What’s in an Expat Fridge?


“Drink from the cup of life, you will be fulfilled.
Yet…
drink from the milk container in the fridge,
and your wife will make you wish that you had drunk from the cup of life.”
― Anthony T. Hincks

I am on a housesitter’s forum on Facebook because it helps me get contacts for good housesitters. Also, as a homeowner, we sometimes get trashed on these sites because housesitters complain that our homes are too dirty, or our fridges are full of rotten, moldy food, or our pillows are too soft or too hard, etc. Sometimes I feel like I have to defend the homeowners.

A housesitter posted a list of questions she asked prospective owners. Most of the questions were reasonable like, “How many pets do you have? Are they up-to-date on their vaccinations? Is the closest town within walking distance?”

But then I read this, “Post a photo of the inside of your refrigerator.”

Hmmm…So I asked why. And she responded,

It’s something we ask after getting surprised one too many times with refrigerators not sanitary in any way, shape, or form. We’re not looking to see what you have per say, as much as the condition you keep your fridge because we’ve found that to be a good indicator as to how clean you keep your home as well. It really sucks when the first thing you have to do upon arrival to a home is spending 4-6 hours cleaning the fridge just to make sure you don’t get food poisoning. Not to mention, quite often the rest of the home is just as dirty. And we aren’t there to be your house cleaners. After experiencing three like that in a row, we now ask to see what the fridge looks like. 

I thanked her for her response and checked her off my list as a potential housesitter.

Although this post isn’t about housesitters, I became curious to know what is inside expat fridges because they do represent a different way of eating and storing food, especially in the tropics.

So, here is a picture of what’s inside my fridge. Notice, it is clean, no rotten food, no mold, nothing that would cause food poisoning. Although, I have to admit that were notorious for keeping some moldy leftovers in our fridge in the states.  But, living on a tropical island has changed our fridge contents and our respect for food drastically. Let me explain why.


1. Sanitary conditions

 Living in the tropics, nothing is sacred to the infestation of bugs that swarm annually. Everything must be sealed tightly and even then, the tiny insects can always find a way to ruin your prized pumpernickel bread you found at La Colonia. All perishables go into the fridge or freezer.

Currently we have an infestation of tiny book lice. Fortunately they don’t like my food, but they are building nests inside my Kindle. ( And yes, they are really called book lice! ) Their only entrance is through my charger hole, so I had to find a way to deter them. After shaking hundreds of tiny book lice gently out the charger hole, I discovered that a drop of neem oil around the charger hole keeps them at bay.

Things rot quickly in the tropics. We experimented keeping our tomatoes out of the fridge or inside. They rotted within two days outside the fridge, and stayed rock hard inside the fridge. Nicaragua doesn’t have a good selection of tomatoes anyway, so we chose to refrigerate them so they would last longer.

All fruit is either refrigerated, processed and frozen, or canned. We freeze mangoes, water apples, Jackfruit, and Suriname cherries from our trees and bushes. We used to make mango jam and salsa and can it, but unless we started at 4 am, the day was too hot to keep the water boiling on the stove for canning.

Milk comes in cardboard containers and when we open it, the container goes into the fridge. We keep our eggs in the fridge, too. I know that is not custom here, but if we don’t put them in the fridge, we need a safe spot so our kitties won’t swipe them onto the floor. They are little rascals like that!  Continue reading

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: A Pickle Tree


One day, when we were preparing chicken to grill, our neighbor pointed out the Mimbro tree at the side of our house. It is a very unique and strange tree with little pickle shaped pods that seem to grow right out of the trunk of the tree.

MimbroTo my surprise, the Mimbro fruit has a variety of uses in addition to making a fine marinate for chicken.

Marinate for chicken:
Wash and slice 4-6 Mimbro fruits and add them to the squeezed juice of 3-4 sour oranges. Pour over raw chicken and marinate several hours or overnight. If grilling, baste the chicken in the marinate. If baking, pour the marinade over the chicken and bake as directed.

Cleaning a machete:
The Mimbro is very acidic and the juice can be used to clean the blade of a machete or a dagger.

Bleaching stains:
Because of the high oxalic content in the Mimbro juice, it can be used to bleach stains from hands and remove rust from white cloth.

Brass cleaner:
The juice removes tarnish from brass, too.

Medicinal uses:
The fruit conserve is administered as a treatment for coughs. When boiled into a syrup, the syrup is taken as a cure for fever and inflammation. Amazingly, the syrup alleviates internal hemorrhoids, too.

Who would have thought that the unique “pickle tree” would have so many uses!

 

The Grand Opening of the Pollo Grill


The Pollo Grill

“Una fuego,” Marina shouted over the fence this evening. (A fire) “Yes,” I shouted back.  “Finally.” I’ve begged for a barbecue for over a year. Guillermo was supposed to build me a barbecue, but he never did. So, when Wilmer came out to the house two weeks ago looking for work, I hired him on the spot to build me a barbeque.

We tore apart my brick living room set. I know everyone was happy about that. Last year, I made a darling little brick couch, chair, and coffee table with the leftover bricks from the construction of our houses. I’ve never heard the end of the kidding, but I enjoyed my little outdoor living room. It held up well under the deluge of rain. We found lots of scorpions hiding in the cracks. I wondered what they would taste like barbecued.

Wilmer worked steadily for three days, then he went on a drinking binge last weekend. Always optimistic, I waited four more days for him to return to finish the job…and sure enough, he did. I think he needed money for his next binge. Regardless, the barbecue was finished.

This morning, a chicken laid an egg under my barbecue table, which led Ron to build three nesting boxes for the hens under the table. Congrejo, Marina’s dog, sneaked into the nest on the ground and gulped down the old egg decoy Ron placed in the nest so the hens would know where to lay their eggs. Next time we fire up the grill, hopefully we’ll have fresh eggs to fry. I love a dual purpose barbecue!

Ron built a metal grill out of old purlin, and we were ready to fire up the new pollo grill. To christen our new barbecue, we bought a big hunk of Filet Mignon at the new Maxi Pali in Rivas when we returned from the beach on Wednesday. Fortunately, my friend Billy caught the thief who stole my Filet Mignon on the launcha. He set the bag of meat on the floor of the launcha, turned around to find a seat, and the bag was gone! A little old lady had taken my bag of meat! She was hiding in the corner of the launcha and surrendered the meat peacefully, if not somewhat sheepishly.

The Filet of Mignon was grilled to perfection. We celebrated the christening of the new pollo grill with a fine feast. Maybe tomorrow, we’ll have a grilled omelet if the hens decide to pay forward Ron’s kindness for building them a secure nesting spot!

A Nacatamale Christmas


Christmas nacatamales, candy, and iguana

Six years ago, I was invited to share in the making of Christmas nacatamales, while Ron and Cory climbed Vulcan Concepcion. Grandma arrived in a green polyester suit with frayed sandals, the heart of our neighbor’s Christmas tradition.  While she was mixing the fresh pork with rice and vegetables, Luvis cleaned the pig head that had been slaughtered early in the morning.  The little kids were soaking the banana leaves that Papa gathered, Gloria was stirring a big smoky pot of pig rinds, and I was embellishing the wrapped nacatamales with big banana bows of gratefulness.

They were the most delicious treat of the holiday season, but more than that, the family accepted me as part of their family tradition.  Right there in the middle of bloody pig guts, chickens pecking on the dirt floor, a piglet eating slop from an inverted Frisbee, four bony dogs salivating at the smell of greasy pork skins, and the pallid head of a dead pig staring at me, I knew that this was Christmas at its finest.  I had been given an opportunity to be fully immersed in a foreign culture.

To honor the annual Christmas tradition of the national snack in Nicaragua, and the most lavish tamale in Latin America, I have a revised, gringo recipe below.

Pork and Marinade
2/3 cup long-grain white rice
1 cup cold water
1 clove garlic minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup sour orange juice or 6 tablespoons lime juice and 2 tablespoons
orange juice
1 pound lean pork loin or boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Masa
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups warm chicken broth
1 cup warm skim milk
2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3-4 1/2 cups masa harina

Filling
8 pieces banana leaves, plantain leaves (12″ X 12″ each)
or aluminum foil…your best bet if you live in the cold country
1 potato, peeled and cut into 8 slices
1 onion, peeled and cut into 8 slices
1 tomato, peeled and cut into 8 slices
8 pimiento-stuffed green olives, halved
8 sprigs of mint
You can add prunes, raisins, too

To make the pork marinade: In a small bowl, combine the rice and water. Let soak for 4-12 hours. Drain.
In a medium bowl, stir in garlic, salt, pepper, and sour orange juice. Add the pork or chicken and turn to coat.
Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
To make the masa: In a large bowl, combine the onions, bell peppers, garlic, chicken broth, milk, oil, salt, and pepper. Using a wooden spoon, stir in 4 cups of the masa harina to obtain a soft, thick, pliable dough. The consistency should resemble Play-Doh; add some more masa harina, if needed. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.
To assemble: Slice the pork or chicken into 8 slices, reserving the marinade.
Arrange the banana leaves, plantain leaves, or foil on a large work surface. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Place 1 piece in the center of each square. Pat it into a rectangle.
Tuck a slice of potato, onion, and tomato under each dough rectangle. Press the dough on top of them. Place 1 1/2 tablespoons rice, 1 slice pork or chicken, 1 olive, and 1 sprig of mint on top of the dough. Press into the dough. Drizzle the reserved marinade on top. Fold the left side and right side of the leaves or foil over the dough, then fold over the top and bottom to form a neat package. Wrap each piece in foil. Tie the bundles closed with strips of banana leaves, or string. Be sure to make a pretty bow to top off the nacatamale. 🙂
To cook: Place the packages in a large pot and set over medium heat. Pour in water to cover by 4″. Simmer for 3 hours, adding more water as needed to keep the packages submerged.
Transfer the packages to a colander and drain well. Remove the string and foil and serve in the packages.
Makes 8 nacatamales

Enjoy! If anyone makes nacatamales this holiday season, be sure to tie a bow of gratefulness and share with your neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potato Pie..It’s a Southern Thang


Sweet Potato Pie!

I’ve been in the wine and baking mode recently. In January, one of my friends smuggled a sweet potato into Nicaragua in her luggage. We cut the sweet potato into several pieces and laid them in a shallow pan of water. In a few weeks, we had sweet potato slips, ready for planting.

Ron planted the slips in April, at the end of the dry season. When we returned to Ometepe in August, Ron harvested the sweet potatoes. After Ron dug them up, he had a 5 gallon bucket full of delicious sweet potatoes. We heard that the best time to plant is at the end of the rainy season because the sweet potatoes will rot in the ground during the heavy rains.

Sweet potatoes are not native to Nicaragua. Not one of our neighbors had ever seen sweet potatoes before. We shared baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato chips, and now sweet potato pie with most of the neighborhood. My neighbors are thrilled with our new garden addition. In exchange, they share their wine recipes with me. Next, we need to help them start a garden with sweet potatoes. They are easy to grow and need very little care. I just hope I have another batch of sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving.

Nancite Wine


Our three Nancite trees. Notice the ground is covered with Nancites.

There is never a time when our ground is fruit free. Our trees are always bearing fruit; then, the fruit plummets to the ground like cannon balls, marbles, pea-sized hail, or hand grenades. The seasons come and go; when it rains, it pours fruit…literally. Depending on the month, the odors of rotting fruit range from sickening sweet, to musty and moldy.

Nancites

It is the season for Nancites. They remind me of crab apples. The marble sized yellow fruits ping to the ground, then are quickly gathered by the neighborhood kids, vendors, and mothers. The kids eat them like candy, the vendors bag them and sell them at the markets, and mothers make Nancite wine. So, I thought I’d try making Nancite wine. It’s supposed to be ‘Rico’.

Recipe for Nacite Wine

First, gather the Nacites.

1. August and September, the Nacites ripen. Gather a bag of Nacites.

2. Wash them well and let them dry
thoroughly.

Wash them well.

3. After they are dry, put them in a plastic bottle and add lots of sugar.

Put them in a plastic bottle.

4. Cap the bottle and set the bottle in the sun for 3-6 months. When  the  Nacites start to ferment, add more Nacites and more sugar.
Easy, isn’t it? I’m looking forward to experimenting with the wine in
a few months.

Set bottle in sun.

The Birthday Party


My carrot cake at the birthday party

The Birthday Party

January 22, 2005

          It was at Alba Ligia’s sixth birthday celebration, where I learned the meaning of compassionate immersion, creative ingenuity, and peaceful understanding in our troubled world of terrorist threats, struggles for power, and greed beyond the imagination of ordinary folks.  Francisco invited Ron and I to his cousin’s birthday party in Los Ramos, a remote village on Ometepe Island lacking running water, refrigeration, and in most houses, electricity.  “Oh, by the way,” he stated nonchalantly before leaving, “My mother wants you to make the birthday cake.”  “But, Francisco,” I whined, “Ron and I haven’t made the horno commitment, yet.  We have no oven.” “Don’t worry,” he added, “We have an adobe oven behind our house.”

So began our search for the illusive ingredients such as, powdered sugar, cream cheese, and baking powder to whip up a carrot cake with cream cheese icing for Alba Ligia’s sixth birthday.  Toting plastic bags full of everything except the powdered sugar; we walked along the rutted black sand beach to catch the 7:30am chicken bus to Los Ramos.

Los Ramos is located at the base of Vulcan Concepcion.  From the bus stop, it’s a steep and rocky, mile long walk downhill to the family pueblo.  Passing horses hauling plastic water buckets and bicycles bumping down a road only maneuverable by surefooted mules, we wondered why Los Ramos was located in such an isolated area.

When we finally arrived, we were welcomed with hot nacatamales, fresh coffee, and fried plantains for breakfast.  Francisco had walked to the beach for his daily bath leaving us in the care of his mother and grandfather until he could return and translate for us.  The families in Los Ramos walk another mile to the beach to bathe and get water from a hand pumped well.  We wondered how difficult it was for Francisco to return clean after a dusty uphill walk.       Keep reading, reading, reading…

Fruits of Labor


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There is no boon in nature. All the blessings we enjoy are the fruits of labor, toil, self-denial, and study.~ William Graham Sumner

Ha! Obviously, Mr. Sumner never lived in the tropics when the mangoes are ripe. I think I’ve developed post traumatic stress syndrome from the boon of mangoes dropping on our tin roof. The only toil I am experiencing is shoveling the sickeningly sweet, insect infested mangoes into a pit in our front yard.

There is definitely a boon of fruit at our place. I feel pangs of guilt each time I dump wheelbarrows heaped with rotten fruit into the ‘fruit pit’. Completing the major construction of our house and the guesthouse, I’m going to have to concentrate on enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Between shoveling fruit and pounding nails, I have had a little window of time to make Mango jam, Key Lime pies, fruit smoothies, and Pera pies, cobblers, and sauce (These fruits taste amazingly like apples).   I hope to share with you my collection of “Recipes of the Third World Kind” or a better title would be “Fruits Gone Wrong”.  In the meantime, enjoy the slide show  of the variety of fruit trees on our property called, The Fruits of Labor..the sweetest of all pleasures.