The Four Seasons - Summer, Vivaldi
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Hugo Montenegro, 1968
Sisters, Irving Berlin, 1954
Brand New Day, Sting, 1999
Friends, Bette Midler, 1973
Moving to Vieques, Puerto Rico
The Gringarican Handbook - stories about moving to Vieques, PR, life in the slow lane and becoming a Gringarican
What a man! He went all night. And if I catch him, and her, and their kids, they'll be soup. Anyone who thinks roosters crow only at dawn has never been to Vieques. Maybe they are attracted by all the rotten breadfruit and mangoes that have dropped in the yard? I must get someone to help me clean up the outside.Today will be a Clint Eastwood day - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That is how I have categorized the curtains. All but one set must go,go,go. Hopefully, I can find something to fill all the holes I'm going to make in the walls. I see alot of white paint in my future!!.
Isn't there a song about a plastic Jesus? Well, we now have one, compliments of a past owner. He will stay on the refrigerator until we find a proper spot. I pray to plastic Jesus when I take a chance on the shower and find that its not a problem - however, a little scary to shower with an electric cord hanging so close to my face.
I organize my first day's errands - pharmacia, muebleria (order twin beds), post office, Carolyn's (home items), Health Food Store, Morales and fish market. After dragging another load up the hill, my next job is to continue cleaning and get the guest room ready for bed delivery.
I move onto the stove/oven. There is a large center oval burner that is intriguing. The oven is calibrated in degrees centigrade, so I will have to convert whenever I cook. Taking down the curtains greatly improves the entire room, however, hardware removal is time consuming. Many of the "works" of the windows need replacing. I'll add that to the growing list of things to purchase at the hardware store, appropriately named "Nales".
I haven't had a real meal in two days, so I clean up and head down the street to the Barefoot Bistro. Hungrily thinking of food makes me remember a dish I recently made for a friend -
Ensalada de Pulpo (Octopus Salad)
2 tins octopus drained (unless you can get fresh and cook it in the pressure cooker)
1 green plantain - cooked aldente and large chop
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, large chop
chopped red pepper chopped green olives
chopped cilantro minced garlic
1 bunch green onions, sliced minced fresh ginger
capers lemon/lime juice
adobo seasoning olive oil
Mix above together. Delicious!!
Emily from next door and a friend invite me to share their table. Its a delicious, fun evening with the girls and I have no problem falling asleep from exhaustion.
Hearing roosters and dogs at 4am does nothing but make me smile. We are home! Accompanied by friends Jane and The Wiz, a Thanksgiving day arrival does not pose a problem. Mambo market has all the necessities - rum, tonic, juice, eggs, muffins, cheese yogurt, coffee. The yard offers us fruit - coconuts, limes, bananas, but no starfruit. Bili Restaurant in Esperanza offers a fabulous dinner - no turkey for this crew. We go PR all the way with pork chops, mofungo, yucca, mahi and guava custard cake.
A great find for us this trip is Alamencenes Morales - the cash and carry store in Isabel, located across from Bar Plaza. We can buy beer, wine and liquor at a discounted price and other items are available like shrimp and meats.
Our first order of business after the holiday is talking to our contractor and our realtor. We are on a mission for my mother, who has decided she, also, would not mind a property in Vieques. Online we have seen a small house, well priced, that might fit the bill as a nice place to own as a vacation rental. Located an easy walk to Isabel, near the lighthouse, it is a short walk to a beach. It has potential. Although we don't seem to be getting any closer to closing on our property, this is an exciting vicarious alternative.
Red Beach is our first stop for sun and surf. Alot more people than we are used to, but by no means crowded. We are happy to be warm after frigid Vermont.
We enjoy outdoor dining at Bravos House and I have made sure that this necessity is included in our dream home plans. Culebra and St. Thomas are so clear this evening that we feel we could reach out and touch them (or at least swim there).
At the fruit & veggie truck, Mundo has introduced us to recao. New to us, it is a leafy vegetable, almost like a small romaine leaf, that smells like cilantro, a favorite.
White Beans With Recao
2 cans white beans, drained (unless using white beans in tomato sauce)
1 bunch recao
1 onion chopped
fresh or canned tomatoes
White wine or vermouth
Goya Adobo to taste
Adobo is a spice that is available everywhere. It comes with or without pepper, with or without cumin, and probably some other ways.
Saute onion in olive oil. Add white wine or vermouth. Add recao and cook until wilted. Add beans, tomatoes and Adobo.
We spend clear sunny days reacquainting ourselves with Secret Beach (no longer a secret) and Blue Beach. We also reacquaint with old friends, meeting Gilly at the Blue Moon Bar for a sunset toast.
We must mix a little business in with all this pleasure. Ernesto, our potential contractor, stops by to chat about our future project. He has an engineer he likes to work with. Apparently the engineer we were originally told about has multiple lawsuits against him. The engineer will take my dream house drawings and execute them into building plans. Cool.
Good morning Vieques!! We are up before the sun,but not before the roosters! I can still hear the night creatures in the palms as I take an outdoor shower. I think an outdoor shower is a great invention and have designed one for each level of our soon to be (?) dreamhouse. Nothing like showering with an ocean view.
We must be living right, as the previous day's travel went too smooth - early arrival at SJU means we can grab the 11 am Cape Air flight. House manager picks us up at the airport, drops me at Maritzas and takes Fred and luggage to Bravos House. By 12:15 I am at Morales with a long shopping list. We are home.
An island drive is a must do for our first full day back. We are eager to see what's changed, and happy to say, "not much". However, the road to Red Beach is now paved!! Those lomos (speed bumps) every 30 yards will certainly help keep the speeds at the posted limit. We know there is a hefty fine for speeding within the Fish & Wildlife area and are respectful of the roads - and our rental car!
Shopping is still a mysterious venture at times. I think I have purchased some very nice pork chops to grill for our evening meal. Instead, I find I have purchased ham steaks. The package said "cerdo chuleta ah". The word ahomar (smoked) was cut off. Next time I'll know!
Relaxation is our goal and it is much too easy to soak up sun on the bedroom patio and then move to the covered porch when we need to cool off. I get a notion for seafood, so I run down to the docks and get 5 pounds of conch and 5 pounds of lobster, fresh off the boat. In fact, I help the diver carry the lobsters from his boat.
At the refuge beaches, particularly Red, we are noticing many "W" purple towels. Of course, now that the road is paved more are coming. We are happy that the road past Red has remained unpaved and move on to a less populated beach.
There are some must do's - we must get a smaller Post Office box, we must meet with our realtor and attorney and we must set up a bank account. The fact that the U.S. Postal Service is alive and well in Vieques is a plus. Also the fact that banking is similar to the states and the local bank even has branches in Florida and New York.
We are pretty much in the dark as far as the process to secure our lot. We're not the only ones. The listing realtor says she has an inside scoop that the municipality will not contest the adverse possession case for the title. The attorney says that he thinks all the legalities could be wrapped up by December! So, in anticipation of a closing within the year, we execute a Puerto Rico power of attorney ($$$) so I may close on the property without Fred in attendance. Its only April now, but we will be ready!!
Just when we start to miss canine companionship, along comes Oscar. A friendly fellow who likes treats and belly rubs (okay, so who doesn't) and is content to hang and enjoy the sun with us. He becomes our morning wakeup call - he sits by the bedroom doors and gives us a morning hello. He also feels the need to warn us of any cars coming too close to the house and accompanies me on a lime picking excursion.
We have made many friends during our travels, some we have kept, and some we hide from. Tom has become one of the latter. A Norte Americano with a home in Vieques, he has "been on the island longer than anyone", is best friends with everyone from the mayor to the street cleaner and has done everything. He wouldn't use our builder, or our lawyer. Don't ask why I invited him to dinner, though I invited our friend Gilly too, to act as a buffer. When she saw him arrive, her eyebrows shot up and she got a look of fear in her eyes. We endured him together. That's real friendship. Fred dislikes Tom so much that he takes care of all the dishes, just to get out of the room. Lesson learned. At least the dinner was good.
Fresh Lime Cake
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temp 1 1/3 cups self rising flour
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar 2-3 large limes
2 eggs, room temp 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour an 8" pan. Cream butter and 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in milk, then flour. Transfer to prepared pan, smooth top and bake 35 minutes. Grate 1 T lime peel. Squeeze 1/4 cup lime juice. Mix peel, juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Poke holes in the cake after removed from the oven and pour half the lime syrup over the hot cake. Cool. Whisk remaining 1 cup powdered sugar and syrup. Drizzle over cake. Let sit 1 hour. Good with coconut ice cream.
On our last day we meet some Bravos House neighbors. They give us good tips on building, engineers and contractors. Since our realtor is confident that we will have a closing by the end of the year, this is all very useful to us.
We say goodbye to Vieques and Oscar, for a few months.
Well, its November again and we're back at Bravos House. We're pleased to see that there haven't been many changes over the past six months. I have still been obsessed with our lot purchase, but no one else seems to feel an urgency. We do have an official Purchase Agreement and deposit with the sellers, contingent on the securing of a title. We will gladly subsidize the legal fees, to a certain extent. to obtain this necessary documentation.
It is a Vermont invasion in Vieques. We have two friends who have joined us for part of our vacation, and others who are Vieques homeowners are also on island.
Although the fish market is not officially open, we can see fishermen heading for the docks with their catch. So, we head on down to meet them - hoping to relieve them of some fish, lobsters and conch. Mission accomplished. The boats seem to come back in daily at around 11am, so it is possible to score around that time.
My visiting friend Jane is a painter and we spend some time each day with a painting class for me. She's a great instructor and I enjoy our lessons, and actually end up with some nice watercolors. I am proud!
As I've previously mentioned, you should never plan a menu before you shop. We have invited the rest of the Vieques Vermonters for dinner, so we go off to see what's available. There is a delicious bread made here, called Pan Agua. It is available at 2 Isabel bakeries - Panaderia Lydia, located across from the Ocean View Hotel and Panaderia La Viequenses located across from Roys on Route 200. Loaves are sold by the pound (libre) and one pound consists of two long, fat half loaves of warm heaven with a faint cinnamon fragrance for $2. Buying at Lydia is reminiscent of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi. You stand in line outside of a barred door, place your order, then step aside. There is a sign that states "No cocinamos huevos"(we don't cook eggs), but you can get a breakfast sandwich. LaViequenses has all sorts of sandwiches available, breakfast (they do cook eggs), and lunch. My favorite is their cubano. They also have great coffee. At this point I should also mention "El Serrucho"which is located across from the ferry terminal. Popular for breakfast. Bread can also be found at the small gas station on Route 200.
The fruit and veggie truck is just off the corner of Routes 200 & 997. Mundo also sells tires and a variety of other items. It might not be the freshest of veggies, but it is there when you need it. You can usually find what you need. However, there are no prices marked and I am convinced there is a local price and a gringo price. He does not take credit cards. We pick up cilantro, cukes, papaya, apples and clementines.
Callabazza is generally available, as are all types of rice. We did bring a few frozen meats from home, so our dinner party menu is:
Black Bean Mousse with plantain chips
Mango chicken sausage with maple mustard
Grilled pork tenderloin
Papaya corn salsa
Cucumber & onion salad
Ripe Plantains (maduras) with butter and rum
Coconut Ice Cream with chocolate sauce
Plenty of Medalla and Don Q
Calabazza Risotto - Serves 6
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 calabazza,peeled & cooked til almost soft, cut into bite size chunks
3 cups warm chicken or veggie broth
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Saute rice and onion in olive oil until onion is transparent over medium heat. Add 1 cup broth and stir until broth is almost absorbed and add another cup. Continue to stir. When 2nd cup is almost absorbed, start adding remaining broth in smaller quantities, until rice reaches a soft, but not sticky, consistency. Add calabazza chunks and stir. Add parmesan.
Anytime "the girls" get together life becomes easier. Things just fall into place, there are no expectations, no schedules. Once men are taken out of the equation, we enjoy reading in bed, walking on the beach, eating when and what we like and, of course, cocktail hour. Our beautiful views are enhanced by the daily rum punch. My favorite recipe is from Barbados, but since we are in Puerto Rico, I use Don Q Oro (dark) rum instead of Mt. Gay.
The recipe is a rhyme, and goes like this: One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak. For me, that translates into: 1 cup lemon juice
2 cups sugar
3 cups dark rum
4 cups water
Liberally shake in Angostura bitters and grate whole nutmeg. Serve well chilled.
Another thing about being with"the girls" is the shopping. Not that there is much on Vieques, but we do damage where we can. As we stroll through town we take pictures of intriguing architecture and all the different types of iron work adorning the buildings. Passing by the NU2U shop, my sister sees the wildest, biggest pair of lamps. A lover of the unordinary, she must have them. We spend the next few hours figuring out how to ship them back (post office of course) and amassing all of the bubble wrap available on the island.
After a hard day, we hit the rum punch.
I am a foodie, though not a food snob. Fred is a foodie too - if I'm cooking, he's eating. Over the years I've tugged him along on some crazy food based adventures and he's been a good sport.
During our years vacationing in Barbados I collected quite a few Caribbean recipes that I was able to adapt to items I could find in Puerto Rico. Vieques food shopping is much like food shopping in Barbados 20 years ago. It is what it is. Fresh fish & roadside veggie stands were more abundant in Barbados though.
In Vieques I would never plan a dinner menu ahead of time. That one item you need will surely not be available. So, now I just make it up as I go along. Some things that one can almost always count on are:
Beer - you can always find Medalla
Rum - some brand is always available somewhere
Chicken - some cut, sometimes fresh, sometimes frozen
Pork - sometimes fresh, sometimes frozen, sometimes unrecognizable. Not that there's anything
wrong with that - its just foreign to us gringos and I would love to have a pork tutorial from a
Cucumbers - they have become my standard "green vegetable", marinated with onions, vinegar & sugar
Calabazza - known in Barbados as belly pumpkin, I was glad to see this old friend. They are huge and
you really only need about a quarter of one for a side dish for 4-6 people. They taste much like our
butternut squash in the states.
Coconut Ice Cream - awesome with homemade chocolate sauce and Goya sugar wafers.
Caribbean Calabazza - Serves 4-6
1/4 fresh calabazza
1 stick butter
white or brown sugar
maple syrup (optional)
rum (not optional)
salt, pepper, nutmeg
Cut calabazza in large chunks and cook until tender on stove top or microwave. Cool until you can touch it to remove the skin. Remove skin and while still warm add butter. Mash and add sugar, syrup and rum - maybe some lemon or lime too, to taste. Can be made ahead of time and reheated in microwave. Grate some fresh nutmeg on top to serve.
I used to make this recipe using the unsweetened Bakers Chocolate. I have not found that to be available on Vieques, so I have substituted a sweetened chocolate the is readily available in the baking section.
1 bar Sobrino sweetened chocolate
2/3 cup water
1 stick butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
In the microwave, heat chocolate and water together on high for 1 minutes and stir until chocolate is smooth, returning to microwave if necessary. Heat 1 minute, stir. Heat 1 more minute. Stir. Add butter in chunks and stir until melted. Add vanilla.