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Monday, October 12, 2009

Off With Its Head?

I remember watching Alice in Wonderland as a child and simply loving the riot of randomness that it was. The colorful characters, perhaps more so with regard to their mental antics, never ceased to entertain. It's hard to say which character stands out by way of her or his eccentricities, but when I woke up this morning to find the following scene present itself to me, the line "Off with his head" being shrieked by a rotund Queen popped into my head.

What's wrong with this picture? The coconut palm is missing its head. What happened to it? Well, said "head" seems to have dislodged itself quite conveniently and noiselessly. I say noiselessly because contrary to the usual loud cracking sound one hears as a tree falls to the earth, there was nothing at any point prior to my uncle actually noticing that something was amiss that drew our attention to this fact. Well, before I show you where the head layeth, let me give you some background on how this came to be.

A couple of months ago, when the Monsoons were in full swing, I noticed that there was a crack forming near the top of the tree. It seemed to be connecting two holes on opposite sides of the trunk that birds had pecked out some time ago. Thanks to strong winds and the spread of its foliage to catch them, a crack formed quite naturally to connect these two "dots," so to speak. However, in spite of the raging South-East Monsoons that lashed this fair state and its good people for the better part of three months, the crack remained exactly the same. It never grew any larger, and it didn't magically seem to fuse back together with the main trunk as I was secretly hoping. Sad, really, because one tends to grow attached to the way a scene appears outside, say a window, unchanging for all eternity. But this is hardly the case, is it? Certainly not. It's just disappointing that this point had to be underscored by beheading an innocent palm, though.

Well, true to my "human" nature - or perhaps I should say true to being a human being - I set out to retrieve the "kanda" or the tenderest part of the coconut palm, which happens to be a delicacy. I remember eating it once before, many, many years ago, when a neighbor had to bring down a coconut palm that had a severe case of root rot, and was threatening to come crashing down on their humble but built-of-reinforced-concrete abode. Now, here I was armed and looking to extract the very heart of a fallen tree. There aren't any pictures of what this looks like, the surgery, I mean. No, not because it's so gruesome, but because I had to really get in there and get my hands dirty. No place for a sensitive piece of electronic equipment, trust me.

What I do have, however, is the finished product of what I did to the big chunks of the "kanda". As I discovered first hand, the "kanda" is really the heart of the top of the tree from where the leaves emerge. It's the core of the tree, if I could say that. I'd like to know which guy figured out that you could actually eat this. "Uh, no Bob. That doesn't look edible. Why don't you try biting that little bit down there." Sounds funny, but that's exactly what my uncle had me do to figure out if I was indeed getting at the succulent delicacy, or simply extracting another piece of firewood with painstaking futility.

As you can see, there was enough to fill a Smuckers-jar and a former mussel pickle bottle worth with long strips of "kanda". I attempted to marinate it in vinegar, and threw in a few minuscule but lethal chillies to help add some flavor. In a couple of days, I'm hoping to have a delectable side dish to go along with my gruel lunch. If you're still unsure about what this resembles, I'd have to say the closest thing the "kanda" resemble in texture is a bamboo shoot. Come to think of it, bamboo shoots can be pickled too. Hmm... No, we don't have any bamboo on the premises, unfortunately. Or should that be "fortunately" for the bamboo?

After this experience, I started thinking about the sheer number of things we do with a coconut tree. But that we have to bring it down to mutilate it and pluck out its heart is quite saddening. It kind of reminds me of Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree." Having said that though, this sort of thing is all in a day's work, fortunately. Or unfortunately? I'll let you decide. For now, the images of the Queen screeching "Off with his head!" come flooding back. Lucky Alice. Poor tree.

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