Jamaica Rum Punch


Hiron and his daughter, Albia Lugila (our god-daughter) stopped by our house mid-December and invited us to her Quinceañera. In exchange for a bag of frioles and two large Grenadina fruits, they asked us to supply the grand fiesta with liquor…enough liquor to serve over 200 festive party goers.  That’s a lot of liquor! What could we make and how would we transport it to the little community at the base of the active volcano?

After much thought, we decided to make Jamaica Rum punch. It’s not a traditional drink for a grand fiesta, but it would serve many people and keep the cost low. Jamaica is a flower known to many as the Hibiscus flower. It grows abundantly in Nicaragua and has many astonishing health benefits. High in vitamins and minerals, its powerful antioxidant properties help to lower elevated blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and detoxify the entire body. Since Jamaica is high in electrolytes such as chloride, magnesium, potassium and sodium, the juice can be used to replenish electrolytes in the body after exercise, a day in the sun, or in this case a long night of partying and dancing. Of course, we added three gallons of rum to our punch, so it’s hard to say if the rum counteracted the health benefits. Regardless, the Jamaica Rum punch was a BIG hit. We served 20 gallons in less than two hours.

There is a large field of Jamaica near our house. With the permission of the owners and armed with two five gallon buckets, some friends, and lots of energy, we spent a morning picking fresh Jamaica flowers.

IMG_0831A close up of the Jamaica flower…a vibrant, gorgeous red.
IMG_0813An hour later, we had filled two five gallon buckets with Jamaica flowers.
IMG_0810The Nicaraguan way of carrying a bucket of Jamaica flowers.
IMG_0836Opening the flowers, we exposed the seeds. They look like tiny chocolate chips. We dried them in the sun and several days later, Ron planted the seeds to start our own Jamaica field.
IMG_0818Back at our house, we separated the flowers from the seeds. With timed contests, it was clear that Maria had lots of experience separating the flowers and seeds. She was consistently the winner!
IMG_0837The small seed pods are perfect colors for Christmas.
IMG_0838I let Ron find the ratio of water to Jamaica leaves. Math totally frustrates me. We wanted a strong concentrate so we could fill two five gallon buckets with the juice, then add more water, rum, sugar, and lots of pineapple chunks and orange slices. We hoped to end up with 20 gallons of Jamaica Rum punch to take to the party.
IMG_0843Ron planned a 1:1 ratio of water to leaves initially. I boiled the leaves for 5 minutes, then it simmered for 10 minutes. This took all day with the amount of flowers we picked and only one large pot.
IMG_0845When the concentrate was a deep red color, we poured it into a bucket, strained the leaves, then added 3 pounds of sugar per bucket. Whew! That was a long day!
IMG_0844The next day was the Quinceañera.We loaded our two buckets of concentrated Jamaica juice, a borrowed bean bowl for the punch bowl, 20 pounds of ice that I made and stored in our freezer, and an overnight bag into a taxi. Then, we stopped in town to pick up 2 borrowed coolers, more ice, 5 gallons of rum, a 5 gallon container of water, 5 pineapples, 20 oranges, and we were off to the party. 

Let me tell you of a good business for Moyogalpa…an ice machine. No one sells cubed ice on the island. We had to order 12 small bags of blocked ice from a woman named Vicky. She must have a freezer in her house and has a nice little business selling blocks of ice.

Since I sincerely doubt that you will be making 20 gallons of Jamaica Rum punch, the recipe that follows is for a smaller quantity and modified because we have most of the ingredients growing at our house.

                                                    Jamaica Rum Punch
3 quarts of water
1 ( 1/2 inch) piece of ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 cups dried Jamaica flowers, also known as hibiscus, 2 cups of fresh flowers
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups of Flor de Cana rum
slices of oranges, pineapple, limes, and other fruit
Ice
Instructions:
Combine water and ginger in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and add Jamaica flowers and sugar until the sugar dissolves. (If you are using fresh flowers, add them to the boiling water). Let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a large heat-resistant bowl or pot. Stir in lime juice and refrigerate. When ready to serve, add ice, 2 cups of rum, pineapple chunks, and orange slices.

You can find the dried Jamaica flowers at most Latin grocery stores or online.

Rico! I can’t wait until our own Jamaica ( pronounced Him-i’-ca) field is in bloom. I think we’ll make Jamaica wine, next.  By the way…the 15th birthday party was a blast. I think I took over 200 photos…next post coming soon.

Weekly Photo Challenge: My Hard-Working Community


This week, in a post created specifically for this challenge, show us community, and interpret it any way you please! The Weekly Photo Challenge  My Ometepe Island community is composed of hard-working people of all ages.

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing.” ― Thomas Jefferson

Have oxen, will pick up and deliver

                                                 Have oxen, will pick up and deliver

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
― Beverly Sills

Have sugar cane, will travel.

                             Have sugar cane, will travel.

“Many who are self-taught far excel the doctors, masters, and bachelors of the most renowned universities.” ― Ludwig von Mises

Have boat, will fish.

                                                        Have boat, will fish.

“No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American. ”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Have wood, will cook.

                                         Have wood, will cook.

“Sometimes there’s not a better way. Sometimes there’s only the hard way.”
― Mary E. Pearson, The Fox Inheritance

Have hands, will pick beans.

                                                    Have hands, will pick beans.

“Children take joy in their work and sometimes as adults we forget that’s something we should continue doing.”
― Ashley Ormon, God in Your Morning

Have goats, will raise.

                                     Have goats, will raise.

“All success comes down to this . . . action” ― Rob Liano

Have cart, will collect garbage.

                                          Have cart, will haul your stuff.

“As I tell my children, ‘If you are going to do something, do your best while you’re doing it.”
― Michelle Moore, Selling Simplified

Have puppies, will charm you into buying them.

               Have puppies, will charm you into buying them.

 

 

 

The Plowman


Living a simple life of hard labor, our neighbor reminds me of the Plowman in the Canterbury Tales. He weaves his way through the fields, calling to his oxen, “Chele, Ya! Chele.” ( Chele is a nickname for white skin. “White, Go! White.”) The plowman was the most recognized symbol of the poor in the medieval world and was associated with great virtue. Nicaragua has many plowmen of great virtue. Lacking high-tech farm equipment such as tractors, these hard-working men travel from field to field with their oxen teams helping their friends and neighbors prepare for the planting season.

Ploughing family farms promptly at the beginning of the rainy season is critical to ensuring household food security and farm livelihoods.
IMG_2876Once the field is furrowed, a worker places sugar cane reeds in the furrows.
IMG_2878They haul the cane on their backs.
IMG_2869Then, sharp machetes chop the cane into small pieces and it is covered with dirt.
IMG_2868The plowman takes excellent care of his oxen. One tractor costs as much as 30 pairs of oxen that can do the work of three tractors. Animal traction is less expensive, more environment friendly, and more flexible than tractors.
IMG_2885The oxen take a rest. On average, a bovine needs 20-30 pounds of forage a day. These oxen are strong and healthy.
IMG_2874Dry season feeding is survival management for the cattle. It is estimated that cattle lose 50% of the weight gained during the rainy season.  Our neighbor understands the importance of growing cane for the dry season. The cane tops are cut and stored once they are mature and used to feed the cattle during the long, six months of the dry season.
IMG_2872It’s a busy morning in the field. The dogs roll and run through the field. The sharp machetes slice through the cane, and the virtuous plowman furrows the fertile earth for a blessed harvest during the dry season.
IMG_2879

 

The Ometepe Tourist Fair


Last weekend, Moyogalpa held a tourist fair showcasing activities, traditional dances, bands, products, hostels, and hotels for tourists visiting Ometepe Island. When I think of the county fairs I have attended in the states, I recall wisps of roasted peanuts and pulled pork filtered through barnyard smells of heifers and freshly sheared sheep. I recall the faint chill of sweater weather and goose bumps as I’m stalled on the ferris wheel high above the fair grounds almost touching the twinkling stars. I taste sawdust, hear the shrill calls of the game masters daring one and all to test their strength and tossing skills, and watch the faces of children as they bounce and fly through the air with eyes as big as pumpkins.

The Ometepe tourist fair was unlike any fair I had attended in the states. The smells of sweat and gallo pinto mingled among the fair goers and participants. Hair gel plastered sweat drenched hair, taming it like a wild horse. Tourist booths, decked in tropical fruits and garnished with baskets of vegetables, homemade wine, and miniature garden displays, enticed fair goers. Children waited eagerly for the plastic dog house to inflate…the only ride in the fair. Music boomed from gigantic speakers. Recycled plastic water bottles morphed into flowers, turtles, and garbage cans. Displays of solar panels, water purifiers, and crafts abounded. Professional brochures of hostels and hotels fanned heated guests.

Enjoy my slideshow of the Ometepe Tourist Fair! It is definitely a keeper!

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Eating: An Agricultural Act


 

 

“Eating is an agricultural act.”
Wendell Berry, What Are People For?

After reading Wendell Berry’s essay on the Pleasures of Eating, I doubt that I will ever be a passive food consumer again. Living on Ometepe Island, we are intimately involved with our food. It is a loving, complex relationship from planting to eating… from a terra firma cradle to an acidic churning grave.

We are active participants in the process of food production. Our lives revolve around planting, picking, fishing, harvesting, and nourishing. We’ve formed profound connections between the land and eating, between the rainy and dry seasons, and the lunar planting and harvesting calendar. We know what we eat! And, I’m beginning to think that we are what we eat… healthy fruit loving, vegetable chomping, fresh egg hunting, fish catching, food lovers.

What we can’t grow, a Friday morning vegetable truck delivers to our house. Depending on the season, we choose broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, Chinese lettuce, cabbage, and hot chili peppers from the back of our favorite vegetable truck. “Do you have bananas?” I ask. “Not today,” they respond, “but, we will bring them next Friday.”  It is like stepping back into the 1950′s here. This is the way to shop for vegetables.

Carla, a single mother of two, has a tiny grocery store (a pulperia), four houses away. When we want fresh homemade sweet bread, chicken, or the occasional Coca Cola for our rum drinks,  I walk up our sandy path to visit Carla. I play with her baby, we talk about the latest news in our community, and I return home with my bag full of cheap goodies to supplement our meals.

For the rare times that we eat out (usually on a shopping trip to Moyogalpa), we usually buy breakfast at The Corner House. Gary and Laura serve wholesome, organic food and fruit smoothies. Everything is homemade and delicious. Their cranberry scones are out of this world!

Seven years ago, we had to leave the island to buy peanut butter, chocolate, spices, whole wheat flour, brown rice, and other ‘gringo’ foods. Now, Hugo’s grocery store makes bimonthly trips to Price-Mart in Managua. They email me before they leave, and I send a list of items, of which chocolate chips are always at the top of the list. Everything else we need, we can get at our local Mini Super in Moyogalpa. Guillermo, the owner of the Mini Super, is a savvy business owner catering to the needs of the expats and foreign tourists on the island.

Wendell Berry states, “Eating with the fullest pleasure — pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance — is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.”  I totally agree. My connections with the land grow stronger daily. Enjoy my food photos!

 

 

Princessa and the Twins


Rudy's twins

The Spanish brought the first cattle to Nicaragua in the 16th century. Since then, Nicaragua has successfully been raising beef for export and local consumption. Although the country is suitable for raising cattle with its rolling hills covered with grass, very little attention is given to improving the breed.

Few farmers make hay when the sun shines. During the dry season from January through April, the cattle are left to fend for themselves. In an exceptionally dry season, the Pará and Guinea grasses wither and die, and the cattle starve. Their bones are found scattered throughout the fields and along the dusty roads.

I know I’m a suburban kinda gal, but I can’t stand to see any animal suffer. I never saw a skinny pig before we moved to Nicaragua. It breaks my heart to see some of the pitiful creatures walking the roads. Sometimes I just want to open our fence gate and let them all in to graze on our gringo grass. Instead, I take grass cuttings and dump them over our fence posts. There are usually two or three regular horses and cows that know where to wait for me. Que lastima!

Fences in Nicaragua are made to keep livestock out. When we had to repair our fences after an unusually wet season last year, we wondered why we needed to pay for the fence posts because we did not have any livestock.  Cattle surround us on all sides of our property. Apparently, it is common knowledge that property owners build fences to keep the livestock out of their property.

I used to be afraid of large, muscular creatures, but after my love affair with Bullwinkle and almost killing him with my wheelbarrow full of mangoes, I have developed a soft spot for big, fat cows and bulls. Now, I’m like a mother hen protecting them and tethering them to our trees during the dry season so they will have some tasty gringo grass to eat.

Princessa

Julio has a new cow. I was going to name her Natasha, but Julio calls her Princessa. She is Bullwinkle’s sister, so I know that she has the same, sweet disposition as Bullwinkle. Today, I called her to the fence, “Venga Princessa, venga.” She waddled over to me and nuzzled my camera. She likes to be scratched behind her ears, just like her brother. Her smooth, chocolaty brown fur glistened in the sun. She certainly is a beauty.

I’m going to be extra protective of Princessa. Julio is breeding her and they hope to get milk to make cheese. I’ve never milked a cow in my life, or made cheese. Julio promised to let me milk her, and I promised not to feed Princessa any mangoes. I kind of feel like I’ve been thrown into Green Acres, the Latino version. This suburban gal has a lot to learn about country living.

 

How to perform the Heimlich Manuever on a Bull


Bullwinkle the Bull

Large, muscular animals scare me! I rode a horse… once in my life, and then it was only because Francisco borrowed one when he invited us to hike across the island. I didn’t want to offend him because I knew he went to a lot of trouble to borrow the horse. Actually, I think it was a donkey, but it was still larger and more muscular than me!

I was overcome with trepidation when our neighbors asked if they could tether their new bull to one of our trees. What if..he gets loose..charges after me..butts me with his head…steps on me…tramples me to death?  After much reassurance that the young bull was only seeking green grass ( only gringos have grass in the dry season because we water it daily), I relented…reluctantly.

Mango heaven

Julio coaxed the bull into our green grass by offering him soft mangoes that had fallen from our trees. I hid in the kitchen and watched, as Julio tethered the bull to one of our mango trees. After several hours, I noticed that the bull had eaten a large circle of grass around the tree. “Maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought,” I reassured myself. He was going to make an excellent lawn mower.

In Nicaragua, only the very wealthy own lawnmowers. In fact, I have only seen one lawnmower on the island. Instead, sharp machetes are the choice of the macho in the art of grass cutting. For five dollars a day, we hire two strong men to machete our two and a half acres. I doubt that I will ever be able to convince Ron to buy a lawnmower, especially after he saw the fine job that the bull was doing.

Bullwinkle my lawnmower

In less than a week, our field began to resemble a neatly chewed pattern of crop circles. My fears of a large, muscular animal were slowly dissipating. He was kind of cute with the beginnings of little furry horns sprouting from his head like stocks of celery. He would bat his long eyelashes, and give me a flirtatious wink. And those ears…those precious, long flapping ears. A bull that winks…yes, that’s it…you are now Bullwinkle the bull.

Naming a large, muscular animal changes everything. Bullwinkle was no longer something to fear. He was a magnificent creature. A gentle bull that enjoyed smelling the flowers, relaxing in the shade of a mango tree, and eating soft mangoes.  He was Ferdinand, in Nicaragua.

I gathered the nerve to reach out and pet him, then scratch him behind his ears.He loved that! Bullwinkle and I were developing a good working relationship. I fed him soft mangoes daily, and in turn he supplied us with manure for the garden, while he munched circles through our tall grass.

One day, when I was gathering wheelbarrows of rotten mangoes, I noticed that Bullwinkle was trying to duck under the barbed wire fence that separated our property from Don Jose’s property. He smelled mangoes! Where else, but in Nicaragua can one find mango fed cattle?

I usually only fed Bullwinkle one soft mango at a time, but since I had a wheelbarrow full of mangoes, I dumped them over the fence. Bullwinkle buried his snout into the pile. He was in mango heaven! He drooled thick gooey chains of mango saliva, while gorging on several mangoes at once.

Bullwinkle tied to a tree

Suddenly, I heard Bullwinkle coughing. He was choking on a mango lodged in his throat. Hack, cough, hack, cough! Frantic with fear, I jumped the barbed wire fence to find Julio. He would know what to do. Julio and two friends tied Bullwinkle to a tree. Oh my God, Oh, my God! Bullwinkle is choking to death! How do you perform the Heimlich maneuver on a bull? It’s all my fault! I killed Bullwinkle!

Two guys forced Bullwinkle’s mouth open, while Julio ran to the closest plantain tree and chopped it down with his sharp machete. He stripped the soft green outer layer from the trunk of the plantain. My mind was reeling. What is he going to do with that slippery plantain pole? I watched in horror when Julio shoved the slippery trunk down Bullwinkle’s throat.

It was over in a matter of seconds. With my eyes clamped shut, I listened to the gurgling, the frantic shouting of directions, the swishing of the slippery pole thrust into Bullwinkle’s throat, then the eery silence that followed. Bullwinkle is dead, I whimpered. I killed Bullwinkle. I’m so sorry.

I cracked open my eyes just enough to see the boys untying the rope from around Bullwinkle’s neck. He was breathing steadily. No coughing, no hacking. It was a miracle! Bullwinkle was alive. The slippery plantain trunk forced into Bullwinkle’s esophagus had dislodged the mango.

Bullwinkle and Julio pose for a photo

Several months later, Julio sold Bullwinkle to a farmer in San José. He reassured me that Bullwinkle had lots of new girlfriends. Bullwinkle was growing up, and it was time for him to breed. I miss him!

The mangoes are starting to get ripe again. Julio just bought another young bull. Although, this bull can never replace Bullwinkle, I have developed a soft spot in my heart for these magnificent, strong, and very muscular creatures. I hope this bull is a gentle giant like Bullwinkle. I haven’t named him, yet. However, I know that when I do, our relationship will flourish. Names change everything. And, if you are wondering….this bull will never get any mangoes from me.  That ain’t no bull!