Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The one with the coconut

I am, at the best of times, driven by impulse. Very rarely does an impulsive synapse fire in my brain that does not lead to some sort of indulgent action on my part. There is something in the pregnancy hormones that obliterates any sort of resistance I might have otherwise been able to muster. I am a walking whim.

And that probably explains why I went into Farm Boy the other day seeking only four litres of homogonized milk and a loaf of whole wheat bread, and came out $42 later with: a crate of mandarin oranges, salsa, cherry tomatoes, Florida oranges, gouda cheese, hot rods, mini blueberry muffins, garlic bread, and a coconut.

None of this was on any list, mental or otherwise. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

It's been years since I've bought a coconut. So long, in fact, that the Internet was not a part of my standard modus operandi for approaching any new task the last time I tried to pry one open. But I knew the boys would be tickled by the process of opening it, and would probably love the coconut itself as much as I do. A learning opportunity, and yummy too. What more could one ask of a lowly fruit?

Who knew there were so many schools of thought on how to best liberate that sweet coconut meat? How those people on Survivor ever managed to open one of these things using only a machete is beyond me. Suggested techniques on the Internet range from securing a stake, pointy bit up, and slamming the coconut onto the tip (!!) to baking it for 15 minutes at 400F before opening it to loosen the flesh to holding it in your hand and whacking it with the dull side of a cleaver along the seam. Perhaps luckily for us, we own neither stakes nor a cleaver.

I decided in the end that power tools were called for. For once, the rechargeable drill was actually at full charge; although I might not have needed it as the bit sank satisfyingly into the eye of the coconut before I even had a chance to pull the trigger. After watching the coconut water drip at an excruciatingly slow rate for about as long as I could tolerate - maybe 90 seconds - I remembered the suggested to drill a fourth hole at the top of the coconut to let in air and speed the process. Which is when I snapped the drill bit in half.

So I shook it like a maraca for long enough to dribble out maybe 15 ml of liquid (over about five minutes) before my shoulders started cramping and I asked myself what exactly I was going to do with the coconut water anyway. If I was any sort of a cook, maybe I'd use it in a curry, but mostly I was going to impress the boys with my ability to get sweet milk out of a coconut like some sort of magician. And since they had been watching the whole process with the kind of careful awe you usually reserve for crazy people on the streetcorner, I figured I had already blown that opportunity.

The method of coconut extraction that most appealed to me involved a hammer, a towel, and a very firm surface. Beloved was surprisingly reluctant to actually hold the coconut for me while I swung wildly at it with a hammer, but he did stand a safe distance away to oversee the operation. The first two blows were glancing, but the third one connected solidly with a gut-wrenching crack that made both of us cringe. The sound of a coconut shell being shattered by a hammer is entirely too reminiscent of the sound of a cracking skull, we agreed.

A few more therapeutic whacks (therapeutic for me, not so much for the coconut) and the formerly spherical tea-towel-wrapped coconut was looking decidedly lopsided. I had cracked it in half on a rather jagged equator.

Luckily, one half of the shell relinquished its meat without resistance, but the second half was more challenging. I took a paring knife and started prying chunks away from the shell, which resulted in several near-misses between said knife and the fleshy tips of my fingers. I began to wonder if I shouldn't wait until Beloved's return from the corner store to continue, and loosely calculated in my head the amount of time it might take my parents to arrive should I slice through a major artery - even as I continued to use said paring knife as a combination lever, spoon, and cutting tool.

It took a lot of patience and arm strength to pry reluctant bits off the shell before I had liberated enough of the meat to consider the operation a success. I did leave an inch or two in the pointy end of the shell, but since that was the end of the shell I had pierced with a drill-bit that I hadn't even contemplated wiping off, let alone sterilizing before use - the drill bit I inherited used from my grandfather, no less - I decided it was not a great sacrafice to let some meat be discarded. Besides, I was now more than 45 minutes into Operation Coconut, and was fast losing interest in the project.

The last trick was to scrape off the thin inside shell from the coconut meat. Again, thanks to the Interwebs, I had read that a potato peeler will do this job nicely. Myself, I tend to use a paring knife to peel potatoes, but having so far eluded cutting myself, I didn't want to push my luck, so I rooted through the utensil drawer to find the seldom-used (and regrettably dull) potato peeler.

So why is it that even perched over a large bowl, flecks of peeled coconut skin felt the need to launch themselves to every corner of the kitchen? I wondered this as I also wondered why exactly I chose today of all days to execute this task, a scant few hours after the cleaning ladies have been through on their bi-weekly tour. My formerly spotless kitchen had coconut husk threads all over one counter (from when I took the plastic off), coconut milk splatters all over the backsplash, shell particulate all over the counter where I unwrapped the tea-towel, and flecks of skin just about everywhere. Who knew a coconut would be even messier than a pomegranate? (Ha ha, I just noticed that in that post, I talked about opening a coconut with a screwdriver. Apparently, I never learn.)

In the end, it took me over an hour to liberate the coconut from the shell, and another ten minutes to restore the kitchen to a semblance of order. It was within a few minutes of bedtime when I proudly called the boys into the kitchen to share in the fruit of my labours, as they had long since tired of the spectacle of me opening the damn thing. The coconut pieces were in a fresh bowl (the other four bowls used in the process already in the dishwasher), and I even thought to run the milk through a coffee filter to get out the vast majority of the crunchy bits. They regarded my proferred offerings for a suspicious minute before saying, "No thanks. Coconuts are gross," before running back to the television.

So I gulped down the coconut milk and ate enough of the fruit to give myself a righteous belly ache. And you know what? From now on, I'll just buy the baggies of dessicated coconut to satisfy my cravings. There's a lot to be said for convenience foods.