Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daily life bumps in Cuenca

Hey, if you have not thought of this, bring a kitchen timer.  I tossed ours in at the last minute but it has been a small item we use several times per day.  First of all, many ovens/stoves here do not have a clock or timer. Secondly, most people soak their vegetables and fruits in a mild cleaning solution to avoid intestinal issues so one needs a timer for that constantly.  It is a small thing but a handy thing to pack if you have one. Avoids spending money on a new one.

For me, living in Cuenca for a little over 4 months has been a mostly easy transition.  With a few bumps.  The biggest challenge for me is not being able to see my kids or grandchildren at regular intervals.  My son lives in San Diego with his wife and 2 children so when we lived in Oregon, we often saw them only 2-3 times per year.  Portland and San Diego are a long way apart. But I could count on those visits.  We would plan them and look forward to them and feel blue when each visit was over. Now that we live 4000 miles away, it is harder to plan.  From their perspective, school schedules, jobs and the business of managing a home with a large garden impact when they will visit us in Ecuador.

My daughter and her husband and pre-schooler live in The Dalles, a small town east of Portland. Len and I were delighted to see them about once every month or two.  We often cared for our grandson overnight once per month.  We LOVED that time.  We were there from his premature birth forward.  He just turned 3 years old.  We saw B often enough for him to really recognized us. He was only slightly shy with us at the beginning of each visit. I do not know when my daughter and her family will be able to visit Ecuador but I hope it will not be too long.  They too have a school schedule to maintain, jobs and working on their home... so maybe it will be next summer.  There there are my parents, the amazing 93 yr and 94 yr old, and my 3 brothers and their families many of whom live in the Boise, Idaho area.  It will be great to see them when we visit as soon as our cedulas are completed.

I will say once again, a major factor in me feeling confident and at home here is to learn to speak Espanol.  I am working on it but it will talk quite awhile before I can hold my own in even a simple conversation.  Once I am a little more able to speak the language of this city/country, I will venture out more frequently and really explore the surroundings.

It was very fortunate that I had discovered a hobby i really like.  I began quilting about 3 years ago and find it ever more absorbing.  I have begun to design my own wall hangings and quilts.  None are completed yet but one is about half done.  As usual, I have about 3 projects going at once so that I can move to another one if the first project seems to tire me or I get stuck.

It is very thoughtful that some people have written to ask how our 16 year old cat Feisty is doing.  Feisty is a pistol.  Sometimes, I'm told, cats are hesitant and have a very difficult time adapting to a new life style.  Feisty used to hunt a huge patch of orchard behind our country home.  Her specialty was the mouse family: voles, moles, shrews, mice and squirrels.  She seemed to leave wild birds alone which was nice.

We moved into this lovely Cuenca apartment where Feisty has no outside space at all but she just took charge of life here.  She is relaxed, has favorite sleeping spots but rotates them often, explores every inch of the apartment and asks very clearly for food if her bowl is not topped off.  It used to be when new people came to our two story home, she would disappear upstairs and not return until company had departed.  These days, if someone comes, she greets them with a loud but friendly meow, she follow them around to see what they are doing, uses her meow being "chatty" or demanding.  The second of those two vocalizations means she needs food, or at least her opinion is that she needs fresh food.

All of that summarizes my main bumps in adapting easily to live in Cuenca. Oh, except for one that is requiring a LOT of patience and mature behavior because there is truly nothing we can do to impact how fast this is done. I am referring to the cedula every immigrant requests to become a legal resident of Ecuador beyond the tourist visa of 90 days. Normally it takes about 90 days to complete.  We got all of our info to our attorneys in February but had to be here in person to submit the request, meaning we submitted everything May 16th.

A personal goal about moving to South America is that we had planned to visit the US every 6 mos or with our first visit planned for October, 2011.  However, we are still awaiting for receive residency to become legal so that we can leave the country without having to begin the process all over again.  We were told it would take 90 days?  A snafu in the Ecuadorian ministry that handles residency requests has resulted in hundreds of immigrants piled in a queue with no word of how long it will take. In addition, Ecuador has determined that each citizen (man woman and child) needs a new cedula now so there is a huge hubbub among people trying to get that accomplished.  So we may not be able to visit when we had hoped.  Or... our process may be completed suddenly in the next few days.  No one knows.  It is a little frustrating.   But this is part of living in a new country.one with different procedures and strengths, as well as some weak points.

The good news for people who are thinking of moving here: the residency process will hopefully be a bit improved for your applications. I'm told the department of immigration (i call it that, I'm not sure what the official name is) is installing a new computer system to upgrade the entire process.  Once that is completed, the steps may go more smoothly for people wanting to become residents of Ecuador.  I'm told that since August 1, any applicants need a criminal background check from your home country - others have blogged about this in more detail - in order to apply for residency. Some other blogs have discussed all the specifics.

On another note:
Today I plan to make some Thai fish appetizer rolls, a recipe in The Almond Cookbook. Except it will be our main dinner entree.  There are NO THAI RESTAURANTS in Cuenca.  This is a sad state for Lenny and me because we love Thai food.  I have not found any stores/tiendas that carry some of the basics of cooking Thai food: coconut milk is incredibly expensive here, and finding things like plum sauce or sweet chili sauce - well I've not been successful, yet.  I DID find fish sauce at a specialty spice and import shop located on Remigio Crespo, Canalaes is the tiny but packed tienda.  The fish sauce is good but a large bottle was $20!  Worth it to me to enable us to make our own Thai specialties and that bottle will probably last 5 years but I was shocked.  Its imported, clearly! 

My daughter-in-law in San Diego sent a care package with some brown rice flour and my favorite brand of chocolate chips as well as new tubes of Blistex.  It took a month to get here, going through Florida/where the international service Correos opens and inspects the package.   But it arrived. Hooray!!  Thank you Kathy!  Oh, and Pamela's brand of gluten free pancake mix for fun meals in a hurry.

My granddaughter E.C. helped weigh things because packages have to be under 8.8 pounds. She helped package them to be sent.  Part of a math project for a 3rd grader. She loves science and what makes things work. She collects rocks and has her own polisher.  Pretty cool, huh? She and her mom are talking about seeing if her class could befriend a class of 3rd graders here in Cuenca for some international sharing.

My grandson A.E. is playing soccer (football in South America and the rest of the world).  He went to a goalie clinic and wants to give that position a try.  He is 5!  But he is incredibly physically talented and has been since he could walk. He also loves to hop, jump and be on the move.

For the gluten intolerant readers, I was alaredy mixing some gluten free items to create a nice baking mix: Mandioca, a large, white-fleshed, and very nutritious tuber also called cassava or yucca, is native to the Amazon region and has been cultivated here for more than a thousand years. Its use as a staple spread as far north as Florida and to Africa, via Portuguese slave traders in the 16th Century.
Resembling a slightly gummy, subtly-sweet potato, mandioca can be boiled, fried, grated and transformed into fritters and hearty soups, or processed into meals and flours used in both sweet and savory baked goods. Tapioca comes from the same plant.

Also with the gluten intolerant readers in mind, I did a little research on arrowroot which has become more popular with the current popularity of almond flour to make foods suitable for gluten intolerant individuals. I have adapted the following info from theperfectpantry.com:

Arrowroot  in Espanol is arrurruz and is, in fact, a powder made from the ground root of a Marantha arundinacea, a plant indigenous to the West Indies. The starch is extracted from rhizomes that have been growing for 6-12 months. One explanation of how arrowroot got its name is that the Arawak Indians (who called it aru aru, meaning "food of food") used the starch to draw out the toxins from wounds made by poison arrows.

Considered easier on the stomach than other forms of starch, arrowroot contains calcium and carbohydrates (less than in cornstarch) as well as other nutrients, making it an effective digestive and nutrition aid. In many markets, arrowroot biscuit packaging now features happy, smiling babies on the box.
In the kitchen there are several advantages to using arrowroot.
First, it's a more powerful thickening agent than wheat flour. Substitute two teaspoons of arrowroot for one tablespoon of all-purpose flour. Half a tablespoon of cornstarch will give the same thickening power.
theperfectpantry.com said she usually substitutes one-for-one in recipes calling for cornstarch.
Second, arrowroot is flavorless and becomes clear when cooked. Unlike cornstarch, it doesn't taste like chalk when undercooked, and it doesn't dull the appearance of sauces, fruit gels or ice cream.
Third, arrowroot mixtures thicken at a lower temperature than mixtures made with flour or cornstarch, making it ideal for delicate sauces. Like cornstarch, arrowroot should be mixed thoroughly with a cold liquid before being added to hot mixtures.
 Penzeys.com sells arrowroot in the US, which can be a bit difficult to find in the supermarket but is readily available in health food stores. I believe Whole Foods carries it. I will warn you that it is expensive. Try using it instead of cornstarch or wheat flour in stew, gravy, stir fry cooking, thickening fruit sauces, etc.

The Almond Flour cookbook uses arrowroot in many of the recipes.
OK, that's all for today.

Wherever you are, have a fantastic day!


  1. Very informative, Sharon, thanks! I hope our paths cross in person someday. One of my best friends in Seattle is an amazing quilter and sent me the cutest purse for my birthday! My son and I are from Seattle, just a few hours away from Portland (which is an amazing city!)


  2. oh no, NO Thai food??? that's seriously no good! as soon as i get my act together i'm sending you a thai food prep care package! its just not right not to eat thai! ;o) (and i'll add in some choc chips too!)
    have you tried making coconut milk? people say it isn't too hard??

  3. I hope to meet you too, Trish. After you read my post today, I'd especially like to know your thoughts and experiences. How shall we make our paths cross?
    And dear Tania, I remember chowing on great Thai food with you many times. A friend here did the whole coconut into coconut milk process and said it was fantastic. It was a lot of work and I'd need an outside place to whack it apart. I'll think about how to make that happen. Last night I made Thai fish balls. I found some fish sauce - would you believe I paid $20 for a large bottle that may last me 5 years. I was just missing the sweet chili dipping sauce. I'll dream of a Thai care package...

  4. If you don' t have arrowroot, tapioca also works as a thickener and the dish doesn't taste like the tapioca pudding mom used to make. I would love the recipe for coconut milk. I have trees in my yard that will have ripe ones soon. If you are afraid of injuring yourself trying to cut into one, take it to your local butcher and ask them to cut it in half with their bandsaw, every butcher shop has one. All woodworking or cabinet shops also have bandsaws. I am woodturner and I have one and it works great for opening coconuts.