Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Today's Gathering

This Wednesday morning, I hopped into my car and went to the Santa Monica Farmers Market -- my absolute favorite.

I love most of our Southern California markets -- Hollywood, Encino, Beverly Hills, Studio City, Alhambra, South Pasadena, and Pasadena -- but the Santa Monica market on Wednesday is extraordinary. The market in Hollywood may be larger but this one is diverse, offering a nice variety of farmer-vendors with unusual and hard-to-find produce.

My finds this week were these beautiful heirloom apples and hard-to-stop-eating smoked tomatoes from Windrose Farms in Paso Robles. I've waited all year for the tomatoes. The apples? They soon will become jam.

We'll be eating well this week!

Pictured (l. to r.) is lettuce from our front garden, sungold tomatoes, elstar heirloom apples, a mixture of dapple dandy pluots and moyer plums, and green olives that I will attempt to cure.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's An Ant Invasion!

Add a little water to your compost pile and you get millions of ants trying to survive the tsunami. You can hear the chickens in the background.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Ugly One

Grace, our black lab mix of an uncertain pedigree, is by all accounts an ugly dog.

As a young pup, her mid-sized body was disproportionate to her smallish head, and her eyes would never stay focused for too long. We affectionately said she was the Marty Feldman of dogs because her walnut-colored eyes appeared to go in different directions. She didn’t have the talent of the late actor, known for his role as Igor in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” but Grace was funny and sometimes engaging – that is, when she didn’t bark incessantly or dig up the back lawn.

Grace found her way to us as an apparently abandoned dog lost on a strip of land near a massive park east of Los Angeles. She barked at everyone, and no one, including us, could ever get close to her. Grace eventually befriended some homeless people. One afternoon, in an I-must-save-this-dog fervor, her keepers and I bribed her into my car with some fast food hamburgers. I came home with an ugly dog that ate everything and anything.

From the start, Grace didn’t have it easy in the looks department. Besides being naturally ugly, Grace was competing against our Rin Tin Tin look-alike German shepherd, and a gorgeous amber-colored vizsla. Both were animal actors and were living the good life in retirement. We essentially had two dogs that were drop-dead gorgeous, and then there was Grace, whose best attributes were her cute white front paws. She was easy to overlook.

Through the years, Grace experienced the deaths of our vizsla and then German shepherd. For a few short weeks, she was the lone dog in our house until Mr. August, another piece of canine eye candy, came into our lives. Grace never had a chance to win the hearts of others.

When our son came along, I spent more time at home, and as a result, more time with Grace. Grace eased herself into my life and my everyday chores, often positioning herself in between my legs whenever I stood still. Other times, I would find her sleeping next to me or parked at the door knowing that I’ll have to walk over her to exit the room (I cannot tell you how many times that she made me trip). And if I’m cooking, no matter how hot it is in the kitchen, Grace is there, sitting in front of the oven, at my side, just to be with me. She has become a kind, sweet, and easy dog who has warmed my heart. I cannot imagine my life without her.

Today, as I look into Grace’s cloudy eyes, her face shows wisdom and much grateful love. Her 14-plus years have been kind to her, although she can no longer hear since apparently barking herself deaf. She sleeps most of the day. And now that I’m at home even more, her days are spent following me around the house and eating dropped figs or the random piece of paper in our home. Sometimes it’s chicken feed. It’s a good life.

But when the time comes for us to say goodbye, in my heart I’ll know Grace was a beautiful dog, cute white paws and all.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

This Morning's Bath

Chicken gets dirty.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Coffin

We call this particular raised garden bed our coffin because, well, it's rather deep and large. This weekend we culled the last of the tomato plants and let the chickens do their thing. It was teeming with bugs and little critters. A few days later, it was a plot filled with dust and chicken shit. Thank you Chicken and Pox!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Organic Bean Greens

Close up of the chickens enjoying a mid-afternoon snack. Listen to the birds sing in the background; ignore the poop on the sidewalk.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Praying Mantis: Good for the Garden

This master of camouflage has been seeking refuge in our front public garden for the past few weeks.

Earlier pictures turned out horrible but fortunately the light was just right the other day and I was able to capture a photo of my new favorite garden guest: the praying mantis.

So what if they are known to eat off the head of their mates? I still want them around.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ode to Bud

There are two key people who spurred my interest in urban homesteading: my mother and Bud, a sweet elderly man who I shared backyards with nearly a decade ago.

Bud is the first and only individual I knew who really had a victory garden in the 1940s. He harvested his small backyard oasis of vegetables and fruit well into his 80s. Year-round, I was always blessed with fresh-cut roses and sweet peas from his front yard, pounds of delicious tomatoes, foot-long zucchini and best-I-ever-tasted lemons, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit. At this time of year, he would share dozens and dozens of black mission figs from his perfectly pruned tree.

Bud would always deliver his harvest after I came home from work. We would meet at our shared back fence, chat about the day’s events or whatever crossed our minds during those few moments of conversation. For many years, it was updates about his wife, Evelyn, who suffered from Parkinson’s, and then after she passed, the conversation picked up to include neighbors or church. Sometimes we talked about his days driving to work well before the development of Southern California, when the land was filled with rows and rows of citrus.

It was Bud who educated this amateur rosarian on how to take care of her small, but aspiring rose garden (don’t remove the dead branches until the third week of January). Later, he gave me tips on how to deep-water our emerging trees (drill three or four feet of PVC pipe deep a foot away from the sapling and drop water into the pipes to feed the roots). He taught me how to snip the bottom suckers off the tomato plants for a heartier and healthier plant, and he showed me the beauty of a red calla lily.

Bud died nearly six years ago at 89 years of age. I still miss him. I’d like to believe he would have loved Joe and the sound of his laughter. I also think he would have embraced the chickens and would have appreciated the taste of fresh eggs for breakfast. And yes, he most likely would have approved of my roses and my small, thriving garden.

This month, as I gathered Bud’s black mission figs from branches that now climb over our back fence – it’s not as perfectly pruned without Bud – my memories of this gentle gardener reminded me of his beloved Evelyn’s recipe for candied figs. Bud shared the recipe with me on a index card that I treasure. I haven’t made them since he died, but this year I decided to carefully harvest his delicious fruit in honor of him and his Evelyn.

Here’s to you, Bud, for everything you’ve taught me. God Bless.

Candied Figs

5 pounds of figs
1 cup of water
2 cups of sugar

First day. Boil water with lid on for one hour.
Second day. Boil with lid off for one hour.
Third day. Boil down until there is no syrup left. Take out of pan. Separate, and put on cookie sheet, put in over at 175 to 200 degrees, until they are dry. Turn over at least one time (takes all day to dry out completely).

Roll in sugar (I prefer powdered sugar), and then split open and put a pecan inside, store in cookie tins with wax paper between layers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chicken Envy

For those of who continue to have chicken envy.

Summer Harvest

Joe before he received a "traditional boy's haircut" while visiting his aunts, uncles, and cousins in the Midwest. The tomatoes were delicious. Joe's hair has yet to recover.