Monday, June 30, 2014

Zen and the Art of Lawn Maintenance

An old-school tool

This morning I was rudely shaken from sleep at an ungodly hour by the hellish drone of an electric mower and the madness-inducing non-syncopation of the electric trimmer being used by some lawn care bandits outside my bedroom window. Trying to describe the noise would be pointless, suffice it to say that if the Amazon Basin were populated entirely by robot insects, it might sound a lot like this.

Certainly, I can see the point of electronic lawn care tools: they do the job fast, which is one reason lawn care bandits use them. The ones my landlord employs to “care” for my lawn wield their tools with impunity, mowing down every living thing within reach of the twirling neon-yellow plastic wire, often leaving shards of it behind among the piles of clippings.

They usually use a hand-held trimmer to cut the lawn, which is the wrong tool for the job: parts are left burned to the dirt; others remain tufts which simply escaped notice. Not content to just cut the grass, they also make sure to reach over to my well-manicured and fenced-in herb garden to buzz-off the chives to the root, probably thinking them a particularly robust patch of grass. The young tree they “trimmed” last year with the edger died. It didn’t require trimming. It did, however, require leaves.

In order to combat this kind of monkey business, I took matters into my own hands and bought an old-fashioned push mower. The one we had when I was a kid was rust brown and didn’t cut; rather, it chewed the grass it stubbornly rolled over, like a primitive cow. This new one, however, has nice sharp blades, and works like a charm. It slices the grass rather than twists it, making a really even, healthy lawn.

But the benefits extend far beyond that. There’s the quiet for one. The savings on electricity and/or gas. The ease of storage. And also the exercise; walking it back and forth in rows allows time for contemplation while engaging in a productive task — much like all of the “primitive” household tasks I enjoy, like cooking, washing dishes, and weeding.

"Push it / push it real good"

It not only makes the lawn look good — it makes the man mowing it look good too. It offers the occasion for romance; you can bring him an ice-cold glass of refreshing lemonade half-way through, which he will accept with a grateful smile, wipe the sweat from his brow, and drink. He will think I am a lucky man, and you will think I am a lucky woman, and life — and the lawn — will be perfect.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Abolishing the Wedgie


It’s so easy to become used to performing simple tasks a certain way that you rarely question them, even if they are not the best way. And even if you do come across a better way, you are so inured to your habitual procedure that you never make that change.

For example: I always used to serve a roast chicken the way I’d seen it done on TV, and the way my Mum did: cut thin slices from the breast until you’re left with ragged ends you have to gouge out with the knife. These bits invariably end up twisted into dry twigs before the meal is over. The legs get the same treatment, with even less satisfying results and certainly more waste. The slices themselves, cut against the grain, either fall apart or dry out. It’s a terrible way to cut a chicken.

Then one day, I saw it done a different way, on a Gordon Ramsey show, of all things. It was rapid, wasted nothing, and looked great on a plate. First, you cut off the legs. You can divide this from the thigh if you like. Then, you slice down along the breastbone to pull away the entire breast and tenderloin in one go. This you can chop into big fat chunky slices, each with its own bit of crispy skin. Finally, you can turn the now completely bare carcass over to pop out each “oyster” of meat from underneath, in their little pockets. Hey presto: no meat left on the bird, and an appetizing, and moist plate of chicken.

Here is the demonstration. Go to the 1:10 mark.

So I started doing that instead.

I can do it in a minute flat.

The same can be said of cakes. Most everyone I know cuts wedges because it seems like the most obvious way to serve portions of a circular object.

But no. There’s a better way.

Watch this revolutionary example of common sense, and you will never make this mistake again.