Saturday, December 15, 2012

Kraut & Unwanted Cultures

Cockiness it not helpful in fermenting. I attempted a batch of sauerkraut using The Versatile Vegetable cookbook as a guide. I wanted to make some for my family and a friend. I mixed up this batch, excited about the pending tanginess twelve to fourteen days away. Folly. Pure folly.

Despite past fermenting successes, this one was a complete failure. I've never seen such a carpet of mold over the top. Perhaps it wasn't that bad. As I dumped the mixture, I practically shed a tear with all that tangy goodness going back to dust. But I didn't want to chance it, especially as I planned to share it. No one needs a food borne illness as a gift...the gift that keeps on giving for 48 hours or so.

Added to this kraut misstep is a failed kombucha brewing. For the first time ever, it also molded over the top. I took a break & hope to get back in the swing. Many to dos on my list, this one is lower than the others right now.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Annals of Home Improvement: the Little House

When we first moved into this house over ten years ago, I had my eye on the outpost building/tear down we dubbed the Little House. I envisioned a library/studio where I could work, get a project going and leave it out to return to it without having to put it all away to make space for the lunch or supper. But many projects took precedence (sewage problems, for instance, among many others).

Thanks to the generous help of our friend Phoenix, the Little House renovations are underway and my studio vista will be on the California native garden with the noble Live Oak framed in the window we bought from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. I'm so amazed at the items that are discarded from construction projects that can be purchased for drastically reduced prices. I'm extremely grateful for it all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Wood. Wood and more wood.

At my youngest son's preschool silent auction fundraiser, I bid on and won half a cord of wood delivered to our house.

Just in time for some cozy time this holiday season and a bonfire this weekend...if the rain stays away. Otherwise, it's a bonfire rain check. Cozy, however, is always welcome.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

California Thrasher

Over the deliciously long Thanksgiving weekend, I spent a lot of time in the garden. Interspersed with pitching for baseball batting practice, I pruned our St. Catherine's Lace buckwheat. This California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivium) winters in our yard. Over the two days pruning the buckwheat, we became familiar with each other's presence. I noticed the Thrasher eating the fallen burst pomegranates. I gently pulled one from the tree and placed it two feet before me. Cautiously, the Thrasher approached and took the fruit as I sat and observed. I took this picture with my phone camera, but mostly I just watched trying to take in how it looked, how it moved. The Thrasher is such an exquisite bird with the long curved beak. They are partial to underbrush, so it's typically hard to see them. To be this close felt like an unexpected completely thrilling gift.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

San Pedro Bloom

Pow! Our southeasterly-facing San Pedro cactus wears a bloom this Halloween. Enthusiasm is high at Camp Ramshackle as a wizard and bat anticipate evening trick-or-treating. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Last Flight of Endeavor

I was slightly surprised how emotional this experience was for me, trekking to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to catch a glimpse of the space shuttle Endeavor en route to LAX. Eric stayed home. My oldest son was at school right next to JPL. He and his classmates sat outside under a tree waiting for the fly over that went right over their heads. So that left my youngest son and I to make the journey together. The day was crazy hot. We hiked down a well known to us path to sit in the shade of a scrub oak while the crowds amassed above us in and around a tiny parking lot.

As we sat waiting, my mind slipped back to January 28, 1986. I was still in high school. I was in a class where there was very little classroom control. The P.A. system went on and the principal muttered something unintelligible under the the din of out of control students. It wasn't until I was home later that day that I heard the space shuttle Challenger had exploded, killing everyone aboard. I remember feeling so angry that I didn't know.

Then my son and I heard the roar, first of the crowds above us and then the engine of the 747. Endeavor appeared from the east and soared above us flanked by three jet fighter planes. Endeavor atop the 747 made a long graceful swoop over JPL before leaving our line of sight. When we came home to share our stories, Eric told us Endeavor had flown twice directly over humble Camp Ramshackle. Eric may have had the best seat in the house. Next to the pilots, of course.

Friday, October 19, 2012


The tale of artichokes at our compound is a twisted story with great highs and desperate gopher devoured lows. This season is yet another tale of woe. I relied on the fruits of the Altadena farmer's market for the delectable pictured above. The artichoke is so delicious, that even when I say that's it! No more. I give up. I taste the meaty heart dipped in a lemon and olive oil dressing, raise my head like Scarlett O'Hara and proclaim, "As God is my witness, I will grow artichokes again!"

Watch out gophers, I got my eye on you, and although I am a vegetarian, I might not be above a gopher stew with the small skulls torn from carrion and placed on sticks surrounding my artichoke plants, the journey to my own heart of darkness.

But before that, I think best to try again with wire baskets and Exhart gopher repellers and perhaps record my guitar practice and pipe it under ground to drive the artichoke eating thieves crazy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Natalie Chanin on Sewing

I am a long time fan of Natalie Chanin from her work at Project Alabama to her current line Alabama Chanin. Her designs breathtakingly beautiful with intricate hand stitching and bead work. Even more appealingly, Chanin subscribes to a code of ethics in creating her clothing line. Learn more about Natalie Chanin and her work through this lovely video produced by Creativebug.

Alabama Chanin vs Summer List
Alabama Chanin Sewing Workshop

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cowboy Tub Canvas Cover

The outdoor cowboy tub is almost a year old now. Still awesome. When installing, Eric and I discussed making a cover for the tub. At last, I introduce the cowboy tub canvas cover.

Most of my projects begin with a sketch and an idea on how to craft the project. The sketch is just an entry point. I almost always seem to modify once I get going and can see a better solution in the making. To get the template, I put a piece of plywood over the tub & the canvas between the tank and the plywood. I traced the outline of the top, then measured the circumference to get the length of the skirt.

Note to self: the top piece could have used an extra half inch to make the cover slip on more easily. This one is quite tight and pulls on like a form fitting sock.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


And so it happens, an eight year old guy is in our house. He celebrated with a cake customized to suit his fancy: white chocolate dipped strawberries on a vanilla cake with strawberry filling and vanilla frosting. Originally, he had hoped for a cherry cake, but we're outside the season by about two weeks. He solved the problem by suggesting strawberries instead.

Not so long ago, he was just a wee guy. In some ways the baby days seem like only yesterday, but other times it does feel like eight years, taken step by step and savored with the small and big developments over the years: a crawl to a walk, a walk to a run to riding a bike... handed.

Happy birthday, sweet son.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Five! And the Question: Are Skaters Born or Made?

Five year old snow leopard at the LA Zoo.

Chocolate chip ice cream cake. Ice cream made by five year old in the morning. Our first homemade ice cream cake. I'm extremely grateful it turned out.

Destiny. Elation. 

We live very close to a skate park. When we are out walking in our neighborhood, more often than not skaters roll past us on way to the park. My sweet five year old from his days in a sling to rolling in a stroller and beyond has been mesmerized by the sport. At two when his speech was just forming, he would stand on a flat rock outside on the kitchen porch, balancing with arms outstretched and jump off, "A flipper!" his word for skaters.

And so, on his fifth birthday, celebrating with a good friend and his family, my youngest son got his first skateboard...and a mom-made hat at his request & a framed comic drawn by his older brother. Happy birthday, sweet son.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Late Summer Corn

Just in time for Labor Day birthday celebrations. The introductions: Corn, Grill. Grill, Corn. A fine how do you do.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Return of the Bed Top Bivouac

My youngest son has been lobbying for a bed top bivouac off and on for months. Eric built one for our oldest son long ago. I attempted a rebuild a few months ago, but the sticks I used were not stable enough and the bivouac fell apart after a week or so.

My youngest woke with a singular focus: to rebuild the bivouac. Before the heat settled in, I cut some branches from a small Eucalyptus and removed the secondary branches and leaves.

We moved the posts inside and assembled a new, much sturdier, bed top bivouac.

Graciously received and thoroughly appreciated.

Bed Top Bivouac

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ramshackle Sea Unit: Santa Cruz Island

With summer on the wane, the entire family set sail for Santa Cruz Island. Sailing on the way out was great with sightings of common dolphins, Risso's dolphins, sunfish with a seal in hot pursuit of one.

We anchored at Prisoner's Harbor which was incredibly rough. The boat pitched all evening throwing our youngest out of his berth. Eric was worried he might have been knocked out because his eyes were still closed. My son said as Eric scooped him up, "It was only a slight fall" and promptly fell back asleep.

I was queasy the entire time, so Captain Eric really did some heroic work taking care of the feeding and nurturing. The following morning, Eric pumped up the dingy and rowed us to the shore.

I am always amazed how an area so close to the density of coastal southern California can feel so untouched and remote. The scenery is classic California with coastal chaparral, Oak trees, buckwheat, and the smell: spicy sages heated by the sun, the smell of earth. I can never get enough of it.

After an onshore breakfast, we set course for Channel Islands Harbor. I will do this again. The good news is the boys weren't affected by sea sickness. They seem to have stomachs of steel, able to move above and below deck with ease. I hope to reverse inherit their heartiness.

Ramshackle Sea Unit
Sailing Update: ASA 104 at Santa Cruz Island

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Sparrow's Tiny Departure

An almost eight year old at our house is now officially a free n' two wheelin' bike rider. So exciting, the side by side run, holding onto his bike seat, "Okay, Mom, let go!" And off he goes and goes and goes. While we were at one of our local parks enjoying the flat long pathways, we stumbled upon a baby sparrow. I walked past and noticed a tiny still bird not moving despite my closeness. The sweet young bird still had a few of fluffy little feathers of a baby bird newly fledged from the nest. My sons and I think she may have been mouthed by a bird dog also in the park.

My youngest son sat with the dying bird, laying some sticks flat around it. "What's happening, Mom?" he asked. I said the bird was letting go of its life energy.

Slowly and gracefully over the next fifteen minutes, this bird stopped breathing. The jagged breaths ended. Calm beauty remained.

I dug a small hole, my son gently pushed the lifeless body into it. We covered it with dirt. I am reminded of my dear Moxie. I think of my friend's good friend & family who said goodbye to their son this summer.

“to live in this world

you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go” 
-Mary Oliver
excerpt from In Blackwater Woods

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Unexpected Delight: Casting Pond Refill

While camping in Mammoth Lakes, my youngest son found a cast off broken fishing pole, truly a treasured find. Thanks to his treasure, his interest, and his older brother's, in fishing or rather casting has increased. Luckily, we live near the Pasadena Casting Pond. When we marched over to spend the day, we were surprised to find the newly revamped pond being refilled.

You can cast anywhere, as the oak trees on our property wrapped in fishing line will attest. A few dry casts were thrown, but the bulk of time was spent playing in the water.

We have gone back regularly to watch the developments. The pond is now completely full and resuming it's steady algae growth. Our casting continues.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Moroccan Style Dutch Oven Garden Pot

A few years ago, Eric's brother gifted us a Lodge campfire Dutch oven. This summer, I've been experimenting with some at home campfire cooking, using our old yard-saled Weber grill and our fire pit. I started with a Moroccan style dish with fennel, onions, homegrown purple carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and garbanzo beans over rice.

I added an assortment of spices and let it cook over the coals for about 50 minutes. The smells emanating from this pot made me deliriously happy.

Right before serving, I added some minced garlic and some fresh spinach and basil from the garden to brighten up the flavor. The rice on the bottom burnt a bit to the bottom of the pan adding a welcome crispiness to the meal.

I'm not remembering the exact measurements of ingredients to this dish, but here are my approximations. When cutting the vegetables, I like to make them larger bite sized pieces as the high heat extended cooking tends to soften them perfectly.

Moroccan Style Dutch Oven Garden Pot
1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice
2 potatoes, cubed
1 bulb fennel, chopped
2 carrots
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 Tablespoon diced fresh ginger
15 ounces garbanzo beans (drained & rinsed if from a can. About 1 1/2 cups cooked if fresh)
28 ounces diced tomatoes with juice (2-3 fresh tomatoes, chopped)
3 cups vegetable stock
olive oil for the pan

spices (about 1 teaspoon each):
Garam Marsala
dried ginger
1 cinnamon stick

sea salt

after cooking:
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups of spinach
1 cup fresh basil or cilantro
season to taste

Thickly grease the bottom and sides of the Dutch oven with olive oil. Add rice. In a separate bowl, combine potatoes, fennel, carrot, onion, fresh ginger, garbanzos, spices, sea salt & pepper. Mix to coat. Pour vegetable/spice mix onto rice in Dutch oven. Add tomatoes. Add vegetable stock. Cover Dutch oven and lower onto hot coals. Push the coals around the Dutch oven. Cook for about 50-55 minutes.

Pull from fire. Let cool for 10 minutes, then add fresh spinach, basil or cilantro and diced garlic. Serve and enjoy.

Note: the camp Dutch oven has legs for it to sit on top of the coals. If using a regular Dutch oven without legs, it is recommended to set it on top of rocks or bricks rather than directly on the coals.

Addendum: When serving, I highly recommend a small spoonful of harissa stirred into the vegetables. The heat of the harissa opens up the other flavors & has me always opting for seconds.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Alabama Chanin Skirt vs Summer List

I am a list maker by nature. It's not that I stick to the list, but a list helps me keep track of what I would like to do. Often I get sidetracked by the day to day things that require my attention or too fatigued to remember what was a priority before hunger took over. Often my lists are laughable, very aspirational, but sometimes I'll return to them to find what I hoped to do actually does get done over time.

Last summer (as with this summer), the boys and I made a list of what we wanted to do over the summer. We accomplished pretty much everything on the family list. I also made my own list of projects. On it, only "Hang out with kids--HAVE FUN" was accomplished.

On last year's list I included "hand stitched skirt". Much to my surprise, I finished it this summer. The pattern is from the awesome Alabama Stitch Book. Cutting the fabric was tiresome because this is a double layer skirt with eight panels instead of four. I used a rotary cutter on a cutting board, which I recommend. It would be very tedious to cut the t shirt fabric using scissors.

The stitching went very quickly once the fabric was cut & it was incredibly fun to make. I riffed on the waistband opting for a t shirt bias with no added elastic. I may regret this as it stretches, but I figured I was going to just go for it and see how it wears. I'm ready to make another one already, a size bigger. I have plans to dye this one with coffee because white fabric and I are just not made for each other.

In reviewing last year's summer list, I'm pleased to see that without really focusing on it, I've completed four out of six the items on my list: the have fun part, 2 quilts for the boys, tent bench, and this skirt. Cleaning out the garage is ongoing & a quilt for Eric and I remains on the list. Not bad. And hanging out and fun continues to be had.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Road Trip One of Two: Part III Adventure Playground

On our late June/early July trip to northern California, the boys and I made a plan to visit Berkeley's Adventure Playground. Built in 1979, the Adventure Playground is one of the greatest things the hippies ever did. Inspired by the way kids play on vacant lots using available materials and imagination, the Adventure Playground offers a space for kids to alter the playground they play on using paint, nails and saws.

The playground in Berkeley's Marina is idea for kids seven and older, although younger children are welcome as long as they are within arms reach of their grown ups.

My seven year old entered the playground and was gone, climbing the structures, riding the zip line (for 6 year olds and older, much to my almost five year old's disappointment. We decided we would come back when he was six.).

If playground goers want to use tools or paint, they must earn them:

My youngest found a "Mr. Dangerous", a protruding nail in a play structure, that was promptly nailed flat by one of the blue-hoodied staff.

My oldest earned the use of a hammer by offering up the rope swing to one of the staff who was demonstrating the safe use the equipment to a summer camp tour group. We followed up our visit with a trip to Moe's Books followed by hot chocolate at Caffe Mediterraneum. Moe's is the same as in my memory, but Cafe Med seemed different, although I think all the furniture remains the same. Perhaps all that has really changed is the experience held in my memory.