Resolution #16.

January 31, 2012

If you have been following my updates, you have probably been able to surmise that some sort of public transportation trauma occurred early on in my Paraguay journey. As a result, I have been really hesitant about navigating the bus system on my own.

So far God has been gracious and afforded me liberal and convenient use of a car for getting around. It has been a wonderful luxury but quite frankly, also an easy cop-out. And I have learned that avoiding what you’re afraid of never solves anything, so overcoming my perhaps irrational fear of venturing out on my own in this sense is one thing I want to conquer in 2012.

As it were, a taxi hit my car while I was at church two Sundays ago and fled the scene (but did leave suspicious yellow skid marks all along the driver’s side of the vehicle). It is now in the body shop for a few days, leaving me to my own faculties for getting around.

I was supposed to meet C at a cafe I’ve been to more times than any other place in Asuncion–besides church and the grocery store. But of course, I had never taken the bus there by myself. I called S for directions, and the seemingly complicated instructions she gave me piled on the anxiety that was already forming in the pit of my stomach. I reluctantly pushed myself out the door muttering, “You got this, Lo.” I guess this entry could be tagged with Resolution #3 as well.

I strolled out to the nearest bus stop like I knew what I was doing and glared hard past anyone who dared come near me with my pepper spray at the ready. I probably sweat my body weight in liquid standing there. Fortunately, the bus I needed didn’t take long to swing by and someone in front of me waved it down, so I was also spared exposing my armpit to the world. This time.

I clambered on, paid my fare, and made sure to sit where the seats only come in single rows. I breathed a sigh of relief to have made it this far unscathed.

Then of course, after two consecutive weeks of daily weather reports predicting 90% chance of thunderstorms and not a single drop of water, it started pouring rain. Liquid started shooting through the windows, and to my dismay, people immediately started slamming them closed effectively turning the bus into one giant smelly sauna. The air was so thick I felt claustrophobic and sweat was rolling off my body like the rain was flooding from the clouds.

As my landmark for disembarkation approached, I made my way to the back and promptly pulled the cord. The bus driver kept driving. After we had passed my desired spot by a couple hundred meters, he finally started to decrease in speed. Buses here rarely come to full halts, so you really have to be on your guard to leap off at the pinnacle moment lest you miss your chance and never, ever get off. Or die.

Naturally, the bus was four feet from the nearest curb and below me was a gigantic murky puddle that looked like frothy death. There was no way I could jump safely onto the sidewalk and I didn’t exactly have a lot of time to consider other options, so I stepped right down into the cesspool of what appeared to be churning sewage. It was as warm as fresh pee and nearly soaked me to the knees.

It was still raining cats and dogs, I didn’t really know where I was going, and I was drenched, but I forged on. I fought my way to a park bench intending to roll up my jeans that were way too long for flip flops and managed to spectacularly slip. A gathering of workers in the park actually applauded my accidental double axle. Ahh.

Nonplussed (but in all reality, totally plussed), I squished on with black mascara streaking down my face. It was still a million degrees and I was aware that the humidity was not only making walking in wet denim significantly uncomfortable, I was starting to reek as well. My feet were filthy gritty and what do you know, I was still sweating.

Some creepy security guard popped out of nowhere to wave and blow a kiss at me and nearly scared the poop out of me (which probably wouldn’t have been a big deal considering I was likely covered in it anyway). At long last, the cafe tumbled into sight and it promptly stopped raining. Go figure. But I made it. Rather dirtier for the wear, but I arrived on my own two grungy feet.

And then C called and canceled…ha! Jk. Lunch was great.

Take that, January/Paraguay/2012/scaredy cat tendencies. Lo’s got this.

(100th post!)

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Despite it being an obviously insurmountable task, I do what I can to keep low-key here.

Generally, I stick with dirty jeans, plain v-neck t-shirts worn in short rotation, and dusty flip flops. I wear mascara only to prevent myself from rubbing the dickens out of my eyes, and my daily perfume is 70% DEET (okay, maybe not the key to blending in but neither are thousands of bug bites). Two extra swipes of deodorant comprise the extent of any morning “primping” rituals.

I drink the terere if it’s passed to me. I laugh along at jokes that, really, I can’t understand because the Spanish here is frickin’ hard to decipher. I leave my shopping carts where they are sure to block the aisle and make no apologies for it. I am also starting to drive like a maniac, for which I also have no remorse.

I refuse to pay for someone to clean the apartment for me. I try to hang dry my laundry as much as possible even though there is a functioning dryer available. And I only run the AC if I’m seriously on the brink of death and about to shank someone just because it is that hot outside.

But sometimes, I simply cannot escape the fact that I am not a native Paraguayan (not that I particularly want to be one but I do want to look the part), and not only that, but I am, in fact, one of those privileged few from the upper echelon of the Developed World.

Like the morning we went to the airport to bid the Sc’s adieu on their Christmas vacation, and Y kept asking me wild questions about airplanes like: “Are planes big enough to fit more than ten people? People serve you drinks while you’re up in the air?!? How do the stewards not fall all over the place? Is it hard to breathe?” Then with a look of sheer panic smeared across her face, tremblingly asked, “ARE YOU NOT ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED WHEN YOU FLY???” and almost fainted when I answered in the negative. For someone who has been flying in airplanes since the age of five months, there are myriad things I take for granted and others that don’t even garner a second thought. Oh, the privileged life.

Or the time we had a work day at the Baez house, and I had to learn to draw water from the well. I’m not talking well like the ones you see illustrated in fairytale princess books that are complete with a sturdy bar sweetly dangling a bucket that is lowered down by a crank. This is a smelly stone pit of mossy green liquid and a cracked pail with a ghetto rag wrapped around the handle. One must hold onto the rag, and very strategically toss down the pail so it actually sinks in order to fill up with water. Technique must be executed perfectly lest you wish to be stuck with a floating, empty bucket. Then the pail must be drawn up quickly before all the water leaks out the crack. Considering filming a reenactment of my successful first throwdown to show everyone at home was one of those “Makes You Think” moments.

Just like the time I spent three hours in the blazing sun scrubbing children’s clothes with a bucket of water, a wooden plank, and a gristly brush. Again, I was secretly proud of the sweat and cracked knuckles manufactured by my manual labor until one of the Baez sisters, clearly exasperated by my apparent (but unbeknownst to me) incompetency said, “Pleeease. Just let me do it. You obviously don’t know what you’re doing.” Ouch.

Last week, I bought my first ever mop bucket. The act itself was something I had never thought about let alone carried out. Here Paraguayans drape rag cloths around big squeegees attached to a long stick (check background of photo included above) to use as mops. Every so often, you drop the rag into your bucket of progressively dirtier water, swirl it around, and then wring it out with your hands. I did not find this effective. And frankly, it grossed me out (I know, I know, I admit I’m a princess, okay?).

Fast forward to the lime green tub purchase and washing floors now felt a thousand times easier. There I was commending myself for, ohmyword, mopping floors twice a week. Wasn’t I just the best little missionary. The best was when I shared with my La Ruta girls about my new acquisition and proud accomplishments, and they just stared at me blankly.

Did I say low-key? Ha. Clearly, I am anything but.

Lime Tart.

January 30, 2012

I never took to lemon desserts until B, who loves them, came along. I, as a result, started crafting yellow citrus-y creations for him and effectively discovered a whole new delicious world. Unfortunately, yet another thing to file under the lengthy “Paraguay Does Not Have: ____” list are lemons. I know, right? Who doesn’t have lemons?!?!??

I’m not bitter or anything…ahem. Anyway. I got the bright idea to satiate my craving for a pucker-worthy dessert with lemon’s greener counterpart, Sir Lime, instead. Enter this most refreshing lime tart made with the glorious nectar of the gods condensed milk. Must I go any further to convince you to whip this up immediately?

Alas, I forgot to take a picture before we gobbled the tart right up, which is a total crying shame because 1) it looked pretty with the garnish and 2) I’m never making it again. It was surely delicious but leave it to Paraguay yet again to throw unnecessary complications into an otherwise simple undertaking.

So the recipe calls for 3/4 cup of fresh-squeezed lime juice and suggests that this may require 4-6 limes. Guess how many Paraguayan limes 4-6 equals?

TWENTY-ONE.

I really, truly thought I was never going to have functioning use of my fingers ever again. I Googled every trick in the book for juicing bone-dry limes. I picked the ones with smooth, thin skin. I microwaved them for 20 seconds. I rolled them on the counter. I threw them against the wall (no, I was most certainly not stewing inside). I stuck a fork in them. And the count still climbed haggardly to twenty-one stingy rocks.

Conveniently enough, Paraguay also does not have those chubby yellow and green bottles of lemon and lime juice. Said juice “concentrate” comes in large diluted jars and tastes like rusty metal. Add that to the list. Graham crackers too.

Nevertheless, I maintained the upper-hand (though towards the end, it was more shriveled claw than hand) and came out with a creamy tart with bold tangy flavor. Go ahead, give it a whirl.

Just not if you live in Paraguay.

Lime Tart

[Adapted from marthastewart.com]

1 1/2 packets of Lincoln brand cookies (my substitution for graham crackers)
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup fresh lime juice (4 to 6 limes…or 21)
4 large egg yolks
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Process cookies and 2 Tbs. sugar in a food processor (a blender worked for me) until fine crumbs form. Add butter and process until combined. Transfer mixture to a pie pan (since I didn’t have a tart mold with removable bottom) and pat up the sides. Bake crust for about 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, lime juice, egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. Whisk until smooth. Pour mixture into crust (warm or cool is fine), and return to oven. Bake until filling is set around edge but still slightly loose in center–20 to 25 minutes.

Cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled–at least 2 hours. Serve with a slice of lime cut in the middle and twisted for garnish.

Carrot Cake Pancakes.

January 26, 2012

I wish french fries were vegetables. But since I have been told that they are not, I really have to dig deep to consume my veggies on a regular basis (or any basis, for that matter). The latent five-year-old in me combined with my steak-eating instincts make this a total chore. And now that I live alone and cook for myself, there really is no one else tossing salads on the table that I swear are often laced with tiny conscience aliens screaming, “Eeeeaaaat meeee!” until I guiltily put a little on my plate.

It’s not that I hate vegetables. There are simply so many other foods out that there are much more appealing to me. Like chocolate doughnuts. And french fries.

That said, I am on the hunt for relatively painless ways to pack vegetable nutrients in my body with as few bites as possible. These carrot cake pancakes are pretty much more carrot than pancake, yet don’t taste like salad in a griddled slab. It’s awesome.

Check it out.

Carrot Cake Pancakes

[Adapted from myrecipes.com]

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of ground ginger
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (so many vegetables, ha!)
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups finely grated carrot

Combine flour and listed ingredients through ginger in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine 1/4 cup brown sugar, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and eggs. Add sugar mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in shredded carrot.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spoon batter mounds onto pan, spreading with a spatula. Cook until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over and cook until bottoms are lightly browned.