Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's the end of the season as we know it...

Today, November 30th, marks the official end of Hurricane Season. And with an absolutely beautiful day, just as yesterday was. Shutters are down, lawn furniture out. Those who were decimated by hurricanes this season continue to repair and rebuild, though lives and land gone cannot be replaced. We on Culebra, who had a near miss with Omar, have escaped the wrath of hurricanes for one more year. And we are thankful.

In the Virgin Islands, where I used to live, there are two special hurricane related days. One is Hurricane Supplication Day in July. and Hurricane Thanksgiving Day in October. Of course, hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30th, but those days represent when the real threat *usually* comes to our area. Oh, factoid, the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. John, are about 18 miles away from us; St. Croix about 40 miles. It's all a pretty small neighborhood, with the BVI's just a few miles out from there, along with...well, another subject for another day.

Point being, I loved the Supplication and Thanksgiving days. I hear they are no longer official holidays...I hope that's not true, but maybe it is. Of course I could fact check, but that doesn't mean much on islands. Many are the local (PR, VI's) holidays that are NOT federal/official holidays, yet all businesses and the PO are closed anyway. Not so much now as when I first moved to the islands, but there was something about that I loved. On St. Croix you could basically count on no real business being done for about 18 days in the Christmas season. That included the phones. My family got to know that during major holidays the chances of me being able to call them was dicey at best. "All circuits are busy now" was a voice I knew all too well in the frustration of trying to wish my family and friends happy holidays of one sort or another. Frustration gave way to it should. I did choose to live here, after all.

So this was going to be a very short post, my own gladness to draw a close on official Hurricane season. Too much. Thus endeth it now!

Unless there is a good view of the convergence...which there was last night but I was busy directing boat traffic...(an hour later)...and there WAS a good view! There was the crescent moon, far below Venus & Jupiter.. I stood in the yard with the camera on the tripod, a coil blowing poisonous mosquito repelling smoke up my shorts (it sort of helped...I live on the edge of mangroves and water...they are BAD here some days) and got a lot of good shots; here is the one I'll share for tonight.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Saturday, Flying Cell Phones, and More, oh My!

Today was one of those 5 days in one day that happen here once in awhile. This stealth pelican should have been a sign, an omen. But I would have misread it, it was a very good day, mostly...
First and foremost, selfishly speaking, it was a GREAT day at the cart! My little world is a microcosm of the economy at large and has been following the trends pretty accurately. Three days of nada, a good day, two days of oh man, one good day. Today was a good, a very good day. Not only were some people spending some money, but even better and a big part of why I do what I do, we had FUN while they spent. I have this rule I call the 97.3 rule. 97.3 percent of people are awesome: interesting, fun. People I can learn from and enjoy. And the rest are...the rest. That percentage is from working with the public most of my life in either emergency mental health, working with kids, running hotels, working in marinas, blah blah and blah. And invariably, it holds true. Most people are pretty damn lovely. So it was today.

After being done with the cart, I went to Dinghy Dock for a drink and a wind down. A couple of tourists, Mike the Gifford and Krista the new and ever so wonderful bartender. A great couple, Doug & Sheryl, here who live on their sailboat Prudence, went by in their inflatable kayaks. A beautiful sailboat was doing trials. The afternoon was a living postcard of tropical beautiful. Oh...I'm so lucky.

Mike gave me a ride home where I had BIG PLANS. Ok, one big plan. Go out to the houseboat and clean pelican poop away. Three months of pelican poop, as I just got (with help from friends) my dinghy back in the water. I went in the dinghy, no problem. I get to the houseboat and go to step aboard. This isn't rocket science, one foot on the houseboat, one on the dinghy, one hand on the deck of the houseboat. I make the move to stand on the houseboat, that little tiny bounce moment, and catch, out of the corner of my eye, an object that literally FLEW from the front pocket of my backpack...over my shoulder....over the stern deck...into the water. I immediately knew what it was. My emergency cell phone. Plunk.

Slight history. I'm known for NOT having a cell phone (ah fame). But I bought one when I was in Florida this fall, trying to co-ordinate my family for a reunion in NC while staying at my daughter's in Florida. She doesn't have a landline and was at work, usually when I wanted to use a phone. Hence, the emergency cell phone. Stupid expensive, the minutes, but whatever. It worked. To the shock of the very few people who knew I even had it. So for it to go flying, and I do mean flying, into the drink...I could only laugh.

Ok, ha ha. But...maybe I could rescue it? Plus, I wanted to check my moorings. What was I wearing? Because I was cold when I left this morning, I had on the heaviest polo type shirt possible and a terry cloth material skort thing...lucky I didn't sink immediately. The bottom turned out to be this pluff candy soft? If it was wet and still cotton candyish. Forget the cell phone, it is gone forever. But what IS that stuff? I really do NOT want to know.

I swam around a bit, checking my lines and then knew I was avoiding what was next. Getting back on one boat or another. No way the houseboat, too high. Ok, let's try the dinghy. Once, in the not so distant past, I could have planted my hands on the side and whooped over. However...times have changed and so have I. Finally, I grabbed one of the lines with one hand, had the other on the rail of the dink, slung one leg over...oops. Try again. Both hands on the rail, sling BOTH legs over. Ok, this is...closer. Embarrassing, but closer. All I have to do is get the boat. One hand goes to the deck of the houseboat. One hand clutches the rail. Grip with my toes. Heave! And in the dinghy! Hooray, I don't have to swim to shore. Another moment life. Small victories.

There were a few more moments (slipping with mucky feet down the companionway stairs, smashing my blood, no story), but finally, clothes in a bag and sarong on, back to home base.

The creator & owner of this very cool little catamaran was putting on a solar panel to run the battery for the electric motor. If anyone is interested, it's for sale. 2 grand, but I know he'll bargain and it's worth it. One of a kind, strong as the proverbial brick la. Send an email if you're interested and I'll hook you up with him. Not into electric? It will take a conventional engine as well. Buy it! Get it off my dock!

I thought the day was finished, but as I was writing this I heard a lot of laughter from out on the water and knew it was my friends who'd gone out to Culebrita and that they were coming in. It's pitch dark around my dock, so I went out with a flash light to guide them in. One by one they came onto the dock, with Lucy the Wonder Dog last to jump ashore for a much needed walk. The perfect ending to a very Culebra day.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What's in that...Friday

Truthfully, I can hardly bear to think about food today! So much good food was brought to the Thanksgiving Day dinner, and it was ALL good. As usual, I picked my way through a few things and thought I was done until a couple of desserts came in. I'm not much of a dessert person but white AND dark chocolate brownies? How could I resist? So I didn't. Then incoming again...mushrooms in some sort of light sauce...oh dear! I don't even know all the good things brought, but my stomach was very happy. Today it is dancing and I'd really like it to stop.

Hands down, the most creative dish brought was this one, made by Amy Jo. Jack was the first taster and was heard to mutter "I hope this isn't a trick." Apparently not, as he seemed to make short work of it!

This morning along came Faithful Ann, with a leftovers sandwich of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, all wrapped up and handed over to me...yum. If I was smart (and sometimes I am, but not this morning) I'd have taken a photo of the sandwich and that would have been perfect!

The main hostess was busy making up bags of scraps and bones for soups in her incredibly efficient manner, before we'd even hit the tables. Thinking of that and the weather getting cooler (it's only 82 in the mid-day and last night got down in the very low 70's - laugh if you must but to us that's chilly!), soup seems to be a good thing to write about...and to cook.

Everyone has different leftovers*, so this is really only a guide of the obvious. Buen provecho!


1 turkey carcass (crack the large bones)
1-2 c. turkey meat (or more if you've got it)
1 c. turkey gravy
2 c. stuffing
2-3 potatoes, cut bite size
4 qts. water
1 c. chopped onion
1 bay leaf
3 carrots cut bite size
2 stalks celery, cut bite size
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried basil

Any cooked veggies can be thrown in at the end (potatoes, corn, peas, broccoli, mushrooms, red peppers; you get the idea) If you have some red or white wine leftover, toss in a cup of that too!

Salt and pepper to taste


Place turkey carcass, water, seasonings, stuffing, gravy and celery & carrots (fresh, not cooked) in large kettle. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for two hours. If you don’t like celery and carrots really soft, put them in after 1 1/2 hours.

Remove carcass from broth and pick all meat from bones (need I say, AFTER it cools a bit?). Strain the soup. Return broth and vegetables (including leftover veggies), & all meat to kettle and heat to serving temperature, about 5-10 minutes max. Makes about 4 quarts. After filling the house with the aroma of this cooking, you’ll be surprised how hungry you are again!

*Some people like to add noodles instead of potatoes - there are so many wonderful kinds of noodles and I can see where it could jazz things up. I'd probably use rice noodles, because they are *lighter*.
Again, this is just a guide. Make it a curry using rice and less water. Or toss ginger in. Or just forget soup and take all that stuff and make enchiladas instead. Eating well and eating cheap demand one thing, and that is your imagination let loose. As I was taught by my Dad, who got me started cooking a long time ago, it's good to play with your food!

p.s. The photo at the top is taken from a WONDERFUL site called Holidays on the Net. They have many more creative ideas of what to do with leftovers, as well as other great recipes and ideas. Check 'em out!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!*

When it gets down to it, the biggest part of Thanksgiving is being with family and/or friends you love. Ok, sometimes the love is like eating Aunt Gertrude's circus peanut candies that she's brought to Thanksgiving dinner for the last 150 years. From the same bag. Be polite. Stuff it in your pocket. It'll still be good next year. That kind of love.

For me, it is about being with people I truly want to be with, since my brother and children are too far away. While locals are surrounded by family (I think there are three families on Culebra and everyone is related like it or not), many of us have families everywhere but here. While we may be lucky enough to get a local family invite, there will be groups of people getting together for some kind of feasting around the island with others who don't get to sit down for pavochon and mofongo dressing. Each group makes sure that any newcomers they've gotten to know have a place at the table.

I get together with a group of friends and an invite list that expands and expands with everyone inviting someone, until sometimes we have no idea who walked in the door. I've been invited by strangers to our own dinner. While we've never set a menu of what to bring, it always is balanced. Enough mains, enough sides, enough desserts. It just works. Over and over. And year after year, the invited who come and go know they can always come back again if they are here for Thanksgiving. Unless they bring circus peanut candy, which constitutes grounds to never be invited anywhere, ever again.

Phones ring or calls are made to parents and children, brothers and sisters, sharing the day with those far off. Plates are filled and emptied, the table once beautiful becomes the table now decimated. Eventually someone starts washing some dishes. Then it's 'move over, my turn' while leftovers are packaged, plates are made up for those who had to work or couldn't make it for some reason but are home and hungry. Suddenly it is only a small group of friends again, searching (and searching) for one last bottle of wine to share before heading home. The orphans are fed, the day is done. We can sit back and look at our friends and laugh and talk about the day and evening, glad to be together. With thanks.

*No post tomorrow...I have to find some circus peanuts and it will take all day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Sometimes it's just quiet around here, and that's a good thing. The world swirls around, that outside world, and our world, on different orbits. Or maybe I'm just in an orbit of my own.

I did see three red boats today, a sailboat, a dinghy and this boat, which is sort of strange, red not being a huge boat color. I don't think it portends anything, but if it does, I'll tell the story.

There is another quiet thing happening, but it's pretty spectacular. Look up in the sky each night from today until December first and you will see the convergence of Venus, Jupiter and the moon. Right now, it's Jupiter and Venus doing the dance, but the moon will join in as a crescent soon enough.

Here are a couple of snippets from an article about it:

Starting Thanksgiving evening, Jupiter and Venus will begin moving closer so that by Sunday and Monday, they will appear 2 degrees apart, which is about a finger width held out at arm's length, said Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky and Telescope magazine. Then on Monday night, they will be joined by a crescent moon right next to them, he said.

Look in the southwestern sky around twilight - no telescope or binoculars needed.

The three celestial objects come together from time to time, but often they are too close to the sun or unite at a time when they aren't so visible. The next time the three will be as close and visible as this week will be Nov. 18, 2052, according to Jack Horkheimer, director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium.

You don't need to wait until Thanksgiving though, you can start tonight or tomorrow. By the way, if you aren't familiar with Jack Horkheimer, you should make yourself familiar. He's probably opened up the sky for more people than anyone else (well, that guy who made the telescope was pretty awesome too) alive today. Jack is funny, brilliant and down to earth, keeping the wonder alive in the science, a rare gift. Check him out.

I took this a little after 6 p.m. our time, which is Atlantic Standard, no daylight savings time here (thank goodness - fall back we'd get but spring forward? ain't gonna happen). 427 mosquito bites and one gigantic cloud drove me inside. Maybe later tonight or tomorrow will be better. Truly better would be to go out and see for yourself. I mean, are you going to be around in 2052? Time's a wastin' then! Go on now...scoot!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some days are like this

Today has been one of those days everyone has, no matter where they live...well, except that it was here, which is not quite like any other place I know.

For me, it started out almost chilly (77 degrees F) in the dark of pre-dawn, stars going ballistic in the sky, then breaking into incredible color, while the wind was blowin' like stink (a sailor saying). It had howled through the night, loud and cool and wonderful. And different. We like different, since we don't get much of different around here (what am I talking about? oh, THAT sort of different, not weird, - just different - we get lots of weird).

We talk about the weather a lot, which is probably like any other place, for all the different reasons people talk about the weather. Except never the reason of just making conversation; weather is a very real topic and people here are remarkably tuned in to it, which I like a lot.

We talk about the wind if it blows hard, and how it affects the seas. Sailors living on anchorages (there are, ever so thankfully, no marinas here) talk about how soundly they are anchored in a big wind, or how they had to toss out another anchor. Land people talk about their outdoor furniture and / or plants blowing over. Or just the sound of the wind... We talk about stillness if there is no wind. We talk about cloudiness and can spend a good bit of time walking around craning our necks looking at the sky, at which way the clouds are blowing, how dark they are, are they filled with rain, will it rain for long, what did the radar look like this morning... I think it is because many of us spend much of our time outdoors, in huge appreciation that we can, year round.

I, for instance, work outdoors, so weather means, will I be open or closed, because of rain, because of heat, because of wind. Some have restaurant/bars that are mainly outdoors, business affected by weather. Some people do yards, or construction or work with wood, all weather related. The people who work indoors play outdoors as much and as soon after being indoors as they can. Or go home to sit on decks or balconies, for drinks and meals and just to watch the sea and sky.

After I got to town it started to rain. I wandered around, getting a coffee, talking with a few people who advised me to go home and call it a good effort day (which was tempting - cool, cloudy, rainy, a book, tea...that Sunday morning feeling minus the NYT's). But after awhile the rain stopped, I opened and it felt delicious, cool and breezy, windchimes chiming away.

Dreadlock Carlos came by (bartender at the pizza place) and mentioned when I had a chance, I might want to pay for my pizza from the other night...bits of gossip tossed around with others like debris in the street...a family that I really enjoy (even the kids are great) who come down a few times a year showed up...a couple of guys who do the same thing came as a surprise, hugging on the bridge - in the middle of the bridge...we can do that here too, and cars wait. And over all of that, this frission of something in the air, the still very windy air. Like something was going to happen, but who knew what? Maybe it's just the wind.

The only thing I know that is going to happen is Thanksgiving in a few days. And deciding what I'll bring to the dinner. Wondering how my daughter Sarah's pre-moving to Oregon yard sale went. Weighty thoughts. I think that will be enough for now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Just another day or so in Paradox

Yesterday turned into one of *those* days that happen here once in awhile in the afternoon. As I was closing the cart yesterday, I was invited for lunch at Dinghy Dock by two friends. One I see often and talk to pretty regularly, the other is always a drive by this looked like a good chance to have some real time talk. We all see each other often, but usually it's a passing hello cart/PO/market moment, not sit and chat time;

I wasn't hungry, but I did agree to a glass of wine (you know where this is going, don't you?). Which turned into a few glasses of wine. The non-drinking friend left first. Then, after a couple or three glasses more of vino, the other one. Not quite ready to head home, I ambled (or so I was told, with the charming word "shuffling" used by an astute observer) across the bridge to a friend's shop thinking, hey, I'm in town already, might as well hang out and do our Friday night girl gab. But it wasn't to be. Suddenly I realized if I didn't eat something very soon, it was going to be a bad thing. Because trust me, no move goes unnoticed here, and as we say, this was 'my turn'.

Heather's (the pizza place) was open, with their 2 slices for 1 deal and soon I had two very large slices of jalapeno and anchovy pizza slices, very delicious and I hope I paid for the two largest slices I've ever had there...must have looked like I needed them?...but if not, someone will tell me eventually. And then I went BACK to the shop Paradise, where yet another friend drove me home. It was all quite clear at the time, but not at 1:30 this morning when I woke up remembering I'd agreed to go with a fishing guide friend of mine to look for bait. I tell him about the pelicans, he rounds up bait for his clients' fishing trips. I was thinking or hoping, maybe it will rain...maybe I'll go back to sleep and wake up and feel just fine. And, that is just what happened!

So at 6:30, I jumped off my dock not quite like a gazelle but without falling, and onto his boat to quietly tool around looking for sardines as the sunrise turned the world rosy. Nothing like a trip out of my bay, out through the channel markers and into the sea to remind me of how lucky I am. St. Thomas and Sail Rock were glowing with light. I couldn't take a photo because it was, while very comfortable to me, a bit too bouncy and with too much spray going on. But I did manage to get some great shots of Chris throwing his cast net...and coming up sardines! I was reminded to let people know they can click on photos for close ups (or sometimes info) click away.

(Chris' legs aren't really that hairy or muddy, I just sharpened it a lot for the water droplets!)

(and the sardines)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Take it from the top

As I was tumbling thoughts on what to do for this post, I realized that Thanksgiving, that strange American holiday involving massive amounts of food to symbolize...uh...that we can buy and consume massive amounts of food, is on Thursday. Thanksgiving truly is my favorite holiday, because it's about giving thanks (and being the Luckiest Woman in the World I have much to give thanks for), modified over the decades to reflect what we really have to be thankful for, rather than the fairly inflated story of the Indians and Pilgrims Celebrating Their Co-mingled Work and Bounty...we all know what happened next. Not unlike this little snippet out of Wasilla, Alaska... yesterday.

Turkey, being big, even a small one is big, makes a great subject for inexpensive leftovers, as after that first slice into crackly golden skin is made, it all sort of goes downhill from there. The side dishes are really the stars of the meal and while the classics (green beans with almonds, sweet potatoes with marshmallows AND brown sugar on top - yes, we do like our sweeties - mashed white potatoes drenched in butter - we like our fats too - and then the pies...more sweets, more fats, creations of pecan, apple, peach, rhubarb, resting in graham cracker or flaky's kind of bizarre) are great, something new and different is always wonderful too. Try something new and different.

Try a Tortilla de Patata. Super easy, Super cheap. You don't need to know Spanish.

Or, if that looks like too much go, wild, put roasted garlic in your mashed potatoes. You'll be glad you did.

The more I thought about it, I figured...anyone who makes turkey year after year does NOT need to know how to make turkey. And how hard is it anyway? It's just a big chicken after all. Though I am reminded of a time when a woman I knew asked me to check and make sure everything was ready to put in the oven (I was a kid, she was a GROWN UP, why was she asking me?). Looking at the turkey, I knew immediately; something was wrong. "Where is the stuffing?" I asked. She had no idea what I meant. So I untied the legs and looked into the turkey...and there was the bag of giblets...still in the bag. So, ok, everyone doesn't know how to make turkey. TAKE THE GIBLETS OUT OF THE TURKEY. They are like a little surprise! And they are an integral part of the stuffing, if you make it right (yes, MY way is right, period). The gizzard and liver and heart are minced and sauteed in butter with onion and garlic, lots of both, and then you toss it into Pepperidge Farm stuffing, the blue bag, and follow the directions. Easy. Then put it all into the turkey. Fun. The neck goes into a small pot of water on the stove, brought to a boil. It is for 'the cat'. Period. If you don't have a cat, someone you know has one. Your cat or theirs will thank you.

So, obviously, I am not going to tell you how to make a turkey. It's right there in your face, and probably even has a little plastic thingy that pops out when the turkey is ready. Make sure you don't trust the little plastic thingy! Instead, stick a knife into the joint between the thigh and the breast of the turkey (don't worry *no one will notice a thing* if you cover it with say, parsley...or turn it to the *other* side on the table). If the juice that runs out is clear, you are too. If it's...sorta pink, back in the oven it goes. Or solar cooker. Or grill, or whatever you are cooking the thing in or on. If you fry it in one of those deep vat things, I think the plastic thingy would be useless and maybe even melt, so I'd take it out. I don't like the plastic thingy, obviously. Get a real turkey.

I figure, next week I can write about what to do with turkey leftovers, and lots of other ideas. One of my favorite mornings at the cart was the day after a turkey holiday. A bunch of us always get together on holidays, each bringing something. I don't ever host it because I don't have an oven...among other things. So I never make the turkey and I never get leftovers. So there I am, sitting at the cart, thinking about leftovers I don't have, and along comes Ann in her jeep. She stops and holds out a turkey sandwich...a classic American turkey sandwich, I must add...white bread, cranberry sauce, stuffing and somewhere in there, a pile of turkey. I think there was butter on it too. Maybe mayo. It was an excellent breakfast! So there you go. Sneak preview of next Friday.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's on some minds

For quite a while the subject of eating good food on the cheap keeps coming up, often in quite unexpected places, like the cart corner, for example. The conversation usually starts with something about how *things* are going, a euphemism, I've learned to understand, for *are you as broke as I am?*.

Marco del Grande

Of course, it depends what a person considers broke to be. I had a friend years ago in kid raising days tell me that things were looking grim: Bubba had lost clients, prices were going up, she might even have to give up her cleaning help and little J___ would not be able to take ballet this year. Instead, she'd have to face the shame of only having flute, gymnastics, language lessons, and tennis. I'm here to tell you, my sobs of sympathy could be heard for blocks. But in reality, this was her story, her truth. At the same time I had friends who wondered how they were going to get three meals a day for their kids without taking on a third menial paying job. Their truth, their story.

I can't teach ballet for free (or at all, more the pity) I have no employee positions to offer. But one thing I do know about is eating well* on the cheap, along with eating well on the high end. It's not hard to do both, with a little work. So with a nod to our availability issues here (and in other places!) I'm going to designate Friday as What's Your Recipe for That? day. using some of my own recipes as well as others from friends, family and the ever available online ideas. For all of those, credit will be given where credit is due. Unless, of course, you make something of mine and absolutely despise it to the point of...well, you which case, it was someone else's recipe and I have no idea how it got here.

Munoz: "The National Ballet of Cuba: 2001"

I won't be trying to re-invent the wheel, hopefully, just adding to the chassis. People have been cooking well without a whole lot for far, far longer than I've been around (Moses did ask me for some tips on something *new* to do with manna, however; what a goofball he was).

*"well" = it tastes good and it's good for you too!

And because this is a Culebra blog, I'll end with a funny story that happened today. Ok, I think it's funny. There is this really nice guy who drives a taxi and often gives me a ride home without charging me. I try to trade with something extra I might have from the store, but it doesn't matter to him, he's just a nice guy.

So today when he drops me off, he calls me back to the taxi. He's taking beers out of a little cloth cooler. He said he'd taken some folks to the airport and they had, intentionally, left the cooler and contents with him. He wanted the beers, but not the VERY pink, Breast Cancer Awareness cooler, so he asked if I'd like it for myself or to give to someone. I said sure, and enjoy the beers!

There was a little side pocket on it...I thought, hey, wonder if there's something in here (hoping of course that the chain letter I passed on to 9571 *special friends* in nine minutes so something wonderful would happen to me at 2:37 today would mean there were a few crisp hundred dollar bills tucked away). Instead, I found a teeny tiny baggie of pot, no doubt for medicinal use. Enough, if I remember correctly, and there is no guarantee here, to roll enough to take half a hit. Of course I immediately took it to the police station, where it was opened and blew all over the office. Not really. The iguanas and chickens should be happy though.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Peli's, halfway 'round the world

The pelicans are back for the season and I am mesmerized by them, from dawn to dusk. I never am tired of their precision assaults from the sky, their gawkiness and their impossible elegance in flight.

They work solo, they work in teams. There is some rapport going on with the gulls but each year I can't quite remember who is following whom in the dance. So I stand on the shore, forgetting the camera for a moment, transfixed in wonder. Rapt. Their awkwardness and their streamlined movements are a perfect balance of nature's laughter. And I get to watch...entranced by the silly old pelican, whose bill can hold more than his bellican...

This is for my friend Samela, who has given me so much. For she who loves pelicans more than I do, if that's possible, and it is, though hers are those down under Aussie peli's. And also, this is dedicated to the memory of our friend Ri, who, in her fierce love of life and her raging grace, remains with me more strongly than ever when I watch the Peli Ballet. Can you hear the music?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grow your own

As the downside of the economy grows ever more present, there is an upside. More people are gardening that ever before, around America and around the world. Urban gardens, gardens in greenhouses when snow is on the ground, window box gardens, container gardening - the list is big and keeps on growing. Practically, most sources agree that for a family of four, you need only a space the size of a two car garage to feed them for a year. Some say less, using serious intensive gardening or using containers. Of course, this is having good (or improved) soil, using preservation methods for food storage to get through non-growing seasons (if you happen to have non-growing seasons...I know that is the case somewhere in the world) and a desire to do the work necessary to obtain those oh so delicious results.

There is another thing going on I find really interesting. This is from a site about Urban Edibles in Portland, Oregon. My daughter is moving there. As a chef and a food fanatic, she'll love this.

"Some nice foliage may make Portland, Oregon a “green” city, but amongst the leaves is a surprising amount of edible food sources. On one side of town there may be a public street lined with fruit trees whose bounty gets swept in to a dumpster year after year, while on the other side some kids may be anxious to make some plum jam. This project aims to make more available the natural food sources throughout the city that go undiscovered each year. Nut trees, berry patches, unsprayed fields of dandelion roots are all welcome. We invite you to share the sources you already know of, search for new ones with your friends, and participate in our official scouting days."

How many drives do you take where you see fruit or nuts or berries on the ground or sidewalk, going to waste and you think, gosh, I'd LOVE to pick that up, but I don't want someone thinking I'm a) stealing from someone or b) pathetic & starving? Wouldn't it be nice to have something so prolific that people watching you *harvest* thought, cool! Can I do that too?
I've been practicing this for years here, with permission, to get 99.9% of my mangoes for the hot sauce I make and sell. Who knew I was trendy? There are rules, which are simply good guidelines. These are the main ones:

  • Don't take more than you need. "A tree full of ripe black cherries can be really exciting but how many will you use before they go bad?"
  • Ask permission before you pick. "We do not condone unsanctioned harvesting practices or trespassing."
  • Pick in a balanced and selective manner. "The last thing we want is to damage the sources from which we harvest!"
  • Watch out for pesticides and other contaminants. "Paint chips, pesticides, motor oil spills and even car wash runoff can affect the quality of the sources you pick from.
But that isn't what I started to write about (as happens so often; I'm a tangent Queen). Gardening here on Culebra is growing apace with the state of the world's economy, but many have been gardening for years, enjoying the benefits of red tomatoes, fresh mangoes, limes, lemons, oranges and grapefruit, root veg, and herbs free from pesticides, and better tasting than most anything you can buy. Culebra actually used to sell fruits and veg that was grown here to other islands, a long time ago, but not out of living memory. Sometimes Hugo (the hurricane that devasted Culebra in 1989) is used as a reason that people stopped gardening on a larger scale. Sometimes I hear that it's just easier to buy things in the stores now that weren't available *back then*. Whatever. I don't know a person who wouldn't rather eat a real tomato, warm from the sun out of the garden, versus a white one that is supposed to be red. They're addictive as well; once you have the real thing, from your own hand work, it's hard to go back!

So, we who are planting now (I've been planting since I moved here, sometimes with success, often with frustration, always with a grin) are only following a long tradition, using much easier methods - especially if you are growing where there is a piped water source, rather than cistern only as a water supply, which used to be the only water supply for all. The benefits of homegrown are obvious. Better food, being outdoors in the gardens, growing locally, sharing the bounty. I have never grown a garden that was successful and not had too much to keep...there is always some to give away when the growing is good. It's part of the joy of it.

Yes, we on Culebra have unique gardening issues. I have iguanas, for instance...but hey, others have deer, or moles or early freezes; there are any number of obstacles to overcome no matter where you live. But that is part of the pleasure of picking those herbs, or that first tomato or squash or onion; you won!

I remember a cattle/grain farmer uncle of my ex-husband telling me that he planted one row for the animals, one for the insects and the rest for himself. One crop he grew was field corn, the hard kind used for animal feed. In the center of these acres (they called them sections) he would plant the sweet corn for family use. When he took me into that inner circle to pick some ears for dinner, I felt...honored. And delighted. This is/was a guy who let me drive his combine, this gigantic, seriously expensive amazing machine, just laughing when wheat was spilling out of the catcher, because, as usual, I went *too far*. He taught me how to kill and hang and skin a pig ('Are you sure you haven't done this before, beach girl?)'how to cut the balls off a young calf - yes, they scream - and how to cook them and enjoy eating them (yes, they really were good, headcheese, no, mountain oysters, si). Good man, Uncle Bill!. Oops! Tangent city! Raising animals will be coming along here, no doubt.

Point? Growing a garden is more than planting and weeding and watering and harvesting. It's a communion with the world around you, the rocky and sweet of it. Stressed? Go dig up a watermelon patch in rocky soil! Perspective is a beautiful thing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Food & Cooking on Culebra part dos

So with the intro, we continue. I get a subscription to a food magazine that when I'm done, I try to pass along. The comment I usually get is something like, " thanks, great recipes but we can't get the ingredients...." trailing off into the unspoken *you know what I mean* zone.

But once in awhile something shows up here and you want to get a little creative! Usually on Fridays, the day the veggie guy comes, a couple of people will come by the cart and ask me if I want them to pick me up something or another. I usually request something I know won't be there, because I'll head by later on and check myself (unless it's something I know will be gone by the time I get, say, cauliflower).

Buying veg and fruit is a personal thing...bananas that may look awful to one person I might buy because my Dad told me those brown spots were where the fairies kissed them, and that made them extra sweet. How do you differentiate that to someone from brown spots that the fairies absolutely ignored because they were gross? No can do.

But last Friday someone came by and to my, what's different question, let me know there were leeks. I didn't become a leeks fan until adulthood, when for some reason I got some leeks and braised them and fell in love! Soy, garlic, leeks...oh my!

I get the leeks and come home all excited. Blessing the internet once again, I put in
'chicken leeks recipes' on google (I had some leftover chicken). After three recipes calling for things I not only didn't have, but couldn't buy, I finally found one. Oh, and it was about 7 p.m. so even if I could get something, nothing was open to buy it.

Here is the recipe, about as simple as it gets, off of cooks. com.

1 (3 to 4 lb.) chicken, cooked, skinned & deboned
3 to 4 leeks
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 c. whipping cream
Fresh parsley for garnish
Tear chicken into bite-size pieces. Cut the leeks into 2 inch pieces up to the point where the leek begins to turn green. Slice the piece once lengthwise, and divide the leaves. Rinse if dirty.

Saute the leek leaves in the oil along with the garlic if desired. Do not allow leaves to discolor; cook until barely tender.

Add the chicken to the pan, cook until hot. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and add the cream. Heat and serve. Decorate with parsley. Serve with plain white rice on the side. Serves 6.

Hey, I had olive oil! I had garlic! Oops, the garlic was icky...but I had ajo mash in the fridge, ok, still good to go. Bizarrely enough, I actually had nutmeg. And not the ground kind, I had the actual real nutmeg, thanks to Ann passing it over to me from a long ago time, WITH the grater (we share a lot here, a lovely thing). Fresh parsley, nope. Dried parsley, si. Forget decorating with it, it was going in the mix., how about UHT milk? Rice? I have LOTS of rice, but I had some leftover yellow rice (I made it with tumeric not saffron, that I bought to sell at the cart and stole a bottle of it for myself because you can't get it here). This was going to work! And the chicken would work...I hoped. I had leg quarters that I'd grilled...yeah sure, that would work. And I had this odd chili lime salt that Monika had given me...I'd been wondering what to do with it but it just leaped off the spice shelf to be included...yep, that would be perky! (Now you know, Monika...)

When we have parties here, almost always it's 'just bring something' with the host and/or hostess providing the main event part. These exquisite appetizers and side dishes show up and we all ohhh and ahhh while chowing down. Using, for the most part, what is available, inspires the creative cook to heights most would not imagine in the lands of plenty. But it happens over and over, year after year.

Some of my favorite times at these parties are when I eat a local dish I've never tasted, didn't know existed, can't figure out what's in it and get to learn the how of it all. Something not fried, something delicious, something you'd eat in someone's home that you'll never get out in a restaurant. Yeah, give me more!

But...I don't think grilled leftover chicken, leeks and yellow rice meet that high standard. It didn't matter...the milk blended into the saucy bits from the saute of chicken, leeks and olive oil, the spices melded, the yellow rice seemed more rich than in its first incarnation and wa la! Chicken and Leeks with UHT Milk, Culebra style! Yumolicious and is good.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Food & Cooking on Culebra Part Uno

This post was inspired by a cruel email reminding me about time in La Boqueria, a famous food market on Las Ramblas in Barcelona. I have a picture of me (somewhere), in this market, wine in one hand, giant strawberry in the other and a butcher holding out a sample slice of the best prosciutto I've ever had, a mile wide grin on my face..These shots are off the web (same market); you get the idea. It's an amazing place with everything from veg to fish to wines name it. This meat section is just for HAMS! And it was only one of those...

It's true, many of us are obsessed by food here. It's usually about food we can't buy on Culebra. Or sometimes it's about food we do in "Oh my god!!!! Hurry up and get to Milka's, they have SHARP CHEDDAR CHEESE!!!!!" Somewhere along the lines of "Pssstttt...hey....I got some rye bread here...wanna get some? First one's free, little girl." The first time I saw green beans on the veggie truck (back when veggies other than broccoli meant the veg truck was here), I ran home, sauted them with butter and salt and ate them for breakfast, straight out of the skillet. And bragged about it all day, much to the envy of those who got there too late to find the beans were gone...they lasted maybe 10 minutes.

That was when I first moved here only a little over six years ago and I know that things felt stylin' by then compared to say, 10 years before that. Choices are considerably bigger now, but...what can I say? Gringos are spoiled with choice. About everything, but food is the subject of the day here.

It's a weird dichotomy. I love it that to get a beautiful cauliflower from the new veg guy is a treat, a huge treat. But once in awhile, I just want to walk into the store and get a damn cauliflower because I want one. I'd rather have the 'it's so truly special!' ness of a surprise something or other I don't even know I'm craving than have it anytime I like. Maybe it's a sickness, but most of the people I know feel the same way. People come back from trips and invariably the biggest subject is where and what they ate, along with markets they went to. ANY's weird. We hang on every description, trying not to drool with jealousy. Unless it's our turn to tell the wonders of the world *out there*. And yet, we can't wait to come home, every time. Bottom line, the day I see an artichoke for sale on Culebra, it's probably time to move away. On Culebra, less really IS more.

Tomorrow will be the post I was going to do tonight (but...for those who don't know Culebra, I thought a little background was in order), unless something else seems more important or interesting, I'll tell you about the dinner I cooked tonight using LEEKS!!!! The veg guy had leeks! Are we excited?? Yes we are. Teaser preview photo:

Friday, November 14, 2008

I confess

Yes, I'm not quite healed from my newsoholicness...but this one just leapt into my laptop/eyes. I swear I didn't look for it. It's not my fault! Truth, I no longer read anything with the word Palin in it. I don't watch the videos. But this one snuck in under another guise....I promise. HOWEVER, it was too good to let go.

Sometimes here on Culebra, I think we're all pretty crazy. Ok, more than sometimes. And some stand out more than others. But today, Palin's thrown the gauntlet down. I can only think of one slightly close potential rival and that rival will never have national attention, so I'll let Palin take the stage:

UPDATE: Via email, here's an excerpt from Wolf Blitzer's interview today with Palin:

BLITZER: Another question. What are your new ideas on how to take the Republican Party out of this rut that it’s in right now? Give me one or two new ideas that you’re going to propose to these governors who have gathered here in this hotel.

PALIN: Well, a lot of Republican governors have really good ideas for our nation because we’re the ones there on the front lines being held accountable every single day in service to the people whom have hired us in our own states and the planks in our platform are strong and they are good for America. It’s all about free enterprise and respecting the ...

BLITZER: Does that mean you want to come up with a new Sarah Palin initiative that you want to release right now.

PALIN: Gah! Nothing specific right now. Sitting here in these chairs that I’m going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it’s our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don’t get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we’re dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations.

To soften the confusion, here is a bit of local wonder...hope it helps. Gah indeed.