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Monthly Archives: May 2014

So much to do

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Saturday “market” at Little La Grange

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Fruit and flowers for sale!

It’s been such a busy, beautiful, productive week that I’m not even sure where to start! It was gorgeous and sunny for my brother’s entire visit, and with his 6’4″ of help I was able to make some admirable progress on the Nid. We’re now all ready to put in a temporary loft floor to use as scaffolding for building the roof and walls, having erected and trimmed all of the loft posts and the four tallest posts for the main roof. It was a week of a little carpentry, a little chainsawing, and a little masonry…plus the concrete pour to make the sill for the front door. Whew!

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Frogs in our sand pile! We’re glad to see these guys; they nearly disappeared during our year-long ant invasion.

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Posts!

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Bedding in a post

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Bathroom foundation wall complete

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Laying a gravel floor.

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Door sill of poured concrete.

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Plastering the top of the wall.

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Trimming loft posts.

 

While Tristam was here we did get to do some fun stuff as well as working him half to death (hey, he offered!). We went snorkeling under the cruise ship pier in Frederiksted where there are lots of fish and coral, though the seahorses that can usually be found there seem to be taking a vacation…hopefully accruing less sunburn while they are away than Tristam did while he was here! The requisite hike was made out to Ham’s Bluff Lighthouse, an old metal lighthouse in rather a sad state since it was replaced by a newfangled solar-powered light – much less picturesque than the old one, with its spiral stairs, outside walkway, and black and white stripes. I’d lasted almost three months without setting foot in a restaurant, but Tristam broke that by taking us out to try Pink Spot in Frederiksted. It’s a great little place to spend an evening, with a full bar and a delicious tapas-style menu, fronting on Strand Street with a lovely courtyard out back. The menu is small, but everything we tried was good!

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Ham’s Bluff Light

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View towards Cane Bay

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Christmas bush: toxic.

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Zozo resting at the light house

 

Before I go into the cooking of the week, I should introduce our new nieghbours, who shall remain unnamed…for the day that they go into the stew pot. For now, they are three happy, fluffy, clucky hens, bought as year-old layers from Jane Coles of Cole’s Funky Chicken Farm just down the road – a small family/hobby operation of goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, guinea pigs, and rabbits. I decided to get “settled” hens (read older) as I don’t need that many eggs, and think these will be slightly calmer and a good learning curve. Once their laying tails off I can replace them with younger hens, or decide to raise chicks, depending on where I’m at by then. Currently they are settling into the chicken tractor, safe from predators and able to be moved to fresh ground each day. Better photos soon!

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Hens!

 

My big cooking accomplishment this week was learning to make pita bread. For some reason I’d always thought it would be difficult to make, or that the pockets wouldn’t form, or they required special ingredients. However, a neighbour lent me one of her many fabulous cookbooks, and I couldn’t resist trying out a pita recipe – the most simple I’ve ever seen, flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Start to finish takes less that 45min, so I made them for lunch twice in a week! They all formed immaculate pockets, each batch cooking for a mere 4 minutes before emerging, delicious, fully puffed, just the slightest bit browned on the bottom while still soft and chewy on the top…hands down they are the best pita I’ve ever had.

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Sourdough bread, pita, herbed mayonnaise, chicken liver paté, pesto, and fromage blanc, all home made!

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Rolling pita.

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Pita fresh from the oven.

 

This is the first week that you can get my products through VI Locally Grown where you can order online now through 7pm on Tuesday, for pick up 3:30-5:30pm Wednesday in the courtyard behind Polly’s in F’sted. You will still be able to place orders here at Nidulari for the Saturday baking, and buy other products directly from me then as well. Locally Grown is advantageous to you, as it means that you can order from multiple farmers and pick everything up in one place while supporting local small farms and cottage industries. Please give it a try!

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An orchid in our back yard

That’s it for this week, come tomorrow morning we’ll be hard at work with our very first WWOOFer, Aaron, showing him the ropes and working some more on the Nid! Come egg us on in the comments section, or tell a friend about Nidulari and the delicious bread you get from us – it’s always more fun when people interact. Cheers!

Changing of the guard

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In the building world it’s been a slow week, as the rain gradually disperses and the mud starts to dry. However, I do have a couple of announcements to make! Firstly, for the love of god, place your bread orders for this Saturday as soon as you finish reading this. Last minute orders make me panic! There will also be banana muffins and banana ketchup this week.

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We’re getting closer to cucumbers…one day at a time.

Speaking of bread and orders, starting in a couple of weeks many of my products will be available through vi.locallygrown.net, in collaboration with Ridge to Reef farm. If you are not familiar with Locally Grown, it is a program that provides an online “shop” where you may place orders for local produce and products directly from the farmers and craftspeople, which are then harvested or made for you, and brought to a single location for pick up. This is a good way to buy locally without having to drive all over the island to purchase your fresh local products from each individual farm stand. As Locally Grown only takes a small percentage of each sale this is also good for us (the farmers etc) as it gives us greater exposure at a much lower cost than selling through a shop or restaurant. So, go check them out, and keep an eye out for my products over there, hopefully by May 25th! Pick up is on Wed afternoons, 3:30-5:30, in the courtyard behind Polly’s in Frederiksted.

We have some busy weeks ahead. On Saturday my brother arrives for a week to check up on us and make sure we’re not doing anything too outrageous! Hopefully we’ll find time to take him hiking, to the beach, maybe sailing – a week is never long enough to do everything that gets planned. Next Saturday our very first WWOOFer (world wide opportunities on organic farms) arrives! On that Monday the 2nd one flies in. They’ll be helping to manage the fruit trees, vegetable garden, and general maintenance, and also helping to do some clearing and establish expanded vegetable plots. They will also get to help out on various building projects, learn about the baking, etc. It should be fun, and will be a learning experience for all!

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We spent a day pressure washing the kitchen/verandah of the main house, and the cottage inside and out in preparation for our influx of inhabitants. In this humid climate everything grows moss in a matter of months!

I have sourced some laying hens, and will get to see them next week, so with any luck my next post will announce some new, clucking, residents of Little La Grange. Mandy seems a little skeptical of chicken-keeping, but I am looking forward to the fresh eggs and weed-control!

That’s it for this week – don’t forget to place your orders on the Products page and to check out Locally Grown. Cheers!

Mothers in mayhem

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Our very first passion fruit flower on our new vine along the fence! They’ve always been some of my favourite flowers – and fruit.

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All ready for chickens! Hopefully next week.

It was a rainy week; we don’t need to talk about that, do we? The ground is mush, nothing can be dug, laid, planted, or transported without being mired in huge clods of soil. Everything and everyone has been wet through at least a dozen times, and today it looked clear so we did laundry…that will never dry. So, the chainsaw has been sharpened, all the inside work possible has been done (we were lucky to have power most of the week despite the heavy rain), and now, for me at least, it’s a matter of waiting for the ground to dry out enough to haul a truckload of gravel up my mud driveway, and then continue on as planned.

Baking this week was a tad scary, between driving out West from where I’m house sitting at 5am amid heavy rain, to baking a couple of hours later amid a thunder storm with lightning strikes just across the valley every few minutes. All was well in the end, as while I may have been soaking wet at least the bread stayed dry! I’m told that the contestants in the Coconut Cup Paddle Festival at Frederiksted beach greatly enjoyed my bread – ordered by Freedom City Surf for the contestant lunch – which certainly made my day! Despite being able to bake in the rain, I’m almost ready to start making sacrifices to the weather gods so as to have dry weather on Saturdays…

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Bread for the Coconut Cup!

Instead of going on and on about the weather – in a typically British manner – let me say a little about Mother’s Day. Now, I’m not one to go all gaga over what have mostly become meaningless hallmark holidays, but if you have a chance to make someone in your life happy, then why not grab it? I have a pretty decent mother, after all…otherwise how could I have turned out quite this amazing? Seriously though, homeschooling two kids, taking us to live in so many places and to see so many things, and perhaps most of all giving us freedom to learn and explore for ourselves; it can’t have been easy, and she did a great job of it despite sometimes difficult circumstances. And so it came about, a 6′ tall carambola (star fruit) tree, and a massive Indian dinner for three. Carambolas have always been one of Mandy’s favourite fruits, and one of the few fruits that we do not have growing at Little La Grange. When we first moved here we’d planted a very puny tree which didn’t take off, whether due to nature or neglect, so some 8 years later I’ve decided that it’s time for another try! In that time we’ve learned a lot about planting and nurturing trees, giving them enough sun, the correct amount of water, etc – so hopefully this time we’ll have more success and soon be able to add carambolas to our (quite vast, if I may say so) list of home grown fruit. So far it’s looking very happy!

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Hopefully not too long before we have some pretty, golden, star-shaped fruit!

The dinner was pretty damn impressive, and was devoured with a gorgeous view of Salt River and a slightly chilly (a treat here) sea breeze. Evidently my time in India was not wasted, for I brought home with me a degree of authenticity to my Indian cooking unparallelled by most restaurants, let alone casual (or not so casual) cooks. Over the course of half an afternoon, in an unfamiliar kitchen, I produced five curries, rice, garnishes, and a dessert. For the curries I made some of my favourites: aloo dum (potatoes in a thick tomato and yoghurt curry), brinjal ginger fry (delectable baby eggplants with ginger, spices, lime, and cilantro), black dal (a creamy dark dal made with brown lentils), chana masala (chickpea curry), and an experiment, beef curry (pretty good, but has some room for improvement due to having been vegetarian while in India). I would have liked to make roti to accompany the meal, but as I was cooking on an electric stove that was not possible. Next time! The dessert was chocolate mousse, rich and creamy, topped with rum whipped cream – it must have been good or we would have been far too full to eat it.

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So, who’s up for a curry night?

In retrospect

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Gorgeous flowers right by our kitchen!

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Tiny House Granola, Tiny House Toasties, banana muffins, wheat sourdough, cooked grain sourdough, and mini sourdough loaves with sesame seeds. Plus one small quilted chicken overseeing the feast.

Some weeks are rough; nothing goes right, nothing happens on schedule, the tools needed are missing or broken, the car doesn’t start, and so on. Sometimes getting past these hurdles requires taking a step back, taking a deep breath, and counting the weeks since all these projects started. Or sometimes it just takes a major break-through to give the encouragement and energy to keep going, keep positive, and most of all, keep building and planning.

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1st post up!

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2 posts!

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3 posts! Getting tricky to maneuver around all the supports…

This week there was some of all of the above. It felt as though getting the posts prepped to be erected on the Nid foundation walls was taking absolutely forever, and then when measuring for their placement everything was a tad bit off, adding to the general frustration. Then there was the matter of lifting the 150lb (or more) posts into place and holding them there, trying to align not-very-straight posts with each other and with the foundation…you can imagine. By the end of the week the posts were all finished, and Mandy had spent a morning patiently helping to get the first three posts situated and a method somewhat figured out so that hopefully the rest will go up without too many hiccups! On Friday morning I ended up with a spare hour, and put my frustration-fueled energy to good use in erecting the door frame (the glorious carpentry of which you saw a couple of weeks ago), leveling it, propping it in place, and framing up for the poured concrete door sill. Next week I must get half a yard of gravel, and then I’ll be able to pour the sill, thereby securing the door frame in place. After that, I’ll be back to erecting the remaining posts before having to hunt down and harvest some bamboo for the horizontal wall lathes.

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Door frame up and door sill boxed in for the concrete.

Despite some moments of consternation, frustration, and “Oh god, what have I got myself into?”, the progress on the Nid is going pretty damn well. I took me most of the week to realize this fact, as somehow I’d got the idea into my head that I’d already been here on St Croix for 3, maybe 4 months? Then I looked back and thought “oops…I arrived here 2 months ago yesterday”. Since then all is well again!

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That’s some pretty glorious sourdough!

Speaking of things going well, today’s baking was amazing! Everything went smoothly, from getting up and kneading the sourdough at 5:30am to lighting the oven, baking a huge variety of dishes and successfully controlling the oven temperature for about 8 hours on very little wood. We had four stalks of bananas come ripe this week – that’s some 60+lbs of banana – so banana bread was the first thing to go in the oven, at around 8am, along with some trays of Tiny House Toasties (crispy rosemary-olive oil sourdough slices). Then a tray of veggies, followed by two batches of sourdough – some of the best yet – beef stew, and last of all, granola and pumpkin seeds. All I can say is that 8 hours of baking is a very long time and takes an awful lot of energy! Yet once the oven is hot it seems wasteful to not use the heat as much as possible, thus the bake-day has come to be.

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Tiny House Toasties!

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…with rosemary and olive oil. You want some.

I almost forgot…how could I? I made some delicious cheese earlier this week, having scored a couple of gallons of milk on sale (it’s generally prohibitively expensive here). Just a basic mesophilic cheese, fromage blanc, I suppose, firmed in a cheese mold in the fridge for a couple of days then garnished with fresh rosemary and Mandy’s Hawaiian pink salt. It’s rather delightful on bread, toasties, fruit….or straight from the knife!

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Cheese…on a dinner plate!

That’s it til next week, cheers!