viernes, 30 de octubre de 2009

Goat Love

The goats are such a big part of my life now, I think it is only appropriate they make occasional appearances here. and lucky you, you don't have to hear their incessant bleeeating while you admire their floppity ears and soulful eyes.
The girls will be receiving even more attention in the coming months as I prepare to breed them; now is the time for RESEARCH, as this will be my first time in charge of such a veterinary venture. I joined an online goat list serve where I am learning the nitty gritty on goat estrus cycles, breeding, kidding, and an assortment of medical advice from how to care for geriatric does to procedures for identifying and removing hoof parasites.

Currently we believe that Ezmeralda is 9 months old,
and Lupita Maria is about 7 months.
Appropriate breeding size/age is a matter of discrepancy amongst goat enthusiasts, but I have deduced the most important factor to be weight of at least 80 lbs. How will I weigh my goats? great question. We have no scale for humans, much less the clunky cloven-hoofed ones. Welcome to Nicaragua....

As for basic care, pre-expecting momma goats require the same as any mammal. With earnest, I strive to keep the girls in top shape by:

Providing an abundance of high quality forage
Goats are ruminants, meaning they have four stomachs! Digestion is a complicated process by which plant material is chewed, swallowed, regurgitated, chewed again, and finally rendered useful in the fourth stomach. Other ruminants include sheep, cows, deer, and the like.
Anyway,,,,,in addition to weeds and shrubs and the occasional bark of my lemon trees, the goats enjoy fruits such as mango, guava, and apparently banana flowers:
she ate the whole thing!

Our goats also receive a serving of fortified grain in the evening, as well as a vitamin/salt supplement.

and secondly,
Allowing them ample exercise
Goats are surprisingly fast. They LOVE running and jumping! Each morning when I open the gate of the Cabra Cabaña, the girls bound out at lightening speed, delighting in their freedom of space.
Ez, Lupita, and I have established a Goat Walk as a morning ritual, me enjoying a brisk walk around the farm and the goats alternating sprints with furious chomping of roadside weeds. it's a win-win situation.
These days, with the constant tropical rains, it is frustrating for all of us to be cooped up inside. Unlike sheep with their water-resistant wool, goats become soaked and chilled to the bone in wet conditions. On rainy mornings I don my raincoat & mud boots and scramble out to harvest fresh stalks and branches, which are hand-delivered to the cabaña. (If only we were so lucky!)
Things are only going to get more exciting (and maybe scary & weird), so stay tuned for the upcoming adventures of Ez & Pita!

jueves, 29 de octubre de 2009

Deep Fried Squash Blossoms: a spontaneous breakfast

I got out to the garden early this morning and was beckoned by bright orange squash blossoms! They said " Eat us!" and so I endeavored to do just that.
  • First I picked 6 of the blooming beauties, all male blossoms, leaving several on the vine for pollination.
  • Rinse and remove stem, stamen, and any lurking insects.
  • Prepare filling: I chopped onion, garlic, tomato, chili pepper, cilantro, and baby spinach. and grated 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, plus a dash of salt and pepper.

  • Mix filling ingredients together (I chose to sautee the garlic and onion first, eliciting their ultimate flavor potential, which was brilliant as the cheese got nice and melty)
  • Gently stuff the awaiting squash blossoms full. I read that you should twist the petals to close the flower up, but they didn't stay shut for me.

  • Dip and roll each blossom into first, a slightly beaten egg; second, a mixture of 1/4 cup flour with 1/2 cup cornmeal + 1 tsp salt
  • Fry baby fry! (did i say this was healthy?) Allow all sides to become a crispy golden brown.
  • Optional scrambling of leftover egg--I added one more to make the meal complete.
    Welcome to yum city! A hearty farm fresh breakfast to kick off the day!

sábado, 24 de octubre de 2009


In the manner of all obsessions, I didn't realize it was happening until it was too late. A little spaghetti here, a bowl of chili there. A BLT for lunch, a zippy pico de gallo as a snack. Before I knew it, french fries, burgers, and dogs all were naked without ketchup; friday night was and is eternally Pizza Night; and every salad is incomplete without fresh sliced tomatoes.

Needless to say, when I prepped my first garden plot last year, tomatoes were at the top of my plant list. little did i know....

tomatoes are very sensitive. Factor in my severe wet and dry seasons and newbie gardener skills, bam: the perfect recipe for disaster.
In my desperation, I have gone so far as to grow tomatoes upside-down, hanging in a bucket. The latest of such experiments ended up with late blight, a yucky fungus that will ultimately destroy your plant and spread to others.
However, the reason i write today is not to whine, oh no. On the contrary, a pledge to persevere. Rest assured: this is not a passing fancy, a forgettable whim. Deliciously homegrown tomatoes remain my fixation and despite discouraging setbacks, I will not be deterred.

Selecting from an impressive assortment of tomato seeds that kind visitors smuggled in for me over the past year, i picked out disease-resistant varieties.
My latest crop has been fortified with preventative measures of every sort:

  • To reduce contact with soil, i.e. soil-born fungi, i have mulched with newspaper and cardboard.
  • Note that the plants are raised on mounds, allowing the heavy and frequent rains to run off rather than collect in moldy puddles.
  • The tomato bed is surrounded by beneficial plants: anti-fungal garlic, nematode-resisting marigolds, & pollinator-attracting borage
  • Branches are appropriately staked on string, & low hanging limbs and leaves are removed immediately to prevent mud saturation
My efforts are already paying off:
happily fruiting tomatoes!

To the early blight and late blight, blossom end rot, tomato hornworm, leafminers, and creepy red spider bugs: Gracias for humility & first hand experience; the tomato quest prevails!

miércoles, 21 de octubre de 2009

an eclectic harvest

No pumpkins, no squash. no corn cobs. It might say Octubre on the calendar, but in my garden the date is irrelevant.
Alternating heavy rains with brilliant sunshine keeps mi jardin abundantly fruitful with not so usual autumn crops. My horn of plenty is filled with an eclectic october harvest:

Lemongrass, pictured above in foreground, after its haircut. Instead of simply trimming the browning ends, i decided to preserve some of this lusciously fragrant herb for later use, or for gifting.
I chopped some into pieces to freeze, bundled others to dry.
Lemony blades were everywhere when my assistant showed up to taste test.
tangy, like a tropical catnip

Better than squash, a new favorito mio is chayote (rhymes with coyote). This beautiful fruta loca grows on long luxurious vines, dangling from an overhead ramada (in the background of my garden photo above).

A flavor comparable to a summer squash yet more nutty, we enjoy chayote cooked in casseroles, diced in omelets, or simply sauteed in garlic and olive oil.

In between rains while the garden is drying out, we find time to get out for a beach day, or a volcano hike, and soak up the October sun.

lunes, 12 de octubre de 2009

BREADFRUIT: weird & wonderful

Breadfruit is a new food to me. that is to say, it's not big in Virginia (although as fruits go, is it ever!) We are fortunate to have two gigantic breadfruit trees on the farm and right now, they are producing like mad.
I have been pretty intimidated by this ostrich egg of a fruit, from its green iguana-like skin to its spongy mushroomy insides.
I was encouraged by Ancel over at Island Farm , who has impressive tropical fruit knowledge and claims a fondness for the bizarre but beautiful fruta de pan.

Attempt #1: Rolling up my sleeves, I approached the monstrous carbohydrate ball that would become dinner.
My recipe was simple: boil, stuff, bake.
After 15 minutes or so in a pot of boiling water, I removed the breadfruit and attempted to excavate the soft flesh. I was met with more resistance than expected, i don't think it was tender enough. Nevertheless, i diced the softer pieces and mixed them with chopped onions, carrots, and tofu cubes, then re-filled the breadfruit halves and drizzled with olive oil.
My hope was for edible baked boats, but though the filling was scrumptious, the inside of the breadfruit never tenderized enough.

Attempt #2 was more successful. After harvesting, it takes only a few days for breadfruit to soften; there's a fine line between ripe and rotten. I was lucky to catch this one at the perfect moment for a dessert.
It was easy to scoop the sticky sweet flesh out this time. I tossed it in a saucepan with milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar to create a creamy delicious tropical treat!

The hands down favorite style in this casa is pan-fried slices, breadfruit's incarnation of the french fry.
Crispy yet.....bready.

Next up I am excited to try a recipe for breadfruit pizza dough! that i found here. Tropical culinary adventures, keep 'em coming!

domingo, 11 de octubre de 2009

talkin' trash

Gone are the days of "just trash it" and "throw it away." As my Culture and Ecology professor Dr. Boyer pointed out to an eager group of aspiring environmentalists some 10 years ago: There is no such thing as away. To which we all passionately nodded and agreed, but perhaps did not fully implement back then into our capricious college lifestyles.

There is an ugly, endless list of data corroborating Dr. Boyer's astute warning. to name a few:

Landfills are surprise! filling UP
Most landfills leak toxins into ground water
Nobody wants a landfill in their backyard (do you?)
Sending our trash into outer space is ridiculous and irresponsible.

In the face of this dilemma, there is some absurd percentage of landfill waste that could have otherwise been diverted. aha! this is where i focus attention on my dinky little farm in Nicaragua, where i am trying to follow the sage advice i received a decade ago.

Before we send our trash "away," it has several possible diversions:

Yummy raw tidbits like fruit and vegetable peelings are gobbled up by Mama Canela y hijos.

mmm, so much tastier covered with dirt!

Other organic waste, including coffee grounds, tea bags, and banana leaves are buried in here, our newly fashioned our worm bin!
Simple concrete bins with an aluminum lid house a prosperous community of both African and Californian worms.The roof/lid keeps the temperature cool and I water daily to maintain appropriate moisture. Note the drainage faucets for collecting compost tea!
We are counting on these slimy decomposers to transform our "garbage" into rich, fertile soil.

The trusty old Compost Bin receives primarily citrus peelings, known to be too strong for worms; avocado pits and large seeds; and egg shells, known to harbor potentially harmful bacteria (and even though they would probably eat them, it seems too gross to feed them to the chickens).

Lastly,,,,, o.k. yes, we are still consuming products packaged in plastic bags, wrappers, bottles, etc. So we make use of the municipal garbage service. Sadly, most folks living out of town burn their trash--yes, even the plastic-- in weekly toxic fires that are completely legal here. I did visit the local dump, and it makes me wonder which is the healthier option.
vulture paradise

Thank you Dr. Boyer! Majoring in anthropology wasn't such a "waste," after all ;)

jueves, 8 de octubre de 2009

Garden Rainbow

For the sake of all the Nica farmers and of my own little garden plants, I have been grateful for the rains that characterize our wet season here. However, day after day of gray skies has left me feeling a little dull and gray myself. I am always cheered by a rainbow, so when the clouds cleared this morning I went out on a hunt.

this bright red blossom surprised me by popping up in a potted plant I inherited

Amongst my thriving nasturtium i discovered a plucky orange

Lots of gardeners scorn spiky thistle plants, but there's no denying these flowers radiate sunlight

(as if i even had to look), my red bean field is currently a carpet of green

I guess i'm out of luck in the blue plant category...

but what a finish with this splash of violet!
i trimmed a cutting of this from a store front garden in town ;) Not sure what it is.

This felt a little Mr. Rogers, but i admit it cheered me up!

jueves, 1 de octubre de 2009

rabbit food

Leafy greens are not a big part of the diet here. A vinegary cabbage salad is fairly typical, often mixed with some carrot and onion. You can find iceberg lettuce in the markets, but rarely have i seen it served. While my tolerance for cabbage has developed into an almost fondness, I continually miss the deep green crunchiness of kale, collard greens, chard, and spinach. Most leafy greens prefer cooler temperatures, cooler than we ever get in my area. There are however, many non-traditional edible leaves that i'm learning to grow and love.

Nasturtium took to the dry tropical climate here immediately!
While a bit spicy, both the leaves and flowers of nasturtium are edible and add a crispy delicious zing to a salad.

This one is a little more unusual, a hibiscus relative known as roselle whose flowers are brewed in a popular refresco here, "Te Jamaica"
Turns out the leaves have a tart cranberry-like flavor as well.

And despite the odds, i made multiple attempts to cultivate salad greens:
under the shady eaves of the house I have successfully grown spinach!
Note the elongated horse-proof cage--Lucinda sniffs around my precious spinach every day or so but is unable to reach these well-guarded greens. I harvest the spinach regularly, which may explain why the plants stay so small? that's my guess, unless it is a result of the heat...
For comparison I've started another spinach inside on my kitchen windowsill. time will tell.

Probably the most successful salad supplement are my beet greens!
My beet beauties thrive in a box just outside the house where each day they receive a few hours of strong sun and many hours of cool shade. The greens have produced for several months now, kindly allowing me to snip snip about every other day for a salad, an omelet, taco filling, etc.

Eat your heart out, rabbits!