Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zig-zag Fruit: Yummy Fruits A-Z

The zig-zag vine, also known as "acid drop vine"and "wild banana,"
has a curious growth pattern. In the wild, it starts at the bottom of a host tree and zig-zags up the trunk until it reaches the sunlight at the top. 

In a controlled setting, the zig-zag vine makes a nice evergreen shrub, growing from three to twenty feet high, but in the wild, the sky is the limit.
Zig-zag fruit is the size of a peanut.


The Zig-zag vine is native to the rain forests of eastern Australia. It also grows in New Guinea, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Borneo, and Indonesia (Malesia).  

Zig-zag vine flower
When the zig-zag vine blossoms, it is a yummy soft yellow, and the rain forest is filled with the scent of ripe bananas, but the fruit is probably the best part of all. It tastes like orange sherbet, people say, a tangy flavor that is quite pleasant. Picked locally, it is sometimes used to flavor sauces and liqueurs. I'd like to taste this fruit. How about you?

"Orange sherbet anyone?"

Zig-zag Books

--Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal
by Ben Macintyre (2009)

--Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity by Keith Sawyer (2013)

--Zigzag by Ellen Wittlinger (2012) (fiction)

--Zigzag: The Incredible Wartime Exploits of Double Agent Eddie Chapman  by Nicholas Booth (2007)

--The Zigzag Principle: The Goal Setting Strategy That Will Revolutionize Your Business and Your Life by Rich Christiansen (2011)

--Inga's Zigzags 
by Vica Miller (2014) (fiction)

--Architects Make Zigzags: Looking at Architecture  from A to Z 
by Diane Maddex (1986)

--Zigzag (2005) (picture book)
by Robert San Souci

Zig-zag Movies

--The Zigzag Kid (2012) 
(Nono wants to be like his father, the best police inspector in the world) (Adventure, family)

--Zig Zag (2002) (An autistic 15-year-old boy steals money from his boss to pay rent for his abusive father) (drama)

Zig Zag Story (1983) The lives of three parisians, a color-blind painter, a radio show host, and a perverted photographer interwine hilariously. (Comedy, Drama)

Zig-zag Song

"Zig Zag" by Miley Cyrus (video)

And, Zig-zagging

to the END 

of a very long 

and interesting month. 

We did it everyone! Take a big BIG BOW!!!;

Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yantok: Yummy Fruits A-Z

Yantok fruit is the
size of a small plum
Yantok trees (also known as rattan) are a native species of the palm family and grow in the mountains and tropical forests of the Philippines. The fruit, which has a funky snake-like covering as hard as an egg shell, is said to be plump with juice, but possibly the tartest fruit around. If you are craving something sour in the Philippines, yantok fruit is your 'go to' food, but it is too tart for some and an acquired taste. 

Do you ever crave
something sour?

Some claim that pickled yantok addresses the 'too sour' problem. This seems rather odd to me, since pickling requires adding a lot of vinegar and salt, which I'm thinking would increase the tartness...but maybe not. The result (it is claimed) is a tasty appetizer (see recipe). One person online also suggested dipping the fruit in equal amounts of salt and sugar. Others claim that smaller yantok fruit is sweeter in taste. Hmm....good to know if I visit the Philippines. 

Yantok ripening on the vine.

Yantok fruit comes from a tropical palm more known for the (rattan) furniture and handiwork made from the plant's wood canes than anything else. However, the tree is also harvested for the fruit. In addition to a food source, dyes and varnishes can be made from the fruit, which contains a red resin called Dragon's Blood (a dye also used in violin construction).

Dried yantok/rattan canes
Yantok fruit is grown in home 
gardens, sold in local markets, and considered a Filipino delicacy. But unless you have been to the Philippines, it is not likely you have tried this fruit. However, this type of palm fruit in general is grown all over Southeast Asia, with native varieties in Africa, Asia and Australia.

Nutritionally, yantok fruit contains vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Other claims are its use as a treatment for diarrhea and cure against coughing.

Yantok Recipe

"Watch those fingers!"

"Pickled Yantok"

1-2 cups yantok fruit
1 cup vinegar
1/4 cup salt
1 jar

Peel yantok fruit carefully. That hard snake-like skin can make your fingers bleed! Wash fruit in cold running water. Set aside.

In bowl, dissolve salt in vinegar. Then pour into jar. Add fruit to jar and seal tightly. Let stand 1 to 2 days. Serve as appetizer. 

"Pucker up for yantok!"


Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for Xigua: Yummy Fruits A-Z

Xigua (Chinese watermelon)
 Okay, definitely cheating here, I admit. Xigua is Chinese for watermelon. Pronounced She-Gwah, the rind is darker (almost black) in the photo on the left, compared to watermelon I'm familiar with, but the photo below is more like the U.S. version. Black, dark green, or light green with yellow markings, all have that wonderful red, sweet flesh and look absolutely yummy. (Some varieties have orange or yellow flesh, which is sweeter yet).

Watermelon is one of my favorite fruits. 

Enjoying fresh xigua in China

China is the largest producer of watermelons in the world, next to Turkey, Iran, Brazil, and Egypt. There are 1,200 known varieties (including seedless types), and it is the most popular melon in the U.S. 

Watermelons grow on vines

Not all watermelons are edible, although in general, they have been consumed for thousands of years, and are known by different names. In Australia, one variety is still considered a "pest plant" in parts. 

The origin of watermelons can be traced to southern Africa, and there is evidence watermelons were cultivated in ancient Egypt as well. By the 10th century they were being grown in China and in the 13th century also in Europe. Historians also know that Native Americans were growing watermelons in the U.S. Mississippi valley in the 1500s. Today watermelon is grown all over the U.S., but mainly in Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona

1990, Bill Carson of Arrington, TN
 (1998, Guinness Book of Records)
Watermelon can be eaten in entirety, the flesh, the rind, and even the seeds (yes, even the seeds). Enjoyed as a fruit in the U.S. and elsewhere, in China the flesh and rind are eaten as a vegetable and only the seeds are considered a snack. 

Watermelon size can vary a lot, as you can see on the right. In 2013 the record was beaten by yet another man in Tennessee (Chris Kent of Sevierville), who grew a whopping 350.5 pounder! Anyone out there in Tennessee ever grow one of these giants?

Watermelon is good for us, as you might have guessed. Since it is 91% water, consider it one of the best liquid vitamin drinks around, with vitamins C, B, and A....and lycopene. Lycopene is good for our heart and may be important for bone health. High also in citruline (an amino acid), scientists are still studying the benefits, but believe it may prevent excess fat accumulation in the body (now, wouldn't that be nice?) and improve blood flow, aiding the heart. 

Watermelon seeds are also good for us. They contain iron, zinc and protein. Guess I don't have to worry about swallowing those seeds anymore. Did you ever worry about this?

Ever wonder about the ripeness of watermelon?
Did you know that the riper a watermelon is, the more nutritious it becomes? I found some good tips on how to buy and store:

  • When buying pre-cut watermelon, sliced or halved, make sure the flesh is the deepest color. Seeds should be dark, too, not white. 
  • When buying a whole watermelon, check the weight and surface of the skin. A fully ripened watermelon will be heavy with juice. Next, check the top and bottom. The bottom is the part that was resting on the ground. If fully ripened, it will be creamy yellow in color, not green or white. Now check the top. If fully ripened, the top will look dull, not shiny.
  • Thumping the watermelon also works (at least according to some). A fully ripened watermelon has a deeper, hollower, bass-like sound.
  • Uncut watermelon is best stored at room temperatures 50-60 degrees F. Unfortunately, a watermelon stops ripening after it's been picked. I didn't know this. Did you?

Watermelon Recipe

"Watermelon Salsa"

3 cups finely diced seeded watermelon
1 jalapeno, seeded
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

In medium bowl, combine watermelon, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, lime juice, honey, and garlic salt. Mix well. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips. 

Watermelon Jokes

Q: Why do watermelons 
have fancy weddings?

A: Because they cantaloupe!

Q: What do you call fruit that commits egregious crimes?

A: A Waterfelon!

Watermelon Song

"Watermelon Man" by Herbie Hancock (video)


Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Wax Jambu: Yummy Fruits A-Z

The color of wax jambu ranges
from pale pink to red and purple.
Wax Jambu (or wax apple) is an exotic fruit native to the Philippines, India, Indonesia and Malaysia. Common throughout Southeast Asia, it is also found in Australia, Africa, Central and South America, and the U.S. (mainly Florida and Southern California).

Wax Jambu trees grow to 35 feet.

Wax jambu is mostly used in Asian salads, as in a popular
Thai shrimp salad, but the fruit is also enjoyed plain. The wax-like skin makes it an especially attractive fruit sliced. 

Paler is sweeter
Despite its alternate name, wax apple, wax jambu does not taste like an apple, but more like a snow pear. The texture is crisp like watermelon (but less juicy), and the taste is slightly sour. Some are sweeter than others, depending on the variety. The paler the color, the sweeter it is. 

Some of the nutritional benefits are wax jambu's effectiveness against dysentery and use as a diuretic. Interestingly, it has zero vitamin C or vitamin A, although it is high in potassium and has some calcium and protein.

Have you ever eaten wax jambu?

Wax Jambu Recipe

"Wax Jambu Salsa"

4 wax jambus, chopped
1/4 cup onions, chopped
2 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
2 chili peppers, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of ground fennel

Mix well and let sit 2 hours before serving.

Wax Jambu Music

Some nice guitar at the popular Wax Jambu Restaurant
(London - 2009) "Waiting for Breakfast" (video)


Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vanilla: Yummy Fruits A-Z

Vanilla orchids bloom for one day (or less!)
Vanilla has been called the "cheese pizza of ice cream." Where would we be without this basic ingredient that flavors our favorite foods and adds ambiance to our worlds and homes with its sweet perfume? 

The vanilla bean (or pod), from which vanilla is derived, is the fruit of the vanilla orchid. It is the only edible plant in the orchid family, and only native to Mexico. It was first cultivated by Mexico's Tononac people, who in the 15th century were later conquered by the Aztecs. Legends and myths about the vanilla plant have long existed in their culture.

Vanilla plants grow on vines,
often climbing trees in wild.
The vanilla orchid has a unique
characteristic that affected its history and distribution for centuries. It can only be pollinated by Mexico's Melipone bee, and efforts to relocate this bee have never been successful. 

This was first discovered by the Spanish explorer Cortes in the early 1500s, when the plants he took back to Spain failed to produce fruit. It is the sole reason Mexico became the center of vanilla production, a monopoly that lasted for 300 years.

Edmond Albius

In 1841, a young twelve-year-old slave named Edmond Albius changed all that. He was living on a French island in the Indian Ocean at the time, and had discovered a way to hand pollinate the vanilla flower. Although labor-intensive, the technique caused a global explosion in vanilla production outside of Mexico. In fact, it became so competitive that so-called "vanilla rustlers" began robbing and fighting for world domination. 

- Vanilla plantation -
La Reunion Island, Guatemala
Today, in addition to Mexico, vanilla is grown in Madagascar, Indonesia, China, Papua New Guinea, Turkey, Tonga, Uganda, Fiji, Tahiti, Comoros, Guatemala, Costa Rica, the Philippines, and India, Madagascar and Indonesia being the two top producers.

Considered also a spice, vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world (after saffron). All is due to the labor-intensive method still required to pollinate the vanilla orchid flower, but there are other factors, too. Vanilla plants can only be grown within 20 degrees of the equator. 

Added to this, orchid flowers bloom for one day only (sometimes less), so the timing of pollination is critical! 

Vanilla beans are dried to process.
The tiny seeds inside are flavorless,
and often seen in vanilla bean
ice cream (as black specks)
It explains why vanilla is still so expensive and why 97% of vanilla used today as a flavoring and
fragrance is artificial. Imitation vanilla is made from a wood byproduct called lignin. In tastes test, most people cannot tell the difference in baked goods, but in cold or unbaked foods, they notice a difference in the taste. 

An FDA approved non-plant substitute in the U.S. called castoreum (from castor sacs of beavers, a type of scent gland) is also used. It is often referenced as "natural flavoring" on the label, and commonly used in foods, beverages, cigarettes and perfumes. Personally, after reading all this, I'm going to stick to pure vanilla when cooking at home. As for the rest, all we can really do is avoid processed foods. 

Do you use artificial or pure vanilla extract?

Vanilla comes in the following forms:
  • pure vanilla extract - from beans soaked in alcohol and water
  • vanilla powder - from dried pure extract or beans, pulverized
  • vanilla bean - the orchid fruit (buy dark, almost black in color, and slightly moist); beans should last five years, if stored away from light and heat (do not freeze)
  • vanilla sugar - sugar flavored by vanilla beans
  • vanilla paste - from pure extract and bean seed in syrup 

Dried vanilla beans
Besides vanilla's use as a flavoring in foods and beverages, it is used in perfumes and medicines. In aromatherapy, it has been used to soothe nerves, to uplift the spirit, and as an aid in losing weight. Folk remedies include its use as an aphrodisiac and a treatment for fevers. 

Vanilla Recipes

"Easy Vanilla Sugar"

Fill large jar with sugar. Break up vanilla bean into three pieces. Press into the sugar and let sit for several weeks.

"Yummy Vanilla Custard"

2 cups milk
1 vanilla pod (bean)
3 eggs
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup stiffly whipped cream

--In heavy saucepan, add milk and vanilla pod. Heat to under boiling point and remove from burner. (Wipe vanilla pod dry and store. You can use again another time)
--In medium bowl, beat eggs until lemon-colored. Pour small amount of hot milk over eggs, stirring constantly. 
--Add mixture to remaining milk in saucepan and cook, stirring constantly over low heat for 20 minutes (until thick). Remove from heat, stir in sugar. Let cool. Then fold in whipped cream gradually.
(Note: one teaspoon vanilla extract can be substituted for vanilla pod. Add to sauce after removing from heat. Use as sauce or custard.  

Vanilla Joke

Vanilla Books

--Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques 
by Sauna Sever and Leigh Beisch (2012)

--Vanilla Orchards: Natural 
History and Cultivation 
by Ken Cameron (2011)

--I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World  by Marguerite Wright (2000)

--Vanilla: Travels in Search of
the Ice Cream Orchard 
by Tim Ecott (2005)

Vanilla Movie

--Vanilla Sky (2001) (trailer)
starring Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz, 
Cameron Diaz and Kurt Russell

Vanilla Song

--Vanilla Twilight by Owl City (2010)


Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Ugniberry: Yummy Fruits A-Z

Ugni shrubs are 3-15 feet tall.
Berries are 1 cm in diameter.
Ugni (also known as Chilean guava or strawberry myrtle) is an
evergreen shrub native to Chile, Argentina, Central America, and southern Mexico. The ugniberry is quite edible and tastes like a spicy strawberry. It is often used as a replacement for strawberry flavoring in processed foods

There are ten species of this shrub. In New Zealand it is called "New Zealand Cranberry," and in Australia, "Tazziberry," however neither are native to the region. The shrub is smaller than the taller South American version. 
Juan Ignacio Molina

Historically, ugni shrubs were first described in 1782 by a Chilean Jesuit priest, Juan Ignacio Molina, who was also a botanist and naturalist, among other, and later a professor of natural sciences in Italy. His writings were the first to describe the natural history of Chile. Molina's contribution to science also explains the complete name of this plant - Ugni molinae.

Ugnifruit was then introduced to England in 1844 and became a favorite fruit of Queen Victoria. It was also enjoyed as an ornamental plant, prized for its flowers and evergreen foilage. The ugni flower is quite beautiful with its drooping pale pink petals. 

Ugni Matador Liqueur
Today the fruit is used on a rather small scale in New Zealand, Australia....and Chile, where traditional Matador liqueur is made. The fruit is also used to make jams, cakes, and other desserts, and eaten fresh or added to salads.

The popularity of this berry is growing. Some claim it has five times the taste of a blueberry, so home gardeners are beginning to plant this shrub more, as it does well in most soils. The only catch is probably the climate. Ugni shrubs thrive best in a subtropical, temperate climate, although they can handle light frost and withstand some dry conditions. I would love to see a variety that could be grown in the Pacific Northwest, east of Washington's Cascade range where I live.  

Do you grow this shrub? Do you eat the berries?

Cake with ugniberries
Nutritionally, ugniberries are high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Native people used this berry to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and urinary tract pain. Antioxidant levels are comparable to blueberries, but information is sketchy, as studies appear to be ongoing. 

Ugni Recipe

"Ugniberry Oatmeal Muffins"

1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ugniberries

Preheat oven 375 degrees F.
--In medium bowl, mix together oats and buttermilk. Let stand 5 minutes. Add oil, brown sugar, egg and mix.
--In second bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir flour mixture into batter and fold in berries. Grease muffin tins with vegetable oil. 
--Fill tins 3/4 full and sprinkle tops with extra rolled oats. Bake 20-25 minutes, until centers are cooked. Remove from oven, cool ten minutes on rack, and remove from tins. Yield: 8 muffins. 


About Me

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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.