Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Happy New Year!

May 2010 be a time of transformation, growth, abundance and beauty!
Happy New Year!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

busy with life: Sea Heart School

My posts have been somewhat erratic over the last month or so: I've been seriously distracted with a new project. Until this past year I was a Waldorf teacher, first in the UK, then the US and then here in Costa Rica. This year, 2009, I left teaching for what I thought would be for good. Throughout the year people have asked me to start a little school and I've resisted, but it's been gnawing at me. Events have happened, the stars have aligned properly, things have just seemed to slip into place and so I find myself about to embark on a new school project.

The Sea Heart School will begin January 20th (the Costa Rican school year runs beginning of February to mid December). We will begin with a kindergarten and a homeschool support group for older children. We chose our name for the sea heart vine (Entada gigas), wishing to have our symbol be something which would connect the forest and the ocean. Sea heart vines grow up through the canopy, they are leguminous and form the longest seed pods in the world. When ripe the pods drop and shatter sending the seeds in all directions. The seeds are very beautiful: a deep brown polished looking woody heart, often they make their way down streams to the ocean where they become one of the most common and attractive drift seeds. Carried across oceans or around the world in currents they wash up on shores as far away as Ireland to be carried home as gifts from the sea. The sea heart connects forest and shore in a wonderful way - as a living and beautiful and heart shaped seed, ready to grow into a thriving, climbing, nitrogen fixing plant! As a world traveler it also symbolizes our children who come from  Central, South and North America and Europe. We hope our children will also grow and thrive and be at home in the forest, and the oceans, and are flexible and willing to travel to new destinations and make new discoveries on all levels of their being.

Our school house is very close to the farm, and almost as close to the ocean. It's a small traditional house with a yard that is ready to be painted, planted and loved. Right now it needs work - two walls, a rainwater collection system, repairs, paint, plumbing in the kitchen . . . but I love it, it's full of potential and crying out for the laughter of children. It has a grapefruit tree in the yard full of fruit - perfectly delicious pink fruits.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Gluten Free, Liver and Oat Dog Treats!

How would the dogs do on christmas morning without something in their stockings? Not so well I fear.

Here's a nice healthy dog treat to tickle their fancy while everyone else is exchanging gifts. This recipe is gluten free for the sake of our shepherd, Hoss, who has wheat allergies. Any flour can be substituted, I sold these made with wholewheat flour at the farmers' market last week!

1/2 kilo liver (any variety, we use local pig as Hoss is somewhat sensitive to beef)
1 egg
1 grated carrot
1/4 cup oil
3 drops oregano oil or 1 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano (good for coats, bad for fleas)
2 cups chickpea flour (or substitute)
1 cup rolled oats

Blend liver into puree with water. Mix in other ingredients, you may need extra flour depending on the amount of water used. Drop cookie dough onto baking sheets. Bake at 350F for 15 - 20 minutes. Store in the fridge. Enjoy!!!!


Monday, 14 December 2009


Christmas is almost upon us. One has to try pretty hard to muster christmas in the tropics. Growing up in Scotland I was intensely aware of the dark and the cold and the weight of the year. The solstice and the lights of the christmas tree, the burning fires and candelight, the feeling of anticipation for something more than gifts, the deepness and stillness that comes with snow, the strength of the quietness of those nights. . .

All the things that bring on a mood of reverence and awareness of what is beyond the small things of life have to be sought for anew here where the weather is as always, the light is it's typical 12ish hours and there's no snow for miles and miles and miles.

I'm getting there. I've found an online radio channel that plays what I want to hear for this time (Accu radio). I've made my first batch of mincemeat pies, and today will work on the second. I've made an advent nature table with the 4 kingdoms represented (figuring that the 5th, fungus, is present in all). I'm playing carols on my flute, and yesterday we decorated the tree.

Our christmas tree is a living one, a Norfolk Pine. Norfolk Pines don't grow here, but the farmer has a way with plants and has coaxed this one through several christmases now. It's not your typical christmas tree, the lower branches have been dropped and the bare trunk is decorated with lights and a couple of growing vines. It looks somewhat like a palm with its long slender (very slender) branches radiating out, each set making a 5 pointed star. The set it put out this past year make the tree about 7 foot tall, but luckily the branches sweep down and out, each is lightly festooned with old and handmade decorations.

I'm making several gifts, of wood, glass and wool, trusting that they'll all come together in time. The dogs biscuits will get done today and I've got an order in for pigs' ears with Noity, hopefully they'll have that treat too on the 25th.

We have a big party for friends and neighbours on the 25th and the invitations went out this weekend, we'll have rondon (recipe soon, a traditional dish of coconut fish stew), salads from the garden, christmas pudding and mincemeat pies, plus whatever else is brought to share.

It's all good. I'm slowing sinking into that peaceful center of joy and connection with the greater. All good.

Monday, 7 December 2009


It's been a while since I last blogged, it seems I'm otherwise occupied with many varied but hard to pinpoint thoughts, tasks and activities. The farm is entering a more dormant period with the rains and change of light. Here, being 9 degrees north of the equator, we don't experience such dramatic solstices, we still have close to 12 hours a day, but the quality of light is different.

My pumpkins while still flowering will not set. The cranberry hibiscus having put all its energy into flowering is dying back, the malabar spinach is dropping leaves. It's a time to back down, weather the wet and take a moment out of the crazy growing spiral that is the rainforest.

In the orchards the mondu (Garcinia dulcis) is still fruiting, the araza has dwindled to one or two malformed fruits and my beloved champedak is almost done: each harvested fruit smaller and lighter than the last.

We are harvesting vanilla for the first time and I will post about that. And our salak is strong too, today in the kitchen I'll be drying the salak and making mondu jam.

Otherwise we've been busy going back and forth to San Jose for various appointments. We took part in a 'Sustainable and Fair' faire last weekend, it was very good. We were the only vendor there selling dried fruits and cacao and we sold out of everything but jam. It was also a good opportunity to connect with others and we have a couple of new clients from it. There were a lot of craft and artisan vendors selling some really nice things from shoes to masks, and several indigenous vendors selling heirloom grains and medicinals. And all of it fair trade and 'sustainable' (whatever that means). The faire is bi-annual and is by invitation only. I hope we are invited to the next one in May. Oh one more thing, the President was there and bought some jam and fruit from us. Does that make us by presidential appointment?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

things to do - really?

time goes by quickly here, and there's always something else ahead of us . . . to just take a moment out to sit and be takes planning - incredible. That needs to change. I need to learn from my surroundings, not get so caught up in rush of fruit and market and visitors and newsletters and ideas and and and . . .

but allow myself, gift myself, a moment to do nothing, but to be. Learn from my neighbours:

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


The rains have come. Great sheets of water slicing from the sky, thundering on the tin roof, overflowing the rain barrels, forming great muddy puddles, washing away leaves, twigs, branches and boughs, snarling clumps of debris below the bridge. Sounds like winter, and it would be fun if we could bundle up, close the doors and snuggle into a cozy fireside with mugs of hot cocoa. But no, we live in an open house, barely screened - ideal in the sunshine or showers but wet and damp and chill in these drenching seasons. The two of us and the dogs huddle in corners seeking solace from the drafts and the drifting rain, the floor wet and muddy from dogs who must go outside every once in a while, hardly able to hear ourselves from the noise of the rain on the roof. When the phone rings we must go below the house to where it's quieter.

rain through the flat windows, click to see the streams pouring from the roof.
The flat where my work kitchen is, is cozier, it has 4 full walls, all the way from floor to roof. The windows are screened, the tin roof is lined with wood. The oven is there. Soon I'll brave the 400 steps down the sodden, slippery hill through wet jungle foliage slapping my face and dripping down my neck, watching my every move as the wooden steps are like ice in this weather, squelching and squishing through the mud. Rain.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Paper making workshop

There's more to our farm than just the farmer and myself. Anyone who has visited the website will quickly see that there are others. The others are the farmer's son and his very capable partner, and our 3 and a 1/2 workers. Together we are able to run the farm, garden and some more besides.

One of the besides is CARTS. CARTS is a joint venture between ATEC and the Botanical Garden. CARTS stands for Colectivo Artistico Reciclando en Talamanca por la Sostenibilidad, a Recycled Arts Collective for a Sustainable Talamanca (our area of Costa Rica), and is a collective of women artists working with recycled materials producing unique, useful, artistic pieces.

CARTS is sponsoring free workshops at the farmers' market the second Saturday of each month. Each workshop focuses on an art project with recycled materials. This past Saturday it was paper making with the very capable partner.

Paper making is simple, and it's fun. Take used paper - for example newsprint, old notes, yellow pages, receipts, whatever, and tear into strips then 1 to 2 inch squares. Soak for at least an hour, then whizz in a blender 'til it's the consistency of oatmeal. Pour into a tub with more water and agitate (small leaves, petals, other decorations can be added at this point). Take your screen and deckle and in a smooth movement lower at an angle into the tub, level off and bring up horizontally. Allow the water to drain. Remove the deckle and in another smooth movement invert the screen with the paper pulp onto a waiting piece of felt. Press the paper through the screen to ensure separation then lift the screen. Use a sponge to press - gently - to remove excess water. If you have enough space, the paper can be left to dry further on the felt. If not transfer to newsprint and place in the sun or somewhere airy to dry. For best results place weights on the paper to improve writing texture and form.

The workshop took place in the middle of the market space to a good sized audience of adults, a child or two, and stall holders. The participants ranged from complete novices to those who had experience and were there for the fun of helping and making. Some of the locals had never seen paper made before and were impressed at how easy it was with recycled paper - part of the purpose of these workshops is to encourage re-use and recycling (two concepts oddly new to this culture which is quickly becoming as throwaway as the US and Europe ever was). It was a successful workshop with people proudly leaving supporting freshly made sheets decorated with petals, leaves and coloured print.

December's workshop will be baskets made from tetrabrik, January I'll give a workshop on purses crotcheted from plastic rice and sugar bags. CARTS is putting together a catalogue of products, I'll try to link it to this blog.

Thursday, 12 November 2009


I'm drying papaya seeds so that I can sprout them for salad mixes. The fermenting fruit attracts butterflies, wasps, bees, all sorts of visitors. Here's an owl (thanks Mike) butterfly from the side you rarely see.

Monday, 9 November 2009

My new guide book!

Here's a few sample pages from my guide book to growing and gathering food in lowland Costa Rica. There's 68 pages of information and recipes on what grows here and what to do with it. It was really fun to write and I'd like to do some more, perhaps leaflets on cacao, black pepper, nutmeg - things that grow here on the farm, maybe a medicinal guide to very local plants, maybe a plant lore book . . . the list goes on of all the things I can do with all the free time I have (?). I want to print the book for sale at the farmers' market and in town, and also offer it online as a pdf file. Quite pleased with it!
click the photos for a closer look

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

jammin', with fudge

After a long hiatus I made some araza jam this morning. There's a small season starting and I was able to pick 2/3rds of a bucket of fruit to make 11 jars of what has become our signature jam. I also found just enough nutmeg to make two jars of nutmeg butter. What incredible smells filled the kitchen! Especially as we were also slicing ginger and processing black pepper.

I've been trying to make fudge these last two days. Back in the US, my class would make and sell fudge by the caseload for Christmas fairs. We could knock out fudge like no-one else and had all the packaging and presentation - and sales talk - down to a tee. But this is the first time I've tried it in three years and the recipes from up north don't work so well due to temperature and humidity differences, plus the farmer won't eat butter (!). And there's the caveat that everything we offer at the farmers' market comes from the farm. So. Here's my new recipe:

Coconut Chocolate Fudge
one serving (enough for 4 people after dinner treat)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup powdered cacao
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Melt oil, milk and sugar together in heavy bottomed pan, bring to boil and boil until it reaches the soft ball stage. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Wait for 5 minutes then stir in powdered cacao. Wait 5 more minutes then beat until mixture loses its glossiness. Pour into silicon mold (or onto greased parchment paper). Allow to cool before eating (if possible). The cacao and coconut milk comes from the farm, the oil came from Bastimentos Island, the vanilla from Mexico (but soon from our farm) and the sugar from the store. No photos, we ate it before I had the chance to bring out the camera.

'making' black pepper

The farmer has been producing organic black pepper for over twenty years here on the farm. Pepper was introduced as an alternative cash crop for cacao plantation farmers after the cacao blight destroyed farm incomes throughout this region. We are the only people still producing black pepper in this area. The pepper is marvelous: we sell to tourists at the garden and to locals and restaurants alike, the farmer receives emails regularly from all over the world asking for more of that "wonderful pepper we bought on holiday". People living here take it as a gift on their journeys and those who visit regularly stock up on pepper for their time back home. We mill just enough each Friday night to sell at the market on Saturday mornings, and we always sell out. It's just so good: fresh, hot, bright, clean, crisp, pure . . . organic, excellent!

The black pepper plant (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine native to India. Once the most expensive spice on earth, once more expensive weight for weight than gold, it was the main push behind the sea race to India (and hence responsible for the discovery of the Americas!).

The plant is grown on trees, stakes or trellises, here we use Madera Negra sticks which root and sprout branches giving some shade and protection. Madera Negra is leguminous and fixes nitrogen in the soil, thereby providing a nitrogen source for the pepper vines. We propagate through air-layers, production of fruit begins within a year, but for solid production we wait two years. pepper can be harvested throughout the year, though the main harvest comes in September through November.

Black (and green) peppercorns are produced from the unripe whole berries of the pepper plant. Each berry contains a single seed, covered by a very thin layer of pulp and skin. It is the skin and pulp which gives the colour and the special taste to black pepper. We pick our pepper when the seed is developed and cannot be squished flat between the finger and thumb. Berries ripen from the top of the stalk down, so we always try to squish the bottom berries to check for readiness.

White peppercorns are produced from the ripe berries. Ripe berries are red in colour, to produce white peppercorns the berries are soaked in water for a week until the flesh ferments and falls from the seed. the seed is then dried - this dried seed is a white peppercorn. We don't produce white peppercorns, just the black (although for our French and Italian clients we sometimes supply fresh green peppercorns).

To make black pepper first pick the perfect pepper.

Boil in water for 4 minutes, or thereabouts. The boiling cleans the pepper and begins to break down cell walls allowing the pepper to change colour from green to black.

After boiling, the hot pepper is rubbed across a mesh to separate the berries from the stems.

The stems are used as mulch.

The blackening berries are left to dry in the sun.

Monday, 2 November 2009

cacao harvest time

roasted cacao beans

We're in the middle of our cacao harvest. It takes a while, spread out over a course of maybe 5 weeks as we wait for pods to ripen. The cacao pods grow from the trunk and branches of the tree and change from a pale green to a darker yellow or red before they are ripe.
This farm used to be a cacao plantation, but was abandoned in the 1970s due to the Monila blight which took out almost all the cacao farms in this area. The blight attacks the fruit, not the tree, so there are still many many hundreds of trees around which produce fruit. The harvest is a spotty thing, as we do not treat the trees or fight the blight, we harvest what we can: the rest the squirrels or blight takes. It's not a huge harvest, just enough to last us the year.

The pods are hand picked with a curved blade on a strong stick - cacao pods rarely fall by themselves and last years blackened, eaten out pods can still be seen on the trees. They do make an excellent mulch though, so we like to see them on the ground. After picking they are cut open with a machete and the insides scooped out into a bucket. I've written about cacao several times on this blog (search for cacao in the search tool), so won't go into too much detail herte about how it all looks. When the bucket is full it is emptied into a gunny sack - in our case old rice sacks, and hung in a cool covered area, for 5 days or so. In the past the cacao was piled onto banana leaves and covered with more leaves.

Inside the sack the beans ferment in their white gloopy pulp: fruit flies, beetles, earwigs are all part of the process. The bag smells like fairly bad and oozes a sticky transparent juice. Not really what one would associate with chocolate.

After 5 days the beans look like beans - the white pulp covering is gone and they look like smooth plump almonds in a tawny covered skin. Now they are sun dried for 3 or 4 days or until they snap cleanly when broken in two. At this stage they are ready for storage - the major chocolate producers buy them at this point and roast them as needed. We roast ours just before we use them for the best flavour.

The beans are edible at every stage, raw in their pulp they are bitter and 'green', taste nothing like chocolate. Dried they are still bitter and smell a little chocolately but have no real taste. After roasting they begin to have the wonderful aroma of chocolate. We use our in granola bars, in granola, in dried fruit mixes and to munch on when we need an energy boost.

cacao pods on the tree

pile of pods, each pod contains 20-50 beans

the gunny sack with beans and pulp

inside the gunny sack, day 2

Friday, 30 October 2009

getting ready for Christmas, caribbean style


Bastimentos is a small island about 10 minutes by water taxi from Isla Colon. We went there to visit a friend who manages an incredibly beautiful 24 hectare farm. The island is really lovely, there are no cars and the only 'road' is a concrete path about 7 foot wide by maybe 1/2 a mile long. Most people live on or just off this main street. The houses are quite tightly cluttered and almost all are wooden Caribbean style with gingerbread trim - in various states of repair. Kids played baseball, a rather narrow type of baseball, on the street. The restaurants and houses on the ocean side stand out over the water, on the other side they rise up a low hill. The islanders are a mix of indigenous natives who still live traditionally (again to a greater or lesser degree), afro-Caribbeans, Chinese (who came for the canal and settled), latinos and foreigners. It's low season here and we only saw two other tourists.
After a great fish lunch we hiked up the hill to views of beautiful beaches on the other side of the island, to visit another organic farm: up in the hill. This farm is owned by a Scottish girl and her Argentinian husband. For some odd reason there are very few Scots in this part of the world, and I had heard of this girl for a couple of years. Jeanette and Javier and their two kids are really lovely and working very hard making their farm a beautiful place to be. They have a cabin for rent with great views and Jeanette makes excellent brownies with coconut oil and deliciously light teas. She has her own line of organic coconut based oils, lotions and creams and sells home produced chocolate. And Javier is a carpenter and built their house and the cabin. Very nice. She sells online and at the new farmers' market on Isla Colon, and to shops around Panama. I'm hoping we can trade some things!


Sitting eating delicious battered fish on the deck of a shabby looking restaurant standing on stilts out over the water, a few raindrops begin to fall. Not too worried, we continue to eat. The rain becomes a little more persistent so we pick up our plates and move back under semi cover and continue. Five minutes later, with steady rain we move under the tarpaulin roof. Two minutes later we, and everyone else, retreat to the bar which has a tin roof. By now the rain is falling hard and the wind has really picked up: the paper lantern lights are now banging wildly against the roof, and the Panamanian flags on the bar are behaving like proud wind socks. The lights are flickering, the rain is coming straight in, sideways. They move the TV. Now the wind which is in turns warm and cold is really blowing. The street behind us is flooding as the waves begin to schloop over the deck and hit the road between the buildings. Then the power goes. The wind feels colder, or perhaps it's because we're wet. The staff are wearing trash bags with holes torn for head and arms. They have given up on the customers and are talking loudly into their cell phones crouched down out of the rain and wind behind the bar. The only light comes from taxis which are ploughing through water on the street. In the lights of one a dog is swimming across the road. Someone in the bar lights a cigarette and the wind does strange things to the glowing ember tip, making it look as if it is 3 or 4 lights instead of one. The lightning illuminates us from time to time: grey, wet, hair plastered to heads, sodden meals, a child still eating dark pink ice-cream. We wonder how to find the hotel and try to estimate the wind speed. The farmer, who was a sailor, estimates 70 miles an hour, with gusts of 80. Coconut palm fronds are lashing buildings and each other. It looks like a newsreel.
And then slowly the wind lessens. The lanterns cease their crazy dance, the flags hang down, we can hear ourselves speak. The rain drops a little, not stopping but mellow enough for us to pay the bill by cell phone light and head out into the flooded street. The road has holes and we bump up and down, sometimes ankle deep in water, sometimes knee deep. We've been on the island 2 hours and we find our hotel by chance. Inside the dark room we discover we have no towels, no water and no fan. But it's okay, this is the Caribbean and all will be good in the morning.

trip to Bocas del Toro, Panama

Just returned from a great little trip down to Panama. The Caribbean islands of Bocas del Toro are 3 1/2 hours from here, including crossing the terrifying border between Costa Rica and Panama.

Terrifying because the Sixaola river lies between the Costa Rican and Panamanian borders. The river itself isn't so scary, though it does have alligators I hear, what is scary is the old, old, rusty, old wobbly iron and metal 200 yard bridge that spans the river. It's best not to look down as one can clearly see the river (a good 30 feet below) between the ancient wooden railroad tyes, some are rotten and there's places where the boards are missing. At one point officials laid planks perpendicular to the tyes to help support traffic. And by traffic, I'm not talking foot passengers: enormous 18 wheelers thunder across the bridge and when they do the folk on foot have to squeeze themselves against the railings (those old, old, rusty railings) to avoid being squished somewhere on a Central American no man's land. It's enough to make one want to go to Nicaragua instead.

Almost. Because after that ordeal, and an hour in a nervous taxi over a beautiful mountain landscape, and 1/2 an hour by water taxi across a marvelously calm sea, one arrives at Isla Colon, the largest and most developed of the islands.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

christmas pudding

Today I made the christmas pudding. It's always a fun thing to do, partly because the list of ingredients is long but simple, partly because it's so much a part of tradition, partly because the end result is so, so good. I'm not sure of the tradition of Christmas Puddings, and anyway there are plenty of sites explaining it, even a site or two dedicated to this institution, but I do enjoy them. As a child we would have at least two puddings each Christmas - one made by my gran, the other, a more traditional Scottish pudding, made by my great aunt. The Clootie dumpling was, alas, always shunned by my sisters and myself. It was perfectly round and had to be cut to stand on the plate, but the skin was spongy and gooey-slimy at the same time, and it gave me the dry heave - literally. Too bad, because inside it was like the other pudding - delicious. But we weren't allowed to just pick at the inside, no we had to take the skin too. Now as an adult, I would like to try it again, just to see if it really is as dreadful as I remember. I somehow doubt it.

I have made christmas puddings on and off for the last few years, this year I even made one for my birthday cake in August. They are so delicious because they are basically a combination of fruit, spices and alcohol held together by a tiny bit of flour, some breadcrumbs and good will. Once made they sit for a minimum of 2 months gathering flavour and texture, aided by the regular addition of more alcohol. They are twice cooked: steamed for 6 hours initially, then a further 2 hours on the day of serving.

Very very rich, and most often served with brandy butter or whipped cream: a perfect companion to an already dangerously heavy Christmas dinner. But that is what Boxing Day is for - recovery time for all the over-indulgences. It was traditional in my house, and many others in Scotland, to slice left over pudding and fry it for breakfast, served with a fried egg on top. Never mention cholesterol.

Christmas Pudding
4 oz suet (or vegetable shortening)
2 oz wholewheat flour
4 oz brown breadcrumbs, fresh
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon clove
1 whole nutmeg freshly grated
2 oz chopped crystallized ginger
8 oz brown sugar
24 oz mixed dry fruit - I used 10 oz prunes, 10 oz raisins, 4 oz mango, but as long as you use plenty of raisins you can add whatever you like - figs would be great, dates too, I used bananas in my birthday version.
1 grated apple
zest of one lemon or lime, or orange
2 eggs
5 fl oz dark beer
2 tablespoons port or other rich alcohol. I use whiskey or rum.

Mix all ingredients except eggs and alcohol. Blend eggs and alcohol and add to mix. Mix should be sloppy, not sticky. Leave overnight then steam, tightly covered in pudding bowl for 6 hours. Wrap in wax paper then cloth (traditionally, but here in the tropics I put it in the fridge), and leave in cool place for at least two months. Every 3 weeks make holes on top of pudding and add 1/4 cup of whiskey, brandy or rum.

To serve, steam for further 2 hours, remove gently from bowl, douse in alcohol and set alight. Serve with brandy butter, heavy cream or ice-cream.

Oh and another tradition - wrap a penny in foil or wax paper and add to the mix. Whoever finds the penny in their serving has a prize. For my birthday pudding, the prize was a massage, this time it might be dinner at Loco Natural, my favourite restaurant in town.

One of the great things about the pudding is the anticipation and the ritual. When I made this with the kids in my classes we always read Truman Capote's 'A Christmas Memory' the day before we began. It's a wonderful story about Truman making Christmas fruit cakes with his ancient cousin, so touching and so beautifully written. I didn't read it this time, but I know the story so well now, "It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.". Superb.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

what happens when we're not at home

This is Hoss, our shepherd mix, enjoying time out with the 'Edible Austin' magazine, sometimes life is just too hard . . .

Monday, 19 October 2009

kumquat in rambutan syrup

This is delicious over pancakes and probably good with ice-cream. It also works with chicken dishes. Another recycling recipe from the farm kitchen!

The kumquat part:
Kumquats (Citrus fortunella), are a member of the citrus family. They grow on a small tree with sparse branches and highly glossy leaves: kumquats are often used as an ornamental because of their leaves. The kumquat is unusual for a citrus in that the whole fruit is eaten, in fact the peel is much sweeter than the flesh. The tree originated in China but can be found throughout Asia, the tropics and subtropical regions, Japan, California and Florida. Traditionally kumquats are eaten raw or preserved in sugar syrup, pickled, or dried.

preparing the kumquats:
wash, prick with a sharp knife and boil in water for 30 - 40 minutes or until soft. Set aside to cool. Reserve the cooking water.

preparing the rambutan syrup:
This is the recycling part. I was peeling rambutans to dry and throwing the peeled ones in a large bowl. After shelling a bowlful, I found I had a good 2 cups of rambutan juice in the bottom of the bowl. Rambutans are juicy little fellows - it would be possible to extract more juice by placing a heavy weight on top of the peeled fruit and leaving overnight in the fridge or on the countertop for a few hours. This way you get to enjoy the fruit too! Actually rambutans freeze very well, and make a delicious ice cold nibble - instant sorbet.

to make:
Add the rambutan juice to the kumquat's cooking water, add sugar to taste and bring to a boil. Taste again for sweetness (if you overdid it, add a drop of lime juice), and simmer until the syrup reduces in volume by a half. Add the cooked and drained kumquats, cook for another 5 minutes, then can appropriately in sterilized glass jars.

Drying kumquats is also fun - slice thinly and lay on drying trays. I dry ours until they are quite crunchy, then use them as a sweet citrus chip!

fruit porn

Thursday, 15 October 2009

the website at Island Farm

The website is up at last! The link to this blog is on there too, check us out!

Finca la Isla


I've been spending the last week or so writing a brief guide to gathering and growing food in this area, although I think it would be applicable to all low lying humid zones in Costa Rica. I am quite pleased with it, though at this point I haven't printed it out: need to take pictures and I have been waiting for my new camera to arrive. It came this morning, so I should be busy all the day snapping vegetables and plants. Not sure what to do with the guide, whether it's something to sell at the Farmers' Market, or make available on the website. It's been fun, and I'm already thinking of new additions and possible inclusions.

Got a new mini laptop too! Love it, will be so useful for carrying between home and the kitchen.

Friday, 9 October 2009

back in the dirt . . . for a moment

Somehow I found myself with time yesterday. It was a wet pleasantly cool day and I took the opportunity to check the pumpkin that's threatening to take over the farm. I had planted 12 seeds back in late July and of the 12, 5 had come up, 2 of which got inadvertently chopped by Sandro on his weed whacking rounds. I was sorely disappointed. However those 3 have done me proud and now I'm out there gingerly lifting the thick hairy vines off the heliconias, and unwrapping tendrils from young citrus. Oh I do love a pumpkin plant.

Still with time on my hands I went to work on our covered raised beds. It was so good to have my hands in the soil again, even if it was full of ants. The smell of the fresh compost and the decaying broccoli that never worked, was just so good. We have such a hard time getting seeds here that we now try everything we can find, just to see what works. At the moment we have a large stack of seed packets from the Asian stores in San Jose - there's not a letter on the packet that I can decipher, so we just try it all. The broccoli didn't work, nor did the one that looks like a radish. The parsley came up and withered after about 3 weeks, the eggplant sprouted and did nothing. What has worked is some variety of bok choy which works well as a salad green, and a flat leafed parsley. We have cherry tomatoes from seed we saved and chili peppers from seed smuggled out of Cuba.

So today I had the pleasant task of pulling up everything that wasn't happening. I say pleasant because so many of the gardening blogs I read are full of fall chores and bemoan the demise of harvests and summer gardens: it was nice to share some of that experience. But I'm not bemoaning because I get to plant again. After pulling the dead and dying I covered the soil with fresh compost, watered a little and left it to settle in - and give the ants an opportunity to disperse. I think we'll plant more of the bok choy and some incredible mustard greens that taste like wasabi. Perhaps tomorrow after the market I'll have another spare moment to get dirty again.