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Celebration!

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It’s been a big week here at Nidulari: we are now St Croix’s newest “mobile food service”! All the inspections are complete, the license is in the mail, and we’re ready to roll. So, come join us for a celebratory “open house” 11-4 on Saturday, August 20th, kicking off our new opening hours, lunch items, drinks, and more. Mandy’s Mahogany Road Ceramics Studio will also be open for a “5 year sale” and clay demos. Queen CariBEE will be here with jams, jellies, soaps and more!

Our event menu includes plenty of vegetarian and vegan items:

Preview of “Lunch Menu for 8-20”

The last few items are being moved into the kitchen between rain showers, the fridge will soon be stocked, and cooking shall commence! The first test runs have been blissful, with miles of stainless steel countertop, enormous sinks, hot running water…I shall soon be completely spoiled!

Heat

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Summer is spinning by, out of control; hot, gorgeous days, with warm breezes rustling through the forest whispering “the beach…the beach…go to the beach…”

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Stars fell…

I’ve been pondering lately. A lot. You could even say too much. And then, one of the questions I’ve been dwelling on came up randomly in conversation, twice. What, in life, is a waste of time? Why do many of us feel guilty for spending time doing things that we enjoy, that invigorate us or that ease our minds, if those things are not thought of as “productive”? Now, I’m not saying that binge-watching of B-rated TV shows on Netflix is great for anyone, mentally or physically…but what about when that feeling of guilt extends to reading, making art, or simply relaxing, meditating, or taking a while to reflect on things? When it extends to taking a walk or going to the beach? It’s so easy to get caught up in all that’s going on in the world, and to spend hours getting vacuumed into arguments over everyone else’s problems, or to feel that every waking moment must be spent furthering your goals and ambitions, or fixing the world. What is “enough”? And when you’ve reached “enough”, what then? When all your basic needs are met, when you’re trundling along…maybe with an 8-hour workday, maybe more, maybe less…can you let yourself go, can you sit back and enjoy it all, can you not feel guilty for spending the afternoon entrenched in a great book or sitting in the garden watching the ducks? Does that point ever come, or must it be consciously learned, in this culture of “more”?

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Does a cat, in a circle, know where the end is?

I gave myself a mental time-out last weekend. It was great. Two days of no computer, no facebook, no emails, no camera, and pretty much nothing “useful” to do, away from my work, from my life; sailing to St Thomas and back aboard s/v Aimée. Physically present–needed on board as crew–but mentally freewheeling, it was at first hard; hard to let go, hard to justify this time away. Then the seasickness kicked in, and let’s just say I became much less concerned about the piles of paperwork I’d left behind, or the chickens and ducks going about their merry day. But coming back…the trees seemed greener, the shade cooler, the birds and frogs chirpier than before. And it seemed ok to sit down in the heat of the day, to spend a few minutes in the shade, luring a slow-moving tortoise with specially-picked hibiscus flower…

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Where are the lionfish hunters? I will make ceviche for you…

Back in reality, there’s a hurricane of paperwork. Having been dreading, for months, going to the DLCA (department of licensing and consumer affairs) I finally got all my papers together and went in. To my great astonishment, all three people I’ve had contact with at DLCA so far have been delightful, helpful, and oh-so-encouraging about the licensing process and my “new” business ventures! Sadly, my electrician has, as of now, still not shown up to hard-wire the kitchen to the power source, so I’m having to delay the Health and Fire inspections until that is complete. Getting things done in the land of “this week” (meaning probably not this week) can be so, so challenging. On the flip side, the DMV (department of motor vehicles) has upped its game (perhaps due to the mandatory purchase of centennial plates?) and the inspector now “inspects” 5+ vehicles at a time… Perhaps he got the same memo as the Agriculture inspector, who can apparently inspect a property without ever seeing it. Hey, I’m not complaining.

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Bagel beginnings.

Now, the afternoon heat is beginning to recede, a batch of mango catsup cools in jars on the counter, and it is so peaceful, here in the forest. There is work to be done, for sure, but there’s no sense of urgency. It’s summertime, in St Croix.

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Nidulari at Mango Melee! Thanks for the 2nd place award in Mango Dis Mango Dat for our Slightly Spicy Mango Chutney!

July Stand By

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Miss Fluffycheeks…first chicken hatched at Nidulari.

Ever heard the old hurricane season saying?

June’s too soon,
July stand by,
August it must,
September remember,
October it’s over.

Well, this year the “standing by” isn’t just about waiting around for hurricanes (who have in recent years been breaking the rules, forming both early and late)…it’s also about waiting around for tradenames, licensing, inspections, and ultimately getting to use this shiny new kitchen! Can’t wait!

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Henny Penny…an 8+ year old hen who still lays an egg every other day!

There is progress on the Tradename situation: my application is in, “Nidulari” is paid for, and I’m just waiting to get the certificate in the mail! As soon as that arrives, I can go down to the DLCA and (hopefully) get everything in order.

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Breadnut sprouts. Some will be kept as breadnuts, some I’ll try to graft with breadfruit.

Meanwhile, there’s Mango Melee to prepare for (July 10th, mark your calendars), a little painting to be finished, and lots of landscaping to be done…trying to make the kitchen as minimal an eyesore as possible. Even in among the trees, it’s pretty difficult to hide a 40′ steel container!

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Bombay

Of course, even on my “day off” I can’t help but play around in the kitchen. A couple of weeks ago I had my first, less than successful, try at making bagels. Well, this weekend I took another crack at it…and those were some tasty, beautiful bagels; so much better than any found in a store (unless, maybe, you live in NYC). The moral of this, my friends, is not to give up after your first try at something. Perseverance really does pay off…(sometimes…not advocating beating a dead horse or anything here).

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Zozo the chow has also learned that perseverance pays off; if you push hard and long enough at a gate it bends, breaks, or bounces open. When in doubt, just chew through the wooden bars. All this to “visit” the chickens…no harm, no “fowl”…yet.

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Bacardi

June Jitters

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It is summertime, through and through. Every week, another person seems to be saying their goodbyes for the summer; some forever. It is a quiet time of year socially and economically, a time for planning, starting projects, finishing projects, and of trying to glide through to the busier, more productive winter season.

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As many of you know, this is a big year for me, during which I’m putting everything I have; physically, emotionally, and financially; into creating my new kitchen workspace so that I may expand my business into a full-time, self-sustaining, above-board venture where I may continue to follow my passion for cooking and creating delicious, healthy, local, natural food to go on both my table and yours. I could not have come even this far without all of your support and encouragement, especially those of you who stop by every week or place orders, both large and small, on a regular basis. You are what keeps bread on my table, and your steady patronage is what allows me to keep doing what I’m doing. So, thank you all!

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Having said that–and many thanks to my friend and customer who recently pointed this out to me–in these summer months we all sometimes get a little lazy, be it about driving across island to pick up an order, or about getting around to shopping and cooking, or just about remembering that delicious, wholesome, locally produced food is but an email or phone call away! So let me remind you, food is here! If you’re West, I’m right here by you. If you’re East, I drive out to you every Thursday. If you’re in-between, I’m more than happy to deliver, especially if you can arrange to order in groups (maybe more than one person in your office would like something? Maybe a neighbour would like to be in on the order?) – just talk to me and I will make getting your order as easy as possible. If you’re doing frequent bulk orders for your business or office, I’ll even give you a discount! I can also ship certain items stateside! I know that we all tighten our belts each summer, but your steady patronage is what gets small businesses like mine through each summer to see another year – and to gradually grow to a point where summer isn’t a scary time.

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For any and all orders this summer, thank you, thank you, thank you. If you’d like an event, dinner, or lunch catered, small or large, my schedule is open and I promise summer-time special rates! Now for an update on the container kitchen.

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Interior paint complete!

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Lights!

My last pennies for the week jangle in my pocket as I lie upside-down under the container, silently cursing (in words I shall not share) the PVC pipes that just won’t do what I need them to do. Much like a game of chess, I move one piece only to endanger another, rescue that one to lose a third, think everything is safely in checkmate only to have a joint burst forth under pressure. One more piece, down to KaMaKris I drive. One more piece. Every clerk knows my name. This is me and plumbing. My humble advice to everyone else: hire a plumber.

What I’ve learned about electrical? Budgeting is entirely useless. However, I finally have lights (that work!), some outlets…and one day I might even get hard-wired into the main system. Not today, alas. Electricians seem most elusive and difficult beings to catch.

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“Blending”

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Roof paint!

About painting shipping containers? There’s more rust than you think, so just go ahead and use oil-based paint. Silly me. Still, the sludge-green exterior does blend beautifully with the mango and avocado trees, so at least I got something right! And the elastomeric paint on the roof seems to have sealed the problem areas pretty well for now…

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Refinishing a salvaged counter and sink.

On a positive note, apart from a little final plumbing, electrical, and paint, I’m about ready to have the kitchen inspected by the powers that be, and then to get up and running more days each week! Of course the licensing process is a whole other can of worms…so far I’ve been informed (after waiting two weeks to be called) that “Nidulari” is not available locally as a tradename…and so it goes on. More updates on that situation soon – keep your fingers crossed for me that it all works out! Of course, if you have words of wisdom in regards to getting through this process on St Croix, I’m all ears.

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Brioche! Delicious…making them again this week!

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Mango Bourbon Jam…best thing since sliced bread.

Along with the weekly markets, next Sunday (Father’s Day) Nidulari is hosting Good Samaritan of Haiti’s Bee-Keeping Coffee Morning, raising funds for one of St Croix’s bee keepers, Toni Downs, to teach a bee keeping course in Isle A Vache, Haiti next month. The event runs 10am-1pm, $10 donation for coffee/honey basil lemonade and a giant cinnamon bun (proceeds go directly into the program), with arts, crafts, and Nidulari goodies also available for purchase. Click through for the Facebook event page. Hope to see many of you there!

Concrete conditions

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So it’s our second day of thunderous skies and heavy rain – perfect for curing concrete, not so good for anything else! A few days ago we bravely faced the daunting task of jacking up the front end of the container so that the temporary blocks could be removed and replaced with strong concrete columns. Turns out that jacking up a 9,000lb metal box a couple of inches isn’t actually that difficult (thanks to the generous loan of a floor jack from a neighbor), and after that, pouring a simple slab, setting some blocks, and pouring a small concrete topper were a piece of cake. Now the 100% humidity is surely curing the columns into the strongest concrete you ever have seen. Below is a quick step-by-step of the (very rudimentary) concrete setup, poured slab, and building the concrete-filled block column. You could use this method for any small outdoor concrete project – for this particular task we used quickcrete readymix as the quantities were too small to warrant buying a truck-load of sand and one of gravel. You’ll note that I was lazy and laid rough stone “forms” for the ground-level pour, rather than assembling a wood frame – it’ll all get covered up eventually so aesthetics were not important. The quickcrete was “stretched” by adding small stones as it was troweled into the forms (and block holes) – this halved the amount of mix required while still maintaining full strength. The columns will cure for several days before the container is set back down on them.

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A rough stone “form” with rebar. During the pour a rebar “U” shape was added, to reach up into the blocks. Small stones keep the rebar from sinking too low in the slab.

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Poured slab, nicely leveled, ready to cure overnight before building up.

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Laying the first blocks – note the rebar coming up through the centers.

 

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Form for the top cast – during the pour it was clamped in place with bar clamps.

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I hope this was a useful little outline! Feel free to ask questions if any of the details aren’t clear and you’re planning a similar project.

It’s Sunday, and that means Nidulari and Queen CariBEE are open for orders! Head over to our Produce & Products page in the menu bar above to see everything that we have available this week. Cheers!

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It’s a hot, breezy Sunday afternoon, and the power is out yet again.Were it not, I’d still be wrestling a door (and frame) into a not-quite-large-enough-opening in my beautiful…ok…ugly but serviceable…container. Instead, I get to watch the ducks grow, listen to the chickens having their afternoon gossip, and provide a comfortable napping surface for two small felines.

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The week–in between baking, Art Thursday in C’sted, and catching escapee chickens–has been solely commandeered by the arrival of my 40′ shipping container: the basis of my “soon come” new kitchen. After its nerve-wracking delivery, crane and all, we jumped right in with a thorough pressure-washing inside and out, then started on the interior paint while the threat of rain passed over. By now, the interior paint is nearly finished–except for the floor–and with help from our neighbour, Ernie, the hole has been cut for the laundry-room door…leaving me with the daunting task of installing the door frame (with Jan’s patient assistance, whilst Mandy gives instruction from a safe distance, nursing a sprained ankle).

The next few weeks will be a whirlwind of painting, plumbing, electrical systems, and building a deck and steps, before all the accumulated kitchen components can be cleaned up and placed inside so I’ll be able to figure out my working space. What an exciting time!

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Morning, Noon, and Night

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AKA “Compost, Quacks, and Purrs”.

So, I was just up hoeing over some garden beds; remember those hugelkultur experiments we were making with our WWOOF volunteers two summers ago? Well, the first one, we’ve been using steadily ever since we built it, replanting as needed with season-appropriate veggies, mostly mustard, bokchoy, arugula, and lettuce, with some basil and cilantro thrown into the mix. That bed has been holding up well, with plenty of mulch and compost added periodically, though it is having some shrinkage issues as with any raised bed. Most of the other hugelkultur beds had been left fallow after the first season. This was mostly an issue of the three of us getting overwhelmed with watering and with having an excess of greens (imagine that!) along with several mostly-failed crops of okra and sorrel. I finally decided that it’s time to up our greens production and get in a batch of okra to (hopefully) see us through the hot summer months. Guess what I found in those old hugelkultur beds; kind of flattened, covered with grass, wandering jew, and other weeds? Under that thick mat of roots (hoed under to increase soil fertility) was the best, blackest, softest soil our garden has ever had! There are still some rotting logs left in the centers of the rows, but the coconut husk, wood ash, leaves, soil, and smaller branches have melded into perfect, rich soil.

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The plants will be the judge of just how scrumptious that soil is, but my skepticism of the hugelkultur beds is certainly somewhat abated. The three negative points I would cite in this gardening method are the limited water (and soil) retention during the first growing season, the destruction from rats during the first season (they love to burrow through the coconut husk), and the run-off of soil from the sloped sides of the beds. The first two issues could be remedied by building the beds a season in advance, and letting them lie fallow, maybe covered with cardboard, until somewhat decomposed and ready to plant. Or perhaps a nitrogen-fixing cover crop  could be used the first season, its roots helping to break down the components of the bed more rapidly than time and insect activity alone. The latter issue I have solved by simply hoeing the runoff soil (now in the pathways) back onto the bed before replanting: this only becomes difficult if the entire bed is not being replanted at once, meaning that mine are being done in sections. All in all, this remains a great use of both excess wood and (particularly) waste coconut husk; a terrible centipede attraction when left to compost down in the open.

In other news, this week we greet several new arrivals: kittens Bacardi and Bombay, and 6 big bold ducklings!

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Ducks! Around 4 weeks old.

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Meet Bacardi, around 10 weeks old. He and his brother, Bombay, were patiently waiting for a home to call their own, under the great care of the St Croix Animal Welfare staff. They didn’t know that they were looking for a canine best friend, but Bombay soon figured out that Juno is the one!DSC_9195DSC_9139

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Tortoise hatchling #1(2016), 3 weeks old.

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Rescue Rooster (2 months old?), doing bug control around the yard and keeping the “Trushies” away from my cherry tomatoes.

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Bombay.

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Bacardi.

Hope you enjoyed this peak into life over here at the Nidulari Homestead! Remember, you can place orders via the Produce page to share in the bounty of our land (and Queen CariBEE’s too), or stop by the Nidulari Gypsy Vardo on Wednesday for lots of delicious baked goods and more. Every purchase helps to allow me to stay here doing what I’m doing and gives me time to write about it all too!