Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lion's Tail

People are always asking me about this plant which grows on either side of my garage door so I thought I would blog about it. It is called Leonotis leonurus or Lion's Tail and is a member of the Lamiaceae family (think mint). It is also known as Lion's Ear or Wild Dagga. It needs little or no watering during the dry season although if truth be told, regular weekly watering does keep it looking its best. It is a shrub that can grow to 6 feet, but I cut mine way down in the winter to keep it from getting too big and to encourage new green growth. Otherwise it gets a little twiggy. It is in full bloom right now and will bloom well into the fall. The bees but especially the hummingbirds adore its tube-like flowers. You will be dive-bombed by the hummingbirds if you get too close. It is not a native California plant, but comes from Southern and Southeastern Africa as do many of the plants we grow here because of the similar temperatures and conditions. It seeds itself like crazy and as a matter of fact, I only planted this one and the two on the other side of the garage door planted themselves.

Other members of the Lamiaceae family include the garden herbs rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, and catnip. You can tell them by their square stems. The leaves grow opposite each other with each pair at right angles to the one below. The flowers come in whorls at the upper portion of the stem.

The only problem I have with the plant, other than having to pull out all the little plantlets that spring up underneath it, is its attraction to whiteflies and by extension ants. This has only happened one summer and now at the first sign of an infestation I cut the stems back again. Washing the leaves down when I water it also helps to keep the insects off of it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Three Summer Soups

Summer is here! Although it hasn't gotten very hot in LA yet, my thoughts have turned to light summer meals that don't require a lot of cooking. Here are three of my favorite cold summer soups.

The first two are adapted from the book, Raw, by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein. This is a beautiful cookbook (?). Cookbook isn't the right word because none of the recipes inside involve cooking. Everything is raw as the title indicates, although they do make good use of a dehydrator. Their definition of raw is food that has not been heated to higher than 118 degrees F. The idea is not to kill all of the beneficial enzymes which help you to digest the food and which also act as catalysts for the metabolic reactions that take place in the body. I am not a total advocate of eating everything raw, but I do find that for me raw fish and raw salads, etc. are very easy on the digestion. When I had to cook the life out of everything my husband ate, the meals sat very heavy on the stomach.

The soup pictured above is a creamy cauliflower soup made with raw cauliflower. It's very simple and easy to make if you have a good blender. It's basically chopped cauliflower, water, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt. I made mine with a special Vinaigre de Banyuls, a sweet vinegar, imported from France. If you want to make this soup, use a good quality vinegar. It makes a huge difference in the flavor. Just throw everything in the blender and voila! You can top it with all kinds of things. I love a drizzle of olive oil on my soups and also used frizzled leeks (recipe from Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen) for this one. Cauliflower comes in various colors, too. This week I had orange soup and I can't wait to try purple. The taste is the same, just the color is different. Someone suggested that broccoli might be used in the same recipe, but although I haven't tried it, I think the broccoli would not be as creamy.

The second soup is simplicity itself, just cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt thrown into a blender. I use either English cucumbers or Japanese cucumbers and I peel them partly in zebra stripes. Cucumbers are highly recommended for their potassium content by the author of Fiber Menace, Konstantin Monastyrsky. He makes a cucumber juice drink which is very similar to this soup and has some every day. He says that it is potassium and not the proverbial 8 glasses of water per day that keep constipation away. Good elimination notwithstanding, this is a very elegant soup and I would eat it anyway. Here it is paired with rolled slices of roast beef from the deli and topped with raw milk goat cheese for a perfect lunch with no cooking involved.

The third soup does invlove some cooking and is higher in carbs. I had all these beets collecting in my vegetable bin because I would eat the tops and store away the bulbs. What to do with them? Soup! This one was adapted from the recipe for chilled beet soup in The Book of Yogurt by Sonia Uvezian. I bought this book back when I was making my own yogurt (which I have started doing again, by the way). Instead of yogurt, I used coconut milk. I should have written the recipe down because I made quite a few changes from the original. For example, no potatoes and no broth. I steamed the beets and peeled them, sautéed some onions in coconut oil, added the beets, lemon juice, a little chopped cucumber, coconut milk, and enough water to make it the consistency I wanted. I used my hand-held blender and turned it into a pink creamy delight right in the pot. Then, of course, it had to be chilled. The beets became even more frothy after being chilled so the soup was very thick.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gedifra Top

What do you do when you finish a project and finally get to try it on for the first time, and then you decide you don't like it? I finished Gedifra 706 a couple of weeks ago but it is just sitting on my cedar chest right now while I decide what to do with it. It's OK, I guess, but it doesn't send me. It looks pretty much like the picture, but I don't like how it looks on me. I feel like the Jolly Green Giant wearing it. I think it's too long, too. I have an idea for shortening it on the side with the crocheted flowers. In fact, a closer look at their picture makes me think that they did the same thing. I think I need to widen the armholes a bit, too.

Progress on Gedifra 848 is coming along nicely, and I think I will love this one when it is done. The Top Soft yarn is so soft! I have finished the back and half of the front. Since there are no sleeves, I only need to do the turtle neck after that and it's done. I'm hoping it will be done for my trip back east in July.

I am on jury duty this week, but so far have not had to report to the courthouse. In CA, you are on call for one week and if you get called in, it's one day or one trial. Unfortunately, knitting needles are not allowed in the courthouse so if I do have to report, I won't get any knitting done and knitting helps to pass the time better than anything else!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lunada Canyon

My friend Joan invited me to join her on a walk through "her" canyon last week. Joan and two other of her friends have volunteered to be "keepers" of the canyon. The Lunada Canyon Preserve is under the stewardship of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy which is trying to restore the canyon to its original state. To that end they have removed invasive, non-native species and planted hundreds of coastal California native plants. Joan's job as keeper is to walk the trail through the canyon once a month and complete a report on the condition of the trail and plants. Joan had asked me to help her identify some of the plants and since I am by no means an expert, I found this to be a welcome opportunity to learn something new.

Luckily the plantings were done in 2004-2005 when we had a lot of rainfall and the plants were able to get established before this summer of drought started. There was no funding for an irrigation system. Everything looked extremely dry to me and it is only June. It will be a long time before any of these plants get any appreciable water. What amazes me about California natives is their ability to survive under these very harsh conditions. Like deciduous plants in more northern latitudes, these plants can look totally dead in the dry season and then "spring" back to life when the rains start again.

We equipped ourselves with maps and photos of the plants that the Conservancy had listed and of course, my trusty camera, and headed out for a very pleasant afternoon hike. Joan had made metal tags to put on certain plants to help her identify them again in the future. We looked and felt very professional and laughed at our inexperience.

For those who may want to know just which plants the Conservancy planted, which plants they consider to be native not only to the southern coast of California but to our little peninsula, here is the complete list. If you live in Southern California, you may want to consider these for your back yard. They are all extremely drought tolerant and some of the flowers are lovely and unusual. And several of them like the artemisia and sages have wonderful smells. These are the sorts of plants that my other friend Kathy grows in her yard.

Artemisia californica—CA sagebrush
Artemisia douglasiana—Mugwort
Baccharis salicifolia—Mulefat
Dudleya lanceolata—Live-for-ever
Encelia californica—CA Bush sunflower
Epilobium canum—CA Fuschia
Eriogonum fasciculatum—CA Buckwheat
Eschscholzia californica—CA Poppy
Hazardia squarrosa—Sawtooth Goldenbush
Isocoma menziesii—Coast Goldenbush
Isomeris arborea—Bladderpod
Leymus condensatus—Giant Rye Grass
Mimulus longiflorus—Sticky Monkeyflower
Rhus integrifolia—Lemonadeberry
Salix lasiolepis—Arroyo Willow
Salvia leucophylla—Purple Sage
Salvia melifera—Black Sage
Sambucus mexicana—Mexican Elderberry

The above photo on the right is of a lupine. Lupines are not on the list so this one was not planted by the Conservancy and has somehow managed to survive or seed itself in the canyon on its own. There are over 60 species of lupine in California and I have had no luck tracking this one down yet. I love lupines and have to stop and take photos of them whenever I find them usually along mountain roads. The photo above left is Salvia leucophylla or Purple Sage and the one below is Isomeris arborea or Bladderpod.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


When I was in Arizona for Memorial Day weekend, I taught my grandson and daughter-in-law how to make the looping wire sculptures like Ruth Asawa. I had gathered all the materials I would need and brought them with me. The dowels were the easy part. Home Depot has 4-foot long dowels of various diameters and will cut them to whatever lengths you want. The wire was more of a problem. Home Depot had wire that was much thinner and much thicker than the 22-gauge that we used in the demonstration by Asawa's daughter Aiko Cuneo. has wire of all sizes and composition, but there wasn't time to place an order with them. (It'a amazing what you can find on Amazon!) I finally found some galvanized 22-gauge wire at JoAnn Fabrics and that is what we used.

My grandson really enjoyed working on his project and decided to create something of his own when he finished the basic bowl. He decided it was really a bird's nest and formed a bird out of wire to sit in it. My daughter-in-law turned her bowl into a candle holder. I was curious to try Asawa's technique of flaring the wire out and then skipping a row to see what would happen. My finished project serves no purpose whatsoever, but it was fun doing it!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How to De-Stress

I played my last symphony concert of the season last night and now I get a break, but not a very long one because summer concerts are close at hand. This spring I have been plagued by a sore neck on the left side and have tried everything I can think of to alleviate it—massage, a heated herbal-scented comfort pack, Arnica gel, Yoga (but no Tylenol. I am a very stubborn lady and am totally against drugs). The problem started with toting a heavy bag through the Salt Lake City airport, but has been exacerbated by my violin playing. I found that I tend to really clamp down hard on the chinrest when I play. So I plan to give it a rest for a week or so. I suspect it is not just a pulled muscle though, I probably have arthritis in my neck as well.

This past week, I was in a lot of pain at rehearsals and got very fatigued by the end of the week. Having rehearsals that go til 10:30 pm doesn't help. I read in the LA Times a week ago that a doctor had great success giving ginger supplements to people with arthritis, so I have been drinking ginger tea every day. I just grate some ginger into my Bodum teapot and add hot water. I like it straight but it is also good with a teaspoon of raw honey. It seems to be working! Last night at the concert, I was fine. No pain at all, although this morning is a different story. I guess a little adrenaline helps, too.

My current read is a book about cortisol, the other "fight or flight" hormone. The title is The Cortisol Connection and according to the author, Shawn Talbott, constantly raised cortisol levels is the root of all health evils from obesity and diabetes to arthritis, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's. Essentially, he says, and he is not the first to say so, our high-stress life-styles are killing us. I am only half-way through the book so at this point I am not making any recommendations. I already have a couple of objections to his thesis—one is the diet he recommends (not low-carb) and the other is all the herbal supplements. Here is one more author saying that people can't stick to a diet or exercise routine and therefore need to take a pill instead. But at the beginning of the book, he clearly lays out the possible reasons for our elevated cortisol levels and the consequences to our health.

Note to Grace, my daughter, and daughter-in-law: The people with the highest levels of stress-related diseases are working moms! But you knew that, right?

So I plan to spend my day today trying to reduce my cortisol levels that have been raised by all those nighttime rehearsals which disrupt my circadian rhythm, the intensity of the work itself, and the pain in my neck. I usually am totally wiped out the morning after a big concert but my new low-carb diet has helped my energy levels considerably. The Yoga, stretching, and strength-training has helped, too. I tried doing some knitting yesterday to relax, but after having to rip back the last three rows four times, I realized I wasn't getting very relaxed! I could watch a movie, but the current Netflix movie that I have in the house (Pan's Labyrinth) is R rated and probably will raise my cortisol levels even higher. Our brains can call for more cortisol even if we just imagine a stressful event.

For me, browsing the Internet is very relaxing, but constantly using the mouse hurts my neck because my right hand is stretched out for long periods. (I do have an ergonomic keyboard.) Gardening is great for helping me to relax, too, so I may do some of that later today. But what I really want to do is try out a new Yoga DVD that I bought when I bought the Cortisol book—Yoga for Beauty with Rainbeau Mars. (Imagine having a name like that—Rainbeau Mars. And she lives in Hawaii, too, one of the most relaxing places on Earth.) I have her earlier set of DVDs, Sacred Yoga Practice, and do the Pure Tranquility routine from that set often, especially during concert weeks.

A nice stretch followed by hot ginger tea... Mmmmm!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Curves of Steel

I seem to be on a museum kick. While in Arizona last weekend, we decided to go to the Phoenix Art Museum to spend an afternoon in an air-conditioned atmosphere. What else do you do when it is 104 degrees outside? When we got there we found that a lot of other Arizonans had the same idea. Plus there was a special exhibit going on called Curves of Steel showing some very classy cars mostly from the 1930s that was attracting people's attention. Photographing the cars was not allowed so you'll have to go to the website to see these stunning cars. The exhibit ends tomorrow so if you live in the Phoenix area, I recom-mend that you check it out.

Along with the cars, was a display of the high fashion dresses that went with the era and with driving one of these autos. Photos were allowed in this area, so I took a few. Seeing these dresses and especially the gloves reminded me that I have inherited some high-fashion designs myself from my husband's aunt. I have them stored away and don't know if I will ever wear them.

The museum has undergone some expansion since I was there last in 2004. I hardly recognized the place. A new wing has been added that houses a lot of contemporary art. For me, this was the most fun part of the museum. Photos were allowed and the quirky artwork inspired me to try my hand at quirky photography. As usual in museums, no flash is allowed or the use of a tripod, not to mention the fact that there were people everywhere, but this just increases the challenge. I'm not sure the results are all that noteworthy, but it was fun.

This is a work by Cornelia Parker called Mass (Colder Darker Matter). It was done in 1997. (A similar and earlier work, Cold Dark Matter, hangs in the Tate Gallery, London.) My shot only shows the central portion of this work. It actually fills an entire room and consists of pieces of charcoal suspended from the ceiling by invisible thread to form a cube shape with the center being dense and full and the outer edges more sparse. The charcoal is actually the charred remains of a Texas church that was struck by lightning. The title suggests the cold, dark matter which fills the universe and also a spiritual gathering as well as the solids and voids that are the basis of the sculpture.

Another room-size sculpture was the favorite attraction of a lot of the young people in attend-ance. In fact, we were directed to this room as a "don't miss it" exhibit by the museum guard who struck up a conversation with us as we waited in line to buy our tickets. It certainly did appeal to my young grandson and I found it fascinating, too! You walk into a dark room lined with black mirrors. Hanging from the ceiling are tiny lights suspended by that invisible thread again (like nylon fishing tackle). The lights change from full color to white only and from low to high intensity. As you walk through (you can't see where you are going, you can't even find the exit!), you set the lights swirling and with all the mirrors you feel you are in a swarm of fireflies. The work is by Yayoi Kusama and is called You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies. Ms. Kusama has done other works on the subject of fireflies. This one is dated 2005, a very recent work. My photo does not do it justice at all. I wasn't sure I would get anything when I took the picture. It was a very long exposure and there was nothing for me to lean against for support. Kusama is definitely an artist whose work I would like to explore further.

Friday, June 1, 2007


My weekend in Arizona gave me the chance to get caught up on some of my knitting and crochet projects. I finished the knitting and crochet part of Gedifra 706 from Highlights 051, but I still need to block it and sew the pieces together. And I have started Gedifra 848 from Highlights 061. The Top Soft yarn is so much easier to work with than the California Like that I used for the 706 pattern with all the little ribbons attached to it. And it is very soft! I did enjoy using my dusty crocheting skills for the flowers in California Color, though. I'll show photos in a few days.

My 10-year old grandson and I also finished his Pikachu which we started at Christmas time. Generally, I would get a piece started for him and he would finish it. At the end, I did all the sewing together so if it doesn't look like the Pikachu you know, it's my fault, not my grandson's. There weren't any pictures with the pattern probably due to copyright concerns. Anyway, he is delighted with the results. He was so pleased with himself that on his own he went looking for more free patterns on the Internet and found the delightful Things pictured above. After getting him started on his first one, he took over and finished it by himself including the sewing. (I think his Mom sewed on the button eyes for him.) He has now become a crocheting expert, has the pattern memorized, and is churning out Things for everyone!

Meanwhile, my daughter sent me a picture of Baby C. in the raglan sweater that I made for him. It finally fits him!