Food and Travel, gardening, gardening and inspiration

I am an Heirloom Gardener on Foreign Soil

Life  is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let  us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live  better in the future.
William Wordsworth

I am an heirloom gardener on foreign soil. Originally from Texas, I have Hispanic and Jewish Roots on my Mother’s side; European Roots on my Father’s side. My great grandparents were immigrants from Mexico, Lithuania, Ireland, and Germany. My parents and I were born in America; we are American. I now live in Japan.

I began this journey as a gardener in the States where everything was familiar and comfortable. Seed packets at the local stores were almost always Ferry-Morse or Burpee, not that you had to use seeds because the hardware stores had transplants for just as cheap every spring. You never had trouble finding the name of anything unfamiliar to you. You could count on tomatoes to be red, cucumbers to be green, and all other things to be entirely predictable. You also realized that you would have start up costs for your garden and reason that it was an investment.

Then I started doing something a little different. When we bought produce at the store that I particularly liked; I saved the seeds. What did it cost me besides a little bit of time? I began saving seeds in every fruit and vegetable that I liked. Next I found new produce at places like Whole Foods such as “Yellow Pear Tomato” or “Speckled Roman”  or a Mexican variety of a Cherry Tomato. I began recording where I was finding my seeds, when I found them, and if I knew where they were shipped from.

That is when I learned about Heirloom Gardening. Heirloom seed collection is much like passing down family Heirlooms. You attain seeds from a parent plant and replant those seeds in the future then repeat the process with the generation of seeds that follows. Seeds are passed on to family, neighbors, and friends so that future generations can enjoy growing something as  tangibly in the present as a vegetable but at the same time capable of rebirth through its seed. This is how Heirloom Varieties have stayed around without being stocked in grocery stores; old time gardeners are still saving and passing them on for future generations. I now order seeds from a catalogue (the way the old timers used to do) by Baker Creed Seed Company as they specialize in collecting rare varieties of seeds.

Now I too specialize in collecting rare varieties. I am an heirloom gardener on foreign soil. I am presently growing vegetables from seeds that were from Texas, Mexico, Georgia, and Florida. I now collect new varieties from mysterious foods I find here because today is a part of the story my garden will tell. Imagine a garden in the future where I will tell people, “This is a small Shikuwasa tree started from seeds I collected in Okinawa. Over here is a plant some call a Cape Goose Berry, but in Okinawa it’s called a Hozuki and is said to be extremely rare. At my parent’s house is an Avocado tree I actually started in Georgia and then loaded into the car and took with me to Texas. Then over here is a collection of rare purple varieties of veggies like Jalapeños, Tomatillos, and Cayenne Peppers.” Rather than seeing them only as plants, I will recall the history that is theirs and mine alike.

One thing I find amazing is the miracle of how small a seed is and yet the greatness of it’s potential. It reminds me of myself–of all of us really–and how we start out so small but have the potential to grow to endless heights. A single seed appears so insignificant; yet it can become a huge tree or three foot plant that produces hundreds fruit. Plus, each seed carries the DNA of it’s parent plant. It won’t just randomly turn into another plant–it will be like it’s parent. AND, each new generation of seeds carries traits that help it adapt to the environment that it has been introduced to. Also, if you allow it to be in close proximity to a similar plant variety, the cross pollination will cause it to have traces of the other plant’s DNA. The new generation might come out looking a little different but in most ways it will be the same.

Anyway, this is what I’ve been striving to do when I shop at the local markets. I’m searching for the pieces that I will add to my story–the one that my garden tells. Now you’ll know the significance of Market Day Sunday.

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when in Okinawa

When in Okinawa, Get a Pedi (pt2)

“You should get a fish this time.”
“They have a lot if designs but I doubt they have a fish.”
“Oh, they’ll have a fish!”
“I want flowers, you wouldn’t actually want me to get a fish!”
“Will you get a fish? For me?”
“Okay, if they have a fish, I will get a fish for you!”
“Cool”
-Dialogue between Brian and Marissa

Why is it such a big deal to get a pedicure in Okinawa?

After spending half of my chair time at Cocok trying to decide which pretty floral design I wanted…my eyes finally found a fish. “Ok, It’ll make my husband smile,” I thought to myself.

I still got a beautiful hibiscus design on each and every other toe with a butterfly on one big toe and a little Coy fish on the other. The original model for the fish was in an entirely different color scheme but I just simply asked my artist if she could match the color scheme. She did a beautiful job!

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And that is why you should get a Pedicure in Okinawa!

Food and Travel, when in Okinawa

How I Wound up EATING Flowers

YOU DO NOT LIKE THEM. SO YOU SAY.
TRY THEM! TRY THEM! AND YOU MAY.
TRY THEM AND YOU MAY, I SAY.

SAM! IF YOU LET ME BE,
I WILL TRY THEM. YOU WILL SEE.

Dr. Seuss “Green Eggs and Ham”

It has been a busy week to say the least and I’ve been waiting anxiously to tell you about my most recent Farmer’s Market Finds. You know by now that every visit I will find something purple to place in the basket. Here it is:

DSC03234 Some of you know this fruit already but for those of you who don’t–it’s a Dragon Fruit. Dragon Fruit may be this hot pink hue (okay, it’s close to purple), others may be a sunny yellow, and usually the fruit inside is even more vibrant than the outer skin. Some even have greyish fruit. Here’s what mine looked like:

DSC03236 I think it’s purple.

So here is something interesting about the Dragon Fruit; it doesn’t originate in Asia. It is actually a South American Cactus-like plant that was at some point imported to Asia and is now very popular in all the Asian Countries as well as Israel. I first saw this fruit on my friend Jessa’s blog www.shalomsweethome.com .

To eat, cut it in half and scoop out the center with a spoon the way you would a Kiwi. It is delicious. It doesn’t taste exactly like a Kiwi but the fruit flavor and texture is strikingly similar and you get to eat more of it (my favorite part). Another one of my favorite bloggers features a recipe using the Dragon Fruit here: http://naturallydiy.com/2013/07/16/dragon-fruit-salad/

As I was so intrigued by this fruit at the market and eager to give it a taste, I also found this item in the same bin:

20130721-113800.jpg Was it a dragon fruit relative? Was it another fruit entirely? Was it a vegetable? Would I eat it here or there? Would I eat it anywhere?

I pried it open to see what was inside.

20130721-113819.jpg It appeared to be a flower. Could I, Would I, Should I eat this thing?

I made a hypothesis that it could be a Dragon Fruit Flower. I wasn’t sure if it was or what parts were edible and this concerned me. I googled and oogled. It seemed like it could be a Dragon Fruit Flower but I didn’t find many pictures of the flower bud from the outside or in this state. I couldn’t find credible sources. One of my blogger friends (www.naturallydiy.com) helped me out with her research and sent me a picture of a dragon fruit flower she saw at a botanical garden. So now that I had narrowed down what this was, I needed to find out how to use it.

The most information I could find in English about preparing it was on the website http://okinawaislandproduce.com/. There are two to three options for preparing this vegetable. The bud itself can be cooked as a vegetable such as in boiling water or a broth. The flower can be fried, sautéed or steeped as a tea. I used the two recipes from the site. The boiled vegetable went into a chicken broth for a soup and the sautéed flower was cooked with soy sauce and chili peppers. The sautéed flower was the one I liked better–to me it tasted like a mild cheese.

Here is what it looked like:

DSC03239 Cut up flower bud for cooking as a vegetable.

DSC03240Isolated flower ready for sautéing.

DSC03241 Into the skillet. DSC03242 It looks lovely browned. DSC03243I forgot to take a picture of it on my plate. I am sorry. I actually liked it though. DSC03244 Here is what it looked like after being boiled as a vegetable. The flavor is mild-it actually had very little flavor to me.

DSC03245Here it is in my soup with some purple okra!

The next day, I attended a local botanical garden with my husband and saw for myself what this mysterious Dragon Fruit Plant looked like.

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So now you know how I wound up eating flowers.

I DO! I LIKE THEM, SAM-I-AM!

AND I WILL EAT THEM HERE AND THERE.
SAY! I WILL EAT THEM ANYWHERE!

-Dr. Seuss “Green Eggs and Ham”

Garden Pests

Dozens of Vampires in Broad Daylight

If  a mosquito has a soul, it is mostly evil. So I don’t have too many qualms about  putting a mosquito out of its misery. I’m a little more respectful of  ants.
Douglas  Hofstadter

The day that followed Post-typhoon warnings began with sunny skies as is often the case. My plants were tucked away in the outside closet, sheltered from potentially damaging winds. With clear air and sky I was ready to brings my potted plants back into the nourishing photosynthesis of the sun.  Then I heard that awful familiar sound. A low but uncomfortable hum resonated as I opened the closet door.

“Beezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Dozens of little feather like dots hovered and then began to move in my direction.

Mosquitoes!

A few days ago we were on storm watch here in Okinawa. There appeared to be potential for quite a doozy so we were urged to take the necessary precautions. The tropical storm never hit the island, it was several hundred miles away, but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t get severe winds and rain. When anticipating this kind of weather, all outside items must be put away or secured.

What I didn’t anticipate was the way mosquitos might decide to lay eggs in the water of my plant reservoirs. I’m sure they’ve done this many times before, but I hadn’t noticed. Maybe they flew away when they hatched. I even have mosquito repelling plants on my porch; but mosquitos are difficult to deter. From the sight I encountered when opening the outside closet door, I’d say some mosquitos hatched.

Not wanting to be eaten alive, I promptly shut the door. It would have been foolish to simply go into that closet and pull each plant out one by one without having a plan of action. Not knowing what to do, I turned to the internet. My logic told me that I needed a way to control them within the closet before I started retrieving items.

I was totally immersed in a Google Search when I heard it again.

“Beezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Smash! A splotch of blood was smeared on my hand and leg.

“Beezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

That sound again. I had to find a solution fast!

My research led me to a recipe for a trap–One that attracts mosquitos using carbon dioxide. No wonder there were so many mosquitos thriving in that closet for two days–the trapped plants were letting off tons of it I’m sure.

Here’s how I made it:

Step One: Cut a plastic jug or soda bottle about a third of the way down from the top.

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Step two: Turn the top portion upside down and place inside the bottom portion.

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Step Three: Secure the two pieces with tape. The whole jug had to be covered in dark color so that it would be more attractive to the mosquitos.

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Step four: Pour hot water into a heat proof bowl.

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Step five: Add Brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool a little.

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Step six: Place the sugar water mixture into the recycled jug and add active dry yeast to the top (no stirring necessary) which creates the carbon dioxide.

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*Bonus Step* Use extra boiling water to make oneself a cup of tea.

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Since I was already making a bug trap of one sort, I thought I would make a trap of another sort. We also have gnats entering the house so I used a water bottle to make a smaller trap for the kitchen. This concoction consists of apple cider vinegar and soap.

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I needed to refill my multipurpose cleaner/bug repellant so that I would be prepared for the imminent attack. A few drops of lavender oil and water are all it takes.

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With fresh mist of lavender all around me I took the mosquito trap outside, cracked the closet door open, quickly set it inside, and immediately shut the door. It looked like I was going to have to wait another day to let my plants get fresh air. Mosquitos can actually live in an enclosed space for a long time unfortunately (up to a month if they have food).

My research also yielded the fact that not all mosquitos bite (Hard to believe isn’t it?). Male mosquitos eat pollen and nectar while it is the females who need to feed their young that suck our blood. Perhaps Hell hath no fury than a female mosquito hungry.

Twenty-four hours later and longing to let my plants out for some oxygen, I cracked the closet door open to take a peek. I spotted five mosquitos. There definitely seemed to be a lot less mosquitos flying around than there had been the previous day. Less mosquitos, my pants and rain jacket tucked for added protection, and a good dose of insect repellant prepared me to face them. At long last, the plants were in the open air.

I had to find out if the contraption really worked. After pouring the solution out onto a paper plate, look what came floating up.

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It took a special circumstance to be persuaded to ATTRACT mosquitos, but it was with their elimination as the goal. Normally, if you’re having troubles with mosquitos you want to repel them. If you use this remedy, you’ll want to have it in a place away from where you congregate so as to draw them away from you. Alternatively it can be used in a space such as indoors if they’ve come in and need to be dealt with. It’s good to know this solution works.

If you already live in a humid place that is mosquito prone, it might be a good idea to have a plan in place for water. Either leave no standing water anywhere or find a solution for the standing water. Soon I’m going to place mosquito nets over the holes of the reservoirs to prevent this from happening again.

Growing forward,

Marissa