home zoology

I sit completely still in the humid air focusing the entirety of my attention on the swath of green in front of me. I breathe slowly, letting my muscles relax, calming the natural impulses of a young healthy person to move, fidget or jump. I stay, as beads of sweat make their slow descent, leaving shiny tracks down my bare arms.

The object of my stare is somewhere in the tall grass and it’s my job to observe its behavior, its actions. My eyes wait for movement, the inevitable sign of life. A blade twitches and I hold my breath. The slightest move on my part will give me away. The next blade of grass sways slightly. It’s on the move. A trail is making itself known, the trajectory pointing towards a patch of bare soil directly in my line of sight. I allow myself to breathe again but as slowly as possible. Seconds drip by and the edges of my being start to blend into the air around me, the soil below me. At this point in time, I am one with Everything.

Then…a tiny chartreuse head peers from its shelter – it crawls further into view on its short, spindly legs. A bright, peach-pink pouch billows from its throat, then quickly collapses. Attracting a mate or staking its territory? The Green Anole comes fully into view and I settle down even further at my spot, ready to observe what it will do next —


The silence is shattered by the bellow of my younger brother. The lizard scurries back into the wilds of our unmowed backyard lawn and he bursts through the door. “Mami says dinner time!”

I groan and unfold myself to standing. One more zoological experiment thwarted by the mundane call of “normal life.” I head towards the back door but give one last glance at the yard – a Northern Florida wonderland of fauna. I’ll be back.

Green anole
A green anole in full regalia*

I was 12 and when I grew up, I was going to be a zoologist. I would travel to the savannahs of Africa or the outback of Australia to sit and document a breathtaking array of animals: the ferocious, regal lioness or the weird dance of the Blue-footed Booby. Growing up in Florida, a land that a couple hundred years of civilization still hasn’t tamed, wildlife was part of the everyday. Raccoons, armadillos, squirrels, blue jays, cardinals, ospreys, pelicans, possums, frogs, lizards. Intimate encounters with strange creepy crawlies were a given – including the famed Palmetto bug – a giant flying roach. The one blind spot I truly had though was snakes (shudder).

Still and all, there were many, many other members of the wildlife kingdom that fascinated me. I had my Wildlife Treasure trading cards subscription, watched documentaries tirelessly, and consulted that ancient relic of wisdom, the encyclopedia, to learn more about our wild neighbors. The fact that I never camped much – was in fact squeamish about “roughing it” – didn’t phase me. I would be Jane Goodall, communing with her gorillas, I’d be Thor Heyerdahl sailing on Kon Tiki. I was a psychic Dr. Doolittle – communing and communicating with animals – conversations that seemed much preferable to human ones.

As I grew older, I started to have an inkling that I wasn’t truly cut out to be a zoologist. I was lazy with science projects and turns out there are snakes in most areas of the world. In college, the theater bug bit hard – and I had already been infected by the music virus. So I hung up my toy binoculars for good.

Looking back, I realize my fascination was more spiritual than scientific. Those backyard sessions were an instinctive form of meditation. These days I’ve become a backyard zoologist in still-wild Tucson. The Sonoran desert is another land that humans have never completely tamed and Mother Nature still exerts her tough love. I’m not even in the foothills, where the really wild things are – bobcats, javalina and Gila monsters. We live in the suburbs across the street from a golf course, in a modest walled yard. And still there’s life all around me: quail, rabbits, desert spiny lizards, hawks…even the shy, scruffy coyote. From my window, I witness the never-ending territorial bird dramas around the water dish, the escapades of the refugee squirrel from the golf course who sneaks over the wall to nip at the bird food.

Most mornings, I’m treated to the sweet sight of a small rabbit relaxing underneath the Texas ranger shrubs. When I sit still in front of the picture window in the living room and slow down my breathing as in those long-ago days – I can witness a meeting between the papa quail and the desert spiny lizard, still Dr Doolittle eavesdropping on the quail’s commentary on the weather and how hard it is to keep those chicks together.

View from my picture window
Texas ranger shrubs – the neighborhood hangout for local wildlife.

Unless you can still your physical self and just witness, you’ll miss the delightful goofiness of a large lizard scratching the back of his head with his back leg, a quail hopping up and down to try to eat some insect from the low branches of a lantana shrub, or the wee cottontail rabbit grooming herself like a cat. My strange training has stood me well – I have the power to step out of the slipstream of ‘modern life’ and see the real Life  around me.

You do, too. There’s life everywhere – even in a New York tenement (especially in a New York tenement, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story). Take a moment and look out your window. Quiet your breathe and take it slow. Strip away those jarring human elements – the plane flying overhead, the car honks in the distance – and look for a patch, even just a blade, of Nature and wait for movement. If you’re patient, you’ll have your own wildlife wonderland to observe and commune with. All you need is your attention.

* anole picture by vickisnature on flickr


Every now and again when our friend Laura hung out with us in our backyard, she’d say something along the lines of “Y’know, you should scatter some wildflower seeds back here.” I’d enthusiastically nod my head but then forget – the backyard is full of pavers and gravel with a little bit of earth around our refrigerator bed. Nothing that seemed to want to be home to flowers. Even though I’m hyper-aware of the surprising amount of color and variety in the spring flowers of the Sonoran desert, I was content with the African daisies we inherited in our front yard.

Field of African daisies by Cyril Barrett

Then sometime last fall Jamie and I finally stopped by Native Seeds to grab some vegetable seeds for the winter garden in our new berm.

Let me back up.

Now, way back during last monsoon season – after a long wet summer day of the both of us futilely sweeping a flood of rainwater off of our backporch and away from the doors – after doing this TWICE in the same morning – after my shoulder muscles seized up, I got a blister in the crook between my thumb and forefinger and was drenched to the bone – after looking at each other and saying “No more!” (actually there was an expletive or two involved), we called in our friend Ray Clamons who is a local xeriscaping expert to help us figure out a way to keep those fast-running rains out of our house and into our land. We’d considered those big cisterns that hold gallons and gallons of rain, but by the time we made the call, a new storm was approaching soon and time was of the essence!

I was conveniently out of town when Ray came over – so it was up to him and Jamie to laboriously dig ditches in strategic areas while piling up the extra soil around it into hills (or ‘berms’).

Berm by the houseThese new contours were meant to funnel the water away from the house and into different parts of the yard where the water can pool and be absorbed back into the ground. Ray also extended the rain spout in a corner that was dumping most of the water to instead go underneath the pavers and into a larger ‘ditch’ to the back of the year. (These pictures show the extension before Ray buried it).

Both bermsThe far berm by the oleanders

For the new depression next to the house, Ray asked if I’d like a little vegetable plot and I said ‘Sure!’, so he filled in the area with some nice, dark, slightly dank compost and filled the other, longer ditch with bark. After a VERY healthy monsoon and wet winter, I am overjoyed to say it works and my stomach no longer clenches like a robot claw when it starts to rain.

Fast forward a few weeks to October, prime planting season in Tucson for the fall/winter garden, and we took a trip to the best seed store in town, Native Seeds/SEARCH, to get some veggie seeds suitable for our low elevation desert climate. After I grabbed the Southwest Cool Season Garden collection (with radishes, lettuce, kale, arugula and carrots – among many others), then plucked some bulbs from a basket of Silver Rose garlic, I spied a single plastic bag listed for ‘Desert Wildflowers’. The black-and-white paper label inside had names like ‘Firewheel’, ‘Desert Bluebell’ and my favorite, ‘Mexican Gold Poppy’ and my eyes grew wide as I snatched the bag and plopped it down by the soil-encrusted garlic. My heart started beating faster as I dared to dream of a backyard with a little more color and drama.

The instructions seemed too simple – rake the soil, scatter seeds, water well once, leave alone. The seeds were…underwhelming. Some were cool and feathery looking but most were almost too small to see. But what the hell, I raked the area by the refrigerator bed and scattered seeds hither and yon. Then I looked at the hill alongside the new ditch all covered in pink gravel, shrugged and threw the rest of the seeds among the craggy rocks. I gave them a nice drenching and then left them alone.

Here’s what we got.

First up, the wildflowers and little vegetable garden growing happily in their new homes:

Long shot of wildflower berms

On the left are the wildflowers – the poppies were the first to unfurl their golden faces but if you look closely you’ll see they’re slowly being joined by the purple-ish hues of some young bluebells. Since this picture was taken,  pink-petaled Firewheels and tiny yellow flowers I haven’t identified yet have popped also up.

Mexican gold poppies close up

On the other side are the lettuce, arugula, radishes (all harvested by now) and carrots (slow to grow).  I was going to plant successive rows of each, which is why there’s so much space behind them, but never got around to it (le sigh). In the shade there’s also some baby Swiss chard and parsley.

Winter veggies

Here’s a closeup of the lettuce – yum!

Lettuce closeup

On the other side of the yard is our ol’ refrigerator bed – but now surrounded with its own field of wildflowers:

Fridge bed

Got some bigger veggies in here – peas, kale and mustard (a few I’ve let flower):

Fridge bed closer

From above – there’s also garlic, cilantro and sage fighting for some sun:

Fridge bed from above

And a close up of the pea blossoms – so pretty!

close up of peas

Now that spring is already sproinging all over the place, it’s time to start planting summer crops. And just by chance, Native Seeds happens to have a nice big fat bag called, wouldn’t you know it, Southwest Warm Season collection. Melons, chiles and squash, here I come!

ode to red room

A few years back, when Jamie and I realized that Los Angeles wasn’t going to be our forever home (housing prices and earthquakes being two of the prime reasons) and we were casting about for new potential headquarters, we visited our friends Mike and Carrie in Tucson for the first time.

We immediately dug the clean air, funky saguaros (I remember hearing that word for the first time, the way it’s pronounced natively ‘swah-ro’ and the long length of time it took my mind to understand that this mellifluous sound represented those tall stately cacti with arms that has become America’s symbol for ‘desert’) and vast blue sky. We admired the indomitable croppings of art that waved from bus stops, overpasses, mailboxes and whole houses.

We’d been considering other smaller-scale arty scenes like Asheville or Austin, but what really tipped the scales in favor of the Old Pueblo  was a narrow, long bar with a ceiling like the underbelly of an old roller coaster, creepy animal trophy heads poking through the walls, a blue portrait of Bob Dylan, a chalkboard made out of an old car door, the best bartenders west of the Mississippi and an ever flowing current of talent and creativity in front of old storefront windows. Oh, and tater tots.

I’m talking about that long gone Tucson institution, Red Room. It was a subset of another institution, The Grill, an ancient (by the West’s standards) 24-hour diner that had seen better days, including what was left of the peeling, sixties psychedelic deer mural and ever-threatening-to-collapse ceiling – though their crispy, golden brown tater tots alone were worth a trip. Red Room was the satellite, the adjunct, the part of the establishment that actually closed at 2am. But to me it was the better part.

A sober daytime view. What was up with that ceiling? Credit: Gerardine Vargas
A sober daytime view. What was up with that ceiling? I’ll never know. Credit: Gerardine Vargas

We felt right at home as we lounged with excellent Polish beer and watched talented musicians we would soon come to know: The Rosano Brothers (Dante and Marco), Chris Black, Hank Topless. It was a kinder, folkier Star Wars Cantina – with only slightly less bizarre clientele. Booking tended to focus on quality or some form of “interesting” – the musicians didn’t get paid and the sound system was for shit but there was always an attitude of playfulness, experimentation, going-with-the-flow that pulled us all in like a magnet. Plus you drank and ate for free, and you were gonna be hanging out there anyway so might as well whip out the guitars!

Now this is what it was really like. A blur of red and music and people. Credit: unknown
Now this is what it was really like. A blur of red and music and people. Band was Otherly Love. Credit: unknown
Trippy Jamie. Credit: 3quartermoon
Trippy Jamie. Credit: 3quartermoon
Me. Credit: 3quartermoon
Me. Credit: 3quartermoon
Tom Moore. Credit: 3quartermoon
Tom Moore. Credit: 3quartermoon

The bartenders were phenomenal – true mixologists working magic in that tiny space behind the old oak bar and in front of the towering wall o’ liquor. For what the Red Room lacked in width, it more than made up for in height. There were silver doodads I never quite understood, white and brown sugar cubes (actual cubes!), a medley of citrus in yellow and green, and above all a warmth that amplified the coziness already emanating from the dark red walls. Only good people seemed to work here.

Another rare glimpse in the empty bright light of day. Credit: Cia Romano
Another rare glimpse in the empty bright light of day. Credit: Cia Romano

There was no jukebox (one of my criteria for a favorite bar) but there was a photo booth (another criteria) and even though it was hardly ever working, it did post relics of its functioning past with suitably strange and funny strips of Imbibers Past.

Details about its demise still aren’t clear to me. Red Room seemed to be thriving, but it’s partner, The Grill, was apparently losing too much money in the wake of new constructions downtown and the whole ship went down. After a brief posting on Facebook, Red Room closed its doors forever. Then a fire soon after robbed any hopes of bringing it back. Many many people were frankly devastated, lamenting on the Internet and to each other what a loss this was for Tucson’s ‘keep it weird’ hopes in the midst of downtown’s current swanky resurgence. It was just a shame and every time I pass the empty, burnt out lot on Congress, gaping like a missing front tooth, I give a sad little sigh.


But one of the reasons for this sudden trip down Memory Lane was the Red Room revival at Tap & Bottle for Halloween. Almost all of the folks I remember from those days – in front of and behind the bar, on and off stage – were there. They even reproduced Blue Bob Dylan. Hank Topless, Amy Rude, Danta Rosano, and Golden Boots put us all in a nostalgic mood. Even George Rosenberg played piano as he always used to during happy hour. There was a photo booth – though it actually worked – and tater tots, though they were kinda soggy – and we were happy as clams. Turns out Red Room was really about the people, and we’re still here and still pretty weird.

Tap & Bottle's recreation for Halloween 2014. Credit: Jamie Laboz
Tap & Bottle’s recreation for Halloween 2014. You can even see Hank Topless’ hat. Credit: Jamie Laboz



the stray guitar that followed you home

Here’s a guest blog from my dear ol’ dad, Tom Williams. It’s his fault that I play guitar at all, and he’s also quite the teacher (taught high school History among other things) and story teller, so I asked him to do a write up for yall on a subject that is dear to his heart, rehabilitating stray guitars. Note that all irregular spellings are done on purpose – just pretend you’re reading a mix between Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac and William Faulkner. Take it away, Daddy!

daddy_at_singletons copy
Ol’ Tom gonna set you straight

So, you saw that old, funky, messed up guitar in the garage sale, pawn shop, flea market or trash bin. Now what to do wid it?

The following info is not for folks seekin’ room décor, it’s for “players”, “pickers” or guitar lovers without a bunch of spare money. Maybe you got it cheap, trashed or given to you! That’s good stuff! There are no axes without utility. Save any and all busted axes or parts, They are FREE! They might be just what you need to make sompin play again.

Store those junky articles in a safe, dry place that yer “main squeeze” won’t trip over or complain about! Lean your treasure against the sofa, then sit and slowly sip sompin cold and DIG yer guitar. What is rite, and what is wrong? What is needed? Pick up yer find and evaluate it. Future project? Junk (parts) stash? Holy cow, I gotta get this workin’!

First, clean that thing up. you’ll feel better, ‘so will the axe. ‘neck fried? if it’s got an adjustible neck and is too awful to play with comfort, tinker wid it. if it has weird backbow and such, do the flea market setup cure. take all the pressure off and let the neck RELAX ’till the morrow (and I know that ain’t easy!) some well meanin’ pilgrim probably over-tightened the trussrod instead of taking down the saddle.

Check for cracks, loose braces, loose bindings and sech. is the bridge pulling up? fix it! it kin only get worse. it will NOT heal up and hair over. use elmers wood glue. DO NOT use white school glue (chewing gum is about as suitable) and DO NOT use epoxy (that ends all hope of future repair). yep, you are thinkin’ SUPER GLUE. you’ll stick yer fingers together, mess up the finish and make you live with yer mistakes. and, you’ll see ’em every time you pick up that axe!

Now, DO NOT let yer uncle, the handy guy, refin yer axe. if it’s a fine guitar you’ll cut the value mucho, if not a fine guitar, think “old blues man”, maybe BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON played this! the refined types might consider black, red or brown permanent markers for minor nicks. I think a damp rag, although I’ve actually used spray cleaner , should work. if you must have it shiny, just a verrrrrrry small dab of lemon oil on an oooooold tee shirt!

Now, if you need to glue that bridge down, gently prise the whole shebang off and use wood blocks, C-clamps…..oh, you don’t got ’em, caint afford ’em and all that? you can run stove bolts through the bridgepin holes and dog ’em down and — I swear I have a bud who did this — brace broomsticks between the ceiling! and wood blocks on the wings of the bridge! and, if you must put screws though the bridge, DRILL holes and use SMALL nuts and bolts, BRASS nuts and bolts that run about 20 cents per at most any hardware store. old timers say the brass IMPROVES the sound. I once saw a GUILD D40 with FOUR bolts. it really sounded good. ‘course that wuz 1967, so I dunno.

Playing on the beach in Puerto Rico
Playing on the beach in Puerto Rico

Ahem, now, I hope you took off those old strings. I don’t give a rat’s ass, change ’em. but not yet! now that yer beast is clean, cracks healed, and bridge secure, check the machine heads. use a LITTLE oil, use a screwdriver on the set screws, replace ’em via the junk stash or — horror — buy some new ones.

Ah, the neck. the trussrod is loose about 90% of the time. dealers love to get $40 for a very easy job. if you don’t have one by now, beg or buy a trussrod wrench. ebay has ’em. they cost only a few bucks, and now people will think you are a qualified guitar tech! imports use an allen (hex) wrench, newer MARTINS too, most other USA stuff is GIBSON or GUILD size. ‘member, RIGHTY TIGHTY, LEFTY LOOSEY! either look down the neck for top load trussrods, or hold the thing in yer lap and push AWAY to tighten a “through the hole” adjustment nut. do this slooooowly. check by lookin’ down the neck often. you want a tiny bit of relief, not totally straight.

If you have an adjustible saddle, lower the action via the screws. if you have a drop -in saddle, don’t be afraid to take it out of the slot and use a combination of BUCK KNIFE and file to trim it down. if you get too low, shim it back up with strips of playing cards. use the adverts and jokers for this, unless you play poker wid wild cards. I like “fours, whores and mustache men”! but I digress.

now,string it up. only bluegrass people should use medium gauge strings. they wont let you do steven stills licks down the neck, and they are hard on old guitars. if you must use ’em, do like bobby zimmerman in the old daze. tune down one or two frets and capo up. it sounds good on blues, funky! use extra-lite(10’s) or mid-lites(12’s). the latter give you volume, tone and good action. the former, just good action.

time for the secret stuff. the nut is often overlooked or abused. you oughta invest three bucks in a cheap set of small files. check the cheapy bin tools. a stewmac 1st string file would be nice, but….. anyway, about a credit card height is OK at the first fret. for steel strings, mebbe two quarters, three at the most at the 12th fret is acceptable. most serious players like the 1st string lower than the rest. the rest should be level with each other.

got the slots too low? gently use a wood block to tap out the nut. now you’ll use a slothead screwdriver between the 3d and 4th strings tapped wid yer phillips head! shim that rascal up.

one slot too low? tape the slot front and back, put in baking soda, level, add two drops of SUPERGLUE, and file it even with yer needle files and recut. hey, LET IT DRY! 30 min to an hour. you kin wait! watch the news, that’ll make you play the blues! the secret……….RAMP the slots slightly toward the peghead. most “wolf tones” or “buzzes ” relate to the lack of this tip.

In his element.
In his study, and his element…

for a drastic bowed neck, if you don’t have big C-clamps (2X4, fulcrum block, and sech), use a bunggie chord to secure the guitar to a table or chair, use a chair back as a fulcrum, wrap the neck (san strings!) in tinfoil, hang a brick off the headstock! yipe! and place an iron set to medium on the fingerboard for, say, 10 to 20 min. changing position ever min. or so. the glue under the fingerboard will soften, in theory the neck will slip forward, and, kapow! now, take off the heat source. the iron will attempt to burn you, and the telephone will ring, and yer eye will itch, so be careful like mom told you. but, did you listen? let it alone until the next day. OK, OK, I know you won’t do that, leave it at least a couple of hours!

now, get several windings on the stringposts, goin’ DOWN, not UP. ‘makes way better tone. DO NOT cut off the strings until you are dangged sure it’ll tune up without slippin’ the strings.

now, string it up and play. make minor adjustments. also, I have found that adding a BANANA sticker to the headstock face will improve the tone/action/vibe. Donovan told us about that in ’67. also, feather fetishes hanging on tuners and rattlesnake rattles in the body will all add to the utility of the piece. finally, sit in a beat up chair lookin’ at the rain through a smudged window while you mess about on the strings. that will be the payoff!

thank you, cyril

It’s been very sad for a big chunk of the Tucson music community as well as many, many other people around the world. Songwriter, musician, carpenter, campfire cook and friend, Cyril Barrett, sings no more.


Cyril in Profile
Photo by Krista Niles


He’d become a fixture in Jamie’s and my lives. First as a fellow musician – when Jamie and I met him, he was in The Possibles with our friends Tom Moore, Brian Green and Fen Ikner. We’d sit in with them sometimes – me on background vocals and Jamie on lap steel guitar – and I was always blown away by the nuances in his songs.

He’s been called the missing link between Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard and that sounds about right. Clearly influenced by outlaw country and Americana – but always with a certain twist in the chords or a melancholy slant that both perked up your ears and ached your heart.

He was a gray wolf – in hair and nature. Completely giving and kind yet also keeping himself in his own little fortress of solitude. But when you sang with him, he’d look you in the eyes – and his were clear blue and soul full. It was unnerving in this era of down-turned faces, and my shyness made it difficult, but eventually I learned to look back.

He was also a contractor by day – a natural carpenter who hadn’t picked up a hammer before coming to Tucson 12 or so years ago – but since then becoming an expert on most things home. When we bought our house, we hired him to paint the rooms. He helped us choose colors, contrasting walls and ceilings – never too crazy but never ordinary. Just beautiful. He said that as he stroked the paint on the walls he’d transmit thoughts of wellness and abundance. There was art and grace in whatever he did.

He’d collaborate on strange little ideas we’d have – an Alice in Wonderland door for our cat between our bedroom and Jamie’s studio – or replacing a glass panel in the front door with wood to protect against amps swung perhaps a bit unsteadily coming home. His eyes would get a far off look imagining the project, the effect. His voice would get that little boy lilt. His eyes bored deep, but gentle. Even at the end…especially at the end.

More often than not he’d bring a guitar along. I’d cook dinner and we’d all jam on the back porch. Now every single part of this house is a piece of him.

Cyril by the sea
Cyril by the sea

There’s so much more to say – including this heartbreaking summer of watching a good friend die. But he was a man of privacy – never even had a Facebook account and became distressed when his friends put up a ‘We Love Cyril’ page to show their love and support when he was hospitalized. Had it taken down. I still never quite understood that side of him.

It didn’t work though. He has friends from all over – his home state of Idaho, Europe, Seattle and of course Tucson – who cherish his memory. Different worlds that have collided, old friends and new recognizing a piece of him in each other. The page is back up. There are various memorials planned – and we held a tribute concert in Tucson on the Che’s Lounge patio. 14 different sets of friends playing his songs: How the Grass Grew, Down At The Piano, Coyotes of Sasabe, Sunset Hotel. His brother Bob brought a blown up photo of a Cyril I’d never known – young, in his twenties. So handsome with that little glint in his eyes. It was a roller coaster of smiles and tears that night, among others.

Cyril's Memorial Photo
Young Cyril and his old hat.

We’re also putting out a compilation album of his friends covering his songs – on the Heathen Call label – and I wouldn’t be surprised if a LOT more people suddenly learned about this troubadour hiding in the desert. 

Even his friend Neko Case wore a shirt of support on Letterman.
Even his friend Neko Case wore a shirt of support on Letterman.

I slapped up a quick website with links to his music and such. But a part of me wonders what he would think of all this ‘exposure’?

Cyril, I hope you don’t mind. Your music was a gift to us and we feel like sharing. As usual the world – most of us – took it for granted while you were around. But your songs are still alive and kicking and your voice and words and melodies preserved. So if it’s okay with you, we’re going to see what other hearts out there will give them a loving home.

Facebook page

feed the birds

Even though we are now deep in that famous desert dry heat of a Tucson summer, our olive tree is playing host to its own little wilderness of local birds. I admit I helped this along by making an addition to my improvised bird bath: bird feeders.

And now I’m becoming addicted. To bird feeders. Really, to watching birds enjoy the feeders. I started with a ‘kiddie’ model and then every few weeks I’d wander into the Wild Birds store and buy another. So far I have a bigger ‘hopper’ feeder – a mesh cylinder with a platform – a goldfinch feeder and a quail block. And I’m not done yet. I’ve got my eye on a special formula Wild Birds makes called Nuts ’n Bugs, a delicious concoction of ground peanuts and a thousand flies. Yum! It requires a special kind of feeder to spread it on, but promises to attract an even wider variety of birds that prefer insects to seeds. But as it stands, here’s what I’ve observed from my office window in my short time as a backyard ornithologist:

Black oil sunflower seeds in the hopper – This attracts the most common local birds: all kinds of sparrows, purple finches, Gila woodpeckers and the aforementioned bully of the schoolyard, White Winged Doves – who are too big for the feeder, but somehow muscle their way onto the platform and camp out there for as long as they can, guarding the precious store.

White Winged Dove

I might have to get the kind that have a weight-activated trip mechanism to keep the bigger birds out, but so far there seems to be enough for everybody. Black oil sunflower seeds are smaller and black – unlike the kind we used to get at the 7 Eleven – with thinner shells, and the seed eaters LOVE them.

(Ahem, I did not take the photos on this page – my iPhone just doesn’t cut it for bird photography. So I used some amazing photos credited at the end.)

Thistle seeds in the goldfinch feeder – Oh my stars. I had gotten this on a whim a few months ago. I had just read that there were goldfinches in Tucson and asked Wild Birds if they might be in the neighborhood this time of year. The reply was “They’re always around”. Funny, I’d never even seen one. But the pictures looked cute, so I bought the feeder, a cylinder with staggered perches and holes *underneath* so the little goldfinch has to perch upside down to eat (this discourages the bigger birds from stealing their food). The next day I saw these brilliant black and yellow jewels hanging upside down. They are absolutely beautiful and sing a pretty, trilling sort of song.

Lesser Goldfinches

Quail block – This one required a little more patience. It is a honkin’ 25-pound block of compressed seed and suet that you leave on the ground. The idea is that quail spend most of their time on the ground and like to feed there. And the block is constructed so that only the strong beak of the quail can peck through and grab the treats. But it turns out every other bird in the vicinity will jackhammer diligently until they get something for their efforts. Nature always finds a way. The block also attracts thrashers, the Gila woodpeckers and some unidentified brown bird I’m still investigating. Which was fine, but I wanted quail! It took a while, but the local quail community finally stumbled upon it, and these are some of my most favorite guests – with their bobbing and waving little apostrophe turbans and their little babies skittering along behind. Oh the chicks! One of the best parts of a Tucson spring (out of many) is watching the new quail families. The babies are teenagers now, still loyally following their parents, apostrophes a’bobbing.

Gambel Quail

Other guest stars (so far!):

Cardinals – These are stunning, North America’s answer to the parrot. I think we get the same one, who sometimes nibbles at the black oil seeds but mostly is interested in the quail block. So lovely to look at and I still catch my breath when a blur of scarlet streams past us as we sit on the porch. 

Northern Cardinal

Ash-throated Flycatchers – Not as showy and locally famous as the Vermilion Flycatcher, but I still love their subtle coloring of pale yellow, rust and gray topped off with an elegant mohawk.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Black-headed Grosbeak – Now *this* was a surprise visitor. I found out they fly through on their migratory path between Mexico and parts up north, so they usually don’t stick around for long. But a couple happened to find the hopper along their travels. Hope I get to see them on their way back south.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Like I said, I have more plans for feeding my little bird friends. But in the meantime, I feel a bit like this girl when I go out to add water to the birdbath and some of them actually stick around.

Snow White

Check out your local birds and put out some food they like. You never know what you might attract!

Photo credits: White Winged Dove, Henry T. McLin; Lesser Goldfinches SearchNet Media; Gambel Quail, Steve Wall; Northern Cardinal, SearchNet Media; Ash-throated Flycatcher, SearchNet Media; Black-headed Grosbeak, SearchNet Media.

ghosting on swamp radio

As most of you long-time readers know, I hail from Jacksonville, FL, the northeast corner of that most unique of states. On the Atlantic Ocean, right next door to south Georgia. It’s a hard place to describe to people who’ve never done more than pass through on I-95. It’s got beautiful sugar sand beaches, and is criss-crossed throughout with water: marshes, streams, the Intracoastal Waterway and the big St Johns River. It’s a strange land of damp and sun and cranes – both animal and mechanical, reeds, and majestic oaks iced with Spanish moss. Palm trees and swamp magnolias. Snakes and alligators and possums. And the people and culture are a strange mix of good ol boys and gals coexisting – mostly peacefully – with almost every ethnicity and subculture you can think of. It’s the largest city, area-wise in the entire country, so there’s lots of room for anyone to find a place to stake their own particular flag. And they do!

But if you can’t travel to Jacksonville, talk to various old timers and attend the many gallery openings, musical events and other cultural gatherings, well, you can just listen to Swamp Radio. The collective posted their inaugural episode in November and I didn’t get to listen to it until the New Year. But I was grinning like a possum eating bumblebees. There are a lot of people I know and old theater buddies involved in the making and performing of this show, so it was a personal pleasure. But beyond that, I was blown away with what a great lil’ show this turned out to be.

Swamp Radio Jacksonville

It’s all helmed by playwright/director Ian Mairs who first had the idea to show the mysterious, wacky world of North Florida through the prism of its artists and now serves as producer and creative director. I knew Ian from back in the 90’s watching his funny, poignant plays like Bay at the Moon. As the emcee, he manages the trick of being both mesmerizing and hilarious as he guides you down the less traveled streams of Jacksonville culture in its many forms – the swamp photographer, the story of the old Florida Ostrich Farm, pieces from local writers and poets, talk of food geneology (with cheese grits!) as well as songs from local musicians. They even do a scene from the aforementioned Bay at the Moon and it was a treat hearing Simone Aden-Reid’s voice again: road-weary and sardonic, yet still laced with a sweet softness.  It’s an aural variety show delivered with soul, grit and a bit of that North Florida twang. The Prairie Home Companion’s weirder, sassier kissin’ cousin.

Each episode is performed and recorded live at a local venue (the next one is January 19th at the gorgeous Florida Theatre, a restored movie house from the 20’s) and then they serve up the recordings, hot and fresh, as podcasts on their website, Facebook and SoundCloud. I especially recommend their Facebook page where they post additional snippets like the Really Awful Holiday Poems contest and recipes for cheese grits and corn dogs (oh hell yeah).

Each episode will have a theme. The theme for the first episode was “ghosting”, a term coined by late local columnist, Ann Hyman, which she defines in her memoir, Chaos Clear As Glass:

Ghosting has nothing to do with chasing spirits of the dead. Ghosting is the process of looking for ourselves and all the places we used to be. It’s about the way we were and how we got to be the way we are.

Throughout, the show was peppered with various performers declaring “I’m going ghosting” and then walking you through a memory (mostly amusing) from their past that’s flashing into their Now. And as I listened, I started ‘ghosting’ too, as words I hadn’t heard in many a moon stung pleasingly at my heart like little arrows of home: Talleyrand, Riverside, Famous Amos, cheese grits (yes it deserves being mentioned three times), Alligator Farm, the snow of 1989, Fort Caroline National Memorial, palmetto scrubs, ‘dunes under the bald moonlight’.

Though I love my desert home, a part of me will always hover in the sultry, humid air of a certain sprawling marshland. Thanks to everyone at Swamp Radio for that gift. Can’t wait for the next show!

If you’re in the Jacksonville area soon, you could do much worse than get a ticket to the January 19th show at Florida Theatre! You can get more details and tickets here. The theme will be MOVING WORDS, a celebration of the verbal expressions, figures of speech and local vernacular that is unique to northeast Florida. Dog my cats, I can only imagine what this will include and am sure there will be plenty of “yall’s” included. I’m all ears.


a week at my table – pistachios

Here’s the longer version of a little guest post I did for the Tucson CSA newsletter for their “A Week At My Table” segment, where CSA members describe how they’ve used their veggies through the week.

From other parts of the country you read phrases like “as the temperature drops”, “packing away my flip-flops” and “now that summer is at an end.” Well, here we’re still in the throes of what most people call Summer and it’ll still be a while before we start indulging in winter squash and (be still my beating heart) mountains of greens. But as we wait for our temperatures to drop, the Tucson sun is giving us lots of seasonal produce to whet our palates now.

CSA Haul for 9/24/2013

Squash – Well, sure of course there’s gonna be squash. But we don’t often get these absolutely adorable baby pattypan squash. They came in a variety pack this time – green globes, grey-green flying saucers, striped ridged tutus. They were almost a shame to eat. Almost. I gazed at them lovingly and then took a knife and carved them into eighths. My favorite thing to do with summer squash is my favorite thing to do with most vegetables: roast them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Since they were so young, they didn’t take too long and their skins were oh-so-brown and carmelized – just delectable with marinated chicken breasts cooked in foil pouches in the same oven.

Basil – No matter how much people might complain about our hot summers, at least we get basil! It’s easy to grow, and when you get even more in your CSA of course you make (all together now) PESTO! But my lesson this year was how flexible the classic recipe is – this time I used walnuts instead of pine nuts and a mix of lime and lemon. I also added more and more olive oil until I had a luscious pesto salad dressing. Which goes on … everything.

Red LaSoda potatoes – These are regular visitors to our CSA bounty so I’m sure you probably know that they’re waxy and better suited to boiling for a potato salad or added to soup (the key here being lotsa liquid). But I was roasting a chicken and if I have potatoes on hand, I can’t help it, they end up in the pot with the chicken. Now normally when you put these babies in the oven, they can get kinda chalky and don’t crisp up like a Yukon Gold. But if you make sure these potatoes are immersed or basted in the chicken drippings, these suckers will sop ’em up and oh-my-goodness – it works.

Lemon cucumbers – I have never seen these anywhere but in our CSA. You would never guess they were cucumbers – though they’re not as sweet as the usual English or Persian varieties. But I like to peel them, seed them, chop them up and let them sit in something acidic (usually lime or lemon juice with some salt and pepper) before adding them to a salad. They have cooling properties we can appreciate this time of the year so I’m always happy to see them.

Black beans + roasted bell peppers + onions – My mother’s from Cuba so I know from black beans. And instead of roasted chilies we got roasted bell peppers! Which means I had most of what I needed for my grandmother’s black bean recipe. In that recipe, you usually soak the beans with a cut up bell peppers – but our black beans came with a dried red chili. So I went with a slightly Mexicanized version. The Cuban way to serve is with some red wine vinegar, olive oil and chopped onions. But cilantro works, too. Que sabroso!

Pistachios – This was really cool – pistachios straight from the tree! I’d never seen them before and was fascinated by all their many layers. The following pictures show them in three states – after harvest, as they’re peeled, and the nuts in their naked little glory:

Unpeeled pistachios straight from the tree

Pistachio Revealed

Naked pistachios


The CSA newsletter gave us good instructions for using them. I’m sad to report I haven’t roasted them yet (where did the week go!) but I *did* peel them when I first got home and spread them out to dry. There was something so satisfying about pinching the velvety pelt and seeing that familiar pistachio bud emerge that peeling them was actually soothing. Now I want a pistachio tree!

Here’s to that first whiff of cool autumn breezes.

silent songbird: an ode to linda ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt "Blue Bayou"

I felt a cold wave pass through me when I saw the headline. “Linda Ronstadt has retired from singing due to Parkinson’s disease.” Even after a long career fully documented with almost 30 albums in styles from rock to swing to opera and Grammy awards (and nominations) out the yin yang, it made me sad. And scared. Stories like this expose one of the quieter fears lurking somewhere inside me – coldly creeping up my spine like a slow, poisonous spider – that one day I won’t be able to sing anymore. It wouldn’t even be the loss of performing in front of people or recording songs that would get to me. I’d just be devastated to no longer croon to myself while I sweep the floor. Depressed to be driving in the car, hear a favorite tune and not feel the utter catharsis of belting along in diva style. Singing is like breathing to me – whether anybody else hears it or not – and it makes me shudder to think of losing one of my favorite forms of expression.

But there’s another reason why I’m mourning the end of Ronstadt’s career: she was the first voice teacher I ever had. No, not in person – I’ve never met her. But back when I was a young girl in the wild suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida, entombed in my room of white and gold girly furniture brimming over with books and stuffed animals, I’d sit in a corner on the floor with my Fischer Price turntable, orange and white with that fat, flat arm and its suitcase stylings, and play a 45 of “Blue Bayou” over and over and over. Even as a bookish owl of a girl, I’d moon over such passionate longings for a home tucked far away with boats and water and where the folks are fine under that silver moon. I’d burble the low tones of the verse, hushed and sweet and then as the chorus came around, jumped those however-many steps to the top of my range, bellowing enough to make the book shelves quake.

“I’m going back someday, come what may to Blue Bayou”

Not that I had any idea what a bayou was. It didn’t matter. To me, Linda was what a Singer should be, with a voice that could be meltingly tender or hit you in the solar plexus with a baseball bat. And beautiful, too, with those huge dewey brown eyes, heart-shaped face and the telltale hint at her Hispanic roots in the flower in her hair. Of course I dug the fact that she was part Latina too.

My favorite part of her career was the early days with the Stone Poneys and her hard-hitting rockers like “You’re No Good” and “It’s So Easy”. I respected her later forays into other styles rooted in her family upbringing – the Nelson Riddle songbook, Pirates of Penzance and mariachi tunes, while sporting a demure bob. But to me she was always a 70’s “torch rock” singer with long hair wearing faded blue jeans.

Still, one of my favorite songs of hers is a deep cut from her 1978 release “Living in the USA” (that’s the cover with the tight perm and roller skates). It’s a beautifully poetic song, “White Rhythm & Blues”, penned by her then-squeeze JD Souther, about longing for what you’ll probably never find, like “Black roses, white rhythm and blues/And somebody who cares when you lose.”

Daddy had given me the album a while back and by this time I was playing in restaurants and needed some new material. I was smitten with this song in particular and it quickly became a favorite in my repertoire and a favorite of Daddy’s. Now the family joke is that every time I’m visiting home and there’s a guitar around he’ll inevitably holler “Do Black Roses!”

So over the years, I admit I had grown a little tired of always doing That Song whenever Daddy and I and a guitar were co-located. Even though I’d quickly lose myself picking that D chord. But next time I get the chance, I’ll be sure to belt it out extra loud for you, Linda. Your golden throat may not play for you anymore but the waves from the heart strings you’ve plucked are still reverberating through the ether. Thank you.

Gorgeous background bayou image by jetheriot

the september tease

September is an odd month here in the desert. Every blog title or magazine article you come across on the interwebs talks of crisp breezes and the prospect of changing leaves. Here we are still waiting to say goodbye to the last three-digit day and dreaming of a high that’s lower than 90 degrees. I forget, does it ever get cooler? Is there a world where you don’t have to hide from the big yellow discus in the sky from morning til dusk?

Yes, of course, silly girl. Soon the page will abruptly turn to what feels like our true ‘summer’ – a time of easy weather that demands you go outside and stay there dammit. Each year I just know those cool evenings will be back by the end of September. And each year I’m reminded that it may not even be here by Halloween. But when it does come – that’s when we lie in our hammocks in the lazy drifting afternoons, and see how much of our day-to-day living we can move to the back porch. We’re just a little out of step with everybody else in the world, that’s all. And that’s part of the magic of Tucson, its own little world with its own set of rules. Our seasons are different, our gardening calendars are different, hell our time zone is different! I have survived quite well without springing forward and falling back every year.

A friend was talking about how some visitor from Los Angeles was poo-pooing our little burg “Is that all there is?” and how upsetting it could be to hear a town you’ve adopted dissed so. But a part of me kinda doesn’t mind. Those of us who come here from all around the country and world are drawn to something magic, something special. The clearness of the air, the otherworldly beauty, the serenity. The act of actually acknowledging and talking with people on the street or behind the cash register. The friends you bump into on 4th Avenue and convince you to put off your next appointment to have a drink at the Surly Wench.

And not everybody gets it. Which means that maybe it can stay that way a little longer before the sheer number of humanity muddies up its character beyond recognition. That may be wishful thinking – more and more people move here at an astonishing rate, despite the summer’s raging heat. Things are changing already – downtown is growing, a new streetcar is on its way (soon!) and lots of fancy restaurants and bars are cropping up. There’s a controversy roiling between those who salivate for these changes and those who are very nervous that a funky homegrown weirdness will get drowned out amid the urban makeovers. I find myself wavering between both camps. I just hope that the call of Tucson is still loudest to those who appreciate her unique charms.

Hey, there was a cool breeze this morning! We’ve been getting some on and off rains yesterday and today. I don’t think it’s here to stay – all the more reason to immerse every sense in this moment and gaze at the blanket of rain drops speckling the palo verde needles before the evaporate back into the sky.

Postscript: I’m still thoroughly enjoying the little impromptu birdbath I mentioned in my last post – just an ordinary terracotta saucer (normally used under a pot) that is now elevated by one of our fabulous outdoor tiki head tables to keep Massi from drinking out of it (much to his chagrin).

Tiki Birdbath

monsoon melodies and maladies

This is the part of the Sonoran summer you don’t get to see unless you stick around. Hang tough through that hot dry heat. Though you can’t blame fellow desert dwellers for skipping out – it’s a good time to drive north and rest your eyes on some mountain views or head west to bask in ocean breezes.

But for the rest of us, July is a time when the heat builds and builds during the day while puffy clouds pile on top of one another, then start to darken. As the office hours wind down, a breeze kicks up – branches sway as the trees and tall bushes start their slow, bobbing rain dance. Then faster, their arms flail wildly and you hear a distant timpani roll of thunder. My heart speeds up. The sun hides, the desert waits breathlessly, the birds hop up and down, up and down. Our collective hope stretches up and out like a bubble blown from a wand. Aching for a drop. Just one drop, even if it sizzles to oblivion on impact with the dusty ground. And when that drop comes, the bubble of hope swells ever fatter – we urge the Universe for just one more. Then another. And the patter of the sky’s tears finally fall and the bubble bursts, adding even more to the downpour.

Yeah, I kinda dig this season.

Closeup of the olive tree

In my backyard, there’s a new kind of urban animal drama in July that revolves around bathing. I haven’t seen the cardinals in a while, but the mourning doves, mockingbirds and sparrows are still in abundance. I put out a terra cotta saucer under the branches of the olive tree, filling it in the morning with fresh cool water from the hose. It barely holds an inch, but it’s a pleasure to watch the action around this tiny man-made pond. The doves and the mockingbirds, being the bigger kids on the block, will swoop down and nudge each other off, playing their version of chicken until the loser flits off, waiting until the winner’s back is turned to swoop back in and sneak a sip. The sparrows seem the most delighted though. As the sun sinks and takes his burning light away for a few hours, one by one the sparrows hop-hop-hop into the circle of dust not covered by gravel, disturbing a sweet verdin along the way. They flip and flutter and flap their wings, twirling around each other in a great promenade. One robust young fella scrunches down especially hard, creating his own little dust bowl in the ground, so you can barely see him. A fluttery feather pancake. He rolls and crows and delights in the dirt.

Then a couple at a time take the one inch plunge in the saucer and puff up into tawny feather balls , splashing their little puddle until it’s practically empty while I laugh silently behind my window.

The teenage sparrows are overstaying their welcome. You can tell when there are two birds of about the same size, but one is frantically fluttering its wings at the other: Feed Me, Feed Me! Even though frankly she looks quite able to feed herself. The annoyed Mama tries to dodge the mooch, but eventually shuts her up with a regurgitated insect or two.

It’s generally a happy yard full of song. Even with a predatory housecat on the premises. But then again, Massi is a pathetic hunter. He’s a beautiful sweet awesome boy, but he couldn’t hunt to save his life. The birds know it by now and just go about their business, even the few times he gets the ambition to stalk. Which suits me fine. I’m not a big fan of providing mercy killings to half-dead animals.

The Desert Spiny lizards are fascinating neighbors. Every now and then I find one – like a little iguana – clutched to the brick wall next to the front door light, feasting on green lacewings and moths. One little feller, beat up or old or sick, most of its tail missing, has attached himself to our carport. Jamie found him by the door while I was out of town and started leaving water and some bits of food. When I got back, he pointed out the dark, slightly deflated lizard hanging out quietly by the garbage can. I started adding some rocks, to make him feel at home. Jamie picked up some meal worms. The little guy gobbled them up so quickly, we dubbed him Marvin (short for Starvin Marvin). He seems to be getting stronger, but is still so small compared to the other big lizards. But when another male came to threaten him with pushups and a puffed out throat, little Marvin stood his ground and did his own shallow pushups. Luckily I was there to shoo away the challenger so Marvin could get his rest. We don’t know what will happen to him. Stories like his don’t usually end well in nature. But we can’t help trying to help him. In any case, he’s fascinating to observe. I really hope he makes it.

Well, it’s the next day and Marvin has gone to the great basking rock in the sky. We both knew this could happen, but it was very sad. Jamie gently buried him in our yard close to where he last looked for refuge. At least Jamie helped make Marvin’s last days a little more calm and comfortable. And I made my first connection with a reptile. A little rock marks his grave and we’ll miss him.

Within the hour, I looked up from my laptop to see a pile of feathers flailing in the back of the yard. A big bruiser of a mourning dove I’d been noticing lately seemed to be wailing on some other bird – slamming his wing down like some steroid-stuffed WWE wrestler. I rushed out the back door and shooed him away, then inched close enough to see it was a fledgling mockingbird – a small fluffy version with the telltale white bars on its little wings. I was sure it was dead, lying flat against the pink gravel. But it was still breathing, and then it slowly lifted up its head, fuzzily looking at me through one tiny black eye. I crept back and hoped for the best (keeping Massi inside since this is a bird he could actually catch). Sure enough next time I looked it had hopped to the bushes, calling for food, rustling those wings for all it was worth until mom and dad found it and started shoveling food into its beak again. The parents patrol the perimeter around their young, ready to dive-bomb that mean ol bully dove next time he shows his beak.

Individual life is never guaranteed in nature, and often sacrificed to keep the larger wheel of Life going. And as much beauty and peace and calm as she provides – Mother Nature can be a right stone cold bitch. There I said it. But it’s still right. It is the way our planet works, the way balance is maintained. As a human with our too big brain (name that book) and a tendency towards anthropomorphizing, it can burst your heart with joy and tear it apart – one after the other, back and forth. But I’m still glad to be a witness to it in my little corner of the world.

Another update. A happy one this time. The fledgeling made a full recovery and is now well on his or her way to flying high in the sky.

a week at my table

The Tucson CSA asked me to write an installment of their frequent newsletter section, ‘A Week At My Table’. Here was the harvest in question:

CSA Summer Harvest

Oops, and a summer CSA harvest picture isn’t complete without this fruit diva popping up!

Watermelon Photobomb

It’s summertime and the blowsy abundance of winter greens and roots, which usually required me to bring two bags, have given way to the more heat-tolerant vegetables: squash, small onions, potatoes…and some big ol’ watermelons! This week’s harvest also included some newbies to my cooking repertoire: Elote Blanco (white Mexican corn) and White Wonder cucumbers.

Last week’s sweet corn was heavenly and I know very well how I like it (classic: boil in water til tender, then eat off the cob or toss kernels into a potato salad). But this week’s corn is the white variety, ie not sweet but more like hominy grits, starchy and better suited for a savory sauce. Which is what I did using the CSA recipe for Calabacitas. I simmered a few of the Glendale Gold onions with garlic, then diced summer squash, the yellow and cherry tomatoes  from my share, some Serrano chiles from the garden and kernels of the white corn cut from the cob. After cooking, I then tossed in cilantro and feta cheese. I am hooked on calabacitas now – the sweetness of the squash melds well with the spices and the white corn has a plump, toothsome texture.

I was told that the White Wonder cucumbers were a little on the bitter side and that I should peel the skin, scoop and discard the seeds and cook them. The newsletter handily included a recipe for Cucumber Coconut Milk Curry. This is another example of how the CSA is a great partner in not only providing your week’s harvest but helping you figure out how to make the most of it. The recipe, by Tony from the CSA, was actually one of the best curries I’ve made yet – a perfect proportion of those lovely Indian spices coriander, turmeric, chile powder and cumin seeds simmered with more Glendale Gold onions, the cucumbers and coconut milk. Spicy but not too spicy and delicious!

For some weird reason, I’ve never bought watermelon before. But in the last two weeks I’ve gotten to know and love them. These luscious globes do have seeds and after some Googling,  I found that it wasn’t too hard to take off the rind, slice it vertically and then break it into chunks, scooping out seeds into another bowl as you go. This resulted in a HUGE bowl of pink flesh which has since become blended into homemade Aqua Fresca: lots of watermelon, juice from a lime, some honey and ice cubes. Refrescante! Or you could do as my friend Molly does and juice it, seeds and all. Any way you take it, it’s the perfect antidote to these hot, hot days.

Oh, and the Red LaSoda potatoes? I actually didn’t get to them this week but they are keeping just fine in my fridge and will become part of a huge potato salad for 4th of July. Happy summer and happy eating!

Thanks, Philippe for asking me to contribute to your fab newsletter again.

But alas, there’s a meal I forgot to include – a summer sausage fry for when you don’t want to spend much time in that kitchen.

This is where the bulk of my tomatoes went – look at this juicy two-tone rainbow:

Tomato Rainbow

It was a simple dish of sauteing sausage, onions and garlic, tipping in the tomatoes to cook until they broke down and cried, then adding a can of cannellini (white northern) beans until warmed through. Throw on some bagged spinach if you got it. Easy peasy and gits yer dinner done fast.

Summer Sausage Fry

Tomorrow is the 4th of July and we’re having a BBQ. I may or may not document the festivities for you, depending entirely on my state of mind (and, er, level of sobriety?) but in any case I hope your celebrations are both fun and safe (especially where things are going boom!)

Love and fireworks,