miércoles, 11 de noviembre de 2009

the incredible, edible.... luffa?

Of how many plants can you say: it's EDIBLE, ORNAMENTAL, and.....
What appears to be your common vining squash is oh-so-much more.

I didn't believe it at first either.
Luffa sponge: in the tub.
Luffa squash? must be an unfortunate incident of coincidental nomenclature.

but no.

The luffa is widely renowned for its life post vine, after having matured into a fibrous seed pod, peeled, packaged, and marketed in your local pharmacy as an all-natural exfoliant.
Nobody talks much about the flavor, or the culinary uses of the reputed "sponge."
Luffa acutangula

In truth, luffa is also named Chinese okra, silk squash, and silk melon, amongst others and is a savored veggie in Asian cuisine.
I am also elated to report, after devastating failures with zucchini and yellow squash, that luffa is a tropical plant! It LOVES the heavy rain! thrives on relentless sun! i'm talking a vining potential of 20 ft and fruit up to 2 ft long!
In mere weeks, my luffa seeds sprouted, grew several inches, flowered, and have now produced fruit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Luffa connoisseurs recommend harvesting tiny 2'' long specimens in order to yield a tender, nutty flavor. As of today, i have only one developed squash, but i decided to give it a try as we are about to abandon the garden for a several week vacation. (By the time we return, i fear most squash will have become sponge-worthy!)

This is what i got:

Chopped, sauteed, and tossed in to my tortilla soup, I confess the elusive luffa evaded my taste buds. Hopefully in three weeks time there will still be delicate, edible squash to sample. if not, to scrub with?

Let them eat sponges!

martes, 10 de noviembre de 2009

A Medicine Woman, A Soybean Project, & little old me

I was a lucky lady to spend a day with the knowledgeable and wise Doña Aura, a practiced natural healer and nutritionist, not to mention accomplished author, and director of the Ahualcatl Center of Natural Therapy. She hosts a series of hands-on medicinal plant/healthy foods workshops, (including the preparation of salves, soaps, teas, and foods) based on our local climate, crops, and culture--this was a Nutrition/Food Preparation class.

First Doña Aura revealed the unofficial four food groups of Latin America and which local foods fit into which category
We decided that my farm has a great start in each group! I was advised to plant yucca (a staple carbohydrate) and more sunflowers (with the intention to harvest and press the seeds into oil). Doña Aura was very impressed at my attempt to grow soybeans, a highly available plant protein source in Nicaragua AND the featured food in our workshop.

The Soybean Project
After an overnight soak, we rubbed the beans to remove the clear skins (which contribute to gas).

Next up, grinding the softened soybeans into a thick paste--Aura uses a hand grinder, a great arm workout, though a blender will also do the job.

Add the soy mash to a pot of boiling water and stir occasionally for about 15 minutes, until a froth forms on top.
Remove from heat. Once cool, squeeze the milky mixture through a cheese cloth, retaining the solids in the cloth and saving the liquid in the pot.
Said liquid IS your freshly made soy milk! Doña Aura prefers to add lemon leaves for flavor and also recommends vanilla, cinnamon, and a bit of sugar. yuuum!

On to those soy curds that were separated out from the milk.
Doña Aura actually makes this stuff on a regular basis and sells it as soy "chorizo" (sausage); it is that good!

We enjoyed each other's company over heavy chopping: feast your eyes on our rainbow of sliced and diced onions, peppers, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, and carrots.
The diced bits were mixed in with our soy "meat," along with a dash of salt, to create the coveted chorizo de soya:
Doña Aura's fresh soy sausage can be spread as is on bread or toast, or fried lightly in oil as a crispy patty.

As for our Homemade Four Food Group Luncheon Extravaganza, the larger veggies pieces were sauteed in a sumptuous stew topped with fried cheese. ¡Que rico!
It was an honor and a privilege to spend the day with a gardener and nutritionist of such enviable experience and delightful demeanor. ¡Muchas gracias Doña Aura!

viernes, 6 de noviembre de 2009

Minding my Qs

It's not a yam, it's not a sweet potato, it's....

What? ( pronounce it as KAY-KEYS-KAY)
Well, that's the local name for this world-popular tuber, more commonly known as malanga, cousin to taro. Despite its rather unattractive outer skin (they resemble burnt chicken legs, no?), quequisque reveals a tender white flesh when peeled.
I hear that this hardy root crop is cooked up in every way imaginable in cuisines around the globe; in Nicaragua is it mostly commonly incorporated into soups and stews. The flavor is, hmm how to describe it...... bland? Much like a potato. but with a stickier texture, lending a thickening quality to said soups.

Personally I admire quequisque in the garden.
This beautiful plant could easily pass for an ornamental!

Once I learned to identify the bright green flaps of quesquisque, I started recognizing its "elephant ears" along roadsides, bordering fences, amongst coffee farms, and in urban patios. The locals already have it figured out! Plant one of these hairy monster eggs in the backyard, and enjoy its splendid green foliage until harvesting its bounty. Is there anything cooler than an attractive edible??Folks around here do not seem practiced in eating the leaves; however, in other lands they provide a nutrient-dense source of roughage. But be warned! The leaves are known to contain needle-like calcium oxalate crystals which irritate the mouth and throat. This irritation is avoided by boiling the leaves for an undetermined period of time before consuming. maybe i'll try them, no rush. I am told it could be up to six months before the tubers are ready to harvest. Let's reconvene in febrero.

On to another Q in my garden, also an eye-catching edible:
Can you guess?
Even if you are as big a fan of this South American GRAIN, as I am, odds are you are not familiar with the plant. Or maybe you've never heard of it: Quinoa! (pronounced KEEN-WA)

Quinoa is a tiny seed championed for its incredibly complete protein content. For vegetarians, quinoa provides all the goods that typically require a legume + grain formula for plant-based proteins. It cooks up into a fluffy, nutty dish that is delicious at breakfast with milk and fruit as well as a compliment to a stir-fry, as a substitute for rice.
I look forward to the day when I shall harvest, eat, (and display online) my Qs. Until then, I will work on keeping both my Ps and Qs in order.

miércoles, 4 de noviembre de 2009


Cats seem like the perfect farm pet, no? Chasing rodents, communing picturesquely with the horse and cows...
Weeeeell, that's hardly the case over here. We LOVE our cats--I think it's obvious they provide much more in the realm of companionship and entertainment than in the maintenance of the farm.

Zaya did catch a mouse though (once):
we were so proud!
Granted, it was tiny :)
I chalk up her fat laziness to her american upbringing--in California, we only let her outside on a leash (how embarassing!)

I have greater hopes for Chia, born on the streets of Nicaragua.
She's not afraid of Lucinda, which is more than I can say for poor Zay, who flees at the mere sight of the horse.

Chia's more than healthy interest in the chickens makes me think she harbors tigress-like hunting instincts. But though she ambushes the chicks, really she is intimidated by Mama Canela!

It is tricky business training kitties to be farm cats. We encourage them to chase down the cucarachas and rodents, but interfere when they molest butterflies and stalk song birds.

It's ok to dig up soil in the yard, but bad bad bad when they tear up my potted plants!
What's a cat to do?

Chia takes cover in my lemongrass harvest

Zaya keeps watch over the internet connection

lunes, 2 de noviembre de 2009

flowers for the dead

Día de los Muertos
November 2nd is a day for honoring loved ones, friends and family, who have passed on. It is celebrated differently in many regions around the world, from Latin American to Africa; here is a glimpse of this special day in Nicaragua.

Here, flowers rule the holiday.
The front of the cemetery becomes an impromptu florist market.

Visitors purchase flower bouquets and bundles outside the cemetery gates, many prepared with vases, buckets of water, and ribbons.
It is a day for reconnecting with old friends, and remembering.