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Food Gardening Travel

O’Henry Peaches from Frog Hollow Farm

I am going to publish a scientific paper about how time goes more quickly in the summer and when you’re shopping on eBay.

If you follow me on Facebook you know that I just got back a couple of weeks ago from another trip to England. I spent the first week in London for work, but weekends with the rest of the  family in the country. If you’re a garden lover and a runner like me, the English countryside in the summer is pretty much as good as it gets. Except, if you’re like me, you have to stop every few feet to snap photos of the gardens.

I know, it’s really bad.

I just.can’t.stop.


I even checked out the Queen’s gardens this time around. They weren’t too shabby either.

Aside from English gardens, summer is also really great for peaches. I can turn just about any fruit into a dessert, but sometimes, you’re best off leaving it the way it was made.

Such is the way with organic O’Henry peaches from Frog Hollow Farm. Frog Hollow is in Brentwood, California, and produces the most breathtaking fruit, lovingly packed and shipped.

I got to try this fruit because, as luck would have it, my colleague The Fruit Maven generously brought a box into the office. This is generous because, had I received this box, I would have eaten it by myself in front of the shipping container within three minutes of receipt.

My pictures, sadly, do not do these peaches justice, since they were taken with my iPhone under the romantic glow of fluorescent lights. Even so, note the beautiful read marbling on the peach slice, cut from the peach that was soft enough to be cut by a plastic knife found in the break room. The texture was soft but had the perfect amount of body, and the taste was sweet and, well, peachy…possibly the peachiest peach I’ve ever eaten. Sweet and peachy — all you could ever want in a peach.

Frog Hollow Farms ships too — you can order a box of peaches from this link. And while you’re eating your peach, I’ll tell you about the rest of my trip.

The second week was spent in the countryside.

My mother-in-law got the kids raincoats and wellies, so it promptly stopped raining.

Which meant that they could go on a ropes course.

I got to catch up with my neighbor Helen, who moved back to the UK two weeks earlier:

My sister-in-law took me shopping, where I fell in love with a dress that looked really sad on me:

Nevermind, though, because we hit Cath Kidston next where I got a tiered cake platter and a set of flowery napkins that my husband doesn’t like (but I love!).

We had a dinner celebration for my brother-in-law’s 40th:

and then headed over to spend a few days with our friends Simon and Laura.

And some time miming I guess.

The kids had a great time with their daughter, swimming:

hanging out:

and visiting her school:

Now I’m back at home, waiting for my flowers to be plentiful enough to place by my bedside table. Til then, this memory will have to do.


Gardening Home

On Tree Stalking


This is not my garden. It belongs to a guy called Monet.

When we first moved here, I didn’t know much about west coast plants so was pretty much flying blind when we planted the first time. So just before Thanksgiving, we redid our garden. My vision was that it was going to be a Garden of Eden type setup (minus the snakes and except that we would wear loincloths since our homeowners association forbids public nudity) wherein, when hungry, we would just venture outside and pluck food off of a tree for just-in-time consumption. Good-bye, grocery stores!

Aside from a walkway lined with camellias, we installed loquats, figs, grapefruit and avocado. But to have a really well-rounded diet, you need to add persimmon and pomegranate too. But alas! Persimmon and pomegranate were out of season. I could not have them! I had to wait until they were available in bare root form, sometime in the winter. Winter!!! I can be a little impatient and obsessive sometimes (shocked hush falls upon the world).

This camellia actually is from my newly planted garden.

So I started calling. I called every nursery within 50 miles of me, and scoured the ones online too. They were saying January. February. I wept. And after a day of rabid stalking research, the nice man at Home Depot told me he expected them to come in mid-December. This was better news. This was hope. And then a little desperation kicked in because I started calling him every day to check on the trees because what if they came in early? And then I started get a little embarrassed because he clearly recognized me so I started using different accents but the same voice. Hindsight is always 20/20.

These are also from my garden. Oh wait, not mine. They’re from the Queen of England’s garden. Nevermind.

Finally, on the day I used my Alabama accent on the phone, he told me that they were in! They hadn’t been unpacked yet, but they were in! I dropped everything. I sped off to Home Depot. And there they were, a huddle of bare root trees, tied together on the ground like a bunch of people kidnapped for ransom but with sticks for bodies.

Since they were bound together I had to have an employee cut them apart. But…I cleverly avoided the male employee in the department since I feared he would recognize me, and went up to the female employee. She said she didn’t have a knife and walked over to the male employee. He asked me which types of trees I was looking for and I meekly answered him. He looked at me and asked, “Did you call?” to which I replied, “I called yesterday.” which was technically true.

At last. I’ve found you.

I took them home, followed the instructions on the package, and after watching a billion videos on how to prune a bare root fruit tree, pruned them. This stick in the ground is the persimmon:

and this one the pomegranate:

You just have to trust that these are going to produce enough food for a family of four in a few months, people. It’s called faith.


Get 10% off grow light when you shop at Valid until February 2014.

Crafts Gardening

Terrariums: a DIY Love Story

I’ve got terrariums on the brain. The one pictured above? I have it on my desk. I look at it. Then I also look at the picture of the same terrarium that I have on my computer. Desk, computer. Desk, computer. True story.

I saw the most amazing hanging assortment at Grounded in Encinitas, where you can buy supplies to make your own:

and I thought: that’s what I’ve been missing my whole life!

I didn’t buy them that day though. I just let it stew inside me like…well, a stew, til it boiled over and I woke one day with an unmistakable mission: MAKE. A. TERRARIUM.

You can get the cute little 6-inch orbs (which have a flat bottom so you can set them on a table) online here in bulk for less than the $14 or so apiece at Grounded (and if you click the link my kids’ school district gets a percentage donated toward their science, tech, art and music programs!), but I had to buy some just to carry out the calling immediately.

I wanted to populate my terrariums with air plants, or Tillandsia, which can grow without soil. Grounded has the best assortment of air plants that I’ve seen locally, but again, they’re at a premium ($4-9 apiece) to what I’ve seen on Amazon where you can buy in bulk (for around $2-$3 apiece for the more common varieties — more for exotics or larger plants). Tillandsia like bright, filtered light — so within 6 feet of a sunny window is ideal. Air plants are pretty low maintenance — just soak them in a bowl of water for an hour a week.

I also wanted to fill my terrariums with colored sand and preserved moss, which I got from my local Michael’s Craft Store. The sand was $2.99 a bag and the moss, for the colorful variety pack, was $7.99 a bag.


Then, just stick the plants in anywhere you’d like:


I played around with upcycling some bordeaux glasses I have:

and conceptualized a display using some glass flower vases I have stashed in a cabinet:

The possibilities are bounded only by the number of glass containers that you have. Old jam jars, vases, whatever — they’re all good.

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is I love about terrariums. Simplicity of construction? Ease of care? Yes. But maybe, in some way, it’s the ability to have complete control of a tiny spherical universe when we live in a world that can be so hard to understand.

Now, to wrestle with the question of how many terrariums is too many.



Custom Drapes

I was unhappy today.  I took three days off since the kids start school next week and my plan was to spend time with them.  Which so far has involved letting them watch DVDs, play on the iPad or otherwise independently eradicate the house of any semblance of decency (did I teach these people that it was ok to throw used tissues on the ground when you’re done blowing your nose?).  Partially because I must not be a very good mom.  And partially because there was stuff going on at work and my boss called me and I had to look at spreadsheets and think and write emails.  But really I just wanted to think about custom drapes.

A few weeks ago I went over to my friend Stacy’s house and was struck by how adult her house looked.  She has a kid, but I didn’t see any puke or juice on her sofas, nor did I find any booby traps made of string on the way to the kitchen — her house was completely pulled together, with her furniture going with her decorative accents and most importantly, seeming to belong in her house.  When I got home I felt like my house was really juvenile (and not just because of the artwork made by the juveniles in my household, haphazardly taped onto walls with scotch tape, which I only occasionally find in places like under the bathroom sink or on top of a Build-A-Bear).  I’ve given up on having nice furniture for now — at least until my kids stop walking on the sofas and the youngest of their friends becomes older than three.  But the drapes — the drapes I can do!  So I’ve been looking into designers, stalking their websites, and learning about the differences between custom and ready-made drapes.  And custom drapes done right (that would be, not the way I’ve made them in the past) look full, have good heft, and look really great.  But I’ve also seen some bad custom drapes — so I’ve chosen to go the designer route to get a referral to a good workroom.

The other thing I’ve learned about custom drapes is that they’re expensive.  Will my life be way better once I have them?  One can hope.

Health Home Uncategorized

Melaleuca and My New Non-Toxic Life

After a couple of months of dry-heaving from stress, I’ve started to re-examine my life and have decided that I should really focus on the living part.  One thing that’s helped me feel a little more sane is de-cluttering and streamlining.

Enter Melaleuca, The Wellness Company.  A co-worker of mine recently introduced me to the products.  They’re non-toxic, concentrated (and thus space-saving: I took back four ginormous bottles of toxic cleaners like Cascade and Jet Dry that I could barely carry — and a single normal-sized bottle of Melaleuca’s Diamond Brite did the job far better), effective (who knew natural products could be even better than harsh chemicals?) and economical (much, much less expensive than buying non-toxic products through regular retail channels).  A lot of the products serve multiple purposes, like the Tough & Tender all-purpose cleaner, which is also a fruit and veggie spray, or their toothpaste, which can also be used to polish silver.  Their vitamins are far superior to grocery store brands — I started getting up early to do yoga in the mornings — and my husband asked that I buy him some of these vitamins because he’s never seen me with this much energy!  No more headache-inducing fumes after the cleaners come, no more giant Costco containers that don’t fit on my shelves, and no more paying extra for companies’ advertising and distribution costs (Melaleuca is customer-referral-only, so you get better value).

I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m as streamlined as Jay Shafer, who is apparently making it all work in a 89 square foot home — and I’m pretty sure I’ll never get there (where would I put all my handbags?).   But this is a pretty good start. 

Health Home Uncategorized

Method Dish Liquid and

My least favorite kind of stress is the kind that makes you randomly gag and wretch during the day, struggle to retain composure, and makes people wonder if you’re trying to hide a pregnancy. I’ll save the details for the novel that will render my financial success a foregone conclusion (please, magic book deal people, I’m sure I can think of something you’d want to publish!), but I found myself craving something very comforting…and yet very cheap.

Two weeks ago I was up in San Francisco visiting my brother and sister-in-law, who live the lifestyle of the people you’d imagine live in the spaces shown in the CB2 catalog. They had this Method Dish Liquid in the kitchen and I strangely found myself finding excuses to do the dishes. The pink grapefruit scent is perfect — calming, soothing, not quite as sharply citrus and energizing as lemon but somehow spirit-lifting and happiness-inducing all the same. I also bought the all-purpose cleaner and have been cleaning a lot more…for fun! Equally non-toxic as my home-made cleaning agents, they smell a million times better than my vinegar-y concoctions. And they made me feel…better! Like, a lot less stressed…and just by washing dishes!

You can buy it pretty much anywhere nowadays, but one easy way is via Alice’s prices are very competitive, and best of all, shipping is free AND you don’t have to leave your home. Alice, your online domestic helper, will send you reminders to refill certain things at intervals that you specify. It’s a great idea — and once Alice gets a critical mass of inventory so that I can take care of all my household shopping online — I will gladly fully outsource all of that to Alice. Worth trying out — the more people that try it, the more leverage they’ll have to get products.

Home Shopping

Envirosax Market Bags


As a bring-your-own-bagger, I used to alternate between bringing paper Trader Joe’s bags from previous trips (for whatever reason they seem the sturdiest – and most cheerful – of the paper bag types) and a bunch of canvas tote bags.Both required space and thought, two things of which I seem to be in limited supply nowadays.

Enter Envirosax market bags! On a particularly good day at the office, my team surprised me with a green botanical-printed Envirosax stuffed with a candle gift set (I am thinking of investing in risky derivatives sometime in the near future, because shortly thereafter, I also won a Garmin navigation system in a random drawing).Requiring neither space nor thought, the bags roll themselves into a teeny-tiny size and have fasteners to keep them shut. They’re super lightweight, and as small as they look, they expand into a roomy, sturdy bag. The empty, rolled up bags are great tucked into your purse, or kept in the car (which is what I do). And of course the bag isn’t limited to shopping purposes — the lightweight polyester material can be hosed down and is a roomy bag for the beach or pool, and the print is so cute that I’m sure at some point I’ll be telling you that I made one into a skirt.

Home Money-Saving Tips


A couple of weeks ago I walked into my friend Carol’s house — she has kids roughly the same age as mine — and was struck by how grown-up her house looked. It was spotless. Her sofas looked normal, as if no one had ever puked on / spilled milk on / mashed food into / used them as a trampoline. The overall effect of walking into a clean, puke-free house was magical…and serene. When I walked back into my own house, the saggy, stained sofas that sit in our family room made me glum.

Though I entertained fantasies of a new beige-colored microfiber sectional with leather trim, that was out of the question. I asked the kids if they would continue to jump on / step over, build forts with / color near / sneak food on said hypothetical sofa and they answered yes. So, I set out to refurbish! A cursory call to reupholsterers, who would re-stuff my formerly down-filled cushions, yielded a quote of roughly a thousand dollars for the sofa. That included a wait time of a couple of weeks while the special feathers were ordered, and a period of time during which I’d have no cushions upon which to sit. Not good enough for my need for immediate gratification.
So I ended up shoving old, flat pillows of yore into my cushions. See the picture above — the cushion closest to us has been restored using my free-but-effective pillow stuffing method (I stuffed them into the bottom-facing part of the cushion so the unusual lumps wouldn’t show as much); the depressed cushion further away is the “before” sample. I happened to have a lot of old flat pillows, which included a variety of out-of-commission-bed pillows and accent pillows, all shoved breast-implant-style into any space I could find in the cushions (which were zippered, making things a lot easier than they might have been). I then set about removing stains by using a spray bottle filled with water and blottting with a cloth; grease stains I was able to get out by sprinkling corn starch over stains and letting sit for a couple of hours before vacuuming up. The result? To the right. Puke-free puffy sofa! (Well, mostly. I wasn’t able to get out the residue from a particular incident involving pink silly putty. Silly putty is the enemy. Don’t let it into your house.)
This transformation inspired me to look for other low-cost ways to reduce the offensiveness of my family room. Here’s what the wall opposite my sofa used to look like — it was basically a mishmash of cheap furniture that somehow migrated down from the playroom.
A visit to IKEA and investment in Expedit bookshelves, filled in with baskets I’d gotten from Target for the play room a couple of years ago, plus a coffee table spruced up the room in a remarkably low-risk fashion. While I’d like to be able to say that my house looks like this all the time, and not just every other Tuesday when a certain cleaning crew rolls in to save the day, I can’t. But it does look less bad.

Food Gardening Health

My cup of tea

Maybe I’m a little slow on the uptake, but though I always knew that tea was made of dried leaves, it really didn’t hit me til recently that they’re really just dried leaves. I guess I had always assumed that something special had to be done to them…why else would you pay money for a bunch of dried leaves? A co-worker of mine who is a bit of a tea freak went to a tea tasting in San Francisco Chinatown, walking out with several $30 bags of tea. What was so special about these teas was that they were whole leaves — so when you pour boiling water over them, the leaves reconstitute and open up (unlike the shredded bits of leaves you get in standard tea bags). He said that leaves that do that actually haven’t been dried for very long, and thus are lower in caffeine. I haven’t verified that claim — just putting it out there.

As you may have noticed I’m a little obsessive about efficiency (this drives my apparent zeal for things like recycling, composting and energy conservation, but refer to my previous post for the real story). I get a lot of dried lavender blooms and fallen-off rose petals in my garden. Mostly I throw them into my makeshift compost pile, or chuck them around the garden for slow decomposition, but I’m always looking for new things to do with garden refuse. So I decided to try making my own tea.

My criteria:

  • It shouldn’t kill me. Before gathering dried leaves for tea-making, I looked online to make sure there were like things on the market (e.g., other people had tried them, hadn’t died, and thought well enough of it to market it to a broader audience).
  • It shouldn’t taste disgusting. I also looked online for combos of leaves that, as in the first bullet point, people tried and liked enough to keep making.

I have a little teapot with a strainer for tea leaves, so I didn’t have to bother with sewing tea bags or anything of the sort. So far I’ve made a couple of teas:

  • Lemon verbena. This one gave off a really lemony smell, and was very light. It was a little lemony for my liking, but hey, it was free and didn’t kill me.
  • French lavender and rose petals. This one tasted like it smelled. I added honey a little bit of cream to it, but I think I went a little too heavy on the lavender.
  • Ginger. This didn’t come from my garden, but I plopped a chunk of raw ginger root into boiling water and added a bit of sugar — this was delicious. It was a little spicy, and really soothing.

I put in approximately 1 teaspoon dried leaves for every cup that I brewed. My conclusion: you can definitely make your own tea. Do a little research before dropping the leaves into your pot (hemlock, for instance, might be a bad choice), but for the most part, there’s nothing to it. Of course there are always leaves not readily available to you that are worth buying from tea manufacturers, but it is another way to use up the stuff in your garden.

Home Uncategorized

When cleaning should suck

I’m not a vacuum-cleaner hobbyist. I don’t particularly like to clean. But I found myself recently in need of a new vacuum, after my old Kenmore lost its suction despite making Darth Vader type noises. Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I spent hours doing research to find my optimal vacuum cleaner — one that balanced performance with value. (I will spare you the details of my analysis, but for those of you in the market for a great professional-level flat iron I would recommend the Sedu:

Here were my criteria:

  • Vacuum cleaner must be lightweight. I don’t like cleaning as it is, and can be easily deterred by something as simple as lifting a heavy vacuum cleaner up the stairs.
  • Vacuum cleaner should last a long time — 10+ years. I don’t want to be researching vacuum cleaners again any time soon.
  • Cleaner should work on both hard surfaces (wood floors, slate) and carpet (I have relatively low-pile carpet).
  • Bonus points if it’s cute.
  • Less than $500. I’m not a cleaning pro.

My research resulted in the purchase of a Miele S4 Galaxy Series Carina S4210 cannister vacuum. I love it. It is quiet. It is cute. It’s yellow. It sucks like nobody’s business. At $389, it’s the lower-end Miele but all the reviews point to its reliability (I almost went with an Electrolux cannister — my parents have had an Electrolux for the past 30 years that is still going — but read that since Electrolux was purchased by Eureka, they suck a little more and not in a good way. Apparently, leaving the vacuum plugged in when not in use can cause shorts, resulting in a need for frequent repairs). It’s good on both floors and low-pile carpets / rugs, and has six settings. If you have shaggy rugs, you’d probably want to upgrade to some of the higher end models. Even the guy at the Oreck store said that he liked Mieles.