Pineapples and their Cousins

 

A common element in South Florida gardens is the pineapple patch. Almost everybody has one, from a northern perspective, it seems kind of weird. Grow your own pineapples? Why not? Even one of our neighbors, his yard could be described as nouveau retch, is seen regularly hand watering his pineapples.

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Pineapples are in fact a Bromeliad, which are currently my favorite tropical perennial. Among the many Bromeliads I have planted that are purely ornamental I am afraid I have fallen prey to the trend and now have a pineapple patch between my citrus trees. I eat pineapple just about year round and the tops kept rooting in the compost heap. Unfortunately, the above is my patch, not too pretty.

Pineapples have an interesting history. Originally from the area where modern day Brazil is located, they moved via canoes paddled by traveling natives north to the Caribbean Islands where sea captains picked up on them and carried them home. One early accounting of the discovery of pineapple recounts a meal served by the Caribe tribe where a plate of pineapple rested next to a cauldron of boiling cannibalized humans. I think I would have asked for the fruit plate.

A status symbol on the dining tables of colonial America, pineapples were often rented for centerpieces and then sold after a few uses for eating. Thus the pineapple as a symbol of lush hospitality was born. The prevalence of pineapples as a decorative element may be explained by its being cheaper to carve decorative pineapples into bed posts or garden ornaments instead of renting them by the hour.

The Treasure Coast of Florida, the area I currently call home was once home to a large pineapple plantation. In 1895, Jensen Beach, Florida was named the Pineapple Capital of the World, shipping a million boxes of pineapples a year during the summer season. Later that year a devastating freeze decimated the crop, followed by a few tragic fires and fungal diseases that finished off the pineapple industry by 1920. Agricultural pursuits were redirected towards citrus. Wild Pineapple plants can still be seen on Hutchinson Island and are attributed to the original owner of the plantation, John Jensen.

Like many other popular plants, pineapples have also been bred for Ornamental use. Here are two prettier pineapple plants.

 

In A Vase on Monday -Caribbean Delight

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This is a Caribbean Delight as the centerpiece of the arrangement is a Dwarf Jamaican Heliconia (Heliconia stricta) – I believe. The lady I bought this from didn’t seem entirely sure of the ID and I have never seen one before. I am, however, a sucker for a well priced Heliconia and hopefully the garden will not overrun with Dwarf Jamaicans. Heliconias can be pretty creepy.

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The dark foliage is from Piecrust Croton (Codiaeum variegatum  ‘Piecrust’) and I love the contrast. The fine textured foliage is  Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus). The Croton I planted, the Asparagus Fern just appeared in the back garden one day. I cut some every now and again and that seems to keep it in bounds. Asparagus Fern is rumored to be invasive, I think the spot it popped up in is not its happy place.

The crystal Rose Bowl belonged to my mother, I think I bought it for her – but that memory just won’t quite gel. It is a nice crystal Rose Bowl. I have Rose issues so it is unlikely to ever see any Roses. I am quite happy about the Heliconias – at least they are red!

It is Valentine’s Day as I write this. This vase is going to be our centerpiece for dinner.

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Here’s the table setting Portmerion Rose China and here is dinner:

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Mustard crusted Rack of Lamb, Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Green Beans. Not particularly Caribbean, but oh so good. Followed by Chocolate Brownies with Vanilla Ice Cream. Hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day.

 

 

Middle Age Baking – The Saga of the Guinness Cake

The Guinness Cake

The Guinness Cake

An old friend recently posted a picture on Facebook of a Chocolate Cake made with Guinness Stout (topped with Cream Cheese Frosting)

Being an affirmed chocolate lover, the pictures and the recipe sounded great; so I decided to try the cake.

Not being a Stout drinker, I needed a single beer. Well, Jensen Beach, Florida, to a certain extent, is the end of the earth, so finding a single Guinness Stout was a bit of a challenge, but I did it. Then realized I had no cocoa powder, sour cream or cream cheese.

Having collected the ingredients I set out to the library – the reason, a nearly overdue book. The second thoughts kicked in, does my refrigerator contain 10 tablespoons of butter? Better stop and get some extra. After a trip to Winn Dixie, the butter dilemma was solved. I started baking.

The first thing needed, a nine inch springform pan. I decided to measure mine, 10 inches and clearly something bad had happened to it during our move to Florida. Am I the only person in the world who uses an Engineers scale to cook? (type of ruler used by civil engineers) Put it in the sink to soak for a minute-nothing happened cementitous crud so stuck I need to get a new springform pan. Time to get out the two nine inch cake pans. I used my trusty Engineers scale to verify.

Having significantly misplaced my reading glasses – I read the ingredients and not the directions for the cake. Decided to heat the butter and cream it with the sugar, which I did. Then found the glasses and read I should melt the butter and add the Guinness – too late. I added the Guinness to the butter sugar mixture and chunks of Guinness foam sugary butter immediately floated to the top in the oddest baking misadventure I  have had to date. Imagine, Guinness stout as gigantic cottage cheese curds.

At this moment, I had a “what the hell” thought, added the dry ingredients, turned the mixer on and proceeded to not follow any directions and put the actually lovely batter into two (gasp) cake pans. Winged the cooking times and ended up with a two layer cake. Divided the frosting and finished the cake.

It was divine. I think it needs a layer of strawberry jam in the middle. Nigella describes the cake as not tasting like the stout, but having a ferrous tang. I am still contemplating that.

It is a really good cake. Here is a link to the recipe. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1875-chocolate-guinness-cake

Fruits of the Labors of Friends and Neighbors

Local Bounty

Local Bounty

It’s Citrus season here in South Florida and everybody has some. Here is some homegrown produce I have collected recently. From the left, Honeybells grown by a friend of my neighbor, Meyers Lemons and Everbearing Persian Limes grown by my college roomate’s husband, a Cuban or Catalina Avocado grown by him as well and Blood Oranges from my neighbor the Chef.

Homegrown citrus is radically different from what might be procured further north. I was taken aback by this with the first taste of a Lime from my back garden (Persian of course) Juicy, fragrant and magnificently Limey (not like the British) I wonder if the term limey comes from a British tendency towards Gin and Tonic. I digress, here is my newest Persian Lime. I am told these bear fruit 4 times a year – I planted this about 6 months ago and have had two crops even though my husband ran the weedeater too close and stripped the bark off. The tree had to be pruned andmoved in mid August for its own safety.

Persian Lime in fruit and flower

Persian Lime in fruit and flower

Here’s another thing peculiar to Florida, in honor of the end of the holidays I am posting a Christmas gift photo, yes, I had to ask what is was:

The Nautical Christmas Tree

The Nautical Christmas Tree

Of course, the Nautical Christmas Tree was made in China.

Happy Gardening, I’ll be snacking on a Blood Orange.

Thanksgiving

Charles

Charles

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US. Time to think about what you are grateful for. In my case, it is many things – one is my big dog, Charles. Charles is a retired racing greyhound and my constant companion. He is a big dog, weighs about 90 lbs. I think he is eight years old. He raced for 3 or 4 years and then was retired due to a leg injury. He can be described as a happy go lucky guy who has never met a stranger. Some people are taken aback by him because of his size, but he is a very nice guy.

Larry and My Girl

Larry and My Girl

I am also grateful for the company of my husband and our other greyhound, My Girl, who will be 14 years old soon.

Miss Kitty

Miss Kitty

Another member of the family is the kitty who I inherited from my brother when he passed away – he had inherited the cat from my mother when she passed away. Hence the cat’s name, Sweetie Pie which my husband refuses to use. She is called Miss Kitty and requires a great deal of maintenance.

Thanksgiving is all about food so we are cooking up a feast starting today. Other traditions associated with the holiday are football and shopping. I am a graduate of the University of Georgia, a powerhouse of Southeastern conference college football so we will be watching some football and hoping for Mizzou to lose so Georgia can go to the Championship game. The shopping aspect of Thanksgiving weekend is too much of a madhouse for me. People get up at 4 am to wait for stores to open then fight over bargains. I’ll be grateful not to participate in Black Friday.

We are smoking a turkey tomorrow in keeping with tradition (roasting a turkey is truly traditional, smoking is not) To go along with the turkey I am making cranberry relish, cornbread dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy. My husband is baking a pumpkin pie tomorrow. All of this is fairly common Thanksgiving fare, cornbread dressing is Southern as am I.

I am also grateful for my blog readers, I have been blogging for a little more than a year and have been really enjoying meeting ya’ll.

Thank you,

Amy

In Praise of Cabbage Palms

Looking up

Looking up to the Heart of the Palm

One of the pleasures of living in Florida is waking up almost any morning, walking out into my backyard to watch the soft yellow sunlight illuminate the canopy of the Cabbage Palm rendering its shadows almost russet. The much maligned but indestructible Cabbage Palm.  I have no idea how old this palm is but I am certain no one planted it. A native of the peninsula, the state tree of Florida and perhaps the most common Palm in the state it will always have a place in my heart.

I have always referred to these as Sabal Palms; because of their botanical name – Palmetto sabal. They are called Cabbage Palms in reference to Swamp Cabbage, which in culinary terms is Hearts of Palm. I love Hearts of Palm but rarely eat it as a Palm tree gave its life for my salad. Palms are monocots, more closely related to grass than trees and only have one growing point, the apical meristem, botanically speaking. If this is removed the entire tree dies. The growing point is in the middle of the fronds, hence the name Hearts of Palm. Have a heart, save a Palm tree’s life and go for the artichokes instead.

These Palms usually attain a height of 30 feet, but can grow up to 60 feet tall. Cabbage Palms are not self cleaning and need trimming to maintain a neat appearance. Or just leave it untrimmed and say it is a bat habitat to control the mosquito population. That would be true. Just stay in the house during high winds.

Native Americans used these Palms for many things, roof thatch from the fronds, brooms and brushes from the sisally parts of the boot, the trunks were used for pilings in the water and bread was made from the seeds.  However , they did not eat the hearts..until Europeans arrived with metal tools. If you had been eating palm seed bread, I am betting the Hearts of Palm seemed really tasty.

The Vegetable Garden

One of the many weird things about South Florida is Vegetable Gardens. Whereas,  anywhere north of, say Lake City, Florida, tomatoes are planted in late spring and enjoyed all summer. Here it is Halloween. It is just not really normal. The other odd thing is you stop gardening around the summer solstice; sometime around the end of June it becomes too hot to leave the Air Con. The humidity also starts growing the most fantastic mildews and bugs and biblical type events. I have been told it is possible to grow tomatoes year round but you have to put umbrellas over them in the summer. This seems a bit much. Why do that when the grocery store has air conditioning?

Last year I planted tomatoes the week of Christmas, just so I could remember when I had planted them. This year I planted them in January because there had been some cold snaps and I was waiting for the weather to clear. The vegetables are proceeding normally, I have green beans, broccoli and herbs as well. Looking forward to picking some vegetables soon.

I have no fear of a tomatoless life. Worst comes to worst there is always Publix or our local produce purveyor. Our local farm stand has an incredibly reliable source of good Roma Tomatoes, actually ripe and tasty, I eat them year round. There is another vegetable phenomenon that is peculiar to South Florida..there is no summer corn on the cob, but it is here every other season. Winter corn was a discovery I have been enjoying.

I have recently learned how to make fresh pasta. As a result of this we have been eating fresh corn, red onion, spinach, garlic and herbs all sautéed in bacon fat over pasta. OK, it is low sodium Bacon with a little Olive Oil so it won’t stick to the inside of my veins.

This week I bought a Lime tree, Everbearing is what the label said. This brings my fruit tree count to three, a Dwarf Thai Mango and a Meyer’s Lemon are already planted. We have had some lemons and they were great. Eventually I will have to learn how to make Mango Margaritas and use all homegrown fruit. The jury is still out on buying a banana or a Papaya tree. Not sure I would ever be able to eat all those bananas.

Black Eyed Pea Salad

Here’s a easy recipe. It is a great side dish to BBQ or grilled just about anything. While I am a Southerner, traditionally prepared Black Eyed Peas are not my thing. I find them greasy and mushy, especially if they have been cooked for hours on end with pork fat.

( amounts are per person)

1/2 cup frozen Black Eyed Peas

1/4 Red Bell Pepper

1 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Basil or Dill (I use the Dill Paste), and or Chopped Fresh Chives

Newman’s Own Olive Oil and Vinegar Salad Dressing

Cook the Black Eyed Peas per directions. Chop Red Pepper in 1/2″ dice. Drain peas, add Pepper and HerbsImage.

Mix and dress with Newman’s Own dressing. Salt and Pepper to taste. Leave on the counter for 10 minutes to let flavors meld, then eat or refrigerate and eat later.

Terse Food

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Above is my idea of a great, terse dinner. Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb with Mashed Potatoes and lightly steamed, buttered Green Beans.

Here on the Treasure Coast I have not found much in the way of terse food. However, there is a lot of coconut fried seafood. Which, really, is the anti-terse. Terse food is fresh, well, but lightly seasoned and usually not fried. I make an exception for potatoes. Otherwise fried food is verboten.

An old friend of mine, an English professor, used terse to describe his writing style. No excessive adjectives, adverbs or fluff. Say what you mean. Or, write what you mean. He later became famous for writing the biography the movie Becoming Jane was based on. That was the genesis of my terse food concept.  For example, Grilled Mahi in a pineapple glaze, great, add coconut and fry – not so great. I am suspicious that Grilled Pineapple Glazed Mahi coated in Coconut and fried is on a menu somewhere around here.

Back to Coconut fried seafood. Why even eat seafood if you are going to do that to it? Maybe it makes disgusting old frozen shrimp palatable? My husband and I dined at a local restaurant well known for its scallops, which I was bound and determined to try. So I did.. after I scraped the coconut off the scallops were pretty good. My husband had butterfat infused tomato based pasta that was almost good, but just too much..butterfat..and we like some butterfatmore anti terse. Perhaps I should mention the last time my cholesterol was taken it was 135.

I am a design person, have been for years. I am not sure what happened, but I ended up in the running to be a restaurant reviewer for our local newspaper. It is a blessing I did not get that gig. The job went to a retired school administrator of some sort who is always right about the restaurants and rarely makes an ugly comment. For you uninitiated non-Southerners, ugly is comparable to surly. I am sure would find myself unable to be so nice.