Chaos to Cosmos
The path from chaos to cosmos was discovered by telling one's life story

Thursday, 19 April 2007

How to Go Completely Bananas

Completely Bananas
Going Bananas
It's hardly surprising that I have once lived on a banana plantation - since the Canary Islands are famous for them - where these bananas were growing a few feet from the door. It was certainly an interesting experience, but one I only recommend to people who enjoy lots of dust and interminable swarms of flies that make it absolutely impossible to open windows, which is not great in sub-tropical heat.

Anyway, consequently, I often get an awful lot of bananas to eat ...

One problem single cooks come across frequently is the need to buy food in packs or quantities that are too large for single consumption, which can create a lot of waste or a lot of leftovers. But what would you do if you were given this many bananas for one - around 20 kilos of them - as a gift? My landlady, brought me all of these from her plantation. Well, I abhor waste, so for the last couple of weeks, I've been doing my level best to ensure that they have all been used or stored.

Arroz a la inglessaA local specialty and one which I frequently throw together is Arroz a la Cubana (Cuban Rice, which I have on authority, is never made in Cuba!) It's a perfect dish for using bananas that are slightly more ripe than I like for eating raw.

Fortunately these bananas ripened gradually and not all at the same time.
"The easiest way [to store them] is just to throw them in the freezer ... yep skins and all. When you are ready to use them for baking, just defrost, snip off the tip with scissors and squeeze out like toothpaste!"
Yes, it's fortunate that I like bananas, but ... One warning: your mileage may vary, of course, but if you do ever have a large surfeit bananas, do please store them instead of trying to eat too many at once. My experience has been that, after an initial upturn in what we shall politely term "human waste production", the over consumption quickly provoked a pretty severe case of "banana blockage".

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Tip o' the Day: The Solar Dryer - Free

"Some call it a solar dryer. Our moms call it the clothesline. Nature's way of drying clothes, and nobody seems to do it anymore. Some say it brings down property values. Others say that only those that "stay-at-home" can do it. We say, give it a shot."
Solar drier, indeed. Like we need a new name for it. We should do this. I'd love to, but oh, if only it were that simple: Renting means that I cannot make holes in walls to put up an old-fashioned washing line, wherever I like.

Bent TreeStrong winds - I mean gale-force - buckled a whirly washing line within minutes of digging a hole into the incredibly hard, volcanic soil, filling it with cement and getting the thing fixed up. Well, if the wind can do this to trees in this valley, it's hardly a surprise.

Frequent rain and constant low-lying cloud and mist mean that several months can pass when nothing will dry outside here. This rain and fog (it's really low cloud) used to be confined to the winter months, but in recent years, this has even occurred throughout the summer and now, in spring, it has become erratically changeable so that one day can be dry and sunny, the next misty or the morning can be warm, then cloud descends - by surprise - in the afternoon. Yes, I know this is constantly warm Tenerife - Island of the Eternal Spring - but this is a fertile valley in the north, where "horizontal rain", brought by the trade winds, condenses onto the mountains. That's how we get our year round greenery and Spring flowers. 

And the house is unheated and so damp that you cannot dry clothes indoors. If you try to bring even mildly damp clothes inside, even just overnight, they get that horrible moldy damp smell that you can never wash out again and that requires you to simply throw the items away. You should smell the perfectly dry stuff that I brought here when I moved in. The move was made on an incredibly hot day, direct from the desert south of the island. All I did was put things in the wardrobe: you know, where you expect to put clothes. Thousands of pounds worth of quality clothes; classics, designer suits, leather and suede items, boots and shoes, all went green, moldy and were ruined.

Anyway, it means that to dry a towel, for instance, I have to be able to absolutely guarantee at least two full, consecutive days of dry sunny weather, before I dare to do the laundry, if I wanted to hang it outside. Well, you can't guarantee the weather, so what options did I have? None. I had to buy a tumble drier.

But, having been forced into this, there are other considerations: One, having a dog and four cats, is that the drier sucks all their hair off of clothes, bed linen, etc. Pharmaceutical companies would get richer and use more energy to treat my allergies without the drier - not to mention that it is healthier for me.

The electrical supply in this house is so weak that I can't run any other appliances at the same time or it all "trips" off, so I'm not using extra and would hardly call this a "convenience". Running the drier is costing less and must be using less resources than constantly replacing clothes.

Another benefit is that I haven't used an iron in over decade. That must have saved energy (mine and electrical), so it's "swings and roundabouts."

Now, if only I could run the drier off solar energy ...

Friday, 13 April 2007

Friday the thirteenth, part deux

Friday the 13ths aren't supposed to be a problem in Spain. Here it's when the 13th falls on a Tuesday that you need to worry. (Likewise, look out for jokes on the Day of the Innocent Saints, December 28th, not April the 1st.) And all of my cats (and the dog) were born and bred on Spanish territory, sooo why do I get the impression that they were having a late April Fool / Friday the 13th joke on me yesterday?

The day had started with Balu and Kitty being reluctant to being photographed for their 6th birthday and, degenerated rapidly from there. Normally they just get on with the serious business of sleeping and let me work. Most of the time you wouldn't even notice that there are multiple cats in the house. 

Today, one after another, or in pairs, the cats wanted to spend time on my lap (Betty insisted on this and when Betty insists, you obey, because she bites and scratches and anyway, if you put her down, she just bounces back up again), on the desk, on the printer (that I've given up on being able to use and turned into a cat bed anyway), on my mouse arm, playing "musical chairs" with the basket on the dining table - first the two boys, Mico and Balu, then Kitty and Balu huddled in it, then ... Finally, the fluffy feline on his own curled up tightly in a ball, paw over nose and it looked like we'd get some peace. It didn't last long.

I'd also done a little spring cleaning and had stuff drying in the spare room that I wanted that fur persons kept away from. You're right, what I wanted and what I got were two entirely different things. Whatever you want kept away from cats is the very thing they become absolutely determined to get into. 

The Old Ruins of El PalmarIt's convenient here to understand how traditional Canarian cottages are built. They were mostly built of just two rooms, one of those previously being the kitchen / dining / living room and the other being the entire family's bedroom. (Plumbing and bathroom facilities, such as they were, were added later, outside.)

Lots of these typical thick walled cottages still exist, though the uses of the rooms have changed, they've had a coat of plaster and had iggldy-piggledy extensions added over the years, but one feature that remains - mostly out of the interests of economy - is that the doorway between the original two rooms does not have a door fitted in it. Despite the cosmetic changes, this type of dwelling is terminally damp, virtually unfit for human habitation, but "purrfect" for fools on a budget who want to rent an ideal location to keep a family of cats.

In the interests of warmth and privacy and, because there are other doors in and out of these rooms now, I have the gap closed with a wardrobe across it.

Ha, but, of course, the flying feline makes light work of jumping up onto the top of the wardrobe, squeezing his fat ass through the small gap at the top where the wardrobe is not quite as high as the doorway, shimmying right down the back of the wardrobe and into the spare room - right where you don't want him and that he now cant get out of because the other door is closed. So then I put some cardboard fruit boxes on top of the wardrobe to close the remaining gap. He sat on the bedside table for a few moments, looking up and thinking. Then he just jumped (flew) up onto the wardrobe, placed a paw behind the "offending" box, hooked it out of the way, shimmied through the gap and back down again. I added more obstacles. He surmounted them. He'd go round, I'd fetch him out.

Rinse and repeat. Incessantly.

Balu is bright, he's incredibly determined and he's an absolute menace. (Of course, he's also handsome and I love him to bits and he knows this!)

Meanwhile, I'd put a chair in front of the wardrobe so I could get up there to put these obstacles in Balu's way. Kitty, trying to see if she could use this chair as the quick way to the top, stands up on her hind legs and pushes the bedroom door closed. Just as the door starts swinging, she hops down and dashes through the gap in the nick of time. Thinks it's a game, does she?

The bed in the spare room is on legs, so Balu ran to hide under there. So I go in with the broom to sweep him out. He runs out and in the time it takes me to cross the hall (scant seconds), he's gotten into the basket, laid down and is lounging in there looking the picture of perfect innocence (almost).

What can you do? I was absolutely beside myself with laughter.

Friday The Thirteenth

Balu and Kitty on their 6th Birthday

Balu and Kitty celebrate their 6th Official Birthday today. Maybe "celebrate" is too strong a word. To be honest, I don't think they're the slightest bit interested. I tried having an "official birthday photo-shoot", for posterity, but all I got were some very serious expressions and a bit of a sneer from Kitty.

Today does bring bitter-sweet memories, as it is their first birthday without their brother Khan, who we lost to kidney failure last November. Maybe Kitty didn't want to be shown with her shaved neck, after blood tests. This morning, Kitty, who is normally a very independent Miss and prefers to sleep alone, was in bed with me when I woke up, tucked in beside me. Balu was, as usual, sitting on my chest, shouting at me for his breakfast, so some things are normal at least! 

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Being sick is harder when you live alone

For several days recently, I've only been able to stay awake for a couple of hours at a time - I suppose this is at least a change from the more usual insomnia and disrupted sleep - which has brought home one of the major disadvantages of living alone: nobody to take care of you when you're ill.

The upside of this, of course, is nobody could chastise me either for wasting those precious hours lazing around and nor can they see that nothing here has been washed in days; not pots, not floors, not even me!

Anyway, I do feel a little better this afternoon, but it has highlighted, for me, that I could have done with seeing a doctor, or even going to the pharmacy, but since both are an almost half-day's trip, the fact was that I wasn't well enough to consider making it, but, neither was it the sort of medical emergency that warranted calling an ambulance, for instance. This is a conundrum, I think that many of us living alone are likely to find ourselves in from time to time.

My tendency to bulk shop paid off, since I was not at risk of running out of basics, although, most days, it has almost been too much effort to make a cup of tea, let alone cook food. In my extreme rural location, I don't have neighbours to call on (and certainly none who would notice me by my absence) and, there is clearly more that I need to do to be prepared for such emergencies again.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

English as a second language

OK, I'll admit that like most "parents" (whether the "kids" have hair, fur or otherwise), I'm biased about my doggie's beauty and brains. Even so, I am still surprised by her abilities now and again and, especially her understanding of English.

This may have been cheeky on my part, but having an "English speaking" dog (OK, she speaks dog), in Spain, I felt, was a means to retain sole control and, would be an additional guard dog deterrent feature: other people might feel more uneasy when they don't understand a bloody word I'm saying to her. It also helps prevent them discovering that about the worst they would get from her is severe licking and a few whacks from a wagging tail! No this wouldn't work in tourist areas, but up here it does.

We do use "sit" for "sit", which most folk will recognize, but the few other commands we have attempted to learn, mostly, use non-standard English words too for additional effect. In reality, this was her idea, because she simply refused to have anything to do with the usual words, but I eventually cottoned on to the plan. Truthfully, most of what she understands, she's learned herself through osmosis. The uncanny bitch even knows her left from her right and the respective words, which not a few humans have considerable trouble over.

Anyway, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, we have bread delivered daily. This is great, but a whole loaf (really only a large roll) is actually too much for me. As I consider the pointed ends to serve a similar purpose as the handles on a Cornish pasty - i.e. they're there to keep your fingers clean, not to eat, what I do is to cut slices from the middle of the bread and the knob ends become "treats" for the dog. No, it's not just a case of using her as a K9 waste disposal unit - though, mostly, she is - bread really is pretty much her favorite treat.

We have technically termed these left over pieces, "dog ends."

So, this morning, I'd placed one of these "dog ends" on the kitchen table, but not given it to Holly. It was in reach and, most dogs are very good at stealing food. Nope, she hadn't been given it, so she didn't touch it. She certainly knew it was hers, guarded it and did have a few sharp words with a couple of cats who got too close to it, but that's all. I was making coffee at the time and could see the child-like excitement growing in her, so without looking round nor indicating at anything, I just said to her, "Is there something you want? Show me!

With that, she stands up and places her two front paws on the edge of the table, no more than 3 or 4 inches from the bread and nodded her nose towards it, before looking up at me with those huge, brown pleading eyes.

Obedience is not something I've ever forced on her, since a) I'm too much of a pushover and b) she has such a wonderful spirit that I didn't want to break (she's so smart and independent, I don't think I'd be successful anyway). But, as with many non-native English speakers, I'm coming to the conclusion that her comprehension of the language is close to surpassing mine!

Monday, 5 February 2007

Caution: Mystery Meat in Garden

Pork chop remains thrown onto our garden

What kind of being, because it sure isn't human, throws a pork chop bone - a little underdone, if you ask me - fresh from today's lunch, into someone else's garden? Bearing in mind that I live in the middle of nowhere and that nobody is going to drive half a mile to throw away a bone, then it has to have come from one of our group of only three houses here. One neighbour, who only comes on alternate weekends - including this - barbecues, just yards from where this was found.

My dog found this as we were going out to go for a walk: Ms Supersniffer went straight into the overgrown weeds where it had been thrown and had got it in a trice. Fortunately, a very sharp "Drop it!" command ensured that she did.

Besides being pork, which dogs shouldn't have and, apart from the fact that it's dirty and gross and would also have attracted all the other wild dogs, cats, rats and goodness knows what to our house if it hadn't been found, one has to be cautious of other non-kosher ingredients, because there are always accounts of people putting down poisoned meat to kill other people's animals here.

There honestly doesn't have to be a reason.

And the other neighbour (both neighbours are brothers) had been out spraying chemicals this morning. It would be just far too coincidental. Whilst I am not saying it was and I'm not about to have it analysed, I'm just saying it would not be unheard of, so I'm not about to take chances. It's also just bloody lucky that the cats have not been out for quite some time and are unlikely to do so, so they couldn't have found it first, when I wasn't around to act in time.

Why have the poor cats all been imprisoned again? Apart from bad weather and a list of other reasons, after losing Khan to kidney failure in November, his brother, Balu started pissing blood last weekend. Sister, Kitty just didn't seem her normal self, then Betty started throwing up. So, last Monday, I took the whole family to the vet, plus Mico and the dog. At this point I was fraught and not just from the constant "choral singing" on the long journey either.

One must not have favorites when one has a "numerous family", but the fact is that I found Balu, abandoned, when he was only 4 1/2 inches long, brought him up on the bottle and, unlike his siblings, constantly carried him around inside my clothing when he was "the baby who would not be put down." 

Brilliant vet mind you. Balu lay in my arms without being held down, while she shoved a catheter up his you-know-what to make sure there was no blockage and to "extract the urine", so to speak. He only flinched slightly, once.

Kitty walked out of the carrier, allowed herself to be prodded and poked, without complaint and, walked back in again.

Mico was also entirely unperturbed by the experience.

Holly is a damn traitor. She kissed the vet! Otherwise, she was a total menace, because she barked and lunged at all the other doggies in the surgery. Partly because she has no clue what a dog is and partly, because, obviously, she was protecting her "children", the cats.

And Betty did her usual two circuits of the surgery like a whirling dervish, before hiding in a cubby hole in the desk, from where I had to extract her - hissing, spitting and scratching - from between the computer cables.

Oh well, at least she didn't climb a wall this time. 

Then the nice lady vet, called Ana, hugged and talked to her. Actually, I think she may have hypnotized her, because Betty was the model of good behavior after that. By the end of the day though, I was wishing I could hop on the vet's table too, probably to be put out of my misery.

The upshot is that Balu had a very nasty urinary infection, but the results of the analysis did not indicate any other, more serious, problems. Phew!

Betty had wind (gas). However, during the rattling off of the long shopping list of animals, their histories and various symptoms, the vet did query if there was any possibility that they might have been coming into contact with poisons.

Funny she should ask ...

The council is also undertaking a large "desratización" (de-ratting) campaign here at the moment. They'd been round door-to-door and held meetings about it just before Christmas, but said that they were putting the rat poison into boxes and tubes to avoid risks to domestic animals. Locals, of course, never bother to tell me when they spray with weed killers and such. That is how I came to spend one Christmas Day in that same veterinary hospital with Betty, seven years ago and the next three days and nights nursing a cold cat that didn't move, jabbing her with Vitamin K. And if all that fails, they just throw mystery meat!

Friday, 5 January 2007

Three Kings 2007

The year the shepherds' campfire got a bit out of control

Thrones for their majesties

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Christmas 2006

Life-sized nativity on the steps of the town hall in La Orotava, Tenerife

An assortment of turrón

Pan de higo (fig cake)


Sunday, 26 November 2006

Khan - April 2001 to November 25th, 2006


Always a very timid cat, Khan, one of the three orphans I brought up on the bottle. He has suffered a few health problems in his 5 1/2 years, but with lots of love and effort, I finally persuaded him to come to me when he needed help, instead of going off to hide. On Friday, he was complaining a bit and restless, but mostly just wanted to snuggle up to me. Yesterday, he curled up in a box with an old towel. He never left the box and didn't wake up this morning.