Sunday, October 28, 2007

Images from a car

A local park with lots of autumn goodness:

Defacing public property:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Look to the right!

I added a glossary of words in Spanish, because sometimes it's awkward to work the meaning in to the post. It's not complete yet, I don't think, so if I missed one, avísenme.

That's my sneaky way of making you look.

Do you hear what I hear?

Earlier this week I went out to lunch with a coworker. As we took our seats, I noticed that the girl in the booth behind ours was speaking in Spanish. I immediately picked out the accent: the girl had to be from PR. Sure enough, a few seconds later she mentioned having been there recently.

I thought to myself, "When she hangs up, I'm going to talk to her." I figured that I'd like it if someone showed their mancha de platano to me if the situation were reversed. But then I worried that by having noticed her accent, I might be mistaken for having snooped on her conversation.

I mulled that one over, and then I realized she sounded upset as she was talking. So I actually did start to snoop and, indeed, she sounded furious. I decided I'd better not say anything and mind my own metiche business.

I've rarely gotten a chance to approach the few boricuas I have seen around here. And I know they were boricuas not because I was snooping on them, but because they branded themselves -- one guy had a patch of the PR flag on his jacket, another had a flag hanging from his car's rearview mirror. But, at lunch the other day, I had to laugh because my very first instinct was to flash my PR badge, feeling sure that this girl would respond in kind. When I lived in Florida I had to repress the urge to do that at first, because we're not such a rare specimen 'round those parts. I can only imagine what a Puerto Rican who has been there for a long time would think if someone excitedly said, "Hey, I'm from PR too!" Look around you, zangano, so is everyone else.

In Portland, though, the Puerto Ricans I have approached have reacted just like I expected them to -- really happy to find another Puerto Rican. I've received invitations to come over for an evening of arroz con gandules and salsa music. I've gone gone out with them to see the PR group Plena Libre perform in front of hundreds Portlanders who had no idea what to expect from the band, but were intrigued enough to check them out anyway. I'm not exactly the best dancer out there, but that was one night where my footwork easily outshone everyone else's!

I'm not very extroverted when it comes to approaching someone new. With Puerto Ricans in Portland, though, those inhibitions disappear. I guess when you weigh the possibility of embarassment with the possibility of finding others like you in a place where there aren't many, social anxiety has a way of seeming silly.

So the furious lunch girl: I did snoop, but it was with the best of intentions. And, to be honest, I still have no idea what she was so mad about!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cafe Crema

They don't make them like this anymore.

Esta es mi escuela

Catchy jingle, and, looking back, a very sweet commercial. Especially fun to sing in a sarcastic way when something went wrong at your school.


Intro to the single best cartoon on PR TV in the 80's. Even if it was Japanese.

Super sábados

This one's a longer one, it's a segment of Super Sabados, that variety show that seemed to last 15 hours and was on almost every TV on Saturday nights.


In the past couple of months I've noticed that people have started adding some old Puerto Rican commercials to YouTube. I've also found clips of old TV shows that I used to watch as a kid. I'm posting some here so you can walk down memory lane too.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Seasons in the sun

I've been thinking. I know. Anyway, I've been thinking that I like seasons. Also, that I don't like the heat so much.

Fall is rolling in right around now, and in Portland that means days of 60 degree temperatures, colorful leaves that only stick around for a couple of weeks before the customary autumn rain dumps them on the ground, and a respite from sweating.

This summer was not particularly hot, and it was nice while it lasted. But I have to confess that I was looking forward to fall, even with all its rain. I like the change of scenery and the change in temperature. I like how the air turns crisp, and you can feel it nipping at your skin. I like that I get to wear slimming jackets.

When I lived in PR, I think hardly a day went by where I didn't say "Ay, que calor". Unless I have a nice ocean or refreshing pool to jump right into, I've never been a fan of the heat. At first, realizing this, I felt bad, thinking that I was being a bad Puerto Rican. Because we all like the heat, right? All the time?

I'm not so sure, because if I complained about the heat almost every day, I just as often heard other people complaining about it too. I have my suspicions about how we all love the heat. So on that front, I feel vindicated.

But as nice as a year-long summer sounds, especially around, oh, January, I think my change-craving nature is well-served by living in a place that has four distinct seasons. To me, each Portland season can each be summarized with one color: fall is yellow, because it's the predominant color of the autumn palette; winter is gray, because, let's face it, that's the color of the sky during those rainy months; spring is a pale pink, because of the cherry blossom trees that sprout to life; summer is emerald green, because all that winter rain makes lush grass and trees possible. Not only do I get a new city every few months, but it all reminds me of how everything is linked, and even dreary things like winter rain serve a purpose.

It's not just the temperature that changes, or the foliage. Foods change, with different fruits and vegetables coming and going. I find myself craving different things depending on the time of year, and, come to find out, those things that I crave are what's in season. Just about a week ago I thought to myself, "Hmm, apples sound good". I've never used to be an apple fan, at least not in its raw, unadulterated state -- particularly because apples don't grow in PR (as far as I know), and by the time imported ones arrive they may be red, but not exactly delicious. Their mealy texture stuck with me, and I pretty much gave up eating them except in pies. Some time after I had this craving, Dave mentioned that it being apple season, we should venture out to an apple festival out in a town that's about an hour away. Aha! Apple season, you say?

I found this interesting, for two reasons: one, it has taken me forever to start to learn what's in season when; and two, having grown up in a place with virtually no seasons, I'd have assumed that my body would behave differently. After being here a while, however, I'm finding that I grow increasingly attuned to my natural surroundings. Not to be all cheesy, but I like that. It makes me feel like part of a process that goes back to time immemorial, of being aware of nature and what it can give you. And in a way it surprises me, because all these changes have been gradual, and now, years after moving here, I feel like I'm opening my eyes after having closed them for just a second and realizing I actually took a long nap. Look at me, craving apples in the fall. When did that happen?

I'll give in, and maybe make an apple pie this weekend for dessert. But for dinner, we're having arroz y habichuelas and bistec encebollado.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Nothing like the smell of pork to wake you up in the morning

So this past weekend was pernil weekend.

Prep started on Friday, when Dave came home with this hunka burnin' love:

20 lbs of bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder. He had to place a special order at Gartners Meats, a fantastic butcher shop here in Portland. They, in turn, got it from Carlton Farms, purveyor of healthy, rosy pigs to good restaurants all over Oregon. Our particular cut was gorgeous -- this pig led a good life. I ensured a good cooking session for Piggy here by surrounding him with the saints you see in the votive candles.

With the pig finally obtained, we turned to the seasoning. Pork shoulder can be a fairly bland-tasting cut on its own, so it needs some help. When it's 20 lbs, it needs some serious help.

We decided to use a two-pronged approach: stuff it with sofrito (left), and cover it with adobo (right). I have to confess that the sofrito looks less than stellar because I had made it previously, frozen it for later use, and re-heated it. It tasted good; not great, as with fresh sofrito, but I'll be damned if I'll make fresh sofrito every time I need some. (Recipes at the end of this post).

We started by stabbing holes into Piggy with a steak knife. These holes don't need to go all the way down to the bone, but should be a couple of inches deep. Into these holes you'll be stuffing your seasoning. I just used both ends of a spoon: the spoon itself to start puring the sofrito in, and the handle to gently tamp it down to make room for more. Eventually, you'll start to see it spill out from the hold, and that's when I stuck a slice of garlic in there. You are supposed to stuff it in there until you can't see it, but I left mine peeking out of the holes, so that I could keep track of which ones were filled already. As for the seasoning, sofrito was nice, but I think I'd like to use adobo next time because the flavor is more intense. The bottle of Tecate in the background is not part of the recipe, it's just there for the chef's enjoyment. The cell phone is there for the chef to call her mother and her friend, Elsie, back in PR, for last-minute questions. They've done this before, I haven't.

After stabbing and filling all sides:

our pig is ready to have his garlic secured and be massaged with adobo:

At this point, I placed Piggy in a roasting pan, covered it in plastic wrap, and refrigerated overnight. This bad boy needs time to marinate.

At 5:30 the next morning, we placed it in a 250 degree oven, tented it with foil, and stuck a thermometer in it. (Note: we put Piggy on a roasting rack, and in a roasting pan. For the love of God, don't forget to line the roasting pan with foil, like I did. Unless you like cleaning up a lot of fat, then by all means, forget.) The aim was to cook it low and slow, especially during the hours of 5:30 and 8:15 am, during which both chefs had gone back to bed and did not wish to run the risk of leaving a hotter oven unattended. The temperature was brought up, over time, to 350, then 370, and this cooking process went on for about 9 hours. The smell that permeated the house was unbelievable. Our landlord was outside doing yardwork, and he said he was drooling from the smell. Drooling in a good way.

Nine hours is a crazy-long time, but there's a reason. Bone-in pork shoulder is very fatty. That fat has to render, or else you'll be left with a thick slab of blubber and dry meat. To render this fat and have it permeate the meat and leave it soft, moist, succulent, and a host of other words that I find gross but are really what you're looking for in the end result, the cooking should be done at medium temperatures for a long time.

Once out friend reaches 140 degrees, we can untent it. Also, we can quickly remove it from the oven and pour out the juices, as these will make the inside of the oven humid and prevent the skin from crisping up. I'm told you can make gravy out of the brown bits and juices, but to be honest the juices were very very fatty, and I just couldn't see myself successfully making gravy out of it. If you're thinking you might want to give it a shot, then lining the pan in foil is not a good idea. But really, I'm telling you, it is.

At 180 degrees Piggy is done cooking, and we're ready to make some cracklin' out of that skin. I mean, that's the reason we got it skin-on, so we could make some awesome chicharrón, or pork rind, out of it. We blasted it up to 425 degrees for, say 10 minutes. The skin ends up rock-hard to the touch, but once you let the pernil rest you will see that the skin peels off easily. The adobo will have browned and hardened up in clumps, there will be a thin layer of flavorful fat underneath, and I promise you, you'll never have so easily looked heart disease in the eye and said, "Bring it on. Nothing matters now".

I'd like to say that I have a picture of the end result, before it was carved up and eaten. See, what happened was that we were in a hurry to leave, so we packed Piggy up and took it to a potluck. I figured I'd take a picture once we arrived. Well, we arrived, set Piggy down, and went to say hi to our friends. I then grabbed my camera and sauntered back to the table to find this:

You can get a bit of an idea of what the skin looks like from looking at the bone sticking out on the left. Dark, and looking like tanned hide. The picture is blurry because people were waiting to continue picking at Piggy and I had to be fast. You can see the slices of garlic that I stuck in there, and also the sofrito.

This thing was other-worldly. Everybody at the party went crazy over the pernil. I was a bit concerned, thinking that the fatty meat and fatty skin might turn some people off in its primitive, caveman appearance -- especially since Portlanders have a reputation for healthy living. But these people got in touch with their inner primeval hunter and chowed down. The meat was tender enough that slicing wasn't necessary, you could just pull it off with a fork. And if you were lucky, you'd geta piece that was speared with the sofrito and garlic. The combination of the soft-but-present seasoning in the meat was wonderfully countered with the intense saltiness and crunch of the skin. We received many compliments on Piggy. And we learned that while pernil is certainly something that takes time and effort, it's not difficult, and the results it yields are absolutely worth it. Especially that skin and meat mix -- that combo will make you wonder why anyone would want to be vegetarian. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that I couldn't do it. I would think of Piggy, and weep.

Dave came up with the adobo recipe, which is why the measurements are precise.

36 cloves (half mashed up into a paste for the adobo in a mortar and pestle, the other half sliced to stick into the holes)
6 tbsp salt
6 tsp olive oil
6 tbsp vinegar (white or red wine will work)
3 tbsp ground pepper
4 tbsb oregano

I came up with the sofrito recipe, which is why the measurements are not precise.

2 bunches of cilantro
1 bunch of parsley
3 garlic cloves (or so)
1 red pepper
1 medium onion (or thereabouts)

This gets blended in a food processor until it becomes a paste, or as close as this will get to a paste. This recipe is for a big batch -- I then freeze it in ice cube trays to make it easier to use the sofrito once it's been frozen. For Piggy, I went through about 9 ice cubes of sofrito. I never add salt to my sofrito because I like to control the amount of salt I use right when I am cooking. For the sofrito I added to Piggy, I actually added a lot of salt. That's as close a measurement as I have, but for this application I would say add as much as you are comfortable with, then add more.

Sofrito's ingredients are usually a bit more interesting that this one's, but they are not easily found around here which is why I substitute. For example, usually instead of cilantro, which is the base, culantro is used. Culantro is a flat-leafed relative of cilantro and has a headier cilantro taste but with less of an edge. Its flavor profile is too strong to be eaten raw, like cilantro can be, so it is used mainly for cooking. Red and green peppers can be used, but a better flavor comes from ají dulce, or sweet peppers. I've never seen those here either. I guess it's time to start my own little garden.

Blog Action Day: Ways to make your daily life more green

Blog Action Day is an event of sorts, where a particular topic is chosen and bloggers are asked to participate by writing about it on one particular day. Today is the environment.

There's lots that could be said, I suppose, about the environment, but since I'm no expert on the subject I thought I could participate by talking about some of the ways I've incorporated green living into my daily life. And I stress simple because I am, by nature, lazy, and I have a suspicion that I'm not the only one. However, I've noticed that in the last few years I've become more aware of the waste I produce. Maybe it's that after a few years of living on your own and not having someone else take care of household needs, you get to see first-hand just how much goes into maintaining a household. By becoming more attuned to that, it's also made me more aware of other things I do in my daily life that are not household related that also generate waste. As I started to list them, it got to be a bit embarassing to see how disposable my life has become.

So below are some things I've started to do that are simple, but have generated noticeably less waste. Whereas I was throwing out garbage daily or every other day, I'm only filling my garbage can about twice a week.

Recycling, and not just cans: I have curbside recycling, which I know is a lot easier than having to do it in places (like, PR, I believe), where there is no such service and you have to take recycling out to designated spots yourself. Aside from cans, I recycle things like bottles and all other glass containers, plastic, egg cartons, cardboard boxes, cardboard packaging, the cardboard rolls that come with toilet paper and paper towels, magazines, and non-confidential mail. I separate them as I toss them, and once a week I set it all out on the curb. That alone is what's helped me dramatically reduce how much I send to the landfill as garbage.

Cut out bottled water as much as possible: I'll admit, I developed a bottled water habit. Even at home, even though our tap water tastes perfectly fine. I was buying bottled water for home consumption, and even though I recycled all the bottles, it still struck me just how many bottles I was using (not to mention spending money on something I can easily get for free.) I started drinking tap water at home, and I bought a water bottle to fill up for when I go out for a walk, or for use during car trips, that I fill at home before leaving. Sure, there are times when I just don't have the bottle with me and I'm in a situation where bottled water is my only option, and that's fine. I try to save the bottle and make sure it gets recycled. But I feel better knowing that a) I'm responsible for a little less disposability in this world, because I'm not supporting an industry that supplies us with so much pastic because of the high demand for it, and 2) I'm being more concientious, moneywise.

Buy less pre-packaged meals: As a natural follow-up to cutting out the bottled water habit, I've also been buying less and less pre-packaged foods at the supermarket. I stopped buying a lot of them some time ago, more for health and quality reasons than environmental concerns, especially now that I've actually learned how to cook, but I've found it can extend to things such as popcorn. I always just bought the microwaveable kind, but it's just as easy to make your own out of the kernels that are sold alone for stovetop or machine use. And if laziness is as much a part of your life as it is mine, here's a way to make popcorn kernels in the microwave. (Note: it calls for you to staple the bag, which I have been told is safe, but you can just as easily fold over the bag twice and it will keep the bag sealed too). Yes, yes, there is also waste involved in this microwave method, but it is less than the cardboard box and individual plastic wrapping that surrounds each bag. And less waste is not the only reason to do this - there are concerns that chemicals added to microwaveable popcorn (PFOA's, which are there for non-stick purposes) can be harmul to your health. Also, fresh just tastes better, and it's cheaper.

Bring my own utensils and plates to work: In an effort to save money, I try to bring my own breakfast and lunch to work. At my desk I keep a plate, a plastic cup, and my own silverware. By not using disposable utensils, I save myself the hassle of having to buy more and, of course, create less waste.

Bring your own mug when you get coffee: When I don't bring my own mug of coffee to work, I still bring the empty mug with me to the coffee shop. They deduct a whole 5 cents from the price, and I don't have to throw away cups that can't at least be recycled.

Wear a sweater: This obviously shouldn't apply to people in PR (and if it does, they're total masochists), but now with colder weather upon us I try to not jack of the thermostat. Rather, I keep it kind of low, and make sure to wear swaters and warmer clothes when I'm at home. As much as a nice warm PR day might seem appealing when outside it's cold and gray, I really don't need to be trying to recreate that temperature indoors.

Reuse as much as possible: In my opinion, ziploc bags are a fantastic invention that also doubles as environmentally evil. You use one bag and then toss it. Multiply that by a gazillion times over your lifetime, and that's a lot of non-biodegradeable plastic you're tossing. When I use them for storing foods that don't leave a mess, I save them to use again later. Plastic supermarket bags can be reused as garbage bags, which lessens the amount of garbage bags you have to buy.

Bring your own mags to the supermarket: Plastic shopping bags can come in handy sometimes, but they're an environmental blight. They don't biodegrade, so that bag you were just given in order to place your solitary tube of toothpaste in is going to be around forever. Really. I bought a few canvas bags and I take those with me to the store. Anyone who has tried to find a place to keep the countless plastic bags they try to save at home knows that they multiply like breeding rabbits. I have noticed a marked decrease in how many plastic bags I have to stuff aside somewhere. And not only is it kinder to the environment to use my own bags, but it's remarkably easier to carry bigger purchases -- you don't have thin plastic handles cutting into your hand, and since you can fit more items in one canvas bags, you're not juggling around a bunch of smaller ones that can sometimes break. And for you penny-pinchers, most supermarkets will give you a 3 cent credit per each bag you bring.

I mentioned using paper towels earlier, and I know that it's, like, Green Living 101 to cut those out. I have to admit that I like them much better than using rags, but my next step is to reduce my paper towel usage or eliminate it entirely.

There are more ideas here. Any more suggestions?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


There's nothing quite like a tasty, juicy pernil, whic is simply a roasted pork shoulder. Unfortunately, it's hard to find the right cut of meat over in these parts, as pernil is made of bone-in pork shoulder and all I can find is boneless.

Dave inquired at a reputable butcher shop, and they are able to order in that cut from their purveyor. By Friday we'll have two bone-in pork shoulders, one of which we'll take to a large potluck we're attending on Saturday. The other will be great for homemade Cuban sandwiches. Now all I need to do is learn to bake the right kind of bread for cubanos, but that's beyond my abilities at this point.

We've never made a proper pernil before, and, frankly, I'm nervous. I want to do this pig right. Also, I want to show up at this party with a kick-ass PR dish, and be able to gloat about how fantastic our food is. Godspeed to us, and I'll try to document the pernil-making process for posterity. If it comes out well it will be a photojournalistic triumph. If not, it will probably be a cautionary tale of how not to cook a big ol' slab of pig.