Baking Bread

Store-bought bread here in Panama leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, it pretty much sucks! So, I’ve been online the last couple of weeks digging up bread recipes. So far my efforts are about on a par with the quality of store-bought bread. It sucks.

I’ve tried regular recipes and kneaded the dough but that’s no fun as far as I’m concerned. And it’s messy as hell, too. Flour everywhere that has to be cleaned up. I even went into David last week and bought a HUGE bowl and tried kneading the bread in it. Not much better.

Years ago I used to make a great, no-knead bread from a recipe passed down to my mom by her great aunt, Laura. It called for shredded wheat and molasses. Delicious, easy to make and it came out perfect every time. Problem here is 1) I’ve only found ONE store that stocks molasses and 2) NOBODY stocks shredded wheat!

There are a ton of “no knead” bread recipes online. They’re almost universally the same. Three (or six) cups of flour, some salt, some yeast and a cup and a half of water. So I’ve tried it. Followed the recipe to the LETTER. Let it rise and at the end of that time the dough was like soup!

So, I slowly added the water a little at a time until the dough looked “shaggy” as per the recipe instructions. At the end of the required rising time (anywhere from 4 to 20 hours) the dough was STILL like soup!

On Saturday I saw THIS recipe on line.

WOW, looked good. I LOVE baguettes! Especially the ones I used to buy in France. It’s a well-known fact that in France no baguette makes it home with the ends intact. Don’t those look delish? The promise is…

The promise

So last night I mixed up the ingredients. This morning, after rising for nearly 10 hours, I took off the cover and found that the dough had more than doubled into a nice SOUP!!!

I followed the rest of the instructions except the dough didn’t form into the promised. It was impossible to “delicately shape each half into a long rod. I do this by gently squeezing, not pulling. Plop them on a cookie sheet (don’t worry, doesn’t need to be nonstick). The loaves will look kinda flat, but they’ll rise in the oven.”


Look “kinda flat?”


“They’ll rise in the oven”


This is the reality:


Bottoms scorched. Maybe a quarter of an inch thick in the center. A complete waste of time, flour, and stove gas!


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Some People Are Catching On…

I have written several times about how many people in Panama treat their country as a trash can.

Thankfully it looks as if some Panamanians are getting fed up with it and trying to do something about it. The areas around bus stops (although a bus will stop ANYWHERE if you wave at it) are the worse. Usually there’s a tienda nearby selling drinks and snacks and the containers generally end up on the ground.

This morning when I went to catch the bus into David, this was sitting in the caseta, a small structure with a tin roof to shelter people from the sun and rain while they wait for a bus. The handwriting says Basurero=Dump. Some people had actually used it. Now, who will be keeping their eye on it remains to be seen. I’m proud of at least ONE of my neighbors…




By the way, this happens to be my 800th blog post! Hooray ME!!!!


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Over the last couple of days there’s been a little bird, about the size of a small finch, who has been diligently working away at building a nest in the lime tree out back. It flits in and out and never hangs around long enough to get a picture of it. It’s a member of the Oropendola family. They build hanging nests. This is what’s being constructed in my back yard…


The closest I can come to identifying the bird through an internet search is this one…


But there’s a very good chance I’m wrong about which bird it actually is.

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When I was in the eighth grade I won a drawing for which the prize was a pair of tickets to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. I invited my pal Harold Bennet to share the day with me. My mother drove us over to Hyannis to get the train up to Boston and gave me written instructions on how to get to Fenway from South Station. As we were getting on the train, which had a dining car, she told me, “Don’t order the Salisbury Steak. It’s nothing more than fancied-up hamburger.”

I don’t remember what we ordered, but I do remember that our seats were right behind home plate and that the Sox dropped a double-header to the Orioles. But later on in life I DID have the Salisbury Steak somewhere, and it WAS fancied-up hamburger, and I actually LIKED IT.

It never became one of my regular menu items. In fact, I can’t remember ever making it until last night. Down here in Panama beef is grass-raised and the meat, while tastier, I think, than feed lot beef, is  tougher than what we’re used to in the States. A LOT tougher. So, I use ground beef  most of the time in lieu of the tougher cuts here that require lots and lots of braising time to make it soft enough to chew. I make a mean spaghetti sauce and a pretty good meat loaf, hamburger stroganoff and, of course, just plain hamburger patties. Yesterday, for some unknown reason, I thought of Salisbury Steaks so I went online and there were hundreds of recipes to choose from. Most required mushrooms in the gravy and while I often have mushrooms either in the fridge or several cans of them, I had none last night. Then there was a recipe with an onion gravy. I had onions. So I made that recipe and it was DELICIOUS. I will definitely be cooking this again. The recipe says “four servings” but it’s SO GOOD that while there are four patties you’re only going to feed two people with it (or one person and a great left-over meal the next day).

Actually I won TWO drawings when I was in the eight grade, and I’ll let you in on this one because the statute of limitations have long expired:

In the winter when I plodded along on my paper route, cursing my ancestors who thought living in New England was a great place to be rather than in some sunny clime where coconut palms prevailed, I had a couple of places I’d stop in along the way to warm up. The first was Fuller’s Package Store, about a third of the way through the route. Of course I couldn’t partake of most of their stock, but they understood the need for me to thaw out.

The second place I used to stop to warm up was on the homeward leg of my route, Snow’s Hardware store in the center of town (Orleans, Mass., out on the elbow of Cape Cod and in the winter time no matter which the direction the wind is blowing from it’s coming off the water making it raw and bone-penetratingly cold). That year every single one of the Christmas presents I gave had been lovingly shop lifted from my thawing out visits to Snows. More than that, every time I’d go into Snow’s, that is daily since the Cape Cod Standard-Times (as it was then called) was a daily afternoon paper, I’d fill out an entry form for their Christmas drawing and drop it in the slotted box on my way out the door.

On the day before Christmas Eve I got a call from Snow’s saying I’d WON third prize in the drawing…a Handy Hannah electric knife sharpener! Oh, the irony.

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Learning Curve

I’ve decided that I should build a pontoon-type boat, doing it in four-foot segments (possibly eight-foot if I can be sure to divide that in half with a leak-proof bulkhead. These segments would be built here at the house in Boquerón and then trucked down to the marina in Pedregal where they’d be bolted and epoxied together. I have a LOT of experience with thickened epoxy as a bonding agent and I KNOW that the wood around the epoxied joint will give way before the joint will.

The pontoons will be 2-feet wide by 2-feet high, and between 24 and 28 feet long. Probably the latter. The beam of the boat will be 10-feet, with the house being 8-feet wide allowing for a nice roof overhang, or whatever that’s called in carpentry terms.

I decided on the pontoons because of the amount of flotation they offer. Here are the numbers I’ve come up with…

Each pontoon segment will be 2’X2’X4’ = 16 cubic feet

One cubic foot = 7.5 gallons (7.48)

One gallon of water weighs = 8.3453 pounds. One cubic foot = 7.48052 gallons. The weight of one cubic foot of water is 7.48052 gallons times 8.3453 pounds, which equals 62.42 pounds of water per cubic foot. OR, it would take 62.42 lbs. to completely sink a cubic foot container.

SO, 62.42 lbs X 16 cubic feet = 998.72 lbs. displacement for each 4’ pontoon. Minus the weight of the materials each pontoon will support, roughly, 900 lbs.

The sections in the bow would be made like the bow of a barge or scow, sloped up from the bottom to move through the water with less resistance. Figure that each one of those will be roughly half the volume of the regular one for a 28’ long structure overall, or roughly 11,700 lbs. flotation. Whatever kind of house structure I build on top of the pontoon segments plus all the junk that I’d bring aboard certainly isn’t going to amount to five and a half TONS!

If you look as building a raft-type structure using 55-gallon drums the figures look like this:

Now, a 55 gallon drum measures 35” X 24”. A 55 gallon drum will displace 459 lbs.

Because of the odd measurement of 35” you’d need 10 drums to make up each pontoon of a similar size to the plywood pontoons. Now you’re mucking around with non-standard size lumber or going for 10 barrels a side. The cheapest 55-gallon plastic barrels I’ve found around here cost $30/each (can’t find a source for used barrels like in the States because if they are available they’re snapped up instantly by people who use them for water storage.). That’s $600 for flotation. And how much flotation? Potentially 9,180 lbs., before deducting the weight of the materials needed to contain them. So more than a ton less flotation than the plywood pontoons.

I tried drawing these pontoon segments out on paper, but it wasn’t very successful, everything in 2-D. So I downloaded the free SketchUp design program and found out there’s a HUGE, STEEP learning curve and the frustration level was almost more than I could bear.

So, one Sunday morning last month I went into David (Dah VEED) to the store where I knew I could get 2′ X 2′ X 4′ styrofoam drop ceiling tiles, 1/2″ thick which is EXACTLY what like a pontoon segment would be like. (I’ve since decided that the bottoms of each segment should be 3/4″ thick instead of 1/2″. Using a hot-glue gun to assemble the pieces (Elmer’s School Glue took too long to dry and needed constant pressure to stick together, and contact cement INSTANTLY melts styrofoam) this is what I came up with.




Not only did this help me to visualize the building process, I found out that certain things had to be inset from an edge to accommodate other pieces.

If there’s one character trait I possess it’s that I’m STUBBORN! I became bound and determined that I was going to learn how to use the SketchUp program at least well enough so that I could document here, and possibly later in e-book form, how to build this boat. So I watched, over and over again, various YouTube tutorials on how the program works. I had to constantly trying something, discarding it, repeat, repeat, repeat. But I persevered and, while the measurements are a bit off at least I was finally able to get something resembling a 3-D rendition of a pontoon segment…

Segment 1Segment 3

Those end pieces that stick up above the pontoons are where the 2 X 6 cross beams will attach the pontoons to form a catamaran structure. End to end each 4′ section will have a one-inch-thick attachment point. Bolted and epoxied they should be strong enough to be able to move the boat without a problem. So, diddling around some more with SketchUp, and getting better at it all the time though still having to try something, discard it and do it over again, I came up with these ideas.

28-foot pontoon 2

This is what a pontoon would look like. That square thing in the bow would be a hatch so I could use those segments to store anchor line and fenders.

Here they are with the cross braces and decking…

28-foot pontoon with cross braces28-foot pontoon with decking

So that’s what I’ve come up with so far…

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Cool Stuff

If I ever became crippled or infirm, THIS is what I want for my walker…


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So Good It Needs A Repeat

Originally ran in July, 2009.

This is the Falkirk Wheel. It’s a rotating boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The difference in height between the two canals is 79 feet. Originally the two canals were connected with a series of 11 locks but by the 1930s these had fallen into disuse, were filled in and the land built upon.

The Millenium Commission  decided to regenerate the canals of central Scotland to connect Glasgow with Edinburgh once more. Designs were submitted for a lock to link the canals, with the Falkirk Wheel design winning. As with many Millennium Commission projects the site includes a visitors’ centre containing a shop, café and exhibition center.

Architectural services were supplied by Scotland-based RMJM from initial designs by Nicoll Russell Studios and engineers Binnie Black and Veatch.

The wheel, which has an overall diameter of 35 metres (110 ft), consists of two opposing arms which extend 15 metres beyond the central axle, and which take the shape of a Celtic-inspired, double-headed axe.Two sets of these axe-shaped arms are attached about 25 metres (82 ft) apart to a 3.5 metres (11 ft) diameter axle. Two diametrically-opposed water-filled caissons, each with a capacity of 80,000 imperial gallons (360,000 l; 96,000 US gal), are fitted between the ends of the arms.

These caissons always weigh the same whether or not they are carrying their combined capacity of 600 tonnes (590 LT; 660 ST) of floating canal barges as, according to Archimedes’s principle, floating objects displace their own weight in water, so when the boat enters, the amount of water leaving the caisson weighs exactly the same as the boat. This keeps the wheel balanced and so, despite its enormous mass, it rotates through 180° in five and a half minutes while using very little power. It takes just 22.5 kilowatts (30.2 hp) to power the electric motors, which consume just 1.5 kilowatt-hours (5.4 MJ) of energy in four minutes, roughly the same as boiling eight kettles of water.

The wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, and is regarded as an engineering landmark for Scotland. The United Kingdom has one other boat lift: the Anderton boat-lift in Cheshire. The Falkirk Wheel is an improvement on the Anderton boat lift and makes use of the same original principle: two balanced tanks, one going up and the other going down, however, the rotational mechanism is entirely unique to the Falkirk Wheel.




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