Finger Limes and Calamondin

December 25, 2011

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! Mine was great: the gifts I gave resulted in excitement and appreciation, and I got some great gifts myself. There were lots of laughs and good times with my family, and I didn’t overeat to the point where I fell into a food coma or wanted to unbutton my pants – which have both happened in the past, many many times.

The gym I’ve been going to in Michigan was closed on Christmas day, but I had great workouts for the four days leading up to Christmas. After the gym on Christmas Eve morning, I went to Plum Market, an amazing local grocery store with three Detroit-area locations, for some last minute shopping for dinner that night.

The produce department at Plum is beautiful, and even though I only needed a couple items from it, I wandered the whole thing, and I’m glad I did, because I stumbled upon two new things that I’d never seen before.

Item #1 were finger limes, and in this case, it wasn’t the produce itself that caught my eye, but the price tag:

FIFTY BUCKS A POUND? For produce? Are you kidding me? All I wanted to do was toss a couple in my cart, but this boy’s on a budget, and I need to save some more pennies before making an investment like that! Usually I take a ‘buy now, research later’ approach to produce investigation, but in this case, I think the opposite approach is in order. I know, I know, they’re tiny, and buying one or two would only cost a few bucks, but still. I need to know what I’m getting into!

I’ve learned a little about finger limes since them. Todd, one of my Facebook followers (follow me on Facebook here!), told me about a wonderful iPhone app called Specialty Produce, which has all sorts of information on fruits and veggies (duh). Here’s what’s written about finger limes:

“Known as ‘the caviar of citrus,’ these tiny digit-shaped limes are practically in a category all their own. Their aromatic skin appears in a triad of colors and the flesh holds caviar-shapes vesicles that pop crisply in your mouth with an assertively tart punch. The flavor is a lemon-lime combination with herbaceous undertones.”

Another website describes them as having “A caviar-like appearance and… a delightful pop rock texture.” Pop rock texture? Caviar or citrus? Vesicles? Damn, I wish I bought a finger lime! I’m keeping my eye out for these when I get back to California. Have you had one? What did you think? Share, share, share in the comments section!

Item #2 were calamondins, and at first, I thought these were the tiniest tangerines ever:

Until I saw the signage – and look, they’re much more reasonable than finger limes!

If you’re a fruit with a nickname like ‘sour bomb,’ how can I not eat you? Plum Market gets big-time bonus points for this informational placard – thanks for doing my research for me!

See that part at the bottom about asking a staffer for a sample? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret if you promise to not tell Plum Market management: I just ate one, without asking for permission. Shhhhh! Don’t tell on me!

Sour bomb is actually a perfect description – it’s like a kumquat on steroids. I definitely puckered from the sourness, but it wasn’t overwhelming. I liked it!

I did a little more research and learned that the calamondin is native to southeast Asia, and there’s some mystery as to its history. Call Nancy Drew! Scientists have figured out that calamondrin is an ancient hybrid, but they can’t identify the precise parent plants. It’s thought that it’s a mix of something from the citrus family with something from the kumquat family, but there’s a lot of head-scratching when you delve for more details.

Turns out the calamondin is a wonder fruit! Check out some of the ways (beyond eating and cooking) that the people of the Philippines and Malaysia use them:

  • Frozen whole, as ice cubes in beverages
  • Rub the juice on insect bites and abscesses to relieve itching and irritation
  • To clear up acne and bleach freckles
  • The juice, when diluted, can ease constipation
  • As an anecdote for poison
  • As an phlegm expectorant (when combined with pepper)
  • To remove ink stains from clothing
  • And, lastly, as a hair conditioner

And, like other citrus fruits, it’s high in vitamin C!

It’s been a good week for trying new foods. A few days ago, I tried moose meat for the first time, as well as apple pears (read my blog about both here), and now, I can add calamondin to the list!

Keep it up, David!

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Buddha’s Hand

December 12, 2010

Get ready – this post is gonna be a bit on the long side.  But there’ll be lots of pictures!

I went back to Plum Market today, like I said I would in my post the other day, and came home with a Buddha’s Hand!  I had never seen or heard of this fruit before seeing it at Plum the other day, but it might just be the coolest thing I’ve ever picked up in the produce section.

It is so cool that I need to show another picture of it, from another angle:

Here’s the skinny:  A Buddha’s hand is a variety of citron, which means it’s a citrus fruit.  It dates back thousands of years, and was originally cultivated in the lower Himalayas, in what is now northeastern India and China, where it is still considered a symbol of happiness and good fortune.  This particular specimen, however, was grown in California, and cost me a cool $5.99.  Buddha’s hand is very fragrant, smelling like a very pungent lemon, and a lot of websites out there advocate using it for purely ornamental reasons, as the aroma can fill a room for weeks and I know I could stare at it for hours.

But today I wasn’t interested in staring at it.  I wanted to eat it.  I read that you can eat it raw, peel, pith, and all, and a lot of people online recommended steeping it to make tea, infusing vodka with it, or making jelly or jams out of it.  But all that kinda bored me, so I decided to build a dinner menu around it, which I mostly made up as I went along.

First up: A side dish.  Baby red and gold potatoes, coated with a quick spray of Pam, tossed with fresh thyme and dried rosemary.  Here they are, ready to go in the oven:

Next I started a sauce.  First 1/2 an onion and 3 cloves of minced garlic went into a pot with 1 tablespoon of olive oil:

Then I started mincing up some of the Buddha’s Hand.  Here’s another fun fact: a Buddha’s Hand doesn’t really have any flesh – it’s all rind and pith.  Here’s what the inside of one looks like:

A few tablespoons of the minced Buddha’s Hand and some mushrooms went into the saucepot:

After it had cooked for a few minutes, I added a cup of white wine, although I forgot to photograph that step.

Meanwhile, I prepped a steamer to make the rest of the meal.  I cut up some more Buddha’s Hand to flavor the water I was using underneath the steamer basket:

Next the steamer basket went into that pot, and first, I steamed three boneless skinless chicken breasts:

After they were done (about 9 or 10 minutes), I pulled them out and piled in some broccoli:

The broccoli only took about 5 minutes to cook, and then, everything was pretty much done!  I pulled the potatoes out of the oven (they were in there for about 30 minutes total):

Then I started plating.  Everyone got a chicken breast, some potatoes, and some broccoli.  Some of the sauce, which had simmered and reduced the entire time the chicken and broccoli was steaming, went over the chicken and broccoli.  I garnished with some parsley:

Finished plate:

The verdict?  Very lemony!  If you didn’t know better, you’d probably have no reason to think lemon wasn’t used.  The sauce was good, but not great – I think I used a little too much wine in it, but my dad didn’t think so.  My mom was not a fan of the Buddha’s Hand in any way whatsoever.  She said she liked every component of the meal except for the sauce, and was a sport and ate most of it, and then had a small bowl of soup to cleanse her palate from the Buddha’s Hand taste!  My dad, meanwhile, had only compliments about the meal.  He and I also tried pieces of the Buddha’s Hand raw, and it was very crisp and crunchy, like a lemony piece of jicama or something.

Oh!  I never mentioned anything about the wedding I went to last night!  It was a fantastic evening.  My friend Laura, the bride, looked beautiful, and her new hubby Chad is a really nice, personable guy – I actually met him for the first time last night.  All the people at my table were old friends, a couple of whom I haven’t seen in a few years, and there was great food (most of which I sampled, calories and fat be damned) and great music.  After the reception was over, there was a little after-party in the bar at a local hotel where the out-of-towners were staying, and there was a little after-after-party in one of the hotel rooms.  It was a late night (out until 4am), and a wonderful one.  I’m ecstatic for Laura and Chad, and was so happy I could be there to celebrate.

I slept in this morning until 10am, and shortly thereafter I hit the gym, and for the first time since my sophomore year in high school (1995!), I had an all-swimming workout.  Here’s what I swam:

  • 2 x 200 yards freestyle (400 yards total)
  • 2 x 200 yards IM (individual medley – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle) (400 yards total)
  • 200 yards kicking with a kickboard
  • 5 x 50 yards freestyle sprints, with 10 seconds rest in between (250 yards total)
  • 200 yards freestyle (cool down)
  • TOTAL YARDAGE: 1450 yards (that’s 58 lengths of the pool, as the pool is 25 yards long).

I sorta made up this workout as I went along, and I failed to note what time I started, so I don’t really know how long I was in the pool altogether (although I suspect between 45-60 minutes).  And while I felt sluggish and sloppy compared to when I was at my swimming peak 15 years ago (which is no surprise), I did feel wonderful afterwards.  I was exhausted and felt loose all over, and even a little sore.  I hit the hot tub for about 5 minutes, then headed back to the locker room.

Keep it up, David!


Plum Market & Dinner Salad

December 10, 2010

After the gym today, I headed to the supermarket to stock up on some veggies since my parents’ fridge was a little bare (they did have 6 cans of water chestnuts in the pantry, though – doesn’t everyone?).

First stop was Plum Market.  Plum is a small chain of three grocery stores, all in Michigan, and it’s a beautiful store.  My crappy cell phone photo of their produce department doesn’t do it justice:

I love that they’re locally-owned, with an emphasis on Michigan products and companies.  Produce signs, for example, list which city Michigan produce was grown in, so today, I bought roma tomatoes from Benton Harbor, which is where my mom was born and raised.

Another reason I love Plum and try to swing by whenever I’m in town is because they stock McClure’s Pickles – the best pickles ever!  I may be a little biased, because I’m friends with Bob McClure, one of the founders/owners, but still – they’re great, and The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and Martha Stewart Living (just to name a few) have all raved about them.  And Plum has a nice display (that I took a crappy photo of) right on the deli service counter:

You can learn more about McClure’s Pickles, and order them, here.  They’d make a great (and heavy) stocking stuffer!  Today, I picked up a jar of the garlic & dill pickles:

Mmmm… delicious!

While you can find anything and everything at Plum, including tons of rare, gourmet and specialty products (more on this later), it is pricey, in the Whole Foods/Gelson’s range.  Especially for produce – as you regular blog readers know, I love finding fresh produce at amazing prices (for example, my recent outing where I bought 11 different fruits and veggies for $6.16), and the buck doesn’t stretch very far at Plum.  I know, I know, I’m not in California anymore, where everything is grown within driving distance all year round, but still.  I don’t need to spend $6 a pound on grapes or $3 a pound on carrots.  The aforementioned tomatoes were $1.49 a pound, however (a pretty good price), and I bought a couple other things that were on special this week.

Luckily for me, there’s a Kroger (another grocery store) directly across the street.  I picked up some veggies there at better prices (50 cents for green onions, 83 cents for a pound of carrots, etc.) and headed home.

I made dinner tonight for my parents and me – big ol’ salads!  You salad lovers out there will enjoy this photo:

There’s 14 ingredients in that salad, and they are: green cabbage, spinach, orange bell pepper, tomato, cucumber, pickles (McClure’s Pickles, naturally), water chestnuts, scallion, pimientos (Spanish pickled red pepper), mushrooms, 2-3 teaspoons blue cheese, 10-12 croutons, 2-3 teaspoons garlic vinaigrette, and 3 oz smoked scallops.  The smoked scallops was something I stumbled across at Plum, and they were delicious.  Here’s the lid:

Plum also had a couple produce items that I’ve never bought before, so I thought I’d continue my tradition of trying new things and pick one up for the first time.  The first thing that caught my eye was the Buddha’s Hand.  Check this out!

It has these long tentacle-esque thingies – it’s like the squid of the produce world.  I had no idea what it was, and thought it was some sort of squash.  It was also $6, so I decided I’d go home, research it a little, and go back and buy it another day.   Turns out, it’s a very fragrant citrus fruit (if only I had smelled it, I maybe could have figured that out) that is basically all rind and pith, with very little flesh or seeds.  You can read more about it here – be sure to read the comments for more great ideas on how to use and eat it.

So instead of buying the Buddha’s Hand, I bought, for the very first time ever, Kumquats.  I’ve never had a kumquat before.  They’re little tiny citrus fruits, like mini oranges, but the size of a large olive:

Unlike oranges, you can eat the rind of the kumquat, which is a good thing, because they’d be a pain in the ass to peel, and there wouldn’t be much left.  Here’s what the inside looks like:

My dad and I tried them after dinner, and they were strange, but good.  The rind is sweet, like an orange, but the pulp in the middle is tart, like a grapefruit, but more potent.  My dad’s review is that they “are bursting with flavor.”   And they’re less than 15 calories apiece, if you’re interested in calorie counts, and a good source of vitamins A & C.

In a few days, I’m going back for that Buddha’s Hand!

Keep it up, David!