Monday, April 7, 2014

Food glorious food

We eat mainly Dominican food but every so often but I go through a phase when I can’t stand the sight of yet another plantain, or any more rice and beans and I become determined to cook something I really fancy. I can never tell what will come into my head and dominate every waking moment until I manage to cook it, and it doesn't help that I love watching cooking programmes on the television which is pure torture as I just can’t buy most of the ingredients here.

Last week I couldn't stop thinking about Beef Bourguignon. Every waking hour it was all I could think of with delicious creamy Dauphinois Potatoes and broccoli. I searched the web and came across Jamie Oliver’s recipe here. Easy. I went through all of the ingredients and I had most but no bacon. The nearest place to buy bacon here is two hours away. I had a look to see if I could make bacon but it seems like a very long process and you need stuff to cure the pork which I don’t have and it has to hang in the garden shed for two weeks. Apart from the fact I don’t have a shed – just a hen house – there was no way I was going to wait two weeks. Instead I used a smoked pork chop which you can buy here easily and cut it into slivers. It sort of looked like bacon. For the potatoes you need cream and I had no cream and again you can’t buy it nearby. I looked at “How to make cream” recipes which again looked difficult so I changed the potato recipe and did boulangere potatoes instead which have vegetable stock instead of cream – I had to make the vegetable stock from scratch mind.

Anyway it was delicious and well worth it.

It did not satisfy my craving for different food though so a couple of days later I made a quiche. That was easy enough as well and I used Delia Smith’s recipe here. I had to do a fair bit of substitution as no lard, no bacon, no double cream and she said you need to use one of those spring form tins which you can open at the side to get the quiche out. I don’t have one so I used my good old Dominican Pyrex pie dish.
Guess what – my Dominican pie dish transformed itself brilliantly into Delia’s spring form dish by splitting in half in the oven just as the quiche was cooked – all I had to do was scoop the quiche onto a plate. Dominican Pyrex always shatters sooner or later – you can never tell when it will happen though.

I was now on a roll to keep on cooking food I had been craving.
So I went shopping a few days ago and look what I found.

I have been longing for Blackberry and Apple Crumble and cream for years and years. Again no cream, but I bought ice cream instead. It was absolutely lovely and even the Dominicans liked it.

Certainly a change from chicken foot soup!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yet another Canadian visitor

I have been corresponding with a Canadian gentleman who was planning on visiting the country and he came to stay with us this week. When he arrived in the country he bought himself a mean machine which is now parked in my living room. Dominicans always park their motorbikes inside the house.

I sent him directions to get here, but he said not to worry as he had GPS. Not sure I would trust that here but he seemed unconcerned. An hour before he was due to arrive he phoned to say he was lost. He knew the name of the town he was in, but couldn't find his way to the next town. I explained and the phone call ended. Thirty minutes later he phones again. As you can see, his bike has big saddlebags on the back, and he called to tell me a lorry had hit one of them from behind, knocked him off the bike and then the lorry had run into the car in front. He had to go to the police station so asked me where it was and I told him. Danilo then called a friend in the town where he was and sent him to the police station to translate. The friend called and Canadian was nowhere to be seen. I called Canadian who confirmed he was at the police station and friend on the other line confirmed he wasn't. The situation was resolved by speaking to a policeman who said yes Canadian was there and no it was not the police station in the town Canadian thought he was in.....he was in fact in a totally different town which was why he had been unable to follow my directions! All was satisfactorily sorted out by Danilo who went to the police station and resolved everything and sent Canadian to our house with a Dominican on the back of the bike to shout in his ear telling him where to go. Much better than a GPS.

Since he has been here I have taken him out and about a little to see the area, including this beautiful river which is the one I went to with Chivirico and his family a while ago. The one that took hours and hours to get to which I now find out is only 30 minutes away from us!

The countryside around us is stunning, and so clean with such respect for the environment. However we drove only a couple of minutes from the river and came across this.

At times like this I really wish I was a decent photographer. Just behind us was a beautiful clean river. In the background are lovely mountains. But we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of an enormous rubbish dump which had been set on fire so there were mounds of smouldering plastic everywhere and an appalling stink. And centre stage was a herd of cows, feeding off whatever goodies they could find. An incredible sight.

We carried on driving down the back roads through tiny hamlets and up and down hills and we came across a settlement of around 30 wooden houses. There was also a school and I explained how attendance at school, instead of being a half day was now all day - in some schools anyway. This is obviously proving to be a tad too much for the poor teachers as the kids were playing in the playground and the teacher was fast asleep in front of the school. Playground supervision Dominican style.

Once again the Dominican Republic can't help but make you smile.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The return of the Canadians

The last of the latest crop of visitors turned up this week for the weekend. Those of you who have followed the blog for a while may remember the crazy Canadians who climbed Pico Duarte and who dragged me to the market in Dajabon. It was the same couple, Heather and Ian. This time they had brought a group of students from Dartmouth in Nova Scotia to learn about Dominican life and to help out in the poor bateys near Consuelo, which is near San Pedro de Macoris to the east of Santo Domingo.

Here they are leaving Canada.

And working in the sugar cane fields.

Helping to rebuild a house which had burned down.

There are several NGOs operating here, but it is truly heart warming when a group of young people come and really make a difference within a week and I am sure it is also a humbling and learning experience for them.

Having said goodbye to the students and sent them back to Canada, Heather and Ian made the long trek up from the capital to come and spend the weekend with us. Chivirico wanted to see Ian and Heather again, so he came up to the house for the weekend as well where, as usual, he charmed them to bits. He and Heather made cupcakes.

And he iced them using all these posh squirty icing things which Tracy had brought.

And off he and Heather went to sell the ones he iced with the Dominican flag. They sold them all - 5 pesos each so Chvirico was 50 pesos better off - just over US$1. He came to see me and said now he had to go and give Heather a tip for helping him. I said I wouldn't bother but he insisted and tried to give her the whole 50 pesos! Luckily for him she refused.

Chivirico adores boxing and everytime he is here is desperate for Danilo to box with him. Ian announced that he used to box and so spent quite a while teaching Chivirico and declared that he might have talent. We are now looking for a boxing club for 7 year olds.

Luckily Heather and Ian are dog people too and not only did we have a fabulous weekend, even the puppies had fun.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cultural difference when dealing with animals

It has been a bit of an animal week again.
Tracy left on Sunday but took some great pictures of the puppies before she left. They are 3 months old now.
Pandora looks a lot like her mother just with longer hair.

And Panda just looks like an dork with a funny haircut as his ears haven’t stuck up yet.

Unfortunately just before she left they both became sick with some sort of stomach infection and as there are no vets anywhere near us, I spent a few days feeding them medicine and syringing water down their throats. Luckily they both recovered and are now fit and well again.
Cojo my three pawed cat was not quite as lucky. He had been ill for a while and died on Monday. Another off to the barrio of the sleeping people.

I am also trying to get my head around the cultural differences relating to animals.
Dominicans do not as a rule allow dogs in the house – apart from chihuahuas. Dogs are to be kept outside, often chained up and are there to warn of visitors or burglars. I allow our dogs inside, and the Great Dane, Belinda, even has her own couch to sleep on.

Cats are to be fed sparingly as their job is to catch rats and again should live outside. My cats live inside and outside and are well fed. A couple also sleep on the bed with us – at the bottom of the bed, which is now accepted by Danilo.
I have managed to get my own way as far as the cats and dogs are concerned, so I suppose it is now his turn when it comes to the chickens.
The eggs hatched and we now have 10 cute little baby chicks, and Danilo found another chick in the road with a broken leg so brought him home .

However, apparently he will get bullied by the other chicks as he has this broken leg, so Danilo is hand rearing him and the most important thing is to keep him warm.

Given the lack of hot water bottles or incubators, he is keeping him ….wait for it….in his trousers, next to his “bits”. It is most peculiar watching all sorts of movement in Danilo's trousers.  Not only that, he wants to take him to bed with us, inside the bed to keep him warm. I don’t think it is a very good idea with puppies under the bed, cats on top and chickens inside. I can just imagine World War III breaking out at 2 a.m.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Trip to Barahona

So this weekend was our long awaited trip to Barahona. It was special for all sorts of reasons. We were going to accompany an American friend, Tracy, who had always wanted to visit that area, together with another couple, Grace an American and her Dominican husband, Nany. The original plan was to stay in cheap hotels, but unbeknown to us a plan was hatched to stay in the best hotel in the area, Casa Bonita, and to pay for a room for Danilo and I. A superb Christmas present especially as Barahona is where Danilo was born. Chivirico managed to get time off school so he came along as well.
The trip started with a longish (5 hour) drive to just west of San Cristobal in the South, where Grace and Nany live for part of the year, Tracy joined us there once her flight landed and we spent the night, ready for the trip further west in the morning.
Off we set in convoy through amazing scenery on the way.

At last, after around 3 hours driving we arrived in Barahona. The coast road is apparently one of the most scenic drives in the Caribbean.

We went to Los Patos for lunch, home to the shortest river in the world, some 400 yards, and it flows straight into the ocean.

We sat by the side of the river eating fresh fish and drinking cold Presidente beer – bliss.

Then on to the hotel and what a beautiful place. The bed was the best I have ever slept in.

The infinity pool overlooks the Caribbean sea.

The restaurant was superb and the seating area perfect for sitting drinking mojitos.

The staff were great with Chivirico and when he looked at the dinner menu and announced he never ate steak or fish for dinner, his Grandmother made spaghetti, he went into the kitchen to discuss this with the chef, and they made him a plate of spaghetti - with prawns! He was one happy camper.

The next morning we decided to go and visit some land we have on the top of a mountain overlooking Barahona.  The road used to be pretty rough and you needed a four wheel drive, but we had been told it had been improved. They lied. Danilo was driving, and says he is a brilliant driver – a chauffeuraso – going forwards. He can’t drive backwards. So when we got stuck going forwards, he drove backwards, into the side of the mountain, with the back wheel high up on a rock, the other back wheel in a hole and one of the front wheels up in the air. The car would not budge. And it was in danger of rolling over onto its side.

Luckily help arrived in the shape of a thin man on a motorcycle. Then another little man on his motorbike. This road is in the middle of nowhere so we were lucky anyone came past.

Then more little men arrived and all told us that the front wheel was in the air, and all had their different plans for getting us out. None of which worked.

Then even more little men came and I started telling them what to do.

And after 2 hours they managed to move the car.

We decided not to try and make it up the hill and called it a day and headed off to the Malecon in Barahona. They have built a new Malecon - promenade in English, with a kids' playground, exercise equipment, skateboard ring, basket ball court, and an old sugar train.

The next day we set off back on the coast road for Bahia de las Aguilas – Eagle Bay, supposedly the most beautiful and unspoiled beach in the Caribbean. On the way we passed an amazing wind farm just outside Enriquillo.

We then turned off the main road to head the 5 kilometres to the Bahia de las Aguilas, which is part of a massive nature reserve. Obviously the reserve does not extend to the road there as you pass a enormous bauxite mining operation, with amazing red bauxite soil, trucks full of it rushing up and down throwing up clouds of red dust and boats lying off shore waiting to take the bauxite.

 You have to take a boat to the beach and it is absolutely stunning.

 I have never seen such a place here. Well worth it. Chivirico adored it too.

On the way back we stopped at Lago Oveido , a salt water lake which looks green due to the algae and is home to flamingos, iguanas and several different types of bird.

 I was very impressed with the environmental attention and care both at the beach and the lake.
All in all a fantastic trip – I had forgotten how truly beautiful the south west of the Dominican Republic is. And thanks to Tracy for most of the fabulous photos here!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Happy birthday to the book

Today is 27th February, Independence Day in the Dominican Republic and also the first anniversary of the publication of my book, "What about your saucepans?"

The year has flown by and it was only a couple of days later last year, March 2nd that we moved into the campo up in the mountains.

My dream for the book was that everybody who loved the Dominican Republic would read it, and in the first year it has sold around 800 copies. So there is still a long way to go! Through the book I have met all sorts of new people both in person and on line, which has been both fun and rewarding.

Today, being the book's birthday it received a great present with an interview with me published in The Displaced Nation which is a fabulous website with insights into travel and travelers around the world. You can read it here. There is also the chance to win a free copy of the Kindle version of the book - all you need to do is leave a comment.

Meanwhile life in the campo goes on. The puppies, Panda and Pandora are growing up fast.

One of the hens is now sitting on a load of eggs - in the recycled wardrobe and I have just noticed she is on top of one of my best towels.

And Danilo has installed a bar for the chickens. Instead of just drinking water from a Presidente bottle they can now choose between Presidente and Brugal rum!

Tomorrow I am off on holidays to the most beautiful part of the country, the south west corner so the next blog will be reporting on that. When I get back the chicks should have been born too - something else to look forward to. Maybe I will get my towel back then.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

On the road and the continuing chicken traumas

Apologies for not blogging for a while – it has been a busy couple of weeks.

Firstly we had visitors from Canada, which meant the house had to be cleaned, dogs washed, guest beds made and food bought. Once they arrived they had to be given their instructions: No toilet paper in the toilet, it has to go in the bin next to the loo. No using of electrical equipment such as the toaster or coffee maker when we are using the inverter as the electricity is off. Never drink the water out of the tap. Yes the internet does go off sometimes - just wait for it to come back on. No, the colmado doesn't sell peanut butter, you have to drive 2 to 3 hours to get that. They must feel they had gone to the back of beyond, and no going to fancy restaurants, instead I got them shucking peas for rice and peas for lunch.

Then I was invited  to go to Puerto Plata on the north coast to speak about “What About Your Saucepans?” at the Meeting Place, which is a lovely English speaking bookshop and more. You can see their website here. It is located in a beautiful Victorian building in Puerto Plata.

And there I am next to the seriously great Dominican authors!

Off to Santiago then for a couple of days work, then back to campo land.

So I am sure you are desperate to know how the chickens are doing.  The hens are still not laying eggs and Danilo has decided the reason is that the big beautiful noisy cockerel is gay. The Dominican word for a cockerel bonking a hen is pisar, which literally means to tread. I find that interesting, as when reading Chaucer’s the Nun’s Priest Tale at school, Chanticleer(the cockerel) trod Pertelote (the hen). Or as Chaucer says "and trad hire eke as ofte". Obviously some link there. Well our cockerel wants nothing to do with the hens and spends all day long puffing his feathers up at next door's cockerel through the fence.

Anyway, as we had no eggs, I was dispatched to the convent to get some from the nuns and was told to ask them if their chickens had been “pisado” by a cockerel. Personally I think that is a tad personal to ask a nun so I didn’t, plus I can’t use the verb without giggling, and I had no idea why the sex life of the hens was so important. I was to find out.

The next thing I knew was the neighbour gave us a batch of eggs from a hen who had been trodden by a cockerel, or whatever we say in English, and one of our hens is now lying on the eggs, so I assume they will hatch. No idea why we need more chickens as unless the cockerel does what he is supposed to we won't ever have any eggs as it appears that Dominican hens do need to be trodden or trod or whatever before they lay - whatever Google says.

The ducks now have a pond rather than a wheelbarrow, but they have had to be separated from the chickens as a couple of chickens committed suicide and drowned in their new pond.

It still doesn't look like an English duck pond, but I suppose it is a bit better than a wheelbarrow.