Monday, February 23, 2015

Pistachios... the Perfect Nut

As we noted last week, winter was not yet through with us... it was simply teasing us with warm weather last week. The storms that have arrived with a venomous velocity certainly took their toll on travel. From Dallas to Atlanta as far North as Providence Rhode Island, travel by road, train or plane was at a standstill. It is to be expected this time of year, and hopefully after the next bit rolls through on Friday, we will have a calm entrance to the lovely month of March.

As mentioned in the Bible, there is a time for every purpose under Heaven, and thus it is with nuts. Nuts arrive right on schedule as the last Fall harvest ends and the landscape falls barren until the arrival of the earliest winter proof edibles. To sustain mankind over the rather dismal months of winter, Nature was kind enough to present us with a hardy and highly nutritious meal encased in a protective shell. From Pecans to Walnuts, Cashews to Almonds, Peanuts to Cashews, there is a flavorful nut for every taste.

Nuts are actually considered a fruit encased in a hard shell. The frost proof shell is imperative to keep the fruit safe from harm as most nuts mature in late fall. The nutritional value is limitless and the culinary fun of choosing and then opening a tasty gem is marvelous.... they will add unique flavor to almost any meal or desert.  Thursday is National Pistachio Day so we should all enjoy some in grateful recognition of this ancient fruit.

Pistachio trees are said to have originated in Syria and traveled through the Middle East and Central Asia to all parts of the world where temperate climates exist. Part of the Cashew family, the Pistachio is considered a delicacy and is part of the weekly diet of those living in Iran, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, India, and Italy. California produces world famous Pistachios and is second to Iran in production. In 2013, the City Council of Avenal, California, proclaimed the city to be the Pistachio Capital of the World.

Seed opening tools and remains of Pistachio seeds have been discovered dating back 78,000 years in Israel and they were among the plants in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in in 700 BC.  The Pistachio is one of three seeds mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11), with the almond and walnut mentioned as well. Pliny the Elder, a favorite for his observations, mentioned in his writings they were brought to Greece by a Roman Proconsul to Syria in 35 AD and by the 6th century, Monastic manuscripts indicate they were well known in Europe as well.  

The internal kernels are often eaten whole, either fresh or roasted. Delicious Pistachios are used in ice cream and the Italian desert, spumoni, and the Russian baklava use them as a base... the list of uses for this delicious, delightful little nut is endless. In July 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first health claim specific to seeds lowering the risk of heart disease... the pistachio became famous overnight. Happy National Pistachio Day!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Kitchen Renovation Project

It's completed with exception of minor touching up. It is updated and functional for another thirty years! It was quite stressful having everything in disarray, but it is worth it.

Before and During:
Old Formica

Dishwasher installation

Cabinets being painted

Monday, February 16, 2015

Feed the Birds... and Wait for Spring!

The predicted blizzard has come and gone without giant velocity; hopefully everyone took heed and were prepared to stay inside for a few days. The North East half of the nation is experiencing terrible weather conditions with record breaking snow fall accompanied by hurricane force winds. To be classified as a blizzard, there must be snowfall, regardless of how much, accompanied by winds of at least 35 MPH for at least three hours. They had winds up to seventy miles per hour in some places and the accumulated snow will take many months to thaw. I lived in Connecticut for one of the record breaking winters, and by the time of the April thaw, the snow had become a soggy black mass from auto pollution and muck. Our petite amount of snow was perfect for tossing out poppies to assure their growth.

Everyone watched the gray sky and the approaching cold front since our sweater weather was slated to plunge. And by late afternoon the winds picked up their pace and people were rushing to be inside. The early cold raindrops suddenly changed sleet pellets, which clung in frozen digits on the side mirrors of passing cars. Indeed for a few scant moments, it was oddly interesting to see rain drops and sleet falling simultaneously. The winds began and could be heard howling, their voices predicting the inevitable power loss from which we were spared this time. An interesting fact is that OG & E reports it takes only 1/16th of an inch of ice on lines to cause a power outage... and loss of electricity, quickly dashes any sense of Valentine romance. 

 All day on Saturday and Sunday the birds instinctually knew of the impending storm… they were at the feeder the entire day, stocking up as it were. Many of the birds had begun building nests during the balmy spell last week so they quite possibly are in shock. This is the time it is important to feed them for the duration of this bad weather so they remain healthy. A mixture which contains cracked corn is excellent since eating corn produces a higher body heat than other feed and will keep our feathered friends warm.

Rajah seemed tired of the wind~

The outdoor Geraniums that are currently being housed until spring were in shock when they first arrived inside so many lost leaves and produced lackluster growth with the change of their environment. For months spindly stems and pitiful blooms have made them appear half their former selves as they impatiently wait to go outside again. However if one looks closely, the tiny new leaves that are being called forth appear robust in form and color. It is time to prune them so the energy lost in futilely attempting to keep the old growth alive may be transferred to the new. Drastically pinch back your plant, removing small yellowing leaves, old unhealthy growth, and bare stems. The Geraniums will appear unsightly but by the time to take them to the garden, they will have totally recovered from being a boring houseplant and will be ready to bloom their hearts out for you.
Stay warm... each day we are closer to Spring!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Stories from my Childhood for Lize and Julia

Julia and her brother Evans         

 When I was keeping Julia yesterday, after our walk, our excursion to the creek, and our quest to gather walnut shells, we became rather tired. I took her to my rocking chair, pulled her into my lap, covered her with a quilt, and asked if she wanted to hear a story of when I was a little girl. She did indeed and listened raptly, wanting to hear more and more of them... I told her stories for over an hour as we rocked and rested.

Here is one of them:
I used to visit my neighbor whose property was behind my parents on an acre... it belonged Marynette Thompson and her husband Phil, who was an attorney. There was a small gate leading from my backyard to her orchard so as little girl, I was allowed to wander through it to visit. She was always pleased to see me and would offer me either breakfast or lunch according to the time of day.

Her elderly parents lived in adjacent rooms upstairs with a bathroom between them... they never ventured out. Both were in their mid to late 90's and I found them fascinating. I called them Pappy and Mammy Ross, and although they were rather hard of hearing, we managed to converse quite well.

Pappy Ross used one of those old fashioned bull-horn type things he would put in his ear if he was particularly interested in something I was telling him. He had been a country doctor and he would tell me stories about making house calls, often in the dark of night, in his horse and buggy... the adventures he had riding about in the wild Indian territory at the turn of the century were wonderful. He also told me his famous quote: 'Catherine, medicine is for giving, not for taking', which I took to heart at age seven so I rarely take medicine even now.

Mammy Ross was tiny and frail but her busy hands were never still. She was always doing some sort of sewing or painting. She had an ancient scraggly green parrot that actually said 'Polly wants a cracker'... but he was incredibly scary and rather cross on a good day. She made me a china doll with a beautiful face she had painted for my eighth birthday. She had a full wardrobe of dresses, bonnets, and pantaloons... I still have her.

Miss Marynette had a two tiered lily pond with a waterfall and huge goldfish in the bottom pool... it was the first one I ever saw and I'd spend hours watching them. Sometimes she would let me feed them a few stale bread crumbs and they would eagerly gobble them up.

When I was a little girl I wandered the neighborhood a lot, visiting the retired folks who always seemed glad to see me. It was a safe and blessed childhood and I was extremely fortunate to have had it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Language of Flowers and Valentine's Day

"The Pink Rose symbolizes lesser affection than the Red Rose"      
The spring and summer weather over the weekend and into the week has allowed the gardener time to do some much-needed watering. It is always amazing that the slightest moisture immediately brings green to life and the misty rain last week woke the wheat. The tiny tips of the optimistic early bulbs are emerging in a such brave and stalwart manner as though spring is here to stay, which we all know is untrue. However since they have anti-freeze within their internal makeup, even though a winter cold snap will nip them, they will be the first to bloom.

Filling the void between the holidays and spring, Valentine's Day is a delightful interlude for on this one day the enchantment with flowers reigns supreme. February fourteenth was originally a celebration by the Church honoring several early saints named Valentinus, however in the Middle Ages the date became associated with Love.

As new flora was discovered in far away places flowers took on special meanings so a trend of the day included writing of the 'Language of Flowers'... flowers spoke to the public in an ever-popular symbolism. Flower symbolism had been used by the Japanese, Chinese, Arabs, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, the Bronte sisters, and many, many more, however Joseph Hammer-Pugstall's 'Dictionnaire du language des fleurs' , written in 1809, took the trend to a new level and appears to be the first published list assigning flowers with symbolic definitions. The first dictionary of floriography appeared in 1819 when Louise Cortambert wrote 'La langage des Fleurs'

In her dictionary flowers were assigned symbolic and emotional characteristics, such as the one assigned the Rose. *The deep red rose and its thorns symbolize the intensity of romantic love or the trials of Christ, pink roses imply lesser affection, white roses suggest virtue and yellow roses deep friendship. The black rose is associated with death or dark magic. It also characterized he folding foliage of the Mimosa as a symbol of chastity, the Lily of the Valley was representative of a chaste nature, and so forth. With a meaning for every flower, often one suiting its nature, it is quite a fascinating study.

Armed with floral dictionaries, the Victorians exchanged small bouquets or floral arrangements which sent a coded message to the recipients. This allowed them to express feelings which were discouraged in a society that feigned public displays of affection. These arrangements secretly spoke volumes and those familiar with the code readily, and joyfully, read the messages. By the mid-eighteen  hundreds, there was no better day to declare love than Valentine's Day, which became the occasion when family, friends, and lovers express affection through flowers, confections, and cards.

Happy Valentines Day... remember to tell someone you love them.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Beguiled By Begonias

Winter arrived Monday morning with unexpected temperatures in the teens accompanied by a frosty wind.  Naturally Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania Groundhog, predicted six more weeks of Winter. The fact a groundhog is the principal seer, the most-wise consultant, is a bit silly, however the well respected Farmer's Almanac had also predicted a harsh winter.

Perhaps 2015 will be the year of the Begonia, a large family of most interesting plants. The Begonia was commonly thought originate Brazil,  however history has shown  the Chinese used them medicinally as early as the 14th century. Uses varied from disinfecting wounds to reducing swelling, and easing the symptoms of a cold. Often the sap was used to stop a tooth or stomach ache or cure a kidney ailment, . The first documentation of their discovery was by a Franciscan monk, Charles Plumier, who found fibrous begonias in Brazil in 1690 and shipped them back to Europe.

Since Begonias originate in tropical regions they require warm temperatures to flourish... their favorite habitat is the forest where they thrive at the feet of the old growth trees. Therefore, the gardener must attempt to duplicate those conditions for them to do well... deep shade, nice mulch, slightly moist soil are perfect for them.   

The most popular Begonias belong to the tuberous family who thrive nicely in a container. Since shade is a requirement, while container-bound they may be easily moved as garden shade changes during the course of the season with the journey of the Sun.

Wax Begonias are among favorites for summer garden plantings as well. A member of this group is the fantastic 'Dragonwing' Begonia, who has larger leaves and flowers than her normal counterparts.
In considering Begonias remember to include the most interesting of all.... the amazing 'Escargot', with intriguing multi-green leaves which swirl about into a small circle at the leaf center. She may grow to be an extremely large tropical plant and is indeed a show-stopping focal point in any garden setting.

Most begonias are easily propagated by from stem cuttings. After cutting sections plant them in a potting medium and if tenderly checked, soon small wispy root tendrils may be seen... baby Begonias are being born! By performing the simple process of propagation, you may easily increase your number of Begonias without the cost of purchasing additional plants. 

Photo: Escargot Begonia via Douglas E. Welch