Sunday, August 31, 2008

NHM Member Loan Program: Phainopepla

This phainopepla exhibit from the LA County Natural History Museum is currently on display in our living room. My son asked me, "Why is it called phainopepla?"

Thanks to the placard below the exhibit, I was able to answer him. The name means "shiny robe".

See our first post about the LA County NHM's Member Loan Service for more details.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Little Frog

I caught this little frog while taking the survival skills class with Christopher Nyerges.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Breaded Zucchini Blossoms Revisited

Our friend and guest Phoenix continues to share his wonderful cooking. These blossoms came from the Santa Monica Farmer's Market.

The blossoms were coated in egg and dredged in a 50/50 mix of hazelnut and rice flour, a dash of salt and cracked pepper. Then they were fried in a shallow bit of coconut oil.

Beautiful and unbelievable delicious.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Modern LA County Natural History Museum

The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum of my youth was a sad place, full of gracelessly aging dioramas with stuffed animals in desperate need of attention. Despite the ragged exhibits, I was captivated by the dark halls, the drama of the taxidermy exhibits--preditors with their teeth barred, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting rodent.

Thanks to thoughtful restoration, the dioramas of today are beautiful. My oldest son walks through the halls holding my hand. Pointing his free hand to the ground he tells me, "Mom, we should make our living room look like this."

Personally, I can't get enough of the bird exhibits on the second floor. And I'm partial to the "LA Backyard" diorama depicting the intersection of man/woman and wildlife, an exhibit I don't remember from my youth. By the glow of pool light, a coyote has captured a pet cat. Above the kill, a parrot eats from a bird feeder. In the distance, the moon rises and LA's downtown skyline crops up between mountains of scrub chaparral.

It seems so honest.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fixin' it Good

While examining the screen door this weekend in the midst of a repair, a second generation repair, I had the thought that "this time I'm gonna fix it good. " The trim had come loose and I was out of the tiny nail brads that I had used the first time around.

I decided to improvise and simply clipped the ends off of the smallest finish nails we had rather than run to the store for more of the tiny brad nails that hadn't worked the first time.

The new custom made, somewhat stouter four nails on the right did the trick. I pounded them into the existing holes where the brads had failed to hold and the trim appears to be quite secure... for now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Zucchini Pasta

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

A friend sent this recipe for zucchini pasta from the New York Times. Simple. Delicious.

I made a well received variation last night.

Lemon Zucchini & Rice Pasta
3 zucchini cut in half and peeled with vegetable peeler down to the seeds
1 Tablespoon olive oil for skillet
1/4 cup olive oil for pasta sauce
1/2 chopped white onion
lemon zest
cracked pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 green onion diced
1 cup roasted pine nuts
3 lemons, juiced
1/2 pound rice pasta, cooked according to package instructions
1 cup pasta water

1. In a skillet, heat 1T olive oil. Cook white onion, add cracked pepper & lemon zest. Add zucchini slices to skillet, cook for 2-3 minutes.
2. Add zucchini, onion mixture to cooked & rinsed rice pasta. Stir in parsley, green onion. Mix together lemon juice and pasta water. Toss into pasta mixture with 1/4 cup olive oil. Add pine nuts. Salt to taste.

Serve with a salad & enjoy a delicious meal.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Compost Pile Update

We are already seeing usable compost from our pile started in the beginning of July, although we won't take it out yet since it helps break down the new stuff. I decided to move the pile while adding to it this weekend since the bottom was already so well cooked. We could simply use a bin and add to the top, keep the new stuff covered and aerated, and harvest whenever it is done but this works faster and I also like the feeling of participation in the process that it gives me. It's kind of like obsessively tending to a camp fire except in super slow motion, and I don't think tending the compost pile bugs anyone else.

Once I moved as much of the drier top portion of the pile as I could to it's new location, I added the new stuff (about a week's worth of kitchen scraps) in layers, like a casserole.

Here it is, the next morning in it's new location (it was previously situated in the upper right of the screen). Through the miracle of content tagging, you can follow its history from the beginning.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gluten Free Carrot Zucchini Apple Muffins

Lately, I have been experimenting with gluten free cooking. This morning, Eric headed out with the kids for some dad-and-kid-time, which equals Julia-free-time. Thanks, Eric!

The result of my solo morning were these gluten free carrot, zucchini, apple muffins. They taste great.

I made the recipe up as I went along. I think the recipe could use just a bit more tweaking . So I plan to post the recipe after a second run baking these.

Unless, of course, dear reader, you're eager to make your own batch. Post a comment, let me know. If you make a test batch, please share your results.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Birthday Apron

We are entering birthday season at Camp Ramshackle. First up is our friend Nate who celebrates his fourth birthday. Nate and my son met when they were eight and six weeks old respectively. What do to for a boy of four? I decided a work/art apron was in order. I pulled some fabric from my stash for applique.

The fabric is attached with fusible Steam-a-Seam, a trick I learned from Sally at Shim and Sons. I added some hand stitching with coat thread around the large circle a la Alabama Chanin.

I hope this apron will properly transformed and improved with paint, dirt and all the fun stuff that makes four a year to enjoy.

We made a card and sent off the package in a cigar "treasure box" with shells from our stop at the Colorado River in July (our first nature swap with Florida based Nate). Every child should have a treasure box.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

When in doubt... Eat It?

Well, probably not a good rule of thumb (see disclaimer below) but it turns out that the strange egg-like fungus that appeared in our yard a while back (which I mistook for a face sucking hatchling) is actually the aptly named Giant Puff Ball.

Much thanks to Ramshackle reader Hubert (a.k.a. ThuggyBear) for the identification. He says they are delicious if eaten before they begin to turn brown. lists it as one of America's best and safest wild mushrooms.

Ahh, from prey to predator - next time I'll pounce.

DISCLAIMER: You have to be out of your freaking mind to eat anything that you are not absolutely sure is safe to eat. Ramshackle Solid and it's contributors take no responsibility whatsoever for anything anyone chooses to put in their mouth. Happy Hunting.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits

The Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits intrigues my oldest son. Sure, the ancient bison bones are awesome, but I think it's the ten minute historic movie that captivates him most. The film shows what Los Angeles might have looked like 10,000-40,000 years ago. And has a dramatic enactment of a sabertooth cat attacking an animal trapped in the tar.

Plus, the empty theater is a great place for jumps.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

One-Eyed Sphinx Moth

While we were in Colorado this summer, a one-eyed sphinx moth (also called Cerisey's sphinx) landed on my brother-in-law, Clark, giving us all a close up look. I was pretty sure it was a sphinx moth when we saw it and confirmed it tonight when looking back through the pictures with the help of the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide Insects and Spiders of North America.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Survival Skills Class with Christopher Nyerges

This weekend I attended a class taught by Christopher Nyerges, urban/wilderness survival expert and author of the book "Extreme Simplicity, Homesteading in the City." It was the second class taught by Christoper that I have attended. I will be back again.

At the outset we collected wood from mule-fat, willow and cotton wood to use as drills for match-less fire starting. Over the course of the outing we identified many wild plants, discussed their dietary, medicinal or other values. Among the edible plants we collected was purslane (pictured) which is said to be the highest plant source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Any vegetarians who are sick of flax seed oil may want to get to know purslane (pictured).

We also made cord from fibers harvested from yucca plant. I was by far the worst in the class at twining the cord but still took great pleasure and pride in making this 18 or so inch piece of yucca rope. It is surprisingly strong.

Unfortunately I had to leave early to watch our children while Julia fulfilled her own obligations. Having been to a previous class I am pretty sure that a fire or fires were started by hand using several methods, and nutritious wild foods were consumed with great delight.

I highly recommend Christopher's classes. They are fun and you can really learn a lot.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wooden Bee

My sons and I assembled a fun wooden puzzle.

First the punch out of the pieces.

Flight! Right next to a moon mobile my son made quite awhile ago as a library story time craft.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Skid Row Garden in the L.A. Times

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The L.A. Times had a great article on a skid row garden by Cara Mia DiMassa, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer.

"It's the smell you notice first: not the usual scent for this part of downtown, more accustomed to overflowing trash cans, sour urine and the stench of people who have spent too long sleeping on L.A.'s streets.

Instead, it's sweet and green, with a tinge of lavender -- and it comes from the vegetable garden that residents of the Rainbow Apartments planted last week in a most unlikely place: attached to a cinder-block wall of a parking lot off San Julian Street in the heart of skid row."


"We're trying to feed our bodies with better nutrients," Lance Shaw said. "But more than anything, we like getting together."

Link to Urban Farming nonprofit

Link to the article

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Devil's Egg?

After reading a recent post on Dinosaurs and Robots about the rare and exotic "Devil's Cigar" mushroom, I remembered the appearance of this, probably not rare or exotic, fungus growing in our own yard a little over two years ago.

I noticed it when I bent down to pick up what I thought was a river rock. Just before touching it I realized that it was plant rather than mineral. About two or three days later it exploded sending wispy smoke-like trails of spores out to colonize the neighborhood.

I took these pictures from a safe distance for fear that a face-sucking hatchling would send me into the history books as the first human casualty of an alien invasion. I was probably overreacting.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Story of Stuff

If you haven't seen this short movie, it is really worth a look. It is like a mini Inconvenient Truth with animation and without Al Gore.

Link to The Story of Stuff

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Enjoying the Last of Summer

Summer always leaves too soon. To make the most of the days before school resumes, a trip to El Matador State Beach with a friend is what it's all about for me.

For my youngest, it's about rolling around on the tent platform and exploring the plants and dirt below.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Noah's Ark Exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center

I have tried to explain this exhibit many times, but I have failed to share how wonderful the experience is--the hands-on games, the whimsical sculptures, the storytellers, the crafts.

Let me try this way:
  • an almost four-year old, a ten month old, a mom, a grandmother
  • two hours playing at the Ark
  • absolutely. no. crying. Not one peep.

Reservations must be made in advance. Learn more about the Noah's Ark at the Skirball and make reservations. We will definitely return.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Ramshackle Chicken Coop a.k.a. the "What-Have-You"

When we bought our house it came with this great dilapidated chicken coop. The adjacent two lots which had originally been attached to the 4 lots that make up our yard were split off and reserved for a future sale. We had the opportunity to buy them but declined since we already had enough weedy hillside to keep us busy and the thought of paying to maintain more seemed irrational. We also thought that a developer would have to be crazy to try to build a house on those lots since there was no road to them, they were on a fairly steep hillside and all of the other houses in the neigborhood are as ramshackle as ours.

We were sure it would be too cost prohibitive to build there on speculation. Our mistake was that we didn't appropriately account for the insane housing market bubble and the degree of unbridled greed that it created in many people. We were right about the crazy factor though, but again our mistake was to appropriately evaluate the near certain statistical probability that, in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, there would be someone crazy enough to build on those lots. Of course, when you are dealing with a pool of lunatics as large as Los Angeles, there will always be someone crazy enough, foolish enough or greedy enough to do something that makes sense to almost no one else.

Nearly 3 years of construction, 4,800 cubic yards of earth removed (a dump truck holds about 9 yards for perspective) and 2 3,500 square foot homes later, the "What-have-you" (so named by the developer in disgust) stands in dilapidated defiance.

Now the question is: will chickens move in before the houses are sold and our new neighbors do? With an asking price of 1.2 million per home, my bet is on the chickens.

We've really enjoyed watching Mark Frauenfelder refurbish his coop. We, however, are a little torn between fixing up our "what-have-you" and starting from scratch in a slightly more private part of our yard.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Beautiful Stairs Made from Salvaged Wood

I really want to start stockpiling salvaged wood for projects like this. Link