Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy Blogiversary! One year of Rice and Beans

This, my 101st post, is to commemorate a little happening that slipped by me while I was enjoying myself on the farm. That notable event was the 1 year anniversary of Rice and Beans: A Belizean in DC.

Its hard to believe that a year has passed since I started this blog, but in fact it has only been 12 months and 2 weeks since I posted my first post and started on this fateful journey. It has been a fun and delectable one, that is for sure!

With school I have found it hard at times to post as much as I would like, and I dearly wish that I had more time to browse other blogs and participate in blogging events. Despite this, I have greatly enjoyed interacting with my fellow food bloggers, reading their wonderful blogs, trying their recipes and drooling over their photos. Thanks to all of you and to all my readers out there for your helpful comments and emails and general encouragement. Its nice to know that I'm not blogging in a vacuum!

But beyond the amiable community of the food blogging world this little web page has brought even greater opportunities and changes to my life. Early this spring I received an email from one Dr. Richard Wilk, an anthropologist at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and the director of the country's first PhD program in the Anthropology of Food. Dr. Wilk has conducted extensive research in my home country of Belize for the past 20 years, a good portion of which focused on the intersections between agriculture, food, culture and globalisation. He has published a great book about his findings, called Home Cooking in the Global Village, which I own and highly recommend. (It now smells strongly of Belizean coconut rum thanks to the adventures that my lost and now recovered luggage experienced a couple days ago, but that seems almost appropriate when I think about it).

Dr. Wilk found me through my blog and emailed me to let me know about the PhD program that he is directing. As I am currently in the middle of a masters degree in Anthropology, with plans to continue on to a PhD, I was quick to visit the Indiana University site. I was interested in what I saw and continued to correspond with Dr. Wilk over the succeeding months. Then coincidentally it turned out that he would be in Belize at the same time that I was. We ended up planning a meeting and I got to have dinner with him and his wife, archaeologist Anne Pyburn. We dined exceedingly well, but the most exciting part of the whole thing was talking to anthropologists who were interested in food, specifically Belizean food.

My little blog is to be thanked for giving me the opportunity to meet Dr. Wilk and Dr. Pyburn and to learn about Indiana University's PhD program. I will be visiting the campus on September 19th, and applying to the program this fall. If all goes well, Rice and Beans in DC will become Rice and Beans in Bloomington as I move to Indiana in August 2009 to start a PhD in the Anthropology of Food.

Its exciting to contemplate this next chapter in my life, and I owe this opportunity to food blogging. So on the first anniversary of Rice and Beans in DC, I would like to pose a toast to my blog and to many more posts!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Homemade Belizean Pepper Sauce

I am back from Belize after a especially long trip to DC. The Miami International Airport was temporarily shut down due to electrical storms, and my luggage-which contains my precious coconut rum as well as various jars of canned delicacies- is still missing as I type this. The airline wouldn't pay for my hotel room because the delays were weather related. But at least I made it safely to Washington DC, albeit a day late.

Now, with daily access to the Internet I look forward to regaling you all with tales of Belizean food and my own tropical creations. I thought I would start with a little recipe that I used on my last day on the farm, to turn some left over habanero peppers into a fiery hot sauce for my parents. This recipe is a great way to use up any hot peppers, so feel free to try it with different types that you may have languishing in your garden or on your counter top.

The habanero, long famed as the world's hottest pepper, has in recent years lost that title to much hotter capsicums discovered in India and Pakistan. However it remains renowned for its fruity and scorching hot flavour. The habanero, especially an orange variety known as the "Scotch Bonnet", forms the base of Belize's most ubiquitous hot sauce, Marie Sharps. However today I want to focus on another hot sauce-a homemade hot sauce that, in these times of economic uncertainty, provides Belizeans with the heat that they seek without having to pay for a bottle of the commercially prepared stuff.

The recipe is so ridiculously simple that anyone can make it, but I strongly urge you purchase a pair of protective gloves before you start. You may be able to eat habaneros without fear, but getting the juice all over your hands will make them burn uncomfortably for hours.

Homemade Habanero Pepper Sauce

About 1 dozen habanero peppers (if you grow your own you should have no trouble getting this many. They are also sold in some Latin markets and some supermarkets in the USA).

About 2 cups of plain white vinegar, or another vinegar of your choice.

1 medium white onion

Optional: 1 small carrot, grated.

1 glass jar with a lid (a leftover peanut butter, jelly or pasta sauce jar with a wide mouth is ideal)


1. Briefly wash the habaneros and remove the stems. Wearing rubber or polyurethane gloves and using a sharp knife, finely chop the habaneros, seeds and all.

2. Peel and finely chop the onion. Grate the carrot, if using.

3. Dump both chilis and onion (and carrot) into the jar and cover with the vinegar. Stir and close the lid. This sauce will keep perfectly well on your kitchen or dining room table, but you can also keep it in the fridge if you so desire. Keep a little spoon around to dip out the spicy mixture. If you want a little less heat, just use a little of the fiery vinegar instead of the chopped habanero itself.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A few pictures...

I don't have time today to write up a long recipe so I mean to entertain you with a few pictures from the farm. Yesterday my good friend Dr. S. and I got up at dawn to collect bait and in the cool and calm early morning we caught three nice fish: two mangrove snappers and a yellow tail jack. All were grilled on the stove-top in foil and made a delicious lunch and dinner with black beans, rice, roasted breadfruit and okra for accompaniment. Not to mention my Mom's homemade bread and lots of guacamole (the avocados are just raining down from the trees these last couple of days). I didn't get a picture of the spread because it disappeared too fast!!

All I can say is that its a good thing we took a long hike in the jungle after lunch! Check out the strange seeds we happened across. Bright colors like that usually mean "stay away, I am poisonous", so I did not sample these. Pretty though.

I'll show you how we cooked this critter later, but big land crabs are a real delicacy in Belize, and the rainy season is the best time to catch them, so I made sure to grab some during my stay at home.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blogging from Belize and Papaya Pickles

That's right folks, I'm in Belize again, for three solid weeks on the farm before I return to the hustle and bustle of Washington DC. I'm absolutely loving it. I am eating breadfruit, okra, mangoes, avocados and papaya straight from the farm, working in the garden and spending every minute of the day outside. Its a far cry from my receptionist job in the city-there's actually sunshine and rain. I missed the weather badly and now I'm living in it, and with it, everyday. It is wet season here, so the steady drum of rain drops on the tin roof lull me to sleep at night. Much more relaxing than police sirens. This week I climbed a mango tree, helped prop up fallen citrus trees in our orchard and split a ripe tangerine with our dog Mattie (Mattie has a broad and discerning palate and appreciates the taste of many tropical fruits).

We have tons of papayas on the farm right now thanks to three prolific trees that I planted in the garden last time I was here. Papaya trees like rich, well drained soil and so they don’t usually do too well in the waterlogged clay found across our farm. However, these babies got their start in a big pile of rotted cacao pods, rich and teaming with worms.

Now we are reaping the benefits of that soil amendment, in the form of ripe and green papayas. Most people think of papaya as a fruit or dessert course, but it is very tasty eaten green as a vegetable, as anyone who has been to a Thai restaurant, where green papaya salad is a favorite appetizer, can attest. Diced and boiled, roasted or steamed, green papaya makes a nice vegetable with a slightly sweet flavour and the texture of a smooth summer squash.

This recipe is from Euell Gibbons famous book, the Beachcomber’s Handbook, which chronicles his three years living off the land in Oahu not long after the end of the Second World War. The papaya pickle is made using a half ripe papaya-only pale orange inside and still quite firm.

Papaya Pickles

Peel and cut one medium papaya into spears.You should get around 5-6 cups of spears. Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop the papaya in, cook for 5 minutes, then drain.

Meanwhile make a syrup with 2-1/2 cups of sugar and 2-1/2 cups of vinegar (I used a mixture of white and cider vinegar). Add 2 teaspoons salt, 10-15 peppercorns, 16 whole cloves, 10 whole allspice berries, 2 bay leaf (I used a large allspice leaf) and if desired, 4-5 of the tiny fiery hot bird peppers common across Central America and the Caribbean (you may substitute a finely chopped habanero or jalapeƱo). Bring to a boil and add the partially cooked papaya spears. Cook in the pickling mixture for 12 minutes, then seal in sterilized jars*. Let sit for at least 3-4 days before trying them so the pickle mixture has time to fully permeate the papaya.

* To sterilize jars take thoroughly washed glass jars and their lids, (your empty peanut butter or jelly jars will be perfect for this), and place them mouth side down in a shallow pan filled with 2-3 inches of water. Place the lids face up, fully submerged under the water. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, then lower the heat and use tongs and oven mitts to take out one jar at a time. Pack the papaya spears into the jar, then seal with the hot lid. Let sit until completely cool before storing. The pickles do not need to be refrigerated until the jar is opened and the seal is broken.