30 September 2012

Pie Under Attack & Can't Get No Sleep

My personal favorite fruit tree here on the property is a little limón crillo, known in the States as the key lime. This tree pumps out a constant supply of juicy fruit. Its juice is super-yummy in Coke drinks and, if I'm extra nice, Pat will turn a handful of them into Key Lime Pie. {Everybody sing: "Heaven ... I'm in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak!"}

Yet, (horrors!) something has been attacking my little tree's leaves.

We had the gardener look over the victim and he immediately pronounced, "Ants."

"Where?" sez I.

"No, no, señor, they come only at night. You'll never see them," he said. {Yeah, right, another old wives tale.}

"Put poison all around the base of the tree and you will have no more problems," he said with authority. {Yeah, right, it will last about two hours of DAYLIGHT time until the afternoon rains come and wash it all away.}

Oh, well. We said thank you very much and sent him on his way. I haven't worked my way down the task list yet to the "Put poison on lime tree" entry. Maybe tomorrow.

I'm too tired right now. I need a nap. Here's why:

We have wireless motion detector sensors hidden all over the property. They feed their signals into a receiver in the bedroom where a recorded voice will announce which sensor has signaled, e.g., "Rancho uno!" or "Bodega!" etc.

At about the start of the rainy season, in the middle of the night, "Rancho uno!" would go off, thereby jerking my eyelids open with a bang. The first few times I'd fire out of bed, turn off the burglar alarm so I could open the doors, flip on the lights, grab my flashlight and my weapon de jour, rouse the dogs and race for the Rancho to do battle with the thieves, who were obviously raiding the Rancho refrigerator and stealing all of my beer (or something less important.)


Every time ... nothing.

We came up with all kinds of theories. Cats? Bats? Birds? (At 3am?) Lizards? Urk, snakes! Who knows, but I could never catch the culprit, no matter how fast I got out the door. We decided that there must be something wrong with the sensor and even discussed ordering a replacement for a friend to mule down from the States next month.

Pretty soon, "Rancho uno!" got ignored unless it went off more than once ... or more than 3 times ... or more than ...

Last night, it started going off. And again. "I'm not getting up. The hell with it." Just get to drifting off to sleep ... "Rancho uno!" And again. And again, damn it.

"THAT'S IT!" I got up, with a vengance. The full regalia. I went out armed to kill me some wildlife.

Pat was trailing along saying, "Just take the battery out and come to bed." I wanted me some blood but the battery idea sure sounded like a faster way to get back to bed.

Pat handed me a step stool and I pried open the sensor's cover -- tool in one hand, flashight under my chin. Reached in for the battery and just got a grip ...

"ANTS!!!" Little bitty bastards. Way tinier than the head of a pin. And, FAST! They were all over my hand and everywhere quicker than I could drop the cover and get off the step stool. "Damn ... Ants!"

What was really there.
What I'm imagining was there.
While I'm doing a really creative dance around the Rancho floor, Pat handed me a can of Raid, whereupon I blasted their microscopic li'l souls to the netherworld.

Turns out, they were nesting in the bottom of the housing of the sensor. AND, they only came out at night!

[See where I'm going with this? Tying this all back together? Bet you weren't expecting that!]

Once in awhile, some wandering soldier ant would head north, up the sensor wall and crawl across the receiver glass (about half the size of your little finger nail.) Bingo. Off goes the transmitter.

And, last night must have been Ant Night At The Rancho so they were all up and excited, running all over the inside of the sensor. Sheesh.

But now, I've keeeeled them all and maybe that was the nest that was attacking my beautiful little lime tree.

And maybe I can sleep tonight.

In the mean time, is it time for a nap yet?

P.S. from Pat: And after all that excitement, the sprinkler system started up at 1:30 AM, when it wasn't supposed to, so we were up again! I had to wait 15 minutes, until it finished watering the first zone. Then I made a mad dash run across the wet lawn to the controller box and shut it off. In the meantime, the wireless motion sensor is frantically announcing, "Bodega! Bodega! Bodega" and all the motion sensor lights around the house are turning on. It must have been quite a sight to see the crazy gringa lady running in flip flops and a nightgown across the yard!

Finally, we could settle down to some well deserved rest... but no, the neighbors new rooster woke up at 3:30 AM, which in turn woke up Calvin (see earlier post). In spite of all the interruptions, we did manage to get in a couple of hours of shut-eye, but it will be an early night tonight.

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24 September 2012

A ham that is better than sex?

Oh, now of course, that’s a silly thing to say.  One has nothing to do with the other.

However ...

Sunday, we were the guests at a friend’s home for an afternoon of tapas and conversation.  The invitation was for us to arrive between 1 and 2 pm and we expected to get to hear about their recent vacation trip to Spain and other parts of Europe.

Turns out that they brought back some rare cheeses and what looked like a withered up leg-o-ham from Spain.

On a previous visit to their home, we had sampled a rare and special ham called Jamón ibérico which our host noted was very special and very expensive.  Uh ... understatement!

That ham came pre-sliced in a vacuum-packed little sleeve, slightly smaller than a sheet of paper.  This new ham was a major portion of the pig, bones, skin and all.

Take a look at Jamon Ibérico in Wikipedia for all of the skinny on this delicacy.

You can also see on Wikipedia that whereas some “lesser” Ibérico hams are sold with as little as 1 year of curing, most are cured for 2 years.  And if you’re really crazy for orgasmic eating, they actually sell one that is cured for 4 years.  The one we were now looking at was 4 years old. We were told that this ham started out at 30 kilos but after 4 years of curing it was down to - wait for it - only 8 kg!

Here’s how it goes down:  The ham leg, black hoof and all, is held by the “jamonera,” which is a special cutting board & clamp affair, made just to do this job right.  The chef uses a special trimming knife to remove any hardened skin and just enough fat so that sliced portions are principally lean.  Then he takes up another special knife with a very slender and thin blade, cutting paper-thin little bites from ½ to 1” wide x 1 to 1-½” long.  These are painstakingly arranged in a sunburst pattern onto the service platter.

Not sure what the eating etiquette is for something like this but it tastes purdy good just grabbin one of them little bitty patts and popping it into my mouth {snort!}.

Is it better than ... ?  Hey, remember that scene from When Harry Met Sally?  Yeah, that one; and when the older woman at the other table says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”?  I think if Sally's little "display" could be caused by food, she must have been having Jamón ibérico.


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14 September 2012

Better and cheaper than the Maytag Man

We may not have the Maytag repair guy, but we've got the next best thing. My 15 year old washing machine has had a very bad vibration since she was off loaded from the sea container. Sometimes she actually walked across the utility room during the spin cycle. Then last week, she started filling, and filling, and filling, and wouldn't ever stop to wash a load of clothes. Not good!

Here the "Maytag Man" doesn't come to you. You have to load up you appliance and take it in for repairs. Lucky for us Rodolfo was here fixing and changing a couple of things for us around the Casa, so he was able to load the washer into his pickup and take it into Taller Los Angeles, here in Atenas (that not TALLER as in a tall person, it's tie-yair as in a shop). The guys at Taller Los Angeles can fix just about any household appliance, or small motor, you can think of. Everything from toasters and blenders, to refrigerators and washing machines. We have used them on multiple occasions and quality of their work is second to none.

I explained the problems with the washer. They said they would check it out and it should be ready in a few days. I called the Taller today and they said the patient was ready to be picked up and she is working fine again. So, this afternoon we went to the Taller to pay for the repairs and bring her home. The technician that worked on her said he fixed the overfilling problem and tested all the fill levels to make sure it's filling properly and going through the complete wash cycles. He also found the problem with the vibration, greased the tub springs and adjust the leveling feet. One foot had striped out, so he re-threaded it. Total cost ¢20,000, or $40 USD.

Now our only problem was how to get the washer back home again. Here we have whats known as a Cargo Taxi. It's actually a taxi pickup truck. I gave them a call and 5 minutes later the washer was loaded into the bed of the pickup and headed home. The fare for the Cargo Taxi, which included loading and unloading, was ¢2,000, or $4 USD.

We reconnected everything and just finished washing a test load of towels. This baby didn't sound this good when she was new. The vibration during the spin cycle is totally gone, and Ms. Maytag will probably last me several more years.

¡Pura Vida!

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07 September 2012

Day-to-day living in the land of Pura Vida!

I came up with a new saying recently that sort of sums up our day-to-day life:  "Retirado es la belleza de hacer lo que quieras, o nada en absoluto!" For our non-Spanish speaking family and friends, it translates to:  "Retired is the beauty of doing whatever you want, or nothing at all!"

I thought it might be fun to tell you a little about our daily life around here. So here goes...

We share Casa Wegner with our two boyz, Randy the Jack Russell Terrorist and Gustavo (The Gooooose for short) the rescued street dog. Gooooose holds no pedigree that we know of, but our best guess is a Miniature Pinscher with some Terrier thrown in for good measure. Da boyz, as they are affectionately referred to, let us live here in exchange for their daily rations, treats, and, or course, the daily belly rub and ear scratching.

Da boyz, get to do exactly as they please, whether it's running across the roof top of the casa, or fighting each other over a stick. 

Chasing black stripped iguanas is a favorite pastime and once they spot one in a wood pile, they will be entertained for hours, and sometimes days, long after the iguana has made it's escape over the wall.  Randy now has 2 kills to his name.  We always try to rescue the iguana and remove him from the property, but we are not always successful.  Here is one of Randy's victims.

Our days start early around here.  The birds start singing around 4:30 AM, but we have an obnoxious rooster in the neighborhood that is known to start his cock-a-doodle-do as early as 3 AM.  If we ever find out exactly where he lives we might have us some nice chicken and dumplings one of these days.

We also have a neighborhood boy we have dubbed, "Calvin", that loves to get up with the birds.  Calvin is an annoying child that whines about everything and he is incapable of speaking unless it is in an ear-piercing shriek.  He screams at his mom, she screams back, et cetera.... you get the picture.

Generally, we love waking up to the birds, but then there is the local coo coo bird with a two note song.  This little guy is out to make me crazy and now John has taken to imitating him for fun.  Ha ha, I've got a nightstand full of a lifetime supply of excellent ear plugs in defense of Calvin and coo coo bird.

About 5:30 AM, the Goooose wakes up and jumps on the bed ready to play with Randy.  Randy will growl at him until he settles back down and then we all try to get another hour of sleep.  When we are ready to face another day in paradise, John makes the coffee, while I whip up something yummy for breakfast.  We almost always enjoy breakfast on the Terraza, looking out over the valley below and mountain range in the distance.  There is this one mountain formation call the "Sleeping Woman".  She can be seen from all over the central valley on a clear day.  From where we sit, it is easy to visualize her hair, eyelids & lashes, neck, breasts and belly.

After breakfast, it's time to catch up with what is going on in the rest of the world, so we log on to the laptops to read the news, answer email and catch up with family and friends on Facebook.  Later on, John will water the potted plants on the Terraza and in the Rancho and let the daily afternoon rains take care of the rest of the trees, bushes and lawn.  Right now, in the middle of the rainy season, everything is a luscious green.

Around 10 AM, I start planning something for our main meal for lunchtime.  We eat very light in the evening, maybe some fruit & cheese, or a lighter portion of lunch leftovers.

Friday mornings we try to make it to the local Feria del Agricultor (Farmers' Market) in the park in front of the local high school.  They start selling fresh fruits and veggies around 7 AM and start taking down the stalls around noon.  You can find all sort of goodies here, including fresh meat, poultry, eggs and cheese.  We even have a couple of expats selling baked goods, like sweet rolls, coffee cakes, and breads.  We usually spend between $25 - $30 U.S. for a week worth of fruit and veggies.  We buy our meats at a local meat market or at the super market, Coopeatenas, and we make all of our baked goods at home.

About once a month we make a morning trip into the big city to stock up on staples and bulk food items at PriceSmart, Costa Rica's version of Costco or Sam's Club.

We eat out at a restaurant at least once a week and frequently meet with friends to share a meal. Lately we've started playing a fun card game with two other couples that are also retired expats from the States.

We continue to work around the house, doing some landscaping, unpacking, and still re-arranging things. This is an ongoing process and we are in no hurry to finish. After all, we are retired.

Lazy afternoons may find us in a hammock reading our Kindles, or snoozing, with the ever persistent coo coo singing, and Calvin's whining adding to our background noise.

We have a plaza in front of our place where soccer games are played regularly. There are community teams playing excellent soccer on Sundays, and then there are pick-up games all during the week in the late afternoons. Some of these Ticos are very talented. I really love it when the dads are out there kicking the ball around with their little kids. It is so much better than having the kids parked in front of the universal babysitter; a TV or PC.

Compared to the geocaching we did when we were in the old country, we've done very little of this fun outdoor activity since we've been here. Now, with the construction of the new casa finished, we will be able to get out and about a lot more. There is still much of this country I want to show John, so I expect we will be taking more and more day trips with a little geocaching thrown in for good measure.

Life is good, and we are so glad we made the move to Costa Rica

¡Pura Vida!

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05 September 2012

The Big One

5 September 2012 ... 8:42 am local time ... Atenas, Costa Rica, Central America:
Epicenter, left; us, right; 70 miles apart

Newtonian and The Squeeze were having a leisurely second cup of joe on the breeze-brushed terraza of our bucolic abode when ... ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE ... .

Pat was actually standing next to her chair. I was sitting down checking the early email and Facebook. The first banging shake of the earthquake got our attention but wasn't strong enough to elicit fear. We're experts (don't try this at home). We've lived in California and Costa Rica before. Ain't afraid o' no quakes!

Then it ramped up ... and up ... and up. Uh, "This is bigger than a 7!" I shouted, grabbing my sloshing mug of coffee off the table. Pat plunked down into her chair and we both stared in amazement as the strong, straight steel beams supporting the terraza roof took on a wave form and bent back and forth where they connected to the main horizontal roof beam.

Pat's coffee mug was doing the St. Vitus Dance across the table top with coffee sailing off into space -- it was all I could do to use my arm as a shock absorber to keep most of the coffee inside my mug and off my shirt. Several rapid fire crashes told us glass inside our house was falling to a fateful meeting with our tile floors and Mother Nature was releasing a mean growl into Her aethers.

"Day-um! How long is this going to go on?!?" I thought, "So this is what The Big One is like. I wonder if all of that concrete beside me is going to be held together by all of that steel we embedded in it?"

But then just as suddenly as it began, the shaking lightened and just quit. All of this was maybe 20 to 30 seconds.

"HEY! You stupid dogs! Don't you think you're supposed to act weird for awhile before one of those to warn us? Don't you think you're supposed to bark and run around like crazy and run into things?" Randy (our Jack Russell Terrorist) lifted his head off his paws and languidly looked my way. I swear, he telepathically said, "Hey yourself ... I'm basking in the sun here."

After a couple of deep breaths we got up and went inside to survey the damage. Unfortunately, we kept all of Pat's fancy cut glass, service sets and our much loved Riedel Swan wine decanter on display on a shelving unit in the dining room -- which was not bolted to the wall. Big mistake. The hutch had disgorged its contents and they were now just a big pile of shards on the floor.

But, here's a bit of trivia to enrich your understanding of physics: When enough glass falls to the floor and breaks, and more glass falls on top of those shards and breaks, etc., etc., eventually the pile of shards gets deep enough and "soft" enough so that the last piece to fall gets cushioned by the pile and it doesn't break! Yep, one small Venician cup was still intact. You're welcome.

We quickly got the dogs blocked out of the house and went back outside for the major structural damage inspection. But first, since we still had power and an Internet connection ... on to the news. First reports coming in called the quake a 7.9 (Wowzer!). But within a half hour that was corrected to 7.6 with an epicenter about 70 miles due west of us. Seventy miles! Right about then, we were wondering if anybody could survive what it must have been like directly on top of the epicenter.

Yes -- they can.

In a testament to Costa Rican preparedness and building regulations, somehow an awful lot of buildings and an awful lot of people came through this thing virtually unscathed. Hard for us to believe. Really hard. Unfortunately, there are reports of fatalities coming in and as with any stupendously large natural disaster there will undoubtedly be more. We're just really thankful for our good luck being as far away as we were and for having all steel-reinforced concrete structures here.

As far as real structural damages to our property, I cannot find any. We have a 2,500 liter drinking water tank sitting on a steel platform, 2 meters off the ground, hidden out behind our storage building. It's full of water. That means that sucker weighs around 6,000 pounds, counting the tank and piping. Mr. Earthquake took that tank and danced it more than an inch across the platform, smashing it into the roofline of the storage building. I'm glad I wasn't back there to see that or I'd have been changing my undershorts.

All told, we're fine, the house is fine, the dogs are fine (we're sure you were worried about them) and we can now say, "Oh, yeah, we went through The Big One of 2012. Let me tell you about it." .

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02 September 2012

From kitchen disaster to chef's masterpiece

We have a wonderful sweet pepper sold here in the farmers markets (ferias) of Costa Rica. At the moment there is an abundant harvest going on and the price has dropped to less than a dollar a pound.  Depending on size, that could be anywhere from 12 to 20 peppers. They are similar to a bell pepper, 4 or 5 inches long, and they taper down to a point from the stem. They are sold green, red & green, and red (when fully ripe). I love to use them in many of my recipes.

Yesterday found me with way too many peppers to consume in a week so I roasted a bunch, de-seeded and peeled them to pack in olive oil. Peppers packed in oil will keep for weeks in the fridge and their roasted sweetness makes the ideal substitute for pimentos and canned diced green chilies.

Since I had all these roasted peppers ready to store, I came up with the "brilliant" idea to make pimento cheese sandwiches for lunch. I can't remember the last time we had that for lunch. Anyway, I digress...

Searching the fridge for cheese I found we had some cheeses from the ECAG (the UTC (national technical university) has a local college campus for The Central American School for Animal Husbandry). We like most of their cheeses and try to buy local whenever we can. This time I found we had some of their wonderful Gouda and a finely grated salty cheese that looked to be cheddar and whatever else they decided to throw in the mix that day. I also found we had some grated cheese from the national dairy that is sold for pizza topping, containing a mix of mild cheddar, mozzarella and another white cheese similar to a Monterrey Jack.

I'm no slouch around the kitchen and that looked like a pretty good start to a pimento cheese spread if you ask me. I started with about a cup of the ECAG grated cheese, then I added the other two cheeses in equal amounts, half a tub of cream cheese, half a cup of mayonnaise, a little grated onion and garlic, a half cup of diced roasted red peppers and lots of fresh ground black pepper. Sounds yummy, right?  IT WAS AWFUL!!! It was so salty from the ECAG grated cheese, it was unpalatable. I started adding more and more of the other cheese I had on hand and it improved just enough to be able to choke down a sandwich.

After lunch I stored the disaster (now a large bowl full) in the fridge, wondering if anything at all could be done to salvage it. You know, kinda along the lines of making lemonade out of lemons.

Fast forward to today.... "John, what do you want for lunch?"

"Oh, I don't know.... got any of that cheese spread left?"

"Yes, but it's way too salty to do anything with it."

"Why don't you boil some pasta and then mix the spread into it?  It might be O.K. that way, just don't salt the pasta when you cook it."

What a genius! So glad I married the smart guy. This got the wheels turning and I came up with way to salvage what would have found it's way to the garbage.

I cooked some Penne pasta until just slightly al dente, then I folded in my salty pimento cheese spread and add some freshly chopped basil leaves. I buttered a casserole dish, layered in my new version of a "mac 'n cheese", poured about a half a cup of milk over it, topped it with some grated mozzarella and baked it for 30 minutes. Wow! It is now an over-the-top, grown-up "mac 'n cheese" masterpiece.  I am so saving this recipe!

Guess what's for dinner!

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