Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Panama the Beautiful

Earlier this year, during some mining protests, the Panamanian President said that foreigners did not have the right to protest in Panama.  It was bluster designed to undermine the environmental movement (our country will not be run by foreigners!). It really bothered me at the time and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.  It’s obviously problematic, as a foreigner,  to join a protest or to make loud public political statements.  You have not had a truly expat experience until someone has dismissed your opinion because “you’re not from here.  You don’t know.”

Clearly foreign involvement in local issues is something Panamanians are sensitive about.  As an English Canadian, I have never thought too deeply about sovereignty (I was still in high school during Meech Lake).  But here in Panama, sovereignty is something people are passionate about (Panamanians are rightfully proud to be administrating the Panama Canal after ninety-six years of U.S. control).  I don’t know how many times, while taking a taxi in the Canal zone, the driver has commented to me, “Panamanians weren’t allowed over here, with the Americans.”  It is quite an incredible circumstance to have in living memory and foreigners need to be sensitive to it.

I was looking at a Facebook page for some local activists recently (all comments and statements were in Spanish as far as I could see) and someone had posted the comment, “gringada” (that would translate as, foreign, and not in a nice way).  With that one comment they dismissed the thoughtful posts of many people.  It occurred to me, that expats visibly participating in political activity here could actually undermine their own cause.  I don’t think this means foreigners should stick to wringing their hands and complaining about the locals within the expat community (I’m pretty sure enough of this goes on already). It is disagreeable, but there is a reason the President can so quickly cut down his opposition with the accusation of foreign involvement--it resonates with the Panamanian people.  Expats need to think carefully about their political involvement.

While possibly not as satisfying as a protest march, or an indignant comment on a web site, there are other quieter ways to effect change.  The other day, when I was running in Clayton, I saw a woman (I’m assuming foreign) picking garbage along the road.  I’m sure she was disgusted by all the garbage people throw out of their cars and she was doing something about it.  It’s not only that she was cleaning up, the image of her, with her trash pick and bag, high-vis vest and disarming smile, I’m sure, it had an impact on people.  By being there, and doing what she was doing, she was raising awareness.  Garbage-picking-lady in Clayton, you are awesome, you are changing the world. What I am advocating, is living our beliefs, if you see something that seems wrong do what you can to fix it.  It is not necessary teach, or complain loudly, it is necessary to do what is right.

Seemingly small actions have an impact on people.  I teach adult ESL classes and I always remember one student, who told me as if it were the most incredible thing, how his Swiss boss walked to work every day.  Now this seems like a small thing, but in a city where pedestrians are seen as the lowest form of life, walking is radical.  I’m sure, to this man, walking was obvious, but to my student it was incredible.  If you act according to your beliefs people will notice and it does make a difference.

I love this country and this city.  Yes, there are things that I believe should change and changes I don’t agree with.  But it is not my place to change this city, or to influence opinion.  I can be a part of change through my actions though.  In the face of corruption and cynicism, being a good human, and acting according to principles seems like not nearly enough.  But having thought about it a lot, I think it’s the only way.  So walk to work, pick garbage, volunteer, start a recycling programs.  There is a great deal of work to be done.

Monday, June 27, 2011

kitties and cucumber

We were home all weekend.  Sick kid.  Rainy weather.

All this rain has been good for my daughter's cucumber plant.  She planted the seed at school three weeks ago and look at it--it's got buds!  (The cats even seem impressed.)  If it actually produces a cucumber, I know a certain seven-year-old who will be over the moon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Father's Day Feast

On Father's Day we pulled out all the stops for my husband.  There was breakfast in bed, and glittery homemade cards.  And a late lunch with the pretty plates and wine.  I love getting the pretty plates out--I should do it more often.  And yes, he deserves all this and more.  I feel very lucky to have such a good guy in my life.

We had grilled rack of lamb.  I am very annoyed with my picture-taking-self because you can't see the ribs.  I french-cut the rack myself and I should have showed off a little!  To prepare the rack for grilling I just smeared it with good mustard and sprinkled course salt, chopped rosemary, and pepper over it.  We grilled hot to sear it and then finished it over indirect heat.  Perfect medium rare!

I served the lamb with tree tomato pineapple chutney:

2 tablespoons oil
1 onion chopped
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 cake of raspadura (unrefined cane sugar=3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar)
1/2 a pineapple chopped
6 tree tomatoes blanched, peeled, and chopped

In a sauce pan, saute the onion with the cumin and cinnamon until the onion is soft.  Add the rest of the ingredients and cook over a low flame until the the fruit is thick and jammy-1 to 1 & 1/2 hours.

Rounding out the menu with roasted lemon potatoes, spinach salad with almonds, apricots and shaved parmesan and a disassembled Greek salad (that is, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and feta cheese on a platter--my kids like it better like this, and it looks prettier).  I also made a loaf of white bread (always such a treat) so my younger daughter would have something to eat.

It was lovely.  We finished up with Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Pavlova.  I totally recommend this recipe.

I think Pavlovas might be my new thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I have another post that I'm working on but it's coming together slowly, and requiring more ruminating than I had expected.  And here it is Wednesday and I haven't posted a thing this week.  So I give you papayas.  Not just any papayas.  These are papayas from our backyard, that we planted.  Do I sound proud?  We are proud of our papayas.

Papaya is not to everyone's taste.  My older daughter, who happily eats almost everything, hates them.  My younger daughter (she of hopelessly fussy palate) loves them.  Maybe it is because she was born in Costa Rica and has been eating them since she was a baby.  I don't know why, be she has always liked papaya and I am glad.  She won't take it in her lunch to school though; she's embarrassed to be seen eating something so healthy.  Actually, it smells strong when it's been cut a packed into a container--it's sort of like taking a tuna sandwich for lunch (potentially mortifying).

If you think you don't like papaya I think it's worth giving it a second chance.  Sometimes it's flavourless (Especially the really big ones) and if it's been cut and sitting around for a while it gets mushy; also sometimes it smells weird.  A good papaya is firm and sweet and it shouldn't smell weird.  I noticed at the all-inclusive hotel we stayed at, that the papaya wasn't very good.  I thought it was a shame if that hotel papaya,  was the only papaya foreigners got to taste; it's really so much better than that.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lovely Lamb Shoulder

We have freezer full of lamb thanks to some enterprising friends who've gone into the lamb business here in Panama.  Their lambs are grass fed organic and the first thing I noticed, was that the lamb looked considerably leaner than the lamb I was familiar with (there was very little fat to score on the shoulder roast).  I decided to slow roast the shoulder quite simply so we could get a good taste of the meat.

This seems like less of a recipe and more of a technique.

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Garlic and Rosemary
lamb shoulder roast
olive oil
coarse sea salt and pepper
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 head of garlic

Heat the oven to 500°F/260°C and prepare the lamb.  Score the fat on top of the roast (there was very little on this particular roast) and rub it all over with olive oil.  Sprinkle the course sea salt and fresh ground pepper all over the lamb.  Break up the clove of garlic don't peel it).

I roasted the lamb on a cookie sheet because I don't have a big roaster (a large roaster would probably be better).  Put three sprigs of rosemary and most of the unpeeled garlic cloves on the pan.  Set the lamb on top and put the remaining rosemary and garlic on top of the roast.
Tightly cover the pan with foil and put it into the hot oven.  Turn the oven down to 325°F/160°C and let it roast for 4 hours.

The results are buttery, fork tender roast.

It was amazing!  I didn't make gravy from the pan drippings but that would certainly be a good idea.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This just bit me

A bug that looks like a little pile of trash just bit me on the shoulder.  I have no idea how to describe it to identify it.  "bug that looks like tiny pile of trash" did not give me anything on google.  The joys of living in the tropics!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

my morning and mamónes

So we are back into the regular school routine.  I had a great time hanging out with the girls last week, but I'm happy to have my contemplative mornings back.  Time alone recharges me; I feel up to just about anything if I've had a couple of hours to myself.  A bit of writing, some correction for my night class, laundry, lunch--I wouldn't really want to spend my mornings any other way.  This morning solitude suits me perfectly and I know I'm lucky to have it.  

 When I was teaching full time we had to do team building workshops (possibly my least favorite thing about working full time).  One workshop leader explained that introversion needed to be overcome, and that extroversion was the only way to be a successful person and productive team member.  Despite his earnestness, I could not take him seriously after that.  I'm pretty sure you can't overcome introversion, and honestly I wouldn't want to.  When I think about it, that guy was so off the mark about what we needed as a team of teachers, that he possibly did more harm than good.  I am undoubtedly an introvert, but I'm a pretty good teacher and every team needs a quiet listener.   Solitude makes me sane and team building exercises make me peevish.

So here I am, easy in my solitude.  I'm enjoying the last of the mamónes that came in our Culantro Rojo basket.  A bit of writing, some correction, laundry, lunch...  This is my morning and it's pretty great.

Monday, June 13, 2011


The kids had a week off school (a break between terms) and we wanted to do something fun and get out of town.  We had some travel points on the credit card so we decided to try one of the all-inclusive places.  We usually rent some kind of cabin at a quiet, less popular beach and cook for ourselves.  We usually avoid the crowds.  We like adventures and to be off the beaten path.  We'd never been to an all-inclusive before and the kids were excited; I decided it was a different kind of adventure and was determined to go into it with an open mind.

When we arrived, the lobby was crowded and there was a pre-registration line (they gave you a number, like at the meat counter).  Somehow, when I saw all those people my mood plummeted and all my negative ideas about resorts came rushing in (so much for an open mind).  We had to wait more than an hour.  I tried to shake my mean mood, but I felt miserable.  How was I going to handle lining up with all these people for the next three days?  I knew I was being awful and petty, but I couldn't stop; I think the reality of the all-inclusive was hitting me a little hard.  When we finally got into our ground level (basically basement)  room (this did not cheer me up) I knew needed to do something or I was going to poison my kid's holiday.  I grabbed my runners and ipod and ran the curmudgeon out of my system.  Running relaxes me and honestly, once I got out on my own, I couldn't help but notice how pretty the place was.
We had a nice time.  We read and chatted and napped.  The kids swam and swam.  It was relaxing and really one of the laziest holidays we've ever had.  We didn't do any hiking or snorkeling or anything more strenuous than walk from our room to the pool.  It was good.

I have to admit that I didn't really like the food.  It was all that kind of chicken fingerish, generic, industrial kitchen, kind of food.  I understand that there probably is no other way to feed that many people.  I am not very tempted by food prepared by people in surgical masks and plastic aprons.  Although I'm sure it's all very sanitary, I do not equate hairnets with yummy.  But there was always fresh fruit so I didn't complain (too much).

It was fine for three days, but not not my favourite beach trip.  My kids might tell you different though, they really liked it.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I've been running pretty regularly for a couple of years.  I alternate between keen and lazy; lately I've been lazy.  I don't know why, I just kind of lost my running mojo, and lately any excuse not to run has kept me out of my runners.  Back in January I made a list of goals for 2011.  It included all kinds of things like: start a blog, eat dim sum at the place around the corner, organize the kids' closets, and run a half marathon.  So even though I've totally been dragging my butt lately, I ran the first race in a series that culminates in a half marathon in October.  The race was on the Cinta Costera which is the waterfront.
There were a thousand people signed up for this race so it was kind of big and scary (my first race ever). But it was fun.  It was a spectacular morning and I enjoyed myself.  My time wasn't impressive (30 min) but I think I got my running mojo back.
The race got me on track for my half marathon goal for this year and it had another unexpected result.  My husband finally joined the gym and went (he's been talking about it for months!).
 Which reminds me of the bigger reasons to run.  Fitness and heath are totally important but the example I set for my kids is probably  the most important.  I would love to teach my daughters strength, energy and joy.  And if it's possible to teach by example, running lets me do that.

Friday, June 3, 2011


My youngest is tall for her age.  Not just a little tall, but very tall.  People make comments about it all the time.  She hates it of course.  Once she asked me if her dad and I hadn't made a mistake (we are awfully absent-minded sometimes) and lost a year; maybe she was a whole year older than we thought...  No, there has been no mistake; she will always be standing out in the crowd (especially here in Central America).  People will continue to exclaim (often  rather rudely) about her height.

She was at a classmate's birthday party last week.  She is a full head taller than most of the girls and two heads taller than many of the boys.  The birthday boy's grandmother declared that "that girl could not possibly be in Manuelito's class!"  Why yes señora she is (and no, she did not fail a year).  I pointed out to my daughter that "that lady was quite rude."  I think it's important that she understands that.  Commenting on other people's bodies is rarely kind, or necessary.  I remember being a child and thinking that everything adults said was true or right.  The fact is, adults say plenty of thoughtless things that kids don't need to take to heart.

Sometimes when my daughter is playing somewhere with other children, an adult will come along and asks her how old she is, and then exclaim at her height or her bigness.  The way she moves instantly changes.  She becomes self-conscious and too aware of her long legs.  The level of fun clearly goes down a notch.  I hate that.

They took a group picture at the birthday party she was at last week.  She brought the photo home from school the other day.

"Where are you?"  I asked, puzzled.

"Well, you see that pink dot?  That's my hair ribbon.  I hid because everyone was saying I was too tall and had to move.  I didn't feel like being in the picture."

 She is my beautiful baby and I wish she could go through life without ever having her feelings hurt.  There are afflictions much worse than being "too tall" and I am very grateful for her health and vigor.  I do wish people would shut up about it though, and just let her be seven and tall.