Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rethink Your Yard

Thinking about starting a garden? What about a small suburban farm? A group of inspired Colorado individuals are doing just that.

Maybe take that stimulus check and make it work for you.

Thanks to for the link.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Great Strawberry Experiment

About two months ago on a walk with my sons, we stumbled upon a strawberry patch. The eldest spotted the small green fruit and exclaimed, "Mom, a strawberry."

The discovery inspired us to plant our own. I picked up six young plants at the local hardware store and threw them into the pots we had available. As a devoted slow learner, I'm a big fan of throw-it-in-some-dirt-see-what-happens style of gardening. I do my share of research and planning. That's what makes breaking the rules so fun. I used a few large pots for the bulk of the plants but decided to put the last two plants in small pots and try to grow them on a sunny shelf in my kitchen.

Witness my folly:

There was no amount of water to keep these plants happy. The poor things never had a chance. In the "duh" section of strawberry cultivation, they like large pots and need that extra soil to keep them drinking up the water.

Now I understand the age-old ubiquitous terra cotta strawberry planter.

The other four plants, however, are thriving and delicious.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Alabama Chanin Sewing Workshop

On Saturday, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin hosted a sewing workshop at Fred Segal Flair in Santa Monica. She and Alabama Stitch Book co-author Stacie Stukin signed books. Natalie graciously offered hands on tutorials for the projects in her book, patiently answered questions and shared her exquisite swatch books.

Sewer novices and veterans sat at a long table surrounded by couture Alabama Chanin. Bandana and t-shirt kits were available for purchase and can be found online at Alabama Chanin. I picked up a bandana kit and set to work. Sewers were also welcome to bring their own projects.

I don't remember how I first heard of Natalie Chanin's earlier company Project Alabama. All I know is that I became quickly obsessed. Truly obsessed. I would stalk eBay auctions and pray to stumble upon a chance low-priced auction.

When I saw the Alabama Stitch Book was to be published, I was thrilled. The book shares patterns of the trademark stitched corset and skirt among other projects.

So in the meantime, while you save your pennies for your own Alabama Chanin couture jacket, you can make your own ensemble. That's what I plan to do, starting right here with this bandana.

See more photos from the event, swatch detail and selections from the Alabama Chanin line at Ramshackle Solid's flickr account.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Bees Explained

In March, a swarm of bees adopted a California native cherry tree in our yard. They left abruptly after a week or so, leaving our family with a delightful honeycomb.

Why did they leave? I asked tough guy poet and urban beekeeper Jon Rolston.
"I think the answer is your bees had a hard time finding a new place to live and so started making comb just in case. But honey bees need a protected place to establish a real home. There are lots of predators out for their honey, their babies and them."
Should the bees return, I hope to be ready with a hive to offer that protection. Plans can be found at

Jon Rolston recently caught a swarm himself and had the wherewithal to put it into a hive. See pictures of the captured swarm and enjoy some good writing at

I learned of Rolston and his bees through this video by Matt Fisher via Boingboing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Watching the Waves

I remember visiting the Santa Monica Pier as a child with my family. There was a hurdy gurdy man with a little monkey. The monkey would work the crowd as the music played, taking money from people's hands. If you gave the monkey a quarter, he would hide it under his hat. I still remember the feel of those little fingernails scraping my palm as he took my pennies.

The hurdy gurdy man is no longer there, but it is a delight to now take my children to the pier.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Upgrades at Camp Ramshackle

Since reading Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious cookbook, I've been in search of a decent steamer. Her recipes from entrees to desserts include pureed vegetables as a way of insuring that your kids eat their veggies. Plus, with the little one now eating baby food, I'm steaming up more food than usual.

The bamboo steamer didn't fit our existing cookware. A Calphalon steamer insert was too big. All came home and were promptly returned. I kept looking at this one:

The All-Clad 12 quart multi-cooker with two steamer baskets and lid. Granted, it's bigger than I had hoped. Despite the enormous size, she works like a champ. I look forward to hosting a big pasta dinner with pureed zucchini for the toothless set.

In addition to being the steamer I never had, the All-Clad replaces the large pot used for pasta cooking. The blue enamel pot was bought for about 25 pennies at a yard sale many moons ago. The All-Clad upgrade includes both handles as well. We never had it so good.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pictures of Spring

Spring is a beautiful time in a California native garden. The bulk of our garden is just over three years old. Here is the verdant Yankee Point ceanothus from the California lilac family, beloved by bees and little children.

Heuchera maxima 'Opal' also known as choral bells.

A festuca 'Siskiyou Blue' volunteer. One of many this year. I look forward to replanting some of these throughout the yard.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Alabama Stitch Book Corset Begun

The printed corset from Natalie Chanin's fabulous Alabama Stitch Book is begun.

And this Saturday, April 26th, Alabama Chanin will be holding a half-day sewing workshop in Santa Monica.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Slow Events of the Day

Household chores have gotten easier thanks to my eldest son's efforts to do his own laundry. "Mom I just washed my pajamas," he said as he dropped the dripping wet pants into the dirt.

"That's great. Is there a good place to hang them to dry?" I asked.

The balance beam proved the best solution for the day.

Then a little time spent enjoying the California poppies.

And time to give the pozo blue sage a sip of water. The olive blossoms volunteered to swim.

The youngest works hard to pull himself up. Not quite there. Soon.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Three days after the birth of our second child, Eric and I hosted a family party for the eldest to celebrate his third birthday. His birthday request? To be tossed in a sheet like Pooh. That's a wish I can get behind. A tarp was acquired, grandparents recruited, fun had. Later in the day, I came in the house to find this. A gift from the eldest for all those with their eyes open.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Real Treasure of Sierra Madre--Neil the Pig

Neil has been around for at least a decade, although I was only introduced to him over a year ago. And what a fine friend he has become to my sons and me. He lives in the city of Sierra Madre, California, a tony foothill village community. He splits the yard with a few dogs and a kid's swing set.

My sons and I went to visit him about a month back only to find an empty yard. My heart sank with fear Neil had gone down the path that leads to bacon. To my delight, we returned to find our porcine friend fit and well. Neighbors and friends are welcome to feed him. However, the owners request that you only feed Neil lettuce or rice cakes. He's on a diet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bandanna Pants

Bandanna pants may be the ultimate play pant. I've made two pairs for my eldest already and a few for friends. They have been tested and prove true. I have dreams that bandana pants will become standard issue here at our house. If a kid comes over, get him/her out of her city clothes and straight into bandana pants, kind of Family von Trapp-esque. These three are destined for my son's preschool carnival fundraiser. Each family is required to make a handmade item for the carnival.

Interested in making your own? Here's a great tutorial. Thank you Blue Yonder. Enjoy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Inside & Outside

Inside the house, a giant palm seed pod known as Big (harvested many moons ago by the eldest on a walk to the library and carried all the way home by himself) sails across the livingroom with the carrot, peapod and the doll Funny Legs (pattern from Hillary Lang's fantastic Wee Wonderfuls).

Outside, the rain of olive blossoms begins, coating chairs, ground, children--everything--with a dusty yellow pollen and small delicate white flowers. "It looks like snow," says the big guy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Birthday Bib

A special friend celebrated a 2nd birthday. What to give? What to make? I turned to Mr. Monkeysuit and a wonderful pattern so generously sent in mail many moons ago (thank you!) and made a bib...with modifications.

Material: Thrifted pillowcase, frogs and letters from Superbuzzy and linen scraps. It's sure to look fantastic stained with pureed baby food. Mr. Mateo is fortunate to have two gifted gourmands for parents.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ramshackle Grilled Cheese

Grilled Cheese made with hand kneaded bread (Tasajara recipe #1 with white flour), butter and Gruyere. We'll try to work it to perfection for the next Grilled Cheese Invitational. You can see live coverage on the Official Griled Cheese Blog.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hedgehog Art from a Manroot Seedpod

Marah fabaceus (a.k.a. mountain cucumber or manroot) is a pernicious California native vine which grows like kudzu here in the winter and spring. It smothers nearby plants, then produces potato sized thorny seed pods. If it is not removed promptly, it dies back when the weather warms up, creating a tangled, tinder-box-like fire hazard which breaks apart at the slightest tug, making it a royal pain to clean up. You cannot kill the plant; the only way to remove it permanently is to dig up the root which can weigh up to 100 lbs (hence the name manroot).

Imagine my surprise to see my garden nemesis transformed by my son (with help from my wife) into an ephemeral hedgehog tribute to Mrs. Tiggy-winkle. Media: manroot seedpod, pepper corns, salt, pasta o's

Alabama Stitch Book Project #1

I aspire to make the printed t-shirt corset. In the meantime, Jen's Whole-Wheat Crackers on page 94 will do.

Easy & tasty. Even better when paired with a red bell pepper and cilantro goat cheese from the Highland Park farmers market. These will be made again and perhaps enjoyed while I attempt to stitch a printed corset.

Friday, April 4, 2008

15 Minutes a Day

A large garden can seem overwhelming at times (22,000 square feet). Every where you look a weed needs to be pulled, a faucet fixed, a wall repaired. Focusing on what needs to be done, however, misses the point. Gardener Tony Kienitz author of The Year I Ate My Yard gave the best advice for gardening: spend 15 minutes a day working in your yard. No more, no less.

I can usually find 15 minutes to work while my children play in the yard. And those few minutes yield a familiarity with the events large and small of the garden. Like visitors.

And helpers.

Before and after exploring the yard.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Risen bread

The bread baking was successful. The Tassajara Bread Book receipe #1 did the trick and inspired a dance.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Baking Bread

Julia's been baking bread (or other goodies) at least once a week since she got her new KitchenAid mixer for Valentine's Day. Tonight, though, the bread was hand kneaded from a recipe out of the The Tassajara Bread Book. Julia says she still hasn't quite figured out how to get the results she is looking for out of the bread made in with the KitchenAid and wants to make a "good" loaf before she goes back to wrangling the bread hook. The whole family loves the experimental process.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Two books arrived today

The youngest kid (seven months) is talking to his feet. The eldest is playing with a door stop. For the moment all is well. But the feet are starting to cause some trouble. The door stop twang has mysteriously stopped. So, I'll be brief.

Two new books hit the ramshackle porch today: Amanda Blake Soule's The Creative Family and Natalie Chanin's Alabama Stitch Book.

After the feet are tended to, the door stop checked, food on the table, dishes done, I look forward to browsing.