Showing posts from July, 2014

Cooking, Costa Rican Style

After sampling several versions of local rice and bean dishes during our beach weekend here in Costa Rica, we went shopping for ingredients to do our own cooking when we got back to Turrialba, the town where we are living and going to school. Between our own palates and the information I got from my Spanish teacher Heyni, we were ready to make our own version of a traditional gallo pinto
Gallo pinto means "spotted rooster," but really it's the name of typical mix of beans and rice and spices. This is usually served with eggs for breakfast, but we decided to have it with some chicken for dinner. Here are our ingredients:

Clockwise from the top, first we have salsa de vegetales (also, for reasons unknown, called salsa inglesa),which is a local condiment used mostly on bean and rice dishes. It's a non-spicy, savory mix of onion, carrot, cucumber, cauliflower, garlic, pepper, and cumin. We grabbed the cheap version, but the standard is apparently Salsa Lizano

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Faucet Aerator, Part 2

Remember when MassSave gave us a bunch of free stuff, including an aerator for our bathroom faucet? Well, it turns out that you can get even more restrictive faucet aerators to

Reduce water flow in the bathroom sinks to save resources (and cash).

This is an especially good one if you have kids, because they tend to let the water run more than is strictly necessary for cleanliness (at least mine do). A faucet aerator restricts the flow of water out of the faucet, but mixes in air so it doesn't feel like less water on your skin.

MassSave gave us a 1.5 gallon per minute aerator, but I discovered in my research that you can get a 0.5 gpm aerator for under $5 at the Home Depot. We had to wait a bit because it was a special order, but once we got it, it was a fast switcheroo to replace the old ones.

The downstairs bath has a chrome finish, and that was just as easy as unscrewing the old aerator and screwing the new one on, since it's easy to find a matching chrome aerator. The upsta…

Comidas Tradicionales de Costa Rica

This past weekend we spent some time on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in a small town called Uvita. When we weren't busy ziplining through the jungle or diving into waterfall pools, we enjoyed lots of local dishes in the town's sodas, or diners.   

The most common dish in Costa Rica is the casado, or "marriage." The marriage is of rice and beans, which are always served together. Along with this base comes a piece of meat (or fish on the coast), some fried plantain, a salad, and a picadillo, which is a vegetable side cut into small pieces. It's a full plate of food, and one in which the meat is only a small portion of the well-balanced plate. Kirk's casado in the photo above has, clockwise from the top, sweet fried plantain, fried fish, mixed salad (which is somewhat less common than the typical cabbage slaw), red beans, white rice, and pieces of ayote, a summer squash similar to zucchini. 
Costa Rican cuisine is typically not spicy, although there are pl…

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Even though I'm far away from our Newburyport garden, I do have a several small gardens here at our house in Costa Rica. One garden is inside the house:

This stone wall (which I'm pretty sure is actually cement carved to look like a fieldstone wall) separates the living/dining room from the kitchen in this urban, open-concept house. Leafy and vining tropical plants grow from a trough along the top of the wall and well as in pots along the floor. There is an irrigation pipe that drips water into the trough — this water also runs down the wall into a small, walled pool along the floor, where the potted plants can also catch a drink. There is a corrugated plexiglass skylight above for sunlight, and through which some rain also falls when there are heavy squalls. Here is a view from the kitchen side:

We have also discovered that (at least) two little house geckos live up on that wall. They are small, brown, and way too fast (so far, anyway) for me to catch in a photo. They chirp …

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Insurance Review, Part 2

Here's a sequel that's actually better than the original. I re-opened our insurance policy files, and

Shopped around for the cheapest auto insurance coverage.

Back in February I cut some of our insurance coverage and raised deductibles, which saved us a decent amount of money (especially on the homeowners policy). On my redux, I went online to see what other companies could offer us for pricing.

First stop: has a tool that shows what every insurer in the state offers for a premium under several scenarios. In the scenario that was most similar to ours, GEICO charged only half of what most places were.

Say what now?!?

After checking out a few online quotes, I am totally psyched to report that has an accurate (if somewhat clunky) tool, and we are now paying less than half of what we were previously for our car insurance.

So we got the exact same coverage (I went line by line with our current policy to be sure), great service so far both online and from the call c…

¡Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!

For the next month I'll be living in and traveling around Costa Rica. This is partly just to travel, but also partly to study Spanish and brush up my fluency for work. The kids are also with me and will be going to school in Costa Rica while we are here. 
Our first stop after landing in San José was Volcán Poás, which is 8,884 feet high (and hiking to the top will prove it to your lungs — at least for people who are typically sea-level dwellers like we are!). We are staying at the Poás Lodge, which, when the clouds clear, offers an incredible view of almost the entire Central Valley of Costa Rica, including San José and even the Pacific Ocean.
It is often cloudy, though, or at least we have chubascos, which is the Spanish words for a fast-moving mix of sun and clouds, especially when the sun is filtered through the clouds. It's like this:

This is the garden of the lodge, where hummingbirds flit about and children are nice to each other. Poasito is the town up near the entranc…

Freezing Lovage

Time flies in the garden! It feels like we barely had time to enjoy my favorite garden herb this spring before the hot weather came and it went to seed:

Our lovage is now enormous. Hovering around six feet, it's taller than I am! I am letting the yellow flower heads go to seed this year and hope to gather them to use as a seasoning the way you would with celery or fennel seed. 
Once lovage goes to seed, the leaves just don't taste the same way they did in the cool, spring weather. They're kind of bitter, and not as flavorful. That's why this year I thought I'd try freezing some at their best for later use in cooking. Frozen herbs won't ever be crisp again, but they'll still impart their flavor in recipes.
It seemed a little strange to try to make pesto cubes out of lovage, although I suppose I could have. It's just that we don't usually use it chopped so finely or blended into a pesto. While poking around the internet, I found a suggestion to make …

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Charitable Giving, Part 2

In this, the easiest Trim the Fat Tuesday sequel of all, I am going to

Cut back our cash contributions to charity by 20%.

This particular way of saving money never feels all that great, but it is definitely easy to do. This is, after all, a completely optional way to spend our money, and there's no monthly bill that must be paid.

The last time we did this, I was focused on making sure that we started paying attention to our charitable giving to keep donations more organized—just one per month. Now that that's taken care of, it's an easy next step to cut back on the amount we can give each month. Our current monthly budget for charity is $50, and cutting that by 20 percent means our new budget is $40 per month.

To feel less stingy (rationalizing here?), I remind myself that we are typically very good about donating the clothing we no longer wear and all of the toys and games the kids have outgrown. We also hope to continue giving a portion of our harvest to a local food pant…

Finishing the Grape Arbor

Last summer we (okay, this was really mostly Kirk's project, but I helped a little) built the grape trellis with some posts and bamboo. But we only built enough to support the vines at the time, and put off finishing the arbor that we had planned. Well, this past weekend we finally finished it up! 

Again, this was mostly Kirk's project for the build. I collaborated on a few design questions, and I took some photos. The new addition is easily visible right now, but by this time next year that bright new wood should be greyed down to match the existing posts.

The major design idea here was that the arbor would create a doorway from the garden to the lawn. 

One aspect of the arbor that still isn't finished: We are also planning to install a small bench on either side of the side of the arbor, beneath the (eventually) shady roof and over the empty section of bed between the posts and the brick path. 

The visual doorway created by the arbor also frames the house. 

The part I d…

Of Hydrangeas and Hollyhocks

This is one of those good new/bad new posts. The bad news is that it looks like our harsh winter did a number on the hydrangeas in the perennial border. Here's what the big one looked like back in June:

That's a whole bunch of dead sticks, with a tiny bit of green growth at the base. For comparison, look at the photos from June last year: that same hydrangea is pretty well filled in with green leaves along its branches around the same time of year. 
I let the sticks stay as they were for a really long time, just to be sure that they were really dead and not just sleeping. The thing with hydrangeas is that they set buds to flower long before winter, and if you prune them off, you are cutting away all of your future, summertime flowers.  

But I think it's fair to say that these are goners. All the hydrangeas around town have big, beautiful blooms now that it's July. Here's what our looks like:

So it's not dead, but I think the odds of any flowers this year are s…

Galling Insects

I'm not sure why (though I think our cool, wet spring may play a role), but this year we've been hit with a whole lotta bugs out in the garden.

There was, of course, the plague of cutworms and the rose slug scourge. There are also currently an absolute shit-ton of aphids on my chamomile, which has never happened before. That's not affecting the crop of flowers, although it is making picking them kind of disgusting, as I end up with squished aphids under my fingernails as I pinch off the blossoms. Luckily, several ladybugs have moved in to take care of them, so hopefully my next round of harvesting won't be so gross.

Strangest of all, though, is what we found on our Concord grapes:

Kirk's knee-jerk diagnosis was that we were facing an alien invasion, and that I should not bring the leaf inside the house ("That's just what they want you to do!"). I rolled my eyes, took my chances, and hit the internet.
Based on actual facts and not science fiction, it …

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Haircut, Part 2

I've already written about my own budget choices regarding my hair, but now I'm able to save even more money by

Cutting the kids' hair at home instead of at a salon.

My daughter has long, straight hair with no bangs, and she has long been on board with letting me trim the ends every now and then to keep them even. Her younger brother, on the other hand, has insisted on getting a "real" haircut for the past several years. I'm pretty much willing to let them control their own appearances as long as they are clean, so I hadn't argued much about this budget item with him.

Then along came our most recent play with a very busy rehearsal period, and suddenly a home haircut was back in play. I think this was mostly agreed upon because I was willing to schedule him in between trips to the neighbor's pool and trampoline.

But then guess what happened?

Turns out that I did such a great job and gave him exactly what he wanted, and now I am the stylist of choice fo…

Freezing Broccoli

Now that our broccoli crop is ready to go, it's time to preserve it for using later. The easiest way to do this is by freezing it, and I think that frozen broccoli works just as well for cooking as raw broccoli does. It might be slightly less crisp, but the flavor and color are still excellent. Plus it's a piece of cake to do!
1. Harvest your broccoli heads while they are still tight and nicely formed.

I have seven heads here — that's a whole lotta broc!
2. Remove the leaves and cut the broccoli off the large central stem.

This goes pretty quickly. Compost the scraps (or feed them to the chickens).
3. Make a brine with a gallon of water and a cup of salt, and stir until it dissolves.

That's about enough for four heads, but I had to double mine. The brine is to kill off any bugs that may be hiding in all the nooks and crannies of the broccoli.
4. Soak the broccoli in the brine for 30 minutes.

Since a bunch of my broccoli is floating on top of the brine, I gave it a goo…