Thursday, February 28, 2008

February 28, 2008 – Pork and Veggie Curry

Pork and Veggie Curry (another 1-pan dinner)

Brown 2 pork cutlets (frozen is ok) on both sides in a little oil and water (I know oil and water aren´t supposed to mix)

Add seasonings:
- curry
- cumin
- ginger
- basil
- chipotle (we had to bring this from the states)
- 1/2 packet of Costilla Criolla (I´ve only seen this in Costa Rica)

Add more water (and/or use coconut milk for a richer sauce); stir

Add veggies, cut small, about 3 cups:
- carrot
- brocolli
- wait about 4 minutes, then add zucchini

Cook until zucchini is done, about another 4 minutes.

Serves two - good with rice!

February 28, 2008 - Custom Fit Shoes

Both of us have a hard time finding shoes that fit - even in the states. I have wide feet, and Rick has narrow feet. And here in Costa Rica, we both have BIG feet!

So, on almost every trip to Costa Rica, we look a bit for how to get shoes. Last time, I found some cowboy boots in San Jose, and followed up on a lead for a place that made shoes to order (didn´t find it tho). This time! YAY! We found a place in Alajuela! Rick got a pair of dress shoes, made to his measure. It took 10 days (here, that means *after* 10 days, or what we usually call 11 days), and $70. When we picked them up, Rick put them on, walked around, indicated that one was a bit tight, and the shoemaker stretched it a bit - on the spot!

The miracle worker:

Zapatería Rodrigo Oreamuno (note: I fixed this name, and adjusted the directions)
3 1/2 blocks West of Coffee Dreams (1 block North of the Cathedral)

BTW - Coffee Dreams is highly recommended (definitely avoid Café Deliciósa just across the street)

February 28, 2008 - Biofuels in Costa Rica

---- Guest contributor: Rick ----

When we first decided to move to Costa Rica, I knew I didn't want to just sit by a pool with a piña colada in my hand – I would need something to do. One idea was to develop a biofuel business that refined vegetable oils just enough for use in Costa Rica’s cars, trucks and buses. Refining vegetable oils to export standards for Europe or the US would be difficult and expensive, but Costa Ricans’ vehicles are usually older, and so I assumed the standards for internal use would be looser than for export. I dreamed of taking over a banana plantation closed by blight and replacing banana trees with oil palms, or converting a factory that refined vegetable oil for human consumption into a biofuel refinery. Well, it was such a good idea that some Europeans with deep pockets and greater expertise were already all over it, with the Costa Rican government interested as well. So my idea for a mom-and-pop operation probably would not fly. Still, Costa Rica is jumping on the biofuel bandwagon with both feet.

The Costa Rican government plans to convert the national refinery to produce gasoline that is 10% ethanol and diesel fuel that is 20% palm oil, and make these levels of biofuels mandatory in Costa Rica by 2010. Starting this October, gasoline will include 7.5% ethanol, with 5% palm oil in diesel, and subsequent increases each year following. Clearly, these levels were chosen to meet the standards of the Kyoto protocol, which, if I remember correctly, requires a 10% reduction in production of CO2. Even if car ownership continues to increase, the diesel with 20% palm oil will give Costa Rica some slack. These biofuel levels should be compatible with existing cars; actually, with a warm climate to prevent coagulation and the relatively advanced age of most vehicles here, most Costa Ricans could probably tolerate up to 50% palm oil in their diesel with no added maintenance costs.

The Costa Rican government is to invest $484 million in new agricultural production and new refineries, these to be located in areas that suffer from high unemployment. I assume that the private concerns I mentioned will make additional investments as well. The ethanol will come from 10,000 additional hectares of sugar cane and 4000 additional hectares of yuca; palm oil production will add 3500 hectares to the current 3000 hectares devoted to fuel. These crops are smart choices; sugar cane is a perennial crop, so no fuel is wasted in plowing and replanting. Corn-based ethanol, by contrast, requires so much oil for plowing and fertilizer that its energy content barely exceeds that of the oil input. Likewise, oil palm is an efficient perennial crop, producing nearly five times as much fuel per hectare as its nearest competitor. Besides their direct investment, the Costa Rican government will also give consumers some tax relief; the tributo único will be removed from the portion of fuels that are biofuels (that is, 10% of gasoline and 20% of diesel). Consumers will probably find biofuels less expensive than oil, now at $100/barrel, and home-grown fuel will benefit the national economy instead of shipping money overseas.

The government’s plan has a lot going for it. It grows fuel crops efficiently, boosts employment for Ticos, saves consumers money, and decreases the country’s dependence on the crazy people who inevitably seem to live on top of oil deposits (and yes, I’m including Texas and L.A.). The only problem with the plan is the transition to high biofuel production. In Costa Rica, any unpaved land has something growing on it – wild grass or forest or some other cultivated crop – and that something will contain carbon – all plants do. The process of clearing the old vegetation (by burning, composting or whatever) will create a big plume of CO2 that will take many years of reduced oil consumption to make up for. If the vegetation to be replaced had to go anyway, for example blighted banana trees, then yes, by all means, why not switch to biofuel. Likewise, palm oil is unhealthy to eat, so it’s best to convert all production to biofuel use. But otherwise, converting land to biofuel production could well be a wash or even worse as far as CO2. Recent analyses of US efforts to plant corn for ethanol show that more CO2 will be produced than by doing nothing, a depressing prospect.

Since biofuels are at best a temporary stopgap measure, one wonders if Costa Rica would not be better off investing the $484 million in more efficient (or even electric) vehicles, or improving bus service so fewer people will use cars. Taking the bus is at present three times more efficient in its use of oil, according to another recent La Nación article, and wayyyy cheaper than driving. Riding the bus also reduces traffic jams – that makes everyone else on the road more efficient, too. Still, I understand, there are times when you just want a car for convenience. For those of us who don't have one yet, here’s another tidbit to ponder: Costa Rica has abolished import taxes on all-electric cars, and they've been cut in half on hybrid cars. Import taxes on regular cars can be as high as 100%! Hmmm, could an electric car dealership be in our future?

La nació references:

Gasolina tendra 10% y diesel 20% de biocombustibles

Biofuels may promote not slow global warming report

Electric cars tax free

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

February 27, 2008 - Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup (Sopa de Ayote Mantequilla)

- 1 small Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut up
- 2 cups water
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes
- seasonings: cumin, basil, cinnamon, clove
- 1 bay leaf

Boil all until squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf.
Blend. While blending, add milk to taste.
Makes about 4 cups.

Monday, February 4, 2008

February 4, 2008 - Addicted to Laundry

Hello, my name is Julie, and I´m an addict.

Not a day goes by that I don´t think about laundry. Most days I am compelled to do some. A Pila (laundry porch) is a necessary part of any house I consider moving into. I even have a favorite soap (I´ve tried three).

How did it start, and how did I get this compulsive about it? Let´s see...

First, I am in a country where clean, well-maintained clothing is very important. We were watching an ad on TV with a friend once - it showed how a woman wore a dress around town all day, then tossed it in the washer (the advertised product), but used a new ¨steam¨ setting to refresh the dress. My friend wrinkled her nose, and said yeah, but what about the smell!?! If a Tica´s clothing gets dirty in the course of a car ride, she immediately points it out - she is letting us know that it just now happened, and we all know that she will clean it as soon as possible. We used to come home from school and change immediately into ¨play clothes.¨ We got nothin´ on these children! You see them in several outfits each day!

Second, we are in ¨transition¨ now, so we don´t have our furniture (and no washing machine), and it is not worth buying too much - we have to store everything we did buy already, until we return. Since we´re here only a few months, it seemed a good time to experiment. Ahhh - there we have it - see where experimenting gets you?

Third, while we aren´t really hurting for money, we *do* watch it. And I *cannot* justify paying a *dollar a pound* for someone else to wash my clothes!

Fourth - and this is really what kept me doing it after experimenting - it is *fantastic* exercise! And you have a built-in motivation and timetable! Picture this - you have a roman bench on an incline (the laundry sink hits you at the hip), and you repeatedly bend at the waist (agitating clothes) with weights (wet clothes) in your hands. For each piece of clothing, you must do this at least 10 times for the wash cycle - then two more repetitions for the rinse cycles. AND, between reps, you get to wring them out! This works stomach, back, shoulders, arms, and legs - how complete can you get? Like any exercise program, you have to build up your program. First start with undies and socks (they´re pretty urgent anyway), then shirts. You know you are really strong when you can do jeans, towels, and sheets (woof!). What better motivation can you get - if you don´t exercise, you don´t get clean clothes. If you don´t have clean clothes, you can´t go outside. So, you´re stuck at home - do laundry! (OK, I can see my addiction is getting the better of me - I´m thinking about all those dirty clothes waiting at home.)

See what can happen when you confess? You start obsessing. Rick is threatening an intervention...