Friday, March 30, 2012

5 observations and salt cod fritters (torrejas de bacalao)

  1. One of my students gave me the fruit pictured above as a gift. It is a malay apple. Here in Panama it's called marañón curazao and in Costa Rica we knew it well as manzana de agua. This particular specimen was darker than I had seen before, but it tasted the same as it's rosy red brothers. It's a delicious fruit.; it's like crunchy, fragrant pear.
  2. I still hate spelling. My daughter's weekly spelling list seriously bums me out. She is a terrible speller and we need to drill spelling words every day. Her spelling is improving, but the thought of a new list every week until the end of the school year makes me peevish.
  3. My kids have brought Beyonce into my life. I would not know, or care too much about her if it were not for them. Last night, while I was running I realized that I love the song Countdown, not just like it in passing, but love it. It was the highlight of my playlist. Of course Radio Disney still makes me want to gnaw my arm off, I have my limits.
  4. The mosquitos seem to have subsided. Which is great, but I'm pretty sure the reason is that the broken pipe that was puddling water all over the street, is now a small river running down the street (mosquitos prefer standing water).
  5. This is song always makes me happy:

I love anything made with salt cod and I always take advantage of it's availability during Lent to make these:
salt cod fritters (torrejas de bacalao)
1 small fillet of salt cod
4 large starchy potatoes--cooked
1 cup of milk
1 egg
oil for frying

Start the day before you plan to make this by soaking the fish in water. This is to remove some of the salt --you should change the water regularly.
Rinse the fish and put it in a small pan with the milk. Let the fish simmer in the milk for 15-20 minutes.

Drain the fish and let it cool. Flake the fish with a fork.

Mash the potatoes. Add the fish and the egg and the pepper. Mix all the ingredients together.

Heat the oil. Form the mixture into little patties and fry until golden.

Enjoy them with hot sauce!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

run the risk

as you can see it's pretty flat
I'm doing my training for a trail race in the middle of the city. There are a couple of hilly places to run in Panama, but for a real trail run you need to drive out of town. So my regular weeknight runs are on flat, city streets. I do the alpine workout on the elliptical at the gym (of which I am the boss of, by the way) but I have some apprehension about how well I will be prepared to race on a trail in the mountains.

And last night I wiped out (bit it quite spectacularly). Scraped my shoulder and shin and skinned my knee and elbow (I look a mess). I was running on a straight stretch of street. I think I might have tripped on a loose rock (there was a lot of debris on the street last night). But it worries me. I am a klutz. Will I really be ready for a trail run at the end of April?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sunday afternoon Casco Viejo

We went down to Casco Viejo to see some streel theatre in Plaza Catedral. It was part of a performing arts that is going on right now and the show was really good.
clowns from Argentina

After the show we got ice cream and wandered around.
city view
ruins on the beach
the shady way
the lady with an iguana on  her shoulder
so many pretty things
gathering her wares
the guy with the banjo played a little calypso
the bridge

tango on the saxophone
It was a very satisfying couple of hours. And the light was so lovely as we walked back to the car...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

5 observations and plantain melts

  1. It rained a little and a little white flower popped up on our dry lawn. The rainy season is coming.
  2. Friday errands are a nightmare in this city. The traffic is the awful. I think everyone goes for lunch or gets off early. And don't even think about getting a taxi... I had to go out yesterday and spent a ridiculous amount of time in the car. 
  3. It was open house at my kids' school yesterday. It's really nice to meet your kid's teacher and find them to be enthusiastic about their subject, and concerned about your kid. The last teacher I saw had been talking to parents non-stop for almost two hours, and she still described what the kids were doing in class with such pleasure and energy. It was cool to see.
  4. I took my (older) daughter to see The Hunger Games last night. We are fairly serious fans--she was wearing her girl on fire T-shirt. We loved it. Of course it's not as good as the book, but I thought they did a good job and I thought it was a good set up for the sequel--I think the second movie will  probably be better than this one and with a good director could be better than the book. Mother-daughter bonding over dystopian science fiction--it doesn't get any better than that!
  5. This is good:

We have a bunch of ripe plantain right now. When it's really ripe my favourite thing to do with it is fry it and melt cheese on it (queso fresco). It's really the best thing to do with ripe plantains.
looks weird, but tastes good

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

one of the best parts of my week

I find teaching people a language fascinating. Everyone is different and there is so much vulnerability in speaking a different language. It is necessary to make a fool of yourself to learn--there really is no other way (something I am often and painfully aware of as I go about my day in Spanish). I love how students just translate in the beginning; all their grammatical structures are in Spanish. I tell them, think it out in English, even if it seems too simple--you will learn faster. And then when they do, when they understand what it means to think in English, it's like the training wheels coming off a bike. It's amazing.

I volunteer teach a course at a foundation that has a training program for women (the CAPTA program at Calicanto). I love this job. The women I get to teach are in the process of reinventing themselves. For the first time in their lives they are doing something that is just for them and they are seeing the possibility of a better life for themselves and for their children. It's inspiring.  For some of them, the idea of speaking English seems impossible, but they try. In fact, they work hard (some of these women really struggle). They are in the process of believing in themselves (maybe for the first time in their lives) and they have brand new confidence and it is so fresh and optimistic; I think it works better than old confidence.

I was thinking today, how obviously, there's not enough time to teach them an entire language (the course is only seven weeks). But that they really do learn a lot, and it's because they are in this moment of reinvention. They really give themselves the opportunity to try. They are vulnerable in so many ways and I think this makes them better students. They also help each other. In no other regular class that I teach, is cooperative learning as effective as it is with these women. They work together and support each other. They aren't afraid to try, and they work well together. Can you imagine a more ideal group of students?
giving some pronunciation help (well, at least I hope that's what I'm doing) 

Monday, March 19, 2012

strengthening my core

the beginning of January there was this meme in the internet world that I travel. It was, instead of making resolutions, choose a word to guide your year. Choose a single word that sums up your hopes and aspirations. I liked the idea; I like words. I chose my word and held it close. I didn't tell anyone and I didn't write about it here. I've held this word in my mind and written it on the top of the page and sometimes it forms in my mind at the most unexpected moments. It's been helpful, and now that this word has knocked around in my head for couple of months, I feel ready to offer it up.

I have to confess that a large part of my reticence to writing about this, is related to my disdain of all things self-helpy. I am usually of the opinion that I don't need any help. So I'm a little embarrassed about this, it's maybe not the image I have of myself.  But in the spirit of my word... Open, my word is open. Open-hearted. Open minded. Open to the possibility. Open handed. Open. I am kind of closed by nature, so this has been difficult at times (like right now). But it's also been great. I feel a little less tightly wound and it's a good feeling.

So in this new spirit of openness, I joined the gym yesterday. I hate the gym. I hate the idea of the gym. That's why I run. But I have kind of hit the wall in my running. I run, but I'm not strong. I can't get faster. And I've known for awhile that I needed to do something about this because I want to be faster. This surprises me. It seems to me that I should be happy plodding along as I do. But I really want to be fast. I crave it. I daydream about it. So I joined the gym and bought an exercise ball so I can strengthen my core. I feel alternately ridiculous and pleased about this. Oh, and also sore in new places...
open to the pain (it looks so harmless, like a bubble..)

Friday, March 16, 2012

5 observations and orange banana bread

such a handsome fellow

  1. I think the greatest pleasure we get from our cats is watching them sleep. A day does not go by without one of us exclaiming at the decadent, sprawled repose of one the cats.
  2. I've practiced driving, I'm enrolled in a course (a prerequisite for getting a licence here in Panama) I have a car. This is really going to happen people!
  3. We have been having terrible mosquitos at night. Our house is quite open so it's difficult to escape them. The city has fumigated several times but it hasn't helped that much. There is standing water somewhere nearby and it's not being dealt with. This is frustrating.
  4. An iguana fell out of the big tree in our yard yesterday. It made such a thunk when it hit the ground. Thankfully the cat did not chase it into the house this time. I prefer not to have large iguanas hiding behind the fridge.
  5. The big music news this week (well if you're me) was that Fiona Apple debuted some songs from her new album at SXSW. I am super excited about this. Have you seen the title for her new album? She totally wins. There's footage from SXSW on youtube, but  I'm going to post the video for "Not About Love" from Extraordinary Machine because it has Zach Galifianakis in it, and I certainly had no idea who he was when this video came out, and now he's probably more famous than Fiona herself. Also it's pretty funny:

I make a lot of banana bread. We are banana bread people; we eat it for breakfast and with coffee in the afternoon and my daughter takes it for lunch. I have already posted my standard recipe, but I've been messing around with a new recipe. This recipe is bigger--it makes a bundt pan.

Orange Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar--a combination of brown and white is nice
3 whole Eggs
1-1/2 cup Mashed Ripe Bananas
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 cup All-purpose Flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1-1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
3/4 cup pulpy fresh squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup coconut milk (not sweetened)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour bundt pan.
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time, beating for a few seconds after each addition. Beat in mashed bananas and orange rind.
Add dry ingredients and juice and coconut milk alternately to the mixing bowl. Beat until all combined.
Pour into bundt pan and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

tips for taking a trip to Guna Yala

We're planning a camping trip to Guna Yala and I thought of a few useful tips that I didn't mention in my Guna Yala post.

  • If you are going for the day, leave as early as you can. I think the prices are very fair, but you pay to enter the comarca, you pay to leave your car at the dock, you pay for the boat and finally, you pay to be on an island. Make a full day of it.
  • The road to Carti is a winding, mountainous road. If you are prone to motion sickness you probably won't feel well. Come prepared.
  • Bring your ID. If you are foreign, bring your passport and make sure your tourist visa is not expired. There is a SENAFRONT (border police) post before the dock at Carti.
  • There are life jackets on the boats (all regular adult sizes, and some in better shape than others). But if you are traveling with small children, I would recommend bringing your own child-sized life jackets. 
  • The boat drivers have snorkels to rent, but if you have your own bring them. Especially for kids--the snorkels on the boats are usually adult-sized and a little manky.
  • Reef shoes are not necessary, but are excellent to have. My kids love their reef shoes and would not enjoy the beach, especially the Caribbean side, half as much as they do without reef shoes. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

tiny fluffy things

It was a strange week full of baby animals and feeling tiny heartbeats in my hand. Our rabbits turned out to be a male and a female. And so you know, rabbits... When I realized the female was pregnant, I thought, well, it will be an interesting experience for the kids (I had no idea). I finally found a vet that will fix the rabbits and I planned that after they had their litter, they could go for a little procedure in the vet's office. I thought it would be nice.

We have two cats so I was very worried about these baby bunnies. I tried to get the mother to have them in the kennel. I brought her in every night. But she somehow, despite my best efforts, made a nest at the base of a tree and had her babies there. Her burrow was well hidden, I couldn't find it and the cats didn't find it for a week. When Cookie proudly came into the house with a tiny bunny in her maw I was horrified. I quickly found the nest and covered the air hole with chicken wire so the cats couldn't get in. There appeared to be five or six more babies and the nest was ingenious.

I was so impressed with Hiphop (the mother rabbit) and her nest. She would dig a passage into the burrow and cover it back up when she was done. (The opening I had covered with wire was just an air-hole through the roots of the tree.) I was amazed by nature. I read about rabbits on the internet and was fascinated. Rabbits don't lie with their young. They nurse them twice in a 24 hour period. They don't hang around their babies, and humans often mistake this behaviour for neglect. I decided to let nature take it's course and didn't interfere. I made the kids stay away from the nest, and really thought I was doing the right thing. Until Wednesday, my girls really wanted to see the babies. The baby rabbits would be about 10 days old. I was curious too, so we locked the cats in the house and with happy anticipation, we went over to the big tree.

I moved the wire and immediately knew something was wrong, from the smell, and the flies, and the biting black ants streaming into the burrow. There was one live baby left; it was so weak, it only lived a couple of hours after we found it, and it smelled like it was already dead. Horrible. And really hard on my girls.

I don't know why the mother abandoned the nest. The whole thing was so tragic and awful. I will definitely not be attempting rabbit husbandry again. I don't have the guts for it.

The whole thing was so disturbing, that when we rescued a baby bird that had blown out of it's nest on windy, Saturday morning, I felt sick to my stomach. Amazingly, The cats hadn't hurt the little thing. We couldn't find the nest (I suspect it's in my neighbour's yard). It was too small to fly, so we took it to the rehabilitation centre at Parque Metropolitano. They happily accepted it and told us it was probably a Ruiseñor (Southern Nightingale-Wren). So, we rescued a songbird. It didn't make up for the baby bunny horror show, but I felt a little less lousy and I know my girls did too.

Friday, March 9, 2012

5 observations and peanut butter chocolate chip bars

blooms at the beach

  1. Hey, I got my braces off this week. It feels so good. Of course I'm pleased with how it looks (I was always pretty self-conscious of my crooked teeth). But mostly I'm enjoying to eat again. Eating with braces is uncomfortable and sometimes painful and usually gross for your dining companions. I'm very happy to finally have them off.
  2. We took the kids to a local production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last night. It's a well-loved book and movie around here and the girls really enjoyed it. I will have the Oompa Loompa song in my head for the next month.
  3. The kids had the concluding show for their summer theatre classes last weekend. They had so much fun in their theatre classes this year. I'm really grateful for the summer arts programs my kids have done over the years here in Panama. It is one of the great things about living in this city.
  4. We are in full school-year swing. Every afternoon is a mad dash of homework, swimming and work. My older daughter started junior high this year and her homework has definitely increased. That girl pretty much swims and does homework. She seems to relish it though. She's usually asleep before her little sister.
  5. Andrew Bird's new album is out and I predictably love it. Here's a great song from it:

and to see a video go

A school-lunch favourite:
peanut butter chocolate chip bars
1½ cups all-purpose flour (or 3/4 whole wheat 3/4 all-purpose)

½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup peanut butter
½ cup butter (room temperature)
½ cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips (semisweet or milk chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9X13 pan.

Sift and whisk together the flour, b. soda and salt and set aside.

Cream together the butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Add the egg and vanilla and continue mixing.  Fold in the flour and chocolate chips.

When it's mixed press it into the pan.

Bake for about 20 minutes. Start checking it at 15 minutes.