Chicken of the Woods 2022

September in Southern California brings heat waves, fires and smog. The one ray of light is the appearance of chicken of the woods mushrooms (Laetiporus gilbertsonii is the species we have here) a delicious and easy to identify fungus whose favorite host in our neighborhood is the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua).

One needs to set realistic expectations when it comes to finding edible mushrooms in our dry climate. To take a walk and simply enjoy the sight of fruiting mushrooms should be enough but, being human, FOMO and greed inevitably set in. Anything humans like to eat will be popular with all manner of non-human species. That and our dry climate make this place not exactly a Mecca for edible mushrooms.

This year a freak rain caused mold growth on the chicken of the woods that I harvested from my friend Lee’s backyard tree. There were also tiny mushrooms growing on the mushrooms (!). You have to hand it to nature to evolve a decomposing mushroom to decompose the decomposer.

Better luck next year, I suppose.

See last year’s post for more information on Laetiporus gilbertsonii.

I Spent 11 Months Building an Uncomfortable Couch

My Pomona comrade and shop collaborator Jimmy has a habit of suggesting woodworking projects that, while not fulfilling vital needs around our old houses, somehow just need to get built. Such was the case when he proposed making two reproductions of the obscure Gustav Stickley Divan #165, one for his house and one for ours.

The couch dates from the summer of 1900, when Stickley employed, at great expense, the architect Henry W. Wilkerson to design a line he called “The New Furniture.” Wilkerson is probably best known as the architect of one of New York City’s few Arts and Crafts style apartment buildings. Fun fact: Madonna lived there, and if you’ve got a $5,000,000 housing budget and can afford the $4,000 a month maintenance fee so can you. But I digress.

Wilkerson’s design has some of Stickley’s austere reaction to fussy Victorianism but softened by gothic arches in the back seat slats and a kind of Greene and Greene-esque shape on the bottom rails.

We found measured drawings in Robert Lang’s Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture for a later, simplified couch with the same dimensions. We popped the measurements into Sketchup and changed the back slats into Wilkerson’s arched design using auction photographs as a guide. I’m guessing, for some combination of a desire for a more rectilinear design and ease of manufacture, Stickley eliminated the arches in later models of this couch.

I noticed this couch in the background of Greene and Greene’s dreamy James A. Culberton house, the location of America’s worst remodeling disaster.

Since Jimmy can only work on Saturdays our two Divans took many months to complete. The wood had to be milled and shaped and the piece has 58 mortise and tenon joints. We also had to figure out how to do the curved top rail. We used quartersawn white oak, the same wood that Stickley used for most of his furniture. Manny at Custom Designs Upholstery in Pasadena did the cushion.

I’m very pleased with the end result and thankful to have a wood shop. The divan has decadent 1900 vibes, kind of the perfect couch to faint on after too many rounds of absinthe consumed while your significant other plays the Liszt Wagner transcriptions on the nearby piano. That’s the fantasy, at least. More likely I’ll simply fall asleep on it after a lengthy Twitter doomscrolling bender.