Tainted potatoes

This is why I love Belize. Here is a message from the government regarding tainted produce, warning people not to buy these potatoes.

PRESS RELEASE – Food Safety Alert: Tainted Irish Potatoes   Belmopan. February 5, 2015. The Belize Agriculture Health Authority (BAHA) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture inform the public that they have received confirmed reports of tainted Irish Potatoes being sold in San Ignacio.

Investigations revealed that the potatoes are dyed a pink/fuchsia colour and are circulating on the market. Confiscation of this product has commenced and the public is advised not to purchase or consume these tainted potatoes.   Attached is a photograph that shows the difference between the two potatoes. The potato labelled number one is the tainted product, and number two is the locally produced red potato.

This isn’t a salmonella or e. coli outbreak, it probably amounts to harmless red dye on the outside of some potatoes. Here’s the picture: tainted potatoes   And again, the description: “The potato labelled number one is the tainted product, and number two is the locally produced red potato.” So… what the hell is number 3?

Random pictures to sum up my last few months

I have be terrible about updating this blog lately, which is probably because I’ve been so busy. It’s a bit of a Catch-22: when I’m bored I have nothing to post and when I’m active I don’t have the time. Suffice it to say, these last few months have been on the hectic side. Here are a few pictures from my phone which may or may not give a timeline.

May: I had a birthday

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Tres leches!

Some friends came to visit

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Mom and Jayme came down!

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June: We went to a conference in South Africa

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Then on safari afterwards (I got a camera for my birthday)

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July: Simon spent his birthday here

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We actually did more than hang out at a bar, but this is one of the only pictures I have.

A bar dog ate the bar

IMG_20140816_201811 August: We went to EnglandIMG_20140821_110907 IMG_20140821_103503 And then to Poland

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Lovely Gdansk

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My favorite window, across from the flat we rented

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Gdansk panorama

IMG_20140826_041521IMG-20140826-WA0005 I learned that bread sometimes comes in a can

IMG_20140827_020658 We ate a LOT of pickled and/or smoked fishes

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And dumplings

IMG_20140828_132229 And saw quite a few musicians playing Disney and Broadway tunes in arched walkways

IMG_20140827_134659I bought some shoes that had to be safety pinned to actually function as shoes- but are pretty cute

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And then went to Trzclanka via Poznan for a wedding

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And we ate more

IMG_20140830_141327And drank a LOT of vodka

IMG_20140830_141523 Then back through Poznan, then England, and Atlanta

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I still haven’t figured out why there are so many statues of Neptune in Poland

And now I’m home! Until next week. (Don’t tell Mia)

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Hungry bellies and wet asses

We’ve just finished our annual surveys at Turneffe and Lighthouse Atolls, which amounted to approximately 5 1/2 weeks of field work. We tent-camped for most of it (although my boss splurged on air mattresses, thank goodness), and I have to say it’s nice to be dry. Completely and utterly dry and unsalty, along with all of my clothes.

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The first 3 week stint was a bit of a slog, with bizarre winds, low catches, and long transiting times (read: somewhat boring and difficult work conditions), and our crew just didn’t quite gel. However, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun or get a lot of good work done.

One of the groups of fishermen we work with come from a tiny village in the south of the country. These guys all grew up together (half of them are related) and have probably spent most of their lives together. When we’re in the field, they all bunk in the same room, and they are constantly, tirelessly, laughing and joking together. I can’t imagine what new jokes they have to tell each other, but they never seem to get old, and it makes the guys fun to be around. I have no idea how many times the “put salt water in their water bottle while they’re not looking” game was played out, but every fresh sputter and gag was treated with the same hilarity as the one before it.

The culture of Belize is very much like that of most of Latin America, and gender roles are fairly well defined. Despite having worked for a female boss for many years, there is still a bit of, let’s say, mothering expected by some (most) of the fishermen we work with. We can bait as many hooks as we like, lug more gear than all of the guys put together, and pee over the side of the boat: we’re still expected to feed the men. So one morning, well into our second week, I decided to jump on the boat as the guys were heading out to check and re-set a longline. I wasn’t scheduled to be on the boat that morning, but there was space and I thought I’d lend a hand with data collection. Given the location and the time of day we set out (7:00 am), I didn’t expect us to be back until well after lunchtime. I packed a snack.

So naturally as we anchored up around midday to wait out the soak time, 5 heads turned towards me to inquire about food. “Do you have any biscuits, Ivy?” I rustled around in my bag. “Sorry, just the one pack. Looks like we get 2 cookies each.” Evaristo gave me a good-natured smile. “Das ok, Ivy. We fishermen. We’re used to hungry bellies and wet asses.”

When the rain settled in a few minutes later, we were all miserably huddled against it, ill prepared for the out of season shower. Most of the crew retreated to the water to hunt conch, but a few of us toughed it out.

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The next week, we managed to pack enough food for sandwiches, but none of the guys thought to bring a bowl for the salsa, which was their contribution. Men who need salsa casero are the mother of invention.

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Several days later, on the last day of field work for that site, we were again anchored up, waiting for the longline to soak. Instead of rain, we were treated to a blistering mid-day sun. Again we were working through lunch, and yet another miscommunication (I thought we should save the gas and wait it out, they thought we were motoring in for lunch back at the station) led to more hungry bellies. Again, I sacrificed my meager cookies. Clearly, I hadn’t learned.

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“When you put this picture on the internet, put a note under it that says, ‘MarAlliance is in desperate need of a boat canopy.'”

So I have to admit I was really surprised a few weeks later, on another atoll, in the same boat, when I found my actual offering of real food to be rejected. Oranges are a great boat food, especially after you’ve been in the sea (and were all were, every day, for hours). The oranges grown here are delicious but have a very tough skin, which makes them difficult to peel by hand. I’d been admiring for weeks the patience and skill the guys had when peeling oranges with any rusty knife available, and decided to try my hand at it. The trick is to only remove the thin outer peel, but leave the rind intact, then cut the orange in half. The tough rind makes it so that you can eat the meat by biting into the top without spilling juice all over yourself. A novice orange peeler, I did a passable job (I ate the first one myself as it was a bit hacked). My second attempt was nearly flawless, with only one tiny section that was cut too thinly, revealing the pulp. I proudly offered my orange around the boat to the tired, salty fishermen. One, two, three… four men side-eyed the orange, heads shaking. In response, Andonis reached into the bag and procured the very last orange, and set about peeling it himself. The captain finally took pity on me, but made a show of eating it out over the side of the boat so as not to get juiced. I guess that’ll teach me.

Belize blues

I have to admit, I’ve been a bit down lately and haven’t really felt like updating the blog. The government shutdown pushed back Simon’s next trip back indefinitely, and since I was supposed to be in Cuba and Mexico for three weeks at the end of November it was looking like we were not going to see each other until Christmas. But Cuba is probably off (for me anyhow), so we might be able to squeeze in a November visit. Boo for missing Cuba, but yay for not missing Husband!

That’s not to say that I haven’t been busy! September is a really fun month in Belize (I am  working on that post, albeit late), with two national and one international holidays. And boy do Belizeans love a parade. Work has been good, and I’ve actually made it off island! To another island! And I did make it to the mainland this past holiday weekend as well. Here are some pictures from the last month or so.

Eclectic golf cart anyone?

We finally found a bar with a sunset view, on the lagoon side. Just need to make it back there.

Belizean kitty!

Chinese-Belizean spicy fried chicken and chow mein.

The Split at Caye Caulker

Cute, quiet Caye Caulker

These are the BEST Ramen Noodles in the world. I eat far too many of them.

50% off half and half! Oh happy day!

Oh. Nevermind (I took this photo last week).

And I finally made it to the mainland for something other than work-related activities. My friend Jen and I went down to Hopkins, which is a small Garifuna village about halfway down the coast. We were hoping for some drumming and Garifuna food, but there wasn’t much happening down there this time of year. So we settled for the beach and some rum.

Staying out of the rain while waiting for the bus

And finally, here is my standing desk setup at work.

That’s it for now!

Bad Waffel House

We’re having our weekly 30 minute discussion about where to go for lunch as a group (there are 3-6 of us who go to lunch together on Fridays).  I decided to Google Map all of the local restaurants to try to get us out of the Andy’s-Liza’s-Dee’s funk we’ve been in lately.  While perusing, I came across the reviews for one of the (literally) dozens of Waffle Houses in the area.

Food Excellent Decor Very good Service Excellent
Amazing food. Seriously some of the best waffles I have ever had. The service was top notch. We went with a party of 7 including 3 kids. Our food was cooked and served quicker than we thought possible. We read it was cash only. We brought cash just in case but I didn’t even ask if they took cards. Without a doubt I will be back and will recommend this place to others.
This person probably took like an hour to write this one:
Overall Poor to fair
today 6/10/2010 myself, my military husband and daughter went to this location to have breakfast, we order a sweet tea,hot choclate and a hi c fruit punch to start, shortly after we ordered 2 t bone stake and eggs witch states 9.80 menu price come with eggs,toast and grits.we aske to have omlet styled eggs and waffels in stead of toast and grits. my husband ordered the waffle and sausage combo 2.65 on the menu and tripple hash brown with sausage gray 5.60 on the menu. the sever was nice but she brought us waffles then 2 min later my grits and omlet while my daughter waited 30 mins for her omlet, 30 mins later she bring my stake that was well done she had to take it back three times, then 20 mins later my daughter recived her stake.all the while my husbnd still waiting for his hash browns with sausage gravy. 30 mins later it comes.the food was disgusting, they said they had ran out of straws, and there was little black ants crawling on the table. when the sever cae with the bill the meal we had coast 51.93 for the little nasty food we had.I asked to brake down wha we we’re gettin charged for the charged three separate meals for my daughter and i a peice.she said she charged my for 2 grit mels 7.20 each, 2 sides of waffles 1.35 each ,and a t bones for 9.80 each. i ask why did you do that when every thing i asked for was in the 9.80 t bone and egg meal and i exspected to pay just a little more for omlet style eggs instead of regular and for waffle subing the toast but that was crazy the manager was to bust to come talk with us she told the server just give us 10% off witch brougt it to 46.46 but that was redicules. never eat here bad waffel house
And
Overall Excellent
I do not know what people are talking about. It was a great place. Food was amazing.
Liked: Food, Atmosphere, Value
Disliked: Service

I mean seriously, these people are writing reviews like they’ve never even HEARD of a Waffle House before.

Sopa de pollo con verduras (chicken soup with vegetables)

One of the best meals we had in Nicaragua was the evening after the epic/tragic hike up the volcano Maderas on Ometepe. We were too tired to be hungry, so Simon ordered something small and I asked for the sopa de pollo.  (Basically you can’t go wrong ordering any kind of chicken in Central America. The fried chicken on the street is better than your grandma’s. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but there it is). The soup was amazing and simple, with vegetables we by then recognized as chayote and yucca but an herb we couldn’t place and a definite citrus undertone.

Behold, the chayote.

A week later we came across the fabled herb at a Saturday market in Guapiles (Costa Rica) and were told it was culantro.  Culantro!  I’ve actually grown it before but couldn’t figure out what to do with it.  I asked if it was “para sopas,” and got an enthusiastic affirmative, and then they tried to get me to buy it. When I replied “no cocinar aqui!” (which by the way, is terrible Spanish) they all giggled and we bought some tiny bananas from them instead.

Where was I? Oh, right. With the culantro mystery solved, I decided that I would try to mimic the soup when we got home. The only recipe I found online that seemed to replicate most of what we tasted came from this blog, which you might notice is entirely in Spanish. I can do well enough reading Spanish, but some of the instructions were a little unclear, even when translated.

3. While developing the points 1 and 2 is prepared chicken with salt, lemon and black pepper and set aside.
4. Point 2 is finished add the chicken vegetable broth, onion and garlic cloves. Boil for 15 minutes. Complete water to thicken not both. Check salt and sour to taste.

I figured if I could get married while not understanding anything that was being said around me, chicken soup should be a snap.  We managed to find chayote(!), yucca, and culantro at the store, but I’ve given up on ever finding malanga or quequisque, which seem to just be root vegetables anyhow.  Chayote is in the squash/melon/gord family (Cucurbitaceae if you’re nasty), and has a similar texture to yellow squash when cooked, despite it’s appearance.  It’s also mild in flavor, which makes it great for soups or whatever you normally use summer squash for.  If you haven’t had yucca, it’s a bit like a potato but, I guess “stickier” would be the word for it, and with less distinctive flavor.  It’s commonly boiled and served with garlic or a mojo sauce as the starch element of a dish in Latin American cooking.

Anyhow, yesterday I made the soup and it was so good!  The flavor was really similar to the soup we remembered, and is actually really easy to make after you deal with the yucca.  It would also be good with just plain old potatoes and carrots, but the yucca acts as a thickener and makes the soup velvety, and chayote takes on a neat citrus-y flavor.  I broke down a whole chicken and just used the thighs and wings in the soup (used the rest of the chicken for other things), but you could just buy some thighs and be done with it.  So.  Here is my version, with notes for those not familiar with some of the ingredients.

Sopa de pollo con verduras (serves 4, or 2.5 Simons)
Two whole chicken thighs, plus wings, etc if you’re working from a whole chicken
2-ish liters of water, plus more if your yucca absorbs it all
1 tbsp oil
1 onion, sliced or diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
One giant yucca, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (see notes below for how to tackle yucca)
5-6 small red potatoes, quartered
1-2 large carrots, cut in whatever size suits you
1 chayote, cut in half, seed removed, then cut into strips
2 small tomatoes, chopped (I forgot these, will have to remember for next time)
2-3 limes, juiced
2-3 tablespoons of culantro, roughly chopped.  You can use cilantro if your supermarket isn’t hip enough to carry culantro. I’m looking at you, Winn Dixie.
Salt and pepper, of course

Preparation
Ok, so yucca is kind of a pain in the ass, but really not as intimidating as it looks in the store once you know what to do.  You can get the waxy skin off with a good vegetable peeler, but if you have a cheap peeler and are afraid it will break, you can use a knife (see video).  Once you have it peeled, use a large sharp knife to take off both ends. This will be difficult for large yucca, but it’s actually pretty fragile so once you get a foothold, it will just kind of split.  Rinse to remove any waxy bits, then cut in half and quarter each half down the middle to make spears. The most important thing about yucca preparation is to remove the “fibrous center,” which is inedible and generally unpleasant.  You can do this by just cutting out the middle bit of your spears.  For whatever reason, the worst fibrousy parts are closer to the small end of the yucca. This is a really long explanation, but it really didn’t take too much time in the end.  Here’s a shirtless guy that’ll show you what I’m talking about (but ignore his cooking time).

Chop your yucca spears into a size that easily fits in your mouth.  Go ahead and chop up all of your other vegetables at this point because the soup doesn’t really need to cook for too long and yucca will go seriously mushy if it’s overdone while you’re chopping potatoes.

Heat a tablespoon or so of whatever oil you cook with in a large soup pot/dutch oven/receptacle and sautee your onions and garlic with salt and pepper until they’re soft.  Add 2 liters-ish of water, the yucca, and some more salt.  I don’t really measure salt, but I’m guessing I added at least 2 tbsp by the end; yucca and potatoes really soak it up.  Boil for 10-20 minutes or until the yucca starts to soften, then add the chicken and reduce the heat (add more water if necessary, to make it “soup” and not “yucca mush”).

*Side note: if making this veggie, use vegetable broth instead of water, and I’m sure it will still be really good.  And omit the chicken, duh.*

Simmer until the chicken is mostly done (15 minutes, maybe?), then add in the last of the vegetables and cook until the potatoes are just tender but not mushy.  When cooked longer, the soup is easily overtaken by the potato flavor, so of any of the vegetables I would omit them first.  Add the tomatoes, culantro, and the juice of 2 limes, and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Taste and add more lime, culantro, salt, and/or black pepper as needed.

Eat immediately.  It can be served over rice if you’re that kind of person.

(I would have posted a picture, but we ate it all).