Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Weekly Jack

Here's the dog you all love to see - Jack. This is your Weekly Jack!

Jack's a mellow guy.

Jack can relax.

I wish I could sleep so soundly.


When you have a blog, you have to choose how open you are to the world beyond. You can limit comments, require commenters to pass some kind of screening, or you can close your blog to any comments at all. So far, I've chosen to let Doves Today be completely open to comments, but that means anyone can post anything they want.

If I find something offensive, I can delete it. So far, though, I haven't deleted any comments for being offensive - but I have deleted things.

Spam. I get spam, sometimes. If I look back at my list of posts, sometimes I'll see that an entry that garnered maybe 5 or 6 comments from readers suddenly has 30 comments. And they're all in Chinese! It's a mystery to me why a company would think it could gain sales by posting fake, robot-generated nonsense on a blog like mine, but somewhere, someone does.

Yesterday I found a string of comments, all with links to a shopping site for power tool. I think they're intended to spur a reaction like - "Gee, that comment is so intriguing, I think I'll pop over to that link. Hey! low prices on Ryobi chop saws!"

But collectively, the comments were pretty funny - it was like a Gertrude Stein poem -

We should be painstaking and perceptive in all the advice we give. We should be signally prudent in giving guidance that we would not think of following ourselves.

We should be chary and particular in all the advice we give. We should be especially prudent in giving information that we would not think of following ourselves.

We should be careful and particular in all the information we give. We should be especially prudent in giving information that we would not about of following ourselves

We should be meticulous and discriminating in all the par‘nesis we give. We should be signally prudent in giving advice that we would not dream up of following ourselves.

We should be chary and particular in all the information we give. We should be signally careful in giving information that we would not dream up of following ourselves.

We should be meticulous and discriminating in all the intelligence we give. We should be extraordinarily careful in giving opinion that we would not think of following ourselves.

We should be careful and discriminating in all the advice we give. We should be signally painstaking in giving guidance that we would not about of following ourselves.

We should be meticulous and particular in all the information we give. We should be especially aware in giving opinion that we would not think of following ourselves.
There were two stand-alone comments worthy of note:

A gink begins sneering his perceptiveness teeth the initially time he bites on holiday more than he can chew.


A humankind who dares to atrophy bromide hour of age has not discovered the value of life.

Who needs poets when we have automated spam-bots?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gray day at the beach

It's still June, and yesterday was particularly gloomy - it was gray all day, misting in the morning.

The beach looks different when it's gray. The sand seems warmer. The ocean blends into the clouds. Sounds are muted.

The bike path is almost deserted.

The shouts and kicks of a pick-up game of beach soccer are muffled.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Thematic Photographic - Signs of the Times

We're back with "Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is Signs of the Times. Check in and see who else contributes photos based on this idea.

I've posted it before, but it's a favorite of mine, and perfect for the theme. This sign is at a chicken restaurant on Cesar Chavez Boulevard in East LA. Sumo chickens!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beach time

Enjoy the water. Then come sit down and relax. Got your cooler, your beach bag? Don't forget the shades. Pull out a beach book and settle in. Sodas, anyone? (I smuggled in a couple of cold beers for us!)

We're here all summer. There's lots of stories to share.

A Pie a Week

A savory tomato tart, last month

The last couple of weeks I've enjoyed making tarts and pies. One of my favorite thing about pies is the crust. Oh, the pie filling is important too, but for me it's always the crust. My mother made a pretty good pie crust, and I've been making pie crust since I was young.

An apricot tart, last summer

But the thing about pie crust is a lot of the skill comes from experience and the nuanced feel of the dough. If you don't make it often enough, you don't get the benefit of trial and error. I've decided I really want to perfect my skills, and maybe even go on to experiment with other, more challenging kinds of pastry.

A free-form plum crostata in July, 2007

So I've decided I'm going to make a pie a week.

Maybe sweet, or maybe savory; each week I'm going to make a pie.

A pear-custard tart, last Christmas

This week, I made an open-faced apple tart. I used the recipe from Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook. It makes pie crust seem easy - you work the butter and the flour together by hand.

I increased the recipe by an extra 1/4 cup of flour and an extra tablespoon of butter, because my tart pan is large - the recipe calls for a 9" pan, but mine is about 11" in diameter. After you work the flour and butter together, you add cold water - and here's where it gets tricky.

You can't add too much water, or the dough will be too sticky to roll. You can't add too little water, or it will be too crumbly to hold together. I always seem to err on the side of adding too little.

My mother always used ice water for this step, and I've never done otherwise. The key to flaky pastry is keeping the fat cold, so pieces of it remains separate from the flour. Ice water helps keep a chill on the dough, especially if you've been handling it with warm hands.

I use a silicon baking mat to roll the dough on, and although I have had a nice maple rolling pin for years, I recently got a silicon one and use that one all the time now. For pie dough, I also use a piece of parchment paper between the dough and the pin, to keep it from sticking. This dough was too dry - it cracked and fragmented as I rolled it.

After lining the tart pan with the rolled dough, my recipe said to simply lay the cut apple pieces into the pan - they weren't macerated in sugar, as in most American apple pie recipes. Once in the pan, instructions said to sprinkled the fruit with a little bit of salt, and then sugar - the salt was to draw the juices to the surface of the fruit so it could mingle with the sugar.

The apple tart

It was a pretty tart when done - but very dry. The fruit was almost like dried apples - very tasty, but austere, not gooey rich and moist with sticky juice. The crust? delicate and buttery-delicious - but crumbly.

Clearly, I'm not there yet.

A fig and mascarpone cheese tart, last Thanksgiving

So - what kind of pie should I make next week?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thematic Photographic - Signs of the Times

We're back with "Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is Signs of the Times. Check in and see who else contributes photos based on this idea.

This building on South Broadway in downtown L.A. was built as the Orpheum Theatre in 1911. Designed by G. Albert Landsburgh, it featured French and Italian Renaissance-inspired decor, including four terra-cotta panels on the facade featuring the muses of song, dance, music and drama.

Above, flanking the marquee, are song and dance.

Here is drama

And music

In 1926 the Orpheum circuit built a new theatre a couple blocks south on Broadway - also designed by Landsburgh. This theatre was renamed the Palace, and continued showing movies until 2000. It's closed now, awaiting the revitalization of Broadway, and functions as a rental location for film and TV.

Signs of a time past.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On the beach path

Walking north on the bike path - the part where pedestrians are allowed - I stay to the margins so the bikes can go past.

I walk past the private houses and the parking lots and the cafe and the community house and the bike and roller-blade rental stands, and I always keep an ear out for the insect whiz and whirr of a bicycle behind me. They are fast and intimidating and if you need a moment of stillness you step off the concrete to the sand.

But then I see her.

A figure bobbing in silhouette in the bright noonday sun. Hard to see - is she with the couple of joggers? No, they outpaced her, drew away and left her behind on the path.

She's dancing.

As I draw closer I can see and hear her. She channels the music that drives her. She's wearing cargo shorts and a tank top, running sneakers. She's tanned brown and textured like a worn leather purse. She's ageless - she could be my age or in her '90s. She could be homeless or the owner of a beachfront mansion - it's impossible to guess. Her knees are as seamed as an elephant's, her shins mahogany and rippled and silvered with scars. Her eyes hide behind dark lenses.

She's dancing to her own music, fed through the white wires and earbuds that dangle into the deep crevasses of her sunburned chest. She bobs, she shimmies. Bops and jives. She raises her face to the noon sun. She crosses from one side of the two-lane bike/pedestrian path to the other. Her toes tap the yellow line, then back again. She violates the protocol of lanes and directions. The soles of her shoes scuff the sand against the concrete, and the rhythm as she shuffles amplifies the percussive beat that we can't hear. But she hears - it's in her ears and hummed and murmured from her throat as she dances past.

She's full of joy. It shimmers from her in the noontime sun.

She crosses the lines, goes against the current, cuts in front of you. Now the bike riders watch out for her, you can see them curve and compensate.

She twirls hectically in front of the blue canvas lounge chairs of the private beach club, where the attendants raise and lower umbrellas for the members as they take their ease. She jives in time with the boom box of the homeless guy who camps behind the lee of the dune, just west of the tennis courts. When I pass her, her teeth flash in a broad grin - it's infectious. I smile back and nod at her as we go our separate ways.

Who is she? I'm sure I'll see her again this summer, while I'm here at the beach. Maybe next time I'll say hello.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thematic Photographic - Signs of the Times

We're back with "Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is Signs of the Times. Check in and see who else contributes photos based on this idea.

A sign, indeed, but a sign that is timeless. An ancient language still says "Beware of Dog" on this chain-link gate in my neighborhood. This sign has been adapted from a mosaic image of a dog found in the ruins of Pompeii, from 100 BC.

The dog, I should tell you, hasn't lived there for years.


Click to "embiggen"

A Painted Lady butterfly (vanessa cardui) on lavender, in my garden.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chicken run

It's all about chickens this week!!

Our neighbors keep chickens, and we've been lucky recipients of eggs - there's nothing better than fresh eggs. And Jack enjoys watching the chickens through the fence.

Recently they got some more chickens. This morning as I headed to my car to go to work, I caught these birds trying to escape.

I called my neighbor, and when I went back outside, the bird on the left was walking around in my driveway. My neighbor coaxed it back through the gate but then we looked up.

They're in the trees now. These chickens can fly.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Red birds

Scarlet Larkspur, or Delphinium cardinale, is in bloom now in the grassy hills of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The tall flower spikes, up to two meters high, rise up amid the brush, and until the blooms open, they're so spindly and slender you barely notice them. The leaves, lobed and patterned with silver, make substantial clumps in spring, but by the time the flower spikes bloom, the leaves are attenuated and spent.

In bud, the blooms are a subdued orange-red, looking for all the world like exotic goldfish with their spurred tails. The plant is a frail wisp - that is, until the buds open and the bright flowers grab your attention.

Here in Red Rock Canyon Park, an overgrown trail leading to a home-site burned out in the '93 fire sports a giant blue-green agave accompanied by dozens of scarlet larkspur plants.

Up close you can see how each flower is spangled with yellow marks on the two uppermost petals. The long hollow spur behind gives the flower its common name, larkspur.

Hummingbirds love the scarlet larkspur, with its fiery red color.

Just another wonderful wildflower growing in our beautiful Santa Monica Mountains.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In the shadow of Chicken Boy

Highland Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. It's in the rolling hills north of downtown, along the Arroyo Seco - a dry gulch that channels run-off water from the San Gabriel Mountains into the Los Angeles River. The Pasadena Freeway - America's oldest freeway - runs along its south-east flank, and the hills of Eagle Rock are to the north. The streets, lined with small bungalows, crumbling victorians, and stucco apartment houses, roll up and over and curve around, revealing views of the arroyo and hills beyond.

We took the Gold Line, Metro's light rail from downtown to Pasadena. Out of Chinatown station, the train curves along the reclaimed industrial land known as the Cornfield, crosses the Los Angeles River, and climbs the Arroyo Seco.

We got off the train at the Highland Park stop on Marmion Way, just a block west of North Figueroa Avenue, one of the main shopping streets of the neighborhood. From the station, we could see the rooftop sign of the Highland Theatre, an old Spanish-deco pile that offers $3 movies on weekdays.

We walked down Figueroa to get a good look at Chicken Boy, a neighborhood landmark. Rescued from a building on South Broadway downtown, Chicken Boy stands proudly atop Future Studio Gallery, right next to the La Fuente Restaurant #2.

Just next door to Future Studio is the La Arca Restaurant & Pupuseria, featuring Salvadoran cuisine. We walked into the cool, blue-painted interior with its tiled floors and high ceilings and sat at a booth. Potted palms, bright tapestries, and even a wall-hung woven hammock lent a tropical feel to the place.

There were only a few customers in the place. The TV was tuned to the World Cup, and loud Salvadoran music blared from a juke box where a man and his young son were pressing the selection buttons.

There's another restaurant in the neighborhood called El Arco Iris - named after the rainbow, like a sandwich shop we visited in Tampa. This is La Arca, which refers to the Ark of Noah.

It was a warm day, so we ordered a bottle of Regia extra, a lager beer imported from El Salvador. It was served with two frosted mugs and a dish of lime wedges.

La Arca's menu features Salvadoran specialties, including a large selection of seafood. We were stopping in for a quick lunch, though, so we stayed with the list of pupusas and antojitos.

Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador. Masa dough is hand-formed into a thick disc, with cheese and other fillings folded inside. Then it's heated on a griddle til the cheese melts and the outside is seared. Pupusas are served with a vinegary cabbage slaw called curtido, and hot sauce. The fillings can be plain cheese, beans and cheese, meat or vegetables, including a Salvadoran herb called loroco.

I ordered a pupusa with calabacita y queso - that's with shredded summer squash and cheese. [The Man I Love] ordered one with chicharron. In Mexican cuisine chicharron usually means pork skins, but in Salvadoran cuisine it usually means pork meat ground to a paste, which is what we were served here. I liked the delicate flavors of mine, but I really loved the rich porkiness of his.

We also ordered plantain empanadas and two Salvadoran corn tamales - one steamed and one, at the waitress's suggestion, fried. [The Man I Love] also ordered a side of Salvadoran chorizo - these were three short plump links similar to Oaxacan chorizo - rich, dark, almost winey tasting with a hint of herb and orange peel, the ground pork dark, dry and crumbly.

The tamales were solid clumps of masa with a few whole corn kernels mixed in. They were light, yet bland, and served with a dollop of crema - sour cream. The fried ones were tastier, with their outer bits crispy and brown. The empanadas were small football-shaped things, fried crisp and containing molten sweetness.

It was a starchy lunch - we couldn't finish it all, but it was darned good. While we ate, the little girl at the table nearby made a break for it, toddling as fast as she could across the room. Her father scooped her up and brought her back to the table, stopping by on the way so she could wave hello at us.

Stuffed just enough but not too much, we wandered back out on the street and strolled along Figueroa. The neighborhood is mixed - rocker/hipster funk mingles with working class Latino. A magnificent old Masonic temple advertises its ballroom for rent for parties and quincineras.

Tattoo parlors thrive next door to Mexican juice bars. There was a store selling futbol attire and equipment, and perhaps the only remaining typewriter repair shop in America. On our walk back to the train station we passed a gourmet pizza cafe and a botanica advertising itself as "New Age" and a tiny produce stand.

We waved goodbye at Chicken Boy before we got back on the train.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Our Lady of the Roses

Click to "embiggen"

A wonderful Guadalupe mural on a florist's shop in Highland Park, at Figueroa and N. Avenue 57. What better advertisement for roses?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Learned habits

Our son is back with us for the summer, after getting his bachelor's degree and before going on to graduate school in the fall.

Two weeks after he began his freshman term, he met his girlfriend, K, whom we adore. They've been together ever since, although maintaining separate residences until the last six months. K's lease on her apartment ended in December, so from January until this May, she moved into our son's place with him and his roommates.

This fall they will be living together in London when he goes to grad school.

Being in a solid relationship and living with a female person has altered Our Son's living habits - this is a lesson in the power of young love that humbles a mother's heart. True love has managed to do what a lifetime of my nagging could not do - Our Son now habitually puts the toilet seat down and closes the toilet lid.

I would applaud this, except there's a little problem.

We have a dog now. Dogs like clean fresh water. When [The Man I Love] and I leave the house to go to work and leave our dog behind, what better source of clean fresh water is there than the reservoir contained in the nice, cool, white porcelain basin that resides in our hallway bathroom?

It's much fresher than the shallow dog-dish of stagnant tap water by the dish of kibble in the kitchen.

Over the last few months, we've learned to flush the toilet in that bathroom, and leave the lid and the door open to provide fresh water for Jack if we're leaving the house for a long period of time.

But now that Our Son is home, he forgets and the dog is left in the house with only lukewarm, stagnant water for refreshment.

We've been nagging Our Son about it for the last week or so. "Hey!" we'll say. "I thought I told you to leave the toilet seat up!!!!"

I predict that he won't break himself of this habit until August....just a few weeks before he moves to London for grad school, and moves back in with K.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thematic Photographic - Geometric

We're back with "Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is Geometric. Check in and see who else contributes photos based on this idea.

Here the expanding rays of a palm leaf create a geometric image against the sun.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Garden tools

A few months ago, I began writing regular articles about gardening at The Women's Colony, a communal blog for women inspired by and lead by the admirable Mrs. G. Sadly, the blog has disbanded. This article was to be my next submission.

If you'd like to read my earlier efforts, you can go here - As long as the archive remains online, you can read my submissions.

Garden tools on a well-organized rack in a Los Angeles garden

If you want to make a garden, you’re going to need tools. What kind of tools are essential for a beginning gardener?

1) A garden spade. A spade is not a shovel. Shovels scoop up material so that you can move it from place to place. A garden spade cuts into the sod and breaks the earth. Spades come with curved or straight blades. I like a curved-blade spade with a point on it to cut new ground, and a narrow, straight blade spade for digging in an established garden bed. You’ll use it to dig up and divide perennials, or dig holes for shrubs. A good spade with a strong blade and a sturdy rolled edge to brace your foot is a great tool that makes gardening easier.

My border spade

2) A pruner. Felco pruners are the industry standard, and they’re expensive, but you can find cheap imitators that are almost as good. To keep plants healthy, you need to prune them, and to do it right, you need a good, strong, precise cut. Look for a bypass pruner, where the blades pass one another like a pair of scissors, rather than an anvil pruner, where the cutting blade impacts a thickened base. You’ll use your pruners for cutting flowers for the vase, for cutting back plants, and for shaping shrubs.

A collection of hand tools in a Los Angeles garden

3) A hand trowel and hand fork. You’ll need these for delicate work with seedlings, small plants, potting things up, and even selective weeding. You can find them in metal or sturdy plastic. One good reason to buy plastic ones is that your husband won’t steal them to use in his charcoal grill!

4) A wheelbarrow. Gardeners tote all kinds of heavy things around the yard, especially in bags – mulch, manure, compost. It’s much easier in a wheelbarrow. Potted plants can be wheeled from place to place instead of carried. When I used to mulch my garden with aged cow manure, my wheelbarrow made it easy. Use your wheelbarrow to collect pruning and cleaning debris, and wheel it to the compost pile. My wheelbarrow is a construction model made of heavy-duty orange plastic with sturdy wooden handles.

5) A watering can. I have two – one is a green plastic French can, and the other is a classic galvanized metal one straight out of Peter Rabbit. I’ve lost the “rose” – the attachment with tiny holes that goes on the spout to create soft gentle streams of water, but even so, my watering can is a great tool to direct water where it needs to go, with better control than a hose.

All these tools are wonderful, but there’s another tool, in my opinion, that is simply indispensable for a gardener, beyond any other tool. It’s a garden journal.

My garden journal. Click to "embiggen"

A journal can be a notebook, a binder, or even just a collection of notes. I keep a garden journal in a blank book, like a diary. And it is indeed a diary – I record whatever happens in the garden. When plants bloom, how long seeds take to germinate, or whether a plant performs as expected. I also record weather, like the first frost or an unusual storm or wind. I use my journal to note what I should do in the future – maintenance, or a note to move a plant at the right time. I write about garden visits, and hints people share. I record attractive plantings I see while walking down the street. I take notes from articles to remind myself to look for plants in catalogs or nurseries.

Rose ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ in my Topanga garden

In April of 1993 I wrote, “Erythroniums blooming – have been for 2-4 days now. One “Kentucky Derby” dwarf iris has a bud. …Where is my purple martagon lily? This is a mystery. There are lots of shoots of Asiatic [lily] “Sterling Silver” but no sign of the big martagon that looked so huge and vigorous last year…[my neighbor] Crystal tells me slugs love sunflowers, so you need to start them indoors and bait them well when you set them out…”

My Seattle garden with Erythronium ‘Bowles Mauve’, heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and Iris pallida zebrina

Sometimes there were failures – “The pink [lilies] from B & D have been stomped by cats and dogs…” or “The aphids are here…..”

A vegetable garden patch in a Los Angeles garden

A journal is useful to mark annual occurrences . 4/11/93, I wrote, “we ate the first salad of the year.” I used to walk in my garden every New Year’s Day and write down what was in bloom, or what things looked like. In 1994, I wrote “Cyclamen balearicum is unfurling new little leaves….Cyclamen coum’s magenta buds, which have been visible since October, are now rearing up, erect, in preparation to bloom.”

Cyclamen buds

In 1995, “Pink primrose. [The] gold-laced one has had [its]petals nibbled. Primula denticulata on S. side, leaves have been damaged by too much rain, but in the center of each rosette is the flowerhead, like a cauliflower nestled there…. Anemone ‘de Caen’ leaves up like parsley in the North bed near rose ‘Reine des Violettes.’” Sometimes it’s just useful to record impressions, as this April ’93 entry: “The petals of [dwarf iris] ‘Rangerette’ have such a luster in the sun, almost metallic….Iris pallida zebrina is so fragrant I can smell it across the garden.” And 1/21/94 – “Two perfect days!”

Lavender and daylilies in my Topanga garden

At the time when my gardening was the most productive, and even somewhat of an obsession with me, each day I made a point of walking around the garden to see what was going on – while dinner cooked, perhaps, or at the end of the work day, I would tell my husband and son I was going on a “garden ramble,” and wander through the yard making note of what was up, what was in bloom, what needed staking or dividing. I’d take my pruners with me so I could dead-head the roses or perhaps cut some flowers for the table.

This nursery shed is owned by a Pasadena gardener

In winter when it was too cold and dark to garden, I used my journal to plan future plantings, or just dream about garden ideas.

Diagrams of plantings

The pages are full of drawings and diagrams – some sketches of plants together, and in other cases plan-views of the garden beds with round blobs representing plants.

My Seattle garden with rose ‘Just Joey’ and Macleaya cordata.

After visiting one plantswoman’s garden in June, where I admired her collection of alpine plants grown in containers, I wrote myself a reminder to look for chimney pots at an antique store she had mentioned – she stood the open-bottomed pots upright and filled them with a fast-draining gritty soil, to please her finicky darlings. After another visit, I noted a stunning combination of black mondo grass planted beneath the Ceonathus “Diamond Heights, showing off its dark green leaves variegated with bright chartreuse. In one journal, after attending a lecture at the Center for Urban Horticulture, I wrote in my journal in huge capital letters – “COW MANURE!!!” followed by the name and phone number of the supplier used by a fellow gardener.

My Seattle garden at an early stage

You might prefer to keep your garden journal on your laptop instead of using pen and paper. I haven’t bothered to look if there are any applications for garden record-keeping available – but I imagine there might be. Today with digital cameras, it’s easy to include photographic records, too. But I think I will stick with a diary-type journal. Although I’m quite happy with the computer, there’s something nice about a bound diary to record your impressions by pen or pencil. It’s portable, and you can take it with you as you walk through the garden. You needn’t worry about spray from the hose or crumbs of soil damaging it – those muddy smears and water-dappled pages are just as evocative a record as your written words.

This neatly kept potting bench is far too tidy to be mine!

Your garden journal will guide the way for future years of gardening. When I go back and read my old journals, I am amazed at what I find there – I really seemed to know what I was doing! Your garden journal also preserves your garden for the ages. Gardens are such fleeting, transitory pleasures. Your garden will live in your journal’s pages. When you lay down the secateurs for the last time, you’ll treasure your garden journals, for the memories and the knowledge they contain.