28 September 2015

Then God Be Blessed, It Is The Blessèd Sun

Just another monkey Monday. Our troupes seem to have their weekly staff meetings near our home on Monday. Today was no exception with a troupe of at least 20 coming very, very close.

So, I’d like to tell you the story of how our 17-pound terrier caught and killed one of the deadliest snakes in Central America; but such was not the case. I’d also like to tell you the story of my first successful experience with laminated dough here in Costa Rica. Sadly, I cannot.

I want to eat my cake and have it, too. I want to embrace all things Costa Rica (including snake names), yet I want to retain enough U.S. mindedness to celebrate National Strawberry Cream Pie Day, which is today.

I’m still up on the ledge (or ‘round the bend . . . as you like it) with Martha Stewart and Sandra Lee. First task on National Strawberry Cream Pie Day? Finish the curtains that will create shade on our terrace. Why do we need shade on a covered terrace, you ask? Well despite living less than 10 degrees north latitude, that blessèd sun does travel north and south throughout the year. I believe that Rusty was skeptical when I made this proclamation on a shady terrace a few months back. But now that he’s at his laptop staring directly into the sun at 3:30 P.M., I do think that he’s convinced. The blinding sun streams directly onto the terrace, right under our western arched-opening. And as our sun continues its travel south, for many a month to come that blinding late-afternoon sun will hamper his work. And so I made curtains yesterday. 

There wasn’t that much involved. I used some black fabric cut into strips . . . fabric that in places had faded in the sun due to user error but was still sufficiently black for the will-hold-grommets border of the draperies, into which black mesh is tucked/sewed. Bam! Black mesh draperies, which Rusty hung perfectly taut to satisfy my OCD. Back and forth they go on their grommets. I was having a blast pulling draperies to and fro’ . . . imagining the little seashells that I’ll hand-sew on the bottom edge to create some weight on this lightweight mesh fabric . . . when, believe it or not, Javier called us to see something even more fascinating than the traverse of mesh draperies.

Over the weekend a little snake had crawled inside a pocket of Javier’s leather tool belt. It was dead by the time Javier called us, but be assured, it was still moving. You know: that innervation thing. This time I was not going to miss a photo op. Lubos arrived during the photography session.

Now what we have here is . . . is . . . completely unknown. I vote for a terciopelo, aka the fer-de-lance, one of the most deadly snakes in Costa Rica. Terciopelo means velvet in Spanish; though why one would name a snake velvet is beyond me. In any event, the terciopelo is fairly common, and indeed has similar markings, especially in a juvenile. Still, try as I did, I couldn’t find any image of a fer-de-lance that I could honestly say resembled our snake. Javier didn’t make identification any easier by bashing-in it’s little snake head. I eventually flung the still-moving snake across the road to keep Jill The Pill away from it. We had visions of Jill toting it into the bedroom to Rusty’s pillow, as she is want to do with any catch

Though I have photos (and yes, that's my finger), they aren’t clear; and I returned to the other side of the road for further snake inspection. So in our biology lesson today, we’ve ruled out: boas, blunt heads, rattlers, all green snakes, and juvenile cotton mouths. So what the heck was it? Anyone?

I went to Spanish class last Thursday and I’ve got a new list of vocabulary words. I’ve even learned to conjugate a few verbs in past and future tense . . . few being the key word here. Anyway, I asked Javier why it couldn’t have been (past tense conjugation) a terciopelo? . . . and Javier stated that indeed it could have been; though perhaps he was merely indulging me. I don’t know whether Javier’s opinion holds more validity because he’s Tico, or because he’ll love to tell the tale of surviving the terciopelo that was in his tool belt. Lubos was skeptical about this juvenile snake being the fer-de-lance; and Lubos is completely authoritative.

So these terciopelos come in a variety of colors; and true, they are a very long, slender snake with a head somewhat disproportionately large to its body (thus the lance in its name used by some North Americans). But we have another choice: the ol’ bushmaster (remember Romancing The Stone?). I must say: in its markings, it very much resembled a bushmaster. There’s only one problem with the bushmaster theory: they are very, very rare. So as you can see, I spent much of the morning involved in snake identification . . . with no definite resolution. Perhaps what should concern me more than its variety is the fact that a tiny and possibly venomous snake was so near our front door. And being so small, it could enter at any moment (our doors never close) and make its way anywhere in the home. Yikes.

Then there was the fact that I touched it. I had to show some bravada in front of Javier and Tonio . . . though I concede that I did squeal and jump around when it moved once on my finger. Girls . . . eh?! When the excitement died down and I returned to thoughts of Strawberry Cream Pie Day, I couldn’t even begin to think of baking. In hindsight, touching it was unnecessary and downright repulsive. I had to eat some chocolate just to place me back in the baking mode.

So, National Strawberry Cream Pie Day. I had neither fresh strawberries nor graham crackers/vanilla wafers. There are about a million strawberry cream pie recipes out there, but no one considers the baker in Costa Rica. The baker with only the Super Igana Verde or the Pali for supplies. The baker sin graham crackers. I did, however, have laminated dough (puff pastry). Now Rusty was adamant that a tart or turnovers did not, could not, would not adequately acknowledge National Strawberry Cream Pie Day. Did I ask for Rusty’s opinion? I had laminated dough and was determined to use it.

So what went wrong? User error, obviously. But was it my Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion, my rolling technique, my egg-wash-to-adhere-layers technique? As with the snake species, we may never know. The pastry is tasty, but it ain’t ever gonna be anything that will hold my strawberry cream filling . . . or is it? Plan B. Our old pal Alton Brown, who has never let me down . . . yet.

A.B.’s dough is simple and employs something that all of you bakers should know: when baking, weight measurements are far more important than volume. So use your kitchen scale, friends and neighbors. Did I forget the salt? And I wonder why I always, always use mise en place . . . except when I don’t. But trust me, it wasn't the salt or absence thereof . . . nor was it that bottle of Smirnoff that just happens to be resting on the island with the dough and a glass with a straw. Really.

Why, I don't deserve to live on this mountain with bakers such as Cynthia and Loretta. What do we know about pie dough? Never over-work your dough. Never stretch, pull, or push it around the pie plate – it either fits, or you’ve goofed in your rolling technique. If you’ve got to push the dough up the sides of the pie pan, you’ll get a tough, not a flaky crust. Next rule: work in a cold environment -- cold pie pan, cold water, cold marble for rolling. Cold, cold, cold. Yo, A.B., whatcha gonna do when the ambient temperature of your cold marble is 85 degrees?  Whoops! Looks as if someone failed in her rolling technique. Or . . . I’m blamin’ the Costa Rican butter, which isn’t 100% pure dairy.  

So our filling was a 220 gram container of queso crema (which is something like Philadelphia® cream cheese . . . well, a little like Philadelphia® cream cheese), 2/3 cup of sugar (yes, I admit it . . . by volume, not weight), some vanilla & almond extracts, one-half a can of strawberry filling (hey, I didn’t have fresh berries), and 100 milliliters of cream, whipped for four minutes and then folded gently into all of that other well-mixed stuff. Yes, one can buy cream here, though oddly enough it’s not in the refrigerated section and is frequently very lumpy . . . what’s up with that?

Regardless of the crust failure, Javier and Tonio ate it. Though later I did skim off the yummy filling from the failed crust and top the also-failed puff pastry with the filling and berries. Bam. Happy Strawberry Cream Pie Day, Tico style.

And about that super moon? It rained. And about the need/use for the new shading draperies this afternoon? It’s completely overcast.

What happens for National Coffee Day tomorrow? Think tiramisu . . . with Tico make-shift lady fingers. Unless I change my mind and make brownies with coffee/mocha frosting. What happens when my shorts really don’t fit?

But sun it is not, when you say it is not, and the moon changes even as your mind. What you will have it named, even that it is. And so it shall be so for Katherine . . . who’s going with terciopelo. Lo que hay.