Papayas and Pomegranates

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My breakfast or mid-morning snack always consists of fresh fruit and right now I can’t get enough of papayas and pomegranates. Luscious and earthy, papayas are the perfect accompaniment for pomegranate seeds, which are sweet, tart, juicy and so refreshing! Combined together, these fruits make a delicious and colourful pairing with plenty of texture and favour! I add nothing more to this – no dressing nor any other additional flavour enhancements, but you certainly could jazz it up if you wanted. (Fresh mint would work nicely, a little lemon or lime juice, grated ginger, etc.). 

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In addition to the many nutritional benefits from consumption of raw papayas and pomegranates, the literature shows that each fruit provides remarkable health, healing and disease prevention benefits. Because of this, both fruits are gaining interest among researchers due to their nutritional, pharmaceutical and therapeutic application potential.

According to Joel Fuhrman, M.D., the pomegranate is one of the most powerful, nutrient dense foods for overall good health. Clinical findings have shown a correlation between pomegranate compounds and their positive effect on both human and animal cardiovascular, nervous, and skeletal health. Furthermore, pomegranates are good for heart and blood vessel health, and have been shown to inhibit breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, leukemia and to prevent vascular changes that promote tumor growth in lab animals (source).

Another nutrient-dense fruit is the papaya, and the internet is chalk full of the usefulness of each part of the papaya plant, including the seeds, stems and leaves. High in enzymes and anti-oxidants, papayas are known to lower blood cholesterol levels, provide pain relief for those suffering from arthritis, edema and osteoporosis, prevent cell and tissue damage, which among other diseases, can lead to premature ageing, and treat intestinal worms in the body from consumption of the seeds. Papayas are about half as calorie dense as pomegranates (I have read anywhere between 30-45 kcal /100 g of papaya vs 83-90 kcal/100 g pomegranate) which makes papaya a favorite fruit for people trying to reduce their weight. With all this going for it, it’s no wonder the Mayans used to regard the papaya tree as the “Tree of Life”.

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How to select a papaya

Papaya is fully ripe when it is bright yellow and yields to slight pressure. However, papayas are likely picked before they are optimally ripe in order to have some shelf life once they reach grocery stores in destinations as far away as Canada, where I live.  Consequently, by the time I see them, they tend to be more green than yellow, which just means they need a day or two to ripen at home, especially if they are still quite firm. 

  • Choose a papaya that yields to gentle pressure, has smooth skin and feels heavy for it’s size.
  • Generally, the more yellow, the more ripe so select papayas that are mainly yellow with a bit of green.
  • Smell the bottom of the fruit – you are looking for a sweet aroma.

Storage

  • Store ripe papaya in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. If you need it to ripen before eating, leave it at room temperature away from direct sunlight. 

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How to select a pomegranate

  • Select a pomegranate that feels heavy for its size – pick a few up to compare weight
  • Select a pomegranate that is evenly round – avoid those that are flat on one or more sides
  • The colour of the skin is less of an indicator of fruit quality – in general, you want one with a glossy, deep red skin but the colour can vary from bright red to a reddish-brown. It should be free of dark spots
  • Select a pomegranate that feels firm

Storage

  • Store in the refrigerator – I have read that pomegranates will stay fresh anywhere from 4 weeks to several months refrigerated, but have never had one around long enough to verify those claims!

How To Open and Remove the Seeds from a Pomegranate

This is the least messy method of removing pomegranate seeds that I know of but it’s helpful to wear old clothes or an apron because pomegranate juice does stain. I usually wear nitrile gloves for this task as well. 

Place the pomegranate on a cutting board and make a horizontal slice right across the top 1/4 or  1/3 of the fruit.

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With the tip of a sharp knife cut vertical wedges through the skin wherever you can see the natural separation of pods, about 1/4 – 1/2-inch deep.

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Pull the wedges away from the centre. To remove the arils (seeds) from their pods, gently flex the wedge with your hands to loosen the membrane and pry the seeds into a clean bowl using your fingers. (I have tried this step in a bowl of water but I haven’t found the task any easier or more efficient in a bowl of water than it is without using a bowl of water). 

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This uncommon combination of fruits exemplifies all that is exotic in the world of fresh fruit of tropical and Middle Eastern origin and these flavours really work well together. Serves 4. 

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe papaya
  • 1 pomegranate, seeded

Slice the papayas lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Discard the seeds. Remove the skin using a sharp knife and cut the flesh of the papaya in thin slices or cubes. Divide the papaya cubes evenly between 4 serving bowls. 

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Remove the pomegranate seeds from the fruit and sprinkle on top of the papaya in all 4 bowls. Serve! 

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Carrot “Hot Dog”

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Just trust me on this one! Even my non-vegan, traditional hot dog loving daughter raved about these innovative carrot dogs! Inspired by a recipe I found here, these carrot dogs were like a revelation! Not only do they taste pretty darn close to traditional hot dogs once they’re grilled, they actually look like traditional hot dogs too!  

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There are endless toppings you can add to a perfectly grilled carrot dog, from the classic ketchup, mustard and relish to innovative and anti-oxidant rich cole slaws, diced and sliced fruits and vibrantly fresh herbs. The grilled carrot is a mere canvas for the most amazing condiments and toppings you can think of. For some heat, spice these up with kimchi or a poblano-cilantro relish. For kids or an unusual party finger food, cut the carrots to fit mini-hot dog buns and let your guests add their own selection of toppings.

My toppings included a tangy ginger cole slaw with fresh parsley, basil and cilantro from my garden, whole grain mustard, cooked beets and a drizzling of tahini. I wrapped the whole ensemble in a large collard green leaf. I call it the ultimate healthy “garden-dog”. My daughter paired hers with more classic toppings – ketchup, mustard, cheese, a few pickles and served it in a regular wheat bun. Thus, my daughter’s version was non-vegan in the end, but at least she avoided the processed meat which is almost always full of unnecessary additives. And she said it was delicious! 

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For the Marinade

  • 1/4 cup Naked Coconuts (or soy sauce)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp chipotle pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp granulated onion powder
  • 3-4 large carrots, scrubbed, ends trimmed

To Finish

  • GF whole wheat hot dog buns, or green leaf (collard greens, chard, etc.) to wrap “hot dogs”, 
  • Condiments, such as; tangy cole slaw, mustard, sugar-free ketchup, fresh herbs, sliced avocado, sliced jalapeños, beets. Just use your imagination!

Directions

Whisk together the Naked Coconuts, water, vinegars, garlic and seasonings and pour into a small saucepan. simmer until reduced by 1/2. Cool and pour into a large ziplock bag. 

Meanwhile, steam carrots until fork tender (this can take up to 20 minutes if the carrots are thick). You want them quite soft – there should be little to no resistance from the tip of a knife inserted to the thickest part of the carrot. Place the carrots in the marinade – I usually poke several tiny slits in the carrots  after they are cooked to allow them to absorb as much of the marinade as possible.   

Remove as much air from the bag as you can and seal tightly. Refrigerate carrots in the marinade over night. Turn the bag over every so often if the carrots are not well submerged in the marinade.

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To cook the carrots, preheat your grill. Remove the carrots from the marinade and place them on the grill. Baste with the residual marinade while cooking. Carrots are done when they are heated through and have visible grill markings.   

You can cook these carrots in a shallow frying pan on your stove top as well. If you are using this method, don’t bother reducing the marinade – it will reduce naturally in the pan and the carrots will end up well-flavoured and nicely browned.  

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Place the carrots and a little of the marinade in a med-high preheated non-stick sauté pan.  Leave the carrots undisturbed in the pan for a few minutes on each side, topping up the pan with marinade, a few tablespoons at a time, as it evaporates. Turn the carrots as they brown until evenly coloured on all sides, being careful not to burn them. When they are nicely browned and heated through they are ready to serve. 

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My First Square Foot Garden (SFG)

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I haven’t posted for a few weeks and here’s why! I have been creating/building my first ever square foot garden (SFG). I have always liked the idea of raised garden beds and the concept of square foot gardening but I am a complete novice at all of this. This year, however, I decided to grab the bull by the horn and now that I have, I am eagerly anticipating and hoping for an abundance of home-grown vegetables free of pesticides, chemicals and fertilizers and any other nasties found in commercial crops.  

My original plan was to construct the bed myself or buy a kit and put it together. I had a spot in my back garden that was perfect for a raised bed – a spot that needed some work anyway (a rather unsightly spot, as you can see from the photo below) but as it turned out, there were some inherent landscaping challenges in this particular space, including a small tree that I didn’t want to lose, and I felt ill-equipped to handle these challenges myself. In the end I decided that I would rather pay someone with more experience and skills to build the bed, and it was the right decision. I now have two beautifully hand crafted, custom raised beds, and I was able to keep my small tree!

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The wood used to construct the raised beds is spruce. The beds were  built almost entirely off-site and delivered to me lined with plastic. The outside was coated with a layer of sealant for added protection against excess moisture on the wood.   

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To complete the beds, the contractor added the decorative top rim and a base for each bed on-site and then installed them where they needed to be. No pre-preliminary work to the existing spot was required.  The on-site finishing and installation process took about an hour and when it was done the beds looked beautiful. I couldn’t have been happier with the contractor’s workmanship or the quality of the finished beds. 

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One of my raised beds is almost 13’ long and the other is 6’ long. Both are 2’ deep and each is a little over 2’ wide. These are the measurements I needed in order to fill the space I’d chosen for them in my back garden.

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It means that not all of my squares are exactly 12”X12”, but that doesn’t really matter. The SFG method is really just a guide for spacing plants to achieve maximum amount of production in a condensed space. The size of each square is irrelevant as long as your plants are appropriately placed in each designated square. Most of my squares are in fact 12”X12”, but a few are not.

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I needed a little over 2.5 cubic meters of soil (yikes!) to fill the beds to about 5″-6″ from the top rim. That’s on top of a couple of inches of rocks and gravel in the bottom of the beds for drainage and a single layer of cardboard, which will eventually compost into the soil. This is a lot of soil, but the best part about the depth of these beds is that I do very little bending to maintain the garden, which makes pruning, thinning and picking a breeze! How great is that?  Better yet, some vegetables, such as carrots, whose length is dependent on the depth of soil, have the potential to flourish in this 2′ deep bed. 

I used the slats from a set of horizontal blinds to demarcate my squares (cheap set bought from local hardware store). The slats are sturdy enough to withstand unfavourable weather conditions and are completely removable, which means I can resize and rearrange the beds differently next year. I had to cut a few of the slats to fit but this was easily done with a pair of ordinary household scissors.  In the beginning the slats help to space the plants appropriately and for this purpose they work great.  As the vegetables grow and fill up the space, the slats will become less visible but by then it will be easy to identify where the plants are coming up. 

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One of the personal touches added to these beds were the planter labels that I made from a bag of corks, a permanent-ink sharpie and foot-long pieces of doweling.  When you are starting your garden, and especially if you start your plants from seeds, it is nice to have labels beside each plant to remind you of what you planted, and where.    

Cork planter labels are cheap and easy to make. Hand write the name of each plant on the corks. Then, turn the corks over and drill a hole in the back of each one, just large enough to hold the dowelling securelyBe aware that if you don’t use a marker with permanent ink, your label will wash away when it rains or when watering your plants. 

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So, what’s growing in these beds?

Deciding what to grow and how to set up my SFG was the fun part! I planted the vegetables I like to eat, keeping in mind the ones that tend to grow well in my area. For me, that means various types lettuce, bell peppers, squash, spinach, zucchini, cucumbers, broccoli, beets, onions, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. Below are pictures of the first 2 weeks progress since planting. 

IMG_5169Snowball Cauliflower

paris green romaine_DSC_3765Paris Green Romaine Lettuce

DSC_3738 (1)Bell Peppers (If you look closely, you can see a few tiny buds right in the centre).

DSC_3764Red Sails Lettuce

In addition to the raised beds, I have also started container gardening for my most commonly used herbs – Italian parsley, cilantro, mint and basil. These I placed on the steps right outside my back door so that I don’t have far to go to snip a few herbs for dinner. I know I’ll be really glad I did this on the days that it rains!  

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mint_IMG_5161English Mint

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And lastly, because in my mind the quintessential home grown vegetable is the tomato, I have planted 4 different varieties of tomatoes (Roma, Principe Borghese, Michael Pollan and Green Sausage) in extra large, deep pots (at least a foot deep and about 18″ around). These, I placed in the areas of my south-facing back garden that capture sunlight all day long. I can’t wait for these to mature and ripen! These tomato plants were all started indoors in advance of the season and below I’ve posted a few photos of their progress so far …

roma tomatoes_IMG_5212Roma Patch Tomatoes

pollen tomatoes_DSC_3743Michael Pollan Tomatoes

DSC_3768Principe Borghese Tomatoes

IMG_5256Green Sausage Tomatoes

So, that’s what I have been doing for the past few weeks! Wish me luck with this – I’ll keep you updated as the weeks go by! Oh, and feel free to share any tips and suggestions – I’m all ears!