Friday, January 29, 2010

food lore 101

first up, just for those who don't know, the (unofficial?) food of Nicaragua is Gallo Pinto: a mixture of refried rice and beans, with some onion. There are varying ways to make it depending on the region, but it is a food staple that goes with every meal. It often IS the meal.
I know Arielle at one point got the gringo t -shirt: Breakfast: beans and rice, Lunch: rice and beans, Dinner: Gallo Pinto
For me, because rice and beans makes a "complete protein (containing all essential amino acids, yada yada)": I'd like gallo pinto served with vegetables, at least once in a while? Not so fast, chele (whitey). Gallo Pinto gets served with fried cheese, plantains, sour cream, or maybe some meat on the side.

some interesting food trends practiced by the locals:
  • a side dish of pasta is an accompaniment an entree of rice and beans
  • if you have been sweating, it is not good to drink cold liquids
  • if the water pressure on the sink used to fill your cup water is too high, you could get an upset stomach after drinking it
  • never put vegetables in the gallo pinto
  • eating something light (like fruit) with something heavy (like greasy potato casserole) might make you sick
  • eating dairy after lunch can make you sick
  • combining vegetables (like, in a saute) is never an option
  • the sauce for the pasta always goes on the side, never on top
  • the more sugar, the better
  • garlic goes only with meat, never with rice and beans
  • if you put rice IN your soup instead of on the side, you must be from the countryside, because it is an incredible unsophisticated thing to do
the fact of tradition and how different foods affect the body (especially in this weather) I find somewhat endearing and fascinating. But when i try to figure out the 'why' to some of these practices, my question is often phrased as such: "So, if I mix squash and potatoes for lunch, someone eating it might keel over and drop dead?" The answer: "maybe, Calley. maybe."

photo is of crispy plantains, roasted chicken covered with a saucey cabbage salad. i moved some of the salad off of the chicken so it could be seen.

some random thoughts:
does 'tonight's gonna be a good night' get played all the time, as it does here?
some weird things that i don't get about current American culture, as presented to me through facebook: celebrity doppleganger craze. fist pump.
is anyone going to watch the Olympics? How is Colbert Nation doing with the US Speed Skating Team?

Friday, January 22, 2010

bravery through cowardice upon exhaustion.

One of the maintenance guys' parents are fisherman, so I got hooked up with some lake fish to try, to see if we want to buy them to cook up for the guests.
I tried salt-roasting Mojarra, a sea-bass type fish, which looked great... Erin mentioned pure salt almost makes the fish too salty, so I subbed half for sugar (more like a cure-roast, or something)... but my presentation upon fileting was horrible. There are a ton of pin bones, and it turned into a mess. A delicious, garlicky mess.
Elsa, my awesome kitchen ayudante:
"You people only eat the filet, huh?" I say, "well, we use the bones for soup, but yeah, don't eat much else. Maybe a little cheek meat..."

"well, we eat everything. even the eye. you've never had fish eye?"

"nope. never." I sigh. Is it that big of a deal to eat a fish eye? I eat offal of other animals, but it never looks at me. After a month of working too hard, I have finally burnt out, and my body is screaming for mercy, wavering between fever, aches, and varied exhaustion. Perfect time to experiment with food. "Okay, go get me a fish head. I'll eat the eye."

photo is of Elsa after I asked her to pose, looking at my carving job in a "que paso'?!" sort of pose. She had no trouble with that.
video: shot by Elsa (no idea why it is so close-up), the end of my epic journey of self-will to actually get the job done.

**my next eating adventure, i will make sure t get the lighting right. this took place in our staff dining area, outside, at about 8pm.

texturally, like a tapioca pearl in boba tea. flavor-wise, due to the crusting, a little too salty. So, I did it. adventure of the night: complete.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A post more cheesy than the last...

in order to get organic Nicaraguan products, sometimes it requires a bit of legwork. "a bit" is putting it very moderately.

there is a farm in the north of the country that produces farmstead organic cheese (meaning, they own the cows that make the milk from which the cheese is made)...
delicious cheese.
gouda. ricotta. camembert. and more (pardon me while I wipe the drool off my chin. yes, from salivating over the cheeses, not that the intense heat down there creates a drool reflex, in case you thought that was the case).

to obtain this cheese, the first contact was easy. Someone told me about the farm in an email, and the owner has an email address (very rare). I wrote to the owner over email a handful of times over the period of one week. 

The tricky part came with the actual pick up. Because they are a small farm hours away, they don't deliver to the port near our island. But the owner's mother lives about an hour away, and we arranged to pick up the cheese from her. I had a lot of other shopping to do, so it was a long afternoon... it just so happened that there is a McDonald's slightly on the way. My first big Mac in as long as I can remember... and now, to get the cheese.
 Not really an address; but I was instructed that the house was located:

... right across from "La Nunciatura", here is were the Catholic Nuncio lives, (he is like the Ambassador of the Vatican), going to Casa Colorada, it is on the left hand side, there is a wire fence from the highway all around, you enter in Callejon Felde, there are 3 houses. ours is the first one, all the way at the end of the lot, my sister is the next house and my mother behind, you can ring a bell at the side road, there will always somebody who will attend.
   At the side of the road is a sign of a security school that my nephew try to open, a lot of sand bags for his training, and different things, it is a silver sign, with 3 sides.

why would I have trouble finding the house? what is Callejon Felde? I might have driven past a small lot with a sandbag in it? Luckily, there was a broken sign on the road distinguishing which of the gates would be best to stand and scream and honk at while waiting for the 75 year old attendant to come outside. She was decked out in a french-ish maids uniform, and with some language barrier, managed to get me in the gate past a few barking dogs... they had the 20 lbs. of cheese I had asked for, but there was some trouble with the payment because the receipt left wasn't actually a bill, and was written to me rather than the hotel. Luckily, my secret weapon was waiting in the car- Matt came into the house and spoke with the accountant on the phone while I made the smallest of talks with the mother (German descent, age est. 76).  yada yada yada...

about two and a half hours later, the cheese was resting in my refrigerator, ready to head to Jicaro with me on the morning boat!

an artsy shot of Matt and Laura enjoying dinner at Jicaro the day after our Managua shopping excursion, possibly chowing down on some organic cheeses!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Grateful in Granada

adjusting to living and working in Nicaragua has been tough. i have my gripes about the country, the city, the climate, the job, but there is a lot to be thankful for down here. attention: dangerously cheesy.

  1. lack of smart phones. talking to people face to face, eating out, car rides and walking down the street, saying hello, engaging. so much better than walking like zombies, isolated by headphones and light up displays from warm blooded society. need directions? can’t get anywhere wtih google maps, anway... “remember where the gas station used to be, before it burnt down in 1979? turn left there...”
  2. boat ride to work in the morning. breathtaking view. windy and cool. and i get some peace.
  3. a job that challenges me at every corner. although sometimes frustrating, i am really happy working hard, putting in my all. I am worn out at the end of the day, but this is crazy, fun, exciting, non-stop learning.
  4. boat ride from work at night. breezy, star-filled, peaceful. unless there are sardines jumping into the 8 ft. wooden planked boat. but makes me smile nonetheless. 
  5. social networking. whether it be friends or with work, nothing gets done here without some quality bonding. it is fun, engaging and rewarding.
  6. conveniences of first world countries that are available here. internet, skype, Matt has a washing machine, there are cars, some paved roads, etc.
  7. supercool ex-pats. are helpful, understanding, fun and great people to know. it's nice to take a break from speaking in spanish, too.
  8. the lack of greed within the culture. the community here is not looking to make a quick buck, step on toes or stab backs in order to get ahead- the emphasis is instead on family, contentment and care. The synergy created from this type of community is energizing.
  9. getting to know Matt. my boss, landlord, brother- always looking out for me, my number 1 fan, and we have a lot of laughs. it is great to spend time with Matt.
  10. the gratification of getting something done. because i don't know the language well, nor the city, nor how things work- when I can actually do something on my own, the gratification and pride I feel leaves me beaming.

      welp, that's my top 10. I plan to reread this when I am feeling stressed, and remember the knowledge, experience and happiness that I have to gain from my time here in Nicaragua.

      cheers! signed, grateful in granada