Friday, September 30, 2011

5 observations and banana bread

the rocky side of Isla Iguana (pretty isn't it?)
  • The qualities I most admire in my children are the ones I don't have. My girls are both good at math and I struggled with math in school. I don't know if they have better teachers and curriculum, but they excel and I am so proud and pleased.
  • Hot days = more laundry. It has been so hot and humid here that you break a sweat reading the paper. I need to change clothes three times a day and the laundry pile is perpetually massive. I'm used to being a soggy, sweaty mess but it's been a little ridiculous. My running clothes are disgusting and I mostly run before or after the sun comes out (I may have to burn some of them). Thankfully it rained yesterday afternoon, and it seems rather less sticky today.
  • I like the new public campaign against throwing garbage on the street. It is disgusting and it would be good if people started thinking of it that way. I hope it works.

  • Making a new playlist is a calming, constructive activity.  I've been working on my playlist for Sunday's half marathon and it's been a fun distraction from fretting.
  • These songs from Iron and Wine's, Kiss Each Other Clean (my favourite album title of 2011) are not on Sunday's playlist, but are perfect for this rainy rest day.

This is my go-to, hands-down-favourite, banana bread recipe adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.
Banana Bread
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 ripe mashed bananas--I don't use the monster (genetic freak) for-export ones--the smaller ones are tastier.
1 teaspoon dark rum
1 cup toasted, shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

Mix the dry ingredients together (not the coconut).  Cream the butter and beat in the eggs, bananas and rum.  Stir the wet mix into the dry (don't over mix).  Fold in the coconut.

Pour into loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

in the mix

My half marathon is on Sunday.  Physically I'm ready for it, mentally I feel a little sluggish.  I don't know what it is, but I don't feel excited (at all).  I was wondering this morning if I'm in the process of sabotaging myself.  Am I afraid?  I don't think so.  I know I can finish and finishing is my main goal this first half marathon.  Music is the one  thing that can pull me out of a running funk, but none of my old favourites are doing the trick.

I have a running playlist that is different from what I usually listen too.  In fact if something from my running mix comes up on the ipod when we are sitting around drinking wine, I always feel a little uncomfortable.  Not because Missy Elliot is incongruous with quiet wine sipping, but because I'm so in my head when I run, that a song from my playlist feels like a page from my diary.  When I run I get to listen to music the same way I did in my twenties, intensely and with volume.  It's a major reason why I run and I can usually count on it to keep me going.

So I need to find some new songs for my running playlist.  Songs that will pull me out of this sluggishness.  I'm going to give this a try:

Monday, September 26, 2011


When my daughter decided (months ago) that she wanted a sleepover for her eighth birthday I tried to sway her.  Bowling is always fun, or we could go to the movies.  No, all she wanted was a sleepover, with make-up, and nail polish, and the TV moved into her room.  How could I deprive her of a pleasure I enjoyed so much myself as a child?  I swallowed my apprehensions, which mostly had to with mess and dealing with other people's children in Spanish, and moved the TV.

The girls arrived after school on Friday.  My daughter had requested burgers and waffle fries, so that's what I made.  Everything seemed to be going well until I heard (in a stage whisper--in Spanish) I have some bad news, I don't like hamburgers.  I would say that this pretty much sums up my interactions with this particular child for the rest of the party--equal parts hilarious and annoying.  (Although, it was probably more annoying than hilarious when I woke Saturday, to her telling me there was no toilet paper in the bathroom.)  After eating, they played and giggled and ran up and down the stairs.  I was grateful when they were finally all in pajamas and watching a movie.

They went to sleep late and no one was up in the middle of the night crying to go home (have you ever had this happen?  it's the worst!).  They were up a little earlier than I would have liked on Saturday morning.  (They needed a round of Nutella on toast before I had the pancakes made.)  They had a great time and there were no fights, and no one wanted to leave (a sure sign of a successful party).  The mess wasn't too bad, except the  floor in my daughter's room was disgusting--popcorn, Monopoly, pretzels, make-up, and rabbit poop will do that.  I survived, and even mostly spoke in Spanish.

I speak to my girls in English, so I always feel a little unnatural talking to their friends in Spanish.  They know me as foreign, and accented and that doesn't feel like me.  Dealing with people in your second language (if you are like me, and are more proficient than fluent) is like having an awkward costume on, the people you're talking to never get the real you.  A puzzled look from my kids' friends always makes me painfully aware of my deficiencies in Spanish.  But really, they mostly understand me, and my own kids are so good-natured about correcting, or explaining what I am trying to say, that it's really no big deal.  Ultimately, my Spanish has very little to do with the success of a slumber party.

So, it was all good, and I'm sure we'll be doing it again soon enough.  A little mess and being the weird, accented, foreign mom is a small price to pay for my kids' happiness.  I am grateful that my daughters have developed close friendships here.  Rabbit poop under the bed, and blue nail polish on the night stand--I wouldn't have it any other way.
Even the bunnies survived six squealing girls

Friday, September 23, 2011

5 observations and sweet almond spread

  1. Kids do not judge birthday cakes by how elaborate or arty they are.  They judge them by how much candy is on them, with bonus points for marshmallows.  I made the above cake for my daughter's birthday yesterday, planning to make something more elaborate for her sleepover tonight, but she was so pleased, she asked to save this cake to share with her friends.  I did not complain and we celebrated her birthday with chocolate ice cream.
  2. At forty, I can still muster all the self-righteous indignation of twenty.  While running the other night, there was a Porsche parked on the sidewalk in front of a "spiritual centre."  The thought of someone looking for enlightenment while being so oblivious infuriated me (I have some enlightenment for you, don't be a dick).  Every time I passed that car, my fingers twitched with vandalism.  I did not act on my juvenile impulses but was kind of impressed that they were still there.
  3. Eight is a great age.  My baby is eight and she's more like a person every day.  I mean, she thinks about stuff and feels empathy.  It really is an incredible privilege to watch kids grow up.
  4. Roald Dahl is so great.  We are reading The BFG and enjoying it, especially the language.  Jumbly and scrumdiddlyumptious should totally be real words.
  5. This is a great song, and was my daughter's favourite when she was three.  I will never forget her having us obsessively play it over and over for her, as if if she were trying to memorize it.  I figured it probably meant she would grow up to be as cool as Kim Deal.  So far so good.

Instead of a recipe I have a link this week.  There is a sleepover in my very near future, and I still have a few things to prepare.  I've made this spread a couple of times and it is really good.  I am a regular reader of the Healthful Pursuit blog, but I haven't made many of her recipes because all those health food store ingredients are so expensive here.  This recipe is simple enough and it's delicious.

sweet almond spread

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

when the cure is worse than disease

Not even the best holiday is without mishap: lost sandals, or a hole in the mosquito net, or noisy neighbours--there's usually some little thing.  Our lovely holiday was not without incident.  On Sunday, while in the water, my daughter was stung by jellyfish.  Not a little sting, some fairly large tentacles wrapped around her wrist--she must have stuck her hand through a mass.  Anyway, it was painful and big--we've only dealt with much smaller stings in the past.  I had some antihistamine cream in my bag for just such an occurrence and was calmly applying it to my poor, whimpering  girl, when our boat driver came over to see what was the matter.  He said, lime, we need to put lime on it and he went off to find a lime.  I had a twinge of misgiving, but I let him put the  lime on her arm when he dashed back.  The lime did seem to soothe the sting and soon we were back on the boat looking for whales.

We continued to treat the sting with the antihistamine cream and it seemed to help, but it was strangely red, and by Monday night quite swollen.  On Tuesday morning it was blistering and very painful.  I knew it was the lime, as I recalled a friend's mysterious rash turning out to be the result of lime juice and sun exposure.  Google confirmed this; it's called phytophotodermatitis.  The reaction is not the same for everyone and my daughter's was definitely extreme. After a trip to the dermatologist and pharmacy,  she is doing much better.
actually quite improved this morning
 You might well wonder why I let the boat driver put the lime juice on my daughter's arm.   And honestly, I wish I had stopped him.  But, I let him. because I respect local knowledge.  He was not wrong, the lime did soothe the sting but combined with sunlight it was not a good idea.

A couple of years ago my husband developed a strange swelling on his leg.  Our nanny at the time, saw it and said with conviction, that's a torsalo (botfly).  My husband went to a doctor (two in fact) and was told it was an infected, ingrown hair.  He was prescribed antibiotics and sent on his way.  The swelling did not go away, in fact it became more painful and bigger.  When he was seeing an orthopedist about his sore knee, the orthopedist saw the swelling and said, that's a torsalo.  By this time the larvae was large and very painful to remove.  If we had listened to our nanny, my husband could have been saved a lot of pain.  And that is probably why I let the boat guy put lime juice on my daughter's arm.  I really don't know what I will do next time I am faced with folk wisdom.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pretty Pedasí

We spent the weekend in Pedasí.  There are many beautiful places in Panama, but this would definitely be in my top three. along with Bocas and Islas Perlas.

My internet research said that it was a four hour drive from Panama city, but that's pretty optimistic.  There's a lot of road construction between Divisa and Las Tablas and with a snack and stretch stop, it was more like five hours.  When the new divided highway is finished it will be four hours, but it's not right now.  The drive back was more like six hours, stopping for lunch and with horrible, heavy, Sunday afternoon, traffic between Coronado and the city.

Apart from the longish drive, (really not so long, but longer than we expected) we had an amazing time.  The town of Pedasí is really cute and the people are friendly.  There's a nice bakery and plenty of little restaurants.  Friday night, the central plaza was full of kids of all ages playing what looked to be prisoner's base.  We found the town to be very pleasant.  We didn't stay in town although there are a lot of little hotels that looked nice.  We stayed just out of town, closer to the beach.

Our bed and breakfast was sweet, clean and comfortable and not (for a change) overpriced.  The owner was nice and helpful (he brought us a bodum of coffee to have on the back porch while we waited for the girls to wake up).  We walked down to Playa del Toro when we first arrived.
We were on a rocky stretch of the beach, but we could see that it was sandier in the other direction.  There were sand dunes that we raced and slid down.
It wasn't the best spot for swimming, but pretty and fun in other ways (and I'm sure it was sandier further down).  One little girl I know did not want to go back to the hotel even though it was getting dark and buggy.

On Saturday we went to Isla Iguana.  Isla Iguana is a short boat ride from Pedasí.  The island has a pretty beach and some great snorkeling.  It's nice for kids because you don't need to snorkel from a boat, the reef is just right there.  The water is clear and as calm as a swimming pool.  We saw lots of fish and coral.  We walked across the island to another small beach.  From this little beach we walked along the rocky coast back to the main beach.  Along the way, we poked around in some tidal pools and found a big trilobite and a spotted sea snake.  We also saw the Frigate bird colony, which no photo could possibly do justice (everywhere you look there are birds in the air and in the trees).  There are incredible volcanic rock formations and coral beaches.
On our last morning we took a boat out to see if we could see some whales.  We did  see a pair of hump backs and couple of young whales.  We didn't get close enough for great photos, but getting to see them at all was thrilling.  We also got to see some sharks and a sail fish.  We stopped back at Isla Iguana to avoid the rain.  The girls got back in the water and some local fisherman shared some fresh caught fish with us.
The trip was a big success.  We didn't have time to go to nearby Playa Venao or Isla Caña.  A return trip is already in the works!

Friday, September 16, 2011

not your usual Friday post

equipment check
We are on our way to the beach.  I'm hoping for sunshine and whales and clear water for snorkeling.  Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


The girls have this week off.  The school year here is trimestral with a week off between terms.  I came back from my run this morning to find them still sleeping (and they are still sleeping, even now after my breakfast and coffee).  I am tempted to shower and crawl in with them.  But I have things to do and this is their holiday not mine.  Soon enough they will be stomping down the stairs looking for breakfast.

Yesterday I was reading about positive visualization for race preparation.  I believe in the power of the mind and I have no doubt about the benefit of this kind of thing.  But strangely, the dream I was having when I woke up this morning was like a negative visualization.  I was at a half marathon, but I hadn't had breakfast and I didn't even have the chip on my shoe.  I was trying to quickly drink some water and find my chip when the race started....  I felt so stressed out and then thankfully I woke up (to go for a run).  I guess I'm a little worried about this upcoming half-marathon.  And while I visualize doing well and feeling strong during the day, during the night my brain is working out the part about feeling like a loser.

I'm tired and I'm looking forward to a couple of days at the beach with no running.  I think my brain and my legs need a bit of a recharge.

Monday, September 12, 2011

a minor procedure

Mowgli Von Bogler
  We had a quiet weekend.  The most notable thing that happened was we got our cat neutered  (poor fella).  I think sterilization must be that cat-equivalent of alien abduction.  The what the.... look on his face when he woke up from the anaesthesia was kind of unmistakable.  I feel a little bad for him, but there are a lot of strays in our neighbourhood and he seemed to be getting his butt kicked fairly regularly out on the street.  I hope this curbs his urges and keeps him out of fights.  Also, I'm not interested in contributing to an already out of control cat population.  He had his procedure at Spay Panama, a wonderful organization that does sterilization clinics all over the country as well as their regular clinics here in the city.

Friday, September 9, 2011

5 observations and beef shank soup

  1. My kids are ready for a little break.  There's no school next week and we are all very happy about it.  This week seemed to drag on and on.   It's only Wednesday?  why is this week going so slow?  Well, it's finally Friday and I am possibly as happy as they are about it.  I'm looking forward to a fun lazy week next week.
  2. I am so sick of my braces.  I'm in the home stretch (just a couple of months to go) but sometimes I fantasize about prying them off myself and never going back to the orthodontist.  I will be so happy when I can eat spinach in public again.
  3. I adore Haruki Murakami.  I finished a short story by him this morning, and I thought, It's like Borges, but with more sitting on the sofa and drinking beer.
  4. My kids love it when I make stuff for them.  This week I made some party invitations for one daughter and a sheet cake for my other daughter's class.  Their proud pleasure in these kind of things always surprises me (I always wonder, in the throes of one of these projects, wouldn't store-bought be better?).  I need to do it more often.
  5. This is a great song for a Friday and a holiday week:

Soup doesn't seem very tropical but they make really good soup here in Panama.  It's because of the culantro.  Culantro has brought me around to all kinds of meat dishes that I didn't like before.  It totally changes and brightens something dull like beef stew.  The other thing that has really gotten me into soup is plantain.  I love plantain in soup.  It really holds up to the long cooking time of the beef shanks and it's just slightly sweet (so nice against the brightness of the culantro and if you add some hot sauce--heaven).

Beef Shank Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 bone-in beef shanks
1 medium onion chopped fine
1 handfull of culantro chopped fine
2 carrots cut into large chunks (3 or 4 pieces/carrot)
2 plantains cut into large chunks (4 or 5 pieces/plantain)
5 cups of potatoes, ñame, otoe, yucca cut into large chunks (if you cut it too small it will disintegrate by the time the meat is tender)
10 cups of water or stock
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, over a high flame, quickly brown the shanks in the oil (I put a little salt and pepper on the meat at this point).  Remove the meat and add the onions and culantro to the hot oil.  when the onions are soft, add the other vegetables and the stock or water.  Put the beef back into the pot.  Partially cover and bring to a low boil.  Turn the flame all the way down (I move the pot to the smallest burner with the lowest flame at this point) and simmer for 2 to 3 hours.  Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, I take the shank out and cut up the meat and remove the gristle.  My kids like it with a bit of white rice.  But personally, I think the rice is totally unnecessary.  The typical hot sauce here is made with habaneros and it goes very well with this soup.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I love you but...

This morning I had to go up town to pick up my new ID.  As we drove into the heart of the city where the public offices are, I was reminded of my first impression of Panama and the infatuation I felt.  Before my husband took his job here, my daughters and I came with him to check it out while he went to some meetings.  We explored the city, hopping in and out of taxis, going from park, to movie theatre, to bookstore.  We had a great time.  I was delighted with Panama, but it wasn't the city that captivated me, it was the people.

It was the Panamanian accent, and the 'tu' instead of 'usted.'  From easygoing and quick-to-laugh taxi drivers, to the friendly kids in the park, I fell in love.  And I still love this place and the people.  This morning, after some banter with a civil servant and then the joking between the guy watching the parked cars and the guy with photocopy business in the back of his van, I thought, I still have a big crush on these people.  Then of course we turned on the radio to hear to a couple of pundits talking about the latest political scandal.  And there's the rub.

I love this country but I am alarmed and dismayed by its politics.  Corruption is taken for granted and there is no evidence that anyone in public office has any real concern for the people of this country.  When I got home the first article I read was this.  How can I conscionably live in a place that treats its children so badly?  It's like being in love with someone who's beautiful and fun but totally destructive.  You know, one of those people who has to hit rock bottom before they can get their life together.  I hope, for the sake of the people of this country, that there is no rock bottom in Panama's near future.  I hope, but I wish I felt more optimistic.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Punta Culebra

I had a great Sunday that started with Dim Sum and ended with a 15k run in Clayton.  In between we went to the Smithsonian's marine exhibit at Punta Culebra.  We hadn't been in a while and I was happy to see that they've made some improvements.  It's looking really good.  The exhibit is small and ideal for little kids.  There is a tank with sea turtles and nurse sharks, there are a couple of touch pools with star fish and sea cucumbers which are always fun and there is an indoor aquarium exhibit.  The kids' term break is next week and we are planning to do some snorkeling.  This was a good way to get them primed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

5 observations and quinoa pudding

gratuitous lapin lovelies
5 observations:

  1. I am on the verge of supreme nerdiness.  I finished Dances with Dragons on Monday and I'm suffering a little.  I've even been lurking on A Song of Ice and Fire discussion boards.  My enthusiasm for the series has definitely cooled but I would be lying if I said I wasn't anxious for the next book.
  2. Panamanian drivers have no respect or compassion for people running on the street.  I'm not really surprised by this when I'm running in my neighbourhood, but I expect a little more from people durring a race.  Seriously dude, where do you have to be at 7:00 AM on a Sunday that you can't slow down and let runners go by?
  3. Renovations are torture even before they've begun.  We will be starting some work on our house in October, and getting quotes and answers from contractors has been an ordeal.  I know it will only get worse once we actually get started.
  4. Short stories should get way more love.  I was blown away this week while rereading some Raymond Carver and Alice Munro.  There is nothing like dipping into a favourite collection of short stories--novel shmovel.
  5. "Lay of the Last Survivor" is my favourite song (right now) on Okkervil River's latest.  I am a big fan of Will Sheff's writing.   I enjoy his lyrics like poetry, rolling the words around in my head...  And old, piled fathers/ Soft-sighing daughters...

We are heading into the thick of the rainy season.  It's perfect pudding weather.
Quinoa Pudding
3/4 cup rinsed quinoa
3 cups whole milk
1/4 turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 small stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon butter

In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa, 2 cups milk, cinnamon and lemon peel to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, unti tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and remaining cup of milk. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stirring constantly, slowly pour egg mixture into quinoa; add raisins.

Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes (be careful because it can curdle at this stage if you leave it too long). Stir in vanilla and butter.   Pour pudding into a glass dish and let cool slightly. Cover surface directly with plastic and refrigerate until cold.