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Monday, May 31, 2010

Rest In Peace

It is with great sadness that I must report the death of my sourdough bread project. Let us have a few moments of reflective silence, as we mourn the passing of my late sourdough starter. Unfortunately it passed late yesterday evening, despite every effort that could be made.

It had a short life, unfortunately and not very productive. It had just become too much of a burden to care for it. With all of the pets we have, the care and feeding of the starter had become too much, and I guess I feel a sense of relief, after all. I will still continue making bread, but of the more traditional type.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Trees, a Better View or a Darker Day?

When I first moved to Washington State (our home just prior to Uruguay) I was amazed at the stature of the trees in Washington. Healthy and amazingly tall trees (Evergreens) were everywhere. The only other place I had seen such epic trees were the Redwood Groves located in Sequoia National Park, (Northern California). I mean, I've seen THE General Sherman Tree.

It holds the record for the "most massive living thing on Earth", over 2000 tons in weight and depending on the person doing the measurements anywhere from 272-311 feet tall (83.8-95 m) with bark some 3 feet thick. The general Sherman tree is, in the Congress Grove but it is not even the tallest of the Redwoods, other trees surpass it. Here's some photos to demonstrate what I mean!

When I found out a few months after moving here to Uruguay that the new owner of our sold house in Washington State had chopped down the giant pine tree on the corner of our ex- property, I was in mourning for a few days. The tree had been healthy, straight and majestically tall but obviously shaded the lot. I couldn't understand why anyone, would want to go around cutting mature trees down, that is until I MOVED HERE!

Eight felled trees later, on our land here in Uruguay, with two actually paid to be axed by our next door neighbor when I thought we had done our part by downing the six, I can't believe the change in my attitude. Yes, there are tall mature trees here including pines but mature and tall doesn't  necessarily mean pretty or safe. The pine trees here are scraggly and stupidly tall with no root system to support the height. The winds here are blasters, they come in gusts often with gale force.

A near gale force: is 32-38 mph. Whole trees in motion, resistense is felt while walking against the wind.
A gale force is: 39-46 mph wind. Twigs break off of trees, wind impedes walking.
A strong gale force is: 47-54 mph. Slight structural damage to chimneys and slate roofs. See our blog of  Feb.22, 2010 
I am aware that stands of trees actually help keep themselves up and standing when Nature pounds, still I am of the opinion that these pines are the wrong type to have been planted as a group in the first place.  In Carmel, California there are beautiful twisted, wind sculpted trees but they're not as tall!

You probably, have your own thoughts on cutting trees down, (yea or nay) but irregardless, these next few photos are of an all too familiar sight here in Uruguay.

This time my other next door neighbor had a tree cut down.
My attitude this time? Hey thanks, it improved my view!

 Is it my imagination? Or is the world a little gloomier today?

Baipa's In Atlantida

I have to tout the bakery in Atlantida, Baipa. There is a panaderia in Salinas and we will go there to get little coconut macaroons and sometimes a little chocolate cookie. I think these are called, in general, "masas". In Atlantida, however, we have found the best confitería around, Baipa. This group of "masitas" I purchased (chocolate, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry and creme) to celebrate getting Denise's license, cost us 86 pesos ($4.50 US) and was worth every cent of it. After I perfect my bread-making skills, I will turn to these little delicacies, but I doubt I will improve on these. A fresh cup of cappuccino, and a couple of these makes a very satisfying dessert.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Licencia de Conducir, My Turn.

Last year, Wally blogged over several days about his experience in obtaining a Uruguayan Driver's License, ( Dec. 22, 2009), Now it's my turn! My experience isn't as exciting as Wally's was, so I won't take 2 days to write about how I am now (as of May 24) legally licensed to drive in this country.
I will say, getting my Uruguayan National Drivers license was painless and quick, but through ignorance took me almost 2 years being in this country to get!

When we first arrived in this country we had a facilitator help us through the process of getting our Permanent Cedulas. I do and did appreciate being hand- held during all the steps it took, to receive this document. Not speaking any Spanish, overwhelmed with moving to a new country, a new hemisphere and not knowing the streets etc... was stressful enough, so yeah, I could now after 2 years probably do it all by myself but it was a benefit to me back then to receive help.

As most of you know moving to a new country involves lots and lots of paperwork, I even had to get our marriage license "translated" into a Uruguayan one, also my birth certificate, our immigration guide Peter, helped everything go smoothly. The problem was with the word "translation". Marriage and birth certificates do need a translation and years ago US citizens could get  USA drivers' licenses translated like the other documents, but the US Embassy now no longer helps provide this. I was told, I would need to start all over again and take a "REAL" drivers test, Practical and written and all in Spanish (which I don't speak). So I procrastinated, my original Washington State License was expiring and I was fast approaching one year of residency and still thinking why bother if I have to take the basic tests anyway?

Well, long story short, You do not need to translate a USA State Drivers license. The new word to learn is Homogeneous (uniform). If you have your Cedula, a current (valid) USA State Drivers license, a quick medical examination at a health clinic (SUAT for example) and have been in this country less than 1 year you can go to MVD (Montevideo) City Hall ( The Intendencia) and they "Homogenized" it or absorbed it or roll your existing license into a valid Uruguayan National one. Don't even bother saying the word Homogeneous. We saw it written on the paperwork, that's their pigeon hole for the process.

My experience was this: My Washington State license was able to be renewed online! They e-mailed me the option to renew online. Before I moved here, I should have (in person) walked into the DMV Office and given them a new mailing address or post box., because I didn't do this the renewed license was sent back as undeliverable even though I paid online. I was able to call them and request a replacement license which they informed me would not have my photo on it. It could not be used as a Valid ID because of not having a photo but it would be a Valid Drivers' License and they could then send it to my Sister-In Law (who sent it on to us). With this photo-less Drivers license and my now expired photo D. License, my next step was to leave the country and return. This would put a stamp in my passport that said I was now in the country less than 1 year! Wally and I went to Buenos Aires as you have read before.

The final advance preparation in getting my Uruguayian Drivers license involved my getting a small "okay to drive" examine from one of the approved clinics used for this Driving purpose.  We tried a nearby SUAT Clinic but they said MVD was where we had to go. They said, we would need to call first and make an appointment (an Hora) not true.  I took the #21 bus from the Geant Mall down to the SUAT clinic located in the Futbol Stadium and just asked for "the examine needed to obtain a drivers license"(Licensia de conducir) and immediately filled out some paper work then I went downstairs to be examined. It was a piece of cake! The Doctor asked me if I needed glasses, wore contact lenses or had any health problems. I said no! Then he took my blood pressure, next he had me cover each eye,  then while he pointed at an eye chart I said the letter he pointed at out loud. Finally the funniest test was the Hearing Test! The Doctor goes behind a screen an "whispers" a few numbers (like 1, 7, 6 Etc...) and you have to repeat it, first covering one ear then the other! He even spoke the numbers in English for me to make it less stressful/confusing which it wasn't. He wished me well, I went upstairs and paid $461 Pesos and was given the necessary paperwork to bring to the DMV Bureau.

Getting back on the #21 Bus, I went directly to the Intendencia (City Hall). Finding the appropriate room,  I waited in line (no ticket needed). I gave the girl at the window box everything! Passport with the new BA stamp, (Under 1 year), My Cedula, both my Washington State Drivers licenses (just in case)  and the clinic report/receipt. She stamped it all ( Wally saw the word Homogeneous on it).

Next, you have to wander around upstairs looking for the place to pay for all of this ($815 Pesos). I took a photo, then was told not to (by an armed guard), but here it is, so look quick!  Next going back downstairs to the original room but towards the back you wait for your name to be called. (no ticket, which was good as the machine was empty) My name was called and  I handed the man everything, he had me place my index finger on a machine which photo copied it into the computer (no mess!) Then He took my picture for the Drivers license. I was directed to wait with other applicants for our names to be called. Less than 10 mins later my name was called and I received on the spot!, My photo laminated, Republica Oriental Del Uruguay, Licencia Nacional De Conductor (Drivers License of Uruguay!)

I don't know if it's because I'm younger than Wally or because I had that renewed Washington State license but My Uruguayan license is valid till the year 2020! unlike Wally's  D. License which (this first time) is only good for 2 years! (2011) Next time he can apply for a 10 year one. Great for me!
Well this account of MY Turn, didn't take 2 days to blog but was so detailed it probably felt like it, so here's a photo taken outside of City Hall I thought you'd appreciate.    It's me of course showing you my Drivers License! What else would you be looking at?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Our Weekend

This weekend, we hit the road again, destination the outskirts of Pando.

  This may look like a motorcycle convention but this is just a portion of the parking lot at the Assembly Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. Called the Center of Education for Jehovah's Witnesses.

I took this picture as a reminder that Motorcycles in this country are a mass means of transportation here.  Back in the States, I would have been lectured on the dangers of motor bikes, (since I'm a klutz that lecture would be quite fitting) but here the economics of maintaining and owning a car (gas/nafta is expensive) makes owning a motorcycle an attractive alternative, perhaps the only choice for some.

 Wally and I both bought "Bikes" here in Uruguay and yes I did crash mine several times! Which is probably the reason I was glad when we could finally afford to buy a car, a VW Bug or "Fusca" as you have read before. Wally has owned motorcycles in his past and is a very safe driver.  Here in Uruguay, early bicycle riding no doubt prepares the populace to cope with 2 wheels better than I did.

About every 6 months, Jehovah's Witnesses have an Assembly that combines several congregations (a Circuit) so you have seen similar pictures from our last meeting at this Center. Having Several Congregations from various cities meeting together means it's a chance to renew friendships that perhaps distance and just day to day living impedes. I thought this picture of me, taking a picture of someone taking a picture, showed the spirit of friendship.

This is Uruguay, so of course, all 2 days of the program were in Spanish, so this is a picture of poor Wally resting his brain (napping) between sessions (lunch time), slowly, very slowly, we're understanding Español. 

In an interview ( I was asked to do) on what a retiree does to fill their days here in Uruguay, I am glad to be able to have these occasions added to my life and find fellowship with my Uruguayan Brothers.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Imports

Yesterday, we had a visit from some new residents of Punta del Este- Shawn and Mari, from Nebraska. People come to Uruguay for many reasons, but one of their reasons was quite interesting. Mari has several serious food allergies and for years they have been "food activists" in the US.- apparently dissatisfied with the quality and content of food in America. Not unusual, in itself, since we had even noticed the amount of additives in meat products moving here.

We told then about our experience with meat products labeled "Always Tender", which our local market, Albertson's (in Seattle), had begun to offer. Supposedly, the additives to the meat were to make it easier to cook. However, we found that it just made the meat taste bad, so we had stopped buying it. Plus I objected to paying for something in my meat that I didn't want or need. As a small side-note, when we complained to Albertson's headquarter's about this, they told us it was a company wide decision made with Hormel and they would continue to offer the product, but they did provide us with some unadulterated meat, as a gift for our long time patronage.

So, Shawn and Mari are here to sample the more natural food of Uruguay, hoping to correct years of eating force fed animals and chemical and other additives.

They were nice enough to bring their dogs, and our puppies had a "play date" with their female malamute (in the doorway behind us). The little chihuahua was a little too fragile for that, and mostly stayed in their laps. The cat was amused with the little dog.

So this is just one more reason why Uruguay is an appealing destination, though I am not sure I would travel 6,904 miles for a good pork chop (Seattle to Uruguay).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Perro Bread

Last night was the first time I tried out my new sourdough starter, which seems to be mature, after 2 weeks. It is a little harder to use, since it requires longer times to rise. I attempted one of the no knead bread recipes, featuring sourdough starter.

It was not a success. First of all, I think the dough was too dry, since I overcompensated for the wet starter. Then, we have not been keeping the house "toasty" warm, as it was in the summer. We've only been lighting fires when it gets chilly (so not every day). And overnight, the dough didn't seem to produce the same product. Then, when I proofed it in the pan for 4 hours (called for in the recipe), it didn't really increase in size, but I decided to bake in anyway. This method called for the bread to be baked for one hour, starting in a cold over, as opposed to a pre-heated oven.

Well- long and short of it- it did not come out eatible, for humans, that is. It did have a distinctive sourdough taste, on the plus side, but it was so dense and the crust so hard, that it proved to be a failed experiment. But not entirely. This morning I cut a slice (with great difficulty) and fed it to the dogs. I am happy to report that after a good workout with their teeth and jaws, they managed to eat it. Now I know that bread is probably not a good dog food, but they eat cardboard, tree bark and tree limbs and many other disgusting things- so my bread can't be that bad.

I will try again, and hope that next time, I don't end up with Perro Bread.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Baking Skills

My burgeoning bread making skills are becoming useful in other areas. I have never been good with pies. Denise usually always made the pies. Her simple but elegant apple pie recipe is my favorite. Even when I did make a pie, I would usually start the crust and then in total disgust throw up my hands, yell and threaten to throw it away- at which point Denise would come in, salvage the crust and finish the pie.

This is mainly because my pie crusts were never perfect. Making bread has helped me overcome the need for perfection. I am learning that the "feel" of the dough is more important than anything and today, for the first time in a long time, I started and completed the crust for this apple pie. I am so proud- and not one single deleted expletive.

The clouds started rolling in this afternoon, and it is getting a little wet outside, but we are warm around the fire, with hot apple pie and vanilla ice cream to look forward to this evening.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Tooth, The Whole Tooth and Nothing but the Tooth!

Awhile back, I wrote that UruguayNow listed our blog (along with 5 others) as a best of the Web Site.  I'm not mentioning, it this time, to brag, (no really), but because of their review or synopsis of our site.  I found it amusing.

"Wally Glass details his ongoing struggle, against mosquito, brushes with officialdom, a recurring tooth problem, etc....  with honestly & clarity of his observations..." 

Okay, the recurring tooth problem is mine. It's been going on now for 5 and a half months and it's amusing to me that, this statement would be a reason to read our blog! So now Honestly and with too much Clarity I bring to you the Tooth, The Whole Tooth and Nothing but The Tooth!

  December 2, 2009, I broke my rear upper Molar. I decided to try using my Medica Uruguaya Insurance and go through the "System" I was able to go to an emergency clinic by going First to my Doctor in our local clinic (Salinas) where she wrote a note saying it should be looked at right away!

The "Urgency clinic" is in the town of Solymar, fronting the ruta (the highway). An on site Dentist looked at it and filled it right away with a temporary filling, a Paste or "Pasta" as it's called in Español.

Before an appointment can be made to Permanently fill a tooth a "Revision" or review must be made in the main Clinic in Montevideo.  APPOINTMENTS for Revisions can ONLY be made on the first of each month (business day) That was 3 weeks away! but I was assured that if my Temp. filling came out  I could immediately go to The Solymar Clinic & they would again fill it. Two days later the Pasta fell out! All in all I had 3 temp. Pastas put in.

January 2, 2010. I got an APPOINTMENT for January 31, Revision in the Montevideo Clinic.

January 31, 2010. My Revision was a 5 mins. examine (or less) The Dentist said YES you can get a permanent filling put in (covered by my Insurance) I learned the insurance only covers 1 filling a life time.  With the okay to go, I now needed to be given an appointment for the Permanent Filling. The next available time slot was March 18! Meanwhile my Pasta fell out again but I just left it out and waited for the permanent filling to be put in at the now familar Solymar Medico Uruguayo Clinic.

March 18, 2010.  In a matter of minutes my new PERMANENT filling was in! No Dinero was charged. The only cost was my time and since I was retired, what did that matter?

March 20, 2010. My PERMANENT filling fell out!

Okay, FORGET THIS,  I'm going to see a Commercial Dentist because these fillings aren't staying in my tooth and I WAS being careful, even chewing on the other side of my mouth!

April,  I'm bummed out and I don't do ANYTHING for the entire month with a hole in my tooth!

May 6, 2010.  I go to Atlantida (5 kms away) to a Dentist recommended by an expat. This Dentist speaks English! He actually takes an X-ray my first! He recommends the tooth be PULLED! The other choice would be MORE than just a Root Canal or A Cap but a FALSE TOOTH! taking about 7-8 visits of Dental work to anchor it in! I asked the cost. The total (estimate) would only cost 5,600 Pesos UY but since it was a Back Molar near the ex Wisdom tooth, guess what I decided to do?

May 11, 2010.  I had my back upper molar PULLED! Cost 1 x-ray  200 Pesos ($10 US), 1 Tooth Extraction  750 pesos ($40 US) and 50 pesos ($2.50) for some non-aspirin based pain pills purchased from the local pharmacy. 

So you tell me, $50 US or for free (with insurance) Which was the better route?? LOL. I hope this recurring tooth problem saga is now no longer a major theme of our blog.

PS. As a lark read #5 on the post extraction care guide. Only in Uruguay!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Flat Top

No- this does not refer to an old Ford auto engine, nor to my latest haircut (as if I had enough hair on the top of my head to sport a "flat top"). This is a description of today's bread that I just took out of the oven. I am beginning to see that breadmaking is quite the art- one that takes practice to perfect.

This time, I was careful not to add too much flour before I kneaded it. Consequently, it was quite an enjoyable process. I fought the dough on the first loaf I made, as it had excess flour. You can always add more flour, but it is impossible to take it out, once it's in.

I think the key is learning what the dough is supposed to look and feel like. That is where the craft come into play. It rose, well enough, but after shaping it and putting it into the loaf pan, I sort of forgot and let it set for several hours longer than it should have. As a result, the dough had risen, then fallen back a little.

Still, the bread was delicious. Better than the first loaf, and very light and airy. Now, if I can only get the timing right. I also can see that bread making requires a level of organization that appeals to me. I haven't quite gotten the hang of it, yet, but I am working on it. For instance, if you want "no knead" bread today- you had to start yesterday. If you want kneaded bread in the morning- you have to make it at night, or very early. However, I think the sheer enjoyment of learning a new skill and having fresh, homemade bread on hand will balance out the work involved.

I am pretty sure that this is not a financial savings. Probably when all is taken into consideration (heating the oven, supplies, etc.), I will probably end up paying more for each loaf than if I bought it. Remind me again- why am I doing this? Oh yeah- for the joy of cooking.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

No Knead Bread

Today, I tried the "No Knead Bread" recipe made famous by Jim Lahey (Sullivan Street Bakery). It takes overnight, but there is no kneading involved. It is touted as a bread easy enough for a 4 year old to make, and in fact, I have seen YouTube videos of a four year old making this type of bread.

I think I need to hire a 4 year old. This bread proved to be a little much for a 64 year old to make. Essentially, I started out, OK. The night before I made my mixture of flour, salt, yeast and water and it ended up a a rough and rugged ball of dough (not the smooth dough for normal bread recipes).

Today, the dough seemed to have dissolved into a thick pancake batter, but it had bubbles and I went ahead with the recipe, taking it out of the bowl. It was so wet!

"How wet was it?", you ask. "it was wetter than a real wet thing"- sorry, I was going to come up with a real zingy simile, but I just couldn't think of one. It was wet. As you can see, I foolishly chose to work an a nice sized cutting board, but it proved to be too small. Next time, lose the cutting board and work directly on my granite counter.

So, I mushed it around, let it rise again (didn't do too much), then schlepped it into the preheated pot to bake. I baked it for 30 minutes covered, and 15 minutes uncovered. This is how it came out. Now I am actually surprised, since it didn't look like it would be any good when that mushy stuff rolled into the pot I cooked it in. But I have to admit, it is a pretty good looking loaf of artisan bread. We were supposed to cool it off, but who can wait that long? The crust was very crunchy and the inside nice and soft. I can picture me eating this with any kind of soup we will be making this winter. While I thought it was going to be a flop- it turned out pretty good.

On another front, I also "fed" my sourdough starter with another 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water, after stirring in the liquid forming on top (alcohol) and taking 1/2 of the old stuff out. Seems to be going according to plan, but unless I can learn to make decent bread- sourdough starter isn't going to help. Bread is bread, so I need to hone my skills and sourdough starter won't make bad bread good, just different.