Archive for category vida en la granja

new plates for better tasting food

Here’s a photo of some plates that I made myself two days ago by cutting a calabash in half and emptying out the inedible insides with a spoon. Much better than my metal ranch plate, in my opinion! :)

large and extra large plates

large and extra large

the inside, scraped out with a spoon

the inside, scraped out with a spoon

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fishing for crayfish

the other night we went fishing for crayfish with one of our neighbours, Héctor. This involves going out at night to set a wickerwork trap called a NASA (yes, just like the space agency), with some barbecued chicken stomachs or coconut [sic] and collecting it again some time after. We did just that, collecting it the following morning at 6 am, when it’s already light, however, the thing was empty, which was quite an unwelcome surprise. We’ve later been told that we went to pick it up too late and that we should have picked it up earlier, when it was still dark and the crayfish is still eating, also because when it’s still dark the crayfish doesn’t know how to get out of the trap, whereas when it gets light it can see the exit and just disappears.

Here’s a few photos of the experience:

la nasa

the nasa

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the inexperienced fishermen :)

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the experienced fisherman who mended some holes in the Nasa for us using leftover fibres from the rancho roof

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placing the trap at night

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the Nasa going underwater like Cousteau’s Nautilus

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us, still happy because we’d just set the trap and weren’t yet aware of the huge failure it was going to turn out to be! :)

There’s no photo of the empty Nasa, because basically it’s the same as the first photo of it. If we’re ever successful with the fishing you shall be informed! :)

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the essentials of machete sharpening

So here’s a lowdown on how to sharpen a machete, or any knife in general for that matter, although you might have to adjust the techniques a bit if you’re dealing with a very fine kitchen knife instead of an all-around workhorse such as a machete.

What you want to do is leave an edge with an angle of about 15º, 7º on each side, but if you do that straight away without taking out more metal inwards from the edge, you will loose the edge very quickly, and will have to file away a lot of metal each time you want to sharpen the blade, so it’s best to take away some of the “body” of the blade so that you leave only a small amount of metal at the edge, preferably in a “v” shape with two concave sides (curving inwards) so that you are removing the least possible amount of metal afterwards with the file. This is quite involved so the easiest way to do it when you have power tools in the house is with a grinder. You have to be careful to move it quickly over the blade or you risk heating certain spots up too much, which would take the temper (hardness) out of the metal, which is irreversible once done and leaves you with weak spots in the blade. It’s also important not to grind the edge of the blade but only the metal inside, because the grinder is too harsh and would just eat away at the edge, burning it and creating a “feather”, which means shards of metal on the edge, which to the touch and when doing a test cut make it seem like the blade is sharp, but really these shards just break off and the blade becomes dull very quickly, so it’s not a good thing. Keep away from the edge with the grinder and do that finer work manually with the file. :)

john sharpening a machete with the grinder

John removing the with the grinder

a close-up of the sharpening process

if you look closely you may see a thin black line close to the edge, where the grinder has not been passed to preserve the edge

using the file for finer finishing work

the final touches, removing kinks and “feather” on the edge

testing for sharpness... ouch!

testing the blade for sharpness… ouch!

the machete family

the machete family. There’s the rula, which is long and thin so that you can get it to move more quickly and is used mostly for weed wacking, the machete per se, which has a broader blade and is for general use, and the puya (at least in Panama), which has the broadest blade and is used to chop down trees. There’s another one missing here that was used a lot in Costa Rica, and which was what they called machete over there, all the rest being cuchillos (knives); this machete had a very broad blade that was bent sideways at the base to make it easier to use for half-digging half-scraping of weeds in garden beds. I’ve also included an extra item that’s not part of the family, just to keep you on your toes! :)

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la raspadura de caña de azúcar

Raspadura, rapadura, panela, tapa dulce, esta sustancia tiene mil nombres dependiendo del país en el que se produce, pero todos estos nombres se refieren a la misma cosa: el azúcar sin refinar que viene directo de exprimir y cocer el caldo de la caña de azúcar. Aquí les enseñaré un método semi-tradicional (el trapiche en sí, el molino para la molienda de la caña, es eléctrico, por eso lo de “semi” tradicional).

Sósimo, el vecino de La Finca de Los Perezosos, es el dueño del campo de caña y del trapiche, y nos proporciona el bagazo, que son los restos de caña que quedan después del exprimido y que utilizamos para cubrir la tierra alrededor de los árboles frutales para que se vaya descomponiendo poco a poco, sirviendo así como fertilizante de larga duración. El mejor lugar para colocar el bagazo es alrededor de la línea de goteo del árbol, o sea, en círculo siguiendo el ancho de la copa, que es el mejor lugar para que se filtren los nutrientes y el árbol pueda absorberlos por la raíz.

Pero vamos a lo que nos interesa, que es la fabricación de la raspadura. El proceso es relativamente sencillo, y se puede resumir en hervir el caldo de la caña para reducirlo por evaporación y verter el caldo concentrado en moldes para que cuaje por enfriado. Ahora veremos el proceso de forma más detallada en imágenes. Para ver un vídeo sobre el proceso pinchad aquí.

campo de caña

el campo de caña, ¡donde empieza todo!

la molienda de la caña, que se hace en dos pasadas

la molienda de la caña, para la que se suelen hacer dos pasadas. Aquí estamos recogiendo el jugo en un totumo, que es una cáscara de calabaza cocida. El Sr. Sósimo tiene este trapiche eléctrico, pero al otro lado del río hay un trapiche de madera operado a caballo, que espero poder ver en funcionamiento pronto…

degustación del jugo de caña recién exprimido... ¡delicioso!

aquí está Matt degustando el jugo de caña recién exprimido, que nunca había probado antes, ¡más rico que el Cola Cao!

vertiendo el jugo de caña en la paila

el vertido del caldo en la paila para el hervido se hace siguiendo métodos altamente refinados ;)

para calentar todo el jugo hace falta un buen fuego

¡para poder hervir tanto caldo hace falta una buena fuente de energía!

al calentarse el jugo afloran en la superficie las impurezas que contiene

cuando empieza a hervir el caldo se forma en la superficie una linda capa de impurezas, algo así como cuando se hace sopa de pescado, que se le forma una espuma grisácea en la superficie que quitamos con la espumadera…

las impurezas se recogen con este cazo, como si fuera la espuma que le sale a una sopita de pescado ;)

las impurezas se limpian con este lindo cazo de totumo (calabaza)

el jugo burbujea mientras se va concentrando

aquí se aprecia un poco entre el humo la espuma del caldo hirviendo, ahora ya sin impurezas

la paila llena hay que levantarla y posarla sobre un neumático para que se enfríe y se puedan llenar los moldes

la paila hay que levantarla con todo el contenido aún hirviendo y traspasarla a un neumático para que enfríe mientras se bate para que espesehay que remover el caldo mientras se enfría

el batido de la melcocha, para que espese y se formen los cristales de azúcar, ¡ya estamos listos para verterlo en los moldes!

removiendo el caldo

El caldo recibe distintos nombres según la fase del proceso en la que se encuentra, empezando como caldo cuando está recién exprimido, pasando a melao cuando empieza a hervir y aún burbujea, siguiendo como miel cuando deja de burbujear y está ya listo para el enfriado, melcocha cuando se enfría la miel y se pone más espeso y granuloso, y finalmente la raspadura, que es cuando ya enfría y cuaja en los moldes.

hay que mojar los moldes durante al menos 1/2 hora para que no se pegue el azúcar

los moldes hay que humedecerlos durante al menos 1/2 hora para que no se pegue luego la raspadura

el vertido en los moldes

el vertido en los moldes

el vertido de cerca

visto desde más cerquita

qué linda y qué dulce la raspadura!

¡qué linda y qué dulce la raspadura!

¿Galletas de la fortuna? No! Son conchitas de raspadura! :)

no, no son galletas de la fortuna, ¡son las conchitas de raspadura de Sósimo! Si queréis comprarlas que sepáis que las vende a 6 x $1 en el mercado de los sábados en Penonomé, y daros prisa porque se venden como churros! :)

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welcome to Finca Los Perezosos

So I have finally left Boquete to come to Finca Los Perezosos, the Lazy Man’s farm in Churuquita Grande, a small community close to the bigger town of Penonomé.

I got here on a Monday afternoon and immediately got shown part of the farm with Dean, a biology student from Maine who unfortunately left the following morning. The photo below shows him becoming enlightened on top of the arches holding up the soon-to-be-renovated access bridge to the Finca.

Permaculture chop-and-drop techniques and a lovely river to go swimming in are just some of the reasons to come and spend 3 months here. John Douglas, the owner of the place, is quite open to the volunteer’s contributions and I’ve got plenty of ideas for things to try out at the farm. We’ll see what I can manage to get done or not, but I think I have a very interesting time ahead here…

Oh, and one last thing… don’t let yourselves be fooled by the name of the place, if you want to come here you’d better come prepared to do some hard work!

Dean being inspired up on the cement crossbeam of the bridge

the wierdest caterpillar ever seen...

a beautiful caterpillar we found on the cinnamon tree. It wasn’t there the following morning, so I’m sure whatever bird ate it was in for a spicy treat!

first delivery of materials for the new bridge

the first delivery of materials for the new bridge that will allow motor traffic, with neighbour Sósimo directing from the right

the fish pond

the tilapia pond…

the fish

…the tilapia

our swimming spot in the river

our beautiful swimming spot. You can swim for hours against the current, jump off the cliffs or dive off the tree, a great way to cool of after a day’s hard work! :)

the beautiful corotu, or guanacaste as known in Costa Rica

the corotu tree, or as known in Costa Rica where it is the national tree, a guanacaste

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the fromsoiltosoul take on meat

the wild west...

the wild west…

showing the hen what's coming (with a knife in front of it)...

showing the hen what’s coming…

I ate chicken! :)

Now this is not normally a problem for most people. You go to the supermarket or the KFC closest to your home; you buy yourself a pound of breast or thigh or whatever cut you like best and you stuff it in your mouth, maybe cooking it first if you’ve chosen the supermarket.

But let’s take a different look at this now. What happens when instead of getting your chicken out of a shop (where chickens don’t actually grow) you get it from the chicken coop in the back garden? Well, here things change a little, since you must kill your chicken first, then pluck it and gut it, and then finally cook it, hopefully for a very long time, because it’s going to be tough meat if you’ve gotten one of the old hens. A nice long braise is a good option, for example, or a soup. :)

So, this is actually an issue that I’ve been trying to reconcile myself with for a while now. I certainly do eat meat; I love the stuff, although I don’t eat that much of it since I consider it a treat, something to eat from time to time in moderate amounts to provide a bit more flavour to dishes or to add some [very tasty] protein, although from time to time I also pig out on a juicy T-bone steak. Anyway, I know that steaks, drumsticks, or whatever meat I eat does not grow on Styrofoam trays, and I also know that it comes from beasts that were once alive. In order to eat them, they must be killed.

When I get my meat from the supermarket or most butchers I know nothing about the beast I’m eating or the meat itself except its colour and maybe the packaging date, but I don’t know where it comes from, how it was treated, what it ate, how many times or what it was injected, how it was killed, whether it lived a good life or not before getting killed, or whether it lived happily in the field with its family around it or in isolation in a pen… All these are issues that should be important to a conscientious consumer trying to be mindful of their actions, so I’ve always wanted to become a little more involved in the whole process by participating in the actual killing of the beast and it’s gutting, quartering and processing. The ultimate step I’d like to achieve and that which I think may be the hardest is that of also rearing the animal, which is when you can get attached to it and may have a harder time when it comes to killing and eating it, but that’s something I definitely won’t be doing while I’m still travelling.

So, in short, I’m a meat eater and I know it, I accept it, and I want to reconcile myself with the fact by participating more in the whole process involved in the eating of meat and learning more about the implications of my meat cravings and the actual animal on my plate . I think that by buying the meat in packaged form (not to mention when it’s also pre-cooked), we have it so easy that we become detached from the death that is implicit to the whole process and all the other implications of the purchase, such as the need for industrial, large-scale farms and processing plants that cause many environmental problems and poor quality of life for the animals (at least in urban settings). There are some people who don’t care about any of this, or who openly admit that they love meat and eat it all the time, but are incapable of killing a beast or don’t want to have anything to do with guts and blood. I like to call these people “carnivore hypocrites”, because apparently they are not willing to accept the implications of their actions and act only as directed by their cravings and whims without caring for the effects these have on others. I like to think of it as the way nature works, since in nature there are also carnivorous animals that eat other animals that they kill, and I also like to consider a more spiritual way of thinking about our meat, maybe something like the indigenous peoples who first ask forgiveness for the killing of an animal and only do it when they need to do so for better nutrition, but who respect and care for the animals at all other times and acknowledge that they have the same right to existence on this planet as we do.

And after this extended philosophical rant, I’ll describe the actual process we followed to bring the hen that we ate last night to our plates. Some of the description and photos below might seem a bit grizzly to the faint-hearted, so be aware if you choose to keep on reading!

First of all we had to choose our victim. All of these are old hens that aren’t laying any more,  so any of them would do. The cock was the largest of them all, but he’s the only male on the farm so that unfortunately was a no no. The rest of the process was kind of like choosing a car, we started to discuss anatomy, then colour, and finally we got one of the girls, Alixe, to choose it and she went for a white one, which after a while and some effort we managed to capture.

So once she was ours we took her home, still alive, to carry on the rest of the process in situ and thus avoiding rigor mortis and other nasty effects of death that would have made the subsequent steps more difficult. Once home we had to decide who would do the killing. I was up for the job, but Alixe wanted to have a go too so I decided to just film it instead, thinking that I’ll have plenty more opportunities to fulfil my dream during my travels (I’d already killed a chicken in Costa Rica, but that was because it was sick and we wanted to end its suffering, it never made it to the pot). So Anaël gave a detailed description of how to pull a chicken’s neck back and off, stressing the off part as important in order to bleed the chicken and clean the meat. I’ve heard of other techniques such as chopping the head off with something sharp and also slitting a vein over the chicken’s temple, but we were going for the more barbaric method. Apparently they don’t suffer, since if you do it firmly and with conviction it’s all over in a flash and they don’t even feel anything. So Alixe started to prepare herself for the job, but couldn’t really get round to it, and after about 10 minutes of saying sorry to the hen for what she was about to do, she gave it a minimal tug and then let go of it completely, which is when Anaël came in to finish it off properly. He did ask me if I wanted to do it first, which I did, but since I was filming it really had to wait until next time.

Once the chicken was dead and bled we moved into the kitchen for the plucking phase. More than plucking what we did was skin the chicken directly, which is easier and less messy than dunking it in boiling water and getting yourself burned.

The only thing separating us now from the phase your chicken is at when you buy it from the supermarket was gutting it, which I was also very interested in because I’ve never done it before (and I come from a family of farmers, what a disgrace!). This has to be done carefully, and in this case we did it by cutting the bird open at the breast in order to remove all the innards slowly and with great care not to pierce the gallbladder or the intestines. We managed to not make a mess of it and there we had it, a clean carcass to quarter and make soup with. We made a delicious lentil soup, and verified that indeed, backyard hen’s meat is tough as a rock, but full of flavour and very nutritious! :)

Alix with our choice for dinner

Alix with our choice for dinner

the evidence...

the evidence…

the deed is done!

the deed is done!

skinning and gutting the chicken

skinning and gutting the chicken

sautéing her with all the aromatics. Mmmmmm....

sautéing her with all the aromatics. Mmmmmm….

not much left on the plate afterwards

not much left on the plate afterwards

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método sencillo para hacer yogur en casa

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Aquí les ofrezco un sencillo método para hacer, o reproducir, yogur en casa partiendo de un yogur activo y leche.

1º hay que hacerse con los ingredientes:

  • un yogur crudo o con biocultivos añadidos
  • leche, cuanto más cruda mejor. En orden de preferencia, utilizaremos:
    • leche cruda (cada día más difícil de conseguir)
    • leche pasteurizada (se encuentra normalmente en la sección refrigerada de los supermercados)
    • leche ultrapasteurizada
    • leche en polvo ;)

2º agitaremos el yogur para homogeneizarlo y lo verteremos en el bote de leche.

3º Aquí podemos verter la mezcla en tarritos individuales o dejar todo junto para que se haga yogur toda la leche. En este caso sería mejor con una botella de rosca, para que la podamos cerrar, o transferimos la mezcla del yogur con la leche a un tarro donde quepa todo.

4º Ahora hay que dar tiempo a la naturaleza a hacer su magia, dejando que las lactobacterias consuman la leche y la conviertan en yogur, haciendo reposar todo a una temperatura de unos 20º durante unas 24 horas o más. Una vez que consigáis la consistencia deseada podéis meter el tarro en la nevera para ralentizar el proceso y conservar el yogur con esa textura. Si no tenéis nevera, como es mi caso, las bacterias seguirán trabajando y el yogur irá cogiendo cada vez mayor consistencia, y si lo dejáis mucho hasta podéis conseguir queso! :)

Espero que lo intentéis en casa y lo disfrutéis! :)

¡y tenemos yogur! :)

con un poco más de tiempo de fermentación se nos hizo este queso, que se ve flotando sobre el suero. De sabor era un poco agrio, pero estupendo para estar hecho en casa! :)

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