Make Way for Ducklings

A funny thing happened on my way home yesterday. I was in a rush, as Jim and I had a retirement party to attend that afternoon, and I had to get home to change clothes first and meet him.

I was driving uphill and approaching a corner. Suddenly there was a mallard duck mama leading a flotilla of tiny ducklings down the sidewalk. They looked to be only a couple of days old. A few of the ducklings walked into the gutter. Afraid they’d run in front of the car, I stopped. A short woman with a long dark braid herded them back to the sidewalk. I rolled down the window. She said, “We need to pick them up so they don’t get run over.”

“I have a pond,” I offered spontaneously.

“Do you want to take them?” she asked, then ran after them down the street.

I pulled around the corner and parked, then followed the woman and ducks back down, where they continued their walk toward town.


Several more women joined us. “Maybe we should take them to the turtle pond,” offered one of them. She was referring to a large pond with turtles, koi, and yes, sometimes, ducks, at a downtown park. The woman with the braid said, “You know how this usually goes: ducks hatch at the park, and at night the raccoons come in and eat every one.”

Which would happen at my house too, I supposed, so I didn’t offer my pond again.

“I think we should take them to the Cat and Bird clinic,” the braided woman said. “They’ll send them to wildlife rescue, where they will take care of them and release them later into the wild.”

We all seemed to collectively agree. Who wouldn’t want to help ducklings? Meanwhile the birds had crossed the street, and were running on a cement path leading into a small blue apartment building. A young blonde woman opened the trunk of her car, looking for a container to house the ducks. She had a cardboard box full of children’s books. “I’m a teacher,” she said.

“Then ‘Make way for Ducklings,’” I said, referring to the Robert McCloskey book by that name. It’s a book every child read when I was small, but this teacher looked young enough that she might not know of it. But she laughed, so maybe she did know.

I helped her unload the books. The carton looked like it would hold the ducklings, but not the mother – not tall enough. “Can I take that grocery bag?” I asked, thinking we could house the mother in it temporarily – if we could catch her.

We ran over to the apartment building where the other women – there were five or six of us now – were trying to catch the ducklings. A couple were watching from the sidewalk. “You shouldn’t do that. If you touch the babies, the mother won’t take care of them,” the man said.” I’d heard this before but had just finished reading a book about owls, and the author, a biologist, said that wasn’t true; it was one of those urban myths. I told him what I’d just read. He looked dubious. We proceeded anyway.

The ducklings had gotten themselves in a corner where they couldn’t climb the steps. I scooped up three or four of them; others got the rest. All but one duckling and the mother were in the box, cheeping madly.

The mother duck and the free duckling managed to get under a hedge and into another neighbor’s yard. After more efforts, finally the last duckling was caught.

And then a surprising thing happened.

The mother duck flew. When the ducklings were on the ground, she’d stayed with them to protect them; but all of them were now captives. She flew, circling the block, calling to them. They called back. It was awful. We had separated a mother and her babies. What in the name of protection and meddling had we done?

And then, I had to go. I’d left my phone in the car, but I could feel that twenty or thirty minutes had passed, and I couldn’t stay to watch the end of this.

I turned up my hands. “I have an appointment,” I explained to the braided woman.

She just shrugged. As I left, an athletic looking woman with short blonde hair, not the teacher, but another who had joined our little band said, “I think we should open the box, back away, and see if the mother will land near her babies.”

Which at least gave me hope. But I drove away with a very uneasy feeling.

That very morning, I’d been talking with a group of women about the female desire to nurture and tend. In this duckling-saving scenario, several women who didn’t know one another had all joined together in the moment, as if we had a collective will to get these ducks to safety. But did we do them a good turn? Was it necessary? Did any of us know enough about these wild things?

Perhaps the mother duck would have led her ducklings straight into town towards the park with the pond. She just might have stopped traffic wherever she went. Perhaps she even knew the ponds’ location. After all, a pair of mallard ducks comes to our home every spring: every spring for the last ten years. The first year they landed in our newly built, still uncovered swimming pool, and stayed for several days. Last year they brought a friend: there were two males and a female. We have two small ponds on our property, and the ducks use both of them. This year they only stayed for two days. They always seem quite at home.

I don’t know if I am seeing the same ducks from year to year, but their lifespan is twenty years, so it could be. Or maybe the original ducks told their flock and their ducklings about the water on this property. Maybe we are seeing a family migration.

When I got home, I told two of our employees, Doris and Socorro, what had just happened with the ducks. To my surprise Socorro said, “The same thing happened to us last week as we were leaving your driveway. A mother duck and her babies were running down the street!”

And wisely, they had chosen not to do anything about it.


Of Islands and Vegetable Peelers

I love my kitchen tools, and I hate when I misplace them. This happens after parties and occasionally after cooking classes, either here at the house or if I’ve taken my equipment to teach a class offsite.

I had a favorite vegetable peeler I bought when I lived in Los Angeles. It looked surprisingly like the old-fashioned potato peelers everyone used to have, long and stainless steel, but it differed in that it had a well-designed, fatter handle, which fit nicely in one’s palm. The blade was sharp, floating lightly above the vegetables you were peeling, taking just a thin bit of potato or carrot skin. You wouldn’t use this one to peel something heavy, like a butternut squash. This was a delicate, refined peeler.

I lost it at a cooking class I taught on a local farm, and it was never to be found again. What’s more, I couldn’t find a replacement. Not at any cookware stores in Santa Barbara, nor any place I visited; not at Surfas in Los Angeles, or in New York City, or at the enormous Sur La Table store when I visited Seattle.

IMG_2383  August at Foxglove Farm, B.C.

A couple of summers ago Jim and I visited Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. This is a favorite destination, and we try to get up there every couple of years. We love the fresh air, the northwest climate, the friendly people, the fact that there are no stop lights on the island; we love eating the farm produce, and the best seafood from the local fish market (ask for the salmon candy), and we love visiting our friends Michael Ableman and Jeanne-Marie Herman who own Foxglove Farm where we stay. We hike, cook, kayak, and commune with Douglas fir, the Pacific Ocean, and wildlife.

IMG_2385  Farm-fresh produce

While Salt Spring Island is a tiny place, its population a mere 10,000 people,  you can find things on Salt Spring Island that are hard to find in other places. Ten years ago, before gluten-free and wheat-alternative baked goods like spelt bread were commonplace everywhere, you could find them on Salt Spring. Maybe Canadians are just hip, but I think Salt Spring Islanders are a special breed – ahead of their time.

Shopping at Salt Spring is fun, like going back in time and visiting an alternate universe. At Mouat’s, the old-timey houseware/hardware store, I found a brand-new version of the clothesline my Canadian Grandma used to have, the kind with a wheel that spins out the clothesline high above the ground. The used-book store, Black Sheep Books, has treasured books I read as a child, and books I’ve never heard of that sound fascinating. The new-book store, Salt Spring Books, has Canadian fiction and cookbooks unlike anything at home – because the Canadian publishing industry publishes Canadian books by Canadian authors! You’d think Canada would be a lot like the US, but it’s not; it’s like Canada. They may speak English, (although it does sound a bit distinct – eh?), but you are definitely in a different country up there.

The island is also famous for its artists and craftspeople, and many artists have home studios where you can visit and purchase lovely handmade things, like baskets, jewelry, handmade tablecloths and pottery.

You’re packing your bags already, right?

So one day while island shopping, I walk into a kitchen store next to the ice cream parlor in Ganges, the main town on the island. The owner says hello, and then I say hello, and because I always ask this in every kitchen store I enter, I say, “I’m looking for a certain kind of peeler I used to have, and I can’t find it anywhere…”

“I have a fabulous peeler,” she says, leading me a couple of aisles over. “It’s from Sweden,” she adds.

Dear readers, it is my peeler.   Who knew it was Swedish? The same fat, comfortable handle. The same lightweight, sharp floating blade, which does not take off too much of the peel.

PEELER (28 of 28)

My peeler, at long-last.

I am elated, and buy three of them: one for me, one for my best friend, Kim, a caterer, and one for the future. And since I’ve found the same peeler online, you can buy one too:  you can get yours from the Vermont Country Store for 9.95. Athough it would be worth it to make a trip to Salt Spring Island and buy yours in person.

My Writing Process: Writing Process Blog Tour for Twitter #Monday Blogs

By Janice Cook Knight

Author of the Follow Your Heart Cookbook, and Follow Your Heart’s Vegetarian Soup Cookbook, Knight/e/B001IXNSAM

Thank you to Janet Lucy, writer and writing teacher extraordinaire, who invited me to join this Writing Process Blog Tour (

I’ll be answering four questions:

What am I working on?

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Why do I write what I do?

And, How does my writing process work?

What am I working on?

For several years now I’ve been writing a memoir about my home and family. While the book includes some of the history of our nearly 100-year-old house, the main exploration is my lifelong obsession with houses, and why they are so important to me. At the same time, it is also a love story.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s a hard question. I have read a whole lot of books about writer’s relationships with their homes, and because of this I have felt in good company, because many other writers are similarly obsessed. But that being said, each of us is unique, and the places we live and what they mean to us are unique. One way my book differs is its southern California perspective. I grew up as a “Valley Girl,” in a very suburban Los Angeles setting, yet in spite of that or maybe because of that, I developed a deep appreciation for nature: wild nature, and especially, gardens. In the suburbs nature was not exactly treated respectfully most of the time; in fact, it was just the opposite.

Now I live in Santa Barbara, and in this smaller, beautiful environment, the lines of the city and the natural world are more blended, and I like that. I notice that I like to write about farmers working within or near cities, and homeowners growing multiple fruit trees on small suburban lots. I am always looking for interesting possibilities. Also, food is a big part of my writing, because I’ve worked in the natural food business for many years. My characters can’t help thinking about some aspect of food – growing it, eating it, talking about it.

Why do I write what I do?

I write because I want to discover what I’m really thinking; I write because I want to share my discoveries with others; and I write to preserve things so they won’t be lost, whether that be recipes, or someone’s story. I wrote the cookbooks for others, but I wrote them for myself too, so those recipes and those taste experiences could be repeated. It’s an amazing process to be able to recreate a recipe again and again. It’s like invoking history. And telling this story about my home and my husband and family allows me to keep that story alive, and understand it, and share it with others.

How does your writing process work?

I’m sporadic. Sometimes I write morning pages, sometimes I get to them in the afternoon, and sometimes I miss several days. Other days I write a lot and intensely. I usually begin a new piece or a new chapter in longhand. I like the pen-to-paper thing. Once a piece makes it onto my computer, though, I edit it and continue any more drafts on the computer almost exclusively.

Often I have to leave my house to write, especially if I’m working on new material. I love the public library. No coffee or tea to fuss with like at a café, just quiet and a desk. The library forces my hand, keeps me from the distractions of ringing phones, pets, husband, the refrigerator, etc. I get quickly into the working zone. Sometimes I work from an extra bedroom of our house, my son’s old room, a plain room with a long desk that is small and quiet.

If I’m working on a short piece or an article, I can usually work from my office. I lock myself in there with snacks and tea. The deadline really helps. Writing the memoir is much more nebulous, as the deadlines are self-imposed.

I like to give myself at least a two-hour chunk of time to write. Anything less than that and it’s harder to drop into the zone.

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Who is next to blog for June 2?

Below are the bios for three fascinating authors, with links to their websites:

Brecia Kralovic-Logan is a passionate champion of creativity who has spent the last 30 years helping people of all ages to embrace and express their unique individuality. Certified as a creativity coach, she helps her clients access their inner knowing, embrace their passions, and expand into their creative vision of joy and fulfillment. Her zeal for color, texture, and movement has driven her own life as an artist and taken her from New York, to London, to Kyoto exploring various facets of the art world. Applying her studies of Depth Psychology to her work as an arts educator, Kralovic-Logan teaches and lectures at international conferences, museums, colleges, and for arts organizations. She is the owner of pebble in the pond art studio in Santa Barbara, where she offers her national coaching services, writes, teaches and creates her award winning art. Her book, The Spiral of Creativity is available on Amazon.

For more information about Brecia’s work, visit or

Connie Tuttle was unexpectedly called to the ministry at age twenty-five. She is the founding pastor of the Circle of Grace Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The manuscript of her memoir, A Gracious Heresy, is currently with her agent, seeking publication. Visit Connie’s website:

Nancy Black has been writing for publication for thirty-five years. Together with her husband Isaac Hernandez, she founded Mercury Press International, a media agency that reaches millions of readers, providing words, images and video to magazines, books, periodicals and commercial clients in more than thirty different countries. They serve as correspondents for El Mundo, Spain’s second largest national newspaper and the world’s largest Spanish-language online periodical. Nancy writes a series on inspiring women for Yo Dona Magazine in Spain.

Nancy recently took over her late mother Linda Black’s celebrated astrology column for Tribune Media Services. It was Linda’s wish that her daughter continue her life’s work, and Nancy is honored to carry on her mother’s legacy. Visit Nancy’s websites at:, and




Remembering Sarah Cook

Hydrangea Macrophylla

I will never understand how people from the East coast or Midwest think that southern California has no seasons.  Yes, I understand the lack of snow, the trees not turning dramatically red and gold and all that.  But you can’t say to a gardener that we have no seasons.  We do, and they are discernible.  It’s late May and roses are getting ready for their second round of bloom, lavender is budding, trees are either newly leafed or leafing, flowers and fruit are forming on nearly everything.  In the natural world, everything says, “Go!” I feel it too.  In spring my engine is revved – spring makes me want to start something.  It makes me want to dig and plant and cook.

Two favorite plants in my garden are looking especially good: hydrangeas and blueberries.  Both remind me of my grandmother, Sarah Cook. She grew big fluffy puffballs of hydrangeas just below the living room window at her home on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  My sisters and cousins and I kneeled or stood, depending on our height, on the cushions of the living room couch, looking out the big picture window at the top of the tallest hydrangeas. We watched gigantic spiders spin elaborate webs between the leaves and the flowers from a safe yet inquisitive distance.

Grandma’s hydrangeas came in both blue and pink, but it was the blue I loved.  The blue color doesn’t come naturally in Santa Barbara because our soil is too alkaline.  I’d have to add aluminum sulfate to change the pale pink to blue, and since I’m a lazy gardener and the pink is still pretty, I leave them be.  I’m just happy to be able to grow any hydrangeas.  They need a lot of water, so I plant them on the north or east side of the house, where it’s cool and shady.

A few hydrangeas came with our house when we bought it (which I took as a good sign), and we’ve planted probably a dozen more.  Besides the puffball “Macrophylla” variety in shades of pale and dark pink, I’ve planted lace cap hydrangeas, with their lacy open flowerheads, in pink, white and lavender, and several oak leaf hydrangeas.  These have a creamy white cone-shaped flower, and leaves that are lobed like an oak or sycamore leaf.  The leaves are pale green now as they come out, but they will turn to red and gold in the fall (take that, East-coasters!)  This year all the hydrangeas are blooming or getting ready to bloom – the lace caps and a couple of the macrophylla have already started.  I discovered how to prune them properly (we were cutting them back too hard and actually cutting off the future blooms, unwittingly).  I asked my gardener, Sergio to let me prune them this year, after I read the information on the website, below, and now we have both learned how to do it right.  This fabulous website, will tell you all you need to know about growing and pruning them:

Blueberries were not grown in southern California when I was a kid, but now several varieties of high-bush blueberries have been developed to grow here. We’ve planted three varieties, two of each kind, and they are thriving in a bed of fluffy well-composted soil (thank you, chickens) with extra peat moss added. Having several different types of blueberries together is supposed to help their pollination. Nothing gives me a thrill like going out in the morning to pick a few sweet, plump blueberries for breakfast.  There’s not enough for a pie yet, but I am hopeful for the future. They are as delicious as any I’ve bought at the farmer’s market, and the bushes look so happy here.

My grandma made fantastic pies of all kinds, and in the summer when we visited, she was partial to blueberry or huckleberry.  We picked the red and blue huckleberries on a nearby mountain; what couldn’t be made into pies got put in canning jars.  Blueberries were purchased at the store and good ones easy to come by, as they grow wild in parts of British Columbia.  Huckleberries are impossible to find here, though I’ve seen them growing in Northern California.  So I will make do with my blueberries  – blueberries and huckleberries are cousins, anyway.

Isn’t it funny how we continue to love the things we loved as children?   The taste of blueberries; the look of hydrangeas in the landscape.   That little bit of Canada here in coastal California thrills me.


Blueberry Pie, Revisited

                                                                                    Makes 1- 9″ deep dish pie

This pie is a lot like Grandma used to make, minus the Crisco.  I usually bake with spelt flour, an older, non-hybridized wheat cousin that we find is easier to digest, but wheat flour works well here too.


2 c. unbleached white flour or white spelt flour

½ c. whole wheat pastry flour or whole spelt flour

½  tsp. sea salt

¾  c. unsalted butter

6-7 Tbs. ice water

Mix flours and salt.  With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter, until the mixture resembles tiny peas.  Sprinkle water over the flour mixture a little at a time, and mix lightly with a fork, using only enough water so that the pastry holds together when pressed into a ball.  Handle carefully – don’t worry about getting every little scrap of dough into the ball, or it might get tough.

Flatten the dough into a 7″ disc, then wrap in wax paper and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 d.  Have ready a 9″ deep dish pie pan.  Divide the dough into 2 balls.    Between sheets of waxed paper sprinkled with flour, roll out half the dough, to 2″ larger than the pan.  Ease it into the pan, fitting it loosely but firmly.  Roll out the top crust and set aside while you prepare filling.


5 c. fresh blueberries (2 pint baskets)

½-¾ c. unbleached cane sugar

¼  tsp. sea salt

3 Tbs. unbleached white flour or white spelt flour

1 ½  Tbs. lemon juice

1 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Wash and pick over the blueberries.  Mix the sugar, salt and flour in a large bowl.  Add the blueberries and lemon juice and toss well.  Pile the mixture into the lined pie pan and dot with butter.  Drape the top crust over the pie, and crimp or flute the edges.  Cut several vents in the top.  Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees  and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is browned.  Let cool for about an hour before serving, so juice can set up.

Recipe adapted from one in my cookbook, the Follow Your Heart Cookbook: Recipes from the Vegetarian Restaurant, by Janice Cook Knight, Wiley, 2005.

Autumn Newsletter November 2010

Autumn Newsletter: November, 2010

It’s November, and we are deep into autumn’s dry and windy days.  I just hung our Hoshigaki, and now there are two rows of gorgeous peeled persimmons hanging from strings in my dining room, looking like orange lanterns.

I learned how to make these three or four years ago, and already they have become a kind of autumn tradition.  I have shown several of my friends how to do this, too. My friend Shirley lets me have persimmons from her tree, a 75-year old beauty that towers over her garage.  It has huge leaves, and some of the leaves were already turning red when we picked last week.  This year’s crop was not near as heavy as last year’s – perhaps the tree needed a bit of a rest.  But the fruit this year, though less of it, seems larger.

To make Hoshigaki, which are whole Hachiya persimmons, dried by the Japanese method, one must first choose firm but ripe persimmons.  They should be fully orange, but not the least bit soft.  When you pick them, leave a little stem – you will need this to tie the persimmon to a string.

The persimmons are then peeled, by first peeling the flat top with a paring knife, leaving the stem and calyx intact.  Then from the shoulders down, peel with a wide, sharp peeler to the tip of the fruit.  The peeled persimmons are then tied to a string, one at each end, and looped over a bamboo pole.  I balance the poles between two chair backs in my dining room, where they will hang for a couple of months.  It’s warm and dry in that room this time of year.

After a few days the massaging process begins…gently massage each persimmon. This will eventually flatten them into a shape that dries more easily, and the massaging breaks up the persimmon pulp, bringing the sugars to the surface of the fruit. When you massage the persimmons, you need to be careful, because as they ripen they become soft and jelly-like inside.  All the how-to details are better found on a website, such as, complete with pictures.

You can also order excellent Hoshigaki from, if you don’t want to make your own.  In fact it was Jeff Rieger and Laurence Hauben of Penryn Orchards and Market Forays who taught a class in making Hoshigaki here in Santa Barbara. It’s a simple technique, and a great way to use all those ripe persimmons.

I have planted three persimmon trees, a Hachiya for making Hoshigaki, a fuyu, and a maru; the last two aren’t for Hoshigaki, but can be eaten when crisp, and the maru is a lovely chocolate brown color.  My trees are young and haven’t fruited yet, but I look forward to someday having our own fruit.  Until then, it is wonderful to have a generous friend with a generous tree.  Thank you, Shirley.

The Season of Nasturtiums

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It’s June, the season of the nasturtiums.  The rose season is just past, at least in our yard, or until the next bloom cycle.  It always seems that May brings the most roses, all blooming at once.  But now nasturtiums are everywhere; I see them when I walk or drive around the neighborhood, spread in partial shade under native oaks. We don’t have many at our house, though, just a few tucked in under a tall hedge along our driveway. I love their spicy color more than their spicy flavor, though I do love my friend Pat’s recipe for nasturtium pesto.  Consequently I just planted nasturtium seeds under two live oaks, where I hope eventually they will make an orange, yellow and red carpet under the rope hammock. It’s a blissful spot to spend a warm summer day, with a book.  Or maybe no book – just a nap.  The hum of the bees will lull you to sleep.

It’s the season of the yarrow, which is blooming in our meadow.  It’s mostly a soft white, though when we planted the seed it was supposed to come up magenta; there are just a few of those.  It is the season of birthdays in our family:  three of our children have their birthdays in June.  It’s the season of graduations, endings, but also beginnings: season of the beginning of summer.  It’s the season of dahlia plants, which are just springing up in our garden.  I just planted a few more, rather late, but they will just bloom later in the season.  With luck, we’ll have them through October.  I had so many bulbs after I divided my old ones that I couldn’t plant them all, must give some away.  Oh, to have dahlias everywhere! But the reality of preparing beds for more of them is too much work and fuss right now.

It’s the season of hydrangeas swelling; a few have bloomed, but most of ours have only spread their spectacular leaves. Hydrangeas will forever remind me of my grandmother’s huge plants outside her living room window on Vancouver Island, large spiders dangling among the pale pink and blue flowers.

It’s the beginning of the season of resting, those lazy days of summer, which have not seemed to find their way to our house enough lately.  Then I remember: June is always like this, there are too many events ushering out the end of the school year (just as its opposite, December is crazy-busy too.)  Those lazy days might not appear until late July, or August. It’s still the season of planting:  we’re late this year.  We’re still picking the last of the favas, planted in March, and have only planted a few tomatoes. We’re still harvesting asparagus, though not as often as we did in May, and we have quite a few blood oranges, meyer lemons, a few grapefruit, and our first Haas avocados. In a few more weeks will come the nectarines (Panamint), apricots (Blenheim), and peaches (Red Baron). We pick blackberries and boysenberries every morning, and the tiny mulberries from the weeping mulberry trees are getting sweet.  In July there will be many more.

I’d like to plant some beans and hills of squash, and more tomatoes this next week.  Never mind about making the garden beds perfect, and arranging the stones in a spiral pattern on the sunny hill where we make our summer garden – got to get those babies in the ground!  Funny, not getting things planted is making me rather anxious.  I have to remind myself that it’s okay, I’m off to a writing workshop later this month, and that writing is a nurturing process in itself.  I’m gardening a book, which takes time and attention, and if I have to take a little break from actual gardening, there’s another season a’coming.  And, there is always our farmer’s market, the lazy (or busy) gardener’s saving grace.