Thursday, 26 March 2009


A friend from Canada came for lunch yesterday, fresh from the deep freeze up north. As the plates were being cleared a single toucan came flying in to perch 12 feet from the table. He was a Chestnut-mandibled toucan, the largest of the three species, beautiful and large with bright yellow throat and face with a sudden red blast of colour at the tail. He perched looking at us with his sideways gentle sweep of the head: the bill is too large to let him look straight on, and then began calling for his mate. She was clearly having other ideas and called back from the other side of the house. He pondered for a moment and then took off at speed, flying right past our noses, the sound of his wings beating were loud enough. Our visitor was delighted and we followed the toucan's flight right to a large female sloth. She was hanging from two vines about 10 feet from the other side of the house. She hung there with her legs akimbo unsure which vine to take, then slowly let go of one and with a graceful movement any acrobat would be envious of, lowered her whole weight to the lower vine with one strong forearm.We stood drinking our tea, willing her to move again. At our feet one of the dogs barked and we followed her gaze to a further tree where 4 howler monkeys were snacking on leaves. Our visitor was quite taken with his lunch and afternoon show. So nice when a hope comes to fruition!

Monday, 23 March 2009


Beside the house, overhanging and touching it is a large Caimito tree. The Caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito) tree is a large, evergreen tree native to Central America and the West Indies. It is a pretty tree with leaves dark green on top and below a rich bronze colour. The fruit is known in English as star apple, and is a delicious, sticky lilac, persimmon like experience. It exudes a sticky white latex that will clamp lips shut, but is worth it for the sweetness of the pulp. I love caimitos, but despite the tree being fairly laden and close to the house, I have not had one. Every night the kinkajous come and feast, throwing their leftovers on the roof and the forest floor right by the steps into the house. The dogs bark at them, but the kinkajous don't seem to care and gorge. They are not known as the friendliest of creatures and sometimes there's a scuffle as they bicker and clack at each other, but there's plenty of food and the arguments have been kept to a minimum. Yesterday morning I watched two good sized raccoons descend the tree. The male came down first all in a great whoosh and disappeared down the hill. His mate came down very slowly and tentatively, all eyes and twitching nose. She was right to be cautious - the dogs aren't so keen on raccoons, but they were all out for their morning walk and she had the freedom to leave. The fruit is mostly out on the thinner branches, I wonder what the raccoons are eating up there?

Thursday, 19 March 2009

new kitchen

We've moved production out of the house and into a new kitchen above the office. It's a beautiful space built from wood sustainably harvested from the farm along with a fine slab of pilon from a friend. We splurged rather heavily on new appliances and so have a spanking new 13 cubic foot fridge, a 3 ring gas stovetop and a small convection oven. We also have a built in incubator for the tempeh and a built in dehydrator for many things. And there's hot water from solar collectors in the roof!! There are many windows - with screens, and I'm right above the nursery and the medicinal garden, quite a lovely work environment. This may well mean that I'll finally get out of the kitchen and back into the dirt, it's been a long while . . .

It's hot and sunny here at last and working in the kitchen is a bit of a bikram experience: with the stove and oven on, the incubator and dehydrator going and the ambient temperature in the 80s, I must be dropping pounds in sweat alone. But it feels really good.

Monday, 16 March 2009

time slows down

I've been operating on a different time scale recently, seems another lesson in my life to slow down and enjoy the moment. This latest teacher is very small but potent: my sourdough starter. Living life to the swell and fall of yeast is an exercise in laying back in a primordial ooze, it's about as basic and as slow as one can get. And yet there is so much strength and potency and abundancy in this primordial bath.

The starter began life as a mix of one cup rainwater (all our water here is rainwater) and one cup wholewheat flour. It sat out on the counter covered with a tea towel and was fed every day with another half cup water and half cup flour. I mixed it vigorously twice or thrice a day and on the 4th day was rewarded with bubbles. Another two days later and it was looking thick and bubbly and had that lovely yeasty smell. Now the starter lives in the fridge and is fed twice, sometimes three times a week whenever I make bread. Making sourdough bread is a three day process. The actual preparation is short and simple, but it takes time for raising and re-raising. The difference between walking into a store and buying bread and making it from scratch is not so much a matter of difference in convenience as a lesson in natural law and our place as part of a greater wholesome whole. Yeast has its own agenda, one must have respect and appreciation. Louis Pasteur had it right when he said "the microbes will have the last word".

Before I make bread I take the starter out of the fridge pour it into a bowl, feed it a cup of flour and about 1/2 cup of water, cover with towel and allow it to swell overnight or all day.

Sourdough recipe
1 cup sourdough starter
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup of kombucha (or dark beer, warm, or boil water from pasta, potatoes or other starchy veg, or regular water)
flour to make a good dough, I use about 3-4 cups but it depends on weather and humidity
time and openness to enjoying the moment

anything can be added to bread, at the moment I add sunflower and sesame seeds

mix the starter, salt, sugar and liquid (and any additions). Add a cup of flour at a time mixing thoroughly, until you have a nice firm dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead for 15 minutes. Put in oiled bowl and cover with tea towel and leave in a warm place overnight or all day. Sourdough takes longer to rise than bread using commercial yeasts. Next morning form into loaves. This recipe makes me two loaves. I divide the dough in half, flatten it out into a rough circle and roll it up into a short thick sausage. Place on baking trays, cover with tea towel and leave somewhere warm either all day or overnight. Bake for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, the bread is ready when it sounds hollow when tapped.

Enjoy with nutmeg preserve!