Edison delivers, again

Tom Cross from Edison was back at my place today to re-re-spot my new electrical panel location. We talked on the phone and he indicated that he was viewing the area I'd marked with blue chalk. All is O.K. for a panel in that location, except that if it is to be a surface mount panel then I might not have enough clearance (36" is required - my measurements indicate about 39" from the wall) to the side yard fence.

I assured him that I intended to put in a flush mount panel. I think that most electricians don't bother with flush mount panels because it's so much easier to put in a surface mount. I've wanted flush mounted from the get go for aesthetic reasons.

This was the information that my electrical contractor, Gene from 1-Stop Electrical (310-676-4520) was waiting for to go ahead with a bid, so I've let him know that I had success.

To Do list updated.

Rain 0.88"

It looks like I was wrong about no rain until January. 0.84" today in my back yard.

update: another 0.04" last night, bringing the total for this storm to 0.88".


Unamplified speakers: The PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers seem to be highly rated and in my price range ($279) as are the Paradigm Atom Monitor v.5's ($249). Onix x-ls speakers have a good review or two and more favorable pricing ($200)

When looking for loud speakers for computer systems, it seems that you can find only amplified systems. Of these, the M-Audio Studiophile DX4 seems to be rated highly for audio source materials (not games) and comes in at an affordable price point. Samson Resolv 40a's are similar (repurposed monitors) but have higher power ratings.

Music to look into: Miles Davis and Gil Evans' Porgy and Bess


Last Child in the Woods

I've been reading _Last Child in the Woods_ by Richard Louv. He speculates upon a beneficial nature / mind link.

see http://www.thefuturesedge.com/

One of the central elements of Mr. Louv's thesis is that because nature is a highly enriched environment, it can have beneficial effects on peoples' (particularly childrens') mental states. He has a well-written argument that I won't repeat here.

My experience with my son at the Lair convinced me that Mr. Louv has a bead on some elements of truth. My son went to the Lair somewhat unhappy and came back much happier, a state that has persisted. His best activity there was unstructured play in the creek - exactly the sort of play that Mr. Louv states is most beneficial.

I am aware that you can draw an infinity of lines through one data point.


Perennial vegetables

Could be worth a try. Everyone's favorite, artichoke, is well known as are asparagus and rhubarb. I failed at growing rhubarb last year and the year before and the year before so maybe I'll have luck with some other vegetable.

Full articles here and here in the SF Chronicle. My attention to the article courtesy of whoreticulture.

My notes, condensed from the articles
  • Cardoon - eat the mid ribs
  • French sorrel - In mild climates, the lemony leaves are edible year-round
  • Jerusalem artichoke (a.k.a. sunchokes) - The tubers are crisp, nutty and sweet, and can be eaten raw, baked, boiled in soups or mashed along with potatoes.
  • Lovage - large celery-like perennial that grows up to 6 feet tall. Its flavor is very intense. The young leaves and stems lend themselves well to soups.
  • Mashua - An Andean root crop, mashua is a relative of the nasturtium. Mashua is a vigorously growing vine; give it a trellis to climb. The long, white, fingerlike tubers, which can be baked, roasted or put in a soup.
  • Nettle - Cooking will take away the sting, and the cooked tender leaves and shoots taste like spinach.
  • Oca - Andean root crop grown similar to potatoes. The tubers are harvested at the end of the growing season.
  • Pepino dulce - The pepino plant actually produces a fruit similar in taste to cantaloupe.
  • Tree collards - Produce a kale-like brassica leaf year-round in cooler climates. The leaves are good steamed, braised and in soups, stews and casseroles.
  • Yacón - An aster, and yet another Andean root crop, yacón produces small, football-like tubers that are mostly eaten raw, similar to a jicama.


Romero Canyon hike

I hiked up to the top of Romero Canyon today. I've tried twice before, but took a wrong turn the first time (still had a decent hike) and ran out of water the second time (forcing me to turn back). This is a steep hike with what I estimate was a 16 mile round trip - 5 miles up to the fire road (option to cross the fire road to Blue Canyon trail) plus 3 miles along the fire road before I decided it wasn't going to descend into the correct canyon, and then retrace steps. That's quite different than the guide book. Im sure that I could have cut that trip down had I known a bit more about the local trails. Zzzzz.

Draft of LA Times blog post

Edit 10 Dec 2007: I composed this while away on vacation and it was published in the LA Times blog, Pardon Our Dust, in early December. I kept it stored as a draft while awaiting the final version on the LA Times site, who had promised that their crack editors would work over my scribblings.


Sometimes, perhaps often, progress slows to a crawl when you are doing your own remodeling. This is particularly true if your family also has to live in the house while it is being remodeled. Advantages of living in your remodel are cost savings, ample time to consider your mistakes (hopefully while in a planning stage), and seeing how changes will affect how you live in real time. I struggle with slow progress on the remodeling front since it's a part time gig for me and my paying job has been fairly demanding in the past year.

My current home remodeling focus is my kitchen, the first step into home remodeling on the path of a renovation / remodel that includes everything from the property line in. My landscaping and hardscaping changes are well underway are proceeding in parallel with the house remodeling activities. I'm pretty happy with progress on that front (it's also a DIY effort).

In the summer of 2006 I was inspired to start actively planning a kitchen remodel on my mostly-original 1954 single family home of about 1100 square feet located in Hawthorne. The house had been a rental before I purchased it, and maintenance and upkeep had been quite basic as a result. On the plus side, I didn't have to worry about ripping out a 1970's avocado green kitchen. On the negative side, I have a very basic starting point: For example, range ventilation is currently through a hole in the ceiling!

The kitchen is a central point of focus for my family not only because I enjoy cooking a lot but also because we do most of our homework and other projects at the kitchen table, currently planted in the middle of the small and inefficient 1954 kitchen. With the tight space, it's a good thing that everyone is friendly when we have family over. Knowing I could gain the most from a kitchen remodel, I started there.

Kitchen Design Goals: Fit in the existing house footprint, use existing waste lines (they are in my slab, therefore difficult for me to move), improve efficiency, more counter space, more cupboard space, modern appointments (like a range hood and drawers on full extension slides, for instance), room for more than one cook to work at once (counter space plus an extra sink), ability to handle dinner for two to sixteen, better traffic flow, and better access the outdoors.

Starting with my kitchen design goals*, I used Ikea Kitchen Planner, a free design tool from Ikea.com, to sketch out many new designs for kitchen. One of the things that I'm glad I did was to include adjoining spaces in my design (Ikea Planner is not ideally set up to do that, but with my floor plan it wasn't too hard to add). This extra design effort allowed me to visualize several configurations that liberated nearby areas to varying degrees and led me to the conclusion that I needed a corridor style kitchen, completely open on one end to the living room and with doors at the opposite end to the back garden. At the time of my first design efforts, the interior end of the kitchen ended in a wall and short interior hallway while the exterior ended in a pair of double hung windows. A door on a third wall exited to the outside, with impressive views of the nearby garage.

My new design eliminates the interior (load bearing) wall and hallway and the replaces the double hung windows with French doors opening onto a patio and backyard garden. The exit on the third wall is eliminated too. With this floor plan, use of space is far more efficient than before: An interior hallway in this particular location made no sense, particularly when space is at such a premium. Removal of the interior wall completely allows natural traffic patterns to develop and takes away some constraints on where I put both kitchen and living room furniture - the dining room table can go partly in the kitchen and partly in the living room now, becoming an even more multi-use table. I can add leaves to the table when I have guests and expand it into the living room, ensuring everyone has enough elbow room. Changing the windows to French doors allowed me to take wall space from the location of the old side exit which was necessary for counters and cupboards.

[Insert kitchen plan pictures here - before and after]

* I'm engaging in the common amateur fiction of claiming that I started with my design goals. In actual fact, I started by playing with different floor plan configurations while keeping my constraints loosely in mind: DIY where possible, cost, staying within the existing floor plan, etc. The actual list of design goals grew out of that process, but wasn't even codified in writing until this blog post was written. There's nothing wrong with that - an organic process is a learning process and internalized design goals are design goals nonetheless. Professional designers will probably start with design goals because they charge by the hour and wandering through all possibilities is a costly endeavor. However, when you DIY, you have the luxury to believe that the time you spend on the project is free.

[End blog 1]

[Start blog 2]

In a chain of events that I've jokingly referred to as cascading home repairs, you start out with one task in mind and then discover that you have to do a second major task in order to complete your goal. However, in order to complete the 2nd major task, you discover that you have to do a third, and so forth. In that way, a simple kitchen remodel becomes a string of cascaded chores, each dependent upon the previous one. My home renovation friends all smile knowingly, since they know exactly what I'm talking about: That when you say "kitchen remodel" you actually mean the long chain of activites that will eventually lead to new cabinets and counters.

The list of significant cascaded home remodeling tasks that I have to complete before I can even begin on the kitchen part of the remodel is given below:

Replace double hung windows with French doors to allow access to kitchen - DONE
Upgrade electrical panel to allow for modern kitchen requirements
Route gas line to new range location
Re-wire kitchen from new panel, at least enough to preserve functionality during construction
Disable gas and electrical in interior load bearing wall
Demolish load bearing wall, replace with engineered beam (Glulam likely)

The French doors were the work of a weekend to install with the help of a buddy who had done the task before, but the planning for that one task, including getting materials on site took the better part of two weeks. I used salvaged doors from the Habitat for Humanity Store, so the cost was low - for four doors I paid something like $300. I'll use the other matched set of doors on a bedroom, but that's a story for another day. The end result of the window replacement was dramatically better light in the kitchen than the windows, plus gracious and convenient outdoor access, giving me hope that my planning would pay off.

About a year ago I had jumped the gun a bit and solicited bids from local electricians to upgrade my panel. The electrical panel currently has a grand total of four circuits, two 20A circuits and two 15A circuits, with no room for expansion.

[Insert picture of current electrical panel]

My life being what it is, I wasn't able to act on the bids right away. That turned out to be a stroke of good luck, since I had a change of heart about where I wanted to locate the new panel. My brother, veteran of his own remodel, advised that I should locate it on the side of the house so that if I ever wanted to extend the back of the house I wouldn't have to again relocate the panel. Additionally, he reminded me that it would be out of sight from the backyard, an aesthetic advantage when you're talking about a (large) 200A panel. I thought he was dead on and called Southern California Edison to approve the new meter location. My next call was to Gene from 1-Stop Electrical. He had given me a reasonable price before, so I invited him back over on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to give me an estimate for the new panel upgrade.

I had a short list of the things I wanted him to bid separately which I presented and we discussed when I met him at the property. What follows is the list that we agreed that he'd bid to, since through our discussion he was able to augment and improved my original list.

200 A electrical panel, mounted in the south wall of the garage.
150A sub panel for garage located next to main panel. Circuit breakers on inside!
Minimum two ground rods (my city requires only one). Maintain separation per NEC or better.
Deactivate old electrical panel so that I can remove it (this is pending my legwork to show that existing circuits can be accessed from the attic)
Upgrade to larger gauge pole-to-house wiring (Edison has agreed to do this at my request, not part of bid.)
Garage exterior outlet: 120V, 20A, single gang, in-wall mount. GFCI breaker. Mounted in east side of garage near south corner.
Garage interior outlet: 120V, 20A, four gang, GFCI. 48" mounting height on south wall.
Garage interior conduit and outlet for 220V connection. Installed but not wired, since I want this only for future expansion purposes. 48" mounting height on south wall.

I told him I'd handle the stucco work, having learned on the job around the French doors. The one gotcha in all this is that Gene states that the ground rods will be left exposed above ground about 10-12" and as close to the foundation as possible. Unfortunately, if placed in my narrow side yard I'm concerned that they will be a trip hazard and will constrict the passage too much - it's only slightly wider than 3' and my garbage cans barely make it through as it is. The slab foundation sticks out a few inches past the exterior wall. There may be a way around this if ask him to drill holes in the garage floor and he makes his ground attachments inside and against a wall. I can then hide the attach points with the cabinetry I plan to put there. I'll have to ask him if this is possible.

[End blog 2]


Drought busters

In a recent article entitled "After a dry spell, DWP's Drought Busters program is back," the LA Times profiles the DWP response to the looming water rationing.

Remember, you read it here first (by a day, but I did scoop the Daily News and LA Times).

...Last week, city leaders gathered at the DWP to announce the revival of the Drought Busters program, which last was used during the severe drought in the early 1990s.

The name is a bit of a misnomer. The Drought Busters -- six full-time DWP employees -- do not actually have the ability to change the weather. They do, however, get to drive around town in hybrid cars and tell people to stop wasting water.

Officials at the news conference -- including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- took pains to say that mandatory water restrictions still are not in effect. They also passed out a list of water uses prohibited by law in L.A., but noted that the law currently isn't being enforced.

For example, it is supposedly illegal to water your lawn this time of year from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. because it's wasteful due to evaporation. But no one, including the Drought Busters, is going to write you a ticket. Instead, the busters will politely insist that you stop....

...he first new restriction would be that customers could use only 90% of the water they normally use during a billing period. Residents who don't abide would get a warning for the first offense, a $50 surcharge for the second and $150 for the third. A fourth offense would allow the DWP to put a device on the pipes coming into the customer's house to restrict water flow....

Electrical bid process starting again

Gene from 1-Stop Electrical will be by tomorrow at 4:15 PM to give me a new bid. He was the low bidder last time I went through this process, almost a year ago to this day. Here's what I'll be asking him to bid to, with separate call outs for each item:

  1. 200 A electrical panel, mounted in the south wall of the garage. Location indicated in blue chalk is already spotted by Tom Cross, SCE.
  2. Minimum two ground rods. Maintain separation per NEC or better.
  3. Deactivate old electrical panel so that I can remove it. Need to discuss this before going forward. Wire as sub panel instead? Cost / benefit analysis needed.
  4. Upgrade to larger gauge pole-to-house wiring (Need to clarify: Edison responsibility? Who contacts Edison?)
  5. Garage exterior outlet: 120V, 20A, single gang, in-wall mount. GFCI breaker. Mounted in east side of garage near south corner.
  6. Garage interior outlet: 120V, 20A, four gang, GFCI. Mounted above counter height on south wall.
  7. Garage interior outlet: 240V, GFCI. Mounted above counter height on south wall.

60% of all statistics are crap

In last Thursday's Home and Garden section of the LA Times I found the following quote in an article entitled Breathing a Little Freer Indoors.

"Over 60% of the air you breathe in any closed space is off-gassing from surface materials," says Ellen Strickland, owner of Livingreen stores in Culver City and Santa Barbara that sell environmentally friendly home products. "It's an accumulative effect of everything that's on the walls, furniture, counter surfaces, your clothes, the curtains -- anything that's brought into that space."

While I agree that VOCs are undesirable, I find it impossible to believe the 60% figure quoted above. I think that the greenies do themselves a disservice when they bandy about patently false statistics.

Generally, scientists get concerned over known carcinogens at the ppb or low ppm level (parts per billion or parts per million). One ppb is 0.000000001 or 0.0000001%. One ppm is 0.000001 or 0.0001%. The 60% level quoted in the story is 600,000 ppm. You wouldn't be able to breath in air from which 60% of the oxygen had been displaced!

Let's do a little Google searching and some algebra to figure out a reasonable number for a bound on the potential percentage contamination of VOCs.

A high level of VOC contamination assumed in an EPA study that I found online was 0.27 mg/m^3. Let's assume this is typical. Air has a mass of 1.2 kg/m^3 at room temperature (surprisingly high, isn't it?). The mass ratio of 0.27e-3 / 1.2e3 is going to be in the fraction of a ppm. Allowing for the typical larger mass of an organic molecule from VOC (perhaps 100 AMU) compared to air (N2 = 28 AMU) we can scale the typical mass ratio to a molecular ratio and we get an even lower number, perhaps 50 ppb. 50 ppb is 0.000005%, if I've managed to move the decimal place appropriately. Scale this number up or down, depending upon your going-in assumptions. No matter what you do, you won't get even close to 1%, let alone 60%.

Given the innumeracy in society at large, is it surprising that number like 0.000005% gets turned into 60%? It ought to be. By the way, it took me not too long to dig up these numbers - the results were all on the first search page. Newspaper editorial staff would be advised to do likewise.

So, should you be concerned about 50 ppb volatile contamination? Absolutely! Particularly if it's chronic exposure to the wrong stuff. Should you believe 60% contamination figures tossed about by the LA Times or by proprietors of green living stores? Absolutely not.

The LA Times later redeems itself with the following:

Santa Cruz architect Hal Levin has spent nearly 30 years researching building ecology, a term he coined in 1979. He was interested in an environmentally friendly cork veneer widely used by green designers, so he had it tested.

The material was supposed to meet the European standard of 0.1 part per million of formaldehyde, which already was six times higher than standards for California state office buildings, he says. Test results showed that the emissions were five times higher than the European standard, or about 30 times California's.

But they never circle back to the 60% figure or compare it to 0.1 ppm.

As a sanity check, here's some Australian guidelines for common gaseous contamination (also found after a brief web search). Even the sum of all those PPMs would not get close to 60%.
carbon monoxide 9.0 ppm (parts per million) measured over an eight hour period
nitrogen dioxide 0.12 ppm averaged over a one hour period
0.03 ppm averaged over a one year period
ozone 0.10 ppm of ozone measured over a one hour period
0.08 ppm of ozone measured over a four hour period
sulfur dioxide 0.20 ppm averaged over a one hour period
0.08 ppm averaged over a 24 hour period
0.02 ppm averaged over a one year period


Your House, Your Garden

"Your house is the center of your garden" is the first sentence and central tenet of the garden design book that I just finished. _Your House, Your Garden_ by Gordon Hayward was well worth the 26 clams or so from Amazon. Despite its northeast US focus on plant materials, the book was well worth the time and money for the design insight alone. Hayward illustrates practical design guidelines and principles throughout the book with a series of wonderful photographs and watercolors and goes far beyond the usual aesthetic notions that other design books end with.

I put one of his design principles into action today when I demolished a low brick planter that was sited directly across from my kitchen doors and which has impeded foot traffic for years.


The Creative Homeowner edition of _Trellises and Arbors_ starts off chapter one with wonderful photographs of trellises and arbors, but the accompanying captions leave a lot to be desired. "Stand alone trellises provide a base for climbing plants such as clemantis" and "Choose plants that are best suited for the size and type of trellis that you install" and "Materials choices for arbors range from solid wood to metal to bent twigs (next to pictures of all three)" are next to useless. A picture would seem to be worth 10,000 words to Creative Homeowner publications since chestnuts like these lard the text in the first chapter. On the plus side, later chapters appear to offer practical (and well-photographed) instructions for building trellises, so at the used book price from Amazon I consider this a good deal.

Invasive plants to avoid

Invasive Plants That Should be Avoided Everywhere in Los Angeles County.

• Alianthus altissima Tree of heaven
• Eucalyptus globules Blue gum
• Ficus carica Edible fig
• Myoporum laetum Myoporum, lollypop tree
• Nicotiana glauca Tree tobacco
• Olea europaea Olive, except seedless varieties
• Robinia pseudoaccacia Black locust
• Schinus terebinthifolius Brazilian pepper
• Tamarix gallica French Tamarisk
• Tamarix ramossissima Saltcedar

Source: Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning as quoted by the Dominguez Channel Master Plan

I have a Brazilian pepper in my back yard, planted long before I arrived on the scene.

Dominguez Channel restoration?

Some time ago I read about the Marsh Street Park, a 5 acre park developed with an eye towards improving watershed management in the Los Angeles River watershed. The park cost about $1M, which was paid for with County of LA Prop A bond money (about 1/3) and the remainder paid by the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy via funds they received from the State of California.

I live in the Dominguez watershed. With all the attention given to the Los Angeles River in recent years, there's no reason we shouldn't make some improvements locally. It turns out that the LADPW has a fairly thorough master plan for the Dominguez watershed, though it has received virtually no publicity compared to its more famous neighbor.

There's a long list of reasons to reexamine our watersheds and remediate the damage done when they were paved over. The two main reasons are to offset environmental degradation and to increase recreational areas and open space. In Los Angeles City, the national guideline for park density (10 acres per 1000 people) is only 11% fulfilled and places like Griffith Park have to turn away patrons on peak days. The South Bay is similar. Therefore, any small improvement in the amount of public lands would be of significance both for people and for the environment.

As I see it, there are four opportunities for the City of Hawthorne in the Master Plan:

  1. Dominguez Channel present day headwaters are between Kornblum Ave and Doty Ave just north of 117th St, heading southeast down under the 105 Fwy and then turning east next to 120th. There is little adjacent area on its southeast leg, since houses back onto the Channel. However, once it turns east at Yukon Ave next to to 120th St, there appears to be some land on the north side that would be suitable for a naturalized park redevelopment. The land is triangular and next to the (elevated) freeway on the north side. It's max 200 ft wide (N-S) and about 2000 ft long (E-W). On this eastern leg of the Channel, it runs above ground next to 120th then heads underground and reappears heading south parallel to Crenshaw. (item 2)
  2. Dominguez Channel south of 120th St at Crenshaw (between Hawthorne Airport and Lowes shopping center), using the fenced and unused parking area adjacent to the Channel to the west. The paved area seems to be about 1500 feet long and 150 ft wide.
  3. 132nd street drain, a tributary to the main Channel. This is about a half mile stretch, but matters may be complicated because it looks like the drain may be on or may cross the Hawthorne / LA County border. One map has it mostly in Hawthorne.
  4. Holly Park, the small northwest corner of the LA County owned Chester Washington Golf Course. This is probably of no consequence, except that the original headwaters of the Dominguez Channel are on the golf course and are planned for daylighting, so there may be some improvements available for Holly Park.
Scanning through section 4 of the Dominguez Watershed Master Plan, I see that they have a 2-5 year plan to "Daylight Historic Streams to Restore Wetlands" (section This explicitly includes the original headwaters of the Dominguez Channel (in Chester Washington Golf Course just north of Imperial Highway) where it currently flows in an underground storm drain to join the open Channel a half mile or so south of 120th (in the city of Gardena, I think). "Storm drains traversing parks and vacant areas" are also mentioned as candidates, which might point the finger at the 132nd street drain. The time line of 2-5 year is perhaps a bit optimistic given the 2004 publication date of the Master Plan, but is also an indication of the priority that they would like to give this task (relatively high, it would seem).

Other activities called out in section four of the master plan that might fall allow for funding within the plan scope are:

" Investigate feasibility and restore concrete-lined tributary channels" Clearly the Hawthorne stretch between the airport and Lowes would qualify, but they also mention the 132nd St drain, also in Hawthorne.

" Create Additional Nature Centers"

"Increase brownfields redevelopment" Does that fenced parking lot by Lowes qualify as a brownfield? What about the industrial areas adjacent to the 132nd street drain?

" Create Watershed Enhanced Recreational/Bike Trail Along Dominguez Channel" There are already maintenance roads along the sides of some areas adjacent to Hawthorne City. Seems like an easy one to implement there. At the end they write, "While this action is written specifically for the Dominguez Channel, opportunities for other recreational trails should be examined for tributary channels that empty into the Dominguez Channel (e.g., 132nd, 135th, Del Amo, Torrance Lateral)," so the 132nd street drain again gets mention.

Possible grant sources are: Five-Star Restoration Challenge Grant Program, Proposition 13, Proposition 40, Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project Work Plan and Small Grants Programs, Proposition 13 CALFED Drinking Water Program, Proposition 40 monies administered through the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, the California Coastal Conservancy's Wetland Recovery project grant monies.

Arroyo Seco Convergence in LA Times



To Do list updated

I'm moving back into home improvement mode. A recent book find on garden design is proving useful: I'm reading it at night and it's giving me great insights. I also had the newest new electrical panel location spotted by Edison. I've updated the To Do list and I'll be moving onto the next tasks without fear of seasonal rains.


Last rainfall of the season?

We had a light rain followed by some fog on Sunday. I'm guessing a few hundredths of an inch all in all: There had been substantial evaporation by the time I got to my rain gauge. According to reports on NPR yesterday, that may be it for this rainy season because of La Nina conditions. Weather modelers reportedly give scant hope that La Nina will weaken before January, meaning that we'll have to rely upon late season rain or nothing at all. It's not completely outlandish to draw an inside straight with rain - remember the March Miracle of 1991 which ended five years of drought? But in my book it's better to be prudent.

While our total rainfall thus far this year exceeds last year's total, it's still quite low -- low enough to qualify as a second, back to back, severe drought year.

My urge to eradicate all grass starts to look smarter and smarter, since I predict the start of water rationing in Los Angeles by early 2008. The city of Long Beach has already started rationing. Green grass has high water needs, and I doubt that my remaining lawn would get any water at all in a rationing situation.

Ironically, the highest water wasters are better off in a drought situation than those of us that have conserved in previous years. This is because water allocations are based upon your previous history of usage (usually during winter months when non-wasters wouldn't use much outdoor water). Users with historically high water usage are assumed to have greater water needs, a not unreasonable going in position. However, this also favors the waster who has a lot more easy remedies to live within their new water allocation. (You mean I have to give up showering until the water runs cold and turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth?}

So far as I know, there is no easy way for the water utility to discriminate between need-based usage and waste-based usage. However, in previous years there has been an appeal process to increase water allocation, and this was successful in the one case where I heard of it being used.

Pancake triumph

Take two of the Dutch Baby pancake was a towering triumph.

The primary change was use of a blender instead of a food processor.


I saw Wicked last weekend, with elegant and tasty, yet not horribly expensive, dining beforehand at Vert, located at Hollywood and Highland. Vert (and other restaurants in H&H) offers a free shuttle to the Pantages theater and back which was wonderfully convenient.

The meal, show, and company were a fantastic way to spend the evening.

Four things about me - email chain

Warren sent me this by email.

...here's what you're supposed to do... Please do not spoil the fun. Hit forward, delete my answers and type in your answers. Then send this to a whole bunch of people you know INCLUDING the person who sent it to you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known facts about those who know you.

I have a (somewhat) firm policy of not passing these sorts of things along by email, though I did break that policy once before. [In that case, of the 10 or 11 people I sent my own chain email to, one responded by email, one more by blog, and the other 8 or 9 not at all, despite some of them being directly related to me. So much for the blood is thicker than water theory.]

4 Things about me you may not have known:

1. Gardener
2. Computer store sales staff
3. Safety engineer
4. Scientist
1. Boulder
2. San Diego
3. Santa Barbara
4. Los Angeles
1. The weather gal on channel 7
2. Boston Legal
3. House
4. A recent DVD rental
1. Rothenberg
2. Stockholm
3. Avignon
4. San Diego
1. BBQ'd pizza
2. roast leg of lamb
3. asian pears
4. asparagus
1. My backyard, working on a project or BBQing
2. Wine tasting
3. Hiking in Santa Barbara
4. France
1. Mike
2. Maribeth
3. Rob
4. Juli
1. REI
2. Surfas
3. Amazon
4. The Payne Foundation


Pancake failure

1/4 C flour
1/4 C milk
1 egg

is the ratio of ingredients in the so-called "crowdstopper pancake" (aka Dutch baby, Germna pancake but really a Yorkshire pudding or popover) which is a favorite when I visit Santa Barbara. (Use a blender to beat the eggs for a while, then add milk while blending. Finally add flour, blending 30 more seconds.)

Placed in a cast iron skillet with a knob of melted butter at 425F oven for 20-25 minutes this recipe usually results in the most phenomenal pancake the world has ever seen. It fountains up the sides of the pan in a gravity-defying leap to the top of the oven before it gets crisp and brown at the edges. The center stays soft and moist. It's a delight to eat with powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

That's when other people make it.

When I made two the other night for dinner, they resembled cornbread in the way they rose and they had a cake-like / bready texture which wasn't offensive but didn't reach the peak of deliciousness that it ought to. The first was a four egg recipe and I thought that perhaps it was that my pan wasn't hot enough when I put the batter in, so I addressed that question with my second effort, making the 3 egg recipe the second time through. I ended up with the same result. I suspect that my substitution of a food processor for the prescribed blender is what did me in. Fortunately others have this problem too and I can learn from them.

The food processor did it in the kitchen, I believe. What I mean is that I suspect that the food processor blade cut the egg proteins and flour gluten so that the whole thing didn't have enough stickiness to scale the heights of the pan. On the other hand, perhaps I didn't run the food processor enough to cross-link the egg proteins and gluten sufficiently and whip in enough air to get it to rise. I guess there's a Goldilocks effect where the mechanical action of the blending is just right. Maybe a beater would work better.

My flour wasn't in question, since I used the ever-reliable King Arthur flour, which is a high-gluten four. A little salt in the recipe might have helped.

Here's the recipe straight from the source:

The recipe I use is from a very old Sunset Mag. (Jan. 1977)
It is very basic.
I am sure that you can find similar recipes online.
I have a James Beard recipe that has more ingredients. I have never
used it.

You can use a Paella pan, cast iron skillet, or any oven proof pan that
can with stand 425o. Probably best not to use teflon coated pans.

You can use a mixer, beater, etc. I have always used a blender. It has
always worked.

Pan Size Butter Eggs Milk and Flour

2-3 qts. 1/4 cup 3 3/4 cup each
3-4 qts. 1/3 cup 4 1 cup each
4-41/2 qts. 1/2 cup 5 1 1/4 cup each
4 1/2 - 5 qts. 1/2 cup 6 1 1/2 cups each

Put butter in pan. Place in over at 425o
Mix batter while butter melts.
Put eggs in blender.
Whirl for 1 minute.
With motor running at high, gradually add milk.
Then slowly add flour.
Mix for another 30 seconds.

Pour batter into hot pan with melted butter.
Return to oven.
Bake until puffy and well browned,
about 20-25 minutes.
Serve immediately.

I'm aware of the irony of bracketing a complaint about school nutritional guidelines with recipes for baked goodies. I'll add an amusing tag and pretend it was all planned.


Nutrition nuggets

Nutrition Nuggets is the name of the monthly "food and fitness for a healthy child" flier that comes home from junior's school with the monthly list of hot lunches. I let him buy a weekly hot lunch so he can be cool just like all the other kids with parents who don't care what their child eats. With only one hot lunch per week, I suppose we can address the dietary deficiencies of the typical hot lunch at home. It ought to be easy when the lunches typically consist of two starches, a sugar, and fat. All we have to do is eat five servings of fruits and vegetables at the evening meal. Oh, wait, make that four: Yes, ketchup is considered a vegetable when it comes to hot lunches.

Excerpts from this month's flier:

Drink Up!
What are the healthiest drinks for kids?

A. fat-free milk
B. water
C. fruit juice
D. diet soda
E. sports drinks

Answer: A and B

Get your child in the habit of reaching for milk or water when he's thirsty and he'll be a step ahead on the road to good health. Try these strategies.

Go for Flavor
Many youngsters don't like plain milk or water. To punch up the taste, stir chocolate or strawberry syrup into fat-free milk...

It then goes on to explain that anything other than 100% juice fills kids up (it's not also full of sugars?) and that soda has no nutritional value (why doesn't this also fill kids up?), contains lots of sugar and sodium, and often has caffeine. Note: diet soda is no better -- it still has caffeine and sodium, plus it contains artificial sweeteners.

Is there someone who thinks that chocolate or strawberry -flavored milk isn't also full of sugar and artificial flavors?

Who writes this crap?

Last month I think the flier was advocating the use of fat-free milk as an alternative addition to scrambled eggs. Does anyone use more than a tablespoon or two of milk in their eggs? Is this an effective way to reduce fat calories or add calcium or vitamin D? Wouldn't water be better? Why didn't they advocate that? Is it because water is essentially free and milk has a well financed lobby?

These fliers are offensive.

For the record, we drink a lot of water and far less milk than other families that I know. My son's friends often ask for juice or soda when thirsty. I usually offer cold water and a quart of 2% milk will often go bad on us before we've finished it.

Filed under amusing, but would be more appropriate under disgusting.