December 6, 2013
Plantains are the green cousin to the banana, but a plantain can't be eaten raw. Cooked green plantains are starchy and similar to potatoes; cooked ripe plantains are sweet and taste like bananas.
Plantains come in many forms including raw plantains, plantain leaves, plantain soup mix, and plantain chips. I actually really like the chips. They tasted a lot like potato chips to me, with no real taste of bananas. That is good, since I don't like the taste of bananas.
Plantains are popular in tropical countries throughout Latin America and Africa. They are available in grocery stores in many areas of the United States, particularly where there are large Hispanic populations.
When purchasing plantain, you want a green to yellow peel and flesh that is bland with a starchy texture. As the peel changes to brown or black, the flesh has a sweeter flavor and more of a banana aroma, but still keeps its firm shape when cooked. The interior color of the fruit remains creamy, yellowish or lightly pink, regardless of the stage of ripeness.
Ripen plantains in a loosely closed paper bag at room temperature. It takes six to eight days for a green plantain to fully ripen. Fully ripe black plantains should be firm like bananas, but not hard. Do not use plantains if they are squishy, moldy, hard, or cracked. Do not refrigerate them unless they are at just the stage of ripeness you want to use, because the chill will stop them from ripening further.
University of Illinois Extension's Fiesta of Flavors website contains Hispanic recipes for people with diabetes at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/fiesta. One of the recipes is Caribbean Pink Beans, which uses pink beans, plantains, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic. I think I'll try this one!
By the way, gallo pinto with eggs is a favorite Costa Rican breakfast dish. It consists of a mixture of rice and beans, seasoned with onion, bell pepper, lizano Sauce (a blend of several species and vegetables), topped with fresh cilantro and served with eggs. I think this will soon become a favorite in our home as well.
I encourage you to experiment with different foods next year. You too might find a new favorite.
December 6, 2013
I've spent the past week vacationing in Costa Rica. My son Derek is a senior at the University of Illinois and just completed his fall semester studying abroad there. My husband and I were fortunate enough to go spend a week with him before bringing him home.
Everywhere I go I not only enjoy learning about different cultures but I am also fascinated by different agricultural crops. Costa Rica has many tropical crops, including coffee, sugar cane, pineapples, bananas, and much more. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll discuss some of these plants with you.
Many people enjoy coffee, especially during the holidays. Costa Rica is actually quite famous for its coffee. Coffee plantations are scattered throughout the country, but the highland areas surrounding San Jose and the Tilaran Mountain range are ideal climates for coffee plantations.
Coffee beans grow on the Coffea arabica plant, which is an evergreen shrubby tree. Its leaves are broad, shiny, and shaped like an arrowhead. In the wild, it grows to a height of 14 to 20 feet, but when cultivated it is usually kept pruned to about 6 to 10 feet to facilitate picking the beans and to encourage heavy bearing.
The plant flowers in Costa Rica in April and its fragrant flowers are pollinated by native honeybees. The flowers are small, white blossoms that cluster at the base of the leaves.
When mature the coffee tree's small oval berries are about the color and size of a small cherry. Inside the skin and pulp are nestled two coffee beans with their flat sides together. About four thousand beans make a single pound of coffee.
Coffee bean harvest is done by hand and only when the cherries are ripe. A worker can pick 7-12 baskets a day. Once picked, the cherries are transported to coffee mills where the cherry skin is immediately removed from the coffee cherry.
Processing involved many steps including washing, pulping, fermenting, drying, storing, and finally roasting and packaging. Beans are a pale tan color until they are roasted, which changes the beans to a beautiful shiny brown color. Roasting is done according to customer preference such as medium roast, full bodied dark roast, or espresso roast.
Coffee plants are grown widely in tropical places round the world. In the mainland U.S., coffee is grown only occasionally as an ornamental for its attractive flowers and colorful fruits. It actually makes a nice houseplant.
As you enjoy your coffee this holiday season, think about the coffee plant and how it was grown. I think I'll appreciate my cup even more now.
December 6, 2013
Since enjoying birds is a major objective, you will want to locate the feeder where it can be conveniently viewed – and used. Due to differences in body size, feet and bills, birds not only prefer different seeds, but also different foraging areas. This does not mean that birds will never feed in a different area, but you will increase your chances by catering to their feeding preferences.
Birds such as juncos, sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, and mourning doves prefer to forage on the ground for seeds. Frazee notes that you will often observe these birds hopping around the lower branches of shrubs and rustling through leaf litter in search of seeds and berries. A small brush pile, open lean-to or grassy patch provides cover for ground-feeding birds while they eat.
A covered tray feeder raised off the ground on a fence or pole is the most common feeder you see in people's yards. Tray feeders will accommodate most of the ground feeders plus chickadees, nuthatches, and finches. While this type of feeder will attract the widest variety of birds, the seeds are not protected from the weather and can get wet and/or moldy. Frazee cautions that squirrels and large birds, such as grackles and blue jays may also invade a tray feeder.
Hanging feeders may include hopper, silo and tube feeders with perches. Hung from a branch, eaves, or a clothesline, these feeders sway freely in the wind, which doesn't bother birds such as finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. However, some birds, such as sparrows, get a little "sea-sick" and prefer more stability. Frazee encourages filling large hanging feeders with sunflower seeds to attract cardinals and blue jays. Small feeders should be geared more toward finches, chickadees, nuthatches and tufted titmice. Niger seed is very attractive to goldfinches and works well in small-hole tube feeders, which avoid waste.
Woodpeckers and nuthatches are primarily insect eaters. They prefer foods high in protein and fat such as suet and peanut butter that can be dispersed in clinging feeders. Made of hardware cloth, mesh bags, pinecones, coconuts or other "structures" lacking perches, clinging feeders are excellent for dispensing peanuts to smaller birds or suet to insect-eaters.
Lastly, just like persnickety kids, birds have different food preferences. Hands down, black-oil sunflower seeds are the most popular food among a large variety of birds. Juncos and sparrows go wild for white proso millet, goldfinches can't resist niger seed, and chickadees and titmice will delightfully indulge themselves with peanuts. In a nutshell, Frazee concludes that the key to successfully attracting wildlife to your backyard is to add variety.Original Source: Bob Frazee, Retired University of Illinois Extension Educator in Natural Resources Management
December 6, 2013
Last night our furnace wasn't working properly. Thankfully our wood burning fireplace kept us cozy all evening.
Many people are particular when it comes to the types of wood they want to burn in their fireplaces. Typically, oak, hickory, and ask are sought. Each species has its own burning qualities, but on a weight basis, all species of wood generate the same amount of heat. What makes species like oak and hickory more desirable?
Duane Friend, University of Illinois Extension Educator, says the answer lied in the density or weight per unit of volume. More maple would have to be cut and used to get the same amount of heat as a lesser volume of hickory or oak.
There are several hardwoods, such as osage orange (hedge) and black locust, that have higher densities, and therefore higher heat value per cord. These wood, however, are harder to split, harder to start burning, and especially in the case of osage orange, tend to pop or spark.
How much wood is supposed to be in a cord? A standard cord contains 128 cubic feet of wood, but actually is closer to 80 or 90 cubic feet, due to the space between pieces. A facecords and rick are sometimes used interchangeably with cord, but many times these are smaller than a cord.
A standard sized pickup with wood randomly thrown in to the top of the bed will equal about one-third of a cord. If the wood is neatly stacked, the amount of wood will be closer to one-half f a cord.
Storing firewood involves more than space. Other considerations, such as location, seasoning, rot, firewood, and termites, are important. For example, firewood stored in a shady corner near buildings and surrounded by shrubs and other vegetation deteriorates more quickly than wood stored in a sunny, exposed location. Also, wood in contact with the soil is soon infected with decay, and decayed wood has considerably less fuel value than sound wood. To prevent stored firewood from rotting, it is recommended that the firewood be placed on a rack that allows air movement on both the bottom and sides of the woodpile.
Wood seasons faster without bark, and pieces with small diameters will air-dry faster than large chunks. To speed the drying time for firewood, halving or quartering the large pieces to help the seasoning process. Also, firewood stacked in the open will season faster than wood stacked under bushes, near buildings, or in a damp cellar. Firewood should not be stacked against buildings, because there is danger that termites may attack the wood and later gain entrance to the building. Plastic sheeting, or closer stacking of the top pieces, will help to protect firewood from rain and snow.
Finally, remember to be sure your chimney has been properly cleaned and inspected for this winters burning season. Fireplaces are warm and enjoyable, but safety should always be the number one priority.
University of Illinois Extension has a website dedicated to Firewood at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/firewood/.
Have a safe and warm winter!
December 6, 2013
Rhonda J. Ferree, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, was awarded the University of Illinois Extension Technology Excellence Award at Extension's annual conference in November 2013.
The Technology Excellence Award goes to a staff member who has utilized technology as a tool in program delivery and content.
During her 25-year Extension career Rhonda has been known as an early adopter of technology, using her skills as a program delivery tool. This includes expansive work with social media and a new distance technology delivery method.
Ferree feels that her social media work reaches a larger and potentially more diverse audience. Her current ILRiverHort Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and blog social media sites provide cutting - edge, scientific based information that educates and interacts with local citizens in a whole new way.
In 2013 she used technology to successfully initiate an innovative new Master Gardener training delivery method that reached more people at locations closer to their homes. Using the online conferencing platform Blackboard Collaborate to do training at four locations simultaneously, she trained 37 new volunteers who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.
As Extension adjusts to cuts in public funds and the ever-changing clientele needs, Rhonda knows that we must assure extension provides an accountable and responsive service to citizens. Keeping current on technology and its role in program delivery is crucial in this effort. She uses it and distance learning to deliver quality education anywhere and anytime that is most convenient to clientele.