sábado, 28 de febrero de 2009

Trial by Fire

There is an expression here about gardening--that if you're good at it, you have a cool hand. En esto momento, I am not sure what temperature my hands are. I admit that a LOT of what is going on here is experimentation. a prime example is the cacao.
Last July we planted 50 cacao saplings in a open area of the farm, fantasizing about our future chocolate business. We would process it ourselves! create new sensational flavors! make a small fortune on the side because of the popularity of our deliciously decadent new hobby! We even spent time at a bonafide chocolate farm, learning the ropes!
Here we are studying up at La Iguana Chocolate in Mastatal, Costa Rica

The cold hard truth (Tristan, Paige: lo siento) is that neither excitement nor ambition, not even LOVE OF CHOCOLATE could have substituted for Skill or Experience.

that's right, cacao saplings need shade. Oops? who would've thought? Fifty dry cacao carcasses later, I concede.
Hence, in December I started several new cacao babies in the backyard, where they luxury in ample shade and water. The kicker is, these guys don't look completely happy either.

My thought is, when you're farming trial-by-fire style, how cool can your hands be?

viernes, 20 de febrero de 2009

(not just) For the Birds

One everyday part of life that I did not forsee adjusting has been my SNACK selection. In Nica stores and roadside stands there are loads of msg-laden chips and sugary fake-creamy cookies, but i of course am always on the lookout for tasty healthy bocaditos. I am excited to introduce un favorito nuevo of mine, not to mention the hummingbirds'....

Jocotes, Spondias purpurea, supposedly known as "hog plums" in some parts, do not taste like hogs or plums. These juicy little fruits have a unique sweet yet sour tang. Nicas prefer them mostly green and still tart; though if you wait, they will ripen reddish and sweet. The secret to unlocking jocotes' flavor potential, however, is SALT. Toss them in a bag with a pinch or two of salt and munch away! Watch out for the large seed in the middle. Tostitos: eat your heart out.

While they do not grow on the farm yet, (trying to germinate seeds right now) somebody is growing jocote trees/shrubs in abundance around here, as they are readily available en el mercado.

And now for an easy snack that we ARE growing on the farm:
How incredible to watch this gorgeous blossom age into a gorgeous bed of seeds...

If you like salty snacks, a little trick I learned is to soak the raw seeds in salty water before toasting. sometimes i add a dash of red pepper. Protein-to-go

martes, 17 de febrero de 2009

¡ACHIOTE! bless you?

Achiote Seeds: nothing to sneeze at.

This beautiful red seed grows in abundance on our farm and is a staple in many latin american dishes. Here's a link to the seed pod on the achiote bush: http://people.tribe.net/transkryptome/photos/fa1a507c-f243-4599-b724-581987f03f27
The fantastic bright color of achiote (pronounced AHH-CHO-TAY) is easily recognized in a paste sold here in el mercado, to be used as a starting point in preparing various meat dishes. A paste is created by grinding the achiote seeds with black pepper, garlic, spicy peppers, maybe vinegar, etc. and is then rubbed into fish, pork, or at our house, even carne de soya.
Achiote has an unusual aroma, kinda spicy, warm, but not the eye-stinging sharp scent of a hot pepper. That's what confuses me. The color is gorgeous, no doubt about it. The flavor? weelll, it's subtle. it doesn't live up to the vibrancy its color announces. And yet in the market, little squishy bags of achiote paste are referred to as "chile." For my first foray with the stuff, I donned gloves and protective eye wear, hyperconscious of the possibility of burning my skin with this powerful, potent, PASTE OF PUNGENCY! Turns out, it's a little bland. ok, there, i said it. but it's PRETTY?
Nicas are not big on spicy. In lieu of chile- or tomatillo-based salsas that liven the hell out of mexican cuisine, Nicas opt for a pickled cabbage ensalada, with maybe a couple of jalapeños tossed in. It's good, i like it. very tangy. just not.... spicy.
However, with 4 billion pounds of the stuff sitting patiently in our kitchen, I am more than willing to incorporate achiote into some recipes. Primeramente,
Hummus de Achiote!!

With color like this, how could I go wrong?
Granted, my blender now sports a red badge of courage that insinuates an unfortunate run-in with Chester Cheetah....but the hummus was a hit!

lunes, 16 de febrero de 2009

Stuffed Ayote Squash

My first official garden to table entree!!
After monitoring this ayote squash's growth the past 3 weeks, I deemed it harvestable at about 5pm today, picked it, and by 7pm it was featured in my Sunday night dinner! there's lots of ways to stuff a squash, i went with whatever was on hand. In addition to the squash, i proudly incorporated my homegrown tomates and oregano!
1 big squash--ayote is the most common squash around here, though any winter squash will do
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 lb tofu
1/2 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
3 or 4 garlic cloves, diced or pressed
oregano, basil, rosemary, or other italian spices
1/4 cup chopped cashews, opt.
shredded mozzerella cheese, opt.

First step, cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, and bake in a dish filled 1/2 with water at about 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. (until squash meat is tender).

Meanwhile, start quinoa--add 1/2 cup of dry quinoa to 1 cup of boiling water; simmer 10-12 minutes, until all water is absorbed. While quinoa cooks, in a skillet sautee onion and garlic; add tofu and spices--cook 5 more minutes.

When squash is cooked, remove from oven, scoop out soft meat, and add to skillet. (You want the squash to keep it's shape, so go easy on the scooping, leaving the shells in the baking dish.) Once quinoa is ready, add that to skillet too, along with tomatoes.

Stir the quinoa/squash filling over low heat for few minutes before spooning it into awaiting squash "bowls."

I topped mine with chopped cashews and mozzerella cheese. To veganize, simply substitute cheese for nutritional yeast, or other vegan gravy. Bake 15 more minutes.


miércoles, 11 de febrero de 2009


We're not waiting for autumn, Thanksgiving, or any date at all. Febrero, junio, septiembre, doesn't matter! Harvest is ALL YEAR LONG in these parts! From the farm this week, may I proudly present our second ayote squash, patiently awaiting its debut in Mildred's special del almuerzo, Sopa Vegetariana.

And feast your eyes on these TANGERINES (not limes)! You can wait for them to get orangey sweet or use them green in tangy sour refrescos (fruit drinks)!

OK seriously, the weather is balmy all year so it is possible to cultivate and harvest continuously. this is obvious. However there are SEASONS here, and i'm still trying to figure them out. When i arrived here last July, it was HOT. basically summer. easy. Slowly but surely the rain showers increased in length and frequency, by Oct we welcomed La Epoca de Lluvia. again, easy. Come January, I was expecting warming temps, spring-like, and so i began planting seeds. Scarlet Runner Beans to be exact. Turns out, surprise! It's the Windy Season, silly! At first it seemed refreshing, pleasant even. Six weeks later, allow me to reflect:
Serious strong gusts of wind day AND night. Bike riding? challenging to say the least. Sleeping soundly? impossible, as doors and windows and the roof rattle and shake and shiver. Being at the farm? loose dirt in your eyes gets old FAST. Growing pole beans????? sad, sad, amateur mistake. here's hoping the winds will fade before my bean babies reach heights worthy of wind ravage.

My contribution to the ongoing harvest this week: Tons of Kombucha! Our liquor cabinet has been transformed, bottles of booze reused as bottles of 'buch. Did you spot the old Carlo Rossi wine bottle now harboring a fizzy ginger-lemon brew? (see ginger floating in the bottom)

here's a bubbly glass of kombucha de jamaica, a simple infusion of hibiscus tea. DElicious!

La Casita

By popular demand, our house plans! Yes, the place will be ROUND. it will have 3 enormous "entrances"--gates that can be opened to create an airy open ambiance. Two bedrooms around the edge, as well as an open kitchen; and the middle area will serve as living room/dining room/hammock hang. We decided to go with rock, as the quarry is only a few miles down the road, but we are planning to complete part of the inside walls with a homemade cobb/adobe material. And hopefully with lots of helpful hands!!!

Silvio is building a bike-generated water pump, fun! and we're hoping to get a solar panel up there to heat the shower. At some point in the future we want to install a bio-digester, in which somehow the byproduct (gas) of our waste (poop) will fuel a gas stove! I think we also need a composting toilet in a discreet location out on the farm.
anyway, seeing a crew out there actually WORKING on the site is making it seem REAL! although it doesn't look like much at this point...

domingo, 1 de febrero de 2009


Where we live in the semi-tropical lowlands of pacific Nicaragua, every season is BANANA SEASON!!!!
Recently though, we've been swimming in them. And they turn quickly here, I guess because of our high temperatures. Sooo, I have been creatively transforming the plentiful yellow bounty into edible treats.

The pic does not capture the fantastic pinky-orange color of my

Banana Papaya Smoothie
4 frozen bananas (our bananas are small)
1 cup frozen papaya

1 Tbsp ground flax seeds
1 cup of plain kefir
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of cinnamon
Blend it up for

My chocolate chip banana bread didn't last long enough for fotos....but I did make sure to document my first ever Banana Cream Pie! I was shooting for a simple graham cracker crust; unfortunately it's not that simple to find graham crackers in Diriamba. Instead I crunched up a bunch of these generic vanilla-like galletas. The crust turned out to be tasty and even held
together ok. (1.5 cups of crunched cookies + 1/2 cup sugar + 3TBSP of butter=easy crust)
I found a simple Banana Cream Pie recipe on Allrecipes.com: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Banana-Cream-Pie-I/Detail.aspx
I was quite proud:

Next I am eying "Chocolate-Banana Enchiladas"!! For now I will have to buy cocoa, one day I'll have homemade chocolate from the farm. When/if these enchiladas happen, I'll make sure to add pics of our cacao saplings that I started in December.