August 18, 2016

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

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: 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

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
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

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

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

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?  

May 29, 2016
1 Comment

Creative Waste: Why I had that extra yellow fabric

   The bedspread on my bed is nine years old, and very shabby. For the past four years I’ve had plans to make a cover for it, and it’s been a long process to come up with a design that I like for the duvet cover. At some point the grey/black/yellow color scheme became very on-trend, and I decided that was what I wanted to do for this project. Just for fun, how awesome is the paint job on the Los Angeles Museum of Art and Craft? I still have never been–but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, after some trolling of pintrest I saw this awesome giant patchwork design: and decided it might be simple enough for me to execute. (I typically draw the line for myself when it comes to quilting). So using this inspiration: I copied the design but produced it in grey and yellow.

Where the problem has come in so far is picking the right shade of yellow. My projects typically progress VERY slowly, so I have lots of time to overthink things. On four separate occasions I have purchased four different yellow fabrics. The mustard, I determined, would not work– and hence it became the fabric for my Luna Pants. But I’m not sure about the other three shades of yellow– I can see merits and downsides to each. I’m embarrassed that I have made the mistake of buying so many colors, but, I assure you that I will (a la the cat in the hat) use all this fabric for something, someday.

In the meantime, dear creative readers, can somebody help me decide which yellow to use? Numbered 1 through 4 below:



-4-  (not yellow, obviously, but just as a thought)

May 23, 2016

Zero Waste Challenge: Being ‘that weird’ family…

  I grew up in a wealthy, mostly white enclave in Southern California. I think that many people who have a similar background will know what I’m talking about when I say that in various sectors of community life (soccer, church, baseball, what have you), there was always a ‘weird’ family. That family that was slightly ostracized for some non-normative background or behavior. The transgressions that could throw you into this ‘weird’ category could be pretty mild; like having a single or divorced parent, living in a rental apartment, speaking a language other than English at home, or uncertainty around white racial status. (I feel shocked that I just wrote that, but I think it was true–though at the same time I can recall some non-white families that seemed to be completely accepted). Then there were families that should have been ‘normal’, but would be on the outs for belief or other reasons– Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, hippie families. Maybe the kids tried to follow a vegetarian diet, or weren’t allowed to do Christmas stuff. I gotta hand it to my parents, in the midst of this culture they did not support or reinforce this discrimination. If they were unkind to any subcategory of ‘weird’ family, it was to the ones who were closest to being weird in the same way that we were weird (hippies). I guess it was too close to home. 

Older school-aged and middle school-aged kids, though, seem to have a nose for non-normative behavior.  Even if the community norms were never explicit, that age range was a crucible of normalizing, the bottleneck you had to pass through in order to be accepted.  

I was never going to make it through.  This is ironic, because my mom, who was our family’s representative to the community, was generous with her time and abilities, and was liked and respected in the community.  If I’d had even the most basic social skills or inclination towards conformity, I could have been “popular.” So I can’t  lay the blame for my weirdness on my mom.   No, kids could sense it.  Maybe it was something inherent to my look (unmutably ‘old world’), or my penchant for following my heart when it came to my personal style… But I was weird from the start and never got on track.  Though there were fleeting moments when this was painful for me, I mostly just ‘owned it.’  And as the world has turned, I feel like the invention of terms like ‘owning it’ and ‘it gets better’ and our press for equality regardless of gender identity or preference has  changed some of the equation.  My childhood mantra/self-rationalization of ‘weird is wonderful’ actually begins to feel a little true.

Though popular culture seems have developed a celebratory attitude toward difference in recent years, the urge to conformity seems to morph and mutate along with it.  Compared to the community where I grew up, the communities I’ve lived in as an adult are much more ethnically, racially, religiously diverse.  In each international, university-proximate school my son has attended, he has been one of the few kids in his class that had the misfortune of being raised English monolingual.  In general, I feel that these environments are more accepting of difference than the ones I grew up in–or perhaps it is fairer to say that everyone brings their cultural biases with them, but there are so many different cultural biases that there is little in the way of a ‘consensus’ bias. The perennial interpersonal challenges of defining self and friends, establishing habits, and ensuring safety seem to seek fall-back definers of normalcy that everyone can agree on. Interestingly, I feel that the fall back ‘normalizing’ tool in West Los Angeles is money/ expectations around consumption.

And so it has come to pass that because of my politics around consumerism even in this far more diverse community I find that I am once again in the ‘weird’ category.  On the one hand there is a little disappointment that comes with this–it’s nice to fit in, you know?  But on the other hand, I’m practiced at not fitting in, and therefore feel no pressure to try to adopt the consumer status quo.  

In the end, who really likes spending their Saturday at Costco, or Trader Joes?  Or being leveraged to the hilt to rent a nice car in which to spend lots of time sitting in traffic?  Do we do these things so that we are not ridiculed for being odd? Or to protect our kids from being ‘different?’

On the positive side, I feel like some of the ways in which our weird family has worked to reject these norms may eventually become more accepted.  For example: at the last  ‘no gift/ no cake/no party favor’ kids birthday we hosted, I do believe I may have seen a glimmer of jealousy in a few fellow parents eyes as we packed up unincumbered by a stack of obligatory $25 gifts.  And I know the kids in the neighborhood envy my son’s trailer bike that we use to commute to school, even as I hear their parents (probably wisely) say ‘no way — too dangerous’ as we pass by.  It’s true that in order for some of these practices to become new norms, the whole system would need to change– and I know from experience how hard that is.

But opinion can make change happen quickly, and I have hope that by continuing to ‘own’ our role as ‘that weird family’– by continuing to have fun doing things just a little different–that we may soon have more company on that bike ride to school, or that Costco-free Saturday.