Rosey the Riveter

Monday, January 23, 2017

Harvesting Honey the Old Fashioned Way

Unlike many beekeepers who will not admit to their short-comings, I guiltily admit to neglecting my girls.  Torrential downpours and tropical heat do not make for ideal hive-checking conditions.  This morning I went for a walk after I put the (human) girls on the bus and it was one of those rare days when it was almost... dare I say... pleasant.  So I vowed when I got home I would don the jacket, fire up the smoker, and say hello to the bees.

I did not bother to look for either queen because both hives had eggs and larvae.  But the most exciting thing for me was finding a full frame of capped honey.  Checking to make sure I wasn't depleting their stock, I put that frame aside and closed up shop before they got too mad at me.  Back in VA, it was easier to rob the bees because we'd do it a box at a time, using special (but safe) fumes the bees didn't like.  They'd hunker down in the lower part of the hive, we'd lift off the box of honey, and off we'd go.  This morning, I had to brush the bees off the frame, walk away from the hive, brush some more bees off, walk further away, brush more bees off... you get the picture.  Only when I was satisfied that all bees were off the frame (and my jacket) could I take it inside.
 I never imagined I'd have bees in Guam, so I left my Extractor in storage.  I wouldn't have used it for just one frame, anyway, because it makes a mess and wouldn't be worth the hassle.  Instead, I resorted to the age-old practice of 'crush and strain', which is exactly what it implies.
 You take the wax off the frame, crush it, and strain it to remove any 'impurities' (like bee legs or larvae).  Obviously, this means the wax is destroyed.  Had I used an extractor the whole frame could have gone back into the hive for the bees to fill again.  But that's ok.  Bees are busy and they'll make more.  And the wax certainly won't go to waste.  I'll clean it, melt it, and use it in my salves and soap-making.
 Voila!  One full quart of honey and about 3 more cups in the bottom of the bowl.,, about 84 oz of honey.  Here in Guam, the going rate is $20/lb, which means I just harvested $105 worth of honey.  NOT THAT IT'S FOR SALE. Because it isn't!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Calamansi Marmalade

It's been 18 months since we made the move to Guam and I am not canning nearly as much as I did in VA.  I've made a lot of Mango and Guava jam for Christmas gifts, but I miss hearing the ping of sealing jars on a regular basis.  So when I heard about the Food In Jars Mastery Challenge, I knew I had to take part.  Basically, each new month is an opportunity to work on a different food preservation technique or skill.

January's topic was MARMALADES.  Now, I'm not one of those people who dislike marmalade, but I'm not going to go out of my way to get my hands on it.  And I certainly have never taken the time to make it, because unless I can get local, spray-free citrus, I'm not real interested... unlike most Navy families, we have never lived in Florida or California!  When one lives on Guam, however, the first thing that pops into your head when you hear 'local citrus' is Calamansi.

I'd never heard of it before I came here.  In other parts of the world, it is called Calamondin (I've also seen both words spelled with a 'k'.)  It's a small lemony-limey type citrus fruit most often juiced for a drink similar to lemonade.  I don't like to drink my calories (I eat more than enough of them as it is!) so I've never tried it, but I know many friend who enjoy it.  So, my reasoning went, if people enjoy the taste enough to drink, certainly it should make a good marmalade.  An on-line search revealed that calamansi marmalade is, indeed, a 'thing', so I decided that's what I was going to make.

When I asked a group of friends where I could get my hands on some, they all said "Call Sabrina!  She's got a ton!"  So I did, and she had just enough left to give it a go.  (She'd foraged them from a tree on the side of the road.  I knew they were organic!)  Well, I followed the directions perfectly and I ended up with the most bitter-tasting, disgusting product to ever come out of my kitchen.  I am really good at 'saving' jams that don't come out as expected, but there was just nothing I could do with this stuff.

Then I got to talking to my friend Susan, whose in-laws have a farm here on the island.  "Are you SURE you were using Calamansi and not local lemon?" she asked.  Um, not really!  A couple days later she presented me with 3 different kinds of Guam citrus.  She was right... my calamansi marmalade wasn't calamansi at all!

On the left are the fruits referred to as 'local lemons'.  I have no idea what the rest of the world calls them, if they even grow in the rest of the world.  In the middle are the calamansi, which you can see are much smaller (they will turn orange if left on the tree, but the locals here consider them gone-by at that point.)  On the right are the local tangerines, very similar to clementines except they have a green skin and a white flesh, and aren't quite as sweet.

I immediately got to work on my second attempt at marmalade, this time using true calamansi.  I used this site as my guide.   I started with about 4 cups of fruit.  I washed them and then cut them in half, taking out the seeds and slicing them (trying to save as much juice as possible.)  I figured out too late that it was probably easier to get all the seeds out by cutting along the 'equator' of the fruit instead of from pole to pole.

This gave me 2 cups of fruit, which went into a pan along with 1 1/2 cups of water.

 I let that simmer for a good 20 minutes to soften the skins.  This is also a great time to remove all of the seeds you missed!

Once cooled, it went into the fridge overnight to help develop the natural pectin.  The next day, I added an equal amount of sugar and let it boil until it got to 220 (which didn't take nearly as much time as it did when I used the local lemons, which surprised me).  Normally, I use half as much sugar as fruit in my jams, but this is not the time for that.  First of all, the sugar is needed for taste since the fruit is so sour.  And secondly, with no commercial pectin, the sugar is needed to ensure the marmalade will set up.  Then I processed it in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

The results were a pleasant surprise.  Sweet and tart and not very bitter, it was actually kind of delightful.  I am hoping to try it in my tropical bar recipe the next time I need to bring a dessert somewhere.  It would also be really good as a glaze over blueberry cheesecake, I'm sure!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Rice Pudding, Vivian Howard's Way

The holidays are over and that means one thing...  time to get back to cooking from "Deep Run Roots".  I've missed Vivian.  It feels like months since PBS aired a new "Chef's Life" episode.  I've had to resort to streaming earlier episodes, and I might have watched the Holiday Special more than once.

In the interest of trying to eat seasonally (which is more for Nancy and Courtney, my co-conspirators who are in Virginia, and not for me, stuck on this tropical island where nothing I want to eat is ever in season except maybe mangoes, avocados, and coconuts) we decided to tackle the rice chapter.  To be completely honest, it's not a chapter that spoke to me, although I was happy to see that 'Scarlett's Chicken and Rice' was included, since that's a dish that has come up several times on the show.

Nancy chose the "Crispy Ginger Rice with Leeks, Shiitakes, and a Fried Egg" because she loves fried eggs.  Me, not so much.  Courtney chose the "Country Ham with Celery Creamed Rice."  Being that there's no country ham to be found on this island, better her than me.  And what did I go with?  Happily, one look at the rice pudding recipe confirmed I had all the ingredients (well, except the rice, but more on that later) and so that's what I chose.

I like rice pudding.  But I never make it, because every recipe under the sun starts out with cold, cooked white rice.  Which is a problem for me, because I never have white rice in the house, never mind cooked and cold.  So I was excited to try this one, because you basically dump everything in the pot along with a half cup of UNCOOKED rice, and you're good to go.  Can do.

Now, I'm no rice connoisseur, so I began by reading Vivian's recommendations.  Long Grain... Carolina, Jasmine, Basmati, Uncle Ben's.  In that order.  Well, I knew the odds of finding Carolina rice here would be nil, so off I went to the commissary in search of Jasmine rice.  On an island where most inhabitants have Filipino, Japanese, or Spanish blood, there is no shortage of that.

Y'all, my choices were a 5 pound bag or a 50 pound bag.  I wanted to scream "What happened to the small 16oz packages?  I only need a half a cup!"  And then I wanted to cry because I just want to live where I can buy normal groceries.  I've been here for over 18 months and I'm never going to adjust.  I've accepted that.  So I bought the 5 pound bag, sans tears, and went home to cook.

I got out a whole star anise, a cinnamon stick, a vanilla bean, and some homemade dehydrated orange peel.  I should note that all of these items came to the island with me.  Otherwise, I'd be in trouble.  I had to fish the vanilla bean out of a half-gallon mason jar full of Bourbon that I smuggled in in a 5 gallon bucket surrounded by popcorn kernels (normally, movers won't pack anything liquid.  I wasn't going to leave behind my homemade vanilla!  The jars of maple syrup and honey were packed carefully in the safe.  They made it just fine.  Needless to say, not my first move.  I'm an expert by now.  But I digress...)

Into the pot it all went, and then it was just a matter of stirring.  Often.  For 30 minutes.  This is not a recipe to attempt if your attention needs to be elsewhere.  For the record, here are the Top 10 productive ways to spend this 30 minutes (stir after each), in no particular order:

1.  Give the cat some fresh water.
2.  Pour the 5 pound bag of rice into an air-tight container to prevent insect infestations.
3.  Do the dishes.  By hand.  Because you don't have a dishwasher (no, I'm not bitter.  Much.)
4.  Refill the ice-cube trays.  By hand.  Because the ice machine in the fridge doesn't work and no one wants to consume unfiltered water on this island anyway.)
5.  Wipe down the counters.
6.  Wipe down the cupboard.
7.  Discard the Christmas left-overs that are languishing in the fridge.
8.  Put away all the spices that came crashing down while you were digging around trying to find the nutmeg.
9.  Turn on the Roomba so at least you get clean floors out of the deal.
10.  Feed your sourdough starter.

At the end of 30 minutes, your pudding will still be soupy.  Mine was REALLY soupy, because despite what the dial says, my burners only have two settings: warm and scorching.  So I erred on the side of caution.  After 10 minutes of cooling, it had significantly thickened.  And dang, this stuff is good warm.

But I put it in the fridge to serve after dinner, and it thickened even more.  Joanna and I loved it cold, too.  I totally disregarded the part about adding pistachios and buttermilk before serving (mostly because I've only seen liquid buttermilk on the shelf once, and that was about 3 months ago).  It didn't need it.  At all.  A scoop of fresh whipped cream would have taken this totally over the top, but I didn't have any of that, either.  I had to limit myself to 3 bites or I would have eaten the whole batch.  (For the record, the other two don't like rice pudding.  Their loss.)

It's so nice knowing that I can make rice pudding whenever I want, no cold, pre-cooked rice required. Which is a good thing, because I now have a lifetime supply of white rice.

Here is the recipe if you would like to try it yourself (no endorsement of Dr. Oz implied!!!)