Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Car Taxes

As I mentioned last week, we are in the process of becoming, once again, a one-car family. There are lots of savings to be wrung from this one simple (albeit somewhat demanding) act, including

Cutting out one car's worth of annual taxes and fees.

In Massachusetts, we are charged an excise tax on each car. It's based on the value of the car, and bottoms out a $30 a year once your car is old and not worth much any more (which has been the case with the Focus for as long as I can remember). Get rid of the car, and you don't have to pay the excise tax anymore.

The other fee we incur with each car is the resident parking sticker for the Newburyport lots. It's not much at all--at just $10 every two years, it's a actually a great deal. Still, one less car means one less parking sticker, so there you go.

The annual total of car taxes and fees that we now can skip is $35, which is just under $3 of savings per month. I'm going to round up, as usual. It's not a lot, but, as we've seen, little bits add up to big savings in the long run.

Savings per month: $3

Total Savings for August: $1165 (this month's savings plus the savings already in place from previous months!)

Total Savings in 2014: $4549

Monday, August 25, 2014

Achiote and Anona

While sorting through some photos from Costa Rica, I realized I never shared the last interesting tidbits from our trip to the Bribrí cacao farm on the Caribbean coast. Before we got into the nitty gritty of making chocolate, we toured the farm to check out some of the other useful plants that grow there. 

First, our guide Priscilla picked a ripe achiote and broke it open to show us the seeds inside:

In English this is known as annatto. When the achiote skin is leathery and brown, it means that the seeds inside are ready to use. The bright red seeds can be dried and crushed to make a reddish-orange spice that is used in many Mexican and Central America recipes. Priscilla explained that the Bribrí people also used it for painting their skin bright red, for keeping cuts clean, and for soothing a sunburn. Tiegan was happy to give that last use a try, as she had just the day before gotten the worst sunburn of her life:

I bought some ground achiote at the shop afterwards, and am planning to experiment with it some time in the fall. Stay tuned.

The other thing Priscilla showed us was a new (to us) fruit growing nearby. To get one for us to try, she  used a long wooden pole with a thick wire loop and burlap bag on the end to grab one from the high branches:

She handed it to Tiegan to hold while she went to get her machete to cut it open:

Priscilla told us the name of the fruit in Bribrí, but didn't know it in Spanish or English. The nearest thing I could find when I looked it up here at home was anona, which in English is known as a "custard apple." In Spanish, anona literally means an anonymous, no-name thing. Most photos of custard apples I've found look different--it's green and the "scales" are much more tightly clustered. Maybe this one is extra-ripe? 

The inside, though, matches the description of a custard apple:

The fruit is soft and white, and really does taste like custard--probably because the texture is very creamy and thick (like a custard). It was really kind of strangely delicious. You spit out the large, black seeds, just like you would with a watermelon.

Jonas wouldn't go near it, but Tiegan and I liked it. We never saw one anywhere else on the trip, so I'm not sure how common this particular tropical fruit is in Costa Rica. We did see a lot of achiote though, and once we started noticing it, we realized just how commonly used that flavoring is (especially on meat). 

And that wraps up our food and produce adventures in Costa Rica. That's a little sad, but we do have lots of new recipes and ideas to try now that we're back at home--one of the best parts about traveling!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kids' Corner: Spiced Peaches

Every summer Miss Katherine would pick bushels of peaches and preserve them in jars with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and other spices which she kept secret. The jarred peaches would last all winter. They probably would have lasted a lot longer than that, but they were always eaten by the end of winter.
~from Holes, by Louis Sachar

It's been a long time since our last Kids' Corner, because it turns out our kids are pretty busy with playing piano and baseball and school and theater and karate and friends. But here we are with today's featured author, Jonas Trach:

Jonas is a ten year old boy who will be starting fifth grade in September. He likes to show off his karate skills, sometimes in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. Below is his account of making spiced peaches, which were inspired by Miss Katherine's prize-winning spiced peaches in the book Holes, by Louis Sachar. 

(He asked us about making these months ago, and now that the peaches are in, we could finally give it a try. In the book, the "recipe" is described only as quoted above. See if you can spot what Jonas chose as the secret spices.)

Miss Katherine's Spiced Peaches

I wanted to make spiced peaches because it sounded delicious and it played a big part in the book. I don't want to tell you more because it will spoil the book. It was easy to make.

Step one. Put two cups of water in a pot. 

Step two. Put one cup of honey in the pot. It was hard to squeeze all that honey into the cup:

Step three. Put a half cup of sugar in the pot and mix it up while it heats up:

Step four. Put [parentally peeled, pitted, and halved] peaches one layer at a time in the pot of syrup. Heat them up for three minutes. 

Step five: Take the peaches out and put them in the jar:

Put another layer of peaches in the syrup and repeat.

Step six. Then you put in 1 cinnamon stick, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon of cloves, and a pinch of allspice. And a slice of ginger:

Step seven. Get a funnel and put the syrup in the jar. Put the wooden spoon handle in and get the air bubbles out. Then we put the lid on it:

Step eight. Put the jar in the boiling water for 25 minutes to kill the bacteria and suck the lid onto the jar. 

Make them in August when the peaches come, and eat them at Christmas or somewhere near there. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cherry Bounce, Part 2

Yesterday I started making Cherry Bounce by soaking our foraged chokecherries in water overnight. Now that they are done soaking, it's time to finish mixing up our ingredients for this colonial-era cordial. We're ready to move on.

Step three: Drain the chokecherries, reserving 1 cup of the soaking liquid:

As you can see, what was plain water yesterday is now a lovely cherry red color. It doesn't taste like much of anything yet, but it sure is pretty.

Step four: Add the reserved liquid plus 2 cups of sugar to the chokecherries:

Because we are in the height of pickling season, I didn't have an available container large enough for a quart of chokecherries plus a quart of rum and all that sugar. Instead, I used four, wide-mouth, quart-sized mason jars, which meant I had to further divide down the recipe to have tiny proportions of the ingredients. This is a really easy way to do it, though, and is perfect if you only have a small amount of fruit or just want to give it a try before committing to a huge batch. If you're interested in this method, each mason jar gets 1 to 1 1/2 cups of chokecherries, 1/4 cup of reserved soaking liquid, and 1/2 cup sugar. 

Step five: Add 1 quart of rum (that's 1 cup to each mason jar, if you're doing it that way):

It's worth pausing here to consider the rum. The original recipe that I am using suggests a light rum to allow the cherry flavor to shine through, but I found myself wondering what a real old-style New England rum would have tasted like. Although Newburyport's most famous distillery is no longer in business, there is a new rum-maker in nearby Ipswich that is actively working to revive this Massachusetts tradition. Turkey Shore Distilleries makes Old Ipswich Rum, which I bought over the hill at Leary's:

The name and the bottle are both purposefully reminiscent of Caldwell's Rum ("Old Newburyport"), so it seemed like the right choice. Although they also make an amber "Tavern Style" rum, which might have been the more authentically-flavored choice, I went with the "White Cap" for a lighter flavor in combination with the fruit. 

Step six: Cap it and shake it several times a day for the next 10 days:

The shaking should keep the sugar distributed until it eventually dissolves, and each time I do it, the color gets a little darker. After the first 10 days, it doesn't need so much shaking any more--just once in a while over the next three months until it's ready. By then, all of the flavors of the cherries (and the almond essence of their pits) should be fully absorbed into the rum. I have these in a very dark corner of the kitchen, but will probably move them to the (even darker) basement after the first 10-day period. 

This last step won't be done until the end of November--just in time to strain and bottle the cordial up for the holidays, which is when Cherry Bounce was traditionally enjoyed. For now, we shake and we wait.