One Yard Wonders – February


By the hair on my chinny chin chin, I got both of these projects completed this weekend. To be honest, I loved the cauliflower recipe. I love veggies just about anyway you give them to me. I went to an international dinner party of sorts last night, hosted by a Sri Lankan friend, and ended up bringing the cauli as an appetizer. I followed your recipe and then threw in all in the blender with a bit of chicken stock (minus the capers) and brought crackers. It was adored! Bravo!

OYW Cooking Challenge -- Feb

As for that folklore bag, I don’t know if I am just out of practice or grouchy from TOO MUCH YOGA. Phew. Needed to scream that. (Ask me how I feel about “namaste” sometime and I’m likely to bite your head off. I am loving this challenge and yet there are days when I cannot for the life of me catch my breath.)

One Yard Wonder Challenge

Anyway – the folklore bag was a chore to make. Not just the tissue paper patterns, which wisely I will now store in Ziplock bags, but also because I found the directions a bit tedious. I am hesitant to criticize, but I will just say it is not my favorite pattern.

It is, however, going to one of my favorite people. The end result is cute enough and on its way to Aimee, who may just be the world’s best advocate for animals. She is beyond sweet and I’ve wanted to return a touch of the kindness she’s sent my way over the years. An elephant bag with bee-print lining is just the ticket.

One Yard Wonder Challenge

Now, what’s up for March? I’ve got a recipe or two in mind. (Think Irish and bread.) And did you pick a winner? I’ve got an idea for that too…



P.S. More than a little excited I get to see you and the Bubba in a couple weeks!

Like the Forest


I’ve been volunteering with the Phoenix Permaculture Guild for about a year. Basically, we are a group who love to garden. Otherwise, our views and backgrounds couldn’t vary more. One of the men I often sit with at our meetings is a gazillionaire Republican businessman who likes to talk and talk and say again Arizona “not having enough water” is a myth. He has charts and his own data, no less.

Anyway — I truly enjoy this gumbo of gardeners. A member of the organization sent a brilliant email today addressing this and I thought I’d share for those interested. It’s long, but well worth it!

Liz Lonetti writes:

“Permaculture is NOT about individual techniques that might save energy or anything like that (like gardening, changing out lightbulbs, or even rainwater harvesting) it is about creating systems that solve many problems at one time while creating surpluses that further feed the system and contribute to long term sustainability and viability.  If that doesn’t exactly make sense – the example I like to give is that of the forest.

Back in the age of free love, it occurred to Bill Mollison (founder of permaculture who was an ecologist studying the forest ecosystems in Australia) that there was a vast difference between the way the forest worked as system and the way human’s civilization does – the immediate contrast was in the production of food (hence the name Perma[nent Agri]culture).  Our system is a one way consumption of water, soil and other resources requiring massive inputs in the form of fertilizers and pesticides to gain paltry outputs of grain and other staple foods that are then shipped great distances.  By comparison the ecology of the forest is one that is incredibly abundant in both animal and plant matter and is also quite stable over hundreds of years without any outside inputs necessary (no person is out spreading fertilizer in the forest, but the trees drop leaves and the animals and soil organisms create the soil fertility for ‘free’).  Mollison’s idea was to try to create a way for people to learn from those stable systems and apply that to the way we live.

That being said, there are a number of creative ways people incorporate specific techniques to accomplish this ‘systems’ thinking in their own lives.  Examples:

Compost – composting takes something that is considered a ‘waste product’ (like say leaves in the forest) and recognize it for what it is – an underutilized resource for building soil health, feeding microorganizms and putting organic matter in our desert soils.  In my case it also attracts some amount of insects that help feed my chickens and increased my garden’s fertility giving me a better quantity and quality of food.  It also saves me from having to purchase chemical fertilzers, supporting agribusiness companies that don’t share my ethics and values.

Microlivestock– If you’re going to have the hassle of having a pet – why not have one that also contributes to our urban ecosystems?  Chickens are an example of an urban pet that will do well in a typical backyard, happily eating weeds, grass (and your veggies!), and insects while distributing free fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and turning over your soil.  You are rewarded with fresh eggs for a minimal amount of input to this micro system.  My ladies keep the urban orchards weed free while benefiting from the shade and protection provided by the tree cover and cleaning up the occasional dropped fruits.

Edible Landscaping – by incorporating yummy plants into your existing landscape, you are now getting much more productivity for the same amount of inputs.  for example, by converting a grass lawn to food production, you can create something that is beautiful, productive, contributes to your health with high nutrient foods, connects you to the seasons of the place you live, gets you out to meet your neighbors, provides food that contributes nothing to global climate change as there were no trucks or chemical fertilizers involved with delivering these calories to your table.  It gives you a place to put your compost and other ‘waste’ products to good use (cardboard, paper, etc), diverting that from our landfills.

Urban Orchards – Fruit trees planted in your yard strategically can provide a lot more than just fruit.  They can help shade your house to lower AC costs, creating a cooling microclimate around your house.  If you’ve planted deciduous trees, they will allow winter sunlight into your home to help warm it as well.  A well planted tree can also provide a wind block keeping drying winds away from tender garden spaces or a funnel to encourage breezes into your favorite patio seating spot.  Leaves and trimmings can be composted or fed to livestock, which in turn will provide more fertilizer to the trees.

Can you see how all these things mentioned so far are interconnected?  You can weave these individual strategies together to contribute essential resources to each other making the entire system more stable and productive.  A short listing of other techniques that can be woven into our lifestyle include:

Repair, Reuse and Repurpose
Using Urbanite, reclaimed wood and other salvaged material instead of new
Creative repurposing of items like tubs or cattle troughs for planters or garden ponds
Collecting Coffee Grounds from your local barista to use on your gardens
Right house right location – smaller homes in town are more efficient on many levels than mini-mansions on the outskirts of town
Promoting Genetic Diversity
Polyculture plantings
Open source and heirloom seeds
Zone Design – thinking about how we use space and placing components appropriately
Rainwater Harvesting
Roof gutters can direct water to cisterns or directly into the ground to feed trees and plants
Patios, driveways and paths can be sloped to drain water into adjacent planting beds
Keeping water onsite reducing water runoff that contributes to contaminates to our natural water ways
Graywater Reuse
Running the washing machine or bath water to a grove of fruit trees
Energy Saving Strategies
Passive Energy
Added insulation
High Energy Windows
Shade Trees
Awnings and trellis covers
Turning off lights and appliances when not in use
Thick adobe style walls that help mitigate cooling/heating loads…
Active Energy
High efficiency Heating and Cooling units
Solar water heaters
Windmills, Solar Panels, etc
This list goes on and on and on, some strategies being lower impact on one’s ecological footprint (and wallet) than others
Backyard Habitat certification
Encourage native wildlife by planting some native plants (also can help conserve water)
Provide water and shelter for native insects that help pollinate the plants
Using Natural and EcoFriendly Building Products & Techniques
No VOC paints, clay or milk paints
Cob or straw bale construction
Natural fibers
Petroleum free products…
Locally Produced Products
Reduce transportation fuel needed by buying local
Supports local jobs
Alternative Transportation
Riding your bike or walking contributes positively to your health
Reduces fossil fuel use with people power or public transporation

There are lots more things that can be added, but this gives you a good basis for understanding that we’re looking for a bigger picture than just a pretty garden or a solar panel.  You certainly don’t need everything from this list, but the more you can add the better the sustainable example will be!”

I’m Not Old. I’m Vintage, Baby


Used this handy little tutorial last night, during a much needed crafty meeting of the minds with Kara, to create a bit of accessory love. I’m thinking of making a string of these on a long ribbon belt to be worn with spring dresses, as shown in the link.


But for now, it can rock the cardigan. It makes me feel a bit like a superhero.

Need a little color? POW! BAM! WOW!

For those on Twitter, I’ve been posting “dress of the day” for the last couple of weeks and it it is funny how much of a response it’s garnered. Everyone (men, church folk, family, friends, and this being twitter, lots of strangers) have let me hear their fashionista views. I have a new-found love of fashion as art, and a well-constructed and worn garment seems rare. Perhaps it is working in a university environment where I see the worst of fashion humanity waddle past my window. The ass crack! The knee-high Uggs! The skinny jeans on boys (most of whom have been misled and are, in fact, not skinny) and giant crocheted beanies on girls who all look like “The Hills” rejects. And my guess is 95% of those observed need to increase their pant size.

Damn kids these days!

It isn’t pretty. There are far too many whip cream Starbucks calorie traps being enjoyed on this campus for this much flesh to be in view.

And yes, I walk to school both ways up hill in the snow. But I do so in a great dress and on days with good balance, a pair of heels too.*


*And sometimes pants that are too small. Or too short — the curse of the tall girl. What? I’m in the 95%.


Nogales outreach

I spent Saturday working in Nogales, Arizona. It has a variety of economic and health issues — none unique to this border town. Nogales, Sonora — just across the imaginary line — is regularly plagued with disease that you rarely hear of in the US. Cholera, scurvy, malnutrition, etc.

When it rains, the poor drainage mixed with houses that have been built on top of each other, cause a catastrophe. The top soil has eroded. The water table is corrupt. A healthy existence is not easily found in a town where 500,000 push against a wall, waiting for their turn to cross.

Nogales outreach

With a group of volunteers, I helped in a medical clinic. I served as translator and quickly realized my Spanish skills are rusty at best. I need to find a Spanish podcast to regularly listen to and get back to a conversation group.


Nogales outreach

That said, there is something about this sort of work that makes me feel at peace. I hold hands, I listen intently and I truly love trying to figure out how we can help others. It hasn’t always been this way, but I am so glad it’s where I’ve arrived.

“The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something
that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my
strawberry souffle. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I
finally conquered it.”
–Julia Child


Where Zimbabwe + Meatloaf Collide

Three Happy Africans

This weekend a couple of Matt’s friends from home were in town. It’s golf week in Phoenix — which is typically the craziest and best week of the year for fans. The PGA event last week was in Tucson and this week is in Scottsdale. Lots of  of players and caddies — like Woody and Mick — are hanging around between events.

It was such a treat to meet two of Matt’s friends. He’s been immersed in my social scene since he arrived more than a year ago. He and Salty are like “brothers from another mother,” and they spend more time together than I spend with either of them. He’s also one of the family at Sunday dinner and has been overwhelmed by the number of friends here who truly missed him during his latest 5 month adventure into never-neverland. (Australia/Africa/NOT TEMPE)


Mexican Meatloaf

Mexican Meatloaf

Mexican Meatloaf

So, we had dinner a couple times this weekend with his “mates” and oh, how I loved it. Not only did they want to talk golf, which I have a slightly jaded love and respect for, but also Africa, politics and dumb things Matt did in high school. As you can imagine, it was a delight.

Counter view

In turn, they enjoyed a typical meal from my family cookbook: Mexican meatloaf, roasted sweet potatoes, french bread with rosemary garlic butter and brownies. Of course, brownies.

Without a doubt, I miss Africa.


One Yard Wonders: February

Awful horrible stupid tissue paper pattern

Dear Fin,

Okay, I have a big dirty secret to admit: there are times when I am so sick of sewing, I don’t look at my machine for months. When I left for Cancun December 15th, I tucked my machine and supplies away. They didn’t re-emerge until last night. I needed a break. You could tell in my work that I was bored and frankly, it gave me time to fall in love again with knitting. (Not to mention, this craft is much easier to take with you on said beach vacations.)

Awful horrible stupid tissue paper pattern

Yesterday when I pulled out my shiny new copy of “One Yard Wonders” for our sew-along this year I was utterly dismayed to find tissue paper patterns. Am I the only one who finds these insanely difficult to work with and store? Perhaps I don’t have the patience required. When I finally found the pieces, cut them out and refolded all the other giant sheets of tissue patterns, I realized there was absolutely no getting them back in the book’s tiny front pocket from which they had emerged.

Elephant pillow sham

The good news is — I’ve got the patterns cut and some super cute fabric to work with for this Folklore Bag. Isn’t this elephant print delightful? It is actually a giant pillow sham I received as a gift from a friend. I’ve been waiting to use it for just the right project. It’s folksy and fun and has elephants! Perfect.

Elephant pillow sham

Rant over. Hope you have the patience I’m missing!



$5 tomato

$5 tomato

$5 tomato

$5 tomato


Paired with some greens for dinner last night. The new farmer’s market at ASU started yesterday and I spent way too much money on way too little — but the flavors were wonderful. Plus, I’m learning that it is often not cost/time effective to do the best thing for your community (farmer’s markets, carpooling, low energy use electronics) but it is still the better option. And so, we very much enjoyed the $5 tomato — sliced with a bit of salt and savored before scallops and greens.

Today starts lent, and those who’ve been around for a while know that traditionally means the kickoff to Calculated Acts of Kindness (CAOK). I’ve done this for 4 years. This year, with a variety of new challenges in hand, I cannot. I fully believe CAOK is something you do regardless of the season and I hope my excessive efforts of the past have encouraged others. My one hiccup was the jaded feedback I’d misplaced humility to seek praise for good deeds. Noted. This year, my lenten journey will be private.

If you are participating in CAOK, I’m happy to praise you. Keep me posted on what you are doing!


Brownies: Boxed vs. Scratch

The issue that started this

The latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated featured a three-page spread on the author’s love of chewy brownies. She admitted boxed mix brownies are chewy and delicious and she didn’t see the point in making them from scratch. But, this being Cook’s Illustrated, getting it just right with your own ingredients was a challenge she couldn’t overlook.

Cook's Illustrated Recipe

With a weekend dance card full, I knew a brownie challenge was in order. I bought 2 boxed mixes – Ghirardelli is my favorite and made them exactly as the box says. (I am not always one to follow directions, but this time I put on my best scientist hat and tried to minimize my own touches.) Then I made two batches of the recipe listed – “Cracking the Code to Chewy Brownies.”

In a nudge to get more people to appreciate this magazine, I am intentionally NOT listing the recipe. If you love to cook and you aren’t reading CI, you should be. And if you want desperately to make these brownies, find this one issue. March/April 2010. Again, it will be worth your couple of dollars.

Boxed vs. scratch?


The results?

Matty, freshly home from Africa, helped me wrap up each set. Red were out of the box. Pink were homemade. I put them in gift bags with a few other goodies and over the weekend began receiving returned surveys. Which did they like more? Why? I had about 20 people play and 10 or so provided feedback more than the crumbly, “Brownies?! YUM!”

(Always appreciated, but not exactly helpful for this project.)

Sneak peek...

Wrapped and ready

A kitchen in the works...

Matty helps

Red vs. Pink

Brownies, wrapped

For the most part, it was a 50/50 split in who liked homemade vs. boxed. There was one significant problem in my experiment — I accidentally added too much salt to the homemade version. Some folks liked this, others thought it was gross.

I like the fact the $2 box mix is cost effective and takes 45 minutes total. I also like the cakey, beautiful shine and robust flavor to the homemade brownies, although they cost $6 a pan or so. For special occasions, I’ll stick with homemade. For the bulk of baking brownies, I remain a fan of the exceptional Ghirardelli box mix.

Your thoughts?



With sincerest apologies to all of my friends east of the Mississippi who are currently buried, this is the only white we are seeing in Tempe at the moment:

White February in AZ

White February in AZ

White February in AZ

White February in AZ

As a friend recently said, “I’m in Arizona because you don’t have to shovel sunshine.”*


*Feel free to remind my smug ass of this post come August.