Monday, January 26, 2009

Talking about my garden

One of the things I enjoy about living in a tropical island is that plants grow throughout the year without worrying about the changes of the seasons because in PR we just have two: hot and less hot. I can easily buy a tomato plant in January as in June, as they say, the sky is the limit. I had envisioned a lush garden filled with tomatoes, cabbages, carrots and every kind of vegetable at the grasp of my hands! Only to discover that I end up killing most seedlings that I plant and the few that do survive look like they are about to expire any minute now. Therefore, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll leave the difficult process of nourishing seeds into beautiful plants to the professionals. A couple of weeks ago I decided to buy plants since I had grown desperate, that planting seeds takes a lot more patience than I have. Seeds grow so slow and die so easily on me that I bought a few plants, already grown… easier to take care of. This morning I went to water them and discovered that my eggplant plant (shrub?) had a delicate little flower and a few more about to bloom, so people (person? Does anyone read this?) very soon you’ll see quite a few eggplant recipes. Will I dare to make eggplant cupcakes?

The tiny eggplant flower.

Hot chile.

Commonly used in Puerto Rican cuisine.

View of the sky from my backyard.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Festival del Pastel

This past November el Festival Nacional Del Pastel was held in the town of Orocovis here in Puerto Rico. This is the 8th year of the Festival and the first year that I attended. I decided to go with my parents and my brother quite spontaneously, thinking maybe I would get to at least see some of the beautiful scenery of the Island not expecting much from a Festival I had never heard of. A pastel is something like the Puerto Rican version of tamales but using plantains, some people make it with rice instead of plantain. It is usually eaten during the Holidays but can be eaten any time of the year, for me it is not Christmas unless I eat roasted pork and pasteles with some morcillas (blood sausage). To get to Orocovis one has to drive a relatively short trip through the Ferré Expressway and interior small roads of the Island that curve from one side to the other as if dancing around the mountains.

Upon arriving there was the task of finding a place to park and knowing my parents this would take a while since they can be quite paranoid and constantly think everyone is trying to rob them, but to my surprise they parked in the first parking lot they found. Once we walked for a few minutes we finally arrived at a small parking lot where the Festival was. Even though it was a small humble affair it turned out to be quite fun.

The sky looks so blue in Puerto Rico during the cold months.

Pique is the preserve of spicy ajies (hot tiny peppers) in vinegar and oil with garlic and oregano and other herbs. It is used as a seasoning in soups, stews and meats, but can be used in almost everything you might want to make spicy. Pique Mi Madre is one of the best I've tasted, being very hot and savory at the same time.

Green papayas. They are used green to make Dulce de Lechosa a kind of sweet preserve that tastes deliscious with some white cheese.

Green plantain, perfect to be eaten boiled or as platanutre, the Puerto Rican version of potato chips.

Puerto Rican candy: Dulce de coco a candy made with coconut and hard caramel are the small round ones in red (dulce de coco covered in strawberry candy), pink (with guava), white and brown (with coffee) in the back; dulce de ajonjoli made with sesame seeds are the squares at the left; to the right is pasta de mango or mango paste, something like quince or guava paste but with mangos; in the front left is the candied dried friuts in hard caramel; Dulce de almendras or almond candy is in front, kinda like peanut brittle; and to the front right is more Dulce de coco.

Dulce de coco.

Lady serving a nice platter of Arroz con gandules (Rice with Pigeon peas).

This man was sellind that weird can with the rooster on top. When you pull the string it makes a sound like a rooster. Me and my brother heard it and thought they had live roosters in the festival and ran towards the noise excited about it only to find the man with the can.

Güiros. Typical musical instrument that is played by scraping thelined part with a kind of metal brtush, made from higueros, a type of gourd.

Maracas with the Puerto Rican flag and Taino Indian drawings.

Santos de Palo are traditional artesanal wood carving of saints and virgin marys.

The Festival del Pastel has a website that has more information and its history: