Tag Archives: Expatriate

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…

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

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Diligent

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…

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

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

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Yummmm

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).

http://www.tasteofsouthern.com/salisbury-steak-recipe/

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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Cool Stuff

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

walker

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Hot Stuff

I bought some genuine Tabasco Sauce today. I LOVE hot sauces. Each one is good for a specific thing. For example, Crystal hot sauce is absolutely the BEST THING to put on popcorn. Screw butter. For me it’s Crystal hot sauce made by the Baumer family in New Orleans. I happen to actually know Mr. Baumer. His boat was three slips away from the Lady Ann which I ran out at the lakefront. Crystal is also pretty damned good on red beans and rice. When I was getting ready to move to France I went out and bought five bottles of Cyrstal. The first time I went to the grocery store over in Antibes I discovered they only sold two kinds of hot sauce over there…Tabasco and Crystal.

I also like D’Elidas. down here since I’ve never seen any Malinda’s and D’Elidas is close. They just started stocking Sriracha sauce at Romero and Rey. That stuff, with a bit of melted butter makes an excellent wing sauce. I don’t care for Cholula.

Now Tabasco is interesting. I actually know where Avery Island is in Louisiana. Ran crewboats all around the place for several years, but never stepped foot on it. Here’s the thing about Tabasco…it’s good on, like red beans and rice, but it sucks on popcorn. HOWEVER, if you’re going to make a Bloody Mary, there’s only ONE hot sauce that will work and that’s Tabasco. PERIOD! Any other hot sauce sucks when it comes to making bloody Bloody Marys.

Now, when I took the bottle of Tabasco out of the box it came in I looked at the stuff printed on it. Interesting. D’Elidas is made of “Selected habanero peppers (not just any run of the mill habaneros, no siree, ‘selected’ ones), Mustard, Vinegar, Water, Salt, Onion, Xanthan Gum (whatever the hell that stuff is) and 0.1% Sodium Benzoate (mmmmm, sodium benzoate).

I first had Melinda’s sauce at a place on Caye Caulker, Belize. There was a woman there who set up four card tables on her porch and made lunches. The most fantastic thing on her simple menu was a lobster tostada: flat, crispy tortilla with refried black beans, a healthy heaping serving of lobster salad, some chopped lettuce and grated cheese topping. For a buck U.S. !
There was a bottle of Melinda’s on the table and it was FANTASTIC ! In the six days I spent anchored at Caye Caulker I had lunch there four times…(I didn’t discover the place until my second day). Melinda’s was the first carrot-based hot sauce I’d ever come across. The ingredients are: Fresh Carrots, Choice Red Habanero Peppers, Onions, Lime Juice, Vinegar, Garlic and Salt. No Xanthan gum or sodium benzoate for that girl.

Now, probably the simplest of the sauces is Tabasco. Ingredients are: Distilled vinegar, red pepper, salt. PERIOD ! That’s it. NOTHING ELSE ! The Peppers are ground into a mash on the day of harvest and placed along with salt in white oak barrels. After aging for up to three years, the mash is strained to remove skins and seeds. The resulting liquid is mixed with vinegar, stirred occasionally for a month. And there you have it.

On the side of the box is the Nutrition Facts box. There are 0 calories in the official FDA “Serving Size”. Total Fat? 0 and there is 35 mg of Sodium in that serving which constitutes 1% of your daily value according to the FDA. Compare that to a “serving” of Old El Paso Thick ‘n Chunky Salsa that contains 200 mg of sodium of 9% of your daily value and that’s per 2 tablespoons of the stuff. And you’re never getting up from the table after just using 2 tablespoons, are ya?

Here’s a challenge for ya! The FDA’s “Serving Size” for Tabasco is 1 teaspoon (5 ml). I DARE YOU to down a teaspoon full of Tabasco Sauce in one go. Ain’t gonna happen.Tabasco_bottle_2013

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Panama Canal 100 Years Later

Ask anyone in the world what the first thing is they think of when they hear the word “Panama,” and the nearly universal response would have to be CANAL! One Hundred years ago the opening of the Panama Canal literally changed how the world worked. Shipping no longer had to make the treacherous voyage around Cape Horn, one of the worst places for shipping on the face of the globe.

Eventually, though shipping outgrew the size of the Canal’s locks. The lock chambers are 110 ft (33.53 m) wide by 1,050 ft (320 m) long, with a usable length of 1,000 ft (305 m). These dimensions determine the maximum size of ships that can use the canal; this size is known as Panamax. For years many new ships have been referred to as Postpanamax because they wouldn’t fit. Now, though, the country has been on a construction project unlike any other ever attempted. They’ve been building new locks to accommodate the larger ships. The new lock chambers will be 427 m (1,400.92 ft) long, 55 m (180.45 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60.04 ft) deep. They will use rolling gates instead of miter gates, which are used by the existing locks.

To give you some idea of the immensity of this project take a look at these two videos updating the progress of the new lock system. Work is close to 90% completed. Income from the Canal today, and what will come from increased traffic (though it will take decades to pay off the several BILLION dollars the project will cost) is what makes Panama the most prosperous country in Central America and much of South America as well. Not only had the Canal project been a boon here ports all over the United States and Europe have been on a building boom, too, to match the anticipated volume of large shipping that will be coming their way with the completion of the Canal.

One thing worries me, though. This project has been a boon to construction workers in the country, and people don’t often think of all the businesses that support such a project…concrete companies, the drivers who haul the concrete and the land that’s being excavated. The mechanics who maintain those trucks. And it gets right down to the little corner “Super Minis” of “Chinos”, Panama’s answer to convenience stores where the workers spend their pay checks. What happens to all those people when the project is finished. What will they do for work then? Will it cause social unrest and massive unemployment? Time will tell, of course.

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The Dog Gets A Painful Lesson

You may notice that I said “The” dog, not “My” dog. That’s only because she’s only “my” dog by virtue of the fact that I feed her. And even then, it’s not every day. She’ll disappear for a couple or three days every now and then. She kind of accepts that her name is “Dirt Dog” though she’ll only come to that name when I call her if she feels like it. The reason I call her that is because she’s mostly white with a couple of BIG black spots and one of her favorite things to do is to go down to the river, take a dip and then lay around in dirt giving her a coating of mud sometimes.

She came limping into my life a couple of years ago with a broken leg. Naturally I took her to the vet and got her fixed up. Who wouldn’t? And I took her to one of the spay and neuter clinics that are held around the area monthly. Chiriquí doesn’t need anymore dogs.

Anyway, this morning when I went to feed her I noticed there were a couple of things hanging from her lower lip. It looked like a couple of pieces of dried grass. She does spend a lot of time roaming around in the brush, and right now towards the end (hopefully) of the “dry” season most of the grass and weeds around are the color of straw. But when I was able to get up close to her I saw it wasn’t grass. It was a couple of what looked like porcupine quills.

I was able to pull them out of her lip. She shook her head and walked off without touching her breakfast. I wondered if there were, in fact, porcupines in Panama and this is what I discovered…

It’s Rothschild’s porcupine (wouldn’t you know those rich bastards would have an animal named after them?).

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According to Wikipedia, Coendou rothschildi, is a species of rodent in the family Erethizontidae.  It is usually considered endemic to Panama. This species can be found in lowland deciduous and evergreen forest. It is nocturnal and arboreal; it sleeps during the day in vine tangles near the tops of trees. The diet includes fruit and leaves. Well, I had a cantaloup that was going bad and threw out in the back yard the other day. I noticed yesterday morning that one large part of it had been dragged off to another spot and it was probably one of these guys, and last night the dog decided to tangle with it and got a surprise.

I tried to get a photo of the quills but they didn’t come out. They’re about an inch and an eight long, black on the barbed end and about two thirds of them are straw colored.

That’s your lesson for the day, kids. And your new vocabulary word is endemic. There’s probably never going to be a time in your life when there’ll be a chance to use the word Erethizontidae but you might be able to work endemic in somewhere. Endemism is the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous  to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere. Huh, I didn’t know that until this morning, did you? You would, of course score HUGE points if you could work Erethizontidae into a conversation some day.

big words

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