15 July 2017

Gentlemen, After A Nice Little Vacation, Looks Like We’re Back It Again

I love cooking. I really do. Or at least I did once upon a time. I’m not talking about tossing a salad and placing steaks on the grill. I’m talking more about French or Continental cuisine . . . the type of meal that takes hours to prepare . . . with all that mise en place crap, wine usage, meat fabrication, blah, blah, blah. I don’t know when I lost this love of cooking, but it’s hardly new. The bloom was off the rose certainly by the time we moved to Costa Rica. Now I’m all about baking, and that’s always a morning activity. After 3:00 P.M., I want nothing to do with standing about in a kitchen.

I’m married to a man who believes that eating dinner is normal, if not de rigueur even in the jungle. There is simply something about a sit-down-together dinner that Rusty enjoys. An evening meal holds little interest for me . . . well, perhaps some cherry-cheesecake ice cream eaten directly from the container with a spoon. One spoon. And did I mention that Rusty’s not happy with merely a sandwich? The man expects a meat and a couple of different vegetables on a plate, for Goodness sake! I’ll concede that Rusty’s fondness for dinner isn’t unique; but I’m not the person possessing any enthusiasm to prepare it. Now Rusty can cook . . . I mean really cook . . . but, oh, the mess. And for some reason the man thinks that every light in the kitchen must be illuminated, including, get this, the range light over the stove. This is truly unbelievable to me. Yes, I'm quite serious. Bugs! Hello! Jungle to Rusty!

Rusty has been in the U.S. this past week. Aahh. I need to say it again . . . aaahh. I was dreading his departure . . . really dreading it even if it was only seven days. And then everything fell into place . . . and/or went terribly wrong. In either event, Penny the Puppy and I now possess a gloriously-relaxing, easy, quickly-established routine; and it only includes dinner for one of us. 

Now Penny is more difficult to feed than you’d imagine. She’s finicky, to say the least. But through trial and error I’ve discovered her likes and dislikes; and on the worst night it takes only about two minutes to prepare her evening meal. Penny’s meal doesn’t require cutting boards, mise en place dishes (of which we own dozens), spatulas, sauciers, whisks, blah, blah, blah. A spoon. A single spoon or a butter knife is the only thing in our kitchen needed to keep little Penny happy. We are alike in this way.

Mosquitoes. I’ve been fighting a losing battle with mosquitoes for over two months, and I’ve got the scabs and scars to prove it. One week with Rusty absent and I’m winning the mosquito war. Why? Closed doors and no lights. Penny comes indoors just prior to dusk – more to remove her from poisonous toad territory than mosquitoes. But the result is that with no one on the terrace there is no need for outdoor lighting. Actually, neither is there a need for lighting indoors. The screen doors remain closed for the evening (except for that final outdoor bathroom break . . . Penny’s, not mine); and Penny and I are most content to play with toys indoors or to read with the Kindle® or watch movies in the bedroom. The house remains dark except for a hallway light. That is plenty of light to play fetch with pink-pig or fluffy (the tattered piece of red-dyed rabbit fur).

I am in jungle heaven. No open doors through which  mosquitoes inevitably will slip inside to lie in wait on my side of the bed. No lights to attract insects that attract poisonous toads. A terrier who is placed in bed by 7:30 . . . 8:00 at the latest; and a dog mommy who can genuinely relax in the evening knowing that Rusty isn’t going to leave open a screen door through which a mosquito will enter or a puppy will exit . . . all this while he obliviously plays his sheep-collecting computer game on the terrace with the lights on attracting every insect within two miles and every toad on the mountain. 

Rusty returns this morning. And, bitch that I am, even I acknowledge that I cannot state that the house rules have changed, materially, nor that we will be doing things the Kathy-and-Penny-way in the future. A future that might, might involve dinner once a month. Might

Now had Rusty remained away for more than seven days I might have some leverage to lay down new rules. Might. Had he remained away a few weeks the gloves would be coming off, and we'd have the come to Jesus talk. But as of Saturday night the reality is that mosquitoes will enter through screen doors that Rusty fails to completely close; larger insects will enter the house through those small, Rusty-created openings in the screen doors, attracted by indoor lights; insects will cover every terrace surface also attracted by light; and toads and frogs will arrive predictably just past dusk to enjoy the insect buffet. And yes, the kitchen will be a nightly mess created by a man who simply wants his dinner and possesses a more complex palate than a 13-pound terrier. Why is life so complicated? Lo que hay.

04 July 2017

I Left My Thimbles And Socialist Reading Material At Home.

Penny the Puppy and I engaged in a few arguments this week . . . all having to do with grooming. Our little 11-pound animal sounds as if she'll take off your face. But she cannot be allowed to win any fight . . . despite what she believes to be her qualified judgment and her good Berkeley roots.

These fights made me think of U.S. politics . . . especially as we approached this Independence Day. Fight with liberal dog. White House administration, U.S. Congress . . . most logical connections in the world, right?

Anyway, maven of movie lines that I am . . . fan of David Lean's genius . . . and Doctor Zhivago ranking in my top-five films of all time, I've firmly scolded Penny stating, "I want this carried out with no anarchy!" And then, paraphrasing, I've told her that we'll have no anarchy!

So what on earth has this to do with Independence Day in the United States? Well, a few weeks ago a friend, knowing that we're from Texas, mistook my political beliefs. Yikes! Could have been my framed N.R.A. membership certificate. That or my 300 Win Mag mounted on the back window of the Land Cruiser. Maybe not. Anyway, she was quickly and sharply corrected. Then, over the weekend I found myself politically stereotyping our new Samara friends based on the U.S. state from which they moved (Colorado). I was correct, of course; but stereotyping remains a slippery slope.

On Sunday I asked a dear friend of mine here in Samara whether it was time for me to come out of the closet, politically, and let the world (Samara, that is) know of my political views. I decided not to take any such drastic steps at this point. Still, it's not rocket surgery to guess my political stance, and I'll wrap up a hint with these three words: Peace Corps Volunteer!  If those three words fail to give-away my political leanings, you need to do some homework . . . that, and stop voting for any office higher than dog catcher as you're clearly not qualified to judge any political candidate. Whoa! Kathy! 

Anyway, then I was reminded how different are Rusty's and my political views. I wouldn't say polar opposites -- hardly. But Rusty is a true anarchist. We rarely discuss politics, except to embrace the genius of John Oliver (okay, there's a second hint). So I'm fine with anarchy these days. Why, I've been known even to cross party lines; and I can argue both sides of the aisle with the best of 'em. 

So on this particular Fourth of July, I'm celebrating a historical event, or events . . . those that took place on July 2 and July 4, 1776. This year I find it difficult to celebrate being a citizen of the United States. On the other hand, any excuse for a party.

Then, as I was bemoaning the state of politics in the U.S., I found this meme. I love it, with one exception: if one is going to take the time to alter a photo with an overlay of text, please, please get your grammar/punctuation correct! Is that too much to ask?

Bitching about grammar appears among my top five hobbies. Bitching about politics, as a hobby, doesn't even hit my radar; though admittedly burying my head in the Costa Rica sand reflects just another sad example of my well-honed denial skills. Right or wrong, I do love the absence of U.S. news regarding the leaders of the free world.

Okay, one more. Speaking of bitching, grammar, and the free world, I've yet to meet anyone, Trump supporter or hater, who will disagree that Kellyanne Conway looks like a slut! Ooops! Kathy! Someone get that woman a talented, qualified stylist and grammar/dialogue coach. 

Had enough? I, also. And clearly, the cat's out of the bag as to my current political views. I hope. Time for a drink. Lo que hay.

02 July 2017

It’s Odd How One’s Mind Slips Sideways In A Place Like This.

My mind finally may have gone 'round the bend last week. I had a bad day. Actually, in my mind I had a bad week. Can't-catch-your-breath sobbing was involved. But in reality, nothing catastrophic happened; and most of the meltdown feelings involved our puppy's well-being . . . that, and U.S. politics. 

Recently I read an article involving tips for living in Costa Rica. One of the tips suggested attempting just two (2) tasks per day. Two?!? Seriously? I can accomplish more than two tasks in the three hours that I'm awake from 5:30 to 8:30 A.M. Admittedly, after that it's usually downhill, often involving a nap-fest. Nevertheless, as I read that questionable tip I began to feel better about my week. I made chocolate chip cookies. I painted a gate. I groomed a puppy. I shaved my legs. I continued the ongoing battle against mosquitoes and toads. And I pondered a number of future tasks. Pondering counts. 

This is the puppy. Penny the Puppy. Her coat reflects Day 2 of being hand-stripped (don't ask). But regardless of coat, one can see that she is a long, leggy animal. And with those long legs she's learned to jump.

My friend Judy helped teach Penny how to jump into our arms. This is a great trick with only one problem: a puppy that knows it can leap into the arms of an upright adult also knows that she can leap just about anywhere she'd like to go. Hmm.

Anyway, I love her to bits despite the fact that I am so neurotic that I am convinced she is going to die . . . any moment. Every time she eats a bad bug and vomits . . . whenever I cannot see her . . . whenever she refuses breakfast I am convinced that she's dying. I'm also convinced that she will drown in our pool.

This is the pool; so drowning actually is not beyond the realm of possibility. These are the dimensions of our existing pool steps. Nineteen inches down to that first step; and though she can leap, I'm confident that leaping while submerged involves different physics . . . something about inertia, Sir Newton, and objects at rest (a law of physics that I clearly grasp from my nap-fests). And that first step is quite narrow, thus preventing a running start . . . a start that, again, would be impeded by the viscosity of water versus thin air. Science, yeah! I rarely enter via the steps. That first step is deep, even for me. More often than not I simply roll in from the coping. 

Now that Penny can jump she's been seen scampering around the pool coping. She's also been known to take a step directly from the pool's edge onto any inflatable raft or boogie board floating in the pool. This is the point where my heart stops and I begin a rant about leaving nothing in the pool, ever . . . of which only I am guilty.

So do the math. Nineteen-inch step; 14-inch legs. Steps were taken . . . or created. Yes, we drained the pool; and Lubos and Cynthia designed two steps that cover the entire width of the far end of the pool -- both shallow enough that Penny can exit the water with an easy step directly up to the coping . . . and wide enough that I can roll about in shallow water like a beached whale.

Rusty, get your checkbook. After all, we certainly cannot place a price on Penny's safety; but moreover Rusty cannot place a price on a relatively sane wife. Relatively.

This week the new steps will have their little blue tiles installed, we'll refill the pool, and Penny will learn the in-out trick in water. She's already begun lessons on dry steps.

So with our favorite crew (Javier and Tonio) working outdoors on the pool (thus the chocolate chip cookies), I felt compelled to do a bit of work in the yard. 

The gate. A gate that Penny, should she so desire, can leap over at any moment. Denial -- not just a river in Africa and my current coping skill about Penny's leaping skills. Happily, as of now, she doesn't realize that there is anything of interest beyond her gated and fenced yard. She's seven months . . . so it's just a matter of time. Anyway, what does one do with a gate when the color green ordered at the paint store isn't quite what one envisioned? Vines. I painted vines. Yes, I felt very Pinterest-y, which is almost as frightening to me as the idea of losing young Penny. Sally, you understand, right? Lo que hay.

23 June 2017

Garbage. All I've Been Thinkin' About All Week Is Garbage. I Mean, I Just Can't Stop Thinkin' About It

Raise your hand if you’re a woman from North America and you clean prior to your housekeeper’s arrival. I clean, including use of the vacuum. On her best day my housekeeper could not reach things that I can with the long tubes of the canister vacuum. She is shorter than I am. Furthermore, our housekeeper doesn't adhere to strict rules of recycling; and when she empties bathroom trash it is often co-mingled with the recycle bin in the kitchen. So I empty bathroom trash.

We live in a very tidy environment for health and aesthetic reasons. A few weeks ago I removed and laundered all draperies in our kitchen, living, and dining areas. And then . . . sit down for this. . .  I ironed them. I’d never really objected to our unpressed draperies. They adequately draped from their rods; but the newly ironed draperies are a huge improvement and make me happy. I thought of my adopted Aunt Sance as I pressed. Sance, who’d be horrified to discover that her husband left the house without a pressed T-shirt. Old school.

Anyway, even in the tidy environment where we live (though somewhat less tidy now that we have a new puppy), dust accumulates . . . not to mention fur-tufts from our 19-year-old cat. A tidy home is not necessarily a clean home . . . just as swimming in the pool does not equate to a hot shower, though it often feels that way. Genuine cleaning is required, with soap. I’ve adopted the Bissell slogan: Bissell . . . We Mean Clean®. Our housekeeper just popped out her third child. This means that I’ve not seen her since April and don’t expect her return until autumn, if ever. You see where this is going.

15 April 2017

Tell Me What You’ve Done That Hell Yawns Before You.

And speaking of blasphemy, heresy, and general poor form, I rarely post anything related to religion or politics. I rarely speak of such topics, except among my closest friends. And Rusty. Rusty loves to hear me grumble about politics . . . or perhaps not.

Anyway, it's the Easter season, or Semana Santa here in Costa Rica. Most commercial enterprises close, and tourists flood our little village. But let's not forget that it's also Passover, without which we'd have no Easter . . . and no Ramadan, which begins next month. We'd also not have Eid al-Adha, aka Tabaski, which, in my experience, is the best party in West Africa. True, sad though it may seem, the massacre of a sheep or lamb is often involved.

And speaking of massacre, on with today's tale. In thinking about springtime religious holidays I realized that most of my friends are either Catholic or High Episcopalian. I have a few Jewish friends in the U.S. and several Muslim friends in Africa. I, myself, tend to embrace all religions with my any excuse for a party ideology; but the reality is that Easter isn't as special for us as is National Pet Day, which was Tuesday.

06 April 2017

Ain't A Thing I Can Do About It.

Our new puppy is a terrier. We often tell Penny that her behavior is tenacious, which it is, though the animal could not care less whether we notice. Penny is going through her "make me" stage, though sometimes it's a "you can't stop me" stage. All we can do is remain firm in her training and love her to bits.

I understand Penny's persistence. My own tenacity simply will not allow me to walk away from a baking failure. Having perfected the cream puff . . . having posted the recipe here with specific instructions that cream puffs absolutely cannot be made without bright light . . . what did I do? I tried to make cream puffs in the dim evening light of our kitchen. Complete failure. So naturally I had to make two more arrays just to confirm that indeed I can make cream puffs . . . in a brightly illuminated kitchen filled with afternoon sunlight. 

And then there was the brioche calamity . . . and the biscotti nightmare . . . and my reproach of Paul Hollywood's recipes, which is neither to impugn Paul's kitchen talent nor The Great British Baking Show -- I'm merely saying that Paul's instructions failed me when using primarily Costa Rican ingredients. So I ran far and fast from Paul's recipes and sought the advice from good ol' U.S.A.'s King Arthur Flour. Mulligan! Now I won't say that it was the best brioche in the land, but I definitely made genuine brioche à tête as well as white chocolate & cranberry biscotti that actually resembled biscotti

Then I triumphed with my chocolate-mocha cream horns. They were worth that battle for puff pastry. And my Pastel de Tres Leches with the Italian meringue topping was so good that I believe Rusty only got two slices. Suddenly I'm an Italian meringue expert.

Anyway, with so many sweets swarming in our home, my shorts are noticeably tighter, which should come as no surprise. I need a mumu . . . thatand a new hobby that doesn't involve sugar, eggs, butter, and cream. I chose sewing.

20 March 2017

I . . . Was . . . Running!

Each day we teach Penny valuable life lessons. I've explained the danger of snapping at flying insects. Penny understands the importance of being seated before dinner. Her grammar, a private matter between only the two of us, is impeccable; and she grasps the concept of too many pronouns and too few antecedents . . . even at her tender age. However, Penny’s real take-away from her grammar lessons is that too many personal pronouns make mommy crazy. The puppy is prodigious, I tell you -- a reliable vocabulary of over 30 words at just four months of age.

Last week Penny learned never to touch any Costa Rican toad . . . a lesson that could save her life. A few days later we all learned the lesson of what a tarantula bite will do to an eight-pound puppy. Yes, a late-night emergency call to Dr. Delgado was involved . . . and as Murphy's Law would have it, the electricity was off so she was cared for in Rusty's arms by lantern light. Luckily I'm good in a crisis and it wasn't until the next day that my melt-down came. A few days prior to the spider lesson I learned how painful is a bee sting smack-dab in the center of my palm. Now I'm not saying that I cried like a little girl . . . but neither would I deny it. So our world has become a small mommy and me learning center.

28 February 2017

Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week To Stop Sniffing Glue

Back to the subject of the six-plus hour trip to the Auto-Mercado. Puff pastry lives in the freezer at Auto-Mercado. If I had puff pasty I could make lime and ginger cream horns. Recall that I've already made my lime curd and candied lime peel; and although the curd proved overly limey, I can tame that tartness when I make my pastry cream. I can make crème anglaise in my sleep, along with cream puffs; but more on that later. For now I don't have time (okay, I've got nothing but time) and I certainly don't have the inclination to remain away from our puppy for over six hours. That leaves one alternative: make my own puff pastry. 

Now let me say this: though I love a baking challenge, when I see anyone making their own puff pastry (laminated dough), I go bonkers raising my voice to proclaim, "no one makes their own laminated dough -- it's insane -- it would be like trying to make your own phyllo. Insane, I tell you!" 

Notwithstanding our odd Costa Rica butter, the theory of making puff pastry isn’t complicated. It’s a matter of pounding icy cold butter into a large pastry rectangle, then making multiple folds of that pastry while refrigerating between the series of folds to keep that butter icy cold. I just might be able to perform this trick. On the other hand, after the past week’s baking mishaps, do I really want to risk pounds of butter? Definitely not after last week.

21 February 2017

I Ate His Liver With Some Fava Beans And A Nice Chianti

Ah, Neiman Marcus. The Mothership. Just thinking of their cosmetic world creates a visceral longing . . . like an opiate addiction. Say it with me: Tom Ford. . . Chanel. Your muscle memory just unconsciously reached for your credit card, right? For one as poor as I, how did I ever frequent Neiman’s, either on-line or in person at the original Dallas Mothership? Once upon a time I experienced such a desire to return to the Mothership that I ordered a pair of sandals, on-line, from a satellite phone in West Africa. Great sandals. 

Today a grocery store satisfies my shopping addiction. The mere idea saddens me and should serve as a cautionary tale to any Costa Rica resident without a JetBox account who was or is a shoe or perfume lover – how are the mighty fallen?

I don’t know whether Auto-Mercado reigns as the best grocer in Costa Rica, but in my mind there exists nothing better. Is the store truly so full of wonders such as berries and pickling cucumbers, or have I simply lowered the bar? I think of Auto-Mercado as being on par with Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Central Market, and the Food Halls at Harrods. So clearly the bar hasn’t merely lowered, it’s crumbled. Nevertheless.

Our closest Auto-Mercado is a two-hour drive. Add a minimum hour for shopping and 30 minutes for lunch at the Subway® next door and we’re talking about a six-hour outing. And what has, you ask, the Auto-Mercado that our local grocers have not? Let’s list just some of it:

  • Iceberg lettuce. Heck, a variety of lettuces in a real produce section.
  • A deli counter with sliced cheeses and cold-cuts from around the world. Think Boar’s Head. Think Reuben sandwich.
  • An in-store bakery with everything from flat-bread pizza to bagels and warm-from-the-oven French breads.