My Sister’s Skillet Cornbread

My eight-year-old hopped in the car at pick up and said, “I’m hungry for Aunt Katie’s cornbread! Can we make some when we get home?” And you know I’m always happy to answer yes to any question that involves baking, so we got home and got started!  

 My sister’s recipe is easy, delicious, and the number one reason I bought a cast iron skillet as a 20-something.  

 As I always do, I’ve tinkered a bit with her original recipe, but it will always be Katie’s Cornbread to me!

Katie’s Skillet Cornbread

  1. 1 cup all purpose flour
  2. 1 cup corn flour (you can use corn meal, but finely ground corn flour makes for a more moist, cake-like bread)
  3. 1 T baking powder
  4. 1 tsp salt
  5. 3 T sugar
  6. 1/4 cup oil
  7. 2 eggs
  8. 1& 1/4 cup buttermilk (or milk with 1T lemon juice stirred in if you haven’t got buttermilk)
  9. 1/2 tsp baking soda
  10. 4T butter

Pre-heat oven to 400. Stir baking soda into buttermilk in a small bowl and set aside. Whisk together 2 flours, baking powder & salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, sugar, and oil. Whisk in buttermilk mixture. Add dry ingredients and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined. It will still be lumpy. Melt butter in a cast iron (or other ovenproof) skillet over medium-high heat until it foams. Swirl it around to coat the sides of the pan. Pour in batter and transfer pan to hot oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

It is plenty buttery for me right out of the skillet, but the kids like an extra slab of pasture butter melted on top. 

 She said it hit the spot!


For The Birds

With spring comes a renewed interest in the creatures that populate our garden. I finally got my act together to set up two bird-friendly projects I’ve been wanting to do for years. First, making nectar and hanging the beautiful hummingbird feeder my mother-in-law bought us years ago. 

 I followed the directions here. It is very important to be a responsible feeder, as any sort of contamination in the feeder can be fatal for the birds, and the nectar must be changed frequently. My animal-loving middle daughter has taken on the task of reminding me to check it daily. Hope someone finds it soon…


Next, a window-mounted nest box! I would love to join the children watching a pair of birds safely build their nest, lay eggs, and care for their hatchlings. The kids helped set it up 

 And we chose a quiet, warm window to mount it on upstairs 

Hopefully a house-hunting bird couple will find it a good fit and we’ll have bird family updates for you!


Frog Fantasies, Amphibian Dreams

I grew up in New York City, so all of my childhood dreams involved being in nature and discovering/catching small wild animals for pets. I remember once a naturalist on a field trip told us that salamanders and newts can be found under fallen logs. I turned over *every* log I saw after that. Flash forward 30 years to parenthood, living in Berkeley, turning over a stump in our yard and finding a SALAMANDER! Suffice it to say I was way more excited than my children.

When we moved in to our house there was a lily pond with gold fish in our garden. With three children to care for and no gardening experience, I had no idea what to do with it. The goldfish passed on(I never saw a corpse so I’m blaming raccoons), and I started dreaming of having a frog pond instead. Because frogs and salamanders in the yard? My parenting work would be done.

So last year when a friend told us about a neglected reflecting pool in a nearby park that had become a home to frogs and tadpoles, the kids and I went to take a look. We captured a bunch of tiny frogs, polliwogs and tadpoles, acclimated them to the water in our pond and set them free. We saw them for a week or two, then nothing! But I had faith they would return in the spring. And just a few days ago we heard it- nocturnal amphibian music coming from the yard- a frog came back! So of course we had to visit the reflecting pool and bring him some friends.  

 What’s amazing this year is that we went early enough to bring home the beginning of the life cycle in our little plastic carrier- eggs, tiny tadpoles, slightly larger ones and one mature frog.  

 We’ll keep the little guys in our habitat to watch them grow into polliwogs, then let them go in the pond in the hope that some of them will hang around, or come back to us next spring.

My daughter the donut

My middle daughter just performed in her kindergarten play – an adaptation of the book The Big Orange Splot. She was in the cupcake house, where everyone had a sweet tooth, and decided she wanted to dress like a donut. I loved the idea and immediately started trying to figure out how to make it happen. She had lots of good ideas, the best one being that the costume be made of an inflatable swim ring with fabric cover to make it look like a donut. She also wanted donut bracelets. So I broke out the brown and gold polar fleece I bought for something years ago, and set about tracing the swim ring and drawing a donut bracelet pattern. 

 I serged the outside edges together, then turned it right side out and blanket stitched the inner circle together, leaving a spot for stuffing and then stitching up the rest of the way! I did the same with the big donut, but stitched it shut directly around the swim ring, making a slit for the inflation valve to poke out. 

 I hand-stitched on straps she could tie halter-style around her neck to keep it from slipping off.  


We cut a bunch of multi-colored felt “sprinkles”, which i thought would naturally cling to the fleece. 

  I was wrong and they came flying off when she danced, causing a bit of a distraction for the other kids- live and learn! 

All of the children were comfortable and happy on stage, and the show was so charming and sweet. The teachers did a beautiful job of making the kids feel supported, and the children obviously had fun and worked hard to learn their lines and dances by heart. A second-grade friend was outside to congratulate my daughter after the show- hurrah! 


Birthday Fudge

In addition to our ugly cheesecake for my daughter’s family birthday, there was a need for treats to distribute at her school birthday celebration. She has classmates with nut, wheat, and egg allergies, and I wanted to make something the most children could enjoy. So we decided on nut-free, easy chocolate fudge, with sprinkles, of course!

Easy Fudge

  1. 1, 14oz can sweetened, condensed milk(I used the organic stuff from TJ’s-annoyingly seasonal so I stock up when they have it around Thanksgiving)
  2. 3 cups chocolate chips(or peanut butter chips or butterscotch or white chocolate, as you like)
  3. Pinch salt 
  4. 2 tsp vanilla extract
  5. Optional toppings 

Mix chocolate chips, milk, and salt together and melt over a stove, or in 30 minute increments in the microwave, stirring until smooth and glossy. Pour into a 8 or 9″ pan lined with parchment paper. Smooth into an even thickness. Add sprinkles or other toppings while still warm and soft.  

 Place in refrigerator until solid, cut into pieces with a sharp knife or pizza cutter. 

Keep chilled until you serve it to a bunch of happy kids! 


One Hundred Bunnies

Today is my middle daughter’s 100th day of kindergarten. Of course we had plenty of notice about their 100th day celebration, to which each child brings a collection of 100 objects, but didn’t get started on hers until last night. Project 100 bunnies(origami ones, that is). Thankfully I stockpile pretty paper every time I visit Daiso, and I know the steps of an origami bunny by heart. Double good fortune: my second-grader decided to lend a hand and learned how to make them too! 

 Where we left off last night… 

 This is what 88 bunnies looks like 

 Folding bunny 100!

I made a little photo tutorial if you would like to make some bunnies too. Easter is right around the corner, after all!

Step 1: fold to make a triangle and unfold, repeat to make two diagonal folds   


Step 2

Fold in half to make a rectangle, unfold and repeat to make two more creases 



Step 3 is a bit fiddly- the photos explain better than words, but start with folding a triangle, and pinching where all the creases meet in the center, then fold that into a double-layered triangle. 


Step 4- fold the point of one layer up to meet the center point of the triangle, and repeat 

Step 5 I’ll let the photos speak!   

 Step 6: Use these folds to make little pockets- observe 


Step 7: Flip over and observe 




I stopped buying play doh 4 years ago, in favor of homemade no-cook doh. Mostly because of how expensive those little canisters are relative to how quickly kids mix the rainbow colors to greige and leave it to turn into sharp little crumbles on the ground. My son(not coincidentally 4 years old) found an ancient tiny canister of yellow play doh and was fascinated by the bright color and smooth (if rubbery with age) consistency. He asked for more, which inspired me to try the cooked play doh recipe on Tinkerlab. We had a weavil-infested bag of flour in the freezer for just such a purpose, and I buy salt and cream of tartar in bulk at The Berkeley Bowl for similar reasons!

We mixed it all together off the stove.  

 Then we stirred and stirred and stirred, and once it broke my old wooden spoon in half(seriously) I knew it was probably the right consistency, and plopped it onto a sheet of waxed paper for kneading. 

 I divided it into four balls and kneaded in food coloring and a drop of lavender essential oil for yummy smell(which I wouldn’t do if my kids hadn’t encountered it before, or if they were doing the initial knead, as undiluted it can be a skin irritant!) 

 It turned out pastel, and I suspect gel food coloring or liquid water colors might give more vibrant hues 

 All of the kids, except the very smallest, had a blast, and so did I. I don’t think you ever really get too old for Play Doh




Hanging With Permie Poppins

Around the corner from the magical preschool my son attends, and my older daughters graduated from, there is a hillside permaculture paradise. At this Hillside Homestead, their former garden teacher Allison provides amazing small group garden sessions, full of mud and digging and picking and eating and making natural dyes and feeding goats and other wonders I couldn’t have imagined growing up as a city child. My son goes twice a week after school, and my daughters had a chance to spend the morning there with a friend who also has the week off. They made the very most of it! Allison is wonderful about sharing photos and videos of their adventures, the first photo is hers:  
 We always send extra clothes because thanks to the winter rain there is serious mud play to be had.

There’s also a giant African tortoise named Kitty across the street who we joined Allison to visit and feed after pick up  

Of course we had to wash our hands after tortoise petting, so Allison taught us about this amazing California native tree whose blossoms act like soap and make cleansing lather when mixed with water and friction.

  Knowing Allison (aka Permie Poppins) is a gift for both my children and me- she is so generous with her copious knowledge about flora and fauna. Not to mention the bounty from the hillside garden where she teaches- the source of my rhubarb and many other local fruit and veggie treasures. Today she sent us home with gorgeous chard and a rooted rose geranium my eldest daughter planted in her garden(to give it he best chance for survival!). And my lucky little fellow gets to go tomorrow!


My big girls have the week off from school, while the little fellow’s preschool is still in session- staycation time! One of my favorite destinations for school vacation is Brushstrokes. The big girls especially love the magic of glaze, and I’ll take any excuse to make something too- our family birthday cake plate, my favorite coffee mug, and the kids’ breakfast tea pot are all products of various vacation outings to the studio. This visit was as inspiring as ever.

The eldest painted an initial to hang on the baby’s wall(so sweet) 
My animal-loving daughter painted a china puppy and a China hedgehog
And I made a set of whimsical salt and pepper shakers(somehow we only have plastic salt and pepper grinders in our house!)

I used to object to the cost of painting studios, but considering that a movie ticket is around $10, and the obligatory movie snacks run pretty pricey, a trip to paint doesn’t cost much more, and a week later you have something lovely to remind you of your vacation! I’m already planning the butter dish I want to paint on our next visit…

Spring Saturday

Despite being a California transplant for nearly 20 years, I am always joyfully surprised by the way spring arrives in February. After a dry few years, this spring is finally the lush, green season I remember, and we took advantage of the sun and warmth to spend a lazy Saturday morning in the garden.

We picked some gloriously scented flowers(which come back yearly despite my decidedly brown thumb) and painted their portrait, then invested some hopeful time in planting seeds   


My eldest daughter has a resolutely green thumb, so I should probably have her plant everything, but I couldn’t resist scattering some California poppy seeds on a patch of soil, and pressing some nasturtiums into an empty raised bed. Fingers crossed. Do your job, little friend!