Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Asian Cooking Spree

So back on February 3, Colleen and Bruce hosted a Super Bowl party. Bruce provided pulled pork carnitas, with various toppings and BBQ chicken wings that were baked, then finished off on the grill. Both were superb. Guests were asked to bring whatever side dishes that struck their fancy and the offerings didn't disappoint. There were all kinds of delectable morsels, including a tray of spring rolls that Julie had made, along with a dipping sauce. I popped the first roll into my mouth and had to resist the very strong temptation to grab the tray, find myself a quiet little corner, and polish off the rest of them. They were that good.

Now a quick word or two about Julie. She is hands-down one of the most amazing cooks I've ever met. It seems she knows how to make just about everything, and it's clear she puts a tremendous amount of time, effort, and love into each dish. Even her dogs get great meals, including homemade doggie pizzas and pates. In short, I'm in awe of her talents.

After eating her spring rolls, I knew I wanted more of them in my life. I needed them in my life. Just had to have them. I asked Julie where she found the wrappers, as I hadn't seen any in the Corozal grocery stores. Turns out she scored them in Belize City. Sigh. As much as I loved the rolls, I just didn't relish the idea of making the 1 1/2 hour trip to get wrappers. But it got the wheels turning in my brain. Was it possible to make your own?

I started pouring over recipes, both online and in a variety of cookbooks sitting on my shelves. The short answer was, yes, I could make my own. In fact, it wasn't that much different from making homemade pasta dough. And since I already knew how to do that, I figured I would give it go making egg roll wrappers.

I combined two cups of flour, 1 egg, a teaspoon of salt for the dough. Then I added about 1/4 of ice water to help bring it together. It needed a few more splashes of the water for it to get it to the consistency I needed. On a lightly floured surface, I kneaded the dough a few times, then wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

While the dough rested, I finely chopped some cabbage, zucchini, and eggplant, then tossed them all together in a bowl.

Once the dough was ready, I could have turned it out onto a floured board and rolled it out by hand. But I decided to integrate two food cultures and opted to put the dough through the pasta machine. My rationale was that it would make the dough a consistent thickness. Sure enough it was and I cut the sheets into about 4-inch squares.

About one heaping teaspoon of the cabbage mixture was put near the edge of each square, then the outer edge was moistened with water. And just like rolling a burrito, each square got their edges tucked in and rolled into a nice little package.

As each roll was complete, I placed it on a baking sheet that was lined with wax paper and lightly dusted with flour.

After heating up some vegetable oil to around 350-degrees, I gently placed about half the rolls into the oil, turning them over after three or minutes of cooking. I would estimate the total time they fried was about six to seven minutes.

Spring rolls with three dipping sauces: Hoisin, Plum Sauce, and Soy Sauce with fresh grated ginger

They looked good, but I must admit they didn't taste quite like Julie's. I think mine need to fry a couple minutes longer and maybe at a little higher heat. Julie's were crispy, but flaky, whereas mine were more on the doughy side. A tad disappointing, but for a first attempt, I was overall pleased with the outcome. I'll just keep making more batches until I get it as close to Julie's as I can.

But I didn't stop there. In the midst of all my recipes searches, I came across a bunch of other Asian-inspired things that I knew I just had to try making, such as...

...Chili oil

This is so incredibly simple that it's almost embarrassing. All you do is combine 3 tablespoons of red pepper flakes and 1 cup of vegetable oil (peanut, canola, or safflower will also work), over medium heat. When it's almost at a boil, turn off the heat and let the pepper flakes steep in the oil until it comes to room temperature. Then just strain out the flakes, put the oil into a decanter, and you're good to go.

Now my friend Colleen is probably cringing as she reads this, because she does not like peppers...at all. But believe it or not, the oil doesn't taste hot, your lips don't burn, nor does your upper lip bead with sweat. Instead, it imparts a warm undertone to whatever you use it with. I love this stuff.

...Asian chicken stock

I've been making my own chicken stock for a number of years, using the usual cast of characters of a chicken carcass, onions, celery, carrots, thyme, parsley, and black peppercorns. To give the stock an Asian flair, I invited some new ingredients to the pot.

First I started with about two pounds of chicken necks. If you can get backs as well, throw them in. Add in one celery stalk, roughly chopped, a couple of small carrots, again roughly chopped, 1 onion, cut in half, two green onions (white and green parts), cut into about 2-inch lengths, and two slices of fresh peeled ginger, cut to about 1/8 inch thickness.

Add enough water to fill the pan about three-quarters of the way and place over medium heat. As it comes to a boil, remember to skim off the schmutz that will come to the top. Then just reduce the heat and let everything simmer for about 2-2 1/2 hours. During the simmering process, smell the aroma coming from your stockpot. It just draws you in with the hints of ginger.

Strain the stock through a sieve and into a large bowl. Let it sit, uncovered, until it's cool, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, skim off any fat that's on the surface, pour the stock into containers or zip-lock bags, then freeze or refrigerate. Or you can heat up a bowl of it with some rice and be in heaven, if you haven't already been tempted to put a dab or two behind your ears, 'cause it smells that awesome.

...Pot Stickers

Much like the spring rolls, I was going to need wrappers to make this dish and decided to make gyoza wrappers. The ingredients and techniques are essentially the same as making the egg roll wrappers. And yes, I used the pasta machine to roll out the dough. But instead of cutting squares, I cut circles out of the dough. I don't have a 3 1/2 inch biscuit cutter, so I used one of our drink glasses that had the dimension I needed.

But what about the filling? Well you can let your imagination be your guide. These little dumplings can be filled with just about anything, but here's what I used:

What you see here is about 1/4 pound of finely chopped shrimp, 1/4 pound of ground pork, 1/2 cup of chopped cabbage, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of finely chopped, pealed fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of white wine, and a pinch of black pepper.

Using a teaspoon, I put a dollop in the middle of each goyza wrapper and moistened the edges of the dough with water.

After folding the wrapper in half and sealing the edge, I put three crimps along the seal.

And again, just like the spring rolls, I placed all the filled, crimped pot stickers on a baking sheet that was lined with wax paper and lightly dusted with flour.

When all the pot stickers were ready, I put about a tablespoon of vegetable oil into a pan and turned the heat to medium-high. When the oil was ready, I arranged the pot stickers in the pan, seam side up. Those were left to fry for about five minutes or until their bottoms were nice and brown.

Then I added about 1/4 cup of the Asian Chicken Stock (see above), put a lid on the pan and let it cook for about 10 more minutes. At that point, it was time to take the lid off and let everything cook another minute or two until all the liquid evaporated.

Because I sometimes have a "blond moment" I forgot to take a picture of the final plating. But what I can tell you is that I used the same dipping sauces that I had for the spring rolls. I can also tell you that we loved, loved, loved these. The filling was perfectly cooked and very tasty, while the wrappers provided a great crisp texture from the browned bottoms, but also a more dumpling texture from the tops. This is certainly a dish I'll be making again. Matter of fact, I'm going to use my leftover wrappers (which I froze) this week and try a filling with ground chicken and spicy Italian sausage. Yeah, I know Italian sausage isn't an Asian ingredient; just think of it as fusion cooking :)

The bottom line is that I had loads of fun making all of these things, discovered new tastes, textures, and a few new ingredients. I also realized that once you master one thing, like making pasta dough, the concepts translate easily to other cuisines and cultures. So while it was all Julie's doing for me going down this Asian road, the journey was worth every minute.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Slices of Life from Belize: January 23, 2013

House Painting

It took a bit of time, but I finally got the motivation to power wash and paint more exterior walls of our house. It's not that I don't like to paint, but it can feel a bit overwhelming at times seeing all the areas that need attention. The place hasn't been painted in 10 years, so there's quite a build up of gunk on the walls that needs to be removed first (hence the power washing). And once you're down to bare cement, well, that means at least two coats of paint to ensure decent coverage.

But then, because I'm a genius in this regard, I realized I didn't have to get everything painted all in one go...just take it one wall at a time. So this past week I knocked out three sections:

Newly painted side of porch, front and side walls of spare bedroom. Pretty! Shiny! Clean!

I couldn't have asked for better weather -- low humidity, enough puffy clouds to provide some relief from the sun, and a lovely breeze. These were way, way better conditions then when I painted the front of the porch in the middle of the summer. I had no idea my body could produce that much sweat.

After I give my arm and shoulder muscles time to recuperate, it will be time to work on the back of the house...

...and the front of the workshop:

Once all that's done, the only thing left to do is paint all 14 wrought iron window coverings on the house, not to mention all those on the shop. Sigh...

Everything is Comin' Up Roses

Actually, what's coming up are cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, and habernero peppers:

I can't begin to describe how cool it is to have all this stuff coming on the vines in February. The tomatoes are probably a couple weeks away from being ready to pick, but I'm already dreaming of all the salsa and pasta sauce that I'll whip up. The cucmber plant, compliments of Dianna, looked a bit peaked early on, but then...BAM...it just started growing. So far, the cukes are coming on a couple at a time, which is great and lets us not have a glut to figure out what to do with. The habernero plant is from Fernando. Personally, I'm a bit scared of the heat on these peppers, but am willing to give them a go in some way, shape, or form. And can I just tell you how excited I am that we can grow cilantro? We tried so many times when living in the States, but it would always bolt. In another week or two, I'm going to try growing basil and thyme again. Once the seedlings get big enough, I'll transplant them to this bed, so they can be with the rest of their friends. Can Not Wait!

The Return of the Mystery Leak

So we thought we had figured out what was causing water to leak in our master bath when David discovered the feed line to the sink needed to be replaced. All was well for a bit, but when we started taking showers again, water started puddling up on the floor. Granted, it wasn't as bad as before, but still, it was clear something was still amiss.

The only thing we could figure was that it had to be coming from the shower plumbing. And that meant that tile and cement would need to be chipped out to discover the source of the problem.

The first place David worked on was the shower handles:

The good news was that there was no evidence of leaks in that area. The bad news was that the valves were shot and need to be replaced. And, of course, the local hardware stores don't carry the replacement unit we need. So that will mean a trip to Orange Walk to see if we can find the parts.

The next spot that David worked on was the pipe feeding the shower head:

Sure enough, this was the culprit. See where the elbow joins the pipe there toward the bottom? That's where the leak is. It should be a relatively easy fix. And as he already has knocked out an opening, we decided to raise the pipe up a bit so the shower head will be higher. It's not like we're giants or anything, but the shower heads in both bathrooms were installed pretty low to accommodate the wife of the previous owner, who is fairly short.

Now if all of this plumbing isn't challenging enough, we also have to figure out what to do for replacement tile. The chances of us finding the tile that was used in the bathroom are slim and none, but we'll look in the obvious stores here to see if, by some miracle, someone still carries it. Presuming they don't, we'll have to decide what else might work.

Making a Splash with Tile

Speaking of tile, David picked up a box of these babies:

This will be the back splash in the kitchen. And par for the course, the store that carries these, Creative Tile, had the tiles and the mastic, but no grout. They hope to have a shipment come in this week, but who knows. Will post pics when everything is up.

A Visit to Dr. Sheila

This week it was Olivia's turn to visit Dr. Sheila to be spayed. First she had a weigh-in and she's a whopping 12.5 pounds! Sheila doesn't expect her to get much bigger, maybe 15 pounds, which means she will remain the perfect lapdog size. It also means she won't be too big to sleep on the bed (much to David's chagrin...HAHAHAHAHA!).

Once her poundage was determined, Sheila gave Olivia a sedative. She warned that it would sting and I must say, I didn't know Olivia to yelp in that high of an octave. But within no more than 30-40 seconds of getting the shot, she just slumped like Jell-O on the exam table. David and I never saw anything like it and asked (half-jokingly) if we could get some of that sedative to go for when Olivia and Bronte go on tears around the house.

We picked her up around 2:30 and were surprised that she was so lucid. If you recall, when Bronte when through the same procedure, she was very woozy for a couple of hours after we picked her up. Of course, she then went loony on us for the next several hours. But for Olivia, she didn't experience any of that. Granted, she was a bit low-key for the rest of the day, but no bouts of insanity. Dr. Sheila gave us some painkillers to administer to Olivia the next two days. But I have to say that by the next afternoon, you would never guess this girl had major surgery. She was back to her old self and conspiring with the cat. For example, between the two of them they unraveled the toilet paper from the roll in both bathrooms and paraded it through the living room. The cat pulled down our bath towels and the dog decided to use them as something to teeth on. But their crowning moment was when they got hold of a paint brush. When I was painting outside, I had need of a small brush to paint the window frames. Instead of washing it out, I just wrapped the bristles in plastic wrap so the paint wouldn't harden before the next time I needed it. Unfortunately, I left the brush on the coffee table that's on the porch. The cat knocked down the brush, the dog then proceeded to tear off the plastic and spread the paint on the love seat, the floor, and one of my flip-flops. Fortunately, it's latex paint so I was able to get it cleaned up with a minimum amount of fuss. But seriously, these two are dangerous together.

Age...It's Just a Number (except when it comes to candles)

In spite of the painting, tile work, plumbing, and vet appointment, we managed to have one heck of a good time on Tuesday night. We got together with some of our friends to celebrate the birthdays of Dave, David, and Bruce. Dave had his at the end of January, Bruce on February 14, and David on Tuesday.

From the left: Dianna, Dave, Bruce, Colleen, David, and Dianna's brother, David, visiting from Colorado.

We all met up at Tony's restaurant, located right on the bay. When we've eaten there before, we often were the only diners. But on Tuesday night, they were hosting a big dinner for a number of their hotel guests. Bruce and Colleen managed to snag a table on the upper level, which offered a wonderful view:

We ate. We drank. We were a merry bunch. We did not, however, have a birthday cake. The combined total of the candles for these gentleman would have put the thatched roof of the restaurant in peril.

Coming Up: My Asian cooking spree and why it was all Julie's fault

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chicken Enchiladas

In between bouts of power washing and painting more of the exterior of our house, I spent some time in the kitchen this week playing with some old and new recipes. The first one I tackled was an old favorite of ours – chicken enchiladas. This is a dish we would make from time to time when we lived in the States, but I hadn’t given it a go since our move here to Belize.

Now in the past, I would have relied on canned enchilada sauce, but that’s not something I could find here in Corozal. So off I went to the Internet to find out how to make my own. Not surprisingly, there are a ton of recipes out there, and after sifting through a bunch, I decided to use bits and pieces of recipes I liked that would work with the ingredients I had on hand.

So mis amigos, let’s see how it all played out.

First I combined 3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil and 1 Tablespoon of flour to make a roux:

Once that got stirred around for a couple of minutes, I added 1/4 cup of chili powder. Yes, I said 1/4 cup:

Now, I will admit that I was initially a teeny bit hesitant about the quantity. I mean, would my lips end up falling off from the heat? Would my taste buds be scarred for life? But I decided to be brave and work with it.
After the chili powder got stirred around and cooked in the roux for about 30 seconds, I added 2 cups of homemade chicken stock, 8 ounces of tomato sauce...
...about 8 ounces of tomato paste, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1 teaspoon of cumin, and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Now at this point, any cocinero (chef) worth her salt, would give the mixture a taste. I did and...well I'll warn you that it will seem a bit harsh, and it will need some more salt. But have faith and bring the whole shebang to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and let it cook for about 20 minutes.
Now when you taste it, you'll be saying Hola Amante! The flavors should have all melded together to make this deliciousness. There will be warm undertones from the chili powder, but not much heat. It actually reminded me of more of a mole sauce. Your lips and taste buds will not fall off or be damaged in any way. Instead, they will thank you.
With the enchilada sauce now taken care of, I could get busy making the rest of the dish, with a helping hand from David.
But first, let me introduce our enchilada fillings:
Say hello to shredded chicken, sauteed onions, sliced black olives, and shredded cheddar.
I ladled some of that sauce into my baking dish and spread it around.
 I also poured a teeny bit into a warm saute pan and began to heat up our tortillas, which one by one, I handed off to David.
He piled on the fillings... 
...then rolled up each tortilla and placed them in the baking dish.
But wait! We can't leave them naked! Oh no, sir. We need to cover them up with lots of lovely things, like more enchilada sauce, more olives, and of course, more cheese.


I popped the baking dish into a pre-heated 450-degree oven for about 20 minutes. When done, oh my!

Serious taste -- gooey cheese, that warm and inviting sauce, the chicken, the olives. They all came together. And you know what? Even if I can eventually find canned enchilada sauce here, I doubt if I would buy it when I can make my own (which tastes way better, if I say so myself).

Buen Provecho!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

From House Elf to Whoville to Who Knows

Those of you who follow our blog probably remember when we first adopted our puppy, Olivia. As you may remember, she was a rather scrawny, hairless little thing:

And while I may not go as far as to say she was ugly, when friends of ours, Bruce and Colleen, stopped by for a visit, Bruce said she bore a striking resemblance to Dobby, the house elf from the Harry Potter movies:

I had to admit there were some similarities.

To give you an idea of how tiny she was, Olivia and the kitten, Bronte, could look each other in the eyes:

But weeks passed, and Olivia got bigger and started growing some fur.

Her resemblance to Dobby has disappeared, mostly. Instead she now looks more like Max, the dog from How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

See what I mean?

We really have no clue what breed mix she is, how big she'll get, if her fur will stay relatively short or be long and flowing. What we do know is her legs seem to get longer by the week, and her eyes -- oh those eyes -- retain that pound puppy look that can melt your heart.

But Olivia isn't the only one who has been on a growth spurt. Check out the latest fur kid photo:

And yes, they still sleep together, play together, and get into trouble together. May they always stay the best of buddies.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Clothes Horse Fodder Follow-up

About a week and a half ago, I mentioned a recent trip to Orange Walk and how I came home with more fodder for the clothes horse (me). Here are some shots of my recent loot:

A 100% cotton madras skirt. I love the colors and the retro look of the madras.

Lined cotton, spaghetti strap top with beading. Normally, I'm not a sparkly/bling wearing kind of girl, but the beads are small and add just the right amount of interest to what would otherwise be a rather ordinary top. This is a great piece to provide some girly attitude to jeans, shorts, or a skirt.
Dark gray/white seersucker cropped pants. These are sooooo comfy and it helps that there's a little bit of stretch to the fabric. I could wear these every single day.

The water colors are what drew my eye to this top. It's tunic length, hitting just about at the hips, ties in the back, and has split cap sleeves. This is another piece that I know will get a lot of wear.

This is a sleeveless wrap dress. The photo really doesn't highlight the colors very well, but it has a silver, tan, and light tan leaf design on a black background. I love this jersey type material, because no matter what you do to it, there are no wrinkles. I have a pair of spike heeled sandals that would look amazing with this dress, but being a klutz, I fear a twisted ankle in the offing. Maybe I'll just stick with wearing flats.

White cotton cropped cargo pants. Don't they look comfy and cute? But speaking of being a klutz, I will need to work up the courage to wear these. I can count on one hand, with fingers left over, how many times I've purchased a white pair of pants, skirt, or shorts. Experience has shown that if there is any substance that can cause a stain, it will find me and the white fabric. But maybe I'll have better luck this time around.
Flats from Land's End. As much as I love all of my cute sandals and flip flops, there are days that a girl needs something other than cute shoes. You only need to have mud squish between your toes a time or two when you accidentally step into a puddle to learn a lesson. I think of these as my "common sense" shoes -- functional, covered toes to prevent mud squished toes, but still kinda' cute.
And here's the very best part: the total for all this (including a pair of khaki cropped pants that aren't pictured because I didn't get around to ironing them when I took the rest of these photos) was $47BZD or $23.50USD. Heck, even if I should end up spilling ketchup or who-knows-what on those white cargo pants, at five bucks I'm not going to get too wigged out about it. Gosh, you just have to love thrift stores.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cinnamon Crunch Coffee Cake

A few weeks ago, I had a craving for coffee cake. Have no clue why, but the thought of it just made my mouth water. I didn’t have a recipe in mind, so off  I went to troll the Internet for ideas. While looking at all the options, I couldn’t help but remember all the boxes of Entenmann’s coffee cake that regularly showed up a various office meetings. Anyone else have a soft spot for this? What I always found so amazing is that their cakes never seemed to go stale. You could leave those babies in a half-opened box for what seemed like days, and they still tasted the same way they did when the box was first opened. I probably don’t want to know why that it is.

Anyway, after perusing untold number of recipes, I decided to give a Cinnamon Crunch Coffee Cake a whirl. Because it was intended to just serve the two of us, I decided to halve the recipe. There were also a few other changes I needed to make, so follow along with the fun.
I started off beating the butter, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinammon and vanilla.
It might be helpful to know that the brown sugar available here is not like the brown sugar you get in the States. This brown sugar is coarser, doesn't pack down (I guess because of less molasses), and seems sweeter to the taste. After working with it for the last eight months, I only added a regular 1/4 measure (remember, I'm halving the recipe).
Once all those ingredients were well combined, I added my egg and let it work its way into the mixture.
A quick aside about our eggs. In Belize it is against the law to sell white shell eggs. All the eggs are brownish in color and none are refrigerated. While that may cause some agita to certain folks, it turns out that fresh eggs can last around two weeks without refrigeration. The reason? Non-processed eggs have a natural film over them when the hens lay them that keeps the eggs from spoiling. If you do decide to put them in the fridge, they can last up to three weeks. Knock on wood, I haven't run into one rotten egg in all the time we've been here.
Because I wasn't paying much attention about a week ago when I bought a bag of eggs, I just grabbed whatever was closest to me. It was only when I got home that I realized I had some jumbos.
Jumbo egg on left, regular egg on right. I feel a bit sorry for the hens who had to lay some of these big ones. It hadta' hurt! And oh, the jumbo egg isn't a white as it looks in the picture. Think more along the lines of a very light tan.
So far, I've had two with double yolks. How cool is that? And while I used a regular sized egg for this recipe, I thought this quick, little egg lesson might be helpful. Your welcome and now back to our recipe.
With the egg in the batter, I then alternated adding the flour and yogurt.
And now it's time for a quick aside about the yogurt. The recipe calls for non-fat, plain Greek yogurt. That wasn't going to happen, because I knew our stores don't carry any Greek yogurt -- plain, flavored, fat, or non. As it turns out, I couldn't find any plain yogurt either, but did spy a container of apple yogurt. Apples go with cinnamon, right? Figured I'd give it a try.
With the batter all incorporated, it was time to spoon it into the pan.
Now those of you with the eyes of an eagle might notice that this isn't a 9x13" pan. Why? I don't have one. Also, because I was halving the recipe, this springform pan seemed to be about the right size for the job. Work with what you got.
I combined the topping ingredients in a separate bowl:
Like with the batter, I used a regular 1/4 cup measure for the brown sugar. Walnuts and pecans were MIA in the grocery stores, so I decided to use sliced almonds. I'm telling you, if you don't improvise when you cook now, you'll quickly learn when you move here.

Anyway, I sprinkled the topping over the batter...

 ...and popped the pan into a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes.
After it was finished baking and allowed to cool for a bit, here's the final result:
The verdict? In spite of the substitutions, it turned out really well. But I must admit that the full compliment of topping made it a bit too sweet for me. Having now made this recipe a few times, it seems to taste best if I add only about a third of the topping. Also, the apple yogurt worked fine, but have since found and used plain yogurt with great results.

So the next time you're craving a coffee cake or spy an Entenmann's box, why not give this cake a go? It only takes about 15 minutes to put it together and 30 minutes to bake. In less than hour, you can indulge yourself!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Project Flashback: Septic Tank Installation

As we’re in between remodeling projects for the moment (translation: I haven’t worked up the enthusiasm to paint anything), it seems like an opportune time to step into the WayBack Machine to see what other projects we knocked out early on.

I’ve already blogged about the work we did on our porch, including new screens and paint. While that was underway, we also came to learn that our septic tank wasn’t in the best shape.

Here’s what it looked like when we bought the house. That white thing sitting on top was a dilapidated thing used to haul stuff on top of your car, like if you were going camping. It was filled with water and various bits of debris. Gives a nice homey touch, dontcha’ think? I can tell you that all the insects loved it.

We had noticed some cracks in the block that was above ground, and initially thought they could be patched. But after we chatted with Fernando and few others, we came to learn the real story.
It seems that when the original tank was installed, shortcuts were taken (surpise!). For instance, no Rebar was used in the walls and little or no concrete was poured in between the blocks to add stability. Basically, a few swift kicks to the corners and this thing might collapse. Okay, maybe that’s a wee bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly wasn’t in good shape. And I don’t know about any of you, but having a working septic tank is one of those things that’s kinda’ important, no matter where you live.
Through a lead provided by Fernando, we found a contractor who could do the job. He had installed tanks in the area and agreed that there was no way the existing one could be repaired. After providing us with a diagram of what he thought needed to be done, as well as a detailed list of material and labor costs, we decided this was the guy for us.
So as to not be without a septic system for the time the new one would be built, a bit of an inconvenience to say the least, it was agreed that augmenting the existing pipes to run to the new tank would be one of the last steps and something David would take care of. That would give him time to put together a game plan, plus get the supplies he needed for that part of the job.
Now if you live in the States and need a new septic tank installed, the contractor would more than likely bring in a backhoe, dig the hole, then install a pre-fab tank and connect the lines. Badda-bing, badda-boom -- job done.
Here in Corozal, one might say the process takes a bit more time and effort. For instance, we agreed to have an 8’x8’x6’, three-chambered tank, plus a “soak away” chamber (more on this in a minute). With heavy equipment, such as backhoes, almost non-existent, the hole for this would be dug by hand. Yup, a crew of four guys, two going at it at one time, started to break ground and dig the pit.

By the end of the first day, they managed to dig down about three feet. On the second day, instead of hitting black dirt, the limestone layer appeared.

Quite a pile, no? And I must mention that the guys were doing all this digging while it was beastly hot and humid.I was breaking a sweat just sweeping the floor. Haven’t a clue how they managed without falling over from heat exhaustion.
While the digging was going on, another couple of guys went out to buy and deliver cement, sand, and gravel, all loaded in the back of a pick-up truck. These would be used, in part, to pour the floor of the tank.

Then they went out to get cinder block. No pre-cast blocks here. All are hand-made.

After another day or so of digging, they hit the water table at about 5 ½ feet. At that point, they put down some plastic and built a rebar frame to go over it. Rebar – a word and a product that I’ve come to appreciate. Anyhoo, once the frame was built, they poured cement over it and smoothed it out.

With the floor in place, the crew could then start building the three chambers with the cinder block. The way this works is that instead of having a drain field, all the stuff from these tanks gets piped into a separate chamber, called a “soak away.”

While all of this was going on, David and Fernando started digging trenches to see where and how the existing pipes were located and installed.

Ideally, we should end up with one 4" pipe that goes to the septic tank. However, we found out that there are three 2" pipes coming from the sinks. David got to work to figure out how to make those connections, plus get the slope of the pipe correct.

Back to the septic tank construction. Contrary to its appearance, this is not a burial pit, but rather the initial dig on the "soak away" chamber.

 Once the guys reached the soak away's required depth, they started creating the footers.

Here you can see the walls of the soak away, along with the pipe leading from the three chamber septic tank. To the right, more boards are in place for the tank cap, along with the forms that will create the access hatches.

Instead of having two separate slabs to cover the tanks, we opted for one. The crew finished spreading the top coat.

Close-up of the forms for the hatches. Over the lower boards, the crew assembled rebar grids, then took the used concrete bags to line the mold, then poured in cement.

After the crew left for the evening, this happened:

The culprit: Sam. He decided to walk across the wet cement. Fortunately, David was able to smooth out the surface and no one was the wiser.

The aforementioned cement bags. I was surprised that these were used as the release agents for the caps, but sure enough they peeled right off when the cement was dry.

Okay, this shot tells a couple of stories. First, that the crew filled each chamber with stones (and later gravel). The other is that pipe you see, which leads to…

 ...the other part of this project -- locating the original waste and water pipes, then reconfiguring them to go into the new septic tank.

Fortunately, my husband is a math marvel and got everything figured out. In addition to the math, there was also the challenge of the old pipes being too small in diameter, which meant all kinds of funky fittings that he had to contend with and get pipe for.
There were five separate lines that feed into the old system. David needed to figure out how to have them all connected and lead into one pipe to the new system. Angles, slopes, and lots of other math was involved. Needless to say, I was NOT in any way part of that ciphering. As soon as David started explaining the formula for determining the slope (1/8' for every foot), my brain cramped.
Here is what were the separate water and waste pipes from the spare bed/bathroom, which are now going into one feed.


Did I mention that due to limited part availability that David could only work with 45 and 90 angle pipes? Like the job wasn't challenging enough.

But all the piping worked out perfectly and, VOILA, our finished system. Purty, ain't she?

All told, it took nine days from start to finish for the entire project.

Not long after the new septic system was installed, we asked Fernando (pictured on the right) and his son, Hugo (pictured on the left), to demolish the old one.
What we thought might take a few days, took only one. The reason? For starters, the cap for the tank was being held together with tying wire, not Rebar. A few swift hits with a sledgehammer and it fell apart. And, much like we suspected, the concrete block wasn’t filled with cement, nor had any rebar reinforcements.

Once the demolition was complete, the area was filled with left over dirt from the new tank installation, sand, and gravel.

This is  what it looks like now:

It's come a long way, baby.