Thursday, July 18, 2013

Coconut and garlic escapades

My freezers and I are performing our annual summertime dance. I pack and rearrange, cajole and plead for just one more cubic inch of space in which to pack the season's bounty.
I planted some garlic cloves of previously unknown species last fall (thank you, Lori) and they ripened up nicely a few weeks ago. Turns out it is elephant garlic, not a true garlic and has a milder flavor than the real thing.
I am a garlic-growing novice. Indeed, I came late to an appreciation of the pungent bulb, and those who know me well are amazed when I use phrases like "My kitchen is full of the aroma of roasting garlic". This, coming from the girl who has been known to ban her husband from her side of the bed when he indulged in pizza at lunchtime.
I think I allowed the garlic to sit too long, either in or out of the ground, because the bulbs were not tidily encased in white parchment like all the good blogs display. The cloves had broken out of the dried skin and were separated and some had even taken on a tinge of green.
No matter. I attacked them with gusto, having decided to roast and freeze the lot of them and be done with it.
So I cut off the rooted ends and painstakingly peeled all of the cloves. 
If they had been all tidy, I could have merely cut off the root end and tips and roasted them without peeling, but there you go.

It didn't really take very long, and I had a slow day, so didn't mind the extra work. 
They do look rather gorgeous, all shiny and curvaceous, don't they?

Forty-five minutes later, after covering the pan with foil and roasting at 350 degrees, here it is.
It looks a bit anaemic, so next time I do this I might remove the foil for the last 15 minutes.
I mashed that garlic up and froze it in ice-cube trays, and that should do me for the next year.
Although, I am using it more often, so maybe not.
As it is, there were lots of little bulbs on the outside of the bulbs that I will replant. Next year, these will be single cloves, which will grow into the full bulb in the second year.
Delayed gratification is my friend.
Several vendors donate their less-than-perfect produce to the senior centre in our town. I make it a habit to pop in to see what's new every time I am in that part of town. It is free to anyone who wants it, and at the height of the growing season a lot of the produce is fed to animals or thrown away, because it spoils before it is claimed.
So, my frugal self feels obligated to use whatever I can.
Last week, there was a box of young coconuts that had a smidgen of mould on the stem end.
I took four of them and headed home to do some research on processing them, little knowing what lay ahead of me.
If you want to know the steps involved in attacking a coconut, there are plenty of links on the internet. Let's just say, I found a few tricks that worked and some that didn't.
First, I scrubbed the ends so that nothing would be contaminated by mould spores. It was only on the surface, so felt okay about using them.
Next, I drained the water, which netted me about two pints of coconut water.
Pretty awesome.
That was the easy bit, involving hammering two holes in the stem end and then making a mess as the water dribbles out into a jar.
According to several sets of instructions, if you put the coconut in the oven or freezer for 15 to 30 minutes, the meat should separate easily from the shell. I tried the oven, as I was roasting garlic at the time.
I would say that this was a bust, because I had to spend about five minutes per coconut half gradually prying out the meat, which was hard on my hands. There is a tool you can buy, which would be worth the money if I ever decide to do this again. 
Then, you crack the coconut in half, which involves a heavy meat cleaver and nerves of steel.
Really, it does.
This step went quite smoothly, compared to what was to come.
The first coconut didn't get baked, and I had to pry the meat out in small chunks, which was a painstaking and painful effort.

The ones I baked were better, but, as mentioned, still took a ridiculous amount of effort.

Next, pare off the brown skin if you want a nice, white, coconut pulp, which I did.
This part was quite easy.

Chunk it up, put it in a powerful blender and cover with water.
I used the coconut water instead of tap water on the first batch. It was a bit of a waste of coconut water, because the coconut pulp actually absorbed a lot of it. 
Then blend the heck out of that baby, until there are no chunky bits left.

Drain well to separate the pulp from the milk and you have some nice coconut to use in baking (on the right) and some coconut milk (left) to use in drinks and smoothies.

Four coconuts yielded about two pints of pure coconut water, half-a-gallon of coconut milk, about eight cups of coconut pulp (I used some in a cake already and it was absolutely to-die-for), and half-a-cup of coconut oil, which you can see coating the sides of the blender jar.
And then I went outside and hammered the coconut shells into little pieces and put them in the compost bin.
Sometimes, my neighbours think I am a crackpot.
True story.

And, just in case you are crazy enough to try this feat of endurance yourself, here is the cake recipe, which I and several family members and neighbours can highly recommend.
There's no photo, because it was inhaled too quickly, but here's the link to the original.

Hawaiian Wedding Cake

1 20 oz can of crushed pineapple, undrained
1 1/2 c sugar (original calls for 2 c)
2 c flour (I used Ultragrain, my new discovery at Grocery Outlet)
2 tsp B. Soda
2 eggs
I c unsweetened coconut
1 c chopped nuts (I used pecans and would use less nuts next time)

Mix all together, bake in a greased 9x13 pan for 40 to 45 minutes at 350.

1/4 c butter
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c unsweetened coconut

Soften butter and cream cheese, beat together all ingredients till creamy.
spread over cooled cake.


That is all.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Snapshots of 24 hours of summer

Sunday was little London's blessing day at church. She wore a dress that was worn by both her mother and her grandma, which is a worthy tradition. Charlie's blessing of his daughter was short and sweet, which would have been appreciated by his Grandpa Tom.
Family showed up in full force.

Overheard last night during the aftermath of a family spaghetti feed:
Nana, where did you get this game?
Where do you think I got this game, Josh?
At a garage sale!

Every time the grands have asked me lately where I got something, the answer is the same. 
They are starting to get the picture!

The husband grumbled about not needing more games as he loaded his car for the trip back to Central Oregon last night. 
But it is an awesome game, and it was unopened and only a dollar. It's called The Way Things Work, based on David Macaulay's book. Josh and Thomy loved it, even though they are way younger than the suggested age, and I love that it teaches scientific principles.

Little Jeff decided he didn't want dinner, and was okay with giving up his ice cream treat as a result.
Until it was time to go home, then suddenly he wanted to eat his dinner.
But alas, he bounced between crying and sitting-but-not-eating until parental patience was lost and he was carted unceremoniously out of the door.
(Dinner was not that bad, by the way!)
An hour-or-so later the phone rang.
Hi Nana. Do you think you could save my dinner and I will eat it next time I am over?
Um, sorry Jeff, but I threw it away already.
Nana, could I have an ice cream next time I come over?
(Nana trying not to laugh out loud).
Well Jeff, you can have an ice cream but you will have to earn it. You can do a job for me and then you can have an ice cream, okay?
Okay, Nana.

Too cute.

Josh and Natalie ending up spending the night unexpectedly, so we started the morning with a three-mile Nana-walking-and-kids-scootering outing that was way too early considering I hadn't slept much since 3am. The kids are dressed in a mixture of pyjamas and swimsuits, which is all I had on hand. After I finished piano lessons for the day, we picked up Thomy and Jeff and went to Buckley Park, a small neighbourhood park that has a most splendiferous ditch running through it. I sat on the bank, alternately reading Michael Pollan's new book and watching graceful monarch butterflies and brilliant red dragonflies swooping over the water, while the kids gradually shed their shoes and socks and got muddy. They were hunting tadpoles, but only managed to catch a dragonfly and some other water critter. We examined the dragonfly and then let it go, but the other critter was taken home to the scientist.

As I sat watching the three little boys and the girl having the time of their lives in a muddy creek and with only a plastic box for props, I couldn't help but remember summers of my childhood. We played in the fields, picked wildflowers, jumped ditches, tunneled through fields of wheat, climbed haystacks, and rode our bikes through days that seemed endless. No one organized our time or filled our days with activity, and we were as happy as puppies in a field of fire hydrants. I am as guilty as anyone of organizing activities, but it did my heart good today to see those littles playing with such innocence and gusto in a ditch.

I could use more of this kind of summer.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Oregon Garden, slice of Paradise

We visited The Oregon Garden in the winter of 2009. We could see the potential, but thought we would like to see it in the summer when there were some actual flowers in sight. Last summer, we got free tickets with our hotel stay in Silverton, but the day was hot and we ran out of time so we figured we would save them till this summer.
Friday was the day and the gardens were in full bloom.
This gardener and her husband were in ecstasy!

Here are some of the joys of the visit.

Sea holly was one of the first sights to meet our eyes. I really want some of this in my garden, even though it smells faintly peculiar.

I never knew it came in white, but here it is.

Swathes of colour were everywhere.

Water features abound.

I don't know what this is, but I really like it.
Note to self: acanthus.

Likewise this ground cover. Anyone know what it is?

The earth laughs in flowers. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! 
I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one. Edna St. Vincent Millay.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I must have flowers, always, and always. Claude Monet.

Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair. Susan Polis Schultz.

I liked this clearing.
It made me want to have a pow-wow.

The children's garden is quite delightful.

The Hobbit found herself a hole.

Can you answer the riddles?
If anyone gets number seven, please explain it to me. I know the answer but don't get it at all.

The train looked fun but it wasn't working.

We heard a chirping and looked up to see this baby chickadee (I think) sitting in the entrance to the birdhouse.

A cupola above...

...and this plaque below created a nice place to rest, which we would have done had we time to linger.
But we didn't.
However, this motto found a place in my heart.

A view of the Oregon Garden Resort, one of my favourite hotels in the world.
And you can see some of the many volunteers who were spending their Friday weeding the gardens.

We admired this tree rose, enjoyed its sweet smell, and then realised it is Jeff's long-time favourite, Angel Face.

Gallardia is delicious in all of its incarnations.


And beginning seed pod.

No kidding.

This zinnia reminds me of something from Vincent Van Gogh. No editing created this colour, it is all intact.

These are pineapple guava flowers, known as feijoas in New Zealand. My last few trips to the country have been during feijoa harvest time and I had forgotten the beauty of the flowers.

I had mused aloud about the possibility of foraging deer in the gardens, and then we saw this.

And lastly, these two wee philosophers, philosophizing in the bonsai garden.

I hope you've enjoyed this little taste of The Oregon Garden as much as we enjoyed our visit. It's worth the drive and admission fee at least once in your life.