Friday, December 30, 2016

Charlotte Foraging #3:- Bayberries (Myrica cerfera)

Not one of my best photos but you get the idea, right?
Gathering bayberry berries is not as easy as picking apples off of a tree. These berries really cling to their branches plus they are really tiny.

Botanists refer to the bayberry berry as a "drupe" which in the botany world is a fruit in which the outer fleshy part surrounds a shell with a seed inside. Other types of drupes are peaches, plums, olives, etc.

Enough of the botany talk, we were interested in experimenting with the wax properties of the drupes. So two large bayberry trees and 5+ cups of berries later we had sore hands and enough boiled off wax for one tea candle that sputtered more than it burned.

The flame didn't last much past the this photo shot.
While my foraging buddy Marty and I were pulling the drupes off of the branches, we wondered how many people would be curious about what we were doing. Many people passed by without a glance or comment but finally several groups did ask and seemed interested.

Somehow I think the photo to the left makes the candle look lots more impressive then it was in actuality.

I've done some googling and found out there are lots of medical uses for parts of the bayberry bush. Somewhere I read that the bayberry leaves can be used like bay leaves for stews and soups. They certainly look the same.

I have located several other bayberry bushes around Charlotte for possible harvesting next year if we want to try to make bayberry candles again.

Maybe.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Charlotte Foraging #2 - American Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana)

I had a run in with an American persimmon a few years ago in late summer. Fool that I am I picked one off the tree, googled it on my iphone and discovered what it was. That's not too foolish but the foolish part was tasting it BEFORE reading farther to find out that this fruit has to be almost mushy and pulpy before eating. Needless to say I had a huge mouthful of dry. Drinking water was not helpful, I just went "Mmmmhh" for quite awhile. Ray enjoyed himself immensely at my expense. 

We saw large Asian persimmons while in Singapore fruit markets but the American cousin is way smaller. Because of the above adventure in foolish eating, I stayed away from them.


American Persimmons (not my photo)
Several weeks ago, I spotted a tree on the Greenway, took a photo and asked Marty, my brother-in-foraging, what it was. He said persimmon which immediately gave me flashbacks to my earlier experience.

But reading up on it, I discovered it's an old time American fruit that was very popular for desserts, puddings and jellies. It is not a cooperative fruit to work with. The time to gather them is after they have fallen off the tree and are ready to rot are allowed to ripen in a paper bag with an apple (my method of choice).



I patiently waited over two weeks with the paper bag getting in the way on the kitchen counter. Things started to get a bit mushy today so I thought I'd try pulping them and making a pie (recipe below). Some were really soft and mushy and the pulp was tasty but some were softening up but tasting these left me with that old dry mouth again. So back in the bag they went.


My 4 T of pulp
I did get to strain a dozen or so and got about 4T of pulp and a bunch of seeds. Somewhere I read that these seeds were used for buttons. It must have been during the time buttons were not readily available because I tried about 5 minutes to get one seed out of the pulp. Not a great use of time nowadays.


This is what the "buttons" look like.














Anyway, I will try to be patient and wait for the rest to ripen. Then I will try out the following pie recipe. Kind of sounds a little like a pumpkin pie.





PERSIMMON PIE

1 C persimmon pulp
2 eggs
1/4 Tsp salt
1 T butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix ingredients and pour into a single pie crust. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the center of the pie is firm.

Next up - bayberries.



Charlotte Foraging #1 - Part 2, still Chestnuts

I was hoping to try another batch of candied chestnuts or even Marty's soup recipe but I left my last batch of chestnuts still in their spiky covering on our patio. We went out of town for a few days and came back to chestnut husks scattered all over. I don't know how the squirrels or chipmunks can handle the spiky stuff but I figured "more power to them" if they really want them that badly.

I still have a bowlful that I hope to keep until Thanksgiving. But in the mean time here is the soup recipe Marty made. Really good:

Chestnut Soup
We had a lot of ideas about how to play around with this soup. Instead of brandy, you could use sherry or fruit brandy. You could add milk to give it some creaminess and lighten the color. You could garnish it with creme fraiche (as much as I love using Greek yogurt as a garnish, the creme fraiche would be just right in this particular case). Speaking of garnish, the chopped chestnuts that turn crispy from a quick saute are delicious, so don't skip that step!
Adapted from this recipe by Alex Urena for Food & Wine magazine

3 tablespoons canola oil
2 1/2 cups of roasted chestnuts
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons honey
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth (or vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Serves 4 as a first course

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 7 of the chestnuts and cook until crisp and browned, stirring often [this take awhile]. Remove from pan and cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Add the onion and leeks to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the honey and stir well. Add the broth and remaining chestnuts, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.


Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Taste for seasoning. May be covered and refrigerated at this point for 24 hours. To serve, return soup to the pot and reheat. Add the brandy or Cognac, and garnish with reserved chopped chestnuts and parsley.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Charlotte Foraging #1: Chestnuts (Castanea dentata)

I've written posts about my shell and sea glass collecting, which I dearly love to do. Before we left for Singapore I was known to gather morels, bitter oranges, smooth river rocks, acorns, etc. Now that we are back in Charlotte, NC, and with my foraging buddy, Marty, we have been busy gathering for the winter, like all the squirrels around town. I thought I'd post a few of our adventures along with some recipes. 


Photo from Wikipedia
We are chestnut nuts, indeed. You have to be brave to gather chestnuts while still in their outer green spiky jackets. Nasty, nasty sharp - but you need get them before the critters do. Not sure what kind of heavy gloves they wear but they forage efficiently and quickly.

A lot of time and effort go into chestnut preparation, that's why they cost what they do in the grocery store. They put up a mighty fight all the way. Even with heavy leather gloves and long handled tongs we still got pinched and scratched.


From our initial batch Marty cooked up a great chestnut soup. The second batch went into a complex candying process. Two separate recipes and two different outcomes. See below for the combined recipe - the best of both worlds.


Leftovers still to be shelled.
Candied chestnuts after days of work. Yum.

CANDIED CHESTNUTS – THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
(better known as "kestane şekeri" (kes-tahn-EH' sheh-keyr-EE' or Marrons Glacé).

INGREDIENTS

1 kilogram/2.5 pounds large, fresh chestnuts
5 cups sugar
5 cups water
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

PREPARATION

Cut a shallow X in the flat side of each nut with a sharp knife – spread out nuts, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 425F degree oven for 15 minutes, turn nuts and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Let nuts cool and peal outer shell off carefully.

Place shelled chestnuts in a large pan with just enough water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and cook the chestnuts for 10 minutes. After they have cooled, rub any additional thin skin off.

In another saucepan, combine the water, sugar and optional vanilla. Bring to a boil and stir constantly until the sugar melts. Add the peeled chestnuts and stir until the whole mixture returns to a boil. Continue cooking the chestnuts, frequently stirring, for 10 minutes.

Pour the candied chestnuts, along with the vanilla sugar syrup into a large container, and loosely cover it. Allow the chestnuts to soak in the syrup for 12 to 18 hours.

Add the chestnuts and syrup to a clean pan and repeat the process; this time boiling them for 2 minutes, and then soaking the mixture, loosely covered, for 18 to 24 hours.

Repeat the entire process a total of 3 to 4 times, until the sugar syrup has been absorbed by the chestnuts. Be patient, these steps are important.

Preheat an oven to 250F and arrange the candied chestnuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet into the oven and turn off the heat. Allow the chestnuts to dry in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until they have firmed up and the surface of the nuts are dry. Store the chestnuts in an airtight tin. Enjoy!

Charlotte Foraging #2: Persimmons - coming soon...






Thursday, November 3, 2016

Travel Links - Updated

Pat and I have been back in the USA since September 9, spending most of our time settling back into Charlotte, NC. Part of our time has been spent looking for places to travel to over the next several years. It will be hard to top the last couple of years in Singapore, with trips to many other countries. Much of the search has included reviewing travel sites on the internet. The following is the list of sites I have bookmarked (please add comments, or send us emails, with additional suggestions:

Monday, June 27, 2016

London with David, Justin and Meredeth (25 June - 4 July 2016)

25 June - Saturday

Pat and I left Singapore arriving very early into Heathrow at 5:10 AM. After landing we spent nearly 45 minutes getting through Immigration and Customs because of the crowds. We topped up our Oyster Cards and took the Underground to the Canada Water station (the closest one to our AirBnB - click to see the listing).

Location of our AirBnB and the Canada Water Station
Because we weren't scheduled to meet our AirBnB host until 11:00 AM, we stopped at the Canada Water Cafe, just outside the station, for breakfast. Then we headed for the BnB, just to see if we could find it - we did (kind of, we were a block off because I remembered the address as 7 not 17). To kill additional time, we went in search of a geocache, which we found easily. We also got our first views of the neighborhood with its ponds and canals left over from the area's docklands.

At 11:00, we found the correct house and met our host, Paris. She was very nice and showed us around the house. She also left us some fruit and muffins. Paris had a couple of suggestions for places to eat and where we could get groceries. She also asked if we would water her houseplants.

We soon got a message from David that they were at Victoria Station, having arrived on the Gatwick Express. Their flight from Columbus, OH took them through Lisbon, Portugal and then to Gatwick. We told them we would meet them at Canada Water, but must not have been clear, since we waited at Canada Water, while they took an Uber to the house.

The kids all wanted to take showers and rest a bit before tackling London. After a couple of hours, we all headed out for a quick sightseeing walk. We took the Underground to the London Bridge station and walked along the south bank of the Thames to Tower Bridge. While crossing the Bridge the rains came and we got very wet even with umbrellas.

Justin, David and Meredeth just before the rain started

After a short walk around the Tower of London, we decide to eat at Wagamama, a Japanese-style noodle restaurant Pat and I had discovered on a much earlier trip. At that time we were very enthusiastic about the menu, but since then it has shrunk in size, and in our minds is no longer a place we'll go back to.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Out and About in Kathmandu, Nepal (14-17 May 2016)

Although we were in Kathmandu, Nepal, for the opening ceremonies for the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC), we had free time to look around.

14 May - Saturday

Yesterday we arrived in Kathmandu and went to our hotel, Park Village Hotel and Resort. We then walked to ECDC with Tom Morgan for our first visit with Pushpa Basnet and her children. At ECDC we met a couple from Germany, Joachim and Helga Schulze and their daughter Kerstin, who lives in Singapore. They have been supporters of ECDC and were here for the opening. Helga told us about a temple a short distance from our hotel that we should visit.

The Budhanilkantha Temple is a Hindu temple north of Kathmandu and close to ECDC. At 7:30 AM, the monks gather to wash the Sleeping Vishnu statue. According to one of the locals that greeted us near the statue, the statue was discovered by a farmer while he was plowing his field. This is one of a couple of stories about the origin, none of which have been proved true, or not.

Unfortunately, we never made it there in time to see the ceremony. However, on our first visit, it was Saturday which is their weekly holy day and the crowds were very large. As you can see in a couple of the photos, the of people waiting to lay gifts at the feet of the statue was quite long.