Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Possum Trot End of Summer Brunch Photos

Thank you Robert, for feeding us so well and for inviting us to visit your unique and beautiful property. It was a wonderful morning.

Possum Trot End of Summer Brunch Photos

Possum Trot End of Summer Brunch Photos

Here's the delicious and unusual meal Chef Robert cooked for us. The brunch was served Bento style. Clockwise from the left bottom corner we have: allspice muffins, tropical fruit salad heavy on the banana and star fruit, honeyed goat labneh (yogurt), avocado stuffed with betel leaf seasoned eggs and goat cheese, a smoked egg and boiled salted jackfruit seeds, followed by callaloo, and a medley of roasted root vegetables like beets and potatoes.

Possum Trot End of Summer Brunch Photos

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

National Coffee Day

In honor of National Coffee Day today, I'd like to give you a sneak preview of two stories I'm working on.

First of all, the one thing that all Locavores around the US complain about the most (except the ones in Hawaii) is the lack of local coffee. It just doesn't really grow well in most American climates. The only American coffee we have is Kona from Hawaii, which is good, but expensive and comes from so far that it may as well come from another continent. It sort of doesn't count. The other closest coffee is Blue Mountain from Jamaica - another country yes, but good coffee that's only about an hour flight away, as opposed to a thirteen hour flight to Hawaii.

Lament no more Florida Locavores. We have local coffee. We are the luckiest locavores in America! Yes, you heard me. Coffee is grown and roasted right here in Davie, Florida. I'm not kidding you. There's not a lot of it, but you can get your hands on it. Right now the only place that sells the Davie coffee, from a company called Wagon Wheel Coffee Roaster, is at a small fruit stand in Fort Lauderdale on McNab off of Cypress (in the Pine Crest area) called "By Their Fruits" (I'm writing about them soon too).

I was in By Their Fruits a few weeks ago when I happened on the coffee. I had heard of it before, and had attempted to contact the coffee farmer himself, but to no avail. He didn't answer my emails or phone calls. The owner of By Their Fruits knows him and sells his coffee. She assured me that his experimental coffee crops had been a success and that the coffee in the bags was indeed grown right here from local beans and not simply roasted here with imported beans. I told her I had tried to contact the farmer and she took my information to pass on to him, but as yet, I still haven't heard from him. Maybe he'll read this and call or write. I really want to visit his farm and see his plants and roasting equipment.

The bag I bought pictured above cost me only $7.99 and it's delicious! It works for me and I've definitely enjoyed it. I'm enjoying it right now in honor of National Coffee Day!

Wagon Wheel Coffee Roasters in Davie

By Their Fruits Produce

Non-Local Tomatillos??

Yesterday someone left a comment saying that no tomatillos are currently growing in Homestead and that I should check the label to see if they came from a distributor in Homestead rather than a grower. I hope I haven't been duped again like I was with the non-Florida blackberries with the Florida label that I accidentally bought earlier in the summer. I bought the tomatillos and peppers at Whole Foods. Whole Foods is really good about labeling all of their locally produced wares and the produce I purchased had the orange sign under it. I was under the impression that Whole Foods labels its produce according to where it is grown and not where it's distributed. You can see the sign here. I tried to google "Southern Specialties" to see what kind of a company they are but there was no website and no information available. I could call the produce manager at Whole Foods and inquire and I may do that later, because if these tomatillos were not grown in Florida they should not be falsely labeled as such. It's deceptive advertisting to cash in on people like me who want to buy things grown nearby and that's just wrong. Or, maybe there really are some tomatillos growing somewhere in Homestead right now and not a lot of people know about them. Let's hope. Whatever their origins, the tomatillos made a delicious salsa which I served on some grilled dolphin and I know that really was caught just offshore here.

Monday, September 28, 2009


The brunch yesterday morning at Possum Trot was, in my opinion, a great success and I had a lovely time. The food was unexpected and delicious and Robert was generous enough to give us a tour around his property which contains hundreds of unique species of plant life and about 13,000 terrifying banana spiders. I honestly wish I had taken a notepad to write everything down because there was just too much information to take in. Still, I learned an enormous amount and I got to try foods which never would have been available to me otherwise.

I'd like to state for the record that I have now officially lived because I've had farm fresh bananas. And wow. Yes, they really are that good. This is coming from someone who doesn't like bananas much outside of bread. To be exact, they were Orinoco Bananas. Kind of reminds me of that old Enya song from forever ago "Orinoco Flow" except my new version would be "Eat Away, Eat Away, Eat Away" instead of "Sail Away." I know, I'm corny.

Also, boiled salted jackfruit seeds are yum. They sort of reminded me of chestnuts, in theory. I'll write more on the food later.

I took so many pictures yesterday and as I'm working today (having lunch right now) I'll have to get them off the camera and all formatted nicely before I can show you some.

In the meantime, I'd like you all to know that a tiny little piece I wrote regarding my passion for home canning can be found on page 40 of the October issue of Real Simple magazine. The piece describes an experience I had around mid-summer where I raided my pantry and stood there and ate almost an entire jar of my friend's homemade apple butter with an iced tea spoon. My friend lives in Asheville where apples are local and like me, she's really into preserving her own fruits. When she came down she brought me some jars of pickles, jellies, chutneys and apple butter. Everyone needs a friend like this.

Also, it's Yom Kippur today, so it's probably best that I refrain from writing about food any more. If you celebrate this solemn holiday, I wish you an easy fast and a wonderful year to come.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to Make a Tomatillo Salsa - Local Style

You'll need a pound of tomatillos for a small dish of salsa. I had ten, but one was rotten inside, so I ended up with nine. The world did not end and the salsa was perfect. This is such a flexible sort of dish. I didn't even use a recipe. You don't have to measure anything. You just add as much or as little as you like. Tomatillos are not, by the way, little green tomatoes at all, but their own independent kind of fruit that is related to the tomato, yet not a tomato. I like how they wear a lovely lacy petticoat to protect their pretty green skin. This is formed by the calyx of the plant's flower and it has to be removed before the tomatillos are cooked an eaten. As you husk them, you will find that the tomatillos are extremely sticky and the sap will get all over your fingers. It's harmless and rinses right off. Other ingredients you will need if you want to make this salsa are: tomatillos, jalapenos, white onion, oil, salt and pepper, a lime, garlic to taste, a little bit of red onion and a handful of cilantro if you like it. Some people are genetically wired to despise cilantro. It tastes funny to them. I am not one of these people. I can't get enough of the stuff, so I used a big handful.
Now that you've husked all of your tomatillos, you need to rinse them off because they're sticky and attract all sorts of dust and dirt and black stuff which you can see on one of mine in this colander. Then get an oiled roasting pan and make sure your oven is preheated to 400 degrees.

Cut everything up and throw it in an oiled roasting pan. I halved the tomatillos because it seemed like it would make life easier once they were roasted and needed to go into the food processor. I was right. Also in the pan is one, cut up white onion and a jalapeno which has been seeded and rid of its white pith. You should always test your jalapenos before adding them to recipe. I take a little taste and I do this because all jalapenos are different. Some aren't hot at all while others will singe your eyebrows off. This will determine how much jalapeno you should add to your recipe. This particular one was so hot I started choking and needed some chips to cool my tongue, so I only added one and it was plenty. The end result was still a pretty picante salsa verde. Removing the seeds and white part also helps to ease the heat, but it didn't do that much in this case. Somewhere I heard that chiles are hotter in the fall. This appears to be the case.
Well, I left them in the oven a little too long because I was lobster-wrestling (just don't even ask and no I'm not kidding). They should have roasted for fifteen minutes at 400, but these were in more like 25 minutes. Not to worry though. Salsa verde is a very forgiving thing and no harm was done. Except to the lobster.

Once it cooled off I put it in the food processor. The tomatillos had shrunk enough that I was able to use the mini-prep without hauling out the heavy artillery of the Cuisinart. I also added a minced clove of garlic, juice of half a lime, some red onion and a hanfdul of cilantro with salt and pepper to taste. It seemed a tad acidic so I threw in a dash of agave nectar too. Then I whizzed it around.

Tomatillo Salsa - Local Style

The finished product: roasted tomatillo and jalapeno salsa, made with tomatillos and jalapenos grown in Homestead at Southern Specialties and purchased at the Whole Foods in Fort Lauderdale.

Bee Heaven Farm Blog

Bee Heaven Farm has "bowed to peer pressure" and started a blog! This is so exciting, especially as the growing season is just beginning. I've renewed my CSA membership for this year and come November, I'll be posting a lot about my weekly boxes of produce and treats, many of which are grown at Bee Heaven Farm. Now that they've started a blog, we'll get to see the other side of the CSA - where all the work is done. I'm anxious to read about life on the farm. So far this week they have harvested and dehydrated all sorts of fruits, including something called a "Cotton Candy Fruit" and how on earth have I not tried something called that?? They also have ripe bananas and they swear you haven't lived if you haven't tried a fresh banana from the farm. I definitely haven't lived then, alas. Maybe I would like bananas if I got to eat a real one. Yesterday tilling began on the earth that will grow my winter's veggies. I'm beyond excited about that. Happy growing and blogging Bee Heaven Farm!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Whole Foods Local Produce This Week

This morning I had to run some errands and I stopped by the Fort Lauderdale Whole Foods to see what local produce they might be carrying. There's not a lot to be had this time of year, but I know that Whole Foods always makes an effort to carry some local products and I was able to find a couple pleasant surprises. First I noticed some lovely yellow squash from Oaks Farms in Naples. I love yellow squash. My mother has always sauteed it in bacon until it gets very soft, brown and caramelized and it's delicious. You can also make squash casseroles and fritters with it or shred it up and eat it raw in salads.

Next I found a variety of exciting peppers from Southern Specialties in Homestead. These got me in the mood to make salsa. The poblanos were beautiful. I like to rub them with oil and roast them slowly on the grill until the skin chars. Then I like to use them as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats. They're particularly yummy as a burger topping.

Last, I was thrilled to find local tomatillos. I had no idea they grew down here. I've always been much more of a salsa verde kind of girl, though I've never tried to make it. I think these tomatillos, along with the peppers, were just the inspiration I needed to try inventing my own green salsa recipe. I can't wait to get into the kitchen this weekend when I don't have to work.

These few ingredients gave me the idea for a simple, light, local meal. I'm going to grilled up some Key West pink shrimp or some locally caught mahi-mahi, top the seafood I choose with a tomatillo salsa and a Florida grown avocado and serve it alongside sauteed yellow squash. How good does that sound? Now all I have to do is come up with an idea for dessert.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Alexa Update

I just wanted to mention that after my initial visit to Alexa Produce in Fort Lauderdale a few weeks ago, that there seems to be a flurry of activity going on there each time I pass. It looks like they're doing some construction inside and they've done a lot to improve the appearance of the outside of the market too. I'm hoping that my initial impression was just because it was late summer, a terrible time for local produce here as we all know, and that they were just trying to get the business up and running before the real season kicks in in about a month or so. I'm really hoping that this winter they'll carry local produce and not have to rely on items shipped from far away. If they do this, I will be a loyal, devoted customer and recommend them to everyone I know. I don't even care about the price. So I'm going to give them a couple more weeks, see if the construction is done and then I'll visit them again. I'm looking forward to seeing the improvements they're making.

Happy First Day of Fall

Welcome new readers from the South Florida Daily Blog and elsewhere! I hope you'll like what you find here and stick around. Please feel free to leave comments. Last January, when I began envisioning what I ultimately wanted for this blog, one of the things I'd hoped for was for it to be a place where lots of people looking to learn about local eating in Florida (or other tropical places) could share tips, ideas and resources they'd learned about too. I'd like it to be more interactive. This week I've gotten some great tips and I've even been invited to an avocado tasting! (Email me about that, person who left that comment and we'll set it up.) If you know of something you'd like me to write a story about or if you know of a great event coming up that people shouldn't miss or a local product I should try, please email me.

That said, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy First Day of Fall! This is practically a holiday for me. Fall is my favorite season. I just love it, but at the same time, this is the time of year when I start to get really depressed about not living up North. My heart aches for chilly days, the smell of burning leaves and the tang of spiced cider. When we were little my parents used to take my sister and me to a cider mill in Northern New Jersey called Van Riper's Farms, to get apples, pumpkins and hot cinnamon doughnuts. I remember jack o lanterns and corn mazes, bushel baskets of Macintoshes and bird houses made out of gourds. So when October rolls around, I start longing. It's like a kind of Season Affective Disorder I think.

For a long time, after I first moved down here in 2000, I tried to recreate an artificial version of a northern fall. I notice the malls and stores do this too. Just go into any Starbucks and you'll see maple leaves and pumpkin spiced lattes everywhere. I'd scatter fake red leaves all over the house and set out decorations that reminded me of northern falls. It really only served to make me more depressed and it's a tad creepy with all those plastic pumpkins and crepe leaves.

I don't want to live like that - always wanting to be somewhere else. I want to love where I am and to bloom where I'm planted as they say. A few years ago I read Isabel Allende's novel Daughter of Fortune. In that book, there was one small paragraph that stood out for me and I've never forgotten it. The book takes place a long time ago when Europeans were colonizing and settling in Chile in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are opposite from ours. In the book, the Europeans refused to adapt to the topsy turvy seasons, so in January, in the middle of a Chilean summer, they were used to it being winter, and they'd all wear heavy clothes and bundle up even though it was hot. Now this is not even what the book was ultimately about at all, but that one little thing stood out to me because I realized that is exactly what I was doing too, both literally and metaphorically, and frankly, it's pretty silly.

Just because Autumn means something else in South Florida than it does in a temperate climate, doesn't mean that our more subtle version of the season doesn't have a lot of things to love too. I want to figure out what these things are. I want to redefine Autumn for myself. I want to embrace a tropical fall.

So what does Autumn mean for South Florida? What happens here in the fall? What new treats does fall bring down here? What can we look forward to over the next few months?

For one thing, it will soon be lobster and stone crab season again. As the farmer's markets up North shutter their doors to the approaching sleet and slush, our markets will just be opening. The humidity will dry up pretty soon. I know right now all of our area farmers, both big and small, commercial and private are figuring out what to plant and readying the ground for new seeds and plants. In a couple weeks it will be time for planting and our growing season will take off.

What else does fall bring in South Florida? How do you define a Florida Autumn? What other things can we look forward to after today's Autumnal Equinox at 5:18 pm? Leave me some comments and let me know what the season means to you and how you've redefined it. What is your favorite thing about South Florida between now and December? What are the best fishes, fruits and vegetables that come in season during our fall?

I can't wait to hear from you. Happy Fall.

Yahoo News had an informative article this morning all about the scientifics of the Equinox. I found it really fascinating.

The above, gorgeous picture of the red sea grape leaves on palm fronds came from microgardener's Flickr photo stream. I just thought it was beautiful and really captured the season perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at this talented photographer's nature photos. You can see them all here from their original source.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Herb Foraging - Rosemary

I feel like I won the lottery. The herb lottery at least. You see, I hate dried herbs and I try not to use them. They always make food taste like you opened up an old teabag and dumped its contents into a dish. I like the stronger, grassier, sometimes more medicinal flavors of the fresh versions a lot better. Fresh herbs can be expensive to buy at the grocery store, so growing your own is definitely your best option. You could also forage for fresh herbs growing wild. If you do this, just make sure that you aren't stealing from someone's property and that the plants haven't been sprayed with poisons. Remember, I don't have a yard. I don't even have a balcony or a terrace off of my condo where I could put out some pots. One of my upcoming projects is to make a container herb garden at my parents' house on their terrace, but I haven't done it yet. But look what I found! One of my neighbors has a veritable wilderness of rosemary growing in his backyard and I discovered it while visiting one day. The man, an older bachelor, had no idea it was even there or that it was edible, and not just edible, but pretty much heavenly. He gave me full permission to traipse through his yard whenever I want and pluck his rosemary 'til my heart's content. Now that is a good neighbor. I just have to give him some of whatever I make with it and of course I'm more than happy to share my culinary creations. Being a bachelor who can't cook many things, he's even thrilled to eat my disasters.

I haven't experienced any rosemary disasters. I just love this herb. My favorite use for it involves roasts. Any kind of a roast anything is pretty much delicious with rosemary. Last night I made a roasted chicken with rosemary and lemons. I've used it for pork tenderloin, beef and I especially love rosemary roasted potatoes. I always add a few sprigs to my tomato based pasta sauces. You should too. I've also used it for scented sachets, holiday decoration and I've hung bunches of it in my closet to repel moths without harsh, stinky chemicals. I adore the smell of rosemary and if I have a cold I like to boil it and inhale the steam. It's like a milder version of eucalyptus.

Rosemary is rumored to have several health benefits which you can read about here.

This site provides a detailed article about growing rosemary from a cutting or a small plant. Rosemary is very well suited for growing here in our climate.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tova

Tonight at sundown, the Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah (also called the Jewish New Year) begins. All over the world, Jewish people will celebrate by dipping apples in honey and by eating lots of foods sweetened with honey. No Rosh Hashanah feast is complete without a honey cake for dessert. I'm famous for being picky when it comes to traditional Jewish fare, but I always look forward to celebrating the Jewish New Year with my family because honey is by far one of my favorite foods. Honey is also one of the most abundant of our many delicacies here in the tropics. I guess the furry little honey bees like our warm weather. They must, because down here, they make honey all year round.

There are several honey producers all over the state of Florida. In fact, Tupelo honey, which most people agree is the world's best tasting honey (but really how can you even decide something like that?), comes from Northern Florida. It's not 100 mile local, but at least it's in-state. Also, I am very fond of it. Central Florida, citrus growing territory, also has several honey producers. Up there, bees make honey from the orange blossoms and it has a distinctly light, floral taste which makes it one of the most popular commercial varieties. Orange blossom honey from Florida is shipped all over the world. I don't prefer it.

Down here in South Florida, from Palm Beach to the Keys, we enjoy many unique varieties of honey due to the diversity of plants which thrive in our area. One notable variety is Sea Grape honey. Lime Honey, made by bees who frequent lime groves, is also delicious, but beware of producers who might add flavored oils to enhance the flavor. I don't know why they do that because plain lime honey is wonderful on its own. My favorite local honeys are Saw Palmetto Honey and (get ready for it) Avocado Honey. I like these two because I prefer a darker, richer honey. The more it looks like molasses, the more I'll want to lick it out of the jar with a long handled spoon. I tend to like the more complex, smokier flavors with faint suggestions of bitterness and these two fit that description. Some people though, may be turned off by these flavors and would prefer something gentler like Jamaican Dogwood and Gallberry which are also very good. I know because I've sampled them all.

There are so many local bee-keepers who sell their wares. Some produce honey on a large scale and some are much smaller or even private affairs. In the past few months I've sampled as many different local honeys as I could find and there are still many more to go (but honey sampling is fun so I have no intention to stop).

Here are some of my favorites:

Bee Natural Honey from Homestead.

Bees N the Keys from Key Largo (with hives up and down the island chain). These guys might be my favorite, but it's hard to really pick. I tried all of their varieties at the Fairchild Food & Garden festival last Spring and they were very patient with me wanting to eat everything in sight.

BuzznBee from Gainesville. Not 100 Mile, but in-state and very good quality. BuzznBee honey is easy to find at Whole Foods and I found their honeys to be mild, yet floral and flavorful. Some honey is so mild that it has no taste, but BuzznBee had a bright flavor that went nicely with winter strawberries.

Redland Organics from the Redlands. I had to mention Redland Organics. Honestly, their raw honey was my favorite, but it's pretty hard to come by. I got plenty of it in my CSA box two winters ago when I was a member, which is how I know about it. None is available for sale now, but I know they have honey shares available in the winter, though I think it's too late to sign up now. Don't worry. They sell their wonderful goods, compiled from several area farms, at farmer's markets. Come January, I have a feeling they'll have some of their honey for sale along with their other delights. If you can find it, make sure you buy a big jar. You won't regret it.

Here is another site called the Honey Locator, which lists honey producers by state. I think that most of the companies they list are larger, more commercial operations, though the site could still prove useful.

No matter where you get your honey and no matter if you're Jewish or not, I wish you the sweetest, healthiest, happiest New Year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Mysterious Black Avocado

In my quest to fall in love with local avocados, for whom I share little to no current affections, I purchased a strange, new variety that I hadn't seen before. I bought it at "By Their Fruits," a produce market which is getting its own post soon enough, so be patient. Of course it was just advertised as a Florida Avocado, but this one looked different. It was small and perfectly smooth, with jet black skin. It looked like it was fashioned from rubber. It was quite soft, so I cut it open as soon as I got home and found it to be mostly pit with bright green flesh - iguana green, I'm talking. The skin was very thin so I had a hard time separating it from the meat and when I tasted it, I was almost startled by its fruity, almost floral flavor. It was very unusual. I would even call it sweet. This must be the variety used in certain South American desserts. I know a kind of sweet, avocado milkshake is popular in Brazil. If this isn't what they use, this would be a good choice, because it tastes more like what one would call a fruit, than other more savory varieties. It was a bit mealy and watery, lacking that buttery, velvety wonderfulness that I wish I could find in avocados grown in Florida. Anyway, it was different. I tried it. I wouldn't get it again, but I still wanted to know what variety it was. Much googling later, I think I've settled it. I am fairly certain that this was a Criollo Avocado. It seems to fit the description. I'm filing the Criollo Avocado in the "I Would Only Eat This If I Were Trapped On a Desert Island" file, right next to the Black Sapote. And no I didn't plant this one in a cup by my kitchen sink. I resisted.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'm Gonna Kiss Your...PINEAPPLE!!

Look at my pineapples and my pedicure. Both are doing very well. I got this idea to plant some pineapples because several of my friends were doing it with some success. I wanted to be cool like my friends and you can't be cool if you don't grow your own pineapples. Of course, I'm kidding. A couple months ago, apparently Walmart of all places had some kind of wild pineapple sale going on and my husband purchased several. They were from Hawaii, but did you know that pineapples originated in Brazil and that they are actually a species of bromeliad? They also grow very nicely here, as our climate is pretty similar to parts of Brazil. With many pineapples on hand, I decided to plant two. All you do is cut of the top, leaving about an inch or two of fruit attached to the greenery. Then you put it in dirt and water it and say nice things to it. Pretty soon it will take root. You can do this in the ground or in a pot. I don't have much ground, so I used a pot at my parents' house. At first one of my pineapples looked like it was about to die. I don't know what happened to it, but it eventually came around. The other one took off like a fighter jet from an aircraft carrier. The thing is huge. You can clearly see the difference in the sizes of each in the picture. There is also a weed squatting in their pot. This weekend my project is to get another pot, so each pineapple can have his (or her?) own home. I'm hoping in a couple years or less I can harvest and eat my own fruit. I need to read up on it more. My friend has six pineapple plants but she says the fruit never gets big and ripe, so I need to figure out how to avoid this.

I have elaborate pineapple fantasies. I really love it, in spite of the fact that if I eat too much of it, it makes my mouth sting. I have wonderful pineapple memories. When I was about five, I visited Florida for the first time on a road trip with my grandparents. We went to Disney and one night we went to the nightly luau at the Polynesian Village, where I had my first, virgin pina colada, garnished with a huge, spiked pineapple wedge. I was in love. All I wanted was pineapple juice after that, but when we got home to Delaware I remember being disappointed by the thin, acidic, tinny flavor of the pineapple juice that comes in the big blue cans. That was all we could get back then in the 70s.

Then, in late summer of 2002, my nearly thirty years of pineapple dreams finally came true when I spent three weeks on the island of Maui - pineapple paradise. There were fields and fields of pineapples, just rolling toward the rocky seashores, thriving in the fertile, ashen soil in the shade of Haleakala volcano. The air smelled like candy and girly cocktails and oh, the taste. The taste of those Hawaiian pineapples, plucked fresh from the fields. There are no words. You think you know pineapple. You don't know pineapple until you've eaten one that's been freshly picked. It's a wonder I managed to get on the plane back home. I could have easily stayed on Maui, gotten lei-ed every day, wearing nothing but bikini tops, grass skirts and wreaths of freesia. I could have lived on that pineapple. It was these memories that make me so enthusiastic about trying to grow my own.

I'm not the first person with such dreams. Many years ago, a Japanese farmer named George Morikami tried to start a pineapple plantation up near Delray Beach. His pineapples never quite took off and now the land which once made up his farm, is one of the most beautiful places in South Florida - The Morikami Museum.

Hopefully my pineapples will fare better than Mr. Morikami's.

Here is a detailed and easy to understand site that explains all about growing your own pineapples with several pictures and even a video.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fruit and Spice Park Events

It's always good to check Fruit & Spice Park's Classes and Lectures Page. This Saturday, September 19th, Chris Rollins will be giving a class on "Growing Food in Your Backyard" between 10 and 1 in the afternoon. The cost of class is $25.00 and is described as: "a realistic approach to genuinely producing useful a quantity of good food in your yard throughout the year. Emphasis will be on low maintenance plants that can be introduced into you existing landscape. Seeds and cuttings will be distributed to the class members." Seeds and cuttings!!! You get to take stuff home and plant it and it's stuff that will grow and make things you can eat. It doesn't get any more fun than that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

End of Summer Brunch

Ok, so you'll find this posted on Redland Rambles too, but I wanted to post it as well, because I also got the email and will be attending this exciting event - Possum Trot's End of Summer 100% Local Brunch on Sunday, September 27th at 10:30am. I can not wait. Luckily it's only two weeks away. Would you just look at this crazy menu:

Broiled Avocado halves stuffed with Betel-leaf Farm Egg Scramble
and Nubian Goat Cheese Topping

Bee Heaven Farm Smoked Eggs
Boiled Salted Jakfruit Seeds
Roasted Rosemary-scented Roots Medley
Sautéed Vegetable Amaranth (Callaloo) with scallions
Allspice Muffins with Nubian Goat Honey Labneh
Honeyed Seasonal Farm Fruits
Minted Passion Fruit Ice Tropical Juice selection ~ Cas, Passionfruit & Carambola
Fresh Lemongrass Iced Tea

Cost: Adults $28; Children 6-12 $14; Children 3-5 $5; 2 and under free
Please reserve early – Attendance limited to 60.

Proceeds help support their farm internship program and local family farms.

If you want to go, reserve your spot pretty much right now, or at least before September 22nd. You may go here to do so and I hope to see you there so together we can figure out what on earth a Jakfruit seed is and taste some Cas juice, whatever that is.

Redland Rambles

I'd like to direct your attention to a blog I've just discovered called Redland Rambles. It's pretty similar to what I do here. Where my blog is more of my personal experiences as I discover and learn about food, agriculture, small businesses, fish and lord knows what else I come across, in my tropical environment, Redland Rambles is, ok I'm just going to go ahead and say it, more professional than I am. The blog is extremely informative and its author seems to be an expert on the topics discussed. I am definitely not an expert and this blog really documents my learning. From time to time we will probably even write about some of the same topics, so forgive the overlap. Also, another difference is that I focus more on Broward and Palm Beach rather than Dade. But anyway, Redland Rambles is fantastic. I love it and I hope to meet its author at an event sometime soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Boca Whole Foods Eat-in September 15th

Save your grocery shopping for this Tuesday and go to the Boca Raton Whole Foods for an Eat-In to benefit Slow Food Glades to Coast. The Eat-In will take place from 6 to 8pm and chefs from the Sundy House in Delray will be there to share ideas for nutritious school lunches. In addition, all day is 5% day. That means that 5% of your purchases will benefit Slow Foods Glades to Coast's schoolyard garden and real food in schools projects. It's a very good cause to support and the Boca Whole Foods is like a food paradise. They even make their own gelato. Sometimes if I'm in the area I just like to go in there and walk around because it's so beautiful. So go! Show your support. Buy some local veggies and fruits from their produce department. You'll find them clearly marked with orange signs.

Longans for the Teacher

Last week it was Star Fruit and this week it was Longans for the teacher! I was lucky enough to be gifted with a few clusters of this unusual tropical fruit at school yesterday by one of the security guards whose friend has a longan tree in her yard. Apparently the tree has been predictably prolific this year and the friend has more of these hard-shelled little fruits than she knows what to do with. This isn't the first time I've mentioned longans. I tried some last spring at Robert is Here, but for some reason I liked them better the second time around. After doing a little research on the longan I learned that they are in season right now! Maybe the one I tried last spring wasn't really local and that's why it didn't taste as good? The sign said it was local. Maybe they were grown in a hothouse or something? I don't know. What I do know is that in South Florida, the relatively short longan harvesting season is late August to mid-September. Now! Since a mature makes more fruits than one might care to eat, it's good to know that they can be frozen whole in plastic bags to enjoy at a later time. I think it would be fun to have a longan tree. I'll put one in my ever-growing future dream orchard.

Go HERE for everything you ever wanted to know about longans including how to grow them in our area.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Time for Lunch!

I dreaded the school cafeteria. It was a place of numerous culinary atrocities when I was growing up. Even the smell of it, as my class passed by in the mornings, single file, on the way to the library or art room, made my stomach lurch into my throat. Nothing about the room, the food or anything about the whole experience of school lunch was remotely appetizing. It was disgusting. Brown peas, canned corn, sandwiches of pressed, processed meat topped with rubbery, orange cheese-food slices on wilted buns disgusting. I refused to eat it. I was lucky because I had a choice. My mother and grandmother packed me lunches with thermoses of hot soup and wax paper baggies of crackers smeared with crunchy peanut butter. I got fresh fruit in my lunches. A lot of kids weren't and aren't as lucky as I was and are forced to eat school food. For many students, the meal they get in their school's cafeteria is the only meal they get each day.What a terrible, terrible crime it is then that what they are served isn't a wholesome meal, made with fresh ingredients that nourish their bodies and develop their palates.

The food served in most public school cafeterias is cheap filler, laden with fat, sugar, salt and starch and it's making children sick. It's junk filled with high fructose corn syrup, toxic chemical dyes and artificial flavorings. Most of it is breaded and fried. A couple years ago I student-taught at a large, well respected public high school. I was appalled at the lunch offerings there. Every day they brought in Papa John's pizza, which is ok as far as large pizza chains go and is fine as a rare treat, but these kids were getting it every single day. The food on the lunch line was so unpalatable that my students felt like they had no other option besides the pizza. Many students got tired of eating pizza every day and simply picked up a bag of chips, a pack of cookies and a soda and called that their mid-day meal. This is not acceptable.

We desperately need to reform the way our nation's children eat. How can students be expected to excel in academics and sports when they aren't being fed nutritious meals and when they aren't learning about healthy eating in school? Luckily, many people are realizing that there is a serious problem with the National School Lunch Program and they're taking a stand.

Today, Labor Day 2009, is the National Day of Action to Get Real Food in Schools. All over the country, including right here in South Florida, Slow Food members are staging "Eat-Ins" to protest the way our country's children are being fed. Eat-Ins are potluck gatherings where people get together to show their support for this cause over a wholesome, usually local, meal.

Even if you can't attend an Eat-In today, please Sign The Petition to reform school lunches. It's always a good idea to know what you're signing, so I encourage you to read the Time for Lunch Policy Platform. Sign the Petition today so they can reach 20,000 signatures by the end of the day.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Star Struck

Many years ago, I briefly attended a small liberal arts college in Vermont which I chose based not on its academics or reputation, but merely because it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Students lived in clapboard houses, there was a secret walled garden on campus and in Fall, the Green Mountains blazed red, yellow and orange with foliage that tourists, called "Leaf Peepers," would travel days just to admire. I loved it. Vermont was the opposite of Florida with its covered bridges and Norman Rockwell villages. It was everything I thought I loved. Especially though, I adored the apple trees. There were at least three in the yard of every house and small orchards surrounded the classroom buildings. Apples were in abundance. There were so many that we students, all five hundred of us, let most of them rot on the ground where they turned to vinegar and called the yellow jackets. By October things got rather messy around the trees, but this time of year, in the beginning of September when the students were just returning, those apple trees were loaded with dusty, pink, pale green and crimson orbs and everyone from freshmen to seniors to faculty couldn't stay away from them. Coming to Vermont from Florida, where such things just didn't exist, I couldn't get over the miracle of apple trees. There were trees and you could just walk by and pick apples. Pick them! And eat them! It is a miracle I didn't eat myself sick on them.

I've written before about how much I love and miss apples, about how apples define the season for me and about how dearly I miss Autumn. Living in an alternative climate has forced me to redefine a lot of the ways in which I view the passing of a year, how I eat and who I am in relation to the natural world around me. There are things about life in the tropics that I am passionate about, but still, I pine. Still, I want to pick apples from trees at the start of a new school year. I want. I want. I want.

But yesterday, I had an unexpected gift.

I'm not a student anymore. Now, I'm the teacher and I'm lucky enough to teach on what has to be the most beautiful college campus in South Florida. I teach an early morning class with a two hour break before my early afternoon class. During those free hours I like to stroll the grounds which are really like one enormous botanical garden. I enjoy looking at the diversity of tropical plant life.

Yesterday morning I noticed a small commotion of students around a tree where a groundskeeper in a little golf cart, was handing out some sort of fruit and the students were absolutely overjoyed about it. Really, you have never seen a bunch of eighteen to twenty year olds so excited about something. I had to see what was going on.

The groundskeepers were harvesting from a carambola tree. You probably know the carambola as a starfruit. Some of the fruits had to be cut down from the tree, while others were picked up off the ground, a little dirty, but sweetly ripe and fragrant. There were plenty of them to go around and I was lucky enough to receive one too. The groundskeeper made sure that he dutifully told each student to wash their carambola before eating and students rushed to water fountains to rinse the soil away before eating the fruit whole, out of hand. The brief event took on such a celebratory, exuberant energy. I felt so lucky and so joyful to be a part of it; to be part of the whole back to school excitement. With starfruit. How very wonderful and how very unique to this strange, different place where I live.

The carambola, as the fruit is known in Spanish, is called a starfruit because when sliced horizontally, the pieces are shaped like perfect, five-pointed stars. This has made the carambola a great novelty and the fruit is very popular as a garnish, because, of course, who wouldn't want stars studding their fruit salads, desserts, cocktails and buffet platters? The star fruit though, is more than just a garnish. It is a fruit that is delicious and versatile in its own right, just like an apple. Also like apples, there are many, many varieties of carambola, each with its own unique flavor and uses.

In South Florida, where the trees do very well in home gardens, there are two main kinds of starfruit: tart and sweet. The tart variety is mainly used for juice and makes a wonderful alternative to orange juice, which it is similar to. The sweet variety, which is slightly smaller and darker, is best for eating plain. In South Florida the most common tart variety is the Golden Star, while Arkin (named for Alan?) is the sweet kind you're most likely to find around here. Both are good. For more on these, visit this site which also has some interesting recipes.

My starfruit yesterday appears to have been an Arkin. It was very sweet and had a delightful candied scent and flavor reminiscent of jasmine or orange blossom. The skin was waxy and completely edible and the flesh was crisp, yet delicate. Carambolas have a gentle, never bitter, strong or overpowering citrus flavor. There were a few seeds, some of which I have saved for my future orchard. One day when I get a house my future carambola tree can live beside my future avocado tree.

Until yesterday, I had never seen people eating carambola out of hand, like apples. I had only seen them sliced and spangled over various confections, always a decoration, a supporting player and never the "star" of the dish. Yesterday, at school, I think I may have fallen a little in love. No, we don't have apples here in the tropics, but maybe apples are a little cliche anyway. What a tired image of the apple for the teacher. This teacher needs a carambola, an odd, little candy-smelling fruit; a star shining in a system of round, planet-like oranges and apples. It's perfectly South Florida and it's something we only have here (starfruit trees don't do well north of about Martin County).

The famous line from Song of Solomon demands "comfort me with apples." Here in the tropics, from now on I think I'll request to be "comforted with starfruit."

More on the Carambola:

A Warning! Starfruit contains the same compound as grapefruit which causes the effects of certain medications to be magnified in the body. If your medicine says not to take it with grapefruit, avoid the carambola as well.

If you have kidney problems you should also not eat this fruit as it contains small amounts of Oxalic Acid. Normally this is safe, but in people with compromised kidney function this can cause renal failure.

Information about growing your own carambola.

Here is a
List of Carambola Recipes from Fairchild Gardens.

I like to eat my starfruit sliced in a green salad and I've also had this served with a vinaigrette made from starfruit juice.
Camellia Street Grille, in Everglades City, which is one of my favorite restaurants for enjoying a true, authentic taste of South Florida, serves this salad and it's heaven. The restaurant is currently on vacation until October 1st, so you'll have to wait a month to try it.

A commenter on the avocado post recommends a starfruit and Lula Avocado salad, which can't be bad either.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Alexa Produce

Recently, a friend of mine raved to me about a new "Farmer's Market" that had opened in Fort Lauderdale on Oakland Park Boulevard. This is near my house so I was pretty excited. She explained that they had several organic selections and that the prices were excellent. I drove by the place almost everyday and for the past week a man had been pacing around out front of the "market" which is located in a small plaza close to the store where the strippers from nearby Solid Gold go to buy their clear heels. Really. I'm not joking about this. Anyway, the man had been pacing around out there holding a sign advertising $1 Organic Berries. I admit to skepticism. Organic berries anywhere else are four times that and more. The other day, on my friend's recommendation, and not feeling particularly enthusiastic about this place, I stopped.

Now let me explain. I wasn't being a snob. It wasn't the clear heel store or the fact that Oakland Park between 95 and Dixie isn't exactly the most picturesque location in Fort Lauderdale. If I can get a deal on something good and if they carried local produce at reasonable prices, I don't care if I have to go to the worst area in town to get it. Oakland Park, by the way, is definitely not the worst area in town anyway, it's just ugly. My apprehension stemmed from the common practice around here, which I've complained about before, of places calling themselves "Farmer's Markets" because it sounds good and then not carrying produce from farms around here. These places have the exact same stuff as Publix for the most part and there's nothing about them that's like a real farmer's market. I had a feeling Alexa would be similar.

I was right. Of course I was right. Alexa didn't impress me. First impressions are important and my first impression when I walked in the door was that the place swarmed with gnats and smelled like I'd stepped into a bottle of vinegar. The smell seemed to be coming from rotten fruits and vegetables and was worsened by poor ventilation. On a positive note, their prices were low and they had a large selection. Unfortunately, the only local offering was a box of "Florida" avocados. They called them that. They did not specify the variety, but the things were as big and hard as bowling pins.

I don't want to dis someone's business, especially not a new business. I know things can be rough in the beginning, but I just didn't get the sense that Alexa Produce was trying to be a real farmer's market. To me, the place felt thrown together hastily to profit from the current, resurging popularity of farm stands. There are a lot of places like this popping up all over and they're great in terms of low prices and variety. I also like to see small businesses competing with gigantic corporations. I am a fan of small businesses. But places like this are terrible for people, like me, who want to promote things grown in Florida and who want to buy their goods in season from farmers in the community where I live. I'd absolutely be willing to make a special trip to a place like that, and in fact, I have driven over an hour to the markets in Homestead. I'm not at all willing to make a special trip to a separate store to buy the same exact goods I could get at Publix.

Sorry Alexa, but that's the most positive thing I can say right now. In the interest of fairness, I'll try back in a month and see if things have improved.

Alexa Produce, 79 E Oakland Park Blvd, Fort Lauderdale.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Future Avocado Grove

I've decided to grow my own Lula using the seed and toothpick method. My sister and I saved the seed from the avocado she made the pineapple salsa with a month ago and immediately propped it up in water. My grandmother has had much success growing avocados this way and has several almost ready to go into the ground. This is stage one. In stage two you plant the seed in a big pot of soil and keep it safe in a porch or somewhere similar until it gets even bigger. Stage three is when they can go outside and grow to be a real tree that makes avocados. This one has done remarkably well in a short period of time. It grows noticably every day. I don't have a yard to plant this in, but since it takes such a long time for them to get to stage three I figure that I'll have a house with a yard by then. And I guess in about five or six years you can check back to see how I'm enjoying the avocados. If you look very closely in the picture you can see a new, smaller Hass seed in the background. That one is now toothpicked in a cup as well, but hasn't sprouted yet. I can see where this could become habit forming. I might have these things all over the house. If you're a friend of mine, expect one of these as your Christmas present. Go ahead, make all the Wetlands jokes you want. I know. I know. But trust me, my new little avocado growing obsession won't lead to my eating my own body parts any time soon. I can barely stomach a locally grown avocado over here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Florida Watercress

Did you know that a Florida company dominates the world's watercress market? I had no idea. To be honest, watercress is something I don't have a lot of experience with. It wasn't something we ate in our family and I remember as a child reading about frilly English teas with watercress sandwiches and wondering very much what it was and where I could get some. When I was twelve I made friends with a girl whose mother threw lavish dinner parties complete with cloth napkins, real china, flower arrangments and place cards. One time they invited me to one of these dinners and I distinctly remember my thrill when a watercress salad was served. Even the word watercress is pretty. I certainly didn't know it was grown in Florida. I think I pictured it clustered in clear, bracingly cold northern brooks. That, however, is not the case. Watercress is grown here in Florida, up in Fellsmere where there are no rocky, glacial streams. This revelation has made me very happy, because I like watercress, even without it's snooty associations. Watercress is good and I prefer its delicate taste in salads over the bitter snap of arugula. Coincidentally, last month when we had the BBQ where one neighbor brought us fifteen pounds of dolphin, another neighbor made a spectacular watercress salad. I asked her for the recipe and she said she didn't have one. She just combined the cress with slices of yellow pepper, fennel, red onion and sliced strawberries. She then dressed it with a simple vinaigrette made with strawberry puree, raspberry vinegar, plain yogurt, olive oil and salt and pepper. The combination was unusual and unexpected, definitely wonderful. I highly recommend it and now even more so because the watercress is local (not a hundred mile local, but in-state local which is my current definition for the purposes of this blog).

Here is an article about B & W Quality Growers where the watercress comes from.

Here is an article from Bon Appetit magazine about watercress in general with tips on choosing and storing the greens. This is also where I got the above photograph.

If you would like to purchase watercress, which doesn't appear to have a particular season and is available year round, I see it in Whole Foods' produce section every time I'm in there. Please correct me in a nice way if I'm wrong about the whole watercress not having a season thing. I'm interested in how that works and this is a new, fairly unfamiliar food for me.

If anyone has any favorite watercress recipes or ways that they like to eat it, please share in the comments section.