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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Feast or famine

You can get just about anything you want and/or need in San Pedro. Just not all the time. (Except cabbage. You can get cabbage at any time, pretty much anywhere). That whole local and seasonal eating trend that’s going on with foodies in the US? That’s just every Tuesday here. Except, of course, for the odd assortment of things that we expats can’t live without. Like half and half and cat food.

I’ve learned that, as everything is shipped onto the island, all of the stores stores that regularly stock Doritos, cottage cheese, and dry roasted peanuts get their shipments at the same time. This seems to mean that the shops that carry the specialty items I look forward to are all out of the specialty items I look forward to at the same time. I’ve also learned, by talking to the shop owners, that sometimes they order Fresh Step scoopable cat litter and they receive Fresh Step regular cat litter. And sometimes they have to place the order several times before it actually arrives.

All of this makes it, let’s say, interesting to keep stocked up on the things that I and my cat have grown accustomed to. That’s being fairly melodramatic, but I am on my last bag of Cat Chow with no guarantee that we won’t be switching to Whiskas next month. Fortunately my local guys have learned what I look for, and will even flag me down in the street to shout “We have your cat litter! Come by tomorrow!” They also have promised to keep half and half stocked at all times, so my precious store of Mini Moos that Mom sent may last a bit longer. I may have bought 4 containers of the stuff in the last 2 weeks.

On the feast note, mangoes are back in season! So far it’s just the little golden ones, but I shall be tracking the progress of the different varieties as the spring progresses.

And as we’re on food, I finally started using my oven. Would anyone like to take a guess as to where 350 degrees is?

And lastly, I got a photo of one of the competing pupusa ladies from takeout the other night. I actually prefer the other pupusa lady (more filling, less masa), but they were inexplicably closed on a Thursday so I had to settle for Backup Pupusa Lady. 

That’s it for now!

A few of my favorite things

As I’ve been getting a few “are you ok” questions after my recent blogs, I thought I’d share some of my routines and things I like best about living here. Firstly, I have been on a serious quest to find the best ceviche in San Pedro. It’s been tough, but I think after 3 1/2 months I have finally found my favorite. It’s now my Sunday evening ritual to head down to Lily’s on the beach and have a ceviche and a rum and coke around sunset. Sundays are when all of the locals are out socializing, and by dusk quite a few of them are in their cups at the bar next door, so it makes for great people watching. Lily’s ceviche is San Pedro style, with cucumber, carrots, and a side of chopped habenero so you can spice it up to your liking.  And since it’s lobster season, that’s what I go for. I’l have to see if they hold up when conch season comes back around.

I stir in the habenero, then remove it. Woe are you if you forget a piece in there.

Speaking of weekend rituals, on Fridays Cecilia and I usually go down to Caliente for half price margaritas.  As I’ve mentioned, tequila is quite expensive here so it’s really the only time they’re reasonably priced ($7 BZ or $3.50 US). I have to admit, I stick to this ritual even when Cecilia is out of town.

I am officially that person who takes awkward photos of their food. I usually try to be discreet, but it’s difficult when the flash goes off.

After dinner and a margarita, I generally head down to Lola’s pub to hang out with my favorite bartender. He loves sharks and digs our project, so he always makes sure to introduce me to everybody who comes in. And as he knows just about everyone on the island, I’ve got a fairly good chance of meeting them as they pass through the bar on a Friday night. I’m starting to make a few friends and am getting a good dose of local gossip.

Oh! I finally figured out the competing barbeque chicken vendor mystery! It turns out that they are related: the guy I usually buy from (who works at the Post Office for his day job) sets up on Saturday and his mom and auntie cook on Sunday. Usually. And the trick is to get there before noon, because otherwise you’re in for a wait.

Taking photos of people just doing their thing is even more awkward than taking pictures of food.

I mentioned before that I like the little things here that are different than expected. Yesterday I finally tried out a Lebanese restaurant, which is one of the only “ethnic” restaurants here (if you don’t count Mexican, Salvadoran, Mayan, or Chinese). Here is my falafel sandwich, served in a flour tortilla. And hot sauce, of course. When you order pizza they bring hot sauce to the table.

I’ve had better falafel, but the tortilla was excellent.

Ah, tortillas. I’ve always been a corn tortilla girl; however, living here is definitely converting me to the flour variety. I still love the thick, hand made corn tortillas from down the street, but they just don’t keep for more than a day. My local grocery store Richie’s sells hand made flour tortillas, which I suspect are making me fat.

Don’t ever google “flour tortilla recipe.” The word “lard” will be prevalent.

One day I went in to Richie’s around noon, and when I asked the cashier if they had any tortillas left she said, “Mami, would’t you know, a whole load of gringos came in here 10 minutes ago and bought every last one!” Another time while I was checking out, she whispered “oh, I love her shoes,” to me, indicating a lady who was getting cash out of the ATM. “I’m going to take them from her!” Then she giggled maniacally. She gets a big kick out of the giant canvass bag I bring in with me, and likes to hide things in the pockets. I once found a tomato tucked away two days after I bought it.

Finally, butter. Who would have thought this would be difficult? I bought a huge block of butter when I first got here- most stores only sell the stuff by the pound. Anyhow, for about a month I kept getting a distinctly “store” taste in my food, and it was really bumming me out. If you don’t know what mean by store taste, imagine the way an old convenience store smells, and then think of how that would taste. Kind of like a Chinese shop. I was convinced that the store smell was just in all of the packaged foods until I finally narrowed it down to the butter. I tried chopping off the outside, but alas it did not help, and I had to throw out almost an entire pound of butter. I didn’t know what to do, as I couldn’t imagine that the other wax paper wrapped stuff was any better, and I really didn’t want to waste money (and pounds of butter) trying to figure out which brand didn’t taste funky.

The answer, of course, was in the canned food aisle.

I stood there staring at it in the store, right next to the Spaghettios, for a full minute.

This stuff is the shit. You open it with a can opener, and it is the perfect spreadable consistency and so, so creamy. Once open, I have no idea what you’re supposed to do to keep the ants/dust/fingers out of it, but fortunately I have a tupperware lid that perfectly fits over the top. It won’t melt in 80 degree heat, but if you put it in the refrigerator it becomes like marble. Oh, and it’s made in New Zealand. When I’m feeling extra lardy, I spread it on a warm flour tortilla and eat it over the sink.

This isn’t one of my favorite things, but I giggle every time I see this at the store.

I would say it must mean something in Spanish, but the entire label is in English.

We’re here!

Well, we and all of our bags made it to San Pedro.  I’m currently getting settled in at the “office,” which is a 3 bedroom house in the north-ish part of town.  This is actually advantageous, because there is a full kitchen and I can lock myself in my office/bedroom when I need to concentrate.  My boss is also a coffee and tea snob, so we’ve got an espresso machine and a kettle.  I’ve already located a tortillaria just up the road, so I foresee quite a bit of huevos rancheros in my future.

We’re still house hunting, and I’m hopeful that we’ll find something today. I have a few appointments this afternoon and a few more leads to follow up on.  In the meantime here are a few photos from our trip down and what we’ve been doing since we’ve been here.

Venice and the tip of Louisiana from the plane

Venice and the last bit of Louisiana from the plane

The Tropic Air flight from Belize City to San Pedro

Just some islands on the way to San Pedro

If anyone would like to chip in a monthly timeshare fee, I might be able to afford this.

Bar dog

Fantastic ceviche, served in an abalone shell. Unfortunately there is a disturbing lack of avocados on this island.

Another bar dog

Our bikes across the street from the pupusa restuarant

That’s it for now! I’m off to meet with more potential landlords.

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).