Friday, August 29, 2008

Botas por Ellas y Otro Cosas

Finally, after trying to find work boots for women I hit the payload! Hurry hurry ladies, make tracks to Sears (believe it or not) and pick up some boots! I have been looking for a long time without any success for kids boots or ladies boots and have dreaded a trip to San Juan. At an unplanned trip to the mall I see the sign - "Nueva...botas por ellas" and if you buy one pair the second pair is 50 percent off! A double good day! I now have two size 6 women's boots that are perfect. There was one 5 1/2 left and a lot of bigger sizes. Who knows if this will be a permanent item or not. We've decided we can't "maintain" the whole property. Some of it we will have to let go, so we have totally cleaned up part of the upper area by cutting the "bad" trees, piling up downed trunks and sticks and stuff and moving rocks out of the way of the trimmer. I am raking downed grass to where I want to put trails (to help terrace it) and then we will leave it for 6 months. Wish us luck!

Finally we have our truck rack! We gave a neighborhood guy that Hamilton (previous owner of our house and good friend) knew a couple hundred bucks about a month and a half ago so he could build us a rack for the truck. We were starting to think this would not happen and bango...he comes through. When Jeff brought the truck over to put it on we discovered that the truck bed is not square - there is a two inch difference between the front of the bed and the back - who knew? A little bit more cutting and welding and here it is.

This will make kayaking easier - much easier to strap them down side by side without things hanging out and moving around.

Here are my first Ylang ylang blooms. It seems like I just planted the darned thing and it has got a dozen small flowers on it. When the humidity is up they smell very very good despite their small size!

Muchos Gatos- Cat in a Bird Cage (not on a hot tin roof)

When you look at their little faces you know you have to do something, but there are so many cats roaming around that it is difficult to decide what you can and can't do. Who needs help the most? Who gets along with whom? Who do you want in the house and who will be on the outside? Who gets all their shots? Who gets wormed and gets monthly (costly )heart/whip/hook/tapeworm medication. Chicken Little was the first on our list since he was a friendly little guy who came to us with a group of chickens and wanted to be in the big house. We love him. Then Princess, a feral little brat, showed up with a huge barbed wire gash in her side so she got the full treatment - gash sewn up, spay, all the shots, worming etc. We still can only touch her when she is eating, but she slept in the house for the first time last night in the laundry basket! Then came Bepo, who we think is the mother of Junior and Princess. She was in great need since she had already had a couple litters we think. She got spayed and the shots and everything and is doing well. But a couple days ago it was Pollo Pequeno's big day.

Yes, it is a bird cage you see Pollo Pequeno in. We couldn't catch her or touch her so we started to feed her in the neighbor's bird cage and a couple days ago we slammed it shut! Chicken and Princess gather round telling her that they have been "in the box" too and it turns out alright!

The night before, Chicken and Pollo (you can see how she looks like a small Chicken Little) curled up together before he came in for the night.

Chicken is whispering sweet nothings in her ear.

Maybe he heard us talking and is telling her it will be alright? Nice moment for the little guys.
Junior is next on the list for the "spay/neuter day" on the 6th. He is a big boy and very friendly with us so he will get the total treatment. Zoom in on his little face - he looks like a jack-o-lantern. Anyway, we are doing our best for these cats to keep them from reproducing and being ill. We don't want more and try to discourage others from joining in. Each cat can get pregnant every three months and have 3-8 kitties, so each one that we spay prevents 32 new cats from showing up in the year. We hope we can keep our little group happy and healthy!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Another Wall (avoiding doing the bathroom)

The hill outside the kitchen door is kind of a mess. The land was cut away here and this slope has grass all over it and a million of those awful trees. I did my best to clean it up but the soil slowly erodes down, the grass comes back and the trees sprout freely.

We use this door all the time as the gateway to the backyard arboretum and it just never is tidy.
So I decided that we needed a little wall to hold back falling dirt...separate lawn from planting area and make it easy to mow and maintain. We didn't want cinder blocks because I didn't want straight. The land also goes up and down and straight would mean excavating a lot. I don't have a problem with that, but straight lines don't need to be everywhere! So we opted for more pricey but easier landscape blocks. This is the first "dry run" to figure out the lay out.
This is the adjusted dry run. Curves are hard because there is a tendency to make them impractical (too curvy)- difficult to mow near. I also had to consider the up/down part and ended up basically terracing in a way.

Here's the final thing - a slight curve that makes it easy to mow and follows the ups and downs and ins and outs of the hill. It looks a lot better and we will at some point continue it. We'll see how it holds up in the rain. The blocks are level left to right and tilt back into the hill slightly. If the rainy season gets here and erodes more soil we can just add another layer by placing the blocks on top - they are extremely easy to work with!

I've also decided not to fight things as much. Grass grows really well so I am on the grass replacement plan - new ornamental grass goes in, gets established and then bad grass is out. That should help stabilize the hillside and be more attractive and low maintenance. Then I'll chuck some flower seeds out, put herbs in pots out of the weed/cat/chicken zones (this is their "spa" area) and it will look nice. We can also sit on it like a bench. Over time this will look pretty nice I think and I'm pleased already.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Flan de Calabaza - Wow

I'd seen the calabaza in the supermercado but was not impressed. I was only impressed by the size of the ones I've grown - little did I know of the creamy goodness these hideous blobs could produce! I've never been a pumpkin fan - hate pumpkin pie and can barely eat pumpkin bread. I am telling you that these pumpkins are not like pumpkins. First off, look at this. I boiled chunks for 20 minutes and drained them and put them in the blender. No fibers. Bright orange. Very aromatic! My neighbor told me of another neighbor who makes the best calabaza flan (but she is in Fajardo for a few weeks). So I took it upon myself to make a flan even though a pumpkin one sounded kind of disgusting and I'd never made a flan before. For one thing I am not an egg fan and some recipes use 8 or 9 eggs. Yuck. I found a recipe that sounded still marginal but used fewer eggs. I also didn't trust the gas stove to properly regulate the temperature enough to do it on the stove top so I did it in the oven and here it is coming out. Doesn't look like much.

It kind of cracked when it cooled but here it is when I flipped it out...
Here is a little slice of something delightful! Not overly sweet, not super eggy but very very yummy and something I will make many times I am sure.
First the caramelized sugar for the bottom of the pan - 1/2 cup sugar. Just sprinkle in a frying pan and move it around with a spoon until it is golden and pour it into your 8-inch pan. Boil: cut and boil the calabaza (you want to end up with around 3 cups of puree) Puree: put drained calabaza in blender and whirrrrr until you have a nice puree Beat: 4 eggs in a bowl Add: 1 12 ounce can of evaporated milk, 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and cinnamon and cloves Pour mixture into the pan over the carmelized sugar (which should be hard already) and place the pan in another bigger pan filled with an inch or so of water.Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes or so at 350. Cool on counter and then for a few hours in the refrigerator before flipping onto a plate. Cut it and pour the sugar syrup back over it. Yum!

Supposedly you can do this in a double boiler on the stovetop but it sounded iffy to me. The ingredients are things I never have cooked with (evaporated and sweetened condensed milk) but things I will reconsider and keep on hand. The sweetened condensed milk had around 23 grams of sugar (less than I thought) so a slice of flan has about as much as a coke (29 grams in 8 oz and what glass is only 8 ounces?). I am telling you that this is really really good. I have heard of breadfruit flan but can't quite visualize doing that yet. It just sounds wrong! Another note on calabaza - it supposedly doesn't freeze well in chunks (I am experimenting). You can freeze it as cooked puree or mashed stuff and that might work for muffins or breads or something - I'll try that too. But for now, flan makes it to the "favorites" list up there with Mango Chicken Curry (#1) and Best Ever Banana Cake. Flan - try some today, easy to make.

Bepo the Cat's Big Day or Wipeout?

The day started out rainy - something new for us, usually it is sunny in the morning always. Bepo the cat needed to be bribed with food so she could go off to the vet for "the surgery." I was hoping she would be there and yes...all the kitties were huddled under a bench ready for breakfast. We put her in a carrier without incident (different story than with Princess), put her in the car and the game show began! Here I am doing little steps down the "slippery driveway obstacle course." Very slippery and wet. (Note the new wall on the left.)

Next up was the mud pit - no sucker punch on the wall though.

Then we had to drive through the water cannons which spewed mega water directly onto the windshields of passing cars!

More water cannons.

We dropped off the cat and returned home to the final obstacle - the "closed and locked rejas gate" and "water slide" which I had to navigate to get to the house. Jeff had to drive the truck-with-spinning-wheels up the slippery slope. I'll walk, thanks! We have a rerun at around 4 when we pick up the cat and then we start the reality show called "Bepo lives in the shower for 5 days." Oh - and the Weather Channel says this is "light rain." In the same breath they also say to expect "flash floods."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mas Guineos ( and more in the pipeline)

We have been watching this really large raceme of guineos for a while. It takes guineos a long time to ripen, and there are so many it is best to swipe some while they are green. Finally we got a little rain and some wind and the banana came crashing down. Jeff is very pleased with himself here - he can't wait to go hang them off the Maria Tree!
"So take the picture already, these are heavy," he says. I point out that he can rest the group on the driveway and not strain himself. He turns into a regular tarzan when it comes to guineos and catching lobster!

Here they are in the wheel barrow.

They are easier to move up to the hanging spot this way. What are we supposed to do with this many? Amparo will get some but she will bring them back to us as food probably. Iwilda will get some. Angel if he is home and let's see, that leaves around 80 bananas for us? All the recipes I've got involve only 2 or 3 bananas. Smoothies will use some more but hey, I've still got another 5 pounds of calabaza to deal with. And did I mention that I dug up all the yucca? Two big ziplocks in the freezer... And quenepas - LOVE them, munch them all day when I'm in the yard but we can't make a dent in what is on that tree. Processing and picking food is exhausting...

Yummy Stuff - Calabaza and Sofrito

This is one of the huge calabazas growing on one vine from one seed! It kept growing and growing and I kept asking my neighbor if it was ready to pick. Things here aren't what they seem - you pick oranges (chinas) green, limes turn yellow when ready, so how is one supposed to know? Anyway, I had to wait until it started to get little streaks of orange and the skin looked a certain way and then I picked it.

The rind is very very thin and the pumpkin is rock solid. I don't think it is latex, but something odd is emitted when you cut into it and it beads up almost like wax or silicone or something. These things are difficult to cut because of the size and hardness! They are not pithy like the pumpkins I know. My neighbor made sure I saved the seeds. She said something about the bottom of the pumpkin - if it is large and round the seeds will germinate and make pumpkins but if it is a small circle it is male and you won't get fruit. I'd never heard of that before but since this is a supposed "good one" I saved a load of seeds. The rind is almost like plastic or the heavy wax you find on some cheeses. Odd indeed!

So one day a while back my neighbor comes over with a bowl of stuff. I guess it is sofrito making day! I had watched her make the stewed red beans before and discovered the secret of sofrito. It is a lot of basic ingredients that are simple and not spicy...and a little bit of magic since it makes everything taste more rich and complex (when it doesn't seem like it should).

We've got aji dulce (I have a small tree of these peppers), garlic, culantro, cilantro, oregano, cebolla, green cooking peppers, a red pepper (for color) and that is it. Maybe salt. No aceite! Hooray! We whirl it all together in the blender and it turns into a frothy green soup.

This mixture is then put into ice cube trays so it is in nice portions for cooking! Ice cube trays are great for orange juice, sofrito, purees of all kinds. You can dump the cubes into baggies and pull out what you need easily. Great for making marinades, smoothies (a chunk of pureed mango, a cube of guineo, a cube of china) or main meals.

Tonight I was trying to process some of the calabaza (doesn't freeze real well). I made habicuelas with sofrito (2 cubes), red beans (canned since I was feeling lazy), olives, capers, tomato sauce, chicken broth, and calabaza! The pumpkin gave a nice sweetness and thickness to the mix and it was very yummy. I think I could eat that every day. So two good things. I really like the pumpkin - it doesn't have fibers and purees really well. The color is very orange which is nice since most everything else is white. The meat is really firm and surprisingly sweet and good!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oh, Sorry...

I was driving home from diving Saturday morning. I was near the airport in Aguadilla. I was stopped behind two cars at a stop sign waiting to make a left hand turn. I picked up my phone and started to make a call. A motor cycle Cop is coming in the other direction and he sees me put the phone to my ear. He stops right next to my truck and he bleeps the siren. I put the phone down and rolled down my window. He says something in Spanish. I look at him and say "un poco habla Espanol".  He pauses then says "Oh, Sorry" and he drives off.  Too funny.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Panapen (breadfruit) Carnage - Tostone Making

My sister was visiting and we ate loads of things from the yard including breadfruit tostones. After surveying the allowable transport list I sent her home with avocados and a panapen. She carted that thing through New York and home to California and now needs a refresher on what to do with it! This is the carnage from preparing one that was ripe but not "nueva" and not "maduro." You can make tostones from slightly soft ones but hers is still hard and just leaking a bit of white latex on its skin. Just perfect for doing all kinds of things. (yes I said latex)

I had to have Amparo show me how to do it since cookbooks simply say to cut it into pieces, fry it, smash it, fry it again and whala! Not quite true. First off it is gonna be difficult to cut into quarters. You will be thinking that this can not be right and can't possibly be edible.

Next you have to cut away all the parts with these sponge like little holes - cutting it little by little so you actually get some of the fruit. Keep cutting until the little holes are no more.

Then you want to pare off the skin which is a very thin layer. It has a really cool design on it - kind of honeycombish.

You will be left with some pieces like this! Float them in salted water (helps remove latex and starch) while you clean up and heat the oil. They too have the honeycomb design which is really neat. At this point you can boil the pieces if it is a hard breadfruit (don't if it is maduro and blandito - old and soft). Boiled they kind of taste like artichoke hearts. For tostones you fry them in hot oil until they are kind of golden and cooked all the way through - texture will be like a flaky potato when you stab it with a fork (a few minutes on each side). Blot it off on a paper towel. Then you use a tostonera (smasher used to smash guineos, platanos, panapen) or a meat tenderizing mallet/hammer (flat side) or a rolling pin or can or palm of your hand and smash them flat. Float them in hot oil again until they look right and blot them off, salt them and whip out the mayoketchup (yes this is a real thing - mayonnaise and ketchup and garlic and culantro mixed up and delivered in a ketchup bottle just like salad dressing) or whatever you want to dip them in! And there you go - tostones de panapen. Mi favorito! They kind of are phyllodough-flakey if the breadfruit is maduro (old and soft). Kind of potato-like if they are joven (young). And there you have it...what to do with the 6 pound thing you dragged through the airport! Enjoy! (a web search for panapen or breadfruit will probably reveal more recipes)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Cabo Rojo Lighthouse

Camuy es Mal y Arecibo es Bueno

We knew that part of Camuy cave was still closed (since January) but thought that at least some of it would be open. It took us two hours to get there. At least there were signs to get there from the highway. You drive in and pay $4 a car to park at the gate and each of you get a ticket with a number. Then you park and buy another ticket at the ticket booth for $12. Then you wait. It wasn't crowded at all but we still waited close to an hour to watch the 15 minute video about the cave. It was in Spanish of course. After the video we waited again for the trolley ride through the park. This time there was an English option. It's a beautiful park like setting. The ride through the park was nice. The guide was good and what we saw was nice but it was not a cave. Kris and Katrina as they start the walk down 200 steps to the "cavern".

Steps leading down...

This is it. The end of the tour. At the platform at the bottom you have a view a of a big cavern but that's it. Big disappointment. Camuy is probably one of the biggest tourist attractions in PR. It's been closed for since January's freak accident and isn't going to open til maybe next year. Its a beautiful area and I am sure the cave is really something to see. PR could make some money with this asset but I think even if it gets fully opened again it still won't come close to it full potential. The tour was nice and probably even worth $12 each but it wasn't worth the drive. Fortunately Arecibo Radio telescope was only twenty minutes away so we decided to go there as well. Getting there is part of the fun. Just another day driving in PR.

Kris and Katrina hiking up from the parking lot at Arecibo.

Look at the size of the reflector/receiver. Can you spot the people up there?

I enjoyed this more than Camuy. I didn't expect it to be that big. Again, this attraction wasn't run as nicely as it could have been but it was better than Camuy.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Showing Katrina's Sister Kris Around Ponce

We have our first guest staying with us this week. Katrina's sister Kris. Now Amparo won't know who's name to call out since she continues to call Katrina, Kris. It's nice meeting someone from Katrina's family. We are having a nice visit. Today we explored Ponce and even took a ride on a tour bus for $2 each.

Kris and Katrina in the Plaza in Ponce.

Animals just flock to Katrina.

Kris and Katrina at the top of the tower at the Ponce boardwalk.
Looking down we watched kids feed the huge tarpon and pelicans.