April 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
Gardening and cooking are intimately connected in my life. Both are creative processes that feed the body and the soul. To be involved in the creation of food from planting, harvesting, and preparing is extremely rewarding. I enjoy the aesthetic consideration of planning the garden. I love pouring over the endless possibilities of seeds to be sown. And while I am not a great cook, I love the pictures in cookbooks and designing my own meals with what I have available on my farm.
Your garden does not need to be very big to sustain a family. A small plot filled with a few veggies will do. What about that front yard? Do you really need all that lawn to mow? Do you see some batch of dirt to the side of the house? Perhaps, containers filled with edibles on the apartment balcony. Even a windowsill filled with herbs will be rewarding once plucked and added to your favorite dish.
My garden is far from the neat rows and blocks such as I created in Ohio. This Hawaiian garden is definitely more a “portage” that organically (both figuratively and literally) evolves based on the available space. In goes some celery if that tomato plant expires yet again. Fresh lettuce seedlings go in each week to cover our needs. My raised beds are far from uniform as I stack lava rocks to work around roots and the un-level ground. Right now, the lemon cucumbers are climbing on makeshift trellises built from bamboo and coffee limbs. My hope is that I’ll enjoy a few fruits despite the melon fly that makes growing zucchini and other similar plants next to impossible. Hard to believe – I know – especially when in Ohio you couldn’t give that vegetable away come summer. What I wouldn’t do for a basket of zucks and toms in August. And I’m still searching for the hardy tomato. I think I might be on to something here with the volunteers that came up around the garden from the compost I used a few months ago. They’ll be a small variety but so appreciated if they make it to the table.
I have new loves in the garden: papaya, white pineapple, poha and thimble berries, tree tomatoes and this small, sweet red pepper given to me by a neighbor when I lamented the fact that all the peppers I usually grew in Ohio didn’t seem to like the conditions here in Hawaii. While I have a year-round growing season, gardening has been a challenge for me. There is either too much rain – not enough – too many strange bugs – or blights I can’t identify. Gardening is a lot of trial and error here. Before, I planted in spring by way of holidays just like my father did and his father did. The potatoes went in on St. Patrick’s Day. Cold crops such as the broccoli and cauliflower went in on Good Friday. After Mother’s Day, I could transplant the tomatoes. Now, it is more about the rain cycles than the temperature and that too is a lot less predictable with the world’s changing weather patterns. I’ll pay attention and record my findings for subsequent years.
It’s well into spring now on the mainland and time to cultivate a garden for you and your family. Time to dig in the dirt and thumb through old recipes for something new to create for the table. We have time for these two life sustaining practices. For they are essential, rewarding, and nourish us from the inside out. When Thomas Jefferson wrote, “True wealth is the riches of the earth on your table,” the eighteenth century required household gardens and small farms for the new nation’s food supply. More than two hundred years later, we have an industrial food system that is rich in greed and poor in health. This spring, make a difference. Decide to grow and prepare some of your own food and take time to enjoy it with your family. It is a small step but it has a profound impact. And the best part, you just might tap into a new source of wealth.
Please share the names of some of your favorite seeds you like to grow, your favorite garden catalogs, and I always enjoy a new veggie recipe!
April 17, 2012 § 3 Comments
When we were milking two goats, there were times when we had surplus milk. We’d make ice cream and yogurt with the extra. With only Brie providing our milk needs now, I have to forgo my chai tea for a few days in order to gather three or four quarts of milk to make something wonderful – goat cheese. I always wanted to try my hand at making cheese, but the process seemed at the very least, daunting, and at the very most, magical. How did one go from milk to this solid yet spreadable substance? I had no idea how it was done. A quick YouTube video – again – and I learned that the art of making cheese is not rocket science. It’s just a few simple steps and a couple tools of the trade.
The first time I made cheese, my cousins Uli and Peter were visiting from Austria. Peter had cheese making on his Bucket List and I needed a partner-in-crime in order to attempt the feat. We prepared our supplies. All was moving along smoothly but when it came to separating the curds from the whey – no go. We kept adding more lemon juice, tried vinegar, went back to the lemons. Just as we decided that making cheese did require some magical words that we did not know, we looked back into the pot and there it was: curds holding together surrounded by the whey or liquid. In the end, we had made a tasty, herb goat cheese resembling mozzarella. I haven’t been able to reproduce this exact cheese since. That’s the thing about my cheese – sometimes it’s soft and spreadable. Other times, it is more like feta and crumbles over the salad. No matter. I remind myself that it is an art and embrace the fact that it is handcrafted – does not require magical words – and is always enjoyed. Here is my simple recipe for an easy cheese to make – fromage blanc.
The most important tip when making cheese, is that you need clean and sterilized stainless steel tools. Gather together a large pot with lid, spoon, strainer, bowl, fine cheese cloth, a fabulous culture, rennet, and of course, goat’s milk. Not all of these things are readily available in one’s pantry but I’ll include a web source for the supplies at the end of the entry.
Next, warm your milk in the pot over a medium heat until the milk is right near a boil. (Here I attempt to do several other things while the milk comes to temperature. The outcome when I refuse to stay focused on one task is always the same: the milk boils over and makes a mess. It doesn’t ruin the cheese – just makes a mess. Stay focused and enjoy the quiet moments without doing anything.) Hold the milk there for about 10 minutes or so. The idea is that you need to kill off any bacteria in the milk because you are going to add a new culture and you don’t want anything to fight with it or your cheese will not be what you are planning. Let the milk cool to about 80 -100 degrees F before adding the culture. Remember, this is a living organism and if you add it when the milk is too hot, you’ll kill that bacteria too – and then – not the cheese you were planning.
After you have stirred in the culture, add a drop – yes – only a tiny drop of rennet to a gallon of milk. Traditionally, rennet is made from the lining of a young animal’s stomach. But the rennet I use is an all-vegetable product and is now readily available. The results are the same: the enzyme action of the rennet causes the milk to coagulate in an hour or two. (This was the part that Peter and I did not understand – it takes a little time for the magic to happen.) The curds will separate from the whey. Works every time. Voilà. Cheese!
All that is left to do is to strain your curds through a piece of fine cheesecloth. I wrap the top of the cloth together and let the curds sit in the colander over a bowl in the fridge overnight. Do not discard the whey. It is an amazing source of protein – extremely nutritious. Mix it in your smoothies, bake with it, or at the very least, give a protein boost to the dogs, cats, and chickens. They love it!
In the morning, if you find that your cheese is too dry, stir in a bit of the whey until you have a consistency that you like. Next, add finely chopped garlic, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and herbs of your choosing to the cheese. Mix in well and enjoy. The longer the cheese can sit in the refrigerator and take on the flavor of the garlic and herbs, the better. Day three or four is when the cheese is at its best. There are countless recipes for making so many different varieties. This one is my favorite. Easy and delicious.
When Tim begins talking about “goat stew’ because one of my goats has done something very bad on the farm – like eating the new growth coffee – I know it’s time to make him some cheese. So far, I still have all of my goats.
Find all your cheese making needs at: http://www.dairyconnection.com
April 10, 2012 § 2 Comments
When Tim and I purchased our coffee farm four and a half years ago, we were obviously focused on the coffee for our income. Well . . . a couple of droughts, Pele’s vog, and a few nasty beetles later, we find ourselves thankful that we have 200 avocado trees on the property. In fact, Luana Farm is one of the largest Sharwill avocado producers on the Big Island. The first two years we sold 90% of the fruit to a wholesaler. Since then, we have moved most of our avocados through our local markets, small restaurants, and natural food stores. Now, it is time to take the next step: producing the first Hawaiian avocado oil.
Avocado oil is beautiful for the body whether consumed or absorbed by the skin. It has heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and is rich in vitamins, minerals, beta carotene, and omega 3s. The fruit contains no cholesterol, sodium, or gluten. Research is finding that eating avocados, and avocado oil, helps to reduce and remove plaque from our arteries. That is a lot of goodness in each bottle.
The products we make from the fruit provide a more consistent and profitable revenue stream than selling just the fresh avocados. We use avocado oil in most of Luana Naturals’ bath and body products, including herbal oils, exfoliating scrubs, lip balms, body butters, serums and hair conditioners. It takes time to build the brand and educate the public about the benefits of avocado oil and even more to produce the oil. With the business growing, we have found that we have outgrown our small hand-crank press. A few years ago, we went to the local natural food store looking for avocado oil and found that the oil had traveled all the way from South Africa. Why is this when on our way home, we found the roadside littered with Hawaiian avocados? Having the fruit on island, not using it, and then importing the product from Africa does not make sustainable sense.
Avocados are a large part of our local agriculture here on the island. We celebrate them every year in Kona with our Hawaii Avocado Festival. Unfortunately, the fruit has been a difficult product for farmers to sell. You see, we are not permitted to ship our avocados to the mainland thanks to early 20th century legislation. Yes, you can find avocados in mainland stores from Mexico and Central America, but not from the 50th state. Someday, I’ll post a rant about this – Stay tuned! This prohibition being in place means farmers need to look to other ways to utilize their crop. Value-added products allow small family farms to earn a living and stay in the business of farming. We’re looking forward to developing Luana Farm’s avocado oil. We can still sell our premium fruit at market and retail stores and the small or blemished fruit will be saved from the compost pile and be turned into a raw, emerald green oil. Did you know that avocado oil does not taste like the fruit? It has a citrusy flavor. It is delicious on salads and cooks beautifully due to its high heating point. The fruit is terrific to eat, wonderful to cook with, and fabulous as a body moisturizer. It doesn’t get much better than that.
As a sustainable coffee AND avocado farm, we want to make sure nothing goes to waste. We’ll start small and build from there. The goal: to produce a local, unique, and organic product that tastes and feels GREAT!
April 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
Inspiration comes to you at the most random of times. One morning last week, while stirring my tea, I remembered a cleansing product I had used 20 or so years ago. I liked it because it served many purposes. I wasn’t wild about all the ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce or the crazy price tag, but I liked the way it cleansed and moisturized my face. With that in mind, I put on my “alchemist’s hat” and decided to create my own version using one of my key ingredients: ground avocado seed. The result was Kēlā Mea (Hawaiian for “all things”) – an “all-in-one” cleansing powder. Not all my experiments work but this one is a keeper.
Often, folks ask me how I arrive at the products in my skin care line, Luana Naturals. I tell them that I look to items I enjoy using for inspiration. I remove all the toxic chemicals and substitute ingredients that are “real food for the skin.” I especially like to utilize those botanicals and oils that grow well on my farm and come from the Hawaiian islands. I also give them an eye opening exercise: Go to your medicine chest and pull out your favorite beauty cream. Water or “aqua” will be the first ingredient, quickly followed by 3 or 4 petroleum-based products. After that, it is chemical fragrances and artificial colors and preservatives. Nowhere can you find an ingredient that translates into good food for the skin. I believe if you are not willing to put something IN your body, you should not put that something ON your body. Remember, your skin is your body’s largest organ. And it is a digestive one. 80% of what you put on goes in and women put more than a dozen products on their skin per day. How do these work together? How much byproduct of the gasoline industry can your liver process over time?
The official looking women in the lab coats at the major department stores never told me about this; they talked about “the regime.” The implication is that you better not even LOOK at the Shiseido counter, for if you mixed products, your face would certainly explode. Crazy. But I’m a lotions and potions kind of girl – an easy target for them to spot, for I love beautiful things in beautiful packaging. My friends here in Hawaii might find this hard to believe, but I’m an expert when it comes to expensive cosmetic lines.
When I made a commitment to be educated about what I eat, by default I had to become educated about what I used on my body. If you read the labels on a can of soup, you need to read the labels on a package of body wash. I was heartbroken that my favorite beauty finds were filled with toxins. Most of the ingredients the cosmetic industry uses have not even been tested to be safe. The policy is that if there is no known cause of harm, then we can put it in the items we use every day. That is not good enough for me. I know what is in my own, organic, avocados. I know that the fruit, oil, skin, and stone all have important ingredients to benefit my body. The avocado has been called “Mother Nature’s moisturizer.” With their healthy fats and phytonutrients, they offer remarkable food both inside the body and out. So the next time you’re at the mall, skip the cosmetic counter and buy yourself an organic avocado instead. Eat half right from the shell with a bit of sea salt, fresh pepper, maybe a dash of garlic, and use the other half for a natural facial treatment. Simply remove your makeup, wash your face, mash the avocado (you can mix in a bit of honey, or milk, or oatmeal) and apply it to your face. Leave it on for 10 minutes or so and then rinse off with warm water. Lunch and a facial for a few bucks. This is information the women in the lab coats do not want you to know.
As for Kēlā Mea, my packaging and label design will evolve over the next few weeks. When I have it just right, I’ll post it to my website. For now, I’m sharing my new product at the local farmers markets and enjoying the positive feedback. Not sure what product will come next but I do know what I’m having for lunch.