Thursday, January 30, 2014

Best black bed sheets

Answer:  The best ones I've found to date are the Wamsutta Perfect Pinpoint 360 Thread Count sheets which are available at Bed Bath and Beyond, Amazon, and other common retailers.
They look like this.    
However, a lot of buyers do not agree with my conclusion, so read on.
Oops... that doesn't look too promising.  Those are Amazon reviews.  I'll explain why they're so variable in the sections below.  
First, let me stress the phrase "best ones I've found to date".  The problem with black bed sheets is that they are far less commonly manufactured than other colors.  We happen to prefer our sheets to be black for a number of reasons:

  1. They fit our decor scheme, which is transitional to contemporary.
  2. I'm a light sleeper, and I like a very dark room.  We have black-out drapery and I find that black sheets are more calming.  I don't want bright reflectance or patterns in my face when I'm trying to sleep.  I find that black sheets help to reduce mild insomnia.  
  3. Pardon the potential for indelicacy here, but black sheets don't show stains like lighter-colored sheets do.  You can spill your glass of Cabernet Sauvignon on them and even if some time passes before you get them into the laundry, the stain probably won't show.  Why in the hell the market insists in continuing to supply an overabundance of light-colored sheets is a complete mystery to me - other than to suspect that what those manufacturers are really hoping is that we'll all ruin our sheets with staining and therefore we'll be quicker to purchase new ones:  ca-ching!  More money in their pockets, less in ours.  Not my idea of a marketing ruse that I want to get sucked into.  

Very often when I'm looking for a product like this, I go straight to Consumer Reports because they've already done the head-work and testing.  I did that a few weeks ago when I was re-evaluating the available products, and sadly, none of the top-rated choices were available in black.

So instead of relying on a third-party rating, I had to go trolling the internet myself, a pursuit which is complicated by the fact that product information is widely misleading where bed sheets are concerned.
Tap to expand.  This is someone's eBay rant about thread count deceptions.  
My trolling took me right back to the same simple brand I had last purchased about 6.5 years ago.  One thing I've learned the hard way over the years:  Avoid anything but a standard weave in a sheet.  Manufacturers make all kinds of funky weaves these days, partly to increase the apparent thread count, but most of them lead to fabric pilling, in my experience.  And once fabric pills develop on bed sheets, there's not much you can do with them except recycle them, if you're the least bit interested in comfort.
Close-up of the Wamsutta.  Standard flat weave.  None of that criss-cross patterning stuff.  These are also 100% cotton.  Polyester blends are also out of the question for me.  They may last longer, but they feel worse, in my opinion.    
There are complaints in the review forums alleging that this brand of sheet is not the quality that it used to be.  And maybe there's some truth to that, but you have to take the price into consideration.  These are not expensive sheets.
Historically, the quality has been very good.  That clump on the left is the set I bought 6.5 years ago, versus the newly-bought sheets on the right for comparison.  The degree to which the older ones have stood up is remarkable when you take into account how much use they've gotten.  We do something else with sheets that most people don't - we only use one pair at a time.  Each week we take the sheets off the bed, launder them, and put the same sheets right back on.  Why on earth would I use more than one set?  That would require me to do a whole lot of unnecessary folding, which is a waste of my time.  Folding sheets is a pain in the butt, and they get stale sitting on a linen closet shelf.  I want them fresh out of the dryer each week.

What this means is that we used that same set of sheets on the left every day for 6.5 years.  In other words, two adults slept on them for about 2,200 nights.  They were washed and dried at least 340 times.  That's a hell of a lot of wear, and they still look that good.  Hardly any fading, and what fading did occur turned them a nice charcoal color.  
If they still look that good, you may wonder why I bothered to get new ones at this point.  Well, what happens when 100% cotton sheets get very old is that the fabric becomes weaker.  Eventually it will simply fail and tear, usually catastrophically (e.g., right down the middle when you're sleeping on them).  We don't exactly know when that point will come, but after 6.5 years of daily use, we can bet that these ones were getting close to the end of their lives.

The other common complaint on the internet is that this brand of sheet is not as soft as people want them to be.  Some reviewers describe them as being like fine sandpaper.  This is probably true, but what we've found by buying successive sets of Wamsutta over the years is that they "break in".  They definitely get softer with age and repeated washings.
This may be TMI, but we like stiffer sheets.  They definitely have a mild exfoliating effect, as this photo suggests!  It's a view as I was taking them off the bed for their weekly wash.  Like it or not, we all naturally shed vast numbers of skin cells - up to one million per day according to this Discovery Health article.  I'd rather shed the majority of them this way and in the shower than while out in public. I like rougher bath towels also for the same reason of exfoliation, but that's definitely a personal preference.  
This is one of my one-off blog posts which will only appeal to only a tiny, tiny fraction of readers.  But with three hundred million people in America and each one of them having a bed, "tiny, tiny fraction" will amount to a constant stream of highly-specific and quirky traffic.  I'll have fun watching your search terms, and you have fun sheet-shopping.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How to protect stock tank gardens and ponds from freezes

Answer:  Skip the floating row cover and other conventional gardening solutions, and try a draw-string tarp instead.
This was so simple that it only took me three years to figure it out.  The draw string allows the entire bottom edge to be tightened around the circumference, sealing out the wind.  
Cinched and tied, as easy as pie.  Very quick and hassle-free to put on and take off.  This is a 6-foot diameter stock tank with a 9' x 9' drawstring tarp.    
Home Depot sells this one, for instance.  9' x 9' is a good size for a 6' round tank.  The vault in the center of the tank is created by cutting lengths of 0.5" PVC pipe to form supportive hoops.  
Neither floating row cover nor conventional tarps work well with stock tanks, which tend to catch a lot of wind because they are elevated.
In warmer times... one of my favorite photos, taken very early in our property development before we stained our fence and added other improvements.    
This weird looking shot is approximately the same view, except it was taken during a cold, cold night when the same two tanks were covered by a blue tarp and a piece of row cover (with warming lights underneath each).  Neither forms a good seal around the tank, and the row cover in particular is virtually guaranteed to blow off in bad weather, no matter how well it is secured.  
This year, greater Houston seems to be specializing in freezing rain and sleet.  My floating row cover got coated with a concrete-like layer of ice and the extra weight squashed the plants beneath it.  No such issue arises with a waterproof tarp - problem solved.

Anyway, this approach should be helpful whether you're using stock tanks for vegetables, ornamentals, or as fish and lily ponds.  Folks are quite varied in their adaptation of these tanks for personal use, and I'll close with a series of photos illustrating that.
I don't claim to have originated the idea of using livestock tanks as vegetable gardens.  I had my "Eureka!" moment when I saw this news article describing how the City of Houston was using them.

Screengrabbed from Chron.
Much of my motivation for choosing stock tanks derived from the fact that my back yard is very small, and we have a dog who necessarily must use the back yard as a potty.  I needed to isolate our edibles from her activities.

But gardeners in other environments had different reasons for choosing these tanks.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center  pioneered their use for artistic displays of native ornamentals.

Pic screengrabbed from The Flower Picture Gallery.  
Some users in arid climates use these tanks because they can't put a conventional in-ground vegetable garden due to the need to conserve water.  This was another "early-adopter" photograph that was originally published in Sunset Magazine.  I can no longer find the original URL for the article that included this pic, but it still appears on Pinterest and other sites.  
Stock tanks can be highly productive as well as beautiful.  Almost everything I blog about in the way of home-grown vegetable harvests derives from my two 6-foot circular stock tanks, one 4-foot circular tank (shown above), and two 5 x 2 foot oblong tanks. 
Where there's a will, there's a way:  The Topless Gardener used this tank to grow vegetables on top of concrete.  The possibilities are endless.  
A stock tank used as a water garden, design by central Texas blogger Sheryl Smith-Rodgers.  
I have a small kettle pond, and it did freeze on the surface repeatedly this month because I didn't cover it.  I'll be searching for a smaller string tarp now.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Please consider blogging or tweeting

We've got a snow day in greater Houston and no snow to show for it.  As soon as the public school districts began announcing closures yesterday, the domino effect began in earnest.  Commercial cancellation announcements began pouring into my email box and visual voice mail account.

If you're wondering what to do with a bit of unanticipated free time today (or any other day), please consider starting your own blog or Twitter feed, especially if you might be able to see yourself participating in some kind of a community connective role.

There are 300,000 people in Galveston County, and very little community-oriented citizen journalism that I can find.

There are 200,000 people in "greater Clear Lake", which overlaps with north Galveston County, and the same observation applies.

We have a couple of notable exceptions, the most prominent of them being Island Drumz, which is the Clear Lake Shores blog.
Clear Lake Shores is about the size of a postage stamp.  Seriously, about 1,000 people live there, which is probably less than the population of Centerpointe subdivision with its 438 single family homes, most of which contain multiple-person families.  And yet Island Drumz has 68 subscribers and usually receives over 1,000 hits per week.  Do the math.  
If you do the math on that one, what you find is that Island Drumz is an effective mechanism of local social connection and information-sharing.  It represents a phenomenon that is rare in our area.

Bay Area Houston Today is another local example, but many of its posts promote ideological positions to a degree in which neither Island Drumz nor Centerpointe Communicator engage.  I do my share of editorializing - that's one of the perks of being a blogger - but it's not my primary focus.  And if I want political information, I tend to cut to the chase and go straight to The Texas Tribune rather than any given blog.

Our area's original blog was The League City Blog, which once again had a political focus, but at least it contained some hard information about what was going on around here.  Real Scary League City Politics was a similarly-themed progeny, but as of this writing, both have been dormant since 2012.

In sooth, the local blogging field is wide open.  Ditto with Twitter, from what I've seen so far.  Seven days ago when I announced that I was going to supplement blogging with tweeting, I made the statement "I was reluctant to begin this initiative" (Google Chrome has a sense of humor with cut and paste formatting, apparently).  Three days ago, a New York Times blogger neatly explained the reason for my reluctance in a piece titled "Valley of the Blahs:  How Justin Bieber's Troubles Exposed Twitter's Achilles Heel".  Simply put, Twitter is degenerating into a forum where people are trying to be noticed more than they are trying to be useful, which was Twitter's original purpose.   And in fact, much of what I've found in perusing Twitter fits into that category.  Nevertheless, it's still one of the best connective options we've got right now.

There is a HUGE latent demand for local information and connection with the other people who surround us.  We know this with absolute certainty.  Humans of New York recently proved it to us in spades.  HONY is essentially a forum through which local people communicate their individual stories.  They do it anonymously but viscerally, and they do it in a way which is less self-promotional and navel-staring and more in the style of sharing their wisdom and life lessons learned.  And people can't get enough of it, because that is exactly what is so missing from our social universe.   The blog has two million followers and the book that followed the blog was an instant #1 best seller.

When I conceived of this blog in 2011, I added a tab called "Neighbors" and I foresaw including content that was very similar to what HONY has since invented (this post from November 2011 best reflected my original intent for that post category).  But I didn't develop it because the idea was such a different paradigm that I was afraid it would creep people out.  I saw an acute social need for that kind of content, but as a small-scale contributor to the communicative universe, I wasn't sure that I would be a suitable person to try to re-set that precedent.  HONY has now smashed the old paradigm on behalf of us all.

Particularly if you are an older person, what are you planning to do - die with all your empirical wisdom still trapped inside your own head??  What would be the sense in that?  What if you were to share some of in an accessible format such as a blog, within the context of your life here in our local area?  I'm not talking about the navel-staring and self-promotion that characterizes so many individual private blogs.  I'm talking about sharing useful information.

Useful sharing benefits everyone, including the sharer.  A few months ago, a senior member of my scientific profession lamented in a public editorial that he had lost his enthusiasm for his career.  After about thirty years of doing essentially the same things, it had become stale to him, and he wondered what in the hell he could possibly do to keep himself engaged in the gap that he now dreaded, the ten-year gap between the onset of staleness and the final relief of retirement.  He hit upon an increased focus on mentoring junior members of our field, and suddenly he found himself filled with joy and renewed drive.

His story of typical of how life works.  Connection is good.  Sharing is good.  Mentoring is good.  Transmitting accumulated wisdom is good.  So, yeah, there are a lot of people out there who absolutely do not want to know about toilets that don't function properly.  Fine - they can enthusiastically skip that particular blog post.  But rest(room) assured, there's someone else out there who is looking for some guidance on that and literally a million of life's other small challenges.

Think about it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why your low flow toilet may not flush properly

Answer:  If you've eliminated (pun intended) the possible causes of (1) maladjusted float and/or flapper, (2) partially blocked sewer line, and (3) abnormally low water pressure in your home (which may cause slow tank filling), the cause of your toilet misery may simply be poor engineering of the toilet itself.
In order to evaluate that possibility, check the size of the flapper, because this is key. Larger flappers such as the one on the left are good.  Smaller flappers like the one on the right are not so good.  I'll explain why in the sections below.  
Federal standards currently mandate that toilets use not more than 1.6 gallons per flush.
This is the stamp on the toilets that were builder-installed in our house, which was constructed in 2010.  The toilets themselves bore a September 2009 manufacturing date.  The problems with these things have persisted well beyond what EPA reports in terms of time frame.  EPA likes to claim that it was only the "first generation" low flow toilets back in the 1990's that caused problems.  We have evidence to the contrary.  
What seems to have happened is that, in order to meet federal regulations, some (but not all) manufacturers down-sized both the toilet tanks and the toilet bowls, but neglected to correspondingly up-size the throughput velocity of the flush mechanism.

This is most easily seen in the size of the flapper.  In the comparison photo above, I used an American quarter dollar to show two flappers to the same scale.  The water-stained flapper on the right is found within one of our builder-grade toilets that we just replaced this past weekend.  The shiny new flapper on the left is from that new replacement toilet.  You can immediately see that the replacement toilet has a much larger flapper.

A smaller flapper equals smaller water piping equals more sluggish flush speed, which may have been perfectly OK for as long as larger water volumes were still being used in older toilet models.  But when the water volumes were reduced, it became a recipe for toilet disaster.  A faster flush velocity is necessary to offset the reduced force brought by lower water volumes.  And a faster velocity is achieved by increasing the pipe diameter.

And unfortunately, there's only one workaround for a poorly-engineered toilet.
Rip it out and replace it.  What a waste (pun intended).  I will probably donate this via Craig's List or Clear Lake Freecycle, but given how poorly it functions, it'll likely end up in a landfill sooner than later.  All in the name of mandated water efficiency, probably thousands upon thousands of these things becoming solid waste of a non-biodegradable form, all across America.  
Our chosen replacement was the Toto Eco Drake.  My husband did the research on this product.  We had replaced the commode in our master bathroom with a Toto right after we moved in and were completely pleased with it, so we were sure that we wanted another of the same brand for our powder room.     
When I say "toilet disaster", I'm not really exaggerating.  We replaced our Master bath toilet immediately upon move-in because we realized that the toilets in this house simply did not function, and we had to have at least one of them that worked well.  It took a minimum of three flushes to clear the bowls of the builder-installed toilets, and often many more flushes than that.  One day, my husband became so infuriated with the performance that he used his iPhone to document flush by flush how long it took to achieve satisfactory completion of the task.  He did this because he figured that nobody would believe his description of just how badly the toilet worked, especially a toilet manufactured as recently as 2009, and so he needed proof.  He ended up with a sixteen-photo series, which in his state of high aggravation, he then forced me to view (the low point of my marriage, to be sure).  Sixteen flushes were required to get the job done - no kidding whatsoever.  I said to him, "I know you have an engineering interest in this predicament, but don't you dare post that mess on TexAgs!"

I suspect that there are at least 35 homes just in our section of the subdivision with the exact same brand of inefficient toilet installed.  Who knows how many homes nation-wide.  We feel your pain.  Take a deep breath (holding your nose if necessary) and get on with the business of toilet replacement.  You certainly won't regret it.
Our new Toto in its esteemed place.  We should have installed this four years ago when we replaced the one in our Master bath. Better late than never. Scratch another task off the 'to do' list.   

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How to use your back yard garden harvest most efficiently

You can't just start growing vegetables in your back yard (or community garden plot) and expect your meal planning to incorporate them automatically.  You have to actively develop ways of making the best use of what you produce, and on the schedule dictated by your garden, not according to your own convenience.  I've made this point in a few previous blog posts, and now I'll show a few additional ideas about how to make it work.

It's late January in greater Houston Texas, which means that the winter gardening cycle is in full swing.  We've been having some crappy weather lately, but we really do have a 12-month vegetable growing season here in the subtropics. 
Here's an obligatory art shot of what my frozen-over fish pond looked like on the morning of January 25, 2014.  Life thrives under all that ice.   
Despite the icing-over and freezes we've been having this month, a winter garden in Houston will usually survive if covered by tarps, sheets, towels, floating row cover, or whatever else is handy on those days when the worst of the weather hits.
Most of this was harvested while my little fish pond was still frozen over.  Freezes in our area are not of long duration, and our soils never freeze, which makes year-round vegetable survival possible. 
That photo above includes the following:
  1. Red leaf lettuce
  2. Celery
  3. Cheddar cauliflower
  4. Green bunching onions
  5. Salad burnet (an herb-like plant that tastes like a cross between cucumber and watermelon)
  6. Kale
Six different vegetable species, all perfectly suitable for a salad.  But not just any salad.  We are partial to those elaborate gourmet-style salads that are common in high-end restaurants.  Here's how I make mine.
I start with a base of chopped organic spinach.  This stuff came from the g-store because I'm not growing spinach right now, and I'm also not growing enough lettuce to fill a whole salad bowl (I mostly grow lettuce for eating in sandwiches). 
Chop and add all ingredients to the spinach.  I used the six home-harvested vegetables shown above, plus I threw in a bit of store-bought tomato and red pepper (peppers and tomatoes are spring and summer crops, not suitable for growing in January).

By the way, this is what real home-grown organic celery is supposed to look like (no color enhancement here).  Not that horrible pale stuff you see in the grocery store.  This has a deep green color and I bet it also has a very different micro-nutrient profile.   
My secret ingredient is essential to the outcome of the salad:
Pederson's bacon.  Their corporate tag line is "Famous for bacon!"  It's not available locally because CLEAR LAKE TEXAS CURRENTLY HAS SUCH CRAPPY GROCERY STORES, but I buy multiple packages every time I go downtown to Whole Foods and keep them in our massive freezer until it is needed, the freezer that is integral to our meal management strategy
So you say that your kids and spouse are NOT spinach salad fans??  Try adding some of this and watch the complaints and the salad disappear.  To a family-sized salad such as this one, I chop and add about three quarters of a 10-oz bacon package, which probably equates to around 3.5 oz of actual bacon because it releases so much fat upon frying.

Mind you, this salad enticement approach might not work with the cheaper, factory-feed-lot bacon found in most mainstream grocery stores.  Pederson's is much, much better tasting, in my opinion.  
I also add high-quality grated Reggiano cheese, as well as dried blueberries and Craisins.
These are my two favorite vinaigrette dressings:
(1) Tessemae's Balsamic, which is my favorite but not available locally because CLEAR LAKE TEXAS CURRENTLY HAS SUCH CRAPPY GROCERY STORES, but I buy it at Whole Foods and store it until it is needed.
(2) The other is Cookwell and Company's Cracked Pepper Vinaigrette, which you might be lucky enough to find at HEB Bay Colony, but probably not HEB Clear Lake Market because the two stores have different product distribution contracts (a manager told me that). 
Now, here is where the larger meal management strategy starts to make itself more apparent:
There's the now-tossed bacon-yummy elaborate salad which is so rich that it almost eats like a complete meal all by itself, with side servings of lower-calorie Texas chili (which DOES contain beans, thank you) and a slice of Whole Foods bread

(BTW, I use Smart Balance Original as the butter-like spread.  It really did help lower my cholesterol as the product marketing claims, but your results may differ.  I don't recommend the "lite" version of the same product because I find that it tastes like crap.)
No working mother has the time to build an elaborate salad like that one AND cook chili (or anything else home-made) for the same meal.  I don't care how much of a Super Mom she is - that's just not going to happen.  Our chili is one of those staple dishes that gets made in massive quantities and stored in our special freezer until it is needed.  And then it is unfrozen bit by bit to complete a variety of different meals, of which this is one. 

And that is a good example of how I both structure our meal plans to minimize the time spent on preparation while efficiently managing what my little organic vegetable garden paradise produces.  I meet so many women who say things like, "Oh, that looks so healthy but I don't have the time to make elaborate salads on top of everything else."  Well, you actually do, if you can find a way to put the rest of the meal prep on auto-pilot.  Pre-cooking and freezing is one such way.  Auto-defrost can be your auto-pilot.

Let me close with one more trick of garden management.  A few weeks ago, I showed a useful recipe which optimizes broccoflower, which is a blissfully easy vegetable to grow in our area.
No freezer used in this example except to stockpile the Pederson's sausage which not available locally because CLEAR LAKE TEXAS CURRENTLY HAS SUCH CRAPPY GROCERY STORES.  This is broccoflower stir-fried with other vegetables and sausage. 
This is what happens when other vegetables are substituted based on what's currently being produced by my micro-garden:
It's basically the same recipe procedure, with a few exceptions. 
This is what went into it.  Relative to the original recipe that was published online, I substituted cheddar cauliflower for the broccoflower, I deleted the parsley, I added some chopped bok choy, a little bit of finely-shredded Reggiano, and some of our harvested frozen cherry tomatoes from last summer.

It's OK to use frozen tomatoes in almost any recipe that will be subsequently cooked.  If you grow cherry tomatoes instead of larger tomatoes, you don't have to worry about chopping them and then having them turn to mush in the freezer.  They freeze whole.    
Tweaking a recipe like that one has the following strategic benefits:
  1. It consumes whatever available vegetables happen to be ready for harvest from your yard. 
  2. Using different vegetables at different times changes the appearance and taste just enough so that your family doesn't feel like you're serving the same dish over and over again.  Deleting the parsley from this one and adding tomatoes, bok choy, and Reggiano gave it a different character, especially given that our tomatoes are out-of-control cross-breed volunteers that have a very gamey taste after several generations of non-selective breeding (they grow wild in our yard during the summer because seeds germinate from my home-made compost). 
Good luck with your own garden management.  You can capitalize on your own harvests and optimize the health of your family's meals.  You just have to incrementally develop a strategy that works best with your own employment- and family-related time limitations.
I took it one step at a time, literally one vegetable plant at a time.  Four and a half years ago, our suburban lot was nothing but scorched earth as the 23 acres that would become Centerpointe Section 9 were razed and re-contoured in their entirety to accommodate streets and houses.  There was a time when I couldn't even find a fire ant on this property.  It's been an enchanting experience to build it up from such a profound ecological rock bottom.

Here I'm standing on top of one of my smaller garden stock tanks looking straight down at a broccoflower.  This tank was installed in a marginal corner of our yard that was heavily encumbered by a utility easement (one of my most popular posts there).  You can see one of the utility boxes by my left foot.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Best large stock pot for a standard-width cooktop

Answer:  I'm not yet sure what'll work best, but I can show you a promising option, a local commercial-grade resource,  plus a strategy for narrowing down what will work best in your own kitchen.

Here's a short description of the tall problem:
Almost all of the stock pots on the market are too tall for those of us who have over-the-range microwave ovens.  This is inexplicably ridiculous, but true. 

Screengrabbed from Google's shopping widget. 
This is what happens with one of those conventional tall stock pots:  Insufficient clearance between the top of the pot and the bottom of the microwave oven (duh - who designs this crap?!).  If you try to use this kind of pot, there's not enough room for you to get in there and actually stir your cooking.  This is an older cheapie pot that I've had for some years and will be donating to charity. 
The retail market seems to assume that, if you can afford a large stock pot, you must be wealthy enough to also afford a massive stove with massive spatial clearances.  But I live in an ordinary middle-class American suburban tract home with an ordinary kitchen lay-out that now accommodates a not-so-ordinary cooktop which we had shipped in from a New Jersey supplier and retrofitted into our house to better serve our lifestyle.  Researching and acquiring that very special cooktop was only half of my kitchen efficiency battle.  Now I have to complete the package by finding cookware that is able to take full advantage of the cooktop's special design.

This is the other big problem:
Most "high-end" cookware sets only include stock pots that are 7 or 8 quarts in size.  Eight quarts is way, way too small for my needs.  So larger stock pots are actually rarer in the consumer world to begin with, which makes shopping more difficult. 

These typical cookware sets are entirely formulaic.  They represent a hold-over paradigm from the 1950's when women remained in the home and prepared individual meals from scratch every evening.  Things haven't been that way for decades, so it's a mystery to me why the industry keeps churning out the same old collections of pots that are obviously designed for cooking individual meals one at a time. 
In order to work on this predicament, I went to a very cool store on the Gulf Freeway (remember, I get no compensation for recommending any given retailer - my posts contain noncommercial personal opinions only). 

JKS Restaurant Equipment.  Exit Airport Blvd. and you'll find it on the NB feeder a short ways north of the freeway intersection.  This is a fun place to check out even if you're not searching for a specific cooking pot solution as I was. 
I had to find one or more pots with specs that work best with my new non-traditional cooktop.  No consumer-grade store offers a sufficient number of options, so it was to JKS that I went. 
JKS has just about every dimension of cookware available for sale on the planet.  Here are some of their larger aluminum pots. 
But I don't use aluminum, not even temporarily, so I focused mostly on their collections of stainless steel cookware and coated cookware. 

Added bonus:  This stainless line is really good commercial quality AND it's only about half the cost of comparable consumer-grade cookware.
Many of the larger pots were too tall for my situation, but some were not.  That one of the right is a 12 quart pot - one and a half times the size of what is typically the largest consumer-grade pot you'll find in many retail stores.  But still only about seven inches tall, which is good. 
There's that same stainless 12-quart pot sitting next to a 15-quart nonstick-coated pot.  That yellow paper circle on top of the 15-quart is the trace of my existing 8-quart, for size comparison.  I like to get a spatial feel for things when I shop.
I really like that stainless steel stuff, but I chose the non-stick for its larger capacity.
Here's the 15-quart compared to my existing 8-quart. 
Price comparison:
8-quart consumer stainless from a high-end department store some years ago:  About $100
15-quart at JKS Restaurant Equipment:  $32 including tax
12-quart commercial stainless from JKS Restaurant Equipment:  $49 including tax
The 15-quart fits very well on the large burner that the Fagor cooktop was specifically designed to optimize despite its small size (standard 30" width). 
My pot-seeking strategy, then, is as follows:
  1. Go to an unconventional commercial outlet store, skipping consumer retail outlets
  2. Buy a cheaper large pot of dimensions I suspect will work
  3. Test it out in actual use
  4. If it proves to work well, scour the internet to find equivalent dimensions in a pot of higher construction quality
  5. Donate the cheaper test pot to charity. 
Although I doubt that I'll be choosing this particular dimensionally-comparable offering.  Four hundred and sixty five dollars?!?  Holy crap!  I don't think so!  That's more than half the cost of the cooktop itself!
That might sound a little OCD as strategies go, but I spend a lot of my time cooking.  The tools have to match the task.  Having the right tools has a significant impact on both efficiency and quality of experience (far fewer frustrations and food failures). 

You also have to remember that, in doing this, I'm going where almost no American consumer has gone before.  This is part of my overall strategy to develop a family meal management approach that maximizes the use of my time.  I'm a working mother - I'm not a June Cleaver character who has all kinds of time on my hands, who can afford to frig around with outdated ideas of how to manage a kitchen. 

Having now taken this 12.5-inch, 15-quart Dutch oven home, I'm contemplating whether a 16-inch diameter brazier pan might even work on this cooktop's optimized large burner in spite of the fact that 16 inches is more than half the width of the cooktop itself.  Time and additional experimentation will tell. 
They are HUGE.  Very cool.  Maybe.  We'll see. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

What you should know about, vs. what the news tells you about

This meme is making the rounds on Facebook, with over eight thousand shares thus far.  It's a good creative idea in principle, but I think it's worth calling out what is so fundamentally wrong with this particular presentation.

Tap to expand.  This is the original version, uncredited.

In order to credit the maker and provide them with a trackback opportunity, I attempted to determine the origin of this meme, but my efforts were to no avail. Here's TinEye's analysis. Zippo.  
When one of my journalist friends shared the thing, I commented "They left (pun intended) an important one out of the "should know about" column: Why being co-opted by [mostly political] propaganda is no better than succumbing to the lure of junk culture."

My journalist friend then invited me to elaborate, which I proceeded to do in kind:
Tap to expand.  My version, off the cuff.  I added an attribution in case anyone wants to trace this one back to its source. 
The point of my version is to emphasize the following paradoxical truth:

If we take care of the little things, the big things have a way of taking care of themselves (channeling an old English proverb and a number of more contemporary like-minded sources). 

It does neither a person nor a community any good whatsoever for someone to devote time and energy to learning about some dissociated topic such as uranium depletion, especially when almost everything published on that subject has been sensationalized for the purposes of maximizing obsessive hand-wringing in the audience. 

If we instead devote our attention to community building, then we grow the energy, strengthen the moral principles, and enhance the tools that people require as prerequisites to doing things such as properly managing uranium, if they happen to be working in that specific capacity.

And while we're on the subject of what the commercial news media is and is not helping people to know about, might I remind everyone that what you see in any given newspaper bears only partial resemblance to what readers would like to see in that newspaper

For example, I mention faith-based organizations in my meme version above (and my definition of 'faith-based' is inclusive of all traditions, including humanist, agnostic, atheist, and polytheist).  I have another journalist friend, unaffiliated with the person who shared that original "should know" meme, who once told me that market studies consistently reveal that an *overwhelming* majority of newspaper readers want to see more faith-based content - not proselytizing, but objective information and reporting:  Who is out there, how do those groups define themselves, and what are they doing in and for the local community? 

But almost none of that type of content makes it into the average American metro newspaper - why??  Because advertisers are too afraid of being incorrectly associated with specific groups.  They don't want their ads to appear on the same pages as faith-based content because they think it would turn off and drive away readers who are associated with different faith-based groups. 

The key phrase there is "They don't want their ads to appear on the same newspaper pages as faith-based content".  There you have the kiss of content death, the reason why so little appears despite the fact that most people want it and would gladly pay for it. 

Fortunately, I don't have any advertisers to satisfy, so I can come right out and say things like that.  But we've still got a long way to go before folks cast off their uranium reality show celebrity divorce scandal addictions and start focusing on the importance of what's actually staring them right in the face.
Oh, look!!  It's a very non-dogmatic assertion, very benign and most people would agree that it contains universal truth, but it still technically falls into the category of faith-based content because its author was a famous Unitarian Minister.  But fear not - no advertisements were harmed in the posting of this quote meme.

I can't do everything, but I can launch the occasional meme refinement and I can also call bullsh*t in some of those instances where it needs to be called.  And if everybody made tiny contributions in kind, what might the net result be?

Quote screengrabbed from this site