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.

My father was the most kind and gentle soul who ever lived. I miss him and, sadly, own few keepsakes of his. That my father ever owned an undershirt known colloquially as a wife-beater isn’t wrong, simply incongruous. Nevertheless, the style was daddy’s preference.  I own one of daddy’s white undershirts, and though it is too big I often wear it over a swimsuit or bra-top when I know that I’m going to be wet or glistening with perspiration . . . most often during my We Mean Clean® attacks . . . attacks that no longer involve my housekeeper.

In a prior life I had a no drop-in rule. I’m confident that this rule has been discussed previously at this site. My U.S. family and friends knew this rule only too well. For decades I’ve accepted telephone calls to ascertain whether I was receiving. Without a call, I’ve been known to refuse to answer the doorbell. Fact. After all, there could be trash on the floor (not likely) or dog toys scattered about the house (quite likely).

If I had my way I’d revive the ancient tradition of the calling card and, being without a butler, place a tray on the front patio onto which drop-in visitors could drop-in their calling cards while I lounged in bed binge watching Breaking Bad or floated naked in the pool. 

While living in West Africa I completely abandoned my no drop-in rule. It was culturally appropriate, if somewhat inconvenient. People from across my little village came to visit. . . often! It was a genuine compliment in the Burkinabé culture. . . though I always needed some mental advance warning before preparing to speak French, even more before I was required to speak Kassem or Mooré. Still, at least my little mud hut was always clean - I mean clean; and I was appropriately dressed.

Yesterday the world’s best realtor dropped in, unannounced, with two nice folks moving to Sámara from Colorado. And there I was, in daddy’s wife-beater undershirt . . . inside-out no less, as Bill so kindly observed aloud. So with bed unmade, vacuum in the center of the living room, kitchen smelling like bacon (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing . . . but I find most lingering cooking smells a tad off-putting), a terrace full of debris and paw prints from seven-month-old Penny the puppy, and not one but two cat boxes indoors, Rusty and I greeted and welcomed three of the nicest people in Guanacaste. True, I later swooned thinking of the cat boxes . . . but it was nothing that a Xanax wouldn't solve.

In making the decision to leave North Texas, whether for West Africa or Central America, I totally abandoned my no drop-in rule. I’ve learned to embrace the drop-in. I now accept the compliment of being paid a visit, regardless of any prior announcement. No one cares whether there is a dish in the sink or a bag of recycling items in the garage. No one cares that my toothbrush remains on the bathroom counter (yes, I store it out of sight with the toothpaste in the cabinet when not in use . . . that’s how tidy our home is). And evidently no one cares whether I’ve donned an inside-out, wet wife-beater undershirt worn to pressure-wash the pool deck. And frankly, no one wants or expects to hear explanations for either my appearance or the appearance of the home. This is my neurosis. Okay . . . one of many.

So what did I do last night? I dropped-in unannounced on Kat, Dave, and Wanda . . . and was warmly greeted with zero excuses for anyone’s or anything’s appearance. Except for that no-bra-thing (sorry Kat). I was tempted to return this morning, just to say howdy to our wonderful neighbors from Texas. The drop-in . . . accept the compliment, Kathy. Lo que hay.

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.


20 February 2017

One Wrong Move And That Dog Will Tear You To Shreds

I live in a calm, orderly world. I'm happy in this world. I know where every item is in our kitchen. I can tell you precisely where to find any particular size of scissors. I can easily direct you to our SCUBA gear . . . and anything else throughout the house. Counter tops and furniture remain uncluttered, floors are wide-open without items forgotten here and there. I wouldn’t say that I am neurotic about living in an orderly environment . . . but Rusty certainly would. 

When we have house guests Rusty endures my predictable 15-minute meltdown when I must accept that gear belonging to our dearest friends will be strewn about the house. It’s an insignificant price to pay for hosting our pals as guests. Otherwise, when it's just us (and our cat), I use a little unwritten schedule to keep our house and my life very orderly. 

And then one day about a week ago my little universe shifted. The axis of my little world tilted somehow, and what order existed left the building.

23 December 2016

See The Way The Handle On Those Pruning Shears Matches Her Gardening Clogs? That's Not An Accident.

This year Chanukah begins on Christmas Eve . . . right through January 1. This is very exciting for me, and we have plans all weekend with wonderful friends. Rusty doesn’t celebrate Chanukah; I celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas. I'm excited about the holidays, as always. About 2017?  . . . that remains to be seen. Anyway, bitch that I am, my gift to you this year is a typical Kathy rant. Actually I’m still on that volume-versus-weight rant.

Sometimes I just need someone or some authoritative text/entity to agree with me on a fact that I know to be true. For example, in my recent endeavor with lime curd the recipe called for 150 grams of lime juice. This obvious error in the recipe consumes my thoughts. One cannot measure a liquid by weight. Would 10 grams of water occupy the same volume in a measuring cup as 10 grams of honey? Of motor oil? Mercury?! Of course not, and it’s making me crazy that the Internet contains a great recipe with an unforgivable error in a critical measurement. And I wonder why my lime curd is overly tart. Liquids are (or should be) measured by volume, be it milliliters or fluid ounces. I cannot let it go. Naturally my husband was and still is thrilled . . . or not. He simply wanted some authentic French Madeleines.

So it's the holidays and I should play nicely . . . should being the key word. A few days ago I did make Madeleines for that darling man o' mine. And the recipe read, thankfully, fluid ounces of melted butter. Got that? Fluid ounces of melted (i.e., a liquid) butter. Ah, but here in Costa Rica our butter contains so many additives that when one melts the happy product of a happy cow you’ll find all sorts of things floating on top (and, for you true cooks and bakers,  I’m not simply referring to the milk solids). These floaters must be skimmed before measuring the butter. So if I need four fluid ounces of butter, I’d better begin with six-plus ounces from the stick of solid butter. Surely you’re following my reasoning in this rant. No? Well let’s move to another topic . . . one of my favorites: grammar and the misuse of English words.

15 December 2016

I Think This Just Might Be My Masterpiece

Those 15 pounds I lost while in Texas? They're back. Still, 'tis the holiday season, and one anticipates a certain amount of weight gain . . . except perhaps in this land of year-round beach-going and tiny bikinis.

Some people enjoy participation in competitive sports. I am not one of those people. Well, I do enjoy golf; but arguably golf is more of a game than a sport, and a drinking game at that, which explains my love of the game. Baking constitutes my new competition.

My friend Becky introduced me to The Great British Baking Show. It’s baking, not cooking, my friends. Need I explain further? Those Brits . . . unlike so many U.S. Food Network competitions, the bakers of The Great British Baking Show speak with politeness and humor . . . not to mention that delightful accent. You’ll not find aggression – no hostile rivalries as with the U.S. shows. What you will find is pastries and breads galore, beautiful in appearance and with almost unbelievable flavor combinations. Cardamon, masala chai, and basil . . . together in a single dessert -- what genius home-cooks think of this stuff? Nevertheless, while watching in Texas I wanted to scamper away from the T.V., raid Becky’s pantry, and prepare items such as malt-cream and ginger-lime cream horns or marula liqueur and coffee crème brûlée. Then there are the classics: éclairs and cream puffs, for which one needs the pastry dough known as pâte à choux (or choux pastry). Pronounce it with me: pah-ta-shoe.

I’ve never been a baker. Even box cake mixes presented a challenge in my youth. Years ago I tried all that French and Danish and Viennese pastry stuff and became well acquainted with the term epic failure. Why I waited until moving to Costa Rica to perfect my baking skills remains a mystery. I’m baking in a country without good quality (I’m not seeking great) butter, flour, and sugar. And then there’s the challenge of making meringues in a land of high humidity. Adding to the challenge is the absence of seemingly simple items such as bread flour, cake flour, and those items that surely you always keep in your own pantry, muscovado and caster sugars. It gets worse. Recipes from The Great British Baking Show are easy to find, but what on earth is strong white bread flour? Is there a weak white bread flour? Is icing sugar the same as confectioner sugar? [Yeah, it is.]