Cartas- Letters from Home

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Santa Barbara Orchid Show - This Weekend - March 11 - 13, 2011

Drama Queen

The Santa Barbara Orchid Show is taking place this weekend at the Earl Warren Showground in Santa Barbara.   In addition to the formal show, several of  the orchid growers in our area are holding open house events at their facilities.

Island View Nursery - Orchids 3

Springtime in Santa Barbara is orchid season.  Why not immerse yourself in the extravagant and theatrical beauty of orchids, and celebrate the color and fragrance and vibrant beauty of the season.

Tropical Tornado

If you are not able to attend the show in person, here are some links provided by the Santa Barbara Orchid Society that will take you to other sites where you may learn more about the culture and society of orchids and those who love and grow them.

Island View Nursery 6 Cymbidium

Here is the link to an earlier post I wrote about my visit to the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.


And, as a special treat,  here is an online copy of a book entitled Orchid Album.

 Written by Robert Warner and Benjamin Samuel Williams, the book was published in 1882.   It describes the wild orchids that were  hunted and collected in Columbia by the authors.  (To scroll through the book, click the black arrows at the top - to enlarge or reduce the images, click the + or - symbols.)

May your weekend be filled with dreams of orchids....

Cartas - Santa Barbara Advent Calendar - December 9, 2010 - Strelitzia

Birds of Paradise 3

is the familiar name by which is designated the flock of golden wings, touched with a glint of brightest blue,  poised butterfly-fashion on the tips of their tall green perches,  and scientifically christened Strelitzia Reginae, whose glittering groups conspicuously promote the gayety of Southern California gardens.
Wanderers from the distant Cape of Good Hope,  and originally destined to occupy conservatory cages,  they have come here to open-air freedom.   The plant is classified botanically as a member of the banana family,  and its long leaf spears suggest, if they do not betray its near relationship to the banana,  palm and tropical canna,  from which the principal difference of foliage lies in the absence of a leaf stalk,  all the leaves starting near the ground forming a general cluster.
Birds of Paradise

The flower-bearing scape rises,  reed-like and naked,  tipped at each apex with an oblique or horizontal and rigid conduplicate spathe,  from which several large and most extraordinary blossoms successively unfold.   The three outer divisions of the perianth are from three to four inches long,  and brilliantly yellow in color,  one of them conduplicate, tapering to a point and resembling the two larger of the vivid blue inner set - which are the true petals - and united,  covering the stamens.  

The remaining petal is small and unobtrusive.   The Strelitzia is never a wall flower,  but invariably successful as a candidate for floral honors,  never failing to arrest attention and elicit admiration

Birds of Paradise 2

..not only for its splendid coloring - a sunbeam incarnate - but also for the strangely animated quality of its bird-like bloom,  literally creatures with wings,  apparently threatening to cleave the upper air if approached incautiously or too near....

~ Out West, Juliette Estelle Mathis, 1899

Artichokes - Central Coast Harvest In Time for Thanksgiving

Lompoc Artichoke

Artichoke production is confined to the central California coast, from San Francisco Bay to Santa Barbara County.  It seems to prefer a narrow strip of land along the ocean;  few plantings are over five miles from the shore.  Fields of the gray-green, coarse, lacy foliage of the artichoke present a beautiful sight throughout the winter and sping months as one drives along the Coast....

~ Genevieve A Callahan, Sunset All Western Foods Cook Book, Lane Publishing, 1949

The seasons are turning, and autumn progresses, gently pulling all outward signs of life inward, pulling light to darkness,  pulling growth to harvest to fallow - as we move toward winter.  

Most of the world's societies include celebrations of thanksgiving during the harvest season.  Our own Thanksgiving is not far away.

I had a private little ephiphany of  awe and thanksgiving recently, as I drove through the back roads  just outside the City of Lompoc.  I passed fields full of dark green broccoli.  Across the road were rows of light-green and deep-bronze lettuce varieties.   Nearby,  there were fields of flowers that grew in candy  colors of pink, lavendar, cream, and yellow.   Other fields were freshly churned, and the rich,  black earth was newly exposed to the warm sun and fresh air.  

The fields and road and hills,  and I, were crowned by a turquoise sky and an autumn sun slung low on the horizon.

Lompoc Artichoke Fields

I stopped my car by the side of the road, to admire the hundreds of acres of artichoke fields.  The heavy blooms were held aloft on long, sturdy stems, growing four or five feet above the earth.  Each artichoke looked as though it had been lovingly burnished, and shined, by hand.   The  rough, lacy,  grey - to green leaves twisted back and forth as a  little ocean breeze ruffled up the rows.    Virtually every artichoke that is served in America comes from this  slim bit of Central California coastal land - a narrow 200-mile slice of perfection:  the Artichoke Belt of the United States.   The southernmost tip of the belt ends, right about here, in this field in Lompoc. 

And while groups of men and women worked among the plants,  two red tractors gleamed in the fields across the road.

I was humbled.  I was flooded with thoughts of thanksgiving at the things I had witnessed that day:   beautiful, tender artichokes,  and rows and rows of pastel flowers, growing practically side by side;  strong, healthy,  brown and black cattle roaming the hillsides, and in this season,  accompanied by their beautiful new calves;  sparkling beaches and the deep, cold Pacific waters off our coastline;  autumn  grapevines growing along the wavy hills,  their leaves turning the landscape ruby and golden. 

Lompoc Fields

In that quiet moment,  when I was reminded of  abundance and growth and harvest and  hope - I decided to put artichokes on my holiday menu.

I will serve my favorite artichoke souffle.  

Lompoc Artichoke Fields 2

Here is that wonderful, simple recipe from the Sunset - All Western Foods Cook Book.

Sunset's Artichoke Souffle

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp flour

1 c milk

3 eggs, separated

8 - 12 freshly-cooked artichoke hearts, chopped fine


Make a cream sauce of butter, flour, and milk, and season well.  Beat the egg yolks light, and stir into the cream sauce, then add the chopped artichokes.  Lastly, fold in the egg whites, beaten stiff, pour into a buttered baking dish; set this in a shallow pan of  hot water, and bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 30 to 35 minutes.  Serve without delay. 

Serves 4

In an issue of the San Francisco Call, dated October 22, 1911, in the section entitled, "California Women Who Cook", I found an artichoke appetizer recipe....First, thoroughly wash the artichokes, cooking them until tender.  Chill.  Before serving, remove the leaves carefully, one by one.  Arrange on a platter, and dot each leaf with Hollandaise sauce, and top with a bit of Russian caviar....

If you would like to learn more about California's artichokes, or search through their many fabulous artichoke recipes, visit the  California Artichoke Advisory Board website.