Tuesday, July 31, 2018

iced café con leche

When our family went up to Isabela a couple weeks back, we stopped at a coffee shop for my afternoon fix. I ordered an iced café con leche, and then watched, dismayed, as the guy scooped up a bunch of ice with a plastic cup, filled it almost to the brim with whole milk, and then topped it off with about two tablespoons of coffee. What the —?! I wanted coffee, not a coffee-flavored drink. 

Irritated, I paid the three dollars, grabbed a couple packs of sugar, and walked out, my husband following behind, laughing at me all the while. Three dollars for a cup of ice and some milk? Hahaha! Heeheehee!

Shut up, I snapped, but I was laughing, too. The whole thing was so ridiculous.

In the car, I took a sip of my overpriced icy milk and paused. Hey, this is actually pretty good! I took another sip. It’s really, REALLY good! 

In spite of the pale, milky color, the drink was, astoundingly, ALL coffee: dark, earthy, rich. (And then, because it’s not good manners to drink and rave in front of others, I had to let everyone take sips of my drink, grumble-grumble.)

Since then, I’ve been making my afternoon coffee just like they did in that shop. (Before, I'd been saving coffee from the guys' morning pot, just adding sugar, cream, and ice. And before that, I'd been religiously making my cold-brewed iced coffee...until I got short on fridge space and tired of always thinking ahead — we drink a lot of coffee.)

I really have no idea why the flavor is so different. It seems that coffee is all about process: a different process, a different drink. It's kind of fun, really.

My method is as follows: While the water comes to a boil, I fill a glass with ice and milk. In my aeropress, I swirl a wee-bit of the boiling water with the coffee grounds before quickly pushing it through. (The longer the water sits with the grounds, the more bitter it gets.) I add a bit of sugar to the thick, dark coffee concentrate, stir until it's dissolved, and then dump the sweet coffee syrup over the iced milk.

Voila, iced café con leche! So delicious.

Iced Café con Leche 

While my aeropress doesn't make authentic espresso, it's the next best thing, I think. If you have neither an aeropress or an espresso maker, try swirling the grounds with hot water in a mug and then pouring it through a cheese cloth. Or buy a colador — they're super popular here.

a couple tablespoons of super strong coffee
1-3 teaspoons sugar
whole milk

Stir the sugar into the hot coffee syrup. Pour the milk into an ice-filled glass. Top off the glass with the sweetened hot coffee syrup. Give it a quick stir and enjoy!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.31.17), injera and beef wat, my deficiency, a pie story, joy, blueberry torn-biscuit cobbler, a quick pop-in, shrimp, mango, and avocado salad, braised cabbage.

Monday, July 30, 2018

the quotidian (7.30.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Redlight purchase: coconut candy.

A lazy morning breakfast for one.

Cones and hammers.

Last week's crew.

Each of the nineteen trusses took roughly 26 minutes to build, and the record was 22 minutes.

Getting up there!

Hair for two.

Swimming the channel.

Windy much?

Kicking up her heels in downtown Ponce.

Photo credit: my older son.

Lunch with a view.

Yes, we gave him money.

Pinchos, a double birthday, and games.

This same time, years previous: in the kitchen, dance party, story of a trusty skirt, do you strew?, heading north, the quotidian (7.30.12), July evening, spicy Indian potatoes.

Friday, July 27, 2018

hill of the martyrs

A few weeks back, someone I’d met through our relief work told me about a ceremony commemorating two nationalists who’d been murdered by the police forty years ago. Every July 25, a bunch of people gather up in the mountains where the murders happened. You ought to come, he said.

So Wednesday I kept my kids (and my daughter’s friend who is visiting for two weeks) home from work. We’d go on a little field trip, I said. Experience Puerto Rican politics firsthand. We filled water bottles, grabbed a bunch of bananas, and took off for the mountains.

Driving north, I raved at the ragged mountains jutting skyward. How does anyone live up there, I exclaimed, pointing out the houses perched on the sides of the impossibly steep hillsides.

The kids were nonplussed. Mom, WATCH THE ROAD.

And then, suddenly, the road narrowed and we started climbing.

My older son was navigating (or “nagivating,” as my younger son says), and when Google maps ordered us to turn left, we did.

If driving in Puerto Rico and you spy this road, DO NOT TAKE IT.

The road narrowed even more — it was barely the width of the van — and grew increasingly steep and curvy, with a drop-off on one side. I hunched rigidly over the wheel, my eyes glued to the road, acutely aware that one wrong move and we’d go tumbling. And then the road turned so steep that we actually started to slide. I pressed forward — where else could I go?  — the tires caught, and up, up, up we went. The ground leveled a little, and I pulled to a stop.

I felt half sick to my stomach. Dizzy, too. There was no way we could keep going — this had to be the wrong way — but could the van make it back down? What if another car came up? And hadn’t the brakes seemed a little soft recently?

Those impossible mountain houses we were admiring at the start of the trip? We were parked in front of one. A young girl came out of the house and told me I needed to go back down — this was the wrong way.

I called my husband to inform him of our predicament.

Even thought I didn't say it, the call was also sort of a Last Phone Call Before Dying thing, just politely giving him a little heads up before his entire family disappeared off the side of the mountain.

My older son took over the driving, inching the car down to the next house, the rest of us walking, too nervous to ride.

At that house, I spoke to a man working on a construction project (how in the world did he get building materials up there in the first place?), and he said the map was forever sending people up the wrong way. As we spoke, a car pulled up and stopped (“he’s lost” the man chuckled); when it tried to move forward, the tires just spun uselessly — it had to reverse down the hill.

We eventually got back to the right road — twice as wide and a lot less steep but still fairly terrifying — and journeyed on, stopping whenever the roads diverged to confirm with an actual person that we were indeed heading the right way.

And then, suddenly, we went round a turn and there were cars lining both sides of the road — we'd made it!

A few hundred people were milling around in a flat — FLAT! — field, and for the next couple hours we listened to speeches and songs. My friend was there and he introduced me to different people (like him, they’d also been imprisoned, he said), and when it rained, he pulled us under the tarp where he was doing the recording for the organization’s live Facebook feed.

He also gave us their next year’s calendar celebrating the women nationalists; the celebration’s guest of honor was Providencia “Pupa” Trabal; the kids wanted to get her to autograph the calendar, but when we tried to track her down, she’d already disappeared.

Pupa, in white

The kids and I walked up to the radio towers where the two men were shot. While we walked, I explained fragments of the story to the kids, and summarized some of what the different speakers had said.

"Freedom is the right of every man to be honest, to think and speak without hypocrisy." Jose Marti

At 4000 feet, the view was superb. We could clearly see Ponce — the 52, our church’s neighborhood, the port, the river.

one of the views, though you can't see Ponce (off to the right) in this photo 

The kids were fighting though. Tired and hungry, we struck out for home.

he's not actually mad, just a ham...

I’d forgotten to bring cash and only had six dollars in my bag. At a roadside eatery I bought a bag of anise-scented, raisin-studded sweet buns — just enough to take the edge off their hunger.

My son drove the whole way back, pulling over every now and then so we could take photos of the houses built out over the edge of nothing.

One of the many, MANY ridiculously steep driveways. 
(I keep thinking, "What do they do when it snows?" Ha.)

Further reading:
*About the murders.
*"In Puerto Rico, July is the cruelest month." (Huffington Post, 2015)
*It's been 120 years since the US invaded Puerto Rico. (NPR, a few days ago)
*Blackout. (An NPR and PBS report.)

This same time, years previous: proofing baskets, the quotidian (7.25.16)the quotidian (7.27.15), rest and play, cucumber lemon water.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

the best one yet

For our daughter’s birthday, my husband and I gave her a horseback trail ride. It'd been months since she'd been on a horse and the poor thing was hankering after a ride something fierce, so we made a reservation for a private ride on a farm up in the northwest corner of the island. It'd be a daytrip for the whole family, we decided. Yay.

But some of the other kids pitched a minor fit — It's a Saturday! We never get to sleep in! Why do we have to goooooo! — and I had to put my foot down.

We might never be in Puerto Rico as a family again.
Free Saturdays are in short supply.
Seize the day.
It will be fun! 

There was minimal fighting on the trip (thank you, James Herriot), and we arrived at the farm right on time. My husband observed the other riders’ almost-not-there swimsuit clad bodies (not shown) versus our daughter’s jeans and sneakers and noted dryly, "The owners can probably learn everything they need to know about a person's riding level just by looking at what they're wearing."

We waved our daughter off (until that dye washes out, I'm calling her Raspberry, fyi), watching until she and her guide disappeared out of sight before rushing for the bathrooms to change into swimsuits. We had a beach — this time on the Atlantic Ocean — to explore!

And what an amazing beach it was!

The water was crystal clear, nearly cold (cold!), and a variety of shades of brilliant blue. The long beach was a mix of smooth flat stone and sand. My husband and I walked a big section by ourselves, pausing frequently to examine the unique rock formations. The place felt exotic; even though it was edged by fancy houses and hotels, it still somehow managed to feel both private and slightly wild. Of all the beaches we’ve been to in the last several months, this one is decidedly my favorite. (My husband's, too. Already we're scheming ways to get back there.)

(Note: I'm not sure what beach we were actually at. Isabela has a whole mess of beaches, and they all sort of look alike. Here's a rundown of all the options, if you want more information.)

The kids swam out to the coral reefs (coral!) and after my daughter was done with her ride, she and our older son swam way out (we couldn’t even see them) and actually saw a small shark, so yeah, lots of thrills.

still on her weird beach strike, sigh

Finally, after we’d eaten all the apples and chips and beef jerky and drunk all the water, we were forced to call it quits. The kids begged to stop at a Subway or something equally boring, but I (again) put my foot down. We’d eat some place interesting and unique because this was an excursion and trying new things is what makes memories and (remember) we were having fun, dammit.

We pulled over at one roadside stand, but the chicken and plantains they were selling didn’t appeal to anyone. We passed a coffee shop and I made my husband turn around so I could get an iced coffee (98 percent milk but soooo good). Miles later and still no food, everyone was getting seriously crotchety.

Food trucks, kids, I chirped, buzzed on caffeine. Look for the food trucks.

In Aguadilla, we stopped at a panaderia — slim, stale pickings, nope — and then, cruising along the ocean’s edge, I spied a kiosk. I shouted and my husband begrudgingly pulled over so I could check the menu. Gyros! Great chunks of meat dangling from the ceiling from which generous portions were sliced and then fried up on the griddle. Feta! Fresh parsley! Tzatziki sauce!

The rest of the family shuffled over. While they prepared our food, we sat in the 96 degree heat, pretty much mostly dead.

It was worth it, though, everyone agreed. The gyros were fantastic — the lamb was insane — and the fries were the best we’d had in months.

And then we went home, the end.

P.S. Raspberry Girl enjoyed the ride.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.24.27), vegetarian groundnut stew, a riding lesson, we're back!, pumpkin seed pesto, how to beat the heat, limeade concentrate.