Friday, 2 May 2014

catching up

The farmer and I have been trying to get away since January, and finally this week we did: into the mountains for two nights, then to the city for a night. Came back refreshed, and with supplies.  I spent today catching up with all the things I needed supplies for - and realized that we actually do a lot of things! So, here's my (partial) inventory of things we produce on the farm, and will be taking to the market tomorrow:

  • fresh fruit for tomorrow: champedak, duku and calamondin
  • greens for tomorrow: katuk and chaya
  • ornamental plants
  • chocolate bars: vanilla, rosita de cacao, allspice, milk
  • raw cacao
  • chocolate nibs
  • vanilla extract
  • vanilla paste
  • vanilla beans
  • calamondin marmalade
  • araza jam
  • dried fruit mix
  • candied ginger
  • cookies!
  • black pepper: ground and whole grain
  • medicinal honey: healthy spoonful, loving spoonful and sleepy spoonful
  • soaps: tomorrow we'll have activated charcoal, volcanic clay, papaya citrus, goats' milk, sandalwood orange, vanilla mint, eucalyptus mint, chocolate, oberon, coconut, tropical smoothie, playa negra and tooth!
  • activated charcoal and volcanic clay mask
  • jungle juice bug repellent
  • ginger hair serum
  • essential oil perfume blends: sweet and clear, and yoga
  • soothing salve
  • tincture blends: cleanse, immune, memory, gastric, kidney, liver, menopause, strength

  • Now I know why it took us so long to get away :)

    Tuesday, 3 December 2013


    I've been enjoying honey these days. Didn't used to like it, found the smell cloying and too heavy, reminiscent of fields of rape and mustard seed around childhood homes. But I like bees and have always fancied keeping a hive or three. And I love the scent of beeswax. We can't have honeybees on the farm, as the farmer is allergic and there are too many Africanized bee incidents to make it work. But  I'm hoping that soon, very soon, I'll be able to take a workshop on melipona bees. These are the small stingless bees native to the tropics. There are many varieties none of which produce honey in the same quantities as the honeybee, but their honey is medicinal, rich and delicious.

    Meanwhile we've been buying honey from a local beekeeper. We've made vanilla infused honey for a few years, but I've started infusing other herbs. I'm working with 4 different blended infusions right now. The honey is a perfect base for these medicinal blends, not only sweetening the medicine, but bringing another layer of anti-bacterial and anti-viral  properties. My favourite is 'Lovin' Spoonful' with cuculmeca, cacao, vanilla and ginger. It is dark and thick and has a great smack of energy which it delivers about 3 seconds after it enters your mouth. These are potent remedies and not be be eaten by the spoonful!!

    I'm also putting honey in lip balms, soaps and lip scrubs, mostly for the humectant and soothing properties, but also for the golden colour and richness it gives. The lip scrub and balm already have beeswax so the honey brings a little more depth to the honey / beeswax scent.

    I've also just been spreading it on bread.

    Sunday, 1 December 2013

    There's something both liberating and limiting about being a purist. Maybe the liberation comes with the limitation. When one knows and understands one's boundaries, it becomes freeing. Perhaps just knows - understanding is much more work. It's not that I'm a purist in everything, just in some ways. The drive to do things myself, my way - which almost always is the old way. The 'getting back to the land' dream. Simplifying is part of it. But the simplification isn't really the end goal, it's something to be done on the way. This internal, ongoing dialogue about doing away with things, processes, people even. It's almost competitive.

    I haven't had anything to say for a long time. I've been caught up, entrenched, drowning in other things. Things outside and beyond myself. Drama. Life. But now I'm in retreat, hiding away on the farm, staying low, keeping quiet. I still don't feel like I've anything to say. I'm a bit lost.

     But what I am beginning to remember is the importance of purity.

    Not in some huge, overarching significant way, but in the small things. Eating a breakfast of jam and toast. Jam and bread that I've made myself. Using a spoon I've carved to dollop the jam. Fruit I've had a hand in growing, certainly in harvesting. Flour I've dried and ground myself. Sourdough that's appeared here, out of the air. Purist. It's something real, tangible, I can touch. Grounding. Helpful.

    Sunday, 10 November 2013

    sunday morning rain brings delicacy

    These appeared at the foot of our stairs this afternoon. A delicacy when still contained in their egg  shaped casing, they don't seem so appetising at this stage. Not a great smell. But amazing to look at.

    Saturday, 9 November 2013


    A man died at the farmers' market this morning. We were just arriving, just before 7 and a group of men were standing to one side, some kneeling, some crowding and one doing CPR. They were taking it in turns, but one could tell by their faces and by their constant motion that it was not working. Across the way a group of people were looking, hands to their mouths. I knew the men who were there, and then someone came running across and said it was Frederick. Frederick was a regular at the market, always there early, always smiling, as strong as a bull. Tall, lean, in his late 60s I think. He'd built bicycles in India and for the Contras in Nicaragua, he was a poet and a wordsmith, and he was incredibly strong. He'd built his house way back in the jungle, off grid, a huge wooden structure tall with a complicated roof and no walls. We had been neighbours for a year. His heart just stopped and he was already dead by the time he hit the ground. They loaded him onto the back of a pick up and took him to the clinic. Someone went to fetch his wife. The market was subdued, quiet. The mothers took their children away quickly after buying their groceries. It was strange and awful to see them load him into the pick up. He was wearing the clothes he always wore, but already he had lost all his colour. His groceries lay where he'd been repacking them. After 20 minutes the market got very lively, a lot of people laughing like a wave of positive energy came through. I don't know if it was relief, or people were recovering from the shock, or if it was the energy of Frederick himself, but the market was buzzing. Gradually it faded and the normal hubbub took over, people coming and going, oblivious to what had happened. Someone set up with a box of puppies for adoption in the same place Frederick had fallen. And so life continues, for us, today.

    After the market I worked on a new vegetable garden we're starting. Laying out contour lines, planting madera negra sticks and vetiver to keep the slope steady, heaping up mulch and hauling rotten tree branches and small trunks. Frederick was in my mind almost constantly. Just smiling and nodding. It's not that we were close at all, it's more that this man who was so energetic was gone, but his energy was there, palpable.

    As we were leaving the market I saw the wife of another neighbour  who had taken his life in September. We were away and had missed the wake and the funeral. It was the first time I'd seen her since his death. She had been talking to one of the market vendors and she was crying. We hugged, she looked lost and very far away. The image of her face came to me while I was working in the garden too: the ones who leave and the ones who remain, vastly different experiences of the same phenomena.

    God Bless you Frederick and Juni, and warmth and love to you Eva and Beate . . .

    Sunday, 3 November 2013

    Sacha Inchi Seeds

     Sacha Inchi is one of those magical plants straight out of a fairy tale. A briarless briar that will up and over everything in a matter of months, burying shrubs, trees, castles beneath its vibrant green flow of leaves and vines. The flowers are like little lances, tiny white yellow balls on a small sturdy stalk - you can see the remnants in the first photo. One would never think that a little slender stick would become such a Cinderella's carriage of a fruit. The fruit is star shaped and can have between 4 and 7 points (though I'm sure there are 3 pointers and 8 pointers out there), though we see mostly 5 and 6 pointed fruits. Star shaped fruits are always magical in their symmetry and simplicity, and the sacha inch has to be one of the most beautiful.
    The green fruit
     Gradually the green fruit begins to ripen and turn brown, losing its swollen firmness and taking on a more streamlined and floral aspect. The outer layer splits underneath to reveal the first of 2 seed casings. We wait until the outermost layer has almost rotted away, or dried up into a downy fluff. Termites really like this material and are quite good at cleaning the seeds. The seeds can then fall or can be hand picked. And its then that the real work begins.
    The mature seed pod
    We sun dry the fruits until the outer husk can be almost brushed off and then - with a lot of patience, and ideally some good conversation or music - we begin shelling. There are two shells, an outer more woody pale shell covering a thinner and darker inner shell. Sometimes we are able to remove both shells together, but mostly not. We store the seeds with their inner shell, removing it when we want to roast the seeds. They are very pretty, about the size of nickels, smooth and cool to the touch.
    Almost shelled sacha inchi seeds
    We're experimenting with a slow low roast in the dehydrator to preserve the full Omega 3, but the seeds are also delicious roasted with a little garlic and salt in a heavy bottomed pan. The reason why we go to all this trouble is the incredible nutritional value of sacha inchi. 

    With the highest known percentage of Omega 3, about 50%, and a great balance of Omega 6 and 9, sacha inchi or Nut Vine, Inca Peanut, Peru Nut as they're also known, is a wonderful addition to our diet. They are rich in protein - about 33%, a complete protein source including all the amino acids; high in vitamins A and E; and a good source of minerals including calcium and iron. Very highly digestible and rich in fibre. They are also really tasty. We eat them as a snack with ground kefir lime leaves, garlic and salt, or add them to salads. They are also a great addition to a trail mix. 
     Fully shelled seeds

    We've just planted out a new trellis, and we should be starting harvest on the new plants in about 6 months. Meanwhile we just finished a major harvest and are currently working on drying and shelling the seeds. We have some in our Etsy store.

    Saturday, 2 November 2013


    We've been making chocolate for almost 2 years now. Hard to imagine but true. It's a lot of work to take the fruit from our old heirloom cacao trees and transform it into the bars you see above, but it's good work. Four years ago today I wrote a post about harvesting our cacao:

    so I won't retell that story :) But after it's harvested, fermented and sun dried, roasted, milled and winnowed we turn it into bars. I'll save the explanation of that magical process for another post. Just to say it takes 3 days to go from bean to bar. We do the entire process ourselves, from harvest to selling the bars at the farmers' market. In all that time there are no more than 4 people who handle the chocolate, and it travels no more than 1 mile from tree to market stall. It's quite wonderful really, the process. And the bars? They're very good, rich, dark, fudge-like texture and rewarding.

    We want to stay as true to the roots of chocolate as we can. We have three flavors: vanilla, rosita de cacao and allspice: all 3 are traditional indigenous additions to cacao: meaning they were added to cacao drinks before the Europeans appeared.  Vanilla comes from the Veracruz area of Mexico - it's native to much of Central America, but it was the Totonac Indians who first cultivated it. Our vanilla bars are 1%  organic vanilla (we grow organic vanilla), we call them Totonac Bars. Rosita de Cacao needs its own post. We love it, it's a pretty little white flower and comes from the Oaxaca area of Mexico, we call our Rosita bars Olmec after the Olmec Indians, and the Allspice bars are named K'An which is the Mayan glyph for Allspice. The Mayans used Allspice for cacao, as a medicinal and as a ritual plant.

    As a special request we also make a really delicious milk chocolate. Shh . . .

    Sunday, 3 June 2012

    Congo bees and bats

    We're having a typical Sunday here: french toast with homemade chocolate sauce for breakfast and dog baths. Lyla was a bit over excited after her bath so I thought I'd dry her off and reached for the dog towel - but it was somehow stuck and my tug was followed by the appearance of quite a few congo bees. The farmer gave it an almighty tug and off it came, followed by quite a lot of bees. The space below the towel was filled with quite a good sized nest, we're not quite sure whether this means that a) congo bees build really quickly, or, b) it's been some time since I dried a dog. Either way the bees weren't too impressed at the disturbance and flew around angrily for some time. Congo bees are very common, smallish and black. They don't sting, but they do have a tendency to get stuck in your hair and bite. Best avoided. I'm trying to think of a way to scare them off long enough to see if that's really honey in those golden globes. The lizards and big ants seem pretty interested in the nest too. They must have larvae and eggs in there, but I can't see any.

    We have a small colony of bats that live on the back wall of the house, but have recently been spending the days inside the bathroom. Of the 5, 3 are currently carrying babies. Not a great picture, but I hope you can see the babies . . .

    Sunday, 11 March 2012

    Sunday morning with birds

    It's a cool, overcast morning out on the deck. It's March and so the beginning of the northward migration of raptors, and we were treated to a nice gathering of vultures, rising from different trees in the forest below and riding out over the beach to rise in the thermals before heading north over the Cahuita National Park. The deck has a tree directly in front which is often covered in small purple flowers in a cone formation. The flowers give way to small lilac coloured berries which the toucans and aricaris love. A flock of toucans visited this morning and we watched two toucans either fight or begin a mating ritual: banging their beaks together then falling madly and rapidly downwards spiraling almost out of control, before swooping back up again to repeat the beak banging. When they left the aracaris came with their dangerous silhouettes and hunched narrow shoulders. Meanwhile the oropendulas were sweeping through the trees with the blaze of their golden yellow tail feathers showing their flight. There's another large forest tree to the immediate left of the deck with small white flowers, and now small green white berries. This is a wonderful tree to see parrots. This morning we have blue headed (Pionus menstruus) and brown hooded parrots (Pionopsitta haematotis), yesterday we had white crowned parrots (Pionus senilis). It is really fun to watch these beautiful birds, such acrobats! Normally we see smaller light blue parakeets eating these berries, but I haven't seen them yet. They better hurry, the bigger parrots, and the squirrels are enjoying the harvest.

    Sunday, 18 September 2011

    talking to trees

    Someone recently compared me to a fig tree. I, of course, immediately thought of the strangler fig, but was reassured that that wasn't quite what she meant. This and the fact that many of our trees are raining fruit this week, has left me pondering trees.

    I love trees. I love their size, their quiet, their enduring nature. I find myself thanking them for their fruits, their seeds, their shade, their wood, for feeding the mushrooms when they rot, for feeding the birds and insects throughout the year, for providing habitat, protection, nourishment. For their beauty.

    I think it makes a difference. The Rose of Venezuela throws out incredible oblong seeds that are prized here on the farm. The seeds take a year to form in their pods and are expelled with a crack and twist - easy to miss, and the reason we have a grove of saplings forming around the mother tree rather than a line of potted seedlings in the nursery. The days I walk with the dogs I talk with the Rose of Venezuela. I ask her for her seeds, and always, always if I ask she reveals them one by one half hidden, half buried in the grass and leaf litter around her. Today I found 14, one after the other. Just for the asking. And the thanking.

    Rose of Venezuela pods and flower:

    I like fig trees.

    Sunday, 11 September 2011

    well, it's been some time . . .

    over a year in fact. I was thinking I would sneak an entry in at the beginning of August and maybe no one would notice, but really it's been over a year since I wrote on this blog. Shame on me. It's not that I haven't been writing - just elsewhere. Anyway, I'd like to reconnect. So for your viewing pleasure (if anyone is still out there!) here are some toucans:

    The toucans are all in a tree planted especially for them, behind the workshop. The farmer doesn't know what the tree is, nor has he seen it anywhere else, but one happened to start by the house and he realized that the toucans loved the purple berries. After many attempts to start it from seed he finally tied a branch to the house and started a couple of air-layers, one made it. He planted it out in a prime viewing spot and this year it started producing fruit. What a treat to see the toucans visit! Three of them came and spent a few minutes picking through the small berries. The tree up at the house has much larger fruit so we have high hopes for the new addition to our landscape.

    Thursday, 29 July 2010

    how green does your school garden grow?

    It's Summer vacation for the kindergarten right now and I've taken the opportunity to get in there and do a bit of creative re-evaluation. It's been a lot of fun. The garden is small, about 12 meters by 6 with a 5 by 3 shaded area between the buildings. When we started in February we wanted as much free running and playing space as possible, and we thought we might only have the site through July, so we just cleaned it up, planted a couple of small beds and started a loofah vine up the front of the building.

    The loofah took over and though it was pretty against the bright yellow wooden building it started looking really raggy by the windows and covered one bed entirely. I like the shambling cottage look, but it was too much crazy wildness for the children and so it has been cut back to a trim central column climbing to the ridge of the roof then out across the yard on a narrow trellis and onto the front fence. Only now is it beginning to flower, we thought we would have loofahs by October but it looks like it'll be later if the flowers are only now starting. I was hoping we'd get enough to eat (loofahs are very edible when young), but I think we'll get just enough to make Christmas gifts for parents.

    We had a couple of pineapples and they fruited, producing several suckers: we now have a fairly respectable pineapple patch with maybe 16 pineapples plus others in beds and lining the path to the bathroom. 

    Our sand box surrounds a dear old grapefruit tree. I've fenced the box off on one side with Nadera Negra which are leguminous short trees which give a pretty pink flower, edible when cooked. Madera Negra is grown from a stick, I planted 10 a foot apart and strung twine between them. I've planted Sorosi on the trellis, Sorosi is a very feathery, sweet delicate little vine with cheery yellow flowers and a knubbly yellow orange fruit. It's very bitter and a strong medicinal, all the children here know it and know that their neighbors and grandparents take it to "strengthen the blood".

    Beside the door to the kindergarten I've planted Aloe Vera under the eaves where the rain won't reach, it's a tricky plant to grow in this humid climate, but worth it. On the other side I've put a Bandera de Espana, a pretty vine with olive leaves and creamy white flowers with a dark pink center.

    Our tomatoes are doing well trellised up a wall with plenty of mid morning sun and protection from the rain. I've put another three papayas in bringing our count to 5 - necessary because one never can tell who'll be a boy! Our largest papaya has just come out as a boy, which we really don't mind as the flowers smell wonderful! But I'd like all the rest to be big strong fertile girls.

    Our tea corner now contains Lemongrass, Ginger, a local Licorice and Orozuz (a local relative of Stevia), I'll add some Carpenter's Bush which gives a really nice subtle calming tea  and makes a pretty groundcover.

    Our coconut palm is coming along. It was a volunteer when we took over the school site and we kept it, it'll be 5 years before it fruits, who knows what will happen in that time?

    In all I've added four more beds with mixes of edibles and ornamentals. I've tried to keep the colors in the purples, pinks and blues to tone down the brilliant yellow of the building and the sheer green of the garden. The beds sculpt the layout of the garden and give it a bit more definition and direction. The next thing I'd like to do is put in a very small, very shallow pond (about the size of our dishwashing bowl) purely to add some water hyacinth, tadpoles, duckweed and dragonflies. The newest ornamental additions all attract butterflies. How lucky these children are!

    Let's see, so we have coconut, papaya, pineapple, grapefruit, tomato. I've still to put in a banana. For teas we have ginger, lemongrass and hibiscus sweetened with orozuz. For fresh greens I've planted katuk, camote, two types of wandering jew and culantro which can be prettied up with petals from the hibiscus and impatiens. I've still to add the carpenter's bush (tilo) and some purslane I found growing in a meadow neighboring the school. And there are two types of edible mushroom; oyster and wood ears, which we use in our Thursday soup.

    That sounds like a pretty well rounded garden! More edibles than ornamentals and a good handful of medicinals. Plenty of scents, colors, textures and layers to stimulate the children's senses and imagination. And of course foster their love of plants and gardening!

    Successful compost delivery!

    Saturday, 24 July 2010

    snake day

    The farmer and I both dreamed of snakes last night, there was nothing snakey about yesterday, but today there certainly was.

    On the way back from the farmers' market we paused on the driveway to let a boa cross our path. He was in no hurry and ambled slowly across the road, not so very big, maybe 5 foot, and beautiful. I have a 12 minute video of a boa eating a squirrel, or rather the second half of the squirrel, filmed one morning on the path below the house. The squirrel had been in a cacao tree and both had fallen onto the logs below. All I could do was wait, there was no way around. When she finished she scowled, raised herself up and flicked her tongue at me. I know it was rude to record her, but what else could I do there with a camera? (I was late for a meeting and hence had to show my reason.) We like and encourage boas in this area, great rodent control! And as soon as I work out how to upload the video I'll do it!

    Back on the farm we heard that the workers had killed a terciopelo (Bothrops asper), or fer-de-lance in English. One of them had seen it yesterday near the public road that runs through the farm and all three had returned this morning to look for it. The fer-de-lance has a terrible reputation - the "ultimate pit viper", and is responsible for most of the venomous snake bites in Costa Rica. It's large and nervous / aggressive, and is almost always killed on site by the locals. Normally we do not like snakes being killed on the farm, but with this one we allow it. Having the Botanical Garden with its many visitors we can't take the risk. So it had been killed as quickly and as simply as the men could do it: they caught her with a forked stick and broke her skull.

    We went over as soon as we could. She was a good size, beautiful and sleek. Her skin was the most scaly skin I've ever seen on a snake, not small close fitting mosaic style scales, but large diamond shaped ones which all seemed to move independently. Her belly looked almost like a shrimps the way the large rectangular scales overlapped each other. They were as smooth as glass and a wonderful creamy white. Terciopelo means velvet in Spanish, and her back did feel somewhat velvety with each scale having what seemed like a soft nap to it, but it was a hard sort of velvet. The skin was loose on her, probably to allow for its elastic nature. Her vertebrae were hard and raised in a ridge that ran the whole length of her body. I have never been so close to a fer de lance before and was surprised by how blunt and snubbed her nose was. The skull was broken so we couldn't save it for cleaning and we didn't open the mouth to look for her fangs - there are too many stories of venom leaving those fangs even after the snake is dead.

    The farmer wanted to try the meat and so Evenor and I cleaned and dressed her. We slit the length of her back and removed the skin which came off easily. Very simple to dress, the ribs and meat wrap around the alimentary canal and organs which come away from the flesh easily just with pulling. It is a two person job, but not messy or difficult. It was in cleaning her we confirmed she was female (I had thought so due to her size and aggression): terciopelos give birth to live young and she had about 80 embryonic sacks with 3 inch, still transparent, snakes inside. Sad, always sad to see such beautiful creatures killed, but also lucky for us in that by killing one snake we had avoided the possibility of killing 80 others.

    We buried the head and viscera and took the meat and skin home. The dogs sniffed cautiously at the skin and then retreated giving a wide berth - this I was very happy to see! I stretched and tacked the skin to a board, scraped it several times until it was soft and clean and then rubbed ash all over the inside and have left it propped up below the house where the breeze will reach it. The farmer oven roasted about 9 inches with black pepper. It was very tasty, a lot like chicken breast but more tender. The only issue is the bones which are fairly soft but not soft enough to eat. We'll use the rest for soup, I think the meat will come right off the bones. Eating her for me was the best way to respect and value and give gratitude for her life. Her beautiful skin will be used in the botanical garden to show visitors and to educate a little more about the types of snakes and creatures which make this area their home.

    I did have a third snake experience today. I was going to the kindergarten to water our newest garden additions and a group of local kids and two youngish men were standing staring at something in the pasture. There was a lot of brandishing with sticks so I asked and they said it was a terciopleo. Having come freshly from the dressing, still with spots of blood on my leg, I wanted to see. Plus it was close to where we had spotted the boa earlier. Sure enough it was a boa, probably the same one. I had a hard time convincing the others it was not venomous, dangerous or anything to be feared. Most people kill all snakes on sight here and many crazy stories are wildly believed such as boas give birth to terciopelos once they reach a certain age, or that they have a venomous bite at night. Total baloney of course, but it's really hard to shake fear out of people. The kids wanted to start throwing stones at it and I had to use my sternest teacher voice to tell them absolutely not. Luckily for the snake and me (I was thinking I'd have to climb through the fence and pick him up to move him somewhere safe, and demonstrate he was in fact harmless), a local amphibian and reptile advocate walked by. He went in, picked up the boa - to the hysterical excitement of the kids - and took it away. Thank goodness.

    Wednesday, 21 July 2010

    markets in Mexico

    We are back from our trip to Mexico and the States. It was thoroughly enjoyable. It was my first time in Mexico and I loved it! The food, the places, the arts and crafts, the food, the music, the culture, the food, the people, the history, the food, the energy and the atmosphere. The food was great: fresh, simple, tasty and quick, we drove to Veracruz from Mexico City and it seemed that every roadside shack was either a cafe or a mechanics, and sometimes both.

    We were in Veracruz visiting vanilla growers around Papantla, a nice little town perched on several hills with lots of trees, a wonderful local historical site, El Tajin, and a local indigenous tradition of dropping off the top of a very high pole suspended on a long rope while a musician dances atop the pole playing beautifully haunting simple pipe and drum tunes. Wonderful.

    The markets were busy and bustling with great fresh produce and tons of character. Here are some pictures to whet the whistle:

    Thursday, 17 June 2010

    cacao kills cockroaches

    I believe that every creature has a place and a role in the world. However there are certain creatures which I just don't want to share space with. I have various agreements with several species: scorpions, larger ants, spiders, biting flies, that if we share space we are purely courteous and harm no-one. It works: and on those rare instances when it doesn't then usually that creature is removed from our common space. Cockroaches too have a place and I can be fond of them, cleaning and clearing away our detritus, but somehow reviled more than all the flies, ants and wasps which share the same momentous task: they are the vultures of the insect world. They're actually quite cute up close.

    However there is a point beyond tolerance and I reached it this week. They got into my chickpea flour.

    I live in the jungle and I am fully aware that I am here as a guest and part of the honour is that I share the space with all the other inhabitants. Everything in my kitchen is double bagged and in tupperware boxes. I am oh so well aware of all the ants, flies, mites, weevils, grasshoppers, stink bugs, and endless strange looking 6 leggededs, as well as the myriad spores of yeasts, molds, fungi, plus all the bacteria, protozoa and multi formed parasites that live here too. I've played host to a number of the best of them. Oh yes. But when the roaches finally break through into my chickpea flour, take up residence in my traveling coffee mug and eat the onions in my veggie basket, I'm over it.

    Cacao kills cockroaches. I imagine it's the same mixture of chemicals which pep us up, which causes a heartattack or overloads the cockroach to death, but the result is quick and final. But cacao is also rather an expensive - if all organic - way to go. So yesterday I made some special killer candy. Roaches love onion and orange juice, and chickpea flour, I blended chopped onion with just enough orange juice to wet it, added some chickpea flour and powdered boric acid. The mix I formed into patties and placed around the kitchen and bathroom on top of squares of old plastic bags (easy to move and a lot cleaner). The boric acid takes up to 10 days to work. It's a slow and nasty death of starvation and dehydration, and I'm sorry for that. Cacao would be better. When I get the population down I might switch to smaller amounts of cacao powder, or might mix cacao in with the borax.

    It's a nasty business.

    Thursday, 10 June 2010

    homemade coconut oil

    Anyone with access to a coconut, a grater, and a stove can make coconut oil. And I recommend anyone try it, it's time consuming but really educational in that it proves once and for all why coconut oil is such a luxury and so expensive.

    Ideally you'll want fully mature coconuts, the heavy ones that don't sound full of liquid. Open, save the liquid, remove and grate the flesh. The easiest way to do this is by using a juicer like a Champion (we have a Jack LaLarres). If you don't have a juicer then a blender or food processor works too. We use a coconut grater from the south pacific which looks like a rising sun.
    Grate the coconut. If you use a juicer it will separate the coconut cream from the meat. If you use anything else you will get a nice moist pile of shavings mixed with liquid. Mix this pile with a small amount of water, mix thoroughly and then squeeze the liquid from the flesh. I use an old pillowcase. You want to use the minimum amount of water as it will be cooked out later and will just lengthen the cooking time. Squeeze as hard as you can to get as much of that lovely milk out. Save the flesh for baking, or for curries, or for the dogs. It's important to have helpers clean the coconut shells:

    Whichever method you use, let the milk sit for several hours, preferably overnight (in the fridge is fine too). This allows the milk to separate, skim the cream from the surface and put in a pot. If you get some of the milk too it's not a problem, you'll just make coconut cheese. I always skip this step as I am impatient and I love coconut cheese.

    Bring the cream / milk to a slow boil stirring ALL the time. Reduce to a simmer and stir. Now you will wonder why you used so much water. Stir, stir, stir.

    Gradually the water will evaporate, the cream will thicken to a slushy paste like consistency and you will be bathed in coconut steam. Keep stirring. Slowly the cream will begin to separate and you will see the beginnings of the oil, it will puddle around the edges at first. Keep stirring.

    More and more of the coconut cream will become oil. Curds of coconut cheese will begin to form, these will be small separate chunks, almost the same shape as cottage cheese curds but less than half the size. At some point you will notice that there's no more oil forming and the cheese is beginning to change colour. Remove from heat, allow to cool and pour through a sieve to filter out the cheese. Store the coconut oil in a wide mouthed jar in the fridge, eat the cheese! The cheese is an excellent addition to baked potatoes, salads, actually anything savoury. It's the closest a vegetarian could get to crispy bacon. It's very good, the only place I've heard it being sold is Hawaii, but it must be available elsewhere. I do hope you make this and I do hope you enjoy it. If you do, please leave me a comment!