Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Non-Local Foods I'd Rather Not Live Without


My mission is to find local sources or substitutes for these items. Now bacon, I have to tell you, I really hesitated about adding to this picture. I think I could pretty easily live without bacon and I'm getting a little sick of all the recent bacon mania, however, I got a recent tip about a place near me that makes their own, so I cheated and put it on the list anyway. Also I could really only think of eight things, and I couldn't make a perfect square without nine, and you know the OCD kicked in there and I had to come up with number nine and it ended up being bacon. So there. Bacon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stormy Afternoon


I love how slick and clean everything feels after a good, strong rain.

Rainy Season

Judging by the storm we're having now, I would definitely say the rainy season has officially arrived. This may not be the best beach weather, but our farmers and home gardeners are definitely rejoicing, along with our previously parched trees and flora. I kind of like it. It's great reading weather. I've always loved having to turn the lights on in the daytime.

Baby Avocado

How cute is this baby avocado? In a couple months it will be all grown up and ready to become guacamole.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Coco Frio


Coconut Water

The other day, on the way to Bob Roth's New River Groves, I got stuck in traffic at the intersection of Griffin and US 1, over by the Fort Lauderdale Airport. The traffic was caused by a large landscaping truck and at least thirty landscape workers who were pruning and preening the entrance to the airport. As I sat, stalled, waiting to creep up to the light so I could turn west towards my mango paradise, I noticed the landscapers were all using their machetes to hack open a bunch of green coconuts that they had cut down from the palm trees they were trimming. Once they got them open, the used to tips of their enormous knives to flick a little hole in the top of the thick husks, and then they drank out of them. They were drinking the coconut water, not to be confused with coconut milk (a different thing altogether).

I've had coconut water before. My parents' housekeeper takes all the coconuts from the trees in their yard, opens them and drinks the water too. I also had coconut water, straight from the fruit, in Jamaica, where they sell coconuts fitted with plastic straws to curious tourists. I like coconut milk, but I admit to being scared of opening a coconut myself. Hacking away at an unstable, fairly small and extremely tough and fibrous sphere terrifies me. I can see myself losing a finger, so I prefer to let other people open coconuts for me. Lord knows what I'd do if I were stranded alone on a desert island. I always think of Tom Hanks in "Castaway" struggling to pry away the husks and crack the shells to avoid certain starvation. I have nightmares about such things.

Imagine then, my thrill when I got to Bob Roth's and discovered fresh coconut water in jugs. No inpenetrable husk and shell to deal with! All I had to do was twist open a cap and enjoy my quart of fresh coconut water with no additives. Some may say that's cheating. It is. Some may say that it's silly to pay for something I could pick for free in my parents' yard. Yes, I agree. However, it's worth it to maintain all ten of my fingers in addition to my sanity. As I writer, I need my fingers, ok? Sanity, not so much, but the fingers are important. So I bought a quart of coconut water and have been enjoying it abundantly ever since, because it spoils quickly. And also because it's good.

Coconut water is becoming more and more popular. A few companies are selling cans and juice boxes of it. I've seen them in Whole Foods and now Publix. One company bills coconut water as "the new sports drink." They're right. Coconut water has all the essential electrolytes and more potassium than bananas. It's way better for you than Gatorade with all of its chemicals and unnatural colorings. My doctor recommends it over anything else for dehydration and there are many stories from WW II veterans in the Pacific about how they used coconut water in IV bags. From what I hear, in several third world countries, they still use coconut water for IVs. Coconut water is easy to digest, has a pleasant light taste and texture and is good for you, so naturally someone would come along and want to capitalize on it. The problem for me with these companies is that they are not local, they use a lot of packaging, one brand I looked at included sulfites as a preservative, and the coconut water just isn't the same as fresh coconut water.

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where coconuts grow, stick with the real thing. If you are lucky enough to live in South Florida, go to Bob Roth's and get some fresh, finger-safe, preservative free coconut water in a jug. Then reuse the jug, recycle it or give it back to Bob's so they can use it again.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mango Mystery Solved!

The mangoes in question were neither Valencia Pride, nor any of the Thai varieties. They were in fact Lemon Meringues, so named because they taste exactly like lemon candy. How did I find this out, you ask. I ate one. It tasted distinctly like a lemon lollipop with a hint of Pledge. There was no doubt that this was a Lemon Meringue Mango (and yes, that's its actual name). And there was also no doubt that it was really, really, really, good and that I ate it whole, over the kitchen sink and practically inhaled even the pit. It was the best mango I have ever eaten.

My Purchases From Bob's New River Groves


The Mysterious, Possibly Thai Mangoes That I Bought


Bob's Haden Mangoes



Bob Roth's New River Groves

When I read that there was a U-Pick Mango Grove a few miles from my house I about had a coniption fit. You see, I am a tremendous fan of both mangoes and anything I can pick myself.

Mangoes just came into season last week. Honestly, a lot of them still aren't quite ripe yet. As an apartment dweller, I often lament the fact that I don't have a yard to grow my own mango trees. There are two trees near my apartment building. One of them is in the yard of an extremely scary man who always seems up to no good, therefore I'm not going to go asking him if I can have some of his fruit. The other tree is in the yard of what looks an awful lot like a crack house, so I don't want to get too friendly with that one either. So far this week I've foraged a total of three ripe mangoes that have fallen off of these trees and rolled into my parking lot, where I figure they're fair game. I have a friend with a big mango tree in her yard, but she lives forty-five minutes away and I haven't seen her yet this mango season, so that means I need alternative mango acquisition methods.

The abandoned house in my parents' neighborhood (where I foraged calamondins last winter) also has a mango tree, which my dad has been picking from along with the rest of the neighborhood. They've cleaned out the bottom branches so the only fruit left is too high to pick. My dad has devised his own, ingenius fruit picking system wherein he uses his pool skimmer to knock the fruit off their stems so that he can then catch them in the skimmer's net. It works well.

But I still need more mangoes, so imagine my delight when I ran across Bob Roth's New River Groves where I can pick my own.

I spent the better part of this afternoon (after a magnificent thunderstorm this morning) strolling through Bob Roth's mango groves, located behind his grove stand at 5660 Griffin Road in Davie. I had a peaceful walk, just me and the sussuration of mango leaves with the occasional thump of ripe fruit hitting the damp ground. It made me very happy and I can see myself taking this walk often in the coming weeks. In addition to mangoes, I also found avocado, lychee, grapefruit and banana trees, but nothing is ready now except mangoes and coconuts of which there are plenty for sale in the grove stand along with other Florida delicacies like frozen stone crabs (don't buy these now because the season ended already), smoked alligator meat, tomatoes, juices and local honey. I also noticed a bin with the last oranges of the season. They were beginning to smell a little off, so these would be best cooked into a nice marmalade and preserved for the summer when we can't get citrus. I may make that an upcoming project.

I purchased some fantastic tomatoes, a pound of local, orange blossom honey, a quart of coconut water grown and bottled on site and two, small mangoes of a variety I haven't tried. I asked the lady operating the stand about the variety, as there were two different types of trees growing. One type produced rounder, larger fruits. These she said were Haden, the most popular mango in Florida. The others were smaller, yellow and paisley shaped. She told me she thought they were Valencia Pride, however, I think she was mistaken, as the mangoes I purchased more closely resemble thai mangoes, according to my research.

Bob's also sells pies, a bunch of non-local jellies (we have already discussed this pet peeve of mine), peanuts from Georgia (shoot, because I wanted some peanuts today) and some candy and dried fruit and crap that isn't local either. I've complained about this already, so I won't go into it again, but I will say that as far as fruit stands go around here, Bob's had the least amount of non-local products that I've found and it is the only place that I've found that sells coconut water and smoked alligator meat, which I have yet to get the nerve up to try.

I think I'll probably be back at Bob's pretty soon. I can't wait to pick my own lychees.

First Follower!

Look! Our first follower! Wow! Welcome first follower. I'm not writing into the dark abyss anymore!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Plenty


I'm finally reading this book. I know. It's taken me long enough. This is like the Bible of local eating; the book that started it all. Well, I knew about it and I'd flipped through it, but I didn't have time to sit and read the whole thing until now. So once I finish, which should be soon because it's short, I will discuss. I was all prepared to be jealous of these poor souls trying to eat locally in the Pacific Northwest with all those wonderful apples that I obsess over, but ha! I'm not even halfway into the book and the authors are already complaining about not having sugar. I got your sugar! Florida Crystals. Local and carbon free. Take that Up North. A few pages later they talk about how they miss mangoes and oranges. Ha again. Talk about mangoes. Oh my Lord. They've just come in season right now and it seems we have a bumper crop this year. Many mango posts to follow. Let me get back to reading.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why Buy Local

This afternoon, 2-3:30, at the Fort Lauderdale Whole Foods there is a panel discussion on why you should buy local. It should be very interesting and members of our closest Slow Food chapter will be present.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Guavas!



Lately I've been on a bit of a guava rampage and it all started with soap. I'm not kidding you. Until this year, my only experience with guavas was in paste form and soap form.


Years ago I had a Cuban room mate whose favorite snack was guava paste with cream cheese on crackers. The guava paste came in a big, flat, round wheel and was so stiff that you had to slice it with a knife, into little red rectangles. It was just kind of Ok. I definitely wouldn't have ever called guava paste on of my favorite foods, but at the same time it wasn't disgusting either. I liked the picture of the actual guavas on the wrapper better than the product inside the tin, but I had never seen real guavas before. They just don't sell them fresh in the grocery store.


A couple years ago I became enamored with Pacifica soaps and candles, which are sold in Whole Foods and Anthropologie and smell like I imagine heaven must smell. Pacifica is not a local company, but they are an American company and conform to an extremely high standard of ethics and product integrity and they also have really pretty packaging, which I am such a sucker for in spite of myself. Pacifica products make the best gifts too and everytime I've ever given someone a Pacifica soap, candle or perfume, they always really love it. Well anyway, one of my favorite Pacifica scents is Hawaiian Ruby Guava. I wanted to eat it. But sadly, I didn't know if it smelled like a real guava because I had never smelled a real guava. I decided to begin a quest for real guavas.



On my last visit to Robert Is Here Fruit Stand, in Homestead, I came across a pile of locally grown guavas and was beside myself with joy. I was finally going to get to try one! I picked up a guava and smelled it and lo and behold it smelled exactly like my favorite soap! Now let me take a moment to admit to how pathetic and sad this is that I was so unfamiliar with a native fruit that I associated its natural smell with the unnatural smell of a commercial reproduction of itself. Believe me, the irony wasn't lost on me. But still, it smelled exactly like the soap or the soap smelled exactly like the real guava or whatever because they both smelled like the same really good smell. the whole drive home I kept smelling the guava. Then, when I put it in my fruit dish to ripen, it scented my entire apartment (or maybe that was the soap).



After a couple days, the guava was soft enough to eat. The girl who helped me at the fruit stand explained that every part of the guava could be eaten - skin, seeds and all, so I sliced it up and was shocked that the inside of the fruit was white! I thought guavas were pink. Apparently there are lots of varieties of guava and only some are pink. This one was not. My first reaction was that the inside of the guava looked exactly like the inside of an eggplant. It was spongy and cream colored with a speckling of small, tan seeds. Pretty much exactly like raw eggplant looks. The texture was pear-like and it tasted just like strawberries. That means it was really good. And I still couldn't get over the smell. Growing up, we always had dogs. Often, when the dogs were outside they would encounter some exciting scent in the yard. It was usually dead things or something as horrible as another dog's poop, but our dogs would act like whatever it was, was the best thing they had ever smelled in their lives and they would throw themselves on the ground and roll and roll in ecstacy, covering themselves with the smell. That is exactly how I felt about the smell of the real guava.



They don't sell real guavas in our local grocery stores. You can get them at farmer's markets or from people who have trees. I've put the word out to some friends whose parents may have friends that have trees. Recently I've spotted Honduran guavas in Whole Foods and I bought one. It too, was white inside and it too, smelled really, really good, but it wasn't local, so any more are off limits. It seems so silly to ship them in from another country when guava trees grow perfectly well right here. The strange thing is, I've never seen a guava tree. Why don't more people grow them in their yards? Why are they not more popular, I wonder.



And finally, does anyone know where I can get local guavas or does anyone have a tree who might be willing to spare a couple fruits for me? These things are better than pot pourri for perfuming my apartment! Just kidding, I like to eat them too.