Sunday, December 20, 2009

Recipe- Multitasking with Lemon, Ginger, and Chocolate

The other day I heard about this ginger, coconut milk, chocolate drink from my friend Ashley.  She'd had it in Asheville, NC and I thought, what better place to make that than here in Dominica where every ingredient can be local?   At the same time I was requested to make ginger lemonade.  I had to sweeten both drinks with a little something and since they both were to be flavored with ginger I thought- why not make some candied ginger and use the syrup?  I don't know quite where the sugar I used came from (although from the infamous past with sugar down here I could be fairly certain it is at least regional (the sugar is nice, it is processed very little and has a rich molasses taste) but everything else came from either the woods by beach or the farmer's market.

Candied Ginger

Take a few roots of the freshest ginger you can find (here it is is usually straight out of the dirt- I thought for the longest time that when ginger was woody it was just from an older plant.  I think I am coming to realize that it is has been sitting around longer above ground and more dried out- or maybe both are correct.  Either way, if the skin looks really thin and pale (almost watery) and when you break off a piece you don't see any tough fibers then you have the perfect hunk of candying ginger).  Peel the ginger with either a knife or a peeler- if it is rather twisty it is actually easier to use a paring knife.  Cut the ginger either into thinish slices or 1/4 inch chunks (I cut mine into chunks).  Dissolve sugar into an equal amount of water (I used a cup of each for about a cup of ginger- you want to ginger to be submerged but no more than that).  To dissolve the sugar heat over low heat- stirring.  If the water boils before the sugar is dissolved you are in big trouble so don't let that happen.  Once the sugar is dissolved add the ginger and cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the bubbles have turned from big to very fine and in little clusters.  If you get a little of the syrup on a spoon and let it drip off the drip should hang for a second in a nice syrup string.  Or you can drop a little bit into a cup of cold water.  If it forms into a ball when you move it around with your finger it is ready.  Don't stir too much now because the sugar will start to crystallize- you want it to stay a thick syrup.  Now you can either just leave the ginger in the syrup until you are ready to use it (it should get very thick as it cools) or do what I did.  I scooped all the ginger pieces out with a fork and tossed them in sugar and let them dry on a paper bag.  I saved the syrup (I watered it down a teeny bit) for...


There are these really great lemons here that are as big as oranges and look like they have some kind or horrible bumpy skin condition.  They look so funky and I was surprised when the farmer said it was a lemon.  I bought them and took them home and it's the honest truth- it really is a lemon...  I had also bought some sub-par tangerines (they are usually very juicy, sweet and seedy but these were just seedy and rather dry- not good for eating but the juice was very nice) and thought they would be good in this juice to add a little sweetness without sugar.

Squeeze three lemons and two tangerines.  Mix with water until it tastes right to you (I mixed it with about four cups of water)  Sweeten with ginger syrup to taste (it is always a little surprising how much sweet you need to make lemons less shockingly sour.  If you feel like you have used enough sugar but it's still not sweet enough, switch to honey). Serve over ice.  Don't forget to save a little of the ginger syrup for....

Chocolate Coconut Ginger Milk

At the market here you can buy sticks of chocolate- or coco, as they call it.  It is made simply from pounded cacao seeds that have been fermented, dried, and roasted.  I had a few pods awhile ago but just went as far as to get the nibs out and roast them (I made a coconut ginger coco nib candy- but although that sounds the same as this story, it's not).  Here all of it is just shaped into logs with no added sugar or other flavoring.   It is pretty astringent and the coco logs are very coarse but it works perfectly for an extremely stimulating cup of hot chocolate.   I recently found a man in the market who sells coco logs and vanilla.  There are a lot of women who have little bags of their hand ground coco but this was the first vanilla I've seen.  I used the seeds from my first bean in sugar cookies and threw the pod in a bottle of rum to be used later.... 

I make coconut milk myself from coconuts we gather down at the beach (either ones already on the ground or knocked down from the trees)-  that is also another story and I will tell it again sometime because since I last told it I have developed a new method (much easier of course)

- Two cups fresh coconut milk
- One cup finely grated unsweetened coco
- Half a cup of boiling water
- Ginger syrup

You can cook the coco in the coconut milk but I prefer to just steep it in the boiling water til cool (to melt the chocolate) to avoid the possibility of the milk curdling.   Whisk the two together and add syrup to taste.  It should be fairly sweet just from the coconut milk.  If it is sweet enough but you want more ginger, just grate a bit of fresh ginger into the mixture.  Be careful though- ginger is very strong and you don't want to be accused, as I have, of using it medicinally in everything (that means I overdo it)...  If you serve this right away it is fine just as it is.  If you prefer to chill it (I do) then put it in the blender before serving.  This breaks up any solidified coconut fat and also makes this amazing frothy head on the milk.  Serve as an afternoon pick-me-up or as a special treat at night if you are planning on staying up awhile.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Recipe- Pumpkin and Pink Bean Soup and Sweet Potato Fries

"Pumpkin" here isn't what we call pumpkin but it is a very bright orange hard squash that works just as well.  I use it in almost everything (obviously).  Pink beans are these small beans that look like little pintos but are pinkish- almost red but not really.  They are SOOOO good and if we have them at home I can't believe I've never eaten them.  I don't even know what we'd call them- they have an amazing texture- very full, rich and satisfying.  Of course any bean would work just as well.....

Pumpkin and Pink Bean Soup

  • 1 cup dry pink beans, soaked overnight and boiled with one chopped onion, four cloves crushed garlic, and a pinch of whole cumin seeds until soft- throw in a little salt at the very end(takes 30 minutes to an hour and a half- depending on the beans and how long they were soaked)
  • 1 good sized wedge of pumpkin (maybe enough for 4 cups)- chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Chicken, vegetable, or maybe even beef broth (about 6-8 cups)
  • 1 sprig rosemary- de-stemmed and chopped
  • Salt and Pepper

Cover the chopped pumpkin in broth, bring to boil with a generous pinch of salt and reduce to simmer til falling-apart-soft (you can also bake the whole piece (skin on) in a 350 degree oven  on a pan with a little water til it is mushy- scrape off skin and proceed).  Add the rosemary and blend till really smooth (if you don't have a blending device just smash it up before you add more liquid).  Add the beans- try to scoop up the onion and garlic as well.   You can add a bit of bean broth too but the soup will be murky and not orange- not that there's anything wrong with that.  Add hot broth or even water if you've run out of broth (I usually do- I thaw out a yogurt container of broth from the freezer and that is never enough it seems) until it is the consistency you like it. Leave the beans whole and serve with sweet potato fries and a cucumber avocado salad (or anything you dern well want to.  Cornbread and kale would be perfect as well- we just don't have those down here)

Sweet Potato Fries
 These should be called sweet potato bakeds because they sure ain't fried.  I never mess with fries (real or sweet potato) because baked is even better sometimes....

  • Sweet Potatoes (around one medium sized one per person- or more)
  • Coconut Oil (or olive oil or lard if that's what you have) 
  • Cumin, rosemary, paprika, thyme... anything you want (or none at all)
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to anywhere between 350-400 degrees (the lower if you have more time, the higher if you have less and like them crispier)

Peel the sweet potatoes and slice them into strips or chunks.  Throw them on a baking pan- make sure not to crowd or stack them because they will just get really mushy.  Drizzle oil over them, sprinkle salt and any other desired seasoning.  Mix it all together and spread the potatoes out on the pan.  If they aren't all greased up add a little more oil.  But you don't need too much because it will just sit there and pop all over the oven.  You do want them all the be covered though or they will just stick, burn, and/or dry up.  Bake til brown- stir them with a spatula often to keep them evenly cooking- about thirty minutes, depending on the oven temperature.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Portsmouth Market (and other such market related things)- Dominica

My whole life my mother has told me that I don’t like big crowds of people- that I’m a homebody and big groups of people make me uncomfortable and nervous.  Of course, since it was my mother informing me and not myself, I have spent the greater part of my life enduring unnecessary torture by forcing myself to go into big crowds of people.  Finally one day someone ELSE told me that same thing and I realized they were RIGHT.  I DON’T like big groups of people.  They make me very claustrophobic and nervous and I have a hard time focusing on anything.    It was such a relief to finally admit it.  The rebellion was over.                                                            

BUT, that aside, I’ve found that part of the reason I LOVE farmer’s markets is the crowds if people.  I love the jostling (this morning I was actually grabbed by the arms and moved out of the way by a little woman doing her shopping- I obviously was looking at the plantains for way too long), the laughter, the talking, bargaining, buying, gossiping.  I love to see people walking around eating things- or the people who are selling the food eating things.  I love little bundles of herbs tied with string, dogs walking around looking for scraps, children sniffing ginger, and people shouting as you walk by- hey! Buy this, look at that, some see this and you will have to buy it, it is so nice!    Of course this is not Riverbend or Wal-Mart size (yes, that counts as a large group of people to me- especially if you add the fluorescent lights and plastic bright colors) but is defiantly a big group of people and they are not shy.  (I did survive Terra Madre just fine and that was well over seven thousand people- a lot of which were also farmers.  I think it is the farmers and the people who love real farmers that I feel completely comfortable with- I could be around a million of those types for ages, just as long as I had somewhere alone and quiet to go every now and again).

Of course the other market I know well- the Main Street Farmer’s Market- is not quite up to this scale yet.  There isn’t quite enough shouting in Chattanooga in general.  Instead of waving here they just shout- they shout Ok! Alright! (the person they are shouting at’s) Name! Good morning! Hello!   It seems to work fine and you always know when someone’s coming.  But back to the market-  As a farmer’s daughter and another farmer’s sister I kind of have a little inside view on the market back home.   I’ve heard what the customer’s complaints and suggestions are- not enough signage as in… not enough information about the farm, prices aren’t clearly marked, or the farmers talk too much (I have yet to meet a farmer who doesn’t have that problem), the farmers don’t talk enough to new customers, the farmer’s daughter eats way too many muscadines, nobody has printed recipes….  All of these are TOTALLY legitimate complaints/suggestions.    I defiantly eat more than my share in muscadines- I also know I talk too much to people I already know and not enough to people I don’t.  There certainly could be clearer information about whether the farms are organic, what they believe in, where they are exactly, etc.  I am sure that recipes would be most welcome, especially if you really want to buy something you’ve never bought before and don’t know how to cook it.  All of those would be my personal expectations if I were going to a market I’d never been to.

I had to drop all that here.  Nobody is remotely interested in attractive display- they sit the food on the table and there it is (although it is usually in neat piles, pre-bunched, bagged, counted or weighed).  As far as I can tell most farmers don’t come- it’s usually the wives or some other clean looking woman.  I’m sure some of the woman are farmers too but they are the ones with dirt on them.  You have to ask the price for everything, ask what everything is that you don’t know, ask how to cook it (usually boiling is the answer).   Is this organic? is not a question that is very well understood.  I just look for bug holes in cabbage or discoloration in citrus.  Some of it most certainly has to be organic- avocados, citrus, pineapples, plantains and bananas, pumpkin, and all the starches among other things all grow like they are wild- whether they are tended or not.  Surely they are ‘organic.’  The other things like tomatoes, herbs, greens, occasionally pineapples, or carrots I can’t be so sure about.  Despite the fact that this place is lusher than Tennessee in June I have heard rumors that nasty chemicals got introduced here and now some people just think they have to use them.  But I really don’t have any way of knowing.  I guess I could stand there and question each farmers in depth but I just don’t feel like I want to.   It is hard enough to even get noticed.  Despite the fact I am an advocate for shouting I am not the shouting type in a new market situation.  I usually just walk up and hope my shy white face gets noticed and I stick the how much or what is this called question on them.  Sometimes they pretend like I’m not there and sit with their back to me talking to the woman at the stall across, maybe to turn lazily around after I’ve stood there inspecting their goods doggedly for awhile (I don’t want to seem rude, pushy, or demanding but if I want that particular bunch of bananas I’m gonna dern well get it). This is not happening as often as it did at first- I think I am beginning to get recognized (maybe as that crazy white girl who buys five bags worth of food and some tall handsome white guy in her tow carry them).  Unfortunately this makes me realize how a new Main Street goer must feel sometimes- you have to be persistent and really love fresh produce to get noticed.    Personally I don’t see anything wrong with that.  I feel like here they might be used to tourists who are just there to look and not buy.  They will sell out- or sell enough- regardless and aren’t really interested in hooking someone who may or may not buy and will probably not be around next week. 

One thing though that I find similar to Chattanooga and other US cities are the ‘buzz words’ that are used here.  I walked by a sugar can seller today (they bring whole canes and strip off the outer husk and cut the canes into pieces with cutlasses or cleavers- very dramatic) and he shouted at me Sugar Cane! It’s natural- It’s local!  How many times have I heard local or natural as selling words or words of interest pertaining to food?  It is strange that an island this size is having to use the word local as a selling point to it’s local customers.  I wonder if some of this is a way to attract tourist attention (someone tried to sell me a “local” cd the other day) or if the country really is having to focus back in on itself like every other country is having to do.    This is defiantly not a ‘touristy’ country.  I think they would really like to be but somehow this island has resisted tourism so far- despite the fact there is a boiling lake, the land is beautiful, and Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here.  They are not being invaded too heavily with people with money to attract but still they use this word ‘local’ as a selling point.   I have seen several billboards urging citizens to “Eat more fish from the sea that surrounds us!” or to support local business or eat food from the farmers.  Half of it is political propaganda because there is an election coming up for the next term for the Prime Minister.  There are two dominant political parties here and one of them has billboards accusing the party in power of abandoning the farmers and fishermen and letting crime get out of hand.  I wonder how much of this is accurate.  I don’t really understand WHERE people would be buying if it wasn’t local.  Unless it is like many poor communities in American and they are simply not eating well at all- despite the fact the land is overflowing with wealth.  Maybe people AREN’T eating very much fish, though it doesn’t seem likely to me, counting the number of fishing boats out on the water, how quickly fish sells when it’s around, and how often it is actually is around.  But maybe it has been better- maybe lots of people sit at home and eat white rice and dried pork and canned mackerel.  Maybe people are losing the skill of cooking for themselves and eating out more (there are no non-local or chain restaurants besides two KFC chains in the two cities).  Like I said, I just don’t know.  Those accusations must come from somewhere.  I just don’t quite see where.  But still, it’s interesting.

Like Chattanooga, I have to limit how much I spend because whatever I bring I will spend it all.   Of course it all gets used, but at some point in my life I am going to have to start practicing self control.  But also like Chattanooga I never feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth.  I heard before I came here that local foods were very cheap, and for the most part that is true.  That doesn’t stop me from spending thirty US dollars (well over sixty here) at market- I just HAVE to get that big jug of coconut water (this is so awesome- there are three different pickup trucks that come to market full of green coconuts and you can fill up whatever container you bring with fresh coconut water.  They just chop the tops off the coconuts with cutlasses and pour it out- people bring spoons and stand around eating the ‘jelly’ out of the coconuts beginning to ripen (ooo man is THAT good), while laughing, talking, and of course, shouting.  I have to make sure I have an avocado for every day, citrus for every morning, and enough variety to make every meal super fun.  That isn’t a luxury- it’s completely necessary for me to survive.   So I spend almost as much as I do at market in Chattanooga- and I still feel like I am coming away set for the whole week- which is a good sign I suppose.

The nicest thing about a market (besides the food and farmers of course) is that I can choose to go into a big crowd of people and know for the most part they are just like me- they all cook and they all love to eat. 

I’ve learned a lot actually about these large groups of people from this experience- and that sometimes it’s just fine to be a little shy.  It’s fine to ask questions, even if I don’t know if I’ll get the answer.   It’s ok to say no (something I never learned in Chattanooga and ended up going home with garbage bag full’s of basil or crates of rotting tomatoes), ok to ask for more.   It’s ok to get really excited about things,  or to turn down cabbage because it is not heavy enough.  It’s just fine to relax, and stand around and wait til someone is done with a chat before asking how much something is.  It is also just as fine to interrupt if the chat is going nowhere.   And the best part that is the finest of all is to learn to feel richer than ever before every time you walk away laden down with as much fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables as your heart desires.

When I come back to the Main Street Market I’m coming back shouting.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Recipe- Basil "Pesto"

Since I do not "really" have access to any traditional pesto ingredients (I say "really" because today I actually saw that kind of "Parmesan cheese" that is in the plastic container and mixed with granulated sawdust and have also seen some olive oil that most probably is rancid by the looks of the dust on the bottle- not to mention the lack of origin label.  Nuts of any kind, besides peanuts, I have yet to see) other than basil (very sweet and succulent from the vast amount of rain), garlic, and salt I had to kind of improvise.  The best substitute for fat I've found is pumpkin.  It has a earthy, complex, sweet flavor and gets nice and creamy when whipped or blended.  This would also be good to make right before the first frost- when the pumpkins are in and you have to use up all that basil (and you don't feel so rich enough to buy Parmesan and olive oil)

Sweet Basil "Pesto" 

  • A chunk of pumpkin- maybe enough for a cup- about the size of a smallish woman's fist (in this case me)
  • One onion- chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • One rather large bunch of sweet basil (maybe about a cup if you smashed it down in there)
  • Two cloves garlic- crushed (use just one if you don't like it raw a whole lot)

I chopped up the pumpkin and cooked it with the onion in a little water til the pumpkin was falling apart.  But that's because I was in a hurry.  I like to roast it whenever I can- just throw it in the oven on a pan with a little water.

Blend the pumpkin and onion (if you roast the pumpkin just saute the onion til soft) with enough water to make a thinish paste.  It would be a good idea to cool it off before you do this but I only did a wee bit (I was in a hurry).  Add the basil leaves and garlic.  Check with your Super Sense of Taste to see if it needs "something"- salt is a good place to start but anything else would be just fine.

Blend until smooth and creamy and throw over pasta and a few chopped tomatoes on top.