Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

I’m fascinated by nature, and very much so when I’m traveling. The sight of a unique plant, or spotting unfamiliar wildlife, is always exciting!

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By the looks of the markings on this yellow bird, I believe I captured sight of a Jamaican Oriole while recently in Jamaica. Even from the first hours after our arrival there on a recent trip, I was in awe of the thriving bird life and all of the beautiful songs they presented…

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This hearty bird hopped about in the foliage so constantly (in search for seeds it appeared) that I could hardly get a proper picture of him. Only a few photos from many offered more than a flash of yellow…

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Though Indian Peafowl are kept in the U.S., to see this fella dancing about a potential mate (a peahen that fled from him into the bushes) was such a treat. Look how handsome he is! On several evenings, we noted a peahen taking safe perch for the night upon a thatched roof. It looked quite the comfortable nest…

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Hey little dude! Hunting for some juicy bugs? Carry on!

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Though Northern Mockingbirds can breed in Northern Illinois, they aren’t regulars. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen (or heard) one in the wild. In Jamaica, they are everywhere and their songs are simply incredible!

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Tropical flowers grew abundantly, their colors so vivid! They invited an army of hummingbirds to drink of their nectar…

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And when I saw this fruit ripening in a tree, my first thought was of how delicious it might be to pluck one down and take a bite! Any tropical fruit so pretty must taste divine! Good thing I didn’t follow my instinct…

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This, is the ackee (not to be confused with the acai berry), the tree of which migrated from Africa to Jamaica (most likely upon a slave ship) in the late 1700’s. It is the national fruit of Jamaica. However, to pluck it down and take a bite could prove fatal. At the very least, you would become very, very sick…

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[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

In order to eat of the fruit, it must first be fully ripe (splitting open on its own) or bad things will definitely happen. The fruity flesh is then to be removed away from the skin and seeds (these carefully discarded lest your beloved pet or child grab hold of the remnants and put them in their mouth). Next, the fruit is to be boiled for at least 5 minutes, or bad things yet could happen. The water is to then be immediately discarded, the fruit rinsed and then boiled a second time, because if not, bad things could still happen…this is one dangerous fruit!

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I therefore had to take a walk on the wild side and eat some. Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish. I had it for breakfast one glorious sunny morning to the sound of rich birdsong. With each bite, I had to wonder if this was like taking the risk of eating toxic puffer fish? I mean, what if the cook didn’t boil my ackee twice?

Just kidding! I wasn’t scared at all. What did it taste like? Like fish and fruit, looking like scrambled eggs masquerading on my plate. A little spicy, a little fishy, a little sweet. I liked it!

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Handsome on the other hand had pancakes made from a unique grain that morning. Fish for breakfast wasn’t quite to his taste, though he did take a nibble of my ackee and saltfish to see what it was like…

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How I love to travel, and how I love nature! However, I am ever being reminded to control my urges to simply grab out, or pet that cute insect (I think I was raised a little bit wild). Not everything is innocuous, some things are quite dangerous indeed. For instance, when I admired strands of cherry-looking berries hanging from one tree, a local said not to touch them, for the juice will burn the skin of your hand. Yikes!

Nature must be respected

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Of course, I still swam but a few feet away from a puffer fish while snorkeling in the shallows. He watching me, me watching him (terrified he might bring out the spines but too fascinated to swim away). And of course, I still had to get up close to this enormous insect nest, unable to live without knowing what was in there (I’m an entomologist in my heart)…

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But the point is, look don’t touch! Remember Eve of the Garden of Eden who grabbed out for that fruit? Nope, not every fruit is as sweet as it looks. Unless perhaps, you boil it twice!

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Citrus in Chicago

Text message from my honey: “…did you give the squirrels a tangerine?”

My reply text: “They foraged in our garbage bin…………I think.”

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I saw the tangerine sitting on the front lawn when I left the house. Yes, I sometimes feed the squirrels and chipmunks, even though I know that I shouldn’t because they become pesky. I learned that lesson after giving them some berries and nuts while writing outside last summer. Before long, I could hardly type a word without a chipmunk or squirrel approaching my bare feet to see if my toes were almonds.

The tangerine in the yard (which I believe was foraged in the trash) had a perfect hole bore into one side and the fruit removed. I told a friend this because I thought it was unique (don’t squirrels peel their tangerines with those little squirrley hands?). My pal moved here recently from a warmer climate. She immediately told me about the palm rat or roof rat.

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They live where fruit trees are abundant, which is why I hadn’t heard of them before. We certainly can’t grow citrus in Chicago! She said that when you go to pick what looks like an unblemished piece of fruit (fruit trees grow abundantly in people’s neighborhoods), you often find a perfect hole bore into the back and the fruit removed. The culprit is the roof rat. I had to look the creature up!

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Though not unlike other rats, they like to nest away from the ground and love to eat fruit. They apparently plague homes by nesting in roofs and eating all the fruit from the trees. There are even ‘rat guards’ that you can put on your citrus trees to keep the rats out. I read this article and felt sorry for folks who have to deal with that. It seems to be a rather serious problem for home owners.

Of course, the tangerine in my yard had been eaten by a squirrel, who though not as precise with his drilling abilities, had made an impressive round. I’m very thankful that we don’t have roof rats; our raccoons are quite enough. Yet again, I learned something new! I’ve certainly never seen a rat climb a tree…only dumpster dive and dodge taxis!

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As for me, I made fresh orange juice this morning (one of my absolute favorite ways to start the day). This glass juicer is vintage! Didn’t you know that vintage juicers make the juice taste better? Wait…that’s just my imagination? When at Volo Antique Mall with my folks, I declared I wanted to find a juicer, and this pretty yellow one came home with me!

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Do you think the sunshine in my glass might melt that snow? Oh citrus! How delicious!

Thanks for sparing me a few oranges, you naughty roof rats!

The Island of St. Lucia

Last spring, we visited the island of St. Lucia and took an amazing walk through the jungle. The plants were incredible!

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This is a Pink Torch Ginger, considered a highly beloved flower. It can grow to be up to 15 feet tall! This one was just a little taller than me.

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What I find remarkable about tropical flowers is how big, strong, colorful and oddly shaped they can be. Looking at some of these made me imagine for a moment that I was on another planet. The landscape and plants are just so different from what I’m accustomed to. I imagine that is how people who have never seen snow feel when they see a snowy landscape for the first time.

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What I also found incredible was how abundant the fruit was! Everywhere you looked, there were mangos, papayas and fruit that I have never seen or heard of before. I took note of a sign that read beware of falling mangos and breadfruit and proceeded to be a little paranoid that a mango would fall on my head. That would be unpleasant.

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Loved the blue-green color of this unique flowering plant!

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I’ve seen ferns unfurl from the ground but never growing into plush, soft trees. The branches weaved on the trunk and were fuzzy. The leaves looked as soft as cotton. There was a little green snake in its branches that mesmerized me.

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I couldn’t get over the enormous hummingbirds flying all over the place. They are apparently some of the world’s largest. They looked more like blackbirds than the itty-bitty hummingbirds we see at home. Their long beaks appeared useful in getting nectar from such big tropical flowers.

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We were having such a lovely time, until handsome suggested that we climb one of the local mountains…the Grand Piton. I would share photos of me at the top of that mountain, but I look like I’ve just narrowly survived torture. I had no business climbing that mountain. It was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. At least a hundred times, I breathlessly gasped “I’m not going to make it.” The running joke has been to try to get me to admit I’m proud I made it to the top and that it was worth it…I’ll never admit it, I frown when I remember that harrowing climb.

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On the mountain, I saw a giant slug nearly as long as my foot. Awesome! And I saw several elusive mongoose bounding around (introduced to St. Lucia to control the snakes). I’m a sucker for wildlife.

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We also took an incredible catamaran ride and I saw flying fish for the first time. I couldn’t believe my eyes! They jump out of the water, spread their fins and catch the wind. They can really fly a distance and even turn directions! I pondered whether a local fisherman had ever been hit by a flying fish out in his boat…that would be worse than a falling mango.

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There were nesting seabirds altogether in several trees with their fuzzy-headed young. That was a special sight! We also went snorkeling and the coral and tropical fish were so unique…I again felt like I was in another world. The only fear I had were the jellyfish. Was I stung? Oh yes. The jellyfish always get me. Their touch is very distinct, like burning, electric, bee stings. I may have said some curse words…but I was under the water, so only the jellyfish heard.

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St. Lucia is a stunning island! The people were so welcoming, the tropical waters amazing, the jungle incredible. The local food was delicious and the wildlife inspiring! And though I will never step foot on another mountain, I’ll admit it was an unforgettable experience…in that, my poor heart muscles will never forget the memory!