12 October 2015

It Was The Ants

Man plans, God laughs. October is National Dessert Month and I am committed to a minimum gain of five pounds. Minimum. I'm going to need dessert rehab. Anyway, Costa Rican humidity be damned – I was going to make chocolate cream pie for Rusty . . . with a mile-high meringue topping. If my Kitchen Aid can turn cream into butter in less than five minutes (it’s like Butter Jesus in that regard), it can surely whip into stiff peaks a few egg whites. 

And then it started to rain. That was yesterday. It’s still raining.

Now I can perform miracles in the kitchen, but even I know better than to try meringue when our mountain home is shrouded in a cloud and the mist is coming indoors through the screened windows. Crazy? Yes. Insane? No. Plan B. Baklava

Go to your refrigerator and examine your butter. Not your margarine, your butter. Go ahead, the exercise probably won’t kill you. You should see one, perhaps two ingredients: cream, or something directly from a cow’s udder, and possibly some salt. Nothing else. The Costa Rican butter has so many ingredients that I need my reading glasses to see ‘em all. You want to sauté some shrimp and veggies in Tico butter? Well the Costa Rican version of butter is just dandy. But if you want to clarify butter, say, for baklava, then you need butter . . . and not something from a cow combined with 129 other ingredients. 

Now how am I going to make baklava in a country with a limited number of nuts (don’t say it, Kat)? Well I’m going to cheat. We brought or shipped about 80 pounds of pecans and walnuts. Okay, perhaps not 80 pounds, but plenty of nuts. And with my home-made butter, clarifying it won’t be difficult . . . so baklava here I come.

Then came the ants. Now let’s pause a moment to discuss the cleaner ant. One night in my little African village of Pô the ants began to cover the terrace and they just kept coming. I don’t mean trails of ants, I mean a 100% covering by ants over the terrace. The concrete appeared to be alive. Then they spread to the walls. My first experience with cleaner ants wasn’t pleasant. It was the only thing in Africa that ever had me completely undone

Well we have periodic visits from cleaner ants here on the mountain. There does seem to be an association with the ants and rain; but heck, I’m no entomologist, so perhaps it’s mere coincidence. Anyway, why today? And yes, every tiny dark spot that you see on our outdoor shower is an ant . . . and they're teeming up the stone shower itself, too.

So why today . . . when I had planned to clip more shrubberies, dig in the garden, clean the house, and continue the install of our glass-tile back-splash? . . . in other words, just when I was going to work my getting-larger ass off,  Really, I was going to accomplish all of that . . . or so I told Rusty. Sadly (thank you, Nature Jesus) I was stopped by the ants. 

Nut-Meg was safely sleeping on the love seat (she napped through the four-hour event). But Jill is always difficult to corral once she’s awake; and the ants arrived about seven o’clock. Jill had to be removed from the entire scene of this plague . . . yet there was no safe haven. I was tempted to put her in the car to keep ants off of her furry feet. Proud parent that I am, I concede that she’s merely a dog and simply doesn’t understand not to stand in an ant puddle about four-feet in diameter.

So let's talk about that name, cleaner ant. It's a lie! They don't clean a thing. Did they wash my windows? Did they shake-out the hallway rug? Did they start the dishwasher or bother to press the button on the dryer? No. What they do, in fact, is clean-up little morsels of dead insects; and when they see smaller ants they attack, kill, and I presume that they eat 'em. Well, little fellows, if you're expecting to find a dead moth in my home at 7:00 A.M., think again. But there's simply no reasoning with three million ants. Oh no . . . they had to be certain . . . they looked everywhere.

The ants came inside under doors, through sealed/closed windows, and through secret ant highways. They were on the beds, on the walls, on the draperies. It was a fantastic sight of nature at her finest . . . except for the dog issue. Finally, Jill and I escaped to the pool, with our Spanish book. Jill loves when I read to her in Spanish. Right. 

Only my second lesson in Spanish and I am on a rant. It’s not that I find odd Spanish idioms, as Rusty did. No . . . I embrace the idiom. In a blog post I wrestle with myself to avoid the use of too many idioms and clichés; and sadly, I don’t believe that counts as exercise. No, it's that I'm disinclined to respond to silly questions in the Spanish book. Nay, not merely respond . . .  "find a picture or sentence to write a paragraph about." Any grammar book that uses poor grammar in its English sentences should have its editor taken out and shot. Do not end a sentence in a preposition and then ask me to write a paragraph about (three sentences are fine, four are good, five or more are great . . . so writes the editor). Really? If I write more than five sentences in Spanish, I expect a reward far better than the word great. Maybe something like a double margarita. 

And then we have the Spanish book's use of the very questionable term, a lot. Yes, I use a lot when blogging; but like my okays, it’s for effect and I know that it’s incorrect. And, hey, I'm not the editor of a book on proper grammar, in any language. Then there are the just-plain-silly questions:

¿Son interesantes todos los diamantes? Are you bloody kidding me? Are all diamonds interesting? Seriously, pal? Hell yeah . . . damn skippy they are. So I wrote a book on why diamonds are interesting, especially los grandes, and colored VVS1 diamonds. Hey, Mr. Editor, you asked! 

So the baklava isn’t made. The shrubberies still need clipping. There’s grass to mow, linens to change, and a back-splash to install. And despite the ants, the home is far from clean. Finally the ants are gone, but now it’s time for Rangers baseball. 

Still, we'll get to the baklava tomorrow, so let's quickly hit on why the need for clarified butter. Baklava requires that paper-thin pastry known as phyllo. It must be baked to a paper-thin-but-still-crispy stage, golden brown and delicious (GBD, from the woman who so dislikes acronyms). Anyway, when you're baking read-the-newspaper-through-it-thin pastry, you don't want any milk solids turning your pastry to mush. And they're there. Oh, believe me . . . those milk solids are hiding in your stick of butter (even more so in Tico butter), just waiting to separate from the butter fat and turn your baklava soggy. Be warned. 

Speaking of warning . . . in pondering my back-splash installation, I realize that I’ve never been allowed to install tile. Not in any place, not under any circumstance. I think that Rusty has something tricky up his sleeve (idiom!) by allowing me to tackle this alone . . . with a Costa Rica version of Liquid Nails. What is Rusty thinking . . . what has he planned? Lo que hay.