Saturday, January 26, 2013

Slices of Life from Belize: January 26, 2013


Wicked Weather This Way Comes
So here we are living in the tropical paradise known as Belize. One may presume that there are unending days of brilliant sunshine, blue skies, and balmy temperatures. Well I’m here to tell you that’s not always the case. The weather this week can be summed up in two words: It sucks.

There’s some funky front stalled over us that has produced almost a solid week of rain and below normal temperatures. Donning a pair of shorts seems like a distant memory. Long pants, socks, and sweatshirts have been pulled out of storage and worn regularly. And can we talk about the mud? Yes, let’s. It. Is. Everywhere. Our lane and all side roads are quagmires. And no matter how careful we are to try and wipe our feet off when we come in the house, it doesn’t seem to help. Our two adult dogs, Sam and Tanya, despise the rain, so we let them hang out on the porch when it’s really pouring. At this point, I’m not really sure I can recollect what the original color of our floor tile is.
Now I realize that this weather report will elicit little or no sympathy from those readers living through below zero temperatures, snow, sleet, and ice. But you can take some satisfaction in knowing that while you’re dealing with all that, we’re slogging through our own version of winter, and as I eloquently noted before, it sucks. Big time.

Mystery Leak Solved!
We think. We hope. Earlier this month, I posted about a leak we had in our master bath. After David installed shut-off valves, we started the slow process of experimenting to see if we could figure out where the leak may be coming from.

First we tried just using the shower. No leakage. Then we tried using the shower and the toilet. No leaks. That left the sink. Sure enough, we no sooner started using that and discovered the water line was the culprit.

Water line on the left
Fortunately, it was a fairly quick fix and thus far, we have continued to be leak-free. As an aside, after the shut-off valves were installed, David heard water running from outside the house. Turns out that one of the joints for the hot water line had popped. On closer inspection, he discovered that the joint had only the mere whisper of adhesive on the pipe. This seems to be a recurring theme with the PVC lines here. David fixed the joint and we were back in business. Keeping fingers crossed no other water issues crop up.

Dianna’s Desk
Being in between projects at the moment, well, other than figuring out the bathroom problem, David was casting around for something to work on. As luck would have it, Dave and Dianna were in the market for a desktop. Check out the Winjama site to get all the details.

 More Fodder for the Clothes Horse
On Thursday of this week, a bunch of ladies took a field trip to Orange Walk for shopping and lunch. Our first stop was a place called Jen’s, which carries all kinds of things including electronics, small appliances, furniture, and clothes. I found an IZOD skirt and a pair of cropped seersucker pants that set me back $10 BZD or $5 USD.
From Jen’s, we drove over to The Boundary where I found a pair of flats from Land’s End for  $12 BZD or $6 USD. These were a great find, because my favorite pair had been “puppyfied.”

 
Like my previous trips there, I also scored big at The American Store and came home with two pairs of cropped pants, a wrap dress, and two tops.  Total damages: $25 BZD or $12.50 USD. I’ll post pictures of my finds in an upcoming post, but in the meantime, I need to make room in my closet (and keep my new shoes out of reach of the dog).

Partners in Crime
And speaking of the dog, I don’t know if it’s the weather or what, but Bronte and Olivia have been on a tear of destruction these last several days. And it’s bad enough when they get into trouble individually, but they’ve learned to tag team and the results have been something for the record books. For example:

  • The cat figured out how to knock one of the scrubbie thngs we use in the shower onto the floor. Olivia got hold of it, carried it the living room, and two of them proceeded to rip it to shreds. I’m still finding little bits of netting in odd places.
  • And speaking of ripping things to shreds, the cat has discovered the toilet paper roll. She claws at it to unwind the paper, then the puppy chews and shreds what falls on the floor. What fun!
  • We’ve learned to place our eyeglasses in drawers when not in use. If we don’t, the cat knocks them to the floor, and the dog chews on them.
  • Here’s a handy tip: Don’t leave a pen on the porch coffee table. Somehow, Olivia figured out how to get to it, jumped up on the loveseat, and proceeded to chew off the nib. I’m now trying to get black ink out of the cushion cover.
  • Another quick fact: little dogs like to chew on cables. I discovered this first when I had Olivia on my lap, while listening to some music on my MP3 player. As I’m bopping to the tunes through my earbuds, I realized there was no sound coming from the left side. I glanced down at my lap and realized my dear, sweet canine had chewed through the wire. A few days later, she was laying under my desk – I thought asleep. But no; As I went to move my mouse, the cursor was stalled on my screen. What the heck? Yup, she chewed through the mouse cable. Fortunately, David was able to repair it, but we’ve put in an order for wireless mice.
  • I’ve already mentioned the “puppyfied” shoe.
  • Oh, and Olivia has developed a taste for spackle. It seems any place we have patched a wall that she can reach, it gets eaten off. Lovely.
I could go on, but I think you get the gist of things. I swear, there are some days they should thank God they’re so cute or otherwise...

Which brings to mind this Letter to Pets that gets circulated from time to time on the Internet:

Dear Beloved Pets,

The dishes with the paw print are yours and contain your food.


The other dishes are mine and contain my food. Please note, placing a paw print in the middle of my plate and food does not stake a claim for it becoming your food and dish, nor do I find that aesthetically pleasing in the slightest.

The stairway was not designed by NASCAR and is not a racetrack. Beating me to the bottom is not the object. Tripping me doesn't help because I fall faster than you can run.

I cannot buy anything bigger than a king sized bed. I am very sorry about this. Do not think I will continue sleeping on the couch to ensure your comfort.

Dogs and cats can actually curl up in a ball when they sleep. It is not necessary to sleep perpendicular to each other stretched out to the fullest extent possible. I also know that sticking tails straight out and having tongues hanging out the other end to maximize space is nothing but sarcasm.

For the last time, there is not a secret exit from the bathroom. If by some miracle I beat you there and manage to get the door shut, it is not necessary to claw, whine, bark, meow, try to turn the knob or get your paw under the edge and try to pull the door open. I must exit through the same door I entered.

Also, I have been using the bathroom for years -- canine or feline attendance is not mandatory.

The proper order is kiss me, then go smell the other dog or cat's butt. I cannot stress this enough.

To return the kindness of your obedience, my dear pets, I have posted the following on our front door for visitors to our home :

Rules for Non-Pet Owners Who Visit and Like to Complain About Our Pets
1. They live here. You don't.

2. If you don't want their hair on your clothes, stay off the furniture. (That's why they call it "fur"niture.)

3. I like my pets a lot better than I like most people.

4. To you, they are animals. To me, they are adopted children who are short, hairy and walk on all fours. Although they don't speak clearly, they communicate extremely well.

5. Dogs and cats are better than kids. They eat less, don't ask for money all the time, are easier to train, usually come when called (this does not apply to cats), never drive your car, don't hang out with drug-using friends, don't smoke or drink, don't worry about having to buy the latest fashions, don't wear your clothes, and don't need a gazillion dollars for college. Also, if they get pregnant, you can sell the children!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Making Homemade Pasta

As I've got more comfortable working with various dough recipes, I began to think it might be fun to make my own pasta. I could just imagine strands of spaghetti and fettuccine, along with sheets of lasagna noodles draped over wooden racks, drying just so, tracks from Andrea Bocelli's Romanza CD playing in the background, and me, covered oh-so-slightly with a dusting of flour and a satisfied grin on my face.

I then gave myself a Gibbs-Smack and snapped out of it. For starters, I knew pasta dough requires only two basic ingredients: flour and eggs. With my propensity to screw up simple recipes, I knew the risk level was high and the chance of success slim. Second, would the time and effort that I presumed it would take to make pasta be worth it? And last, but not least, I couldn’t justify buying a pasta maker if it turned out that it would become a one-and-done endeavor. Heaven knows I had enough other gadgets that seemed like a good idea at time of purchase, then were shoved to the back of a cupboard, never to be seen again. I shelved the pasta making idea to the back recesses of my brain and tried my hand at other recipes.

Fast forward to about three weeks ago. We were out to dinner with a bunch of friends, when the topic somehow turned to cooking and kitchen gadgets. I mentioned my pasta making desire and the justification issue about buying the equipment. Well, it just so happened that Bruce and Colleen brought their pasta maker to Belize. They hadn’t used it since coming here and offered to lend it to me. Eccellente! (Don’t you just love my command of a foreign language?)

The bright and shiny CucinaPro pasta maker, courtesy of Colleen and Bruce

Anyway, before diving into any pasta making efforts, I thought it might be a good idea to do some research. With it being my first attempt, I didn’t want to use a recipe that would generate tons of pasta, just enough to get the hang of the process. I also wanted to get a consensus for drying methods and times. I ended up going with the info found at the Coquinaria website.
I actually ended up making two batches of pasta on two different days. The following is a mash-up of those experiences.
On the first go-round, I used the flour/egg proportions found in the Coquinaria recipe and used my KitchenAid to blend them together. Because I was aiming for a silky texture, I opted to use Bebe Agua flour, which is finer than regular all purpose. I found I needed to keep scraping down the flour for it to fully incorporate. While kneading it a bit, the dough still felt a bit sticky, so I added more flour before wrapping it up to rest for about 30 minutes.
When the dough was ready, I cut it into four somewhat equal portions and we started the pasta making process. With this type of pasta maker, I suppose you could do it by yourself, if you have three hands. As I don’t, I enlisted David to help.
We feed the dough through the pasta maker a few times, set on its widest setting. Then, we stepped the settings down, one notch at a time, and passed the dough through again. Once it was at the thickness we thought it should be, we passed it through the spaghetti cutter.
The dough was still kinda’ sticky, so it didn’t pass through the blades as smoothly as we would like. But it did look like spaghetti, so we knew we were on the right track. It also went faster than I thought to go through all the settings. Following the recipe, I decided to put the pasta in a bird’s nest:
 
While it looks cute, it turned out that it wasn’t the best way to dry this pasta…mostly because it was too sticky. The result was that the strands clumped up a bit in spots. On the high side, when I cooked it later that day, we found that, in spite of an occasional clump, the spaghetti tasted good!
The next day, I figured out what adjustments needed to be made to the flour/egg mixture and set to work. This time, I used 1 ½ cups of Bebe Agua flour to two eggs. Also, I went old-school and mixed them by hand.
 
The result was way, way better with regards to texture…no stickiness! After the dough had rested, we started the pasta making process again.
 
First pass through the pasta maker at its widest setting

Dough after a couple of more passes
Dough at desired thickness

This time, we made spaghetti and fettucine.
Yea! Fresh made spaghetti!

Instead of putting them into bird nests, I laid them out straight on a lightly floured dishtowel. This worked out great and resulted in none of the strands clumping together.
Spaghetti on the left, fettucine on the right

I wanted to test how the pasta would behave if it wasn’t used right away. So, I put the pasta into zip-lock bags and threw them in the fridge for a few days.
On the night I decided to make the pasta, the strands were still flexible…rather like the texture of store-bought fresh pasta. I opted to cook both pastas, putting the fettucine in the salted water first, then a minute later, adding the spaghetti. All told, it took about five minutes for it to reach the desired doneness.
Earlier in the week, I had made a batch of Bolognese sauce and had that warming on the burner. Everything got plated up and we were ready to dive in.
 
You guys, the pasta tasted awesome! It tasted fresh and had just enough chew, without being underdone or gummy in any way. It’s what pasta is supposed to taste like.
But then the big question was: is it something we would do again? In short, you bet. It really takes no time at all to make the dough and the process for cutting it through the pasta maker is a breeze. With a tiny bit of planning, it would be easy to do a small batch for dinner any night of the week. That being said, I was so pleased with how the pasta tasted after being refrigerated that I plan to set aside a day to make a big batch of both types of pasta which I can then freeze. In the meantime, I want to figure out some fillings for making ravolinis and tortellinis, then whip up batches of those.
At this rate, I may never go back to using boxed pasta again! Colleen and Bruce: I owe you dinner.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lunatic Fringe

Being good pet parents, we dutifully made and kept the appointment yesterday with Dr. Sheila to have our kitten, Bronte, fixed. We dropped her off at 7 a.m., with her pick-up time scheduled anytime after 2 p.m. that day.

The house, during Bronte’s absence, was strangely quiet. Neither one of us had to yell, “No!” “Stop!” “Get Down!”, not even once. Olivia dozed most of the day, and I discovered how much easier it is to sweep the floor without having a cat attached to the broom or belly flopping into a pile of schmutz collected from my sweeping efforts.

But in spite of the quiet reprieve, we kept Bronte in our thoughts and hoped she made it through her surgery with no problems. Around 2:30, David picked her up. Apparently, she had just woken up a short time earlier, so was still pretty groggy. Dr. Sheila said that it may take a couple of hours for that to wear off. During that time, it would be best to keep her in a room to herself.

Upon arriving home, we put Bronte in the spare room and shut the door. This way, Olivia wouldn’t be able to pounce on her, and she could recover in peace. But within minutes, Bronte started meowing – loudly. She didn’t appear to be in pain, just lonely. We tried to let her be for a bit, but she kept increasing the volume. We then decided to let her out and put Olivia in the room instead. That worked better and gave Bronte time to regain her sea legs, so to speak. The poor thing insisted on jumping up on things, only to lose her balance and fall off. After about two hours, she seemed to be more like her normal self…at least that’s what we thought at the time.

We let Olivia out of the room and Bronte promptly started attacking her. Not in a “let’s wrestle quietly here on the floor” kind of attack; more like “let me sink my claws into you and bite your ears off” kind of way. We did our best to keep the wrestling to a minimum because we felt poor Bronte still needed recovery time and may not realize the wear and tear she might put on herself. Silly us. It became quickly apparent that whatever drugs she was given had her in a dimension that defied space and time. She became a LOON-A-TIC! She had this wild, crazed look in her eyes and proceeded to go on a whacked out mission of craziness…more than her usual antics.

I went back and reread the patient care instructions that Dr. Sheila provided to see if I could glean any insights to what was going on. Let me share some observations:

Per the instructions –

“The cat should be given a quiet place to sleep, as the drugs will not be out of her system until tomorrow.”
We tried that “quiet place to sleep” routine earlier and knew that wasn’t going to work. Matter of fact, the cat did not sleep…at all…for the entire night. Okay, she dozed off around 9 p.m., so we all trundled off to bed. But within minutes, she was awake, she was perky, she was a bundle of non-stop energy. After about a half hour of flat out, insane jumping around, biting toes, attacking the dog, and basically being a royal pain in the ass, we put her in the “quiet place to sleep” spare room and shut the door, none too gently. She HOWLED and would not stop. We let her out and the manic behavior escalated. What was the lesser of two evils? A howling banshee or a demon intent on trashing everyone and everything in the house? Either way, sleep was clearly not going to be on our agenda. It got so bad, even Olivia had enough and chased her away.
We managed to doze off for a bit, but woke up to the sounds of things being chased and tossed off of the kitchen counters. This morning we found the mesh strainer from the kitchen sink, a dish towel, and a scrubbie thing for pots and pans strewn around our bedroom floor. And let’s not forget the sponge and nail brush on the kitchen floor, along with the bottle of dish detergent overturned on the counter.
“For two days, the cat’s activities should be moderately restricted.”
Explain to me what “moderately restricted” means. We were dealing with a cat on speed. There was no restricting anything, whatsoever.
“A light supper should be offered the night of the surgery, as the cat may still be sleepy from the anesthetic. Some cats will not eat until the next day.”
We did offer her a small bowl of dry food with a little bit of milk around her normal dinner time, thinking she might just want to nibble a little bit. She wolfed it down in no time flat. Not surprising, as she hadn’t had anything to eat since dinner the night before. But that bowl of food wasn’t enough. She started attacking the plastic bin where we keep her cat food. She wouldn’t let up. We finally gave her more food, which she promptly scarfed down again. “[She] may still be sleepy…” Uh-huh.
 “This cat will not have kittens. If you allow her eat everything she wants she may become obese. This cat already has a lot of abdominal fat.”
See prior paragraph. She was clearly hungry. She was clearly going to continue on her crazed attack, unless she got something to eat. But besides that, the cat weighs four, count ‘em, four pounds! How in the world can she have that much belly fat?
“If the cat seems ill or has other problems, please contact me.”
Oh she has other problems alright. In addition to her reaction to her anesthesia, can someone, anyone, explain to me her absolute obsession with climbing inside the refrigerator? I've already, by accident, shut the door of the fridge with her inside. She has me totally paranoid that I'll inadvertently make her into a catsicle.
To be fair, it’s now Tuesday afternoon, and she’s been mostly sleeping for the last two hours. We’re keeping fingers crossed that the Bronte we know and love is returning to us from her drugged out high. If not, David and I may need drugs to finally get some sleep.
P.S. Bronte’s brother, Nelson, had his appointment to be fixed today. We thought it only fair to alert his parents, David and Dianna, of Bronte’s behavior. If it runs in the family, they could have their hands full at this very moment. God help them, their other cat, April, and their three dogs. They could be in for a long, long night.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Feeding a Clothes Horse

When it comes to buying clothes, I’m not a shop-‘til-you-drop kinda’ girl. Matter of fact, when I was working, I bought most of my clothes online. It was a great time saver, and I could look forward to having presents on my doorstep after long days at the office.

After I stopped working, my wardrobe needs changed dramatically. There were few occasions that I needed to strap on stiletto heels and put together a full suit ensemble. And when we moved here? Well my “uniform” is generally a pair of shorts, T-shirt, and flip-flops.

But none of this means I don’t care about clothes (my over-stuffed dresser drawers are testaments to that) or that I don’t get the urge from time to time to remind myself what it means to get girlie. The challenge becomes where to buy the clothes. It’s not like we have big department stores here in Corozal.

Then I was introduced to The American Store in Orange Walk. This place is a bonanza for finding gently-used clothing, some by designer brands. Here’s a sample of some of my purchases:


Lined cotton skirt. During this particular shopping spree, I also found a red, cotton halter that exactly matches the color in the skirt.
 
Halter top by Ann Taylor - so comfy that I would wear it every single day
 
Floral cotton sun dress -- I love this. It's comfy, cool, and can be dressed up or down (with me it's mostly down)

Mesh tunic from White House/Black Market. This is one of those tops that seems to go with everything, including skinny jeans, casual skirts, and even shorts.
 
Embroidered linen skirt by Ann Taylor. The drape to this skirt is fun, providing just enough twirl, should you be a twirly type of girl (which I can sometimes be when my seven-year old self kicks in).
 
100% silk top by Alice & Trixie. This is just fun -- lots of colors and patterns
And get this: not one of these items cost more than $5 BZD. That’s $2.50 USD!!!! I kid you not. Seriously, who could pass these up?
And the thing is that I was never a big thrift shop shopper until we moved to Western North Carolina. There they have some amazing stores and my mother-in-law, always the fashion plate, clued me in on what treasures can be had for a fraction of the cost.
Having now discovered this place in Orange Walk, I duck in there whenever we happen to be in the area. Matter of fact, I’ll be there next week and can’t wait to see what the next items will be that I didn't know I couldn't live without. At this rate, our next home remodeling project may need to be expanding the closets.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nigella's Meatloaf with Roasted Potatoes and Capers

In the years that I’ve been cooking, I noticed a phenomenon: Give me a recipe where the ingredient list runs for a page, requires hours of prepping, and close attention to detail, and I can usually have it come out fine. However, present me with a short, simple recipe that comes together in no time flat, and there’s a very good chance I’ll muck it up. Have no idea why, but it seems to be the way it is.

Take, for example, meatloaf. How hard is it to make? There aren’t tons of ingredients. You basically toss everything into a bowl, squish it around until blended, pop onto a pan, and throw it into the oven. Easy-peasy. But I could never get one to come out right. Somehow I would mess up the ratio of binder to egg or something -- even though I would be following a recipe --  and it would either be too dry or so moist it would fall apart. After more than a few attempts of trying my hand at making a successful meatloaf, I almost gave up.

But then…then I watched Nigella Lawson make this recipe on TV. If you’ve never seen Nigella, trust in the fact that she could make the task of boiling water a sensual experience. She loves and adores food. Add to the fact that she has a wicked sense of humor and makes few excuses about using decadent ingredients, she is uniquely qualified to be deemed a Domestic Goddess. Okay, so maybe I have a little bit of a girl crush on her. But really and true, after seeing her make this meatloaf, it was enough to make me want to give it a go.

I’ve ended up making this recipe a few times and, not to spoil the surprise, have had excellent results every single instance. You’ll note that her recipe starts with hard boiling some eggs. I’ve tried it with and without the eggs and still love it. As you’ll see as we get this party started, I opted to forego the eggs this time around. And because I'm not feeding an army, I halved the recipe.

Instead of starting with the eggs, I jumped in at the next step, which happens to use one of my favorite ingredients:

 
Uh-huh…bacon fat that I just happened to have reserved in the fridge from a previous pork fat outing. Sigh…isn’t it just lovely to look at? Better yet, to smell?

Anyway, after I melted the bacon fat in my pan, I tossed in the chopped onions.

 
 
They coated themselves in the bacony goodness until they turned a lovely brown.
 
 

 

I set the pan aside for the onions to cool and started working on the other ingredients for the meatloaf. Into a bowl, I put 1/2 pound each of ground beef and ground pork, along with some Worcestershire sauce. I used both the beef and pork because ground beef on its own here in Belize is lean, lean, lean. The ground pork helps give it some needed moisture. I learned this after making burgers a few times.

The now-cooled onions were also added into the bowl:



I gave the mixture a quick smush to start incorporating everything, then added one egg and breadcrumbs:



I found that breadcrumbs are another one of those hit-or-miss purchases. Sometimes stores carry them, mostly they don't. And when they do have them in stock, they have always been fine-ground. To get around the sourcing problem and to give myself some options, I put any stale bread bits into my food processor and whir away. Some I make fairly fine; others I keep on the course side. Pop them into a zip-lock bag and throw 'em in the freezer. This way, they're ready when you are.

After smushing the egg and breadcrumb into the mixture -- but being careful not to overwork the meat -- it was time to mold the loaf.


But wait...we're not done. There's one last step to take the meatloaf from amazing to over-the-top goodness:


Oh. Yes. It. Is! Take five to six slices of BACON and drape it over the top, tucking the ends under the meatloaf. Doesn't it just make your heart go pitter-pat?

The now completed loaf was then popped into a pre-heated 400 degree oven to bake away for about an hour.

While the meatloaf started on its baking journey, I started prepping my potatoes. I cubed three medium sized potatoes, put them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and gave them a light toss with some olive oil.

After the meatloaf had been baking for about 15 minutes, I popped in the potatoes. This way, the potatoes would finish up about the same time as the meatloaf, after it was out of the oven and allowed to rest. Which brings us to what the meatloaf looks like straight out of the oven:


Hello gorgeous!

I left it to rest for about 15 minutes under a loose tent of foil. In the meantime, the potatoes were ready to come out of the oven and get dressed up.


I put the roasted potatoes in a bowl, then drizzled them with a bit more olive oil and put in about a tablespoon of arugula pesto(ish) and capers. In a separate, smaller bowl I whisked together a tablespoon or so of red wine vinegar, about a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and caper juice. When the sugar was dissolved, the mixture was poured over the potatoes and everything was tossed together.


After slicing the now rested meatloaf, it was time to plate:


My, my, my, my, my. The meatloaf turns out tender and juicy, with kudos going to the lovely onions. With each bite, the meatloaf almost melts in your mouth, but you have that crispy bit from the bacon blanket. And the potatoes? Lovely. The outsides are nice and crunchy, but the insides are still soft. The dressing adds just enough kick to make your tastebuds say, "Thanks!"

So while I may not be the Domestic Goddess of Nigella's fame, her meatloaf recipe definitely has me in training as one of her acolytes.

Monday, January 7, 2013

When Anteaters Attack

There we were, sound asleep around midnight Sunday. We heard Sam and Tanya bark, but didn’t think much of it. As our trusty guard dogs, they’re very good about letting us know if they think something is amiss in the yard.

We no sooner rolled back over, when all hell broke loose. In just a matter of seconds, the barking escalated and the sounds of some animal in pain echoed through the yard. David jumped up, threw on some clothes, grabbed the machete and a flashlight, and raced out of the house.

He reached the dogs, who were by the side gate, and saw Sam being attacked by some long-snouted animal. David came charging back to the house, grabbed Sam’s leash and somehow managed to get Sam tethered when the animal in question broke its grip on Sam’s face.

In the meantime, I put Bronte and Olivia in the bedroom, started turning on lights, and grabbing towels because David had yelled that it looked like Sam was bleeding.

When David got Sam into the house, there was blood dripping from his ear, face, and mouth. He was panting so hard, it took some time to get him calm enough to examine his wounds and get him to drink some water. David’s breathing and heart rate were spiked as well, as you might imagine. When his blood pressure came down enough, I asked what the heck he thought was the attack animal. He said that it reminded him of an anteater, just smaller. Presuming that my dearly beloved was still jacked on adrenaline, I just said, “uh, huh” and continued my examination of Sam.

The poor dog had puncture wounds all over his face and shoulders and his ear was badly gashed.  
Results of anteater attack
He also reeked to high heaven with a smell similar to having been sprayed by a skunk. However, after a bit of time, the cuts started to coagulate and the bleeding wasn’t so severe. While I got him settled on the porch, David was surfing the Web trying to identify what kind of animal we had in the yard.

Turns out it was this:

 


A Collared Anteater or Tamandua. What do you know? You can read all about them here, but the upshot is that while they have no teeth, they have very long, sharp claws. They also will spray their opponents, much like a skunk. As their name suggests, they eat ants and termites and often hang out in trees. This one must have come down from one of the palms when Sam discovered him. Probably they both scared each other and the fight ensued. Tanya, our other adopted dog who is about 10 years old and arthritic, managed not sustain any injuries but lent her bark to let Sam know she had his back.
Now I don’t know about any of you, but I never knew anteaters lived in Belize. Possums? Yep. Armadillos, crocodiles, and tarantulas? Sure. Nor have I ever had to call the vet to make an appointment for my dog being attacked by one. Dr. Sheila didn’t skip a beat when I got in touch with her. Just another anteater incident and typical day at the office for her. She gave Sam the once over, checked his weight,  gave him a shot, and provided a week’s worth of antibiotics. Her cost: $18 BZD or $9 USD. Once the swelling in his face goes down, hopefully in another few days, and his cuts start healing up, we can gently clean his wounds with soap and water.

Anteaters. In our yard. Attacking the dog. Still trying to wrap my head around that one.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Mystery of the Leaking Pipes

You know, I am convinced that no matter where in the world your house is located, there are times you get to choose what projects will get done and times when the house calls the shots. Case in point: David and I chose to remodel our kitchen. But by the time the last bits and pieces were in place with our cabinets, our master bathroom decided to be a buttinsky and move itself to the front of the project queue. Why? Well, maybe it was feeling neglected or perhaps it had d├ęcor envy of the kitchen. Whatever the reason, we started noticing puddles on the floor.

At first I was blaming the dog. I know! Can you imagine such an angelic creature doing anything so crass as peeing on the floor?



Yeah, I can too. But it turned out that it wasn’t Olivia. We then thought maybe there was a leak coming from the shower. As a test, we hauled our shower stuff into the other bathroom to see if by not using the master bath shower the leaks would stop. Nope.

So then we tried another experiment by not using the master bath sink. Still the puddles persisted.

Based on the rate of speed and location of the puddle formation, we applied some logic and figured that maybe there was a slow leak from the water line for the sink. In order to get to that area, we needed to muscle out the vanity.

As an aside, it was during this effort that we decided the vanity would be lighter to move if we took out the sink. Turns out the sink has no lip on it. The only thing holding it in place was caulk. Gotta’ love it.

Anyway, we got the vanity out and we checked both the water line and drain pipe.



No moisture at any of the junctures or joints. However, there was dampness around the base of each pipe where it entered the tile floor. Might the leak be coming from underneath? But if so, why would the water only puddle to a certain depth and not spread? Might the leak not be from the sink pipes at all, but from one of the water lines for the shower?

If one of us had X-ray vision, we would know the answers, not to mention the perks that go along with being a superhero. But alas, we are only mere mortals who can’t see through ceramic tile that covers cement that covers the pipes.

More experimentation was required. To try and isolate the source of the leak, we knew we needed to be able to shut off the hot and cold water lines to the bathroom. Of course, there were no shut-off valves for this area, so David had to install them.

When we looked at the feeds and drain pipes from outside the house, it became quickly apparent that there wasn’t enough room to install a shut-off valve for the cold water.

The cold water feed is the second pipe from the left between the vent and the large pipe for the toilet stack.

And wouldn’t you know it? The cold water line was buried underground. Why? Who knows?

See that white pipe at the bottom in the dirt? That's the cold water line.

After exposing the cold water pipe, there wasn’t enough give to put in a shut-off valve. Of course. That meant the pipe needed to be cut and reworked. After a trip to Lano’s Hardware, David proceeded to put in the valves. Can anyone explain why a cold water valve costs $3.65 (BZD) and a hot water valve runs around $16 (BZD)?

Hot water shut-off on the left; new pipe and cold water shut-off on the right.
Okay, so now we are able to shut off the water to the bathroom. First, we shut off the cold water. There was still some leakage, but not as much as before. We’ll let it be for another day or so, then turn the cold water line on, but turn off the hot to see what happens.

We strongly suspect the cold water line is the culprit and that maybe there’s a joint, below the floor, that’s causing the problem. And while it may seem like we’re going about this in a very slow manner, we want to be as sure as possible as to what the issue is before we start chipping out tiles and breaking up cement in the floor and/or the shower.

Granted, we had been thinking about remodeling the bathrooms anyway, but weren’t really thinking about having to redo tiles (even though they aren’t are favorites). On the high side, at least we have another bathroom to use while all this is going on. Hopefully we can track down the problem in another few days and put a game plan together to get it resolved.

Man, it’s always something, isn’t it?

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Day Celebrations

We brought the New Year in with a bang…just not the type you might think. Our banging came from the sound of our range hood and its shelf being installed. Wild and crazy, we’re not; at least on that day. Matter of fact, we ended up crashing around 9:30, but did wake briefly when the fireworks started around midnight. Needless to say, if you’re looking for party animals to show you the nightlife of Corozal, we’re not the best resources to be had.

But what partying we didn’t do on New Year’s Eve we made up for the next day with back-to-back events. The first was a brunch at Gail and Earl’s house, who live on Four Mile Lagoon. Steady showers in the morning threatened to make the outing a soggy one, but about half hour before we left to pick up Colleen and Bruce – because we are considerate that way and would never think of standing them up and looking for a ride (hehehe) -- the skies started to clear.

The four of us arrived at Gail and Earl’s house and we immediately went on a quick tour. Their grounds are just lovely, being landscaped with all kinds of tropical plants and trees.



I am not ashamed to ‘fess up to the fact that I covet their pool. I can just imagine sitting on the steps or bobbing around in the deep end, looking out to the lagoon, and being perfectly at peace with the world. Sigh…





But those daydreams were short-lived, because more guests arrived and all brought dishes of food, including all kinds of desserts. Talk about a veritable smorgasbord! After a couple of hours, the party started winding down and it was time to make tracks to the next get-together of the day: The Second Annual Polar Bear Swim.



Dave and Dianna Rider not only host the swim, but designed T-shirts that we could all purchase to commemorate the event. Being the generous guy that he is, Dave let us all mix and mingle for a time to build up our nerve before summoning everyone into the pool.

Some of the Polar Bears hanging out by the pool deck


Others hung out under the palapa


Olivia, our fearless mascot
Now you need to understand that the general rule of thumb is that if the water temperature is 82 degrees or lower, it’s going to be a chilly dip. That day, there was a steady breeze that made the difference between the water and air temperature really noticeable. After a few sips of Dianna’s rum punch to strengthen our collective resolve, we made the plunge. Well, some people plunged, while others took their good old time getting acclimated. But whatever the method of entry, we did it! A tough job I know, but we’re a hearty bunch.



All in all, we had a great, great time and came home later in the afternoon having enjoyed every minute of the holiday season – from Christmas and Boxing Day and all the way up to the first day of 2013 – and after a quick dinner, promptly fell asleep.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Comfort Food: Creamy Tomato Soup with Balsamic, Onions, & Garlic, plus Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Now that the fun and craziness of the holidays are over, I thought it might be good to have some comfort food one night for dinner. What better way to unwind than to curl up on the couch with something warm and familiar…I mean other than with my husband?

While I normally would first think of some dish that contained BACON to provide comfort, I decided to save that treat for another dish. Instead, I decided to go somewhat old school with tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. But this isn’t your mama’s tomato soup. This is tomato soup with some attitude, because it’s made with wonderful things like balsamic vinegar, caramelized tomatoes, onions, and garlic, not to mention some creaminess added at the end. In a word: lovely.

But before going into all the steps involved with making the soup, I think it’s important to mention that instead of using fresh tomatoes (like I did), it’s perfectly okay to used canned, whole tomatoes. The reason I didn’t is that finding canned, whole tomatoes here in Corozal is sometimes like trying to find hens’ teeth. And while I have been able to score occasional 14 ounce cans, I haven’t seen any 28-ounce cans. Yes, even as a math dufus I realize that two 14-ounce cans would equal one 28-ounce can, but when I can get over two pounds of fresh tomatoes for the price of one 14-ounce can, well, I’m going to take the little bit of extra time to use the fresh stuff.  But hey, it’s entirely up to you on what you want to do.

Ahem…so let’s get started. Here are the tomatoes I picked up at the market. It’s sometimes hard to find Roma tomatoes, so when I spied these, I took it as a sign of goodness.



Having made this soup before, I found that the taste and texture of the tomatoes really comes out if you remove the skins. So, I needed to blanch ‘em. I put a pan of water on a slow simmer and cut an “X” in the bottom of each tomato.



When the water came to a steady simmer, I dropped the tomatoes in for about 15 seconds. You can tell when they’re ready when the skin around the “X” mark starts to shrink a bit. After fishing them out of the water, I placed them in a colander to drain and cool. (Hint: take the time to do this step, as I once almost gave my fingers first-degree burns trying to peel off screaming hot skins. Don’t be an idiot like me.) You can also drop the blanched tomatoes into an ice bath for a minute to speed the cooling process. Unfortunately, we were low on ice and realized if I used what we had for the tomatoes, there wouldn’t be enough ready for vodka and tonics later. The drinks won out. Go figure.

Anyhow, once I pulled off all the skins, the tomatoes were placed on an oiled baking sheet. I then added about a cup of roughly chopped onion. I whacked four large garlic cloves to remove their paper skins, and added them to the sheet.

Then it was time to add some real goodness. In a small mixing bowl, I combined:

  • ½ cup of beef stock
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon of soy sauce
 


Quick tip: to get the sugar to fully dissolve, add it to the vinegar first. Once dissolved, then add the rest of the liquids.

The liquid was then poured over the tomatoes, onions, and garlic. I placed the sheet in a pre-heated 500 degree oven and let them cook away for about 40 minutes. You want everything to become brown and the liquid to be kinda’ syrup-like.



When the tomatoes were done, I let the pan cool just a bit, then scraped everything into a blender and let it puree for just a bit.



Now this is one of those steps that you can do to your liking. We happen to like our soup a bit on the chunky side. But if you prefer a smoother consistency, let it puree longer. And if you’re really a stickler for smooth soup, you could then strain it before putting it in the saucepan.

Once the pureed soup was placed in a saucepan (still being a dufus, I forgot to take a picture), I warmed it over low heat and added the creamy bit. In a perfect world, I would add about ¾ cup of heavy cream or half-and-half. As I can’t get either of them here, I improvised by using some crema that was thinned out a touch with some milk.

With the soup warming up, I turned my attention to its dining partner – the grilled cheese sandwiches. All I did was schmear some arugula pesto(ish) I had in the fridge on slices of bread, then sliced up some cheddar cheese to put on top. Simply slap the top piece of bread on top, grill it up and you’re good to go. (Full disclosure: I really, really thought about adding bacon, but resisted as I needed what I had in the fridge for a meatloaf dish I planned to make in another day or so. Clearly, I need to stock up on my pork fat supply on my next shopping trip.)

I added some chopped cilantro as a garnish for the soup, which added a nice little kick. The flavors of all those caramelized bits come together in a smooth way, with no one flavor overwhelming another. It was the perfect partner to the gooey grilled cheese.


 
Ahhh, comfort on a plate and in a bowl.