23 December 2016

See The Way The Handle On Those Pruning Shears Matches Her Gardening Clogs? That's Not An Accident.

This year Chanukah begins on Christmas Eve . . . right through January 1. This is very exciting for me, and we have plans all weekend with wonderful friends. Rusty doesn’t celebrate Chanukah; I celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas. I'm excited about the holidays, as always. About 2017?  . . . that remains to be seen. Anyway, bitch that I am, my gift to you this year is a typical Kathy rant. Actually I’m still on that volume-versus-weight rant.

Sometimes I just need someone or some authoritative text/entity to agree with me on a fact that I know to be true. For example, in my recent endeavor with lime curd the recipe called for 150 grams of lime juice. This obvious error in the recipe consumes my thoughts. One cannot measure a liquid by weight. Would 10 grams of water occupy the same volume in a measuring cup as 10 grams of honey? Of motor oil? Mercury?! Of course not, and it’s making me crazy that the Internet contains a great recipe with an unforgivable error in a critical measurement. And I wonder why my lime curd is overly tart. Liquids are (or should be) measured by volume, be it milliliters or fluid ounces. I cannot let it go. Naturally my husband was and still is thrilled . . . or not. He simply wanted some authentic French Madeleines.

So it's the holidays and I should play nicely . . . should being the key word. A few days ago I did make Madeleines for that darling man o' mine. And the recipe read, thankfully, fluid ounces of melted butter. Got that? Fluid ounces of melted (i.e., a liquid) butter. Ah, but here in Costa Rica our butter contains so many additives that when one melts the happy product of a happy cow you’ll find all sorts of things floating on top (and, for you true cooks and bakers,  I’m not simply referring to the milk solids). These floaters must be skimmed before measuring the butter. So if I need four fluid ounces of butter, I’d better begin with six-plus ounces from the stick of solid butter. Surely you’re following my reasoning in this rant. No? Well let’s move to another topic . . . one of my favorites: grammar and the misuse of English words.

15 December 2016

I Think This Just Might Be My Masterpiece

Those 15 pounds I lost while in Texas? They're back. Still, 'tis the holiday season, and one anticipates a certain amount of weight gain . . . except perhaps in this land of year-round beach-going and tiny bikinis.

Some people enjoy participation in competitive sports. I am not one of those people. Well, I do enjoy golf; but arguably golf is more of a game than a sport, and a drinking game at that, which explains my love of the game. Baking constitutes my new competition.

My friend Becky introduced me to The Great British Baking Show. It’s baking, not cooking, my friends. Need I explain further? Those Brits . . . unlike so many U.S. Food Network competitions, the bakers of The Great British Baking Show speak with politeness and humor . . . not to mention that delightful accent. You’ll not find aggression – no hostile rivalries as with the U.S. shows. What you will find is pastries and breads galore, beautiful in appearance and with almost unbelievable flavor combinations. Cardamon, masala chai, and basil . . . together in a single dessert -- what genius home-cooks think of this stuff? Nevertheless, while watching in Texas I wanted to scamper away from the T.V., raid Becky’s pantry, and prepare items such as malt-cream and ginger-lime cream horns or marula liqueur and coffee crème brûlée. Then there are the classics: éclairs and cream puffs, for which one needs the pastry dough known as pâte à choux (or choux pastry). Pronounce it with me: pah-ta-shoe.

I’ve never been a baker. Even box cake mixes presented a challenge in my youth. Years ago I tried all that French and Danish and Viennese pastry stuff and became well acquainted with the term epic failure. Why I waited until moving to Costa Rica to perfect my baking skills remains a mystery. I’m baking in a country without good quality (I’m not seeking great) butter, flour, and sugar. And then there’s the challenge of making meringues in a land of high humidity. Adding to the challenge is the absence of seemingly simple items such as bread flour, cake flour, and those items that surely you always keep in your own pantry, muscovado and caster sugars. It gets worse. Recipes from The Great British Baking Show are easy to find, but what on earth is strong white bread flour? Is there a weak white bread flour? Is icing sugar the same as confectioner sugar? [Yeah, it is.]

27 November 2016

The Trick, William Potter, Is Not Minding That It Hurts

Today we’re going to jump around while discussing my experience with the year 2016. Alert one: adult language is involved.
I’m in love with John Oliver. If you don’t know who John Oliver is, you might just stop reading now. Of course I’m truly in love with my husband and friends and family; but John Oliver holds a special place in my heart. 

I understand the Constitution of the United States, but I simply cannot and will not accept that John Oliver should be prevented from being President by something as silly as his birthplace. Again, if you don’t grasp the implication of this opinion, you should certainly stop reading now.

We own flags. We have dear friends here in Costa Rica who tease us about our flag collection. Member of Norway’s royal family celebrating a birthday? We’ve got the flag. Bayern’s futbol team doing well? We’ve got the flag. But when packing all of these flags during our move from Texas, I questioned seriously why I was taking our hurricane flag. After all, Costa Rica is too far south to experience a hurricane. Or is it? 

This week the hurricane flag was hoisted. The prognosticators for Hurricane Otto know little more than those for any tropical depression. Hurricane experts are like the pollsters . . . their work of late is unpredictable. Like snow in Texas . . . I’ll believe it when I see it. Nevertheless, the idea of a hurricane on Thanksgiving day brought a delightful sense of anticipation, which was one of the few delightful things about 2016. Tomorrow I’m going to begin work on a new flag for the year 2016. A flag for whose sentiment I can take no credit – you got it: John Oliver.

08 March 2016

I Don't Wanna Be A Product Of My Environment. I Want My Environment To Be A Product Of Me.

Today I'd like to lead you on a little guided look at our planet . . . our environment. As with most guided tours, we'll have a quiz or two. 

I am a seriously dedicated Mad Men fan . . . and I've only seen Season One. Am I offended by the roles of women in the show? No, I am not. It is a snap-shot into the 1960s in the United States. And frankly, the women working on Madison Avenue were probably afforded more opportunities than women working in Texas or Mississippi, which still isn't saying much about those opportunities. I'll compare Mad Men to a 1704 map of the Middle East. Am I offended that Israel isn't present on that map? No, because it is merely a snap-shot into the Middle East environment of the early 18th century. Do either of these examples indicate that I approve of the environment captured in such a snap-shot? Of course not. 

Now let's move along on our little tour of the environment that presently exists across the globe. But first, are you a feminist? Let’s take a little quiz.

  1. Do you believe in the radical notion that women are people?
  2. Do you believe in the insane idea that women should be afforded equal opportunities? Crazy things like equal access to education, the right to drive a car, the right to equal pay for equal work?

If you answered Yes, then you, my friend, are a feminist.
Here's another quiz. What's wrong with this image? You know . . . oh, yes . . . you know.

So today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. This is a big deal to me, and it should be to you, too . . . particularly if you have daughters, nieces, or know any women at all. In many countries it is a national holiday. Wait, I’ll go further, even in many developing countries it is a national holiday. So why not in the United States? You know why. 

25 February 2016

This Is Me Taking Back Control Of My Life.What The Fuck Have You Done Lately?

Tomorrow is my birthday. I can say Today is my birthday  in German, French, or Spanish . . . (it’s most fascinating in German) but that doesn’t interest you. Suffice to say, those few days during which Rusty is older than I are ending; and I’m a tad cranky. About many things. For instance, I recently saw Facebook posts from two dear friends/family, and it was all I could do not to correct their grammar. But that would have been considered poor form, right? Right, Sally? Come on . . . work with me here.

On the other hand . . . who writes this crap?! Was it the fault of my friend for posting it? Well, to some extent, yes . . . she could have at the least noted the poor grammar contained within the truism of the meme. But more importantly, who the F is too old, too tired, TOO sober, and lacking the time for proper punctuation and proper grammar? Riddle me that! Rob/Sally, am I correct here, or not?! I wanted to post a FB reply that said precisely that: "Too . . . for what? proper grammar and punctuation?" And it's birthday eve, so I've deemed myself entitled to some genuine derogatory comments because I'm old! I'll go further: yin and yang. Get with it folks. It is never Ying and Yang. It's yin and yang. GOOGLE! Hello? Clearly, I'm on a birthday-eve spiral.

20 February 2016

Anybody Interested In Grabbing A Couple Of Burgers And Hittin' The Cemetery?

Today is this man's birthday. True. 

For years I'd revel in Rusty's birthday. We were born in the same year and even attended the same high school. In years past I'd delight in those few days between our birthdays when Rusty was older than I. This year I announced: Dear God, we're both old . . . let's just spend the day digging a couple of graves and wait. So, no party; and we even cancelled Operation: Dinner Out . . . though we did luncheon on the beach, and I did make Rusty's favorite, coconut cream pie.

Anyway, I thought that I'd take this opportunity to share a few more photos of Rob's visit (my photos, this time), and to make fun of my darling husband . . . and men, generally . . . since we're both old and have so little time remaining.

Where's My Wandering Parakeet?

My youngest sister-in-law possesses many talents. But the gift that I find most endearing, most charming, is her ability to loudly call Kah-Kaw, Kah-Kaw, as if imitating some bird. I know of no bird that actually makes that sound. Undoubtedly there exists some bird somewhere that calls Kah-Kaw, Kah-Kaw . . . I’ve simply yet to encounter this bird. I can rule-out all Costa Rican parrot and toucan species (even macaws) as well as hundreds of birds from North American and from Western and Southern Africa. Nevertheless, I’m confident that somewhere some bird indeed calls Kah-Kaw, with Patti’s hint of a screech and her head-turning plaintive cry.

My first trip to Costa Rica was over a decade ago. We stayed in Northern Guanacaste near or on Playa Conchal. Way back then our resort was part of the Meliá Hotels chain: it’s now part of the Westin group. Anyway, over the course of a few years with friends and family we made more than one trip to that lovely property . . . played golf, took the requisite bus-in-the-tourists day-trips to local sites, and foolishly believed that we were experiencing Costa Rica . . . despite the fact that we never left the resort but for the dive trips that departed from the beach and the day trip(s) to Buena Vista Lodge.

Anyway, perhaps Patti cried Kah-Kaw prior to our holiday at Playa Conchal, but I date her first bird-like calls to that trip. It was an effective and efficient way to announce loudly yet unobtrusively that cocktails are served . . . or we’re on the way to your suite for sun-downers. Now I say unobtrusive because let’s remember the piercing, blood-curdling sound of the howler monkeys. Compared to a vociferous troupe of howlers, Patti might as well have been whispering Dinner is poured from her bungalow many meters away. Patti became widely recognized for this talent, which was quickly adopted by our group of friends and family and was subsequently carried throughout the Western Hemisphere to many Mexican and Caribbean resorts. Hey, in the days before mobile devices, it worked. 

18 February 2016

Well, Clarice . . . Have The Lambs Stopped Screaming?

If there were only a few foods remaining on the planet, I’d hope for dolmas and hummus . . . and lemon meringue pie. I could eat dolmas three times daily and probably never tire of them. Rusty possesses less enthusiasm for the stuffed grape leaf. No one knows why. Similarly, he’s not the fan of hummus that I am. That said, he dons an air of indignation when I state to anyone that Rusty hates hummus. I make hummus often and I usually eat all of it, save and except that first spoonful out of the food processor when I ask Rusty to taste-test for seasoning. So perhaps hate is too strong. But believe me, of every item in our refrigerator, hummus is probably Rusty’s last go-to food. 

Clearly, we're here for a discussion of food and not the myriad adventures experienced with our recent guests. Yes, we visited Buena Vista Lodge, the Diria coffee tour and Rio Celeste. But before we delve into those adventures, let's cover food . . . one of my favorite topics.

My brilliant friend Rob visited us for a few weeks. The first week of his visit Rob was joined by his darling sister, Jenny. Jenny was a special treat in that we'd never met her and were delightfully surprised at every turn. But back to my beloved Rob. Rob eats. Rob cooks, but mostly Rob eats. Rob is easy to please when it comes to cooking; but he’s not easy to fill-up. Did I mention that Rob eats? Long before Rob’s arrival we had discussed making sausage . . . for selfish, hunger-driven reasons, of course; but also as sort of a tribute to our mutual friend, EBJ (in my mind, the Sausage King of Detroit). 

19 January 2016

Will I Get In Trouble For That?

Let’s talk trash. Once upon a time I took for granted the fact that little (or burly) elves arrived at our curb twice-weekly to remove trash. Then arrived this pesky save-the-planet era when something called recycling began. No longer could trash be hauled to the curb in a willy-nilly fashion. 

But think of recycling this way: how many jobs would be lost if someone wasn’t required to cull through my garbage at a landfill located in some unknown part of my world? Are you getting the impression that I rebelled?
But wait . . . those elves were not Superman, endowed with x-ray vision. They and could not possibly see through our opaque plastic trash bags to determine contents. 

Then I moved to Africa . . . a land where little black plastic shopping bags are everywhere . . . sachets, they were called. Sure, you could place that tiny packet of soap in a purse; but in the third poorest country in the world, a woman with a sachet was a woman who could afford to spend money. It was the Burkina Faso version of carrying a Barneys bag. Sadly, these little sachets found their way to tree tops, blown there by wind. They were under foot on every inch of the earth, en masse in gutters in cities. It was horrifying. 

13 January 2016

I Told Those Guys What They Wanted To Hear . . . I Said, Uh, Yeah, Sure. But It Was All Lies.

Green Bee Eater, Botswana
So why weren’t the bird photos on the last post my own photographs? I’m a photographer. Believe me, I’m a photographer. Sometimes I amaze myself; though I concede that when you take over 5,000 photos, the law of averages states that you'll get a few dozens great shots. Still, this photography-in-the-tropics thing is different. Very different.

My friends, Maggie and A.Kaye are both artists in every sense of the word. A.Kaye is a professional photographer; but to describe him only as a photographer doesn’t scratch the surface of his talents. Maggie’s artistic skills span all mediums, including video/film-making. Anyway, they are always inspiring to me. Recently A.Kaye and I have had a little eMail discussion about my willingness (or lack thereof) to broaden my use of our very sophisticated camera equipment. Of course I balked. I’m a creature of obsessive-compulsive habit. 

I was sharing this little eMail relay with Rusty when Rusty pronounced that Pinterest would tell me, step-by-step, how to shoot anything I wanted (with a camera . . . I sold my 20-gauge and 300 Win Mag). I replied, sarcastically, I bet there’s even a YouTube video to teach me. Right? Only about 400 million, Rusty announced. Again, creature of habit. Books! I’m a read-a-book kind of gal. You can learn anything and everything from an actual book. What a world, what a world . . . we’re all so accepting of the Internet, and I’m no exception. How are the mighty fallen!

So I said aloud to Rusty that Pinterest is the new heroin dealer. Then I realized that Pinterest is far more powerful with a longer-reaching arm than merely one single drug dealer. 

Dear God, Pinterest is the new Cosa Nostra. 

They supply all manner of ills/vices; are accountable to no one; and creep dangerously, often covertly into your email and personal cyberspace life. Pinterest is an insidious addiction. It will consume you . . . and I've had my first taste of its heroin-Kool-Aid.

11 January 2016

Life Moves Pretty Fast. You Don't Stop And Look Around Once In A While, You Could Miss It.

The new year brings us just one more good reason to move to Costa Rica: the month of January. With January come large flocks of parrots and toucans, the chicle fruits, and explosions of bougainvillea blooms. Why January? Why now when everything is dry with no hope of rain?

As if we don’t always have multiple troupes of howler monkeys, we now have a monkey lure. It’s called a chicle tree and it bears fruit. Who knew? We have several of these protected chicle trees. Monkeys love this fruit, which is popular world-wide for human consumption, too. Just behind Rusty’s garage/play-room our closest chicle is only about 10 meters from our railing. You’d think that 35 monkeys would do some real damage to a tree, but they’re very careful in their fruit harvest. 

The parrots and toucans are less careful. Let’s have a quick tour of the birds in our neighborhood with the clear understanding that the descriptions below (while accurate as to each bird) are only my opinion; and I'm not an expert on anything.*

The Amazon kingfisher can always be spotted on a branch at the river crossing that leads up our mountain. I learned to love kingfishers in Africa. They will dive-bomb into the water to snatch a tiny minnow-type fish in that long, strong bill.

The orange-chinned parakeet looks like a parrot in size. Don't think little pet-store birds. These fellows have some heft, and they're loud. We spent weeks trying to confirm this parakeet's identity. Indeed, our birds are the orange-chinned parakeet . . . though you'll see little orange in this particular bird. The orange is most easily spotted while they are in flight passing within just a few feet of our terrace high above the forest floor.

The blue-crowned motmot is easy to spot, especially in silhouette due to his tail. But sunlight brings out his beautiful blue color.

08 January 2016

This Is Either Madness Or Brilliance. It’s Remarkable How Often Those Two Traits Coincide.

Reason number 25 to move to Costa Rica: That happy surprise about the Tico genius and sense of humor.

I always had plans to retire in Africa. My neighbors were to be hippos in our river, baboons and vervet monkeys, and of course, the big cats. And giraffes. We would have a journey of giraffes visible as they crossed the delta. To this day, I look at our home with an eye toward making it into the style of the great camps of Botswana or Zimbabwe. Chitabe is shown here.

There may come a day when Rusty and I are unable or unwilling to perform most home and garden maintenance. That day is not today. True, I have a housekeeper to perform tasks of which I’m really not capable. For instance, I absolutely cannot immaculately clean our floors the way Janet can. My mopping action looks the same, but somehow Janet does it better. How she can clean spotlessly mirrors and glass without Windex® remains a mystery. So most every Tuesday morning Janet arrives to magically clean things that I honestly cannot clean as well as Janet. As in any home, before the mopping and vertical-glass-surface cleaning must come some amount of dusting. Now don’t picture me lounging and eating bon-bons six days a week awaiting Janet. I do a considerable amount of daily dusting and sweeping and vacuuming. If you, gentle reader, have never dusted a home, 1) you should try it, and 2) it involves picking up items and returning them to their original spot.

05 January 2016

In Every Job That Must Be Done There Is An Element Of Fun. You Find The Fun, And Snap, The Job’s A Game

There’s this product in Costa Rica called Duranza. Think varnish. I suppose that in some areas of Costa Rica home maintenance presents only a minor challenge due to a cool, dry climate. Perhaps that maintenance issue is similar to parts of the U.S. 

In North Texas we’d semi-annually clean gutters, hose-off window screens, etc. And occasionally even a brick home requires areas of new paint – but not often. Well, living about six kilometers from the salty Pacific, less than 10-degrees north of the equator, up a mountain with wind (and now with dust in the dry season), home maintenance becomes an entirely different game. 

In this climate, just as one can sit and literally watch the grass grow, one can also watch the sun leach-out the wood’s moisture and color, not to mention its original coats of Duranza. It’s freaky. And our home is made of two things: concrete and wood. Wooden ceilings, doors, cabinets, eaves, and window trim. Obsessive-compulsive gal that I am, I made a quarterly little to-do list. Hah! Quarterly? Did I really believe that we’d only need to perform these little to-dos quarterly? Clipping shrubberies is a weekly task. And don’t get me started on weeding the majority of our 1.65 acres.