31 December, 2013

Time and Other Things That Fly

2013 is flitting out of our lives and making way for 2014. 
Blue morpho butterfly, always on the move, just like time. 
2013 was an eventful year for us that passed in a blur.  Dennis and Max completed their first full year in Belize and Dennis celebrated a year of being retired.  I retired at the end of June 2013 and relocated to Belize in October.  We got our car imported to Belize too.
We love Belize dragonflies because they love mosquitoes.  This isn't part of the Mosquito Coast for nothing!
We actually haven't seen too many mosquitoes around our place.  The most bothersome insects are the various flies - sand flies, red flies, bottlass (bottle ass) flies, black flies.
Fortunately the dragonflies are voracious and non-discriminating eaters of flying insects.
 I still haven't started trying to key out the dragonflies; there are so many new critters and plants to learn.  Never a dull or boring moment!
Sometimes the air is thick with dragonflies. 
They perch on every little stick or twig to soak up the sun.
Even with all the dragonflies, 2013 brought me another "first" that I could have done without - a mosquito infected me with Dengue Fever earlier this month.  That was a week of hell and then several weeks of recovery.  Seem to be just about over it now.  I think I was mosquito bitten while at the plant nursery - lots of standing water there from flooding and plant watering.
This Tropical/Couch's Kingbird is one of many that reside at our place.
They also are big eaters of insects and are quite acrobatic in their flycatching.  Great entertainment.
 Now - ringing the old year out and the new year in are 2 butterflies.  I haven't ID'ed either of them - something I can do next year!  
Old and tattered, just like 2013.
What other plans for 2014?  Well, Dennis hopes to become a Belize resident.  That means we can bring in our household goods that are currently in storage in Minnesota down to Belize without horrendous import duties.  We would like to get the construction of the addition completed and get solar panels installed.  I would like to become qualified to apply for residency.  But when you get down to it, all that is really important is that we stay healthy and happy and continue to enjoy life in this semi-functional paradise called Belize.
Fresh and pristine, just like 2014.  Notice that it seems to have its head at the top, but really its head is at the bottom.  Don't know what that means for 2014!  We shall see... 
Wishing all the readers of this blog a very Happy, Healthy, and Delightful 2014.

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24 December, 2013

Melding Traditions: Tropical Ambrosia and Black Cake

One of my favorite Christmas food traditions is making (and eating) Ambrosia for Christmas Dinner dessert.  Now, ambrosia means different things to different people and I don't think most people associate it with Christmas like my family does.  In the southeastern part of the US, ambrosia is usually some sickening sweet concoction of miniature marshmallows thrown with canned fruit cocktail and jello (gelatin) into a mold.  

Ambrosia snobs that we are, my family turned our noses up at that mess and created our ambrosia from 3 simple ingredients lovingly and carefully assembled into layers in a cut glass bowl.  The 3 ingredients - freshly grated (by hand, mind you) coconut, navel orange segments, and sugar.  Needed to accomplish this were a big nail, and claw hammer, fine(ish) grater, paring knives, pretty glass bowl for assembly.  At least one time a balcony came in handy for flinging a recalcitrant coconut down on to pavement below.  Heads up!  And keep some bandaids at the ready.
Assembled ingredients for Tropical Ambrosia.  Local valencia oranges (they never turn orange on the outside) and young yellow coconuts.  The pitcher is full of the coconut water that came from the 3 coconuts.  The coconuts where whacked open with a machete, but the flesh was soft enough to scoop out with a spoon.
Traditionally the whole coconut had to have 3 holes made by pounding a large into the 3 "eyes" so you could drain the water out.  Once the water was drained the coconut would go into the oven and heated until the shell cracked enough to break it open.  This recipe is not for sissies!  Then the white meat had to be pried out of the shell and any brown skin had to be carefully cut away leaving pristine, white chunks of flesh.  The bigger the chunks the better because the next step - grating - often resulted in the need for bandaids if the chunks were too small.  (Remember - no sissies!)  After grating, be sure to remove any suspiciously pink pieces.  I guess I was really the only person who ever grated a finger tip, but it does stick in my memory! 
The white flesh of the young coconuts is very soft, almost jelly-like.  In fact it sometimes called coconut jelly at this stage.  I just chopped it since trying to grate it would be plain silly.  Much easier than that grating nonsense we used to go through!
Meanwhile someone else could be peeling the oranges.  First you cut the 2 ends off the oranges and then peel around so that the membrane is cut off the segments.  You wind up with a ball of naked orange in your hand.  Then you go back and carefully cut each segment out, leaving behind the membranes that separate the segments.  When the segments are out, squeeze the rest to get all that good fresh juice out.  
These oranges are much juicier than navel oranges.  Nice and sweet, too.
The assembly is simply to put down a layer of segments, a little sugar (depending on how sweet that year's oranges were), a fluffy layer of grated coconut, segments, sugar, coconut, winding up with coconut on top.  Then drizzle over whatever juice remains.  Then the bowl is refrigerated so that the coconut has time to soak up the flavor of the orange, or is it the other way around? 
This will look a lot more elegant when I get my good dishes shipped down to Belize, but for now RubberMaid does the trick. I should probably chop the coconut a little finer, too.  Remember this is Take One, improvements will be made.
Since the flavor and texture of the young coconut profoundly affect the final product, I decided to call this Tropical Ambrosia.  Traditionally, we would serve this along side fruitcake or other dessert and here in Belize it seems to be perfectly paired with Black Cake.  I am not really sure what is in black cake aside from nuts.  It does taste very much like fruit cake.  Joy made this one and it is super dense and super delicious.  
The Black Cake is almost Black Hole Cake, it is so dense and flavor packed.
The slight tartness of the ambrosia and its crisp lightness make it the perfect foil to the heavy richness of the Black Cake.
A new tradition - Tropical Ambrosia and Black Cake.
Another tradition - wishing family and friends a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  So to readers of this blog - May you have a delightful holiday enjoying the traditions that make it special.  Cheers!
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22 December, 2013

Yellow #2 (for Vivian)

Sometime back I posted "Yellow #1".  Here, I am finally following up with Yellow #2.  I saw this lovely Orange-barred Sulfur when we were staying at DuPloy's with our friends Chris and Sue in Oct, 2010.  They never alite with spread wings (the butterflies, not Chris and Sue.  But they probably don't either, come to think of it.), but I caught this one in flight showing off its bright colors. DuPloy's has a wonderful Botanic Garden and the grounds around the lodge are landscaped in native plants; an amazing variety of birds and other wildlife can be seen to their advantage in the natural setting.
Phoebis philea, orange-barred sulfer
Another photo from the past shows a ruby-throated hummingbird catching some nectar at the yellow flowers of Delonix regia, the flamboyant tree.  Most often you see this tree or shrub with red flowers, but in that case it wouldn't in the "Yellow #2" blog posting.  These wonderful small trees need lots of sun, but not much else.  We have several on our property and I am sure we will plant more once our major construction projects are complete.
In the photo below is even more yellow flamboyant, along some of the other colors we have.  And the yellow banana and the yellowing (ripening) papayas.
All of these grew at our place.  Papayas are transient trees, actually they are not even true trees.  Anyhow - they live for maybe a couple of years and then fall over, get blown over, or some such.  Our trees are usually what ever volunteers in the compost heap.
While on the subject of yellow food, here is a beauty that is rarely sold commercially around here due to its delicate flesh - a cashew "fruit".  Well, it is not exactly a fruit, but it is a sweet, juicy, fleshy thing, so fruit works for me.  In some areas it is called a cashew apple.  Like the 3 pictures above, this was taken in Oct. 2010.  Must have been a good month/year for yellow ...
The little kidney-shaped thing at the end of the fruits is actually the cashew nut.  I may be the only person in the world who doesn't like cashew nuts, but I do like the fruits. 
Coconut flowers are yellow.  You don't really think of coconuts as having flowers, do you?  They are easy to overlook, not because they are small (the individual flowers are small, but whole flowering structure is huge), but because they are tucked into the bases of the fronds and are often so high overhead that you just don't see them. This one was on a young palm that kindly presented its flower at my eye level.  There is often a lot of insect activity around the flowers.
Male and female flowers are on the same big structure.  The little blobs are tiny young coconuts.
I must have been hungry while I selected these photos - the next one is of a produce market in Placencia. Lots of good yellows there.
Starting in the yellow basket on the left edge of the photo are yellow bananas, below them are yellow onions.  In the middle column of baskets we have yellow star fruit (carambola) and some yellow corn on the cob.  Then the right hand column has yellow plantians hanging, yellow oranges, yellow limes, and yellow grapefruit.  "So where are the lemons" you ask?  I ask that a lot, too.  We rarely get lemons here.  Odd.
Gotta work on that lemon thing. 
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19 December, 2013

The Breadfruit Tree

In August of 2006, we bought a breadfruit tree at the plant nursery near Dangriga for $35 BZ (=$17.50 US).  Because it is sensitive to salt spray and it doesn't like wet feet, we planted it toward the northwest corner of our property at a relatively high spot as far away from the sea as possible.  We weren't sure if it would grow in even the best conditions we could provide for it, but wanted to chance it because not only are breadfruit great to eat, the trees are magnificent when they get a little age on them.
The little breadfruit tree with its 6 brave leaves on planting day.
We were told to expect it to bear fruit in about 7 years, which is why we were anxious to plant it as soon as possible before we moved here.  Each time we went down to Belize, I would take a photo of Joy standing next to the breadfruit tree to provide a sense of scale.  Photos in the collage below were taken in Jan 2008, Sept 2008 (top row), Mar 2009, Sept 2009 (middle row), and Apr 2010, Oct 2010 (bottom row).  The tree grew amazingly fast!

Is it my imagination or is Joy shrinking over time?
Breadfruit originated in New Guinea and was spread by humans, primarily Polynesians about 3500 years ago, as they migrated into new areas.  In slightly more recent history (late 18th century), breadfruit was sought by British colonial administrators and plantation owners in the West Indies as a cheap food source for slaves.  Remember Captain Bligh and The Mutiny on the Bounty?  He was tasked with securing breadfruit plantlets to bring to the West Indies on that infamous expedition.  No success that time, but on his do-over he did manage to bring live plants to the West Indies.  Ironically, all was for nought because at first the slaves refused to eat breadfruit.  Today, however, breadfruit has risen above that blight on its history and is a valued food source in the West Indies and Central America.
I took this photo in Feb 2013 looking up along the trunk.  The symmetry is quite appealing to me.
Now the tree is a little over 7 years old and is bearing its second crop of breadfruit.  The tree stands about 35 feet tall and will eventually get twice the size.  It is a little sparser than many breadfruit trees I have seen in the interior of Belize; that is probably because conditions are not optimal for it here.  The first "crop" was only 1 or 2 breadfruits and this crop is about 12.  Older, more filled out trees could have 100 or more fruits at a time.    
Tiger, in the gold-colored shirt, is deciding how to reach the breadfruit dangling near the end of the branch.  The long branches are pliable enough to bend toward him while he stays near the trunk.
Most of these fruits came in pairs.  When they go from bright green to a little yellowish, they are mature.
The breadfruits are quite large and heavy.
We'll roast this one as the initial step for many dishes.  There are other recipes that start with raw breadfruit; I'll talk about them in another post.

Cut the excess stem off first thing.  Look at all that latex pouring out!  Very sticky.
Next stab it in about 15 places to prevent it from exploding in the oven.  A great task when you are feeling particularly aggressive.
After roasting at 350 F for 1.5 hrs, it is a beautiful bronze color.
It is easier to peel if you cut it in half first.  After peeling it, remove the core.  The dark streaks are from the knife stabs.
One breadfruit goes a long way.  From this one, Dennis used half to make more than 2 quarts of chowder (similar to potato soup), I did a trial of making flour using less than a quarter, and a trial of baked chips from the remainder.  The chowder is wonderful, one of our favorite soups to keep on hand in the freezer.  The baked chips were pretty good, but need some finessing.  The key will be to use a mandolin or food processor to get them sliced consistently thin.  I will use the flour with some regular flour then next time I bake bread.  I'll keep you posted.
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