Creating Living Spaces


“June Gloom” in San Diego is defined by days of sea mist, refreshing glimpses of the sun and mild summer weather. In the garden and at the markets, it is easy to imagine this area as a land of abundance and endless repasts. Soon enough the illusions come to an end as the sun peaks around the clouds with greater frequency until the long stretch of hot summer is here. Then it is hot and dry with endless blue skies, only relieved by cool coastal salted breezes that lightly caress the sweat of the day.

Hillcrest market-3

Sara and I are in the middle of renovating a house and my cooking has reverted to the “food and shelter” mode that has been a way of life over the last seven years of historic restorations and renovations. Instead of daily culinary rhythms, my cooking requires greater planning. One cooking event will create two to three meals and we consume more ready to eat foods including avocados from our tree, salads with arugula, baby kale, lettuce and herbs from the garden. Journeys to the market also bring more fresh fruit, salad greens and cooking greens such as amaranth, lamb’s quarter, chards and rapini.

5th street (4)

We enjoy creating restorative spaces for people. Through both aesthetic and practical design, a home can be a lifestyle facilitator as well as an integral source of happiness. Nesting tendencies are natural and inherent, but a home can be much more than that. When designing a living space, the approach is two-pronged.

Hendrie after 2004 (10)

First, we find nourishment and revitalization through food and social interaction as results of making the kitchen as the center of a household.  Good food and how it is shared is fundamental to every cultural tradition and a primary marker for discovering quality in life. Ancillary facilities such as dining areas and kitchen gardens play supportive roles. Altogether, the kitchen, dining areas (indoor and outdoor) and culinary gardens can facilitate health and well being. Not only by making food preparation and serving it easier, but also by inspiring one to cook and entertain. Home cooking was a victim of a modernized of society. For a number of reasons, which we will not delve into presently, it was left out of the mix, thus opening the doors to replacements such as fast food and similar culinary atrocities. The current movement to re-introduce cooking into every home is a symptom of advancement in society with increasing awareness of the importance role food plays in physical, mental and spiritual well being.

Hendrie after 2004 (1)

My Greek grandparents used to tell stories of Nastradin Hotsas, the Turkish fool who cleverly tried to take the easy road in life. One such story, which parallels modern food issues, had Mr. Hotsas training his donkey not to eat, so he could save money. One day, just as they reached the top of the hill, the donkey dropped dead. Mr. Hotsas exclaimed with exasperation: “Just when he was successfully trained to not eat, he dies!”

rivenoak after-6-2

The second focus is on rejuvenation. These areas of the house are bedroom suites, entertainment and exercise rooms. Fueled by restorative food and sharing with friends, these spaces help to recharge and tone daily life.

Mission Hills Garden Walk 2009 (5)

Addressing the overt and subtle functionality of these areas is 90 % of the design. Most of what remains are storage and infrastructure. Lately, even once utilitarian rooms have become rejuvenating areas. Basements have workout rooms, family rooms, play rooms and home theater. Even the garage has become an entertainment area utilized for hobbies and toys, for both man and child. Every part of a house plays a role in cycles of nourishment and regeneration. When exiting to the outside would, one should feel satiated, refreshed and ready to take on what the world has to dish out.

zucchini flowers (6)

Walking the Neighborhoods


Every morning we harness our companion Tea-Bird and walk through the neighborhoods of Mission Hills. It is an area that was laid out in the beginning of the 20th century exemplifying the Southern California lifestyle much in the same way as towns such as Pasadena. The railroad connected San Diego to the rest of the country in the 1880’s sparking a boom in tourism and seekers of fortune. Concurrent with the Belle Epoque in Paris, San Diego had its own renaissance before the sobering effect of The Great War. The founders of Mission Hills included names like Marston, Johnson, Nolen and, of course, Kate Sessions, who had landscaped Balboa Park. Kate Sessions’ original nursery, still in operation since 1911, is just down the street from us and is nestled among an eclectic mixture of Arts and Crafts Bungalows, Spanish Revival homes, swaying eucalyptus, towering palms and rushes of bamboo. Many homes contain architecture elements from the 1915 Pan American Exposition which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and started the Spanish Revival movement of home building on a national level. The building boom in Mission Hills coincided with the construction of the Exposition which began in 1911. San Diego was a city of 39,000 and the smallest ever to hold a world’s fair style event.


The streets of Mission Hills follow the original slopes of the terrain as the founders believed in the Arts and Crafts notion that living spaces should harmonize and work with the earth, not define it. This now historic neighborhood retains much of the original charm, which, in addition to the beautiful architecture, is greatly enhanced by wonderful natural landscaping most of the homeowners take pride in. As we walk down the sidewalks, each yard has fragrant flower, fruit trees, cacti and tender perennials. Common are creeping rosemary and bushy lavender which add savory fragrances as we brush by.


Beauty is not just the view, but how people live as well. Mission Hills is always full of dog walkers, runners, bike riders, kids and strolling couples, making it a friendly and social environment, greatly enhancing the storybook feel to the neighborhood. Here in San Diego, the sunshine and bright, often cloudless blue sky, are backdrops to the movie-set perfection of the neighborhood. I often marvel at the foresight of the small group of visionaries who designed Mission Hills. While the future is difficult to predict, they created a neighborhood that stands out from the crowd of poorly thought out developments and accomplishes much of their original goal. Every walk we take is different and stimulating, very good for creative thinking.


The Mission Hills Garden Walk is an annual event which offers the opportunity to see beyond the beauty of curb appeal and catch a glimpse of our neighbors’ lifestyles. We also enjoy meeting people who put their hands in the earth and use it as a canvas for organic expressions. Every home on the tour is unique, but one thing in common are outdoor living spaces, often as an extension of a kitchen, or an entertainment area of its own. Similar to the Mediterranean, the residents of Mission Hills frequently create spaces for casual gatherings centered about food. Alfresco dining and the chatter of company intermingling with fluid songs of mockingbirds are frequently part of the soundscape in Mission Hills. The star house on the tour, designed in the 1920s by William Templeton Johnson, even had a loggia-style bar that opened onto a patio overlooking fountains, a patio and a panoramic vista looking past an infinity pool added by subsequent owners. Houses like this help honor the ritual of food in a social setting. Like drinking from crystal making the beverage taste better, dwellings like this help us to savor both food and company. For the rest of us who cannot afford to live this way, the restaurant industry has thrived on the same principle.


Staging and the Garden Walk



It was the final stretch to get the project house ready for market. Long hours were spent tweaking, touching up and staging the home.  The idea is to make a person feel invited and at home when they walk in without cluttering it with the personal effects of ownership that we all strew about in our own homes. This is not necessarily clutter, but often the result of our animal nesting tendency.  When a client walks into a home, they should be able to identify with the decor and feel good about the space.  To accomplish this, one must look through the eyes of the perspective client.  Feng Shui also does this on an emotional as well as subliminal level.  Every color, each placement and architectural feature trigger cycles of cause and effect.  For great staging, an intuitive understanding of such factors is a valuable asset.


To be finished for Mission Hills Garden Walk was the goal. The tour path went right by us, making the house an unofficial stop on the walk.  Up to the last minute, Sara was touching up with paint and I was fine tuning the garden.  The whole family was involved in errand running, cleaning and primping.  We continued right until the first people walked in, unaware of the flurry preceding their arrival.  The weather was another glorious day in San Diego and almost two thousand people took part in the walk.  It was estimated that up to a thousand people traipsed through the house and the comments made were overwhelmingly positive.  We welcomed the good cheer as the reward for the grueling months of work. 


Here is a photo album link for our Mission Hills project: garden-walk-japanese-garden.jpg

Dinner Under Construction


After a full day of working on the house, the early evening San Diego spring sunset at around six o’clock signals hunger in the family.  My role is one of providing sustenance, not just for physical health, but also as a connection to the finer things in life. For me, ingredients are the key and I try to keep the stock up with weekly trips to the farmers market and jaunts to stores like People’s Food Coop in OB and Whole Foods Market slipped in between trips to the paint or lumber store. When the kitchen is set up, producing four or five complimentary dishes is fairly easy. The recipes focus on the freshness of the vegetables and are often presented Mezzes style.  At this time, we have three projects underway and two of our kitchens are under construction.  Fortunately our laundry room and pantry are ample enough to handle the storage and the garage fridge is just a few steps away.  The only source of heat is a microwave, normally never used for cooking, it becomes our “camp stove” during construction.  


The single cooked dish this evening was spinach rice.  Brown basmati rice from the day before (cooked across the street) is mixed with baby leaf spinach, fresh dill, a small amount of minced spring onion, extra virgin olive oil and the juice of a lemon freshly plucked from a tree in the canyon below.

I found grilled fresh artichokes at the local Whole Foods and decided to use it as the center focus of a Mediterranean style salad.  Fresh baby arugula is topped with farm market tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, organic red bell peppers, spring onion, pine nuts, balsamic vinaigrette and the grilled artichokes to make a wonderfully textured salad.

White Wave Seitan (wheat gluten), veganaise, carrots, celery, onion and fresh dill are combined to make a chicken like salad.  Rustic whole grain sour dough bread from Bread and Cie, the local organic bakery, is served with it.  

The meal for 6 took about twenty minutes to put together.  I find working without facility keeps skills sharpened and intensifies attention to detail along with providing a challenge in a limiting environment.  During these situations, I am reminded of cooking in India where we were often without fuel and had to rely on wood, coal or kerosene to cook meals of twenty to thirty dishes.  Indian kitchen culture has an underlying cleanliness ethic that helps one to prepare healthy food in almost any environment.  It was a great experience for me to build skills upon and especially useful when building skills (as in construction) take up most of the day.

New Paint



The squib came out in last weeks Presidio Sentinel, the neighborhood newspaper.  As we have discovered, the green color had evoked strong opinions among all who passed by.  A few asked what the color was and loved it—most thought it was hideous. 

We had looked into using color expert Robert Schweitzer again  ( and he confirmed the green was not part of the historic palette in this area.  We had used his services on the last house ( as well as consulting his book for the previous house  (425 east fifth, see links).  (Check out his articles in Cottages and Bungalows magazine) The budget was tight for this house and we had marvelously discovered many of the original 1925 colors in our excavations.  The decision was made and we forged ahead, changing what many believed to be the eyesore of the neighborhood. 


The entire feel of the home has morphed to upbeat and inviting.  The body color, very similar to the original, plays off the sun and compliments the newly revived stained gum wood.  Every day people stop and compliment us, instead of the usual under the breath mumbling.  Dogs have stopped taking liberties on the front lawn and there is no more rain…well, maybe. 🙂

Days of Food and Shelter


Mission Hills is from a previous era. A “front porch” neighborhood where people walk the streets with or without canine companions.  Greeting and conversing is one of the joys of living here and neighbors often stop by to discuss our current project. On this day, we tore into the kitchen, removing decades of additions, changes and paint layers.  Like archeologists, we learn the story of the home and the personalities who lived there.  Often, long forgotten pieces of paper and personal mementos are stuck under counters. Today we found a 1930’s ad from a local dry cleaner which we shared with the neighbors George and Marien. 


Tearing out is a dirty, dusty job and eye glasses, dust masks and ear protectors are a must.  We marvel at the quality of old construction, time consuming methods used and also often find odd upgrades from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  Dust floats through the air in clouds and there is an underlying scent of old wood being cut.


Workers come and go all day, some restoring woodwork, others hanging drywall and a few in the gardens as well.  I still tend to the hummingbird feeders, making sure these very active and fascinating denizens are fed and part of the local community.  As the day winds down and sunset colors the horizon, hunger beckons.  We return to the main house to prep and cook with wonderful fresh market vegetables.  Since Dave has a guest staying with us in the canyon suite, I start a main course risotto with roasted yams and mixed greens (turnip, cavolo nero and sorrel). On the side, eggplant pesto casserole and a salad with romaine lettuce, arugula, calendula flowers, toasted pistachios and honey-poppy-seed dressing.  We enjoy the relaxed dinner and good company until bedtime is imminent.  Crawling into the covers rarely feels this good as we get ready to reset for another day of working on both food and shelter.


Our 2008 Restoration Project


Mission Hills was designed at the zenith of the Arts and Crafts movement in America. Kate Sessions, the designer of Balboa Park, lived in the neighborhood and operated her nursery there.  Embracing the philosophy of building homes and neighborhoods to work with nature, she laid out the streets without grading to follow the terrain and lined them with red sidewalks because of a personal distaste for concrete grey. The streets of Mission Hills are lined with beautiful Craftsman and Spanish Revival homes evoking the charm of yesteryear while vibrant with life of today.  The 1915 Pan-American Exposition in San Diego started the Spanish Revival movement in American architecture and a number of the homes in Mission Hills were built using salvage from temporary structures constructed for the exposition.  As one tours the area, each home is unique and they collectively exude atmosphere and charm to make Mission Hills one of the most desirable neighborhoods in San Diego County.


Our current project, built in 1925 is on palm tree lined Fort Stockton Boulevard.  Local home tours often point out architectural features on the home such as the cement vase and bell.  Not only is it one of the most charming areas of San Diego, but it was originally chosen for, and still has the best weather in the area.  Neighbors take great pleasure walking through their well landscaped neighborhood where flowers bloom all year and the sun vibrantly highlights architectural features.  In the next few weeks we will be working to bring out original character, update it and present it to the community.

Food and Shelter

Discovery and anticipation have been the basis of my culinary journey.  From apprenticeship, following mentors, discovering my innate perception of taste, to entering the public arena of restaurants, the journey has been immensely rewarding.  After many years, I realized food was a language, a form of expression which transcends external perception and enables us to engage meaningfully with just about anyone.  After selling the restaurant, I experienced life outside of a fully stocked kitchen for the first time in almost 20 years.  Sure, there was time spent away from the restaurant kitchen, but it was always there in the background.  During the last 4 years of restaurant life, we lived in a historic restoration project, a 1924 Tudor home.  For a full year and a half we did not have a proper kitchen during renovation.  Of course, it was not so bad because of the restaurant kitchen.  Since then we have done a number of projects and, in each one, we have had to live without a kitchen inside and outside of the house. 

Finding quality food in restaurants and grocery stores is often difficult as the food is most often geared toward taste and presentation, not toward sustenance or vitality.  This trend is changing slightly as large companies recognize the profit to be made with health directed marketing.  With profit as the motive, good health and high quality are only used to market the food and shortcuts are present in most products.  We are fortunate to still have some small producers who maintain traditions of quality and who produce food using standards which pre-date the industrialization of the food industry.  We operated our restaurant, the Inn Season Cafe, this way (and it still operates this way through the current proprietor, my good friend and culinary associate Thomas Lasher). 

Restoring life to a home is similar to preparing a traditional meal.  First, there is a period of discovery, where we get to know the personality of the house.  This includes the way it is designed and built along with who lived there and how they cared for the home.  With traditional cuisine, one must learn the cultural attitude of the cooks and the reason for each dish, as food was the primary souce of preventative medicine before the age of drug related medicine.

Second, we often see when home prepared food is not readily available, most people throw caution to the wind and depend on commercially prepared (often fast food) products to nourish themselves.  So, during renovation and construction, the body goes through deprivation and de-construction.  When restaurants such as Inn Season Cafe are not readily available it is a real challenge to have good food without the facility of a kitchen.  This a challenge I relish and have enjoyed. 

As a chef, everyday we had to adjust to unpredictable circumstances in food, labor and facility.  While under construction, things like parchment paper, a blow torch and disposables come in handy.  In the latest project, we were able to connect a drawer fridge and a convection/microwave oven.  The convection oven allowed me to roast, bake and reheat.  The refrigerator space was limited, so shopping was combined with runs to the lumber yard, a reminder of time spent in India and Greece where procuring food was a daily event.

Recipes included here are from this time of easy and quick meals prepared to nourish in between skim coating walls, stripping paint and finishing wood surfaces.  These recipes are not refined and the instructions may be inadequate, therefore we invite comments to correct any inconsistencies.  Enjoy!