when in Okinawa

When in Okinawa, Try Purple Food

You’ll  never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try.
Dolly  Parton

Most people who have come to Okinawa probably know about the Purple Sweet Potato (Beni-imo) that grows prolifically here. (See article: http://www.downtoearth.org/health/nutrition/okinawan-sweet-potato-purple-powerhouse-nutrition for more information) I have noticed the dominance of the color purple with every visit I make to local food market or gift shop. Gazing at a plethora of purple snack foods, I have always been curious as to what they might taste like.

I made a trip within the last week to the farmer’s market and wanted to pick out a few new things to try and I decided that there should be at least one purple item in my cart every time I go shopping. The Beni-imo could be a post alone, but I wanted to try some Beni-imo snacks along with other fresh produce.

It’s hard to tell by this picture but this little pineapple had a very purplish hue to it. The inside was yellow like any other pineapple I’ve seen and it was delicious.
pineapple

Here were the purple snacks I chose. At first glance I was sure one was a cookie. Upon closer inspection it looked more like cake.DSC03143

The bag appeared to have candy-covered peanuts which would be one of my favorite snack foods. If you look closely at the label you’ll find a small caricature that looks like a sweet potato man complete with arms and legs. So in theory these were in fact sweet potato covered peanuts. The lightly sweet crunchy coating complimented the savory peanuts well. DSC03146

I then tasted the “cake”. As I picked it up out of the container it sunk a little into my thumb revealing a central layer. It turned out to be a sandwich pastry of some sort.

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My first bite revealed a fruity jam layer in the center that no doubt tasted like sweet potato. The gooey, spongy pastry was not what I expected. I’m still not sure what it is; the best I can say is that it is a Wagashi, but there are many different types of Wagashi. It tasted okay, but it was so chewy I had to stop. My mouth got tired.

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Next I tried a curious fruit that was of great interest to me. Its papery outer shell and round fruit looked just like a tomatillo only this was orange and a little smaller. I knew I had seen something in a book about tomatillos being relative to an Asian Lantern fruit of some kind so I started researching on the internet. My search led me to believe that this fruit goes by a few names such as Chinese Ground Cherry, Cape Gooseberry, and Orange Tomatillo.

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The inside of the fruit had an identical texture to the tomatillo, was a little sweeter and tangier, and had the similar citrusy taste and smell. I was convinced it was a closer relative to a tomatillo than a tomato and wondered how it would taste in salsa–not that I found out because I’ve already eaten them all (after saving some seeds!).

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This, I was certain would be a small melon. I was very interested in a small melon because I knew I would be attempting to eat it by myself. Cutting it open I found the flesh to be pale.

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My taste test gave me yet another unexpected surprise for the day. It tasted exactly like a cucumber. There was nothing sweet or melon-like about it. I do like cucumber, but I didn’t think I could eat that much cucumber. I placed the remaining portions into a container in the fridge.

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I was very excited to try this tiny squash since I’m the only one in our house that really eats it. It had this little protective bottom cover and looked adorable. Then I took it home and discovered something on the bottom.

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Ewww, how disappointing right?  This led me to cutting almost half of my already tiny squash to throw away. Well, the top half was yummy. Note to self and my readers: always look on the bottom of the produce before buying!

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There is nothing mysterious about these tomatoes; I’m just grateful I can buy them locally.

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To finish out my taste testing session, it was time to make a brew of authentic Japanese loose leaf tea. Word of caution: Japanese Tea is STRONG even for tea enthusiasts like myself. I have been wanting to try more teas for a long time but as usual I’m intimidated by the selection. Usually all of the labels are in kanji and I don’t know what the name of the teas are or what they contain. This one had the name Ryukyu Ouki Tea which is an indication that it’s Okinawan. I don’t know if Healthy Communication is a brand or what the tea is suppose to promote.

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With some locally grown honey and my Japanese Tea Set I was good to go. As suspected, it was a strong hearty green tea and the honey complimented it well.

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Expect more taste testing in future posts and don’t let me forget to always add something purple to my cart!

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gardening, gardening and inspiration

Don’t Blame Your Beige Thumb!

Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement. -C.S. Lewis

When I talk to others about gardening I normally get one of two responses. The first is one of enthusiasm: “Oh I like gardening too. Right now I am growing (insert plant name here).” The other response is, “I just don’t have a green thumb.” I continually meet people who claim that they kill every plant they bring home and they are just too discouraged to make any further attempts.

Well I have news for you. I too have unwillingly killed plants. I didn’t know how to care for them properly and needed to do some research. For some odd reason, I decided a couple years ago to try again with tomato seedlings and a Rosemary Bush. After my first successful harvest, my husband mistakenly assumed that I felt passionate about growing things and that Christmas gave me a handful of photographically captivating books about gardening. The truth was, in the beginning I just wanted to grow tomatoes so that we could avoid a few extra trips to Wal-Mart during the week to feed our tomato addiction. I had the Rosemary bush because I knew that it grew well in poor soil with minimal care and it seemed like a good way to balance out my empty porch. I however was a complete softy for my new husband with his big dewy eyes and warm smile as he welled up with pride at the gift he had given me. Something happened to me too at that moment; I was proud of myself as well. I knew that for the first time I had done a good job caring for a plant and that plant in turn was producing fresh, organic food. I also realized that actually my husband wasn’t wrong about me–he just knew something about me before I saw it in myself.

The following January I filled my small sunny windowsill with seeds to get a jump start on my growing season. My new garden books were ever present by my spot on the couch and my bedside table. At the very onset of spring I perused the local nurseries in town. I filled my balcony with vegetables and herbs to the point that some of my plants couldn’t get enough sunlight due to the lack of space. It was that year that I also had my first encounters with plant diseases and pests. I became aware of the other things I had to learn but I didn’t mind that extra effort because the fruit that effort could bear was worth it. My husband also got me to invest in grow boxes that I use to this day and out of those grow boxes I harvested approximately 350 Habaneros, 100 Jalepenos, 20 bell peppers, and dozens of tomatoes (out of just two growboxes). My success that year was very encouraging in spite of a few plant losses.

The very first gardening books I owned and read from Brian were about container gardening since we lived in a second story apartment. One of the specialties of the books dealt with successfully combining plants in containers for looks and productivity (an example would be growing flowers with vegetables). Becoming increasingly familiar with combos and techniques, I have become bold with some of my experiments. You might remember my blog entry, “Odorous in a Good Way.” I combined three plants for a container to place at my front door.

Here’s how it looked then:

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Here it is now:

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There appeared to be something white and foamy on the plant that went brown. I think it may have been a fungus. I carefully cut away all the brown leaves and looked online for a way to create my own natural fungicide and sprayed that spot after scraping the top layer off carefully. In addition to washing my tools, I threw away the leaves instead of composting to avoid disease passing. The plants that remain have been returned to our front door. At least the citronella is still alive, I need it to repel mosquitoes.

My other failure comes in the form of seeds that haven’t germinated in almost two months.

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Yes, it is sad losing these plants; but that does not diminish the joy I have on this porch:

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Our patio is lined with flowers, tomato plants, tomatillo plants, pepper plants, herbs, and ornamental plants that are thriving. This would not have been achieved if I didn’t keep trying and remain willing to learn from failures. I can categorize all of my failures into a few simple tips that enable my current success:

Water correctly: Too little or too much? Know how to water and when to leave the plants alone. Watering near the roots in the morning prevents diseases and overwatering. Self-watering containers prevent under-watering a very thirsty plant. The rest just need good drainage.

Basic pest knowledge: If you know the most common pest for your area and take steps to prevent it from being a problem then you will ensure safety for most of the plants you have. Sometimes it’s as easy as planting a Marigold and a garlic clove with your tomato. Just do a little research and plan ahead. Most of the time when I do this, I no longer have to fuss over it for the rest of the season.

Fertilize once in a while: This is a lot like watering. Read the recommendation on the label and follow it. Sometimes with container gardening you only need to fertilize once and you’re done. Maybe do it again in 3 to 6 months. That’s it.

Place your plant in the right spot: Most plants like sun. Some like it a little. Others like it a lot. A few don’t like much sun at all. Find out which one your plant is and place it accordingly.

Get some easy plants: These are the plants that thrive naturally in your region. It’s nice to have a few that you don’t have to work at caring for whether you love digging in the garden or garden once a year (at best). Regional plants seldom need to be watered if ever and you don’t have to think about fertilizing. You’ll be able to guess which ones they are by looking around town; they are the ones you find the most of!

Lastly, remember that there is a season for everything: I can guarantee you that if I plant lettuce on my balcony today it will sprout quickly, become bitter, then die quickly. I can do everything else right but the truth is it is not it’s season. If I plant it when the temperatures drop in the fall to winter time however, it will be a super easy crop! If you’ve ever had a plant that was doing great for 6 months and all of the sudden failed, it may just be the season.

With a little practice all this knowledge can become automatic–especially with your favorite plants. If you have a desire to grow things, don’t be discouraged if a few attempts fail. Be willing to grow yourself. Take it from someone whose beige thumb turned green after all.

Grow on,

Marissa

Garden Crafts, gardening

UpCycling for the Kitchen Garden

Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned.  Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich.  Be sober and temperate, and you will be healthy.  Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy.  At least, you will, by such conduct, stand the best chance for such consequences.

-Benjamin Franklin

Some people are looking for hobbies because they need something to do. Others, want to know how to save money. Then there are others who never tire of trying new things. What could be a thread that binds them? The answer is, a craft known as up-cycling.

Up-cyclying is the form of recycling that involves re-using an item for another purpose. It also may involve a form of crafting. I recently felt inspired by one of my favorite blogs and thought that I would share some of my recent up-cycling projects. The blog I found my inspiration from can be found here: http://therookieallotmenteers.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/upcycling-in-the-garden/

For starters, there are the seed starting containers I have already demonstrated in this blog–eggshells! I am now having more fun with them by using different colored markers to label them. I will discuss more about my recent garden tasks that involves these shells in an upcoming post but for now, here are the eggshells…

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Next up, I have some slightly larger temporary containers. I have folded/rolled Japanese newspapers into loops then secured the bottom with coffee filters. Thin paper is biodegradable and compostable so for roots that are delicate this is like using peat pots (only these containers will only cost you your time instead of money). To bind them into a hold, I used a decorative tape around the outside of the containers. I can always cut the outer layer of paper off before placing the plant in the ground. Another benefit to planting with paper or peat pots is that it will direct the roots to go down instead of out which will make the plants stronger.

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I also repurposed coffee tin cans, jars, and bottles. Here I have used rust-o-leum metal paint to cover them which works very well at covering surfaces and leaves a glossy finish. Just know that when you use this type of paint, your paint brush will be a goner at the end of your painting session. I’ve decided that whenever I use it I will pick out as many things to paint as I can in one sitting so that I will not have to sacrifice as many good brushes.

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For these glasses, I used acrylic paint. To be truthful, it’s not the greatest for glass but in the spirit of up-cycling I wanted to be frugal and only use what I already had. Acrylic will scratch off of glass very easily. The best route, for decorative glasses only, is to swirl the paint around the inside of the glass until it coats. The only problem for me was that I wanted to cover up logos on the glasses. SO I did a little bit of both and it works out for decorative purposes only. The glasses will be above my cabinet and unlikely to get scratched up there. I used a glue gun to write words on them before painting. I guess these are my ingredients to a happy kitchen: Peace, Faith, Hope, Love, Joy, Bertolli. DSC03137

For my kitchen window planters, I covered coffee tins with scrapbook paper. I took a nail and hammer to make holes in the bottom for good drainage and the lids are now on the bottom as drip trays. DSC03170

The red painted tins were originally a pineapple can and an almond can. Now they house micro greens in my window. This will be my first experience growing sprouts such as this.

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Finally, what were once jam jars are now being used to grow new roots. DSC03172

I like crafting and I like gardening. It’s been fun finding ways to bring the two together. So here’s the breakdown of my supplies:

  • Japanese Newspaper (Free when I bought something else in town and they wrapped my breakables in it)
  • Coffee Filters (Pennies, I only needed about 8 out of a package of 150)
  • Scrapbook Paper ($2 worth)
  • Decorative tape (Less than 99 yen. I got the tapes in 3-pack from the 100 yen store)
  • Glass Jars and Bottles (As good as free. I bought the goods they were housed in and used them then had the jars left over).
  • Rust-O-Leum Paint (about $3 and I have plenty left over for future projects)
  • Acrylic Paint (about a dollar a paint jar and use it frequently on wood and canvas)
  • Eggshells (as good as free, I bought the eggs and used them)
  • Markers
  • Soil

Thanks for reading. I hope you will find opportunities to be industrious, frugal, and happy as well.

Garden Pests, gardening

Odorous, in a Good Way

Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.

-Walt Whitman

I have been having a problem with mosquitoes congregating near my front door and was looking for ways to deter them. Plus, I wanted a plant in my entry way to make it more welcoming. Finally, the solution came to me.

First, I had an unidentified herb that appears to be another type of Chamomile with its feathery leaves and sweet aroma. I attempted to plant it with a pink polka dot plant, needed a place to put my chives, and was struggling to figure out a way to arrange my citronella plant with other shade tolerant plants for my front door.

Here are the plants before:

DSC03073 Pungent Chives, sweet Chamomile (maybe) with pink polka dots, odorously citrusy citronella, and another herb that I don’t recognize but it smelled minty and flowery at the same time.

Here is the after:

DSC03074 I read in a book that Chamomile can be paired happily with chives, so I did just that. This no doubt will be a nice compliment in my cooking.

DSC03075 The Citronella is paired now with pink polka dot for color and a fragrant creeping herb to trail over the sides. Relaxing underneath the arrangement is my favorite gnome, Felix. I named him after my grandpa who inspired me to garden and truly taught me the meaning of self-sufficiency and innovation. This jolly gnome always manages to bring a smile to my face with his laid back mannerism.

Hopefully as the new plant arrangement settles, it will grow together nicely. I also hope it grows more fragrant and the mosquitoes hate it. We’ll see. In the meantime, I have also clipped some stems off of this existing citronella in hopes that I will be able to propagate them into more citronella. It takes about four weeks for roots to form so we’ll know by then if the propagation works.

I think when Walt described his desire to be undisturbed as he walked through the garden, he must have been referring to mosquitoes. I’ll take that garden too, please.

-Marissa

gardening and inspiration

Sweet Shy Flowers Are a Treat

The flower that smells the sweetest is shy and lowly. -William Wordsworth

Some of nature’s daintiest flowers produce the most delicious and beneficial foods. Other flowers which are simply pretty to look at, provide pollen so that other flowers, fruits, and vegetables can be more plentiful. Some simple flowers act as great defenders, assistants, hostesses, or producers. Furthermore, a single flower that wilts when its season has passed can leave behind a seed pod with dozens of seeds. None of my flowers are roses, camellias, azaleas, or hydrangeas–I enjoy those flowers too–but all of my flowers serve a great purpose.

You’ll remember that I started sowing seeds in April and May for flowers and vegetables. The first sign of production in progress for my vegetable plants comes in the form of shy flowers. Some of my earliest vegetable flowers appeared this week.

[The Following Pictures were taken between June 8-12]

DSC03054 This is the first flower that has appeared on my okra plant. It only lasted a day and then wilted. In it’s place will be an okra pod that will turn into an okra of course. It’s smaller, but it reminds me of the beautiful Hibiscus that also only lasts one day. Here’s a great surprise: the petals are yellow and the center of the flower is a deep red. It’s an inversion of the tiny petunias I planted with the okra as they are deep red on the outside and yellow in the inside.

DSC03061DSC03059DSC03062 I also had so many Chamomile DSC03068blooms that the plant was beginning to look leggy. I thought maybe I should pick some in hopes that the plant will want to reproduce more petite daisy-like little Chamomile flowers. I clipped some lavender as well for this fragrant sweet bouquet which will make a calming decaf tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC03063It was only a day later that I encountered, for the first time ever, a tomatillo bloom. At first glance, it looked similar to a tomato bloom, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be very different.  The pistols are purple and the yellow petals bend upward. When you view it from DSC03070above the plant, it looks like a star-shaped lantern. It appears to have its own little covering much like the way tomatillos have papery leaves covering their fruit.

Then today I discovered the opening tomato blooms. It won’t be very long before tomatoes take the place of these tiny flowers. They will be several times the size of the flowers and in my experience, tomato flowers are always the same size whether I am growing large or small tomatoes. DSC03076DSC03077 Also today came the first white Petunia bloom. I am particularly proud of this flower because I planted the seeds from white petunias I grew in Georgia. Petunias are among my favorite flowers of all. They are easy to grow, forgiving, and give lots of seeds (but if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss the appearance of seeds as they are quite small). To me, the Petunias are lady-like. They remind me of flowing skirts, handkerchiefs, and Mexican restaurants. I’m sure it seems like a silly connection, but there have been so many times that I have sat on a patio designed with colorful tiles, lanterns, and terracotta pots filled with Petunias. Furthermore, I have yet to meet a plant that a Petunia didn’t grow well with.  DSC03078 Here’s the bird’s eye view of the okra arrangement now. Soon the bottom of the container will be full of white and red Petunias of varying sizes and okra will come up the shoots of the large leaves.

Here’s to the sweetest flowers!

Marissa

 

Coming soon: Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds Arrive, re-arranging plant arrangements for a fragrance that is loathed by mosquitoes, what to do with sunflowers, up cycled plant containers, purple food in Okinawa, and much more!

Garden Pests, gardening, gardening and inspiration

Friend or Foe? Stay off the Poblano!

Heat  not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.
-William Shakespeare

Yesterday, in the Garden I finally decided to transplant my Poblano Seedlings into the grow box. I waited a long time to plant them due to my looming fears that the tiny tender seedlings would be devoured in one night by a slug, snail, or caterpillar. Of course, being root bond in an eggshell for a month and half is not productive so I took the plunge and planted the Poblano Peppers in good faith that they will be unharmed.

20130606-151901.jpg [As a side note, they were planted at ground level. Don’t try burying their stems the way I did with tomatoes. Tomato stems grow roots when buried, pepper stems rot when buried.]

Today, I set out to trim up my wild and crazy Lemon Balm Bush. Similar to it’s minty cousins, the Lemon Balm grows as prolifically as a weed and I’m sure the roots have already filled the container and dry very quickly. Even after long bouts of rain and living in a container with a self-watering reservoir, it only takes about 2-3 days without water for the Lemon Balm to look parched while the rest of the plants on my balcony look content. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, my Lemon Balm endured stress this week and needed refreshment. I thoroughly watered and gave it a couple of days to recover, then this morning I grabbed the garden shears and went to work trimming it liberally. I filled a bowl with fresh Lemon Balm leaves to sift through, took them to the kitchen, started creating lemony ice cubes as I did in a previous post, then started placing all the nice looking leaves in the dehydrator so that I could have tea with them later on. As I was separating the leaves, my eyes suddenly were met with two black eyes on a bright red head staring back at me. I jumped and let out a small squeak in surprise at instantly encountering a very fuzzy, squirming thing with long antennae on my Lemon Balm.

DSC03041At first I thought the yellow dots where eggs from a predatory bug (some lay their eggs on a host pest) but upon closer inspection I realized that these where patches of thick hair. The fuzz around the sides was hair and even the antennae were full of hair. I considered whether this was larvae that would become a gorgeous butterfly or if it was a moth. I wondered if it only left minor nibbles on plants or if it could do significant damage and needed to be eradicated. I was uncertain so I placed it with it’s host leaves into a mason jar with a bit of water until I could research it.  Image [Notice the bite mark in the background? I watched it munch that spot in less than a minute.]

20130606-151648.jpg20130606-151702.jpgI couldn’t help but consider as it munched on leaves that, it has to eat too. I didn’t want to kill it, but I also knew that if this was the sort of crawler that could devour my poblanos or stunt my tomatoes, it needed to go.

After doing some research I concluded that this is a White Marked Tussock Moth. (Click on the link to find out more). It will turn into a standard looking grey moth, but as a caterpillar it’s quite unique. I see no benefit for my garden coming from this critter, but I also don’t see significant enough harm to eradicate it. It will be released a good distance from my balcony just to be on the safe side.

Soon I was back in the kitchen making my Lemon Balm Tea Spice and contemplating relocation plans for the caterpillar when I realized I needed something in the living room. As I made my way back to the kitchen, I noticed something black with eight legs and a white stripe crawling on my wall. It was a spider; one that I could not identify. I could embellish the story by describing it’s great size but the truth is it was not much bigger than my pinky finger nail. Yet, there was something dreadful about the sight of this creepy crawler. In reference to garden pests, spiders are generally considered one of the good guys because they eat bad bugs. Here was my problem. It was in my house and I couldn’t identify what type of spider it was; plus, venom doesn’t make anybody a good guy. Quick decision. There was a magazine and a jar on the shelf near by. To smash or to catch? That was the question. At that moment, I didn’t want to clean him off my wall so I caught him with the jar and slid the magazine over the covering. It instantly started jumping all around the jar and I felt shivers around my shoulders.

I went out my back door and lunged the jar forward sending the spider flying off my balcony! I breathed a cliché sigh of relief.

With great irony, it was only minutes later that I stepped out my front door to retrieve citronella clippings that I’m going to propagate more plants from in an effort to control mosquito pests when suddenly there was a mosquito on my arm. I moved quickly and the mosquito landed on the wall by my door. I did a push kick right at the wall and squashed him causing blood to drip down the wall. Yuck. I’ll say it again. Yuck! I grabbed a napkin to wipe the blood off the wall and not knowing whose blood it was, I immediately ran into the kitchen to wash my hands.

As I was washing my hands, a mosquito flew right in front of me and without a moment’s hesitation I slapped my wet hands together squashing another mosquito. (Deep Sigh). I washed my hands again.

Here is the lesson for today. In the garden, bugs are inevitable. In a humid, subtropical location, bugs are inevitable. To have problems and solutions in your garden, bugs are inevitable. To some extent, you should embrace them. To another extent, you should be fearless when conquering them. Some bugs foes who will harm your plants, others are friends who will save them from the devourers. It’s all about balance. A variety of plants will attract beneficial insects and birds who then eat the pests. If you can get a new plant established and healthy, it will be less susceptible to pests and diseases and you won’t have to worry about a bug getting a munch now and again. My only concern for now? Keeping the bugs off the Poblanos!