Be Relevant

Relearning everything we've forgotten.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Never buy coffee creamer, butter, buttermilk, whipped cream, or sour cream again

Sometimes things are right in front of you.  I bought some heavy whipping cream a couple of weeks ago to make a sauce.  I bought the little pint job and used most of it.  There was a little left over and it soon became relegated to the space behind the milk.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I happened on it and it was still a few days before it's expiration.  Not wanting to waste it I began using it in my coffee.  Delightful.

I picked up a quart this time because by volume it is cheaper.  This morning as I added it to my coffee I was hearing Mel in my ear telling me how bad that heavy cream is for me.  If there was only some way to cut the amount of fat in half...I am blonde remember this.  

Half & Half is exactly that.  Half milk and half cream or heavy whipping cream.  Here's the beauty of buying the heavy whipping cream by the quart (2 pints).  Use 1/4 of it (1/2 pint) and use the same amount of milk and you now have great tasting coffee creamer.  Get creative and add vanilla extract, almond flavoring, hazelnut flavoring, pumpkin pie spice, etc and you have your own coffee flavoring for a fraction of the cost.

You also have 3/4 of quart of heavy whipping cream left which is equivalent to 1 1/2 pints or 3 cups.  Now here comes the fun part.  You need to make sure that you use organic everything because you need the natural cultures that are present.   

From 2 cups of heavy whipping cream (1 pint) placed into a jar with a lid and shaken like crazy you will get butter and buttermilk.  Push the butter through a strainer or cheese cloth to get the excess butter milk and curds out, then salt to taste - or add honey or garlic or rosemary or thyme, or !!! - and you have the best tasting butter you will ever have.  It will stay good for about a week but it all depends on if you get all the curds out of it.  It is the curds that will make it spoil.  The amount you make from 2 cups is very manageable that I doubt it would last a week.  There are ways to store the butter for longer.  Look up a French butter bell crock.  I plan to try that and use making butter as my default when my heavy whipping cream is about to spoil and I don't need any of the other products.

I use my Kitchen Aid mixer with the whisk attachment.  Since I use my mixer there is a point where the cream becomes whipped and starts to "stand up."  At this point if you add sugar and vanilla extract and just mix till blended you have really creamy whipped cream that goes great on hot chocolate.  If you push beyond this point the cream gets a fluffy spread like texture that tastes like butter. Keep going and the butter separates out into solid chunks and there is a pool of buttermilk in the mixer.  Pretty neat.

From 2 cups of heavy whipping cream (1 pint) placed into a jar with a lid, if you add 1 tbsp of cultured buttermilk or 1/4 cup of sour cream, shake the heck out of it, let it stand at room temperature for 24-48 hours (or until it thickens) and you will have the best tasting sour cream you have ever had.  This will also last a week in the fridge.  One little note though, the last time I made sour cream I had organic cultured buttermilk so I added a tbsp from that.  This time when I make it I will take a 1/4 cup from some organic sour cream I bought.  I have not used the buttermilk made from heavy whipping cream so I don't know if it has the cultures needed.  But I will try it and let you know.

You will still have some heavy cream left over.  Use it for more coffee creamer or to make a sauce.  Plus the amounts I gave can always be scaled up.  

So buying all that extra stuff at the store is unnecessary.  Besides that stuff isn't cheap.  Another added benefit is that you aren't wasting stuff.  I don't know about you but I always come across a can of whipped cream out of gas or half a tub of sour cream growing mold.   Now you can make all your stuff to order with just minutes of prep and a little planning ahead.  Lastly, anything that you make from scratch tends to taste better than store bought.

Keep track of how much that saves you and put it towards a debt you may have.  That way you are two steps closer to financial freedom and self-sufficiency!

Friday, February 25, 2011

1 Month Water Conservation Experiment

I have convinced Mel to try an experiment with me for the next month.  We are pretty conscientious about saving water.  However, the water bill has gone up over the last 2 months.  Perplexing.  There was a recent hike in fees that doesn't help.  I also think it has something to do with the fact that since we are constantly trying to save water, we become lax on monitoring our own use.  Essentially, our showers have gotten longer and we use the dishwasher more often.  Kind of like owning a Prius and using the gas savings to buy a plane ticket for your vacation.  You haven't really reduced your reliance on fossil fuels you have just optimized your use of them.

But optimization, which isn't working since its risen the past two months, isn't what we are after.  We want reduction.  How do you reduce your water supply?  The major users of water is the bathroom, laundry and kitchen.  Let's just tackle the kitchen for now.

We use the rinse water from vegetables to water our garden.  We have installed a low flow faucet head.  We even fill the dogs big-ass water container as we wait for the water to heat up.  The major problem is the dishwasher.  I have never owned one until I moved out here to California.  Since college, except for a 6 month stay in Rhode Island, I have been hand washing my dishes.  I hand washed in my first house.  I hand washed in Italy.  What a creation of convenience!  And utterly a water waster.

I am sure that there are energy saver, low flow devices out there.  You could even hook it up to a grey water system to water plants outside.  But, its very nature makes you want to fill it up before you run it.  Since dishes apparently only come in sets of 4 or more there are ample amounts of dishes to fill it up with.

The plan is to only have 1 plate, 1 bowl, 1 glass, 1 mug, 1 fork, 1 spoon, 1 knife, and 1 water bottle.  Actually those are really the only things that we stick in the dishwasher.  Pots and pans get hand washed.  So do the kitchen knives and wooden spoons.  Even the our mixer and bread pans get hand washed.

Because we own so many dishes,  do we use them partly because they are there and partly to fill up the dishwasher?  If we only had one set of dishes - 1 for each of us - would we even need the dishwasher?  I have this idea that it will actually save us time by only having the one set each.  But actually trying to figure that out goes down a mathematical rabbit hole. 

It should drive down our water use and therefore the bill.
It should drive down our electric bill as well.
It will save time?

I'm also hoping that it creates reverence for those things we take for granted each day.  The amount of water used, the time it takes to wash dishes, and the dishes themselves.  We'll see.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is Wisconsin a glimpse of America's future?

Is Wisconsin a glimpse of America's future?  However you wish to fall on the sides of the happenings in Wisconsin the fact remains.  The Governor is trying to get rid of public employee's rights to collective bargaining.  This, in essence, is the strength of a union and without it, the union is essentially a paper tiger.

Why would getting rid of unions in the public realms make sense?  We have to look at the private sector for that answer.  In the late 70's unions were reaching the zenith of their power.  This coincidentally is also the last time that wages kept up proportionately to economic growth.  During the fabled prosperity of the Reagan years, business deregulation, union busting, and outsourcing led to the significant downfall of union power in the private sector.  The reason for doing this was to keep labor low.

In business, simply put,  you have inputs and outputs. By keeping your inputs lower than your outputs you can earn a profit.  Operating costs, labor, raw materials, and transportation of goods to a market are essentially the main inputs (operating costs tend to include energy, licensing, leases, inspection fees, etc. - "the costs of doing business").  The product is the output.  In the global economy it has become very easy for a business to move their operations overseas where they enjoy low labor costs, low costs of natural resources, and low operating costs through government incentives.  Cheap transportation via cheap fossil fuels allow this separation between inputs and outputs.  Because the product must be shipped to another location where the affluence of that population creates a market for the product.

But doesn't suppressing wages while still increasing production create a catch 22 for businesses?  Yes it does.  This is why in the 90's we saw the take off of credit companies.  Here in the United States, wages haven't significantly increased to keep up with the economic production.  Yet to keep a nation of consumers consuming to continue the sacred GDP increase annually, businesses had to allow consumers to borrow on credit.  Essentially borrowing against future wages.   Wages which are all ready so low that  a person, paying the minimum monthly payment, will be paying for the rest of their lives.  Which is actually a great idea.  Why spend the effort to get you to go shopping to earn money when a guaranteed monthly cash flow can be had?

The global economy isn't as big as it's made out to be and its getting smaller every day.  It is no secret that oil will run out one day.  Well, its no secret except to us consumers.  Governments and businesses know this.  Once cheap fossil fuel is no longer cheap then outsourcing no longer becomes as profitable.  If the costs of transporting my product increase then I have to (a) increase the cost of my product, (b) drive down the costs of my inputs, (c) stop transporting my product so far, or (d) all of the above.  As transportation costs sky rocket we will see the end of outsourcing for manufacturing.  We'll also see a rise in product costs and probably the increase in credit companies in 3rd World Nations.  

So this means more jobs here at home.  Good.  Well not if they come about as is (potentially) happening in Wisconsin.  Which makes this idea so diabolical.  Instead of reducing the labor cost outright they reduced the operating costs through tax incentives and other various political outlays to the businesses.  This reduction in taxes has to be made up somewhere.  That somewhere is in the paychecks of public employees and in the cutting of services for the citizens of the state.  Over time, when production far outpaces wages, this will have the net effect of reducing labor costs as well.  Eventually, the public pensions and health care benefits will be no better then the private sectors and then businesses will have their pick of employees.  So getting rid of unions in the public sector will allow businesses to lower their operating costs through tax incentives and other political policy and then the tab is picked up by the public employees.  This way lawmakers don't have to increase the taxes on the entire populace incurring the people's wrath come election time.  Well for now that is.

There is a way out of this.  Yet it requires each and everyone one of us to be vigilant.  We have reached a state of "Unconscious Competence" when it comes to living.  Living for us is so easy that it's like driving to work and wondering how you got there.  Unconscious Competence is good for things like CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, and instances in crisis which require you to act and not think.  We need to take a step back in our competence.  We need to be "Conscious Competent" because we need to think about how we are living our lives.  We need to think about the world we are leaving to our kids.  What kind of life are we living that requires no thought on our own?

So is Wisconsin a glimpse of America's future?  I hope not.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wisconsin - A mixed bag

I am at once happy and frustrated with what is happening in Wisconsin.  The fact that the citizens are at the state house protesting is amazing.  That is the level of participation in our government that we should all show.  Them carrying signs calling the Governor Hitler and using words like rape and kill is uncalled for.  Such displays of ignorance disintegrates their position.

The fact they feel a since of solidarity with the Egyptian people and took a cue from them is pretty exciting.  At least it shows that people in Wisconsin are paying attention to world events.  Allegations that the DNC set this up is kind of rubbing me the wrong way.  We shouldn't be parodying what happened in Egypt as a cheap political stunt for one party to gain the advantage.

I'm perplexed by the absence of the Democratic Senators as well.  Their disappearance prevents the Gov. from pushing through the vote in his favor.  Yet it seems wrong to just run away from your job.

The bottom line is that losing their ability to collectively bargain is just the beginning to a situation where the workers will be placed in a position that has no options.  Effectively, having to take whatever is given to them if they want the job.  Eroding away benefits of employees in a recession isn't how we build up the economy.

44 states and the District of Columbia have budget shortfalls this year totaling $125 billion.  How much was that bailout to the banks on Wall St?  Now I don't want to bailout the states anymore than I wanted to bailout the banks.  But aren't the states more deserving than the banks?  Aren't the states "too big to fail?"  Apparently not.

However, cutting state employee benefits to help make up budget shortfalls seems to be the answer for most states.  Shutting down state parks = open spaces for all, and stopping fire and rescue along with social services like libraries have become the norm.  Where was that option when we were talking about the banks?  That bus has left station and there is nothing we can do about it.  But we can stop this absolute dissolution of employee rights.

As for Wisconsin, I'm there in spirit - just lose the hate mongering signs and rhetoric.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What we can learn from Egypt

History has been made!  I can't help but feel excited for the people of Egypt.  18 days of non-violent (mostly) peaceful protests has toppled 30 years of dictatorial rule.  This is truly an amazing event.  Gandhi in South Africa then India, Dr Martin Luther King Jr in our own country and now the citizens of Egypt.  I think we have just seen some of the best of the human spirit.  

There is no doubt that non-violence is the most legitimate form of protest.  Any possible opposition that tries to use force to quell a non-violent protest makes that opposition automatically illegitimate.  But had the world not been watching things may have been different.  If Egypt wasn't affected by the opinions of the international community the citizens of Egypt may have not had the chance.   Burma is a good example of a country whose leadership does not rely on international opinion and therefore the Military Junta can quell any form of protest without reprisal.  So for non-violence to work their needs to be avenues for the international community to participate.  Truly showing how small the world is.  

Yet that isn't the only thing Egypt has taught us.  I can't help but think of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona where so many were killed and injured.  These thoughts quickly turn to all the school shootings that have happened in the past, Oklahoma City Bombings, Ted Kaczynski, and of course 9-11 and the subsequent wars spawned.  But I want to keep the focus on our domestic incidents.  Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary, said the other day, "The threat continues to evolve. And in some ways, the threat today may be at its most heightened state since the attacks nearly ten years ago." [1]  She was talking about the idea of a homegrown threat; American citizens being recruited to conduct terrorist acts.

There is a connection, at least one that I see.  It is of a citizenship slowly being cast to the side and being left out.  Left out of the "American Dream", being left out of the political process, being left out of living in this country.  Every aspect of our culture is cultivating stratification.  It's not just the usual suspects of economic and social classes, though they play a hand, but a stratification of those who run things and those who don't.   

I don't think that anyone would argue that poverty, famine, oppressive regimes, corruption, social neglect, rampant disease, destruction of natural resources, perversion of clean air and the absence of potable water is a pretty good list to describe a failed state.  It's these failed states that give rise to the disenfranchised youth.  Evil people who only want personal gain seize upon this disenfranchisement and channel it into anger and hate.  Then unleash that anger and hate on anything that seems a threat to their personal power.  This is basically the recipe for the terrorism that we are experiencing today.

Yet in Egypt the youth were disenfranchised.  They couldn't find employment and I'm not talking about just this year or the next but for decades.  They weren't included in the political process.  The government was being run by an oppressive regime.  The government was catering to the business elite through corrupt deals.  The Egyptian youth had everything there to take a totally different path.  What is so amazing is the restraint and wisdom shown by the people of Egypt.  

Back to our own domestic problems and what we can learn from the Egyptian people.  I want you to re-read my list of a failed state.  This time think about our poor - how private health care bankrupts our citizens or how our elderly have to live like 2nd class citizens to afford their care.  Look at the corruption in our own government.  All the little extras attached to bills to get them passed.  Just yesterday the House had a panel, mainly made up of business leaders, to discuss how government is hampering business.  Not to mention that they tried to repeal the Health Care Reform.  Look at how the banks nearly bankrupted this country and nothing has been done.  In a couple more years it'll be business as usual.  Obesity runs rampant in our society with diet related diseases topping most of our medical needs. How the Supreme Court just ruled corporations have no limit to how much money they can give to political campaigns because a corporation has the same Constitutional rights as a human being.  Look at the stratification of the rich to poor with eradication of the middle class.  Our environment is being trashed - Gulf of Mexico?  Most of our drinking water is contaminated with agricultural or industrial waste/runoff.  

Scary isn't it that we, as a 1st World Nation, have so many similarities to a 3rd World Failed State?  The point is that I think we are at a cross roads where we have the ability to come together and show the wisdom that the Egyptian people have shown the world.  Or we risk disenfranchising more of our citizens.  I don't condone violence nor do I excuse it on any level.  What I am saying is that the problems we are facing as a nation will take each and every one of its citizens to fix it.  It won't be fixed in the back rooms of Congress.  It won't even be fixed in the halls of Congress without real debate and discussion by each of us.  And I mean each and everyone of US.  We need to have dialogue that includes people not based on their ability to pay for campaigns but is based on their citizenship.  Because what Egypt has really shown the world is that when we come together, and stand together we can change the world for the better.  

[1]  Read more:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 5: La Jolla Shores (Again) and Wetsuits

I just cannot get used to it.  The coldness of the water.  I anticipate it's sharp shock when the soles of my feet touch the dampened, soft sand.  Between the hard, drained sand that barely leaves a footprint and water.  Sometimes the water rushes to greet me.  This makes the ordeal go quickly.  Other days it pulls away.  The many rivulets draw across my feet and toes slowly.  Causing the shock to last longer.

Of course I have a wetsuit.  Its rated at 3/2.  This means that my core and legs are protected by three millimeters of neoprene while my arms are protected by two.  This is a simple explanation.  It actually is based on the cut.  Its usually thinner where you need movement and thicker where you don't.  So even my arms have three mils of protection on some spots.

I could get a thicker wetsuit.  But a 3/2 is considered a year round suit for SoCal.  When I first went surfing I wore my diving 5 mil suit.  I was warm but the suits are cut differently.  A diving wetsuit isn't made for paddling.  My arms were so tired that day.  I used that suit for a week before I bought a surfing wetsuit.  The first time I tried to paddle in my suit it felt like someone had released wound up rubber bands in my shoulders.  I took off slapping ferociously at the water.

The thing with wetsuits is they have to get wet before they keep you warm.  There is a layer of water trapped between you and the inside of your suit.  Over time your body heat will warm that water to an extent.  I remember being amazed when I learned in physics that there is no such thing as cold.  Only the absence of heat.  Heat moves from high concentrations to low.  So technically mom was right when she yelled for keeping the fridge door open.  The trapped layer of water is caught in a struggle of trying to warm you and the ocean.  After about 45 minutes you start to lose out.

But you still have to get that first bit of water in there.  Wading out the water gets deeper.  The ankle bone is connected to the knee bone.  The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone.  If luck is with you, you get past the impact zone unscathed.  The point where the waves break.  If not then getting that first bit of water is automatic.  When the day's luck is with me it usually happens as I'm paddling and a wave is building.  We are playing a game of chicken which I will lose.  If, and this is a big if, you catch it right the wave will pull you up it's face and over the crest.  Rather it just moves under you.  But you need to do a little push up on your board.  This allows the crest to move between you and the board.  Otherwise the crest will grab you and pull you down.   It's this moment.  The moment the crest passes between me and my board.  That I actually go through the crest.  The water flows beautifully in line with my spine.  I just cannot get used to it.

Notes:  Wetsuits come in multiple thicknesses.  If it has only one number then it means it is that thickness all over.  Otherwise the two numbers means it is some sort of blend.  A wetsuit should fit snuggly but shouldn't cut off circulation.  Make sure you always try on your wetsuit before you buy it. Getting the thing off is difficult but you shouldn't feel ready to gnaw off a limb to get out of it.  Late spring is a great time to get deals on wetsuits as a lot of surfers only wears boardshorts in the summer. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

For every new follower of the blog I will sponsor a tree

One of the newsletters I get, Green Living Tips by Michael Bloch, has this thing where he will sponsor a tree for every new subscription.  Its a free to subscribe.

I thought this was a great idea and wanted to do the same.  So for every new "follower" (see the right hand column of the blog) I will sponsor a tree.

Follow me and subscribe to his newsletter and you get 2 trees planted! 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Day 4: La Jolla Shores and the Zen of a Bad Haircut

The only thing worse than a bad haircut is waiting an hour to get that bad haircut.  Thankfully I am happily appreciated in my own relationship but if I weren't I surely would date the woman who cut my hair for her extremely generous interpretation of how long 1/2 inch is.  In my world 1/2 inch would have brought my hair to my eyebrows.  Here's her interpretation. 
Angry face

What do you do with a bad haircut?  I was shocked in the store but by the time I was wishing it longer in my visor mirror I was fuming.  I mean I was going to burst.  "A 1/2 inch off the top is what I said!"

So I did the only thing I could do.  I drove off with my Hitler youth haircut and went to La Jolla Shores.  

This is where I learned to surf.  So this place holds a special place in my heart.  It has a great beach break that produces gentle swells.  Sometimes you get really good waves here but most of the time its not really anything to write home about.  This is where I take everyone to show them how to get started.

There were some sets that actually were well overhead and I was getting thumped by them.  I was just off.  I was so darn mad about this haircut.  But what can you do?  Nothing you just got to let it grow back.  What is done is done.  And with that calm approach and clear head I still got thumped. 

So moral of the story is:  A bad haircut sucks and while you might look like a Hitler youth now in two weeks you'll look like Eminem.   Oh, and surfing makes you feel better.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Day 3 of Surfpocalypse - Cardiff Reef & Maple Frosted Donuts

We started off the day at Tierra Miguel Farm doing a little farm work.  We left at noon and headed over to Cardiff on the Sea to do some surfing.  So this is my favorite place to surf (so far).  Not only does it have great waves but it has VG Donuts - the best darn donuts on the West Coast.  Thanks to my buddy Ben for showing us that spot.  Ben you rock!

Here's how we normally work it.  Get up there early - 7ish - and surf for an hour or two, dry off, and go get fresh donuts and coffee.  Sublime!  The last time Mel and I where there we were with my buddies Jon and Chris back in July.  Come to think of it that was my birthday weekend.  Jon and Chris are both ole Navy buddies and Jon is my "let's try and climb Mt Whitney in waist deep snow the past two years in a row" buddy as well.  Chris is currently getting his PhD in Economics so we never see him anymore.  Legend has it he surfs everyday up in Newport Beach.

So we all arrive early and we're loving the waves.  Everyone had a great time.  As we are getting ready to leave, literally walking into shore to leave and go get donuts, Chris gets stung by a stingray in his ankle.  The poor guy is bleeding everywhere.  Mel runs down the beach 1/2 mile to the lifeguard shack, Jon runs up the stairs up the cliff to get the 1st aid kit from his truck, and I run to the water to get a piece of kelp to put over the wound.

"I'm not putting that crap on my foot." Chris says

So the only other thing I have is the ankle cuff to my leash off my 7'-1" yellow board I affectionately call "the banana".  Side note:  My 6'-3" board is called the "potato chip" and my 8'-5" board is called the "cadillac".  I still haven't used the banana till this day because that leash is still dirty!   In awkward situations I tend to go with humor but poor Chris wanted to punch me so in a way it worked.  Long, boring wait in the hospital story made short - we had to wait till after the hospital to get our donut fix and by the time we got there almost everything was gone.

Why did I tell you that story?  Because it was the rational behind what we did.  We decided in the case that one of us (me) got stung by a stingray we should go and get donuts first.  And to somewhat hold to tradition we should get enough to have after we surf too.  I have to tell you the Maple frosted donuts are incredible.  I was going to go back in before we left to get more but Mel made me drive away.  I seriously think I would shank someone for the last maple frosted donut.  As it is Mel and I are in negotiations right now for the last half of her maple frosted donut.  Its costing me a whole chocolate frosted donut.

Cardiff Reef is spectacular.  You have to walk down these rickety-ass, wooden stairs.  Once you are on the beach you have to look up the cliffs to see where you came from.  Its beautiful till you have to walk back up those stairs.  Definitely an iconic surfing spot when I think of California surfing.

I honestly didn't think that Mel was going to get into the water.  She's a fair weather surfer but it must have been my sweet moves in the water that enticed her.  But she braved the cold water and caught quite a few nice breaks.  She rides a 6'-9" (no name!) but covets the cadillac.  So I tend to give it to her and I take her no name and try to surf it.  I still haven't transitioned down to the shorter boards so my fat butt tends to sink them.  But I was dropping in and half-ass standing up.  There's always tomorrow to get it!