Family Begins Tradition Out of Swork

Dining With Duvall by Lynn Duvall

Julio Ramirez Jr. waved to me as I stepped through the gates into the shady courtyard of a house above Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada. I'd come to chat with his wife, Annette Castro Ramirez, about her involvement as co-chair of the Capital Fund campaign for our Girl Scout council.

I was distracted the minute I arrived - enthralled by the Old World boxwood hedges, a multitude of fruit trees, goldfish pond and an arbor surrounding a romantic, steep-roofed, stone house. It looked like a fairy tale, dropped into the middle of our town.

Julio said that he and Annette felt the same way when they first came to see the house a little over two years ago. "We fell in love with the grounds, before we even saw the house itself." Annette said, as she joined us for a tour.

The Ramirezes visited the property several times before and after their purchase offer was accepted. "Every time we came, the English couple who lived here were sitting outside drinking champagne. I wanted that life," Annette said with a laugh.

Julio explained that the first owner of the house made a trip to France in the 1930s. He fell in love with a French woman. For his new bride, he built a French stone house to make her comfortable here.

The house is named Mille Fleurs. Over the years, a large section of the thousand-flower garden had fallen fallow. As we walked, Julio pointed out the changes they'd made.

"Under the weeds, we uncovered a big bed of irises and an old-world rose. We planted the rose garden with modern roses to match the colors of the old rose," Julio explained.

Julio is training wisteria on the new arbor. A giant wisteria vine stretches 30 feet or more across the other side of the property, near a tile pool and barbecue. Annette said that of the three apple trees, she likes the fujis the best. There are citrus, avocados, plums, apricots and a pear tree, along with a vegetable garden.

The Ramirezes recently invited a large group of neighbors to a "get-acquainted" dinner party in the garden. Everyone enjoyed a lovely evening. The Ramirezes' first homes were in Glendale's Verdugo Woodlands, very near my old house there - such a warm, friendly neighborhood. The couple appreciate the quiet serenity of a gated estate, but are not used to the isolation.

Other changes have come with the birth of their son, Jonathan David or J.D. for short. J.D. celebrates his first birthday in a few weeks.

"Before Jonathan, we used to do lots of things spontaneously. We loved to travel." The Ramirezes honeymooned in Florence and named Italy, England and France as favorite travel destinations.

Both Julio and Annette are USC grads with season tickets for USC football games. "We won't miss a game. We're going to take Jonathan with us, when we travel to the Notre Dame game," Annette said.

Julio played football and basketball in high school, but now he says he's enjoys a less rigorous game of golf. The Ramirezes are members of Oakmont Country Club. They also joined La Cañada Presbyterian Church. Annette gives high praise to the infant-mother education program at the church. "J.D. and I made a lot of friends there," she said. Her Mommie and Me group visited the "Butterfly Pavilion" exhibit at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.

Julio serves on the board of directors for the museum. He mentioned several La Cañada couples who joined them at the Dinosaur Ball, a biennial museum fund-raising event. The family had just returned from a second visit to the butterfly exhibit. "A butterfly landed right on my mother's head!" Annette exclaimed.

I met Annette's mother Elena Castro, briefly when I arrived. Mrs. Castro spoke Spanish at home, so Annette is fluent in Spanish. Julio's family, like Annette's, has roots in Mexico. However, as a fourth generation Californian, Julio spoke English as his first language. "I had to take Spanish classes in high school, and I'm still studying the language," he noted. J.D. will be bilingual.

I wondered if the couple hoped Jonathan would attend USC. Annette was quick to reply that decision would be made much later, but his preschool plan is set. "Julio serves on the board at Pacific Oaks College. We know how wonderful their early education program is, so J.D.will go there," Annette said.

The small family enjoys a morning ritual of coffee at Swork in Montrose. Julio, an investment banker, makes business calls at home before commuting to his Century City office.

"We like Swork because it's so kid-friendly," Annette explained. J.D. hangs onto Swork's train table while learning to walk.

Many of Annette's friends have requested her organic baby food recipe. She gave me a copy. Annette also described the progress of the Montrose Girl Scout program center renovation - I'll save that story for another day.

Baby's Organic Chicken Rice Soup

By Annette Castro Ramirez

Annette began to make baby food for her son after he refused to eat meat-based food from the jar.

1 whole organic chicken breast with bone, quartered

1/2 organic onion

2 gallons cold water

sachet of 2 bay leaves, sprig of fresh thyme, few sprigs of fresh parsley

1/2 cup organic brown rice

6 small red or gold organic potatoes, unpeeled

2 organic carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2- inch pieces 2 organic zucchini, cut into 4 pieces (about 1 1/2-inch long) 2 organic yellow squash, quartered

2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces

12 organic green beans

salt to taste (very little)

1. Rinse chicken and remove skin and extra fat. In a large stockpot, place chicken and onion. Add water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, uncovered. Reduce heat. Simmer while skimming fat that rises to top.

2. Add sachet and rice. Simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Add potatoes and carrots. Cover. Simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Add zucchini and squash. Cover. Simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Add celery and green beans. Cover. Simmer for 10 minutes.

6. Salt to taste. Remove onion and sachet. Let cool.

7. In a food processor, add meat of one chicken quarter, a couple potatoes and 4 pieces of each vegetable. Add broth and rice to puree to desired consistency. Continue to puree in batches, varying the vegetables for different taste combinations. As each batch is completed, put 4 oz. servings into small freezer containers or freezer bags. Freeze. Thaw and heat daily as needed.

Yield: 12-14 servings.

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