Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spicy table in Ecuador

Ecuadorian salt and salsa.

Drooling over seed catalogs

You know it is late winter when your mailbox gets filled with seed catalogs. Funny, I don't remember this ever happening in Sweden. I think I had to go to a store to get my seeds, but I probably remember wrong. This year I have gotten at least 20 different catalogs for seeds, garden equipment, shrubs and trees. I have some favorites, but somehow there are always some new and unknown companies that get my address and send out their marketing blasts in this direction.

When I read these catalogs I am always amazed at the innovative cultivar names. How about the tomato called "Mortgage Lifter". Yep, it exists, and might be a good thing for many home owners this year. It was developed by a radiator repairman from West Virginia (true, at least if you trust the internet). There is a zucchini (green squash) called "Cashflow Hybrid', probably related to 'Jackpot Hybrid'. There are pumpkins called 'Baby boo" and of course the 'Burpless hybrid' cucumber (which only got one star from customers).

Then you sit there with a pile of 20 catalogs filled with beautiful plants, most of which will not grow in your garden or will grow but get eaten by attacking deers, cutworms, or bugs of all kinds. So the question is not only what is pretty, but more what can survive. My gardening philosophy is much less about design, and much more about sheer persistence towards droughts, floods, diseases and pests. This goes both for the flowers in the borders, trees and shrubs, and the vegetable and herb garden. Whatever survives is a good thing.

So primarily the question of trying new things comes more down to an assessment of the risk of death (and wasted money). After soon four years on this New Jersey acre I know this is not a paradise for plants. But some plants make it, and make it well, such as the lavender border my sister EH planted, the pine trees along the fence (thanks O.K.), and the Rustica arugula in the raised beds that self-seeds by the thousands.

But still, you can't help but dream about growing lush fields of sunflowers and corn. Giant thorn-free rose-bushes that are not invasive pests in a few years. Honeysuckle that attract hawk moths at night and hummingbirds in daylight. Giant Roma tomatoes for marinara sauce, and enormous heavy-fruited New Mexico chilies. I think we have given up on certain things, like rhubarb (tried 2 times, failed), but others we are still trying despite setbacks. The corn last year got corn smut disease, so if we try again we have to grow it somewhere else.

So I am drooling and dreaming over the seed catalogs and will order things that I know won't survive, but the perpetual optimist in me tells me I still have to try, because maybe, maybe it will work this year. I also wish the seed companies put Latin names in their listings so I know what some things are. For us Swedish-Latin bilingualists that would be very helpful, since the English names make no sense at all to me for some plants.

So, here is my midsummer wish list to Garden Santa:

  • lots of luscious ferns that cover up brown dry ground
  • rosemary that is hardy
  • an arbor with grapes, wisteria, and climbing roses
  • lots of asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries that don't get any moldy diseases
  • red and yellow gooseberries ('krusbär' a la Sweden!)
  • chanterelles and morels in the backyard all year long
  • nesting owls that eat all our moles that eat our lawn
  • and rain and sunshine as needed
  • a fully grown cherry tree, an apple orchard, and peaches and blueberry plants
  • birds that eat all nasty insects, including eagles to get the ground hogs
Do you think I am asking for too much?

Turtle soup anyone?

This is not really turtle soup, but turtle fat in an old sea turtle shell, that was over 2 feet (60 cm) across. A man sold tablespoons of the fat at the Otavalo market in Ecuador as a medicine. It looks like he didn't have many customers that day. It is sad to see how turtles are killed just for this and ground up or melted to be eaten and used for ethnomedicine that has no scientific basis.

Apparently sea turtle fat is commonly used in Africa:
"Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) fat is almost exclusively used in preparations and up to forty litres of oil can be extracted from a dead adult turtle exposed to full sunlight. It is used, either pure or mixed with honey, to treat convulsions and malaria (Togo), fever, fainting spells, liver problems and tetanus (Benin), as well as to induce vomiting (Togo, Bénin)."
"According to Togolese coastal villagers, bones of sea turtles are effective for the skeletal and muscular growth of children. Therefore, some mothers add turtle bones daily to the baby’s bath water; it is believed that the power of the turtle (especially the leatherback) on the nesting beach, will be transmitted to the child through this practice (Segniagbeto 2004)."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Botanizing in Ecuador's food markets

A few photos from Otavalo's food market. Enjoy the food and plant extravaganza!
Each vendor sells anything and everything. It reminds me of Swedish 'saluhallar' and Reading Terminal Market, just in a more tropical setting.

Tamarind (brown gue to the left) and papayas and other tropical fruits.

Spiraling bananas. Somehow this photo reminds me of ball bearings.

Beans, and beans...

Picking out the best cherimoya (Annonaceae). The fruit was delicious, and you eat the white stuff that is surrounding the little black seeds.

These are tiny, tiny pink potatoes. Looks delicious!

Pepinos, related to potatoes. In this case you eat the fruit, not the tubers, but the fruit wasn't very good. Maybe you are supposed to cook them.

The largest cabbage heads I have ever seen. At least 75 cm across (2+ feet).

Physalis and small yellow tomatoes.

The produce is just magnificent.

Posole or cooked popcorn. I think this is the same as hominy in New Mexico.

Tree tomatoes, make great juice. They are not real tomatoes, but another genus, and they really grow on trees.

Don't you get hungry?

Great onions for onion soup!

Small boys and big machines

The roadbuilders had a practicant for a while the other day. He got to drive all the different machines, dumper, excavator, drilling machine and front loader. He was so happy!

Borrowed photo: Spring break

I am posting a photo I got from O.K. probably last winter or early spring, named 'spring break'. (I hope you don't mind, O.K.) It represents so much of what I want right now. Soon it is spring break here at the university, one week of no teaching and classes. I need it - it has been a bit much the last month. I won't go on vacation, instead I will finally be able to do some research! Real stuff! The week after the kids have their spring break from their school and they are going to their grandma for a visit. I want less snow and rain, more crocus (first flowered on Feb 15 and got covered with snow the next day) and more budding forsythia. More singing tufted titmice (=bird, related to talgoxe), and more howling owls. More sunshine. More cracks in the ice, less ice, and soil in pots with seeds in them. This reminds me that I really have to order seeds - I hope they have not run out of my favorite tomatoes yet. How is Sweden, still gray and cold and wet?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Swedes in America and abandoned places

There are a few Swedes over here on the left side of the world. Here are two, one from New York and one in Cleveland, and sorry, these are in Swedish, but the photos are nice:

Stina in Cleveland (Photograph for the Coroner's office)

Tankar fran 39:e gatan (press photographer in New York)

and, don't miss Rostsverige, the website of photos from rusty, abandoned places in Sweden. These photos are from the old railroad not far from Eskilstuna, on tracks I once traveled on with SJ trains. No more... A similar site is Inspektionsverket, check out the old rooms inside the mountains.

Tropical photography

With the help of Adobe Photoshop, you can make the tropical rain forest full of contrasts. The fern leaf really was red, so no color enhancing has been done, only changes in brightness and contrast.

Restaurant review: REAL Mexican food made by REAL Mexicans

I posted a review yesterday of a local Mexican restaurant, Los Jalapenos, in Hillsborough, NJ. And then by mistake I deleted the post! So here are the photos again, and I'll update the text later. Sorry everybody.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Took a walk, brought a camera

A bad pic but I had to include it! A bunch of vultures on a house nearby. I didn't see it but there must have been a dead animal nearby. This house is for sale...can you imagine pulling up in a car to see it and being greeted by this sight?!! The one with its wings spread is not just landing or taking off, it was just sitting there like that. On the roof peak just to the right of that one was another with its wings spread too, it flew away a second before I took the shot.

The stone bridge at Rock Mill. A few hundred fett from here are the ruins of a saw mill LS and I explored about a year ago. Not much left anymore but if you know what to look for you can find it. The weather was a constant very slight mist of rain, my wool coat collected a covering of little droplets all over it. The temp. was right around freezing.

This small stream feeds into Rock Brook.

On Hollow Rd. To my right are the ruins of a mid 1700's mill. I don't know if it was a saw mill or other. The house at the bend in the road has 5 sump pumps in it's basement!

One of the older farms in the area. It has what is called here a "Dutch" style barn.

The Christmas tree farm

The barn near our house

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Carnivorous views in Otavalo, Ecuador

Most of these photos need no explanation. This is what you get in a South American market without any refrigeration. Fresh meat hanging and laying around, ready to bring home for dinner. Meat and lard below.
Grilled chickens, on a rotisserie grill in the market.
Head and toes, ready to be bought for chicken soup. Nothing is thrown away, everything is used.
More roast pig. Next to it is a bowl of roasted corn, really good.
And one more ex-pig.
Ready for your dinner.
Butcher shop. There were amazingly few flies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Did you see it, did you see it?

The total lunar eclipse that was tonight? We did! I was going to link to NASA's website about the eclipse, but the site is down - too many people trying to get on it I bet. We saw Saturn, Remulus, Polaris, Orion and the Big Dipper too. But the moon was the best.

Here is a photo from the one in March 2007:Source: Tim's Astroblog

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ecuador - Food in Otavalo

Candy apple, anyone? These looked poisonous.
Fried fish from the nearby lake was popular streetfood.
Dyes and spices (spies and dices). The red ones are annato seeds from the lipstick plant.
Little marinated snails served with limes. We saw little kids walking around eating this treat, one snail at the time. The snails are also from the Andean lake, not from the ocean.
Eating lunch at the food market.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More facts about Ecuador

In Ecuador, they grill whole pigs and sell them for lunch.
In Ecuador, the tree frogs get dusty feet when they hide under your bed.
In Ecuador, torrent ducks swim upstream and eat algae when the river fills with rainwater.
In Ecuador, they put popcorn in the tomato soup. And it is good!
In Ecuador, papayas fall from the sky and smash open like broken eggs.
Or from very tall papaya trees.
In Ecuador, potato plants are purply and fuzzy and over 3 meters tall.
Oh, all the strange things you can see in Ecuador!