Total Eclipse of the Garden

blackout bed covers

I couldn’t resist the title. There is a full moon lunar eclipse in Scorpio tonight.

Let’s see what’s going on in the garden. 

A proper understanding of how big my house and garden are hit me about two weeks ago.

When we moved in, we were both employed, and we hired someone to trim and repair things as we needed. We did a little remodeling and painting but little if any preventive maintenance.

Now that I’m here all day long with little extra cash for hiring help,  I’ve taken a close look, and there’s A LOT of work to be done. I was overwhelmed for about a week. The result was not work, but reading.

I read my journals from Mexico. I remembered I know how to garden, which was reassuring. And that I can fix all kinds of things with just sticks mud, sweat and perseverance. I was reminded that a good deal of what I accomplished while living in Mexico, I did alone. I give him most of the credit, Felipe is a rock star, but he was often working; he had his fires to put out or was too exhausted to care about every need of our homestead. I could not have done without him, but I did become quite self-reliant.

If you don’t journal, I recommend it.  To have a written history available to you, biased or not, is invaluable. Buoyed by my records, I got back to work.

The first thing I did was clean and organize the bodega. I found essential tools I thought I was going to have to buy. The machetes need sharpening, I’ll give it a shot with my stone, but I think they need a pro.  I hope to find an afilador with a bicycle attached to his wheel!  I promise a picture if I do.

Gardening tools Nicaragua

Tools unearthed in the bodega!

Then I rounded up all the bricks, roof, and floor tiles I could find and carried on with covering the beds in plastic to kill weeds before I plant on the new moon. plasic covering to kill weeds

More overwhelm set in when I realized how many weights and bags it would take and that I still had to cut all the posts and PVC for the row covers. I’m doing this with my jeweler saw.  Yes, you can cut rebar with a jeweler’s saw, but I hope the hacksaw I found in the bodega will be a better option. I’m going through a lot of blades.

Yesterday, I took the day off and trekked out for supplies, including a stop at our local thrift shop. Finding this excellent gardening hat and long socks for my boots helped get me back to the beds today. They make me look like Gilly, but,  this is a killer hat, and no boot rash is a big plus.

More improvements! Most of what I’ll put in will be direct seeded, but I have these fancy new seed pots made of tofu containers. They’re a significant upgrade from the pizza boxes.

seedlings

Tomatoes in the tofu boxes, and volunteer chilis and papayas.

Something I’ve learned about housing and gardening is:  there will be trial and error.

A few examples:

Our roof needed repairs, and it was cheaper to put a new roof on top of the old one. They’re both made of corrugated roofing sheets.  The original is fiberglass, and the top layer, the one we installed, is corrugated tin. Felipe thought it would be too hot for an animal to nest between the two.

Guess what bats hate: wind. Guess what bats love: heat. Our roof is a bat condo. I got a sonar bat repellant, and it works-mostly. I also installed a bat house. It’s unoccupied. Why live in a box when you have a condo?

The previous owner left us many fabulous trees. But now they’re so huge they’re blocking out the sun of the citrus trees.  I’m left with a sad dilemma of what wonderful trees to cut down. I’ll start with some serious pruning. Hopefully, it will be enough.

Mother addressed the issue of my surami cherries gone wild. She’s ruthless!

 

The small kitchen garden is now in full shade, and little is prospering. It is a winter garden. The tomatoes, which will not grow without enough sun, are too big to transfer.  I’m hoping the herbs will not need to be moved…vamos a ver.

My final garden fancy for the week.

Years ago, I got it in my head that Central America should have Papasan chairs. I wanted to grow bamboo in Mexico and start a cottage industry. Felipe wasn’t hot on it, probably because he was working a grueling full-time job, growing his own crops, and raising pigs. But, I still think it’s a grand idea, and 3 years ago I bought these black bamboo plants.

Black Bamboo, Nicaragua

The crowning glory of my garden.

This plant was about two feet when I bought it, and is now over 20 feet tall. And it has over 20 corms.  It looms in my sunset view and makes me happy every time I see it. I have four others. When the dry season returns I will cut enough to dry and learn to bend bamboo.

There are many bamboo benders in Catrina, but I’ll probably learn how to do it from youtube videos. It’s how I learned how to butcher.

The full moon is a time of illumination, but what is it when it’s dimmed or blocked from sight? Darkness when we expect light is an opportune time to look within.

Today is a perfect day to get your hands and feet on the ground. Dig in your garden, pull your potted plants out for a sunbath, and walk the dog barefoot in the grass.

Do your work, wait for the light, and plan your papasan.

Abrazos,

A

Sunsets in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is known for its sunsets, for good reason. This was taken last night from my terrace.

I am very grateful to have such a supportive readership, your being here, reading commenting and liking has been an immeasurable help to me on this journey of starting anew.  I will continue to post on VSVEVG, about life in Nicaragua, book reviews, more personal topics, and I will be putting a blog on my website that will focus on food, sustainability, and gardening. I’ll let you know when that’s up if you enjoy my food-related content.

Hasta Pronto! Thank you for being here, abrazos,

A

 

How to Create Your Own Specialty Dish in 5 Easy Steps

 

I’ve heard people say they can’t boil an egg. I like to think that mindset is hyperbole because I not only feel it’s important that everyone can boil an egg to their preferred perfection, but I also believe that anyone would benefit from having a specialty dish.

For some, cooking is a cause for anxiety, but, let me assure you, this is a process of self-care. So, start by making yourself comfortable.  Perhaps, change your clothes, make a cup of tea, or pour a glass of wine. Turn off your phone if that’s an option for you.

Take a deep breath, smile, and recognize you are taking care of yourself, and possibly someone you care about too!

What’s the worst thing that could happen? It won’t turn out as you expected? It will be inedible? Give yourself permission before you begin, to laugh if that happens, have a bowl of cereal or order a pizza, and resolve to try again another day.

Before we dive in, what is a specialty dish?

A specialty dish is a meal you make when your friend, lover, or coworker is sick and needs someone to notice and to care for them.  It is also the dish you make for company, to celebrate, for yourself on a cozy night, or when you are healing a broken heart.  Of course, you can have different specialties for different occasions, but this is how to create your signature dish designed to care for yourself and others, even if you don’t know how to boil an egg.

  1. What is your favorite food? Especially what is your favorite food to eat if you need succor? Think about your feelings about that food. Who made it for you? Did you watch them make it? Was there some part of the preparation that fascinated you? I love straining the white of an egg through my fingers, to end up with the golden gem of yolk in my palm, because I watched my grandmother do this when she made angel food cake. The silkiness of the white, the color and lifeforce of the yolk, the language: Angel food, and grandmother’s love and skills combined – was alchemy. This is the type of recipe, the depth of feeling, you are seeking.
  2. Understand that what you want is a feeling more than food. You don’t have to take a cooking course to learn to create a feeling. Let’s say your favorite food to feel cared for is chicken soup. You can start chicken soup with a whole chicken in a pot, which is a wonderful ritual, and I wholly recommend it. But, if the enormity of that project keeps you from learning to make something you love for those you love, make it smaller. Buy a rotisserie chicken, and some chicken broth. Put some of the chicken in the freezer, and always have chicken broth, some frozen mixed vegetables, and your favorite noodle on hand.  Cook the noodles in the broth first then add the chicken and vegetables. Plop in a nice knob of butter, and Ta Da! A balm of love in a bowl in less than 30 minutes.
  3. What if your favorite is something that requires insane skills or time? Your great aunt’s croissants, for example. Choose a ritual instead.  An underlying component of skill is intent. The axiom, everyone starts somewhere is true, and all the experts started with just one thing, the intent to do something well. You can employ intent through ritual to simpler processes, like perfect scrambled eggs, or a favorite spice blend you can put on anything. Find a recipe you want to try, get out all the tools you will need to make it. Sharpen your knives, use colorful bowls to hold your ingredients, play music, put on an apron. Spice blends are wonderfully fun to make by hand in a mortar and pestle. They can make the mundane exotic.  They fill your kitchen with glorious scents and create a feeling of ceremony.  They’re a great launchpad for a reticent cook.
  4. Make it elemental: honor fire, water, earth, and air. Infusing your cooking with an elemental ritual will give you more confidence in the kitchen. Don’t believe me? Try it!
  • Earth is easy, if it’s food, it’s earth. Be grateful to the earth as you prepare what’s before you.
  • Water, honor any part of the process that uses water. Steam your face over your pasta; listen to the voice of water as it pours from your tap or the sizzle as you deglaze a pan; save water you cook vegetables in – drink it, give it to your pets, water your plants, notice the water cycle happening in your kitchen. Mark as an occasion, a simple glass of water served with your meal. Recognize the gift it is to have clean, life-sustaining water at your disposal.
  • Fire is fundamental to the process generally, but a candle on the table can also provide illumination. Fire is the spark; honor your power to provide this act of provision.
  • Air: focus on your breath as you cook. Be there while you create this special dish to give support and nourishment. Blow on your food to cool it, smile.
  1.  A few Additional Suggestions   
  • Eggs are the ultimate food. They are wildly versatile; they keep well. There is an abundance of simple, elegant recipes for eggs. Mastering an egg preparation is absolutely within the beginner’s reach and is surprisingly satisfying.
  • Find your fat: butter, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, lardo, smaltz. Keep it on hand. A drizzle of roasted sesame oil, a pat of butter, truffle oil, crème fraiche, the olive oil they splashed on everything when you vacationed in the wine country. Use flavorful healthy fats to make your food rich and nurturing.
  • Upgrade your childhood favorite. Maybe your favorite meal was Campbell’s tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. As adults, we may not enjoy the quality of those products; perhaps, sugar, preservatives, and dye aren’t a part of our comfort menu anymore. Wholesome tomato soup is easy to make with canned roasted tomatoes, and good broth in a blender finished with a blob of butter. And there’s a wealth of fabulous cheese and bread options for a truly grand grill.
  • Keep it under 30 minutes. This is a dish you put on the table, when you or someone you love is hungry, tired, sick, celebrating, or in a hurry, and still needs a good meal. If it’s too complicated or takes too long, you may choose carry-out instead. And though it’s a miracle to have food delivered to your door, it isn’t the magic you will feel when you place your own specialty dish on the table.

Probecho!

Do you have a specialty dish?

If so, what is it? If not, have you ever wished you had one?

 

I would love to hear how your efforts go if you try this plan to create your own specialty.

 

Hello, I’m Abby, a writer, cheesemaker, butcher, and gardener, following the road to sustainability in word and deed to the best of my ability, for the last 15 years, from central America.

 

 

pro Gardening tips

Pizza Box Pachol

Felipe suggested I use this pizza box as a pachol….

Pro-tip: a pizza box is not a seed starter kit.

If you look closely you’ll see small tomato plants, but, you will also see some classic sticks and mud tech here, as I use vegetable cartons to keep the plants from falling out.

It’s been a long time since I gardened. When we moved to Nicaragua we rented for several years, and Felipe manages a large organic garden. There was no reason. But, now I have a property and I work from home.  So, I’m going to garden again!

Pro trip, know how tall something will grow before you plant it in front of your view.

Surinam Cherry

These are my Surinam cherry bushes, except they are trees. I put them in 3 years ago. The fruit is beautiful, tasty too, berries aren’t readily available here, so its fun to have them. But, now I have to decide if they will forever be my view, and shade for the downstairs terrace, or I will trim them to a hedge…

This is my herb garden. I bought a leftover cache of seeds from an ex-pats garden. They’re old, and I don’t know how well cared for. It’s hard to get seeds here, I took a chance, but none have germinated…

Pro-tip, take risks, the worse thing that happens is you’ll have to try again.

Moving forward. This is my new market garden! First, I will test all the seeds in my herb bed so I don’t plant a big bed with non-viable seeds. By spring, I will have a good amount of old and new seeds to start this project.

What will I plant? Mixed Asian greens, broccolini, Chinese pea pods, spaghetti squash, amaranth, and drum roll…asparagus. I have the benefit of 7 years of watching Felipe’s garden evolve, so I know all these things will grow here, and most aren’t readily available.

I will also try these wild cards: artichokes, jicama, horseradish, scarlet runners, and celeriac. Vamos a ver.

How does your garden grow? I’d love to hear your pro tips!