Wednesday, August 31, 2011

mental health day

every day is a mental health day for her
On Monday my daughter called from school with a stomach ache.  These stomach aches are becoming a bit of a thing with her, and are usually the result of some stern words from one of her teachers.  Sometimes I talk her into going back to class and sometimes I let her come home.  On Monday I let her come home (she was particularly pathetic).  We talked about how she needed to face her problems and accept her mistakes.  I believe that, and I hope she gets better at dealing with problems.  But I also think, everybody needs a mental health day once and a while.  She read some books and did her homework, we went to the supermarket.  It was nothing special or particularly indulgent, but it seemed to be just what she needed.

Monday, August 29, 2011

15 km

I didn't feel anxious about this race, in fact I slept in.  Within minutes of pulling on my race clothes I was out the door.  I drank a protein smoothie in the car while I fastened the chip to my shoe (I didn't get to have a coffee--totally my own fault).  It's not really the way I like to do things, but it did mean I didn't have time to get stressed out.  I ran from the car to the starting line-up.

The morning was beautiful.  In my rush I had forgotten my hat but realized in time to get my husband to bring it to the halfway point (it was great to see them there).  I felt good.  One of my hips has been bothering me, but it's more like tightness than pain and it seems to warm up just fine.  I drank water at every water stop and I thought a lot about breathing and smiling and looking around.  I felt strangely calm.
My mantra was, "there's still a long way to go."  Which was good because I did not kill myself but I was disappointed with my time (1:41).  I came in with energy left over, that's it? I thought as I saw the finish line ahead. I needed to push harder in the second half--I had it in me to do better.  This is something I need to figure out.  I fear over doing it, but now it seems like I'm under doing it.  In a month I'll run a half marathon, my goal is a time of 2:15 (I would be happy with 2:20)--I'm going to have to step it up a bit to do that.

Friday, August 26, 2011

5 observations and roasted sweet potato wedges

an embarrassment of papayas
  1. There's such a thing as too much papaya.  We have more papayas than we can eat.  We've been giving it away, and there are still more to come.  My kids are sick of it (me too if truth be told).  I was thinking of this dish made in Costa Rica with green papaya and ground beef... but I really only half liked it and I know my kids wouldn't eat it.  I suspect we'll end up giving away most of the remaining papayas and then there will be none and I will miss them.
  2. I saw a beautiful young woman with a plastic bag on her head.  She was waiting to cross the street.  She was protecting her hair from the humidity and drizzly rain.  I admired her defiant beauty; I could never pull off that particular look.
  3. The metro seems like it's really going to happen.  Via España is a mess.  I noticed a lot of standing water when I was there yesterday and I hope they fix the drainage problems while they have the whole street tore up.  I am cautiously optimistic about the metro; It's definitely needed.  I just hope all the contractors and engineers are competent (and not too corrupt) and that the work gets finished.  Oh, and I hope people leave their cars at home and use it.
  4. I feel a little wary of one of my daughter's friends.  This girl calls on Monday to plan what they will do on Friday--like she needs to lock her in before anyone else can make plans.  It's her pushiness that bothers me, but I can't pick my daughter's friends and my daughter adores this child.  Maybe I'm just jealous because lately my baby always has somewhere more fun to be.
  5.  This is a great song that will definitely be on my playlist on Sunday when I run my 15k race.  This is not the official video for the song but a video of some women long-boarding in Spain that uses the song.  The song is "Rox in the Box" by The Decemberists. 

I don't think that roasted sweet potato wedges should just be served beside veggie burgers in funky vegetarian restaurants, I think they should replace all fries everywhere.  My kids would certainly disagree, but I'm hoping to one day bring them around.  Sweet potato is as certain in my week as good dark chocolate and a glass of wine.   I love it and I especially love it like this:

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Tahini Dipping/Glopping Sauce
4 large sweet potatoes (called camote here in Panama)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

3/4 cup tahini
juice of one lemon
1 clove of garlic (finely minced or pressed)
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°.
Cut the sweet potato into wedges.  Toss the wedges with the salt and olive oil.  Spread the sweet potato out on a baking sheet.  Roast for 25-30 minutes depending on how thick your wedges are.  
While the sweet potato is roasting, make the sauce.  Combine the tahini, garlic and olive oil.  The mixture will probably be quite stiff  so add water to give it a lighter texture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, August 22, 2011

blooming in the backyard

Caesalpinia pulcherrima
There are beautiful things blooming in my backyard.  We spent the weekend at  home and enjoyed them.  We barbecued on Friday night.  The kids had friends over on Saturday and the detritus of their play is still in evidence all over the house.  It was alternately rainy and sunny and perfect for napping and reading.  I feel it is my duty to get my family out of the house and go for a walk or a bike ride, but this weekend I didn't insist.
We even went to the mall on Sunday.  I avoid the mall on the weekend; actually I feel that going to the mall on Sunday is a kind of surrender to the superficial tendencies of urban Panamanians (people here really love the mall).  But we did get some errands done and some some lovely ice cream was eaten.  It wasn't completely evil.
Also I ran a 10k race on Sunday morning.  This wasn't planned, I signed up on Saturday afternoon.  Thinking of it as a training run, I tried for 75% effort and ended up finishing with the same time I had three weeks ago when I raced.  I had to go to the bathroom the entire race.  I would tell myself that I would duck into the next gas station or restaurant and then I'd keep going.  This is pretty dumb I know, but it was easier to keep going, stay in my groove, than stopping.  It wasn't horrible, just uncomfortable.    I will be racing 15k this coming Sunday.  I'm feeling optimistic and ready and I'll definitely be making one last visit to the toilet before the race starts.

Friday, August 19, 2011

5 observations and a sweet spicy coconut cashew snack

to the outhouse
5 things I noticed this week:

  1. Sometimes a cute shack at the end of a dock is not a place to tie boats up.  You will feel silly if you are taking pictures when locals push past on their way to the privy (they will look amused).
  2. I haven't felt as physically weary as I felt this week since my tree-planting days (the good old days when you would fall asleep easily on the cold, hard ground with body throbbing and dream about planting more trees).  I had a high mileage week in my training this week and I'm bone tired.  It's a good tired though (not like a mental tired), and over all I'm feeling great.  Next Sunday I will be running a 15K race and I'm ready. 
  3. I'm goofy, baby-talk, crazy, about the bunnies.  It took over a year for my daughter to convince me to get rabbits and now I'm probably the one most smitten.  They are not affectionate but trusting.  There is something so sweet about a vulnerable little animal looking at you with trust...  it melts me every time.
  4. I love teaching English to beginners.  It requires more energy than an intermediate class, but it so rewarding.  I love the physicalness of it.  Things need to be acted out and choral repetition is important; every class is like a performance with lots of audience participation...  so satisfying.
  5. This is a very pretty song from a very pretty album:

And now for this Friday's recipe.  One definite advantage of living in Panama is how cheap and abundant things like cashews and fresh coconut are.  I love fresh coconut and would miss it terribly if I moved back to Canada.  Use raw almonds if you can't get fresh coconut.

Sweet and Spicy Cashew Coconut Snack
1 1/2 cups of raw cashews
1 cup of fresh coconut chopped into bit-sized chunks
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350.
Spread the nuts and seeds on a lined baking sheet and lightly roast them for 5-10 minutes.  They should be just starting to smell good.  Don't turn the oven off.

In a bowl large enough to hold the nuts and seeds, mix the remaining ingredients.  Add the hot nuts and mix until well coated.

Put the nuts back onto the lined baking sheet and return to the oven.

Roast for 5-10 minutes.  Stir them mid-way and make sure they don't burn.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

dengue fever

The above photos were taken a couple of blocks from my house; it is the backside of a public school.   There has been an increase in cases of hemorrhagic dengue (which can be fatal) in Panama this year.  The number of reported cases varies between sources and honestly I have very little faith in the health authorities to count and report accurately.  My husband was diagnosed with dengue a couple of months ago, but the doctor didn't actually do a blood test to confirm it so I'm sure it wasn't reported to health officials.  I'm guessing the numbers we are seeing reported are low.  In any case, the outbreak has resulted in a great deal of public discussion about garbage, which is a serious problem in this city.

There are much uglier examples of heaps of garbage that I could have used to illustrate this post (we drove through 'El 24' last week and yikes!).  But the above garbage makes me angrier than most of the other garbage.  Yesterday, public health officials exhorted the population to get rid of sites condusive to mosquito breeding.  There has been a wide program of fumigation all over the city.  Meanwhile, trash is being thrown over the wall at a public school.

My kids' study the Panamanian curriculum in social studies.  The same text books are used in the whole country.  Last week my second grader was studying "the rainy season."  A big part of the unit on the rainy season was about garbage, and how important it is to deal with garbage responsibly because of dengue and as a cause of flooding (trash plugging storm drains).  This is taught in the second grade all over the country including the school in the above picture.  It seems incredibly ineffective to teach kids that they need to deal with garbage responsibly when the school itself does not.  Not even mentioning the fact that they are breeding mosquitos behind their school.

I don't know what it will take to get people to smarten up about garbage.  The municipalities have a lot of room for improvement in the area of garbage collection.  But people also really have to stop throwing garbage over walls, and into creeks, and on empty lots.  Hopefully this current outbreak of dengue opens  people's eyes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Panama Viejo

Four-hundred and ninety-two years ago today, Panama was founded by Pedro Arias Dávila.  I know this well because I helped my second grader prepare a little speech on the subject last week.  He was known as Pedrarias the Cruel; he had Balboa charged with treason and executed.  It seems like he was a pretty ruthless and jealous guy responsible for all kinds of brutality and slavery, but he will be remembered forever for founding Panama City.

Of course in 1671 Henry Morgan sacked the city of Panama and after that the Spanish relocated it to what is now Casco Viejo.  The ruins of the old city are a tourist attraction.  No one can resist a good pirate story.  Pedro Arias founded it, but Henry Morgan is the name every tourist associates with the place.

I am fascinated by the history of this country.  I love that the stories of conquistadors and pirates are just a few blocks away.  I have been inspired into all kinds reading about the Spanish colonization of Latin America.  That is not to say I have romantic notions about the colonial period; the Spanish conquistadors were gold-crazy slavers who committed some  unbelievable atrocities in the name crown and church.  And I think it's important that we contemplate that, and that our kids contemplate that.  As much as I hated studying history as a kid, I encourage my kids to study and think about it.  It's an important part of understanding the world we live in; it's context.

So the kids are off school today in honour of the date.  We talked about Pedro Arias quite a bit this weekend. My children's favourite detail was Balboa's execution (or poor Vasco, as my daughter calls him)  and how Pedro Arias had Balboa's head displayed on a spike.  It is the kind of gruesome detail that kids love but it's also an important reminder of how brutal the colonial period was.

Friday, August 12, 2011

5 observations and lamb stuffed eggplant

5 things I noticed this week:

  1. Dawn is a particularly nice time to run.  The pre-dawn darkness might be a little creepy and too-quiet, but there's nothing like a sunrise to make you feel happy to be alive.  And the air... it's like it's new air.
  2. People who park on the sidewalk should not be surprised when pedestrians continuously set off their car alarm.
  3. Eleven year olds are kind of prim.  My eleven year old told me about seeing an older man walking with his grandson after school, the street gets a little congested in front of the school at home-time, and someone started honking.  This grandfather went over to the car and cussed the driver out (apparently it was some pretty impressive swearing--I'm sorry I missed it).  "In front of his little grandson," she told me with wide outraged eyes.  Later, when talking about a kid who swore in class, she said, "yeah he probably learned it from his grandfather."
  4. If you are an obnoxious entitled arse, your kids will usually (but not always) be obnoxious, entitled, arses.  This particular observation makes me fear for this country.
  5. This song makes me as happy as it did twenty (?!) years ago:

Just for you, a recipe I'm rather proud of:

Eggplant Stuffed with Lamb

4 small to medium eggplants
1 onion finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil and more for drizzling
3 roma tomatoes
2 lemons
a small handful of parsley
2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper to your taste.

Preheat oven to 350°
Slice the eggplant in half length-wise and scoop out the flesh.  Set the little eggplant canoes aside.  Chop the eggplant flesh and set aside.

In a frying pan heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and spices and soften.  Add the ground lamb and brown.  When the lamb is brown add the chopped eggplant.  Cook until the eggplant is tender.  salt and pepper to taste.

While the lamb is browning blacken the tomatoes directly over the gas flame, or in a very hot (no oil) cast iron pan.  Remove the blackened skin under running water and roughly chop the tomato.  I didn't seed and core the tomato, but you could certainly do that.

In a bowl mix the lamb with the chopped tomato.  Add the juice of one lemon.  stir and check the salt.

Put the lamb filling into the eggplants.  Rub some olive oil on the bottom of a baking tray and arrange the eggplant on the tray.  Cover the tray with foil.

Bake the eggplant for 30 minutes covered, and 15 minutes uncovered.  The eggplant should be tender.

While the eggplant is baking chop the pine nuts and parsley together.

To  serve, arrange the eggplant on a platter.  Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and pine nuts.  Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the parsley.

Enjoy! (really, make this--it's good)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

the mothering competition

my astonishing girls, so grown

I was at the pediatrician's office the other day with one of the girls, and there was two other mothers in the waiting room.  These two women were younger than me, each with a two year old and a pregnant belly.  It seemed they knew each other from the preschool their little ones attend.  The waiting room is very small and the doctor was on his way from attending a birth, so we were stuck together for about an hour.  Even though I had a novel, it was impossible not to listen in on their conversation.  Do you remember when your kids were little and everything they did seemed so remarkable?  They were like that and at first it made me nostalgic for my own grown babies whose every step had also once seemed so astonishing.

But their charming, nostalgia-inducing, chatter quickly became a competition: whose baby had the higher fever the night before, who had called the doctor later, and then, which baby talked more, and which one was more active.  If you could just hear yourselves, I thought.  Of course then I remembered similar conversations I had participated in when my kids were little.  Height and weight, eating and pooping, like it meant something that my baby was bigger than her baby.  It's ridiculous, and I am grateful to be long past all that.  It's not that mothers of older kids aren't competitive, but when someone starts moaning (proudly) about how many activities their kid is in, I just nod politely.

It was a good reminder though, and I have been mindful of it in my conversations with other mothers.  I am a somewhat competitive person and it's easy to get dragged into to it.  I guess, as mothers we all need confirmation that we are doing a good job (especially in those early years), and a mothering pissing match is one way to get that--just make sure no one overhears you because it does sound rather foolish.

Monday, August 8, 2011

clouds over Casco

We didn't make it to the beach this weekend but we got over to Casco Viejo for a walk.  We really never tire if it; there's always a building or alley we hadn't noticed before.  The clouds were very dramatic but we didn't get rained on.  It's my rule that we go somewhere that is not the mall on Sunday.

But it's a miracle I got out of the house at all this weekend.  I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire a couple of weeks ago and I am so caught up in it.  I kind of avoid this kind of thing because I know myself, and I am like an addict with a good fantasy series--I cannot stop until it's done and everything else takes a backseat to the books.  I skulk off at every opportunity to read; it is shameful and not very adult.  I begged off The Smurfs because of laundry, but really I just saw it as an opportunity to read.  Anyway I'm totally loving it--I was just thinking I should get book four loaded onto the kindle so it's all ready for me when I get home from teaching tonight.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Red Pepper Walnut Dip

So two Fridays ago I was thinking about quitting the recipes and then I made this:

It is delicious.  I dread recipes that have too many ingredients and ingredients I have to go to the health food store to find.  This is not that kind of recipe.  It is simple and fine for people with all kinds of dietary restrictions (vegan, gluten free, paleo--of course it wouldn't really work out for someone with a nut allergy).  I served it at a barbeque last week along with a more traditional dairy dip and our guests preferred the walnut dip (I was pretty surprised by this, as spinach dip is such a perennial favourite).  This dip is as rich and satisfying as anything with a cream cheese base, and roasted red peppers?  I think they are good in anything.

Red Pepper Walnut Dip

2 cups of walnuts (soak the walnuts for a couple of hours to soften them)
1 small jar of roasted red peppers drained (or roast your own by all means!--2 roasted peppers)
2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
1 teaspoon of cumin
3 tablespoons of olive oil
a generous squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a small pan, add the garlic and cumin.  Heat the oil gently, the idea is to infuse the oil with the cumin and garlic and to mellow the garlic.  Do not brown the garlic.  This will just take a couple of minutes on a low flame.

In a food processor puree the walnuts and the red pepper.  Add the olive oil and garlic/cumin.  Also add the lemon and salt and pepper. Pulse the food processor a few times to mix everything.  Taste it and adjust salt, pepper and lemon to your taste.


Monday, August 1, 2011

10 K race ran

So I dragged my kids and husband out of bed early on Sunday to watch me race.  It was a beautiful sunny morning (it had rained all day Saturday).  I had a good run, not spectacular, but good, steady.  My goals were humble: to finish, and to not be out there more than an hour.  I was successful, even with a stomach ache that came on in the last kilometre.

This was only my second race and it kind of stressed me out.  I didn't sleep well the night before and the press of runners at the starting gate made me feel anxious.  Not a little anxious, but nervous tick, weirdo-anxious.  But as uncomfortable as I was, once we started, and runners spread out, the running was good, and the home stretch satisfying.  I totally get why people run races.  I hope I can learn to shake the nervousness though.   The 15K race is on August 28 and I would love to get a decent sleep the night before.