Friday, April 24, 2009

"Tengo un Regalo para Tu"...

Amparo (our neighbor) came over just as I was headed out to Corseca for a few hours on the beach. I decided I couldn't paint any more (my hands hurt) and wanted a little relaxing time in the sun and water. Cuddled in her arms is this teeny tiny kitten.

The story is that it has no mother or father or siblings. Well what could we do? In late February a cat (Feo) that I was trying to catch and spay disappeared a few days before her appointment and apparently had kittens. We haven't seen the mom again and figure she is dead. We never saw kittens, but this is probably hers.

It purred and purred and we think it will be a real cat - one we can touch and hold that wants to be with us and not its siblings! It is very friendly and playful. He (we think) just breaks into play after eating and sleeps and burrows under the bedspread after eating. Just like the big cats.

So today I picked up some milk replacement and a toy.

We'll call him Tuko (because he is fierce like the Breaking Bad character).

He even holds his own with the big cats giving an awesome hiss. I hope the other cats like him - he is a step brother to Mini. We are keeping them separated for the first week unless supervised. A while back we put a real gate in so Amparo can come over without going over barbed wire. We put chain link (4 feet) to encourage the cats to stay put (ha) but wanted Amparo to have free access. Today she came over to check on the cat and told her I was putting a sign on the gate the says: Arroz y Habichuelas Si
Barrigas de Viejo Si
Gatos No
Then I checked her pockets for cats when she brought me an empanada for lunch! We had a good laugh ...and she brought over rice and beans for our dinner!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mangos are Getting Big...Recipes Requested!

This is going to be a great year for the fiberless mangos at our house. The tree has huge ones all over. The wild mangos are always plentiful, but by the time I figure out what to do with whatever is ripe the season just about ends. I did freeze some sliced mangos last year and we just recently had the last of them. The texture changes to something like canned-peach texture, but for this recipe it doesn't matter. My sister has wanted this recipe so here it is. I forget where I found it (on the web of course). I forget how much I tweeked it as well. So this is the best thing I have figured out to do with mangos!

Curry Mango Chicken
400 for an hour - marinate for 2 hours before assembling and baking

4 cloves garlic
4 tsp fresh ginger

Make Marinade in small bowl:
3 1/2 tbsp curry powder (I use half sweet curry and half hot curry)
2 tsp ginger
2 pressed garlic cloves
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp thyme
meat of choice or tofu (chicken, shrimp, flaked fish, tofu, tempeh)
marinate meat for 2 hours

Combine in casserole dish:
2 cups uncooked, rinsed rice
2 cups chopped mango
1 small chopped onion
2 cloves pressed garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
1 tbsp curry
pinch of pepper flakes
10 allspice berries (dried ones)
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 cups broth
2 tbsp lime juice
handful of raisens
Arrange meat on top

Pour 14 oz can of coconut milk over the top and bake

After an hour take foil off and bake another 15 or so minutes

Assembled and ready to pop in the oven. It doesn't look like much but this is a really good recipe. Leftovers are great in the microwave - add some water before zapping it so it stays moist.

We have two small Naranja Agria (bitter orange) trees in the yard. After using a few for marinades there were still a bunch on the trees so I made some marmelade. It was wonderful (after a couple tries to get it right). I had a craving this week so I made some marmelade with regular oranges since the others are gone.

Orange Marmelade (a trial and error combo recipe)
3 pounds oranges (about 6)
3 1/2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups water
1 lemon

First I use a zester and take the peel off of 3 of the oranges. If the strips are long I cut them. Then over a pie plate I cut the oranges from end to end (starting where it attaches to the tree) and use my finger to slip the segments out while catching all the juice as well. The seeds go in a separate bowl (you need them for the pectin). You don't want the white membranes, just the pulpy parts of the oranges and all the juice.

Put the water in a wide, flat pan and add the peel. After it cooks for a little bit (it will be kind of translucent) dump the juice, segments and lemon juice into the pan. Don't leave out the lemon juice - you need the acid to get a good set. Put the orange seeds in a tea strainer and float it in the pan (or use a tea bag to hold them). How many? for Naranja Agria there are loads of seeds and you don't need many. If you fruit it ripe you need more than if you use some not-quite-ripe fruit. Just fill a tea strainer and you should get a good set.

Now you boil it down until it is thick and kind of syrupy. It kind of takes on a darker color. I don't find that a candy thermometer helps (supposedly cook it to 220 degrees) and a meat thermometer does not work. Just make a batch and you'll figure out how it should look.

Do the smush test - have a plate in the freezer, spoon some of the mixture onto the plate and spread it. Use your finger to smush it - if it wrinkles and holds its place it is done. Get rid of the seeds and put into sterilzed jars (it makes a peanut butter jar and olive jar full).

I sterilize jars in the oven at 250 for 15 minutes or so and boil the lids. I reuse jars from peanut butter, artichoke hearts etc and they seal perfectly. If you don't hear the pop as the jars of marmelade cool just put the offender in the fridge and eat that one first!

Problems: if the jam is runny use it on pancakes or dump it back in the pan and cook it down some more. If it is a solid block put it back in the pan and add 1/2 cup of water until it is blended then put back into sterilized jars. This is yummy stuff - put it in plain yogurt and dump it over fruit, put it over ice cream, on bread, on crackers, on pancakes. Have fun making it!

Segments, juice, water and seed bag all bubbling away!

The finished product - if you don't like the little bit of white along the top just skim the foam off the stuff before putting it in the jars. So...I need some mango recipes and have to start thinking about avocado recipes as well. Any ideas? I missed the boat on lechosa - papayas don't dry well, I don't make shakes and all we did was eat them on cereal. My neighbor showed me the lechosa dulce thing but I really didn't like it much. I don't want to miss out on wonderful mango things!


I changed the fountain color to match the new floor color -it is an epoxy acrylic silver grey floor paint. The little wall going up the stairs was tile red and is now "light oak" which is a little nicer with the stone and tile there.

I was going to wait until the whole house was finished before adding a finishing touch, but it has been a huge job and I needed a pick-me-up. I found this nice pot to sit where the former kitty stage was. When we first bought the house there was a stump in that location.

The corner of the house before.

The same corner after (still need to finish the rejas and paint the storm shutters white).

Jungle room before...

Jungle room after. When I finish everything we will get a nice lamp, some tree fern stumps to grow neat plants on and pack the room with ferns and flowers. I'd like to redo the cushions in bright colors but don't know how to sew so it will never happen.

The front before...

The front after. After we install all the solar stuff we can get new lights for the outside (if we can find interesting ones).

House Progress..Will it Ever End?

I don't know what it is that I am thinking when I start humongous projects sometimes. I guess I knew things needed to get done and started to realize the dry season was coming to an end when I saw other people doing their roofs and pruning and painting. I am always looking to see what the locals are doing to learn when I need to do things. Somehow though it seems I could have started these projects (sealing the roof, cleaning the water reserve, painting the house) a little (or a lot) sooner. I am making progress...

How it looked before (note the puny plants).

How it looks now - bigger plants and newly painted walls. I have been cutting the tops off the plants and rooting them to make more - they were getting tall. The carport took longer than the house to do because of posts, lots of trim work to do.

Here is the carport area before - the wall was a pale green and the shed was creme colored.

Now the wall and shed are the same color.

Here's the front area before benches, and trim on the ground and fountain. The floor was a dark grey.

Now the floor is a little lighter with matching fountain and benches. I put green accents on the benches to tie it in to the house. The trim is a light oak instead of red and goes a little better with the stone wall. A new pot adorns the cat stage. So what's left? Rejas rejas and rejas...oh, and the metal storm shutters (oil paint - yuck). Poco y poco since my hands hurt. A couple hours a day and I will be painting until this time next year!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Damn chickens...Holy *!*!****....or Gift from Above?

Easter started with us going to our place of worship - las cuevas - for a really nice dive and capture of a nice lobster for dinner. We got home and it had been raining a little bit and continued a little after we got home. I looked in the yard and something was not quite right. One of our plants was leaning and some of the purple plants were torn up - "damn chickens" I figured - they like to take a dirt bath there.
As I looked at the damage I noticed one of the blocks had been misplaced - hard for a chicken to do unless they used pulleys and made a little chicken tug of war game or something.

On closer inspection it appears that a block was kind of crushed. Confused, I looked to my left and saw it...

What the #$(*&(@#%&@*/. I looked to make sure there weren't any smashed cats (all accounted for) and then trudged up the hill to see where it came from.
Way up top near a Flamboyant (that I planted from seed - look how big it is) I see a hole.
When I get up there I confirmed that yes, that rock came from all the way up top!

It is a good thing it was not a round rock - it is flat on all sides. It still managed to go down the hillside in a little runway, hop my flat path with built up sticks, roll over the vetiver (which popped back up into place) and then catapulted down the drop taking out a couple plants, dislocating a couple and settling just inches away from the newly painted walkway outside the kitchen! (Look at the nice clean, newly sealed roof.) Imagine solar panels up there...

Here's the view from up at the vetiver - the hillside is taller than the roof of the house.
As always the cats decided this new arrival was a new toy - they mobbed around it like meercats and played king of the rock for a while.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cat Antics...a Break from Painting

The ladder has proven to be a great source of amusement for the cats. When I was sealing the roof I left it too close to the house and was surprised to see cats on the roof! They didn't show up for breakfast but I could hear meows. A little assistance and all was well. I started moving the ladder AWAY from the side of the house when I wasn't using it and it still turned out to be great fun! Stripes is king of the ladder for this moment.
He is kind of a pill and is hogging it while the others mill around the bottom rungs.

A dismantled fountain is another great place to play - Stripes and his momma Bepo are duking it out. Bepo has her hand through the hole the pump hose goes in. They have all taken turns sleeping, playing and play fighting in it while it awaits a new coat of paint.

The top of the bird bath has been missing for a while - it fell off and split in two. Jeff (Mr. Fix It) repaired it and its return to the yard was a great happening for the cats. Mini decided to stand in the bird bath and try to play with the rock I have sitting in there. She is used to standing in the fountain and batting around a couple glass balls I have in there - rocks however don't move which makes them even more interesting?

Blanco on the other hand decided to play pat-a-cake with the water and it amused him for quite a while. Cats in Washington weren't nearly this much fun!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mucara 3 - The Great Ascent

So after a few hours surveying and exploring the cave we headed back to the hole we dropped down from. Looking up we can see the long climb ahead of us - about 60 or so feet. It is hard to tell from the photo, but these are vines hanging (never did see where they came from) and not the rope. It is pretty vertical and Jeff and Jose and I haven't done this type of climb before.

So here I am (Katrina) scaling the wall. I didn't quite have my foot straps adjusted quite right or maybe the Ascender and Croll were spaced poorly. I wasn't getting full leg extension to get up as fast as I think I can. Also my harness around one leg was a little loose and I now know that isn't good! So I inched my way up to the top and just when I could see the little lip I needed to go over the rope shifted and I did a little swing to the left. Turns out Ron was moving the rope a little to make it easier. Then I was trying to continue on but was pinned to the wall because my husband was pulling the rope tight on the bottom. I was tired. After the rope shift and after Jeff let go of the rope I managed to inch my way up the lip to the top! I am fairly strong, but a little more muscle mass would have been nice for that final bit.

Ron is up top moving the rope cover so Jose can pop over the final lip. He was tired too. It is easier to go up a hanging rope than one that is against a rock wall. He was happy to get up and we both rested while Jeff and Bro came up and sent the rest of the gear up.
Then we had a 30 minute walk through the woods, and meadows and stickers to get back to the cars. The walk in and out is always a nice one and a chance to learn new names of things - "don't touch that, it is Oretega" and things like that after your hand is burning. The day started around 9 and ended at the cars around 6 so it was a full day of fun. Ron was pleased to get some surveying done that connects this cave (Mucara) to another mapped part of Aguas Buenas. Now there is some data and the two sets of data overlap to represent the system a little better. Bro is pleased to go into any cave any time and is always a huge help for us beginners. Jeff and I were thrilled and can't wait to go again! Jose I think was tired (but enjoyed himself). Oh, and Ron was mostly pleased to be out of the bat shit....Jeff and I cleaned up the best we could and headed out for sushi at Ichibanas. We ate a "boat" of sushi and I had some drink called a Dragon. At nine o'clock we were home and the cats were waiting. Nice dreams and gear cleaning the next day. Can't wait to go again!

Cueva Mucara 2 - Into the Mud

Ron was the last down and he plopped straight into the mud and river that Jeff and I managed to swing away from. This was his first "getting suctioned into stuff" episode of the trip.

From the drop zone we were one our way through the river to the more open parts of the cave. This is when I wish I were a little taller.

Deeper, deeper, deeper - the guys are waist high and well, it is a little higher on me and it is cold!
We get to the first place Ron wants to survey so he gets out his equipment and Jose and Bro act as assistants to set marks and record data etc. Jeff and I explore to the end and return so Bro and Jose can have a chance to explore.

Mud - yeah, wish it was mud but nope...bat shit! We surveyed our way up into the bat chamber and up and up. The actual bat room was steamy and really warm and full of bats and guano at least knee high if not more. Hot steamy warm bat guano that smells kind of like burnt popcorn (I tell myself anyway). As we measure distances and elevations etc we are getting deeper into the stuff when Ron creates an avalanche of "stuff" (suctioned in episode two) and mentally hits the end of the road. He was so done with it it was comical (sorry Ron) - he didn't want to stay another minute in the stuff and headed at a quick pace down to the muddy river to wash off. He was covered in the stuff and I am sure it was totally in his boots and socks and every orifice. At least he didn't have a two hour drive home before he could shower!

We saw some nice formations in this cave.

We saw a lot of bats. Mainly you feel the bats as they make wing wind across your face.

Cueva Mucara

We were invited by Ron (SEPRI) to assist in surveying Cueva Mucara and to do our first 60 foot ascent/descent into the underground realm. Of course we were very excited. We used our ropes on our mango tree and did some practice but have really only practiced a couple other times. So we packed up all our equipment and drove the 2 hours to Aguas Buenas. After driving up some windy residential roads we arrived at a private home owner's house. They allowed us to park. They had a couple nice dogs and some beautiful horses. We got all the equipment together and wandered to the cave area.

And wander we did. If we weren't with Ron and Bro there is no way we would ever have found the cave or known it was even there. We wandered through a meadow, along a hillside, then up slightly after getting to the big bamboo clump (so we wouldn't miss it). Then we saw a little 4 or 5 foot hole in the hillside and that was it! Who would know? We turned on our lights and entered. We crawled a little and then came to the shaft we would soon be rappelling down.

Previous cavers spray painted this warning/invitation on the wall. When we were in Akumal Mexico there were Peligro signs when diving the caverns lead to the underwater cave portions. I took this to be an invitation screaming "come in come in"! This too was a gigantic "come in" sign! The shaft was truly a precipice and Ron made sure we did not go close to the edge yet.

Where the roots came from I do not know - they kind of looked like water lines.

Is Ron looking into the eye socket of a giant stone head? Nope, just preparing to secure the rope for our descent. (I think it looks like a creepy head.) First he found a way to secure himself so he could safely attach the descent rope. The rest of us (Bro, Jose, Jeff and myself) put our harnesses on and checked each other to make sure we were rigged correctly. We also reviewed how to use the rack before our descent - we all had slightly different types. All this was with only our headlamps of course since it is dark in a cave.

Bro (one of the most experienced guys) went down first to check things out. After that Jose went down and then me. Jeff had the camera (I have no where to put it) so he came after me with Ron coming down last.