Tuesday, December 16, 2008


scarlet macaws on the Osa Penninsula

christmas comes

It feels a bit like Christmas, at least a bit more than it did this time last year. We’re putting up a tree this week, hauling in a Norfolk pine that manages to survive in the tropics and allowing him a holiday high up in the canopy for a week or so before he returns to his regular spot outside the house. A month ago I made a plum pudding, it’s waiting patiently for the 25th. And on Sunday we made mincemeat pies. Really delicious, we didn’t used suet, instead substituting vegetable shortening, and we can’t buy currants or sultanas here so we used more raisins and substituted dried bananas and fruit leather for the candied peel. We substituted rum for brandy and used allspice rather than mixed spice, we also added some black pepper and a pinch of salt. This makes about 3 pounds of mincemeat, it’s best to make the pies a day before you want them: the flavours get a good chance to blend. Though perhaps make a smaller one to eat right there and then, so tempting straight from the oven.

8ox apples, preferably green, grated
4oz suet
6oz raisins
4oz sultanas
4oz currants
4oz candied peel
6oz sugar
Juice and peel of a lemon and an orange
2 tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
3 tblsp brandy
Mix together all ingredients except brandy. Put in very very low oven until suet melts and coats other ingredients (or alternately leave out in sun). Wait until cool and mix in brandy, keep in fridge or can with hot water bath until needed.

1 ¼ cups flour
½ tsp salt
½ cup cold butter
1/8 – ¼ cup iced water
Mix dry ingredients first, chop in butter, rub to breadcrumb like texture, add water to firm dough, allow to rest for 20 minutes, roll out and line pie or tart trays.
Fill with mincemeat, cut more pastry strips and lattice pie tops, bake in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes until just golden. Sprinkle with sugar if desired and serve with thick cream or vanilla ice cream.


Yesterday we planted out yard long beans, 16 of them spaced along a fallen pejabaye palm. The palm will rot down over the next two months adding lots of great nutrients to the growing beans: slow release fertilizer I guess you could call it. They are planted in an area I’m calling the salad bowl, a sunny spot nestled between passion fruit and black pepper with jungle on one side and orchard behind. We planted katuk and cranberry hibiscus in gentle curves and purple spinach in circles. We also have some older chilis there, peppers and tomatoes which we’ll eventually harvest and take out. This will be my main work area on the lower farm. I need to make a bench and a covered work table and enclose a space for compost bins. We have impatience started for the flowers and I want to bring in some white ginger – the flowers are delicious and very pretty, a soft luminescent white. Peter’s not so keen on the white ginger, it’s an invasive, but I think we could grow it in big tubs. I have to research other edible flowers, they add so much to a salad. We also have Malabar spinach and I need to transfer some purslane to the spot too. We cut down maybe 8 pejabaye palms to allow more light in and used the leaves for mulch, the whole area is ankle deep in palm leaves right now. I think I’ll wait for them to break down a bit more before bringing in the purslane, it’s such a small ground cover type plant it’ll struggle just now. It looks great. I’m hoping that in two months I’ll have enough to begin harvesting salad greens for the farmers’ market.
We have to plant out the same in the upper farm as well, but right now our cuttings and seedlings are too small, it’ll be at least another two weeks before they are ready. The ground isn’t prepared there yet anyway, we have to harvest most of the yampi to free up space. Ah, what lovely work awaits us.

. . .

It’s one of those wet tropical mornings where everything is damp and chilly. The mosquitoes are out in full force and I’m sitting with the fan on wrapped in 3 layers and longing for a pair of woolly socks. It’s November: a good time to plant, the beginning of the rainy season, not a good time to wash clothes.
My life is changing again, and again for the better. I’m leaving school. I really don’t know how I feel about this, I keep expecting pangs of regret and fear, but nothing comes, just a sense that this is right. I always thought I would be one of those lifers, someone who would remain immersed in schools until they dropped, but at 40 I’m bowing out, hopefully gracefully, and taking up another passion. And it’s okay.
I’m stepping into a life that feels ready made: I’ve been working at the farmers’ market for 4 months now and this will continue and develop as I move from working a stall by myself or with Heather, to sharing stall space with Peter. I started with selling mixes of dried fruit, then added sprouts, and now we are making granola bars with the fruits and the cacao we grow. When the salad greens are ready we’ll sell those too and we’re working on jams, pickles and preserves to add. On the farm I’ll be working with the salad greens and the fruit trees, propagating and grafting, and on the landscaping side I’m working with Peter, but concentrating on edible landscapes. This is a dream. I’m very happy.
We just came back from a job on the other side of Costa Rica on the unspoilt Osa Penninsula , a wonderful eco-lodge called Sabalo Lodge, an hour’s boat ride along wide tropical rivers and dense mangrove. I thought the mangrove would never end and then suddenly we stopped before a wide open lawn shaded by coconut palms, delicious. The owners, Dan and Holly, are creating a beautiful secret space, tucked away from everything, collecting their water, creating their electricity and caring for their guests. We were there to work, but felt very well cared for. Peter laid down a good orchard with a rich variety of fruits, we worked with epiphytes and flowering shrubs and I worked on edible landscaping, 4 beds with a good variety of greens, tubers, herbs, spices and vegetables. It was great fun, 10 hour days, but rewarding.