December 25, 2016

Making the Best of it, at Christmas

I could have cleaned the glass better on this cloche, but with the amount of stone dust around here. this gives you an idea of what I am dealing with. Still - no stopping Christmas and Hanukah!  A few clippings from the cold greenhouse bring a bit of fresh winter cheer indoors for the Holidays. Camellias, Nerine and some tender winter-blooming greenhouse shrubs.

As the kitchen remodel comes along, the Holidays (the original deadline) seemed to have beat us out. So rather than cancel our traditional Lithuanian Christmas eve fete, we kept our invitation list open, cleaned-up a bit, and cranked up the stove to make lots of yummy food, since we know what friends and family really care about - good food and good drink. Along with great friends, this is was the Holidays are all about, right? Thanks too, to the greenhouse, which helped as I scooted out just before sunset last night to grab a few bits of greens, herbs and winter blooms from the early camellias and sub-tropical shrubs which do so well in a cold, winter greenhouse. A few Nerine sarniensis were also in bloom along with a large acacia tree.

Merry Christmas everyone!  Here are a few pics from last night, as our kitchen remodel continues - ( I certainly won't bother you with that nonsense! f you've been through one before, you know exactly what I am talking about!).

Camellia 'Yuletide' tries to distract house guests from walls being torn down. I was pretty effective, except that my brother thought that I has wired some flowers to the stems of some branches.

I brought in many plants from the greenhouse to help hide construction.

A very special gift from my dear friend Abbie (Zabar) - one of her infamous hand-made potholders (we both share a family story and memory bank regarding this vintage simple weavings. I love them, and adore this one even though I know it will eventually get dirty from use (hey, I'm a foodie and a cook!), she understands - once sending me laundering instructions.

So this Christmas day, the kitchen remodel which involved combining two rooms to create one great space, it coming along, but no complete - we just had to make the best of it. Here is a shot of our new concrete-topped parson's table (Crate & Barrel), and the Bodbyn cabinets from Ikea.

The dogs are adapting well to all of the changes. Daphne here doesn't care where she eats her Christmas dinner, and even our new dog ( a temporary visit from a dog named 'Bob' a rescue from France who will be staying with us for a while. He is blind and will be going to Tufts Animal Hospital for evaluation).

One of the new cabinet units awaiting hardware for the drawers and doors.

This window seat will be painted then set with copper trays with gravel so that I can use it was a large display plant window, but painting won't begin until next week once the board and batten walls are installed/ These will be painted white,  the plant window in a dark slate grey, and the beadboard which runs along the upper part of the walls, in a light grey.

I can't wait for everything to be complete, until then, I am driving our builders (Joe's nephew Curtis and his friend Phil) crazy by bringing in plants.

...and Christmas decorations. Even though I have only used a few.

Last night we celebrated our traditional Lithuanian Kuchia's (sp?) a Christmas Eve dinner with traditional foods from Lithuania, Scandinavia and other northern European countries. Friends and family dined on many fishes, beef, herring rye, salmon and sweets. Not to mention cocktails enough to keep everyone happy.

Cake decorator extordinaire my friend Jess, created this masterpiece in homage to mix-match Holiday decor. I loved it - it reminded me of my mom's old tin of vintage buttons that she would dump out on here bed when I was a toddler to play with. How simple times once were, right?

Acacia (Mimosa) blossoms from the  greenhouse helped decorate a side table with rye and smoked salmon. Our countertops won't arrive until early January, so we had to improvise with bits of chopping blocks and old countertops balanced onto new cabinets.

When the kitchen is complete, we will have much more storage, but for now, we are trying to stash things were they fit, as we dream about one of those kitchen where everything has a place. When the countertops arrive (white marble) we will be happier.

We had a few hours to hang a few lights outdoors.

We  discovered what was killing our ducks over the past few weeks - I heard Joe yelling for me to come out ( from way out back, thinking that maybe he slipped on ice or something I rushed out -  but this is what he found. A snowy white owl!!Illuminated with his high power flashlight,  we first presumed it to be a Snowy Owl, but now believe that it was a Barred Owl in light plumage. It's not a great shot, but he took off just after I snapped this. He was mostly white with some spots - the all black eyes may indicate that it was a very white Barred Owl as a Snowy Owl would have yellow eyes. He was eating a duck on top of a dead tree.

December 20, 2016

Have Yourself a Very Mandarin Christmas

Mandarin oranges are a seasonal treat around the Holiday season but have you ever wondered why?
(I apologize if you had tried to read this post earlier in the week, somehow I accidentally deleted it. I had to rewrite it but this time, I kept it much shorter.).

Christmas time and Mandarin oranges - it's a pairing that started long before there branded varieties marketed under catchy brand names such as 'Cutie's' and 'Halo's', even before there were clementines. the truth is that these sweet, easy-to-peel citrus have a far more interesting story than simple being seedless tangerines.

Those stories from your grandparents about getting an orange in their Christmas stocking and being thrilled about has some truth to it. They weren't just telling tales. Of course, that lump of coal was something else.

Mandarin oranges have a long history in Asia where their juicy sweetness brightened up the winter months, but across North America and Europe, the Mandarin changed how cold-weather folk thought about winter fruit.

 It all began in the mid 1800's when ships arriving from Japan and the Philippines brought crates of imported Mandarins into the ports on the west coast of the US.These crates of sweet Mandarins then traveled via train to the big East coast cities.  So popular around Christmastime, that local papers from Toronto to New York City often announced their arrival with headlines like ''Japanese Oranges Arrive Just in Time For Christmas!'.

My father remembers as a four year old child in 1918 receiving sweet Mandarins in his Christmas stocking (his brothers once told me that he would hide them under his bed so that his other 7 brothers wouldn't find them).

Trains were often painted promoting the arrival of the Mandarins. This began in the 1920's but continued into the 1970's as seen here.

Today, we are seeing a resurgence of Mandarin appreciation, with the introduction of new varieties, marketed under catchy brand names like 'Cuties' and Halo's. The true Mandarin though is larger, and not unlike apples, encompass a whole group of named varieties which share the loose skin and easy-to-peel characteristics.

In Japan, the choicest varieties are known as the 'Satsuma' type. But understanding the various classes of Mandarins is a skill few of us really need to know or master, but why not try to explain the various differences? It's just what I like to do!

Here are the several classes of Mandarin Oranges:

Class I - Mandarin (One class is actually called - Mandarin)
This class includes the varieties named 'Changsa', 'Emperor', 'Oneco' and 'Willow-Leaf' or China Mandarin'.

Class II - Tangerines:
This class includes: 'Cleopatra' , Ponki', 'Spice', 'Dancy', 'Ponkan', 'Sunburst' (the Tangelo)

Class II - Satsuma Orange: Includes varieties of Satsuma such as 'Owari', Wase', Kara' and King Tangor. There are many hybrids as well.

Mandarin oranges in my greenhouse are just beginning to ripen. This variety is once that I purchases a few years ago from Logee's Greenhouses named 'Gold Nugget'. It is much larger than the catalog description, as it is not 5 feet tall, but it bears plenty of large, easy-to-peel fruit every winter. They rarely make it out of the greenhouse, though!

The very choice 'Satsuma' Mandarin has an easy-to-peel skin, is seedless and has a flavor unbeat in the citrus world. Their short season in December makes them something to look forward to around the holidays.

Old Christmas cards often featured festive greenery and oranges.

While researching for images and stories, I discovered this blog - InkwellInsirations by a Canadian writers group with a post  written by Anita Mae Draper entitled "What happened to Christmas Oranges?". The images are terrific, and the newspaper clippings are even better.

For me, the Mandarin orange is tops. Tangelos and honey tangelos are a top favorite in January, but he December Satsuma is king.  Nothing beats a good, sweet, juicy easy-to-peel Satsuma Mandarin - seedless, with flavor that could almost be artificial (but in a good way! Like the tangerine Life Savors), but in the end, I think that its the nostalgia and history that makes the Mandarin so appealing (sorry!).

A fresh, easy to peel sweet orange must have been a real treat at a time before there were motor cars or even sushi chefs at every supermarket. Certainly worthy of a cherished place within a Christmas stocking on Christmas eve. SO this year, celebrate the Mandarin and be thankful that they are still a festive Holiday treat, even 150 years later.

Cultural Note: If you do find some seeds in those Clementines, forget about trying to grow them into full-grown trees. They won't come true, and the resulting plants will just be thorny shrubs. I know some blogs are suggesting that you can raise your own from seed, but with citrus, that just is impossible unless it is a pure, wild species, and few if any of those are edible. But if you want to grow some citrus seeds with your kids, definitely do that - it's how I first started growing plants! By the time I reached college age, those grapefruit plants that I started in first grade where taller than I was - but still no blossoms or fruit. They did their job, though!

Happy Christmas everyone!

December 4, 2016

Finding Peace Under Glass

I think I have only stepped out to see the greenhouse once in three weeks. I'm discovering that in November and December, a little break from gardening is somewhat welcome. Maybe it's because one preoccupied with other more pressing things (you know - like the Holidays, work, family issues and life), or maybe it's just a case of Post Traumatic Gardening Syndrome - recovery after a crazy hot, long (a record-breaking drought) and all that which comes with those last few weeks of gardening in which one packs into every last moment of ever-decreasing daylight - chores which have little to no chance of ever getting completely done - digging dahlia tubers, garden clean up and deciding what to do with buckets of frozen, rotten tomatoes and peppers. Not to mention still having to wrap the inside of the greenhouse with bubble wrap (let alone actually ordering it before Thanksgiving!).