October 26, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com

Don’t Forget to Eat the Pumpkin


This video makes a great point:  it takes 5 months to grow a pumpkin from a seed to a large gourd, and a lot of resources.  In the ever-diminishing window of time between ‘fall decor’ and ‘winter decor’, (it must be down to milliseconds), a lot of those hard-grown pumpkins wind up in the regular old trash.

Now, I love pumpkins, because they represent the ultimate in earth-based, non-plastic, beautiful seasonal decor.  But the enormous resources that go into growing them just to have most of these food items end up in landfills is a sad drawback.  This video suggests that the remedy should be to eat your pumpkin after you carve and light it.  While I couldn’t agree more, I think there are some good reasons why it doesn’t usually go down this way:

Our typical ‘carving pumpkins’ are not good eating pumpkins:  The most common variety of pumpkin grown and sold for carving is the ‘Connecticut Field’ variety.  According to Amy Goldman’s The Compleat Squashthe Connecticut Field variety has been around in America since before European invasion, and became popular in the 19th century because of its high yields.  You can grow 20 tons per acre on manured land in California.  On the flip side, the fiberous, sturdy texture that makes this pumpkin a fast grower and good for carving does not make it a good eating pumpkin.  To remedy this, we could expand our carving palate to include better tasting pumpkins.  Some of these eating pumpkins, especically the Cucurbita moschata or ‘Cheese Pumpkin’ varieties (such as the Musquee de Provence) shown in the bottom left quadrant have very thick walls and can be a bit difficult to carve– but it’s  still do-able.  Cindarella varieties such as the Rouge Vif de’Etampes shown bottom right are truly delicious, but because they tend to be large, some freezing of the cooked pumpkin could be involved– and you might need to think of a carving design that works on a squat squash.  For those that find it acceptable to have a smaller jack-o-lantern, there are several varieties that are delicious, including the rare ‘Winter Luxury Pie’ pumpkin shown top left, and the ‘Lakota’ Squash shown top right.



clockwise from left: Winter Luxury Pie, Lakota Squash,, Rouge Vif de’Etampes, Musquee de Provence

Sugar pie pumpkins, which are ubiquitiously sold at grocery stores for pie making, (and are also the ones that you get if you buy canned pumpkin) are probably the way to go if you are looking for something both carve-able and edible,and easy to find.  You will have a smaller Jack-o-Lantern, but there is some charm to that for sure.

Is it really okay to eat a pumpkin after you have carved it? 

In addition to the fact that our standard carving pumpkins are not delicious, there is the simple barrier of whether or not it’s gross to eat a pumpkin after you’ve carved it/ painted it/ let your children sneeze in it/ etc.  I have some possible concerns about this– I mean, you let your kids go at this thing with disgusting hands, scraping bacteria all over the inside of the fruit, and then you essentially culture the bacteria overnight by putting in a nice warm candle and letting it slowly warm.  That said, I have eaten many pumpkins after carving.  Basic logic applies:

  • If you use a real candle, choose a beeswax one  rather than a comercially-scented parafin one that could contaminate the flavor of your pumpkin
  • Remove wax prior to roasting
  • If you paint your pumpkin, try washing off the paint prior to roasting.  Scoop out the flesh and avoid using any paint-tainted skin.
  • Roast the Jack-o-Lantern as soon as practically possible– this is especially important in warmer places where mold and rot sets in quickly after carving.
  • Cut out yucky parts prior to roasting.

How to Roast: Follow these guidelines for roasting pumpkins: Cut pumpkin in sections, roast on oiled pan (skin up or skin down) at 350- 375 degrees F for ~ 45min to 1 hour or until it is soft when poked with a fork.  Scrape out flesh.  If you roast a standard ‘Conecticut Field’ pumpkin, consider pressing roasted flesh into a seive to squeeze out excess moisture before using.

Pumpkin Roasting and Recipe Links:

Finally, if you don’t manage to eat the pumpkin this year, compost it!  Just remember to take out the seeds first (and eat them instead!)

October 11, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com

Craft Refuge

wreath Based on the mirror provided by my friends on social media, I can now articulate that this presidential election is making me (and a lot of others) feel horrible. With the release of the Inside Hollywood tape as the final straw, the fact that we were still asked to dignify this process with our attention on Sunday night to another debate was too much.

Wallowing in the awfulness of it isn’t my thing, though, so I got myself a mindless diversion in the form of this pre-made Halloween Wreath from Paper Source.  My husband and I sat down on Saturday night and painstakingly punched out and assembled twenty paper flowers.  I felt a lot better afterwards, and I feel better every time I see it on my way to my apartment door.

Incidentally, I feel like this is the perfect thing for an indoor apartment front door– it might be too delicate to do well on a real outside front door (even here in mild mannered Los Angeles).  The hall in my apartment building is a lot like the inside of a mid-range hotel chain.  Normal Halloween stuff often looks a bit over the top in this situation– you don’t want anything to make you feel creepier than flourescent hall lights and the faint smell of garbage from the trash chute already make you feel.  This wreath elevates the situation, adding something pretty and yet still retaining some Halloween flair.

August 18, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com

08.16.16 This Week in the Garden, Begin Again

Rust Spider Mites on Tomato Stems

Returning to the garden after two weeks sans irrigation things were looking pretty desperate.  It’s been a horrible year for tomatoes– sporadic watering, dry hot conditions, and dust blown up from the adjacent residential neighborhoods ‘mow and blow’ gardening conspired to create the perfect conditions for spider mites (I believe these are ‘rust’ spider mites).  The mites weave a spidery web around new growth (see the gossamer sheath on the green area above) and then suck the growth dry.  Immature tomato fruit falls off as the stems of the plant collapse and turn brown.  Short of installing some kind of irrigation system to prevent water stress (not going to happen), I expect the mites to return next year.  I’m quite disappointed, since tomatoes are my favorite home garden crop..

Yesterday being the first day of school, I got a new start at the garden, pulling back the hay mulch, uprooting up the dead, mite-infested tomato plants, and turning in some fresh compost and chicken manure.  I am planning to plant winter crops in the coming week– deliberating whether to start them from seed or from starts.  It’s hard to keep the soil in these beds moist enough to start from seed this time of year without using a heavy (and seed stunting) mulch, so I may go with starts.

The crowning glory of this year’s summer garden was the pumpkin volunteer.  Now that it is finally grown I believe it is a Fairytale pumpkin, Cucurbita moschata, a French variety also known as Musque De Provence, that seeded itself from a pumpkin I bought (and must have cooked and composted) last year.  It sustained a few injuries from rodent gnawing, but in the end may be one of the best pumpkins I’ve ever grown.  I was happy to put it up on display in the spirit of Hogwart’s Hagrid to welcome the students back to school.  After Halloween, I will hope to cook it up for the students, and save its seeds in the hopes of another round next year.  Looking back, the pumpkin got started remarkably early, sprouting in March— so I assume seeds will need to be in the ground by February if we want to try to do this on purpose next year.  Given my intense love of pumpkins, it’s nice that one came magically out of the garden this year.

July 22, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com

Eating Bugs

Over the long haul, I think of myself as being pretty committed to the now almost quaint-seeming idea of ‘reducing my carbon footprint.’ Actually, if this blog has been about anything over the past 11 years, it’s been about that commitment. When I started out, I drew some lines for myself. I decided I’d work on reducing rather than recycling. I decided I’d focus on cutting back on my transportation footprint rather than focusing so much on my food footprint. I’ve gone through stretches where I committed not to buy anything new–but I was careful to draw boundaries in that case too:
screenshot-sparrowpost.net 2016-07-21 13-15-47

When you start down the personal carbon footprint reduction path, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important–the collective action humanity must race to take in order to slow the pace of climate disaster. I’ve tried not to let my personal climate commitment get in the way of my ability to speak for collective commitment– and reciprocally, to ensure that my personal actions are aligned adequately so that my advocacy for collective action doesn’t seem like hypocrisy.

So I gotta give a big virtual high-5 to my crazy husband Andy, whose recent insistence that we should become bug eaters as a way of climate adapting our diet successfully destabilized sense of balance I felt I’d achieved with my personal climate commitments. I’d always given myself a bit of a pass on aligning my diet with climate action–I’ve never cared for dietary restrictions or taboos, they just seemed to get in the way of the camaraderie of social eating. Last May, after watching “Cowspiracy,” I was told that our family needed to become vegetarian (maybe vegan) for climate purposes. I’d kind of known this all along, and so I agreed that we could become something like flexitarians– vegetarian at home, but willing to eat whatever in social contexts. For me personally, it wasn’t a difficult shift. I’ve gotten kind of tired of chicken, and we typically don’t buy red meat anyway for cost reasons. I haven’t figured out how to make our kids’ diet fully vegetarian, but I’ve managed to stick to it myself.

The bigger challenge was Andy, whose fast metabolism and frequent bicycling up the hills of Los Angeles was starting to wither away his manly stature in the absence of the protein and fat meat had added to his diet. Andy was teaching a class on sustainability in the food system, and through his research got really interested in the possibilities of replacing the missing protein and calories in his diet with land invertebrates– known to the rest of us as bugs. Through my own work, I”d been introduced to a company “Slightly Nutty,” that was trying to solve the problem of surplus organic food waste by feeding it to crickets, which could then be used for animal feed or human consumption. It turned out that the proprietor of Slightly Nutty had recently shut his doors in favor of pursuing his career as a marine biologist–but he did turn us on to some of our very own local cricket farmers, three young guys from Maine that moved west and started raising crickets for human consumption in a warehouse in the valley (you can see a video Andy’s student’s made about Coalo Valley Farms here.)

So we drove out to the valley on a Sunday as a family– and came back with a pound or two of frozen crickets. Generally, Coalo Valley farms presents there wares in a pre-cooked and ground format, sometimes even hand dipped in chocolate for occasions like the Los Angeles Natural History Museum Bug Fair. Because Andy was intending to feed his crickets to the students in his lecture class, though, we needed quite a number of them. In order to prep the crickets for roasting, they first needed to be dried. What better than the hot valley sun + the solar oven of our car? So the crickets dried in the back window of the car while we went to the Valley Ciclavia.
At home that night, it was my job to roast the crickets. Andy had gotten out a number of bug cookbooks (yes, bug cookbooks) from the library, including the “Eat a Bug” cookbook and one called “Entertaining with Insects.” I actually used the recipe for “Dry Roasted Crickets” on page 120 of the latter, which basically recommended baking for 1-2 hours at 225 degrees. I added olive oil, salt and pepper. Everything seemed to be going well until I got hit with the smell. AS a kid, I was an avid keeper of frogs and salamanders– and the smell of roasting crickets really brought me back to the smell of the reptile section of my childhood pet store– that smell of mossy wetness mixed with the baking incandescent lights. Fortunately, a pound or two of roasted crickets go a long way, and I haven’t been called upon to cook more.

From there it was history– Andy’s students enjoyed the roasted crickets the next day, as did Lakers basketball star Metta World Peace–who you can see enjoying a cricket in this video.

While I have been somewhat eager to back pedal from frequent bug consumption, Andy seems increasingly committed to the idea of making them a more routine part of our diet. In addition to adding cricket powder to cookies and pancakes, he stopped off the other day on the way home and got himself a takeout box full of chili-lime chapulines at a Oaxacan eatery on Venice Blvd.

For me its a little hard to accept the fact that its come to this. How does this voluntary action square with the fact that at any time I can walk a block down the street and get a pint of vanilla haagen dazs to eat instead? When Andy started on this journey, I had hoped it was mostly rhetorical… something like “if we don’t do the easy stuff on climate action, then we’re going to end up having to do the hard stuff… i.e., living on a diet of bugs.”

Now it seems that we’re taking it more seriously than all that, and actually contemplating getting a meal worm farm and maybe starting up some cricket cultivation. I always get more excited about a project when it’s ‘grow your own,’ so I’m hoping that the possibility of running my own “tiny farm’ of protein animals might make me more excited about the possibilities.

Writ large, I feel like this is a pretty big dose of ‘be careful what you wish for.” You get your life partner started on something like carbon footprint reduction, and you never know where it will lead. Ultimately I hope that this latest personal experiment will at least serve to open a discourse about our options. Maybe instead of having to switch to crickets, I could just forgo the Haagen Dazs and call it even? If nothing else, its put a finer point on the diet angle of what it means to be climate adapted.

And in the meantime, I’m trying to learn to enjoy them. The flavor isn’t bad, but I think the challenge for me is seeing the entire body/corpse of something as I”m putting it into my mouth–I’m just not culturally adapted to do that, no matter what the animal is. My secret: bury them in something else beautiful (see delicious leftover cuisine from Azla Vegan in Los Angles pictured).

July 6, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com

7.4.16 This week in the garden–Abundance in the Drought






Posting pictures from my dad’s garden in San Diego this week. I had honestly given this space up for lost– the soil is root bound by a beloved family tree– and trying to make the vegetables thrive in the midst of the drought seemed too hard. But my dad has been puttering along for years, and when I didn’t plant it this year he did. He’s always said he didn’t want to be in charge of planting or deciding what to plant, but this year he took himself to the garden center and did a blitz purchase of both seeds and starts, and the garden is looking beautiful and yielding bucketfulls of beans, strange pink flowering strawberries, lots of spicy peppers and delicious cherry tomatoes (Kellog’s Breakfast, anyone? I think these little orange cherry tomatoes are my favorite).

The garden is ‘downstream’ from an outdoor shower that is designed to get the sand off from the beach. One of the tragedies of the design of the shower is that the drain empties to the street and not onto the plants. This weekend in a stroke of innovation, my mom put the kiddie pool under the shower head and by capturing the water in that, we could pour the catchement onto the garden. DIY-greywater irrigation seems like it is going to have to become the status quo in the middle of drought as parching and persistent as the one we’re dealing with here. Especially when it’s something like washing off sand, irrigating with the runoff just seems logical. It’s too bad that to make it ‘easy’ to do this by habit, it would be necessary to jack up concrete and re-route the drains. It puts me in mind of Brad Lancaster and his work in Tuscon to make sure that all new construction is plumbed with the option of greywater irrigation. This should be mandatory throughout California.

Until then, we are all hauling buckets, seeing how many baths we can get out of a tub of water, and thinking about washing clothes in the shower. A lot of people don’t have the stomach for this kind of re-use, though, and so everywhere in San Diego you see dead trees, and even shriveled and dead succulents and cacti. It would be lovely to see some of the funding that is going to lawn conversion re-routed for passive greywater systems so that we could maximize what we already have instead of defaulting to one-off moonscapes. On a positive note, San Diego County Environmental Health does have a program that will provide basic design consultation on passive greywater systems, see link here.


June 17, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com
1 Comment

Lunapantsalong V: Saturday Jams

DSC02335DSC02333 My Luna Pants were finally finished over two months ago– and I have gotten A LOT of wear out of them. They are possibly my favorite weekend pants ever. I’m not sure if this is a universal thing, or a San Diego thing, but when I wake up on Saturday morning, I feel a deep sense of compulsion to dress crazy. Jeans and a t shirt are not going to cut it– I feel like I need to wear something just a little wacky. These bright yellow pants fit the bill perfectly; they are super comfortable, and right at home with gardening, printmaking, child schlepping, and sideline-sitting at the t-ball field. As a result, though they are only two months old, they’re stained already… epoxy, a little block printing ink… and it’s a testament to how much I like them that I’m actually considering BUYING some new fabric to make a second pair for dress purposes.

My mom and mother in law were in town last weekend in time to witness my amazing wacky Saturday fashion, and both agreed that the pants reminded them of Jams. The young may not remember, but the internet does:

Jam pants 1


These 80s baggy pants were apparently a Hawaii surf trend (could it be related to the Monpe???) that came to my hometown of Ocean Beach, CA in a big way when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. Unbelievably, they seem to have been most popular among men. I can still remember some of my friends’ dad’s (especially the surfer dads) wearing these.


I think I may have had a knockoff pair myself, but they were pretty tame in comparison to the range of colors and styles that were out there:
I remember that at the time they offended my young fashion sense (as did almost the entire decade- growing up in the 80s convinced me that I hated fashion). Irony of ironies that I have now returned to the Jams for my weekend wear.

As I contemplate my second pair, the hardest part will probably be duplicating the strange manipulations I made to the pattern in order to accommodate my fabric shortfall. I may make them a bit longer next time to assist with my bike riding plans–incidentally, that elastic ankle is excellent for the weekend cyclist.

June 16, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com

This Week in the Garden 6.16

  I’m beginning to think of Los Angeles’ weather in two halves–a colder, wetter season from January through mid-July, and a warmer, parchingly dry season that runs from August through December.  I’m always surprised when a pumpkin grows wide and heavy by early June, and then the vine dies away in July, but when I think about our growing term as starting in winter and then fading in the second half of the calendar year it doesn’t seem so odd.  In Southern California I used to hear that you should start squash in May, but this successful pumpkin started itself in February.  May, increasingly, seems too late.  Holding off on planting during the very dry season, and then returning to plant in October/November may be my new climate change strategy for maximizing production without excessive water waste.

June 8, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com

6.7.16 This week in the garden: Balcony Tomatoes and a Growing Pumpkin


     –a weekly garden status post inspired by Soulemama

Summer feels like it arrived early–the mystery squash volunteer looks like it will be a pumpkin, the kids at the school get really excited about how fast it grows.

Meanwhile,  my favorite breakfast of the moment (Homeboy Bakery jalapeño toast with ‘bacon’ avocado) is now being garnished by the first balcony tomatoes of the year…  The tomato vines already have some wilt from what I assume us an early blight, but I have a second round of starts that I hope will come to fruit once round 1 is demolished by powdery mildew/blight.  

May 31, 2016
by cablackmar@yahoo.com

This Week in the Garden: Going Wild

 Tidy gardens have never been my forte.  I know people whose gardens are both tidy and productive, but I also know people who get so hung up on tidiness that they seem to loose track of the point of vegetable gardening–growing and eating food.

Interestingly, concerns about the untidy appearance of vegetable gardening is often given as a rationale by public officials/HOA groups when they make decisions not to permit community gardens in highly visible public places.  

To my mind, though, a lot can be done with hardscaping or other forms if permenant garden structure that can help counteract the flux and chaos that comes with growing food.  And at the end of the day, what sends a stronger message of community rooted-ness and investment than people growing their own food?