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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dishwater Logic

Where most couples fight over money or what to watch on TV, Steve and I argue about procedure.  Our principle faults are that he is stubborn and I'm a control freak.  I don't know if his stubbornness stems from his being the youngest in his family and he still has a need to prove he can do it or what; at any rate, I don't think he's come to grip with the fact that as his universe is ordered by his intellect, he is just plain not good with his hands.

So where does my penchant for control stem?  I, unlike Steve, have been hands on for a very long time. I have been all about skill acquisition since my early teens, and because I've been 'doing things' and 'making stuff' for over forty years, I generally approach tasks in a very logical way.  I do things based on smaller, predecessor steps because they lead logically to either a better finished product, or less waste, or a faster conclusion, or any combination of the three.  This is something about my husband that I still find a mystery, though, because he understands well the concept of the predecessor step; he is, after all, a software developer.  He's thinking, all the time. I don't mean to infer that he's totally helpless- far from it.  He's frequently right, and there have been many times he's saved my bacon.  But he's also given to stubbornly pursuing his path when I can see clearly that if I let him proceed he's going to break whatever it is he has in his hands.  One of the worst fights we've ever had was the direct result of one of these instances, and I didn't speak to him for a week because of something he said during the heat of the argument. And before I have you thinking that we're on the brink of divorce, let me tell you that there is still no one else on earth with whom I'd rather spend the rest of my life; with all his faults (and I'm no picnic either), I truly adore my husband.  It's gotten to the point that if I'm doing something and I'm having the least little struggle with it, he'll say, "you're doing it wrong," which is something I say to him all the time, and then we both laugh.  More than any other difference between us, which the French would have us celebrate, our problem-solving logic has to be the widest gap between us. Which is why Steve is no longer allowed to do the dishes.

Like nearly any other man I've talked to, with the possible exception of my brothers who learned to load a dishwasher the same way I did, Steve does not believe in wiping off the food from the dishes he loads into the dishwasher.  I don't care whose brand of dishwasher detergent you use, or how fancy your dishwasher is, something somewhere will get always cooked or baked onto a dish or (gag) the silverware, which to me is discomfiting to say the least.  Maybe I do have my hangups, but I really don't like to eat from dirty dishes, I don't care how sanitary they are.  I particularly don't like to set my table for guests with knives and forks that aren't clean.  So Stevie is persona non grata in the scullery.

This means that it sometimes feels like I am always cleaning up the kitchen.  However, I probably spend more time in there because of the way that I do things, which is largely aimed anymore at saving water. We aren't struggling with a drought or anything, and I believe our municipal water rates are reasonable, but in my view it can't hurt to get used to deprivations before they happen, and any habit in that regard that I develop now will make making do without easier later.  As John Michael Greer once wrote, collapse now and avoid the rush.

So- how to save water while doing the dishes.  While there have been many studies that conclude that using the dishwasher saves more water than doing the dishes by hand, none of these studies have included my methods, and I favor a combined approach.  Dishes from which we eat and drink and thus need to be thoroughly sanitized go into the dishwasher, and everything else, especially knives and stemware, get washed by hand.  However, I probably do it a lot differently than everyone else does.  As I implied before, dishes and cutlery going into the dishwasher get cleaned off beforehand, but I use the wash water from the previous cleaning up to do that, thereby not running clean water over them.  I also give everything that I'll be washing by hand a good going over with the previous wash's water to get the grease and chunks off so that I can keep the next wash water cleaner longer so that I can use it later in the day or the next morning. Standing water with stuff in it tends to start smelling bad, so I keep it as clean as possible.

None of the dishes I wash by hand get actually dunked into the dishpan, for two reasons. One is that I don't want to dirty the water, and the other is that I want it to stay as hot as possible for as long a possible.  So after I've loaded the dishwasher and pre-washed the pots and pans and cooking utensils, I scrub out the sink so that I can put the clean stuff in it to hold until I'm ready to rinse.  I empty the dirty dishwater into it, run the garbage disposal, and then clean the sink. Once the sink is clean and rinsed. I put the dishpan back in, squirt some dishwashing liquid into it, and then run as hot water as I can stand into it.  The dishes get washed in the order that it makes the most sense to load them into the drainer, and I wash and rinse in batches, because the sink won't hold everything at once.  So for instance, if there are cutting boards and pot lids, those get done first because they will lean against the back of the drainer as out of the way as possible.  Then I wash the coffee cup saucers, because we don't eat or drink directly from them so I don't waste space in the dishwasher on them. Incidentally, I will waste space on plastic tubs in the top of the dishwasher because they are harder to get grease off of when hand washed, but I always do the lids by hand.

I try to use the sprayer over the rest of the dishes when rinsing so that most of the soap will be gone by the time I turn my attention to other things waiting for a rinse, and that way I use less water for rinsing. Growing up, we didn't use either a sprayer or a dish brush, but since starting to use them I find that I can't do without either anymore.  Dish brushes are useful for making sure you get your whisks and beaters clean, and the gears on your food dishers (AKA mechanical ice cream scoops), and I especially need it for cleaning the bottle opener and the can opener.  I once read that the dirtiest inch in your kitchen is the can opener blade, but not in my kitchen because the idea of using the same implement to open up a can of dog or cat food and then using it to open a can of olives frankly gives me the willies.  Because of that I've been scrubbing the can opener really well for many years, and a dish brush makes it a lot easier to get it done quickly and thoroughly.

Once I have all the cookware and cutlery in the drainer I can turn my attention to the counters and stove top.  The dishwater is still pretty clean and soapy, so I'll dunk the dishrag in it, wring it out, and go to it. I always quickly rinse off the dishrag before I re-dunk it into the dishwater so that I keep the dishwater clean, and I use the soapy dishwater to save on counter spray.  Then I'll run the garbage disposal one last time and then run the dishwasher.  Did you know that fruit flies spawn in the drain?  That's the biggest reason I run the garbage disposal one last time before running the dishwasher- I want to clear the drain completely for both the dishwasher and keeping the fruit flies down.  Fruit flies can be disastrous when bottling beer.

Just because you've stuck out this post this long, I'm going to give you my recipe for homemade dishwasher detergent, which I keep in an old Sun oxygen cleaner bucket under the sink.  You could probably keep it in an old yogurt container (a half gallon size) or a plastic bottle- just make sure it has a lid on it and it's something you can open up to break up chunks because in my part of the country, all dishwasher detergent eventually sticks together because of the nearly constant humidity.

2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
1 cup oxygen cleaner or powdered brewery wash

Mix it all together and keep a scoop in it.  I use the PBW because we have a boatload of it.  Both will help keep the water scale down.

I've been using the above recipe for awhile now and like it a lot. It seems to work fine and rinse well, and it's super cheap to make. I haven't gotten around to making my own soap yet, largely because people keep giving me soap (do I need to take a hint?) but I have been making my own dishwasher and laundry detergents, and my own deodorant, all of which work as well or better than the commercial stuff and which cost far less.

Would I change the way I do the dishes if I had less time?  Probably not.  The way I do them seems the most logical to me, which for me is the best way.  I'll at least do them this way until I can't get my hands on dishwashing liquid or borax and washing soda, at which point I'll have to think of something else.

But I can figure that out too.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Our Standard Agricultural Model Shouldn't Be a US Export

Because I don't live in the country, one of the blogs I follow is City Farmer News, which gathers urban farming stories from around the world. City Farmer News always publishes an excerpt from a longer story; sometimes they do well to abbreviate tedious stories, and sometimes they leave a lot of good information out from interesting stories.  One of their recent stories is one of their abbreviated ones that's much more interesting in its original form.

If you'll follow this link you'll find the original story which is about what the US can learn from Cuba about agroecology. Agroecology is pretty much what it sounds like; it's the application of ecological principals to agricultural practices in order to make them sustainable, and Cuba is making it work well and has been for a long time.

My takeaway from the original story is that the United States has been agriculturally really bad for the world.  Instead of learning over the years from countries with active agroecology programs by any other name, we've foisted our version of ecologically and economically expensive agriculture on some of the countries that can least afford it, and the world is no better off for it.  In a lot of places, it's a lot worse off. With the US and Cuba beginning to normalize relations, I can only hope that we follow the author Professor William G. Moseley's advice and choose to learn from the Cubans instead of imposing our questionable agricultural practices and products on them.

Raul, if you're reading this, run away fast as you can.

And if you're an agriculture student, see if you can do a semester down there at their university to see what Cuba knows about agroecology before we've had a chance to screw everything up.