Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Changing colors...

I had no idea that there were trees that would change color and drop their leaves in fall even in our climate. Granted, the colors aren't nearly as brilliant as they are in the Great Smoky Mountains of my youth, but there is something incredibly satisfying about a seasonal ritual like raking leaves (until I'm doing it for the third time... then I'm over it). It's one of those little things that makes me disproportionately happy.

American sweetgum tree (Wikipedia link)
Liquidambar styraciflua is a deciduous tree native to the warm temperate areas of eastern North America and regions of Mexico and Central America. A popular ornamental tree in temperate climates, it is recognizable by the combination of its five-pointed star-shaped leaves and its hard, spiked fruits (which you can apparently avoid by sterilizing the tree once a year... we're determined to do this as those spiky balls make the lawn underneath impossible to walk on with bare feet).

Monday, November 18, 2013

The force is strong... within my fig tree!

I've always wanted a fig tree. Once that had multiple trunks, spreading wide, with a sculptural shape and of course -- lots of fruit. Because -- no offense, Trader Joe's -- there is NOTHING like a fresh fig.

I also had the perfect spot for it: directly between my kitchen window and the massive new steel-and-glass spaceship-like hospital they have built across the canyon that completely kills the rural feel of our home. I dreamt of a massive fig tree with broad, handsome leaves that I could look at while doing the dishes.

I picked up this Black Mission a few months ago, right before we went out of town for the weekend as our last getaway before the new Baby Bluebird arrived. Unfortunately, that weekend was unseasonably hot and dry with Santa Ana winds pushing the temps up into the mid-90s while incredibly dessicating gusts fried it to a crisp despite the fact that I had given it several soakings before we left. Every single leaf got crispy and brown and fell off my tree.

Despite my initial inclination to take it back, I asked the Irish Husband Boxer to plant it (I'm sure he felt a little silly planting a leafless stick, but I think he's getting used to my weird requests). He even set up a little drip irrigation emitter for the stick. Because even leafless sticks need water... right?

Well this little fig tree has bounced back with a vengeance! and I couldn't be happier. I wasn't sure if it'd leaf out in "fall," but apparently our weather has been mild enough that the tree didn't mind actively growing. Hopefully it really takes off and gives me my "unruined" kitchen window view -- and fresh figs! -- soon.

Who's the new little buddy who hasn't budged since yesterday?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A recipe for "healthy" cookies

Food fads come and go. From low-fat to low-sugar to low-carb, low-GI, gluten-free, raw, macro, ketosis...

I can't really be bothered to follow a prescribed diet. My personal stance has landed somewhere in the gray area between whole food, high-plant, healthy fat, and two-working-parents-two-kids-busy-family.

These cookies are based on "lactation cookie" recipes that you can find online, but there's nothing in them that induces lactation, herbally or otherwise. Rather, they just have certain ingredients that are natural but pack a powerful punch when it comes to certain vitamins and nutrients. (Did I mention I'm horrible at taking vitamins, too?) They're not low-fat or low-carb, but there is nothing artificial or highly processed in them -- so whether it's the Irish Boxer Husband grabbing one on his way out the door, the Monkey asking for one with breakfast, or me enjoying one with my morning coffee, I feel good about having a jar of them around.

High-Nutrition Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 4 dozen)
1/2 cup butter (organic, unsalted if you can find it)
1/2 extra virgin coconut oil
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons warm water
4 tablespoons ground flaxseed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup brewer's yeast
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix together the water and flaxseed; set aside.
Soften the butter and coconut oil, then cream together with the brown sugar. Add in eggs, one at a time, beating well; then add in vanilla.

Sift together the flour, yeast, wheat germ, baking powder and salt. Add the butter/coconut oil blend and the soaked flaxseed, and mix well. Then stir in the oats, chocolate chips and walnuts.

Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment paper and bake for 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees, until lightly browned. Cool on a rack... if you can wait that long :-)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I have plans for you...

I planted Lincoln Garden Pea seeds on September 8th. They looked decent at first, but then really started to struggle. I realized they were being attacked by cabbage loopers... ugh. A quick Bt spray later, they are bouncing back.

After 4 days out of town, I came home to find my first blossoms!

I am determined that the first solid food to pass into our new Baby Bluebird's mouth will be home-grown, heirloom, non-GMO, organic peas. Cannot wait!

Lincoln Garden Pea
An old-time pea introduced in 1908. High-yielding and tasty, this pea does better than many in warmer weather. The tightly-filled pods are easy to shell, and compact vines are a good choice for small gardens.


I moved to Southern California a little over eleven years ago, and still remember that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I first arrived. I had grown up in North Carolina, and then spent several years in the SF Bay Area before shooting down the I-5 overnight to my new home. I felt like I had arrived on the set of a postapocalyptic movie as we drove past the dust-dry and barren hillsides of San Diego in July.

Since then, I've grown to appreciate the beauty of the desert. The eager burst of new growth after the first rain of autumn, the lushness of restful winter, the hopeful persistence of green into spring. But there is no denying that we live in a dry, dry climate, and it's up to us to be responsible in how water is used.

The Irish Boxer Husband likes to say that our home looked like a Costa Rican rainforest when we moved in. He might be exaggerating a bit -- he is known to do that -- but I do remember the freshly sodded lawn that was green even in September, the slopes completely overrun with groundcover, and trees like the alder in our backyard that seemed curiously happy, given that they're native to soggy riverbanks. Hmmm.

Bit by bit, we've been tearing out unfriendly groundcover and thirsty grass. We've still got two large areas of lawn, but expanded the patio with DG, put in a totally drought-tolerant bed out front, and have been running enough drip irrigation all over to wrap three times around the block if all the tubing was laid out end-to-end. 

We've been here just over a year now, and the most recent water bill showed me just how much of a difference we've been able to make in our own water consumption despite watering a lot of new fruit trees and planting beds. While I still envy those who live in a climate where they don't have to be quite so strategic with water usage, I'm proud of just how far we've come.