I’m often fascinated by the stretch of highway halfway between Los Angeles and Mammoth Lakes Basin. Going north, it starts as a nondescript drive through miles of arid desert before the majestic peaks of the Eastern Sierra Nevada come into view. And it’s here, on a random turn-off from the highway, where one of the most seismically active regions in the country resides.
Fennel is found in the wild all over California, and much to my amazement, many people consider it a weed… an aromatic, anise-flavored weed.
I grew a small patch of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in my garden this past spring, but my neighbor across the street has fennel growing en masse on his property. Every summer, as the flowers start blooming in abundance (and releasing the seeds that make it such a notorious weed), I watch him cut down stands of tall, leggy stalks, sending the sweet scent of fennel through the air and into our yard. The plants come back anew in winter, and by summer, we have flowers again.
Fennel originated on the shores of the Mediterranean, making the California coast an ideal environment for this perennial plant to thrive. It’s become naturalized along our seashores and riverbanks, growing year round in our dry, mild climate. And while fennel is classified as an invasive in this part of the world, it’s actually an important food source for our pollinators, which are highly attracted to its umbels (umbrella-shaped flowers).
We usually treat fennel as a spice (for its dried seeds), an herb (for its fragrant leaves), or a vegetable (for its tender bulb), and most of its uses revolve around cultivated varieties like Florence fennel and bronze fennel. Wild fennel doesn’t grow a bulb at its base (at least, not one that we’d enjoy eating), but it does offer its own bounty: fresh, warm, golden pollen.
The five little things that made my week…
1. A harvest of Mexican Sour Gherkin cucumbers. Sometimes I’ll trick friends into trying one by saying it’s a mini watermelon.
Before a cookbook was ever even a glimmer in the back of my mind, I’d always envisioned cookbook shoots to be high-intensity, elaborate affairs requiring a village to create. And in some cases, this is true.
My hubby Will used to recount that in his early days of photography, fresh out of school, he assisted a Williams-Sonoma shoot that took over an entire house. He was only one of three photo assistants on set, alongside the photographer and the art director, prop stylist, food stylist, and all of their assistants. They would spend upwards of 2 to 3 weeks shooting everything they needed to shoot, working 10- to 12-hour days back to back. It was a huge production.
Fast forward 12 years later, and his next cookbook shoot would involve neither a lavish location rental nor a herd of assistants, but myself, two pugs, and a pile of props packed into a corner of our living room.
Why am I starting off a story about backpacking with a nearly nude picture of myself? Because when you’re in the middle of the wild with no one else around, skinny dipping in an alpine lake is something you have to check off the list at least once, if not every time. It is, quite indescribably, one of the highest peaks of life!
A few weeks ago we went on our first backpacking trip of the year, a three-day jaunt through the John Muir Wilderness in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. I used to tell friends that if they wanted to witness the beauty, majesty and solitude of the Sierra, they had to work for it — hiking for miles to escape the crowds and reach the solace of stunning places they normally only saw in the movies. And for the most part, this is still true; the full experience of the mountains can only be found with a pack on your back and a little huffing and puffing to get there.
Just off Highway 395 from one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of towns, you can reach one of the most marvelous wildernesses the High Sierra has to offer in less than a mile with very little elevation gain. In fact, it’s almost a sin how easily you can access the alpine grandeur of this area.
Today we’re going to dive into the sex life of squash. But it’s not as skeevy as it sounds.
Have you ever wondered why we usually only see the male blossoms of squash (the ones with the long stems) at farmers’ markets? Or why some flowers turn into cucumbers, while others fall off the vine? Or why a corn on the cob will have missing kernels on its end? The answer to all this is pollination — or as I like to call it, flower sex.
Bug (short for Bebe pug) is my 11-year-old second-born daughter. (The first being my 12-year-old pug.) She’s a purebred, born from a line of AKC champion pugs, but with that came the typical hereditary joint diseases of overly bred “perfect” pugs.
Don’t get me wrong; Bug is perfect in every which way and I wouldn’t trade her in for anything. But raising her these last few years, especially, has taught me a lot about dog health and nutrition as both my girls settle into their senior years.
Just before she turned 8, Bug started showing signs of degenerative joint disease. Her hips would give out a little every time she walked. She grew up in one-story homes with hard floors, and after the move to our current house, the split-level rooms and terraced yard seemed to exacerbate her condition.
Over the years, her weak hips eventually gave out and she lost the use of both of her back legs. At home, she moves around by dragging her body with her front legs (she has the strongest front legs of any dog I know!). When she’s out and about, she rolls around in a wheelchair and we can barely keep up with her. I almost expect her wheelchair to have flame decals!
If you just saw her sitting, you wouldn’t know that she had a handicap; she’s full of smiles and high spirits, and doesn’t seem to realize that she can’t walk on all fours like her sister can. She’s still a speedy little thing, especially when it’s meal time or beach day!