Cooking with Plantains (Or Yes, We are Adapting!)


Posted by Cassie

I remember when we were back in Greeley, Colorado. We tried to replicate what we imagined our life would be like in Puerto Rico. We were both so excited about all the cool things we could do when we lived there. We had indoor coffee plants, mini citrus trees, even a banana tree in our living room! I looked for anything with Puerto Rico in it. Read lots and lots of books, blogs, articles, etc. We even had chickens against all convention and with a big fight because we knew we could have as many animals as we wanted when we were outside of the rigidity, rules and conformity of the states.

Banana Tree in Living Room
Seems pretty funny now…our Colorado indoor banana tree

We also tried cooking some Puerto Rican food. And it was an absolute failure. Not only is Puerto Rican food extremely difficult to find in Colorado (the closest thing I found was a Cuban restaurant in Denver), but even the raw ingredients were horrible! We could do rice and beans but beyond that, it was a complete loss. There are no breadfruits or traditional viandas in Colorado grocery stores, coconuts were basically rotten and we had absolutely no idea how to cook plantains. A good reminder to eat local-wherever you are! I remember one plantain we tried cooking. We couldn’t even get the skin off it. We didn’t know how long to cook it and so when we finally tried it, we were like…how did anyone think that eating these was a good idea?!

Banana flowers
Our bananas growing now (outside)

So I suppose it’s a good sign when plantains (and breadfruit and papaya and avocados and bananas and mangos) straight from your tree become part of your daily fare. I wasn’t exactly taught how to cook with these things like a parent might to a child and I definitely would like to learn some traditional techniques, but when it is all around you, you learn quickly. Here is a video of a typical breakfast. Nearly all straight from our land.

Plantains (platanos) grow and look much like bananas (guineos), but they are considered a starch or main food group rather than a snack or dessert. Here they make all sorts of things with plantains such as tostones, amarillos, mofongo, empanadillas and many others. I stick with lightly pan fried amarillos. Amarillo means yellow and so unlike most other dishes which use the green plantains, I wait until they are yellow to cook them. They cook fast and don’t need to be double fried like some of the others.

This is still very basic cooking. For one thing, we only have one single burner. And another is I don’t know exactly how to cook some of the “fancy” things like mofongo, though I love to eat it! Con tiempo, con tiempo. It was fun preparing for our move, but there is really nothing like the real thing when you fully embrace it.

Mofongo
Mofongo relleno y Malta -something I never ate in Colorado but can enjoy any time here!

Growing, eating and cooking with plantains means we are adapting. Evolving. Becoming more Puerto Rican. And it is cool because plantains also have a cultural significance. La mancha de plátano or the stain of the plantain is considered a symbol of pride for the jíbaro, the Puerto Rican country farmer, who when cutting down bananas and plantains would invariably get banana sap on their clothing. This stain is nearly impossible to remove, like the love for the country itself.

Mancha de platano
Plantain stain on a towel that we set plantains and bananas on after harvesting them

La Mancha de Plátano
Luis Lloréns Torres
(Translated by me)

Mata de platano, a tí,
a tí te debo la mancha
que ni el jabón, ni la plancha
quitan de encima de mí
desque jíbaro nací
al aire llevo el tesoro
de tu racimo de oro
y tu hoja verde y ancha;
Llevaré siempre la mancha
por secula seculorum.

Plantain tree, to you,
To you I owe the stain
That neither soap nor the iron
Can take away from me
Since I was born a jíbaro
To the air I bring the treasure

Of your golden corm
and 
your green and wide leaf;
With me I will always carry the stain
For ever and eternity.

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Our First Sales at a Pulguero!


Posted by Cassie

We have been thinking about downsizing our turkey flock now for a while. We really only need one or two toms around to fertilize the girls. The boys tend to fight a lot with each other and a chorus of four gobblers can be a bit much when an airplane flies overhead for instance. (I imagine them thinking HOLY GOBBLE THAT’S A BIG GOBBLE HAWK GOBBLE GOOBLE.)

Turkey trail
These guys are so funny and follow us everywhere

Then we had the mama come out of the jungle with 13!! babies and we knew for sure. We could harvest them for food but it’s pretty time intensive and difficult since we don’t have an operational full-sized fridge. So I listed them on a Facebook sale page as well as Clasificadosonline. Within a week we had sold 2 adult females (hembras), a male (macho) and 3 babies (pavitos) with 3 others sold on hold. Even with keeping some for ourselves, we still had more to sell though! So a friend reminded us of the San Sebastian flea market AKA Pulguero which is especially known for all the plants and animals.


When we visited the San Sebastian Pulguero years ago. Not much different today!

This market is one of the largest on the west side of the island and is open from late Thursday until late Friday (like midnight late from what I understand). It hasn’t changed much since we visited it when we were here on vacation years ago. But it is sort of funny how we have changed from the customer looky-loo that we were to being the supplier. I think of it almost like when we visited we were viewers of the movie that is Puerto Rico and now we are players/actors in the show.

Loading turkeys
Getting everyone loaded up for their first drive!

Anyhow…we weren’t sure what to expect since we don’t have the permisos to be vendors there. But our friend assured us that if we just sold them out of our truck we’d be fine. He even lent us some cages for the birds. So Friday morning we loaded up a pareja (pair) as well as 5 pavitos. We really don’t need to sell any more females, but some people want to buy them together to start their own little flock so she came along as the other side of the pair.

When we arrived at the Pulguero we weren’t sure what to do. So I asked Britton if he’d rather stay with the birds and the truck or do the walk through and see what we could find out. He said he’d stay. I walked through the whole winding path and saw many interesting things. Then I saw a guy who was selling turkeys and thought maybe we could sell wholesale to him. We talked for a while (in Spanish) and he said he didn’t have space for the adults, but I got the feeling I could talk him into buying the pavitos. By the time I returned back to the truck to tell Britton, he was gone. And so was one of our big boys!

I waited for a while and when he returned he said he sold our macho only about 5 minutes after I left -in his broken Spanish no less! ¡Buen trabajo! And that it was a good thing he did because the security guard came up shortly thereafter and said that people are only allowed to sell out of their vehicles in the parking lot until about 10am and it was by then about 1pm. Well, we still had our hembra and the 5 pavitos. Should we just go back home? I told Britton about the man with the turkey stall and so we decided to take the pavitos to him…hey we’re not selling them in the parking lot right?! ;-)

Selling Pavitos
Britton carrying the pavitos through the pulguero

We got to the guy and he kept regateando to the point that we just went across to another bird stall where an old-school guy thumped the cage to make sure they all could stand and then bought them right then and there! Not too bad for our first pulguero! And little pava got to ride back with us and join her friends.

On our way home we were hungry and stopped at this place that I thought was sort of charming and funny. Stuffed hamburgers and coffee….hmm interesting combination.

Hamburgers and coffee
The House of the Stuffed Hamburger

I’m so glad we did. They made super good, inexpensive coffee and Britton was really happy with his hand stuffed hamburger. Hamburgers are one of his favorite foods, but we try to avoid any corporate crap fast food and we want to support local businesses that truly invest in and with Puerto Rico. So this was a great find and cost less than a chain anyway! We talked with the owner a bit and he said he is thinking of opening a shop in Rincón because business is better there. Please do!

Cafe
Yummy latte

Hamburger and Salad

Hey, are you calling me a pig? A piggy ketchup design with burger and plantain fries and a  delicious fresh goumet salad! 

A fun productive day out and about in San Sebastian!

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Sacar La Columna


Posted by Britton

Well needless to say building a house is hard. It makes it harder when you’ve never done it before. I suppose that is true of everything though and I love a good challenge. I haven’t ever worked with concrete besides putting in fence posts so there has been a bit of a learning curve. Here is a good example of this learning process….

We are working on building basement walls under the house. In doing so I had to build wood forms between the columns that support the house. We used concrete nails to attach wood forms to the columns. Normally this would be fine. What I noticed was one of the columns was very brittle. In fact when we were putting nails in, entire chunks of concrete broke off….

Wall constructionColumn wall
Building Forms Between Columns

We had been suspicious of this particular column since it was made.  We had a few people look at it and everyone said something to the effect of, “Oh it’s fine”.  I figured that if there was a problem, it would probably be apparent so we have been moving forward with other tasks.  When I saw the chunks break off though, I knew that it had become an apparent problem.

When we made the columns we didn’t have a concrete mixer.  Now that I do, it is much easier to keep the mix very consistent.  I can now readily notice concrete that has the correct level of cement and that was cured properly.

Bringing over the concrete
No Cement Mixer
turkeys and columns
Original Forms

So how do you replace a column that your house is resting on?  I did some research on jacking up houses.  It is something that is done from time to time so there is actually some information on the subject.  Usually people will lift an entire house off its foundation to do repair work.  I wasn’t sure how much weight I was dealing with or what kind of jack I might need.  After reading up, it turns out that a wood house isn’t really all that heavy (compared to a concrete house).  2x4s plywood, 2x8s and roofing panels.  So I settled on a 6 ton bottle jack.

I really only needed to lift the house about 1/8th of an inch off the corner column.  Just enough so I could whack the column out with a sledge hammer.  The jack worked well for this.

I have never liked being under heavy stuff.  Cars on jacks scare the living crap out of me.  I just never feel safe.  Being under a house on jack stands is even worse, especially when it starts to creek and moan.  Online forums had prepared me for this saying that the house will make noise.  Even just 1/8th of an inch.  Go slowly.

I then was able to pound out the column down to rebar.  It was at this point I knew I had made the right decision, it was ridiculously brittle.  It took no time at all to remove the column, it basically just crumbled apart.

Column Gone
Column Down to Rebar

I have learned a lot about concrete in a short amount of time.  The mix of rocks, sand, cement and water is extremely important to get right.  Curing is also important.  When we made these columns I had trusted that the guys had made concrete before and knew what they were doing.  And for the most part they did, the other 11 columns are fine.  It was just this first column that was poured that either didn’t have enough cement OR didn’t have enough water.  I think it was a lack of water.

Another part of working with concrete is making forms.  The forms are the molds.  You have to make them very strong because they will be holding quite a lot of wet concrete and it is very heavy.  I have heard of stories of forms busting and cement spilling everywhere.  Even a man in line at home depot told me a story of a form breaking.  Then you have a real mess on your hands.

I also had to think about how I was going to pour the concrete into this form.  The house rests on it so there isn’t any room above.  I also wouldn’t be able to pump the concrete in.  I decided to make a little scoop on the side of the form where I could pour concrete in.

Also important is to use a bonding agent when trying to join cured hard concrete to wet fresh stuff.  I used some bull bond on the existing walls where the column was going to be.  There is also rebar that joins them.  The connection should be sufficiently strong.

Column
New Column and Half Wall

All said and done, the new column is fantastic compared to the old one, not that it looks all that different.  I have no worries about it now.  Looking back I can’t believe that I jacked the house up, took out the column and poured a new one.  It seems kind of crazy.  Its all done now and I have moved on to other problems, which is a good thing.

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Garden and Food Update: Our Outdoor Grocery Store


Posted by Cassie

We just spent about 3 days mowing, machete-ing and planting around our property. It’s hard, hot work, but in the summertime you have to do it fairly regularly or things will just grow out of hand with all the rain. I can mow about an acre that is flat(ish) and Britton does another acre that has a fairly pronounced slope.

Mowing the lawn
Mowing away!

We have two of the same mower so sometimes we mow together, but we can also exchange parts as we inevitably break something. The good news is that all the growth and work also means FOOD! Lots and lots of food.

Red Bananas
Delicious creamy red banana

In the summers I can buy about half of what I normally do at the (indoor, conventional) grocery store and only need to go shopping every 10-12 days instead of every 5-7 days and we could probably go even less if we could stand to eat mangos every snack and meal. Instead I end up having to shovel off the rotting mangoes from the roof of the cabana and the chickens and turkeys eat them. A good exchange for some eggs and meat down the line.

Mangoes and ocean
Rooftop mangos

Fruit 2
A quick stroll around the finca for about 10 minutes I came up with this plate of food. Eggs, figs, Surinam cherry, mulberry, sapodilla, pomarrosa, papaya, mango, passionfruit

And while I love the delicate little berries like mulberry and pitanga, and the succulent passionfruit, nispero and figs, the real staples that make it so you don’t have to go shopping as much are in the starches like breadfruit and plantains.

Breadfruit
Breadfruit AKA pana ready to be picked

Plantains and lechosa
Plantains and papaya from our finca

Both breadfruit and plantains taste and can be cooked much like potatoes. They can both be harvested and used green or a little more mature. I prefer to cook with amarillos and ripe pana, but that’s just my preference since we still have a limited kitchen and the ripe ones take less time and prep. I often cook them with our eggs. Just add a few peppers and fruit and it’s a fully rounded meal!

Harvesting Coconuts
Britton and a friend harvesting coconut

Another great food that we are currently under-utilizing is coconut. We have two varieties that are currently producing. One is a smaller yellow coconut and the other is a large green one. They are both good. The green one tends to have a lot more coconut water though. I would like to eventually make our own coconut milk and oil. For now we are just eating the meat and drinking the water.

Coco water
Coconut water filled into a bottle and ready for some tragos!

Papaya open
Papaya AKA Lechosa

Another favorite of mine is the wild papaya we have growing. These just grow as volunteers. I think the birds drop their seeds. I never was much of a fan of papaya because I think it smells a bit like vomit and it is recommended to squirt lemon or lime juice on papaya to cut that smell. But this rounder variety doesn’t have that smell. So it is like having a cantaloupe tree! And I LOVE cantaloupe. This stuff is so good! They call it lechosa here I think because when you cut it open a milky sap sort of forms as you can see in the lower left of the above picture.

Lichi
Grow little lychee grow! (Red flagged plant beneath the royal palm)

We are starting to see the fruits of our labor in some of the trees we first planted like the pomarrosa. And we are still planting more trees. Like this little lichi/lychee above as well as a governor’s plum and longan.

 

Pomarrosa
Both Britton and the chickens congregate around this little pomarrosa tree to eat straight off it

Pomarrosa is so good! One of the few truly crisp tropical fruits. It has a rosey smell and a crunchy almost jicama texture. It looks waxy and the redder they are, the sweeter. This variety is seedless and you can basically eat the whole thing in 2-3 bites. I love to add them to fruit salads for a pink burst and a nice crunch.

chickens and pomarrosa
Chickens and turkeys scavenging and fertilizing around the pomarrosa tree

We all love “shopping” at our outdoor grocery store. It’s the most beautiful supermarket I know!

Roble carpet
The aisles of our grocery store… littered with fallen flowers. The store may be a little warm but way better than unnatural air conditioning!

Tropical Garden flower
An the floral selection is way better too ;-)

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