Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Going Home for the Holidays!

This is a picture of Village Farm, the organic homestead that I grew up on in Belize, and where I am going for two weeks this holiday season. See the two rivers? Our farm is nestled between them. The little white specks are buildings. This picture was taken from the window of one of the Cessna Twin Otters that fly between southern Belize, where our farm is, and Belize City (where I'll be flying in on Friday).

A bromiliad in our front yard.


Our woodshed and some clothes drying. And below, a heliconia.

I can't wait to get home. My Mom says that we should have a decent cacao harvest this year (that's right, the same cacao that ends up in those 70% cacao solids chocolate bars that we greedily chop into morsels for baking or surreptitiously nibble on before breakfast), and the oranges and tangerines are ripe already, just waiting to be plucked off the tree and squeezed into some fresh juice. Have you ever had tangerine juice? Its bright and sprightly and dances on the tongue, not to mention being a full-on orange that puts the eponymous fruit to shame.

I will be making marmalade and fruit cake (I make our fruitcakes every year, although they unfortunately wont get to rest very long this season), and stuffing myself with carambolas and apple bananas (stubby little yellow bananas with the best banana flavour, perfect for eating out of hand).

As you can probably guess from the first photo, I don't actually have Internet access on the farm, so my posting will be limited to any trips that we make to town during my stay. In other words, I may not be posting at all for the next two weeks, although if I can I will try to put something up after Christmas and before my return to DC in January. Either way, I will of course be bringing my camera and will take some pictures to share with you when I get back.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday season, I know I certainly will:)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Breakfast Series Number...? Sailor Muffins: Cranberry, Date and Coconut

Using both cranberries and coconut in the same recipe most definitely does NOT embody the virtues of eating locally, because no matter where you are, you wont be able to grow both. Cranberries like wet, cold bogs that freeze solid in the depths of winter. Coconut trees, those ubiquitous symbols of easy tropical living, refuse to put up with such nonsense and sensibly will not allow themselves to be cultivated where the temperature even approaches freezing. (On cold days like this morning I begin to think that I should follow their lead).


But in case you haven't noticed by now, I cannot claim to be a total devotee of the 100 mile rule. Cardamom, black pepper, star anise, all spice, cinnamon and bay leaves can be found in my spice cabinet along with turmeric, ginger and nutmeg...those wonderful spices that sent the Europeans sailing off in all different directions, desperate to get ahold of their own little piece of tropical paradise where they could establish colonial monopolies and complain about the heat.

I also make exceptions for some tropical fruit. What can I say, I get homesick sometimes and although the very best pineapples must be picked straight from the field*, I'll accept the occasional imported substitute. I do partially salve my conscience by trying to buy fair trade and organic bananas, oranges and the occasional clementine. And coconut. Which brings us back to the Sailor Muffins. A while ago I was planning to make a carrot cake, and to that end purchased some pre-grated unsweetened coconut to put in it. The cake never happened, so the coconut sat patiently in my fridge waiting for its chance to shine.

I am leaving for Belize (repeat after me: "yay!") this Friday at the crack of dawn. Well, actually, since it is the shortest day of the year I will be leaving my apartment long before the crack of dawn, more like 4 in the morning in the freezing dark. Lets not even mention that last night a memo was slid under my door informing me that "urgent electrical repairs" have been scheduled for Thursday night, starting at 10 PM and lasting until 7 AM on Friday, which will require turning off the electricity in my building for the entire time. So I'll be dragging bags out the door with a flashlight in my teeth. Its ok though, because I'm escaping to the land of the coconut and fresh squeezed orange juice. I'll be gone for two weeks, and to that end I have been trying to use up perishable items in my fridge that are likely to go bad in my absence.

Dried coconut is not one of them. Nor are dates, which would have happily sat in my cupboard until my return. The fresh cranberries I could easily have frozen. So really I guess I didn't achieve my goal after all. I still have half a cooked sweet potato, a blender full of pureed pumpkin and an almost empty container of soup to deal with before I leave. But at least I have some kick-ass muffins to fuel my efforts!


*The reason for this is that the root of the pineapple plant, which is actually a bromiliad, contains starch which is turned into sugar and then pumped into the fruit to ripen it. Therefore, once the pineapple has been plucked from the plant, it will not get any sweeter no matter what you do, and to ship them without bruising, they must be picked before they are fully and fragrantly ripe.


Sailor Muffins with Dates, Cranberries and Coconut

Makes 12 muffins, 214 calories each with 2/3 cup of coconut, one provides 16% of your DV of saturated fat, if your daily caloric intake is 2000 calories.

1 and 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)

2 tablespoons flax meal

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

2 tsp baking powder

2 egg whites (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup of 1% or skim milk

1/2 to 2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I used Bob's Red Mill, medium shred)

1/2 cup finely chopped dates

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

Procedure:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and pull out a muffin tin. Measure the egg whites, vegetable oil and milk into a bowl or measuring cup.

2. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar and flax meal together in a bowl. Stir in the coconut and the finely chopped dates until they are coated in flour.

3. Wash your fresh cranberries and add them to the flour mixture, then pour in your wet ingredients and mix together with a few strokes.

4. Fill your muffin tin and bake for 25 minutes. Turn the pan halfway through. If your oven is like mine, you may have to move it to a higher rack to keep the bottoms from browning too much.

These muffins will make your kitchen smell like toasted coconut. They are tender and delicious and don't need any butter. There is a reason for that. THESE MUFFINS ARE NOT HEALTHY! Yes, I know, not my style right? All the other muffins on my blog are low in calories, fat and sugar (though jam packed full of flavour). These muffins are also loaded with flavour and, thanks to the coconut, saturated fat. So don't make them the same day that you are planning to hit up a steak house or eat that triple chocolate layer cake left over from your birthday.

Why call them sailor muffins? Well, the three main ingredients were all quite easy to ship even back in the days of ships with sails instead of container barges. In the 1800s cranberries were packed in barrels with water, where they kept fresh for months and prevented scurvy on long voyages. Dried dates and coconut (especially in the form of copra) have been traded east, west, north and south for centuries. So, Sailor Muffins. Bringing together tropical privateers, Mediterranean traders and New England merchant marines in one delicious package.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

In the Spirit of the Season...Menu for Hope

There really isn't anything that I can say about the Fourth Annual Menu for Hope that hasn't already been said on someone else's food blog, which explains just how popular this fund-raising event is.

The Annual Menu for Hope raffle raises money for the United Nation's World Food Program. The first Menu for Hope came into being as a response to the devastation caused by the Tsunami in 2004. This year the money raised will go to fund an ongoing school lunch program in Lesotho. In 2006 almost 63,000 dollars were raised and we hope to beat that total this year, so in order to encourage everyone to participate, the food blogging community has compiled an impressive and drool-worthy list of prizes ranging from sommelier services to free dinners at some of the world's most famous restaurants.

What do you get to do to be part of this exciting project? Buy as many $10 raffle tickets as you like, with a chance to win great prizes. Some that caught my eye include: A one night package at the Vermont Culinary Inn of the Vermont Culinary Institute, Edible Paris custom food itinerary (ticket to Paris not included), Dinner for two at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Four Indian cookbooks, with spice tin, spices, teas and assorted dals, a Cuisinart ice cream machine and David Lebovitz's ice cream book "The Perfect Scoop", among many, many others. Free wine tours, cooking classes in Umbria, Italy, exquisite chocolates and chances to meet famous food writers are some of the other prize options that you can choose from.

Remember that prizes are divided geographically, so unless you are planning to fly to London or Australia in 2008, you might want to pick prizes that are being offered in your region (especially if they are tours, free dinners, or chances to meet famous people in the food scene). Go to Chez Pim to get more information about this wonderful raffle, to check out all the great prizes that you can win, and to think about the ones that you want to pick. Once you have a list of preferred prizes in hand, head over to Firstgiving Menu for Hope to buy your raffle tickets. The Raffle only runs from December 10th until December 21st, so you have one week to buy your tickets and keep your fingers crossed.

Results of the raffle will be posted on Chez Pim on January 9th, along with information on how to claim your prize, if you are one of the lucky winners. Remember, the more you buy, the more money goes to the World Food Program's project in Lesotho and the better chances you have of winning!

To read some wonderful posts about this annual tradition check out these blogs. Desert Candy's Mercedes used to work for the World Food Program, and I highly recommend her article on the subject. You can also access a list of prizes in the region at each of the regional host blogs listed below:

Chez Pim and other organizers of the event also sent disposible cameras to Lesotho, which were given to locals with the request that they take some photos of their daily lives to share with the Menu for Hope campaign. You can check out the photos here: Lesotho photos

While unfortunately I am not offering a prize this year, I'll be bidding eagerly on some of the ones that other food bloggers have generously donated. I hope that you will join me-and keep an eye out in 2008, as Rice and Beans in DC will definitely be participating more fully in Menu for Hope V!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bananas, Cardamom, Coconut Milk...




Sounds good, right? That's what I thought too. I got the idea from a cookbook I flipped through at a bookstore the other day. Of course I can't remember the name now, but a recipe in it caught my eye and when I got home I put two teaspoons of brown sugar and 3 crushed cardamom pods in a frying pan, let the sugar melt, tossed in a banana and caramelized it, then poured in about half a cup of light coconut milk. As you can see, the result was quite explosive...but tasty. Tasty, but not amazing: the final product seemed a just a little too sweet and one dimensional to me. There just wasn't a depth of flavour despite the coconut milk, the cardamom and the fresh ginger that I added for bite. Coconut milk, banana and cardamom just seems like a winning combination however, so I'll be playing around with it some more in the future.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Masala Chai and Memories

There is no picture today. Between work, final research papers, birthdays, class presentations, and dinner with Jose's family, there has been no time for pictures. No time for real cooking either. I did make some sweet potato pancakes on Tuesday, stirring batter in the kitchen at 6:30 in the morning, defying the weekday gods in an attempt to break out of the breakfast doldrums, but that was it. Saturday I ate out. Sunday I ate leftovers. Monday Jose's parents took us out to celebrate our birthdays. Tuesday we ordered pizza. Wednesday I ate leftover pizza and clementines from Whole Foods (via Spain). And yesterday, after finishing off some old zucchini pancakes before rushing to my night class, I defrosted a container of unidentifiable frozen soup (it turned out to be peanut butter-vegetable) for my lunch today.

But this post is supposed to be about tea-spicy milky sweet masala chai, to be exact. It has been snowing and windy and cold this week. So looking out at the bleak grey sky at 6 AM this morning I decided what I needed was something spicy and warm, something that would wake me up and get me moving, but in a more gentle manner than a shot of expresso. Thinking that a mug of masala chai would be the perfect thing to sip on while munching sweet pancakes, I hopped on the internet and went straight to Confessions of a Cardamom Addict's delicious recipe. I varied it slightly by using all 1% milk instead of a mixture of milk and water, added a little more cardamom, and (of course) used black pepper from our farm in Belize.

One sip of my tea and I was transported to a chilly early morning on a second class train to Jaipur, to the sound of a boy lugging a steaming vat of masala chai down the narrow passageway, singing out "chai! chai!" with a melodic regularity that sounded like a bell ringing, while ribbons of fog snaked past the window through the dry brown landscape (punctuated by the occasional cow).

So what food brings back travel memories for you? Is it the whiff of a specific spice, the homey flavour of a special dish, the throat searing strength of a regional liquor? I look forward to reading your comments when I take a break from my paper on the politics of labeling displacement:).