A Kingfisher in the Kitchen…

Vintage 1950’s Kingfisher bird illustration by Athos Menaboni

Some time ago, in a dusty section of an old antique shop, I found a broken down book full of beautiful portrait prints. The book was getting ready to be heaved into a rolling bin headed for the recycling center, along with many other books that had been damaged by a recent leak in the shop. Still on the shelf, but tagged for recycling, the fate of the bird book didn’t look good.  On the outside, it didn’t have much going for it. The spine was shredded, the cover splotchy with water stains, the dust jacket missing. But on closer inspection, with a flip through its interior pages, a little miracle had occurred. The bird bookplates inside had somehow escaped the water leaks. The images were bright and colorful and perfectly preserved. The birds fluttering among the pages, each depicted in their own natural setting with their mates and their foliage, were too beautiful to be tossed away.

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Illustrated by Southern botanical artist Athos Menaboni in the 1950’s, these bookplate prints featured a whole aviary of birds. Many were familiar… geese, hawks, doves…but some were new like this handsome duo…

I liked their spiky head feathers immediately and thought they might be part of the woodpecker family. But I was wrong. Do you know what kind of birds they are? Here are a few hints…

  1. They LOVE to fish.
  2. They come from one of the few bird species where females are more colorful than males
  3.  A grouping of them is called is called a crown.
  4. They have big heads and even bigger hairdos, not for vanity, but to accentuate their superior skills when diving for dinner.

Could you guess? Do You know it?! If you said the Eastern Belted Kingfisher then you are correct (and a wonderful birder).  The kingfishers capabilities at mealtime know no equal. They are one of the best fishermen on the planet and can gather up enough aquatic life to get a fish fry started in a jiffy. Industrious, talented and always ready to get to work on planning the possibilities of their next meal, kingfishers are wonderful kitchen role models, happiest when engaged in the food options around them. See their expressive personality in this fun two-minute video…

Ever since  I learned about these remarkable little birds I have been on the lookout for more of their images and information. Serendipity came calling the other day when I found a vintage 1970’s paper bird model of a kingfisher that had never been assembled.

How exciting! A new craft project – our very own paper kingfisher for the kitchen. Last Sunday, Bradley, the Vintage Kitchen’s resident builder of all things fun and functional, got to work assembling the new paper bird. The whole thing took 4 hours to come to life, but we shortened all that time down to just a 27-second video so that you could see how it all came together too…

Now the Vintage Kitchen has its own little symbol of industry, talent and enthusiasm flying around the kitchen and watching over all our cooking endeavors.

Usually, the birds most symbolic of the kitchen are chickens, roosters, turkeys and pheasants but I recommend the kingfisher any day. Aesop once said it is not only fine feathers that make fine birds. The effervescent kingfisher proves just that. Even though they are beautiful their abilities are even more so.

Look for more kingfisher magic coming to the shop this fall and winter. In the meantime, find their botanical print here along with others from the rescued bird book here. 

May your next cooking endeavor be as joyful and as enthusiastic as any kingfisher’s catch. Cheers to the birds who make our culinary spirits fly!

Update From the Urban Jungle: Where’s Avi the Avocado Tree Now?

It’s National Avocado Day and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to write a post featuring the Vintage Kitchen’s favorite green guy – Avi the Avocado!  When I last posted about Avi, it was February. The days were cold, somewhat scattered with snow flurries and spring was struggling to get its foot in the door.  Avi was recovering from an almost fatal bout of too much tap water and too much sun. Here he was in February…

On the road to recovery!

Now we are barreling through mid-summer.  The temperatures outside are hot, humid and oven-like from morning to night. But not for Avi. He’s inside in the air conditioning, living a healthy, happy existence and growing like gangbusters. In fact, he’s growing so much that he outgrew his winter space and had to be transferred to a new perch…

Avi the Avocado mid summer 2018.

Now measuring 3’5″ inches tall, Avi grew a total of three inches in the past six months in his indoor environment. If he continues to grow at such a pace, he should be close to 4′ feet tall by his second birthday near Thanksgiving.  Isn’t it incredible to think that he was just this small seed a year and a half ago…

and now he towers over Deer Hudson like a magic bean stalk…

Avi the Avocado: Age 1 and 1/2

Still a character, Avi detests the outdoor heat and the all-day sunshine, something most avocado plants adore. But not our guy.  He immediately sags and shrivels if he’s left out on the balcony even for just a few minutes.  Instead, he much prefers the bright ambient light inside, the cooler temperature and the clamor of the Kitchen activity.

You can see from the above photo with Hudson that he hasn’t completely recovered from all his ailments yet as there are still a few minor spotting issues on some leaves, but for the most part, he’s back in good shape. After doing some experiments, testing the effects of sun strength and watering frequency, it looks like the thing that causes Avi the most trouble is the salt in the tap water.  I’ll be back to using distilled water again this weekend to see if those remaining brown spots can’t be corrected yet.

I thought Avi would be the winner in the growth spurt department as far as the other urban jungle garden plants go, but Grace the Grapefruit has been the real surprise champion of the summer season. If you have been following her progress on Instagram, you’ll know that she looked like this on March 15, 2018…

Grace, the grapefruit tree started from seed in March 2018
Almost 1″ inch tall in March 2018

Today she looks this…

Five months later ( July 30th, 2018)

In five months she grew 9″ inches! I’d like to say that Avi was an encourager in that department but he’s inside and she’s outside so clearly she’s a grower all on her accord.

And then there is Liz Lemon, whom I had forgotten to measure when she first joined the family back in June…

But she now she stands a few inches taller herself these days…

The funny thing about lemon trees is that when their new leaves emerge they are very weak. Emerging utterly exhausted, they are limpy, fragile to the touch and so droopy they look like they are in desperate need of everything – light, water, heat, shade, cool air. But after a few days of this behaviour, they firm right up, turn shades darker and develop a more rigid support system. You can see their first instincts in  Liz Lemon’s tallest section of leaves in the above photograph. But in a few days, they’ll look more like this…

All this confidence in the plant growth department has been a real source of inspiration lately. Every time I chop a vegetable or peel a fruit now, I think about all the plant possibilities. My latest batch of recent seed-starting experiments involved apricots and dates. The apricots weren’t successful – they turned moldy before having a chance to do anything exciting. But the dates, now they were a different story. I’m pleased to announce just this week our newest member of the garden emerged…

A Medjool date palm seedling! And she brought along a flower friend to join her (the green spike is the date palm).

I can now understand how Luther Burbank kept going and growing year after year. Nature  is fascinating if you take some time to really study it and see it. In November, when Avi turns two, I’ll share another update on the whole garden gang to see what sort of progress has been made. By then we’ll have a name picked out for the date palm too. In the meantime, if you are celebrating the day with guacamole or avocado toast, stuffed shells or just simple slices in a summer salad, I hope you enjoy all the lovely attributes of your avocado. Luther believed that flowers and plants made people better, happier and more helpful. “They are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul,” he believed. Exactly. Well said Luther!

If you’d like to learn how to grow your own Avi, refer this post here. If you missed the post on 20th-century botanist, Luther Burbank and the potato he made famous, catch up here.

Cheers to seeds that turn into food that turn into gardens all over again!

A Year and 91 Days: The Life and Times of Avi the Avocado

Two days before Thanksgiving, not last year, but the year before, a sandwich was made and a seed was started. The sandwich was a smashed collaboration of avocado and sauteed kale, ricotta cheese and caramelized onions which turned out great and became a repeat recipe for awhile, but the real star of the show was the seed. On that day, November 22nd, 2016 a little life began.

Reminiscent of elementary school science classes, the avocado pit (actually called a berry) from the sandwich-making endeavor got cleaned up and pierced with toothpicks. Resting on the rim of a glass while partially submerged in water, it sat there half-hovering for days and then weeks and then months.  Absolutely nothing happened.  The holiday season came and went. We celebrated New Year’s and middle month birthdays and our first snow in the ending week of January.  But in the land of the avocado, nothing was changing except regular refills of water in the glass. It was such uneventful gardening I didn’t even take photographs.

Heading into the first week of February (week 9), I thought perhaps my avocado seed was a dud and was ready to abandon the project altogether. But magically, almost as if the little seed had read my thoughts, a crack in the pit opened up one morning. Something was happening, at long last! Days later a tap root started reaching out like a diver heading towards the bottom of the sea. And then things really escalated. Every day, it grew longer and longer until little root tentacles started filling the bottom of the glass.  Satisfied with itself, it turned its attention skyward and from the center of the pit, a long slender green shoot started reaching for the stars.

Drinking about a 1/4 cup of water a day, it grew almost a 1/2″ inch every morning. When it passed 12 inches” in height and grew its first set of leaves, I named this little guy growing with such gusto, Avi, and welcomed him into the family. For most of the Spring, Avi enjoyed his glass of water while taking in the river view from his perch in the window.

As the days grew longer and the temperatures warmed, I introduced to him to the outdoors for a little bit each day. When the hot, humid temperatures of summer in the South took over, he was transferred to a new garden pot filled with potting soil and joined the summer flowers on the balcony. You might remember seeing him from last summer’s post about how to make a mini-compost bin.

There’s Avi on the bottom right corner behind the nasturtiums!

In the lazy summer sun, Avi grew and grew and grew. Towering over the other plants, he looked like a king ruling over his court.

All summer he played a long-standing game with the nasturtiums to see who could climb the furthest.

Avi was the winner! When the seasons changed and the cool rains of Autumn scattered leaves on the balcony garden, Avi welcomed the wet weather.

But when we moved in mid-Fall trouble began. His first few nights went okay. He and Indie liked to watch the city lights come on from his new spot on the new balcony…

but during the day, when the sun was warm and bright, and the birds were floating overhead, Avi started doing peculiar things. Instead of carrying on with his growth spurt, he got limpy and lethargic. A week into his new surroundings, he developed brown spots and then white spots and then crinkly skin. Thinking he was not getting enough water, I doubled up. But soon after, he looked more like a loose umbrella than a young tree. His leaves turned from a colorful shade of lime to a dull blackish green. Tragedy was looming, we both knew it. A week before his first birthday I feared Avi might be on his last legs.

Signals from a troubling time of growing pains.

I brought him inside for a few days, consulted the internet and determined that he either had too much salt built up in his roots, ( a common side-effect of using regular tap water for daily watering) or he was getting too much sun on the new patio. I rinsed his roots in distilled water and gave him a new home in a bigger pot with fresh potting soil. Then he got a new vantage point – a sunny windowsill on top of a low bookshelf.

Avi’s second perch nestled in with pig and pineapple and Hedy Hatstand.

But for two weeks he still looked terrible. So he moved again, this time to a bright corner between two big windows – a spot that gets no direct sunlight but reflects light because of the white wall paint. It also happens to be right next to the kitchen, where I could keep a close eye on him.  To my happiness, Avi flourished once again!  Day by day, his leaves moved higher and higher until they went from vertical back to horizontal. And he started growing again.

Now he’s taller than dear Hudson and happy as a clam. As it turns out, all Avi ever wanted was to be close to the kitchen and out of the sun. Who can blame him?

Back to pretty green leaves and a happy disposition once again!

Today he measures 3′ feet 2″  inches tall and he’s just achieved his longest set of leaves at 12.5″ inches in length. Some gardening experts say that Avi will never produce avocados to eat, but that doesn’t matter, I like him just for the handsome plant that he is. And it’s fun to watch him grow. I hope to see him reach a height of 8-9 feet (maybe taller!), a little indoor arboretum in the making.

If you’d like to grow your own Avi, it’s really simple. Find step by step instructions here. You just need an extra dose of patience in the beginning until the berry cracks open and growing gets underway. Other than regular watering every couple days and eventual transplanting as it grows, avocado plants are easy to care for. Many garden sites say that avocados LOVE sun, but as we learned with Avi’s growing pains, too much sun is indeed, too much, so watch closely as your plant’s personality develops and see what he or she likes best.

On November 22nd, when Avi celebrates his second birthday, we’ll check back in to see how much he has grown in the nine months between now and then.  Maybe he’ll be up to the ceiling!

In the meantime, cheers to Avi and his ability to weather the rigors of adolescence. And cheers to indoor gardening – an activity that’s in-season all year round!