Archives for posts with tag: thankfulness

After potting up the herbs and deadly nightshades (see April 25, 2014) and before leaving on our road trip (to visit friends and their Belgian Tervuren at the ABTC National Specialty event in Huron, Ohio), I sowed seeds for two varieties of summer squash and two of cucumbers. Optimistically (hope springs eternal, my father always said), I also planted a third batch of orange bell pepper seeds. I left them all (along with the rest of the seedlings and outdoor garden) in the very capable hands of Rachel’s mother.

Well, it would seem that she has a very green thumb (thanks!). I hardly expected the seeds to germinate by the time we returned two days ago—only six days after planting. Well, they germinated all right (probably after three or four days) and the seedlings have also surged to a height of over four inches. When I went downstairs to check on them Thursday, they were pushing up on the seed tray’s clear plastic cover.

On closer inspection, I found that not everything had sprouted. There was no sign of the Orange Sun bell peppers. The third time is not a charm for these seeds which must be past their pull date (contrary to what is printed on the seed packet). It would appear that not even the greenest thumb can resurrect them.

Further (or lesser, in this case), only one zucchini and only one pickling cucumber seed have germinated, in contrast to the six crookneck squash and five slicing cucumber seeds that sprang forth. Again, there is not much we can do about older seeds except to resolve not to plant them. Next year, we’ll be buying everything fresh.

I wasted no time moving the squash and cucumber seedlings into the tallest plastic pots I have. After placing them back on a shelf of the seed-starting apparatus, I hitched up the fluorescent light fixture to its highest position. At the rate the cucurbits are growing, they will be brushing against the bulbs well before we set them out on Memorial Day weekend.

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No holiday is given shorter shrift than Thanksgiving.  The run-up to it is short—it is practically non-existent, in fact—and the celebration is sandwiched between two holiday grandstanders:  Halloween—one of the flashiest holidays—and Christmas, whose season seems to start earlier and earlier every year.  On the holiday calendar, Thanksgiving does not get much attention.

In supermarkets (for example), the Thanksgiving items often will occupy only a narrow section of seasonal shelving and then only for a week or two.  During that same period, the canned pumpkin and stuffing mixes will share the space with half-price trick-or-treat candy and a vast selection of Christmas goodies.  The brightly-colored candy canes and foil-wrapped chocolate Santas visually dominate the muted earth tones of Thanksgiving packaging.

And once the turkey has been consumed, the Thanksgiving holiday is almost instantly forgotten.  After all, the next morning sees the dawn of Black Friday, an event which has become almost more spectacular than Christmas itself and which has stretched through the weekend and into the following week to include Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  For some retailers, the sales extravaganza begins Thanksgiving night (talk about no respect).  Ads may make brief, comical references to Thanksgiving leftovers but that is usually the extent of it.

Really, it’s a shame.  And not just because Thanksgiving is overshadowed by commercial activities.  It’s too bad mainly because Thanksgiving is such an elemental celebration.  It is observed by essentially everybody, has no religious affiliation and is almost entirely about family.  Yes, food is the central physical component—the equivalent of the presents at Christmas—but the holiday focuses on sharing that bounty, rejoicing in belonging to a social group (not just a traditional family), and expressing our gratitude for everything we have.

 This Thanksgiving, in addition to everything else I am thankful that the holiday has not (yet) been entirely crowded off the calendar.

We spent some time today planning our Thanksgiving meal.  The menu is based on tradition so there are not many choices to make.  Typically, our trusty-dusty recipes dominate although we will usually consider the variety of choices presented in the November food and cooking magazines.  Often, but by no means always, something new can be accommodated.

Not this year, though.  To work around work and travel schedules, we are having the main meal early—the Wednesday before—and taking it on the road.  We’re still the cooks, so everything must be made ahead.  Further—and, hey, no pressure—we’ll be joined by relatives visiting from out of town.  This is no time for experimentation.

We always start with the basics:  roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce.  Then we add another starch, some variation of sweet potato casserole or a second stuffing (and probably, I should use the term dressing because we haven’t stuffed a turkey since 2001).  Yesterday’s New York Times Dining section (see “Essential Thanksgiving”) referred to this menu component as “something orange”, a clever characterization that they expanded to include macaroni and cheese.

(Serving mac and cheese on Thanksgiving is an interesting idea; many Italian-Americans I know include pasta as a separate course on Thanksgiving, which has always struck me as a good way to combine—or, dare I say, mash up—culinary traditions.)

We agree with the philosophy that there should be something green on the table to round out the menu both in nutrition and color.  In past years, we have prepared everything from Brussels sprouts, kale, and even an arugula fennel salad (although salads are my least favorite contributor from this group).  Most recently, we have been making green beans with walnuts in a lemon vinaigrette which is a perfect complement to the meal (the dish’s acidity refreshes the palate) and has the added advantage of being relatively easy and quick to prepare.

And then there must be dessert.  Most often, this is pie, pumpkin or pecan.  Some years, we add a second sweet, which may or may not be another pie.  This year, we decided to make a Polka Dot Cheesecake, a recipe developed by Maida Heatter and featured in an early issue of Saveur magazine.  The polka dots in the recipe are chocolate but we’ll make them pumpkin-flavored in honor of the season.  (Maybe we’re experimenting this year after all.)

I like to start the meal (while the turkey rests) with a small glass of Bourbon.  This is not my usual cocktail choice but the Bourbon and its perfect accompaniment of roasted, salted pecans are uniquely American.  Both items seem appropriate for Thanksgiving which, although not uniquely American (Canadians celebrate it in October), is in part a celebration of being American.

Here’s another good reason why I enjoy growing tomatoes in my backyard:

Of course, it is also a good reason why I enjoy eating and drinking and otherwise being alive.

Warning:  Insect photo below.

This morning, we found the culprit who has been munching its way through the basil and leaving a nasty mess behind:  a large, hairy caterpillar.  I’m not sure what it will eventually morph into (a moth, probably) but it looks more like something I would see if I put a drop of swamp water on a glass slide and looked at it under a microscope (i.e., more Parameciidae than Lepidoptera).  We clipped off the leaf it was clinging to, along with the other soiled leaves, and tossed them into the woods.

We also replanted—again—the arugula seedlings that a friend gave to us.  They had not been doing well in their pot (too small) and we are hoping that by moving them to the east raised bed (where the other lettuces have been happily growing) they will have a better shot at survival.

At the other end of the garden, the Kabocha squash plant looks to be a climber. It has been steadily creeping outward from its mound of soil, searching for something to wrap its tendrils around.  To accommodate it, we built a tripod of six-foot-high stakes (the green plastic type, tied together at the top with twine) and trained the vine up one of the legs.  Its leaves are now facing the wrong way (north) but they should soon readjust.

From the top of the tripod, we hung a temple bell that a friend gave me for my birthday (the same generous friend who gifted me the blue ceramic pot; see June 29, 2013).  Gleaming with reflected sunlight, the bell now anchors the west end of the garden and provides a meditative—and melodic—focal point for anyone passing by.

Anybody keeping track of what’s going on in our garden (and everybody’s keeping track, right?) may have noticed:  No herbs!  (Not counting the basil, of course.)

Why?  Well, for one thing we got a late start with our indoor growing.  Herbs like thyme, oregano and sage, which take a long time to germinate and slowly develop to transplantable size, are best started in early January.  We didn’t plant our first seeds until the end of March (see March 24, 2013).  At that time, we were more concerned about tomatoes, cucumbers and squash than additional herbs.

Since then, with everything else we have been doing—planting, watering, nurturing, potting up, setting out; oh, and removing sod and placing cedar mulch—there just hasn’t been time.  Whenever we stopped to consider planting the herbs, we always concluded that there was something else more pressing that needed to be attended to first.

And there is also the question of where to plant them.  The adjunct herb garden of last year (on the concrete stoop outside one of our house’s doors) is no longer easily accessible.  My office is located just inside the door and my desk blocks it from opening.

The corner of the back porch, where we grew herbs two years ago, is now occupied by a bright yellow hibiscus plant in an intensely deep-blue ceramic pot (a gift from a friend; thank you!).  We tried placing a pot or two of basil beside the hibiscus but decided that it looked too busy and detracted from the flowers’—and the pot’s—simple beauty.

Meanwhile, at the other side of the house, several existing herbs from years gone by are staging a modest comeback.  Two of them—chives and oregano—we planted several years ago and left for dead after their first season; they’ve returned every year since.  Another three—thyme, tarragon and sage—we transplanted from the pots they grew in last year.  This spot, in partial shade all day, is not ideal for herbs but apparently it is good enough.

So, that’s where we’ll grow our herbs this year.  To fill out the space, we added spearmint and rosemary, the only plants we’ve purchased so far this season.  We would have transplanted our spearmint and peppermint from last year, but neither of them survived (which is odd because I consider mint an aggressive and invasive herb).  Finally, we nestled two pots of basil (ones we couldn’t give away) in among the other herbs.

This herb garden makes a pretty picture and, if it is successful, will be much more convenient to the kitchen.

Well, we did our best to find homes for all of the seedlings—plants we started from seed, raised indoors under fluorescent lights, nurturing them with gentle watering and periodic doses of fertilizer until they grew large and strong enough to be set outside to take their chances with Mother Nature and other gardeners—and we were reasonably successful.  Of the eight or so people we reached out to, four accepted our offer.  And while one took only a few seedlings (her gardening space is small), three left here with one or two of each.

We started with six trays of seedlings which potted-up to six trays full of fledgling vegetable plants; today, only about 20 remained.  It is late in the planting season and the seedlings have almost used up the nutrients that remain in their small pots of soil; their leaves have all turned yellow.  We can’t think of anyone else to offer them to so…we let them go.  We said some words of thanks and tossed them onto the refuse pile.  They were a good bunch of plants and I’m sure their energy will return to our garden, somehow, in a future year.

Easily the hardest part of the potting up operation was deciding how many and which seedlings to pot up.

I’m happy to say that our germination rate was very high and that most of our seedlings are healthy and viable.  But we were not very optimistic back in late March and early April and sowed eight or 12 seeds of each vegetable variety and an entire tray—that’s 72 seeds—of basil.  Consequently, we have many more seedlings than we can fit in the garden.

For the squashes, we sowed eight seeds of each variety and all of them germinated.  We picked the four largest (of each) to pot up and that left us with eight seedlings still in the seed tray.  They seem particularly robust and yet we do not have room for them.  On the other hand, I cannot bear the idea of tossing them out.  After all, we raised them from tiny seeds.

So I made an executive decision…and deferred until later.  Back into the house they went with their transplanted siblings.

We had an even higher factor of safety against germination failure with the cucumbers having planted 12 seeds of each, almost all of which germinated.  We filled an entire drainage tray with transplants, seven of each variety, but it is still more than we can use.  Perhaps we will find family or friends who will take some.

And it still left us with eight seedlings in the seed tray.  There is not really room for them inside the house so this time, we tried to be less sentimental about it.  We walked the tray over to the refuse pile behind the house, said some words of thanks to the seedlings for giving us their best, and, in acknowledgement of the cycle of life (and death), tossed them onto the pile.

I know this is the way of gardening but I did not feel satisfied.

And when we got to the tomatoes, it became clear that we needed another plan (or at least more time to think about it).  We sowed 12 seeds of each variety and only have room in the garden for two.  We potted up three of each (to protect against seedling failure) but when we were done, the tray of seedlings looked almost untouched.  Fifty healthy tomato plants are too many to throw away.

So, we will try to find homes for the seedlings we can’t use.  Failing that (and it is unlikely that we will find homes for all of them), I will practice letting go and toss the unwanted seedlings onto the heap.  Maybe this will motivate me to start that compost pile I’m always talking about.

The squash seedlings have practically jumped out of their seed tray.  They are quite tall (about four inches) and about as wide, elbowing their neighbors for space like commuters on a rush-hour subway train.

The cucumber seedlings are almost as big, in girth if not height, as are most of the tomato seedlings whose branches are spreading out even while their stems are still spindly.  The leaves are becoming intertwined and are forming a dense canopy over the seed tray.

It is time to pot up.

We had prepared for this by procuring some larger plastic pots.  We thought we would find them for sale at our local garden centers but neither the Home Depot nor the Plant Depot carries them.  The kind people at the Plant Depot did give us the few they had in their potting shed—seven 4-inch square pots—and it’s a start but not nearly enough.

I next tried the family-run nursery and market a couple of miles down the road from us.  They don’t sell them either but had many on hand (they use them in the nursery).  Theirs plastic pots are smaller (about 3 1/2 inches high) and round and I was able to cadge a stack of 65 of them from the friendly proprietress (actually, she offered them and I thankfully accepted).

Before starting, I washed the pots with diluted bleach.  After all, the containers were not new and who knows where they had been?  All joking aside, young plants are very susceptible to diseases and insects.  It would only take a small clod of soil to infect the seedlings.

We had also purchased a bag of compost which we added in equal parts to the seed starting mix that was left over from the sowing operation.  Seed mix does not provide much organic material which the seedlings need to continue their growth (they will have used up the energy in their endosperm by now).  Cutting the dense, claylike compost into the granular seed starting mix reminded me of making the topping for a fruit crisp.  I used a trowel (as opposed to two table knives or a pastry cutter) and when the soil achieved the appearance of coarse meal, I knew it was done (just like the dessert).

The squash seedlings are the largest and we reserved the larger pots for them.  We filled each with soil and I formed holes for the seedlings by pressing two fingers into the soil.  The pots were ready to receive squash plants but how to get them out of the seed tray?

My first temptation would be to grab a seedling by its stem and yank it out.  However, there is a danger of pulling the seedling’s roots out of the soil.  Also, we had read that the stems of young plants are delicate and that handling them, even gently, should be avoided.  Fortuitously, I had also read (I don’t remember where but it was online) that using a fork was a convenient way to get the seedlings out.  This made sense to me so I grabbed one from the kitchen drawer.

I carefully jabbed it into the soil of the first squash plant, a Supersett Yellow Crookneck, near the edge of its compartment.  With a firm lateral and upward motion, I lifted the fork and the entire plug of soil, bound by the seedling’s roots, came free.  It was like pulling an escargot from its shell.

With the seedling still impaled on the fork, I pressed it into one of the pots.  Rachel added another handful of soil and I packed it around the stem at the same time pulling out the fork.  By varying the pressure, I was able to align the stem roughly perpendicular to the soil surface without touching it.  Transplant accomplished.

We repeated the process for three more Crookneck seedlings and then potted up four Cavili Zucchini.  We gave them all a splash of water, recompacted the soil and topped off each pot with another trowelful of potting mix.  After the excess water had drained out, we put the pots back into the catchment tray (the same one the seed tray had been in), put them back under the fluorescent lights, and moved on to the cucumbers.

Potting up seven of the Alibi Pickling Cornichons and an equal number of Alibi Pickling cucumbers both refilled the drainage tray and depleted the potting soil.  I mixed up another batch and we repeated the entire process with the tomato seedlings.  We transplanted three of each of the six varieties, resulting in 18 pots with room to grow.

The eggplant, bell peppers and basil do not look ready to move up just yet so we will let them go for another week.  The basil seedlings are moving particularly slow and they may be able to go directly outdoors.

Often when I am planning a trip to a new destination (or one with which I am not very familiar), I will make a virtual visit using Google Maps.  I am a visual thinker and have found that by looking at the satellite/aerial views—often combined with Street View—of a location, I can form a preliminary mental map that will help me navigate and become comfortable in a strange environment.  Call it pre-familiarization.

I made such a flyover before coming to Hawaii.  I was looking for the condo where we stayed on our last trip and where we are staying again this time (in the same room, coincidentally), the name or location of which I could not remember (it was more than 10 years ago).  I had only a general idea of where it was—across the road from the resorts of Napili and Kapalua—and a recollection that it was near a large hotel (where we sipped cocktails at sunset one evening).

It wasn’t much to go on but by cruising (digitally) up and down Lower Honoapiilani Road a few times, I was able to home in on a potential location.  There was no adjacent hotel (I learned from our friends yesterday that it had been demolished and replaced by luxury residences in the intervening years) but by zooming down, I was able to recognize the distinctive swimming pool, memorable for its azure blue tiles.  Rachel later confirmed the location, having found its website online.

A fringe benefit of my virtual touring is that I sometimes discover places of interest that I might not otherwise have encountered.  In this case, I happened upon the Dragon’s Teeth Labyrinth on a spit of volcanic rock north of our condo.  From the air, it would appear to be a full-sized Chartres labyrinth and to occupy a potentially sacred spot where land and water meet.  This morning, we set out to see it for ourselves.  The prospect was exciting as we have always enjoyed walking labyrinths and developed one on our property (see July 10, 2011).

Public access to the coast cannot be restricted in Hawaii (even though much of the oceanfront property is privately owned) and there are many trails that follow the shore.  One such trail heads north from Kapalua Beach and winds through the luxury residences (which seem strangely vacant).  As we passed by, a rainbow appeared to the west between us and Molokai, an auspicious beginning to our journey.  When the trail reached the north end of the housing complex, it led out onto a jagged outcropping of the solidified lava that forms most of Hawaii’s coastline.

From there, the trail turns eastward, first passing through a shore bird nesting habitat and then onto a boardwalk just above the beach at Oneloa Bay.  At the far end of the beach, the trail turns back inland to follow Lower Honoapiilani Road (although access to the coast cannot be restricted, much of it remains physically inaccessible).  A short walk along the road brought us to the fourth tee of the Kapalua Bay Golf Course.

Here we paused for a moment.  Getting out to the Dragon’s Teeth would involve walking along the edge of the fairway.  We knew that we had the right to pass but many golf courses are private and off limits to non-members or players.  When we saw a sign warning of proximity to the course—and not commanding us to keep out—we started down along the hedge that forms the fairway’s border.  At one point we held up to allow a foursome of golfers to play through.  It was not the reverent approach we were expecting to make (even if the more devout golfers around us would have considered this fine course a place of worship).

When we reached the outcropping it was evident how it got its name.  The eastern edge of the spit was lined with spiky vertical projections of lava (aa, presumably) that were upturned by wave action while still molten (or so I later read).  The waves are still quite strong here and wash against the Dragon’s Teeth obliquely resulting in a fountain of water that slides along the shoreline dramatically.

Just beyond the teeth, where the jetty levels out, we found the labyrinth.  Circular in plan, its 11 concentric paths are divided from each other by stones that have been smoothed by wave action and are anchored in place by succulents growing around them.  The labyrinth clearly sees many visitors as the paths have been worn down into ruts by heavy foot traffic.  Even so, we were fortunate to have it to ourselves.

We slowly and solemnly made our pilgrimage to the center of the labyrinth and once there, performed our version of the Medicine Wheel Prayer.  We first faced east and raised our arms in salute to spring and rebirth.  We next turned to the south and paid homage to summer and growth.  Then, we faced west, acknowledging fall and the natural endings in life and to complete the circle, we looked to the north in respect of winter and introspection.  Finally, we raised our heads to greet Father Sky and bowed to show our love for Mother Earth (perhaps a sphere would be a better symbol).

It wasn’t as mystical or woo-woo as it might sound (especially with golfers putting nearby).  It was, however, a simple ritual that left us feeling centered—literally and figuratively—and fully appreciative of this world we live in and the particular paradise in which we found ourselves today.