INTERVIEW WITH A WATERMELON CARVER: ANETA LEKAS

April 20th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

This month’s watermelon carver is Aneta Lekas, who’s a regular in our annual carving contest. Aneta was born in Poland immigrated to Canada in 1993.

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She has spent 20 years in the catering industry, but didn’t start carving fruit until 2011. Her skills developed quickly, and she began carving professionally in 2012. Today, Aneta is the founder of Say It With Fruit, a company that creates unforgettable fruit carvings for special events. (You can also check out Say It With Fruit on Facebook.)

Aneta entered several carvings in our 2014 carving contest, and her floral arrangement (below) won third place in the category of “Most Elegant,” and her peacock (right) was the first place winner in the “Animal” category.

I recently had a chance to chat with Aneta about her carving skills, including what inspired her to carve watermelon, her most memorable carving, and what 2015 has in store for her and her carving skills.

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF. WHEN YOU’RE NOT CARVING WATERMELON, WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO?

I like to spend time with my family doing different activities. I love to travel. Summer time is camping time. We have a great time with friends enjoying nature. I also spend many hours as a volunteer.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START CARVING WATERMELON?

It was my vacation in Mexico.  The resort we stayed in had so many carved watermelons on the buffet every day. I fell in love with this kind of art and decided to try it myself. First, I tried an online fruit and vegetable carving course. Then I decided to improve my watermelon carving skills, so I traveled to Poland to get professional lessons from carving masters and European champions.

WHAT SORT OF CARVINGS DO YOU LIKE TO CREATE?

I always liked to sketch with pencil so I transferred that skill from paper to the skin of a watermelon. Carving images and engraving words enables me to personalize watermelons for each person to make them feel special.  Besides that, I love Thai carving. Creating flowers from the three colors of the watermelon is always impressive.

WHAT’S BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE WATERMELON CARVING?

It was the peacock carved for the competition last year.  I received two awards in two different competitions for it. First place in Best Animal Carving in your carving contest and fourth place in a people’s choice carving competition in Ohio.

WHEN IT COMES TO EATING WATERMELON, DO YOU PREFER CHUNKS OR WEDGES?

I usually cut it into wedges. It is faster, but I love when someone cuts it into chunks and serves for me.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A CARVER? WHAT WILL YOU BE CARVING THIS YEAR?

I would like Say It With Fruit to be a company recognized for its motto: To Make Everyone Feel Special. My carvings beautify important days in people’s lives, such as weddings and anniversaries, and makes them memorable.

This year, I will be working on new carving designs and improving my carving skills to make every watermelon unique for each person.

I am also planning to do carving presentations for special events in our city, such as the Pan Am Games and organize a fruit carving competition. I want people to be aware that fruit carving exists in Canada and that edible art can make their important events unforgettable!

UP NEXT: 10 facts I’ll bet you didn’t know about Earth Day

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ASK THE EXPERTS: SHOULD I BUY WATERMELON OR GROW MY OWN?

April 16th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

JASON K. ASKS: Watermelon isn’t THAT expensive, but watermelon seeds are pretty cheap. I eat a lot of watermelon, so I was wondering: should I buy watermelon in the store, or should I try to save a few bucks by growing my own?00

You’re right about watermelon not being all that expensive, Jason. In fact, pound-for-pound, watermelons are one of the cheapest fruits or veggies you can buy. Like most produce, prices vary depending the season, but you can usually pick up a watermelon for much less than a dollar per pound. Last summer, my local store was selling 10-pounders for $3.99 each. That’s only 40 cents a pound!

Of course, you’re also right about watermelon seeds being even cheaper. A pack of 50 Crimson Sweet seeds will run about five bucks. That’s about the same price you’d pay for two of those Crimson Sweets. Faced with math like that, the decision to grow your own watermelon sounds like a no-brainer, right?

What you have to remember is this: Growing watermelon ain’t easy. Trust me, I’ve tried. Back in 2013, I made a new year’s resolution to grow my own watermelon. The adventure started out great, with my five watermelon vines producing little watermelons that grew shockingly fast. But after a few months, the watermelons stopped growing. By the end of the growing season, my watermelons were inedible and no larger than a baseball.

That’s assuming you’ve got plenty of space to grow them in. And time. Growing watermelon — especially a whole bunch of them — is a full-time gardening job. Watering, weeding, more watering, building fences to keep the rabbits out, watering again…it’s not easy.

Don’t get me wrong — I definitely recommend every watermelon lover at least TRY to grow their own watermelon at some point. It’s fun, and it really makes you appreciate the hard work that watermelon farmers put into their crop. But when it comes to picking a watermelon to take to the barbeque this weekend, I’ll gladly leave the growing and harvesting to the experts and shell out five bucks for a big ol’ 20-pounder at the grocery store.

UP NEXT: An interview with a watermelon carver

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RECIPE: SPICY WATERMELON HUMMUS

April 10th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

Not only does warmer weather mean the return of watermelon to picnic tables everywhere, but it also means I’ll be seeing more of my other favorite food: dip! At our summer picnics, where there is always dip on the table, you can usually find me hovering near the dip bowl (which hopefully isn’t far from the watermelon).

So, when hummus burst onto the scene years ago, I was skeptical. I mean, it’s made with mashed up chickpeas, which doesn’t sound all that great, right? But, staying true to my dip-loving nature, I decided to give it a chance. Turns out, it’s pretty awesome.

This Middle Eastern dip is a smoothly blended chickpea paste traditionally mixed with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and herbs and spices. Today, you can find hummus in a variety of flavors.

It’s not just a great-tasting snack, either. Hummus also packs plenty of healthy nutrients and health benefits. Because hummus is rich in protein, it can actually fight hunger cravings and balance your blood sugar levels. If that’s all the convincing you need, try this recipe for Spicy Watermelon Hummus! Pairing the savory cumin with the sweet watermelon is a perfect combination for a nutritious snack.

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Ingredients

1 large clove garlic

2 heaping tablespoons of diced red onion

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup watermelon juice (liquefy watermelon in a blender)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon lemon peel

¼ teaspoon each; ground cumin, coriander, ground ginger, paprika and turmeric

1 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and washed

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup diced watermelon

Parsley sprigs

Instructions

Mince garlic in a food processor. Add onion and parsley, and blend until fully minced. Add rest of ingredients, and blend until smooth. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow flavors to blend. Garnish with diced watermelon and parsley sprigs. Serve with pita bread, baked chips or baby carrots.

UP NEXT: An interview with the 2015 National Watermelon Queen

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SECOND SCOOP: WHAT’S THE PLURAL FORM OF “WATERMELON”?

April 7th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

I recently engaged in a spirited debate with my proofreader (that’s my wife) about this very question. Thankfully, it’s a topic I’d written about previously here on the watermelon blog, so I’m posting it again. Hopefully, it comes in handy for anyone who might also be locked in a debate on this topic.

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SUSAN K. ASKS – What’s the plural form of watermelon? Is it “watermelons” or “watermelon”? I’ve seen both used and don’t know which one is right!

That’s a great question, Susan. The English language is definitely a tricky one, especially when it comes to the plural form of certain words. A goose by itself is a goose, but if you have more than one, you’ve got geese. But more than one moose is still called moose (not meese or mooses).

Then there’s the mouse, which get together to form mice.

As far as I can tell, here are the rules regarding watermelon:

If you’re talking about wedges, slices or multiple pieces of watermelon, you should use “watermelon.” (EXAMPLE: “In the cooler, you’ll find hot dogs, hamburgers and watermelon.”)

If you’re talking about multiple whole melons, you say “watermelons.” (EXAMPLE: “I bought four watermelons for our barbecue, three of which are for me!”)

When you use a number, like in the multiple melons example above, adding the “s” is pretty natural. It gets kind of confusing when you omit the number and start talking about watermelon in a general sense. For instance, if I bought four watermelons for the barbecue, I might be able to say “I bought a lot of watermelon today. Probably more than I should have, but I’ll definitely eat the leftovers!”

In that example, I’m talking about watermelon in a general sense, which makes the singular form sound better, does it not? I hope this insight helps!

UP NEXT: A spicy watermelon hummus recipe

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APRIL PRIZE: A HANDY, DANDY WATERMELON SLICER!

April 3rd, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

Based on the monumental amounts of YouTube videos one can find on how to cut watermelon, it’s no secret that cutting it the right way is easier said than done. Having sliced and diced a few million watermelons in my day, I can attest that there is, indeed, a method to slicing correctly. (Sort of like this video about cutting watermelon slices to avoid getting a messy face.) Picture1

Then again, it really would be nice if there were something to make the process even easier. I’m imagining an all-in-one device that allows you to slice your watermelon with ease. Good news: that device exists, and it’s this month’s prize.

This melon slicer is guaranteed to make cutting watermelon a breeze. Found on Amazon for $40, the slicer can reduce a 15-pound melon into handy wedges in mere seconds. No more cutting boards or sharp knives — just delicious slices of your favorite melon!

I’ll choose one lucky commenter at random from all the comments left on the blog this month to win this prize. I’ve never used this slicer, so I can’t attest to how well it really works, but if it means I can eat watermelon sooner than I currently do after arriving home from the grocery store, I’ll probably buy one for myself. Good luck!

UP NEXT: A lesson in watermelon grammar

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IT’S A WATERMELON, IT’S BACON-FLAVORED, IT’S THE INCREDI-MELON!

April 1st, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

Imagine your favorite foods. For me, that’s easy: watermelon and bacon. Now imagine your favorite foods coming together in one tasty package. I don’t mean the two foods are packaged together in the grocery store (although that’s not a bad idea). I mean the one food — in this case, watermelon — tastes like the other food — in this case, bacon.

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That’s exactly what a team of horticulturalists and food scientists in Georgia have done with a crop of watermelon they’re calling “Incredi-Melons.” As in, incredible watermelons. What they’ve done over the last several years is create watermelons that taste like other foods, including ice cream, cheeseburgers, pizza and, yes, even bacon. That’s right, a bacon-flavored watermelon. Incredible? You bet it is!

The best part? In addition to tasting exactly like other foods, the Incredi-Melons have all of the health benefits of regular watermelon. The team was also able to pull off the miracle without genetic engineering or artificial flavors. Their only trick is good old-fashioned plant breeding…and lots of trial and error.

“The first batch didn’t turn out so well,” said the project’s lead scientist, Dr. Solof LaRip. “The bacon tasted too smoky — more like chipped beef — and the pepperoni-to-cheese balance on the pizza watermelon was way off. We also tried making a chocolate-flavored watermelon, but we’d all like to forget about that first attempt.”

Thankfully, Dr. LaRip and his team were able to turn those early mistakes into lessons learned, and soon they were growing Incredi-Melons that tasted a little more like the foods they were intended to. A test batch of peanut butter watermelon in 2014 captured all the sweet and nutty essence of everyone’s favorite sandwich spread. Later that year, they finally perfected the chocolate watermelon, which, when combined with the peanut butter watermelon, created a snack like no other.

So, what’s next for the Incredi-Melon, and when will we be able to purchase them in stores? Dr. LaRip won’t speculate on retail timing, but he did confirm that his team will be taking requests for special flavors later this year.

They’ve already created a bacon-flavored watermelon, so I’m happy. Which flavors of Incredi-Melons would you like to see in grocery stores in the near future?

UP NEXT: Our April prize!

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HOW ONE NEW PRODUCT IS MAKING FARMING EASIER

March 30th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

I was raised in a pretty rural region of Pennsylvania, and I even spent a few summers helping on my cousin’s dairy farm. But that’s pretty much where my farming experience ends. I definitely don’t have a green thumb (remember my failed attempt to grow a watermelon?), but my limited interaction with farmers gives me a great appreciation for all the hard work they do to grow the fruits and vegetables so many of us take for granted.

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Another thing I can appreciate is any equipment, products or practices that make life easier for farmers. Because, let’s face it, those hard-working men and women put in some pretty long hours. One of those products is something called DegriFilm, and it’s made by a company called EcoPoly Solutions.

Oftentimes, farmers of crops (including watermelon) will cover the soil with a plastic mulch covering. Even casual gardeners will sometimes use plastic, which works well to keep weeds and pests at bay. The only problem with plastic, however, is that it has to be removed from the ground after it’s served its purpose. And when you’re a farmer with hundreds or thousands of acres of land, that process can get a little time-consuming…and expensive.

That’s where DegriFilm comes in.

After DegriFilm is on the ground, it provides all of the protection of standard plastic mulch, but here’s the kicker: it never needs to be removed and disposed of. That’s because DegriFilm is biodegradable. And when it breaks down naturally, it converts itself into CO2, water and biomass to feed the soil and make it healthy and ready for next year’s crop.

It also saves money. According to the DegriFilm website, it saves between $100 and $200 per acre. Again, when you’ve several hundred acres, that savings can really add up.

What can farmers do with all of that extra money? They can buy better farm equipment, for starters. Or hire a few extra farmhands, which means the farmers might get a few extra hours off at the end of the day. Or maybe the farmers can take a vacation to Hawaii. They definitely deserve a little toes-in-the-sand time off, that’s for sure.

UP NEXT: A WHAT flavored watermelon?!

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RECIPE: GREEK PITA FLATBREAD WITH WATERMELON

March 27th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

It’s no secret that the marriage of watermelon and feta cheese creates a delectable, full-flavored explosion of awesomeness. I came across this life-changing discovery late in 2009, when I published this recipe for Watermelon Feta Salad. The saltiness of the feta mixed with the sweetness of the watermelon makes for a delicious combination of the two flavors.

Not only does today’s recipe combine watermelon and feta, but it also draws inspiration from one of my favorite mealtime options: Greek food.

Every year, there’s a Greek festival that comes to my area and, apart from Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), this ranks a close second on my culinary calendar. Surrounded by all the Greek food one Watermelon Man can handle, it’s the only day of the year that I can chow down on baklava, spanakopita, and souvlaki like there’s no tomorrow. To get myself prepared for this year’s feast, I’m whipping up this Greek Pita Flatbread with Watermelon!

GREEK PITA FLATBREAD WITH WATERMELON

INGREDIENTS pic

4 wedges seedless watermelon (bite-sized pieces)

1 cup diced, cooked chicken

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons Greek yogurt

¼ teaspoon garlic salt

1 dash cayenne pepper

2 whole pita breads

¼ cup prepared spreadable herb cheese

4 large lettuce leaves

INSTRUCTION

Place sliced watermelon on paper towels to remove excess liquid. Mix chicken, cilantro, yogurt, garlic salt and cayenne. Spread inside surfaces of pita bread halves with herbed cheese, and fill each with about ¼ cup chicken mixture. Arrange watermelon and lettuce in pita bread.

For more recipes using watermelon, check out the “Recipes” section of the National Watermelon Promotion Board website.

UP NEXT: Behind the scenes at the annual watermelon queen training day

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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION UPDATE: CHEESECAKE WITH WATERMELON AND BLUEBERRY SAUCE

March 24th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

So far, in my New Year’s resolution to prepare more meals using watermelon, I’ve prepared a main course (sweet and sour watermelon chicken) and a soup (watermelon gazpacho). For my third watermelon dish, I’m whipping up something for my favorite course — dessert.

When I spotted this recipe for New York-style cheesecake with blueberry and watermelon sauce, I knew that it would be a perfect New Year’s resolution task. For one, I love cheesecake (maybe a little too much) and, second, I’ve never actually made a cheesecake, so this would be a great way to try something new.

Overall, the process was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and the blueberry and watermelon sauce was, in a word, AMAZING. Below are some pictures of how it all went down. If you’re interested in making your own New York-style cheesecake with blueberry and watermelon sauce, check out the recipe on the National Watermelon Promotion Board website.

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This recipe contains not one, not two, but THREE different fruits, which is always a good thing (especially when one of those fruits are watermelon). One thing you’ll notice about the recipe, is that it contains a lot of healthy shortcuts designed to make the cheesecake a little better for you. I like my cheesecakes a little more decadent, so I substituted low fat cream cheese for the fat free cream cheese and real eggs for the egg substitute.

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The key to a great cheesecake (in my “expert” opinion), is the crust. I like it to be thick and I like it to be rich and buttery. To do that with this cheesecake, I cut the 1/3 cup of graham cracker crumbs in the recipe and replaced it with TWO CUPS of crumbs. I also added half a stick of melted butter to the crumb mixture, which is a common ingredient in a cheesecake crust. The result was a rich, buttery, tasty quarter-inch crust you can really sink your teeth into.

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The star of this cheesecake is the watermelon sauce. No doubt about it. It’s sweet and tart (thanks to the addition of lemon juice) and thickened up nicely. This recipe makes a lot of sauce, so I saved my leftovers to use as a pancake topping this weekend. I’m already counting down the days.

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The recipe instructs you to bake your cheesecake in a water bath, which is common for cheesecake recipes. It helps the cheesecake to cook evenly and prevents the splitting you see on my cheesecake above. Mine split because I skipped the water bath step. You can do the water bath if you’d like, but I did some research, and as long as you don’t mind some splitting on top, you can skip it. And if you’re topping your cheesecake with cherries, blueberries or a delicious watermelon sauce, a little splitting won’t matter.

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My first cheesecake turned out a lot better than I thought it would, and I’ll definitely be making another cheesecake in the near future. Maybe something with a chocolate or caramel swirl. And watermelon sauce, of course. Can’t forget the watermelon sauce.

For more recipes using watermelon, check out the “Recipes” section of the National Watermelon Promotion Board website.

UP NEXT: A recipe that shows why I love Greek food   

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WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO DOING THIS SPRING?

March 20th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

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Between this awesome spring weather that we’ve been having and keeping up with my brackets for March Madness, I’m finding it hard to miss the winter we’ve left behind.

The snow has melted away, the birds have come back from wherever the heck they vacation during the winter (I think somewhere outside Orlando), and the world finally looks alive again. If you can’t tell, I’m a huge fan of the warmer seasons, with summer probably taking the cake as my favorite. I have nothing personal against the snow or the blistering cold (that’s a lie — I hate it), but I’m just not a winter person. That’s what makes this day an extra special one for me.

The first day of spring brings with it a few other reasons to celebrate. One of them is that we’re another day closer to the big cardboard bin of watermelons making an appearance in my local grocery store. Over the winter, there’s always an empty space where the bin usually sits, and it reminds me of the days when the sun was shining and the watermelons were plentiful.

Now that spring is here, it looks like smooth sailing from here on out. Before you know it, we’ll be sitting by the pool, soaking up the sun and trying to keep our dog from eating our watermelon beach ball. So, happy first day of spring, everyone. Only 91 more days until the start of summer!

UP NEXT: A “cheesy” New Year’s Resolution update

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