Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The introduction of The Dirty Life

Wow. Finally time to write. The past two weeks have been wild. I have so much to write yet I’ll try to be brief and write more often.

Two weeks ago tomorrow we put in a new menu in Ladera Ranch which is similar to opening a new restaurant all on its own. It was all going so well until the third day when the blackout hit on a Thursday afternoon. We lost a day’s business in all three restaurants, a fair amount of food lost as well, and then a power surge fried our point of sale system and other equipment in Ladera. The next night, Friday, we got slammed on our third night with the new menu and unstable computers that went down in the middle of a huge early rush. It was rough to say the least. I apologize to our guests – we did the best we could. The staff held it together like pros. I was impressed with all of our staff. On top of it all we are asking more of our staff and knew not everyone would make it through. Sure enough two of our cooks decided they weren’t going to play our new game so we sent them out the door. A couple servers didn’t make it either. It is all part of the process. We are kicking ass and taking no prisoners. The garden has led to the new chef who led to new managers, new training levels, new demands and a totally committed staff that gets what we are doing. We are going for it. The workload is heavy but worth every effort. The equipment in Ladera hasn’t fully recovered but hopefully tomorrow the audio visual system will be repaired and back to full speed. We also managed to get several new items and a reprinted menu into San Clemente as well. New breakfast program comes to Irons next week. Like I said we are kicking ass. Chef worked himself into the bed last week with a nasty fever from overworking.

The pumpkins are getting huge for
October harvest!
Meanwhile the garden continues to grow and the kids are back in school. I am in the garden by 5:45 sunrise every morning before school harvesting, watering, planting and maintaining. Tomatoes, mondo carrots, squash, zucchini, corn, cucumbers, red and green bells, beets, tons of herbs, and even some watermelon and cantaloupe are happening right now. It also looks like some recently planted late season tomatoes, squash, zucchini, corn and herbs are going to produce before the cold sets in. I am surprised by the beautiful eggplant that is coming into its own right now as well. The pumpkins would fit Charlie Brown’s head and body.

Swiss Chard
Tonight I was in the garden until dark on a warm night swarming with mosquitoes. Fortunately few bad pests have found the garden. I knock on wood as I write that line. I haven’t had to use Spinosad the organically approved pesticide. I do use John and Bob’s Soil Optimizer and Dr Earth’s Organic Vegetable fertilizer to improve the soil and apparently they are working wonders. Maybe I should start eating the fertilizer to keep the bugs away from myself.
The fruits of our labor, cantaloupes!
I haven’t written of the fruit trees and I am excited about them. The avocados are going to have a heck of a bountiful crop and so are the grapefruit, oranges, and lemons. I’ll be planting many more trees soon but they are a long term investment for sure.
Last week to keep my sanity I powered through a couple books late at night. The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball is a great story about a hooker who farms fungus on her body. Oh wait, no that was some other late night reading. The Dirty Life is a great read about a well read and traveled Ivy League educated woman from Manhattan who falls for an esoteric farmer and moves to the country to start an authentic, horse-powered organic farm. She learned more than just about farming with spectacular life lessons. We are not farming anywhere near the scale she is but the parallels are there. Why is there always dirt around? How come farm property always looks a bit of a beautiful mess? It needs to and can’t help it.
Roma Tomatoes
I can relate to the author’s feelings of angst over her friends and family not understanding what the hell she is doing and their wondering when she is going to snap out of it and return to the city. In my case it would be a return to the beach. It will be a long time if ever before I move back to a city – even San Clemente is too crowded for living for us now. No offense meant at all it is just having a taste of this life as we have is something I couldn’t understand until I experienced it for a length of time. It grows within you. A great plan B would be a farm near the beach somewhere far north or far, far south.

We are not going anywhere soon though. We love Rancho Carrillo and our crazed, wonderful neighbors. This weekend was our 32nd Annual Hooligan fundraiser for our volunteer fire department. For the residents it is a long weekend that we all love but it wears us out.

Green Bell Pepper
Last week I came up a couple nights from work in the early evening to help prepare our community arena for the horse show part of the Hooligan then went back down to work. Friday evening was the same where I helped set up the bar and our jail. That same night I came from home from work about midnight to help put 200 pounds of brisket into our 14 foot deep pit. The next morning was the car show at 6AM with 200 cars from Cars and Coffee led by our own Robert Davis. Then came the horse show at 8:30 with the girls and about 30 other riders. I was in the arena setting up the events, working the rake and helping judge the show while Allison worked the gate until the Extreme Cowboy Race finished about 1:00. The girls did great with Paige winning the Texas Barrels despite her horse being as ass and Isabel pulled in a couple second place finishes in the 12 and under class. Not bad for a ten year old. I don’t care as much about the placings but rather how they play the games. They both demonstrate courage, persistence, strength and fun as they go all out. I recommend competitive riding for any child looking to find strength in themselves.

We had a carnival and family games after that with our great brisket and turkey sandwiches from the pit. The silent auction raised a ton of money and I bought a 5,000 gallon water storage tank to store rainwater from our seasonal stream for the garden. You’ll hear more about the water tank project later. The frog jumping competition started at 3:00 with thousands of dollars flying around as we formed syndicates and bet on the bullfrogs all for charity. We have the most amazing fun and this thing is run like clockwork. The jumping is led by Dick Streza, Fred Garcia, and Leo Gardarian with wild precision if there is such thing. Clever as foxes. Bonnie Davis and Alex Hayden led the auctions this year breaking into the community upper ranks. It takes years to break into these traditions. The joke is that it takes ten years for people to learn your name because it takes such commitment to the lifestyle and each other to live up here. My frog didn’t win but the community did as we raised well over $20,000 for the fire department currently led by Brent Chase. Keith Warren was presented a well deserved thank you award for all he does for RC – thank you Keith!

There are many others who deserve to be mentioned as well but I really need to get to bed. The next day we all cleaned up the center and by 3:00 you wouldn’t know the Hooligan had hundreds of guests the day before. Amazing community. I love it and the people grow on me more every year. I went home and gardened until dark. Jacuzzi with the family and off to bed. Goodnight.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I have so much to get caught up upon. The wildlife is going crazy. We have had so many episodes nightly that I am not supposed to go out in thongs cuz a little, shitty, nasty critter will f’in bite me!  It is Monday night and I just came in from being dive bombed by bats. Freaking bats! I love bats. I just hope the owl shows up. It could get fun.

Anyway, the carrots are going off and I have orange skin. I have always loved carrots.
(Dave and Chef John Merlino displaying some of those infamous carrots and the latest and greatest from the garden!)

The garden is an interesting thing right now. I don’t know what the weather is going to do so I have to guess on what to plant. My girls and I are planting late season anything like peas, beans,  corn, even a desperate tomato or two. We don’t know how the season or soil will behave this fall. The fall is really the biggest determinate in what happens year round. I will be hero or zero come late October.

(From our garden to your plate!)

Last night I came home from Ladera and the girls were finishing a movie. Five minutes later Ruby started  barking like the dog she is about something in the garage. The family wasn’t impressed but I thought something was up and it turned out to be a prehistoric monster that she was telling us of.  Check out the scorpion photo. The scorpion was right outside our kitchen door we use to enter and exit the house and remove our shoes. Yikes! Good doggy dog.

(The newest Donaldson member.)

This morning I found a dead rattlesnake on our road. I stopped and cut off its rattle. I am starting a collection! Also this morning I went out to tend to the garden and I could feel something watching me. I turned around and there was a ten foot tall coyote eyeing me. After we had a staring competition he went into the bushes and a bevy of quail went crazy as he tried to eat them. The wildlife is our like never before. I think it is a combination of the heat and us coming off a wet winter that produced a bunch of good foraging for the animals. The deer are all over as well. They always seem to disappear when October comes and hunting season starts. Are they hiding or just dead?

Speaking of dead did I tell you the one about my neighbor who shot a homing pigeon in my yard a couple days ago? So this pigeon showed up about six weeks ago in my backyard by the pond mooching off of the duck food. He was lost. As he let me get closer to him I saw he had a band on his leg. Turns out he was a racing pigeon from Diamond Bar as I learned from the markings on the band.  I actually only read the band after I found him dead by the pond. After closer inspection I found he had been shot. The day before one of our ducks had shown up dead by the pond as well. My next door neighbor is quite the hunter so I invited him over to get his professional opinion on the cause of death. He quickly admitted to shooting the pigeon but not the duck. He likes ducks. Now we have an agreement that he will not shoot animals on my side of the fence. Life in country!