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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Summer Days

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Its hot as a furnace on St Croix, a heat that has been gradually building for weeks like some slow method of torture. Usually there would be rain storms coming through in the afternoons, giving some respite from the tepid air, yet so far those have been few and far between this summer. As we suffer, so does the garden, for no amount of hand watering can make up for the lack of a good soaking rain. The carambola tree has dropped its fruit, the bokchoy is wilted more each day, and even the pidgin peas have have become almost dormant in their growth.

The heat makes it challenging to maintain momentum on any of our projects, particularly the building, which has now reached the cement stage – messy, filthy, heavy work. I’m left with little energy, mental or physical, so here are some photos to amuse you!

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Our captive breeding group of adult Red Footed Tortoises had their first successful hatch in a number of years. We’ll keep this little one indoors for a couple of months while her shell fully hardens and she grows enough not to be mongoose-dinner sized.

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A few days before the heat and/or drought caused all the carambolas to drop.

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Still flowering.

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Laying hens.

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The Araucana hen, who lays pretty blue eggs.

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Rear structure of the Nid sleeping loft and dormer window.

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Experimenting with fabric and cement.

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Experimenting with making cement sinks.

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Miko presenting the loft window of the Nid.

Leave some love in the comments section, and don’t forget to share Nidulari with all your friends via email or our Facebook page. Cheers!

 

The bubble, the brew, the cheese!

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Happy hens.

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XL chicken coop. Still haven’t managed to source any more hens or pullets.

The week is over. At last.
Two [destroyed] flat tires later, two trips to the vet (some $400) with the discovery that my dog Zada, companion of seven years, is critically ill with Lymes Disease and two other tick-bourne illnesses. She will be ok, after 21 days of antibiotics, and we are hoping that there will be no lasting damage to her lungs. The moral of that story is find (and use) a flea and tick preventative that actually works. I’ve started Zada on an oral flea and tick preventative, having had no success over the years with any of the topical ones – hopefully this will work better, with no odors and sticky fur every month! Updates on that to come, as I know so many people who struggle with the same issue.

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Banana wine in the secondary fermentation stage with a jury-rigged airlock. In the next 6 months it will take on a gorgeous golden hue, as it gradually clarifies and continues to ferment.

On the up side of this week, our 3rd (and final, for right now) WWOOF volunteer arrived, and is great! It’s a little stressful having three extra people around, but so much is getting done because of all the extra help! A huge section of the back property has been cleared of dense, prickly underbrush, leaving only large trees and space between them to start planting. Much work has been done digging out stumps around the Nid construction site, the left over soil from the foundation dig has been transformed into a beautiful sweet potato bed, and the Nid itself is transforming into in real structure. We finished the bamboo of the walls, made a couple more window openings, and put the bamboo lathes and then reed mats up on the roof – so all of that is about ready for the fabric and cement! I’ve also just started the half-dome roof over the loft, perhaps the most structurally challenging part of the entire building, with curves running in both directions, and then an eyebrow/gothic arch window out the back. I’m not good at making things easy for myself! Luckily everyone still seems to have great faith in my ability to make a house from sticks and string…

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Looking down into the kitchen.

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First lathes going on the roof.

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All the lathes on the roof.

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Miko and Landen helping put the reed mats up on the Nid roof.

 

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Mats all up and ready to be trimmed!

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Bamboo lathes forming the half-dome of the loft roof.

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Horizontal strips helping to form the curve.

Somewhere this week I found time to make banana wine, spicy mango-papaya kimchi, and fresh cheese! The banana wine will have to age 18-24 months before it will be pleasant, but the kimchi came out very well, after fermenting for about 4 days. The firm-ripe papaya maintained a slight crunch, while the ripe mango melded with the cilantro, salt, and chilli into a fabulous slurry. Feel free to hit me up for that recipe too, but I thought that today I’d share with you my easy Fromage Blanc recipe. It does take a couple of days from start to finish, but only about 10 minutes of that time involves any work at all!

What you’ll need:
1 gallon whole milk
1 sachet mesophillic cheese starter (available at most home-brew stores)
2 drops liquid rennet dissolved in 2 tablespoons water (or 1/4 tablet rennet)
1 2’x2′ cotton cloth, or an old cotton pillowcase (clean!) DO NOT USE CHEESECLOTH!
1 gallon or larger bowl or saucepan
Salt
Herbs (optional)

Leave the milk in a warm place until it has reached room temperature or about 85ºF. In winter this may mean leaving it in your oven so the pilot light warms it, or on top of the fridge. Pour 1 cup of milk out – make yourself a nice ice coffee. Once it’s at room temp, add the sachet of starter, replace lid, and swill around until mixed. Add the rennet and repeat. Leave in a warm place for 8-14 hours. By this time it will look like yoghurt. Now put your cloth or pillowcase draped in your large bowl, and carefully pour the contents of the milk jug into the cloth. Tie the cloth by its corners, and suspend over the bowl for 4-8 hours, until fairly firm. I do this by either hanging it from a hook in an overhanging cabinet, or from the back of a convenient chair with the bowl on the floor. If you plan to use the whey, be sure to cover the bowl with a second cloth, otherwise the pets and the bugs will all feast on it! Once your curds are no longer soupy, spread the cloth on a clean work surface, sprinkle the curds with about 1.5 tablespoons of salt, and some fresh or dried rosemary (if you like). Use a spatula to mix it until the salt is evenly distributed. Now, if you have a cheese mold, you can scrape it all into that, sit the mold on a glass, the glass in a bigger bowl, cover it all with a plastic bag, and stick it in the fridge for 24 hours. Otherwise, tie it back up, hang it for another 4-6 hours, then transfer it to a container in the fridge for 24 hours before eating. Enjoy! I use this in place of cream cheese; it has a much fuller flavour and a less sticky texture. It goes really well with a little chutney on fresh homemade bread or toast!

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Baby carambolas!

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Some muddy work shoes, for my friend Steven’s project, Sole Connection – go check it out!

Don’t forget that this Saturday is scheduled to be a Nidulari bake day! Please have your bread orders in by Friday at noon. If you’d like some of my special fresh coconut tarts, please mention it in your order so that I bake enough of them! We still have a variety of chutneys and a couple of jars of fabulous ginger-mango jam.

Have a great week, everyone!

Frivolous Flora

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We had a very pretty visitor come to see the Nid a few mornings ago – an iguana.

Yes, another week has come and gone here at Nidulari. The bamboo on the Nid walls has reached the top at the front, and has made great progress at the back. Beds have been dug, things have been planted – cacao, okra, amaranth, pidgin peas, and moringa. We’ve continued thinning out bush for our agroforestry experimental area, and may get the first hibiscus, moringa, chaya, and sweet potato going in there by next week!

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Perhaps, in the spirit of Mango Melee last weekend, I shall share with you my special recipe…which I recently typed up to share with Ridge to Reef farm for their CSA (community supported agriculture) members. It’s my very own, tropical, version of sangria; a hit every time I make it!

Mango Solstice
Serves 12
Inspired by mango season here on St Croix and the ever popular Sangria of summer parties far and wide, the Mango Solstice is a truly Crucian blend of fresh local mangoes, white rum, citrus, and ginger paired with the ripe fulness of red wine. Enjoy with lunch in the shade, or on a beautiful summer evening surrounded by the sounds of cicadas and coquìs in the trees.

3 ripe mangoes, peeled, cored, and cubed
8 whole cloves
3 limes or lemons, cut in quarters and lightly squeezed
1 inch fresh ginger, julienned
3 cups white rum
1 cup white sugar

1 cup Stones Ginger Wine
1 bottle of any kind of red wine
1 tray ice cubes

In the morning, place the first 6 ingredients in a 1/2 gallon mason jar or covered jug, shake well to combine, and place in the fridge for 6 to 12 hours, shaking or stirring a couple of times. Chill the wine. Within 30 minutes of serving, combine all the ingredients in a large punch bowl, garnish with Hibiscus flowers if you like, and serve with a ladle, making sure to have a little fruit in each glass.

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Our visitor decided to eat a tree instead.

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Before the banana beer (center back) exploded all over the ceiling…

With that, my friends, I shall leave you. For I am anticipating a relaxed weekend off, unexpected yet much needed! It shall hopefully give me time to recover from an unpleasant bump on the head (no names shall be named), and the general exhaustion from the ever-expanding list of ongoing projects! Lets just sit down for a drink and call it a week well worked. That is, after a trip to the beach with our long-suffering canine friends, who are less than thrilled by the heat of summer. Cheers!

The prize behind the pizza

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So, I just baked pizza for 20-odd people. The “best pizza on St Croix” according to at least one of our guests. For some reason I made enough dough for 32 10″ pizzas? No worries, it shall be turned into tasty sweet rolls for brunch tomorrow before Mango Melee. Back to pizza. Well, I’ve decided that I have a problem with pizza: it’s boring. I’ve mastered the thin, crispy crust in the wood fired oven, I’ve made half a dozen different tomato sauce variations and even a spicy papaya sauce, I’ve added countless toppings…but in the end, it still just tastes like pizza. I can’t make it interesting! Care to prove me wrong? Don’t worry, I’ll keep making pizza – it’s fun to make, so long as there are people there to enjoy it and to tell me how fabulous it is. We all need a little stroking of our respective egos once in a while, right? I was especially delighted to have a guest who was seeing the wood fired oven for the first time tonight, fellow foodie and blogger, Tanisha, of Crucian Contessa. All the best people converge in kitchens, or better yet around outdoor bake ovens!

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Rolling out pizzas under the newly finished bake oven roof.

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Pizza party!

If we’re done dwelling on the pizza dilemma…oh, wait, you have something to say? That’s what the comments section down below is for. Anyway…the great spring/summer drought seems to at last be over, which is awesome for the garden, less good for the building progress. Between the patches of rain, the extreme heat, and side-effects from a course of antibiotics (there’s a good reason why I try to avoid medications), I was unable to make much progress on the Nid this week. It’s sure to happen sometimes, and I did manage to harvest a batch of bamboo, and get a few more lathes up on the Nid walls – just not as many as I’d have liked to.

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Finishing the bake oven roof with Landen, our great WWOOF volunteer.

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Harvesting bamboo from a roadside.

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More lathes on the Nid, and Landen digging out stumps from the “front yard” before someone trips and kills themselves.

On the other hand, I did get a bunch of pidgin peas planted, found some pumpkin sprouts “planted” by the chickens, and found lots more flowers on both the carambola tree and the cucumber vines (despite innumerable ants on the latter). I also did some research on Chaya, also known as “tree spinach”, a South American tree with leaves that are toxic raw, yet edible once cooked. Turns out that despite traditional beliefs, chaya need only be boiled for at least 1 minute in order for the toxins to be broken down, leaving the leaves edible and substantially more nutritious than spinach or many other greens. Chaya just happens to be a plant that we already have growing, but had always been put off by the myth that it must be boiled for upwards of 30 minutes in order to be safely consumed – by which time it would be a tasteless, slimy mush! You can probably guess what’s on the menu for the next time I’m cooking.

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Inspecting sprouts.

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Pumpkin sprouts.

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Carambola flowers.

That’s it for this week, my dear followers, as I must be at the airport bright and early tomorrow morning to pick up our next WWOOF volunteer, before going to Mango Melee – one of the largest “festivals” on St Croix each year, featuring mango cooking and eating competitions, lectures, craft and produce stalls, etc. This fair happens each year at the wonderful St Georges Botanical Garden, a true treasure of St Croix with beautifully tended plant specimens from all over the tropical world. I’m not sure where the energy will come from, but it will doubtless be a fun afternoon of local culture!