February 23, 2010

Live and Learn

Lest anyone is actually following this blog and my tips on starting plants from seed, take heed!

After two weeks of fighting mold on my seed trays, I threw them all out and had to start over. It seems they didn't get enough air circulation. So, while I had the proper potting soil, the proper lighting (on timers, no less, to have more light per day than the sun can provide right now) the proper amount of water, the proper temperature (between 70 and 80 degrees), I failed to provide the proper air circulation!


So, it seems that one must open up those clear, plastic lids at least once a day for about an hour to allow for air circulation and, thus, inhibit the ability of that pesky mold to grow.

But it's still early enough to get new seeds going!

Ah, the cycle of life and death, the pas de deux with Mother Nature, the rhythm of the seasons, the thrill of the harvest, all come together to create the secret of happiness!

Happy gardening!

February 11, 2010

Happy New Year!

On February 10th, I spent the afternoon with my daughter's third-grade class. We wrote Valentine's poetry and the children played games and, even though I made my annual contribution of an attractive tray of fruit (which is always devoured), society still demands an obscene amount of candy. So, the children overdose on sugar. I try.

But what lends February 10th another degree of importance, at least in our neck of the woods, is that it is eight weeks before the last average frost date and, therefore, the day on which we set up the greenhouse and start our seedlings for the spring planting later on. This year, our first seedlings will be celery, cabbage, bear's garlic, and leeks. In another two weeks, we'll add peppers, tomatoes and eggplant.

(For more detailed information on how to do this yourself, see the original greenhouse blog entry from last year.)

The days are getting noticeably longer. The sun seems to be shining more brightly. The remaining snow may be fighting to hang on, but we all know it's a losing battle.

Here is the first two of what will eventually be eight shelving units taking over our living room and the table of lovingly mixed organic potting soil in the foreground:

A close-up of one of the seed trays with its own grow light:

So, while January 1st may be the official New Year, I would propose that Valentine's Day be the natural New Year. It is when life begins anew. It is when the birds return to the trees in our backyard, singing their morning songs. It is when the crocuses and tulips start thinking about popping up through the blanket of snow. It is when one's spirit is lifted out of its winter slumber to do that farming thing all over again.

Happy New Year!

February 9, 2010

The Spice of Life

Since getting into cooking again recently, I, of course, had to have some new cookbooks. So, my dear new Sis-in-law, who, like me, has the good fortune to be married to a Russian, recommended the following Russian cookbook:

It is encyclopedic in its coverage of the dishes of all the former Soviet Republics. Its recipes are very true to the authentic ones and we've already enjoyed Chatchipuri (Georgian cheese pie), Chibureki (meat pies) and tonight it's Chicken Tsatsivi (chicken in a walnut and spice sauce).

Which brings me to my spice cupboard. I'm going to do you a favor by NOT showing you the"before" picture. But, since I needed about eight different spices to mix together in my new mortar and pestle (yes, also a recent purchase), I decided it was time to dig deep into the cupboard to 1. find the spices I needed and 2. clean and organize the cupboard a bit.

Well, it was like going on a treasure hunt! There were green peppercorns from Guadeloupe, ground saffron from Moscow, real saffron from Spain (thanks, Dad!), various curries and garam masala from India, organic maple butter from Canada, Japanese panko (bread crumbs), and our own dried peppers and herbs from last fall's garden. There were three versions of cilantro and two of celery seed. There was whole mace. There was Kazak soup mix.

Here's the "after" picture:

My most surprising find was the ground mustard. Apparently, I forget that I have it and purchase a new bottle of it whenever I'm making a recipe which calls for it.

No one needs seven bottles of it, I'm sure.

February 1, 2010

Love and Death

Unlike the protagonist in Jose Saramago's recent novel Death with Interruptions, in which Death decides to take a vacation from Her duties, She is alive and well and making Her rounds in our neck of the woods.

She paid us a visit this morning.

Our beloved Felix, who was on the mend from recent ailments, took a sudden turn for the worse. At 9:30am, I noticed that his breathing was very labored. I called and made an appointment with the vet for 11:15am and, when I went to get him a little before 11am, he was already gone. The vet surmised that he must have aspirated something to have died so suddenly.

Here he is cuddled up on our other cat, Angel, just two days ago.

He sat and slept by Dad all day yesterday. He had been gaining weight. He seemed a little lethargic, but otherwise alright. His personal history had been much more dramatic than anything that was going on here.

After getting bitten by another cat, being duct-taped as his triage, chased off to live in the cold wilderness for six months, reappearing as skin and bones, suffering a respiratory infection, among who knows what else, it seems that he burned through his nine lives in short order. (He hadn't reached his second birthday.) At least he got to finish his days surrounded by love and warmth.

And while he may be "only a cat", and while "there will be other cats" to love, each being is unique. Felix was a lover, not a fighter. He got very attached to us, and we to him. He even maintained a peaceful coexistence with, almost an affection for, our spayed female, Angel (who is pacing around the house now wondering where he went).

As the breath of life left his fur and flesh and bones in an immobile, cool stillness, I realize that we must content ourselves with that small vestige of his spirit that remains -- memory.

Requiescat in pace, Felix.