Saturday, 28 February 2009

Mardi Gras

You are all surely very familiar with the significance of Mardi Gras (fat Tuesday!) so I won't go into it all for you. However I will tell you about how it is celebrated here and I have stolen some of Evs' and Mum's photos as my camera, lovely as it is, just doesn't do night ones!
Regular readers of this blog will know that there have been carnival groups parading around the town mostly on Sunday evenings since Christmas as they prepare for the Real Deal during Carnival Week. Each Saturday a particular town or two welcomes all the groups from all over the island for a parade, however, this didn't happen this year due to the strike. Then on Mardi Gras the folk are supposed to go to Pointe a Pitre for a Big Parade which has all sorts of contests - best costumes etc - none of which happened, again due to the strike.

Instead we had a few of our local groups parade round late in the evening dressed up in amazing costumes - they had hats as big as their bodies! Must steal Mum's photo of them! We went and watched with our oh so very excited girls (who have got the carnival walk mastered down to a t!) and had a late night as a result. The funniest part was LissaLou has been very proud of her lack of fear in the face of the masks worn by one group (monkey or old hag ones) - in distinct contrast to her mum and sister! Not so tonight! The monkey came dancing up to her and she crept further and further back eventually hiding herself behind me! She was able to laugh it off afterwards.
Mardi Gras is celebrated in the UK with pancakes (Shrove Tuesday) so Bertie kindly made us some of his delicious ones. However, here they celebrate with beignets, which actually means doughnuts but as Bertie pointed out, they aren't really doughnuts as we know them (perhaps beignets pays...!). Here are a batch made by Mamie - they are much less sweet (I think the only sugar is what they are dipped in) and very tasty. We polished them off!Mardi Gras is of course followed by Mercredi des Cendres (Ash Wednesday) and the beginning of Careme (Lent). The Carnival period culminates on this day with some more parading that we and the girls enjoyed watching, but this time everyone is dressed in black and white, funeral colours here. Whose funeral, I hear you ask... it is in fact the funeral of poor old Vaval, the King of the Carnival; a Guy Fawkes type figure, he is carried in front of the parade and then taken off to be burnt somewhere. Until next year!
Only it isn't...for some reason Carnival manages to reappear again for one final day of parading called Mi-Careme which is in mid-March. Perhaps this day won't be affected by the strike.

As for Lent here, we are on a mainly Catholic island so it is taken very seriously by some, with no meat on Wednesdays and Fridays and no amusements (dancing etc) for the particularly dedicated. Interestingly, the evangelical community take no part in Lent whatsoever as they see it purely as a Catholic celebration, so the (Anglo Saxon perhaps) practice of given up chocolate crisps etc for the period is not found on the island. I think I have already given up enough during the strike so I don't think I will choose anything particularly this year!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

What We Have Been Doing

Last Wednesday Mum and Evs arrived safely into wartorn, oops I mean beautiful Guadeloupe! We had been concerned about whether their flight would be cancelled, the airport open, cars allowed in to collect them etc etc but all was fine, hurrah! We didn't have very much in the way of food (especially milk) but it has given the prayer "Give us this day our daily bread" a much more powerful meaning, and do you know what....God always provides!

As our movements have been restricted (barricades are still in place) we have enjoyed chilling out at home and in the local area, including swaying on the hammock on our balcony - is it just me, or does Mum look slightly ill at ease here?We have also been for a walk by the sea, showed our visitors the town centre (all one street of it!) and visited Pika a couple of times. Mum and Evs have been great keeping the children entertained (such patience!) and trying out all the local cuisine with great gusto. And of course, Evs has been relishing all the photo opportunities that have come her way. Her french is limited (we have heard an awful lot of "je ne comprends pas!") but she can perfectly comprehend Mamy and Papy pointing at her and the camera and themselves!
What with all these visitors hogging my computer, my online time has been limited (no bad thing!) and Bertie hasn't been able to watch the tv each evening (ditto!) So just to catch up on some pre-family arriving events....
I managed a chocolate spice cake for Bertie to celebrate St Valentine's - it tasted more like a pain d'epice and I wouldn't do it again but he (and the girls!) appreciated it all the same.
Papy has replaced his pig that went AWOL with two more who will hopefully stay put (especially given they cost €150 each!)The strike is still on - into week 5 now. In fact, as I was writing my post last Tuesday, I heard loud noises which turned out to be gunshots as the gendarmes and youth of the town met up at our local shopping centre. Since then, there has been a continuation of the unrest in certain areas but we are not particularly aware of it and our local Carrefour has reopened so we have food now, what a relief! Having said which, I have told Mum not to tell you all how well we have been eating off the land, or you might lose sympathy for us!

The French Government have made an offer but I don't think it has gone down very well so the strike is still officially on. This week is supposedly half term so we are waiting to see if the schools reopen next Monday. In the meantime the girls continue to enjoy playing at home - here is CassCass with her cousin.
I have managed a month of getting up early now and I would even more heartily recommend it to you all! (except those with 4 month old twins....) As the sun is rising earlier I am trying to bring back my wake up time accordingly with my eventual goal being 5am - can I do it?!

Hopefully I will be back soon to let you know about our Mardi Gras celebrations and our family trip to Port Louis & Petit Canal tomorrow.

Peeking At Pika: Coco

A bit belated this week, but we continue our Cs with

C is for Coco Koko Coconut

From the many photos that appear on my blog, you may have realised by now that the cocotier is my favourite tree here by far! The gently swaying leaves in the wind, the sturdy slim curved trunk...I really know that I am in the Caribbean when I see one.
How a coconut tree grows

The first sign of a coconut tree growing is a little leaf beginning to poke out of a dry coconut. You can see these lying around on the ground at Pika when they have fallen off the tree and been left to themselves.

Soon it will grow roots and attach firmly to the ground, and thus a new cocotier is born.
Look hard and you will see the above rotting coconut with its roots and all at the bottom of this tree.

These two coconut trees are in fact related, as the one on the right has grown from a coconut that fell off the one on the left.
Developing coconuts

As the tree grows, amongst the leaves grow branches (grappes) full of coconuts.

On the left-hand side below you can see them still on the tree. On the top right is a grappe that has been removed from the tree (and several of the coconuts removed for our personal consumption!). Free of coconuts on the bottom right, you can see the brown pods which they were previously connected to.
The new leaves and branches grow out of the top of the coconut tree whilst the old ones gradually dry and fall off. The youngest coconuts will be at the top whilst the older and dry ones will be lower down until they too eventually fall off.

Getting coconuts off the tree

You can wait for them to fall off naturally, but this usually only happens when they are dry (unless you have a hurricane) so if you want fresh coconut water you can...

Get out your ladder (only for those with a head for heights!)
Get a pole with a hook and try and encourage them down (best for those with a good aim)
Fresh coconut

When you have taken a fresh coconut off the tree it only remains fresh for a couple of days. Chop it open with a machete, making sure to get the positioning just right so that you open up the little hole as shown. This allows you to drink the sweet water directly from the coconut (if you can!) or go the easier route and either pour it into a cup or put in a straw. Then split it in two and inside you will find a white jelly-like substance which you can eat. The part of the coconut shell you chop off is just the right shape for a spoon!
Dried coconut

After the coconut has dried out and fallen off the tree, it can be collected and shaken. If you can hear water sloshing around then it is fine, if not discard it. Interestingly, if you pick a fresh coconut it won't ever become a dry one, it will simply rot. This process has to happen on the tree.
Once you have chopped it open, you will find the dried coconut meat as you can see below. We grate it to make dried coconut (for cereal, cakes, sweets) or pass it through the centrifuge to make coconut milk either for cooking or for making coconut sorbet. I have frozen the grated stuff but not tried freezing the milk; otherwise it needs using up quickly before it goes off.
In the top right of the above picture you can actually see the new coconut tree growing, called the coconut heart. I have seen these sold in tins in the supermarket and apparently they are a delicacy, but I wasn't overly taken with the taste of this fresh one. At the bottom right is a dried coconut Bertie chopped the outer husk off. This will remain usable for a while and can be transported much more easily (this particular one is for Evs to take home with her). It makes me think of funfairs! The outer husk makes very good fire material.

Good for you

Indeed it is! There is a huge list of benefits given by the Coconut Research Centre, Living Foods and Organic Facts which I will leave you to look at yourself if you are interested. Its nutritional benefits are largely due to the presence of lauric acid, which is also present in breastmilk. Furthermore, the argument that it is bad for you because it is high in saturated fats has been questioned.
Coconut meat is high in protein and a good source of iron, phosporus and zinc whilst being low in sugar.

Coconut oil is particularly good for you - for more information have a look at these blogs that I have been reading recently: the Nourishing Gourmet and Passionate Homemaker, which also gives you non-culinary ways of using coconut oil, such as for your hair, skin, deodorant and in soap.
There are two types of coconut oil however - copra oil (made from the dry coconut flesh) is to be avoided, as it is refined, being purified, bleached, and deodorized to clean it after being smoked to obtain the oil. It can also be hydrogenated. Rather, choose virgin coconut oil, which is made from in various ways from the meat of fresh coconuts. For a coconut-filled island, there is surprisingly little coconut oil available here, but I am looking forward to getting some when we are next in Capesterre. We have also thought about trying to make our own.
Coconut water, besides being an excellent source of potassium, sugar, fibre, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, also provides an isotonic electrolyte balance. Being naturally sterile, when it is used directly from the nut, it can be used for energency plasma transfusions and as an intravenous fluid. It is also a good drink for people convalescing.
The rest of the coconut tree can be used in a myriad of ways - for example our local restaurant has coconut leaves decorating and providing shelter along the outside.
Our use of coconut is pretty simple though - and with the number of coconuts we get through, it is nice to have so many trees available to us at Pika.
Photos: All from Pika unless otherwise stated

Five Years Old!

Friday was the long-awaited day which has been LissaLou's thoughts for the past 11 months and 27 days...LissaLou reached the grand old age of five! Amazing....

We decorated our living room with balloons, photos through her little life and then called her through to open her gifts - we were delighted that Mum and Evs had brought them over from the UK with them, as the closed shops here would have meant nothing to open otherwise!

She was very pleased with her Polly Pocket swimming pool set from her BF back home as well as a PlayMobil horse and cart from her auntie, but oh the arguments since between her and CassCass and Stella as to who gets to play with what! Baby JoJo doesn't get involved, he just heads straight for the toys and pops them in his mouth!
Off to Pika for our birthday celebration - a very fine BBQ courtesy of Papa and can you guess what is boiling in the pot...
Sweet potates freshly picked from Mamie's garden!Papa put up a second swing to the girls' delight and they spent practically the whole time on them. Unfortunately they are quite far from each other so the pusher has to run between them both manically! Evs spent so long pushing CassCass that I was tempted to chop her arm off and leave it there so the rest of her could get a rest....
Papy presented LissaLou with a beautiful bouquet - and the last maracudja at Pika!
We enjoyed having Mum and Evs here to share the special day - as well as Tatie Nadia, Agathe (whose car we have), Tatie Felicianne, Mamie and Papy, and some friends who popped in for a branch (as you do).
And the point culminant for LissaLou was....her gorgeous chocolate cake made in a heart shape courtesy of Papa (thanks to Latana for sending Swiss chocolate over with Mum! Delicious!)
But what the photos don't show is that we just could not light those candles for love or money... there was a fierce wind blowing at Pika all day and every time Bertie lit one it went straight out, despite being the magic relightable ones! So her blowing out photo was somewhat posed!

Bertie had to pop off for work and the others gradually left so we were pleased to enjoy a somewhat quieter and more calm Pika in the afternoon.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

This Is Gwada

Day 28 of the strike. This week we have moved up a gear to "cyclone force 9".

The large shops are only open when the gendarmes (army) are present...
....the additional gendarmes flown in are too busy facing militants setting up road barricades and putting cars on fire etc to assist people shopping.... the shops are closed and our cupboards are increasingly empty.

The LKP (grevistes) are not directly responsible for the violence of (usually) young people at night, but they do not seem to be condemning it or helping the matter at all....
...the LKP leader has even said that if any of the strikers are harmed, "il y aura des morts". Responsible leadership indeed.

The French government are certainly not helping the matter at all....
....Sarkozy has not given the crisis any time of day whatsoever....
....the agreement made with the Secretary for Overseas Departments and approved by the different players was refused by the powers that be - a real source of anger here.

We are wondering what lies ahead - another week perhaps? Another month even?

And then what? It has been estimated that 1 in 8 workers will lose their jobs as a result of this strike, with up to 1,400 businesses going under. And how will students make up over a month of lost education before their exams in June?

How timely amongst all of this that my current chapter in my book is on contentment:
"for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances". Phil 4:11.
And that includes strikes and unrest!

Monday, 16 February 2009

11 Months!

Baby JoJo is developing so much at the moment, it is wonderful to see but amazing how much changes in the space of a week, let alone a month.
He is like CassCass, he always has his mouth wide open and his tongue sticking out. But still no attempt to suck his thumb! He now has two teeth at the top and four at the bottom - and boy does he use them! Both for chewing absolutely everything (vegetable, animal or mineral) but also for biting - ouch! Mostly me, which I am not too impressed with. He will be lucky if I keep on feeding for another month at this rate...though because he doesn't suck his thumb, I don't think he will be as easy to wean!!

We have started reading together and he really enjoys it. We look at the book and his face lights up. When it is a peekaboo book, he bursts into laughter. I am hoping for another bookworm for a child (LissaLou is definitely but CassCass not so much).
Much to our relief, he has learnt to go backwards down things. Now we don't have to worry so much about him climbing up on to the sofa or CassCass' bed, as he can safely get himself off. He even used the method to get off our (much higher) bed, and was rather surprised to come down with such a bump!
He is less banging and throwing his food and wisely choosing to put it into his mouth now, but he doesn't get the idea of cutlery yet. He drinks well from his cup though.

There is a bit less screeching and a very cute high-pitched cooing instead now. LissaLou keeps telling us he has said this or that word in french - for example he said " ma" according to her this week!

His favourite game is pulling the pen lid out that keeps the tv turned on - it drives the girls and their Daddy crazy as their programme disappears yet again. But Baby JoJo loves it, and turns round with a triumphant and delighted beam on his face displaying his trophy!

We have been working on the standing, and he can now keep up for a good minute or so - if somewhat wobbly. Today was all the more exciting as he stood and stood...and then took a mini step forward! Will we have a toddler soon I wonder....

Next post will be to celebrate his first year (si Dieu veut, as every phrase about the future is accompanied with here!)

Peeking At Pika: Citronnelle

C is also for Citronnelle Sitronel Lemongrass

Citronnelle is a grass with no link to the citron whatsoever apart from having a lovely lemony smell. It is also known as cymbopogon citratus.

We have just the one bush at Pika and it is constantly being used for tisanes but there is still plenty more to be enjoyed. As a herbal medicine it has many benefits: reducing fevers, stomach cramps, flatulence and colic,
easing arthritic pain and general digestive aid to name but a few. Simply put a few leaves into boiling water and leave to infuse before enjoying, sweetened if prefered. We add it to our mint tea for the extra taste.
Citronnelle is also used for essential oil, where it is helps with mental fatigue and relaxes the nervous system as well as being an antiseptic.

However, my most very favourite aspect of the oil is that it is a mosquito repellent! And yes, it does actually seem to work! No need to put all sorts of chemicals on yourself, simply get some pure citronnelle oil (we bought some that is made in Marie-Galante) and rub it on, then enjoy a bite-free evening and the bonus of a beautiful aroma. Some people even plant citronnelle bushes around their house to keep out the mosquitoes.

Photos: All photos from Pika unless otherwise stated

Peeking At Pika: Citron Vert

C is also for Citron vert Sitron Lime

We have one citronnier at Pika and when it is in season it can produce up to 10kg of limes a week. We aren't the only ones to enjoy them - so many were "lifted" by people from the neighbouring land, that Mamie was eventually obliged to put up a wire fence around it to protect it.
Citron vert is an important part of West Indian cuisine - it is used for marinading and many dishes also have some squeezed in just before serving.
It also has an important use in another aspect of West Indian culture - rum! One of the main ways of drinking it here is CRS (citron, rum, sucre) but it is used in other punches. A non-alcoholic drink is freshly squeezed lime with sugar - very refreshing.

Good for you

Limes are high in dietary fibre, vitamin C (though less than lemon), calcium, iron and copper and low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Did you know - the British gave limes to their sailors during the 19th century to prevent scurvy (and thus give them the nickname limey...).

Photos: All Pika unless otherwise stated

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Peeking At Pika: Chataigne

C is also for Chataigne pays Chatenn Breadnut

I never realised until recently that we have chataigniers at Pika, as I always thought they were arbre à fruit a pain (breadfruit trees). The two are so similar I am still confused between them , so I was interested to discover that they are actually two varieties of the same species, the main difference being the chataignier has seeds. In fact, I had to get back to the latin names to find accurate details, and I discovered a lot of websites talk about one and mean the other!

[Just to clarify for those who are interested, the two trees are both Artocarpus altilis but the chataigne is the seminifera variety or the Artocarpus camansi. Wikipedia, usually a wonderful source of information, seems to have got the details wrong on this one so don't go there!]

Whilst the name translates as chestnut, it is not related and as you can see from the pictures, it is not the same as the chestnut tree that we are familiar with.
The pyramid shaped tree is full of beautiful glossy green leaves and the flowers from which the fruit grows most of the year round.The chataigne is a spiky case (the breadfruit is much smoother) and inside is full of seeds, which Papy carefully sits and removes, separating them from the mush surrounding them.

The seeds will be boiled by Mamie and then enjoyed as they are by the family. However I see that people also cook them with meat or in a curry.

Good for you

The chataigne seeds are a good source of protein, minerals and niacin and are low in fat, and they also contain animo acids. Unfortunately I am missing out on this goodness as I don't really like them!


Photos: All Pika unless otherwise stated

Peeking At Pika: Cerise

C is also for Cerise Ceriz peyi Cherry

There are many fruits and vegetables here which have the little tag "pays" or "peyi" added at the end. What it really means is it is a "wannabe" cherry! It's quite like one, but the differences are major in my opinion!

From my investigation for this post, I discovered it is actually called an acerola or Barbados cherry or wild crapemyrtle.

This is one of our two cerisiers at Pika and currently not in fruit, although they have a few periods of harvest through the year.

Local cherries are small and orange or red when they are ripe, and made up of three little segments with pips. It takes a lot of chewing and spitting out to get the fleshy part out. Oh yes, "pays" also means "far more complicated"!We enjoy the cherries as they are or else they also make a very fine juice, blended with water and then sieved several times to get rid of the seed part. They aren't entirely sweet (many fruits here are tangy rather than sweet and this is one of them) unless they are very ripe.

Good for you

It is one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C and also a good antioxidant.

Acerola also contains: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, and Beta-Carotene. It also has plenty of uses in herbal medicine, including fighting fungi.

Photos: All Pika unless otherwise stated

Peeking At Pika: Carambole

C is also for Carambole Karambol Starfruit

There is one star fruit tree at Pika and it produces copious amounts of fruit in July - August - September (that seems to be the best time for fruit here) and then as far as I can tell just a few here and there throughout the rest of the year. Though I live in hope of another bumper crop soon!

The leaves of the tree often turn yellow, and from afar you can be tricked into thinking that there is a juicy starfruit waiting to be picked...nope, just a leaf!
This is the only star fruit on our tree right now, hanging straight from the branch itself (they are usually on the smaller branches).
A picture for anyone unfamiliar with the interior. They are ripe when yellow and we eat them by slicing off the edge of the five points and the ends, then cutting them in stars. I eat the whole thing pips and all, but the girls are a bit fussier!
They are a great first fruit for babies - all three of ours have enjoyed star fruit before they began solids. This is CassCass enjoying hers and we have a similar photo of LissaLou back home! They suck suck away until there is very little left!Whilst we usually just eat them as they are, their other delicious use is as a juice. Cut into chunks and put through the centifruge is the best method, as unlike many juices here, you get to enjoy the pure juice with no added water or sugar.

Good for you

According to Wikipedia they are close to being a super fruit, which is good to know! They are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, and low in sugar, sodium and acid. Plus they are a good source of all of these: vitamin A, potassium, calcium, fibre, phospohorus, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, tryptophan, 16 amino acids and oxalic acid.

Watch out

Oxalic acid can be harmful for those with kidney problems. The consumption of star fruit can also interact with certain medications.

All photos from Pika unless otherwise stated

Peeking At Pika: Canne

C is for Canne à sucre Kann Sugar Cane

Originally Pika was, like much of Guadeloupe, just a big sugar cane field, but when Papy bought it in 1959 he started planting different things. He kept a lot of the cane and this as well as the cane on his land in Le Moule was taken by the family to the factories of Grosse Montagne and Le Moule to make sugar. The entire family was involved in this work and Bertie has recounted to me how his mum was tending the cane when she went into labour with him!

Now however there is just a small patch of cane left, purely for family consumption. And even that is thin on the ground right now as the new cane grows.

I wrote a bit about sugar cane in this post but just to remind you, it is from the grass family and is planted from an existing cane; a tige (stalk) is made up of lots of noeuds (sections of the cane) and three of these are planted horizontally in the ground. The new cane takes a minimum of 5 or 6 months to grow and when mature the stalk is chopped down leaving the root to produce a new cane. This cycle carries on harvest after harvest but as the amount of cane produced diminishes, at some point a new cane will be planted.

The harvest season here is February to June (dry season) and the cane is either chopped and tied into bundles using the wispy leaves at the top, or the field is burnt, which amazingly doesn't affect the roots or stalk. Once it is harvested it is taken to the factory to be processed into sugar or rum. According to Bertie, outside of this season any sugar cane is taken to the distillery instead.

After this, there is a helpful description of the sugar making process here. Basically the juice is extracted, cleaned with slaked lime, evaporated into a syrup, boiled to form sugar crystals and passed through a centrifuge to separate the crystals and remaining liquid. Raw sugar is a brown sticky substance which is then refined to make white sugar as we know it.There are two side-products: molasses is the remaining syrup and can be sent to the distillery to make alcohol. After the cane is crushed and the juice removed, the remaining fibre is known as bagasse. On burning this, sufficient heat is produced to boil water and create high-pressure steam, which in turn drives a turbine to produce electricity for the factory as well as create additional steam needed for the process. I was interested to note that this is a very environmentally-friendly way of creating electricity.

But back to our cane in Pika where the process is a lot simpler! The cane is chopped, the ends and the exterior are chopped off (by someone with a sharp knife and a very steady hand - not me!) then handed out for our enjoyment. Chew it, suck it, then spit it out, and enjoy all that lovely cane juice! It won't last very long so make the most of it whilst it is there!
Here is CassCass enjoying a piece cut by Papy above (see all those stains down her t-shirt - that was not her first!)
Good for you...

Yes and no is the quick answer to this question! Sugar in its refined form is BAD BAD BAD! Did you catch that everyone...! Even in moderation! I could go into length about this but I shall keep my post short(er) and just give you some places to check this out further if you are interested:

*Organic Nutrition gives a very thorough list of the problems with sugar, not least its addictiveness
*Passionate Homemaker not only explains why we should avoid sugar but also what we could replace it with
*If even a few of these risks are the case, sugar should definitely be off our shopping list!

On the other hand, sugar cane (pre-refined) is fine (in moderation of course), even including the nutritional benefit of being high in riboflavin. This site claims many more benefits but I haven't researched them all!
As for me, I shall continue to enjoy fresh sugar cane when it is available, try and keep low the amount of sugar we take in (to the astonishment of most people I know here, Baby JoJo is still sugar-free!), though on this sugar producing island this is hard work and of course not helping the local economy. I would like to do away with sugar entirely when we return home and replace it with healthier (always in moderation!) alternatives, but we shall see...

Sources: wikipedia Bertie All other sources cited
Photos: Pika