An illustrated guide to making coconut-milk (for beginners!)

Coconut milk was not something I gave much thought to a few months ago – it was just something you got out of a tin. Well not here, one thing that we are never short of is coconuts.

The trick is to figure out how to turn this...
into this...

This is just one of the many things that make me feel like a total idiot – most Tahitians have been opening coconuts since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, so I come in at a skill level of a bout 4 years old here, it’s kind of strange being so incompetent at so many things! But I’m learning, oh yes I am. Husking coconuts is now no longer a mystery, in fact I might even be getting better at it. So here’s a quick how to, for you would be ‘survivors’.

First choose your coconut. For coconut milk (versus drinking and various other Tahitian concoctions) you need a mature coconut, so one with a dried brown husk. Make sure it’s not sprouting too much and give it a shake to see if it’s got some water in it. If it’s good then you can start the husking. The tool of choice here is a sharpened stick or metal spike stuck into the ground, so you deftly skewer the coconut onto the stake and peel away the husk in one or two swift movements (alternatively you can spend 20 minutes working up a sweat wrenching and cursing, peeling off at least a dozen small shreds of husk, hopefully without taking out an eye or too much bodily harm).
Good, so you’ve peeled your coconut and Maroro is happily playing with the shredded husk (incidentally this is good stuff for making fires to keep away the mossies). So now you have a fibrous lump that needs cleaning with a few swift machete strokes, then whack! One resonating thump with the machete makes the coconut fall into two perfect halves – the first time I did this it worked like a dream, and I can’t tell you how satisfying it was....but I’ve never managed to repeat the exercise so now I resort to throwing it against the wall, smashing it on the floor or a few satisfying blows with a hammer, all of which have the same effect, just less finesse.

Anyway you have your delicious white coconut meat to hand, now for the grating. We have a little stool here and a board with a grater, so you just squat down on the stool and grate away...a little bit of skin usually gets grated at some point, but it’s just a minor flesh wound so you continue undaunted ‘til you have a beautiful white fluffy pile of grated meat. Then you get a dampened dish towel, take a handful of meat into the dish towel and squeeze as hard as you can, a small trickle of white liquid will pour into your receptacle of choice, you’ll get about half a cup per coconut. So go on knock yourself out with the stuff! It’s actually great exercise for the upper body and arms, I’m considering making a workout video ;-)



Notre fenua

We are now landowners! Viriamu is in the final stages of buying a 1000m2 parcel just down the road from where we live now (see picture below, it's not the terraced area, but the overgrown patch next to it). It doesn't look much now, but Viriamu's uncle knows someone with a digger, so it'll soon look like the terraced area. Then we can start planning and building our home. I am ridiculously excited about planning a kitchen and garden - even if we will have to abandon our taro patch! It seems slightly odd to me that we don't have a car yet, but we have our own piece of land, but there we go renting truly is anathema for Viriamu...


The rainy season

Here in Moorea the rainy season has begun....and it rains, it rains like it really means it, it rains from the inside out. It starts like the rumble of distant thunder and grows and grows until the sky sounds like it’s about to break apart, you think it can’t get any louder but it does, then for an instant you think that maybe it’s you that’s about to break apart. The air around you is brittle. But then just as quickly it eases off, leaving you stunned and mesmerized by the whole thing.

I cycled home in the rain today, it was so heavy that I could hardly see where I was going, my skin felt like it had dissolved. The ride was punctuated by puddles on the road splashing warm on my feet and cars passing me in the opposite direction sending up an arc of muddy water – but it didn’t matter because I was so wet I couldn’t be sure where I begun and the rain ended.

I can’t sleep right now so I’m lying in bed listening to the dregs of the rain dripping from the trees, the pounding of the surf on the reef away in the distance and the drone of crickets, taking advantage of the lull to claim back the night for themselves. Now the mosquitoes have started to whine around my ears and the moment is over....


Meanwhile back in Moorea

So here I am back in Moorea, and it seems more and more like home now. The mosquitoes really are something else, but apart from that I was very glad to catch up with Viriamu and puppy! OK so now he looks more like a small dog rather than a puppy, with an extremely fine pair of ears, it's all very exciting ... I think he must have a little bit of Doberman in him, but your guess is as good as mine!

As for the taro let's just say that it did not fare as well as the dog. I guess young taro needs care and attention, so two weeks without being watered was disastrous! Note that the rows that survived were under our leaky gutter.


Down on th farm

Over the weekend we got the chance to visit Gareth and Trish, up on their farm, near Raglan. Bobbi and Bryn are doing well, and I think it's safe to say that they liked their presents from Tahiti- a dancers skirt and headress for Bobbi and a Tahitian drum and sharktooth necklace for Bryn. We had a lunch of fresh crayfish and home-baked bread, then took a quick spin down to their own private beach, equipped with a bach (beach house) - choice! Here are some pictures for Great Aunty Clare and Great Uncle Mike....


Hanging with my 'iwi

I've spent the last couple of weeks in NZ dealing with visas and officialdom, crashing with my family here and generally getting underfoot. The weather in Cambridge has been just beautiful, so I've been enjoying tea on the terrace and all kinds of home-baked goodies from Aunty Norma's kitchen. There is also a litter of seven boisterous boxers in residence here, for my own personal amusement - cue lots of cute dog pictures!
....these are not just average pooches, these are dogs with pedigree. Paul is a certified breeder and these puppies could one day be champion show dogs..........though at the moment, much of the excitement for the day revolves around playing with new and wonderful things in the garden, and making sure that there's a plentiful supply of fresh meat and milk! Which is tiring enough in itself...


A Happy Occasion

OK, so this news is not directly related to French Polynesia - but I am happy to announce the birth of my nephew Oliver Claridge on Oct 14th, a healthy 6lb baby boy. Parents and grandparents are over the moon! Aunty Elin (or Tatti Helene as I'm known here) is pretty pleased too, and looking forward to meeting the new recruit.
What a beautiful baby - so angelic! Congratulations to Mum and Dad. Aunty Elin and Great Aunty Norma think he's going to be a real looker!


About as interesting as watching taro grow

We hadn't been living in the house for more than two days when Viriamu went to work on the garden. Of course we have to have a taro patch, and some manioc, pineapple and papaya, for good measure. So here we have a couple of pictures of Viriamu transforming some apparently barren soil into a veritable tropical kitchen garden! You can be sure that I'll keep you posted on the progress of our taro patch. I am eagerly awaiting our first harvest!
....and just two weeks later

(OK so it's going to be 6 months, at least, before we can eat it, what can you do? Actually Viriamu gets his family to send ice chests full of frozen taro from Rurutu, lest we go without!)


Introducing Maroro!

No Tahitian home would be complete without at least one guard dog. So we found ourselves an almost stray puppy, which is not a very hard thing to do here. He was thin and flea-ridden, but still very cute. We've called him Maroro which means flying-fish in Rurutu (it's marara in Tahitian). The girls next door think it's a very good name, because he is very excitable and flighty.

What he likes.....
Dead geckos
Soapy water (with bleach is best)
Rotting land crabs
Chewing people's toes
Chewing my flip-flops (grrrr!)
Worrying coconut husks

What he doesn't like...
Eating bees
Being flea-sprayed
Being washed when he smells of rotting land crab
Taro (what kind of Tahitian dog is this?)

Jury's still out
Worming medicine


From the beginning

On September 10th 2005 I moved to French Polynesia to work on the French Polynesia terrestrial arthropod survey, based at the Gump Station, Moorea. As a way of keeping up with friends and family I've decided to write a web journal, these are just a few impressions and experiences from my life in Moorea. I hope you enjoy them!

The House
We have rented a house a few kms from the station. It's a two-bedroom bungalow with a good bit of garden. Truth be told it's seen better days, but the shabbiness is mainly cosmetic and Viriamu and I have spent the last few weeks making it presentable. It's on the mountainside, backing onto bush, with a sweet view of mountains in the background. The stars are awesome at night. There is a grapefruit tree and a lime. We also have Gardenia tahitensis 'tiare' bushes, so that we can make leis. Here are a couple of pictures of the house:

and some of its inhabitants....

(clockwise from left) giant roaches, fat geckos, hundreds of sharpshooters, el dogo