Seedlings in repurposed containers
Garden of Eatin', Seeds & Seedlings

Seed Starting Containers You Already Have Around the House

I started my first seeds of the season last week — tomatoes, my favorite summer crop. I like to give them a head start by sowing the seeds indoors so that come March (if I’m lucky), I can harden them off and transplant them outside.

Right now I’m starting six varieties of tomatoes, a purple tomatillo, and a shishito pepper in 16 tiny seed starting pots recycled from years past. While 16 sounds like a reasonable number, it’s not uncommon for me to have upwards of 100 pots or more, of all sizes, once I’m in the thick of seed starting season. And, I rarely buy new pots.

Continue Reading

The dust bath: a chicken's idea of a spa day
Backyard Chickens, Health

More From the Chicken Spa: The Dust Bath

Update: Check out the video of my chicken taking a dust bath!

My chickens are quite the pampered ladies. Not only do they get the occasional spa treatment in the house, but they also get self-imposed spa days in the backyard.

Have you ever watched a chicken take a dust bath? It’s one of the most intriguing and entertaining things of raising your own flock. Watching this plump, rumpled, bouncy ball of feather luxuriate in the dirt, sometimes upside-down and sideways, groaning and purring in pure contentment, makes me almost want to roll around on the ground myself.

Continue Reading

Homemade citrus salt
Everyday Eats & Sweets, Recipes

Homemade Citrus Salt

The drought in California, which was officially declared an emergency by Governor Jerry Brown a few weeks ago, has definitely taken its toll on my garden this winter. What’s usually filled with hefty vegetables and verdant vines is a plot of seedlings struggling to get started and a trellis of peas barely hanging on in our unseasonal heat (six weeks running with no rain in sight).

But while the winter garden may already be on its way out, I can always count on my citrus trees (some of them over 30 years old) to bear the most beautiful bounties this time of year… like this lemon tree.


Or this orange tree.


Continue Reading

My first book deal
Makings of a Book, Work

El Libro: It’s Happening!

Before I dive into the details, I’ll get straight to the story first: I signed a book deal! (There it is on the table, done and done.)

And… It’s a cookbook!

Typing out those words is something I still can’t believe. I’ve been sitting on this news for a few months and it should’ve been part of my 2013 year-end wrap-up, but I wasn’t quite ready to divulge yet. (Yep, that was the big news I was so eager to not tell!)

It’s been full speed ahead on the manuscript since last month, and I’ve been cooking and eating and dishwashing like a fiend. My refrigerator looks like it hasn’t been emptied since the holidays… but thankfully, there’s nary a turkey or cranberry in sight. My crisper bins are bursting out the sides, and every shelf is packed with jars of homemade condiments and platters of meals-in-progress.

The husband — whom you might know as Will Taylor — is my guinea pig/recipe tester/styling assistant/photographer extraordinaire. He’s shooting the whole book! (Such a different subject from what he normally shoots — after all, you can’t really tell tomatoes to arch their backs or point their toes — but so far the images are looking amazing.)

Continue Reading

Kimora in her nest
Backyard Chickens

The First Egg of the Year

My chickens stopped laying at the start of fall. It was expected of Iman, my ornamental Golden Laced Cochin, but unusual for Kimora, my highly productive Barred Rock. Last winter she still pumped out an egg or two a week, but between the heavy molting and the fowl pox, her body was just not up for it this season.

So imagine my surprise this week when I found her sitting patiently and quietly inside her nest, which I hadn’t seen her do in nearly four months…

And that can only mean one thing!

Continue Reading

My "office" for the week

Pros and Cons of Freelance Life (P.S. It’s Worth It)

I want to quit my 9-to-5 job and do what you do. What advice can you give?

Above anything else, this is the question I see most in my inbox. I don’t know what it is people think I “do,” but I do work… I just work random hours and random days, and can just as easily sit in my home office, getting it done on the iMac, as I can lounge on a couch, tapping on an iPad. Sometimes I work when I’m supposed to be “on vacation” and sometimes I don’t work on Mondays.

My situation is unique in that I’ve been a freelancer ever since high school; I don’t even know what it’s like to be employed by someone else. I’ve made it work by cobbling together several part-time gigs and turning them into full-time income. I pay my own health insurance and put away for my own retirement. I take out my own taxes and pay much more for an accountant than any of my 9-to-5 friends do.

This lifestyle is not for everyone, and if you’re used to having vacation and sick days, employer-paid insurance or company 401K match (not to mention a steady paycheck), do think long and hard about whether it’s the right leap for you.

Most freelancers will tell you they work longer hours than any 9-to-5er (or even 8-to-6er) out there. While it’s true we can make our own schedule, we sometimes sacrifice our weekends when work calls or put in 12-hour days for weeks at a time. (That said, no one should ever have to slave over work. Deadlines come and go, but no amount of money is worth your mental and physical well-being.)

With an “outside” job, your work is done when you come home. But in our world, disconnecting from work is difficult because we’re usually working from home.

Despite all that, I feel the pros of freelance life far outweigh the cons, especially for someone who strives to live simply. As long as I have wifi, I have immeasurable freedom in where and how I work. (In fact, I’m writing this from a sunny deck outside my husband’s childhood home on Mount Tamalpais, where we’ve been spending the past week. Having two freelancers in the family means plenty of impromptu road trips.)

I love what I do, and would do the same thing even if I weren’t paid (of course, being paid is a perk and a necessity). I never fear being laid off or having my salary cut, and I’m used to (and prepared for) the ups and downs of my industry. I have the best job security there is because I’m good at what I do and I can always make it work. Being self-employed means you rely on no one but yourself, which I feel is very empowering — truly taking control of your own destiny.

Continue Reading

River Road
Outdoor Adventures, Road Trips

On the Central Valley Back Roads

If I had to list only one occupation on my resume, I might be inclined to list “professional road tripper.”

I am always down for a good road trip, whether it’s for the day or for the week. I love to explore the vastness of California’s highways and back roads, and even after 13-plus years of living in this state and taking off on road trips at least once a month, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. The hubs and I have even started pinning a giant map of California with places we’ve been (really been, not just driven through), and the entire region above I-80 is embarrassingly bare. (One day!)

One of our favorite things about living in Southern California — and having family and friends in Northern California — is the opportunity to take a different route every time we visit them. We live for the back roads of the Eastern Sierra and the Central Valley, and relish any drive that doesn’t take us past the odoriferous ranches of Highway 5.

Over the holidays, Will and I jetted up the 5 to visit family in Marin… over the 80 to spend New Year’s Eve in Tahoe… back across the state for a friend’s birthday bash in Salinas… and from there, we had the freedom to choose our own path home.

Continue Reading

Natural bourbon-chamomile cough syrup
Recipes, Sips & Syrups

Natural Bourbon-Chamomile Cough Syrup

Last week while I was on the road, I kept hearing from friends who caught the mystery bug that’s “been going around”… and apparently this bug gets around quite a bit, as it moved from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe to Monterey Bay and all the way down to Los Angeles.

Thankfully we never met, and I’ve been fortunate to not catch anything even remotely resembling a cold for the last nine years (knock on wood). But I feel for my friends. Being sick — especially in weather as balmy as ours right now, where daytime highs are in the 70s — is a drag.

I’ve never liked taking medicine and I especially never liked the Nyquil I saw my friends chugging as if it was life-giving elixir. My dear mother, who commiserated with my distaste for cough syrup, would instead send me to bed with a hot mug of tea made with Vietnamese preserved lemon and honey. The combination of salt (for relieving sore throat), lemon (for boosting immunity), honey (for fighting bacteria), and hot water (for easing congestion) is a natural powerhouse for combating a cold. I still make a mug of this concoction after a long period of travel or work when my body feels worn.

Salty and sour preserved lemons are somewhat of an acquired taste though, so this Vietnamese home remedy isn’t for everyone. But no one can say no to bourbon, right?

Continue Reading