Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dehydrator Crazy

First off I am happy to say the blog stuff didn't revert to Spanish this time and I am able to post! For some reason every once and a while we go to our blog and it is Spanish up there and there isn't a way to find the "new post" thing. So the weather has been kind of odd this "dry" season. It isn't just because we are up north either. I woke up a few days ago like I do every morning to pink/orange out two windows I have a view of from bed. This is the pre-dawn view. With the troublesome clouds and cool (as in 64 degrees) temperatures it seemed like a great indoor dehydrator day!
I haven't had the Excaliber dehydrator for very long and am still figuring out the thicknesses of things, the dehydration times and recipes. It is like all "cooking" in that once you understand how things work you don't need recipes. For example, once you understand that you can fry, saute, bake, poach or boil chicken the rest is just about timing and seasonings. It is the same thing here. The great thing about dehydrating is that you know exactly what is in your food and how it has been processed. Using the dehydrator is dabbling more into the "raw food" world which is a place I'd like to live (at least a majority of the time). So here are the day's diversions: This first counter of stuff is the makings for some thyme crackers. Fresh thyme from the yard, water, ground flax, nutritional yeast, onions, cucumbers and a few raisins made a sheet of crunchy crackers.
The next crackers involved soaked raisins (sweetener), 4 cups of bell pepper, flax, nutritional yeast, lots of herbs and seasonings, water and almond butter. The results were really tasty! I have made the bell pepper crackers before and they are still my favorite. The super concentrated taste is the perfect carrier for bean dips or my favorite macadamia/squash dip. The interesting thing is how much quantity it takes to make a simple batch of crackers! These red crackers are made of 6 bell peppers, an onion, 1/2 cup of almond butter and some other stuff. That is a lot of food. REAL food! Usually for crackers you use flax or chia seeds since they have the slime required to stick stuff together.
Next I made some "bread." I hate it when vegetarian or vegan or raw recipes insist on pretending things are what they are not. I am sorry, a seedy, thicker-than-a-cracker cracker isn't a bread. It is a cracker in the broadest sense. Who cares if it is or isn't "bread"? Why mislead? It is something to sandwich stuff between or put stuff on. This was a basic Ani Phyo recipe for sunflower/black sunflower seed "bread." I tweaked it according to what I had around. It takes a lot of food to make 9 trays of highly nutritious, nutrient dense food!
This "bread" is great with cheese (the real kind, not fake cheese), avocado, onion, tomato on it and if you want to go hog wild...bacon. Everything is best with bacon (the vegetarian bacon is actually worth eating and microwavable - you can get it here in PR too!). Next up are the cookie-type granola-ish bars I've made before. I didn't soak my oats the night before but gave them a couple hours. Soaking oats and seeds and nuts removes phytic acid which is the stuff that makes them hard to digest. If nuts give you trouble just soak them. If you want them crunchy you can soak and then dehydrate them to maintain nutrients and make them easier to digest. By the way, dehydrating at temperatures below 110 keeps food enzymes alive so you extract the most nutrients possible. Dehydrating at low temperatures isn't considered cooking - it is considered "warming or heating" because nutrients are left intact. These bars are packed with nutrients - coconut oil, oats, peanut butter, honey, vanilla, chocolate, nuts, flax, coconut, dates and other odds and ends. You can get all this stuff in Puerto Rico! I even found non-raw dehydrated sour cherries that make a nice addition to things! All this REAL food combines to make a nutrient packed snack or heck even a meal! No white flour, processed has its own vitamins and nutrients so it doesn't have to be "enriched" (which is code for "we've totally deadened the original food and now put vitamin dust on it to pretend it is food again").
Next up comes yogurt. This is not yogurt I made obviously although you can do that in a dehydrator and therefor skip the sugar and preservatives found in this crap. I had this around though from a SAM's club buy (can only eat what you can find) and it was near its expiration date. Jeff has been on travel and since he is the one who eats it - here it sits. Well, you can dehydrate it! Last time I made a sheet of it and the fruit bits made it tear as it dried. This time I put it through a strainer and made blobs. It worked out much better.
I actually like dehydrated yogurt. It is kind of a taffy consistency and makes a good sweet snack!
I am really liking the dehydrator! It is great for dehydrating excess fruit (can't wait for mango season although our mango isn't blooming yet). Bananas, papaya, pineapple. I made crepes or leather out of peanut butter, cocoa powder and bananas that was yummy snack-food. It'll be interesting to see what else I can do with it!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

2 Months in the New House!

Ok. Another rainbow (sorry, I just don't get sick of them and get disappointed when I don't get to see one).

It has been 2 months in the house and there is a lot to do. We are mostly settled, my guests are gone and now it is time to get to it! With any house there are going to be things to do and this one is no exception. Already we have done a couple things: there wasn't a trap on the downstairs shower (stinky), and the downstairs needed paint to freshen it up! Jeff thankfully installed a trap for the garbage disposal and downstairs shower so now my mystery smell has disappeared. On the list next is to have the septic pumped. The downstairs is kind of funky in that you have to go outside the house and down to get to it either via the lawn or through the garage.We may make some stairs on the outside. The previous people did a shitty job of painting and everything is white-white with slightly different shades of white with different sheens where they tried to patch(?) things. The major thing on my list is to pressure wash and seal the roof but that didn't affect painting the interior downstairs to I set to it. I primed and then painted a flat green in the bedroom and a slightly yellowish in the TV area. I left the "beams" (used to be a marquesina) white for contrast but not a shiny white. I still have to paint the bathroom. I scrubbed the floors and razored them as best I could and it is now as good as it will ever be! I painted the storage/shop area so we can start hanging sports equipment and get things off the floor and organized! So the downstairs inside is now done basically.

Now for a cat update. 3 cats didn't come with us since they took off and despite multiple visits back are no where to be found. Bepo took off on day 3 and Princess took off on week 3 and neither has returned. So that leaves us with Chicken (the best), Tuca, Rip, Dakota, Pollo, Blanco, and the new one Jackie. Pollo has gotten nicer, Blanco is hanging around all the time now and the others have settled into a routine of hunting or sleeping on platforms during the day and hanging on the porch watching me when I am there. I came in from outside yesterday to this-
Tuca decided to sleep IN the fruit bowl on top of the table and little Jackie wanted to hang with her! I do not want them on the table but when I saw this (there is a fruit in that bowl) I couldn't move her! I know, kind of gross. Since my visitors are photographers I may get into a photography groove and start exploring more of close-by Puerto Rico. I tend to stay out of towns but might venture into them once a month for some exploration. I like the shadows on this hibiscus flower (near my swingy bench on the porch) so I guess sunsets, sunrises and stuff around the house are my beginnings of getting back into it.
Pollo is squished in a plastic shoe box - the cardboard ones keep spreading. She is a little sausage!
On my list of things to do is the front yard. This area between the porch and wall is really boring and ugly. Beyond the wall is the road (not big) and a field of grass and bad trees before a steep (as in vertical) drop off. I sit everywhere on the porch depending on rain direction, sun direction and birds. This is a depressing little patch of lawn. So I decided it is going to disappear! I want it to be lush and tropical...with different layers and no mowing....with flowers for butterflies and shrubs for birds and lounging areas for cats. I also want some shade but don't want to have something too full since our Desecheo view is out there along with the sunsets. I went out on a find-some-plant-shops mission and ended up with a pot of 2 bottle palms! These are show stoppers and everything else has to be designed around them. The intention was to keep some symmetry. The bottle palms however don't get huge (maybe as tall as the wall in 6 years) and the leaves are not the interesting part so I had to figure out the shade part of the equation. I really wanted Royal Palms (I thought) because of the cool cement looking trunks. I figure the trunks wouldn't be in the way, the tops would give some shade and I could strap orchids on the trunks for color and interest. Then I started looking for some and realized they are way too huge for my spot. They will tower over the house (no shade for inside) and block views so I rethought it and got 2 fish tail palms instead. I think they are the better solution providing a column for orchids and a lacy, fern like shadow to diffuse light coming in eventually. They aren't huge palms which is better and as an added bonus get they broom-like sprays of flowers/fruit! I think it is a good choice. First I have to take out this "Shooting Star" tree. I hacked off all the branches and was going to leave it to Jeff to get out but then got involved in the project and wanted it out so the palm roots (which are shallow) wouldn't get disturbed later (Jeff is gone for a couple weeks).
I laid stuff out prior to digging up "perfectly good lawn" and then got to work on the tree. I would normally leave an existing tree as shade to help out a new one underneath but since the palms are shallow-rooted and sun lovers decided to dig it out and be done.
There you have it, the beginnings of the plan. Now I have to restrain myself and not over water. Palms need once a day watering for the first week and then only once a week. Most people kill them by watering them to death. After a month or 2 I will fertilize with a palm fertilizer which is a 7-3-7 (low, I know). Jackie's first encounter with the sometimes in-the-yard hen.
The day ended with a beam-me-up sunset and I went to bed thinking about the rest of the garden and all the other things I want to do!
So what needs doing? First off the roof needs to be pressure washed and sealed. I have to wait for Jeff to get back because I can't lift the pressure washer onto the roof (do we rent or buy?). After that I can finally paint the inside of the house so it isn't white-white-white. The next priority will be covering the deck, putting in a wind block lattice part-wall and some built in seating. Then maybe paint the outside of the house? A slightly darker blue since we sit way up here in the sky or possibly peach (sunset color) with lavender? (I saw a house painted that way that I liked) I have already started planting things under trees but can't plant my torch gingers until the deck cover posts are in. Every hinges on something else but there is plenty to do and the front is going to keep me occupied for a couple weeks anyway - lots of digging!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Stuff at the New House

The first bit of news is that we FINALLY have internet that works faster than we have ever had and most of the time. It still isn't like in the states, but hey, we aren't in the states! Claro has been pretty decent and is a lot cheaper than the crappy Sprint stick we had that hardly ever worked and had a big monthly price tag. We even have a normal phone that has better reception than the shitty cell phones that are spotty at best. So we are in the new house, with Claro telephone and internet, reliable water (so far) and super short power outages that haven't amounted to even an hour so far. So far so good! Jeff did buy a super quiet, lightweight, inverter-type generator for when the windy times come. We are certain that sitting up here on a ridge is going to mean long outages at some point. Every day we see awesome sunrises, rainbows and sunsets. If the weather is clear we see ocean and Desecheo Island. Do we miss the other house? I don't. I kind of miss having chickens follow me around but I don't miss the crap and constant crowing. No, I don't miss the other house at all.

With the new house come new requirements for organization and limited furniture additions. So I went to the Stool Gallery - is it fine art? or Mr. Hanky's xmas poo on display?
Neither - after having a chuckle for 4 years of driving by this place I was oh so disappointed to find that despite the giant sign with posted hours no one was there. Inside the grimy window I could see a fine collection of what, 6 stools? Maybe it is a poo gallery after all! So the quest for backless stools continues...
Other exciting stuff is that I finally got my Excaliber Dehydrator!!! I have made a couple batches of things already. I made some Chia seed crackers, some vegetable crackers, a banana/peanut butter fruit roll up and some awesome peanut butter/oatmeal/nuts/fruit bars. All are made with only real things and no flour, eggs, etc.
One set of crackers was bell pepper, almond butter, an onion, herbs, raisins (sweetener), tomatoes and a little salt.
Everything was processed in the food processor and spread on a teflex sheet and put in the dehydrator.
Since it is set at 105 degrees all the enzymes remain active in the food so it is easy to digest and full of all the original nutrients that often get cooked out of things. Here they are done with a corn, bean and lobster salad!
I also dehydrated some of our papayas. Papaya is great on cereal, but once you cut and refrigerate it I don't like the gelatinous quality. Papayas are big so the answer is dehydration! Yum.
On the property we have red corozones. We love corozones but didn't have red ones before. These are awesome pinky/red flesh with a slightly different flavor than the others. Very exciting.
No blog entry is complete without a cat update. The cat situation has been difficult. We have done everything we can to take care of the feral monsters but it hasn't worked out for all of them. Despite going back down to San German multiple times and calling out their names, shaking food, leaving food with Amparo, chatting with the new owner and sitting there for hours....Mars, Stripes and Mini are nowhere to be found. Stripes and Mini were never super reliant on us but Mars was Pollo's best friend. These three never made the trip to Moca. Bepo disappeared on day 3 never to be seen again. After 3 weeks of showing up for meals morning and night Princess decided to hit the road. I looked for bodies, smelled and hiked around for bodies and they are nowhere to be found. I just hope they are together (right) or lost (sure) somewhere in the surrounding jungle. The property here has a lot of trees but no flowers or shrubs under them. The cats like to take cover when the nap and feel exposed here. Pollo has turned into a lovely little cat who sleeps on the bed now and the others come and go and hang out as usual. Only Blanco is having trouble. He went on a long walk about and scared me but then reappeared! He won't sleep inside and won't go in the marquesina. I don't know where he goes but we will cover the deck before the rainy season and that will give him a warm space out of the elements! Our friend David literally ran over this cat (as in the car straddled it) on highway 2. He brought it to us and I named it Jack because of the Jack-o-lantern colors.  Now I am pretty sure it is a Jackie. She is a delightful terror. I hear noise and go into the bathroom and find this...
She stands on her hind legs and runs up the toilet paper pulling it all off the roll! Another of her antics is the cat box. If she wants attention (always) she dives into the cat box (usually after I have changed the litter) and makes a dive. I can hear what's going on and pull her out and she makes a squeal and dives back in kicking litter all over. Bad cat. I get over it, roll a ball for her and watch the sunset. Yeah, I love the new house!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cueva Escalera - How Far Does it Go?

This was one of those "not sure how it will be" cave days. All that was known was that there was a 80 or 90 foot rappel, water, sumps and collapse. I am not a huge fan of sumps. When the water ends at a wall that is a sign to me that maybe it is time to look at other passages or go back. (you may recall the "Hog Hell" episode). Since the group included a few other people (some who were willing to dive under the sump) and since I wasn't going to do it and Jeff wasn't either Diana decided to come along.. I don't mind going under water, under rock and to the other side if I can see another person's light...hear them...or feel a tug on the rope. This sump turned out to be shorter than expected and quite doable. We opted out this time and stuck with our original plan (go back and explore the other direction). Here is the hole we went down. It took a 100 foot rope with another 30 foot to reach the bottom. There was an old metal ladder there also on the near vertical drop.

Inside the cave was pretty nice. It was the kind of cave I like because you had to squeeze through rock and do some crawling. There was a bit of up and down, some wading and some swimming. The water flow was kind of strong in a few areas.
Parts of the rock looked similar to rock in Zumbo and some sections reminded me of Cueva Chorros. I took a diversion and went up closer to look at the flowstone. I think of these as ice cream fountains.

I had a couple problems on this trip. The first one was getting down the rope. I often have trouble going down a rope. I used to use a micro rack with only two fixed bars. This worked on thin ropes but on thicker or dirty ropes there was too much friction and since I couldn't drop a bar or space them I'd get stuck and spend a long time bouncing my way down (bad for the rope and for the mind). I thought I had the solution - a petzl stop- but it turns out that this too is a problem for me. I dropped down the first 15 feet just fine and then either the rope got slightly jammed, or there was grit, or whatever and I was absolutely stuck. I bounced and bounced and didn't go far at all. Then it loosened a little before getting stuck again. I hand fed the rope into the device and my hands got very very tired but I finally made it down. The "stop" works great when it works because it is lightweight, short and when your hands let go it stops you. I need to use a figure 8. I don't think I weigh enough to use anything else. I have resisted since my arms are my weakest part and you HAVE to be in conrol with the figure 8 - drop it and it is an air rappel! The other problem I had was that I lost my soul - I mean sole! I didn't want to wear my new, shiny boots into the water so I went with my old ones and forgot that they were starting to come apart. Hard to grip surfaces and easy to trip with a lost sole.
After travelling upstream it sumped. We turned back and after getting to the entrance Jeff and I went downstream for an hour. We went up and down and up and down and in the water and out. We had to plop down into some water to continue. Down is easy but when you ARE down and look back up it can be trouble.
After half an hour downstream we headed back up to gather Diana and climb our way out. This was a little tricky at the top for the first person. I climbed the ladder (with 2 points of contact on the rope) but when it ended there wasn't a rope in place near the ladder top. I had to either swing on the rope and then go up the hole (difficult without help at the tippy top) or free climb the last creepy bit off rope). I got up. Then Diana came up and I could rig the rope so she could be attached the entire way. Then Jeff came up. Here's Diana up and on he way out after a 20 minute walk.
Here's Jeff in the field.
Now comes the most dangerous part of the trip...cows. There was a large herd of cows that ran up to us and had us surrounded. They were big! We needed to get on their trail to get out. We tried to scare them but they wouldn't go and split into 2 groups to surround us.
We headed into deeper brush to let them pass but they didn't respond to Jeff's branch waving or rocks. We climbed over barbed wire (we had owner permission to pass through the property) but the brush was too thick.

Then they started to come INTO the brush. We made it out looking behind us the whole way.

The cave was very nice. The day was a great one despite the initial descent problem. If only we could have had a speedy, decent (or one or the other) meal afterwards. We need to start bringing food, a camp stove and chairs so we can have fast, decent food right after the caving. Then it would be a perfect ending. The other guys stayed another couple hours in the cave. After going through the first sump the cave continued but ended again in a seems-like-impassable sump. To be continued?

Friday, February 3, 2012

San Sebastian Pulguero - Better than Expected!

This morning I went with friend Diana on a trip to the San Sebastian Pulguero (flea market). I was hoping for some animals and vegetables but really figured it would be more of the same...brown brown and brown and hairy. Before we even got into the official flea market we were in the unofficial one where people take up the parking spaces and display their I-don't-want-to-pay-for-a-space stuff. I always used to be pissed at this when I bought a booth at art fairs and other people benefited from the crowds without paying.  There were all kinds of things ranging from crap (plastic sparkly studded stuff, old motors, junk, flip flops etc.) to awesome plants and vegetables! There were lots of chickens: fancy ones and regular ones, big ones and small ones; an assortment of fancy Palomas (doves), pigs, goats, rabbits and of course some puppies. I was very pleased at the low number of puppies. My thoughts of an aviary-like gazebo filled with beautiful birds came back into my mind (and left again).
Then we came across this guy with the avocados in a cage! I figured they must be a high theft item (coffee here is under lock and key in the supermarkets the way booze was in the states) but after talking to the guy found out it was to prevent people from bruising them! This late in the season avocados are like gold and the 2-4 dollar price tags are evidence of that! People here love to handle everything, roughly, and never buy things - it makes shopping all that more disturbing to see people touch every single tomato, pressing them, then leaving with nothing. Good idea - avocado cage.
We went at around 10 in the morning before the crowds, but also before a lot of the vendors. The thing goes until 9 at night.
Here's a fancy rooster.
This rooster is the size of a toddler! The guy had chicks for $3 and I may want one because the white bitch (hen) doesn't have a buddy now that Big Red joined othesr in the neighborhood.
There were plenty of hairy brown vegetables (which would be fine if you didn't have to waste energy boiling them forever) and the usual pimientos, calabaza, chayotes, culantro...there were batata amarillas (they call them sweet potatoes but they aren't really like sweet potatoes they are really really good), cilantro, and other normal stuff.
This time of year there are oranges and there are always bananas, plantains breadfruit etc.
I scored some organic snap peas and some fresh turmeric which I plan on planting! (note the roots and no they aren't insect larvae!)
I also scored this cool $4 purse (the strap on my larger one broke and I hate carrying a purse so this is perfect).
For $2 I scored a couple chayotes to plant.
Local and WHOLE BEAN coffee.
There was a large selection of plants including interesting and unusual fruit trees/shrubs. There were grape, raspberry, blueberry bushes and cacao, longan , olive and some other unusual trees. I'll check Enaidas for grafted ones first and then maybe go back for a few things. I got a couple $3 hibiscus that had great color and nice shapes.
The other day when I was making crackers I went into the yard and discovered I DON'T have rosemary, mint, lemons, culantro oregano and many other things I use regularly. It is time to get my garden in order and get this stuff in so I got a few $1 starts instead of doing it from seed. Now I have pots so I can start some seeds after I get these guys planted!
There was a nice enough variety of fresh produce that I may go there every friday since it is 15 minutes from my house! Between SAMS, the pulguero and what I can get going in the yard we should be eating well pretty soon!