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....