Viche

What great neighbors we have. This afternoon our neighbor Paola brought us a huge bowl of viche. This batch was made with lobster, shrimp, choclo (corn), small plantain balls and the most wonderful broth made with peanuts. Of course she did provide rice as well.  It is out of this world and Paola is one of the best cooks I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

IMG_2153We eat like royalty here. Between the kindness of our neighbors like Paola and the bounty we can buy right at our door we are blessed.

We have a new fruta and verdura vendor who has started to come by on Friday mornings. Today he had strawberries, black and red grapes, granny smith apples as well as gala apples and pears, passion fruit, mora, naranjilla just to name a few. He had corn, peas, small and large lima beans as well as fresh fava beans, carrots, red onions, green onions, cauliflower, broccoli, two types of potatoes, iceberg lettuce and cilantro.  Next week I will take a photo of his truck and him and his wife.

Feeling very blessed…

Service in Our Small Coastal Town in Ecuador

If you are expecting to be fawned over, watched constantly and pampered while in a local restaurant in San Clemente, you may feel ignored. Not intentionally, mind you but just because the culture here is to allow folks time, time to sit and get accustomed to their surroundings, time to enjoy the others in their company, just time!  Plus serving you is probably not their only job, the server may also be the person cooking or helping in the kitchen. If you are in a hurry, you will not be happy with this cultural difference.

If you want a server who is all over you asking about your needs and wants this also will frustrate you. Here, when you are ready to order, all you need to do is signal the restaurant staff. Like at Viviana’s they leave us alone for the most part. When they deliver the menus which could be immediately upon sitting down or it could be awhile after we arrive, we order our drinks. Letting the server know that we will not be ordering our food for at least 15 minutes and if Joe and I are enjoying and are into our conversation it may be 30 minutes before we order. At that time we order another drink and wait on our food. We have never felt ignored just left in peace to enjoy the atmosphere, the people, our drinks, the great food and just how lucky we are to be in this beautiful area. We have never been given a check here, when we are ready to leave we find someone and pay them. Our experience in the old country was that when you were asked if you needed anything else many times they were really just trying to hurry you along –  give you the check and the boot so to speak.  They were more rushing you than serving you. An exception might be some of the truly finer – real expensive – places. But the fish meal at Vivianas is $4. complete.  Not plus tax, service charge, valet parking, etc. And its right on the beach.  And they smile, seem truly glad to see you again and not just because you are spending money.  That’s something we as Expats tend to ignore.  It’s not always all about the money yet that is how we see many things. I like their way better. Sometimes we are poor in other ways but only judge based on the worlds only measuring stick these days – money.

On the other hand most tiendas, stores or shops will have someone almost follow you around the store trying to help you. And most of the small tiendas and pharmacies do not allow you inside the store you would need to know what you wanted and ask for it.

Estrella and her family who run the tienda at the end of our street are the exception. I am allowed to roam the store at my leisure looking for the items that are of interest to me. Most places have been wonderful about allowing us behind the counter, this is because first we cannot see to read all the descriptions of the items and not being familiar with the products it is just so much easier to allow us to look for ourselves.

I guess the purpose of this post is to make you understand that you are not being ignored on purpose. This is the way things are done here. Snapping your fingers, whistling, yelling across the room or clapping your hands to get a servers attention are rude in any culture, in my opinion. Catching the eye of the server and motioning for them to come over, thanking them or greeting them with a smile and a hello will work far better than being upset with how things are done here.

If you want another drink get any servers attention and point to your drink…don’t wait for them to come around to ask you. Or get up and go over to someone and ask for a server to come to your table. Things are done differently here.

This small story may help to illustrate exactly what I am trying to say. When we lived in Panama our friend Keith would drive down to David the Provincial Capital of Chiriqui for his supplies. On the way he found a man swinging in a hammock selling beautiful pineapples. After stopping several times and purchasing a pineapple he ask the gentlemen why he did not sell other fruits and vegetables instead of just pineapples. The man asked why should he, he sells ENOUGH to support himself and his family. And he climbed back into his hammock not looking to change how his life is. We have been looking for that ENOUGH because in our opinion that is the true meaning of paradise for us.

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One of the first things we did was have Patricia put up very good hammock hooks and we found a great hammock for our porch. We want to be more like that pineapple vendor from Panama.

How envious we would be to find out we worked so hard all our lives to be able to sit under a tree swinging on a hammock and these folks found out early just how much they needed to have a happy and content life…this is what we have searched for, he does not want to change nor does he need to change, his life is complete…ENOUGH of everything!

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Our idea of the perfect day is switching between the lounge chair and the hammock several times.

We (Joe and I) are not here to change these beautiful people, their culture or their way of living, we actually want to be more like them. Relaxed, enjoying their jobs instead of hating to come to work each day. Please don’t try to make our Ecuador what you left, because if it was such a wonderful place there, why are you here?

Joe the Birthday Boy

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Like most celebrations this past few months, Joe and I tend to always go back to Viviana’s for all the right reasons. Sitting at a beachfront restaurant sipping a cold Pilsener is probably one of the most perfect things on earth to do at this stage of our lives. As you see by Joe’s smiling face he and I are in total agreement on this fact.

Next, the food. Perfection. Yesterdays birthday boys choice was Arroz Con Mixto. This is a rich brown rice packed with your choice of two fresh from the sea treats. Joe’s choice – shrimp and calamari. When he was given his plate Eva the chef had thrown in baby pulpo (octopus) as well. AND papas fritas.

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Now don’t say a word, Joe wanted french fries (papas fritas) but Eva said that she did not have any so he changed his order from Shrimp in Garlic Sauce with French Fries to the Arroz con mixto  dish. But when his plate was delivered Eva had found him the potatoes he wanted…a starch fest for sure. Joe did not complain.

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Viviana and her cousin were out walking on the beach and stopped by to say hello and brought Joe a piece of birthday cake. This was tres leches which is a very rich cake with three different types of cream added to make it even richer.

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Viviana and Joe sharing a hug. She is a lovely young woman, a great entrepreneur and has a wonderful family that is so supportive of her and the business.

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On our walk back down the beach, Joe had to show his cliff diving stance with the beautiful South Pacific sunset in the background.

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What a great way to celebrate a birthday….we need to do this every week. Oh I forgot we do make it our Sunday ritual to visit Viviana’s for a late lunch each week. How blessed are we?

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One last photo of last evenings sunset. Happy Birthday Joe may this year be filled with blessings beyond your wildest dreams!

Lobster in Paradise

During the week I approached Freddy about getting shrimp.  He walked me down to where the fishing boats are stored one block from our house and asked a woman on a hammock about camerones. She said no and we walked back to the house together. I went about my business and I thought he went about his. About 15 minutes later he shows up with three black plastic bags in the back of his truck. One held 4 lbs of nice sized heads-on shrimp and the other two had live lobsters. Yes, you read that right, three large and about 10 small spiny lobsters all dancing around in the bags wanting out.

I went absolutely crazy wild and he sold me all of this for $27.50.

I packages the shrimp up in three individual triple wrapped package and put those right in the freezer but the lobsters were going to be MINE, hear me, ALL MINE.  Well except for what I shared with Joe that is.  ; ) grin

I know this picture looks strange but I wanted to see the march of the lobsters before I put them in the pot! They did a good job of shaking their tentacles at me but as for the marching not so much!

I had never cooked live lobsters before, you know those frozen tails you could get at the market were the extent of my experience. But I never shirk from a new cooking task and this was just another learning experience for me. On to the internet to find out what folks do with lobster. Boiling seems to be the best way when it comes to live lobster so Joe found my largest pot (remember we are living out of boxes and our suitcases as I really do not want to repack again before moving into our house) I got it filled with water added salt and put it on the stove. As soon as it started to boil I split the lobster into batches and started dropping them in the pot, the little guys put up a fight, one attempted a speedy escape almost jumping out so I had Joe standing there with the lid to the pot ready to push those babies back in the pot if they tried that again.

I must admit that we ate every last bite that night. I heated up butter and made a cocktail sauce and we sat while watching some TV shows on the computer stuffing our faces until our stomachs were ready to burst…it was truly the most enjoyable feast we have had in a very long time.  Thank you Freddy and now I know all I need to do is go to his friend Panocho and he will sell me whatever he has in stock. The blessing keep coming!!!! Thank you

Visiting Puerto Engabao

Yesterday was a great day to take a bus trip over to Puerto Engabao. This is the hot surf beach for around Playas. The bus is caught across the street from Bank of Guayaquil and it is a short 25-30 minute trip to the small town of Engabao for .50 cents or onto Puerto (port) Engabao for an extra .25 cents. The drive through Engabao was fascinating as the streets are filled with pigs: big pigs, little pigs, pink pigs and dark pigs. It was amazing to see that many pigs just wandering around the streets. Not a town I would feel comfortable living in.

We made it to the port and the beach is just breathtaking. My friend Nancy recently completed a program where a foundation supplied materials, training and assistance for any family interested in opening a Surf Casa in their homes. The Surf Casa program is where a family sets aside an area in their home for rent to the many surfers that visit the area. The program gave the supplies necessary to refurbish the room with tile floors, beds and mattresses, a TV and a complete bathroom.   In my opinion it was a great success with 18 families participating. The town now has rooms to rent at $10 per night for the surfers that visit. In the past these visitors would end up coming back to Playas to spend the night. This way the local community gets some needed revenue from the visitors that use their beaches and surf their waters.  Nancy stopped to visit with one mamacita who participated in the program. Below is her beautiful Surf Casa.

I must admit I forgot to take my camera so these photos are from Nancy’s and she loves to have a person in the shot.

These guys were shucking oysters on this part of the beach. Nancy had one of her many friends get a few for us to try. I am not a fan of the huge oysters (ostra) found at most of the restaurants here but these were the regular oysters that I enjoy steamed and they were excellent. After Nancy added juice from two limons and a bit of salt, I added a small amount of hot sauce and we were ready to dig in.  These were beyond fresh, I honestly think they were still moving!  Joe was so proud of me as I have never eaten raw oysters before. Excellent!

The beach is deserted with very few houses or structures of any kind. It was noticeably cooler than Playas with a very stiff breeze off the water as you can see from most of these photos.

This area is exceptionally beautiful, unpopulated and pristine. I did not notice the plastic that you find all over the Playas beaches, no bags, bottle caps or plastic containers from food. I hate to see such beauty desecrated with garbage. It was a very enjoyable trip and I have only Nancy to thank for bringing me along for this visit!

This is the church located as you come into town. Made of bamboo mind you!

Mussels for Lunch Today

This morning I found mussels (mejillones) at the mercado so I snatched up a bag for $1 and hurried home to clean them and get them in the refrigerator.

I am addicted to cooking and garden shows, and so I get most of my ideas from watching folks like Julia Child and Jacques Pippin make cooking look so easy.  Joe downloads anything in these two categories that he can get his hands on. I am currently watching Season 2 of Laura Calder’s French Food at Home series. One of the recent episodes was a show on mussels. I am going to try that recipe –  with my personal changes of course – for our lunch today.

First you need to look at your mussels to be sure they are still alive – no cracked or open shells. If a shell is open, tap it gently to see if it closes. All of the ones I bought were good to go. Clean them well under running water, even used a small veggie brush to take away any sand and removed the beard at this point by pulling downward. Drain and leave in a colander, with a dish underneath, and cover with a damp piece of paper towel and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.

Mussels Steamed in Wine

Ingredients

  • 1 – 2 pounds mussels
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes
  • 5-8 peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoon butter
  • A handful chopped fresh basil

Directions

  1. Add the olive oil, bay leaf, shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes and peppercorns to a large pot and sauté for a few minutes, be careful not to burn the garlic or shallots. The ingredients should perfume before adding the wine. Bring to a simmer and add the mussels, cover, and steam until they open, 5 minutes.
  2. Remove the mussels to a large serving bowl with a slotted spoon, discarding any that have not opened. Bring the wine to a boil and whisk the butter in, along with half of the basil, cook for one minute and pour over the mussels.  At this point you could also add a few tablespoons of cream but I felt the butter was more than enough flavor for this dish.
  3. Sprinkle the remaining basil over the mussels and serve with thick slices of french bread or any hardy homemade bread.

I use Chilean Clos white wine because it has a screw cap and can be kept in the refrigerator for months and it is still good to use in these type recipes. It is very difficult to find shallots here, I had three small ones from several months back. If you cannot find them you can use spring onions or any onion just for the flavor.

Joe loved every single mussel and sat with a spoon and bread to get every last drop of the liquid. I would say that this recipe was a huge hit at our house and it cost .50 cents per person for the main ingredient. What a deal!

Meeting New Friends, Gabriela y João

Our friend Roger Hollander introduced me to Gabriela and João, visiting Playas for a month-long vacation from Ontario. This week they took a day trip up the coast to see many of the coast town and villages, and get a feel for our lovely beaches. Salinas impressed them and we talked at length about living there. They are enjoying the abundance of seafood options and especially love the almuerzo lunches.

Here they are pictured at Playagringo after spending the day in the sun.

The love of traveling must be in their blood and who knows where their next vacation will lead them. I know they miss family and friends but spending your days on the beach cultivating that perfect tan, eating seafood almost every meal and enjoying quiet nights at Playagringo (http://playagringo.wordpress.com) with Roger and Carmen is a wonderful way to spend a month.

A lovely couple that I plan on keeping in touch with after they leave, we spent hour upon hour just chatting away about all of our adventures. What a fun couple.

Caros amigos, Gabriela e João, apreciar o balanço das suas férias aqui em Playas!