Thursday, July 28, 2011

what it's like living without electricity

So we are on week 3 of no electricity.  We were told  we should be able to get electricity within 4 weeks of getting an estimate… unfortunately, it has now been 2 weeks since they promised our estimate would be ready.  Since I’m at work most of the day, I’m not having that much difficulty living without electricity.  I charge my cell phone and computer each day at work;  that way, if we want to watch a movie in the evening or I want to work on editing pictures, I have a few hours of battery life.    Eating has become a bit repetitive-- mostly bean based, but we still eat well.  The pot of beans gets boiled morning and night, and any time it is opened during the day.  So far, keeping beans like this has worked for 4-5 day stretches at a time before they start to taste slightly off.  We have quesadillas, beans and toasted cheese, burritos, eggs and beans….  As for meat, a few times we have been able to buy small portions of beef and cook that (mostly meat comes in packs that bring way too much for one meal).  Any leftovers are kept in a covered pan, and boiled before eating again (and eaten as soon as possible).  We are buying small amounts of groceries more frequently to keep things from spoiling.  The biggest expense so far is laundry--  we’re paying $20 Bze a week to get our laundry done, but it’s a necessity because I don’t have time to wash everything by hand.  And Daniel’s farm clothes get really dirty and yucky.  Another annoyance is no iron.  When I was a teacher here I somehow never needed to iron clothes (or maybe my clothes were wrinkled, but we didn’t have a mirror so I couldn’t tell).  Anyways, now I’m limited to a few wrinkle-resistant outfits I have been wearing over and over for work.  In the evenings we have light till about 7, and after that we use candles and a kerosene lantern.  The lantern actually gives enough light to read by, although it does get kind of smoky.  I'm paranoid to leave it without someone in the room though because I’m afraid of the cat knocking it over, although so far she hasn’t gone near it.  This results in me carrying a lantern around from room to room, which makes me feel very 18th- century.  We also are getting a lot more sleep- we go to bed around 9pm and get up at 6am or earlier (um, we got some guinea hens, and they like to make a lot of noise around 5am. But their feathers are so pretty!)  We boil water in a kettle on the stove when we want hot water.   I do miss listening to music or downloaded podcasts on my computer while I’m cleaning or cooking, but it tends to run the computer battery down fast.  We have a solar-powered radio, but the only radio channels are a Christian Spanish channel and Love FM (which is wonderful during a hurricane, but leaves much to be desired the rest of the time).   
Honestly, I expected to become cranky and fed up with this situation really quickly (I only lasted 1 week when we didn't have running water before throwing a major fit.  We had running water the next day.)  But... it really isn't that big of a deal.  Shocking, coming from someone who hates camping.  I sort of feel like Laura Ingalls :)
My parents are coming to visit next week, but they will stay in a cabin with electricity :)  We’ll send our fans over for them to use, and probably borrow the fridge for a little.  Cold drinks!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

day at the zoo, part two: Charlie the Macaw

After we visited with Buddy, the zookeeper said that since it was my birthday, he would let me visit with one of the zoo's Scarlet Macaws!  Meet Charlie.

Daniel and I got to feed Charlie some peanuts.

Charlie very politely took a peanut from my hand... but Daniel-- not so much.  Charlie tried very hard to remove a finger from Daniel. 

Such innocence....
It turns out that anyone can visit with Charlie for $10Bze, which is pretty cool.  Scarlet Macaws are magnificent birds, but they aren't seen much in the wild any more, so visiting at the zoo is the best place to get really close.
Also, visiting the Belize zoo for your birthday is the best.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dona Betty's Belizean Stewed Chicken, Rice and Beans

The cook at the Rectory, Dona Betty, makes hands-down the best stewed chicken I have ever had.  And believe me, living in Belize means you eat a lot of stewed chicken. It's one of 3 things you are likely to get anywhere you might be given food (the other things being cheese dip and tiny sandwiches with a spicy mystery spread).  People have requested this recipe for years (this is for you, Jena!) but a) I eat it so often I had no desire to make it at home and b) Dona Betty doesn't speak English and maybe I still don't speak much Spanish.  Ahem.  Anyways, Daniel translated for me one day, then I tried it at home... soooo good. 

Caveat:  Dona Betty just listed the ingredients for me.  I don't think her amounts  matter much anyways, as she is normally cooking for 30 people so the amounts would be really different.  I will tell what things I measured, but this recipe is pretty flexible.   Also, Dona Betty uses a Belizean season all spice mixture that is ubiquitous here, but has no ingredients listed.  As far as I can tell, it contains salt, recado, oregano, lime, garlic and onion powder- all of which are in the dish, so I don't think it will matter much not to add it.

The spice recado is essential to this dish, it gives it the flavour and color.  I have seen it in Mexican groceries in the States. It is also called achiote.  It mostly come in a clay-like block, but see if you can find the powder, it is much easier to work with.  If not, just make the recado into a paste by adding some water.

4 chicken breasts (I used this because I had it.  Use whatever you like, bone-in is great, just remove the skin)
2 cubes chicken bullion
juice of one lime
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Belizean Season all
2 tablespoons recado (the red kind)
3 tsp garlic powder
sprinkling of pepper
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 tablespoon sugar

Add chicken bullion cubes (add a little water to make them a paste), soy sauce, lime juice, garlic powder, season all, and 1 tablespoon recado to chicken and let marinate for an hour or two.

Coat a deep pan or dutch oven with oil.  Brown the sugar in the oil until it melts like this:

Brown the chicken in the sugar/oil mixture.

Dump in the leftover marinade mixture, the remaining tablespoon of recado, and the diced vegetables.  Cover, turn to low, and let simmer about 40 minutes or so.

Check that the chicken looks cooked.  Taste the broth, you may need a little more salt or recado powder at this point-- you want a nice orange color.  Now let the chicken simmer without a lid to thicken the sauce.

That's about the right thickness.

Stewed chicken is traditionally served with fried plantain, coleslaw, and rice and beans.  Rice and beans are really easy to make if you have a pot of stewed beans (or I supposed you could use beans from a can, if you are desperate, but you need to salt and season them well).

Rice and Beans
Take the amount of non-instant rice you want, and wash.  Instead of adding water, add the liquid from stewed beans till it covers the rice.  Add enough water so the rice is covered plus about 1 cm.  Add beans (the amount varies with how much rice you are making- I do about 1/2 cup of beans to every cup of rice).  Cover and bring to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat and cook till rice is done. 

Serve the stewed chicken over the rice and beans.


Edited to add:  So this recipe by far gets the most views on my blog.  Please leave a comment if you have tried it!  Let me know if it turned out well, or if I should redo the recipe with more exact measurements.  Thanks!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

day at the zoo, part one: meeting Junior Buddy

The Belize Zoo's motto is 'best little zoo in the world,' and I have to agree (and I have been to a lot of zoos).  They have this great combo of lots of wildlife, and a typical Belizean attitude that people should be able to take care of themselves-- which adds up to really, really close encounters with the animals.  Some, not so comfortable-- like walking by the 12 foot crocodile, seeing him look me straight in the eye, and then realizing all that separates us is a 3 foot wall made out of bamboo.  Not even exaggerating.  But other encounters are pretty much the awesomest thing I have done here.  For a small fee, the zookeepers let you pet a jaguar.

Junior Buddy is a jaguar that was born at the zoo.  His mother was a rescued and rehabilitated jaguar, and she came pregnant to the program.  Zookeepers have been working with Buddy his whole life, which means he is somewhat trained... for a 145 lb lethal weapon in a fur coat.

The zookeepers work as a pair.  One lures Buddy into a side cage, the other into a cage inside Buddy's enclosure and locks it.

Then he calls... 'here, kitty kitty'.  Actually, he really called 'commeer Buddy!' 

I asked if I could pet Buddy, and the zookeeper said, yes as long as you don't put your fingers in his mouth.'
Wasn't really tempted anyways.

His fur wasn't soft at all.  It was really coarse, like one of those coconut-fiber door mats.
He was pretty playful, the zookeeper bribed him with chicken feet and he did somersaults for us.

Daniel got his forehead licked too.  Buddy is only supposed to lick you if you are bald, but the zookeeper let him lick me because it was my birthday.  He totally surprised me though- he just grabbed my head and kept his hand over my hair without telling me what was going on, and then all of a sudden I was being licked. By a very big, VERY rough tongue.  

look at those amazing spots.

We were in the cage for maybe 20 minutes, and then afterwards the zookeeper put a chicken foot out so Buddy would pose for our pictures.  You can tell Buddy just loves it.

More to come!

Monday, July 11, 2011

still no electricity

It has now been one week without power (although we spent the weekend visiting friends in Corazol, is that cheating?) The other day I went and got my glue gun to fix something, only to realize after I plugged it in, this isn't going to work.  Then I figured all the gun does is melt the glue, so I got a glue stick, held it over a candle, and used a toothpick to apply the glue.  Worked perfectly-- actually it was even more accurate and way less messy then the glue gun.  I felt quite smug with myself.  Then I went upstairs and freaked out because there was a HUGE spider in my dresser draw.  Only, when I got a flashlight I discovered it was just a (highly lethal) hair clip.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Because my life was not interesting enough…

I probably jinxed myself by adding “pioneer” to the bookworm part of the blog name.  No dishwasher, lots of animals, mud—all good aspects of a pioneer's life, but nothing compared to no electricity.  We are on day 5 of no power, without an end in sight.   This happened in a very typical (for this farm) manner; on Sunday my brother in law walked in our yard and proceeded to have a long, involved conversation with my husband:
Brother- in -law:  the corral caught on fire while we were milking and burnt your electrical hookup.
Daniel: ok.
Me :  ?!!!???
(not to worry, no cows or brother-in-laws were harmed)
Sure enough, when I went to investigate, there were much signs of scorching and lots and lots of melted, burnt wiring.  Not salvageable.  So we have to contact the country’s only electric company and have them stretch a new line from the transformer to our house.  Only, wait a minute: the electrical company just went bankrupt and the Prime Minister is in the middle of a controversial and highly illegal nationalization of said company? Ha! Ha!
My strategies so far for living without power: clean out fridge and freezer and transfer contents to mother’in-law’s fridge, buy candles, charge my lap top at work.  So far, it hasn’t been that bad.  We are lucky that it is mostly light from 6am to 7pm here, which gives us a few hours after work to get stuff done.  Then we just got to bed.  And really, we don’t rely that much on electricity—our stove is gas, our water runs by gravity, we don’t have cable or internet, and we don’t have a hot water heater.  My biggest challenges: 1.  I get hungry, and non-perishable snacks are hard to come by (not to mention no ability to store leftovers), and 2. I can’t iron my clothes.  I’m thinking I might have to track down an old-fashion iron that heats on the stove… I was chatting with my father in law about the left-over dilemma, and he informed me of the traditional powerless way to keep up your supply of beans.  Make a big batch of beans, and leave them in the pan.  Every morning before work, and every evening when you get home, boil the beans for 15 or so minutes.  Apparently, a pot of beans will keep like this for almost a week without refrigeration!  So far I have not resorted to this method, but I will keep you updated…

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

29 on the 29th

Last week was my birthday, and since I was 29 on the 29th, which seems kinda special, I decided to document the day with photos.  Here are a few.

good morning flower bouquet from Daniel

birthday outfit bought at the market** fresh goat's milk with milo (a powdered chocolate drink) for breakfast** goats in the driveway** driving to work- the river is dirty from all the rain

lunch with Padre Mark**Dona Betty made beef burritos with fresh tortillas, so good** they just put in a new patio behind the rectory, and it is a lovely spot
Daniel made my birthday cake, and I decorated it :)
our nephews (yes, the one with pig tails is a boy- his parents are having anxiety issues about cutting his long curly hair), helping finish off the cake
It was a really nice day.  And the best part (my present) is still to come...!
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