (well, almost exactly) what it does!  Look at this video from that talks about this fabulous new tool to leave garbage festering in cans for 5 times longer!  But it does it with solar power!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Earth Smart cups at Super 8

This is from the Super 8 in St. Augustine - they've apparently started using EarthSmart cups for their coffee cups in the rooms.  The cups say "Do Not Microwave," and the only indication that they have anything environmentally-related is the recycle triangle of goodness and light.  I did find a Wyndham Hotels blog, "B1 with Wyndham Green," that details their sustainability efforts:

Take our Wyndham Hotels and Resorts brand. From the front desk staff's "green" two-piece suits - made from 25 two-litre plastic bottles - to its biodegradable laundry bags, the brand is leading the charge in using recyclable material in innovative ways. Additionally, most of Wyndham Hotel Group's brands, including Super 8, Ramada and Howard Johnson, have implemented a linen re-use program, such as Earth Smart, and are installing energy-efficient lights in their guest rooms. These initiatives save water and energy, and they cut operational costs for hotel owners.

Man, those recycled uniforms must be hotter than Hades in the summer.  Anyway, Earth Smart is a linen re-use program.  I'm a little suspect about the cups because "green" cups (like those made of recycled paper or cornstarch or bamboo, or whatever) usually have this feature prominently displayed on the outside of the cup, right?  This doesn't bother me, just thought I'd comment on it briefly.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Venus Swim Bra: Review

This is a "romper"
I'm writing about the Venus swim bra I just tried out for the first time because Venus Fashion, Inc. is not only located in Jacksonville (spitting distance from Gainesville) but the company also prides itself on using American manufacturing.  For me that's two pluses for this company; not only are they local, they are Made in America.®

It's hard for me to find bathing suits, and I've detailed my swimsuit woes on this blog over the years.  Having grown up in the union stronghold of Midtown Manhattan (I like using the phrase "union stronghold."  It is like "nitro-burning funny cars" in the pantheon of strong, evocative phrases), I naturally came to Florida with a union-made swimsuit purchased at Macy's.  After 16 years, however, the suit was finally too worn out to wear even one more time, so I started my so far fruitless search for a new suit.  Forget union-made - I don't think there is a company that still makes swimsuits in the US (do not know this for a fact, and if anyone wants to save a lazy blogger some trouble, let me know if there are any US companies that manufacture their suits in America).  I also toyed with the idea of making my own suit and had gotten a modesty suit pattern but have yet to take the plunge and actually make one.  At this point in my life, I just want a swimsuit that makes me look like a reasonable woman approaching middle age without looking like a Victorian matron or Haoli Girl (I swear, most suits for women of a certain age and size are black, or they're in the most garish purples, greens and/or floral designs.  There is no gray area, here).

Then I stumbled on the Venus website when I decided I was not going to do a bathing suit per se and try just a swim bra (which I could not find in my size at Lands End).  Bought one of Venus' blue swim bras and wore it to the pool the other day.  It was not a great or by any means perfect fit, but it kept the girls in line while swimming.  There is no way that I would wear this thing without a swim shirt over it, though.  For one thing, the largest cup size they had was DD and I've realized that right now I am solidly a DDD - I know, TMI but you knew that when you married me.  The second problem was the band was a couple of inches too tight; it relaxed a bit after swimming in it for about an hour, though, but I still had a red pinch line along my rib cage after removing it.  One more sign that I just need to lose some weight, and I'd rather do that than buy a swim bra at Lands End that is of imported manufacture.

One thing about Venus, though, is that they don't just sell swimsuits, they also sell really tight fitting dresses and CFM shoes, I guess for really fit female bodybuilders?  They started out selling body building and fitness clothing, so that's just a guess.  The catalogue was a little PG-17 so I had to recycle it.  All in all, though, very pleased to find a US-made swim bra that reasonably helps with support.