I'll admit it, I'm a health food junkie. I love fresh food- gathering it, preparing it, sharing it (when recipes are successful!) and especially talking about it (and posting pics- I'm a total foodie also. Part of this passion is exploring new foods, and although I still have some of my go to staples like garlic, onions, potatoes, greens and oils here in Cabarete, there's also a whole new food system to explore, and all of the tropical fun that brings.
For instance, outside of our kitchen at the Extreme hotel is a permaculture garden- a mini food forest if you will- that is based around banana trees. A little aside here- did you know that a banana tree only fruits once? They can grow to 10 feet high in a matter of months- it's incredible! Anyway, if a plant fruits, it also flowers, which brings me to the topic of today's post. Today as I was walking by the garden I found a banana blossom amongst the fallen fronds. As I'm not used to many tropical plants (only the fruits of their labours gathered together in supermarkets back home) I was totally surprised by this weird looking thing. After I was told what it was my first thought was (as it always is) 'hmmm... I wonder if & how I can eat this". A little research told me that I could and apparently there is a whole host of youtube videos on the dissection process.
These flowers are really intricate, it reminded me of the labour involved in preparing artichokes. They contain many stamen, which need to be removed because they're very bitter, and the outer leaves are discarded- or saved as serving dishes as I did. You have to work fast because the inner petals oxidize really quickly (like chopped apples turning brown) so I cut 'em all up and then immersed them in cold lime water as instructed. After soaking them, you can either cook them or eat them raw. I chose to make a salad.
I added turbinado, hot sauce, sea salt and pepper to the lime water and 'petals', and then whisked it all up, allowing it to marinade for 30 minutes. It still tasted really bitter- which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, it just meant that I probably wouldn't eat a lot of it. I put some of the chopped 'petals' into one of the outer mature petals and then sprinkled it with fresh, chopped herbs from the aquaponics system. Although it looked gorgeous and impressive, this banana blossom salad really wasn't a winner in my books.
So, if the recipe sucked, then why am I bothering to tell you you might ask? Because it's all in the spirit of trying new things! Here is this gorgeous, food just lying on the ground, and within a half an hour it has the potential to be a lovely appetizer. Many people would just keep on walking because it's unfamiliar, as we tend to do in the grocery store, because it seems like to much work to figure out what to do with it. In fact, most people only have about 15 foods in their diet. If you have a pretty set week to week menu, it means that you're potentially missing out on many different micro nutrients in your diet. This can lead to deficiencies over time- not to mention it keeps things pretty boring! So even if you don't have banana blossoms lying around to experiment with, I challenge you to find something new, and preferably as natural and local as possible, to eat this week. In the age of google, you really have no excuse, and it's an easy way to challenge yourself and have some fun in the kitchen.
I'm not giving up yet. When I come across another blossom I'll cook it, maybe turn it into a curry or put it in a stew, and see if I get any better results. I'll let you know when I do! In the meantime, you should definitely come visit me in Cabarete at the Extreme hotel so that we can cook together!
Preparing the first flat for jamming and freezing. So simple, just cut the green tops off (and any soft bits) and rinse! If freezing, put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for an hour before bagging so they don't stick together or burn.
What do I do if I can't make it to the beach or a lake on a beautiful sunny Sunday? I go to the Strawberry U-pick with my love and then proceed to process 24 pounds of strawberries! At least that's what I did on this particular Sunday.
Where I live we have the wonderful gift of being able to access locally grown, unsprayed fruit- and I intend to take full advantage of it! It takes a little time yes- but with good company and dancing tunes playing it becomes a lot of fun! Besides, I now have a ton of local, organic ( & CHEAP) strawberries in my freezer (to keep my rhubarb company) for making smoothies, salsa, and other deliciousness long after the season has passed! Strawberries don’t ripen after they’re picked. That’s why berries shipped from elsewhere can’t match the quality and taste of those locally grown. We went to Hick's Berry Patch, a family owned and operated U- pick in Midgic, NB. They're so friendly and have a fantastic crop- but the season is nearly over! If you're no where near Sackville, NB where I live, ask around at your local farmer's market for similar gems.
Strawberries deliver a ton of vitamin C and are a good source of fibre, folate, potassium and manganese, a mineral that maintains healthy bones and helps regulate blood sugar. Their also well know for having a many antioxidants- especially anthocyanins that may help dilate arteries and prevent the build-up of fatty plaque and protect brain cells by fighting free-radical damage and reducing inflammation.
In addition to freezing the berries whole, I also made some jam! Jamming takes me back to summer kitchen fun with my mama- I can't believe she used to make huge cauldrons full! However, she and most other jammers use a ton of refined sugar in the process- and anyone who knows me can hear me saying that this is a huge no no! Not only do you lose the flavour of the berries and gain a ton of calories, but the nutritional value becomes diminished. The solution? This magnificent pectin I've discovered! Pomona's Universal Pectin is amhaaazing- no sugar or preservatives plus super simple recipes for low sugar jams & jellies. My jam contains only berries, apple juice concentrate and pectin. So now, we can enjoy jam on pancakes, toast and in cocktails (yes cocktails) without the sugar guilt!
Does the fact that I'm a 27 year old jammer concern me? Not really. Being a young person who makes and preserves her own food makes me feel like a renegade! I save money, help my environment and local economy, have fun and stay healthy. And seriously, to make 11 jars of jam only took 4 hours - including picking a ton of berries, enjoying a scenic drive with my love, and waiting for those babies to pop (audibly) their lids. One morning to enjoy a treat- and share as presents- well into the winter (only because there are just two people in my house and I hid the bounty!)
I used 12 cups of strawberries, 2 cans of organic apple juice concentrate, 6 teaspoons of Pomona's pectin and 11 250 mL jars- which means this project cost me about $22 all said and done. $2 for homemade, local & organic jam? I'll take that :)
I really encourage you to get out and enjoy the summer's bounty however you can!
Only by decreasing the amount of chemicals and unnatural products we consume will we enjoy healthy minds and bodies and a healthier world for us all.
If you have your own recipes or tales of how you've become a food renegade please share them with me <3
In health, Ariel Richards, R.H.N.
I just wanted to post a quick note of gratitude about the wonderful experience I had yesterday.
I had a seminar, Living Your Optimal Life, at Lea Place- A Women's Center in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia.
The space is incredibly welcoming, and there's a wealth of information everywhere you look pertaining to health and wellness. You can't help but pick up one of the great resources they have available- there really is something for everyone! The staff are so kind and helpful, it's no wonder they have a constant stream of people through. It really is a great way to link people together.
Now, my presentation yesterday specifically pertained to older ladies who may be feeling a bit stuck, and are looking to add some new skills and practices to their daily repertoire to liven things up and boost their mood & energy levels. We had a great turn out, and I really found the ladies to be so inspirational! They asked a ton of great questions and were completely open to trying the meditations and visualizations I introduced. They even all had a cup of detox tea- although some complained that it was a far cry from orange pekoe! We carry a stigma in our society that older people are completely stubborn and stuck in their ways- unwilling to try anything different. The group yesterday proved this to be SO wrong. The energy in the room was vibrant and I left feeling completely rejuvenated. I can't wait to go back in a couple weeks to do my Sugar Addiction seminar!
I am doing a similar presentation for a wider demographic for We Are One at the Berkley in Bedford this Tuesday evening and I hope it will be just as powerful! So much to look forward to :)
In health, Ariel