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Monday, November 29, 2010

Dia de Noqui, The 29th of the Month!

Today, I finally had a plate of noquis, (also known as gnocchi) a fresh potato and flour pasta, on it's rightful day! The 29th of the month!

For those of you, not in Uruguay, you are now wondering what I'm talking about! Well, the tradition in Uruguay is that restaurants offer and most people at home eat, these little pastas on the 29th day of each month. Why, that day? Well, by way of illustrating the reason for this, back in the states it's not uncommon to get a semimonthly pay check at your place of employment. I used to work at a job where I loved getting a weekly pay check because right when I was getting low on cash Voila!, another pay check would arrive. Now, imagine a once a month Pay period. You can see how your money might, begin to wear a little thin, by the time, the end of the month rolls around. Tradition holds that on the day before payday, the 29th the only thing people could still afford to eat were potatoes and flour for pasta making. Along with eating the noqui the tradition consists of restaurants putting a little coin (peso) under your plate of noquis to symbolize prosperity ahead.

The term Noqui is also derogatorily used here (but with a knowing smile) to describe a civil servant. Government jobs are highly sought after here, as they offer job security. Firing, a government employee is unheard of! It's like a professor getting "tenure", up until then, you are always under review but with tenure you're safe!  There are "Urban legends" of some "noquis", just showing up to work on one day, at the end of the month, only to pick up their pay for that month. Most government jobs have a sort of lottery that if you're in the winning group THEN you can be interviewed for the job. We have a friend who got his job when his friend, unbeknown to him, put his name in the contest. You still have to qualify through written tests but the contest gets you in the running! Getting back to the subject of the edible kind. Every month as the 29th approached I would think about ordering some noquis, since everyone offers this meal it would be extra fresh on that day. However, I would only remember the tradition on the 30th always missing it! This time we bought some to celebrate our new purchase.We stopped into a little hole in the wall deli (of sorts) in Salinas to pick up some media lunes (croissants with ham and cheese) and some Noquis! This time we bought some to celebrate our new purchase!

As you'll recall from an earlier post, I said that Monday Morning (now thinking about a "Mamas and Papas" song) that we would again, try and meet a delivery van on the outskirts of Montevideo. Well lo and behold after only 2 hours of waiting, we met up with Amando and our new bar stools!

We love them! We received 2 bar stools, for what we would have paid for just one at several other expo Hecho Aca vendors' stands. Also they are custom made (for our larger buttock proportions)

The seat bottoms are 17" or 43cm. The maker did question us when we gave him the measurements saying that most bar seats weren't that large but we assured him that is what we wanted! As a side note I looked at an online catalog and noticed that 17" was a standard North American size and NOT the largest by any means. So that made me feel a little better!

The cost of the bar chairs? Only $1200 pesos each (about $60 US). The finished project looks right at home in our new kitchen.

One last kitchen feature left to do is a small backsplash tiling job and some touch up paint. Then the heart of the home will be truly complete!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Down On The Corner, Out in the Street.

Okay, It wasn't early in the evenin' just about supper time, nor were we near the courthouse but that song by John Fogerty and Creedance Clearwater revival kept playing in my head. I found myself this morning "Down on the corner, out in the street" with Wally (not Willy) waiting at the corner of Avenida Italia and Avda Bolivia (near the Portones mall) for a van to show up and drop off our newly built bar stools. The man assured us that we WOULDN'T be able to find his shop, Hence an arranged meeting was set up. So after driving to the outskirts of MVD we waited and waited. Neither of us knew, which direction the truck would come from, at that very busy intersection. We didn't even know what the truck would look like. Wally and I choose different corners to better stake out the place.

As you recall from a previous post we ordered these bar stool from a vendor in the Expo. Hecho Aca (Made here), that means we had never been to the maker's shop. Normally we ask for things to be "envio"(sent) to our house but it would have cost about $1000 pesos ($50 US) to have this done as we live past the toll bridge ($100 pesos  in tolls {$5 US} round trip) and a 40 min drive from MVD. Since we are trying to keep costs down we decided to pick it up our self. (We only pay $20 pesos Rt) and saving $45 IS a big deal for us!

Did I mention, that we waited and waited and yes waited for this drop off (No, we hadn't paid yet! so don't worry). With that song in my head and me whiling away the morning. (Oh I forgot, Wally didn't have our cellular phones loaded with any minutes) So while we waited I took some photos, so you can now wait along with me! (no I don't hate you), I just thought you'd like to see my hangout spot.

 I decided to check out this Lioness sculpture that I had often driven passed but now had the time to fully examine! Two cubs are at her feet ready to eat the kill she has provided for them (a bird) It's a cool stature but someone has sadly "Tagged it". Graffiti is very much a trendy expressionist art form as I came to learn about after seeing the movie "Exit Through  The Gift Shop"                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
However, defacing the art work of another is just wrong! Hey, what ever happened to finding a blank wall? (not endorsing that method but at least I could understand the blank canvas mentality) Painting a few initials on something is lazy and mean (in my opinion)!

While waiting, I looked around and thought how nice this one section of side walk near the lioness was. It was cobble stoned, so I took a photo of that.  Then being bored, I remembered how the leaf cutter ants leave such deep trails in their pursuit of denuding in a day any plant they set decide to go after, so another photo to show you that! The 'leaf cutter ants" are very much a topic among expats so a trail pic can help you be "IN the loop" on that discussion.

I then remembered that, I should be looking up in case I saw our delivery truck. I decided some people watching, was in order. Here just like in NYC (New York City, USA) vehicles are often asked if they want their windshields washed while they are waiting for the light to turn to green. Two such glass cleaners were working on adjacent corners dashing out into the street on red lights and soliciting such jobs. They looked like brothers, both tall, thin build and surprising dark as Uruguay doesn't have a large black population at all! One washer was a little more sedate than the other one wearing brighter attire, two people different but alike! I always find the many motorcycles here interesting. Most expats will mention this as well because of the number of people/children/ladders/business ventures carried on them. I once saw 2 riders holding a lawn mower and a ladder whizzing by me all on one motorcycle! Today just a little cart motorcycle combo can be seen in the photos.

Finally, I crossed the street to look closer at this rather large iron work of art and try and figure out what it was. I decided on a triple shot so you can read the sign that accompanies the piece! It says it's the tree of life depicted and of time? Then I saw an iron Apple near it so that depicts the Garden of Eden tree although the exact fruit was Never Named in the Bible An "Apple" was just traditionally added by word of mouth.

In case your wondering, I asked Wally to call the company to see how much longer we had to wait! He gave me some money I went to the nearby gas station (see Wally standing under it's sign in photo). I brought a calling card used their payphone and found out their truck had BROKEN DOWN! They couldn't reach us by phone to let us know! Note to self bug Wally to keep minutes on his phone! After letting them know we didn't feel like hanging around until 4:30 when they thought it make get fixed! We arranged for a delivery on Monday Morning, at which time I'll be again "Down on the corner, out in the street! (We'll call first, however!)

Brown Sugar

I made a pineapple upside-down cake last night. Here is a question. If I make a pineapple upside-down cake in the Southern hemisphere, using a recipe from a North American cookbook, is it really a "Pineapple Right-Side Up Cake"?

Anyway, the cake came out OK, but the real reason for this post is, that brown sugar has been unavailable in any of the large stores for over a year. I have asked and apparently the factories just weren't making it. I had planned on finding some molasses (melaza) and making my own brown sugar, when lo and behold, brown sugar reappeared on the shelves of my local Tienda Inglesa. Admittedly, it was not the thick, dark brown sugar that I bought here before, but it was brown and labeled "azucar rubio", so it is the best I can get (at this time). I bought 5 packages, just in case.

This just highlights on of the disadvantages of living in a smaller country. You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, that you get what you need (excuse me, I couldn't help myself).

Along with that, I was able to make a lovely guacamole, and fried up some of the corn tortillas we found in Piriapolis, to make a great dip. So things are not all that bad. We are not exactly being deprived by living in this tiny South American country.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Local Produce

This is a just "bits and pieces" that I keep forgetting to include. Nothing special just a little of what is available here.

For instance, we have someone who delivers seltzer water to our door. You can buy water with and without gas at the stores, but plain soda is another matter. We use soda water for fizzy juice drinks, chocolate egg creams (an East Coast thing) and ice cream sodas.

The couple who works for the company that delivers the water (Aquapura) happens to be fellow Witnesses, so in addition to getting the water, we get a little friendly visit, each week. The husband of this couple is quite a gardener and maintains his own gardening site (Costa Jardines) with gardening tips for Uruguay. They deliver a bottle for 12 pesos (about 60 cents) and most weeks, it is only one bottle. I think that it is more of a favor than a business, in our case, but we appreciate having the option.

Thursday was feria, again and with the spring comes such a lovely variety of fresh veggies. It is time for strawberries and also, I am seeing some avocados. Avocados (palta) are not popular in Uruguay, so they are not alway available. In Seattle, the two types we would generally see were haas and another type, very large (usually from Florida) that were tasteless and stringy. So, for years, I've stayed away from the large paltas, here and bought the imported haas variety (at greater cost and much smaller).

A few weeks ago, I saw some of those larger ones at the feria and decided to try one. It was fantastic. Not stringy, great flavor and solid meat. Boy, have I been missing something. Now, whenever I see them, I buy them. And the feria is the place to find them. In Tienda Inglesa (our local big market), one costs 80 pesos ($4), but at the feria they were 3 for 50 pesos. I couldn't resist. So now I have 6 lovely paltas, sitting on the counter, waiting to ripen.

There is always something to see at the beach. People walking dogs, fishing boats in the water, fishermen with long poles off the beach and horses to name a few things. Last Friday we heard this loud noise of a motor and some kind of winged personal flying contraption floated past. I got the video camera out too late, but on the return trip, Denise got a little shot of it. Always something to look at.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Life Without Fusca

As you may remember, the fusca (VW bug) has been out of commission for more than a week. But life goes on and fortunately, we are within walking distance of many things. We also remembered that Tienda Inglesa (a large food store about 5 K's away), delivers your order for a little over $5, so we were able to keep in food. We even enjoyed an evening at a friend's house this past weekend, all within walking distance.

Our friend, Zully and her daughter (and son-in-law) live just a few blocks away from us. They have the large, main house, and also a casita in the back, where the daughter and son-in-law live. This casita is very nice, with one generous bedroom, bath, kitchen and living room. They share a lovely private patio, with a parrilla, partially covered. I wish our house had such a lovely casita. It was very livable. When we lived in Hawaii, we rented a casita, a little cottage, which had been built for the man's son to use, until he was able to get a home of his own. It seems to be common for many cultures to provide this security.

As with all evenings, it began with tapas and when I saw all the little meats, cheeses and olives, I thought we had way too many for 8 people. I was mistaken. In short order, with lots of conversation, they were all gone and we sat down to dinner.

What a spread. You could have fed 15 people with all the food that was provided. I was introduced to a cut of meat that I will be buying every time I shop- colita de quadril. This is the Uruguayan name for beef tri-tip. Tri-tip is a rather unknown meat for BBQ'ing, even in the USA, but it is a rather well kept secret of meat lovers. It was made more popular in Santa Maria, California and now enjoys a rebirth, as more and more people find out about this triangular cut of meat just below the sirloin. Now you may wonder how I got so interested in meat (other than loving to eat it). Well, meat is cut differently in Uruguay. They butcher the animal for cuts that are not usually sold in the US. You can get T-bone steaks, tenderloins and filet mignon, but many cuts are just not available here, so you have to learn and explore.

After a wonderful evening, we were able to walk home, under the stars, past our stationary VW in the driveway.

Each day I have been doing a little something on the car, as weather permits. Little by little I have been replacing parts, in the hopes that it will spring to life. I have had several suggestions on the website and through email. Here is what I found. The last part that you replace, is the part that makes the car run.

Yes- after replacing: coil, fuel pump. a carburetor shut-off valve, spark plugs (and cables) and completely going through the carburetor- I finally got around to replacing the $2 capacitor. Now, Denise asked me why I didn't replace that first. "It looked shiny and new" was my lame reply. Anyway, my new rule of car repair is this:

1. Make a list of parts you are planning to replace, then go to the end of the list and replace that first- it will probably fix the problem.

So we are back on the road and thanks for all the suggestions.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hecho Aca (Made Here)

Last year, Wally and I enjoyed an Artisan Expo featuring Arts and crafts made by Uruguayos, hence the name of the show "Made Here" or as truly listed "Hecho Aca"!

Why mention this now? Well you guessed it! It's back again this year 2010, though it is being held in a different month than last years was, so you really have to keep track of these types of events. We went last year in August, 2009, this year it is being held this month (November). The Expo started Friday the 5th and runs till (and including) Sunday the 14th. It opens at 3Pm and closes down each night at 10Pm (22 hs, they use military time here) The cost for entry is $80 pesos.

While we enjoyed last years show, this one seemed a little bit smaller? I thought last years had 4 buildings worth of displays instead of this years 3, I could be wrong (Me??? haha). We bought a large picture there last year and still love it! This year we were on a similar mission to look for and hopefully buy some artistic bar stools. We are trying to bring our kitchen to a complete end by tying up all the nitsy little pieces/ends still left undone. I was hoping to see some cool tile pieces for our stove back splash area, but no! Nothing, was really practical for such a large scale project, so we concentrated on the bar stools instead. We sat our 'tushies" down on seats at three different vendors' stalls and almost made a purchase. We discovered, we have North American rear ends still (read wide or in Spanish, muy gorda- I, Denise am writing this article, so Wally's in the clear). Some of the stools were little round things that just didn't keep it all together if you know what I mean? One square bottomed metal stool almost was purchased but we would have had to wait until the fair's end and two days beyond that to get the order, as these metal chairs are individually made. So after walking around some more and taking photos of the show, we found a guy selling regular height metal chairs and asked if he had bar heights also. He said no, but could make what we wanted. That got us thinking, why not make some with the slightly (Hey!, only slightly!) bigger sized bum seats, beside his prices were way lower! We will get 2 chairs for the price of 1! So Wally and I have come home and are designing 2, to be made, "made to order", Or as Goldilocks said, "This one is just right!" We hope, that is what, we will say too! We'll let you know, how it turns out! (Whether, you want to know or not, sorry)

We have been impressed with the quality of the products shown each year and enjoy the different displays. Food, original style clothing and jewelry are just some of the items you'll find at the Hecho Aca Expo. As seen in one of the top photos they even had a demonstration showing how to stretch out and dry an animal skin (cow???) The photo above, (on the left) is of a Marble stone and Olive wood table, highly polished. The article/art piece on the right looked very Asian inspired to me, so there is something for everyone's taste at the show.   

Oh, you will be pleased to know at the food booths they offer free samples, kind of like Costco does in their warehouses. This is particularly great for an expat still learning what different foods taste like in Uruguay. Be aware though that they also offer little tastes of their specialty liqueur. Some are really potent, but so goooooooood! just kidding (NOT!)  for example, I learned the other day that we have a fruit tree called a "Nispera Tree" in our back yard. Wally says, "it's a Loquat tree". The fruit is the size and color of an Apricot without the fuzz and tastes kind of like a firm yellow plum. Well, they were giving out samples of whatever you wanted to try and they had NISPERA liquor. So naturally I had to try that, I will now be guarding my Nispera tree and trying to find out by next year how to make my own liquor! So you can see how important our going to Hecho Aca this year really was! I hope others will enjoy the expo as well. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Life's a Beach!

The other night I felt particularity appreciative about our choice of location to live in. Not only am I finally settling into this house with the arrival of our last kitchen cabinets ( the kitchen as anyone knows is the heart of a home) but I'm also enjoying the day to day rhythm of life at/near the beach.

I felt so moved that I posted a photo on my facebook page and went on waxing poetic about my feelings. Here's that same photo and what I said.

"To see forever! I love my never ending always changing water view. At night I can see the lights of ships in the distance. I love seeing storms approaching and how the water takes on different color hues. This photo is a combo of blue and tan with a bird on a wire taking it all in like me.

Every morning, Wally bless his heart, goes outside and opens all the shutters so I can awaken to a full blown view of the water. Even the cat gets to enjoy the view on his new granite window seat perch (much to Wally's dismay, since it's in the kitchen)

 The only problem with such a gorgeous, easily attainable water view is that, I never have to leave the house to enjoy it. I watch people walking and playing on the beach while not actually being there myself!

Yesterday, was such a spectacularly warm, sunny, clear day that It fairly "shouted" out to me to "Come outside"! ,"Leave your house" and physically, not just mentally be a part of the beach! So I got my flip flops on and ventured out of my nest. As I was walking down my driveway, I started to smell that water/sea breeze you get at the beach, I also started to kick myself for not taking advantage more often of the 3 minute walk to the actual sand and waves. I literally said to myself "We (thinking of Wally still inside, not the royal WE) are the stupidest people in the world for not going down to the water everyday and enjoying it in person!" I started to feel great, I was about to be part of the beach scene.

  Going down the beach path, I took off my thongs, zorries or flipflops depending on what part of the USA you're from and what you call them. I saw people swimming in the water and others fishing. All the while thinking "I'm finally smart, joining them". Then I started to notice something else! At first it was a slow nagging at the back of my brain "What was that SMELL!" Then I SAW IT! Hundreds of DEAD fish lining the coast as far as I could see! I saw a man setting up his fishing pole kicking several dead fish out of his way to make a place for himself! I saw people stepping over dead fish and children making sand castles nearby them! All the while my  North America  sensibilities were now, shouting to me to "Leave" "Run back home","This sinks, literally!" Okay, so now I'm thinking maybe I'm NOT the stupidest person in the world nor Wally (still back home, INSIDE, being smart).

I now think, learning to appreciate what you enjoy at any given moment and not over thinking it or wishing for more is the smartest choice of all. Obviously the people still down at the beach with all those dead fish were enjoying themselves on their Sunday afternoon! They weren't BBQ ing with friends or hiking instead, so who am I to judge!

Now, I enjoy my never ending always changing water view from inside the comfort of my house and make no apologies for that. By the way, did I ever mention that I have jasmine in bloom, growing outside my back window? I'm keeping that window open surrounding myself with perfumed air inside my house, while keeping the front water side operable windows firmly closed! 

I did venture outside again, back down to the beach to take pictures of the Dead fish and ask, ¿Por qué? pointing to all the dead fish. That was all I could say, as I promptly forgot whether fish were male or female due to the stench and realizing that the word "ALL" or todos would have to change to todas or todos depending on the fishes' sex and also the word Muerto for dead could become muerta or  stay muerto depending on fish being a male or feminine word. Amid the stench I didn't feel like forming two different questions to cover my lack of gender knowledge of fish! ¿Por qué, todos los peces muertos?  However when fish are out of the water they are called pescado, so since these were out of the water being DEAD I perhaps would have had to say ¿Por qué todos los pecados muertos? or  thanks to Mauro for commenting I now know that ¿Por qué todas pescas muertas? is wrong for two reasons #1 because fish are Boys!!! (generally), #2 The word Pesca, means fishing not fish! For some reason I thought that was the word for fish? So now you know why just pointing and asking WHY? goes a long way, welcome to my world!

All I do know is that Life's a Beach!

PS;The reason the coast was littered with dead fish today was due to a change in the salt content in the water or as the people said Cuando el agua dulce cambio con el agua sal los peces muertos.  What looks like an ocean to us, is actually still considered the Rio de la Plata, a fresh water muddy river that flows out of it's source along the coast and leads to the true Ocean the Atlantic. Reports from people up and down the coast in various cities reported seeing the dead fish strung out in line along the coast.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Taking It for Granite

Well, I am tired of writing, thinking and wondering about the kitchen. After almost 2 years, it is a boring, boring, boring subject. But, that having been said, we got the final piece of our cabinetry, today- the granite countertop for our bar area. It is beautiful and provides a wonderful work area, as well as a nice place to sit and watch me work (Denise never tires of that).

The weather has started to get nice. We are still about a month away from official summer weather, but some days it is warm enough for swim trunks.

When I get up in the morning and unlock the shutters, to let in the light, I just marvel that we somehow found this place out of all the places we could have ended up. Far from perfect, but perfect for us.

This coming week we will plan on going to Hecho Aca, the yearly crafts show in Montevideo. Perhaps we will find some little pieces of tile for behind the sink and stove, or some bar stools, or who knows what. It is a fun trip, whether we find anything or not.

This weekend, besides anything else is "work on the VW" time. I just can't seem to find out why it is not running correctly, and none of the mechanics that I have I have used are calling me back (sound familiar). So I decided that rather than wait a year for the car to be fixed that I would roll up my sleeves and dig in. Some people do this as a hobby. We'll see how it turns out. Right now, I am supporting a local parts supplier, by replacing items one at a time. Nothing has improved it so far, but I got a lot of nice new parts. Naturally, it will be the last part I change....  Isn't it always that way?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back to School

You would think that giving talks before an audience for over 40 years, and sometimes before crowds over a thousand, that presenting a 5 minute talk on a subject that you are thoroughly familiar with would be no problem. But then imagine you are giving it in a foreign language. Yes, that tends to add a little concern.

But, Denise, ever the trooper, gave her first Spanish talk in the Theocratic Ministry School (TMS), this evening, to the applause of the audience. It must be admitted that everyone who gives their first talk in the school always gets applause, but her talk was worthy of it.

The TMS has been around for well over 60 years, and is a weekly event at our meetings. Talks range from Bible reading highlights, a Bible reading, talks given between women (as in Denise's case) or talks delivered from a platform to the audience. It is a way of preparing Witnesses to talk to others about their faith. But it can be a scary moment. We are always told that the audience is not a critic. And this is very true. The audience, tonight, was rooting for Denise and thrilled that she completed her assignment with flying colors.

She was given material to work with, but developed the setting and dialogue on her own. And with very few corrections by her householder (Carolina), she was happy to be able to write the talk, herself. Normally, a new student is assigned to be a householder, without having the burden of writing and directing the talk. But, apparently, they felt Denise was up to the challenge and she was.

Next week, I will have my first talk. It is a Bible reading. Compared to Denise's part, it is a snap. All I have to do is read the Bible, with no comments. And even this makes me nervous. As far back as 1972, I conducted the TMS. Over the years I have done so in various congregations. Now, I am nervous about a Bible reading (a talk often given to students as young as 8 or 9 years old). Go figure. I won't be posting any video of my reading (it would be anticlimactic), but I do post Denise's talk, for your enjoyment.

The video starts out with us walking to the Kingdom Hall. Yes, the "Krispy Kreme" is broken, again, so we are on foot. We were met on the way first by one sister who lives nearby, and then later by another walking, as well, so we enjoyed our trip to the hall in the company of friends. The parking attendant in front of the hall (wearing the safety vest) is a Uruguayan tradition. We pay 20 pesos per meeting and they help us park and watch the cars. He actually lives nearby our house. We are pleased to have found a house near fellow Witnesses and also within walking distance to the Kingdom Hall. Makes it kinda handy when mechanical difficulties arise.