Archive for August, 2010

Sea Grapes: Part I

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by PickMeYard

The seagrape tree (Coccoloba uviferai) is an old Florida favorite.  It’s so versatile.  They can grow huge and make an awesome noise barrier or can be kept small as a hedge.  My mom has pruned hers into a gorgeous shade tree (in the Caribbean).  It survived the ferocious hurricane Ivan when very few other trees on the island did. 

Lunch under G.G.'s sea grape tree in Grand Cayman.

Seagrape leaves.

Seagrape trees are native to Florida and grow well in the warmer parts.  Freezing temperatures can kill young plants that haven’t been established.  Older, larger plants would fare better in a serious Florida freeze. They also grow in many other parts of the world.  My son loves the seagrape tree and says it’s one of his favorites.  Whenever we see one, he’ll usually break off a leaf and just carry it around with him.  New trees can easily be started by cuttings from mature trees. 

We recently purchased two of our own trees from Riverland, our favorite local nursery.  We planted them in a spot along our riverbank where we desperately need shade.  They were inexpensive… $8 for a good-sized little tree.  We hope that we get grapes from them, but only the female seagrape plant will produce grapes.  We’re not sure if we have male or female trees because it’s too early to tell.  The male tree will show dead flower stalks. 

This is a seapgrape tree in Grand Cayman that was loaded down with grapes. It also had a honeybee yard next to it which helps.

Unripe seagrapes. The grapes do not ripen at the same time and can usually be seen with ripe, purple grapes among the green ones.

My great-grandmother used to make a seagrape jelly that everyone in the family went crazy over.  Her recipe has been lost or I would share it.  However, I have seen quite a few published recipes that look great.  If I had enough seagrapes, I would try the recipe from the Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange Club because they are known to share their family recipes.  They have an easy seagrape marmalade recipe in their cookbook of favorite tropical recipes.  I didn’t get permission from them to reproduce the recipe, so you’ll have to buy the cookbook ($25).  However, here’s a link to a recipe from another blog.  The author gives a family recipe for seagrapes that was passed down in her family… click here.  This recipe is almost identical to the Caloosa cookbook recipe.  

Sanibel Island in Ft. Myers, Florida has honeybees that make the most sumptuous seagrape honey.  It’s harvested and sold by Curtis Honey.  I buy it by the gallon. (They sell mangrove honey too).  Some years have good seagrape honey harvests and other years hardly have any.  I never waste a drop. 

Come grow with us!

Fishing for Dinner

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 28, 2010 by PickMeYard

It’s so wonderful to catch a fish, clean it and gently toss  it into the frying pan.  My 9-year-old, Grayson, recently made this task look easy on a  visit to Grand Cayman.  He caught and fried his own meal two days in a row.  The first afternoon we were there,  he went out fishing with a friend at around 1 p.m.   He came walking in with a cleaned fish and a big smile about 30 minutes later.  His grandma turned on the stove and put some oil in a frying pan for him.  She helped him season the fish and with a little guidance, he did the rest.

Grayson and his grunt... lunch!

Grayson loves to play “survivor” in our yard.  He spends the entire day outside building makeshift forts and collecting his sustenance from edibles he finds.  He’s learned to like things he would never even taste before.  He thinks figs are delicious now.  He says his favorite fruit is the Simpson stopper berry.  However, now that  the muscadine grapes are ripe, they have definitely taken first place on his list of favorites. 

He discovered some wild grapes growing on the riverbank the other day and brought them to me to find out what they are.  He was bummed when I told him they’re not safe to eat.  We don’t spray our yard with any pesticides or herbicides so Grayson can safely eat straight from the yard.  However, I’ve taught him to be certain about what plants and berries he is putting near his mouth.

 On a recent trip to Washington D.C., we bought a book at the Museum of Natural History that we fought over.  This book was such a great read that we were constantly sneaking it away from each other.  It’s called Wicked Plants:  The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, by Amy Stewart.  Grayson has a whole new outlook on the power of a plant and what it can do to you if you’re not careful.  After reading this book, I know Grayson won’t eat a plant or berry unless he’s absolutely sure of its identity.

Grayson fryin' up his lunch.

He didn't cook the potatoes, but he cooked and ate the fish he caught.

Grayson has always been a very poor eater.  I constantly try to trick him into something nutritious.  However, when he grows his own food in his own garden, he will usually taste his harvest and almost always loves it.  He only ate this fish because he caught it and cooked it.  The next day, he caught two fish.  He cooked and ate both of them.  I’m so happy that he’s finally discovered how delicious fish are! 

I think he should  relish the fact that he can even eat fresh fish.  This may not be something we can do in the near future.   Check out the documentary End of the Line  if you really want to take a glimpse into our future world without seafood.  We don’t feel comfortable eating the fish we catch out of our river at home in Florida.  Sometimes there are health warnings on the fresh water fish in the polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.  We typically just avoid eating our catch.

Grayson caught his dinner... a grunt and a snapper. He was fishing in West Bay, Grand Cayman.

Fish fry.

Grayson cooked & ate his fish. I stopped him mid-meal to get a pic before there was nothing left but bones and a head.

Guy Harvey painting in progress at his store in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Guy lives in Cayman and happily signs autographs and poses for pictures when he's not off the island.

Robert Thompson... a natural born fisherman. He taught Grayson some awesome fishing secrets!

... and his brother Johnny Thompson.

Nuh badda mi. Mi gone fishnin! (That's how they say "fishing" in Cayman).

We went on some serious botanical hunts in Cayman, but the fishing adventures really expanded Grayson’s young mind.

Come grow with us!

A Turmeric Surprise

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , on August 24, 2010 by PickMeYard

This morning I decided to pick some turmeric leaves to wrap some fish in for brunch.  What a surpise I found!

A beautiful turmeric flower.

I couldn’t believe the beauty of this flower. 

I cut some leaves off the turmeric plant to wrap some curried fish in.

Cut turmeric leaves to cook in.

Curried fish wrapped in turmeric leaves and tied.

Fish grilling.

I cooked our wrapped fish on some cedar boards that I soaked in water for a couple of hours.  It imparts a wonderful flavor to the food.  Our grill is made by “Big Green Egg” and it is by far the best grill ever.  It cooks our food to perfection every time and it’s hard to make a mistake with it.  I always had trouble working our gas grill, but I have never had a bit of trouble with my Egg grill.  I think it has a mind of it’s own.  It is expensive, but has been worth every single penny!  It heats up really fast and I’m able to just grill some food without too much thought or preparation.

Curried fish wrapped in turmeric leaves right off the smoker grill.

I didn’t use a recipe to prepare the fish.  I just picked some fresh fish from the market and rubbed it down with miscellaneous spices.  I rubbed Jamaican curry powder all over it before I wrapped it in the curry leaves.  I served it to the family with a big pot of hot, steaming white rice.  It was quick and simple, but delicious.  It was an easy clean-up too because I just scooped the rice right onto the turmeric leaf.  The waste went right into the compost bin.

Delicious curried fish cooked in turmeric leaves.

Come grow with us!

Mi Gone Coconuts, Part II

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2010 by PickMeYard

The coconut has so many uses… it’s awesome.  When the coconut matures, the white meat inside hardens.  My friend, Roxanne, has been visiting us from Jamaica and showed us how to make coconut milk and coconut oil.  I feel confident that we could now survive on a deserted, tropical island if necessary. 

Mature, brown coconuts ready to be cracked open.

Greg poked a hole in the top of the coconut with a knife to drain the liquid out. This isn't the hard part.

We drained the liquid out of the coconut before we cracked it open.

Greg took the coconuts outside and cracked them open with a screwdriver and hammer.

The shelled coconut meat.

It’s difficult to separate the coconut meat from the hard coconut shell.  There is a learning curve to figure it out, but once you do, it gets easier.  It takes a little practice.  Roxanne uses a knife to pry the meat away from the shell.   It  was tedious at first, but I found my groove.  Roxanne showed me how to put my thumb right up at the tip of the knife. 

This is how Roxanne holds the knife when she separates the hard coconut meat from the shell.

Chopped up coconut meat, ready to go in the pot to cook down.

In Jamaica, they use a grater made from a piece of aluminum zinc that is made by piercing it with an ice pick.  I don’t have one, but I am definitely getting one.  It’s a very useful device.  Since I don’t have one right now, we cut the coconut meat into small bits.   We then blended it in the blender with a little water just to soften it and make it juicy so we could squeeze and strain it out. 

This is the blended coconut meat before it is strained and squeezed.Roxanne squeezing out the coconut milk.

The squeezed coconut. Notice the finger marks.

We then strained out the milk from the blended coconut meat.  We squeezed the blended coconut meat some more with our hands to get out all the milk. 

Delicious and fresh coconut milk.

The coconut milk is so incredibly delicious, I could not believe it.  I always buy and use canned coconut milk and I thought that was good.  The fresh milk knocked my socks off.  We cooked the coconut milk  in a big pot over the stove on medium to high.  We cooked it for a couple of hours and stirred it every once in a while to make sure it didn’t burn.  Roxanne said the cooking time depends on how many coconuts are used.   After awhile, the coconut oil separated from the milk and rose to the top.  A coconut custard developed underneath.  We drained off the coconut oil and put it in a container to cook with.  It can be used anytime for anything.  It has a long shelf life and does not go rancid easily.  We cooked scrambled eggs with some of it the next morning.  It gives your food such a wonderful flavor and there is research that suggests coconut oil is extremely good for your health. 

Homemade coconut oil.

The custard that formed at the bottom of the pot is a whole different story.  I think I would climb mountains and cross seas for this stuff.  OMG!  We were all trying to hide it from each other in the fridge.  It didn’t need any sugar or any other ingredients added to it.  It was just incredible. 

The coconut custard.

Roxanne is from Portland, Jamaica.  She has plenty of ripe coconuts at her disposal to make whatever she wants, but she doesn’t make it very often.  It can easily be  an all-day process.  If you’re going to use one coconut, you might as well use ten.  We rubbed the coconut oil on our skin as a lotion and I put it on the ends of my hair.  We rubbed some on our lips too.  Good stuff!  I doubt I will be making my own coconut milk very often either and I will continue to buy canned coconut milk.  I always look for the canned coconut milk that does not have any preservatives such at the Thai Kitchen and Whole Foods 365 brands.  I mix a can of coconut milk with two cans of water, a little salt and honey to keep in the refrigerator.  We use it instead of cow’s milk for almost everything. 

This is Roxanne with a Michelia champaca flower in her hair.

 The next time you see a can of coconut milk, you’ll know what had to be done to make it.  I have a whole new appreciation for it.

Come grow with us!

Mi Gone Coconuts, Part I

Posted in Trees with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2010 by PickMeYard

Coconut palm tree.

 

If you could only have one food in the world, what would you pick?  My choice would definitely be coconut (Cocos nucifera).  If the coconut is a young green one, then you would get water out of it that is loaded with electrolytes and jelly to eat.  If the coconut is hard and mature, then you would get coconut milk and meat out of it.  Both young and mature coconuts can be used for kindling.  There must be hundreds, maybe thousands, of uses for the coconut fiber (coir).  My friend from India said that her family used the fiber as a cleaning scrubber for their pots and pans. 

One year when I was living in Grand Cayman, a bad flu made its way around the island.  A friend of mine was so sick that he had to go to the hospital.  They hooked him up to an I.V. with coconut water.  He said the electrolytes cured his dehydration and he felt much better afterward. 

Immature, green coconuts.

 

Immature, green coconuts are usually filled with a light flavored coconut water, not milk.  Sometimes the coconut meat inside has not hardened yet and it has a jelly texture.  The jelly has a sweet flavor.  Sometimes the young coconut is referred to as a jelly coconut or a water coconut.  Most people in the Caribbean carry straws with them in their glove compartments so they can stop for a water coconut.   The coconut man is always extremely skilled with his machete and can cut the coconut in the blink of an eye.  A hole is cut in the top and you put your straw in and suck it down.  When you’re done drinking the water, the coconut man will usually ask you if you want the jelly.  If you do, he cuts the coconut in half and slices off a coconut spoon to get the jelly out.  This coconut water is so unbelievably delicious.  Many people have been trying to figure out how to put fresh coconut water in a container to sell it commercially.  I can only imagine how many people have exclaimed, “if I could just bottle this” after drinking a fresh water coconut.  It usually needs a serious preservative, but there’s a couple of companies recently that seemed to have figured out how to keep it natural.  It is expensive though!  They probably wouldn’t be able to handle the demand if they lowered their prices.  Vito Coco, and One are two brands I’ve tried that don’t use preservatives.  I still check the label every time I buy one.  

My kids watch as Wayne picks some coconuts out of the coconut palm tree.

 

Wayne has very impressive skills. Most Jamaicans do.

 

A cut coconut filled with coconut water. It's incredibly healthy and tastes so good!

 

Grayson holding a green coconut that is cut and ready to drink.

 

It's best to use a straw if possible because coconut water stains white clothes. It's a stain that never comes out!

 

When you're finished drinking, a coconut spoon can be cut off the side.

 

The coconut spoon is used for scraping out the meat from inside the shell.

 

Dr. Nune is using her coconut spoon to scrape out the coconut meat. Although her coconut is young and green, it has started to harden (mature), so it has gone past the jelly stage. It is delicious at any stage!!

 

Grayson is holding coconut meat.

 

Coconut meat and its empty shell.

 

A pile of coconut debris that can be used as kindling for a fire.

 

Coconuts forming on a coconut palm.

 

Can you see the baby coconuts? Ahhh... cute. There were honeybees all over it.

 

When coconuts fall off the tree, they can sprout and start a new tree.  So, they are actually a seed (inside the shell).  We grew a coconut palm in our yard that still had the  husk attached to the bottom of it.  It grew wonderfully for a few years but it couldn’t handle our cold temperatures in zone 9b this past winter.  I was actually thankful it died as a small tree because they can grow to 60 feet.  My neighbors have several huge coconut palms planted around their home (for about 13 years) and have successfully kept them alive each year by pointing heated lights on the trees during freezing temperatures.  They get an enormous amount of coconuts off them each year and they always share with us.  However, they own a really nice machine that allows them to do this with minimal effort.  It also allows them to take the coconuts off their trees when a hurricane is coming.   

For now, we’ll just have to deal with no coconut palms of our own.  For those of you that have them… I hope you know just how lucky you are! 

Come grow with us!

The Last of His Kind

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2010 by PickMeYard

I just love to visit people and their yards when they are interesting and resourceful.  On a recent trip to Grand Cayman, we visited the yard of Otto Watler…  the only beekeeper in the Cayman Islands.  He’s in his seventies and he is the last of his kind.  

A picture with Henry "Otto" Watler, the only beekeeper in the Cayman Islands.

We sought him out.  We drove all over the place looking for the ‘Cayman Honey’ sign in front of his house.  We stopped several times to ask for directions.  We were so thrilled to finally find his place, but we had no idea what to expect. 

Cayman Honey sign in Savannah, Grand Cayman.

We drove into his yard unannounced and piled out of our van.  Otto was sitting under a tree taking a break from yard work with a couple of his helpers.  We introduced ourselves and started asking him questions about his bees.  I think he liked that we are quite educated about honeybees.  He is bursting at the seams with knowledge about his bees.  Otto was such a pleasure to talk to.  He has an obvious nurturing nature about him… and striking blue eyes. 

Just a few of Otto's bee boxes.

Otto explained to us that he lost most of his honeybees in hurricane Ivan in 2004.  That year was going to be one of his best years for honey production and he almost lost it all.  He said there were dead bees inside the boxes and out after Ivan hit.  He didn’t have any honey to sell us because the bees are not recovering well.  Otto is worried about their future on the island.  On the bright side, Cayman doesn’t have any of the honeybee diseases and pests to deal with like we do in Florida.  However, it’s only a matter of time before they end up in Cayman.  One of Otto’s concerns is the honey that is being shipped in with honeycomb inside it.  The honeycomb could potentially carry foreign honeybee diseases in it.  The same would be true of raw honey that is imported into Cayman. 

Otto has hundreds of bee boxes.

There are no Africanized honeybees in Grand Cayman, although they’ve had some misfortunate events happen due to aggressive honeybees.  The media sensationalizes the stories and refers to the bees as “killer bees”.  They instill fear in people instead of educating people about the honeybees behavior.  However, I’ve heard that the media in Florida is making a conscious effort to support the plight and help save the honeybee.  Live bee removers (beekeepers) don’t make much money from removing live bees and are usually doing it as a labor of love for the honeybees.   

Beekeeping and gardening always seem to go hand-in-hand.  We were so happy when Otto decided we were worthy to go on a tour of his yard.  He has two acres of land around his home that he has spent a lot of time and money making into a yard full of food.  He has planted every available space with some plant or tree that produces.  Cayman has rocky soil and some areas are laden with limestone rock which makes it extremely difficult to garden.  Otto invested in a machine that helped him to excavate the rock in order to make holes for planting.  He keeps his chickens (and other birds) in coops and puts sand underneath them.  He uses the sand mixed with all the chicken manure around  his fruit trees to provide them with nutrients.  He said this system has worked great for him.  The bees make all his produce big, beautiful and bountiful.  His hard work shows and his yard is amazing. 

Limestone rock in Otto's yard that he has to contend with.

Huge papayas in Otto's yard that he will take to the farmer's market to sell.

Otto's breadfruit tree with a ripe breadfruit hanging from it.

Otto gave us a breadfruit. We took it home and cooked it and it was the best one we'd ever tasted! Turns out, it is a variety called "yellow breadfruit".

This is a Jamaican pumpkin leaf and a flower that is about to set fruit.

A ripe Jamaican pumpkin still on the vine.

I couldn't believe how much food was growing around the place... just gorgeous! Otto said it's best to let the Jamaican pumpkin vine run wherever it wants on the ground.

Otto's ackee tree... the Jamaican national fruit.

This is ackee. It's one of my favorite dishes, but it can be hard to find outside of the Caribbean. We have an ackee tree growing in our yard.

Ackee trees grow easily from seed. They have to be ripe before they are picked though or they can be poisonous.

Otto's citrus orchard.

He has lots of bananas and plantain trees.

Otto's watermelon... I love what he did with the zinc and the wire under it.

Tamarind flowers hanging from the tree.

Otto gave us all the tamarind we could carry.

One of Otto's chicken coops. I love the design and the way it looks in his yard.

Otto standing in front of all his hard work.

Otto and I share the same vision of our yards.  His yard just screams, “pick me”!  

Come grow with us!

Reclaiming the Garden

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2010 by PickMeYard

There’s nothing I could say about weeds that hasn’t already been said.  Everybody is looking for the solution.  I think the best solution is to learn to tolerate them… to a point.  I’ve been educating myself recently on which ones are actually edible.  A surprising amount of them can be eaten by humans.  I was weeding today and worked up the nerve to nibble on some purslane.  It wasn’t bad at all and I was pleasantly surprised.  Grayson was thrilled.  He won’t eat brocoli or spinach but he thinks purslane is delicious.  Kids are hilarious. 

I bought a fantastic book recently at the Seminole Indian reservation called “Healing Plants; Medicine of the Florida Seminole Indians” by Alice Snow and Susan Stans.  It’s the first published record of Florida Seminole herbal medicine and ancient healing practices.  It explains the uses for quail’s foot and lizard tail.  Don’t get excited, they’re just plants.   I just love to learn about nature’s remedies.  I’ve gone off my topic though.  My topic is about removing the weeds and reclaiming my garden space from them. 

This was my vegetable garden about a month ago. No, I don't work in my garden everyday during the summer. I haven't done much work in it this summer at all... too hot.

 

This is my vegetable garden today. I reclaimed it. That's cassava in the picture.

 

The clear plastic I put down will solarize the soil.  The heat generated will kill the weeds, diseases and pests (especially nematodes) in the top soil and make our garden ready to plant in September (or early October).  It isn’t the ultimate solution though because the plastic breaks down rather quickly and then it goes into a landfill.  This method works best for me because I don’t have to use any chemicals (which I despise) and it gives me a reprieve from pulling weeds for a couple of months.  It actually gives me a much-needed break from the vegetable garden and keeps it looking tidy.  I tend to use this time to focus on my fruit trees and add manure around their bases.  The summer rains wash away a lot of nutrients. 

This was the garden bed yesterday.

 

This is the garden bed today. It could probably be described as back-breaking work. I think it makes the food taste better and be more appreciated.

 

Even after all the weed pulling, there are still weeds coming through all the cracks around my garden beds.  I can live with these.  They always go away in the winter anyway.  One of my big problems this summer was the eleven different kinds of mint we planted.  Grayson and I loved it so, so much.  Everybody told us not to plant it in our garden but we wouldn’t listen.  I rationalized it by saying that it would crowd out the other weeds that I didn’t want and every step through it would smell like mint.  It did smell lovely but it sent runners underground in all different directions and spread like fire.  I pulled every bit of it up and out of the garden. We will keep it in pots from now on… lesson learned. 

The African basil is thriving in the heat. The bees are all over it and dash madly from flower to flower.

 

Honeybees on the African Basil.

 

The papaya trees are loaded with blooms about to set fruit.

 

The coneflowers love the summer heat.

 

Sugar cane in our yard. We've given it a large area.

 

Our little banty chicken (the boss) has been extremely broody. We put the fertile duck eggs under her because the duck is not interested in being a mother.

 

We had to give broody "Sweet Pea" her own box because she was causing a traffic jam.

 

This is a new addition to the family. A friend gave her to us because she said it was time to get her out of the house. This young hen has been thoroughly socialized by watching T.V. with her 3-year-old in the living room. There are too many predators outside her house.

 

She is the sweetest little hen ever! She just wants to be held.

 

Our predators are inside our house. This lazy predator won't even kill a roach.

 

It's the dog days of summer alright.

 

The garden is always changing.

 

Come grow with us!