Hello again from the Accidental Alchemist

We're back.

We’re back.

Quite a bit has happened since we spoke last.

What could possibly go wrong? It's April.

What could possibly go wrong? It’s April.

But in the end, as Julian of Norwich says, all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. So before we really get into it –What It’s Like To Move To A Caribbean Island With Two Large Dogs, Three Cats, and Lucky the Amazing One-Eyed English (No Kidding) Wonder Goldfish — I’ll leave you with this:

Good night.

Good night.

Salt, Soap, Tangs, Tattoos and Turtles: The Final Showdown

It’s a little-known fact that fish are telepathic, even from great distances.

It's been a month already. Where's the post, and my lunch while you're at it.

It’s been a month already. Where’s the post, and my lunch while you’re at it.

In our last installment of this excruciatingly long series, I wrote about my experience with the Blue Tang Clan off Buck Island in St. Croix.

The Blue Tang Clan.  There were hundreds more of them.

The Blue Tang Clan. There were hundreds more of them.

As ecstatic experiences go, swimming as one of a huge clan of beautiful fish seems a little, well, lacking.  There weren’t any angels or any thunder or any spectacular hypnotic visions that anyone else who travels the snorkeling trail at Buck Island doesn’t have the opportunity to see for themselves.  But I’m not going to discount the “still, small voice” that’s been written about — and I think I heard for a moment — when I swam with them, totally at peace and utterly unafraid (and that doesn’t happen for me a lot), even though I am a weak swimmer and the sea can be rough and very deep in places.

Now Psycho, who is the star of our first photograph, is a very pragmatic barracuda and appears somewhat skeptical of anyone’s epiphany if there isn’t a lionfish spearing involved. When I was cleaning up my chaotic desktop I ran across his picture and guilt set in immediately, as if he’d smacked me in the head directly from St. Croix. You promised a photo of the result of your little event, I thought.  You haven’t posted anything except a tedious pictorial of that somewhat underwhelming tomato paste experiment.

Guilty as charged.  So let’s get right to it — a few days after I swam with the Clan, I got my first tattoo.  And here it is.

I try to remember I have this, when things get rough.

I try to remember I have this, when things get rough.

I’ll admit most folks wouldn’t think of a fish for a tattoo, unless it were a shark or a dolphin (okay, the latter’s a mammal) or maybe a whale (ibid.) silhouetted against a moon.  The spirit animals crowd always seem to lean in on wolves, lions, raptors and the like; I don’t think I’ve run across anyone who admits to a cave mole or a hyena.  (Although it can be pretty fun to take a test to supposedly find yours out.)  The blue tang doesn’t have much going for it except for speed and one hidden armament — a wicked sharp barb near its tail that it can deploy in times of great need.  It’s hardly the kind of image that our cultural and financial “masters of the universe” are going to go for, which is why it’s perfect for me.

The fish him or herself.

The fish, him or herself.

The Blue Tang Clan wasn’t the last extraordinary experience on St. Croix, though.  A friend invited us into a group that would visit Sandy Point during the leatherback turtle-hatching season.  St. Croix, like many Caribbean islands, is a nesting site for several types of sea turtles, and the far-west beach of Sandy Point is an important part of their habitat.  It’s so important, and taken so seriously by the Crucians, that the entire beach is closed for entire chunks of the year.  It is a very lovely place, with the colorful buildings of Frederiksted on the right, the silky white sand beneath your feet, and the endless stretch of sea before you.

A Wilson's plover, sharing a quiet moment on Sandy Point.

A Wilson’s plover, sharing a quiet moment on Sandy Point.

Squads of volunteers organized by the Crucians and researchers from around the world guard and monitor the nesting sites twenty-four hours a day.  If you’re lucky, you can arrange for a guided visit to the Point when the nestlings are hatching.

Leatherback turtle nesting site, marked by the Sandy Point guardians.

Leatherback turtle nesting site, marked by the Sandy Point guardians.

As peaceful and beautiful as the beach is, there are predators that wait for the nestlings to emerge from the sand.  The primary offender is the Magnificent Frigate Bird, whose psychopathic tendencies I have noted in an earlier post.

Magnificent Frigate Bird, doubtlessly looking for something small and defenseless to eat.

Magnificent Frigate Bird, doubtlessly looking for something small and defenseless to eat.

That’s the guy I saw circling obsessively above our group as we were led by a ridiculously young marine biologist to a large circle dug into the sand.  Beneath the surface, laid in layer upon layer, were the eggs of a leatherback turtle that had been coming to this beach for years.  Somehow the researchers and volunteers know when eggs in a certain nest are likely to hatch — though there’s no guarantee.

We were lucky.  It wasn’t long before we saw an odd pointed nose poking out of the sand.  The marine biologist waited for a bit, then gently brushed some sand away, and suddenly there were more noses.  A LOT more noses.  And then there were fins and shells and little turtles clumsily digging and flailing and attempting to crawl in this heaving mound of TINY TURTLE.  (Visitors to this spectacular event aren’t allowed to take photographs, otherwise you’d better believe I’d have some).  As they emerged, a volunteer would whisk them away to a nearby camp where yet another set of biologists would take a tiny scraping of their skin for a DNA sample, which is used for tracking and health analyses.  Though this isn’t my picture, this is what a baby leatherback turtle looks like: Baby_Leatherback_Sea_Turtle_600

The entire time that the babies were emerging, the Magnificent Frigate Bird circled lower and lower and faster and faster.  That bird was auguring in like a drill. The absurdly young marine biologist repeatedly gave him the stink-eye and he prudently removed himself (I wouldn’t have messed with her either), though it was pretty easy to imagine what would have happened were we not there. In the end, there were sixty baby leatherbacks born of the nest we saw, and not one lost as an aperitif.

Once the DNA testing was completed, the volunteers loaded some of the babies into a bucket (you have not lived until you’ve seen a bucket full of thrashing baby turtles), and we were guided to a clear spot a little farther down the beach and very close to the wave line.  We were each given a baby turtle.

Let me tell you, those little dudes can kick.  The biologist told us that they were preloaded with enough fat and energy to help them swim for days without stopping out into the open ocean, and boy did they ever demonstrate this.  It was like trying to hold on to a tiny object infused with an otherworldly strength and determination. You got a feeling that if you held it next to a concrete wall, it could punch through it without hesitation. They wanted the water and the hell with you, they’re going to get to it.

We set them down and they started the sprint to the ocean.  Only a couple got a little distracted and looped back on themselves (one was the UUH’s, of which I never fail to remind him) but were set aright.  The knockback from the waves made the attempt a little frustrating, but they kept trying, and I’ve never rooted so hard for anything in my life.  We were all hooting and cheering and dancing around like a bunch of diehard fans at the Super Bowl. And when the last baby turtle made it through the surge, heading out for his or her great adventure in the ocean, it was, quite simply, glorious.  We walked off the beach and through the scrub back to our cars like we were drunk with joy.

It has been a difficult year, and writing this has helped me remember that there are good things and people as well as bad ones.  So with a tip of the hat to the UUH, Psycho the (Nagging) Barracuda and the Blue Tang Clan, I’ll let a little turtle sign off for me.

Arrivederci and vaya con Dios!

Arrivederci and vaya con Dios!

 

 

 

 

What’s Worth The Effort?

Back here in Northern California, I’ve been canning tomato puree for a few years.  I got started with the classic Ball waterbath canning kit — the giant pot, the the jar lifter tongs and lid magnet and weird little headspace measuring stick,also useful for releasing bubbles out of the jars before you boil the living bejesus out of them. The impulse wasn’t some hippy-crunchy survivalist meme.  It was the hippy-crunchy “avoid the endocrine-disruptor BPA in commercial can liners.”  The fact that home-canned tomato puree — the basis for every superb pasta sauce — just tasted so much better and fresher than the overcooked, stale and chemical-tasting stuff in grocery cans was simply a benefit to the process.

Some work goes into these guys, but it's worth it.

Some work goes into these guys, but it’s worth it.

Well, in order to get a few quarts of good, thick tomato puree to can, you’ve got to go big or go home.

The haul from the Farmer's Market.  I like to play with varietals other than paste tomatoes sometimes.

The haul from the Farmer’s Market. I like to play with varietals other than paste tomatoes sometimes.

At this point, I’m used to the amount of work it takes to reduce a perfect tomato into a perfect quart of tomato puree.  I’ve had to learn how to avoid separation and suctioning through the lid and overcooking the tomatoes in the thickening-simmerdown process before the canning procedure.  (DO NOT LET IT BOIL, for the love of Pete.)  And you also need a version of what Alchemist Natty and I call “The Machine.”

"The Machine." Also known as the "Tomatopress Velox."

“The Machine.” Also known as the “Tomatopress Velox.”

Once the tomatoes are soft enough through a bit of sweating in a big-ass pot, you can pop them into The Machine and it strips out seeds and skins with relatively little effort and a lot of speed.  Then it’s a matter of sloooowly simmering down any extra water out of the puree (you’ve already gotten rid of a great deal through the sweating process) and setting them up into jars for canning.

Filling jars. I follow the Ball recommendations exactly, so there's 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in every quart jar.

Filling jars. I follow the Ball recommendations exactly, so there’s 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in every quart jar.

After that, the boil-the-bunny process begins.  Timing is everything.

Jars in the waterbath canner.

Jars in the waterbath canner.

But what do you do if you have a ton of a tomato varietal that’s not exactly prime for puree-making?  Well, just like everyone else, I get a cup of coffee and go to the web. My friend Kris is a tomato-growing goddess, as well as a superbly skilled cook, griller, and smoker (check out her blog), and she provided me with a few pounds of utterly lovely cherry tomatoes.  I owe her some Anaheims and hot peppers, which have not as yet been particularly cooperative, but I have threatened them and we should see some production in the near future.

A bit of bounding around the Web found a recipe for “Oven Roasted Cherry Tomato Paste.”  Paste was something I hadn’t tried yet, so the circumstances seemed ideal.  I prepared everything according to directions — it’s a satisfyingly OCD process — and got ready to rumble.

Preparing the tomatoes for paste. Olive oil, St. Croix sea salt, 350 degree oven.

Preparing the tomatoes for paste. Olive oil, St. Croix sea salt, 350 degree oven.

There actually ended up to be a lot more of them, turning the whole process into a kind of Tetris game.

OHGAWD OHGAWD WILL THEY FIT

OHGAWD OHGAWD WILL THEY FIT

They’re roasted until they wrinkle and dry a bit on the rims, but take them out before they collapse into themselves and turn into tomato goo.  Then you pop them into a blender (or food processor, for you evolved folks).  I used my ancient and almost museum-worthy Osterizer.

I expect to hear from the Smithsonian anytime now.

I expect to hear from the Smithsonian anytime now.

Now here is what I found was the key.  After blending, the recipe author did not strain out the skins and seeds that had remained unblended, so I didn’t.  The puree then went into a pot for a very slow simmer, cooking for over an hour, stirring frequently as the puree reduced and folding it into itself.  Once the paste clings to a spoon held sideways without falling off, you’re done.

The paste at the point of finish.

The paste at the point of finish.

But at testing, I found that the unblended skins and seeds gave the paste an unpleasant texture.  Perhaps a Vitamix could have taken care of this problem, as opposed to my anachronistic Osterizer.  Regardless, it wasn’t what I thought of as paste. Hard, angry little bits were getting stuck in my teeth.  It had to be fixed.

I added a dollop of water to the paste, stirred it back up into a puree, and strained it through the magical Chinoise. This is the material that was left behind.

The Chinoise strainer. A gift from God.

The Chinoise strainer. A gift from God to my teeth. That’s all seeds and skins.

Then back into the pot for another simmer down, stirring, folding.

Round Two: FIGHT!

Round Two: FIGHT!

I think the double-simmering did no good for the paste taste and texture, and it certainly reduced it to the point of absurdity.  In the end, I had about as much as a single can of tomato paste from the store — probably a little less.

You're kidding me.

You’re kidding me. (Incidentally the container is plastic 5 which is supposed to be okay).

That’s probably about enough for one batch of tomato sauce.  You’d probably get more out of the recipe if you strain BEFORE reducing, instead of repeating the process twice, like I did. I can’t judge the taste properly because of the double cooking, but it doesn’t have the dark, smokey, weirdish flavor of grocery tomato paste even with my bumbling around.

Well, there it is.

Well, there it is.

But honestly, it’s all a matter of experimentation. And where would us alchemists be without that?

 

 

How to make it in Chickenville

As you know, Chickenville is a hard place to live. As they say on a popular TV show, “one day you are in, and the next day, you are out.”

After the last restructuring, we were left with four chickens: Black Chicken, White Chicken, Twister, and Kiwi. Of those, Twister was the “pet” chicken; she was sweet, let the kids play with her, and even got to go to my kid’s school for “farm day”. Needless to say, even if she stopped laying, she would get to stay around forever.

Twister. Despite her name, she's the normal one. Lays like clockwork, an egg a day with a break on Sunday. She is a regular boring Rhode Island Red chicken.

Twister. The “nice chicken”.

The other three, well, they knew its “do or die”. And while Black and White were regularly producing their “egg-a-day keeps Natty and the sharp knife away”, Kiwi was slacking. She molted months ago, and still no green eggs were in sight. The only thing that was keeping her alive was being small, not really worth the trouble to cull her. Still, there was muttering heard about “getting a free pass around here”.

Kiwi. The "cool" Americauna. Likes to stare down dogs. Lays green eggs, but only when she feels like it.

You want me to lay green eggs? Well, look, there’s some green lettuce for you. Would that do?

A few weeks ago, Twister got sick and died quite suddenly. We were sad. The kid didn’t have a “petting” chicken. So after two days of “I waaaaaaaant tooooo peeeeeeeeet aaaaaaa chiiiiiiiiiickeeeeeeeeeen”, I gave up, went into the chicken pen and caught one least likely to cause me bodily harm. Given that Black Chicken tried to kill me every time I get near her, and White Chicken can run faster than the Roadrunner, that left Kiwi.

And what do you know, she settled right in my lap and endured all sorts of rough handling by the three year old. Yeah, guess who gets to stay around forever, eggs or no eggs!

20130729_162944-XL

You let me into the house! I never have to lay another egg again!

Fifty Shades of Garden

Something was drawing her, irresistibly, to the edge of the garden.  As if she were pulled by invisible bonds, Alchemist and Chickenkeeper Natty felt compelled to search — to explore — to test the edges of her gardening.

It was there, calling her.  The plant she had overlooked in the past.  Hesitantly, biting her lip, she extended her shaking hand and plunged it into the bush. What was there — hidden, unknown until now — rocked her to her very core.

Cucumer

Nothing would ever be the same.

Across the bustling city, the Accidental Alchemist somehow felt the same call, as if the two were horticulturally communicating in some deep, dirty way.  Unafraid, inspired by the deep throbbing of vegetation from the backyard fence, she responded.  Big Fred, the Passionflower, was waiting for her.  And he knew exactly what she needed.

Passiflora edulis

The silent command came, as she knew it would.  Taste me.

We have to go now.

Salt, Soap, Tattoos and Turtles: Episode Two (Good Lord, My Spirit Animal Is . . .)

Now I’m not trying to torture anyone, but we do need a bit of backstory before I can answer the question posed.  Here’s a hint, though.

Blue Tang fish

The mystery deepens, as it were.

One of the things that I’m most thankful for to the UUH is that he showed me the marvels of What’s Under There (and by “there” I mean the surface of the ocean.  Get your mind out of the gutter.).  I’m not a strong swimmer and have about as much body fat as a stick insect — which means the iconic “Dead Man’s Float” they teach you in swim class really IS — so I’d always been cautious to the point of paranoia about getting water deeper than my (bony) knees.  Clamping a clumsy plastic mask to my (terrified) face and trying to breathe (without hysterical gasping) through a ridiculous plastic tube was not first on my list of priorities.  But when you’re in St. Croix, you’re in one of the most extraordinary places on earth to snorkel, and the UUH eventually coaxed me into it.

Now it’s one of my favorite things of all. I have a list of favorite places to go, certain fish I want to say hello to, and the usually justified expectation that something utterly surprising will happen at least once during any swim.

The UUH is way ahead of me on this because he’s a certified diver.  On the last trip, he bought an underwater camera.  He’s seen sharks,

I would have levitated out of the water back to the boat.

various pretty bubbles and things,

Oooooooo.

and a barracuda named Psycho that hangs around a certain reef, waiting for the divers to off a few lionfish for its lunch.  (Lionfish are a destructive introduced species that are destroying fish and reefs everywhere they go.  Certain divers are authorized to carry spearguns to kill them.)

This is Psycho the barracuda. He’s about four feet long.

Now I don’t usually do quite so much dramatic sightseeing, but our last trip to Buck Island was extraordinary.  I’ve mentioned in past posts that Buck Island is a National Marine Reserve, and contains a marked snorkeling trail through its reefs that everyone should try at least once.

Part of the Buck Island snorkel path. Sometimes even the natives need directions.

As we’d been to Buck Island a few times, I took a different direction than the rest of the swimmers.  I was poking around the corals, minding my own business, when I was surrounded by hundreds of blue tangs in a matter of moments.  They streamed past me on all sides — I was in the center of this amazing moving tribe — and while a couple of them gave me the side-eye, most of them were utterly unconcerned by the appearance of this odd-looking creature amongst them.

DIGITAL CAMERA

A small part of the Blue Tang Clan at Buck Island. There are hundreds more.

Blue Tangs (in the Caribbean, Acanthurus coeruleus) vary in shade from dark to robin’s egg blue, eat krill and algae off corals, and can group in gangs to beat up damselfish for the best buffets.  No joke.  These guys have a “caudal spine” near their tails (that’s the yellow marking you can see in the first photo) that when deployed is sharp enough to slice through a wetsuit and leave you with a nasty infected cut.  Some even are thought to have poison glands at the caudal spine, which is pretty cool if you think like a twelve-year-old, like I do.

The more usual way to see blue tangs.

The more usual way to see blue tangs.

On our various trips, I’d seen a lot of blue tangs, but nothing like this massive flow of fish.  I swam with them for at least a half hour as they wended their way through the snorkeling trail, grouping occasionally to pick algae off the corals, and then surging away again.  When they finally streamed off through a gap in the reef to head out into the open ocean, I turned back to the boat, where I sat for a while like a person who’d just been hit with a skillet in a cartoon.

The Blue Tang Clan was on my mind for the rest of our stay.  I did have some work to do; I had to test out some soap formulas to see how they performed under the different weather conditions of the Caribbean.  My first batch was an unmitigated disaster — wet, sticky and beyond ugly in virtually every possible dimension.  I tossed it and reworked the formula from the ground up. With that in hand, I looked at what I had available for ingredients —  I’d scored some genuine St. Croix coconut oil from the Mango Melee festival, St. Croix honey from the tiny farmer’s stand down the hill, some unrefined Ghanaian shea butter from a local beauty store, and a slightly oddball silicone bread mold from Gallows Bay Hardware.  It came out beautifully and smells like heaven.

St. Croix Pure Honey.

“St. Croix Pure Honey.”

The second batch I made on island wasn’t quite so successful. I had added a touch of my handmade sea salt to make the soap a little harder, and apparently I added too much; the soap was crumbly and unappealing in texture when I cut it after we got back to Northern California.  Time for a rebatch.  And what better time than to commemorate that amazing swim at Buck Island?   A bit of coconut milk, a  bracing shot of lavender, a touch of jasmine and some ultramarine blue, and I had “Blue Tang Clan.”

"Blue Tang Clan."

“Blue Tang Clan.”

The soap wasn’t the only way I memorialized  the experience, though.  You see, I’d been thinking about getting a tattoo for some time . . . which I’ll talk about in Episode Three.

Oh come on, it’s practically required nowadays to save the Big Reveal until after the commercial.  Psycho wouldn’t have it any other way.

'Till the next lionfish.

‘Till the next lionfish.

Salt, Soap, Tattoos and Turtles: St. Croix, The Intermission

In our last St. Croix episode, I described making seawater salt. (A lot easier than you think). The next installment will be about making soap on the rock, which is a bit different in circumstances than in Northern California.

Soap -- Island Jasmine on the left, St. Croix Pure Honey on the right, and the sea salt

That’s Island Jasmine on the left and St. Croix Pure Honey on the right. Both batches were on-the-fly reworked versions of a go-to formula I have here in Northern California.  The Honey soap came out like a beaut.  The Island Jasmine wasn’t satisfactory in texture, so I rebatched it into two versions back here in Northern Cal — another pure Island Jasmine with a touch more color, and one jasmine and lavender, colored with ultramarine blue, to celebrate the Blue Tang Clan I swam with (and got my first tattoo for) at Buck Island.

Blue Tang fish

Both soaps are unmolded now and I hope to cut them tomorrow.  But in the meantime, a quiet and contemplative moment.  (Soapmaking can drive you crazy with impatience.)

Wilson's plover, on Sandy Point during our leatherback turtle hatchling adventure.

I hope for another post tomorrow — a barracuda named Psycho, the Blue Tang Clan at Buck Island, mangos and coconut oil and baby leatherback turtles and sharks all want to show off.

 

Hunter’s Dirt Soap

IMG_3887 Hunter’s Dirt Soap samples are now out and roaming!  They can be tracked down at Archery Only in Newark, CA and Kerley’s in Cupertino, CA.

Scent masking is important for all hunters, and Dirt Soap might be one way to start the process.  It seems to work best if you do a full body wash, including your hair, and let yourself drip dry.  You might get some funny looks if you do this right before standing in a Togo’s line for lunch.  Ask me how I know.

The soap contains pure olive, coconut, and castor oils, with green chrome oxide, activated charcoal, and walnut hull powder for the “camo” look, as well as a dirt fragrance. Like any other soap, don’t get it in your eyes, and stop using it if it causes irritation.  Finally:  WARNING:  like it says on the label, the walnut hull powder is a NUT PRODUCT.

For a little more backstory on the soap, check here:  Tough Guy Hunting, Fishing, Rock ‘n Roll and Soap Club.

We’re looking for feedback on the formulation.  You can leave a comment here, contact us with the “Contact” button above, or get us directly at the phone number/address on the sample tag.  We’d love to hear from you!

BYB logo

Salt, Soap, Tangs, Tattoos and Turtles — St. Croix, A Multi-Episode Event

Episode One:  Birds, Butterflies, and Salt

The Accidental Alchemist found herself fetched ashore upon a certain island again, fortunately not by shipwreck but instead by a rather painless plane flight from Miami.  And while I failed to bend any local spirits to my will, I did bring some bananaquits around through the magic of Turbinado sugar.

I’m pretty sure that’s a new kid on the block — you can still see some  “baby fuzz” sticking out from his grownup duds.  Most of our BQ gang has moved down the hill from us, because the Ginger Thomas is not flowering very much at this point in the year and I think they’ve moved on to other nectar food sources.   The concentration of hummingbirds has decreased as well, though the kingbirds are more active and vocal than usual.  This is because it is snowing.

Well, that’s what some call it — “Crucian snow,” when a local species of small, white,  faster-than-a-Wall-Street-banker-after-your-IRA butterflies (probably these guys) decides it’s time to get it on.  There are masses of them and when they start dancing together in the air, it does look like a snow flurry.  The problem is, they’re so fast they are almost impossible to catch in a photograph when you’re as clumsy as I am.  This is as close as I got to capturing the blizzards that circled our house for days.

IMG_3404(He’s the tiny white dot in the middle of the picture.)

It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, though.  The kingbirds LOVE these guys for dinner and it’s a real airshow when things get serious.

Like most other birds right now, the kingbirds have kids to feed and probably mortgages to pay, so they’re pretty determined to make as much of the butterfly buffet as possible. Much Discovery Channel drama resulted.

My own goals were a little less strenuous, as supermarkets do not regularly attempt to escape.  It had occurred to me that we were surrounded by salt water, being on a Caribbean island and all, and that “local salt” seemed to be a gourmet item flogged to death in every cooking article I’d read in the last six years.  Most “everyday” salt is mined, but a great deal (and most of the fancy-dan stuff) is made from seawater.  Enter me, a gallon jug, and the Caribbean sea off Tamarind Reef. Twice, because I’d read of two methods to make seawater salt, and as a proper alchemist I had to try both. DIGITAL CAMERA

The first method is the classic one used even today in the San Francisco Bay.  Pool some water in a shallow area, let dry in sun and wind.

The second is a bit faster.  Pool water in pot and boil the living hell out of it until you get salt.

As I am a bit OCD about ingredients, I made sure to wallow out on the reef until I could capture as clean a wave as I could.  (The UUH bravely helped with one of these attempts).  There’s a bit of seagrass and other debris that bobs around closer to the shore, and I wanted to avoid as much of it as possible.

 Even so, the water has to be sieved several times to make sure you get as clean a source as possible. A regular sieve lined with a coffee filter works great for this. IMG_4119

 Eventually, you’ll get a beautiful sparkly pool of seawater ready for the pot. IMG_4121

With the first gallon, I boiled the water until there was about 1/2″-1/4″ of water left in the pot.  The salt was precipitating out and crystallizing on the bottom even then.  One glass baking pan and a towel later, out it went into the St. Croix sun.  You can see how wet it remains, even after a day and a half out there in the wild. IMG_4098 The other gallon was used in a “Boil That Dust Speck” approach (kudos to anyone who gets that reference, minus a half-point if you’re a parent).  As it was pretty muggy and there were Some Complaints about  Using The Stove In The House, out the stainless-steel pot went onto the Weber. IMG_4125 I was surprised at how fast the process was.  The salt was still a little damp when nearly all of the water had evaporated, so I spread it out on another platter and set it outside with its buddy. IMG_4126
When all was finally said and dried, I noticed a couple differences between the two techniques.  The “evaporator pool” salt seemed clumpier and definitely more brilliant white in color — I wonder if a bleaching effect from the sun had something to do with it.  The boiled-down and sun-finished salt was crumblier from the get-go.  Both were intensely salty and have a tang to them that my “regular” salt doesn’t have.  For both techniques, I estimate about a salt-shaker full from a gallon of seawater; I got a little more from the boil-down process. IMG_4137 I used some of the salt from this experiment in the soap I made later on in the trip.  But that adventure is part of Episode Two: Wrestling With Soap And The Shocking Discovery That My Spirit Animal Is A Fish.  “Soon come,” as they say in St. Croix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Thousand Words: (Some Of) The Garden (Almost) Entirely In Pictures

I am Gulf Fritillary. I grant you this moment to admire my beauty before I gnaw your precious Passiflora Incarnata down to a stick.
Big Fred, The Reluctant Passiflora Edulis, is finally getting busy.
This is the volunteer Cabernet Sauvignon vine. We’re going to have a lot of grapes this year.

 

Like, a lot. This is the prep-school Thompson’s vine.
As in, maybe kind of too many.
The Fig Tree That Was Apparently Alarmed By That Certain Event In The Bible is overdoing it again.
The squirrels have taken note. I’d better notify the dogs, because the squirrels throw the figs at them from the Squirrel Highway electrical wire above the dog run.
The pomegranate has decided to do something besides screw around with the cable wire.

 

The oranges are so cute when they’re little.
The Ghost Pepper, one of the hottest peppers in the world. It was the size of my little finger when I planted it late last month. I am afraid of it.
Borage from out of nowhere, squatting in the English thyme’s pot. I fear there will be war.
The yarrow, after strangling the golden lemon thyme and surviving a rather pissed-off thinning, abides. Who knew that the stalks I was discarding (the leaves and flowers are well-known for medicinal properties) are used in I-Ching divination. Well, I sure didn’t. D’oh.
The motherwort loves everyone.