Friday, July 27, 2012

Focus On Fruit- Coconuts

I am just now understanding and appreciating the wonderful coconut! Our other house had yellow husked coconuts the locals call "water" coconuts. We also had a taller one that dropped brown husk free coconuts we used for the meat. Locals called those the "meat" coconuts. Turns out that there are really only two major types of coconuts - tall and dwarf. You can use all parts from either. We have both types at our Moca house and are enjoying the young "jelly" meat, the dry "what you think of when you think of coconut" meat and the water. There are dozens of different varieties of coconuts and I don't know what we have but I do know that the green husked giant coconuts are awesome for water and the jelly type meat!
This dwarf type coconut has huge coconuts starting at about 4 feet. In the past we haven't been huge fans of the water but these are so big and heavy we gave them another try. Absolutely delicious! We have a lot of fun things on our to do list and don't want to take forever to do the fancy de husking so we pull out the drill to get our water out. Jeff uses a pretty big bit to drill the first hole. You can see that these coconuts are much bigger than his head. I have a rule about not eating things bigger than your head but we make an exception for these! These suckers are heavy also.
After the first hole he drills a second one to get the fluids flowing more and I stick a strainer over the pitcher and we drain them in. Each coconut has a cup or more of water in it. So how healthy is coconut water? There are about 46 calories per cup (which can add up if you drink a lot during the day). It is low in sugar and has a lot of electrolytes. It is high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphates and other goodies. It has been used intravenously as a hydration fluid where/when saline wasn't available. I don't like to drink a lot and never do sodas so this is a nice, mildly flavored thing for me that is more interesting than water. In the states I like the grapefruit flavored seltzer water but we can't find anything like that here. I wonder if carbonating it might be a sometimes interesting thing? What about the "jelly"? Inside these heavy water-laden coconuts is a jelly-like meat. In my raw food non-cook books I have read about how to use it but today did so for the first time. I used a spoon to scrape out the meat in the biggest pieces I could. I took Bragg Liquid Aminos (which is a soy product that is salty like soy sauce but with a much lower sodium amount) and liquid smoke and marinated the chunks in it. The jelly like stuff kind of looks like fatty skin. I dehydrated it at 145 degrees for around 5 hours and then ate it all! It tasted kind of bacony. The texture was kind of fatty and the salty smokiness was pretty yummy! I will be doing this again. I was going to save some for Jeff but couldn't. I think I may be more excited about this than about the water! We still have the tall coconut for the "meat." I think the husk just dries up and since you have to wait for them to fall the water has all been absorbed and when it hits the ground is only meat. This is less interesting to me. I highly recommend having dwarf coconut trees. The water and meat are good. They scream "tropical" like no other plant. They offer stuff that can sustain you and I think are a good thing to have around after a hurricane. Even if they drop the water stays sterile for a long time and if you've got that and the meat you are set for a while. (breadfruit is another good staple for after hurricanes - but that's another post...wait, I did that! panapen)

Focus On Fruit - Annona family aka Custard Apple/Corazone

Our San German house had corazones (kind of pinkish, sweet and oddly grainy fruit) and some grenade looking white fruits that tasted just like a corazone but had a bunch of seeds you had to eat around. We were unimpressed with the grenade-type fruit and cut the tree down. I have a policy of generally not wanting to cut anything down unless it is disgusting or ugly or both. This tree wasn't pretty and the fruit was crappy. I was happy to find corazones at our Moca house and even happier when they turned out to be a crimson red color with red flesh. The ugly tree is down on the property where we don't have to look at it so it is perfect!
On the side of the house is another kind of annona - the grenade-looking kind. I decided to give every odd fruit a fruiting cycle before I consider taking it out. I have been watching the grenade annona and the fruit is finally ready. I expected to be unimpressed and expected to get the saw out for tree removal. I am pleasantly surprised!

Our other house's fruit looked like this only not pink. I expected this to taste the same and it is different (a good thing). This has a juicy, pineapple flavored pulp that is worth eating. There are a ton of seeds, but the pulp packet around each one is delish! For now the tree stays and I am harvesting these odd fruits every day or two. The texture isn't grainy at all so it is staying. The tree is small and not really nice looking. It'll fit in any mid-size yard and is kind of open in form. You can't really do much with the fruit because you don't get enough at once and of course you have the seeds to deal with. It'd make a good ice cream but would take an army of trees to have enough fruit at one time to make it practical. It isn't THAT good. You don't want to dedicate that much space for it but it is a cool shape and has a nice taste. Plant one!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Emergency Car Kit - Puerto Rico Style!

Just yesterday I reached for my emergency car kit for some socks wasn't there. It was in the house waiting to be photographed for this post! We went diving and as we were suiting up I remembered the bloody ant bite on my heel. I reached for my box and it wasn't there! I rummaged around the truck and did manage to find a sock and Jeff had a band aid in his car so I could do the dive without my fin rubbing the spot raw. That brings me to the subject of this post - the emergency car kit. This is not a kit like you need in the states, you know, water, flares, blanket, food, matches, fire extinguisher etc etc. Nope. The emergencies you encounter here are more desperate and frequent. So I have put together a kit that includes things I have been in desperate need of at one time or another. Here it is!
Everything I need fits in a 14 x 9 inch box with a little handle on top so I can move it from the truck (where it lives) to the car for our caving or more long-distance days. Some of these things may seem goofy but I tell you, it is great to have when you are in need!
So what's in it? The first thing is a baggie that has hand wipes and toilet paper in it. Bathrooms in PR are disgusting and usually have only 1 or 2 of the needed typical bathroom things in them. Slip this baggie in your pocket if you go out to eat and you will never be caught without toilet paper and when there isn't soap you are home free. We joke about "trifectas" or 'fourfectas"...bathrooms with toilet paper, paper towels, running water and soap. Unfortunately these are rare. I am not talking panaderias, I am talking big hotel bathrooms and sit-down restaurants too. But hey, the sit down 30 dollar dinner places serve their "food" on plastic plates so what can you expect? There are some drug type things I bring along. Bug spray, dramamine, aspirin, migraine meds, eye drops, sunscreen, shampoo/conditioner, anti-itch cream and a contact lens come in handy on twisty roads or when you end up doing something somewhere you hadn't intended to be. Nail clippers (helps dig out urchin spines or thorns), hair tie, band aids...all good things that are small. I have a small microfiber towel for when I get caught in rain and need to wipe my feet off. A garbage bag doubles as a rain poncho (or can be used to collect garbage).I have a pair of $5 "I Dream of Jeenie" shoes in each car (not the box) since I can rinse off after caving or diving with them on my feet since they are rubber. I have underwear, a shirt, shorts and socks so I am never caught after diving or caving without something clean.
Lastly I have some food items. After caving there usually are no places open or decent to eat. We end up eating with our friends at the roadside e-coli mobiles (my name, not theirs). Disinfectant wipes help clean the outdoor tables of car grit and dirt. I have plastic forks, spoons collected from other "restaurants" and some staples - peanut butter, crackers, canned tuna, trail mix and a small can of beans. This way when I am out-voted I have something to tide me over until we get home. My advice on roadside food? Don't do it OR eat fried things since the high temperature of the year-old oil will kill more recent bugs! So there you have it - an emergency kit for Puerto Rico. Build your own and tell me what you add that I don't have covered!

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Deck Cover

When you move into a new place our experience is that you have about 2 years when projects are exciting and after that the joy diminishes and you get used to the way things are. The next time you get a big spurt of "house project" energy is when you are going to sell, and then you are torqued that little changes weren't done sooner. With that in mind I wanted the deck covered by my birthday. Why? Because it means we have been in the house for 6 months. We got the bulk of it done a couple months ago and are still doing the finishing up/problem solving things that make it enjoyable to be out there! We encountered a few unusual problems, as usual.
If we were starting from scratch the deck would have been a concrete patio. Since it was a perfectly good deck, and we won't be here forever, we decided to keep it. A problem, however, is this ledge over the downstairs TV suite (family room, bathroom, bedroom). This used to be the marquesina. Therefor the ledge is a little low. Too low to put a deck cover under. This turned out to be a problem because water hits that side of the house kind of horizontal and then sheets down, across the ledge, and into the groove under the ledge thus dripping in front of the sliding doors where I want it dry. It was way too low to put the cover under it so we had to go above it. The first solution was to caulk where the zinc meets the header where it attaches to the house and lay a linear bead of silicone on the ledge itself to direct water. This works great if it isn't a big, wild rain. We'll have to see how it works long term - we could put a gutter or half pipe under the groove and collect everything.

The other discovery is that when it rains hard the rain comes half-way under the cover because it comes in at an angle. Even if we made a bigger overhang it still would come in. Sometimes it comes in from the mango side also. My solution to this is not the prettiest but is very functional. I got a piece of plastic white lattice type stuff. The holes in lattice where too big, wood maybe would look better but not hold up (tons of staples) and a bamboo screen would mold and flap around. I wanted the rain blocker to be there when it rained and be raised up when I don't want it (like Dec - Mar).  You can see it hanging there. It is hanging and then bungeed to the railing to prevent flapping (this is a perfect location for a deck - very breezy). I have to figure out how to anchor it up top but the plan is to swing it and attach it to the beams above. I found these neat screws that were perfect. Now I can swing the whole deal up and out of the way when not needed! To hide under the deck I opted for Heliconias that grow 12-15 feet tall. The flowers are deck viewing height and when they are bigger should hide under the deck. Another discovery came inside the house. The deck cover was up and caulked and functioning. Inside the upstairs room there was this orange glow! The sun reflects off the covering and colors the whole room!

We got a table and chairs. I have plastic chains so I can hang 3 hanging baskets of trailing plants (haven't picked them yet) as a psuedo-wall, and I have another plant stand for more plants. A table cloth and a vase of flowers will make a nice lunch/dinner spot in good weather. For now it is usable thanks to Jeff putting in a light. My plaster chicken family has found a home on the wall as well. I can sit down there and read at night in the breezes while Jeff watches TV. I can use the computer. I need to hang the hammock when the weather is a little drier. I think it turned out great. The project only took 3 days once the thinking was done. The size is 16 feet wide and 12 feet out from the house and was determined by the existing deck and size of the zinc. I still have more than half the deck in the sun because you gotta have it! When I paint the house next year and the plants all grow up it will be even better. The deck? This project is pretty much done. Thanks to Jeff. Another tip though is to figure out what you need and have Home Depot deliver it. They deliver for 96 bucks and that is far better than making a bunch of trips to pick up very long heavy things and have them pixie-stick on the road when an asshole does a ping pong from right to left lane and cuts you off. Not to mention you can spend all your time working on the project instead of getting the materials! Far less frustrating. I just love living outside!!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Excerpts from the Book "You Can't Make This Shit Up" Chapter "Strange Things That Happen Only to Katrina"

Yes, that's right. Strange things happen to me and only me. Things I don't think I deserve. I think they happen because there are many things I DO deserve that don't happen. An example would be that I should probably have been bitten or eaten by a six gill shark while chumming and photographing them in 100 feet of water at night in cold Puget Sound water an arm's length away. I probably should have been the one to fall off the rope in Cueva Cucaracha since I was the first one up. I probably should have been stuck in a crevice in a cave by now out of reach of other people since I do tend to go into those places. So what things have happened to me?

You may recall that when we first moved here I was smacked on the inner thigh (close to my lady parts) by a falling coconut just about as I was starting to dream in the nice, warm sun. The smack down happened at Crash Boat where I purposely put my chair NOT directly under a cluster of coconuts. I ended up with an interesting bruise and have since had two other close calls when coconuts have fallen and missed me by a couple inches. You may recall my whipping. The cats had enough good sense to stay away from the iguana but no, I had to photograph its evil looking leg....up close. I didn't even see it happen, I heard the crack of a whip and had a perfect slice mark around my entire calf. You may recall my cock fighting adventure. I was offering my rooster Big Red a treat when I was stabbed by his huge nail-of-a-back-claw and had blood dripping out of a hole in my shin. Apparently our other rooster is what "spurred" jaja the attack.

Well, today's installment occurred on July 4th at night. There weren't any fireworks at all except when I was shot by none other than my husband with the BB gun. Yup, shot in the upper thigh by my dear old spouse (yes it was an accident). We saw a pack of mean dogs coming toward our house and we weren't sure all the cats were inside the compound (dam cats). I have to say we are complete animal schmucks, total animal lovers, and animal rescuers. If you live in PR you do understand the roaming-mean-dog syndrome. Dogs kill cats here. That could be what happened to Bepo and Princess. Jeff was reaching for the BB gun to give the dogs a light pop (even just the sound spooks them) when something went wrong and he shot me instead. I was/am pretty pissed off about it. It really stung a bunch and then burned and bled and oozed all night. Then the spouse thinks it'll be ok just to put hydrogen peroxide on it. Yeah, right.

The next morning off he goes to work (the clod)) and I contemplate whether or not to get a tetanus shot. The last one I had was before our Papua New Guinea trip (where we got held up by men with all kinds of guns who approached us in a dugout canoe). With all the caving and diving and gardening and other opportunities we have for getting disgusting things ground into our skin I figure I should. At that point it was still oozing clear liquid so I got out the camera and photographed it and then zoomed in. What I saw was a shiny metal bit. I figured I better go somewhere because if it gets infected that means I am out of the caves and water even longer. First though I sterilized the tweezers and started digging in what was a pretty deep hole. I took out a couple pieces of aluminum screen! Now I have to figure out where to go. Our car window is still smashed out from the last caving adventure so I have to figure out where to go where I can park safely. I end up going conveniently to a Primary Care guy in the same building I get lab work done in. It is only 15 minutes from the house. He sees me right away, tells me he sees fibers (my sweat pants) in the hole and that it is deep. He gives me a shot and then in goes an instrument with a magnet, then some tweezers, then some little cutters. These suckers are at least a 1/2 inch in. He gets it cleaned out but now I have to go to the drugstore to get the vial of tetanus shot stuff, come back so he can administer it, then go back and get antibiotics and an anti bacterial cream. This involved 20 minutes of waiting, 45 minutes of cleaning/digging - all in all around 3 hours to get this little mishap taken care of. Yeah, just put hydrogen peroxide on it. So now I have a nice hole in my leg and can't do fun things until it heals. Thanks honey.

So this weekend we worked on covering an area for my "shade cloth covered garden" and continued working on clearing across the street to restore our awesome view. The next post will be more upbeat updates on projects! Guess I'll go lick my wounds until the next installment. Seriously, you can't make this shit up! Next day I see metal. The BB itself I smooched out with my thumb the night it happened. Hole and bruise with puffy red circle-o-skin then better looking but still a hole. Yes that's a bruise (not betadine). So don't play with guns or you'll get what's coming to ya!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tips For the Tropics - Cleaning

First off let me say I am NOT a neat nick germ-paranoid sort - I am known to eat things off the ground and am most certainly a dirty-girl inside caves etc. Living in the tropics however brings about some new cleaning issues that have taken time to resolve. I have consolidated some of my solutions to the problems you get living with constant warm, humid weather. Bleach seems like an obvious thing. I am not a fan of using chemicals and I generally dislike anything scented including sprays, candles, deodorants, laundry soap and on and on. Bleach I have found is a true necessity. What do I use it for? For starters I use it weekly for the dish drainer and sink. I do not have (nor want) a dishwasher but that white dish drain thing sitting there on the counter gets all kinds of black stuff on it. It is only clean dishes going there but still, the black stuff. I soak it in a rinse bin of bleach water and use these handy little brushes (or a toothbrush) to brush away the crap. Then I plug the sink and empty it into there to disinfect and de-stink the sink! Another important use is to put a few drops into bird baths, cat water dishes and other places you have water standing (big pothole outside in the road). This kills mosquito larvae. It is good to have bleach on hand in case you need clean drinking water if there is a hurricane. If you can't boil, then do one part bleach to 9 parts water and let it sit for a bit. FEMA recommends filling the empty  bleach container with water and that is enough to disinfect it for drinking. These slim brushes get inside the S blade contraption of your food processor or around the faucets or the ice cube dispenser of the fridge. Dish soap is great for rotten ants. They don't seem to like to cross a line of it and I take great joy in frizzing it over nests that have popped up where I don't want them. Yes I have a problem with ants.

The Magic Eraser is a super cool thing made from a natural stuff (forget what, I looked it up once) and it is great if you get moldy spots on your ceilings from high humidity. It is also great to clean up sinks and sports gear. I like this thing. It helps clean out the little drip tray on the fridge where the ice comes out. Goo gone should be used sparingly since it is probably petrol solvents or something awful. It does have a couple good uses here in Puerto Rico. One is to get the Marbete sticker residue off the windshield (or any other sticker) and another is to get latex off machetes and knives. A lot of the fruit here is latex heavy (canisters, panacean, bananas and plantains) and this will clean up your tools. A bleach pen dispenses bleach in gel form so its stays on grout, the ice cube dispenser etc.

Green Works seems like an ok coconut based cleaner but it is really the spray bottle I am after. I put one part bleach and 9 parts water in it and spray it on shower curtain liners, grout and anything moldy. I have a second one with vinegar (I'll get into that later). Vaseline seems like a crazy thing but it is great to put on your refrigerator seals so they don't crack. Anything plastic or rubber is a problem here but with a little vaseline...less of one.

Finally my favorite discoveries...vinegar. Vinegar is a great cleaner and a wonderful de -stinker! If you have a lot of sports gear that goes into caves or salt water, or have a lot of cats and nasty cat boxes give your stuff a soak in laundry detergent with some vinegar added. The vinegar takes out the pee smell, ammonia smell, and sitting around smells that neoprene tends to collect. It is also a great all purpose window, mirror, bathroom cleaner that I put in a spray bottle (diluted of course). Best of all, SAMS club has it in big jugs... So that's it for my tips. My pet peeves were the ice maker lever and drip tray and dish drainers. Also getting cat smell and neoprene smells to go away...any tips you've got I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cool Skies, Super Big Sun

Driving west on 111 at sunset with Sahara dust. Sunset from the house. In December it set way west of this tower and to the left of Desecheo. Amazing how much it has shifted! Pre-dawn colors out the bedroom window with the screen out. Looks more like Saturn (last night)